Friday, July 29, 2011

Our Debt To The Penny

I didn't know it until today, but the Treasury Department has a Bureau of the Public Debt to manage all those loans that the Fed takes out.

They have a very handy web page that gives you all the data you could want about that part of our government that we run on the cuff. For one thing it lets you see the our debt to the penny and who holds it.

FYI, as of today the United States public debt is: $14,342,819,149,604.76.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

UK To Recognize Libyan TNC; Maybe Now TNC Will Extradite Suspect In Murder Of UK Policewoman

From Sky News this morning, Britain Expels Gaddafi's Embassy Staff:

The UK is to expel all Libyan Embassy staff and formally recognise the rebel-led National Transitional Council (NTC) as the country's governing authority.

Libya's charge d'affaires and eight other members of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's representatives based in west London have been asked to leave Britain.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said in their place, the UK would recognise and deal with the NTC as the "sole governmental authority in Libya".

-- snip --

Mr Hague added the UK was continuing to explore how to release funds to support the NTC.

One such move will see Britain unfreeze assets worth £91m belonging to an oil company now controlled by the opposition group.

Okay, so this move, like our own recognition of the TNC last week, is (mostly) all about the Benjamins.

But, maybe, this move will also enable the UK to finally bring some justice to the Libyan who shot and killed Woman Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher way back in 1984. That happened the last time the UK closed Qaddafi's embassy in London, when someone inside the embassy fired on anti-Qaddafi protesters outside and hit Fletcher, presumably by mistake, but fatally.

The shooting led to an eleven-day police siege of the Libyan People's Bureau (Qaddafi's name for an embassy in his revolutionary government), and the identification of a suspect or two, but no arrest. Here's a report from back then:

This past March, the rebel leadership in Benghazi claimed to have arrested one of the Libyans implicated in the murder of Fletcher.

Reports from Benghazi are claiming rebels have seized Omar Ahmed Sodani, one of the suspects alleged to have fired the shot that killed WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in 1984.

Khalid Alsahly, a rebel leader in Benghazi has told journalists that they have seized Sodani from his home in Benghazi and "he will face the proper legal process, when the time is right". Sodani attempted to join the pro-democracy opposition forces despite being a Gaddafi adherent for more than 25 years.

However any expectation of extradition appears foggy at present with the Arab state in the middle of a bitter conflict and official ties between Britain and Libya non-existent.

The Libyan rebels, being the great sticklers for international law and administrative process that they are, hesitate to ship Sodani to the UK before they have official diplomatic ties. But - oh, hey, guess what? - now they have those ties.

So is the time finally right for Sodani's extradition? Or will it be right only after £91 million in frozen assets flow to the TNC?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Acting ATF Attaché in Mexico: Operation Fast and Furious Was "The Perfect Storm Of Idiocy"

I'm watching the House Oversight Committee grill a panel of current and former ATF agents about Operation Fast and Furious. I believe the hearing will be rebroadcast tonight on C-SPAN.

Chairman Issa and some - not all - of the Committee's members are pressing the witnesses to explain why the ATF sanctioned the illegal purchase of nearly 2,000 firearms by straw buyers in the southwestern U.S., and then stood by as many of those firearms were transferred to Mexican drug trafficking organizations. At least 122 of the weapons were found at Mexican crime scenes or in the possession of drug cartels, and two of them were found at the scene of the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent last December. About half of the weapons are still loose.

It's a good, dramatic, hearing because some of the witnesses are there to defend ATF (and themselves), and some are there to blow the whistle on the corporate suits.

The quote of the day was provided by ATF Agent Carlos Canino, acting ATF attache to Mexico:

"I can say with authority 'walking guns' is not a recognized investigative technique," Canino testified. "These guns went to ruthless criminals. ... It infuriates me that people, including my law enforcement, diplomatic and military colleagues, may be killed or injured with these weapons."

Canino said Mexican officials regularly complain about American indifference to Mexican violence and death, a view he does not share. "However, in this particular case, with these specific guns, I am unable to defend this operation."

The former ATF attache to Mexico shared that sentiment.

"I would like to apologize to my former Mexican law enforcement counterparts and to the Mexican people for Operation Fast and Furious," said Darren Gil. "I hope they understand that this was kept secret from most of ATF, including me and my colleagues in Mexico."

The Oversight Committee also released this statement, which focuses on how the ATF kept its own agents who were posted to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico in the dark about F&F.

Findings in a second staff report released by Representative Darrell Issa and Senator Chuck Grassley show that ATF officials based in the United States Embassy in Mexico City were increasingly worried about the alarming rate of guns found in violent crimes in Mexico from a single ATF operation based out of the ATF's Phoenix Field Division. Issa is Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Grassley is Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The consequences of arming Mexican drug cartels seem obvious. But even guns turning up at crime scenes in Mexico wasn't enough for Justice Department officials to arrest straw purchasers and shut down their trafficking operations. Tragically, it wasn't until Fast and Furious guns were found at the murder scene of a Border Patrol Agent that Justice officials finally ended this reckless and arrogant effort," said Issa.

"It's incomprehensible that officials at the Justice Department, the ATF and the U.S. attorney's office would keep their counterparts at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City in the dark about Operation Fast and Furious. Keeping key details secret while straw purchasers continued buying weapons for gun traffickers jeopardized our relationship with our southern ally and put lives at risk," Grassley said.

The report released today outlines several important findings, including:

• There was little to no information sharing from the Phoenix Field Division, ATF Headquarters and the Justice Department to their colleagues in Mexico City. Every time Mexico City officials asked about the mysterious investigation, their U.S. based ATF counterparts in Phoenix and Washington, D.C. continued to say they were "working on it" and "everything was under control."

• Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Justice Department, was clearly aware of Operation Fast and Furious and touted the case during a visit to Mexico.

• ATF officials in Mexico City were incredulous that their agency would knowingly allow guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, and they were incensed when they finally began to learn the full scope of Operation Fast and Furious and the investigative techniques used.

Issa and Grassley are leading a congressional inquiry into the ill-advised strategy known as Operation Fast and Furious.

A copy of the report can be found here.

A quote in the report suggests that the ATF deliberately kept information away from not only its own Attaché in Mexico, but the U.S. Ambassador as well:

According to [former ATF Attaché in Mexico Darren] Gil, ATF leadership withheld information from him and other ATF agents in Mexico because of a fear that they would brief the Government of Mexico on the investigation and would jeopardize Operation Fast and Furious:

-- snip --

"Myself, my deputy, my staff, we were all frustrated. We didn’t understand it. We understand the concept to keep secret investigations, that if you leak something potentially that it could get corrupt the case or get somebody ... unfortunately get somebody hurt or killed. We understand that, but as I said, one of my screaming matches was over this issue that, okay, you don’t want us to -- okay, if you tell me I’m not going to release anything to the Government of Mexico then I won’t release it, but let me know."

"When you tell me, well, we don’t want to let you know because we’re afraid you'll notify the ambassador or ultimately somehow the Government of Mexico is going to find out, yes, that irritates me."

