A tasty culture clash

Al Kamen
Columnist July 10, 2013

Thought the ancient Olympics were competitive? Try the Great Greek Yogurt-Off of 2013.

This week, the Agriculture Department began seeking bids for yogurt makers to supply a four-state pilot program in which kids in public schools will get cartons of the tangy treat in their cafeterias.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Gentlemen, start your bacteria!

Lawmakers from states where Greek yogurt is a booming business are, quite naturally, thrilled. New York is home to the plants for Fage and Chobani; the latter also has a facility in Idaho.

“I hope USDA will continue the important process of making this healthy food option increasingly available to young Americans,” Sen. Mike Crapo (R- Idaho) said in a statement.

“I am proud to see this pilot plan reach this final step, because it’s a boon for New York yogurt and dairy industries, and it’s beneficial for the health of our kids,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who claimed credit for helping kick-start the program as part of his campaign to make the Empire State the Greek-yogurt capital of the world — at least outside Greece, that is.

There’s a trickle-down effect as well, with the yogurt craze also boosting dairy farmers in those states who supply the raw goods.

Both New York and Idaho are part of the pilot program, along with Arizona and Tennessee.

Since the program could be expanded nationwide, the company (or companies — the USDA could give the contract to multiple suppliers or settle on a single manufacturer) that snags a contract could be in for a boost in business. The initial buy alone is some 199,800 pounds of yogurt.

Fiction is stranger than truth

Some former members of Congress write measured op-eds and dull think-tank papers outlining the problems facing America and their possible solutions.

Instead of penning a dime-a-dozen white paper, former senator Byron Dorgan chose a more entertaining format for sounding the alarm about the vulnerabilities of the nation’s electrical system with a fast-paced new novel, “Gridlock.”

Written with veteran thriller author David Hagberg , the book tells the story of a terrorist plot to use a computer virus to bring down the interconnected power networks that we rely on for everything from clean water to street lights.

The North Dakota Democrat, who also teamed with Hagberg on the 2012 bio-terrorism thriller “Blowout,” tells the Loop that he drew inspiration from his own research and a 2009 Wall Street Journal article about the possibility that foreign spies were targeting the U.S. electrical system.

“I’m not trying to scare anyone, but we face substantial new threats, and our next war may well be a digital war,” he said.

Dorgan used his expertise in the ways of Washington to give the book a dose of authenticity that’s often missing from outsiders’ renderings of Beltway protocol. He knows, for example, which agency heads would be in meetings with the president. “I’ve been around a lot of top secret briefings and discussions about threats to our country,” he said.

And he’s seen plenty of world leaders in action.

Other elements of the story were a little more challenging to conjure up, he admited, like one setting, an encampment near Amsterdam populated by drug addicts and murderous computer hackers. Not exactly the normal environs for a nice North Dakotan.

Seedy, drug-addled antagonists? Fast-paced action? Hey, we’d read policy papers if they included more of that.

A lobbyist’s wait is over

President Obama has nominated Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, to be the administration’s point person on human rights.

Malinowski, who got the nod Monday for the job of assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor at the State Department, had been the poster child for discontent over the Obama administration’s ban on hiring lobbyists. He’d been a lobbyist for Human Rights Watch for more than a decade, and those chafing at the White House’s no-
K Streeters rule early on in the Obama administration thought it unfair not to distinguish between lobbyists for do-gooder causes and those who shilled for corporate America.

But that was then. Malinowski’s last lobbying-disclosure form was filed in 2008, putting him now well beyond the two-year “cooling-off” period Obama prescribed.

Meanwhile, the White House announced a few more moves, including Evan Ryan to be assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. Ryan works for Vice President Biden and was on the staff of then-first lady Hillary Clinton.

Presidential personnel director Nancy Hogan is leaving, the White House announced, replaced by her deputy, Jonathan McBride.

To the embassies!

As expected, Obama said Tuesday that he will nominate Matt Barzun — Obama 2008 finance chairman, former ambassador to Sweden and then Obama 2012 finance chairman — to be ambassador to Britain.

Obama, once again bitterly disappointing the Loop, also tapped local lawyer and huge bundler and contributor John Phillips — his original Italian family name was Filippi — to be ambassador to Italy.

White House deputy chief of staff and former Senate staffer Mark Childress got the nod to be ambassador to Tanzania, while lawyer and former federal district judge Carlos Moreno was nominated for Belize.

Israel’s man in Washington

Speaking of diplomats, a changing of the guard is coming here in Washington, too: Ron Dermer, a longtime aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is set to become the country’s next ambassador to the United States.

Our colleague Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem reports that U.S.-born Dermer, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and of Oxford University, will replace the current ambassador, Michael Oren, who’s expected to end his term in Washington in the coming months.

The new guy is reported to be friendly with the Bush family (remember them?), but the Times of Israel says that “in recent months, Dermer’s ties with the Obama administration, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have improved.”

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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