Friday, December 29, 2006

Excellent expose on Noka Chocolates (even the name sounds like bull*#$@) which I got via boingboing. And from the expose you really learn the difference between chocolate makers and chocolatiers, which I still hadn't learned from two years in chocolatier-filled Belgium. I've been praising Wittamer, Galler, etc., when the couverture-makers (Bonnat, Valrhona, etc.) determine the quality of the taste of the chocolate. (link - to Dallas Food article)

Here is a list of alternative brands of chocolate where you will get your money's worth:

Michel Cluizel
El Rey
Bonnat (where Noka actually gets its chocolate and marks up the price a few thousand times)
Then I was wondering where Marcolini, my favorite Belgian chocolate shop with the great packaging, gets its couverture....well, that is quickly answered. Marcolini makes his own couverture (from
"Pierre Marcolini is uncompromising when it comes to choosing the raw materials for his products. Every year, this indefatigable chocolate “gringo” travels the world (Latin America, Mexico, Madagascar, Trinity Island, etc.) in search of cacao beans, the fruit that he uses as his logo.
Not satisfied with bringing back the best beans in the world to his ateliers in Brussels, this alchemist then subtly blends the beans from the different regions and works with original aromas to create unequalled flavours: ganaches made with teas from around the world, Origin “Crus” chocolate bars, etc.The advantage of creating your own coating* is undeniable: real products, rigorously selected ingredients that enhance each of the specialities with their specific flavours to create chocolates that are always different, always original, sometimes audacious, and that put us in mind of the best “Grand Cru” wines.
* Pierre Marcolini manufactures his chocolate himself (coating) using cacao beans that he selects personally. He is among the last three craftsmen working this way in Europe.
The cacao beans selected during his travels arrive at the atelier and are rigorously checked by Pierre Marcolini himself, each “origin cacao bean” must be selected and processed in accordance with its quality.
The manufacturing process begins with roasting the beans to remove any residual humidity and to increase the aroma. The beans are then crushed and the mass that emerges is divided into miniscule particles, which are then ground. This is when the chocolate-making process begins: cacao, cacao butter, sugar and fresh vanilla from Tahiti. "

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Germany will take over the EU Presidency of the Council of Ministers on January 1, 2007, and there are high expectations for this half year. Germany has made plans to present a way forward towards a constitution in June 2007, despite the fact that a compromise seems difficult as some member states want to stick to the old version of the Constitution, while Finland and others have decried "picking apart" the draft in favor of moving forward with reforms like Qualified Majority Voting in the Council without the document. (Euractiv coverage)

This disagreement among member states reflects public opinion, which seems lost among the German government's confident assurances that it will be able to reach a compromise -- supposedly without focus groups and probably in a way that will bypass referenda in the future. (IHT from October 2006) "Convincing" people that the constitution is necessary is fraught with danger because it implies that the majority of votes in the French and Dutch referenda were somehow "wrong" because they did not vote the way Germany and other member states wanted.

Germany has also made the final status of Kosovo a high priority for its Presidency. The Serbian election on January 21 will foreshadow the consequences of whichever recommendation comes forward, and will probably indicate just how contentious an independent Kosovo will be for the region.

This will be a big year for Germany otherwise because it will hold the presidency of the G-8, and will be presiding over festivities celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, one of the first steps towards building the European Union. (German Presidency website)

It's a freaking Agatha Christie mystery trying to figure out what was in those redacted *bleeps* by the CIA on the NYT article this past week. The censure was unwarranted, the authors say, because all the redacted items had already been presented in previous articles.

The authors insist that the U.S. missed an opportunity for a general rapprochement with Iran, especially when Iran assisted the U.S. against the Taliban in Afghanistan following 9/11. But the episodes to support this thesis are missing because of the redactions. However, one guess at one critical redacted paragraph goes like this:
"When Tehran sought a quid-pro-quo to strengthen its own security and offered to exchange captured Al-Qaeda leaders for a small group of senior commanders among the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) cadres in Iraq, the administration refused to consider any such exchange, even though the MEK has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State. The United States backtracked on a promise to disarm MEK troops, and canceled scheduled meetings with Iran, accusing it of harboring al-Qaeda leaders implicated in suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia. "

MEK tries desperately to be seen as a legitimate organization, and it gives out sandwiches to poor assistants in the European Parliament in pursuit of this goal, but it continues to sit on "terrorist organization" lists in both Europe and the United States. However, their efforts may have had some influence here (?).. but the U.S. indecisiveness as noted in the previous paragraph was probably more influenced by the following realization, from a WaPo article in 2003, a fact which has been long forgotten and therefore probably redacted:

"Some Pentagon officials, impressed by the military discipline and equipment of the thousands of MEK troops, began to envision them as a potential military force for use against Tehran, much like the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. But the MEK is also listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department."

The other major item redacted from the article is mention of meetings between the U.S. and Iran in Geneva in 2003 discussing rapprochement between the two countries, which eventually broke down because both sides accused the other of harboring/failing to disarm terrorists (Al Qaeda for Iran, and MEK for the U.S.). There are other citations relating to the redactions at Raw Story.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

In case you hadn't heard already, the title of book 7 in J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potter series is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Mugglenet has the full lowdown and overanalysis. I had a wonderful discussion with my old high school friend Val about how we love Harry Potter, and are no longer ashamed about it. I have come to understand that the people who knock Harry Potter haven't checked out J.K. Rowlings inventiveness at creating all the intricacies of an entire world, without it being cheesy. Recently I watched one of the Lord of the Rings movies, and I couldn't believe how ridiculous the dialogues were; pseudo-archaic language is never cool.
I apologize for not writing anything for many days. Pawel, my boyfriend, came on Tuesday from the Netherlands, and since then we have been wearing out our shoes walking across Manhattan and Brooklyn. We've even been able to catch some of my friends even though they have been super busy with work, something I know nothing about.

I am getting closer to going to Albania, however there are pleas from some parties in the country to postpone the election until after January 20, 2007, until the election laws can be properly reformed and with the agreement of the political forces in the country.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The verdict on the five Bulgarian nurses is guilty, and they have been sentenced to death. A very sad day for justice; it's also a sad day for diplomacy, as the pressure on Libya to release the nurses was intense. They can appeal though. And the medical evidence (in an article in Nature) shows that the children were infected with HIV before the nurses started working at the hospital, and an HIV expert agrees that HIV was in the hospital before they got there, then the Supreme Court had better take this information into consideration. Unfortunately, Libya isn't very receptive to pressure from the outside, although Libya has asked for compensation from Bulgaria, to no effect.
I am very excited, I have been tentatively assigned to the US contribution to the OSCE's election observation mission to the local elections in Albania on January 21.

These elections are especially interesting because the legislature has failed to agree on improvements in the election laws, and as a result, several left-wing parties have boycotted the vote.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

And speak of the devil, Abu Mazen calls for elections which Hamas has threatened to boycott. The pictures in the NYT slideshow accompanying the article are shocking.
I am about 2/3 of the way through Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. This book has become controversial in the United States, and one can chalk this up to it being one of the few books that catalogs some of the human rights abuses that Israel has perpetrated against Palestinians. But one can also see where Carter invites criticism. (WaPo article on controversy)

The first controversy is the use of the word "apartheid" in the title. Surely, the title assigns the brunt of the blame to Israel, and it is an un-nuanced label for the relationship between the two countries that evokes more outrage than contribute real understanding of the situation. The word "apartheid" is a loaded word, not an exacting definition, and it should have been avoided. However, the human rights abuses and the isolation of communities by the wall and the border policies are very real.

