Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Alexandria Police Chief Was Given Four Tests and Two Hours to Sober Up

Just as I had suspected, the officers who arrested the Alexandria, Virginia, Chief of Police for drunk driving gave him a good long time in which to metabolize his blood alcohol content before he was put on the breathalyzer. They first ran him through a whole battery of field sobriety tests, and then waited two hours after arrest to have him do the breath test (Alexandria Chief Failed 4 DUI Tests):

Baker, who is on administrative leave, failed four field sobriety tests: the nine-step walk and turn, the 30-second leg lift, counting backwards and saying the alphabet, the complaint says.

Just after midnight, about two hours after the accident, Baker took a breath test, which registered a blood alcohol level of 0.19, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08. The crash sent the other driver to the hospital with whiplash and back pain, authorities said.

Baker, who is 6-foot-1 and weighs 210 pounds, told police that he had two beers about 20 minutes before the accident, the report said. When the arresting officer asked where Baker had been earlier that night, Baker's answer was unclear, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is pending.

I wonder how that two-hour delay compares with the average arrest-to-breath-test times for other drunk drivers processed by the Arlington County Police? The operator of a breathalyzer has to wait a certain amount of time before doing a test - usually 15 to 20 minutes - because he needs to observe the arrestee long enough to ascertain that he is not belching or burping and thereby getting 'mouth alcohol' into the breath sample, which can significantly spike the test results. "My client burped" or "my client wears dentures and must have blown sequestered undigested alcohol into the test sample" are common legal defenses when drunk driving charges are based on breath test results alone [the motto of the defense bar ought to be "Reasonable Doubt for a Reasonable Price"]. But there is no need to wait two hours.

And was it was really necessary for the arresting officers to go through four field sobriety tests before deciding that Chief Baker needed to blow into a tube? Anyone who blew a 0.19 more than two hours after his last drink must have been quite obviously intoxicated long before they made him stand on one leg and count backwards. At best, the officers were playing for time while waiting on instructions. At worse, they were playing out the clock hoping Chief Baker would sober up a bit before they had to collect more evidence. I once arrested a drunk driver who blew a 0.18 and it was barely possible to get him to walk safely, much less do any kind of sobriety test. [When he went to court, that driver asked the judge to dismiss the charges on the grounds that when I caught him he wasn't actually driving, since at that point he had crashed his car and was merely sitting in it. Pretty good thinking for someone without a law degree!]

I'm fully expecting Chief Baker to do an Oprahesque public confession and then enter rehab. After 30 days of sobriety he'll be in a better position to throw himself on the mercy of the court.

Monday, July 27, 2009

U.S. Dials Down the Public Messages in Havana

Reuters is running a story on an interesting development at the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, Cuba: U.S. turns off news ticker that angered Havana.

A few quotes from the story.

HAVANA (Reuters) - The United States has turned off a news ticker at its diplomatic mission in Havana that had long irritated the Cuban government, in another sign of efforts to improve relations with Havana, western diplomats said.

The ticker, which streamed news, political statements and messages blaming Cuba's problems on the country's communist system and socialist economy, had infuriated former President Fidel Castro when it was turned on in January 2006 at a moment of high political tension with Washington. President Raul Castro took over from ailing elder brother Fidel last year.

Throughout most of July, the five-foot-high (1.5-meter high) news streamer which ran across 25 windows on the fifth floor of the U.S. Interests Section, has been turned off.

Western diplomats in Havana, who asked not to be identified, said there were no plans for its crimson letters to be switched on again any time soon.

Neither U.S. diplomats nor Cuban officials were immediately available for comment. U.S. diplomats had told visitors there were "technical difficulties" with the electronic messenger, which in June appeared to sputter at times.

When the news ticker was started in 2006, the Cuban regime was sufficiently agitated by it that they dug up the parking lot in front of the building and built an "Anti-imperialism Park" there with a phalanx of 100-foot high flagpoles and anti-U.S. themed billboards to block public views of the Interest Section.

The Financial Times also ran a story on this today, and quoted a "western diplomat" who pointed out that the billboard shut-down signals a likely U.S.-Cuba rapprochement:

“That they turned off the ticker is important – and that nobody has noticed is significant, too,” a western diplomat said.

“The Cubans could have howled victory – but [they] said nothing, indicating they are serious about improving relations.”

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Chief of Alexandria (Virginia) Police Gets the Ultimate Bureaucratic Punishment

He was placed on paid administrative leave.

From the City of Alexandria's website:

On Saturday, July 25 at approximately 11:00 p.m., Arlington County Police arrested Alexandria Chief of Police David P. Baker for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Chief Baker was involved in a traffic collision near the intersection of I-66 and North Fairfax Drive in Arlington County. The driver of the other vehicle sustained non life-threatening injuries and was transported to a local area hospital. According to Arlington County Police, Chief Baker’s blood alcohol level (BAC) was .19 percent. Chief Baker was driving an unmarked City vehicle at the time of the accident. Following the arrest, he was released through normal booking procedures.

