Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Haven’t heard much about UNSCAM lately, so I decided that I’d benefit from a little roundup. Here it is, and I’d like to express my gratitude to Ms. Claudia Rosett, who seems to have done all the legwork on this story. If she doesn’t get a Pulitzer, I’m calling my Congressman. [Actually, after reading all this stuff, I think I’ll call him anyway.]
So, thank you Ms. Rosett, and here we go…
The way the sanctions were set up, Saddam was the one who decided what to buy and from whom. He made the contracts with suppliers; the UN approved them and paid the money. “The result is that UN-approved aid goes to reinforce Saddam’s control over what is a Soviet-league state-run economy….which by rationing goods and controlling people’s livelihoods serves as a powerful tool for political control.” Therefore (for example), although 13% of the oil money was mandated for the Kurdish region, Saddam could simply refrain from using it, thus starving them of needed supplies.
Saddam also decided who would have the chance to purchase Iraqi oil and used that power, through sweetheart deals if not outright gifts, to make friends and influence people in the international community.
Even though UN staffers were (supposedly) examining and approving every deal, Saddam got away with quite a lot of funny business. He sold oil at below-market-value prices, then overpaid for the merchandise he bought, and got kickbacks from both ends. Merchandise delivered was sometimes shoddy, food and medicine out of date, and (oversight being what it was – see below) some deliveries may not even have matched the manifests. In addition note the oddity of receiving Japanese automobiles from Russia and Syria, powdered milk from desert-region Saudi Arabia, and (get this) detergent from Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Algeria, Yemen and Sudan.
The identities of the suppliers, the nature and quantity of purchased goods, and the amount of money spent were all kept secret. The total amount of money to go through the system was not, but there are some problems with the numbers that have been released. [Hint: they don't quite add up, and different officials have given different answers.] Also, the number of banks involved seems to be a mystery.
One more thing: [if you followed the above links you already know this] the Secretariat received 2.2% of the oil money for administrative costs and created thousands of new jobs for UN bureaucrats. As Ms. Rosett put it, they’re getting paid by Saddam to supervise Saddam. [That oil-for-jobs line was OK too.]
The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services produced over 50 audits of the program, none of which were made available to the Security Council or to member states. One has leaked, however.
Cotecna Inspections, which had the contract (starting in 1998) for authenticating the goods that came into Iraq, and which had Kofi Annan’s son Kojo on its payroll while it bid for Iraq contracts (this apparently didn’t raise any eyebrows), won its job with a low bid of $4.87 million. Four days later, “additional costs” were authorized, for $356K. And within a year of starting work the “per man day fee” went from $499 to $600, in breach of the contract. Furthermore UN oversight of the work was lacking; entry points were badly understaffed and the workers who were there did little inspecting, preferring to take manifests at face value (again contrary to their contract). Despite this, in 2003 Cotecna was awarded a new $9.79M contract to perform the same services for the CPA.
In March 2004, Kofi Annan finally agreed to have an independent group investigate the program. Shortly thereafter, letters were sent to Cotenca and to Saybolt International, which was responsible for overseeing Iraq’s oil exports. The letters reminded them of a clause in their contracts, stating that “all documentation connected with Oil-For-Food ‘shall be the property of the United Nations, shall be treated as confidential and shall be delivered only to the United Nations authorized officials on completion of work under this contract.’” The letter to Saybolt went farther, saying “any requests for information not already public should be relayed to the UN, including ‘the reason why it is being sought.’” and that “if UN internal audit reports are asked for, ‘we would not agree to their release.’” The letters were signed on behalf of (but not by) Benon Sevan, the program administrator. [Sevan's name has come up in relation to those "sweetheart deals if not outright gifts" I mentioned earlier.]
Annan’s office, when queried, said that this is standard procedure at the UN. Confidentiality is maintained in order to avoid offending the “sensibilities” of member states, and only the Secretary-General can authorize disclosure. [Apparently there's no problem with offending our sensibilities.]
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker was tapped to head up the investigation. Sadly his group is understaffed and underfunded (by the UN, natch) and he says he won’t be able to produce a report until spring at the earliest. Annan has seized this as an opportunity for more stonewalling, saying they don’t want to impede the investigation. Oh, and one of the terms of Volcker’s mandate is that his report be submitted to…Kofi Annan.
And this is the UN that gets more than a fifth of its budget from American taxpayers. Think about that.
Finally, Ms. Rosett suggests we connect the dots. “If, as the 9/11 Commission concludes, our ‘failure of imagination’ left America open to the attacks of September 11, then surely some imagination is called for in tackling one of the riddles that stumped the commission: Where exactly did Osama bin Laden get the funding to set up shop in Afghanistan, reach around the globe, and strike the United States?” If you follow one link in this whole post, that should be the one. Read this, too.
Since Ms. Rosett did all the work, she gets the last word.
