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 ....it 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 there.........as 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 sector...so 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.