Friday, October 20, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Story of the Week

Yes, please do give him what's just and equitable

Newspaper stories ruined pimp's 'good reputation,' lawsuit claims - CTV News Vancouver

"Words published in the Vancouver Sun Newspaper and National Post Newspaper ruined [Moazami's] good reputation and character" ... The convict is seeking $250,000, costs and any other relief the court “may deem just and equitable.”

Reza Moazami was found guilty on dozens of charges in September 2014, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual interference and human trafficking offences. His 11 victims ranged in age from 14 to 19 years old ... Among the disturbing facts heard in the case was that the pimp would abuse the girls physically to get them to comply with his demands. In some cases he would also attack a small dog that was beloved by his victims to force their cooperation, the court heard.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A "Litany of Stupidity" All Around

No one at the arrival press conference asked Mr. Boyle whether his wife had something to say about all that has happened to her. She has remained silent, at least in all the media reports I've seen on this incident.

From the AP story on Boyle's arrival back in Canada:
"The stupidity and evil of the Haqqani network's kidnapping of a pilgrim and his heavily pregnant wife engaged in helping ordinary villagers in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan was eclipsed only by the stupidity and evil of authorizing the murder of my infant daughter," he said.

Boyle said his wife was raped by a guard who was assisted by his superiors. He asked for the Afghan government to bring them to justice.

"God willing, this litany of stupidity will be the epitaph of the Haqqani network," he said.

He said he was in Afghanistan to help villagers "who live deep inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan where no NGO, no aid worker and no government has ever successfully been able to bring the necessary help."

Joshua Boyle before his pilgrimage to help those villagers:

Joshua Boyle and his silent wife after years of captivity:

While I don't want to ridicule someone who has suffered so much, really, what did Boyle think he was doing by trekking with his seven-month pregnant wife "deep in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan"?

And what "necessary help" exactly was he bringing with him? Is he a doctor, or was he packing in a village-load of food or clothing, or digging a well, or doing anything of any use whatsoever? Haven't those villagers suffered enough themselves without having to put up with a neckbeard Muslim wannabe self-described “pacifist Mennonite hippy-child” from rural Canada hanging around them?

I can easily understand why Boyle says, at the end of his statement, that we shall all be judged by the intentions of our actions and not by their consequences. He cannot afford to be judged by their consequences.

Frankly, I wish the Pakistanis had retrieved her and left him there.

Dusting Off the Bauhaus Fortress, and Other New Construction Awards This Week

Photo of U.S. Embassy Athens from Discover Diplomacy

My good friends in Overseas Buildings Operations have had a hot hand this past week, signing contracts for the construction of a new U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, Guatemala, and for the construction of a new U.S. Embassy Annex in Kampala, Uganda, and for the major rehabilitation of the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece.

The Athens project is by far the most complex and architecturally interesting of the three awards. The project "includes the rehabilitation of, and additions to, the existing chancery and other buildings. The architect for the project is Ann Beha Architects of Boston, Massachusetts." That design firm, as we learned from Architect Magazine, specializes in "dusting off forgotten buildings and marshalling them into the present day" and the firm's proposal to OBO "conveyed a sophisticated understanding of the issues involved in renovating historically significant buildings and experience with rehabilitation of complex mid-century modern structures."

Our chancery building in Athens could use a good dusting off. OBO describes it as follows:
The Athens Chancery, by architect Walter Gropius, one of the most celebrated representatives of the famed Bauhaus School, is a modern tribute to ancient Greek architecture. The architect designed the building as a metaphor for democracy in the country to which modern democracy owes so much.

Completed on July 4, 1961, the three-story edifice is markedly open. The landscaped courtyard provides a place for discussion and meeting. The white columns and brilliant reflective surfaces of the exterior façade are clad with Pentelic marble, the famous stone used in the Parthenon, other buildings on the Acropolis, and throughout the ancient Mediterranean. Black marble from Saint Peter, Peloponnesus, gray marble from Marathon, and other native Greek marbles are used throughout the building. The beautifully-turned wood stair railing was made with Greek pearwood by Greek artisans.

Contemporary architecture magazines described the chancery as “a symbol of democracy at the fountainhead of many old democratic and architectural traditions” by “one of modern architecture’s Olympian figures,” Walter Gropius, and his associates at The Architects Collaborative (TAC). Gropius said that he sought “to find the spirit of [the] Greek approach without imitating any classical means.” The podium, quadrilateral plan, interior patio, exterior columns, and formal landscaping were all handled in a thoroughly modern way.

The building’s climatic response includes ceramic sunscreens, wide overhangs, free flowing air at continuously slotted over hangs, and a bipartite roof. Upper floors hang from the roof structure. Gropius placed a reflecting pool at the main entrance and fountains in the landscape to create serene settings and cooling from the Greek sun. The floor plan is arranged in a sweeping crescent that embraces a large formal terrace descending to a lawn and garden.

The Athens Chancery remains a fresh and optimistic bow to the classical ideal and one of the most prominent Bauhaus buildings in Greece.

So basically, the chancery is supposed to look like the Parthenon - see the resemblance? - only with a Modernist flat roof and glassed-in sides. It doesn't seem like promising material for a Fortress Embassy of the modern type.  But, I have all the confidence in the world that my good friends can pull this off.

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"naked drunk Florida man"

"Naked drunk man allegedly fired guns into the air to test if they’d work" - New York Post

Authorities say a naked drunk Florida man wanted to know if his .45-caliber gun and shotgun worked, so he fired them into the air.

Monday, October 9, 2017

U.S. Embassy London's Contraband-Filled Bushes

The current U.S. Embassy

The Wall Street Journal had a nice article last week about the common practice of embassy visitors using the surrounding landscaping to hide the items they aren't allowed to bring inside.

Read it here: London’s No. 1 Hiding Place: The Bushes Outside the U.S. Embassy - Items such as bike helmets and scissors are prohibited at security, so many visitors stash them in a nearby park

Hey folks, just wait until they open the New U.S. Embassy in London. You'll be delighted to find lots of trees, bushes, and a lovely water feature in which to stash your stuff. Do step carefully if you choose to go into the water. 

The new U.S. Embassy, opening soon

Federal Hiring Freeze is Working

So, the hiring freeze President Trump imposed in partial fulfillment of a political promise is working. The number of Federal employees has been declining slightly all during 2017. As of the end of September there were 2,860,00 of us, the fewest since August of 2016.

See the Bureau of Labor Statistics data here: Current Employment Statistics, Federal Government employees

Alexandria Releases Report on June Shooting at Republican Congressional Members and Staffers

The attempted mass killing of Congressional Republicans by a crazed Bernie Sanders supporter happened almost three months ago, and this week the local district attorney's office released a report on the use of force by local Alexandria police and two U.S. Capitol Police officers.

Read it here: Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney City of Alexandria Use of Force Investigation and Analysis

The report is heavy on guns-and-ammo details, of course. A few things that stood out for me:
During the gun battle, the suspect fired a total of at least 70 rounds: 62 7.62x39mm rounds fired through the assault rifle and 8 9mm rounds fired through the semi-automatic handgun.