I'll bet former Attaché Gil isn't the only one who is irritated by that.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Ultimate Accomplishment

H/T to The History News Network for linking to Tom Engelhardt's article about How Not to Make Friends in the Greater Middle East. Englehardt is the author of The End of Victory Culture, and he sees validation for his thesis in the U.S. experience with AfPak and Iraq:

According to Thom Shanker of the New York Times, the U.S. military has gathered biometric data—“digital scans of eyes, photographs of the face, and fingerprints”—on 2.2 million Iraqis and 1.5 million Afghans, with an emphasis on men of an age to become insurgents, and has saved all of it in the Automated Biometric Information System, a vast computerized database. Imagine: we’re talking about one of every 14 Iraqis and one of every 20 Afghans. Who says America’s a can’t-do nation?

The Pentagon is pouring an estimated $3.5 billion into its biometric programs (2007 through 2015). And though it’s been a couple of rough weeks when it comes to money in Washington, at least no one can claim that taxpayer dollars have been ill-spent on this project. Give the Pentagon just another five to 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan and the biometric endeavor of a lifetime should be complete. Then Washington will be able to identify any Iraqi or Afghan on the planet by eye-scan alone.

Be proud, America!

TSB Note: Not so fast! The Pentagon's biometric enrollers would be working against an uphill birth rate of 37.83 births per 1,000 population for Afghans - the 17th highest in the world - and 28.81 births per 1,000 for Iraqis. So it would take them longer than five to ten years. Actually, they would never be finished.

And consider that feat a bright spot of American accomplishment (and not the only one either) in a couple of weeks of can’t-do news from the Greater Middle East. After all, despite those biometric scans, an assassin managed to gun down Our Man in Kandahar (OMK), Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Afghan president’s half-brother, in his own residence. He was the warlord the U.S. military buddied up with as U.S. troops were surging south in 2009 and who helped bring American-style “progress” to the Taliban heartland.

-- snip --

And then when security couldn’t have been tighter, at a service in a Kandahar mosque where hundreds (including top government officials from the region) had gathered to pay their respects to the dead capo, a suicide bomber wearing a turban-bomb somehow slipped inside and blew himself up, killing among others the chief of the Kandahar Province religious council.

In other words, even though the U.S. military tried to flood the zone in southern Afghanistan, its claims of progress and improved security are already giving way to a nowhere-to-hide Taliban world.

-- snip --

Biometrics aside, there were some other startling numbers out of the Greater Middle East recently. As it happened, some non-military types were also looking into eyes, not for retinal patterns, but patterns of thought. Pollsters from IBOPE Zogby International checked out 4,000 sets of eyes in six Middle Eastern countries— Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco—at least five of which qualify as U.S. allies, and in none of which has the U.S. bombed, invaded, or carried out a night raid in recent memory.

And still, favorable opinion about the United States had plunged dismally since the early, heady days of the Obama presidency. In many cases, the numbers are now below those registered in the last year of the Bush era (and you can imagine what they were). Only 5% of post-Arab-Spring Egyptians, for instance, claimed to have a “favorable view” of the United States, and across the six countries, only 10% of respondents “described themselves as having a favorable view of Obama.”

This spring, Pew pollsters found similarly plunging favorability ratings in the Greater Middle East. More recently, they asked Pakistanis about the CIA drone strikes in that country’s tribal borderlands and came up with a polling near-impossibility: 97% of Pakistanis looked upon them negatively!

Consider that another remarkable American accomplishment of the Obama era—creating such unity of opinion in an otherwise fractious land!

-- snip --

Nor is it just in popularity terms that Washington has been racking up mind-boggling numbers in the no-friends business. In a study it just released, the "Costs of War Project” project at Brown University found that Washington’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will, in the end, eat $3.2 trillion to $4 trillion in taxpayer money—and that’s without adding in the air war in Libya (perhaps a chump-change billion dollars), the Global War on Terror (in places like Yemen and Somalia where, as Jeremy Scahill reports in the Nation magazine, the CIA is running quite a covert operation from a walled compound in the confines of Mogadishu’s international airport), our continuing frenzy of base building and ally supporting in the Persian Gulf area, military aid to the region, and so on.

In other words, not making friends in the Greater Middle East turns out to be a spectacularly budget-busting undertaking—and so an accomplishment in its own right.

-- snip --

[In Pakistan, a] farcical ballet followed [OBL's killing] between the Pakistani military, its intelligence services, its civilian government and the Obama administration. The Pakistanis promptly ordered 120 U.S. special operations forces training the paramilitary Frontier Corps in those tribal areas out of the country. It refused to issue visas for U.S. “equipment technicians” and arrested five men who had aided the CIA in tracking down bin Laden. Washington responded with the usual “stern warnings,” accused the Pakistanis of tipping off al-Qaeda bomb-makers in those borderlands before they could be caught, and held back equipment meant for the Frontier Corps. Congress began to balk on the Pakistani aid package.

The Pakistanis, in turn, threatened to halt CIA drone flights from the biggest of the three airbases the Agency borrows in that country ... It also held back $800 million in military aid—not enough to truly matter, but just enough to further tick off the Pakistanis.

-- snip --

Think of the Washington-Islamabad relationship, wrapped in the disaster of the Afghan War, as a classic can’t-live-with-‘em-or-without-‘em marriage made in hell. Or, if you prefer, think of it, now so many decades and two Afghan wars old, as a kind of Gordian knot.

In 333 BC, with a single swift stroke of his sword, Alexander the Great famously solved the problem of a knot on an ox cart in Gordium (in modern Turkey) that no one could untie. He sliced it open, so the story goes, in what has always been considered an ingenious response to an otherwise insoluble problem.

America’s Gordian knot in Pakistan, as in Afghanistan and the Greater Middle East, is beyond untying. Hold back that $800 million, send in the drones, cajole, plead, threaten, issue stern warnings, train, equip, bribe, kill. None of it does the trick. None of it will. Alexander would have known what to do. Washington is clueless.

Thought about a certain way, this might be the ultimate American accomplishment of the present moment.

"Ten Thousand Times Worse Than Attacking Government Buildings"""

The State Department has offered its deepest sympathies to the families of the victims of yesterday's attack in Norway.

I'd like to see us do a bit more, and fly the Norwegian flag at half-mast from the Department's headquarters building as a gesture of solidarity, just as we flew the UK flag after the London subway bombings of July 2005. So far as I can find out, we haven't done that yet. If anyone knows differently, I'll be happy to be corrected.

A few thoughts about the attack and the attacker.

The immediate assumption on the part of many commentators that the attack had Islamist origins was, it now appears, completely unwarranted. However, there was some justification for that knee-jerk reaction. Last year, Norwegian police arrested three men of Uighur, Uzbek and Iraqi-Kurdish descent on charges of making explosives and planning to conduct bombings. So there is a real threat from that sector.