Because of the arrest, Alexandria City Manager James K. Hartmann placed Chief Baker on paid administrative leave, and appointed Alexandria Executive Deputy Chief of Police Earl Cook Acting Chief of Police, effective immediately.

The Washington Post's report on the arrest adds a little bit more detail.

A few observations:

1. Chief of Police Baker must be very accustomed to heavy drinking if he was still moving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.19, which translates into about ten drinks for a man of his body weight. That is more than twice the level that proves a driver "per se intoxicated" in any state in the union, and is not far short of unconsciousness.

2. Chief of Police Baker is very lucky he stopped drinking exactly when he did, or else he was the beneficiary of a cooperative booking officer, since his 0.19 blood-alcohol concentration is just one notch short of the level at which he would have qualified for "enhanced penalties" for drunk driving under Virginia law.

3. Chief of Police Baker is history. He was not merely driving drunk, he was falling-down drunk and driving a government vehicle when he hit another car and injured the other driver, and he did this in the neighboring jurisdiction of Arlington where he had no home field advantage with the arresting officer(s).

My prediction: there will be a quick trip to a rehab clinic, followed by a guilt plea, followed by a lawsuit against Alexandria for the city's negligent failure to detect Chief Baker's drinking and driving problem before he hit the plaintiff.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fortress Embassies, Round 1,791

Consumer Notice: This post is certified 100% free of Matters of Official Concern that are not referenced from publicly available sources of information.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has released a report on the distressingly low state of contemporary U.S. diplomatic design, a report done for the State Department's Office of Overseas Building Operations (OBO). It calls upon the Guardians of High Culture to fight back against the Troglodytes of Government Security, those lowbrow types who supposedly gained the upper hand over Art and Beauty after the 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Beirut and Kuwait and haven't given it up since.

See the Washington Post's review of the report here.

Although a lowbrow type myself, I look forward to a clash over this stuff since I think the AIA makes many good recommendations, particularly the ones about changing the site selection criteria that help to drive new embassies into remote locations, adopting performance-based rather than prescriptive security standards, and preserving rather than replacing historic or culturally significant properties. It's been my experience that those things can all be accommodated without giving up a high level of protection against mob violence and truck-bombs.

So let the clash begin! Bring it on, you architects!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This is Not a Joke

The U.S. Treasury Department has solicited for a Humor In The Workplace Contractor. Seriously. Here's Solicitation Number: RFI-BPD-09-0028:

The Contractor shall conduct two, 3-hour, Humor in the Workplace programs that will discuss the power of humor in the workplace, the close relationship between humor and stress, and why humor is one of the most important ways that we communicate in business and office life. Participants shall experience demonstrations of cartoons being created on the spot. The contractor shall have the ability to create cartoons on the spot about BPD jobs [BPD = Bureau of Public Debt]. The presenter shall refrain from using any foul language during the presentation. This is a business environment and we need the presenter to address a business audience.

Upon completion of the course, participants shall be able to:

• Understand the importance and power of humor in the workplace in a responsible manner
• How to use talents in a creative way that adds humor to everyday experiences
• Alleviate stress in home and the office
• Know how and why humor is important to communication
• Improve work-place relationships
• Prevent burn-out

Wow. A three-hour session spent discussing humor and communication and relationships in the workplace, and experiencing cartoons? That's pretty much what I do on a long coffee break, minus the cartoons.

And they'll pay someone to conduct such a session at Treasury? At least half the people in my office could handle those job tasks with ease, except for the part about "the presenter shall refrain from using any foul language during the presentation," which would rule out some of the funniest guys I work with.

Treasury could save itself some contracting trouble and just let its employees browse The Covert Comic for three hours. He has lots of workplace humor, and he's already on the public payroll. If he can just draw cartoons, he'd be in.

Chutzpah Has a New Definition

It means unmitigated effrontery or impudence, and is commonly illustrated by the example of a man who kills his parents and then pleads for mercy on grounds of being an orphan. Iran has now given us an even better illustration of chutzpah with its series of stories on the release of the Irbil 5, the Iranian pseudo-diplomats who were detained by U.S. forces after a raid on the Iranian liaison office in the Kurdish city of Irbil.

The Iranians are outraged because - hold on to your hat - the U.S. military invaded one of their diplomatic facilities and seized five of their diplomats!

How can such things happen? Hasn't the United States heard of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations? Hasn't anyone read Article 21 of that Convention wherein it clearly states that the premises of a diplomatic mission shall be inviolable and may not be entered except with the consent of the head of the mission? And that the States receiving such a mission are under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity? And that the premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission are immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution?