A little while ago I was telling a friend about the fact that for years Israel has diverted water from the Jordan river to Israel, bypassing Palestine, in addition to closing wells in the Palestinian territories, and that Israelis use many more times as much water as Palestinians, etc.; she informed me that these events are rarely if ever discussed in the U.S. This book puts them out there in black and white; and, as if I need to say it again, criticizing the policies of the Israeli state does not make me or anyone else an anti-semite. Just like criticizing the policies of the U.S. administration does not make you anti-American.

However, I can see where critics could find their fodder. First of all, like my old boss Madame Mastenbroek, Mr. Carter has met with Hamas, most notably prior to the 1996 elections in the PT. This is difficult to reconcile, because, if you see Hamas first and foremost as a terrorist group, then meeting with terrorists is akin to negotiating with terrorists, and all along, meeting with the group gives them legitimacy. On the other hand, if you see Hamas as a political force which has broad support among the Palestinian populous, then meetings encouraging them to participate in the democratic process (as Carter was doing) might give them the impetus to leave violent methods altogether in favor of political solutions to conflict. It is a difficult choice to make; America's support of democratic elections in 2005 and then subsequent de facto rejection of the results (because they favored Hamas) makes the U.S. look very bad. What's the answer, push or pull? Madame Mastenbroek and Carter believe in "pull".

Furthermore, Carter doesn't seem to denounce terrorism enough. He gives Hanan Ashrawi the last word in Chapter 11, as he offers several other statements in the book without comment or critique when they need it. She says:

"So far, they have succeeeded in holding the peace process hostage to this mentality on the one hand. And on the other hand they have provoked tremendous violence by acts of incitement like shelling, bombing, house demolition, uprooting trees, destroying crops, assassinating political leaders, placing all Palestinians under closured in a state of total immobility -- a prison. And then they wonder why some Palestinians are acting violently! And then they want to have the right to exercise violence against the captive population. They they like to make non-violence on the part of the Palestinians a precondition for the Palestinians to qualify for talks, let alone for statehood."

This statement screams for a comment, one that affirms that making apologies for violence (or condoning those apologies, as Carter seems to do here) can never be a constructive part of a peace process.

Another bothersome aspect of the book is the lack of criticism of the way Arafat and his cabinet administered the Palestinian Territories before his death. There was rampant corruption, and money was not spent where it should have been; this should have been noted in the section decrying Israeli confiscation of donated funds to the PLO. And it goes without saying that the links between the PLO and terrorism should be denounced in the book, and yet it is strangely absent.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tim Johnson's recent brain hemorrhage and brain surgery have a way of testing us. Democrats are of course worried that if Tim Johnson is not able to continue to serve as senior Senator from South Dakota, that a Republican would be his replacement, upsetting the thin majority that the Democrats have in the Senate. But the focus should of course be on this guy's health, not the political games on Capitol Hill. (CNN)
Amazing, Circumcision Halves H.I.V. Risk, U.S. Agency Finds (NYT). Cicumcision cuts the risk of infection during heterosexual sex by half.

The science behind it is this:

"Uncircumcised men are thought to be more susceptible because the underside of the foreskin is rich in Langerhans cells, sentinel cells of the immune system, which attach easily to the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. The foreskin also often suffers small tears during intercourse."

While exciting news, it might also give circumcised men false confidence about their immunity to infection. Acknowledging the psychological impact of such information is a key part of creating strategies to fight the disease.

Furthermore, circumcision is a danger unto itself in unsanitary conditions:

"Every year, some South African teenagers die from infections, and the use of one blade on many young men may help spread AIDS. "

This connection was hard to make in the past because cultural norms confounded making real comparisons between circumcised and uncircumcised groups in Africa:

"Researchers have long noted that parts of Africa where circumcision is common — particularly the Muslim countries of West Africa — have much lower AIDS rates, while those in southern Africa, where circumcision is rare, have the highest.

But drawing conclusions was always confounded by other regional factors, like strict Shariah law in some Muslim areas, rape and genocide in East Africa, polygamy, rites that require widows to have sex with a relative, patronage of prostitutes by miners, and men’s insistence on dangerous “dry sex” — with the woman’s vaginal walls robbed of secretions with desiccating herbs.

Outside Muslim regions, circumcision is spotty. In South Africa, for example, the Xhosa people circumcise teenage boys, while Zulus do not. AIDS is common in both tribes."

This information will mean that adult circumcisions may be offered to large groups in Africa in the coming years. I am reminded of the main character in Absurdistan, Misha, who is forced by his father to have an adult circumcision and is traumatized by the procedure (in a funny way though). Hopefully, African men will be able to deal with it a little better than a melancholic soul searcher in the grand Russian tradition like Misha.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Having listened to a talk by former Ambassador Donald Steinberg yesterday evening, I realize that Darfur needs much more attention than it is getting. Amb. Steinberg said that Kofi Annan has characterized his service as secretary general as primarily revolving around the problems of the Middle East and Darfur. Ban Ki Moon also expects that Palestine and Darfur will be the biggest issues of his tenure.

What we've learned from Rwanda is to call a genocide a genocide. This the U.S. has done; which makes it all the more insidious that no real action has been taken despite this characterization of the situation in southern Sudan.
And as Ambassador Steinberg explained yesterday, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) makes action that much more possible.

The following excerpts from the 2005 World Summit document which included R2P show how radical this idea is, and how it spurs the international community to action when states fail to protect their citizens from genocide:

"Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means."

" The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."
(The rest of the excerpt at the Responsibility to Protect - Engaging Civil Society project)

Save Darfur Coalition

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Speaking of diplomats in New York, why won't they pay the bills? (NYT)
"Two doors away, the United Nations Mission of the Republic of Niger has ignored every water bill it has received since 1998 for its elegant town house, accumulating a debt of nearly $120,000, including penalties. It ignored repeated calls for comment. Eight other foreign missions on the Upper East Side are also in debt, and collectively owe the city about $230,000. "

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Holocaust conference in Tehran, Iran, is creating controversy. Of course it is appalling that a state would actually sponsor an event supporting the idea that the Holocaust never happened. Unfortunately, the organizers have a point when they say that people are not able to talk about this issue, because denying the Holocaust is a crime in several countries in Europe. Withholding citizens' freedom of speech gives Iran an upper hand in this case, and that is a shame; Iran does not deserve it. (WaPo)
Here is a good video from the New York Times about the correlation between levels of corruption and the nationality of diplomats having the most unpaid parking tickets in New York, and which has coincided with threats from the State Department to withhold aid from violating countries. However, the fact that Israel has paid all its tickets doesn't seem to jive with the impression that Israel's politicians (not diplomats) are quite corrupt; that doesn't mean that the country doesn't have the money to pay the tickets they receive.
Yesterday in Amman, Jordan began the Conference of States Parties for the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). This meeting and the series of meetings to follow it will set out means and goals for fulfilling the requirements of the convention, and will set up sanctions rules and establish how monitoring will be achieved. (UN) (the event)

Today's meetings will allow attendees to discuss the way forward for implementing the convention, and in the coming days asset recovery, technical assistance, and setting up a second States Parties meeting will also be discussed.
Transparency International's recommendations for the conference include calling for civil society involvement in the convention's monitoring mechanism, and that asset recovery and monitoring processes be transparent to allow for full accountability. GOPAC is also holding a side event to inform attending parliamentarians to the conference about key issues on the table.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Check out these two maps, the first of population density in the United States, and the second of the residence of U.S. fatalities in Iraq. No geographical locations seem to be taking any disproportionate share of the fatalities in the war; it is being felt all over.

