December 2004

American politics02 Dec 2004 01:26 am

Speaking of political scandals: Republican Senator Norm Coleman, chairman of the Senate investigations subcommittee, has called for Kofi Annan’s resignation from his post as Secretary General of the United Nations.

Kofi Annan has been in charge of the UN for years, and throughout its ‘Oil for Food’ scheme. In recent times, it came to light that Saddam’s regime was skimming off money from this scheme for its own use.

As well as this, it is alleged that Annan’s son has been receiving substantial payments linked to the scheme.

The very notion of ‘Oil for Food’ puzzles me. The program was designed to help alleviate the dreadful suffering of ordinary Iraqi people caused by punitive international sanctions. The idea was that Iraq could trade its oil for the food and medicines denied under the sanctions. The UN called this “humanitarian aid”, despite the fact that oil was being used as payment for the goods.

Am I being thick here or what? How does this “aid” make any sense? If the only intention was to save the population – why not just lift the sanctions?

But back to the story.

After the USA decided to ignore the UN’s disapproval, Annan continued to condemn the Iraq campaign as “illegal”. In October, he gave a TV interview in which he said the world was no safer as a result of the Iraq war.

Something tells me the public expression of Annan’s opinions was not music to Republican ears.

Now Annan finds himself at the centre of an aggressive PR and media campaign to discredit and oust him. According to the American conservative press, the previously-hallowed institution of the UN has, in fact, “a checkered history”, and the Oil for Food program is “no less than the largest corruption scandal in the history of the world”. Annan is being held personally responsible.

And this week we discover that Kofi Annan is “poised to recommend the first major overhaul of the UN in its 60-year history”, which will include a new approval for the use of pre-emptive strikes. The recommendations still take a swipe at the ‘War on Terror’, but the previously prohibited Iraq method may now be enshrined in UN rules.

What a coincidence that he should suddenly recommend this massive constitutional concession now, despite his earlier immoveability.

So let’s get this in chronological order, from 2003 onwards:

(1) The USA has always been the dominant member of the UN.
(2) The USA seeks UN participation in a strike against Iraq.
(3) The other UN nations shock the USA by refusing.
(4) Britain persuades the USA to try again for a UN mandate.
(5) The UN still refuses.
(6) The USA is enraged but decides to go ahead regardless, and Britain tags along.
(7) Kofi Annan maintains his openly-stated view that the Iraq war is illegal.
(8) The Bush administration takes every available opportunity to slate the UN for being outdated and bureaucratic, and so do its media supporters.
(9) Kofi Annan wakes up one day to find his reputation is being publicly destroyed as scapegoat for a failed UN policy.
(10) Kofi Annan suddenly approves a ‘reform’ of the UN which changes the entire nature of its constitution so that pre-emptive attacks, like the USA’s Iraq campaign, are made legitimate.

To anyone who wasn’t absolutely convinced of the trustworthiness of the Bush administration, this would look like the sort of vengeance, blackmail and expert institutional manipulation techniques used by the very cream of organised crime.

It must just be coincidence though, right?

British politics01 Dec 2004 11:50 pm

Swiss Toni got me thinking about the Blunkett scandal after reading this post of his.

The Home Secretary’s in trouble. He’s been caught out by the press, and now he’s fighting for his career.

His alleged abuses of ministerial power are:

1 – Whizzing a permanent visa application through in 19 days for his married girlfriend’s Filipina nanny. This is a sackable offence, and particularly juicy for the press, given that he’s the person in overall charge of immigration.

2 – Obtaining a passport for that girlfriend’s son “within the hour” (according to one of the woman’s friends) so he could come on holiday to France with them. Another sackable offence.

3 – Arranging for a police guard to protect his girlfriend’s Mayfair home during the May Day riots. He says this is “paranoid nonsense”.

4 – Passing on first class rail tickets to his girlfriend which were intended for use by him in his capacity as a Member of Parliament. He has admitted this, apologised and repaid the full amount in cash.

5 – Indulging in indiscreet “pillow talk” by sharing confidential information with his girlfriend, including advising her parents to avoid Newark Airport because of a security alert. He claims this information was in the public domain already.

6 – Sending his official driver to take his girlfriend and her son to his constituency. He is defending this on the basis that they are family, as a DNA test has since proven the boy is his son, not his girlfriend’s husband’s. Who needs Jackie Collins novels when you’ve got Westminster?

7 – Taking his girlfriend to a wedding in Spain using a driver and 4 bodyguards, at public expense. He says he was going to Spain anyway on government business and his girlfriend paid for her own travel expenses.

8 – Using a civil servant to attempt to harangue his girlfriend into signing a statement saying her marriage was over, after she ended the relationship.

Further information here.

It looks like he may have to resign, even if he’s exonerated. It’s getting too embarrassing for the government. Blair’s standing by his man, but it’s the last thing he needs. His domestic popularity has already dropped to new lows since his high profile trip to the White House. I noticed on the news today that Gordon Brown’s had his hair done. It can only mean one thing: he’s ready to duel for the leadership.

To be honest, I’d be content if this story ended Blunkett’s Cabinet career. Nothing against the man personally, but he has descended into the realms of madness with his latest police state proposals. I’m sure he didn’t come up with them all by himself, as the architects of Labour’s neo-Tory policies are mostly behind the scenes. But the recent lurch towards draconian ‘security’ measures and paranoia is inextricably associated with him. If Blunkett goes, hopefully the more hardline policies will be sullied by association and thus abandoned.

What I want to know is this: how many British people are honestly surprised by the idea that those in positions of privilege pull strings to help their nearest and dearest? It may not be official protocol, and we may not strictly approve, but isn’t that how the world works? Don’t we all know it only too well? The British popular press have gone wild about this story, but their chorus of disapproval smacks of prurience and gleeful vindictiveness rather than genuine disgust.

It’s like the Clinton/Lewinsky debacle. What shocked me most about that story was the revelation that apparently some people thought the idea of a powerful person having flings was unusual. Call me cynical, but I tend to assume they’re all fiddling expenses, giving their friends jobs and shagging cute press officers. Because, let’s face it, they probably are. And let’s be totally honest with ourselves too: a lot of otherwise perfectly nice people would occasionally take advantage of their positions to help loved ones, given power and opportunity. Including many of us. We may as well come to terms with that and stop the pantomime of moral outrage.

Activism&American politics01 Dec 2004 07:16 pm

Can I offer you some angry Canadians instead? It’s more topical.

10,000 protesters gathered in Ottawa to mark the American president’s visit. Looks like quite a party. The central placard reads “LOW PRICES ARE NOT WORTH HIGH BODY COUNTS”.

Photo pilfered shamelessly from this story.

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