Sunday, December 17, 2006

US accused of using aid to sway votes in UN security council

Heather Stewart, economics correspondent
Sunday December 17, 2006
The Observer

The US uses its aid budget to bribe those countries which have a vote in the United Nations security council, giving them 59 per cent more cash in years when they have a seat, according to research by economists.

Kofi Annan, the outgoing UN Secretary-General, expressed his frustration at the power the US wields over the UN in his parting speech last week. In a detailed analysis of 50 years of data, Harvard University's Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker provide the clearest evidence yet that money is used by the council's richest member to grease the wheels of diplomacy.

Anti-poverty campaigners reacted angrily to the findings. 'Aid should go to the people who need it, not as a political sweetener,' said Duncan Green of Oxfam. 'In recent years most rich countries have been making progress on this, but showering bribes on developing countries just because they sit on the UN security council is clearly a step backwards.'

Charities often complain that the US uses its aid as a political tool, and this new evidence of what the authors call 'vote-buying' will raise fears about whether the surge of aid money that was promised at last year's Gleneagles G8 summit will be fairly spent.

Ten of the 15 seats on the security council are filled for two years at a time, by rotation. Kuziemko and Werker found that, in years when they have a seat, countries get an average of more than £8m extra in foreign aid from the US.

'I don't think it's surprising this goes on; but I wonder whether countries being aware that it goes on might have some salutary effect,' Kuziemko said.

Countries with a security council seat also receive an average of £500m extra from the UN itself, most of it channelled through its children's fund, Unicef, over which the US traditionally has been able to exert control. President George Bush recently provoked controversy by appointing a close political ally, former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, as Unicef's chief.

When there is a controversial vote in prospect, the premium for countries with a security council seat is even higher. US aid surges by as much as 170 per cent, bringing in a £23m windfall, while the UN spends an extra £4m.

'Some countries serve on the security council during relatively calm years, whereas others, by chance, are fortunate enough to serve during a year in which a key resolution is debated and their vote becomes more valuable,' the authors say. They highlight controversial resolutions over issues including the Korean War, Suez, the Falklands and Kosovo - though the period they study does not include the notorious 'second resolution' over the invasion of Iraq, which never came to a vote.

David Woodward, of the New Economics Foundation, who is writing about the paper for a forthcoming edition of the Lancet, said the findings suggest the UN should be radically reformed.

'As long as one country wields such influence, there will always have a degree of control over what goes on, and they will be likely to abuse that.'

'The biggest obstacle, in both the IMF and the World Bank, as well as the UN, is that the countries that now have power can use that power to block reform - and they do.'

Volcker commission report on UN oil-for-food

Useful links
UN website
Wikipedia: Kofi Annan

Time Magazine's Person of the Year: Jewish editor says Ahmadinejad was the 'choice', but ``it just felt to me a little off selecting him''

Time Magazine's Person of the Year: You

Sunday December 17, 2006 10:16 AM


Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Congratulations! You are the Time magazine ``Person of the Year.''

The annual honor for 2006 went to each and every one of us, as Time cited the shift from institutions to individuals - citizens of the new digital democracy, as the magazine put it. The winners this year were anyone using or creating content on the World Wide Web.

``If you choose an individual, you have to justify how that person affected millions of people,'' said Richard Stengel, who took over as Time's managing editor earlier this year. ``But if you choose millions of people, you don't have to justify it to anyone.''

The magazine did cite 26 ``People Who Mattered,'' from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il to Pope Benedict XVI to the troika of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

And Stengel said if the magazine had decided to go with an individual, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the likely choice. ``It just felt to me a little off selecting him,'' Stengel said.

The 2006 ``Person of the Year'' package hits newsstands Monday. The cover shows a white keyboard with a mirror for a computer screen where buyers can see their reflection.

It was not the first time the magazine went away from naming an actual person for its ``Person of the Year.'' In 1966, the 25-and-under generation was cited; in 1975, American women were named; and in 1982, the computer was chosen.

``I always love it when it's a person - and it is a person, not a computer or something like that,'' Stengel said. ``We just felt there wasn't a single person who embodied this phenomenon.''

Last year's winners were Bill and Melinda Gates and rock star Bono, who were cited for their charitable work and activism aimed at reducing global poverty and improving world health.


On the Net:


Protesters Denounce Police Killing

December 17, 2006

A protest march cut a solemn swath through crowds of Christmas shoppers and the joyous mood of the holiday season in Midtown Manhattan yesterday in a rebuke to the police for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in Queens on his wedding day last month.

Three weeks after Sean Bell was killed and two friends were wounded in a hail of 50 police bullets, a coalition of civil rights groups, elected officials, community leaders, clergymen and others marched down Fifth Avenue and across 34th Street in a “silent” protest that sputtered scattered chants, but was largely devoid of shrieks, speeches and most of the usual sound-and-fury tactics of demonstrations.



