Friday, December 25, 2015

From The National Mall

My wishes for a Merry Christmas to all my fellow citizens.

And, because it's a Friday, one Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week with a faintly Christmas-y, or at least a Santa-ish, theme:

"Gazprom Executives Killed by Reindeer Herdsmen" - Upstream Online

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Friday Document Dump

Okay, technically it's a Thursday, but today is a Federal Friday by Executive Order, so this qualifies as a Friday document dump.

The Director of National Intelligence has made a 'proactive disclosure' of assorted Benghazi-related documents, none of them particularly interesting. You can read them here.
New Freedom of Information Act Request Documents Released by ODNI

December 24, 2015

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is one of seven federal agencies participating in a pilot program to make records requested via the Freedom of Information Act more readily available to the public, as reflected in the recently released Third National Action Plan for Open Government.

Over the course of the pilot, ODNI will note the release of new “proactive disclosure” documents here on IC on the Record. Documents posted to this week include:

- The revocation of American passport of Anwar al-Aulaqi by the U.S. Dept. of State and any criminal complaint by the Dept. of Justice against U.S. citizens Mr. al-Aulaqi or Samir Khan

- All emails and means of correspondence pertaining to the overall situation in and around Benghazi, Libya

- PDDNI memo – changes to the HUMINT Control System (HCS) May 20, 2014

- NCSC Director Bill Evanina’s appointment calendar January January 5-9, 2015

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Spammity Spam, Wonderful Spam

Ireland and United Kingdom foods, maybe

While doing some shopping today at my local Wegman's, I went through their international foods section and was delighted to see cans of Spam - quite a lot of them - in the "Ireland and United Kingdom" aisle. Does Wegman's sell Spam anyplace else in their stores? Not that I've ever noticed.

Brits liking Spam - is that just a stereotype left over from the WWII years, or do they still really like their Spam? I know it's produced in the UK, and they do indeed seem to eat a lot of it, but is it a distinctive national dish?

Whatever it is, it has the "Spam Spam Spam Spam" song running in my head.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars Told in the Style of Ken Burns

Thank you, WaPo Pop Culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg, that was excellent. I'm even overlooking the annoying vocal fry.

Best reader comment on the WaPo site came from Nitpicker:
Alyssa, spend 30 years drinking whiskey and smoking cigars, then re-voice

A bit cruel, I suppose, but he's not wrong.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday, December 4, 2015

House Oversight Committee Releases Report on U.S. Secret Service

Read the report here U.S. Secret Service: An Agency in Crisis (alternative title: Jason's Revenge). Be prepared to spend several hours, because it's a long compendium of scandals, misconduct, failures, abuse, mismanagement, and collapsing morale.

Best quote from a Secret Service agent's e-mail was this item on a pre-departure checklist: “Cash fo dem hoes-check

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

House Oversight Committee Hearing on New London Embassy

The Crystal Fortress, in architectural vision

The New London Embassy construction project has come in for criticism from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee before, and it will again on Tuesday, December 8, at 10 AM. Watch this space for live video: Review of the New London Embassy Project.

While you're waiting please enjoy Embassy London's weekly photos of the construction site, and let your inner architect be inspired by the designer's vision:
[The State Department] wanted to pursue a new paradigm in embassy design, termed Design Excellence, which emphasizes the role of architecture in diplomacy. This new model seeks buildings that represent the ideals of the American government—giving priority to transparency, openness, and equality, and drawing on the best of American architecture, engineering, technology, art, and culture.

Here's hoping my good friends in Overseas Buildings Operations will send their first string to handle the Committee. Which means Ambassador Will Moser. I really don't think that OBO's Director and her Deputy Director in Charge of Design Excellence are up to handling the hostile questioning that is likely to come to them.

Is 'The Benghazi Chill' Lifting in Washington?

I'm amazed that this article got published, especially in an election year.

A reasonable discussion of risk-aversion and diplomatic missions? One that doesn't make ridiculous statements about the Benghazi attack? And, most of all, one that suggests Washington politics is to blame for hobbling our efforts to advance our national interests overseas?

Read it here: Benghazi chill ripples through State Department:
A survey of 1,600 active-duty State Department employees released in April by the American Foreign Service Association found that more than half believed that "post-Benghazi, it is now more difficult for employees to effectively engage overseas." Twenty-five percent of diplomatic security agents said the same thing.
Hear a voice of reason:
The job “has always come with risk, which we are fully prepared to accept,” said Barbara Stephenson, the head of the American Foreign Service Association and a 30-year veteran of the Foreign Service.

What we ask in return is a dedicated effort to mitigate danger where possible,” she added, “including through providing the resources needed to accomplish our mission safely while serving abroad.”

And the icing on the cake is a prediction by my favorite adult in the room, Ambassador Ronald Neumann:
“Rightly or wrongly, it has become a political issue for the Republicans,” said Neumann, the former ambassador to Afghanistan, who has been appointed to top posts by presidents of both parties.

“But I think it has made the issue of casualties so sensitive that that may carry over into the next administration — whichever party it is.”

Surely, the issue of casualties will remain sensitive. But, could this discussion be an indication that the political establishment is finally about to recover its equilibrium, and may be ready to once again accept the reality that diplomacy is an inherently risky enterprise?