Because the suspect fired 62 rifle rounds out of 80 rounds that he carried in two box magazines [the SKS carbine the shooter used had been modified to accept removable box magazines], he must have done a magazine change at some point during the incident. Therefore he had some degree of calm and deliberateness. There is every reason to suppose that he would have killed most of the Congressmen and staffers there if a Capitol Police protective detail had not been present.
In aggregate, the agents and police officers fired a total of at least 40 rounds.

Of those 40, they struck the suspect with only three rounds. Not so surprising, really, considering the ranges involved. The two Capitol Police officers were siting in an SUV parked just outside the ball field when the shooting began. One of them stayed there throughout the incident, using the car for cover. The second officer ran from the SUV to the ball field, and back to the SUV to retrieve more ammunition for his pistol. The officers had only pistols, and they were trading shots with a gunman armed with a rifle.
The distance from the black SUV to the suspect’s location behind the storage shed was approximately 30 yards, or about 100 feet.

Most people, including most police officers, are not terribly accurate with pistols beyond 50 feet or so. Most law enforcement pistol training is concentrated on much shorter distances. Consider that the FBI's pistol qualification course for agents is shot mostly at ranges of 15 yards or less, with the longest stage being only 10 shots fired at targets 25 yards away. The shooter in Alexandria never came as close as 25 yards to any of the officers involved.

Here's the key moment in the incident, when Special Agent David Bailey, one of the two Capitol Police officers, ran onto the ball field and interrupted the shooter.
SA Bailey saw Rep. Scalise fall to the ground after being struck by a bullet and he ran onto the field to go to the Congressman’s aid; however, he began taking gun fire as he entered the field, hearing bullets go past his head. He saw the suspect firing from his position near the third-base dugout.

SA Bailey, standing near the first-base dugout, returned fire with his Glock pistol. Later, the investigation would reveal that SA Bailey fired a total 10 rounds from that position toward the suspect. These rounds likely caused the suspect to lose focus and become less accurate as he fired. They also caused the suspect to change position in an attempt to engage the agents and therefore drew his attention from the players on the field.

The Capitol Police officers prevented a massacre by keeping the gunman engaged until the Alexandria Police arrived, which was about three minutes after they received the first call. What finally stopped the shooter was an Alexandria officer with a rifle, an AR-pattern patrol rifle that was carried in the trunk of his cruiser.
ERT [forensic services] recovered three spent .223 cartridge cases in close proximity to where [Officer] Jensen stopped his cruiser during the incident. The spent cartridge cases were approximately 65 yards from where the suspect was located when he was shot, meaning that the suspect was approximately 200 feet from Jensen when Jensen fired.

Officer Jensen did it right. The report relates how he saw the gunman moving toward the Capitol Police officers, took careful aim at him and fired one shot before ducking down behind the cover of his cruiser, then shifted his position before he popped up and took aim again. In that way, he struck the gunman with two of three rounds, stopping him.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Harry Dean Stanton RIP

1926 - 2017

That's a long career. He was Tramp in Cool Hand Luke way back in 1967, and worked up until just a couple years ago, but I think he was most memorable in Repo Man (1984).

If you've seen it, then you know the life of a Repo Man is always intense. He lived it well.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hillary's Still Switching Between Left and Right

Left, right, left, right, left, right

In her CBS News interview yesterday, Hillary Clinton highly recommended a yoga practice called alternate nostril breathing as a tool for calming her post-election nerves.
"I just felt this enormous letdown, just kind of loss of feeling and direction and sadness," Clinton said. "And, you know, Bill just kept saying, 'Oh, you know, that was a terrific speech,' tryin' to just kinda bolster me a little bit. Off I went, into a frenzy of closet cleaning, and long walks in the woods, playing with my dogs, and, as I write-- yoga, alternate nostril breathing, which I highly recommend, tryin' to calm myself down. And-- you know, my share of Chardonnay. It was a very hard transition. I really struggled. I couldn't feel, I couldn't think. I was just gob-smacked, wiped out."

I like how she's just tryin' and tryin' like a regular lower class gal who drops her Gs. Did Hillary do that kind of vernacular politickin' back when she was a candidate?  I can't recall.

But back to alternate nostril breathin' breathing. Slate Magazine has an explainer about that today: The breathing technique that helped Hillary Clinton cope with her election loss.
According to the website for the Chopra Center, a wellness center co-founded by the alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra, alternate nostril breathing is a technique meant to calm the mind and alleviate stress. Breathing exercises are a fundamental part of yoga. Pranayama, the specific discipline that deals with controlling your breathing, comes from classic Indian yoga and has been around for centuries. It can be translated to “the control of the life force.” Apart from alternate nostril breathing, there are also practices to breathe in deeply and expel the breath quickly; ones that focus on feeling the motions of your stomach while you breathe; and ones in which you hum or chant while exhaling.

The guru Deepak Chopra notwithstanding, the fact is that almost everybody breathes out of one nostril at a time anyway, yoga or not. It's called the nasal cycle. Any benefit Hillary may have gotten from deliberate alternate nostril breathing was at best a placebo effect.

The Chardonnay part was probably effective, though, alcohol in moderation being the most efficient substance for the relief of anxiety ever discovered.

The Senator Got the Tub, But the Taxpayers Got Soaked

Limestone tub at the Seasons Hotel, George V, Paris

When Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) wanted to book three nights in a $1,536.96 a night Paris hotel suite that featured a “King bed, work area with internet, limestone bath with soaking tub and enclosed rain shower,” he didn't need to pay for it himself. He got it compliments of his wealthy friend, political contributor, and fellow party animal Doctor Salomon Melgen. Doctor Melgen could afford it since he was loaded due to his business practice of defrauding Medicare to the tune of $105 million.

An extravagant hotel room was the least of Dr. Melgen's gifts to Senator Menendez. According to the U.S. Department of Justice "among other gifts, Menendez accepted flights on Melgen’s private jet, a first-class commercial flight and a flight on a chartered jet; numerous vacations at Melgen’s Caribbean villa in the Dominican Republic and at a hotel room in Paris; and $40,000 in contributions to his legal defense fund and over $750,000 in campaign contributions. Menendez never disclosed any of the reportable gifts that he received from Melgen on his financial disclosure forms."

And so, way back two and a half years ago, Senator Menendez was indicted on one count of conspiracy, eight counts of bribery, and three counts of honest services fraud. The indictment spelled out how Menendez used "his Senate office and staff to advocate on behalf of Melgen’s personal and financial interests."

Here's the indictment:

Well, Senator Menendez finally went on trial this week, although I have seen little to no news media coverage of it so far.