From the Fars News Agency, here are some examples of what is either world-class chutzpah or unconscious irony:

Iran to Sue US for Consulate Raid:

TEHRAN (FNA)- An Iranian top legislator on Tuesday underlined Iran's resolve to file a complaint against the US for its attack on the Iranian consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil and abduction of several Iranian diplomats in January 2007.

[Member of the Parliament's Legal and Judicial Commission Salman] Zaker reiterated that such acts (attacking diplomatic missions) have revealed to the world that [the] West's principles and words on human rights are widely different from their actions.

Iranian Diplomat Blasts US for Violation of Int'l Treaties:

TEHRAN (FNA)- One of the freed Iranian diplomats who was in US custody for more than two years in Iraq lashed out at Washington for violating the
international treaties by abducting other countries' diplomats

"The US forces violated all the international pacts by kidnapping us and they should account for their actions and the overt and open abduction of us," Mahmoud Farhadi who is also the commercial advisor to the governor of western province of Kermanshah told FNA at the airport Sunday night.

Released Diplomats Call US Raid on Iranian Consulate "Illegal":

TEHRAN (FNA)- The US raid on Iran's consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil was completely illegal, said one of the five Iranian diplomats recently released from the US military jails in Iraq after over 30 months of detention.

I certainly hope Iran gets legal redress for that invasion of the sanctity of its diplomatic mission. This business of invading embassies and abducting diplomats needs to be nipped in the bud, or else the Vienna Conventions won't be worth the paper they're printed on and no nation's diplomats will be protected.


The above photos and many more are available via the Memory Hole.

Monday, July 13, 2009

New York Loses Some Tax Base

The State Department recently changed its policy regarding the tax status of foreign diplomatic missions in the U.S., and the Mayor of New York City is predictably unhappy about it. From today's New York Post:

Thanks a lot, Hillary!

In a surprise turnaround that will cost the city $260 million in back taxes and untold millions in future lost revenue, Hillary Rodham Clinton's State Department has quietly reversed a longstanding policy requiring foreign governments to pay taxes on some diplomatic residences.

It's a shocking about-face by Secretary of State Clinton -- who repeatedly spoke in favor of the city's right to collect the taxes when she was New York's junior senator.

The Big Apple, which recently won a federal court ruling requiring India and Mongolia to fork over some $46 million in back taxes, is expected to lose about $7 million a year in current tax revenues.

-- snip --

Foreign governments receive tax exemptions for some diplomatic buildings here -- typically their main headquarters and the residence of their chief diplomat.

Other buildings, like those housing lesser mission employees, were subject to city tax rules.

-- snip --

Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, said the rules change comes because other countries do not apply similar taxes on US properties overseas, which include Army bases, FBI offices and State Department housing.

"Those countries have come to us and said, 'Wait a minute. Why is New York taxing us when we don't tax you?' " he said.

"This has become a diplomatic irritant. They've held up activity at those locations, not given us building permits." [TSB note: like in Mumbai, where India has held up the completion of a new U.S. consulate for a couple years in order to arm-twist the State Department over the tax troubles of the Indian mission in New York.]

Kennedy acknowledged that New York has more diplomatic housing than any other city in the nation.

But he insisted, "New York gets a lot of benefits from having these here."

Well, New York will get a lot less benefit than it used to, while suffering as much as ever from VIP-caused traffic jams and thousands of scoff-laws with diplomatic immunity.

Sorry about that, New York.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

White House "Unaware of Historic Norms" for Ambassadorial Appointments?

The Washington Times had a story yesterday that quoted unnamed "senior administration officials" and one named source, the acting president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), to the effect that the Obama administration was planning to exceed the normal 30/70 ratio of political appointees to professional ambassadors until AFSA interceded.

I find it very hard to believe the administration was unaware of the normal practice. Even assuming that was true of Obama and his core staff, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton certainly can't plead ignorance. More likely, the administration had more than the usual number of fundraisers standing in line waiting for appointments. In two lines, actually, since Hillary must have had her own list of people expecting quid pro quo for supporting her losing campaign.

Reading between the lines, it seems the story here is that Obama took precedence over Hillary in putting his friends and fundraisers forward for ambassadorial appointments, bumping her people out of line, until eventually she backed AFSA's protests to hold political appointees to the usual 30%. All in the public interest, of course, but I'm sure the fact that her people weren't in line anymore helped Hillary see where the public's interest lay.

Career diplomats protest Obama appointments:

The White House, unaware of historic norms, had been on track to give more than the usual 30 percent of ambassadorial jobs to political appointees until objections from career diplomats forced it to reconsider, administration officials say.

As a result of the reversal, some donors to President Obama's election campaign - as well as senior advisers and other supporters of the campaigns of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton - are likely to find their hopes of being rewarded with an embassy dashed.

"The White House has come around, and we truly expect that, at the end of the process, the balance will be within historical norms," said one senior administration official who asked not to be named because he was discussing internal deliberations.

