Friday, April 21, 2017

Jason For What in 2028?

Jason pops smoke and leaves the AO

I cannot help but see our esteemed Representative from Utah's 3rd Congressional District, Jason Chaffetz, as other than a Walter Mitty would-be tough guy, which is why I like to depict him as an action figure. Something small and harmless, but big in little-boy macho fantasies.

He posted this long goodbye to his political career on his FB page two days ago:
After long consultation with my family and prayerful consideration, I have decided I will not be a candidate for any office in 2018.

Since late 2003 I have been fully engaged with politics as a campaign manager, a chief of staff, a candidate and as a Member of Congress. I have long advocated public service should be for a limited time and not a lifetime or full career. Many of you have heard me advocate, “Get in, serve, and get out.” After more than 1,500 nights away from my home, it is time. I may run again for public office, but not in 2018.

For those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives. I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins. I have the full support of Speaker Ryan to continue as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That said, I have made a personal decision to return to the private sector.

What did he ever do in the private sector before he ran for Congress? He was a marketing guy for a Utah-based pyramid scheme called Nu Skin International, which is his biggest campaign contributor, and then he unsuccessfully applied for a job with the U.S. Secret Service. It's not like he has a private sector career to go back to.

It's hard to believe that such a major self-promoter as Rep. Chaffetz would ever leave politics. Some don't believe it, and point out that Chaffetz's campaign committee registered the domains and just a couple weeks ago.

The answer must lie in the world of Utahn politics, where Senator Hatch really is retiring, and the manuvering to replace him is in high gear. Jason no doubt has something in mind for his future, and I don't think it's hawking that get-rich-quick scheme again.


Six Flags Over Mecca?

There's a new vacation destination coming soon, maybe, that will be about the same size as Las Vegas (129 sq miles) and will offer sporting and entertainment activities, including a Six Flags amusement park.

Sounds good. The only thing is, this desert hot spot will be in Saudi Arabia, so don't expect to find yard-long margaritas.

According to Reuters:
U.S.-based Six Flags announced in June that it had begun talks with the Saudi government to build theme parks as part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 efforts to expand its entertainment sector and diversify the economy.

Chief Executive Jim Reid-Anderson said later in the year that the company aimed to build three parks in Saudi Arabia, with each costing between $300 million and $500 million.
There were more details at Arab News, New Saudi initiative for giant entertainment and sports city welcomed:
“The mega city will also draw millions of visitors annually besides providing ... billions of dollars in commercial opportunities,” said Al-Qayid optimistically. This new sports and entertainment city, in fact, will have four geographical segments — an entertainment area, a car sports area, a general sports area and a housing and hospitality area.

Asked about his views on the plan to establish the giant entertainment city, Ghaffar Ahmed, a Pakistani actor, who co-starred in the famous “Ja Jawazat” song, said that “the mega entertainment complex will change the cultural landscape of the Kingdom.” “The city is definitely going to be one of the biggest development projects around,” added Ahmed, who is working on a few documentary projects at the moment.

Aside from gaming, culture and arts facilities, the project also involves developing residential units, world famous restaurants as well as international hotel brands. The city will be developed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is headed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed. The project comes to support the Saudi Vision 2030 by creating opportunities in different sectors for investments. The foundation stone of the project will be laid in 2018, while its first stage will be opened in 2022.

I hate to sound like a buzz-kill, but really, so many things can go wrong with this idea.

Russian FM Lavrov: "I don’t remember any case of a dictator being removed smoothly, without violence"

Is there any example of a dictator being removed without violence, and/or an example of regime change that didn't make things worse, at least in the near-term? There are none that I can think of, anyway.
“Death is the solution to all problems — no man, no problem." The quote is actually from Anatoly Rybakov, the dissident Russian writer, and not Josef Stalin. But I thought of that quote while trying to answer the question Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov tossed back to the press at his press availability with SecState Tillerson earlier this week.

Josh Lederman, Associated Press, asked the two how they plan to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. Lavrov was having none of it.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) As far as Syria is concerned and Bashar al-Assad, we talked today about the history, and Rex said that he was a new man and is not interested so much in history; he wants to deal with today’s problems. But the world is so constructed that unless we look at what’s happened in the past, we won’t be able to deal with the present. Particularly in a situation where a group of countries – Western countries, the NATO countries – were absolutely obsessed with eliminated – eliminating a particular dictator or totalitarian leader.