Despite his indictment on public corruption charges, the U.S. Senate has not taken any action against Menendez. It has not expelled him, sanctioned him, or even removed him from his committee assignments. One of those assignments was to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which I'm sure was especially pertinent to Menendez's ability to assist Dr. Melgen by pressuring the U.S. State Department to issue visas for the doctor's foreign girlfriends, an offense which features in the indictment.
Bob Menendez was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 113th Congress and continues to serve as a member of the powerful Committee that helps shape foreign policy of broad significance, in matters of war and peace and international relations. In the current 115th Congress

How lucky for Melgen that he had a pet Senator in an ideal position from which to write a letter of support to the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic for a 22-year-old girlfriend and her 18-year-old sister who wanted to visit him in Miami. And when the sisters' applications were denied (a memo outlining the reason read: “Siblings, 18 and 22 yrs old. No children. No previous travel. To go visit a friend in Florida. Neither is working. No solvency on their own. Not fully convinced of motives for travel.”) the good Senator Menendez was willing to take the matter up with the ambassador and with high-ranking officials in the State Department. The sisters were re-interviewed and got their visas the second time around.

Senator Menendez of the Foreign Relations Committee was also willing to write letters of support for a Ukrainian model/actress girlfriend of Melgen's who needed a tourist visa, and for a Brazilian actress who Melgen set up as a law student in Miami.

There is lots more in the indictment, including a charge that Menendez interfered with State Department officials to further one of Melgen's side businesses - purchasing the exclusive right to sell port security inspection equipment to the government of the Dominican Republic - while simultaneously trying to prevent the Department of Homeland Security from sending the Dominican Republic free inspection equipment.

Unless there was a Senator-caught-with-a-dead-prostitute extortion angle here à la Godfather II - and I do not totally discount that there might have been - Menendez was abusing his office out of simple greed. He certainly wasn't the first. Twelve previous U.S. Senators have been convicted on various charges while in office. Political reactions to those convictions have varied.

The last such case was in 2008, when Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) was found guilty of seven counts of making false statements, after which there were immediate and bipartisan calls for his resignation. Barack Obama said that Stevens needed to resign to help "put an end to the corruption and influence-peddling in Washington." In any event, Stevens was never sentenced and his conviction was thrown out due to prosecutorial misconduct so egregious that the Department of Justice opened criminal contempt investigations on six members of its own prosecution team.

The last Senator to be convicted before Stevens was Harrison Williams (D-NJ), who was convicted of taking bribes in the Abscam investigation in May of 1981. He brazenly stayed in office until March of 1982, resigning only when the Senate was about to vote on his expulsion.

Should Senator Menendez be convicted, expect him to go the Harrison Williams route and stay in office while he appeals. Unlike with Williams, I'd also expect the Senate to tolerate his presence for at least as long as it takes to get another Democratic Governor in New Jersey. Should Menendez resign before Gov. Cristie leaves in January 2018, Cristie would presumably appoint himself to fill Menendez's term, improving the Republicans' thin 52-to-48 Senate majority. What's a little more corruption and influence-peddling in Washington compared to that?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Friday Night Document Dump: More of Hillary's Email

Pursuant to FOIA litigation, the Department of State tonight released another batch of Hillary Rodham Clinton's emails that were sent by her while she was SecState. Read them here.

What with it being the Friday before a three-day weekend, we'll all have plenty of time to browse them.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

And the Last Word on The Sounding Board Goes to ...

A monk works on an illuminated manuscript

To my good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations! Congratulations to all of you who used the Board to plead for rescue from the coming innovation of paperless design reviews.

I always took the The Sounding Board to be a harmless escape value for people who wanted to vent their frustrations, but, I totally stand with my OBO comrades in complete opposition to doing away with paper design drawings. Maybe no one who hasn't done the design review job will really understand this, but you can't keep a mental picture of the 3-D thing you are reviewing if you have to look at it through a series of 2-D keyholes. It just doesn't work.

So why does OBO management want to go paperless? I suppose because people just assume higher tech is always better. But paper is a technology too, and very plausibly a better one for the design reviewer's job. Bigger monitors on smaller desks - due to a simultaneous planned cubicle tight-sizing - will not help in the least.

If anyone in OBO reads this, please take up the cause after The Sounding Board closes tomorrow.

P.S. - About the monk and his manuscript above, a colleague of mine from years ago once asked me "how's the monastery?", by which he meant OBO. That was the perfect word for the place. Have you ever walked past the rows of cubicles on the engineering and architectural floors of SA-6, seen all the worker bees crouched over their desks covered with sheets of design drawings, pens and pencils in hand, surrounded by stacks of more design packages piled up around them, and imagined them as medieval monks in monastery cells pouring over illuminated manuscripts? For what is an architectural design drawing if not a modern-day illuminated manuscript? The illusion was even stronger in the days before CADD when they all did their drawing and drafting over a slanted desk, sometimes with a big magnifying glass.

That's how I see them. The monastery will just not be the same if it ever loses the paper.

Everybody Laughs at the Redneck Until the Flood Comes

I can't recall the WaPo doing this sort of thing before, but today it celebrated the virtues of rural blue collar men - you know, the pickup-truck-and-bass-boat crowd. The occasion was the water rescue work being done by rednecks Agro-Americans country gentlemen in the flooded city of Houston.

Read it here: In crises such as Harvey, you want outdoorsmen on your side:
The country is suddenly grateful for this “Cajun Navy,” for their know-how, for the fact that they can read a submerged log in the water, and haul their boats over tree stumps and levees and launch them from freeway junctions. There are no regulators to check their fishing licenses or whether they have a fire extinguisher and life preservers on board, which they don’t … Spending hours in monsoon rains doesn’t bother them, because they know ducks don’t just show up on a plate, and they’ve learned what most of us haven’t, that dry comfort is not the only thing worth seeking ... You can’t help but be struck by just how much they know how to do — and how much your citified self doesn’t. Trim a rocking boat, tie a secure knot, navigate the corduroying displaced water, and interpret the faint dull colors in the mist-heavy clouds.

Wow, that is like lyric poetry.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Resignation Acrostics: Resistance Rallying Cry, or Just Feeding the Administration's Myside Bias?

I see there has been another acrostic resignation letter. First it was the 17 members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. See their letter here, with its R-E-S-I-S-T message. I had never heard of that Committee before, and after looking at the examples of the "Committee's accomplishments over the years” that are highlighted on its About Us page, only three of which are from this century, I wonder what it was all those committee members did before they resigned and whether the taxpayers will miss them now that they’re gone.

And today it’s one of the Science Envoys the State Department employs as unpaid volunteers, a UC Berkeley professor named Daniel Kammen, who has resigned and put an I-M-P-E-A-C-H acrostic on his resignation letter. I'm sure he'll be missed. However, Science Envoys “usually serve for one year” as it says here, and since Kammen was appointed on March 31, 2016, it looks like he was due to leave about now in any case. So he added a little humorous touch to his inevitable resignation letter. How edgy, kind of.

No one enjoys that sort of gag more than me, you understand. All good clean bureaucratic fun. Back in the Cold War years, I managed to rename the branch for which I worked the “Certification and Core Chancery Policy” Branch so that it could have the office symbol “xx/xx/CCCP.” That office symbol was on the books for about two weeks before a senior official got the joke and changed it back.

About Mr. Science Envoy Kammen’s resignation letter with the IMPEACH message, though, how is it anything more than a puerile gesture? The audience for that is who, exactly, outside of his faculty lounge?