Friday, December 08, 2006

What is the most effective way of tackling corruption in the government of any given country?

Why, stage a military coup, of course!!!

That is how Fiji's current leader, Jona Baravilala Senilagakali, describes the reason why he led the recent military coup in that country. (Al Jazeera)

Two book reviews for Xmas/Channukah/Kwanzaa /belated Diwali
First, Carl Hiaasen's Nature Girl, a silly interwoven plot that magically becomes untangled at the end. Not really all that great.
Second, Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart. This is a better book than the first, which is entirely gratuitous. Absurdistan presents to us the character of "Snack Daddy," who is actually Misha Vainberg, who is really searching for something, but of course he's not really sure what it is. He is an engrossing character, things happen to him that are entirely normal in the Russian mafia- and oil-rich former Soviet republic world that he lives in. But they're not normal for us, and we like him are trying to get our heads around it while we try to see him down a path towards happiness. I'm not finished with this book, but it is humorous and interesting.....fancy that. I especially liked that the author places a parody of himself into the plot of the book, a character whom Misha utterly despises.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Anyone who is still talking about how we got into Iraq is totally irrelevant right now. (that means you, Al Gore).
The body of James Kim was just found. He is not alive. I am sad. He never knew that his family was saved. Hopefully they might be able to figure out what happened with him. Did he fall? Hypothermia?

It makes me sad.

However, he was only .5 miles from the Rogue River, in the Big Windy Creek drainage area. That river is filled with rapids, and you have to imagine that the rapids could be heard from quite far away, right? I wonder if he fell, couldn't walk anymore, and thus was stuck out there, even though he meant to go back to the car much sooner.

Here's a satellite image of NF23, the part where they got stuck.
Little Windy Creek, which feeds into Big Windy Creek

oh. The Kims were warned about Bear Camp Road. From CNET. CNET video.

"The Kims were warned that the Bear Camp Road was dangerous this time of year when they stopped into the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce about 20 miles south of Portland, Ore., on November 25 around 1:30 p.m. PST, said Logan Crozier, a visitor center representative at the office.
The Kims had used Mapquest to map out a route but wanted a scenic route to the coast, Crozier said Tuesday. The visitor center representative who was working that day gave the Kims a map printed off an unidentified Internet site, he said. "She warned them that by the time they got down there (southern Oregon), it would more than likely be dark, and she cautioned them not to take the route," he added. "

And strangely, James Kim left the road he was walking on to walk inside a gorge, where the Big Windy Creek flows. Could he have gone down there because he thought it was warmer there?

The area was carved out a long time ago by geological forces (Bureau of Land Management description):

"Most of these rocks are part of the Rogue Formation. They are a result of lava flows and rocks formed by ancient volcanoes which were active about 140 million years ago. High temperatures and pressure have altered and folded these rocks into a nearly vertical position. Signs of this folding can be seen on the steep canyon walls which have been carved by the powerful forces of the Rogue River over a period of nearly a million years."

Big Windy Creek area is also a place where gold used to be mined. You can see aerial maps of the area here (USGS). Probably this area was more populated in the late 1800s than it is today.
CNN had some further evidence of the mis-spending and fraud that occurred in the aftermaths of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Foreign students got federal aid, people got housing compensation payments twice (even though they only lost one house), and FEMA reported found items that are still lost. What a mess.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I'm concerned for James Kim, the still un-found father who was stranded in a remote Oregon spot for nine days, and whose wife and two daughters were found on Sunday. (CNET). It just reminds me of times when I've been in a car in a remote place, and you take a strange turn, and you're lost, and it's winter time, and there are no signs or towns, and you think---what could happen? I'm not saying that we should all freak out, but I think we have to have respect for the danger that the wilderness can cause. We all think we are safe with our cell phones; but in such a remote spot, not even those were working. (Hell, my sprint phone doesn't even work at the mall.) They did however give an indication to rescue workers about where the family was.

I'm remembering one time when I flew to Carcassonne (France) and we were going to drive the back way to Prades. The smart way would have been to drive east to the coast, south to Perpignan and then west down the correct valley. Because we were crossing a ridge, we had to go very high up in order to get to the next valley, and up there, on a road hardly anyone ever drove on, there was snow drifting about because of the wind that had few obstacles to keep it from whipping around. We got out and played in the snow (because at lower altitudes there was hardly any). And I'm not going to even talk about the incident of our failed trip to Andorra, and the fun (!) detour we took with the Alfa Romeo, making a dent in it (by braking too fast on a thin coat of snow on the road) which we desperately tried to hide from family members for the rest of vacation to avoid the inevitable ridicule.

The website for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is surprisingly silent on the Kims and not very alarmist about the road in question, where the car got stuck. It just says:
"12/2006: Forest Road 23 - (Bear Camp Road) is not advisable for winter travel. The Bear Camp Road may be blocked by snow drifts. "

But of course, the family was traveling on the road in November, so maybe that info hadn't been posted yet.

Siskiyou National Forest is also the site of intense bickering over logging permits for areas that have undergone fire, because there is now evidence that logging after a fire hinders the regrowth of trees. (Seattle Times) Oregonians have been opposed to the logging because it might detract from the stunning beauty of this rugged and isolated landscape, especially as the park has up until now had so few roads built through it.
Fiji goes through yet another military coup. Here is the interview with the prime minister (now under house arrest) over the phone with a New Zealand news organization. The president has dissolved the parliament . But the prime minister has a strangely passive attitude to the whole ordeal:

"I will be staying at my residence. What will happen to me I don't know. There is rumour that they are going to take me and leave me on one of the islands close to the capital - actually the island where [a former coup leader] is locked up. So I might end up there but there's nothing much I can do. "
Which is sad, because the guy was elected democratically, and now he has to be detained without trial by an undemocratic leadership that won over the country through brute force. Even though coups have been a part of political history for as long as anyone can remember, their detriment to democratic values should be more appreciated, and they should be more forcefully condemned. Why should elections and rule of law matter if the guy with the bigger stick will always win?
The Earnshaw/Burson Marsteller case escalates, as a formal complaint is issued against Earnshaw the parliamentary expert who was supposed to act impartially on his report on pharmaceutical issues while working the three other days of the week as a consultant for big pharmaceutical companies. (FT)

Even though I see the conflict of interest, Earnshaw is right when he says: "No one is 'independent': people work for businesses, NGOs, governments, political parties, etc. That is why it is important to be transparent...about credentials and experience. . . ultimately, politicians decide, not experts."

