Saturday, February 05, 2005

More on the U.N's Oil-for-Peace Program

There is no doubt that many Republicans in Congress have been exploiting the U.N. oil-for-food program to discredit the United Nations, diminish its authority, and promote the idea that it is really not all that bad that if the Bush administration wants to go it alone in the war on terrorism.

Nor would I argue with Ian Williams' contention in the Nation on January 10 that many of those calling for Secretary General Kofi "Annan's head are provoked by his opposition to America's pe-emptive war in Iraq."

One of Annan's most vocal critics has been Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who called for Annan's resignation at a time when there was little evidence to call for such a drastic move. Coleman's largest home state newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, editorialized in January that Coleman's demand for Annan's resignation was "sordid", and driven by politics:

"For months before the election, the right-wing constellation of blogs and talk radio was alive with incendiary rhetoric about Annan and the oil-for-food scandal... This is really all about Annan's refusal to toe the Bush line on Iraq and the administration's generally unilateral approach to foreign affairs. The right-wingers hate Annan and saw in the food-for-oil program a possible chink in the armor. They went after it with a venomous fury."

That is all true. But Williams and other similar minded defenders of the U.N. on the left have taken their argument much too far.

Williams wrote in the lede to his Nation piece:

"Last June UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said of the media coverage of the so-called Oil for Food Scandal, `It's a bit like lynching actually.' By December, the vigilantes were lining up, swinging their ropes. The neoconservative and paleoconservative assault on him and the UN has been like a slightly slower version of the Swift Boat veterans' campaign against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry..."

One would be hard pressed to argue with the contention there has been a concerted radical conservative agenda driven effort to discredit and intimidate Annan, and perhaps even cause his removal from office, for all the wrong reasons. The effort has been driven by conservative foundations and journalists who were given wide latitude to spread whatever spurious charges without whichever editorial page editor or cable talk show host on MSNBC or Fox displaying any concern for their disregard of the truth.

But to argue as Williams and others on the left have that the U.N. Food-for-Oil scandal is much ado about nothing is wrongheaded. The interim Volcker report leaves no doubt whatsoever that the U.N's program was riddled with corruption, mismanagement, and favoritism-- and compromised at the very highest level. Indeed, the U.N. official entrusted with running the program, Benton Sevan, the Volcker report concluded, abused his position by pressuring the Iraqis to steer lucrative contracts to individuals close to him.

Investigators are now attempting to determine whether Sevan himself profited financially from the awarding of those contracts. Volcker is reportedly looking into $160,000 in cash payments which Sevan claims were gifts from an elderly aunt. Volcker's interim report is skeptical of those claims, stating: "Her [the aunt's] lifestyle did not suggest this to be so. She was a retired Cyprus government photographer living on a modest pension."

Even Annan said on Friday that he found such disclosures to be "extremely troubling."

In short, if there is a danger to the credibility and stature of the United Nations, the enemy has been from both within and from without.

While conservatives on Capitol Hill have been exploiting these disclosures to diminish the power of the international body and as means to pay back Annan for standing up to Bush administration's pre-emptive war with Iraq, for those who support the U.N. to deny that there exists a very real scandal exists only plays directly into the hands of those on the other side who want to harm the institution the most.

The only course left is to allow investigators to uncover the truth, and then the member nations to insist on long overdue and necessary reform for the international body. Over the long term, everyone would be better served by a reformed and more effective U.N.

The U.N.'s Oil-for-Food Scandal (Part 2)

One of the better stories on the interim Volcker commission report on the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal appeared Friday in the New York Sun. Although appearing in the conservative newspaper, the story was balanced, lacked any ideological bias, and was tightly edited. More importanlty, the story was chock-full of details left out of larger newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The lede to reporter Benny Avni's story:

"The long-awaited Volcker Commission interim report on the oil-for-food scandal confirmed yesterday the thrust of the allegations against the United Nations official who ran the program, Benon Sevan, and raised new questions about his close contacts with relative of a former United Nations secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

"Mr. Volcker deferred until a later report questions about the current U.N. chief, Kofi Anan, whose son Kojo, has been suspected of having a role in helping a Geneva-based company to obtain a contract with the U.N.