The Norwegian authorities seem to have underestimated the threat from domestic extremists. According to their threat assessment for 2011:

As in previous years, the far-right and far-left extremist communities will not represent a serious threat to Norwegian society in 2011. There was an increase in the activity of far-right extremist groups in 2010, and this activity is expected to continue in 2011. An increased level of activity among some anti-Islamic groups could lead to increased polarisation and unease, especially during, and in connection with, commemorations and demonstrations.

The suspect under arrest, Anders Behring Breivik, is being described as "far-right" by most news media today, but I'm not sure that's accurate. Norwegian news reports say he had been an active member of the Progress Party as far back as 1999. That is the second-most popular party in Norway, holding 41 seats in Parliament, so it isn't out of the political mainstream. Also, it seems to be more what we would call libertarian than right-wing (see this clip).

Assuming Breivik is guilty as charged - and there are plenty of surviving eyewitnesses who can identify him, as well as what appears to be a photo of him walking among the victims on Utøya Island - there is a big reason why he was able to carry out two devastating attacks without being detected and intercepted. Unlike those three plotters who were arrested last year, Breivik acted alone.

Our experience with domestic terrorism in the United States, which probably holds true for other nations as well, has shown that "lone wolf" actors are about twice as likely as others to execute their plots:

More than 40% (35 cases) of terrorist plots from 1999 to 2009 were planned or carried out by single individuals, or “lone wolves” (individuals not directly under the command structure of a group or movement but who sympathize with a particular cause). “Lone wolves” have also been more successful in executing attacks; nearly 30% of plots by single actors reached execution, compared to a 16% average execution rate by small and large groups.

Why are individual terrorists so much more successful than those who work in groups? There are lots of reasons. They have no meaningful associations with suspects known to the police, they neither seek out nor respond to solicitation by undercover agents, they don't go to 'how-to' websites nor make phone calls to Pakistan for help with building bombs, and they don't engage in precursor criminal activity such as stealing explosives. Regarding that last point, Brievik owned a farm and could buy a large quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer without attracting any attention. In short, they don't do any of the things that foiled the would-be bomber from Denver, and the one from Portland, and the one from the DC Metro area, and all of their hapless jihobyist cohort.

Above all else, the most striking thing about the attack was the choice of a Labor Party youth camp as the main target. Most of the victims were between 14 and 19 years old. It was a choice calculated to cause the greatest possible shock, and one that even terrorist groups almost never commit. It was up there on a par with the Beslan and Maalot school massacres, almost off the scale.

As a witness quoted in the WaPo's story this morning said:

“Attacking the government is one thing, but attacking innocent youth at a political camp, that’s beyond horrible and ten thousand times worse than attacking government buildings, attacking defenseless children.”

"Beyond horrible" indeed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Love Amid The Paperwork

Shades of Darleen Druyun!

A woman working in federal government contracting has, it is alleged, steered contracts worth tens of millions to her family members. This time, it was a woman working for the Department of State.

State Dept drops analyst, probes contract awards:

The State Department has dismissed an analyst who may have helped award millions in contracts to a company run by her husband and daughter, an official said Wednesday. An internal investigation into possible wrongdoing was under way.

-- snip --

The story was first reported by the news website The Daily Caller. It reported that McGrade, working for the company ATSG of Arlington, Va., participated in awarding more than $52 million in contracts to the Washington-based company Sterling Royale Group. The website said Sterling Royale is run by McGrade's husband, Brian Collinsworth, and daughter, J.L. Herring.

-- snip --

The Daily Caller reported that McGrade helped Sterling Royale win 43 taxpayer-funded contracts in recent years, but that she and her husband kept their relationship secret from the State Department and others. It said Collinsworth acts as Sterling Royale's vice president, while Herring is its president and CEO.

-- snip --

Sterling Royale's contracts dealt with design and construction projects that began in May 2009 and carried through June 15, The Daily Caller said.

I don't know what those 2009 projects entailed, however, it seems Sterling Royale Group already had a business relationship with the State Department by then, because in 2008 it had received $12,723,808 for other contracts involving overseas facilities work.

That makes me suspect Collingsworth first met McGrade in the course of doing business with the Office of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO). Did love bloom across the conference table? I can see it happening. Meaningful glances amid the binders of contract mods and vouchers ... a furtive kiss in the elevator when she escorted him up from the lobby of State Annex 6 ... strolling hand-in-hand to the Starbucks on North Oak Street for a romantic coffee break. It's the same old story (cue the music).

Love aside, the Daily Caller's exposé provides a fine example of why you should never go into business with family, and especially not with would-be family:

Since the State Department has refused to confirm or deny McGrade’s identity, The DC presented photographs of Collinsworth and McGrade to Herring’s ex-fiancee [sic], Keith Smithey.

Smithey confirmed that Collinsworth is married to McGrade, and that Herring is McGrade’s daughter. Smithey was at the wedding. “I was one of their groomsmen,” he told TheDC.

Smithey added that McGrade and Collinsworth covered their tracks and kept their marriage concealed from the State Department and others. “It was a big secret,” Smithey said. “In fact, they even told me it was a secret and not to tell anyone that they know that they are married, because of the whole conflict of interest and all that.”

The old tracking-down-the-ex-fiancé trick. Nice job, Daily Caller!

One not so nice thing, however, is that the Daily Caller keeps repeating the canard that McGrade was a "Contract Officer" rather than what she actually was, which was a Management Analyst. Since they dredged up an old OBO organization chart from 2004 in a follow-up story this afternoon, the Daily Caller thinks it has refuted State Department spokesman Andy Laine's correct description of McGrade's current - or rather, current until today - job title. I suppose a headline saying "Corrupt Analyst in the Office of Logistics Management" (which is what, exactly?) doesn't sound suitably dramatic.

What I make out of all this is that McGrade previously worked as a contract specialist in OBO's design and construction division, and that she subsequently moved to a higher-level job in a different but closely related office. How much sway she had over the contract award process from either of those jobs, I can't say. Possibly not so much as you might think.

For all I know, Sterling Royale Group was perfectly qualified to get all those contracts and did an exemplary job with them. One thing is certain - somebody would have gotten them, since they were awarded to a woman-owned small business located in a historically underutilized business zone (the latter qualification can be met simply by having an office pretty much anywhere in Washington DC), and all federal agencies set aside a certain amount of their contracts for such companies.

If it wasn't McGrade's daughter getting that preference, it would have been someone else equally well-positioned to take advantage of our government's commitment to provide social justice to the most marginalized and underprivileged of America's recreational boaters. It's nice work if you can get it.

1973: Arab-Israeli War, And The First Oil Shock

The latest volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series publishes the foreign policy documentation surrounding the Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973:

This volume documents U.S. policymaking toward the Arab-Israeli conflict between January and December 1973, i.e., during the months before, during, and immediately after the Arab-Israeli war of October 1973. Documentation in the volume includes memoranda; records of discussions both within the U.S. policy-making community, as well as with foreign officials; cables to and from U.S. diplomatic posts; and papers that set forth policy issues and options, and which show decisions or actions taken.