And this kind of conflict of interest leads people to think that employing academics are the answer, because somehow they are above it all. This is completely untrue; in the advocacy world of Brussels I have met academics who are more biased and divorced from reality than the organizations they are affiliated with.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Okay, enough about the Netherlands.

It's tough to decide whether regulatory burdens hinder business profitability; surely, some are unnecessary and costly. But Eliot Spitzer doesn't think so with regard to the recent reforms following Enron, and I too am inclined to think that more accountability alone is not the reason for business' lack of success. He points to businesses that he helped reform as New York Attorney General, which are now enjoying success. Whether that is directly related to the reforms is not clear, but it does disprove the idea that the reforms he is after will destroy businesses. See the FT's article about governor-elect Spitzer's recent statements about accountability regulations here.

After a long time of floundering through this book by Ian Buruma about Theo van Gogh I finally finished. Finished means that I gave up, because I had a hard time getting through Buruma's romanticized view of anyone and anything connected with the Netherlands. He says he left the country as a young adult because he found it boring, but he never stops pointing out how amazing it is that he PLAYED ON THE PLAYGROUND with people who stayed in their home country and became a part of that small elite which is the Amsterdam intelligentsia. I, on the other hand, am not impressed by the fact that whatever famous writer pushed him off the swings at age 4. His book lacks structure and it also lacks authority; Being from the Netherlands, he actually approaches the subject with more prejudice than the average journalist who is interested in a new topic and goes at it with an open mind. The book makes many fine points, and I won't discount the book completely. But the low point of the book was when he indicated that Mohammed Bouyeri's ideas (the guy who killed Van Gogh) :
"also have a deeply European provenance, to be found in the right-wing politics of the 1930s as well as in a long left-wing tradition of anti-Americanism."
Oh please, the murderer's ideas have zero provenance, because he is not an intellectual like you.
I do appreciate what Buruma is trying to do, to describe for his English-speaking audience what the political and social realities of the Netherlands are right now. But in doing so, he over-intellectualizes and romanticizes the whole thing. Like this sentence about a soccer game in Rotterdam:
"Like all carnivals, this patriotic feast, with shades of a Breughel painting, was a fantasy..."
His descriptions of Ayaan Hirsi Ali seem tinged with Buruma's love of her looks, and they show me that actually Ali fails to represent anyone in her tirades and provocations. And isn't that what elected politicians are supposed to do, instead of going on personal crusades?
His dismissal of Geert Wilders is interesting, seeing as how Wilders won lots of votes in the last election; obviously he is so fixated on Amsterdam in this book that the situation in the rest of the country is incomprehensible to him.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Here is the final breakdown of the elections in the Netherlands. The PvdA is the big loser in the whole scheme of things, losing lots of votes to SP. But it doesn't mean that SP will necessarily be in the governing coalition.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

See for the final results of the Dutch election, but as of now (the polls closed an hour and a half ago) SP has gotten 25 seats, PvdA 33, CDA 40, and VVD 22, along with the Animal Party - 2 seats, Geert Wilders' party 8 seats, and Christian Union 7 seats. What will the coalition be? Christen Unie seems to play a critical role in the formation of a coalition, like D66 in 2003. Pim Fortuyn's party LPF did not win any seats and also came up empty. It looks like the Netherlands is exhibiting a polarization not unlike what we have seen in the United States recently.

I wanna know what happened to the PvdA! Why the drop in the last few weeks? The pension idea did Wouter Bos in in the beginning of polling, but he took it back; so what was the bombshell in the last few weeks? I totally missed it if there was one. I am waiting for analysis from the Dutchies to my inbox....... ;)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The latest polls on the Dutch elections tomorrow are on the Volkskrant website. These polls show some large discrepancies: in one, left party SP has 22% of the vote, and in another, it has 32% of the vote (!). And as this rises, the labor party PvdA loses voters as they see the possibility for a left coalition rather than a moderate government come more and more into view. I think the 32% is exaggerated, but even so, it is amazing considering how many people thought that SP's strong performance in the recent local elections was a fluke and could not translate into national voting patterns.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ouch! Political party funding in Europe definitely needs a closer look, as the secret 14 million GBP loan received by Labour before the last election and the current investigation into peerages show.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Royal wins the Socialist "primary" in France! Next year the French will all be drinking Pineau de Charentes to celebrate her victory! (now if we could only get a woman in to the same spot in the U.S.)

Grzegorz and Pawel have even participated in the strange annual night time rituals that the Pineaux de Charentes sponsor in Brussels every year....
I like the tasting part the best.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It is a surprise to many that corruption factored as the most important issue for why people voted the way they did last week. The pundits have been saying that Iraq was the biggest issue for voters, and it was quite big; but considering how east-and-west coasters are so out of touch with the majority of voters, it's no big surprise that they got this one wrong. (see break down of the biggest issues for voters here, even if there is a conservative bias).

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sometimes you just have to get to the root of the problem. Some are complaining that the the European Court of Auditors' refusal to give a positive Declaration of Assurance (DAS) for EU spending is giving the EU a bad reputation.

Yes, it is, isn't it.

But the whiners (those in the member states) have got it wrong. The Court will give a positive DAS if it is earned. And if member states are not going to take some responsibility for spending, then they will continue to have that DAS hanging over their heads --- until they do take responsibility.
With the Democratic victory in the House and Senate will come a slew of investigations, inquiries, and probably countless hours of testimony about what really happened in relation to just about everything: torture at Guantanamo, fraud and waste in Iraq, how the federal government failed to assist Katrina victims in a timely manner and many many more. And the Republicans' inability to hold the federal government's actions to account will be remembered; see this NYT editorial. However, NYT seems to think they will stay away from investigating how we got to Iraq in the first place.

Democrats are also going to save from certain doom the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (and I have to concede, it is nice that Senator Lieberman is a cosponsor of this bill). The work of this Special Inspector has been so little publicized, enough so that James Baker could contend the other day (see earlier post) that little abuse by the big guys like Halliburton and Bechtel had been found; in fact, the Special Inspector has found abuses and has brought to justice those guilty of bribery and shoddy constructions.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Working as an official checker and recap checker at the elections yesterday was really interesting. Working with a Republican checker, my job was actually quite important, and especially as a recap checker, I was responsible for taking down and signing off on the results as they were read off the back of the voting machines after the polls closed. In true Greenwich form, at least one person arrived in horse-riding gear to vote.

Seeing the results as they came off the back of the machines also showed me how popular Jodi Rell, now governor-elect, was in the district, as well as senator-elect Joe Lieberman. House of Representatives incumbant Christopher Shays was also very popular in the district (District 11 in Greenwich) -- he won over Democrat Diane Farrell narrowly. Lamont didn't do very well there, but Republican candidate for senate Alan Schlesinger did horribly, despite the large number of Republican voters in that district.

I think Schlesinger's poor performance throughout the campaign in Connecticut shows how the Republicans in Washington were willing to neglect lost causes in traditionally Democratic states. This is exactly what has been the Democrats' downfall in past elections, and Howard Dean was determined to change that with his 50 state strategy this time around. I think it worked; we are now talking about MONTANA as a pickup for the Democrats. And other Republican strongholds were met with great campaigns from Democrats, causing many Republican campaigns to be on the defensive until Election Day.