"That left the newly disclosed connections of Mr. Boutros-Ghali's family to the scandal as the most intriguing part of the 24-page tome released yesterday by Mr. Volcker's U.N.-approved investigation team.

Lower down in the story, Avni quotes Henry Hyde, the chairman of the House international Relations Committee (and the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Clinton impeachment manager) as saying: "I am reluctant to conclude that the U.N. is damaged beyond repair, but these revelations certainly point in this direction."

Hyde's comments underscore an undercurrent in the current congressional investigations of U.N. scandal, namely that corruption and mismanagement at the United Nations is hardly the paramount concern of many conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill as they forge ahead. Rather, Hyde and others appear to be exploiting the investigative machinery at their disposal to discredit and marginalize the U.N. Many of them would like nothing better for the U.N. disappear from the face of the Earth so that the hardliners in the Buh administration would be free to pursue whatever multilateralist foreign policy they wish.

Ironically, these efforts come as Bush himself has expressed his own second thoughts about largely going it alone in post-war Iraq and his new Secretary of State is currently in Europe attempting to repair strained relations with our allies.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Corruption of the U.N.'s Iraqi Oil-for-Food Program

One of today's most important news stories has been the release of the interim report by the commission investigating the United Nations' handling of the $64 billion oil-for-food program with Iraq, a program which the commission concluded was riddled with corruption, favoritism, and mismanagement.

Most extraordinarily, the Iraqi government demanded and received more than $2 billion in kickbacks and payoffs from businessmen wanting to do business with Saddam Hussein.

While the scandal has been viewed so far largely as a U affair, less noticed today were the remarks of San. Richard Lugar (R-Indo.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said that while "part of the blame for the current imbroglio lies with the U", Congress should also "recognize that those nations who sat on the Security Council... [among them] the United States-- must also answer questions as to why they, too, did not pay greater scrutiny to the program."

The interim report, authored by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker, is hardly going to be the last word on the subject. The Volcker Commission's final report is due out, according to a senior State Department official, in the late summer or early fall. Congressional investigations are ongoing as well.
Even More on Partygate!

As the day has gone along, there seems to be scant evidence so far of the wild parties that purportedly went on at Jenny Lee's former Washington loft, as alleged in her landlord's lawsuit. Five people who attended her parties have told me as much, but most are reluctant to speak on the record because of the ongoing litigation.

Mark Ambinger, a producer at ABC news, who attended a half dozen parties at Lee's loft, told me that "they were always fun but staid affairs." He adds: "I saw nothing objectionable."

Julian Barnes, a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report, says he attended a number of Jenny Lee's parties, and while they were lively affairs in a city where most people go to bed notoriously early, they were more similar to "your average Washington cocktail party than a frat party in college."

Another person who attended the parties told me that they were "wine and dumpling affairs... Maybe she had wild parties at other times-- they must have been the times I wasn't there. But that doesn't seem to be the Jenny that I know."

A profile of Jenny Lee in the New York Sun, published in February of last year, and headlined "Meet D.C.'s Hostess of the Mostest" said that Lee "fashioned a high-powered and occasionally raucous social circuit around the brunches and barbecues, dinner parties and poker nights, holiday soirees, and intimate concerts she hosts on a nearly weekly basis in her penthouse loft". But the story hardly portrayed raucous parties: "As a host, she's a fretter, rolling her homemade dumplings or picking up plastic cups behind her guests rather than mingling; more likely to wear baggy drawstring pants than form-fitting French connection ensembles; frugally catering her parties with supplies from Costco."

The article rather portrayed someone both extraordinarily friendly and extroverted:

"As testament to Ms. Lee's friendliness, a friend recalls that the reporter struck up a conversation with a take-out delivery person who dropping off an order at her hotel while she was on assignment in Defiance, Ohio. Ms. Lee, on the spot, ended up inviting the delivery woman, a Taiwanese-American college student who was majoring in journalism, to share a hotel room with her and other reporters at an Asian-American Journalists Association convention in San Diego a few months later."

