Saturday, April 19, 2003

Be sure to include money for handling
Claudia Rosett in the NY Times provides an interesting background on the United Nations involvement in Iraq - Oil, Food and a Whole Lot of Questions:
President Bush's call to lift economic sanctions against Iraq could mean the end of the United Nations oil-for-food program, which has overseen the country's oil sales since 1996. Not only are France and Russia likely to object, but they may well support efforts by Secretary General Kofi Annan to modify the oil-for-food system, which is due to expire on May 12, and give it a large role in rebuilding the country. Whatever Mr. Annan's reasons for wanting to reincarnate the operation, before he makes his case there's something he needs to do: open the books.
Uh oh! Watch the roaches scatter.
The oil-for-food program is no ordinary relief effort. Not only does it involve astronomical amounts of money, it also operates with alarming secrecy. Intended to ease the human cost of economic sanctions by letting Iraq sell oil and use the profits for staples like milk and medicine, the program has morphed into big business. Since its inception, the program has overseen more than $100 billion in contracts for oil exports and relief imports combined.

It also collects a 2.2 percent commission on every barrel - more than $1 billion to date - that is supposed to cover its administrative costs. According to staff members, the program's bank accounts over the past year have held balances upward of $12 billion.
Can you say compound interest? I knew you could! And I wonder what bank is handling the dough?
As for the program's vast bank accounts, the public is told only that letters of credit are issued by a French bank, BNP Paribas. Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq, entitled to goods funded by 13 percent of the program's revenues, have been trying for some time to find out how much interest they are going to receive on $4 billion in relief they are still owed. The United Nations treasurer told me that that no outside party, not even the Kurds, gets access to those figures.
Of course, there is the spending side as well:
About a year ago, in the name of expediency, Mr. Annan was given direct authority to sign off on all goods not itemized on a special watch list. Yet shipments with Mr. Annan's go-ahead have included so-called relief items such as "boats" and boat "accessories" from France and "sport supplies" from Lebanon (sports in Iraq having been the domain of Saddam's Hussein's sadistic elder son, Uday).
The quantities of goods involved in shipments are confidential, and almost all descriptions on the contract lists made public by the United Nations are so generic as to be meaningless. For example, a deal with Russia approved last Nov. 19 was described on the contract papers with the enigmatic notation: "goods for resumption of project." Who are the Russian suppliers? The United Nations won't say. What were they promised in payment? That's secret.

I was at least able to confirm that the shipment of Russian TV equipment approved in February was not delivered before the war started. A press officer told me that batch didn't actually get to Iraq because United Nations processing is so slow that "it usually takes three to four months" before the purchases start to arrive.
But they have service with a smile!
Bureaucratic lags notwithstanding, putting a veil of secrecy over tens of billions of dollars in contracts is an invitation to kickbacks, political back-scratching and smuggling done under cover of relief operations. Of course, with so little paperwork made public, it is impossible to say whether there has been any malfeasance so far ? but I found nothing that would seem to contradict Gen. Tommy Franks's comment that the system should have been named the "oil-for-palace program."
But why go on? The Iraqis don't need the UN hustlers skimming off the top and goofing around as half-assed middlemen. If the UN won't lift the sanctions, we should ignore the UN.

Actually, we should do that permanently.
The Pusillanimous Poohbahs of Palo Alto
I must confess that I neglected the story of the Palo Alto city council members who were considering a ban on eye rolling and frowning, er, certain forms of nonverbal expression of disagreement. The story was filled with much rich nutty goodness, but what college town in the USA cannot provide the equivalent?

Anyhow, to make amends to my readers, here is a follow-up from Nicole C. Wong in the San Jose Mercury News - Polite Reversal:
The fuss over frowning has generated so much angst, ridicule and hate mail that the Palo Alto City Council is doing an about-face.

The council plans to dump a proposed guideline discouraging members from frowning or using other body language to show "disagreement or disgust" at public meetings.

The reversal came after a Mercury News story on the loosely worded proposal drew worldwide attention and triggered a flood of calls and angry e-mails complaining that the guideline was odd, unenforceable and almost an infringement on freedom of expression.

Among the e-mail jabs: "Perhaps you could all wear masks . . . or straitjackets."
Either would certainly be appropriate. Hmm, it might also be good for the current crop of contenders for the Democrat party presidential nomination and I'm sure it's their kind of positive action for America.
The Financial Times of London and the Gold Coast Bulletin in Australia picked up the story, as did and other news Web sites. Radio talk-show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly reportedly poked fun at Palo Alto's push toward politeness, too.