When it was a question of ousting Slobodan Milosevic, NATO unfurled a huge campaign. It was a very coarse, blatant violation of international law. They even bombed the place, which is certainly a war crime whichever way you interpret the Geneva Convention, and they bombed the headquarters. And there were also attacks on trains, the Chinese embassy, bridges, and so on and so forth. This lasted some two months, and after all this, which was very near to dual purpose – weapons of dual purpose, then they ousted him.

Then there was the question of Saddam Hussein. We know after the invasion – we know what it was based on, and then Tony Blair afterwards repented publicly that all this was a fake. And you all know about that, know worse than we do.

And then there was Qaddafi. It was declared that this dictator had no place in his own country and this was against democracy. We know what happened in Libya. The Libyan Government is now under a huge question mark. We spoke about this, or President Putin did speak about it yesterday with the Italian president, and we are both trying to stop the situation of the country slipping into full illegal immigration, gun running, and so on.

So, incidentally speaking, we have some quite recent – even more recent examples. Sudan – President Bashir was declared to be under prosecution by the International Court of Justice, and President Obama decided that in order to settle this problem, you had to divide the country up into two. And the southern part very actively asked for our assistance in dealing with President Bashir, that the Americans want to see – (inaudible) that he should be the head of the – both states. He kept his word. He divided the country into two parts according to the American project of the administration of President Obama, and with that – with the effect that sanctions were introduced against their own child, on Southern Sudan.

So this insistence on removing or ousting a dictator or totalitarian leader – we have already been through it. We very well know, only too well, what happens when you do that. I don’t remember any case of a dictator being removed smoothly, without violence. So in Syria – and I have stressed this on many times – we are not staking everything on a personality, on President Assad, as is being done in Libya at the moment. We are simply insisting that everybody sits around a table and talks about it and comes to agreement. As has been enshrined in the Security Council resolution, we want to install dialogue with all the players concerned, and we want the Syrians themselves, without any kind of exclusion, to be represented in this process.

That was a darn good press conference, I think. I'm not sure I like the new Loquacious Rex as much as I did the old Silent Rex Tillerson, but he still kept his remarks brief and to the point. So far, so good.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Rex Drops Another Mic, and Syrians Get On the Trump Train

Silent Rex spoke yesterday in his remarks with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster on the Syrian airfield strike, and - unlike with most official yada-yada - he actually had something to say.

He and NSA McMaster obviously don't need any help dealing with the press, but if they should ever want to bring in a guest spokesman, I suggest they get that CNN interviewee in the clip above. He hit all their points about chemical weapons, the value of retaliatory strikes, settling the Syrian civil war, safe zones and refugees, and did it in only three minutes. Plus, he made CNN sad.

I thought "Mic Drop" Tillerson gave a really impressive performance. He spoke in complete sentences (a rarity for American politicians, and something I always admire with their British counterparts), said no more than needed, and then he got out. Most of, he - got - out. So many of our officials don't stop talking when they should. The entire remarks and press Q and A are at the link above, but the key words were: normalizing the use of chemical weapons, proportional, coordinated very carefully with our international partners, deliberative process, and existential threat.

For a big bonus, "Mic Drop" gave this cogent statement of the administration's strategy for dealing with the mess in Syria. This is the first time I can recall hearing anything even close to a practical approach. None of that vaporous "international values" stuff, or "red line" hollow threats.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, if I could, obviously the diplomatic considerations here are of a magnitude that didn’t exist a number of years ago. When you went into this, unlike President Obama, who was dealing simply with Bashar al-Assad, you’re dealing with Russia, you’re dealing with the Kurds, you’re dealing with Turkey. Can you give us a little bit of the diplomatic calculation in undertaking this action?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, my expectation is that all of those parties, with the exception of Bashar al-Assad and perhaps Russia, I think are going to applaud this particular action or effort. Overall, the situation in Syria is one where our approach today and our policy today is first to defeat ISIS. By defeating ISIS, we remove one of the disruptive elements in Syria that exists today. That begins to clarify, for us, opposition forces and regime forces, and working with the coalition – as you know, there is a large coalition of international players and allies who are involved in the future resolution in Syria. So it’s to defeat ISIS; it’s to begin to stabilize areas of Syria, stabilize areas in the south of Syria, stabilize areas around Raqqa, through ceasefire agreements between the Syrian regime forces and opposition forces; stabilize those areas, begin to restore some normalcy to them, restore them to local governments – and there are local leaders who are ready to return, some who’ve left as refugees that are ready to return, to govern these areas; use local forces that will be part of the liberation effort to develop the local security forces – law enforcement, police force; and then use other forces to create outer perimeters of security so that areas like Raqqa, areas in the south, can begin to provide a secure environment so refugees can begin to go home and begin the rebuilding process.

