Saturday, May 26, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Air Force Uncovered LSD Use Among Airmen Guarding Nuclear Missiles:
More than a dozen U.S. Air Force airmen were linked to a drug ring at a base that controls America's nuclear missiles and have faced disciplinary actions – including courts martial, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.

-- snip --

Evidence in the airmen's cases showed that they did the drugs at state parks or at parties in Denver, where a group went longboarding on the streets after taking LSD, according to the AP. It also includes quotes from some service members who recalled having "bad trips," and others who said their experiences had been positive.

"Minutes felt like hours, colors seemed more vibrant and clear," Airman Kyle S. Morrison is quoted as saying. "In general, I felt more alive."

But Air Force prosecutors had a different view, saying that taking the hallucinogenic drug can produce "paranoia, fear and panic, unwanted and overwhelming feelings, unwanted life-changing spiritual experiences, and flashbacks."

Grants Officer Pleads Guilty to Fraud

From the DOJ press release dated yesterday, State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Honest Services Wire Fraud and Theft of Federal Funds:
A program manager for the U.S. Department of State pleaded guilty yesterday to stealing federal funds intended for a foreign exchange program maintained by her employer, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno of the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division and Inspector General Steve A. Linick of the U.S. Department of State.

Kelli R. Davis, 48, of Bowie, Maryland, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of public funds and engage in honest services wire fraud before U.S. Senior District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 24.

According to admissions made in connection with her plea, Davis was a Program Specialist for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges. She also served as the Program Manager and Grants Officer Representative for the Sports Visitors Program, which sponsored foreign exchanges for emerging youth athletes and coaches from various countries. The exchange program was managed by George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, through a federal grant and cooperative agreement with the State Department.

Between February 2011 and March 2016, Davis conspired with others to steal portions of the federal money allocated to the Sports Visitor Program by, among other things, falsifying vendor-related invoices and making fraudulent checks payable to a government contractor, Denon Hopkins, who supplied transportation services for the program. In total, Davis and Hopkins, stole approximately $17,335 from the State Department. They have both admitted that Hopkins used portions of the funds to pay kickbacks to Davis to retain his transportation contract. In addition, Davis stole an additional $17,777 from the program over a multi-year period.

The Department of State’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI’s Washington Field Office investigated the case. Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly R. Pedersen of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Rep. Meeks: Show Me The Money

Yesterday's House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing Review of the FY 2019 State Department Budget Request got a bit heated when Representative Gregory Meeks (D - NY) pointed out to Secretary Pompeo that the administration's budget request for Diplomatic Security is only $1.6 billion for FY19, down from $2.1 billion last year, which compares poorly to $3 billion in the Obama years.

Meeks asked whether that dwindling of security funding indicates a lack of concern, the same question then-Representative Pompeo had once asked of his predecessor Hillary Clinton.

His reply: "Diplomatic security is not about dollars expended."

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Feds Spend $333,210 Studying Bars Along Mexico Border:
The National Institutes of Health is spending over $300,000 to study bars along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation is heading the project. Among the study's aims are to examine whether bars in border towns like Mexicali have "more dancing" and "louder music."

The study, "Mexican American Drinking Contexts On and Away From the U.S.-Mexico Border," involves researchers going into bars for "unobtrusive systematic observations."

"The U.S./Mexico border is a unique macro context for drinking, with increased alcohol availability due to the lower minimum legal drinking age in Mexico of 18 years and an increased number of venues for on premise consumption of alcohol (bars, clubs, restaurants)," according to the grant for the project. "Previous research has shown that the border population is more at risk for unsafe drinking (binge) and drinking-related problems than the population off the border."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

No Antagonism Please, We're English

"If there is hope, wrote Winston, it lies in the proles" - George Orwell, 1984

In a new low for the nanny state, British police are cautioning English football fans not to be joyously patriotic when they go to Russia for the World Cup matches. St George flags are too ‘imperialistic’ for World Cup, say police:
Police have warned England fans not to display the flag of St George at the World Cup in Russia next month because it risks being seen as “imperialistic” and “antagonistic”.