If You Love Lebanon, Set It Free

December 17, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor


ONCE more, Lebanon is in political crisis. This time, we are told, it pits “Syrian- and Iranian-backed” Shiite parties (Hezbollah and Amal) and the Christian faction led by Michel Aoun against the “Western-backed” Christian, Sunni and Druze groups that support the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

These very descriptions — citing one external backer or another as a mark of political identification — illustrate the fundamental problem Lebanon must overcome. Call it the Lebanese Disease: rather than sorting out their differences internally and addressing the fundamental injustices at the heart of their disputes, the Lebanese constantly look to outsiders to gain an advantage over their rivals.

Naturally, any advantages thus gained are short-lived, for both the Lebanese and their foreign backers. In the end, the only result is greater popular suffering and instability in Lebanon and the entire Middle East.

Only the Lebanese can cure themselves of this disease, but a bit of enlightened self-interest on the part of the “Western backers” — primarily the United States and France — would greatly help. It may seem counterintuitive, but the best hope for American interests in the Middle East is not to isolate and minimize Hezbollah, but to further integrate it politically, socially and militarily into the Lebanese state.


Hamas Will Not Participate in Elections


Shots Fired at Palestinian Leader's Home
Clashes erupt after Abbas orders poll
Sunday December 17, 2006 12:01 PM


Associated Press Writer

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Hamas will not participate in early elections, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Sunday, in a harsh verbal attack on President Mahmoud Abbas.

Haniyeh denounced Abbas' speech, in which he called for a new vote, ``inflammatory.''

``We confirm that the Palestinian government refuses the invitation to early elections because it is unconstitutional and could cause tension among Palestinians,'' Haniyeh said in his first public comments on the matter.

Haniyeh sharply attacked Abbas, saying his Saturday speech calling for early presidential and parliamentary elections was ``inflammatory'' and ``insulting to the sacrifices and the pain of Palestinians everywhere.''

The Rediscovery of Nicaragua

December 17, 2006
Correction Appended

LOLL in one of the pools at Pelican Eyes, a new development above the town of San Juan del Sur, on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast: a tranquil breeze blows up the hillside from the perfect bay below, the pool’s disappearing edge merges with sea and sky, and the only sound is the rhythmic tapping of the bricklayers who are building the place — a compound of whitewashed, tile-roofed houses amid lush greenery and looking out to perfect sunset views. At the bottom is an airy palm-thatched restaurant, where cheerful waiters serve strong drinks and the patrons sit in the warm night air and talk about real estate.

This is Nicaragua as the Next Costa Rica, the sort of hopeful real estate appellation signaling that gentrification may now begin in earnest. In the last few years, as Americans on the prowl for second homes, or just an investment, have found places like the Last Costa Rica already overrun by their own kind, a boom has started in the country just to its north.

Nicaragua is no stranger to American visitors with grandiose plans. That perfect bay at San Juan del Sur was the place Forty-Niners on their way to California from New England embarked upon the Pacific after a journey across Nicaragua. William Walker, a freelance American colonialist, made landfall here in 1855 to undertake a bloody, tragicomic campaign to introduce democracy, railroads and slavery.

Before facing a firing squad, Walker was briefly the president of Nicaragua, an episode that, perhaps even more than the quarter-century occupation by the United States Marines at the start of the 20th century, and even the Contra war of the 1980s, informs a Nicaraguan wariness of American enthusiasms.

So for now, this is still Nicaragua. If you descend the hill from Pelican Eyes and pass its guardhouse at the foot of the drive, the road is pocked and broken. Shanties cluster at its side. Yet toward the water, San Juan del Sur retains an attractive character. It’s a mellow seaside town where blond surfers stroll obliviously past a Sandinista rally, with loudspeakers blaring revolutionary songs.

This town of brightly painted wooden houses with red metal roofs is fronted by a wide, pretty beach. At the open-air restaurants there, you can relax with a setup that includes a bottle of fine, clean Flor de Caña rum, a bucket of ice, a few bottles of Coke and a dish of limes.

You can walk out for a dip in the warm, shallow water from time to time, then return to the restaurant and snack on salty fried cheese and sweet maduros (fried ripe bananas) as you watch kids play soccer on the beach. Boats bob just behind the soft, curling surf.

I visited in August, with the photographer Morgan Stetler and his fiancée, Anne-Lise Reusswig. In preparation for the elections that took place at the beginning of November, all around us were the workings of the democracy that has emerged from Nicaragua’s troubled past. This was the fourth consecutive free election in the 16 years of peace since the end of the Marxist regime of Daniel Ortega.

The Sandinistas won, making Mr. Ortega, their longtime leader, president once again. But he is president of a different Nicaragua, and there seems little chance that the Sandinista victory will lead back to the chaos of the past.