If all that ever gets done, he said, then we can move to the the Geneva Process and the future disposition of Assad.

Well done. Always leave them wanting more. And if the news media want to chew this subject over endlessly to fill their 24-hour news cycle, they can call that Syrian guy CNN interviewed. I think CNN is done with him.

P.S. I wonder what the Public Diplomacy people make out of the crazy gratitude some Arabs are showing President Trump?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Gimlet Eye

Whatever you do, don't look him in the eye

Official Washington continued its jeremiad against Silent Rex Tillerson this week, and added a couple new complaints to the list of lamentations. Tillerson, of course, maintained his quietude.

Here are a few quotes from the WaPo story, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spends his first weeks isolated from an anxious bureaucracy:
Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact … It has sown mistrust among career employees at State, who swap paranoid stories about Tillerson that often turn out to be untrue.

Untrue like, for instance, the WaPo's preceding debunked gossipy tidbit about the “some” who have been instructed to keep silent and avert their gaze from the man.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tillerson called him after the proposed cuts were announced. Engel said Tillerson seemed to share Engel’s concern that the cuts are “draconian” and counterproductive. But Engel said Tillerson seemed to signal his acquiescence when he called them “a glide path to what was about to happen.”

Silent Rex was right. Budget cuts in foreign affairs ARE about to happen. That is a consequence of the election. The SecState is not there to obstruct the administration’s plans – that’s Rep. Engel’s job. The SecState is there to take the Department down a glide path to budget cuts rather than make a sudden drop.

Rep. Engel continued:
“When you put it all together, it certainly seems they’re trying to downsize the State Department and make it irrelevant. I’m at a loss for words. Why would Tillerson take the job if he was not going to defend his agency?”

That’s an easy one. I repeat, he’s not there to fight the administration’s plans; he’s there to implement them. The simple fact is that State is on the losing end of a change in national policy and objectives. It happens. The last administration made the policy choice to downsize and make irrelevant the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service by, for instance, declining to enforce various immigration laws against unlawful aliens who had arrived as children, decreasing funding for immigration enforcement, and failing to deport some 900,000 aliens who had already received deportation orders. Administrations prioritize what they want. Now, on this turn of the wheel, DHS/CBP is on top and it’s foreign aid and some other unpopular international programs that will be downsized and made irrelevant. To quote our previous President, elections have consequences.
Current and recently departed State Department officials — all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid assessments of what one called the “benching” of the oldest Cabinet department — said Tillerson is paying a price.

“Benching” is a good word for it. Some agencies are back in the game, and others will sit this administration out.  

And lastly, this heartfelt one:
“We’re rooting for our secretary of state to come around, and trying to figure out a way to convince him we [the State Department staff] do work for administrations of both parties,” the official said.

I understand the sentiment, but, frankly, it’s too late. The perception of partisan bias has been there for decades, and not without reason. I think back to the rapturous crowds that came out for Hillary’s arrival and Obama’s first visit to HST. Obviously, there is bias. That’s okay by me, you understand, but just don’t think the other party doesn’t notice. In any case, I expect Tillerson came to the job with a firm fixed opinion of State that he'd already acquired during his years of dealing with Exxon’s overseas interests. Those current and recently departed State Department officials aren’t likely to change that impression in any way other than by simply carrying out the new administration's agenda without foot-dragging.

And, that might already be happening, with a consequent improvement in the administration's negative attitude. See today's New York Times story in which President Trump's chief strategist fairly gushes with praise for the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, who implemented the administration's Executive Order on travel restrictions without delay.

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

Now, THAT is deep concealment

Stolen gun falls from inmate's body cavity during search at north Alabama jail -

It's not yet clear whether the owner wants it back, but Limestone County authorities recovered a stolen gun when it fell from an inmate's body cavity during a search at the jail.

"I immediately considered that he defecated on himself before noticing a familiar shape in the form of a pistol in his boxers," a corrections officer said in a report.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

Idaho woman blames car crash on sasquatch - Moscow, Idaho (AP)

The woman told Benewah County Sheriff's officials that she saw a sasquatch chasing a deer on the side of the road while driving. She says she checked one of her mirrors to get a second look at the beast and when she looked up, the deer ran in front of her.