-- snip --

[Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council] will lead a team of officers to Russia to work with local police and security services to protect up to 10,000 travelling England fans. The supporters traditionally gather in city centres before international tournaments and display hundreds of flags.

Up to 10,000 England fans are expected to travel to Russia next month, along with a small force of UK police to help keep them safe.

The head of football policing Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts argued the St George’s Crosses were seen as the top trophies for rival fans and ultras, as well as appearing to link them to the history of the British Empire.

“I think people need to be really careful with flags. It can come across as almost imperialistic … and can cause antagonism,” he told The Times.

“We really urge some caution about people putting flags out and waving them about in public, there is a bit of risk when people draw attention to themselves and people need to be aware of that.

A bit of risk is just the kind of thing the English people used to like, at least it was back before the age of mollycoddling began. Football fans, being lower-class types who still feel surges of national pride and Anglo-Saxon rowdyism, might be the last holdouts against the suffocating nannyism of today.

If an English football fan can't get piss drunk, rip off his shirt, and wave his St. George flag at those Russian wankers, why even bother to go to the game?

Say, doesn't the Russian Federation once more use the old Imperial double eagle coats of arms, and doesn't that coat of arms include an image of St. George slaying a dragon? So, then, why wouldn't flag-waiving England fans be warmly welcomed by the Russians in a fraternal western civilization sort of way? Maybe Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts is worried over nothing.

Town Hall Message: "Carry That Diplomatic Swagger to the Ends of the Earth"

Mick shows us how to swagger like a pro

So yesterday we had the first town hall meeting with the new SecState, and he spent a bit of it teaching the troops about swagger. See the AP account here: Pompeo extols ‘America’s essential rightness’ at State Dept.
“Swagger is not arrogance; it is not boastfulness, it is not ego,” Pompeo said, according to the [town hall transcript] excerpts. “No, swagger is confidence; in one’s self, in one’s ideas. In our case, it is America’s essential rightness. And it is aggressiveness born of the righteous knowledge that our cause is just, special, and built upon America’s core principles.”

“Our task is to preserve our civilization of human dignity, individual liberty, democracy, national sovereignty, and the rule of law, and to challenge anyone seeking to take it down,” he said. “We should be proud and confident in America and her values — we should carry that diplomatic swagger to the ends of the earth; humbly, nobly and with the skill and courage I know you all possess.”

Left unsaid is the essential implication of all this swaggerin' talk to the State Department workforce - i.e., the idea that the new SecState will somehow, perhaps through the sheer force of his personality, reverse the Trump administration's announced plans for budget cuts and staff reductions. Count me as essentially distrustful of that.


On a different matter, does it bother anyone else that AP's diplomatic correspondent, Matthew Lee, is one of Hillary's AP "friendlies," that is, one of the "overly docile press" who were happy to do the HRC campaign's bidding during the 2016 election? You can read the e-mail chains here. I think he should have to wear a Team Hilllary tee shirt or something to announce his affiliation when he sits in on press briefings all santimonious-like.

And then there’s the overly docile press, who were so eager to help Clinton get elected. In one email chain discussing the upcoming release of exchanges between Clinton and writer Sidney Blumenthal, insiders noted that the Associated Press appeared to be willing to allow the Clinton campaign to plant favorable stories. “[T]hey are considering placing a story with a friendly at the AP (Matt Lee or Bradley Klapper), that would lay this out before the majority on the committee has a chance to realize what they have and distort it,” wrote Nick Merrill, the Clinton campaign’s traveling press secretary.

Matt Lee published the planted story the next day. Friends like that are good to have.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Palestinians destroy Gaza's only facility for receiving fuel and cargo delivers from Israel:
Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) announced on Saturday that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has approved closing the Kerem Shalom humanitarian border crossing in Gaza from tomorrow (Sunday) until further notice, due to Friday’s destruction of gas pipelines and the security fence at the crossing.