Nothing in the new fad of anti-Trump acrostics will have any impact on Trump himself, surely, or on anyone else who makes decisions for his administration. If it makes any impression at all on them, it will be to confirm the Trumpists’ preconceived opinion of government lifers and political appointees as a hostile Deep State that is to be dismissed or simply ignored.

Enjoy yourselves and resist away, all you many appointees and commissioners out there, but don’t pretend you’re not validating the negative expectations of the guy who got elected.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

Gun-Wielding Bride Arrested After Allegedly Assaulting Groom - News Channel 5, Murfreesboro TN

"Responding officers let the husband know the honeymoon was over and his new wife was going to jail," said Sgt. Kyle Evans with the Murfreesboro Police Department.

As described in a Murfeesboro Police Department report, 25-year-old Kate Elizabeth Prichard, the bride, and her spouse were drunk and arguing outside the Clarion Inn and Suites when Prichard pulled out a 9mm pistol from her wedding dress, threatened the groom, "J-Rod" Burton, with it and then fired a shot into the air, causing bystanders to call the police.

The inevitable Facebook search resulted in a bit of TMI about the bride and groom. "In advance of her marriage, Prichard last month got a pubic tattoo declaring “Property of J-Rod.” The lucky J-Rod replied with "I love her crazy ass."

You may wonder whether or not this marriage can be saved. I say, why not? J-Rod has made his own mistakes with firearms in the past, when he was arrested in 2015 for shooting a member of a rival motorcycle club in the foot during an argument inside a Clarksville clubhouse. But he was given a second chance when a judge let him plead guilty to a reduced count of reckless endangerment. So I'm saying he should be slow to judge others.

Can these two crazy tattooed kids find happiness? I hope so.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Detesting Trump and Others

The London Review of Books has a very nice piece on The Age of Detesting Trump. It's just not clear which party the author detests more at this point, Trump or the feckless media / Democrat opposition to him.

My favorite parts:
The centre-left media went to sleep after the Iran-Contra scandal of 1986-87, dozed through the Clinton years, and were half-asleep and nodding when they approved Cheney and Bush’s war in Iraq and Obama and [Hillary] Clinton’s war in Libya. For obscure reasons, they have been quite certain that Western dismantling of yet another Arab country, Syria, is the surest path to a sane policy in the Middle East. All the mainstream outlets, with CNN and the Times at their head, have now re-emerged as anti-government centres of news, opinion, and news perceptibly mingled with opinion. But they are new to the work of ‘resistance’ and it shows.

-- snip --

[Jared Kushner's plan, or] any plan for back-channel privacy is properly viewed as an attempt to dodge the civic duty of all Americans to submit to US surveillance. Now that we know what we know about Putin, nobody should be free of surveillance: not the president or his advisers or his cabinet; and surely not members of Congress, either. And federal or state judges, and ordinary citizens – why not? The age of detesting Trump is the age of reliance on the deep state and trust in the ‘intelligence community’. If they can’t save us, who will? They need all the powers they have been given if they are to achieve what they must.

-- snip --

The unhappy pattern [of failing to differentiate between news that is true and rumor that you wish were true] anyway is starting to be noticed. The Times published a sharp letter to the editor a few days later that noticed how the paper had now crossed the line separating news analysis from invective ... This has happened across the board, in the culture of the Trump presidency: you see it in the newspapers, the magazines and in television. Mainstream media are speaking almost in unison; they are out of control with a consistency that shows they have forgotten what control feels like ... PEN announced that its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award, which went to Charlie Hebdo in 2015, would be given in 2017 to the two million persons who participated in the women’s march against Trump.

-- snip --

Trump won election to the highest office in the US government by heaping contempt on government. In this, he confirmed and strengthened a tendency of the party he ran with, going back as far as the Reagan administration. The Democrats by contrast remain the party of what-government-can-do-for-you; and a substantial mass of their rank and file denies his legitimacy. He stole the election, they say; it was handed to him by Comey, or by Putin, or by an electoral college whose numbers have no right to cancel the votes of a majority of three million people. The trick, Democrats feel, is somehow to delegitimate Trump and the government he leads (it isn’t a real government) and then move in to take his place, but with a government that has somehow been relegitimated.

-- snip --

The best recourse of sanity to those who would rather defeat Trump than disgust his supporters may be simply to recall that he has at his back the massed weight and momentum of the Republican Party. It doesn’t much matter who is making use of whom: they are not about to part company, while the Democrats have to defend the shrinking redoubt of just 18 of 50 statehouses and a respectable but thoroughly confused minority in Congress. It is Republicans today who see themselves as makers of a revolution.

-- snip --

Nothing now would better serve the maturity and the invigoration of the Democrats than to give up any hope of sound advice or renewal from Bill or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. They were pleasant to think about, but their politics have turned out wrong, and there’s nothing they can do for us now. ... You may curse Putin and Comey and misogyny and Wisconsin, but Trump is marching through the departments and agencies with budget cuts and policy changes that will be felt for years to come. Trump is the name of a cause and not just a person, and you can only fight him with another cause. The name of it might be climate change.

London Review of Books, you had me right up to "climate change."

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

GSA Pulls the Plug on New FBI Headquarters

When GSA announced it was ending the decade-long search for a new FBI headquarters I noticed the WaPo's commenters assumed that Donald Trump must have ordered it as some sort of personal retaliation against the FBI. In reality, it was the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the GSA’s Inspector General who drove the decision, and the writing has been on the wall since late May.

It's all explained in a construction journal (here) which, back in December 2016, reported on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's decision to cap the FBI's project funding, as well as impose a maximum size on the new HQ building and set a deadline of two years for GSA to close the deal, among other conditions. Furthermore, the journal linked to the March, 2017, GSA Inspector General's critical report on the planning and funding of so-called exchange projects, in which the Fed swaps property it already owns to compensate private developers for new projects. The new FBI HQ project is such an exchange, and the GSA's IG now takes a dim view of them.

The GSA announced in March that it was delaying site selection for the new building until it received a firm financing commitment from Congress, and no such commitment has come. The decision to cut its losses and cancel the project was pretty much inevitable.

Not that the FBI doesn't need a new headquarters. It does. The current HQ is a complete disaster on aesthetics and architectural merit, security, practicality, space needs, maintenance and repair costs, and all other grounds. Because half the building's space is unusable, FBI offices are scattered around the city in leased properties, which is expensive and makes for a dysfunctional program. They'll build a new place someday, but it will have to be in accordance with the conditions that Congress lays down.

More Bollards Are Coming to Your Town

The truck ramming attack in Nice last year killed 87 and injured 484

Vehicle ramming attacks directed at pedestrians have become the deadliest form of terrorism in the West, accounting for just over half of all deaths in terrorist attacks.

And that, naturally, means that cities in the U.S. will see increased use of passive anti-ram barriers - bollards - around high-traffic pedestrians avenues and large venues. The WaPo reported this the other day, vehicles as weapons of terror: U.S. cities on alert as attacks hit the West:
As terrorists overseas increasingly turn to vehicles as weapons, cities across the United States, concerned such attacks could happen here, are ramping up security in public spaces to protect areas with heavy pedestrian traffic.