Mr. Obama has been criticized in recent weeks for continuing the tradition of handing out ambassadorships to major campaign donors with no experience in foreign affairs.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that an old college roommate, the head of an entertainment production company and a lawyer whose family made its money selling vacuum cleaners are among more than a dozen people who have been given ambassadorships after raising a total of at least $4 million for Mr. Obama's campaign, according to public records.

The decision to uphold the historic ratio of 30 percent political appointees and 70 percent career diplomats came only after members of the Foreign Service protested to White House staff and Mrs. Clinton's chief of staff, Cheryl D. Mills, officials said.

"There was some question about how sacrosanct the 30 percent was," the senior administration official said.

Although the 30-70 ratio is not official, "all administrations have adhered fairly closely to it in the last several decades," said Steven B. Kashkett, acting president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the diplomats' union.The U.S. has 175 ambassadorial posts.

Senior political appointees at both the White House and the State Department apparently were not aware of past practice and were en route to exceeding 30 percent political appointees, several career diplomats said. That message was conveyed to Harry K. Thomas Jr., who until recently was director-general of the Foreign Service, they added.

Concerned that too many political supporters of Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden and Mrs. Clinton, who ran separate campaigns during last year's Democratic primaries, may be expecting to become ambassadors, career officials at the State Department alerted Ms. Mills several weeks ago. She raised the matter with Mrs. Clinton and later involved the White House, officials said.

"The thinking on this issue has evolved at the White House," the senior administration official said. "They have come to recognize its importance in light of the president's campaign promises."

He noted that those who expected jobs but will not get them now should not be too concerned, because the administration "will need talent later."

It was nice of the senior administration official to throw Hillary's people - both her fund raising people and her Foreign Service people - that bone. Don't despair, guys. Keep hoping. Your day will come. Any time now. If not in Obama's first term, then maybe in his second. Or certainly in Hillary's future administration, which will happen someday, but only you raise more and more money.

Friday, July 10, 2009

New On-Line FRUS Volume: American Republics , 1969-1972

The State Department's Office of the Historian has just announced the release of a new electronic volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.

Here's the press release:

The Department of State released today Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume E–10, Documents on the American Republics, 1969–1972, as an electronic-only publication. This volume is the latest publication in the subseries of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important foreign policy decisions of the administrations of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. Volume E–10 is available to all, free of charge, on the Internet. Approximately 25 percent of the volumes scheduled for publication for the 1969–1976 subseries, covering the Nixon and Nixon-Ford administrations, will be in this format.

This volume documents the formulation of U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean during President Nixon’s first term. Upon assuming the Presidency in January 1969, Nixon indicated that he intended to give a high priority to revitalizing relations with the region. On his first full day in office, President Nixon asked New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, a Latin America expert, to assess the effectiveness of the Alliance for Progress program initiated by the Kennedy administration and to make policy recommendations. Rockefeller’s report helped to shape Nixon’s October 31, 1969 speech to the Inter-American Press Association, in which the President outlined his vision for U.S.-Latin American relations. In that address, Nixon called for “a more mature partnership” with the region. He offered to allow more multilateral input into the process of allocating development aid, to reduce barriers to trade, to give the management of relations with the nations of the Western Hemisphere a special place within the U.S. bureaucracy by raising the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs to the rank of Under Secretary, and to deal with Latin American governments as they were, recognizing that “enormous, sometimes explosive forces for change” in the region could result in instability and changes in government. The American Republics Regional compilation in this volume documents the deliberations within the Nixon administration that resulted in the formulation of this framework for policy toward Latin America.

As the documentation in this volume shows, U.S. relations with individual Latin American nations during Nixon’s first term as President were tempered by concern over the threat of leftist subversion in the region. Fear that instability would facilitate the spread of communist influence in the hemisphere led the Nixon administration to pursue cooperative relations with governments that were seen as bulwarks against radicalism, including undemocratic regimes, such as those in Brazil and Nicaragua. The U.S. Government also shared intelligence with authorities in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, allowing them to move against violent leftist groups in those countries. At the same time, relations with democratically elected governments could be tense, if U.S. officials believed that those administrations were susceptible to communist influence. For example, U.S.-Costa Rican relations chilled in 1970, when information surfaced that President José Figueres had secretly received a $300,000 payment from the Soviet Union. When the U.S. Ambassador in San José confronted Figueres with those reports in 1971, the Costa Rican President denied them, and offered to cooperate with the United States. U.S. officials nonetheless remained concerned about Costa Rica’s moves toward closer ties with Moscow. Documents on the confrontation with Figueres and on the decision to transmit information on leftists to the Dominican and Guatemalan Governments are made available for the first time in this volume.