The article, however, confirmed at least once instance of bad behavior at one of her parties, which is virtually identical to one of the allegations in Solomon's lawsuit: "Hundreds showed up at her Halloween party, which featured a smoke machine and a crystal ball reader she found through the Harvard grapevine. There was some unplanned entertainment as well: A few impatient guests decided to relieve themselves off her balcony early in the morning. Ms. Lee's apartment has only one bathroom."

Lee herself said in a brief telephone conversation-- her lunch interrupted by my call-- that there was little she could say because of the ongoing litigation other than she wished her former landlord well, and that she was not much of a party girl: "I guess I kind of see myself as a frumpy girl who doesn't drink."

More on Partygate: The Merlot Conspiracy!

Briefly over the telephone earlier today, Beth Solomon, the landlord who filed the lawsuit against Jennifer 8. Lee, told me that she blamed to some degree the New York Times for her plight:

"I trusted her because of her credentials: The New York Times and Harvard," Ms. Solomon said, "I would have checked her out more except for the fact that she worked for the Times."

Further lolling her into complacency, she said, was the fact that the Times paid Lee's rent on the apartment for several months. Indeed, in her complaint against Lee, Solomon alleged: "The New York Times Co. paid the rent and the security deposit for the first three months of the lease."

Catherine Mathis, a spokesperson for the New York Times, said that she could not determine whether or not the apartment was indeed paid for by the newspaper, but would have an answer for me on Monday.

Other portions of the complaint, which was just filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, regarding the Times, read like they could have written by Lyndon Larouche. Here is, in part, what Solomon's complaint further alleges:

"On information and belief, guests [at the infamous parties] included high-level placed sources in the government, particularly at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) n which Lee reported... Other guests included high-level congressional staffers, top aides to Democratic party presidential candidates such as Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. John Edwards, and other influential "newsmakers" in Washington. Among the guests to have been present were Grover Norquist, Zach Exley, Director of, Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson, and columnist Harold Myerson. Lee would use the parties to take [individuals whom] she considered to sources into a back room for merlot where she would conduct informal interviews in order to gain information to be used for the Times."

A couple of observations: First, that Lee offered merlot to her guests at the wild parties in question undercuts that they were, indeed, wild parties. Merlot is not exactly malt liquor.

As for myself, as a long-time investigative reporter, I have never extracted any information of consequence from a recalitrant source by offering a glass of merlot. Any self-respecting journalist knows that the only way to get sources to talk is offering up malt liquor beverages. Most effective for me has been the old reliable Colt 45. (They don't teach this stuff in journalism schools, but here it is for any aspiring investigative reporter: On the Internet.. and for free.)

Fox News Channel's When Journalists Behave Badly, Part 2:

Got Richard Leiby on the phone. Hopefully will soon have those details regarding exactly the $148,000 in damages that Jennifer 8. Lee purportedly did to her apartment. He is going to email me over a copy of the complaint.

But bigger news, or so I thought: I told him about my little experiment. A traditional old school journalist who has never blogged before blogging for the first time and-- for twenty four hours straight at that.

He got a kick out of the idea (or rather, more probably, it was a slow news day) and said he may want to write about my 'lil blog for his Sunday column. Too good to be true! After all, I still have not as of yet even had my first reader or unique visitor. And after scheming so hard (apparently unsuccessfully) to get Mickey Kaus (Hey Mickey, Hey Mickey, You're So Fine!) to link to me, to get into the Washington Post! A blogger's dream come true.

However, after reading that I had written kind words about him in the blog, Richard wondered whether some readers might view his mentioning of my blog as another example of "log rolling in our time". My chance at the big time is gone! I think. Here and gone too quick. One possibility is that I simply delete from my previous post my kind words for Richard. LOL.

Fox's New Series: When Journalists Behave Badly! (Part 1)

In this morning's Washington Post's Reliable Source, Richard Leiby reports:

New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee's party-throwing penchant and unusual byline earned her a lot of buzz when she worked in Washington. Now her fomrer landlady, in a lawsuit filed yesterday, claims that Lee's "raucous" shindigs in 2003 and 2004-- where the guests included congressional staffers, pundits and other reporters-- caused $148,000 in damage to her Washington condo.