-- snip --

Transportation planners are exploring innovative ways to use landscaping to create buffers between roadways and sidewalks. Security companies say they are being consulted on how to protect main streets.

“Big cities are realizing that they could have a mass casualty event on all four sides of an intersection at any time,” [said Rob Reiter, a pedestrian safety expert and chief security consultant at Calpipe Security Bollards, one of the nation’s top bollard manufacturers].

-- snip --

U.S. law enforcement officials say the threat of such attacks is real. In an advisory issued in May, the Transportation Security Administration alerted the nation’s trucking companies about the rising risk of rental trucks and hijackings and thefts for purposes of such an attack. The agency urged vigilance as terrorist groups continue to employ the less sophisticated tactics, which can be carried out with minimal planning and training, but have potential to inflict mass casualties.

-- snip --

The latest threat has cities in Europe, Australia and North America making new investments, from barriers along a number of bridges across the River Thames in London to retractable bollards in the tourist area of Surfers Paradise in eastern Australia. Vehicle barriers along roads around the All England club were among the enhanced security measures surrounding Wimbledon this week.

-- snip --

In Washington, which is filled with high-profile targets as the nation’s capital, law enforcement officials would not discuss specific tactics, but they acknowledged that they are pursuing various means to protect pedestrians, including the installation of more bollards on city streets. “We are always trying to stay a step ahead of these terrorists,” said Jeffery Carroll, the assistant D.C. police chief

I noticed that many WaPo commenters recommended banning vehicles from city centers, but that simple solution isn’t practical. Office buildings, residences, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues need supplies delivered and trash removed. Pedestrian-only places still need emergency vehicles, public transit, handicapped transport, etc. We cannot completely separate vehicles from our urban centers.

However, there is another measure we could take, and I'm surprised the WaPo didn't mention it since it has already mitigated the damage from one ramming attack. Automatic emergency braking, or collision avoidance systems.

In March 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced that the manufacturers of 99% of U.S. automobiles had agreed to include automatic emergency braking systems as a standard feature on virtually all new cars sold in the U.S. by 2022. Europe already deploys them for some commercial trucks, and they became mandatory for new heavy vehicles in 2015.

Beyond the routine traffic safety benefits you'd expect from such systems, there is evidence that the emergency braking system on a hijacked commercial truck prevented greater damage during the 2016 Berlin Christmas market ramming attack.

Bollards and automatic brakes. They are coming soon to a city near you and to your next car.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Transfer Visa Functions to DHS? Who's Listening to Whom?

When you talk to the hand, does the hand listen?

Shall the Trump Administration transfer all passport and visa functions from State's Bureau of Consular Affairs to the Department of Homeland Security? According to Reuters, the Listening Survey Report that will form the basis for a reorganization of the State Department recommends doing so. "There may be an opportunity to elevate efficiency and reduce cost by this change … Indications are that doing so would elevate security at our borders" it said.

Oh? Who indicated that? The report doesn’t say. Possibly no one did, at least no one among the 35,000 State employees who responded to the survey. But then, the only voice worth listening to may have belonged to Carl C. Risch, the current Acting Chief of Staff in the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (DHS), who will be nominated to be the next Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs.

See Diplopundit's posts on this matter here, here, and here.

No matter who listened to whom, there is a long history of legislation and policy on the question of whether passport and visa functions would be better served if retained with State or transferred to DHS, and so far the decision has been to keep them with State.

The post-9/11 Congressional debate on visa policy and the roles of State and DHS resulted in a 2003 memorandum of understanding between the two agencies. See this Congressional Research Service report from 2004, which was updated in 2011, for the details.

Quoting from both reports, the pros and cons of moving visa functions to DHS were, briefly, these.
Proponents of DOS playing the lead role in visa issuances assert that only consular officers in the field have the country-specific knowledge to make decisions about whether an alien is admissible and that staffing approximately 250 diplomatic and consular posts around the world would stretch DHS beyond its capacity.

Those who supported retained immigrant adjudications and services in DOJ and visa issuances in DOS point to the specializations that each department brings to the functions. They asserted that the "dual check" system in which both INS and Consular Affairs make their own determinations on whether an alien ultimately enters the United States provides greater security.

Others opposing the transfer of INS adjudications and Consular Affairs visa issuances to DHS maintained that DHS would be less likely to balance the more generous elements of immigration law (e.g., the reunification of families, the admission of immigrants with needed skills, the protection of refugees, opportunities for cultural exchange, the facilitation of trade, commerce, and diplomacy) with the more restrictive elements of the law (e.g., protection of public health and welfare, national security, public safety, and labor markets).

They also pointed out that under current law, consular decisions are not appealable and warned that transferring this adjudication to homeland security might make it subject to judicial appeals or other due process considerations.

Voices in support of moving Consular Affairs's visa issuance responsibilities to the proposed DHS asserted that consular officers emphasize the promotion of tourism, commerce, and cultural exchange and are lax in screening foreign nationals who want to come the United States.

Some argue that visa issuance is the real “front line” of homeland security against terrorists and that the principal responsibility should be in DHS, which does not have competing priorities of diplomatic relations and reciprocity with foreign governments.

I count more cons than pros. So it's settled then, the functions remain with State, right?

Not so fast. There is still the important matter of political perception. How does the Trump Administration perceive State versus DHS as the implementer of its visa policy?

Writing in National Review a month ago, Jonathon Tobin, the online editor for Commentary, pointed out why the Administration might not trust State as much as DHS:
In January, 1,000 State Department staffers signed a cable protesting Trump’s original travel-ban order. But, unfortunately, the problems in the Foreign Service go beyond such flamboyant, and clearly inappropriate, gestures. As the New York Times reported this week, tension between the White House and senior levels of the diplomatic corps is rising. If true, this is troubling because if senior personnel — people who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations and who should be setting an example of apolitical behavior — are ready to step outside their lane and demonstrate their opposition to the government of the day, that raises the possibility that the president can no longer count on the loyalty of the Foreign Service.


[W]hen diplomats start acting like free agents rather than like the voice of those who were elected to set foreign policy, the notion of a conflict between career civil servants and those chosen to run the government stops being a paranoid fantasy ... setting policy is still the purview of the president, not the civil service.

That highly publicized dissent channel cable on the travel ban, and the more innocuous resistance stuff, may be nothing more than the actions of people shell shocked by election night, but they nevertheless create an impression. DHS, meanwhile, is showing itself to be very highly motivated to carry out the White House's policies on immigration and aliens. If you were in the White House, which agency would you trust with a critical part of your agenda?

This is far from a done deal, no matter what the Listening Survey reports or what State's reorganization contractor reads in its word clouds. To transfer those functions to DHS the Administration would have to overcome significant bureaucratic and financial barriers, plus, it would just be a bad idea for all the same reasons that Congress already found in the years after 9/11. But that doesn't mean it won't happen all the same. Should State ends up losing those functions, it will be a self-inflicted wound.