Photo: Associated Press

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Jimmy Breslin, RIP

Sad news. Jimmy Breslin, Columnist for Gritty New York, Dies at 88:
“Essentially he was a storyteller,” Richard and Phyllis Kluger wrote in “The Paper,” their 1986 book on the New York Herald Tribune, where Breslin began writing columns in 1963. “His technique was generally to approach a story from the standpoint of the least exalted person connected with it or from the most unexpected angle, the one no other reporter had thought of or knew how to do or had been granted the license to attempt.”

He was first of all columnist, but also wrote novels, and, later, long-form journalism and an autobiography, I'd Like to Thank My Brain For Remembering Me. His rolling-on-the-floor-funny first novel, The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, was a very needed corrective to the romanticization of organized crime in The Godfather, et alia.

His column about JFK's grave digger has been cited in many of the obits I've seen today, but I always liked the column he did about Churchill's death. Breslin went to London to cover the state funeral, but he found his material in - naturally - a pub, one in the East End called The Crooked Billet.
“Where?” she snapped. “Under the archway. Right down the street. It was a shelter, only it collapsed and I stood with my three and watched them pull my mother out dead and I was standin’ there with my ’usband away and my mother dead and then Churchill came and he told us all. ’E said for every one they dropped ’e’d drop three on them and we knew ’e meant it and ’e was goin’ to do what ’e said. And ’e done it. I’ll never forget that Sunday morning.”

Her hand came out in a fist and she shook it and her face flushed and she told you again, “’E said ’e’d give them three for every one they dropped and ’e done what ’e said, just like I knew ’e would.”

For the generation or two who haven't grown up with Breslin's columns, check out one of his books. You'll like it.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Silent Rex Speaks and Explains His Lack of a Traveling Press Pool

Henry Kissinger looking very excited next to Jill St. John

Did the practice of holding mid-air press briefings during SecState official visits begin with Henry Kissinger? I can't recall any earlier SecState being the kind of media star that Kissinger became, to his obvious great enjoyment. Or later Secretaries, either. Powell and Rice, for instance. I don't recall them having press retinues. Certainly they both valued their private lives, and kept them separate from their public lives. Kissinger, of course, went the other way, and made his public life the basis of his celebrated private life, at least for quite a few years back in the 70s.

Silent Rex is a return to the all-business model. In his one and only press interview during his current trip to East Asia he explained why he feels no need to bring a gaggle of reporters along. His reasons boil down to a rejection of Washington DC's invented tradition of mid-air press briefings, the presence of overseas press bureaus in his destination countries, and a preference for working rather than schmoozing with reporters while he travels. 

Transcript: Independent Journal Review's Sit-Down Interview with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson:
EM: Are you concerned about the message that you might be sending China by not taking a traveling press pool with you into China, which restricts press access. There’s obviously been a lot of uproar over press access to you, especially on this trip. Will you ever do this again?

RT: This what? You mean this … where I don’t take —

EM: Yes.

RT: Look, it’s driven by a couple of things. Primarily it’s driven — believe it or not, you won’t believe it — we’re trying to save money. I mean, quite frankly, we’re saving a lot of money by using this aircraft, which also flies faster, allows me to be more efficient, and we’re going to destinations that, by and large, the media outlets have significant presence already, so we’re not hiding from any coverage of what we’re doing. The fact that the press corps is not traveling on the plane with me, I understand that there are two aspects of that. One, there’s a convenience aspect. I get it. The other is, I guess, what I’m told is that there’s this long tradition that the Secretary spends time on the plane with the press. I don’t know that I’ll do a lot of that. I’m just not … that’s not the way I tend to work. That’s not the way I tend to spend my time. I spend my time working on this airplane. The entire time we’re in the air, I’m working. Because there is a lot of work to do in the early stages. Maybe things will change and evolve in the future. But I hope people don’t misunderstand ... there’s nothing else behind it than those simple objectives.

EM: I have heard the cost savings issue, but there has been such an uproar. Does that bother you or do you take their message, especially, like I said, going into China and the restriction of the press there?

RT: Well, as I understand it, most major news outlets have presence in China. They have bureau offices. They have people there. So it’s not like they can’t cover what’s happening there. The only thing that’s missing is the chance to talk more in the air.

