An expat's commentary on current events in national security, foreign affairs, the media, culture, technology and assorted trivia.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Strange doings in Rome

Strange news from the BBC:

The Italian parliament has passed legislation allowing people to shoot robbers in self-defence.

The law permits the use of guns and knives by people in homes or workplaces to protect lives or belongings. The reform was introduced by the Northern League party, a right-wing member of the ruling coalition with a strong anti-crime platform.

The opposition voted against the bill, which critics say will encourage people to take the law into their own hands.

The new law will allow people to use legally registered weapons to protect themselves or others, and their property and the property of others, from harm. It applies if there is a danger of aggression and the attacker does not desist.

Justice Minister Roberto Castelli backed the new law. "Today criminals will have more to fear while there will be fewer problems for honest people," said Mr Castelli, who belongs to the Northern League.

However, the centre-left opposition expressed concern that it would encourage violence and lead to increased use of firearms. "This is a... measure that delegates the use of force to citizens with the sole certain result of increasing the risks for people's safety," said Paolo Cento of the Greens party. A criminal lawyers' group also criticized the law, saying it amounted to allowing "legitimate offence".

Is this a hoax?


Corruption in Turtle Bay, part XL

The Financial Times tells us some shocking news... that there is major league corruption in the UN!

A different culprit, this time, though. Not the peacekeepers, or Kofi's family, or Kofi's deputy, or his special representative, or his election monitor, or his refugee commissioner or his right hand man...

United Nations investigators estimate the world body may have lost as much as $298m through irregularities in peacekeeping procurement, according to an unofficial draft of a report into alleged fraud and mismanagement.

The unofficial report, seen by the Financial Times, paints a damning picture of poor or bypassed financial controls, insufficient oversight by senior management, as well as a revolving door of employment between UN procurement staff, and the private companies whose services the UN hires.

The scale and allegedly systematic nature of wrongdoing has raised fears of a scandal as large if not larger than the Iraqi oil-for-food programme affair, which may hit even closer to UN headquarters.

The $298m figure, almost a third of the $1bn of contracts examined, was removed from a subsequent final document, as were references to named companies and officials. UN member states will be officially sent the final version.

Christopher Burnham, the UN’s head of management, acknowledged on Monday that the cost of fraud and mismanagement in peacekeeping procurement could go into the “tens of millions of dollars”, and the figure was likely to rise over coming months.

There are currently 200 separate investigations related to procurement. Over recent weeks, a new interim head of the procurement service has been appointed, and the UN’s internal investigative arm, OIOS, which conducted the investigation, has established a procurement fraud taskforce.

Last week, the UN announced it had placed eight staff members on administrative leave, although without any presumption of wrongdoing. “The UN is being proactive,” Mr Burnham said, citing co-operation with US federal authorities. “We are ferreting out corruption and fraud where is existed and where it exists.”

Contracts awarded to companies through violations “certainly will be terminated”, he added, and the secretariat would seek compensation.

The draft report also raised questions about the UN’s Headquarters Committee on Contracts, which reviews contracts above $200,000. It named eight officials which worked both for the UN and its contractors at different times.

Also under investigations was the UN’s controls over performance bonds, which are used to guarantee satisfactory completion of a contract. In nine sampled contracts, the bonds received ranged between zero to 7.6 per cent of the contract value, even though the minimum suggested was 10 per cent.

“OIOS noted the systematic erosion over many years of a fair and competitive source for the UN procurement,” the draft report said in its overall assessment. “A lack of enforcement of accountability and a reluctance to investigate mismanagement…has led to a pattern of corrupt practices.”

(Emphasis added.)

Well, one thing that you can say about the UN bureaucrats... at least they are thorough.


I hope Kojo's late fees and interest payments are similar to mine

According to CNN, eight years late, but Kojo finally picks up the tab:

The son of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he is sorry he misused his father's name to save more than $20,000 on a Mercedes SUV he had shipped to his native Ghana. Now, eight years later, he's looking to make things right.

Kojo Annan wants to pay back the customs duties he skirted during the 1998 transaction that cast a shadow over him and his father during last year's probe into the United Nations oil-for-food scandal, according to Kojo Annan's attorney.

Investigators last year found that Kojo Annan "used false pretenses" in obtaining a diplomatic discount for a Mercedes ML 320 sport-utility vehicle he purchased in Geneva, Switzerland.

He saved over US$20,000 by using those false pretenses.

In a January 19 letter to Ghana's customs agency, Kojo Annan's attorney, William Taylor, wrote, "The automobile was not for the secretary-general's personal use and therefore the exemption was not justified."

"Kojo Annan wishes to make full payment of the amount due to the government of Ghana as a result of this transaction," Taylor wrote...