The Contractor: So Quick to Shoot, So Slow to Get Away

“If you’re going to send a Jason Bourne character to Pakistan, he should have the skills of a Jason Bourne to get away,” Pakistan's Ambassador Haqqani told CIA Director Leon Panetta, according to the New York Times. Touché, Ambassador Haqqani. You put your finger on the first and biggest problem with the Raymond Davis incident: it wouldn't have happened at all if Davis had simply shot the two Lahore street thugs who had pointed pistols at him, and then driven off. But he didn't. He hung around the scene until a crowd formed and he couldn't drive away, and then he surrendered himself to Lahore police officers. He stayed in prison while the CIA, it's Pakistani counterpart, and our respective Ambassadors eventually cut a deal for his release.

In his book, Davis boasts about how quickly he can draw a pistol and hit a target, only 1.1 seconds on average. So the shooting part didn't take much time, but, then he spent the next seven weeks in prison while his fate was decided by others. Davis doesn't seem the reflective type, but should he reflect on it, he would probably agree with me that he ought to have done a little more training on putting a car into reverse and departing at high speed. 

The NYT's video embedded above of an interview with Davis is short - just six minutes - and superficial. Back in 2014, the NYT had a very good article about the Davis incident and how it was finally resolved after doing a great deal of damage to U.S.-Pakistani relations: How a Single Spy Helped Turn Pakistan Against the United States. I'd read that for context before reading Davis' own, more limited, account.

The damage Davis caused to our relations with a necessary ally isn't over yet, by the way, since Davis' book is currently feeding Pakistan's appetite for conspiracy theories. Did you know his book was secretly cooked up by India's intelligence agency as a means to slander Pakistan's Army and democratic institutions? Yeah, it's true, according to today's Pakistani press, to take just one random example of Pakistani media reaction.

On a personal level I have to feel sorry for Davis. He was a personal services contractor who by all accounts provided useful service for a long time in Pakistan, not just in Lahore but also in the far more dangerous city of Peshawar. I've heard it suggested that a career employee in his same situation would have had the good sense to get away after the shooting, because he'd know that his career would be over if he caused a public spectacle, whereas a short-term contractor like Davis didn't have the same long-term interest. That could be. Another part of the problem may be that Davis believed he was operating under wartime rules - during the interview he repeatedly refers to Lahore, or Pakistan, as "a war zone" - but of course, we are not at war with Pakistan. If Davis came to confuse discreet personal protection work in Pakistan with military service across the border in Afghanistan, then that was the fault of his employer and supervisors.

One last thought: why has everyone on the U.S. side of the incident forgotten the innocent victim, the third Pakistani killed that day, a bicyclist who was run over and killed by some of Davis's fellow contractors who were driving against traffic in an attempt to extract him from the scene of the shooting? Unlike the two armed criminals Davis shot, that guy was just a plain victim. Yet, the U.S. never even expressed regret for his death, so far as I recall. 

All in all, not a good showing by our side.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

Human toe stolen from cocktail returned to Yukon bar, with letter of apology - Alaska Dispatch News

The dehydrated human toe that disappeared over the weekend is used as a garnish in the famous drink. Its theft temporarily left the hotel with one usable digit.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wine and Cheese Designs on a Coffee and Doughnuts Budget

New York Times photo

Wine and cheese? My good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations would love to go to charettes like that again! But, these days, I doubt the contractors dish out anything so good.

What put me in mind of wine and cheese was listening to the morning session of today's House Foreign Affairs Committee budget hearing, in which Representative Darrell Issa, questioning SecState Tillerson, spoke up for the plain but functional standard embassy designs that OBO built in the past, and denounced the "New York wine & cheese liberals” advocating works of art whom he believes took over our embassy design planning during SecState Hillary Clinton's tenure.

Like that "glass palace" in London (see this) that costs too much and which we haven't even finished yet, for example. Let's go back to the "efficient design and build" practices of the past, Issa said.

Tillerson really didn't speak to the design issue, but he did assure Issa that the Administration's 2018 budget plan will maintain OBO's current new construction program for another year, although we'll run into "planning difficulties” in 2019.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

Two South Carolina men charged for forcing alligator to drink beer -

According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources report, "the incident took place on Wednesday, May 24, on a public dirt road between Hardeeville and Tillman in Jasper County. Joseph Andrew Floyd Jr., 20, of Ridgeland, and Zachary Lloyd Brown, 21, of Ridgeland, admitted to officers that they picked up the alligator after they saw it crossing the road. They then poured beer into the animal’s mouth and took photos to post on social media. According to Floyd Jr., they then released the alligator and watched it swim away in a nearby pond."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

2018 Budget Request Released; OBO Walks Away Unharmed

The 2018 State Department's 2018 budget justification was released yesterday, and with it a press conference was conducted. There you go, news media! Don't say Silent Rex doesn't ever think about you.

Here's how the request impacts my good friends in the Office of Overseas Buildings Operations.

The 2018 budget request basically cuts the funding for Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance, and the much smaller Compound Security Upgrade program, in half. The ESCM request is for $1,142,200, which is $1,731,156 less than last year. Nevertheless, it provides sufficient funding for seven new capital construction projects in some of the dodgiest places on earth. You can see the project list on page 162.

The Compound Security Program goes down to $50,000,000, which is $50.8 million less than last year. That program "funds comprehensive security upgrade projects, major forced entry/ballistic resistant (FE/BR) door and window replacement projects, chemical/biological retrofit projects, and security upgrades for soft targets," it says on page 163.

Here's the Q and A on security funding from the press conference.
QUESTION: Hey. Thanks for doing this. Two quick questions. Senator Lindsey Graham, who is in charge of the appropriations for State, said, quote, “You have a lot of Benghazis in the making if this thing becomes law.” Can you sort of clarify what the funding will be like for Diplomatic Security around the world, for embassy security, and respond to that charge?

MR PITKIN: Sure. This is Doug Pitkin. I’ll start with the security question ... The administration has appreciated the strong Congressional support for the department security programs over the past several years. They also note with appreciation that they fully funded – in addition to the supplemental, they fully funded the previous standing requests for both our embassy security programs and Diplomatic Security for FY17.

However, in looking at FY18, I think we have to recognize that there are significant funds in the pipeline, partly because of the supplemental that was provided in December. Also, for example, OBO, the Office of Overseas Building Operations, has some 53 projects in the planning process and under construction. And so what we’re proposing in FY18 is – essentially is to use some of our current-year money to buy down or apply towards our construction program in FY18. This shows up as a cut or a reduction in the strict budget line as we’ve presented it, but we will still be able to support $2.2 billion in FY18 embassy construction and security upgrades for those posts in the greatest need of such upgrades. And so this, essentially, reflects the fact that we’re taking a slight reduction in capital investments because we have a lot of funding that we – has been previously appropriated.

So that looks like the 2018 request, plus the "significant funds in the pipeline" from current year funding and supplemental appropriations, will equal last year's funding level for new construction and security upgrades. If that budget makes it through Congress, OBO will get away unscathed, at least for next year. 

Political Violence Against Americans in 2016

Yesterday, the same day the Department released its budget justification for next year, it also released the annual report on Political Violence Against Americans in 2016.
To advance American interests and U.S. foreign policy, Diplomatic Security (DS) protects people, property, and information at more than 280 State Department posts worldwide. As a leader in international investigations, threat analysis, cyber security, counterterrorism, dignitary protection, and security technology, DS is the most widely represented U.S. security and law enforcement organization in the world.

