The Washington Post

Now, there’s a theme for the tony Davos crowd: Income inequality

A hotel that’s an igloo? Iglu-Dorf is one of the many cool things in the Swiss resort. (Jason Alden/Bloomberg)

It’s Davos! The ultimate in networking and elbow-rubbing. Welcome to the 2014 World Economic Forum, which brings together a few thousand people each year in the ultra-tony ski resort of Davos, Switzerland — world leaders, corporate titans, royalty, entertainment celebs and media folk — plus thousands of staff and security and your usual smattering of protesters.

This year’s theme? Wait for it, wait for it . . . Income inequality! Yes, the heavy breathing will focus on this issue — just days after a stunning report was issued by Oxfam saying that the 85 richest people in the world are as wealthy as the poorest half of the global population, or about 3.5 billion people. A good chunk of those 85 are likely to be fretting on the slopes about this horrible state of affairs.

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

By day, the agenda is panel discussions, speeches and such, focusing on the main theme but also on many other vexing international issues.

For example, an excellent panel of extremely knowledgeable insiders will be talking Mideast issues Friday afternoon. We’re told the scheduled panel members are Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region; Ahmet Davutoglu;, Turkey’s foreign affairs minister; and Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign affairs minister.

After absorbing so much info during the day, evenings are your usual party scene, devoted to celebrity-spotting, night skiing and such, and apparently a fair amount of alcohol consumption. We’re advised, however, that lawmakers’ and administration officials’ schedules will run past the dinner hour, so they may get a late start on the fun.

An all-Republican House delegation is being led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and includes Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.), Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), Kay Granger (Tex.), Patrick McHenry (N.C.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.). While Davos participants are usually given free airline tickets, the Cantor group is flying over on a super-comfy military jet, because some lawmakers and staffers will be heading to other events, including visiting troops and getting briefings in Stuttgart, Germany. The Jerusalem Post reported that Cantor and other House members will also travel to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland for International Holocaust Remembrance Day next week.

Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is leading a Senate delegation and speaking on a panel on technology and “Big Brother,” according to the schedule. (Leahy is a co-author, with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), of legislation to end dragnet collection of phone metadata and rein in NSA snooping operations.) Others on that delegation, we hear, include Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Secretary of State John Kerry’s plane will be arriving Thursday after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s speech. Kerry is speaking on Friday. We’re hearing you may be able to spot Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy over there, too.

Full disclosure: One of those media folks is Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post.

I’m more than okay

Foreign Service officers at the State Department are headed into the review-writing season. These detailed, orchestrated reviews are critical for future assignments and promotions, and FSOs labor over them for hours and hours. They are known officially as Employee Evaluation Reports (EERs). The reports are then reviewed by the evaluation panels for equally long periods.

Writing them is considered an art form at Foggy Bottom and most everywhere. Certain individuals are regarded as masters of the art. The department, we’re told, even gives out awards, or “commendations,” to employees judged to have done the best job of writing about their own accomplishments. The commendation, of course, goes in the employee’s folder and can be referenced in writing the next year’s EER.

We hear the list from last year of employees commended for describing themselves in the most lavish terms is 12 pages long.

You might scoff, but these self-evaluations are actually quite difficult. If you are honest and rate yourself less than a “1” in any category — and thus give the bosses a reason to demote or get rid of you — then you’re an idiot.

But for most people it’s hard to answer questions like “How would you improve your performance next year?” Tip: Say something like “Since I turn in an excellent performance seven days a week for the department, I’m going to try to figure out how to squeeze in an eighth day.”

They should give a prize for these things. Maybe “The Stephen Glass Award for Creative Writing”?


Like his boss, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx appears to have taken to using a teleprompter for big speeches. He used one last week in his keynote speech to the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting here in Washington.

We’re told that his predecessor, Ray LaHood, never used one. (Of course Ray was an old-school kinda guy.)

The blog:
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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