It was a long day, but overall I was impressed with the quality of people working at the polls. (My sister had a different experience in district 10).

Monday, November 06, 2006

Americans view their country's corruption level about the same as the Belgians do of their country. IHT article on Iraq and the US.
Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index was published today. As expected, Iraq is in second to last place, and Americans believe their country is more corrupt than last year. Scandals seem to have taken their toll in Israel as well.

"Countries with a significant worsening in perceived levels of corruption include: Brazil, Cuba, Israel, Jordan, Laos, Seychelles, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and the United States. Countries with a significant improvement in perceived levels of corruption include: Algeria, Czech Republic, India, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Mauritius, Paraguay, Slovenia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uruguay."
Wouter's Angels

I hope that this is not a real commercial for the Dutch PvdA party, but I am afraid it is. Jan Peter Balkenende giving money intended to care for pensioners to George Bush instead in a secret deal? Oh, so that's why the Netherlands can't pay for pensions and why opponent Wouter Bos has to suggest that some pensioners give up some of their hard earned benefits. All that nonsense about ageing populations is just a cover up for the conspiracy, right?

Here is the video for the debate between Balkenende and Bos that took place a few days ago.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I put the link to the BeMEP game on the right because I thought it would be a cool thing. Like a model UN for students to put themselves in the shoes of a member of the European Parliament. (If it doesn't include at least 15 coffee breaks a day I will be disappointed; I will be similarly saddened if there are no villas constructed from the per diems collected by MEPs just for showing up at work.) (P.P.S.- one of my favorite quotes, Woody Allen, 90% of life is showing up.)

Well, after looking at this cute game, it seems that I can't play with the other kids: Only Europeans are allowed into the secret cabal that is the European Parliament, and they do this by playing a kind of supranational Dungeons and Dragons.

Way to leave me and everyone else out who has been itching to appreciate the European system!

I shall be expecting the nagging complaints about how nobody in the rest of the world gives the EU the respect it deserves....right .......about

Friday, November 03, 2006

Trouble in Taiwan over President's embezzlement case.
It's definitely showing that I read Gawker too much. I read the following article by David Langlieb about the Polish residents of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and immediately wanted to nominate the author to the Douchebag Hall of Fame (DHOF). The Sun had something to say about it, but I am just amazed at his delusional sense of white-man's burden, although I didn't think that was possible in relation to other white people (the Polish who live in Greenpoint Brooklyn). If you're not making me laugh, Langlieb, you're making me cry. I get that it's supposed to be super clever, but it really wasn't; hence my literalist interpretation of all the things you wrote. Sorry if this makes me seem naive.

Let's break this article down.
Let's start at the end.

"I dream of a Greenpoint where Banana Republic is open all night, where groceries
are ordered over the Internet, and where the churches are converted to mixed-use
parking facilities. Mine is a Greenpoint of the future, sensitive to the desires
of its residents who so desperately need a racquet club and driving

Langlieb is just a yuppie, and if given the chance, would yuppify the whole world; he just hasn't learned to be ashamed of it yet and to hide his ambitions to homogenize one of the last real ethnic enclaves of which Greenpoint is a great example. Go back to New Jersey if you want to go to Banana Republic--they are already ubiquitous as it is. (and do you really need to shop at Banana Republic at 3 in the morning?)

Second, he wants to raise his children "amidst lawyers and investment bankers." Well, Langlieb obviously cares nothing about giving his kids any moral values. Of course, these kids would learn their sense of commitment to social improvement (read: eugenics) from their dear old gentrifying dad.

Third, this guy has a classic case of martyr complex.

"Sure, I could move to SoHo or the Upper East Side like some of my fellow
Haverford graduates who care only about themselves. But those places have
already been saved and they don’t need my help. "

I am so glad SOMEONE around here has taken it upon his shoulders (it is a burden, isn't it?) to single-handedly push all those nasty Polish people out of Greenpoint so that everything can be in your language for God's sake. (“some of the signs aren’t even in English”)

"While the community has several problems, most of them come back to the high
density of Polish people infesting its rowhouses."

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Italian defense industry giant Finmeccanica's ties to U.S. elected representatives chronicled in this NYT article from today. Descriptions of lavish trips for our lucky House representative included.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index coming out one day before the U.S. congressional elections; coincidence? I think not.

I will bet you an ice cream cone that the American public will be rating the U.S. at its highest corruption levels ever.

And even if James Baker is right, that the inquiries into corruption at Halliburton and others have never turned up anything substantive, the perception of corruption remains.

This perception has been brought to you by: Abramoff, Bob Ney, William J. Jefferson and friends.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

National security does not need to be a political monopoly for Republicans in American politics. Democrats must take security seriously, and I hope that the new Democratic majority in congress will make that abundantly clear and that they will do this by voting for the kind of security that this country needs. I'm talking about smarter strategies for homeland security, including making that department streamlined, and to make some sense of the large sums of money pumped into that area in the private sector now. It seems like a free-for-all, whereas the traditional defense sector seems to be dominated by a few monolithic corporations who frequently win no-bid contracts from the government--and probably because no one else has the infrastructure that they do.

Some think tankers wrote an interesting article in the Washington Post a few weeks ago on how national security will not necessarily be dominated by Republicans in the future, as the changes in partisan politics history demonstrate.

Monday, October 23, 2006

More foreign service oral assessment studying yesterday with the New York group. It was really effective in getting me thinking about what I am going to be doing in the actual test. I think my biggest problem though is thinking about episodes in my employment history; I just simply want to forget "when I had a problem with my employer" or "when I had to work with a difficult colleague" and all those other events that could turn into great anecdots..if I could only remember them.

The colors are changing on all the trees here is quite lovely....try to post a picture of it soon

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Isn't this cute?

It's part of the new Seattle to Brussels network's campaign to make corporate access to EU decision makers transparent.

I hope that's real champagne from France, not some "moussant" like the eurocrats are forced to quaff in Stressburg.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Follow up to yesterday, Vayner has now been profiled on the Today Show. See the video here.
Joseph Stiglitz wrote an excellent opinion piece today about the World Bank's new strategy against corruption. One quote stood out (but I encourage you to read the whole thing):

Third, the World Bank's primary responsibility is to fight poverty, which
means that when it confronts a poor country plagued with corruption, its
challenge is to figure out how to ensure that its own money is not tainted and
gets to projects and people that need it. In some cases, this may entail
delivering assistance through non-governmental organizations. But seldom will it
be the case that the best response is simply to walk away.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I am sorry, I have to comment on the Aleksey Vayner phenomenon (you know, the Yale senior who sent a video cv to various companies on Wall Street that made outrageous claims about himself, e.g., he can serve a tennis ball at 140 mph, he can bench press 495 pounds, etc.). Gawker made a greatvideo montage of it to some crappy 80s music.

I have to say that, yes, this guy exaggerates his abilities, but the things he said about his philosophy of success, like that you have to believe it, etc., are really pretty normal and probably effective if you can get distracted for enough time from your own self-aggrandizement. And I get the feeling that he thought he would fit right in with those other guys on Wall Street with this attitude.