For the second week in a row, protesters damaged gas pipes at the Kerem Shalom border crossing on Friday, which are responsible for transporting gas into Gaza.

The following is a list of destruction done to the humanitarian crossing according to the IDF:

- The fuel terminal has been rendered totally unusable.

- Gas pipelines – Damage was caused to connection stations. The main gas line is not functioning at all.

- Fuel pipes – The fueling site sustained fire and fracture damages.

- Aggregate conveyor belt - Not suitable for operation at all. Significant damage was caused to the entire structure.

- Grain conveyors, food and livestock - Damage was caused to electricity infrastructure.

- Security infrastructure of the humanitarian crossing - Damage was caused to fences, light poles and cameras.

Friday, May 11, 2018

We Have the Best Site, the Biggest Setback

At his rally yesterday in Elkhart, Indiana, President Trump gave an impressionistic account of how my good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations fitted out "a big, beautiful corner" of the consular annex building in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem to serve as an interim office for the Ambassador, and did so at a reasonable cost.

Notice the sustained applause when Trump mentions how the best site in the city has setback distance.
"It’s set back. Which is good for safety ... It’s a big site, big setback – they want setback for safety, makes sense."

Three cheers for setback! It's about time it got some recognition.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Logan's Run of Luck (That No One Has Ever Been Prosecuted)

According to this informative administrative timeline of the Department of State by the Office of the Historian, one of the earliest laws the Congress passed concerning the State Department was the Logan Act.
January 30, 1799:

“An act for the punishment of certain crimes therein specified” (the Logan Act, 1 Stat. 613) conferred upon the Department of State the exclusive right to engage in negotiations with foreign governments.

The Act was passed following the unauthorized peace negotiations of one George Logan, a Pennsylvania state legislator and Quaker, with France.

The Logan Act was last updated in 1994, so I assume it's not just a quaint relic of the 18th Century, and violation of the Act is a felony. But, so far as I can tell, no one has ever been prosecuted for violating it. John Kerry probably won't be the first. Probably.

Justice Department Declined to Prosecute Sexual Assault by Financial Attaché

I hadn't seen this news before, but the UK Daily Mail has the U.S. Treasury Department's OIG report of investigation into the incident, which they obtained via a FOIA request. From the report it appears that DSS agents substantiated the victim's accusation based upon a preponderance of the evidence, and the Treasury Department OIG "determined that it is more likely than not that (the woman’s) version of the event is more accurate and that the sexual act was not consensual ... Also it is likely that (the woman) was too intimidated and scared to forcefully resist (the attaché’s) advances."

Despite that determination, "the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, declined to prosecute the case, citing the ‘exacting standard of proof’ in criminal court." The lesser standard used in civil litigation should be met, I would think, so a lawsuit or two might be coming.

The redacted OIG investigation report is included in the Daily Mail story: EXCLUSIVE: US Government is protecting identity of an American diplomat who forced a 22-year-old woman to perform oral sex at a party at his residence.

The former Attaché's name and the post at which this occurred are both being withheld. We know only that he was a GS-13, and the incident happened in a Western Hemisphere post on January 1, 2014.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Awful, Horrible, State Bureaucracy

Who runs the world? We do!

This little nugget in a Politico story on problems the new SecState may face in filling vacant positions should be a reminder of where the State Department stands with the conservative side of Washington politics.

Pompeo faces a hiring obstacle course
If Pompeo were to try to [appoint to State Department positions] GOP critics of Trump, he “needs to argue to the president that some people are terrible ‘Never Trumpers’ but others just supported other candidates so they naturally attacked him just as he very strongly attacked his opponent,” a Republican former government official said.

“The key difference is probably what people have said since he got elected: If they have stayed critical, the hell with them. If they have been supportive for a year and a half, they should be forgiven, because Pompeo needs some of them to take control of State back from the awful, horrible State bureaucracy.”