EM: Well, that’s —

T: There’s not going to be anything, in terms of access, visibility is what we’re doing, there isn’t any other, that I can see, there’s nothing else to it.

EM: Right so your answer is you don’t intend to change this model for your next trip.

I think we may safely assume he will not change this model of restrained enthusiasm for the press corps.

By the way, in fairness to the middle-aged Henry Kissinger of the '70s, he was not the only one to be impressed by Jill St. John, who, evidently, enjoyed the political-celebrity lifestyle back then. Kissinger was not made of stone.

P.S. - As I type this, Jill St. John is being interviewed on Turner Movie Classics. What a long career! Especially for an actress who was in only one or two movies, and no memorable ones. She might outlast Kissinger, who himself is still getting around in his 93rd year.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Silent Rex

SecState Tillerson is sure getting a lot of grief for his reserved demeanor and laissez-faire approach to the news media. I'm just going to go completely contrary and say that I admire his quiet style.

My favorite President is 'Silent Cal' Coolidge, and my favorite actor is Charles Bronson, in whose finest movie, The Mechanic (the original 1972 version, not the remake), he doesn't say a single word for the first 20 minutes. He didn't need a lot of jibber-jabber because he simply went about his job in a self-possessed and competent manner.

Why shouldn't Silent Rex avoid the media? In the age of social media, why do we still have press briefings, anyway? We all get the same information at the same time now, so it isn't like we have to wait until 6PM for Walter Cronkite to tell us "and that's the way it is, March 17, 2017."

More importantly, if you were a Republican appointee, what would you conclude about the press from, for instance, leaked email which show Hillary's campaign staff colluding with their friendlies in the press to control the narrative about a scandal?

The press isn't about to get that friendly with Tillerson. So why should he let them clutter up his airplane when he's trying to get some work done?

White House Fence Jumper Spent 16 Minutes on the Grounds Undetected

A surprising new development in the case of that White House fence-jumping incident back on March 10 happened today, when the Secret Service publically acknowledged that the intruder was loose on the White House grounds for an incredible 16 and a half minutes before they found and arrested him.
At 11:21:38 pm an individual breached an outer perimeter fence near the Treasury complex, near East Executive Avenue. This fence is approximately 5 feet in height. The individual proceeded within the secure perimeter and scaled an 8 foot vehicle gate. The individual then proceeded to climb over a 3 ½ foot fence near the SE corner of the East Wing of the White House grounds. Uniformed Division Officers attempted to ascertain the location and identity of the individual. At 11:38:00 pm, the individual was taken into custody on the grounds without incident.

But now the House Oversight Committee is on the job, and we can be sure that Chairman Jason Chaffetz will soon be on top of the situation.

The Secret Service has only itself to blame, of course. If only it hadn't turned Chaffetz down when he applied for a job as an agent, he wouldn't have a platform from which to oversee it now.

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

Police Tase Suspect in Pikachu Onesie During Brawl Outside A-Town Bar & Grill - ArlNow

The incident happened around 9 p.m. on the 1000 block of N. Randolph Street. According to police, it started when the man in the Pikachu costume, Steven Goodwine, Jr., tried to pick a fight with the bouncers at A-Town after being kicked out of the bar’s weekly “Sunday Funday” festivities.

Goodwine “became aggressive with the door staff and Mr. Reid attempted to intervene,” according to what may be the longest item ever on an Arlington County Police Department daily crime report (here).

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Secretary Tillerson Isn't Press-Friendly, and We Should Be Okay With That

Regarding our evidently press-shy SecState Rex Tillerson, am I the only one who sees him in the mold of former SecState George Shultz (1982 to 1989)?

Like Tillerson, Shultz (see his official bio here) was also a former CEO - in his case it was Bechtel and the international construction business - and became Secretary of State unexpectedly. Shultz had been an economic advisor and budget guy before President Reagan asked him to replace Al Haig when the later resigned after only seven months in office.

I watched Tillerson's "Hi, I'm the new guy" first day speech, and hearing him stress safety as a core value made me flash back to seeing Shultz at a townhall meeting back in his day (I am sooo old!) and hearing him equate security of diplomatic operations to industrial safety in the construction business. Both times I was a little surprised, but figured yeah, okay, I guess.

Shultz didn't do a lot of flying around Special Envoy-like, but mainly stayed in the office and ran the organization. Fundamentally undramatic. I don't remember him being a media star. He seemed to have the economist's mindset, in which you make an input and then wait six or eight months to see if it had an effect. There's not much immediate gratification there to excite the news media.

