Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tour at US Embassy in Rome

My short tour as head of the Science Section at the American Embassy in Rome was not very pleasant.

My previous tour as Science Counselor at the embassy in Warsaw was under a cloud because Washington under the Gingrich Republican Congress had cut off funding for science cooperation that was supposed to go on for several more years.  An unexpected call from Washington offered me the job in Rome.

When I arrived in Rome, the State Department was being sued by several environmental groups upset at how the Italians were fishing for swordfish.  The United Nations had put a limit on how long Italian driftnets could be, and these groups sued the State Department to force it to enforce the UN mandate.  The Justice Department argued the case that the State Department did not need court oversight, but lost.  At the time I was not clear what leverage the environmental groups had on the State Department, but as this court decision shows, the leverage was Italian exports to the US.  The environmental groups would force the Commerce Department to withdraw its certification of Italian exports of fish to the US unless Italy was in compliance with the UN resolution.  As a result, a Federal judge ended up in charge of US fishery policy in Italy.

Who really ended up in charge of American fishery policy toward Italy was Greenpeace Italy.  The environmental groups could decide whether any US agreement with Italy on driftnets warranted allowing the Commerce Department decision to stand.  Any US proposal would be run by the US environmental groups; they would then ask Greenpeace Italy for its recommendation before replying to the court.  The Greenpeace Italy swordfish staff was basically one person who spent full time monitoring swordfish fishing boat, and who always smelled strongly of fish when we met with him.  The court decision cites Greenpeace reports in several places in its decision. 

We had a huge meeting in Rome with many representatives of interested parties in the US and Italy.  They came to a resolution, negotiated mainly by my assistant, who had handled fishery matters during a previous tour in Venezuela, and a staff assistant to the Italian director of the fishery office of the Italian Agriculture Ministry.  Under the agreement, the Italian Agriculture Ministry agreed to toughen up its enforcement practices.  A few months later, however, the Agriculture Minister requested a meeting with the Ambassador on the matter.  He said that because his ministry's enforcement officers had stepped up their efforts against illegal driftnet use, the Italian fishermen in Sicily, where most of them were located, had taken out hit contracts with the Mafia on the ministry's enforcement personnel.  The Minister felt that some of his employees were in genuine danger and requested that the agreement be watered down somewhat.  Meanwhile, other fishermen were demonstrating outside the Agriculture Ministry in downtown Rome and creating huge traffic jams.  My assistant who had negotiated the agreement was sick, and I had to go with the Ambassador to meet with the Minister.  The Ambassador was very upset when I told him that he did not have much negotiating room because any change would have to be approved by a federal judge, which meant essentially that it would have to be approved by Greenpeace Italy.  As a result, my last full day on the job in the Foreign Service was spent on the telephone negotiating some "happy-to-glad" changes in the language of the agreement and getting preliminary approval from Washington . 

I had forgotten the terms of the agreement, but they were summarized in the court opinion as:

First, Italy announced its intention to submit a voluntary rationalization and conversion plan to provide for the cancellation of all driftnet fishing licenses, accompanied by a surrender of the driftnets, between 1997 and 1999.

Second, Italy committed to introduce a ban on the use of Sardinian ports by driftnet vessels from other ports. The Sardinian port ban subsequently passed.

Third, Italy announced its intention to pass a law with an escalation of sanctions for fishing with illegal driftnets.

This appears to be one of the decisions that affected our office's work; however, the date of the decision is well after I had already retired from the Foreign Service.

A 2008 study of the driftnet problem showed that not much had changed over the 10 years following my retirement.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Punishing America for Fareed's Mistake

I saw on the CNN summary for Fareed Zakaria's GPS show last Sunday that he had planned to have Gen. Colin Powell talk about Syria and other international issues.  The NRA and the Republicans succeeded in muffling a reasonable voice on foreign policy by putting Fareed off the air for one paragraph that may have accidentally been plagiarized.  The show was dropped and apparently will be off the air for at least a month.  Cancelling his show is sort of like cutting off your nose to spite your face.  Candy Crowley is not bad, but by focusing on politics, she is caught up in a bunch of nasty people calling each other nasty names, while important stuff is going on overseas -- Syria, Iran, the Euro crisis -- but is not being covered by anybody, now that Fareed is barred from TV.  I hope CNN gets whatever it was they wanted from Karl Rove, maybe $100 million more in campaign ads for the Republicans.  Is Time-Warner's grovelling to the Republican establishment less culpable than Fareed's paragraph? 

Swift Boats Are Back

The Republicans have a new anti-Obama attack group, the Special Operations Opsec Education Fund, according to Reuters and the New York Times.  This is basically the same idea as the Swift Boat campaign waged by George W. Bush against Sen. John Kerry during his Presidential campaign.  The Swift Boat campaign vilified all Vietnam veterans by vilifying Kerry's military service, while the new Opsec campaign is aimed more specifically at Obama as Commander-in-Chief because he managed to kill Osama bin Laden, which the incompetent, cowardly Republicans had failed to do while George W. Bush was Commander-in-Chief. 