"It looked like `Animal House,'" said Beth Solomon, a PR rep who rented Lee the $2,900-a-month apartment, near the Washington Convention center for 20 months. "There was urinating and defecating on the property, vomiting on the stairways. The kitchen was destroyed,the floors were destroyed, my baby grand piano was used as a wet bar...

'Lee, 28, would not comment yesterday on the allegations but did tell us, `I like Beth Solomon a lot and hope we can settle in a way that makes her happy.'

"A Harvard grad and former Washington Post reporting intern, Lee has been described by friends as an aspiring grande dame for the younger set. A New York Sun article lat year about her Washington parties was headlined `Meet D.C.'s Hostess of the Mostest."

Some comments of my own:

First of all, I do not know Jennifer 8. Lee-- and I want to take this opportunity to, either clear my name, or express my extreme disappointment (I am not sure which) that I have never been at one of her parties-- but there is just no way she is ever going to do anything for her ex-landlord that "makes her happy."

Second, how could anyone do $148,000 in damage to a condo? Leiby (an acquaintance and extraordinarily gifted reporter and writer) doesn't say. $148,000? I, for one, would like to find out. I'm going to call him and see if I can find out and report back as soon as I can. I'm not sure for whom. I don't believe that I have the first visitor to my blog yet.

Third, I want to take this opportunity to complain about my own landlord. (After all, what is a blog for, except for a personal agenda?) He just recently sent me a lengthy email deploring the fact that I do not properly remove all of the lint from the dryer after each load of laundry. And this from a landlord who will not do even basic repairs! In my fantasies, his next tenants are fraternity brothers from American University. Jennifer 8. Lee would do quite well in that fantasy as well.

Fourth, Leiby inadvertently takes a journalistic cheap shot at Lee, although that was probably not his intention: (Indeed, Leiby has restored some fairness and restraint to the Post's gossip column since Lloyd Grove decamped for New York.) Lee might have destroyed a condo and caused $148,000 in damage, but the term "former Washington Post intern" has become somewhat incidiary and pejorative ever since the most famous Washington Post intern has been... Jayson Blair.

I promise more on all of this soon....

The lead headline this morning on Washington is "Rice Says Attacking Iran is `Not on Agenda." Yeah, well... that is reassuring and all. But the story says nothing about Canada. And wasn't that the same type of thing the Bush administration was saying about Iraq as it was, well, secretly planning to invade Iraq?

Apparently what I wrote is true. I checked it on the Internet! Famous bloggers Joshua Micah Marshall and Ana Marie Cox did in fact work for the American Prospect. And they both also started their blogs after having been fired or forced to depart by one of the magazine's founders, Robert Kuttner.

One can read more about this here.

(My first attempt at creating a link. Pathetic huh? I promise all of my readers that I will fix that later, and learn how to properly link. Of course, I still don't have my first unique visitor.)

This post was later updated to properly include the link. I have learned how to link!

The Village Voice's Cynthia Cotts had this to say two years ago when Kuttner fired Ana Marie Cox and forced out Joshua Micah Marshall as Washington editor of the magazine, when nobody could have ever guessed that they would be featured in a cover story in the New York Times Magazine about bloggers:

"Cox's demise may have been foretold in her mission, which was to gradually shift the magazine away from the dry policy pieces favored by Kuttner, a Boston-based economics expert. To be successful, Cox had to put herself in the crossfire. Some have suggested that Meyerson stood by as Kuttner shot down his number two, while others insist that Cox's personally cost her the job. Either way, the firing of a top staffer was traumatic, managing editor Lisa Hisel quit the next day....

"Two names of departed writers surface again and again-- Joshua Micah Marshall, who was too far to the center for Kuttner's taste, and Robert Dreyfuss, who was too far to the left, Marshall became the first Washington editor of the Prospect in September 1999. But over time, sources say, Kuttner began strong-arming Marshall to "toe the line ideologically." Kuttner thought Marshall "liked Al Gore too much," says one. Things came to a head this past March, when Marshall announced he WA quitting to freelance.