Tillerson gives every indication so far of being the same pragmatic CEO type of Secretary. We could do a lot worse, even he never gets friendly with the press corps.

How Did He Think He'd Get Away With That?

From the (Magical) Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we have this story of spurned love and revenge gone wrong, Saudi man avenges ex-wife with $80,000 road fines, but plan backfires:
Saudi’s highways authorities have cleared a woman of traffic fines totaling $80,000, even though it was her car involved in the offences.

The woman’s car was the one being driven, but it was her estranged husband at the wheel shortly after she filed for divorce as a form of revenge.

The jilted man committed a whopping 375 traffic offences in Jeddah, in the woman’s car, Saudi daily Okaz reported.

The woman initially received the fines, but after explaining what had happened, the authorities transferred to her ex-husband’s name.

Come on, buddy! That plan was never going to work. "They'd be driving cars, but they're not allowed, you see."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The WaPo's 'Drip, Drip, Drips' Kind of Evaporate

The Diplomatic Correspondent for the WaPo had a story last Thursday that promised more Trumpening of the State Department than it delivered - That drip-drip is the sound of two more senior diplomats leaving Foggy Bottom:
The steady departure of senior officials at the State Department is continuing, as two assistant secretaries of state are stepping down next week.

The impending losses of Daniel Russel, assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of African affairs, leave only a handful of career diplomats who were holdovers from the Obama administration among the cadre of senior State Department officials.

It's more evidence for the meta-story that the WaPo has been reporting for weeks. You know, all those visions of empty corridors, idle employees whiling away the hours in the cafeteria, layoffs in the senior ranks, and the purge of the 7th floor.

But then, what's this?
Russel and Thomas-Greenfield are not resigning from the government; they are taking State Department-related jobs not actually at the State Department.

It turns out one of the departing seniors is going to "a one-year assignment as a diplomat in residence and senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute" and the other "will become a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy." Those sound like nice gigs. After which I assume they will either return to the Department or maybe retire, of their own choice and not because Trumpistas ran them out of town on a rail.

Looking at the comments on that article I saw something wonderful and rare, a response from a reader who is knowledgeable and even-tempered:
I worked at State as an FSO. I changed jobs more than a dozen times. Twice I had jobs "outside the Department", at Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy and at Smithsonian. Both times I came back to the Department on schedule. This story just reports the routine. It is like a breathless story about a river that is not flooding or a house that is not burning.

So then, it's just a dog-bites-man story and fundamentally uninteresting, despite the headline and misleading lead paragraphs.

Until the WaPo purges these hyped-up headlines from its editorial system, readers should automatically dial them down a few levels of drama. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week


"Clarkstown PD found 2 grenades in 91-year-old man's refrigerator" - LOHUD The Journal News 

A report of explosive devices in the Tappan Zee Manor Nursing Home led to an evacuation ... the two grenades — a training hand grenade and a metal hand grenade — were removed by the county sheriff's bomb squad, who will X-Ray the devices to see if they're live grenades. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Have Some Fun This Afternoon

It is a lovely pre-Spring day in our National Capitol Region, so I just might do this.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Panem et Circenses, or Just a Government Office?

The life of the Seventh Floor? Who knew.

There was a spate of overheated stories yesterday about personnel changes at high levels in the State Department, most of them repeating the New York Post's "bloodbath" headline, and none of which I found very interesting. But then there was this conservative website's take on the basic story (Secretary Rex Tillerson Begins Deconstructing 7th Floor “Shadow Government” at Dept of State) which went off on a weird tangent about what someone evidently imagines is the Imperial lifestyle of our own Panem on the Potomac. Here's a quote:
They live a life of high financed indulgence including: massive expense accounts, chartered airline travel, swanky cocktail parties, expense chauffeurs to take their kids to private school, seasonally designed home decor – appointed by only the very best interior designers, personal security to keep the commoners away, tickets to the best venues and reserved seating at elite DC restaurants.

With first rights to the budget expenditures, the 7th floor group finds no indulgence too extravagant for their intellectual elitism. They demand nothing but the finest because they are the most worthy of the DC professionally privileged – who are more equal than others; and after all, their jobs require them to host and visit like-minded diplomats, and celebrities with exclusive tastes from around the world.

