TCS Daily

An Alphabet Soup of Cynicism

By James Pinkerton - June 16, 2005 12:00 AM

GENEVA -- Three different sets of meetings have been taking place here in this beautiful city in the past two weeks -- all of which will have an enormous effect on America's health and economic well-being. In fact, trillions of dollars' worth of the Intellectual Property (IP) are at stake.

If you don't understand the blizzard of acronyms flying around here -- CBD, ABS, WIPO, WTO, TRIPS -- that's just fine with the world-crats and their expense-accounted camp-followers. They like the idea that they can come here and hammer out the future of the world economy with as little input as possible from ordinary folks, especially Americans.

Fortunately for those not born or bred into the United Nations' alphabet soup, TechCentral's own Sally Satel has laid out all the key IP issues.

But for the purposes of this article, suffice it to say that IP in all its forms is under assault, as part of a general assault on the US. But by whom? And for what reason? And what are the larger implications?

For answers, I turned to Ambassador Kevin Moley, the Permanent Representative of the United States of America To the United Nations and Other International Organizations. Moley, a combat Marine in Vietnam, has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in business and politics. After rising to deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under the first President Bush, he moved to Arizona, where he worked with various biotech companies. But in 2001, he answered the call of a new President Bush; he came to his ambassadorial posting here just weeks after 9-11.

His nearly four years in Geneva have been an eye-opening experience for him; he is eager to share what he has learned. For example, Moley has been dealing with the UN Commission on Human Rights. That's the now-notorious body that includes such gross human rights-violating countries as Cuba, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. But as Moley explains, there's method there: "By being on the Commission, they can guarantee avoiding trouble for themselves." Yes, and putting the foxes inside the henhouse is a great way of resolving the hen question.

The basic problem for the US in the UN, Moley explains, is the UN's preference for "multilateralism," as opposed to "unilateralism" -- that latter word being a code-word for "US policy." Most UN countries are small, he notes, and so they come to think that they have strength in numbers. Which is to say, if the UN had its way, the US would be endlessly enmeshed in policies backed by majorities of the 191 member-states. But of course, "If you have 191 directors, you have none."

Put another way, the UN operates in a kind of controlled chaos, disguised as "consensus." Such consensus, he further observes, gives rise to rampant hypocrisy: countries feel compelled to "'join consensus,' regardless of whether or not they have any intention of actually living up to the consensus they just joined." Moley compares the mantric phrase "join consensus" to the words "assimilate into the Borg" from "Star Trek." Yup, folks, it's that bad. Parenthetically, some might argue that the potential for abuse-by-majority is inherent in any democratic organization, and that's true enough. But there's a two-fold answer, based on the American experience: First, check-and-balance majoritarianism with plenty of small-"r" republican features. And second, keep the overall entity small, as a way of limiting the damage it can potentially inflict.

The blunt-spoken US ambassador is particularly direct on IP, the defense of which falls under his purview here in Geneva. It's the "the lifeblood of American success," he insists.

But on pharmaceutical and biotech issues, that lifeblood could be drained away by vein-opening international policies, as Sally Satel and others have demonstrated. Moley sympathizes with a new report from the Pacific Research Institute, which finds that some of the policies under discussion here in Geneva could cost biotech companies some $144 billion over the next two decades, and kibosh as many as 200 new pharmaceuticals.

And that's the grinding paradox of this IP debate: The US and other well-off countries will lose, but so will the rest of the world. Drugs for AIDS, for example, can potentially save many more lives in Africa than in North America.

So what's up with that? Why such a destructive course of action? Moley's answer is stark. "The activists," he says, referring to those who drive international deliberations -- some from developing countries, but most from developed countries -- "don't really care about people in the Third World." If they did care, he adds, they wouldn't have been so eager to flood the world with dubious generics, the main value of which, in activists' minds, was to undermine Western "Pharma" companies. Indeed, some of the drugs were so flawed that even the World Health Organization had to admit its mistake and order their withdrawal. If the US had forced such a policy onto the world, Moley concludes, "We would have been accused of, and would have been guilty of, racism, pure and simple."

So what's driving the activists? What makes them pursue lose-lose policies? Here the ambassador is bluntest of all. "The activists," he says, choosing his words carefully, "don't just really worry about the golden egg of better treatments; they want to kill the goose that laid them. They are anti-capitalist, anti-US, anti-everything that we stand for in the free world."

So that's UN Geneva for you. But what about certain specific countries? How do they fit into the IP scheme of things? In the past, some have referred to Brazil, China, and India as the "IP Axis of Evil." So how does Moley refer to them? "We have huge problems with China," he answers, although he allows that there have been some "minor improvements."