"Marshall's successor was Robert Dreyfuss, who contributes to Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, and the Nation. But Dreyfuss quit this fall, after clashing with Kuttner over the proper editorial response to the September 11 attacks. Dreyfuss wrote a piece for the Prospect's Web Site, he recalls, in which he said "what happened on September 11 was a crime" and called for the attacks to be handled "by the appropriate international authorities." A few days later, the piece vanished, and Dreyfuss soon learned that Kuttner expected every voice in the magazine to support the war effort....

"Kuttner declined to comment on marshals departure. Of Cox, all he would say is that "nobody here is ever fired frivolously or capriciously." Nothwisthstanding a "radical difference" of opinion, he said, "We very much regret Bob Dreyfuss's departure. I wish we'd handled that differently."

In my determination to become a successful blogger (not going so well so far; after all still hoping for that first unique visitor), I am contemplating writing for, or seeking, a job at the American Prospect, being fired by Robert Kuttner, and having nothing to do with my days... except blog. Not wanting to actually have to do that, however, perhaps I will have my fictional alter ego-- the one who spends his time emulating Mickey Kaus, walking around Washington D.C. singing that inane song to himself all day (hey Mickey! hey Mickey! You're so Fine!) seek an internship at the American Prospect.

(In terms of full disclosure-- and seeking a balance between disclosure and simply boring readers-- of which I am still without my first apparently-- I have written a relatively small number of online stories for the Prospect, mostly since Michael Tomasky has taken over as the Prospect's editor.)
Hey Mickey! Hey Mickey! You're so fine!

All right, there is some dance/disco song from the seventies, or eighties, I am not sure which, with those above lyrics. I think I am going to create a fictional character-- a recent Ivy League grad who comes to Washington D.C., a ruthless intern (think Ruth Shalit!) who wants to be a journalist, whose hero and role model is Mickey Kaus!

Over time, our anti-hero cum intern, perhaps becomes obsessed with Mickey. Should we make it a sexual obsession? Hmmmm. This is a family blog, after all. Perhaps we shouldn't. And we do not want to lose our readers in Red States, do we? We still have not determined whether our fictional blogger is even gong to be male or female. That would make our Mickey obsessed intern gay. We definitely would alienate our readers in Red States with that.

Of course-- on the other hand, we don't really have our first single unique visitor as of yet. So there is nobody in the red states, let alone any blue states to alienate.

One thing is certain. Our intern walks around Washington D.C. all day singing that song in his head over and over again: Hey Mickey! Hey Mickey! Hey Mickey, your'e so fine!

Well, it has been a while and yet no eyeballs. No traffic whatsoever. I am no Mickey Kaus!

However, it will be a regular feature of this blog to make fun of Mickey Kaus. Why? For any number of reasons. He just deserves it! He uses too many exclamation marks in his posts. But most of all, if I pick a fight with Mickey Kaus, he will link to this blog, and I will eventually have traffic of some kind I presume.
Is there anyone out there reading this? Anyone at all?

All right. Still not my first unique visitor.

I guess what is frustrating is that I appear to be doing everything right. Everything!

I have done the following things to get my first reader, or, better yet, many readers. Having studied other successful blogs, I have come to conclusion that that the following are ways to be a successful blogger:

1. Don't write anything of substance. I have done that.

2. Engage Mickey Kaus in some way. I have done that as well. It is only a matter of time before he links to me. Or someone like Ana Marie Cox will.

3. Write for the American Prospect, and not like Robert Kuttner. Two of the most successful bloggers today-- Joshua Micah Marshall and Ana Marie Cox are former Prospect writers and edtors. I am not admitting or confirming by the way that I ever wrote for the Prospect. But if I haven't already, I will, so I can stop and then become a famous blogger like Josh Marshall or Ana Marie.

4. Create buzz by utilizing a stupid pet trick. It worked for Joe Klein. Would Primary Colors have sold more than 10,000 copies if everyone knew the author was Joe Klein? Probably not.
Therefore, I am going to create enough buzz to obtain my first unique visitor because I am writing my blog anonymously-- for now, at least.

My First Posts!

It is sooooo true. Cliche that it may be, I do in fact need an editor.
It's been a full few i dunno how many minutes. Yet... no traffic. *sighs*
Hi Everyone. This is the first post of my blog. Kewl. Very kewl.