How's that again? People on this fabulous 7th floor have massive expense accounts? Maybe that's what M&IE stands for. Chartered airline travel? Does a Black Hawk count? Chauffeurs? Only in fully armored cars.

I could possibly believe all of those things, but I'm calling BS on the fabulous decor. I've been to a few meetings on the 7th floor, and I didn't see any evidence that the very best interior decorators had been involved with the place. But then, maybe they keep that decor in some fancy part of the floor where they don't allow the likes of me.  

And what is that bit about having "first rights to the budget expenditures?" I'm afraid that many of my fellows citizens have no idea whatsoever of how the government works, and especially not how funds get appropriated by Congress, or even that there is a budget. There are people - voters - who really suppose that when some government big-shot wants to spend money he calls over to the Treasury and asks them to run the hundred dollar bill press for an extra hour that day while he fills up a truck.

It makes me curious where that perception comes from. From movies and television, of course, because that's where most people get all their information. But exactly which movies and TV shows?

I'm drawing a blank here, because I'm not a big consumer of pop media. Are government leaders regularly depicted as "living a life of high financed indulgence?" Do people think the Hunger Games is a documentary? When did the popular stereotype of a government office change from dreary and cheap to decadent and luxurious?       

Lastly, have there been any movie or TV depictions of U.S. Embassy life that were even remotely in the ballpark of reality?

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

Just tell me it wasn't for those Mongolian barbecues

"13 pounds of horse genitals concealed in woman's luggage; claimed it was for medicinal purposes" - ABC News Baltimore

On January 29, two women arrived from Mongolia. Customs and Border Protection officers sent them for a routine agriculture examination. The women had a combined 42 pounds of horse meat concealed inside juice boxes. That includes 13 pounds of horse genitals that one of the women claimed were for medicinal purposes.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Yes They Can (Or At Least, They've Made a Good Start)

I see more and more news about this sense of dread among Federal employees, even of a Federal bureaucrat resistance movement, Alt-Gov types who are subversively undermining the Trump Administration in all sorts of ways. Like this:
But there’s another level of resistance to the new president that is less visible and potentially more troublesome to the administration: a growing wave of opposition from the federal workers charged with implementing any new president’s agenda.

Less than two weeks into Trump’s administration, federal workers are in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era political appointees about what they can do to push back against the new president’s initiatives. Some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make.

And a few government workers are pushing back more openly, incurring the wrath of a White House that, as press secretary Sean Spicer said this week about dissenters at the State Department, sends a clear message that they “should either get with the program, or they can go.”

Getting with the program may be a problem for some of my fellow feds, but I know of at least one group of civil servants who are unquestionably WITH the program, and that's the nation's Border Patrol and Immigration Agents. Their employee unions put out a joint press release to state just how enthusiastically they are on the Trump Train:
As representatives of the nation’s Frontline immigration officers and agents responsible for enforcing our laws and protecting our borders, we fully support and appreciate President Trump’s swift and decisive action to keep the American people safe and allow law enforcement to do its job. We applaud the three executive orders he has issued to date, and are confident they will make America safer and more prosperous. Morale amongst our agents and officers has increased exponentially since the signing of the orders. The men and women of ICE and Border Patrol will work tirelessly to keep criminals, terrorists, and public safety threats out of this country, which remains the number one target in the world – and President Trump’s actions now empower us to fulfill this life saving mission, and it will indeed save thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

Supportive, appreciative, confident, and of exponentially improved morale. The working levels of the Border Patrol and ICE sound like they could not possibly be more happy with the change in administrations. This week's surge of immigration raids - or routine enforcement actions, if you like - seems to be proof of that.

Friday, February 10, 2017

"It's an Aesthetic Perimeter"

“It’s not a wall, it’s an aesthetic perimeter” in the words of Paris' deputy mayor.
I'll have to remember that one.

According to the French daily Le Parisien, this charmingly named security countermeasure will be eight feet high and made of bulletproof glass. So then, imagine a big ballistic sneeze guard surrounding the Champ de Mars.

