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Syria and its weird priorities


Rebels may be moving on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, but who says the Assad regime is in disarray?

Last month, the Syrian Arab Republic’s minister of foreign affairs informed the World Intellectual Property Organization (the United Nations agency headquartered in Geneva) that the regime had ratified the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances.

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

The treaty was negotiated in Beijing last June, and Syria on March 18 became the first — the very first! — nation to formally join it.

The treaty does not come into force until 30 countries have notified the WIPO that they have ratified it. Given how long it took to get one country to ratify the accord, what are the odds that the current regime will still be in power in Damascus when the 30th signs on?

The BTAP (as its friends call it) deals with required copyright protections for movie stars and other performers in “audio-visual works.”

So Syria may be in heightening chaos, with tens of thousands dead and refugees flooding out of the country by the millions, but at least Damascus is taking care of such vital business — far faster than governments that aren’t devoting so much time and attention to slaughtering their own citizens.

An envoy with pedigree

Looks as though there will be a Camelot East — make that Far East: Caroline Kennedy is heading to Tokyo to be the U.S. ambassador. Kennedy, whose support for President Obama during his 2008 campaign was seen as crucial, had been widely talked about as a candidate for the plum diplomatic post, but now things apparently have been firmed up.

The move, which her office did not return a call about, is almost certain to thrill the Japanese, who like their U.S. ambassadors to be superstars. Kennedy’s predecessors include luminaries such as legendary Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield, former vice president Walter Mondale, former House speaker Tom Foley and former Senate majority leader Howard Baker.

We hear that her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, who owns a New York-based design firm, will not be joining her full time in Tokyo.

Scrawl on hold

Back when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was sworn in, a sense of great anticipation spread across the land. Folks could hardly wait until Lew’s notoriously bizarre and (dare we say it) loopy signature would grace the stately U.S. dollar bills issued under his leadership.

But he’s been at the helm of Treasury for more than a month, and all the new bucks we could get our hands on (an admittedly small sample) still bear the dignified, legible John Hancock of Lew’s predecessor, Tim Geithner. Where are the Lew bills? What gives?

It turns out they aren’t coming anytime soon.

A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing explains that the process of capturing and reproducing the Treasury secretary’s signature on the nation’s currency takes about 18 weeks. Meanwhile, the new bills coming off the presses are still Geithner ones, even though the man whose name they bear is a decidedly private-sector man these days, writing a book, selling a house and entertaining job offers.

And Lew hasn’t even gotten the ball rolling yet. He still has to submit his official signature to be used in the currency-production process, we’re told.

Why the delay, we wondered? Was Lew not yet confident in his penmanship? After all, his boss, President Obama, has publicly razzed him for his unreadable signature, and joked that he had made him promise to make at least one letter legible.

Just a matter of scheduling, we’re told. It will happen “soon.”

And so the wait for funny money continues.

A job for the other Vilsack

Christie Vilsack lost her congressional race to Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), but she has landed another job in Washington. Vilsack, who was a teacher for more than 20 years, is joining the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as a senior adviser on international education.

We had heard that the White House wanted to help her find a post here after her failed campaign, because her husband, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack , is staying on for a second Obama term.

In an e-mail to supporters, Vilsack called the new gig a “dream job.” At USAID, she’ll be doing outreach and will “participate in international donor and multi-lateral engagement including the Global Partnership for Education and the UN’s Global Education First Initiative,” she wrote.

With Emily Heil

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