Political Violence Against Americans is produced by the Bureau’s Directorate of Threat Investigations and Analysis. Created in May 2008, the Directorate of Threat Investigations and Analysis strives to improve DS's ability to detect and counter threats, and to upgrade the Bureau’s capacity to rapidly disseminate threat and security information to U.S. embassies, consulates, and the private sector.


Since its inception in 1987, the goal of Political Violence Against Americans has been to provide the reader with an awareness of the hazards facing U.S. interests abroad by chronicling incidents of terrorism and political violence impacting U.S. citizens and facilities overseas. This publication is not an all-inclusive compendium of acts targeting U.S. interests, but rather a sampling of events involving private Americans and U.S. Government personnel (including locally hired foreign nationals serving at U.S. diplomatic missions), as well as U.S. diplomatic and private sector installations. Whenever possible, the goals and ideologies of those responsible have been included; however, in some cases, incidents have been included despite a lack of clarity as to the motive or direct target, due to the clear intent to cause harm. In addition, some incidents may have been omitted due to their sensitive nature, as have the names of American citizens for privacy purposes.

Read the whole report here. And, the report's Conclusion:
Historically, overseas environments have presented potential hazards to citizens and diplomats of the United States. As our nation’s diplomatic presence and its commercial tourist trade broadened considerably throughout the twentieth century, potential dangers and vulnerabilities increased as well. Over the past quarter-century in particular, the rise of international terrorism and criminal activity has contributed to a worldwide increase in incidents of violence against individuals, organizations, and facilities of the United States. In some cases, U.S. citizens have been victimized randomly; in other cases, assaults appear to have been intentional.

Political Violence Against Americans serves as a reminder that vigilance, preparation, and sensible discretion are valuable safeguards. Reasonable precautions can significantly minimize opportunities for those who would do harm to the people of the United States and its interests.

Throwback Thursday (1991, When DS Just Scraped By)

Gorby closes his speech notes, and resigns

It was a Wednesday, actually, but close enough. On December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as the last leader of the Soviet Union, and the Red Flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time.

With the end of the Cold War, the U.S. government stood down a lot of its national security programs. That didn't last long, and the post-Cold War euphoria is hard to even remember now, but while it lasted serious people questioned how much we needed to protect any of our national assets. The great national security threat we had been countering ever since the Truman Administration - assuming it ever really existed - surely existed no longer, as the thinking went. It was even supposed that terrorism would mostly end now that the Soviet Union would not be around to support groups like the Red Brigades and PLO.

Like I said, it didn't last long, but while it did, the USG cut funding.

See the excellent in-house history of Diplomatic Security for how its programs were affected after 1991.
The urgency to improve security after the Beirut attacks had faded, and for fiscal year (FY) 1988, the Reagan Administration requested $303 million for DS, well below the $458 million anticipated by the Bureau. Assistant Secretary Lamb admitted, “Each post is going to see cutbacks in every [security] program.” The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) set a ceiling of $303 million for DS’s budget in FYs 1989 and 1990 as well. In FY 1990, the total funds available to DS were only $180 million, and DS leaders questioned whether they could fulfill the security responsibilities authorized by Congress … The budget cuts, in part, reflected the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991.

Unlike today, there was no OCO funding back then to eke out the DS budget, but there was its predecessor, the Gulf War supplemental.
Meanwhile, tensions increased between the United States and Iraq during 1990 and 1991 when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded the neighboring nation of Kuwait, and DS experienced the odd situation of facing increased demands for its services, notwithstanding cuts in its budget … The Department estimated that it incurred an additional $22 million in expenses for increased diplomatic security and another $11 million in evacuation costs as a result of the [1991] Gulf War. Ironically, Congress agreed to large security supplemental appropriations for Operation Desert Storm while debating a reduction of budget appropriation for DS … The [appropriation] supplementals for the 1991 Gulf War did not arrest the trend of budget cuts and staff reductions faced by DS. DS shifted its goals and philosophy from total risk avoidance, as promoted in the mid-1980s, to reducing risk “to an acceptable level” where possible, i.e. risk management. This shift in approach, DS hoped, would allow it to direct its increasingly limited resources toward its most urgent security needs. DS, together with the Overseas Security Policy Group, undertook a wholesale review of existing overseas security standards.

Security standards are politically sacrosanct things, at least until enough time has passed since the last embassy attack and Congress’ interest dwindles, along with its willingness to appropriate funds.
By the spring of 1991, the budget cuts began affecting DS operations. Lamb’s successor, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Sheldon Krys noted that staffing shortages had forced him to employ front office personnel on protective details. Overseas support positions were not filled, and technical security countermeasures work fell behind. In March 1992, Under Secretary of State for Management John W. Rogers informed the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and State that the Department faced a conflict between security measures demanded by its revised security standards and the Department’s ability to pay for implementing those standards.

And so the unavoidable happened, and security programs were reduced to match the resources allocated for them. That situation continued until 1998 and the next round of embassy attacks.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Jason Chaffetz Folds Up His Cot and Goes Home

Jason Chaffetz, the esteemed Representative from Utah's 3rd Congressional District, announced yesterday that he will resign from Congress on June 30, which sets up a special election for someone to serve out the remainder of his term.

He says he's leaving Washington because he's tired of sleeping on a cot in his office, and can no longer endure the burden of being away from his wife and kids.
My life has undergone some big changes over the last 18 months. Those changes have been good. But as I celebrated my 50th birthday in March, the reality of spending more than 1,500 nights away from my family over eight years hit me harder than it had before.

Julie and I have been married for over 26 years. We have three wonderful children. Two of our children got married over the past 18 months – each having found an amazing spouse. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Our oldest son recently graduated from the University of Utah and his wife from BYU. In August, they will move out of state for law school. Our daughter, who attended UVU, married a great young man who found a terrific job two time zones away. Our youngest daughter remains at home attending high school, but soon she, too, will spread her wings and set off on her life’s path. Julie and I are facing the reality of being empty nesters. All of us, it appears, are ready to begin a new chapter.

I’ve slept on a cot in my office largely to save money for the Chaffetz family, but also to remind myself that my service there was temporary. Though the time away and the travel have been a sacrifice, our family has always been united that public service was the right thing to do. We feel my time in congress has been well spent, but it now seems the right time to turn the page.

Okay. But I'm a little confused. Is this "I'm resigning to spend more time with my family," or a mid-life crisis, or something more opportunistic?

He spent 1,5000 nights away from the kids when they were young(er), but now that they're moving out of the house he finds the separation all too much to endure any longer?

Why resign now? He ran for reelection just six months ago. Did that cot get a lot more uncomfortable all of a sudden?

Why force a special election to fill his vacant seat? He could have announced his plans to retire and then finished his term, allowing his constituents a normal election cycle. Resigning out of the blue also leaves his Oversight Committee in the lurch, since he just called for a new round of high-profile investigations and now they'll need to fill his chairmanship in a big hurry.