How about India? "The Indians," Moley answers, "are of two minds." The "old liners," as he calls them, still burn with utopian socialism, and that ideology obsolescent as it is, doggedly demands the socializing of everything, including IP. But a younger faction in India sees the importance of defending capitalist Bollywood and, even more critically, looking out for the rights of India's nascent software industry. For the time being, Moley observes, the two factions are fighting it out, and so India is putting forth "mixed signals" on IP. But Moley is firm on one point: "The future of India is dependent on adherence to the strict preservation of IP."

And what of Brazil? Putting on his diplomatic game face for a moment, Moley answers that Brazil is a "difficult situation," and then goes on to say, "It's clear that they do not subscribe to our view of IP." He adds, "There's a huge gap to bridge between our view of the world economy and theirs."

But there's an even larger problem within the UN system, Moley asserts. And that is, although the UN suffers from overspending and "Enron-like accounting," few players within the UN system have much interest in reform: "The same ambassador who is here representing a country might well be looking for a plush post within the UN system some day." It's no accident, the American adds, that the UN's two headquarters cites are among the nicest and most expensive in the world: New York and Geneva. Both are great towns -- for those with a good expense account. Which is to say, there's plenty of incentive to go along, get along -- and maybe get a job.

Moley's views may seem bleak to some. But after four years on the job, he has earned the right to speak out and be heard. And since he will be returning home to Arizona within the next year, he is immune to the seductions of the UN system.

Out of this permanent-floating-crap-game of a culture -- the-pardoned-by-Clinton-but-once-and-future-crook Marc Rich is said to live here somewhere -- it's no surprise, for a further example, the Oil For Food scandal has erupted in the bosom of the UN; its epicenter is right here in Geneva. Just on Tuesday, The Washington Times reported on the discovery of a 1998 memo in which U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appears to endorse a bid by the Swiss firm Cotecna S.A.. In the words of the Times' Betsy Pisik, "If accurate, the memo would contradict a claim by

Mr. Annan that he did not know about the bid by Cotecna at the time -- a potential conflict of interest because Cotecna employed Mr. Annan's son, Kojo Annan." And, Pisik continued, "It would also appear to contradict a preliminary report by the investigating panel, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, that Mr. Annan did not improperly influence the contract being awarded to Cotecna." In any case, what is true is that the company won a $10 million contract in late 1998; moreover, investigators charge that Cotecna continued to pay Kojo long after he had told his father that he had separated himself from the company.

In light of all this, I thought it would be fun to pay a visit to Cotecna's headquarters, just a mile or two from my hotel, at 58 rue de la Terrassière. After walking past a zillion private banks and import-export establishments, what I found when I reached Cotecna HQ was an ordinary-looking office, in an ordinary-looking office building. Which is to say, what's most striking about Cotecna is the banality of its evil.

So even if The Wall Street Journal editorial page gets its fondest wish, which is firing Annan and confirming John Bolton, I am not sure much would change here, even then.

Because while my trip to Cotecna didn't yield up much, I did learn a lot from sitting in the woody and leafy bar at the President Wilson Hotel. There, various middle-aged and graying businessmen -- and younger women who seem to have their own kind of business -- were congregated amidst clouds of cigarette smoke (this is Europe, after all) and heady talk of fortunes to be made at the expense of some bunch of taxpayers, somewhere. Plus me, doing my polite best to eavesdrop.

Plenty of the bar-versations were in foreign languages, from French to Arabic to whatever, but many were in English, happily. Said one man to another: "In that suit, you look just like Al Capone!" And they both laughed. A few minutes later, I heard another man exclaim: "That's a harsh term, 'whoring around.' We call it 'helping the local economy.'" Har har. Then I heard another man shout into his cell phone, "You bastard! If you die, I'm keeping your commission!" And then he guffawed.

Such are the folks who set the tone here at Geneva. All these UN agencies and their works may serve their purposes, but let's make no mistake. So long as this system exists, the only things certain will be death, taxes -- and somebody here in Geneva getting rich on the commission. That is, one globalocracy will always have money for one contractor, who might in turn kick back some of it to the globalcrat, who will eventually get a job with the contractor. Multiply that by a thousand or a million, and voila! -- that's Geneva.

But that might not be the end of the story, after all. Such institutionalized cynicism and corruption breeds a backlash. As the recent EU constitutional elections in France and Holland prove, there's a lot less appetite for world government than people here in Europe than we have been led to believe, lo these past few decades. There's plenty of need for world bodies, including the UN, that act as assemblies of sovereign nations, in which those nations hammer out agreements between each other. And thanks to the earnest efforts of Kevin Moley and other likeminded and tough-minded diplomats and negotiators from productive countries around the world, there's even room for cautious optimism that the agreements reached will do more good than harm.

But overall, the trend toward the creation of well-funded world-capitals, such as Geneva, seems to be stalling, if not yet reversing. Those fellows at the bar at the President Wilson will still do fine, of course, but perhaps they won't have as much finery as they have hoped when they first came here.


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