Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Diplomat Buyers Club

The other day Jon Stewart did a very funny episode on several new ambassadors who had seem to have been appointed without reference to any qualifications relating to knowledge about the country where they would serve.    He pointed out that the new ambassadors to Iceland, Argentina and Norway had never been there.   He also explained that  the new ambassador to China (former Senator Max Baucus) stepped down from his senate seat early to try to assure that the dems hold on to the Senate in 2014. Baucus admitted in his confirmation hearing that he did not know much about China.  Like much of Stewart's episodes his wry telling of the story was great.

But let me make a slightly different point.   What are the real qualifications of an ambassador?  There is a delicate balance between having a strong understanding of the current administration's positions and knowing the country where the ambassador will serve.  It might well be easier to learn about the country than to understand an administration's propensities.   Remember that in each of the embassies there are always country or region experts on the staff.

A case in point is Dwight Morrow who was ambassador to Mexico from 1927-1930. Morrow was a JP Morgan banker before entering public life.  Morrow's major qualification, when President Coolidge appointed him, was that he had been a classmate in college and he was part of Coolidge's inner circle.    But he ranks as one of the best US ambassadors to Mexico by any standard.   He immersed himself in the country and is credited with giving sound financial advice to the Mexican government.   The beautiful mural in the Palace of Cortez in Cuernavaca by Diego Rivera was commissioned by Morrow, who had a weekend home there.    Morrow helped to mediate the conflict between the Church and the Mexican government through a series of informal discussions between him and the president.  

A second example was Shirley Temple Black - who had been a fringe politician before she was appointed an ambassador, but was credited in stories about her passing this week as being a first rate ambassador.

So while Stewart's point is funny, I am not sure it is right.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Consumer Reports of Boycotts

One of the outcomes of the Superbowl was a controversy about an Israeli company called SodaStream.   SodaStream sells a device which injects CO2 into water and with syrups they sell so that you can produce home made soda.   I am not much of a soda drinker so I have never used the product - but it seems like a good idea.    

Oxfam produced a silly ad suggesting that this company, which offers employment to Palestinians, is exploiting the workers.  That is  nonsense.   In an area of the world where poverty is high - this little company is offering good jobs.   Despite the overblown rhetoric of Palestinian spokesmen - that is the reality.  The company's spokesperson quit her role with Oxfam.  In recent months the Palestinians have used terms like "apartheid" to describe Israeli policies in what they believe to be Palestinian territory.   That is so off the mark it is laughable - but some in the world have begun to believe the claim.

But the real story comes from a fringe group  I found  called Global Exchange - whose mantra is that they are   "an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world"  (Please note I have not put in their URL as I usually would because I find their campaign despicable.)

On their website they sneer - The simplest alternative to buying a SodaStream machine is to drink plain water or other non-carbonated beverages - no one actually needs to drink bubbly water. And even if you like to do so on occasion, remember that you’ll have to consume quite a bit before you’ll realize any economic or environmental benefits from owning your own machine, compared to simply buying bottles at the grocery store. (Yes, plastic bottles are wasteful, but plenty of plastic, plus metal and other resources used for manufacturing and shipping, goes into each home machine, too.)  Can you imagine the internal fights with these nutballs.   "If we can't get people to not buy products from this company that is operating in what we believe to be Palestinian territory then should we actually ask them to use (shudder!!!!) plastic bottles?"   Which orthodoxy prevailed is a matter of some interest - evidently environmental and nanny state principles get thrown out when you have a chance to rail against a for profit company.

But then the site goes on to offer consumer recommendations on competitors to the SodaStream.    Their first alternative has the following advice "XXX (the first company recommended)  isn’t selling its own syrups or powder to flavor your soda, but its customer service department says a full line will be available soon. In the meantime, both Cuisinart customer service and at least some Bed Bath & Beyond retail staffers are recommending SodaStream’s flavorings, but you don’t have to you follow their advice - you can just add fruit juice, brew your own flavorings (start with these recipes), or try the flavor packs offered by two other recent entrants in the make-your-own-soda market."  (Note on the original site the words "these recipes" were hot linked to nothing - evidently the nanny state faction in this group prevailed and prevented GE from being a full fledged consumer advocate.)

It seems odd that a group which claims to support human rights and "economic" justice would spend so much time trying to assail a small company that is offering good jobs in a place where people really need them.  But then again when you live by orthodoxy, even the cross conflicted notions of this group, what you say and what you actually do may be quite different.

Monday, February 03, 2014

How do we deal with the new McCarthy-ists?

The picture is from a website called "Stop Telling Lies about Liberals and We'll Stop Telling the Truth About You."    I have a sister in law who seems to like it a lot.   Their righteous indignation mantra is -

The truth always stands up for itself. we fight fire with fire and always tell the truth. If you disagree, or do not like with anything posted here, tough!

A few days ago she linked this on Facebook and with the same kind of civil discourse standard that the website promotes commented that it is "amazing that 'these people' can figure out how to vote."   She immediately got a lot of likes and statements of agreement - mostly focused on how ignorant they guy in the photo was.

I am not sure when this photo was taken.   I do not really care.   The guy holding the sign, even if the spelling errors were not there - does not represent even a small sliver of political opinion in the country.  Yet it is presented like it is a mainstream view of conservatives.

The Website also spends a lot of time on the usual suspects like Fox news and criticisms of policies by the Obama Administration (the IRS seeming abuse of power and issues surrounding our response in Benghazi are dismissed as "pseudo-scandals"   I am sure the Department of Justice's gun running to Mexico - which on its face seems like an absurd project for the government to undertake - got similar treatment when it was being discussed).   I realize that the same level of vitriol is available for conservatives.

From my perspective every American should be concerned about politicians in Washington and their constant interest in accumulating power in all sorts of areas.    Sure I am concerned about many things going on in the last five years, including getting better answers than we have been given about the conduct of public officials in the IRS, the Department of State and the Justice Department.   Public officials should be held accountable for their actions and at least in my view all three of those problems represent significant mal-or-misfeasance.    But I was also concerned about many things that happened in the preceding eight and the eight before that.  In my own professional area I was concerned when the Secretary of Education began assuming that she could run colleges better than colleges could (a trend that continues in the current Administration).  What concerns me here is the level of vitriol offered against the other side.   There is no room for civil discourse because one's opponents not only disagree with your thoughts but are evil in their disagreements.

The politics of self-righteousness  did not work well for Joe McCarthy (although there were indeed some problems that he helped to uncover) and they do not work for either side now.