Neither Annan was immediately available for comment. But U.N. spokesman Stephanie Dujarric said, "He obviously misled his father."

Kofi Annan told Volcker investigators that he gave Kojo Annan $15,000 to help him buy the car but said he didn't realize his son was purchasing the car in his name.

Never mind that he had to get forms and signature's from Papa's office to save the 20 G's.

The United Nations has remained silent on details about the vehicle, and Kofi Annan called a Times of London reporter "an overgrown schoolboy" last month after the reporter pressed him on the SUV's whereabouts.

Let's give these paragons control over war and peace...

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Endangered Germans

Another straw in the wind on Europe's demographic suicide, from Reuters:

Ursula von der Leyen, a medical doctor and the mother of seven, wants Germans to have more babies.

Since taking the family affairs portfolio in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet, she has been making proposals that have put the family high on Germany's political agenda.

Her calls for free child care and extensive tax breaks for families with small children have put the spotlight on Germany's low birthrate.

The Federal Statistics Office said yesterday that Germany's population fell for a third straight year in 2005, adding impetus to the new minister's determination to halt the decline by encouraging families to have more children.

The data show the number of Germans has fallen by 3.2 million in the past 33 years, a decline masked until recently by the flow of immigrants...

Determined to overhaul Germany's child-care system and end the frosty attitude toward families, Mrs. von der Leyen sparked a debate by urging states and communities to slash or even eliminate preschool-care charges that far exceed university fees.

Other European nations are prescribing similar incentives.

More than 600,000 Italian newborns will receive a letter from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the next week welcoming them into the world as Italian citizens and telling their parents how to receive a 1,000 euro "baby bonus" from the state. Like Germany, Italy's birthrate has plummeted.

Political opponents accuse Mr. Berlusconi of campaign trickery in the run-up to the April 9 elections, using the letter to evade campaign laws limiting his time on television.
"Best wishes for your arrival; do you know that the budget has put aside 1,000 euros for you?" Mr. Berlusconi writes in the letter sent to babies born in 2005.

He signs off: "Big Kiss, Silvio Berlusconi."...

Today, German women find it hard to raise children and pursue a career at the same time. A law scrapped only in the 1970s even allowed a husband to have his wife fired from her job by saying she was neglecting her family. (How sophisticated! - ed.)

Mothers who swap diapers for careers are still disparaged as "raven mothers" -- leaving their children alone in a cold nest. Studies show one-third of German women think working mothers can't have a warm, stable relationship with their children...

(What to do? Beg the government!)

"Free child care might be a nice idea," said Stephan Articus, head of the association of German municipalities. "But we simply don't have the [money] needed."

(Emphasis added.)


NoonShadow has put the spotlight on the phenomenon of Europe's quietus before.

It is not only that the population is shrinking, but that with so few children, the population is becoming older and older.

Minister von der Leyen's moves come too late to make a difference.


Speaker for the oppressed and downtrodden?

The N.Y. Times explains how the U.N. chooses sides between gang rapists and their victims:

Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani woman whose defiant response to being gang-raped by order of a tribal court brought her worldwide attention, was denied a chance to speak at the United Nations on Friday after Pakistan protested that it was the same day the country's prime minister was visiting.

Ms. Mai had long been scheduled to make an appearance called "An Interview With Mukhtar Mai: The Bravest Woman on Earth" in the United Nations television studios, sponsored by the office for nongovernmental organizations, the Virtue Foundation and the Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights.

But on Thursday night the organizers were informed that the program would have to be postponed because of Pakistan's objections.

Ms. Mai is leaving New York on Saturday so the effect was to cancel her appearance.

Asked at a news conference why Pakistan had taken the action, the prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, said: "I have no idea. You have informed me and so have some other people as I was walking in. I don't know how the place functions."

The Pakistani Mission did not return calls seeking comment.

In 2002, a village council sentenced Ms. Mai to be gang-raped for the supposed misconduct of her brother. Pakistani women in such circumstances often commit suicide, but Ms. Mai instead successfully challenged her rapists in court. She gave the compensation money she received to schools in her remote district...

Mr. Aziz is scheduled to see President Bush in Washington next week.

This was not the first time that Pakistan's government had interfered in Ms. Mai's travels. President Pervez Musharraf blocked her from taking a trip to the United States in June and then relented last fall when Glamour magazine honored her as its "Woman of the Year...

In an interview, Ms. Mai said: "I feel disappointed. I was not going to say anything bad about Pakistan. I was just going to talk about my work and what people are doing."

(Emphasis added.)

It is a strange place, the U.N.

Supposedly founded to advance humanity's highest ideals, it instead wallows in the muck, proudly protecting the world's cruelest scum.