For Ecuador, no rosy picture

Al Kamen
Columnist July 1, 2013

Terrible timing for a cheery campaign — which includes prominent ads on Metro trains — by the Ecuadoran Embassy promoting a trade pact with the United States.

Last week, the country’s government backed out of the deal in dramatic fashion, calling pressure from the Obama administration over American intelligence leaker Edward Snowden “blackmail.” Ecuador is considering offering sanctuary to Snowden, although its president has said the American has to reach the country or one of its embassies for that to happen — and Snowden appears stuck in an airport in Moscow while seeking asylum in Russia.

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

All of which makes the slick pro-trade advertising campaign, which was launched by the Ecuadoran Embassy in Washington, feel a little awkward. On Friday, a Loop fan spotted a sign on a Metro car promoting the “Keep Trade Going” campaign.

“I discovered the best roses come from Ecuador,” the colorful sign reads.

The initiative also featured an extensive Web site, according to a news release lauding the campaign, featuring “videos, infographics, photos and testimonials from those affected in both countries — from Ecuadoran farmers to the owners of U.S. flower shops,” as well as a social-media presence.


Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis’s infamous running shoes. (Eric Gay/AP)

The message is (was?) that the trade deal was pretty much the best thing since sliced bread, keeping Ecuadorans from resorting to the drug trade, while sending the finest roses, tuna, broccoli and mangoes to U.S. consumers.

“KeepTradeGoing.com serves as a forum for educating, encouraging action, and stimulating a very important conversation: ways that Ecuador and the U.S. can further develop our trade relationships for the economic and security benefits of both countries,” Nathalie Cely, the Ecuadoran ambassador to the United States, said in the release.

A representative for the campaign didn’t return our calls, but the Web site and Facebook page and Twitter feed appeared to have been taken down.

Awwk-ward.

Close, but no SIGAR

The federal government’s inspector generals are usually considered watchdogs who investigate allegations of mismanagement, waste, fraud and abuse by government agencies and then demand that the agencies shape up.

The IGs also periodically review one another's work to ensure that everyone’s following procedures in agency audits.

It seems a most unusual — in fact, downright nasty — catfight erupted last week between two inspector generals when the special IG for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR) reviewed some work of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. IG (PBGC OIG).

We’re not going to get involved in the gory details, save to say that the battle is over compliance with government accounting standards (GAGAS).

The SIGAR team reviewed two of the PBGC team’s audits and graded them in a report on May 15 with a “pass with deficiencies.”

That sparked what became a bench-clearing brawl, most of which is laid out here.

“SIGAR’s peer review report is replete with errors and misinterpretation to a degree that I personally find shocking,” corporation IG Rebecca Anne Batts wrote Friday as she forwarded the report to her board of directors.

“Unsupported conclusions” and “unprofessional,” she added, saying her team tried mightily, to no avail, to try to get the SIGAR folks to come around.

Batts said she had asked the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) to assign another inspector general’s office to “conduct a peer review” of her office next year. “I am unwilling to wait for the normal three-year cycle” to show the office’s competence.

That blast followed a letter Friday from SIGAR Deputy Inspector General Gene Aloise, who said his shop’s review was “fully in accordance with GAGAS . . . guidelines.”

Besides, Aloise said, “I think we can agree that [both sides] have spent an inordinate amount of time” on this review, “which has now reached the point of diminishing returns.” There’s no public benefit to “drag it out beyond what is reasonable.” In addition, Batts’s request was filed after the 30-day deadline for the reviewed agency to post the IG report on its Web site, he noted, so SIGAR was going to post it on its site.

And then: “We will also inform” congressional oversight committees, Aloise said, “of the peer review results.”

Stay tuned.

Getting their kicks

Wendy Davis’s shoes, the “rouge red” Mizuno running shoes that the Texas state senator sported to support her during her 11-hour filibuster of an antiabortion bill, have received national attention.

Now, the Amazon reviews for the pair she wore — the Wave Runner — are turning into a forum for sarcastic, sometimes-hilarious (and sometimes crude) political commentary.

The customer reviews section for the shoes has attracted witticisms from both sides of the issue, with commenters couching their opinions on the Davis saga as opinions on the athletic kicks.

A sample:

“Men, do not try these on!” reads a review that has been labeled a customer favorite. “I tried on a pair at the local mall and suddenly Texas Republicans started telling me what to do with my genitals. They started explaining reproduction to me like I was a seventh-grader. Unfortunately, being male, I had no way to shut the whole thing down. I’m so confused. . . .

“I only have one concern about these shoes,” another “customer” writes. “The soles are made of rubber and will undoubtedly melt in the fires of hell, which is where people who murder babies will go. Just sayin.”

Amazon customer reviews are often a forum for social commentary: In what might be the most famous example, Bic’s pastel-colored “Pens for Her” stirred all kinds of feminist outrage in the form of snarky reviews.

We’re still waiting to hear from Mizuno. A spokeswoman didn’t return our calls seeking comment.

With Emily Heil

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

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