The news in August was of campaigns, scandal and, more pertinent to the visitor, the rolling blackouts born of high oil prices and botched energy privatization. “No hay luz” — “There is no light” — was an apologetic refrain we heard throughout the country, and we found that a generator had become the most important hotel amenity.


Iraqi Chief Calls Forum to Press for National Reunification; Major Groups Are Absent

As you may have noticed, readers have been unable to post comments lately. I am waiting for my blogging host to address this issue.
December 17, 2006

BAGHDAD, Dec. 16 — With unrelenting violence on the streets, political consensus in America and Iraq lacking, and the United States discussing the possibility of sending thousands more troops here, Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, convened leaders from various communities across the country for talks about how to stem the bloodshed.

While the conference was billed as an attempt at reconciliation, no one claiming to represent either the Shiite militias or the Sunni extremists, who together are driving the current sectarian strife, was in attendance. Moktada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric whose militia, the Mahdi Army, has been responsible for much of the sectarian violence, refused an invitation, according to a lawmaker who helped set up the conference.

In addition, the Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni leaders who were at the gathering did not present any new ideas for how to rein in the militias or insurgents.

Instead, in a series of speeches broadcast live on Iraqi national television, top figures in the government renewed calls for Iraqis to work together for stability.

Mr. Maliki also repeated his invitation to former officers and soldiers in the old Iraqi Army, including some members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, to re-enlist. The army was disbanded shortly after the American-led invasion in 2003, which many consider a miscalculation that helped fuel the insurgency by leaving thousands of men jobless and angry.

Still, in a reflection of the sensitivity of the issue, especially in the Shiite community, Mr. Maliki was careful to note that the invitation did not extend to everyone.



Farewell, Dense Prince: MAUREEN DOWD

The New York Times

Farewell, Dense Prince
Published: December 16, 2006

The defense czar who rivals Robert McNamara for deadly incompetence has been on a victory lap in Baghdad, Mosul and Washington.


Money quote:

"James Baker ran after W. with a butterfly net for a while, but it is now clear that the inmates are still running the asylum."


The Good Daughter, in a Brothel: NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF & Mary Cheney’s Bundle of Joy: FRANK RICH

The New York Times

The Good Daughter, in a Brothel

Published: December 17, 2006

In poor countries where sex trafficking and globalization have fostered new forms of slavery, stories like Yan Kosal’s are still wrenchingly common.


One of the oldest social dichotomies is the one dividing good girls from bad, the madonna from the whore. But in poor countries where sex trafficking and globalization have fostered new forms of slavery, it is the saintly ones — those who risk leaving their villages to help their families — who often end up as whores.

Yan Kosal is a 26-year-old woman here in northwestern Cambodia who was devoted to her aging parents and desperately concerned with providing for them. Her mother is blind, her father is frail, and they depend on her — the only surviving child — for food.

Kosal earned only $30 a month as a peddler, barely enough to scrape by. So when a woman acquaintance told her that she could earn $90 a month selling snacks in Thailand, Kosal leapt at the opportunity.

"I thought I should do this to feed my parents," Kosal said, particularly because her acquaintance offered to escort her to Bangkok. Kosal borrowed $15 to pay her travel expenses, and they set out in September. But once they were in Thailand, where Kosal couldn't speak the language, the trafficker sold her to a brothel.

"First, I cried," Kosal said. But the brothel manager beat Kosal until she capitulated. "If the men wanted to go to the room," Kosal said numbly, "the girl had to go." The women were paid nothing, except for tips — but the sad ones who wept and were uncooperative didn't get tips.



Mary Cheney’s Bundle of Joy

Published: December 17, 2006

Gay-baiting may do candidates who traffic in it more harm than good.

IT'S not the least of John McCain's political talents that he comes across as a paragon of straight talk even when he isn't talking straight. So it was a surprise to see him reduced to near-stammering on ABC's "This Week" two Sundays after the election. The subject that brought him low was the elephant in the elephants' room, or perhaps we should say in their closet: homosexuality.

Senator McCain is no bigot, and his only goal was to change the subject as quickly as possible. He kept repeating two safe talking points for dear life: he opposes same-sex marriage (as does every major presidential aspirant in both parties) and he is opposed to discrimination. But because he had endorsed a broadly written Arizona ballot initiative that could have been used to discriminate against unmarried domestic partners, George Stephanopoulos wouldn't let him off the hook.

"Are you against civil unions for gay couples?" he asked the senator, who replied, "No, I'm not." When Mr. Stephanopoulos reiterated the question seconds later — "So you're for civil unions?" — Mr. McCain answered, "No." In other words, he was not against civil unions before he was against them. His gaffe was reminiscent of a similar appearance on Mr. Stephanopoulos's show in 2004 by Bill Frist, a Harvard-trained doctor who refused to criticize a federal abstinence program that catered to the religious right by spreading the canard that sweat and tears could transmit AIDS.