The volume also shows how efforts to improve U.S. relations with Latin America were sometimes hampered by episodes of unilateralism and by disputes over investments and resources. For example, the Mexican Government protested in 1969 when the United States launched Operation Intercept, a major drug interdiction effort along the U.S.-Mexican border, with little prior notice to officials in Mexico City. Also, with the memory of 1964 disturbances in Panama still fresh, the continued presence of the United States in the Canal Zone was seen in much of the region as part of a legacy of U.S. unilateralism. The chapter on Panama in this volume documents the ultimately unsuccessful high-level efforts by U.S. and Panamanian officials during this period to reach a new agreement on the status of the Canal. Disputes over fishing rights greatly complicated relations with Ecuador and Brazil, and Nixon administration officials were troubled by rising economic nationalism in countries such as Jamaica and Guyana, which sought greater control over the bauxite mining activities of U.S. corporations there.

The volume includes documentation on U.S. relations with Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Coverage of El Salvador and Honduras is limited to a chapter on the U.S. response to the 1969 “Soccer War,” which broke out after violence erupted at a World Cup qualifying match between the two Central American countries. An additional chapter on Bolivia will be added once it has been fully cleared for publication. Documentation on U.S. relations with Chile between 1969 and September 1973 will be published in a separate volume.

The volume, including a preface, list of names, abbreviations, sources, annotated document list, and this press release, is available on the Office of the Historian website (http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76ve10). For further information contact William McAllister, Acting General Editor, at (202) 663-1123 or e-mail to history@state.gov.

You can read the documents here.

The Smoking Lamp is Lit, for Now

Safety nazis at the Pentagon and the Veteran's Administration are urging Defense Secretary Gates to ban the use of tobacco by U.S. military troops, using the (to my mind, specious) argument that tobacco-related medical costs would be reduced. What's next? Trigger locks on rifles? No running with bayonets? Don't throw that hand grenade, solider, you could put somebody's eye out!

Considering all the many ways in which troops end up sick, hurt, and grievously wounded, smoking must be one of the lesser contributors to high medical costs, especially for combat veterans, who are 50% more likely to smoke than other troops according to the story in today's USA Today: Ban on tobacco urged in military.

WASHINGTON — Pentagon health experts are urging Defense Secretary Robert Gates to ban the use of tobacco by troops and end its sale on military property, a change that could dramatically alter a culture intertwined with smoking.
Jack Smith, head of the Pentagon's office of clinical and program policy, says he will recommend that Gates adopt proposals by a federal study that cites rising tobacco use and higher costs for the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs as reasons for the ban.

The study by the Institute of Medicine, requested by the VA and Pentagon, calls for a phased-in ban over a period of years, perhaps up to 20. "We'll certainly be taking that recommendation forward," Smith says.

A tobacco ban would confront a military culture, the report says, in which "the image of the battle-weary soldier in fatigues and helmet, fighting for his country, has frequently included his lit cigarette."

Also, the report said, troops worn out by repeated deployments often rely on cigarettes as a "stress reliever." The study found that tobacco use in the military increased after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said the department supports a smoke-free military "and believes it is achievable." She declined to elaborate on any possible ban.

One in three service members use tobacco, the report says, compared with one in five adult Americans. The heaviest smokers are soldiers and Marines, who have done most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the study says. About 37% of soldiers use tobacco and 36% of Marines. Combat veterans are 50% more likely to use tobacco than troops who haven't seen combat.

-- snip --

Along with a phased-in ban, the report recommends requiring new officers and enlisted personnel to be tobacco-free, eliminating tobacco use on military installations, ships and aircraft, expanding treatment programs and eliminating the sale of tobacco on military property. "Any tobacco use while in uniform should be prohibited," the study says.

The military complicates attempts to curb tobacco use by subsidizing tobacco products for troops who buy them at base exchanges and commissaries, says Kenneth Kizer, a committee member and architect of California's anti-tobacco program. [TSB note: I don’t believe the military actually subsidizes tobacco products, it just doesn’t charge state sales taxes on them, or on other goods sold at base exchanges. I fondly recall buying Bacardi rum tax-free at the Class 6 store on Ft. Buchanan, Puerto Rico, for a small fraction of what my Puertorriqueño neighbors paid in civilian stores.]

The authors of the Institute of Medicine study seem to assume that ground combat types - Army and Marines - and combat veterans use tobacco more than other troops because they are self-medicating to reduce stress. Maybe, but I'd guess that it might be the other way around: the kind of people who gravitate toward Infantry and the other combat arms are predisposed to risky behavior in all areas of life. In the first place, combat troops are predominately young and male, a cohort that is joyously unrestrained in its behavior even in peacetime. Most of them tend to drive too fast, ride motorcycles, drink excessively, play dangerous sports, get into fights, and engage in unsafe sexual practices. Some of them will try to do all of that at the same time. It always has been and always will be the case that "single men in barracks don't grow into plaster saints."