Councilwoman Judy Kleinberg, who headed the committee that drafted the code of conduct, says critics have called her "a Nazi" and a long list of expletives.

She says the suggestion was never intended to stifle freedom of expression. Instead, she saw it as a way to quash intimidation and show respect to whoever is speaking.
Mean people suck!
As committee chairwoman, Kleinberg has been the focal point of the criticism. But the longstanding member of the American Civil Liberties Union said she sees a silver lining in the furious phone calls and e-mails.

"I am extremely heartened to find out that so many people out there cherish the First Amendment and are vigilant about government interference in the First Amendment."
For her next trick, Judy will rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Today's Hoot

Sound it out.
You can't make this stuff up
Rich Lowry at - A new wine from enviros:
So many Americans are engaged in a boycott of French wine at the moment that some French importers are pressuring President Jacques Chirac to cry Uncle (Sam). But environmentalists, as ever, have different priorities than the rest of the country: They are busy protesting Napa Valley wine.

The picturesque trellised fields there make most people, especially anyone with a taste for cabernet, consider Northern California closer to heaven than any place on Earth since Eden. But the fields are maligned by greens as "alcohol farms," the environmentally catastrophic result of "the graping of the land."

Now, there's something amusing about sensitive liberals in one of the world's great bastions of progressive thinking warring among themselves. The stereotypical Northern California vineyard owner is a wealthy yuppie who appreciates the outdoors and the finer things and wants to live within an hour's drive of San Francisco, the Left Coast's left-most city. It must be discomfiting for him suddenly to be considered no better than a smoke-belching coal-plant operator.
He's picking, I'm grinning.
As the wine industry has boomed in Northern California in recent years (fueled by annoying Internet millionaires), an important shift in perception has taken place. Vineyards were once viewed as an alternative to tract housing and other nasty development, but now are themselves seen as nasty development.

That makes them vulnerable to every tool of harassment in the environmentalist arsenal: numerous lawsuits (the Sierra Club has sued the local government and growers), zealously applied federal regulations and ever-tightening local land-use and permitting rules.
"It has become a very involved legal, scientific and technical process that stretches over months and maybe years. It renders many properties potentially uncommercial," says Christopher Hermann, who heads the West Coast law firm Stoel Rives' wine-law group. (Yes, there is such a thing -- without it, unfortunately, vineyards wouldn't stand a chance.)

For vineyard opponents, putting property out of commission is the point. Some critics have taken to calling the growers "merchants of death," as if they're selling crack.
Typical ecoweenie "back to mud huts" tomfoolery, but I have to smile that they are pulling this on their N. California pals. Maybe some of the vineyard owners even drive SUV's! The Horror!
Conspiracy alert!
John Podhoretz in the NY Post - I confess:
OK, I'll admit it. I'm part of a vast conspiracy to control American foreign policy.

Yes, we neoconservatives have succeeded in brainwashing the leaders of the United States and Britain, using nefarious mind-controlling techniques. Those techniques include: Writing articles, circulating letters, giving speeches and appearing on television.
It's kind of flattering, this notion that a group of people called "neoconservatives" - a term hostile people use to refer to Jewish Republicans with hard-line foreign policy views in and out of government without using the word "Jewish" - have seized the reins of power in the United States.
Us Stone Age Republicans welcome y'all to the party.
After he talks, he could always go for a long swim
David Andelman in the NY Daily News - Don't give Italy 2nd shot at Abbas:
Don't send Abu Abbas back to Italy. They had their chance at him. And they blinked. I know. I was there.

It was late Thursday, Oct. 10, 1985. For three days, Abbas, leader of a breakaway PLO group called the Palestinian Liberation Front, had held hostage an Italian cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, carrying more than 400 passengers. Among them was a 69-year-old New York tourist in a wheelchair, Leon Klinghoffer. In the course of the hijacking, Klinghoffer was shot and went over the side of the ship to his death.
And then he recounts the whole tawdry tale of the Italian government involvement.
The Italian government fell a couple of weeks later, after word got out about its perfidy and cowardice. Later, with the heat off, another Italian regime tried Abbas in absentia and sentenced him to life. Few thought they'd ever have to make good on it.

On Tuesday, U.S. forces finally got their hands on Abbas in Iraq. And now the Italians want him back? Basta!

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Er, criminals - yeah, it was all about criminals
Robert Collier and Bill Wallace in the SF Chronicle keep a straight face in Russia now admits training Iraqi spies - But it says intent was to fight crime, terror:
Baghdad -- Russian intelligence officials have confirmed that Iraqi spies received training in specialized counterintelligence techniques in Moscow last fall -- training that appears to violate the United Nations resolution barring military and security assistance to Iraq.