But what I really want to know is, has he gotten a job?
I'm studying for the foreign service oral exam now. I waffle between being hella nervous about it to thinking that there really is nothing to study at all. Which is sort of true. Basically you just have to use the communications, strategy and negotiation skills you already have......but you could always brush up on them.

I am reading Getting to Yes, which sounds like a crappy book but which is actually quite useful, especially the advice that we should be looking behind the other side's negotiating position and instead see what interests brought them to that position. That allows for a lot more creativity in terms of finding a solution that works for your and the other side.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Non-profits have been implicated in the Abramoff scandal, which is one of those corruption scandals that just keeps on giving....and giving. Seems that five non-profits acted in a not-so-non-profit fashion to earn money for opinion pieces and access to lawmakers by taking money from Abramoff's clients.

Maybe non-profits should be more scrutinized, as was discussed in an earlier post.
Update on a previous post, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize runs a micro-credit bank that gives most of its credit to women.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Last night I felt a special connection to the John Stewart show, because James A. Baker III, who only days ago graced Stewart's stage, was now promoting his new book at my town's public library. Needless to say, I was 40 years younger than the average age of the attendees, this being Greenwich and all, but nevertheless it was an enjoyable event. This was especially true because Mr. Baker was so open to talking about just about anything that the audience was curious about that had to do with politics or foreign policy. I was also surprised at the tone of the audience's questions, which were often critical of the Bush administration---I thought I had this town pegged as a bastion of Republican loyalism.

I wanted to ask him if he thought the secret prisons and our management of Guantanamo Bay camp have helped in fighting terrorism. But he talked about many other topics, including Iraq, because he is on a special independent committee to make recommendations on what to do next in Iraq.

His agreement with one woman's comment miffed me just a tad. This woman said that in the 1970s in DC, everyone agreed that it was just a matter of time before the US would have to "go" to the Middle East. Because the question was whether we would fight "them" on our soil or theirs. But saying "they" just doesn't show any comprehension of the real situation in the region; surely we needed to go to Afghanistan to fight harborers or terrorism because they really were targeting the United States. But Iraq did not harbor terrorists until we started our war there.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sad that a second Yankee has now died piloting a plane. I can't believe that I actually entertained that it was a suicide mission because the Yankees had just lost their chance at a title.

Mayor Bloomberg and the rest of the city's top brass were caucusing inside Sotheby's; have to hear from Pauline what that was like.......

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I am so happy I just found Gawker's Stalker page....awesome!

Monday, October 09, 2006

It is a special problem to prevent corruption in efforts to help regions debilitated by natural or manmade crisis. Just like the article below, this one from NYT is about Pakistanis protesting the graft that has diminished the assistance that victims of the recent earthquake there receive. Oxfam agrees.

Crisis is by its very nature unpredictable, and institutions that are supposed to take responsibility for distributing and managing funds are usually in a state of disarray after events like earthquakes and wars. How do we make sure that money gets to the right people? International aid organizations have an obligation to their funders to make sure that money is not doled out for just any expenditure (see Hurricane Katrina debit card post in mid September on this blog). On the other hand, development organizations should be giving responsibility to those native to the region as much as possible. But it is difficult to find people who can bridge that gap.
Article from NYT today telling the story of Indonesia after the Tsunami, and of how difficult infrastructure development projects can be in a region fraught with crisis in recent years.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Women are often considered better caretakers for development investments like micro-credit and other development programs, because they usually have a greater interest in having well-functioning institutions that can provide good education, health care and other services for their children and families. Put simply, investing in women gives a better return than investing in men. Many studies and practical experience in the development community have confirmed this assumption.

But this article made me wonder about the long term effects of championing women as spearheaders of responsible development strategies in the developing world. Will they become just as corrupt if they are in the high-level governmental and corporate positions,from which they have been excluded in the developing world until very recently (with some important exceptions)? This article seems to say that women are just as likely to be corrupt, and that they have been seen as less likely to commit white collar crimes until recently because they haven't had the opportunity.

I tend to think that women are different than men, and that there are a lot of other factors that go into what kind of women sit in the board rooms and are able to commit these crimes (the HP spying case was only the most recent example). There seem to be so few high-level corporate women that they hardly seem to be a good sample for statistical analysis.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hans-Martin Tillack, the reporter for Stern who had his supposedly leaked materials seized from his house by Belgian authorities because of rumors started by OLAF that he had bribed an OLAF official for the material has lost his case at the European Court of First Instance. And here. See Jens Peter Bonde's take on the whole affair: one of many with the same views.

From seeing Mr. Bruner talk about this in the Budget Control Committee under intense grilling from MEPs, I think Mr. Tillack was set up, and I don't believe he paid anyone for information. Mr. Bruner simply didn't like leaks, and wanted to punish a journalist who would criticize the way OLAF goes about its business.

But unfortunately for Bruner, keeping public institutions honest is one of a journalist's main roles in a free and open society.

Since the advent of this case, Tillack has continued to write very good articles on fraud in the EU. Let's just hope this whole case doesn't get him distracted from his work.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

This Foley scandal is really bothering me. The thing that keeps coming up for me is two things:

1) That Foley used his position to gain access to the private lives of these 16 and 17 year olds, because many of them were hoping to return to Washington and needed friends in high places. In the Washington Post today, there is even a quote from one of the instant messages that Foley sent where he offered to help one of the congressional pages achieve success in Washington if the page would allow Foley to continue to do certain things (it was *bleeped* out in the WaPo article). So he is using his position to get what he wants from these kids, many of whom already felt uncomfortable with him, but perhaps they knew that they could not say no to someone in such a high position.

2) That being gay is somehow an explanation of why Foley went after these minors. (Somebody made a point on the Lopate show today on NPR that in Washington the age of consent is 16, not 18 as in many other places.) Even in the midst of the scandal, the Republicans have been able to turn this around, saying that his gayness was very much connected to his bad behavior. Some idiot on NPR yesterday said that "gays are preoccupied with sex in comparison to heterosexual," thus explaining Foley's preoccupation with these boys (I'm paraphrasing). Foley brings himself down, but brings the gays along with him.

2a) and then a sidenote. What if he had been instant messaging these lude messages to 16 or 17 year old girls? Would there be a big problem? I really don't think so.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Eliza Purvis-Berg, my beautiful red-headed friend currently gracing the shortes of Oahu, alerted me that today the Bribe Payers Index came out from Transparency International. China, India and Russia are still bribing the most out of the 30 countries examined, and from developed countries, France and Italy are bribing at the greatest rate. This all despite UNCAC (luckily no monitoring can be performed yet, and no sanctions decided upon) but the OECD convention is around. What are the sanctions for that one? Good question.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I should have talked about Poland before. Here is a place where corruption persists and yet everyone seems to be accusing everyone else of being corrupt. I would say that is one of the big reasons why the Kaczynski brothers ended up running the country. And then they started lustration after 15 years of relative happiness.