Librarians, by and large, don't do things that are bad for them. But neither do they, by and large, make for combat troops who will engage and destroy the enemies of the United States. The kind of people who will enforce America's national will over the final hundred meters of ground, whether in Germany or Japan, Iraq or Afghanistan, ought to be entitled to smoke and chew tobacco if they want to without the Pentagon getting on their backs about it. Let's cut them some slack, please.

To quote - very, very, loosely, and from memory - a passage from the BBC TV play "C2 H5 OH" [the chemical symbol for alcohol], which was the thinly-veiled autobiographical story of playwright David Purser:

"I thank God that when this nation faced the menace of the vegetarian, non-smoking, tea-totaling Adolph Hitler, it threw out of office the milksop Neville Chamberlain and put its fate in the hands of the corpulent, cigar-smoking, whiskey-sodden Churchill!"

State Department Historical Advisory Committee Meets

The National Coalition for History has briefly noted the recent public meeting of the State Department's Historical Advisory Committee, the first to be held since the resolution of the crisis in the Historian's Office. The tone of the meeting sounds promising:

On June 23, 2009, the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) met for the first time since the issuance of the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) report on the operations of the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State. The OIG recommended that Director of the Office of the Historian, Dr. Marc Susser, be replaced. As a result, Susser was reassigned within the State Department, and Ambassador John Campbell was named as Acting Director of the Office of the Historian.

Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs P. J. Crowley opened the meeting by expressing his commitment to the mission of the Office of the Historian and to ensuring that the necessary resources are allocated to the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) to meet its 30-year publication deadline.

Ambassador Campbell began his presentation by announcing he intended his tenure to be brief. He stated would be leaving the position by September 1, 2009, to assume a position with the Council on Foreign Relations. His intent is to stay no longer than that date or whenever a permanent replacement has been named, whichever comes first.

He committed himself to ensuring that the Office of the Historian addresses all of the recommendations of the IG’s report, restoring the morale and decorum among the staff, and reviving the relationship between the Office and the HAC.

Ambassador Campbell noted there were 24 specific recommendations in the IG’s report designed to improve the transparency and efficiency of the Historian’s Office. Campbell said a few had already been met, and that he had set up task forces to address the remaining ones. These include improving the office working environment, internal and external professional development, office security, the issue of print versus electronic volumes and timely completion of the Carter and Reagan FRUS volumes. He noted that staff attrition had further delayed the completion of FRUS volumes.

It was announced that William McAllister had been named Acting General Editor of the FRUS.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The GAO Bombs Out

I brought bomb-making materials into my government office building today, and the security guards didn't catch me. It was no big deal. I do it every day, at least, I do if you use a sufficiently broad definition of "bomb-making materials."

The security hoopla of the hour in Washington is the new General Accountability Office report on deficiencies at the Federal Protective Service, the small agency (only 1,236 direct-hire employees) with the large responsibility to protect the USG's 9,000-some office buildings and 1 million-plus employees. The attention-grabbing part of the report was a stunt in which the GAO had people enter several government office buildings carrying unnamed liquids and other purported bomb-making components.

From the Washington Post report:

"I think we would be able to say that FPS is simply an agency in crisis," said Mark L. Goldstein, who led the GAO investigation. ... Goldstein's team carried bomb-making materials into ten high-security federal buildings in the last year. The materials could be purchased at stores or on the Internet and cost roughly $150, Goldstein said. In only one instance did a security guard question a GAO investigator carrying suspicious materials.

And this demonstrates what, exactly? Only that we don't prohibit liquids or most common objects from government office buildings. Should we? The smuggling stunt begs the question whether it would be reasonable to ban liquids, etc., from our public buildings. Is there a risk here that outweighs the imposition on employees and visitors?

It seems not. No one has actually carried out such an attack (except in aircraft, where the small amounts of explosive that are feasible to smuggle on board can be enough to do critical damage, unlike in office buildings) and, so far as I know, no one has cited any evidence or intelligence suggesting such an attack in the future.

Furthermore, it's impossible to ban all "bomb-making materials" from office buildings under any practical circumstances. For starters, we'd have to ban anything that might contain precursor chemicals, including sugar and sugary products, aspirin and all kinds of medications, anything containing hydrogen peroxide (like contact lens solution), petroleum jelly, and all liquids and all solid organic materials that haven't been screened with a trace explosives detector. Lock up the first aid kits and close the cafeterias, since both are mother lodes of bomb-making materials. Next, ban anything containing batteries, and all lighters and matches. For good measure, ban all objects that could be used to conceal mechanical components, such as pens, watches, computers, and office equipment in general.

We could do all of that and still not have disarmed those fiendish terrorists. My old U.S. Army technical manual on improvised munitions (TM 31-210) explains how to process urine to produce the explosive material urea nitrate. So we'd better set up outdoor latrines, and guard them to make sure that particular source of liquid explosive isn't misused.

