This callous Christmas Story of 2004 will scare the dickens out of any caring person. What does it matter that Congress closes up shop, goes home for the holiday, and slams the door on Tiny Tim! They’ve as much as said “Bah, Humbug!” to dozens of developing countries that look to the UN for help. Tiny Tim will not only go hungry and be cheated of nutrition and needed immunization and access to a clinic where there might be treatment for his crippled leg, but even worse, there’ll be no hope for a better future to break the hunger/ poverty cycle. No hope for his education which will empower him and his siblings and enable them to prepare for a more rewarding life. And you can bet that their struggling parents, not as lucky as the Cratchetts, definitely won’t get the holiday off! Believe me, they’ll be scraping and scrambling more than ever to feed the family. Or if they have any kind of minimal job it’s more likely they’ll be laid-off instead of enjoying any holiday or benefits, thereby wiping out even scanty support for the family! Such is the under-funded state of affairs that many developing countries needful of special UN humanitarian assistance programs will find themselves. Congress sent less than the assessed share of the US contribution. It shortchanged programs that are lifelines to millions of people who are in starvation situations. Can you imagine surviving on less than $1-a-day? I wonder if our members of Congress, immersed in holiday excesses, will even give this matter a moments’ thought. In the midst of our access to plenty they can’t identify with starvation. With a compassionate yes-vote, they can save children’s lives. This is the connection between power and poverty.

UNDERCUT

Maybe it was easier this year to undercut the appropriations for the United Nations. We’ve had a lot of practice, what with the power over the years of Jesse Helms’ Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A lot of paranoid people in Washington have focused on fearing and hating the United Nations. You’d think that at least someone in Washington would be wise enough by now to recognize that the US is actually a part of the international family, and to point out the screaming inequities between our super-nationalistic-military-zillion-dollar budget and the relatively paltry sum that we grudgingly allot to the essential UN international humanitarian efforts. But no! ‘Tis not the season to be jolly or generous! Or to consider how to help promote Peace on Earth! ‘Tis the season to bad mouth the UN! Make sure that everyone hears the accusation: UN guilty of corruption! The timing, alas, alerts my conspiratorial instincts. So, how does it happen that a major scandal about the oil-for-food program gains its greatest notoriety about the time that Congress has to, at the last minute, belatedly, mind-you, deal with releasing money that was due and owing to the UN on January 1, 2004! It’s not right-on-time for next year; it’s late for this year! The chintzyness of the US contribution makes Scrooge, the tightwad, look like a “conspicuous consumer!” And why give anything to the UN, anyway…in light of the scandalous corruption? Right? Wrong!

UNDERMINED

Considering that the charges against the UN are not only unfounded and misreported by the major media, but completely scurrilous, it seems like a smear tactic that the likes of ol’ Karl Rove might pull out of his great big bag of dirty tricks! When we learned a little more about the circumstances of the UN’s overseeing of the oil-for-food program from Professor Joy Gordon who is studying the issue in depth, guess what! It was not the UN directly, that was even administering the program. The Security Council itself, with its 15- member states, the most powerful of which is the United States, was the administering body! How does that fit into the corruption pattern? There were UN staff members assigned to working on contracts that had already been approved by the Security Council, who then, after their own review went back and alerted the Security Council about 70 instances of contracts that needed to be given further attention because of irregularities. Did the Security Council look into the issues? No! Then, a major on-the-spot observer/participant failed to report any problems: the so-called Multinational Interception Force, which consisted almost exclusively of US 5th Fleet Naval Operations, was physically overseeing shipments of oil to approved countries. It seems that some nations with whom the US wanted to promote a best relationship, such as Turkey and Jordan, had special transaction arrangements that favored their supply of oil. I really resent hearing the efforts of the UN maligned, especially with those sound-bites of misinformation that reverberate with the public. My own son asked me why I still believed in the UN when it was proved to be corrupt! I answered, “Oh, mygod! You’ve been listening to Rush Limbaugh or some other rabid-right-wing-nut! Honey, do some research! Use a little critical reasoning, please?

UNDERRATED

I truly believe in the United Nations! It is the best thing that the Human race has going for it, believe me! And I will not tolerate hearing it denigrated by ignorant know-nothings! United States citizens generally approve of the concept of the UN, but in actuality know very little about its accomplishments. This is mainly because it is largely ignored by the media, except, that is, for something that is an attention-getter. Bad news is better than no news, I guess is the principle for the competitive media to follow. There is something so perverse about the sensationalism and misinformation presented by the networks in this country! Someone described them as lap dogs instead of watch dogs; I think this is an apt description! There is a UN TV Channel that airs current and historical information, but it isn’t carried on cable. It should be factored into every cable contract with a city, like making available C-SPAN or public access channels, so that those who are interested in the UN can find the straight, rather than skewed, information. We hear the UN criticized from every angle, as being both a useless debating society, and of being too powerful and a threat to the sovereignty of nations. Well, which is it? It can’t be both! Maybe, somewhere in-between would be about right. The flaws were designed that way, and many wish to keep the UN powerless. Kofi Annan has no power because there is no executive branch! I’ve heard peace-people complain, “Why doesn’t Kofi Annan take charge and do this or do that?” Well, the answer is, he does not have the authority to take executive action. He can recommend, and he can carry-out the wishes of the majority of the voting nations, but he has never been authorized to act unilaterally, and to take bold action, as we have seen the President of the United States do.

THE NEW MANDATE: ‘RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT’ MAKES CHANGE NECESSARY

When the UN was formed only a few powerful nations were involved. Today there are 191 nations. Of these, 144 are self-designated developing nations, by far, the majority of nations on the face of this earth, representing in total, the majority of Earth’s population. The inequity is screamingly obvious. Something is wrong here! There must be better balance in representation. The big problem is an old one; there’s even an old saying that describes the problem: “Power does not relinquish itself.” I love the old fable about the mice having a convention to discuss the problem of the cat. They considered long and hard about how to deal with this problem. There was much jubilation and agreement when they decided that the cat needed a bell around its neck to warn them it was coming. What a grand solution! Except that, hmmmmm, ah,… how can?, er, ah,….. who will? You got it! And we have the same situation to deal with, and to work out a solution for. The tragedy of the Rwandan massacres, for which the UN took disproportionate blame, has been the impetus for soul-searching and the newly-articulated conviction that the UN has a Responsibility to Protect those who cannot protect themselves. This is a whole new concept! Of course, the UN was formed to protect the “Peoples of Earth from the scourge of war,” but, unfortunately, the organization was not placed in the hands of the People! It was left to the nations, whose representatives have been posturing and maneuvering on the world stage even since. Change will come. But it will not be easy. One of the major factors will be public sentiment. And without positive information, and exchange of ideas, and the building of momentum for a great public outcry, and demand for change, we can’t get there from here! Especially, with a media that knows nothing and wants to ballyhoo alleged corruption instead of promoting a UN that can take responsibility to create the “Peace on Earth” that we read about on holiday greeting cards.