A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Boris Labusov, acknowledged that Iraqi secret police agents had been trained by his agency but said the training was for nonmilitary purposes, such as fighting crime and terrorism.

Yet documents discovered in Baghdad by The Chronicle last week suggest that the spying techniques the Iraqi agents learned in Russia may have been used against foreign diplomats and civilians, raising doubt about the accuracy of Labusov's characterization.
Boris fibbing? What a shock!
U.S. Boycott Being Felt, French Say
"Certain French enterprises are suffering today from the differences that have arisen among states over the Iraqi question," the Movement of French Enterprises (Medef) said. "It is necessary to say to those who are unhappy with the positions of French diplomacy that they are free to criticize, but they must keep products and services of our enterprises outside their quarrel."

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Mr. Sarandon says "It's all about me!"
Tim Robbins is well known for his inability to take what he dishes out, so he's been on his broomstick with a vengance this week after he and his common law wife lost a gig at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Since Susie's fee for her aborted United Way appearance was $20,000, I figure the dynamic duo lost at least $40,000 they could have mulcted from baseball fans.

Pull my finger!

The value to the Baseball Hall of Fame of having Tim and Susie show up to hype an old movie that is most notable for Susie screwing one of the characters on the kitchen table, seems marginal at best. Confounding it with their wingnuttery definitely looks like a bad investment. But that's not how Tim sees it. He showed up at the National Press Club yesterday to vent his considerable wrath with a few of his peacenik pals:
"While the journalists' outrage at the cancellation of our appearance in [Hall of Fame headquarters at] Cooperstown is not about my views; it is about my right to express those views. I am extremely grateful that there are those of you out there still with a fierce belief in constitutionally guaranteed rights," Mr. Robbins said.
If Tim would pass a glance over the text of the 1st Amendment, he'd notice that the first five words are "Congress shall make no law". Since there is no Tim Robbins Hot Air Prevention Act, what he's really complaining about is the fact that he doesn't get the paid platform for his bloviations that he thinks he deserves. I guess Tim and Susie are special that way. Tim, say whatever you want, but stop whining when the rest of us respond.
He's Back!
Before picking up another personal appearance check, Bubba Bill Clinton shared a few pearls of wisdom - Clinton blasts US approach to international affairs:
"Our paradigm now seems to be: something terrible happened to us on September 11, and that gives us the right to interpret all future events in a way that everyone else in the world must agree with us," said Clinton, who spoke at a seminar of governance organized by (the) Conference Board.
No Bubba, they don't have to agree with us - they just have to stop trying to terrorize us. Try looking south from your Harlem digs and see if you notice anything missing on the skyline.
"And if they don't, they can go straight to hell."
Sounds good to me.
"We can't run," Clinton pointed out. "If you got an interdependent world, and you cannot kill, jail or occupy all your adversaries, sooner or later you have to make a deal."
"Let's make a deal!" - sounds like a game show. Of course, even Bubba is smart enough to know that this is a bogus straw man, but I'm sure he liked how it sounded.
"Since September 11, it looks like we can't hold two guns at the same time," Clinton said. "If you fight terrorism, you can't make America a better place to be."
Did Slick just recommend that we not fight terrorism? Back to the dustbin of history, Bubba.
Look who's squeaking
(Via Web.Kafe) Reuters reports Palestinian Authority Demands U.S. Free Abu Abbas:
GAZA (Reuters) - The Palestinian Authority demanded the release of veteran Palestinian guerrilla leader Abu Abbas on Wednesday, saying his detention in Iraq by U.S. forces violated an interim Middle East peace deal.

"We demand the United States release Abu Abbas. It has no right to imprison him," Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told Reuters.

"The Palestinian-Israeli interim agreement signed on September 28, 1995 stated that members of the Palestine Liberation Organization must not be detained or tried for matters they committed before the Oslo peace accord of September 13, 1993," he said.

"This interim agreement was signed on the U.S. side by President Clinton and his secretary of state, Warren Christopher," Erekat added.
I wonder if they would prefer paper or plastic? And speaking of old debts, Fishface Arafat has run up quite a quite a tab.

Or as Andy Geller says in the NY Post, "No, you slithering SOB, we never forget."