The Federal Protective Service used to be an office inside the General Services Agency, which made sense since the GSA is the government's landlord. But when it was moved under Homeland Security it became something of an orphan agency, with no real 'owner' and no real budget. So long as the administration and congress keep running the Federal Protective Service on a shoestring, they have no business complaining about its deficiencies, I say.

The agency draws most of its revenue from the tenants of federal buildings, who pay it for the protection on a per-square foot basis. [Federal Protective Service] has 1,236 full-time employees and employs approximately 15,000 contract guards. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Homeland Security committee's ranking Republican, wants the government to better determine the agency's future use of private security guards.

“We taxpayers are simply not receiving the security we paid for and the security we expect FPS to provide," she said.

Really? With 15,000 contract guards to cover 9,000 federal office buildings, we could theoretically have 1.6 guards per building, assuming they all worked 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. In practical terms, we could have one eight-hour guard post for every other building. That's not nearly enough personnel to do even the most minimal access control, much less a thorough inspection of all one million employees and who knows how many daily visitors.

It seems to me that we're receiving exactly the security we paid for and should expect FPS to provide.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

New MI6 Chief No Longer a Friend of Facebook

You can't write on my wall, mein Herr,
My album now is bare, mein Herr,
It was a fine affair, but now it's over.
Update me to "Kaput," mein Herr,
My profile's not there, mein Herr,
Log off, Bye-Bye, mein Lieber Herr.

The British diplomat who has just been appointed the new head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service - keep his name on the down-low, it's supposed to be a secret - turns out to have a wife who is an active social networker. Very active.

From the UK Daily Mail, MI6 Chief Blows Cover:

The new head of MI6 has been left exposed by a major personal security breach after his wife published intimate photographs and family details on the Facebook website.

Sir John Sawers is due to take over as chief of the Secret Intelligence Service in November, putting him in charge of all Britain's spying operations abroad.

But his wife's entries on the social networking site have exposed potentially compromising details about where they live and work, who their friends are and where they spend their holidays.

-- snip --

Sir John Sawers, currently Britain's Ambassador to the United Nations, where he sits on the highly sensitive Security Council, began his working life in MI6 but has spent the past 20 years building a career as a diplomat rather than a spy.

Senior politicians said the security lapse raised serious doubts about Sir John's suitability to head the intelligence service - and raised questions over whether an outsider should have been appointed to such a sensitive role.

All the Facebook posts were removed immediately after the press disclosed them. But of course you can never really remove what's once been on the internet.

Beyond the security breech about Sawers's personal life, and the TMI factor in some of his wife's Facebook posts - and here I'm thinking of the photos of her re-creating a Sally Bowles dance routine from Cabaret - there is also the matter that Sawers's bother-in-law is an associate of the Holocaust-denying historian David Irving. That relationship probably constitutes a far more grave offense in Britain than any mere security indiscretion could.

E$tremely Qualified Ambassadors

The Wall Street Journal has taken notice of the large number of political donors and fundraisers who have been appointed to ambassadorial posts (Donors Find a Home in Obama's Ambassador Corps). A few quotes:

Mr. Obama's choice of Mr. Roos [TSB note: John V. Roos, the Silicon Valley lawyer and Democractic Party money bundler who is going to Tokyo], along with other political boosters -- from former investment banker Louis B. Susman, known as the "vacuum cleaner" for his fundraising prowess, to Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney -- has raised eyebrows among some who thought the president would extend his mantra of change to the diplomatic corps.

"We're not only insulting nations [that] we're appointing these bundlers to, we're risking U.S. diplomatic efforts in these key countries," said Craig Holman, a government-affairs lobbyist at watchdog group Public Citizen.

This tension can be traced back to Mr. Obama's claim during last year's campaign that President George W. Bush engaged in an "extraordinary politicization of foreign policy." Mr. Obama said he instead would ensure that hires are based on merit, rather than party or ideology. The American Academy of Diplomacy, an association of former diplomats, seized on the comments in lobbying him to lower the portion of ambassadors drawn from outside the foreign-service establishment to as little as 10% from the 30% average since President John F. Kennedy's tenure. (Mr. Bush's score was 33%.)

Of the Obama administration's 55 ambassadorial nominees so far, 33 -- or 60% -- have gone to people outside the foreign-service ranks, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That ratio is almost certain to tilt back toward career diplomats as dozens of the remaining posts are filled.

"The president said in January that he would nominate extremely qualified individuals like Mr. Roos, former Congressman Tim Roemer, and Miguel Diaz, who didn't necessarily come up through the ranks of the State Department, but want to serve their country in important diplomatic posts," said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.

So there you go. No one ever said that the people "extremely qualified" for important diplomatic posts would necessarilly be those who are qualified by virtue of professional preparation. Obama promised he would appoint ambassadors according to "merit," and so he has. It's just that all of his political fundraisers have merit, and not all of his senior Foreign Service Officers do. Is anyone actually surprised by this?