“What's missing at the U.N. is not another survey by another consulting firm, or another 90-page report, or another investigation which serves chiefly to pre-empt criticism while fixing not much. The basic flaws are simple: Anytime you create a large institution, accord it great privileges of secrecy, give it a big budget, and have it run by someone immune from any sane standard of accountability, you are likely to get a corrupt organization. And unless the ground rules change, Mr. Annan's tactic of exhorting senior staff to be more accountable has about as much chance of success as Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts in the 1980s to fix the U.S.S.R. by telling Soviet citizens to stop drinking.
“The problem with the Secretariat isn't "tone" at the top. It's accountability at the top, and secrecy throughout. Perhaps a leader with the character of a Churchill or a Reagan would be willing to address that failing directly--and put his job on the line to push for change. Mr. Annan prefers to issue reports.
“Someone needs to help this institution, and it's not a consulting team hired by the same institution, nor is it a batch of investigators operating under terms defined by the U.N., nor is it a grand gathering of staff members being urged to risk reprisals by telling tales of earlier reprisals. A better place to start is the proposal by Sen. John Ensign that the U.S. withhold part of the U.N.'s budget until the institution comes clean on Oil for Food. Better yet would be to tackle the system that engendered Oil for Food. To do that would probably require setting up a competing international institution, based on openness and accountability--and give the U.N. a run for its money. For now, I'm working around to the belief that in the matter of reforming the U.N., the only thing worse than having the U.N. ignore a problem is to have the U.N. investigate it.”
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Just saw a pretty good Russ Feingold commercial on Fox. Missed the first part of the voice-over (he's shaking hands with some scary biker dudes after struggling to get past their bikes), but next:
[Voice-over in italics] With another man, looking at a piece of abstract art that's just a big black dot on a white field: you expect me to be independent. “Seriously, how long did it take you to paint that?”
At a movie theater snack bar: you expect me to dig deeper. “What is your profit margin on this stuff?”
On a football field, the scoreboard in the background shows 'Home 17, Away 20:' you expect me to ask the tough questions. “So, coach, are you sorry you didn’t go for the field goal?”
I like it. If I see it again I'll come back and add in the first part.
This international poll: “In today's world, all nations are inextricably interconnected. The United States is the most powerful and influential nation in the world. Everyone everywhere will be affected by the upcoming U.S. presidential election. What if the whole world could vote in this election? " (Via Tim Blair)
Not that I'm taking it seriously, so far it’s not looking good for Bush; as of this writing only 13% support worldwide. [Single-digit support coming from 33 countries, 20 of them in Europe. High mark from Niger (?) at 95%, Low from Croatia at 3%.] However…
Scroll on over to the Koreas. ‘Korea, Democratic Peoples’ Republic of’ is the long version of ‘Korea, North,’ and ‘Korea, Republic of’ is ‘Korea, South.’ Okay? Notice that more people from NK than SK have voted (31 to 21), and that NK voters actually support Bush 58%-41% while SK voters go for Kerry 71%-28%. I smell foul play.
So why would NK be going for Bush? [Bearing in mind that there's like, one internet connection in the whole country, unless you tap into Chinese phone lines which is expensive, unreliable, and RISKY.] I have some theories.
One: it's part of some convoluted, Machiavellian scheme by NK government officials to overthrow the regime and take Kim Jong-Il's video collection.
Two: it's a backdoor (and again, this ain't Wonkette so no snickering) attempt to undermine Bush by making it seem like Kim wants him back.
Three: Kim has multiple personality disorder.
Anybody got any more? 'People are voting dishonestly' doesn't count.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
I watched John Kerry's press conference today, [Finally! A press conference!] which was sort-of billed as a 'response' to Bush's UN speech. Frustrating, hearing Kerry's answers but not the questions they went with. Parsing them, though, they all pretty much came down to 'me good, Bush bad,' so maybe it doesn't matter.
Anyway, I was hoping to find a transcript of the Q&A somewhere (no luck yet) so I could count the number of times he said '..and I've said this throughout my campaign...' or something similar. It was a LOT.
Hey, maybe it's his new campaign slogan!
Electric Minds has a mirror of Den Beste's blog up. That'll be handy if he ever decides to stop maintaining it.
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Good News/Bad News Department:
Well, the Brewers stink. [Trust me - baseball expert here.] They've lost 5 in a row to go 11-34 since the all-star break (though they are 8-4 against AL teams). At that rate, they could easily finish behind last year's record. Also, they're last in the league in virtually every offensive category.
The good news? The last-place team in every other division actually has a worse record.
Hey, at least it's footbal season.
Saturday, September 18, 2004
If a Catholic goes on the Adkins diet, can he still eat those little communion wafers? Do they have some kind of Adkins-friendly substitute, like a communion sausage or something? [I could make a joke here about ‘communion sausages’ and ‘Catholic priests’ but really, how bad do I want to piss off my Catholic readers? Besides, this ain’t Wonkette.]
No reason, just wondering.
Don't forget, tomorrow is Talk Like a Pirate Day, matey.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Please note that, as far as I'm able to determine, Mister Pterodactyl is the first person in the 'sphere to point out that Tuesday Morning Quarterback is back.