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

NY Slimes Alert!
Cynthia Cotts does a drive by on Howell "Megalomania" Raines in the Village Voice - 'Republic of Fear':
Last week, as one regime crumbled in Baghdad, another was consolidating power on 43rd Street -that of New York Times executive editor Howell Raines. Since former editor Joe Lelyveld stepped down in September 2001, Raines and his deputies are said to have engaged in a rolling purge, systematically pushing out editorial employees with ties to the past and making way for new stars. "It's like a divorce," says one insider, with the staff now divided between Joe's people and Howell's people. "To be a favorite of Joe is a black mark with Howell," says another.

According to insiders, Raines is the kind of 1950s-style autocrat who manages through humiliation and fear. Aside from right-hand men Gerald Boyd and Andy Rosenthal and a core of loyalists, morale is said to be at a new low. There are many rooms in that palace and nobody sees the whole picture. But, says one source, "the old timers who lived through the worst of [former executive editor] Abe Rosenthal say they have never seen anyone be so arrogant, so petty, so mean. Vindictiveness is in." Another source says, "It's no longer about managing down. It's about paying obeisance to the king." Among cognoscenti, 43rd Street is now known as the "republic of fear."
Quoth Howell, "L'etat, c'est moi."
I should have known they weren't just posters!
Dave Goldiner in the NY Daily News - Shag-dad art is mine!: N.Y. painter is shocked by find at Saddam pad:
The artist known as Rowena admits her fantasy-art paintings - filled with snarling dragons, Fabio lookalikes and buxom damsels - can attract an offbeat clientele.

But Saddam Hussein?

The upstate painter was stunned to learn two of her campy, sexually charged artworks wound up at the tyrant's love shack in Baghdad.

And now she wants her '80s-vintage paintings back - taloned serpents, bare-breasted babes and all.

"I would give anything to get them back," said Rowena, whose last name is Morrill but prefers using only her first name. "I am so upset that they are there."
Rowena, 58, said she did the oil paintings that hung in the dictator's den about 15 years ago as covers for bodice-ripper paperbacks with titles such as "King Dragon" and "Shadows Out of Hell."

A busty blond is depicted in one painting conjuring up a forked-tongued serpent to wrap itself around the body of a hunky bare-chested warrior. In another, a chained woman clad in a tattered bikini arches her back as a dragon's talons reach toward her.

Rowena knows no one would ever confuse her with Picasso or Goya - and insisted her more recent works are much better.

"I know they're not the Madonna by Leonardo da Vinci," she said. "They were high camp. I always found them hilariously funny."

Rowena was a classically trained artist who studied in Italy but took up the fantasy genre to support herself after moving to New York in the late '70s.

"I was looking for a way to make a living, and it paid the rent," she said by phone from her home near Albany.

She sold the two paintings years ago - the one with the dragon went for $20,000 to a Japanese collector - and hadn't heard about them since.

On Sunday, Rowena's sister called to say she had seen one of the paintings on TV hanging in a secluded townhouse in Baghdad.
I'm waiting for the book "I Was Saddam's Interior Decorator".

Monday, April 14, 2003

Today's Hoot!
Shock and Awe Alert!!! - Terrible Terry gets turfed out as the head of the Democratic National Committee. They've got a new leader.
People with time on their hands
S.F. lawyer creates global bill of rights - He asks U.N. panel for court to enforce it
For five years, Boyd has devoted his life to researching and crafting a document he says will revolutionize the way the world treats its citizens.
Under Boyd's plan, the European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg, France, would become the International Court of Human Rights. The new court would have 35 judges, who would be approved by the United Nations. People would bring their cases first to the courts of their own country, then - - when those legal proceedings were exhausted -- to the International Court of Human Rights.
Theoretically, the cases could concern everything from unfair jailings to sewage problems. Among its tenets, the International Bill of Rights seeks to ensure everyone's right to "shelter with safe water," "sufficient food necessary for good health" and free or low-cost "vision, dental and mental care."
Mr. Boyd clearly needs a hobby. One wonders whether he ever considered shuffleboard.
Uday has issues
Dareh Gregorian in the NY Post - It's Not Easy Being Mean: Uday's 'Daddy Dearest' Letter :
Saddam Hussein's a murderous tyrant that not even a maniacal son could love.
Despite showering his oversexed son Uday with palaces, yachts, Lamborghinis and pet lions, the Butcher of Baghdad was apparently unable to buy his "heart toward my father, not any love or kindness," Uday wrote in a 1990 letter to an uncle, Time magazine reports this week.

"It is difficult being in the family of Hussein," Uday wrote. "People want to kill us."
Hopefully the correct tense is "Uday had issues".
All right!
Michael Goldstein in the NY Daily News on Disconnecting telemarketers:
Relief is on the way. Telemarketers are at bay. The home phone may finally be reclaimed from their grasp.

