UN serious about addressing oil for food scandal

In your July 15 article "UN scandal tests investigators," Michael J. Jordan rightly notes that the "most significant" probe of allegations of corruption in the Iraq Oil for Food program is being conducted by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. However, Mr. Jordan errs when he asserts that, "It is unclear how much access Mr. Volcker and his team will have to internal UN audits from the program." All relevant UN documents, including internal audits, have been turned over to the Volcker panel.

Jordan quotes Claudia Rosett, who claims that Secretary-General Kofi Annan did not "rise above the factional interests of Member States and do what's right." In fact, in a 2000 report, the secretary-general informed the Security Council of Hussein's illegal surcharges on oil sales. UN oil overseers also flagged that problem, prompting the Council to institute a "retroactive pricing" mechanism that served to curb the practice. In addition, UN staff informed the Council of possible overpricing in humanitarian aid contracts.

The secretary-general has pledged to deal severely with any staff member found guilty of wrongdoing. In the meantime, it is the panel members, not the UN's critics, who will determine the facts.
Shashi Tharoor
New York
Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information

United Nations

Prime farmland lost to development

The title of your July 16 article - "California's new economic magnet" - might better be "Irreplaceable farmland urbanized." Fifty years ago, Los Angeles County led the state in agricultural output. Now thoroughly urbanized, it has been labeled a "Capital of Hunger," as poverty and immigration have skyrocketed in the past two decades. Without question, the unique soil and climate conditions in the Great Central Valley are an irreplaceable national resource. The reporter says that "this emerging empire of strip malls and red-tile roofs fills an intermediate niche for companies that are not yet ready to outsource operations." What will we do when, after the Central Valley's prime acres have been "urbanized," those businesses are ready to outsource operations?
Barbara Vickroy
Escondido, Calif.

Give John Edwards more credit

John Hughes's July 14 column on the presidential race calls Democratic running-mate John Edwards "a man of telegenic charm but, as of now, one with little experience of running a country or negotiating international thickets."

Yet I would defer to the international instincts of Senator Edwards rather than to Vice President Cheney - who still insists that there is a Saddam Hussein link with Al Qaeda even after that assertion has been dismissed by several esteemed sources.
David Zarkin
Bloomington, Minn.

More than a trivia king

Regarding your July 19 article "America's love affair with the game show": Trivia is pop culture. Ken Jennings is answering questions about literature, history, science, and the arts.

Of course each answer is just a "sound bite," but behind them is the eclectic knowledge of a true Renaissance man. The format of the quiz show only allows us to see a shadow of his actual knowledge. What Mr. Jennings has really done is to make smart respectable again. He is the antithesis of Jay Leno's "Jay Walking," a celebration of being ill-informed and insipid.

Maybe Jennings will become a true role model for the young. Surely we could use a little more intelligence in this world.
Thomas Boam

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