Thus began the political attacks under the guise of anti-corruption drives. For instance, Leszek Balcerowicz, now head of the Central Bank and previous reformer of the country's economy in the early days of indendent Poland, was the subject of a parliamentary inquiry into his use of influence, all turning out to be bunk.

Now Law and Justice Party themselves are being accused of corruption, although I think it might be more a case of politics as usual, no matter where you go. Making deals with people to leave their own party to switch sides and come to yours seems run of the mill, although perhaps not correct. I think it usually occurs with promises of higher positions, rather than money, as the Kaczynskis promised, and that is probably the ethical problem most people are reacting to.

Monday, October 02, 2006

My culturally aware friends brought me to two cool events this past weekend which I think merit further attention by others.

The first is the Wired NextFest at the Javits Center, which was a hall crowded with nerds eager to inspect the latest technologies. It was cool, but tiring, and for most cool things you had to wait in a big line. Rachel and I did make a claymation movie though.

The second thing was a gallery opening/vernissage at Giant Robot in the East Village, of Nog a Dod, the name of which inevitably reminds me of Wag the Dog, a film which I have never seen, with I think Robert de Niro. The store Giant Robot is pretty cool; they sell this book, which I really liked, especially after seeing all these techie new inventions earlier in the day.

Nothing corrupt going on far as I could tell.
As I was saying in the last post, sometimes just being transparent shouldn't be the object of rules about conflict of interest; it must go hand in hand with an enforcement regime. Take the recent case of David Earnshaw, who was working as an independent expert on health for the Environment Committee at the European Parliament and was also a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry. He told the MEP to whom he wrote his application for employment about his other professional activities. But that wasn't enough to keep him from giving advice to the committee.

But on the other hand, I'm sure being an independent expert doesn't pay the bills. And if he wanted to continue to be an expert on pharmaceutical issues in Brussels, how should he do it if not work for a pharmaceutical company? I think the NGOs can seem have the upper hand in such a debate for not a very good reason; because they might be working on pharmaceutical issues outside of a big corporation, they seem to be immune. But that shouldn't be the case. Anyone who represents an interest would seem to lack "independence."

Mr. Earnshaw was also a Labour candidate in a recent election. That leaves him with less independence as well.

And yet.....if you end up working on a topic for a long amount of time, you inevitably develop your opinions about what should and shouldn't become the regulations for that what should you do about that? Obviously, the parliament needs people who know their stuff. And I think this whole shebang about Earnshaw is confusion; maybe the Parliament shouldn't call them "independent" experts, but maybe "biased but knowledgeable" experts.

Friday, September 29, 2006

I just love this quote, which I picked from DailyKos:

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the
intelligent are full of doubt.--Bertrand Russell

You can decide which of the two categories YOU fall into .....
New York state comptroller Alan Hevesi used state car services to chauffeur his wife around but "forgot" to reimburse the state for the costs. And only did so when it was clear that it would be exposed.

This so clearly shows a lack of good financial management of state funds. It reminds me of the pension scheme in the European Parliament. Bad financial management means you do not set up systems that hands out funds to public officials for personal use, without oversight of the use of those funds, and whether they are being reimbursed. Parliament money goes directly to the pension funds to pay into the parliament's private fund, but MEPs are supposed to reimburse the money. But so many never do, and there are no controls of this process.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

TI came out with an analysis of how access to information laws can be used as an anti-corruption tool. One place where this argument needs to be used is in the European Parliament.

At the moment, the financial interest statements for Members of the European Parliament are woefully inadequate and do not ask enough questions about Members' affiliations, and does not acknowledge the possibility of trade in influence, not just money. Thus, unpaid positions and affiliations also count in deciding whether there is a case for conflict of interest. See for instance, this declaration of financial interest from Robert Evans. Only affiliations that are remunerated are considered relevant, and when they are listed, they are mostly illegible.

But the biggest problem is that some MEPs are able to refuse to publish their declarations on the website, leaving voters with the one option of visiting the parliament and going to a small room in the depths of the building to look at the declaration...which cannot be photocopied. Check out for instance MEP Lauk from Germany: no declaration there. And there is a whole list of similarly private MEPs that was published in the European Voice last year.

And the gist of what Commissioner Kallas said last year, mostly in relation to MEP Elmar Brok's role at Bertelsman AG, was that the conflict of interest can be dealt with (they cannot speak or vote on any thing related to the interest they are affiliated with) but that the most important thing is that people know about it. Now, whether there is good enforcement of keeping people from speaking, voting or using their position to get favorable regulation for their interest, that is another story. And I think that problem should be handled in conjunction with new rules about how the interests of legislators are made public, because it is just as important.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

More on the corruption busting in China. The organization doing the investigation is called "the central commission for discipline inspection." You gotta hand it to the Chinese for thinking up awesome names for their ministries.

But see, one of those basic aspects of democratic society is missing here: independent bodies holding people and organizations accountable. It's also one of the ways to design a good financial controls system, and how to prevent corruption; make the watchdog as objective as possible. But really, I am still intrigued by where politics end and real purging and change begin in China these days.

And there is purging. In the last two and half years, 50,000 people have been arrested for corruption. And this article sums it up very nicely.

But even such vigilante anti-corruption measures won't give China a substitute for democratic society, as it wantonly chases after capitalism while remaining a closed society. Some people think this will be the reason for an imminent slowdown of the Chinese economy. China is just not yet open enough to create the efficient and fair regulatory environment that business needs, or for new ideas and innovation, which are the by-products of an open and pluralist society.


Flew from Amsterdam to JFK today. Word to the wise, AVOID HEATHROW AT ALL COSTS! In any case, it was nice that United held a plane full of seething passengers for me to board. How nice, throwing me into the lion's den.

Well, but I made it, and even saw a bit of Greenland on the way over (very blue lakes!). And little green monkeys too!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Shanghai's party leader sacked. Is everyone in the Party corrupt? And it is a political power play to get rid of this high ranking guy? Or is he really one of the gross violators?

Going to the US tomorrow morning early from Schiphol. Ay yay, was stupid and am going through Heathrow. But they relaxed the liquids rules on flights, so I can bring my contacts solution. Small victories.

Monday, September 25, 2006

I was talking with Reiner this weekend about philanthropy. Another article also reminded me of this, and describes the situation in Russia, where philanthropists are setting up charities to give back, but steering clear of promoting a more democratic society.

It seems that the new philanthropy is on a scale that we haven't seen since the Rockefellers or Carnegies. Gates and Buffett on health, and Branson on climate change set their own priorities of what they see as the major problems in the world, and design detailed ways of achieving those goals, ways that are probably more coordinated and less susceptible to bureaucracy than the work of governments and existing institutions. But the jury is definitely still out on the mega-contributions, and whether they really will be better at achieving results.

But what is the purpose of such mega-giving? They are part therapy for the billionaire who has everything, part corporate social responsibility and marketing, and part real honest to god do-gooding.

But in Russia, as the article in the Washington Post says, some corporations use charitable organizations to launder money and avoid taxes. And there have been others who have suspected that there need to be more controls on NGOs and where they get and use their money. Surely, this has increased since September 11th, because there has been a realization of how dangerous charities can be in getting funds to terrorists. Some Islamic charities have functioned very well as channels for money to flow from diaspora to their respective "freedom fighters" at home. This was true in the Balkans, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. So there is room for suspicion.