The Federal Trade Commission has officially opened a nationwide "do not call" registry, which when implemented in July is designed to reduce unwanted calls by up to 80%.
The federal do-not-call list was started in the House of Representatives by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who launched it with a warning:

"If anyone holds this legislation up, we're prepared to give out their home phone numbers."
Now that is a threat!
But don't celebrate freedom from nuisance calls just yet.

First, the national list won't go into effect for more than six months. The FTC needs time to create the registry, for consumers to sign up, beginning in July, and for telemarketers to search the registry and "scrub" consumers from the lists, which they won't be forced to do until October.
And of course there is a law suit - the Direct Marketing Association is claiming infringement of their "first amendment right to advertise."
Coalition forces
Alan Brain at the Command Post points out a couple items of interest.

Diggers tough and focused:
THE young Digger aimed his M-16 carbine at the driver.

It wasn't his manner, and certainly not his weapon, that told us he was Australian.

Like his forefathers in the African desert and on the Kokoda Track in World War II, he was doing something no US soldier would ever do ? he was wearing shorts.
The Australians have a tough reputation among drivers plying the long road between Amman in Jordan and Syria. "Bastards," one translator said.

We tried to coax our drivers back through the checkpoint so we could snap a photograph. "If I try, I will go back to Amman in a box," one said.
And US soldiers' wives fight bitter battle of their own points out a longstanding disgrace:
As US troops battle remnants of Iraq's fallen regime, their wives are locked in a bitter struggle against money woes that have forced some to resort to charity handouts to survive.

Low military salaries and the high cost of living in parts of the United States means that families of many of the lower ranking US troops fighting in Iraq live a hand to mouth existence.

"I know several wives of Marines with small children who line up at churches for grocery handouts which are the only way they can survive the month and feed and cloth the baby," said military wife, Natalie Castro, 19.
Low ranking privates and corporals - they make up 60 per cent of the US Marine Corps - take home only around $US800 ($A1,323) dollars a month after tax, or $US9,600 ($A15,881) dollars annually.

The US Census Bureau classifies a family of three as poor if its cash income is less than $US14,128 ($A23,371) dollars a year, or $US11,569 ($A19,138) dollars for a married couple.
"My husband and most of his friends all have second jobs or work whenever they can just to survive..."

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Found on the Wall at Saddam's "Love Shack"!!!!!

Can you say tacky?

Meanwhile Saddam "himself" weighs in (hyperlinks broken - look for the 9:28 AM post on April 13):
General and Chief Satanic Hellhound Tommy Franks said in an interview that they already have a sample of my DNA. Guess that means they found my poster of Anna Kournikova with the funny stain on the front.
(Photo discovered at the After Grog Blog)
Yet another welsher
Janeane Garofalo: 'I Have Nothing to Apologize For' - aside from having excrement for brains and sharing it.
She certainly got around!
Every report on the Chinese Mata Hari, Katrina Leung, seems to have something new. Michael Isikoff at Newsweek is now reporting that she was having simultaneous affairs with 2 FBI agents and was a "key source" for the Chinese campaign contribution investigation that went nowhere:
SET UP SIX YEARS ago in part to investigate an alleged Chinese plot to influence U.S. lawmakers, the task force has since disbanded: it was never able to prove the Chinese government was behind millions of dollars in suspect campaign contributions to former president Bill Clinton and members of Congress during the 1990s. But last week’s arrest of Los Angeles businesswoman Katrina Leung "an accused spy whose code name was Parlor Maid" has prompted an intense FBI review to determine if she compromised highly sensitive counterintelligence investigations, including the campaign-finance probe.

Leung, sources say, was the task force’s chief source on prime target Ted Sioeng, a suspected Chinese "agent of influence" whose family and businesses contributed $250,000 to the Democratic Party in 1996 and an additional $100,000 to a California GOP Senate candidate. Leung and Sioeng (who sat next to Al Gore at his Buddhist-temple fund-raiser that year in Los Angeles) were "close friends," one source says.
Now FBI officials want to know if Leung sabotaged the probe and was actually protecting Sioeng.
A highly compensated FBI "asset" (she was paid $1.7 million for services and expenses since 1983), Leung stands accused of purloining classified documents from the briefcase of her bureau "handler," ex-L.A. agent J. J. Smith, with whom she was having a long-term affair, and turning them over to the Chinese.
They could have given me the $1.7 million for reports on local fishing conditions and saved themselves a lot of aggravation.
Leung was simultaneously having sexual relations with another FBI agent, William Cleveland, who resigned last week as a top security official at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories.
Her social calendar must have been hectic.