This volume covers an important period in the history of the U.S. engagement with the Arab-Israeli dispute. The October 1973 War represented not only a renewed clash of Arab and Israeli forces, it ignited an energy crisis brought on by an Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) oil embargo against the United States, and led to the threat of a direct superpower confrontation. The war also prompted the United States to undertake an unprecedented role in the pursuit of a negotiated settlement to the dispute.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Smack-Down Livens Up Murdock Hearing

Young James Murdock has a stepmother he can look up. While he was caught flatfooted by that protester with a foam pie, his father's trophy-wife, Wendi Deng, launched herself out of her seat and delivered what appeared to be a volleyball overhand serve to the protester's forehead.

The shot landed with an audible smack. And she looked good doing it, too, wearing that hot pink blazer.

I think it is no coincidence that News Corp's stock price spiked right around the same time Wendi spiked that guy's head.

Suggestion Of The Day

"When space shuttle lands, everybody wear ape suits. Pass it on..."

Big Tip o' the Hat to Tigerhawk.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Still Exercised About Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda was looking pretty 'not guilty' back in 1970, if I may say so. But then, she was still two years away from her Hanoi Jane episode.

I don't know which part of Jane's QVC Cancelled My Appearance!! drama is stranger, the fact that the old leftie was trying to hawk her merchandise on the kitsch-kapitalism kable channel in the first place, or that she would be shocked when a popular backlash set in against her.

I was to have been on QVC today to introduce my book, “Prime Time,” about aging and the life cycle. The network said they got a lot of calls yesterday criticizing me for my opposition to the Vietnam War and threatening to boycott the show if I was allowed to appear. I am, to say the least, deeply disappointed that QVC caved to this kind of insane pressure by some well funded and organized political extremist groups. And that they did it without talking to me first. I have never shied away from talking about this as I have nothing to hide. I could have pointed out that threats of boycotts are nothing new for me and have never prevented me from having best selling books and exercise DVDs, films, and a Broadway play. Most people don’t buy into the far right lies. Many people have reached out to express how excited they were about my going onto QVC and hearing about my book.

Bottom line, this has gone on far too long, this spreading of lies about me! None of it is true. NONE OF IT! I love my country. I have never done anything to hurt my country or the men and women who have fought and continue to fight for us. I do not understand what the far right stands to gain by continuing with these myths. In this case, they denied a lot of people the chance to hear about a book that can help make life better, easier and more fulfilling. I am deeply grateful for all of the support I have been getting since this happened, including from my Vietnam Veterans friends.

No mysterious, well-funded, political extremist groups are necessary to explain why cable TV-watching Americans would react against Hanoi Jane 39 years later. And her 1972 sympathy tour/propaganda fest in the People's Republic of Vietnam was no myth, although, to be fair, there are a couple of urban legends about it.

The transcripts of Jane's interviews with Radio Hanoi indicate that she was just a common-variety New Left type, of which there were so many back then, and one who made up for her lack of ideological substance with an overabundance of emotion and enthusiasm. She gushed all over every North Vietnamese student, peasant and soldier she could find, while denouncing U.S. troops ("war criminals") and South Vietnamese soldiers ("cannon fodder for U.S. imperialism").

I think the really offensive thing about it all was the sappy look of adoration on her face when she visited an anti-aircraft gun location. She even posed for the camera wearing a helmet and squinting into the gun's sight as if she felt a vicarious thrill at the idea of shooting down one of those U.S. aircraft.

Those images permanently damaged Fonda's appeal to certain segments of the U.S. population, including, it seems, those who watch QVC. She and her business consultants ought to accept that fact, and confine their marketing efforts to those audiences that either don't know or don't care that she once played cheerleader for the North Vietnamese Army.

The Newest Fortress In Malta

The new U.S. embassy in Malta might possibly pose a dilemma for art critics of the Standard Embassy Design. How do you complain that the new embassy looks like a fortress when the nation it's in is famous for its many historic fortresses? Maybe this time we aren't isolating our mission and 'expressing fear' (and so on) with our defensive architecture. Maybe we're really making an architectural reference to local history and culture?

I mean, the Maltese have been perfecting the art of building fortresses at least as far back as the 16th century, so they ought to the world's leading connoisseurs of the form. I bet the average embassy visitor there can appreciate a good perimeter wall, and will have an enjoyable aesthetic experience while he waits for his visa interview. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

United States Dedicates New Embassy Compound in Valletta, Malta:

Reflecting the importance of the United States’ diplomatic relationship with Malta, Chargé Richard M. Mills, Jr. dedicated the new United States Embassy facility in Valletta today. Malta’s President, George Abela; Prime Minister, Lawrence Gonzi; and Office Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), Patrick McNamara, participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony.

The new Embassy facility, located in the Ta’Qali neighborhood of Attard near Ta’Qali National Park, was designed to incorporate green building techniques and to meet the principles of the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) green building rating system. The multi-building complex provides more than 125 U.S. embassy employees, both American and Maltese, with state-of-the-art work space that features a collection of contemporary Maltese, American, and Maltese-American art, curated by the Office of Art in Embassies.

A.I.C.I-SP of Arlington, Virginia constructed the facility, which was designed by the architectural firm Karn Charuhas Chapman Twohey (KCCT) of Washington, D.C. The $125 million project generated jobs in both the United States and Malta. The new facility was completed in May 2011 and, at times, involved more than 800 workers in its construction.

Since the 1999 enactment of the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act, the Department has moved more than 24,000 people into safer facilities. Including the new Embassy in Malta, OBO has completed 82 diplomatic facilities and has an additional 35 projects in design or construction.

Senior State Department Official One: What We've Got Here Is Failure To Communicate

There is a member of the press who needs to get his mind right before he attends another Background Briefing by Senior State Department Officials On Libya Contact Group Meeting.

This troublemaker just didn't know when to stop asking a question of Senior State Department Official One. He kept on pressing SSDO1 about what has changed recently to cause us to recognize the Transitional National Council as the legitimate governing authority of Libya when we had not done so for the past five months, until SSDO1 snapped at him.

One possible answer to the question is that diplomatic recognition allows us to pass megabucks in seized Libyan assets to the TNC. That's also the WaPo's explanation of our motive - "The decision ... paves the way for the rebels to access some of Libya’s frozen U.S. assets, which total more than $30 billion."

But The Captain SSDO1 had no answer to the question. In fact, he or she claimed not to know what the questioner was talking about.

QUESTION: So you think today [meaning, our announcement that we now recognize the TNC] is a big deal?


QUESTION: I mean, in terms of sending this message to Qadhafi --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We think it’s important. We think it’s important. We think it’s --

QUESTION: -- and in terms of support for the TNC.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. We think it’s important diplomatically and practically.

QUESTION: So, then can I ask why, for months, whenever we would ask why aren’t you recognizing them, one of the – everyone from Gene and you and, God, even, I think P.J. Crowley when he was still there, well, diplomatic -- yeah, it doesn’t matter, it’s just a kind of a sideshow; you guys aren’t affecting us.