I'm always happy to see an entrenched Congressman go away. But I don't think Jason will be going far, or away for very long.

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"Yemenis compete for AK-47 in al Qaeda quiz" - Reuters

"Name three articles of the (Yemeni) constitution which contradict Islamic Law," read one on a sheet seen by Reuters ... "Any person who follows a law other than Islamic law is an infidel who must be killed. List three (scriptural) references for this," asked another. The first prize was a Chinese-made AK-47, the second a motorcycle and the third a laptop. Others included a pistol and cash prizes of 20,000 rials ($80).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Times Square Vehicle Ramming Incident Stopped by Security Streetscaping

That motorist who drove into crowds of pedestrians in New York City today was stopped when he tried to drive onto a sidewalk and struck a row of bollards. See the photo above.

Kudos to New York City's Police and Mayor, because those bollards were placed in Times Square precisely to mitigate the type of vehicle ramming attack that occurred there today. In fact, they were completed just a few months ago. The city has obviously taken seriously the vehicle ramming attacks that we've seen in the past two years in France and Germany, not to mention Israel.
Calpipe Security Bollards (CSB), a division of Calpipe Industries, Inc. was contacted by The City of New York to design and manufacture a number of crash-engineered stainless steel bollards to be installed throughout Times Square, the most pedestrian heavy region in the world.

CSB’s team of design specialists developed a removable bollard system to accommodate the stringent specifications required by more than a dozen local, state, and national agencies. This installation is part of an ongoing project carried out by New York City in an effort to reduce pedestrian injuries and prevent unintentional and/or terrorist vehicle incursions. The scheduled completion date is November 1, 2016.

That's the way to be proactive, New York! And for you other cities, you're going to see bollards, too, I tell you.

Throwback Thursday: U.S. Diplomacy's Presence Shrinking (in 1996)

Does anyone remember that guy standing next to Bill Clinton? He was a little hard to notice even when he was SecState, I'll admit, but that was Warren Christopher.

Nothing really changes here in the Seat of Government. Things come in cycles, the names and faces differ from one cycle to the next - sometimes, not always - but the basics stay the same. Just change the names and this WaPo piece from 1996 sounds like today's news.

U.S. Diplomacy's Presence Shrinking:
Country by country, post by post and mission by mission, the number of U.S. diplomats stationed abroad to track political affairs, police trade agreements and help American travelers is shrinking fast.

Relentless budget pressure that began in the mid-1980s accelerated with the Clinton administration's deficit-reduction plan, forcing the closing of consulates, aid missions, libraries, cultural centers and even a few entire embassies, from Italy to Indonesia, from Antigua to Thailand.

Since 1993 the State Department has cut more than 2,000 employees and shuttered consulates in 26 foreign cities. The Agency for International Development (AID), which runs foreign aid programs, has been hit especially hard by the Republican-controlled Congress and has closed 23 missions overseas.

-- snip --

In the short run, the cutbacks appear likely to have little direct impact on most Americans. Travelers who get sick or lose their passports may have to travel farther or wait longer to get help. Business executives may find fewer Foreign Service officers available to help them make contacts or cut red tape.

-- snip --

There is another side to the debate, however. Critics of the retrenchment say that over time it is bound to have a strongly negative impact on this country's ability to protect its citizens, promote U.S. interests and influence events.

Those observers include foreign policy specialists, experienced diplomats, secretaries of state from both parties and a wide variety of public interest, human rights and volunteer organizations. They fear that an erosion of Foreign Service training and field experience, combined with the loss of listening posts and a cutback in cultural exchanges, inevitably will diminish the contacts, experience and savvy that underlie successful diplomacy.

-- snip --

Christopher and his best-known predecessor, Henry A. Kissinger, have repeatedly sounded the alarm about what they see as a dangerous erosion of this country's ability to influence events abroad without sending troops.

"Our overseas representatives {are} already working under the most severe budgetary conditions ever," Kissinger said recently. "Further cuts would necessitate closing many overseas posts, with the result that there would be less complete political and economic reporting on foreign conditions, less effective representation and advocacy of U.S. interests in foreign countries and less adequate services to U.S. citizens traveling abroad."

-- snip --

The total budget for civilian international programs, the so-called 150 account, started to decline in the mid-1980s. It leveled off during the Bush administration, then resumed a downward slide in President Clinton's first year.

The 150 account includes the State Department, AID, the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the U.S. share of United Nations operations. In actual dollars, it dropped from $25.2 billion in 1984 to $18.4 billion this year, a 27 percent decline. After adjusting for inflation, the decline was 51 percent -- and that does not take into account additional erosion caused by the decline of the dollar against many foreign currencies.

-- snip --

At AID, the overall work force has been reduced from 11,500 to 8,700 and is heading down to 8,000. The number of full "sustainable development missions" -- on-site teams promoting long-term diversified economic development -- will decline from 70 at the start of the administration to 30.

-- snip --

The State Department is promoting the concept of "diplomatic readiness," similar to military readiness, in hopes of persuading Congress to divert some money from the defense budget into diplomacy and foreign aid -- activities that, in the diplomats' view, save money over time by reducing the need for military actions.

But there appears to be little realistic prospect that Congress will halt the downward trend in foreign affairs spending. Some key Republicans such as Sen. Phil Gramm (Tex.) are openly hostile to the Foreign Service, whose activities Gramm derided as "building marble palaces and renting long coats and high hats."

Even members more sympathetic to international engagement have said the most they can hope for is to avoid further sharp cuts. Some were upset last year when they offered to find an additional $1 billion for the 150 account, only to have the administration rebuff the offer because the White House refused to identify an offsetting amount to be cut from domestic programs.

-- snip --

However, the proliferation of tiny countries in recent years already has forced the State Department to abandon that principle [of universal presence]. The embassy in Seychelles is closing this year; that country and the Comoros, where the embassy closed in 1993, will be served out of Mauritius. Jeanette W. Hyde, the U.S. ambassador in Barbados, is also the ambassador to Grenada, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis. In most of those tiny Caribbean states, there is no U.S. diplomatic staff at any level. The same is true in the Solomon Islands and Equatorial Guinea.

-- snip --

The administration is seeking $5.45 billion for the State Department's 1997 share of the 150 account, about $170 million less than it sought last year. Christopher told a House Appropriations subcommittee that the amount is "the bare minimum we need to protect our nation's interests while balancing the federal budget in six years."

If Congress gives State what it is asking for, officials said, six posts on the "hit list" for 1997 will be spared: the embassy in Apia, Western Samoa; and the consulates in Florence [Italy]; Edinburgh, Scotland; Curacao [Netherlands Antilles]; and Matamoros and Hermosillo, Mexico. If Congress cuts deeper, those posts and probably more will have to go, Christopher said.

Say, did that federal budget ever get balanced? Probably not.

In 1996 our diplomatic presence stood at 238 embassies and consulates “plus a dozen or so special missions.” How does that compare to our diplomatic presence today?

Today it’s 259 embassies and consulates in 197 countries: 170 Embassies, 78 Consulates General, 11 Consulates, plus 5 Branch Offices and 11 other missions to multi-national organizations, for a total of 275 missions of all kinds.