If the Republicans wanted to make sure that I, a Vietnam veteran, do not support Romney (or any other Republican) this is the way to do it.  It's probably coincidental, but both groups are primarily Navy veterans, the Swift boat veterans from Vietnam, and now the Navy seals from the bin Laden attack.  It makes me inclined to think that Navy officers are less patriotic than officers from other services, although that is probably not justified on the basis of the political actions of a handful of Navy personnel.  However, Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall set the standard during World War II and the years following it when he served as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, when he would not vote for any candidate because it might make it more difficult for him to serve the man he had not supported if he was elected.  Certainly soldiers should be allowed to vote, and retired officers should be allowed to campaign, but I think it is questionable when they attack the leadership of the country for being unpatriotic.  I think that makes them unpatriotic.  It's okay to attack the policies, but not to attack the Commander-in-Chief for disloyalty.  Do they want to try him for treason? 

The Republicans pursued two disastrous wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, during which they failed to capture or kill bin Laden.  Now they try to turn Obama's success in doing what they failed to do, against him.  Go back and look at what George W. Bush said and did when we found Saddam Hussein, who was not nearly as important an enemy of the United States as Osama bin Laden.  Republicans can brag, too.  What about "Mission Accomplished" blazoned across an aircraft carrier when the real Iraq war was just starting.  Was George W. Bush a traitor?  I think not; he was trying his best, but as a cowardly Vietnam draft dodger, he just didn't have it in him to fight a war well. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sorry for Fareed

I am so sorry that Fareed Zakaria plagiarized something from the New Yorker, according to Politico, and then got caught by the NRA.  The NRA is an unscrupulous, mean-spirited organization that lords itself over our political establishment.  That they got an intelligent liberal like Fareed will scare the less brave liberals in government.  It's like Parade Magazine's report of Grover Norquist fighting with a good man like George H.W. Bush because he went back on his pledge to not raise taxes. 

I hope that Fareed will continue to fight the good fight against the NRA and for intelligent, liberal policies to be pursued by the US Government. 

After comparing what is supposed to be plagiarized, I'm less concerned about Fareed.  Technically they got him, but in fact he gave credit to the real source of the information, a book by Adam Winkler.  The New York Times has a comparison of the texts.  He pretty much copied Ms. Lepore's summary of Winkler's book, but he didn't really copy any of her original ideas.  He could have read the book and come up with more or less the same summary.  This is sort of like "plagiarism lite," but it will be a stain on Fareed's reputation, and the NRA will be happy about that. 

In any case I will miss him in Time and on CNN. 

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Did Jews Fight in Iraq?

In my opinion, the Iraq war was largely started by American and Israeli Jews who wanted to kill Saddam Hussein.  Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz led the charge aided by many Jewish colleagues at Defense and other parts of the foreign policy and defense establishment, such as Doug Feith, and Dov Zakheim. Senator Joe Leiberman was a big supporter.  Of course, President Bush II was interested in showing up or avenging his father, Bush I, and played into their hands.  Dick Cheney just wanted a war to throw some money to his defense industry buddies, but he had his own influential Jew to help him, Scooter Libby.  

So, Iraq was at least in part a war for Jews and Israel.  My question is, "Did Jews fight in it?"  I think not, although my evidence is not very scientific.  I looked up a list of the names of those buried in Section 60 of Arlington Cemetery, who were killed in Iraq.  I hoped there would be some listing of how many tombstones have stars of David on them, but I could not find out.  Looking at the names, it's hard to tell.  There are a lot of Polish and other Slavic names that could be Jewish, or could be Christians of Eastern European ancestry.  However, when I searched the list for "gold" or "stein," which appear in many Jewish names, I found no hits.  If it were an Asian war started by a Christian, e.g., Korea or Vietnam, I could understand, but this was a war in the Middle East pushed strongly by Jews.  

ObamaCare Should Have Been Single Payer

To control health care costs, we need single, public payer system.  The HCA takeover of Denver non-profit hospitals shows how profitable health care is.  Republicans kept it that way by blocking single payer and leaving insurance companies, huge medical companies, and doctors are in control.  Many doctors are working for hospitals or corporations rather than private practice because of the financial incentives.  

The obvious solution to the health care problem was Medicare for everybody, and then cost controls on what Medicare funds.  Obvious problems are the last six months of life for older people who incur huge costs that don't produce better quality of life, just longer life, as well as younger people with hugely expensive diseases, and of course the multiple unnecessary tests.  

High Speed Trading Takes Over Stock Market

This chart from Technology Review shows the growth of high speed trading over the last few years.  As the article says, at some point somebody other than insiders like Knight Capital is going to get burned, perhaps just some average investors.

You can thank 401(k)s and IRAs for a lot of this.  In many cases these are just money that is not actively managed by the people it belongs to, allowing the stock market to play with it.  They have just anted up and put a huge pot of money on the table for the hedge funds and big investors.  As this money gets churned, the big guys probably get rich (unless their computer program blows up) and the little guys get fleeced.  It's virtually (no pun intended) impossible for the SEC to police, because it's so big, so fast, and so complicated.