Apparently, some really are surprised. The American Academy of Diplomacy and other admirers of Obama jumped to the conclusion that the people Obama would find "extremely qualified" to fill his ambassadorial posts would be, you know, diplomats. The Academy of Diplomacy had especially unrealistic hopes ("President-elect Barack Obama has repeatedly stated his intention to change the culture of Washington. He promises to drive the money changers (the lobbyists) from the temple, to reduce the partisanship and to appoint people who can actually do the job -- not just his political supporters.") Ouch! Reality bites. At least, it does if you believe political promises.

The ambassador's union is putting a good spin on the bad news:

Ronald E. Neumann, president of the Academy and a retired Foreign Service officer, cautioned that it is far too early to tell how the Obama lineup will look. When administrations turn over, the first ambassadors to leave their posts often are the prior president's political appointees; those spots are first to be filled, in turn, with new political appointees. Mr. Roos's predecessor in Tokyo, in fact, was a former business partner of Mr. Bush, although he had served as ambassador to Australia before the Japan post.

The president's slate of nominees thus far, Mr. Neumann said, "tells you it's not change, but it doesn't yet tell you what it is."

Maybe I'm a cynic, but, if it isn't change, then I'd say that it's The Same Old Thing.

And then there's this:

The Swiss media aired some concerns about the choice of car-dealership magnate Don Beyer for the Geneva posting.

They're talking about my homeboy, Don Beyer junior, son of the real Don Beyer who built a Falls Church, Virginia, Volvo dealership into the automotive empire that junior inherited. Basically a rich-kid dilettante, Don junior got into Democratic politics as a money raiser; he was Howard Dean’s national treasurer before raising money for Obama. He never ran for any local or state office until he bought the Virginia Democratic Party nomination for Lieutenant Governor back in the 90s. He served four pointless years in an otherwise Republican administration with a Republican-majority legislature, then ran for Governor and lost. His most commendable achievement is that his family business runs the absolutely very best radio commercials I've ever heard. [Here’s an archive of those one-minute masterpieces; I particularly like the Oxymoron and Latin Words ads.]

Beyer might be a political lightweight, but he's honest and harmless, which means he compares favorably to the "extremely qualified" appointees who preceded him in the last few administrations. What did Switzerland ever do to us that we've sent them such a string of crooks and cronies?

We have sent the Swiss: Peter Coneway, a Goldman Sachs partner who was a major donor to the Bush campaign; Pamela Willeford, a Texas socialite and hunting partner of Dick Cheney; Mercer Reynolds, Bush's 2000 Ohio finance chairman; Madeleine Kunin, a former Vermont Governor appointed by Clinton upon the death of his first appointee Larry Lawrence, a Friend of Bill who contributed about 20 million to Democrats over his lifetime, sometimes in excess of legal limits, and who extended both his generosity and his poor regard for financial disclosure requirements to his fellow Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

That last appointee was enough to embarrass even Bill Clinton, assuming that is possible. After Lawrence's death it was rumored - all too believably - that he had been under investigation by the State Department's Office of the Inspector General for financial irregularities when he passed away. Lawrence caused one last scandal when Clinton approved his burial in Arlington National Cemetery based on a false claim - which Lawrence had perpetuated even during his Senate confirmation hearing - to have served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. As it happens, merchant mariners are not entitled to burial in Arlington in the first place, but Clinton wasn't one to let rules, or a regard for the truth, stand in his way, especially not when Lawrence's widow was keeping the money flowing and insisted on the Arlington burial. When that outrageous fraud was exposed, Lawrence's body was disinterred.

This country could do better than an Ambassador Don Beyer, and we could do worse. That makes him typical of the political appointees we send abroad as ambassadors. If you're the kind who believes in campaign promises - whether explicit or implicit - you might find that a bad thing. Personally, I'll settle for it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Shakespeare Does the Fourth

Courtesy of the American Shakespeare Center, here are the top ten quotes from the Bard on the occasion of Independence Day.

1. I am a foe to tyrants, and my country's friend (Julius Caesar: V.iv.)

2. I do love my country's good with a respect more tender, more holy and profound, than mine own life (Coriolanus: III.iii)

3. In right and service to their noble country (Titus Andronicus: I,i)

4. Who is here so vile that will not love his country? (Julius Caesar: III,iii)

5. I thank you all and here dismiss you all, and to the love and favor of my country commit myself, my person, and the cause (Titus Andronicus: I,i)

6. Having my freedom, boast of nothing else (Richard II: I,ii)

7. Gnawing with my teeth my bonds in sunder, I gain'd my freedom (The Comedy of Errors: V,i)

8. Let's all cry peace, freedom, and liberty! (Julius Caesar III,i)

9. This liberty is all that I request (The Taming of the Shrew: II,i)

10. Leave us to our free election (Pericles, Prince of Tyre: II,iv)