Silvana Koch-Mehrin in the European Parliament has tried to raise awareness of how NGOs should be controlled, especially because they often receive funds from the European Commission, only to turn around and lobby the Commission for their policy goals. This was also one of the reasons for Commissioner Kallas to start his European Transparency Initiative. But focussing only on NGO governance seems misplaced when it's governance and lobbying in general that needs to be regulated, for any body who is representing an interest.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I'm going away for four days to Aachen and Tuebingen to visit good old no posts until Monday.....but I am concerned about just how many professional sports have been implicated in corruption accusations recently... Is there any effect on ticket sales? I mean: cricket, football in the UK, football in Italy. Is this the downfall of professional sports? Will there be a rejuvenation of interest in local sports? My parents like going to see the AA Bridgeport baseball team more than going to any Mets or Yankees game. There's a neighborhood feel, you are closer to the actual players, no parking lot traffic jams. And my mom's not into the Mr. Universe, steroid look a la Barry Bonds anyway....

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

See one Russian reaction to the new centrality of corruption in World Bank support.

The author raises the old spector of the "Washington Concensus," and it makes me wonder just how much this is another case of U.S. neoliberalism forcing itself on the rest of the world. I tend to think that the ways to fight corruption and graft and promote better governance mean adding, not subtracting, from the capabilities and responsibilities of government. That means that oversight will have to be built into budgeting and spending systems, that new anti-corruption agencies will have to be set up, etc. The UN Convention against Corruption certainly calls on governments to do more, not less.

True, in the interest of transparency, there is a tendency towards less bureaucratic government, as bureaucratic procedures hide graft very well. Furthermore, transparency and simpler procedures act as corruption prevention, by allowing more citizens to watch what's happening and hold government accountable for any irregularities they find.

On the other hand, Ivan Krastev has described the rise of the anti-corruption movement as one of Western corporations complaining to their governments of yet another barrier to market access in the rest of the world, just like the drive towards more liberal economies that characterized all those World Bank crises in Russia and Southeast Asia. I'm sure it's true; I believe the OECD anti-bribery convention is the purest example of an international agreement that unabashedly favors corporations on the global marketplace.

And the kind of anti-corruption actions that such corporations would want are nothing akin to the changes that occurred in Russia in 1998-9, when competition laws were missing from the transition plans, when lots of governance-related laws were not there to protect investors and consumers.

But there have been so many studies showing how detrimental corruption really is for regular citizens. His is not a bad argument, if corruption weren't such an obstacle to well-functioning economies and the full potential of development projects.

I should probably read the rest of that new Krastev book to find out what his beef is. If I'm not mistaken, I believe his problem is the politicization of the fight against corruption. A subject for another day.........
That's my first and only time skiing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Uhh duhh. The TI group already finished. So far I agree with everything they say.
Just seeing that TI has convened a group to make recommendations for the UNCAC monitoring and enforcement:

The Council of Euorpe's GRECO system seems like a good example to follow, but the UNCAC system has so many more countries included with so many different levels of corruption, that it would need to be tiered so that you didn't have very corrupt countries peer reviewing countries with very low rates of corruption. But how do you do that without stigmatizing countries in what would be the lowest tier? And how would you create a system to categorize those who are monitoring? Big headache.

I feel like it's the same problem as the human rights committee at the UN, where abusers sit at the same table as those who admirably protect human rights. But creating some big monitoring agency doesn't seem like a very good idea either; they become another actor in the whole process accused of being biased.
UK Minister of Development Hilary Benn is withholding funds until other aspects of conditionality are removed from the Bank's policy.

The World Bank also agreed to provide evidence within two months that it
had ceased to impose strict economic conditions to its grants and loans. Mr Benn
said he will withhold £50m of UK funds until he sees the evidence.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Here is the document from the World Bank's Development Committee.

Skimming it, the Bank will work with countries, unlike the MCC, by actually helping with governance issues and anti-corruption, but will suspend support if it gets really bad. If I had a little more stamina, I could find out what this threshold actually is.

And this is the first serious test for Wolfowitz as director of the Bank, whether this can work while still making a dent in poverty levels (the real goal of the Bank, remember?). Certainly he's gotten everyone on board, but there had been no adequate justification for suspending support to certain countries; now there is a reason. In a speech recently of Caio Koch-Weser, he said the the jury was still out on Wolfowitz; but I think opinions are being formed right about now and hinge on the next suspension of Bank support.

But if we think about this in a bigger picture, the Bank is creating greater restrictions for developing countries, even though this approach makes sense. And the UK had criticized the increase of greater requirements and more conditionality for World Bank client countries.

Remember when we couldn't stop talking about the evils of conditionality after that Stiglitz book...? Perhaps the critics have a point.
Is Wolfowitz trying to make the World Bank look exactly like the Millennium Challenge Corporation? If we have every development organization using corruption levels as a yardstick for who gets support and who doesn't, who will take care of those that are in dire straits, in the spiral which is so often characterized by commodity-based economies, corrupt dictators, and horribly poor citizens? I guess the point is, what is the purpose of the World Bank? Is it part of a cohesive structure of organizations that each have their own role in terms of who helps who? I don't see any kind of coherent division of responsibility, if you ask me....and someone has to muddle through with those countries that still have high rates of corruption, mostly because someone has to try to reach the citizens that suffer, but also because corruption can be combatted from so many different directions, including local economic development, the empowerment of those who are outside of the good old boys network of corrupt dictator X, and a growing number of taxpayers who will start demanding something (schools, policing, etc. ) in return for what they are paying the government. I think they call that bottom-up, huh.....

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Even though a lot of my friends would say I'm a complainer, and that I criticize an awful lot, I still have this perhaps silly belief in progress, and that things will get better over time. Where does this come from? Well, I think I can say with relative assurance that it comes from my being American, ....think about it. Americans just think that we are moving forward, don't we? Like pilgrims and later, less protestant immigrants picking themselves up to achieve better lives for themselves and their ungrateful children.

Anyway, I am just prefacing what I found when I was looking at the indicators they use at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and especially the one on measuring corruption. Now, I have some problems with the religious status that the TI instrument holds, at least in the media, so I'm interested in how this more complicated World Bank Institute instrument works. Not having succeeded yet with that, (due to my current short attention span on account of the fact that my toes are throbbing because my boyfriend stopped his bike right in front of mine on the bike path and my foot just slammed into I am not really up to the task right now--maybe I broke a toe? ), I looked as we all do at the executive summary and was sad to learn that:

While we find that the quality of governance in a number of countries has changed significantly (in both directions), we also provide evidence suggesting that there are no trends, for better or worse, in global averages of governance.
This makes me wonder when they started measuring these things and if it's kind of like saying 'it's the hottest day in whatever city ..ever' because of course you haven't been measuring forever. For most places, we've only been recording temperature for the last hundred years or so, and much much less time for corruption and governance quality. And certainly, we only started measuring corruption and governance after it was understood how important these factors were and anti-corruption programs had already been launched all over the place. Is it a chicken egg question? And what are the forces that keep the level of corruption, on average, generally stable, despite all the efforts to fight it?