QUESTION: And you said it wouldn’t come until the election, until all Libyans are able to --

QUESTION: So – but that’s not my question. My question is why, if this is such a big deal, I mean, you think it would be the turning point, why didn’t you do it earlier?


QUESTION: I mean, why were you saying it wasn’t a big deal before when it so clearly is?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I guess I’d have to understand --

QUESTION: You were among people saying, oh, why do you guys keep asking about recognition all the time?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, it may be that I said why do you keep asking about recognition all the time. But I think what I’ve described as being the tangible and symbolic benefits of recognition are things that have been apparent to all from the get-go. And all I can say is those are – I can lay out for you what we see the benefits as being and explain why we think that, which is what I’ve done here today. And really, I think that’s the only way I can answer that question.

QUESTION: But you just can’t explain why it was that you would refuse – that you weren’t willing to say that this was a big deal beforehand when you hadn’t done it and then all of the sudden you do it --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’ll be totally honest with you; I’m not sure what you’re referring to exactly. I’m really not.

Whichever member of the press it was who so annoyed SSDO1 is just lucky that he doesn't have to spend a night in the box. There are so many rules to follow with these background briefings.

If SSDO1 isn't willing to answer an uncomfortable question on background, then he should simply say so. Or not hold a background briefing at all.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Banned From Peshawar (Cause For Mixed Feelings, I'm Sure)

There was another incident of official harassment of our embassy personnel in Pakistan yesterday. This time two employees were denied permission to enter Peshawar.

I don't know about them, but I've been thrown out of better places. Being barred from Peshawar must be kind of a mixed bag - one part harassment and one part relief.

It sounds like all parties followed the standard drill. For the Americans: stay inside the car, hold your passports up to the window, call the consulate for assistance, stay put while negotiations go on. For the Pakistanis: call Police HQ, call ISI, call Express 24/7 News so they can get film of this, demand the Americans get out of the car, demand the Americans produce passports, visas, diplomatic identity cards, letters from the Foreign Ministry, birth certificates and mothers maiden names, Letters of Transit signed by General De Gaulle, and anything else they can think of to drag this out for all its worth.

From the Express Tribune, US, Norwegian citizens barred from entering Peshawar:

Two United States (US) citizens and a Norwegian have been disallowed from entering Peshawar after they were found to be travelling without a No Objection Certificate (NOC), Express 24/7 reported on Thursday.

The foreigners were taken into custody at the Peshawar Interchange on the Islamabad-Peshawar Motorway and were sent back to Islamabad.

Sources have said the foreigners were carrying valid visas and passports, but did not have an NOC for travelling to Peshawar. There are also reports of an automatic rifle being kept inside the vehicle.

The police department was given clear instructions from the Foreign Office and Interior Ministry to stop the foreigners from entering Peshawar if they did not have valid papers, sources said.

From other Pakistani press and blog accounts, it seems that the U.S. Embassy employees and the Norwegian citizens were in two separate vehicles, not traveling together.

The Peshawar Interchange is a toll plaza on the highway that runs between there and Islamabad, and it's the point where traffic exits the highway and enters Peshawar.

What's a "No Objection Certificate?" According to a Pakistan Times story, it's the explicit written permission that is required by the Pakistani government before foreign diplomats may travel to remote areas:

ISLAMABAD: Visits of foreign diplomats to remote areas and country side without proper No Objection Certificate (NOC) from concerned authorities especially on outskirts of Prohibited Areas’ is not allowed without permission, a government statement said.

-- snip --

Foreign diplomats need to strictly abide by the laws of the land and must get permission for such adventures, the statement added.

I'm not sure exactly where these adventurous outskirts of Prohibited Areas are, or even whether they are announced in advance. Maybe the Foreign Ministry issues a map. Better yet, they could put warning signs right on the roads, the way medieval sea charts were marked "Beyond Here There Be Monsters."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Joyeux Quatorze Juillet

On the eve of France's National Day, bonne fête!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Facebookification Of Public Diplomacy In Pakistan

The WaPo has a story today about the eclipse of the old human-contact institution of U.S. Information Service Libraries in Pakistan by the new socially-networked world of public diplomacy. It's odd, but I can't decide whether the author regrets the passing of the Libraries, or is being snarky about them. Anyway, at least she is clear that they were closed for security reasons.

Amid threats, U.S. woos Pakistan from behind walls:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — In a city where kind words about anything American are hard to come by, one notable exception is a sand-colored, palm-fringed building formerly known as the American Center.

For two decades, Pakistanis still fondly reminisce, international newspapers were stacked high there, poetry and art were showcased and friendly American diplomats fostered a come-one-and-all vibe. But in 2005, amid rising anti-Americanism and Islamist militancy, the U.S. Embassy-run center in Islamabad became the last in a nationwide network to shut and the diplomats retreated to walled compounds.

The building, which now houses private media outfits, has since become a symbol of the gaping gulf between the United States and Pakistan — and a prime example, critics say, of how security measures at U.S. foreign missions since Sept. 11, 2001, have alienated American diplomats from the populations they most need to court.

Yet U.S. officials say the closures also ushered in a less tactile but more aggressive — and expensive — era in what they call “public diplomacy,” one facilitated by growth in electronic media and a surge in young Pakistanis using it. Largely from behind barbed wire, embassy staffers now wield a multimillion-dollar budget to stimulate debates on Facebook, fund English courses and provide research services to Pakistani students and officials. Most prominently, they are pumping money into programs that send Pakistanis to the United States, in hopes they will return as unofficial American ambassadors.

-- snip --

Pakistan’s freewheeling media regularly spew what one U.S. diplomat called “terrible toxicity” about the United States. Though the U.S. Embassy staff has multiplied in recent years, diplomats rarely roam beyond major cities, or even much within them.

-- snip --

Some U.S. officials echo the concern. “A secure, open-access facility where people can meet and engage is still important,” one official said, adding that the closure of the American centers “hurt human interactions” between Americans and Pakistanis.

Last year, the embassy considered reopening the centers. But U.S. officials said they decided that the security situation in Pakistan, where a muscular Islamist insurgency has struck U.S. targets, meant that any potential structure would be more forbidding — and dangerous — than welcoming.

These days, the U.S. Consulate in Lahore features fuzzy photos of erstwhile American centers on its Facebook page [TSB note: see those fuzzy photos - and memories - on Lahore's Old is Gold contest page]. And U.S. diplomats argue that that page — along with other embassy Facebook pages, which together have 82,000 “fans” and play host to online debates — is one example of how technology fosters a broader American reach than a brick-and-mortar structure could. Through video conferencing, they say, visiting U.S. experts’ lectures have also been beamed to dozens of Pakistani universities.

-- snip --

Sania Zahra, an international relations student researching Saudi Arabia and Iran, said she admired Americans’ democratic values, as well as the organizational skills that, she said, make the Lincoln Corner a tidy refuge. But she said she felt part of a minority.