Best line: "Detroit won on the road for the first time during the George W. Bush presidency." Look for Michigan to go Democratic this year.
I’m continuing to enjoy the show in the ‘Sphere over the CBS memo thing. It’s pure comedy. I wonder, though; is anybody else reminded of the Ted Koppel/Jon Stewart confontation at the DNC in July? Because suddenly (i.e. as of two days ago) it keeps popping into my mind.
"From the start, Koppel made no secret of his distaste for Stewart's show: ‘A lot of television viewers—more, quite frankly, than I am comfortable with—get their news from […] The Daily Show.’
. . . .
Stewart … proceeded to outline his take on Kerry's nomination as the result of a year-long process of corporate branding: ‘John Kerry: now with lemon!’ A pretty standard line of argument for those of Stewart's generation … but to Koppel, it must have sounded like the sheerest nihilism.
. . . .
Stewart was careful to separate The Daily Show's mandate from that of ‘real’ television journalism: ‘I know my role. I am the dancing monkey.’ But that dodge didn't satisfy his broadcast-news interlocuter: ‘The reality of it is—and this is no joke—there are a lot of people out there who do turn to you.’ ‘Not for news,’ Stewart countered, and they were off again."
Stewart is trying to point out how the MSM has fallen for the "prespun narratives" of the left and right, meanwhile Koppel seems to have a problem with nontraditional news sources. [But y'know, I can't even remember the last time I watched network news.] Not certain, but I think the examples of Koppel and Rather say something about Old Media's sense of proprietorship over the news.
Side note: Belmont Club says that blogs are to modern media what the longbow was to medieval warfare. Groovy.
Sunday, September 12, 2004
Too busy mocking CBS News to blog much these days. [Actually haven't been doing that much mocking myself, just been enjoying the show.] And John-John. And certain parts of Europe. Also, the Minnesota Vikings. After last year, I figure I should get an early start.
Speaking of which, aahhh, football season. Here's the Packers' roster. And here's a roundup of last year's achievements. Finally, my reactions to that last game, against the Eagles.
One last thing: raise your hand if you've gone to the dictionary to look up 'kerning' recently.
Monday, September 06, 2004
Conspiracies R Us Dept.
President Bush appears to be ahead in the polls. The Kerry campaign is imploding. Democrats everywhere are fighting for ledge space. And now Bill Clinton just happens to need heart surgery? Sure he does.
It’s all about the timing, people.
Remember, you heard it here first: Clinton’s operation will be successful, but wait! There’s a complication! He’s slipped into a coma, and isn’t expected to live!
Two days later, at a press conference where she discusses her comatose husband for the first time, a tearful Hillary will reveal that “Bill’s last words to me (sob) before he lost consciousness were (honk) ‘Hillary, you have got to run.’ Therefore I am today announcing my candidacy for President of the United States in 2004.”
Democrats immediately flee from Kerry, who plaintively mutters something about Vietnam. Can the Dems un-nominate a candidate? Doesn’t matter. Efforts to add her to the ballot as an independent erupt in states where there’s still time, huge write-in campaigns where there’s not. Hillary picks either Dick Gephardt or Zell Miller as her running mate. Maybe Mario. They unveil sweeping health care and Social Security reforms and pledge to make the UN respected again (or something). Polls are tight.
Then, the Dems unveil their own ‘October surprise:’ Bill’s pulling through! He’s gonna be okay after all!
The day after Osama bin Laden is captured. Diabolical.
Don’t forget: it’s not whether you’re paranoid; it’s whether you’re paranoid enough.
Saturday, September 04, 2004
John Kerry, following Bush's acceptance speech: "I'm going to leave it up to the voters whether five deferments makes someone more qualified than two tours of duty."
Open letter to Kerry: I am sick of hearing about Vietnam. I am sick of hearing about events from 35 years ago. I am sick of you constantly referring to your service, but complaining whenever someone else does it. So would you please, for the love of god, Knock it the (bleep) off!!
And as long as I'm on the topic, I may as well point out that you didn't seem so proud of your service in front of Congress in '71.
Friday, September 03, 2004
Have you ever heard a sports announcer say that an athlete is 'hungry?' Meaning, of course, desirous of success and ready to go farther than the next guy? Well, which presidential candidate do you think is hungrier? Wonkette's got the answer.
Warning: I found this so funny that I nearly did a spit take. Don't drink and click.
Thursday, September 02, 2004
Just finished Ben Stein's book (co-written with Phil DeMuth), "Can America Survive?" I'll have more thoughts later; for now let's just say I agree with a great deal of what they wrote but overall was unimpressed.
All I've got for this post is one of the quotes included in the book, "well-known political lexicographer" (heh) Julia Roberts: "'Republican comes in the dictionary just after 'reptile' and just above 'repugnant'."
At least she's got her facts right. But also appearing between those two words (excluding related words like 'republic' and 'repugnance') are 'republish' and 'repudiate'. I wonder what her opinion is of those.