Visitors will have to go through airport-type security screening to get into the public spaces around the Eiffel Tower. A little strange-looking, maybe, but entirely reasonable given the frequency and ferocity of terrorist attacks on public places that France has experienced in the last two years. Expect similar aesthetics to spring up around other public attractions in Paris and other European cities soon.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week (Late Entry Winner)

"Osama bin Laden’s Secret Masturbation Fatwa - How the sexual torment of Islamic radicals helps explain the genesis of jihadi violence" - Foreign Affairs

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"The Long, Slow Trek To Get Americans To Eat Camel Meat" - National Public Radio

Somali-American chef Jamal Hashi in Minneapolis started offering the "The Hashi Burger" at Safari Express, and began ordering a pallet of meat every few months — each of which arrived from, of all places, central Australia, where meat camels were slaughtered according to halal standards, then shipped to places like Dubai, home to camel hot dogs and the world's first camel-milk chocolate company, and Minnesota.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"Rush for 'Barbie' vagina has experts stumped " - Agence France Press (Paris)

"I trained in the '80s and if you had told me that you could imagine that this is happening know, I would think you were crazy," Renato Saltz, a plastic surgeon from Utah and International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) president told AFP

East Side, West Side

Google Earth screen shot

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

CNN had an explainer this week on why moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is so controversial. It covered the 1949 Armistice Line that functions as the border between the East (and Arab) and West sides of the city, the Jerusalem Embassy Act, and the U.S. position up to now. But it overlooked a remarkable geographical oddity about one of U.S. Consulate-General Jerusalem's properties.

If you go to Google Earth and search for "U.S. Consulate Jerusalem" it will lead you to a location at the street address of Number 14 David Flusser Street, in the Arnona neighborhood. That is not actually THE Consulate-General in Jerusalem, but rather a consular annex where visa and American Citizen Services work is conducted. (The State Department's telephone directory and Key Officers List has three separate addresses for CG Jerusalem in different parts of the city, but ignore that for now.)

Make sure the Google Earth 'borders and labels' layer is activated, and you'll see a red line that goes through the CG property in Arnona, and even right through the office building on the property. That is the UN's 1949 Armistice Agreement line that marked the ceasefire between Israeli and Jordanian-Iraqi military forces in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. And, as CNN explained, it operates as the border between East and West Jerusalem. 

Now, of course, I'm not suggesting anything about anything. But I'm surprised no journalist or commentator has pointed out that the CG operates a property in Jerusalem that literally straddles the Armistice Line, and therefore could, maybe, finesse the difference between East and West sides.   

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The End of the Tracks For OBO's Casey Jones

Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind

-- The Grateful Dead

As the days tick down to January 20, my good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations become a little bit scarcer. Of course, Director Lydia Muniz will depart. So will Deputy Director Casey Jones, who came over from the General Services Administration a few years ago to start OBO's Design Excellence program.

Jones was initially detailed to OBO from GSA, and was later appointed a Deputy Director. I've always assumed he was a political appointee, but was never certain about that. Whatever his employment status, Jones will now resign "to pursue opportunities in the private sector," as was announced yesterday in Architect Magazine.
“We had set a goal of restructuring the way in which our embassies were designed so that they better reflect the best of America and we had some great progress in that area,” Jones says. “We’ve really elevated the quality of our embassies while keeping them on the same schedule and budget, and we have a great management team in place, so I sort of fulfilled my mission.”

What? He said his Excellence program elevated the quality of new embassy construction projects while keeping them on the same schedule and budget? The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee disagrees about that, rather vehemently. But, the criticism of Congress will cease to bother Jones after the 20th of January. 

Although Architect Magazine identified Jones as merely the Director of Design Excellence at OBO, according to his official bio, Jones was responsible for much more than that: "Casey Jones is Deputy Director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) at the U. S. Department of State where he oversees the Program Development, Coordination and Support and Construction, Facilities and Security Management Directorates." That portfolio sounds kind of sweeping, starting with design development and ending with construction management, with security in between.

To an outside observer such as myself it seems that Jones took on a range and level of responsibilities for which his background as, basically, a design consultant, left him ill-equipped. That kind of guy always bugs me. You know, the kind who knows all about how to do a job that he has never actually done himself? If Jones was ever the architect of record or project manager of anything at all, I'll happily stand corrected.

I wish Jones all the best in those private sector pursuits. Meanwhile, for the friends he leaves behind in OBO, there will be trouble ahead as they drive on into the next era of new embassy program management, one in which we Make Embassies Great Again.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Today Ankara and Beirut ... Next Year In Jerusalem?

My good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations have been playing a real hot hand this week, because today they announced construction awards for a new U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, and another one in Beirut, Lebanon. Two places that badly, badly, need new facilities.

Now the big question in my mind is, will those OBO architects and planners next turn their attention to New U.S. Embassy Jerusalem?