“The people of Pakistan say the Americans are fighting, they are doing drone attacks,” said Zahra, 25. “And where they are living, they are building high walls.

There are indeed high walls at all of our diplomatic facilities in Pakistan. As retired Ambassador Ronald Neumann said of Pakistan, "if you're going to have people live in a car bomb-prone place, you are driven to not have a light footprint."

The American Center in Islamabad had been the target of terrorism and political violence several times during those Golden Oldie years of person-to-person public diplomacy. Particularly severe attacks occurred in 1999, when anti-personnel rockets were fired at the building, and again in 1989 when as many as ten thousand demonstrators protesting the publication of the novel Satanic Verses turned violent, broke through the front doors, and set fire to the building while public diplomacy officers were inside. In the latter incident, Pakistani police opened fire to stop the attack, killing six demonstrators literally on the doorstep of the American Center. It was the worst anti-American violence in Pakistan since 1979, when both the chancery in Islamabad and the USIS Library in Lahore were burned by mobs.

1979, 1989, and 1999. What is up with that ten-year cycle?

In 2002, it was decided that the American Center should close for security reasons, first temporarily and then, by 2005, permanently. I contributed in a small way to that decision back then. Although I regretted the necessity, it was apparent to me that there was no feasible way to operate the building with a reasonable level of security for either the staff or the visitors.

The threat environment in Pakistan has only gotten worse since then, and I don't think anyone now sees any prospect of the American Center coming back to Islamabad. However, new types of public diplomacy outreach centers that allow more limited human interaction with the PD audience might very well take its place. I hope they will, even though I'm a troglodyte security guy, because I think that a vital element was lost when public diplomacy retreated into Facebook.

That's right - we're human, too. Hath not a security guy eyes, etc? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Embassy Compounds Under Attack In Damascus

** Update at 12:40 PM **

AP is quoting unnamed U.S. officials who say no one was injured in this morning's attack:

The U.S. said no embassy personnel were hurt in the melee and there was no immediate word on any other casualties.

The mob also attacked the residence [of U.S. Ambassador] Ford shortly after protesters breached a wall and stormed the embassy compound, U.S. officials in Washington said. They said no one was injured on the attack on Ford’s home, which is not part of the embassy compound, but that there was damage to his residence.

Marine guards quickly dispersed the mob, the officials said.

A U.S. official said the Obama administration will formally protest the attack and may seek compensation for the damage. The official said the State Department would summon a senior Syrian diplomat on Monday to condemn the assault and demand that Syria uphold obligations to protect foreign diplomatic missions.

Because the Marine guards reacted quickly, the attackers were not able to break into any buildings on the compound, the official said. But the attackers damaged the chancery building.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Syrian security forces were slow to respond to the attack.


ReutersFlash is reporting that mobs have broken into the U.S. and French Embassy compounds in Damascus, Syria, this morning. This is an escalation of the civil disturbances that have been going on at both compounds for the past two days, and which have already resulted in diplomatic protests from both governments.

There is no indication that mobs have broken into embassy buildings, just onto the compounds. Normal procedure would be to have employees shelter inside the buildings until the compounds have been cleared. There have been no reports of any injuries to employees at either embassy.

According to Associated Press, security guards at the French Embassy fired shots in the air to disperse the mob. There have been no similar reports about the U.S. Embassy.

The cause/pretext/justification for the riots was stated by the Syrian Foreign Ministry in a notice posted on its website yesterday:

Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry on Sunday summoned the U.S. and French ambassadors to inform them of its strong protest on their visits to Hama governorate without the ministry permission, which violates Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations stipulating for non-interference in internal affairs of states they are accredited in and reviewing official issues with the Foreign Ministry.

The Ministry said the U.S. and French ambassadors' visit to Hama constitutes a flagrant interference in Syria's internal affairs and this affirms the existence of foreign encouragement and support to any thing that could undermine security and stability in the country at a time when the national dialogue aimed at building a future Syria is launched.

I will not be revealing any Matter Of Official Concern if I remark that the U.S. Embassy in Damascus (photo above) is highly vulnerable to mob attack by virtue of its location on a very small plot of land with hardly any setback distance from the surrounding streets. It is no Fortress Embassy, to say the least. Neither is the Ambassador's residence, which is in the vicinity of the embassy.

Why hasn't that old vulnerable dump of an embassy been replaced with a new forbidding Fortress? Because, according to last year's OIG Report, the Syrians won't cooperate with us on acquiring a site to build on:

The Embassy and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) have been seeking a plot for a new embassy compound since 2001. The government of Syria’s efforts to develop a diplomatic quarter in the city of Damascus have failed to materialize. The United States is awaiting Syrian approval for a site to resolve overcrowding and other problems at the present chancery and annex.

A serious terrorist attack was launched against the embassy in 2006, but failed.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Another Day, Another New Consulate

The Associated Press is reporting that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey has opened a new U.S. Consulate in Irbil today:

IRBIL, Iraq — The United States has opened a permanent consulate in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region in what officials say will help boost business investment in the nation.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey opened the consulate on Sunday, a few hours after investors from Marriott International signed agreements to open two hotels in the Kurdish capital of Irbil in three years.

Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region is considered one of the nation’s most stable areas because it largely escaped years of fighting between Sunnis and Shiites.

Since we have long had an existing facility in Irbil, a Provincial Reconstruction Team, this news just means that the PRT is being elevated to consulate status. However, I'm still waiting to see that news from Embassy Baghdad's website, the Department's official spokeswoman, or from any other official source.

Just last week, Ambassador Jeffrey announced that he had opened another new consulate, one in Basrah. The funny thing is I can't find a press release from the Department in Washington announcing that good news, either.

Which makes me wonder how official these new consulate openings are. Are they so-called 'soft openings' in which we begin to use new facilities before we have the really official openings? Maybe.

Be that as it may, all news reports today agree that the Irbil (AKA Erbil) Consulate is promoting U.S. investment in the region. From the Wall Street Journal:

On Sunday at the new U.S. consulate in Erbil in northern Iraq, Marriott International Inc. plans to disclose two of its brands, Marriott Hotels & Resorts and Marriott Executive Apartments, will join a large real estate development project. That follows an announcement in May that Best Western International Inc. plans to open its first hotel in Erbil.

Sounds like business is booming. But, not so fast:

The Marriott hotels will be part of a $1 billion real estate development currently under construction, called Empire Iraq, that will include villas, apartments, an office tower and a motorsports track.

The project includes a 200-room five-star hotel, now partly completed. It will be called Erbil Marriott and will have four restaurants and lounges. The hotel will open in 2014, Peshraw Agha, chairman of the Empire Iraq project said in an interview.

As is standard in the U.S. hotel industry, Marriott has agreed to provide its name and manage the Erbil hotels, but will not be directly investing in the project. Mr. Agha said the Empire Iraq project includes Iraqi and Turkish investors. He said there was room for a number of new Western-branded hotels in the city, given that much of the development occurring there attracts Iraqis, foreign contractors and investors to town.

Still, despite efforts from the Pentagon and U.S. Department of State, few American brands have entered Iraq beyond oil, gas and defense-related companies. That is due primarily to both unrest and to perceptions of corruption in the business community. In Erbil, that corruption problem is a serious hindrance, according to several experts.

"It's a problem because you can do all the encouraging you want but if the environment is not conducive it's not going to happen," said Eric Davis, a professor at Rutgers University who studies Iraq's economy.

Marriott International will lend it's name but not its money to Empire Iraq? That's a big clue to how a major player sees the investment environment in the Kurdish region. U.S. Consulate Irbil has its work cut out for it if it intends to promote U.S. private sector investment there.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Two Cows Walk Into a Shisha Bar ...

Cows have always been of importance to the Middle East. In fact, there was once a whole cult of cattle worship (see the ancient Egyptian relief above).

Now, Foreign Policy blog has used cows as a metaphor to explain modern Middle Eastern politics.

Somehow I missed this when it came out a month ago, but, better late than never, here's The Cynical Dairy Farmer's Guide To The New Middle East:

Herewith then is a satirical effort to simplify the essence of Middle Eastern governments so that, in the immortal words of George W. Bush, "the boys in Lubbock" can read it. And, rather than symbolizing property, the cows here symbolize people, which -- funny enough -- is how most Middle Eastern regimes have traditionally viewed their populations.

Saudi Arabia

You have two cows with endless reserves of milk. Gorge them with grass, prevent them from interacting with bulls, and import South Asians to milk them.


You have two cows. You interrogate them until they concede they are Zionist agents. You send their milk to southern Lebanon and Gaza, or render it into highly enriched cream. International sanctions prevent your milk from being bought on the open market.


You have five cows, one of whom is an Alawite. Feed the Alawite cow well; beat the non-Alawite cows. Use the milk to finance your wife's shopping sprees in London.


You have two cows. Syria claims ownership over them. You take them abroad and start successful cattle farms in Africa, Australia, and Latin America. You send the proceeds back home so your relatives can afford cosmetic surgery and Mercedes-Benzes.


You have no cows. During breaks from milking on the teat of the Iranian cow you call for Israel's annihilation.


You have three cows: one Sunni, one Shiite, and one Kurd. The first is milked by Saudi Arabia, the second by Iran, and the third smuggles its milk abroad. The United States picks up the manure.


You have three cows: two Shiites and one Sunni. Invite Saudi Arabia to come kill a Shiite cow and import another Sunni cow.


You have two cows. Feed them khat instead of grass and neglect to milk them. Watch them fight each other.

Hosni Mubarak's Egypt

You have 10 cows. Neglect to tend to them, but prevent them from fighting Israel in order to get milk from America.

Post-Mubarak Egypt

You have 10 cows who think they now own the farm. There's still no milk.

Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's Tunisia

You have two cows. Beat them regularly and use the milk money for your wife's shopping sprees in Paris. When the cows revolt, retire to Saudi Arabia.

Post-Ben Ali Tunisia

See post-Mubarak Egypt.


You have two cows. You wish they were camels. Feed them only your words of wisdom and kill them if they dare moo.


You have two cows and one sheep. You claim that the sheep is really a "mountain cow."


You have one cow that has hundreds of udders. You use the limitless milk money to set up a television channel that broadcasts the other cows in the region being milked (except Saudi Arabia's).

United Arab Emirates

You have two cows. You bring in Filipino nannies, South Asian laborers, and Russian prostitutes to make sure they're well taken care of. Sell the milk to build the world's biggest shopping mall.


You have one cow, surrounded by wolves. Pretend that it's a magic cow that has the power to pacify wild animals, and then ask America for milk.


You had two cows that were lost decades ago. Lament them.


You have two bulls. Pretend they are helpless calves.

Nice. And, I might add, it's a relief to see a livestock metaphor about Arabs and the Middle East that does not involve bestiality.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Supreme Court Denies Stay for Mexican Convict In Texas

The U.S. Supreme Court tonight denied a stay of execution for that Mexican citizen who had been sitting on death row in Texas for 16 years. The court's vote was 5-4 (the usual suspects) and the majority opinion is full of strong statements:

Petitioner Humberto Leal Garcia (Leal) is a Mexican national who has lived in the United States since before the age of two. In 1994, he kidnapped 16-year-old Adria Sauceda, raped her with a large stick, and bludgeoned her to death with a piece of asphalt. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by a Texas court. He now seeks a stay of execution on the ground that his conviction was obtained in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (Vienna Convention) ... His argument is foreclosed by Medellín v. Texas ... in which we held that neither the Avena decision nor the President’s Memorandum purporting to implement that decision constituted directly enforceable federal law.

-- snip --

The United States [that is, the U.S. Justice Department] does not endorse Leal’s due process claim. Instead, it asks us to stay the execution until January 2012 in support of our “future jurisdiction to review the judgment in a proceeding” under this yet-to-be enacted legislation ... We reject this suggestion. First, we are doubtful that it is ever appropriate to stay a lower court judgment in light of unenacted legislation. Our task is to rule on what the law is, not what it might eventually be.

-- snip --

The United States and JUSTICE BREYER complain of the grave international consequences that will follow from Leal’s execution ... Congress evidently did not find these consequences sufficiently grave to prompt its enactment of implementing legislation, and we will follow the law as written by Congress. We have no authority to stay an execution in light of an “appeal of the President,” ... presenting free-ranging assertions of foreign policy consequences, when those assertions come unaccompanied by a persuasive legal claim.

Finally, we noted in Medellín II that “[t]he beginning premise for any stay . . . must be that petitioner’s confession was obtained unlawfully,” and that “[t]he United States has not wavered in its position that petitioner was not prejudiced by his lack of consular access.” ... Here, the United States studiously refuses to argue that Leal was prejudiced by the Vienna Convention violation, contending instead that the Court should issue a stay simply in light of the possibility that Leal might be able to bring a Vienna Convention claim in federal court, regardless of whether his conviction will be found to be invalid. We decline to follow the United States’ suggestion of granting a stay to allow Leal to bring a claim based on hypothetical legislation when it cannot even bring itself to say that his attempt to overturn his conviction has any prospect of success. We may note that in a portion of its opinion vacated by the Fifth Circuit on procedural grounds, the District Court found that any violation of the Vienna Convention would have been harmless.

All the public pleading for Humberto Leal claimed that he was denied the right to seek Mexican consular assistance, which, if he had obtained it, would have likely resulted in a lesser sentence. That claim is not true. Nothing in the record shows that Leal ever asked for consular access, or even told the police that he was a Mexican citizen (he had lived in the U.S. - illegally - since he was two years old and represented himself as a U.S. citizen). And in any case, he made his incriminating admissions to the police before they arrested him, and therefore before they had any obligation to inform him of his right to consular assistance.

Even if Leal had had the benefit of Mexican consular access before his trial, that would not have changed the fact that he had incriminated himself, nor change any of the other evidence against him. The lack of consular access, then, was not relevant to his conviction and death sentence.

The Obama administration made the ominous suggestion that, if Texas executes Leal, other nations might reciprocate by denying traveling U.S. citizens their right to consular access if arrested abroad. It's preposterous in principle, and trivializes the extremely egregious crime that Leal committed, to compare his situation to that of a typical U.S. tourist arrested while on a foreign vacation (which happens most frequently to Gringos in Mexico, BTW). And if there is a U.S.-citizen rapist/murderer analogous to Leal somewhere abroad, I only hope that the foreign nation involved will execute that miscreant a lot faster than Texas did Leal.

The matter of reciprocity or Mexican retaliation against U.S. citizens is a real concern, but it is much less important than the interest Texas has in carrying out its state laws and punishing murder. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled two years ago that when adherence to a treaty such as the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations is contrary to a state statute, the President cannot override the statute unilaterally, but legislation is required. And as the Supreme Court noted tonight, Congress has not provided that legislation. The Vienna Convention, therefore, has no bearing on the case of Humberto Leal, and Texas was completely free to execute him.

I'm not a big fan of the death penalty - I'm more opposed to abolishing it than in favor of using it - but the murder of 16-year old Adria Sauceda warrants it, and I'm glad the Vienna Convention was not used as an excuse to frustrate justice tonight.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Duck and Cover" Old School

H/T to The Snake's Mommy for this cartoon, which takes me back to my childhood.

Ah, so many fond memories of crouching under a desk or in an elementary school corridor with my hands crossed behind my head to shield me from the flash of the bomb.

And it was educational. I first became conscious of foreign affairs during a "duck and cover" drill the week of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when I searched a classroom globe until I found Cuba (or "Cue-burr" as President Kennedy pronounced it) and tried to imagine how many minutes warning we in the New York suburbs might have if missiles were launched.

Best of all, back then we had cartoon characters and catchy jingles. Try humming this tune the next time you do a D&C drill at your U.S. Embassy workplace:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Are You Grilling Democratic Or Republican?

Everything in Washington is about politics, and your choice of holiday barbecue material is no exception.

H/T to Open Secrets blog for this primer on which party gets the grease from your favorite food producer:

If you're charring a choice of meat today, it’s worth considering that even beef, chicken and hot dogs tend to have a favorite political party.

The meat processing and products industry, typically a major contributor to federal-level politics, has historically favored the Republican Party. Political action committees and individuals associated with big name companies like Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods -- two political heavyweights in the industry -- contributed overwhelmingly to federal candidates and political parties affiliated with the GOP during the 2010 election cycle.

TSB comment: I will note that Tyson Foods has also favored Democrats, especially when they were married to the Governor of Arkansas and invested in pork futures.

Smaller companies such as Omaha Steaks, Valley Proteins, Sam Kane Beef Processors and Boar's Head Provisions went against the industry norm: Individuals affiliated with those companies gave heavily to Democratic candidates and party committees during the 2010 cycle.

-- snip --

And contributions as whole from the industry have been on the rise, making meat processing companies even bigger political players. During the 2010 election cycle, people and political action committees associated with meat companies in total gave $1.6 million to candidates seeking federal office. A decade ago, they gave less -- about $1.3 million, the Center's research indicates.

To find out more about which meat processing company satisfies your political appetite, check out our industry page, located here.

Full disclosure: I have no (hot)dog in this fight because, politically, I'm a Whig, and we have not solicited or accepted donations since the party went underground in 1856.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I'm Hiding From The Cops Under Arrest

I like a news story with a happy ending:

William Velasquez Castillo, an illegal immigrant in Lucedale, Miss., was arrested May 19 by U.S. Marshals after a month-long search.

Detectives believe that he fled his residence in Ocean Springs after learning that he was wanted by authorities in connection to a child molestation case.

Castillo, 27, was found at a hotel and taken to Jackson County Adult Center. U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement has a hold placed for Castillo and has their own investigation going, according to a Sheriff's spokesman.

But what makes the whole story is the t-shirt Castillo was wearing when he was arrested: The t-shirt reads, I'm hiding from the cops. But not very well.

Immigrant Lies, French Guy Flies

The New York Times has the best, i.e., the least hysterical, coverage of the legal reversals in the case against that French Big Shot with the double-barreled name.

The development represented a stunning reversal in a case that reshaped the French political landscape and prompted debate about morals, the treatment of women and the American justice system. Prosecutors said that they still believed there was evidence to support the notion that Mr. Strauss-Kahn had forced the woman to perform oral sex, but that inconsistencies in her past and in her account of the moments following the episode could make it extremely difficult to persuade jurors to believe her.

-- snip --

Prosecutors disclosed that the woman had admitted lying in her application for asylum from Guinea. According to their letter, she “fabricated the statement with the assistance of a male who provided her with a cassette recording” that she memorized. She also said that her claim that she had been the victim of a gang rape in Guinea was a lie.

There is more information in a letter to the lawyers for the accused sent by New York County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (the son of Jimmy Carter's first Secretary of State, BTW).

So, the immigrant from Guinea who reported she was raped by Dominique Strauss-Kahn had made fraudulent statements during her 2004 Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal from the USA sufficient to convince an Asylum Officer that she suffered persecution or fear of persecution due to her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In other words, she lied to get a Green Card. Or to put it more cynically, she responded to the incentives provided by our asylum laws.

Personally, I'm shocked to learn that an African woman could so blatantly abuse our asylum process and get away with it. But I'll get over my surprise.

Lying for a Green Card doesn't automatically impeach your credibility in an unrelated criminal case. But, unhappily for District Attorney Vance, his victim's past lies-to-justify-asylum included rape, and New York law allows juries to hear about past false accusations of rape.

Maybe even worse, the victim evidently thought about profiting from the situation, and did so out loud in a phone call that was subject to monitoring by the same immigration service that she had defrauded back in 2004:

Twenty-eight hours after a housekeeper at the Sofitel New York said she was sexually assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, she spoke by phone to a boyfriend in an immigration jail in Arizona.

Investigators with the Manhattan district attorney’s office learned the call had been recorded and had it translated from a “unique dialect of Fulani,” a language from the woman’s native country, Guinea, according to a well-placed law enforcement official.

When the conversation was translated — a job completed only this Wednesday — investigators were alarmed: “She says words to the effect of, ‘Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing,’ ” the official said.

The two revelations surely look like the end of the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but not - I think - an exoneration of him. His lawyers now have what they need to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury despite "evidence to support the notion that Mr. Strauss-Kahn had forced the woman to perform oral sex." Doesn't make him innocent, just makes him free to go.

The purported victim might really be a victim. And if so she wouldn't be any less a victim because she previously lied about being raped in order to get asylum, or even because she plotted to get some of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's (wife's) millions afterwards. But her actions before and after the event in the Sofitel suite will prevent justice from being done out of our constitutional concern for the rights of the accused.