The State Department does not have any reserve of good will to draw on with GOP officials. It just doesn't. That's been the case for as long as I can remember, and probably much longer that that. Bear it in mind, and temper any expectations you may have that the new boss will fight the administration's plans to cut the foreign affairs budget and to implement its own policy agenda.

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Deputy Consul General Of Israel Allegedly Forced Out Of Uber Ride For Speaking Hebrew On Phone
CHICAGO (CBS) – The Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, Itay Milner, says he was ten minutes into his Uber ride on Lower Wacker Drive Thursday night when he was thrown out by the driver.

Milner wrote in a Facebook post, “I just had the worst experience of my life. I was just thrown out of an Uber in the middle of the highway only because I answered my phone in my mother tongue.”

He adds, “Ten minutes into my ride with no prior interaction between the driver and myself, it took only two words in Hebrew to get my driver [to] start yelling at me ‘Get the $#@* out of my car!'”

He continued: “It did not help when I told him that I can’t go out in the middle of the highway. It was like I wasn’t a person for him anymore. When I asked him if it’s because I’m speaking Hebrew he said yes and kept yelling at me to get out. I am not easily intimidated, but that scared me and I ran out of there, walking in the middle of the road.

“I never thought something like this could happen in America, such awful racism. This cannot be tolerated!”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Can We Talk About Your Swagger?

The new SecState introduced himself yesterday in a ceremony that lasted only 12 minutes from limo to walk-off. And, as we’ve heard over and over, it was all about restoring the State Department’s swagger.

I’m not sure how the new SecState means that, but the definition of “swagger” in Webster’s doesn’t sound so good:

swaggered; swaggering play \ˈswa-g(ə-)riŋ\

intransitive verb

1 : to conduct oneself in an arrogant or superciliously pompous manner; especially : to walk with an air of overbearing self-confidence

2 : boast, brag

transitive verb

: to force by argument or threat : bully

“Swagger” is meant to be an antonym for “Tillerson” I suppose. We’ll see how that works out. Personally, I distrust all Congressmen, including former ones. The new SecState has a history of dealing with the State Department during his career in Congress, and judging by some of it, people might come to miss Silent Rex someday.

Well, I’m just going to blurt it out. That new SecState’s swaggering introduction of himself was a VIAGRA® ad. There, I’ve said it. And now that I’ve said “VIAGRA®” on the internet I’ll get lots of spam mail from places like Hong Kong, but so be it.

A VIAGRA® ad, yes, but which kind of VIAGRA® ad was it? There are two kinds. The male-focused ones like those “this is the age of knowing” commercials with cowboyed-up middle-aged men doing manly stuff, and the female-focused ones that feature The Pose.
You know the pose: Her stomach’s on the mattress, she’s resting on her elbows, and her feet might be kicked up in the air. It’s the “We need to talk about your boner” pose.

Which is it? Are we to be rowdied up or guilted into getting our swagger back?

** Warning ** Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for swaggering. Side effects may include headaches, flushing, upset stomach, and abnormal vision. Seek immediate medical help for a swagger lasting more than four hours.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Way Down Below the Ocean

Yeah, the second trailer for the Chappaquiddick movie uses that old Donovan lyric (way down below the ocean, where I want to be, she may be), and that might seem heavy-handed except it perfectly suits the subject.

The film, released last week, has been rated PG-13 for, among other reasons, depictions of "historical smoking." Okay, we don't want young children to see how it was once common for Americans to smoke. A few other themes in the movie that may also be inappropriate for younger audiences include drunk driving, negligent homicide, manslaughter, abuse of power, aiding and abetting, public corruption, cowardice, misogyny, classism, and the kind of self-absorbed survivalism that enabled Senator Ted Kennedy to escape from a sinking car without a moment’s hesitation. Of course, Teddy had a lot more experience with drunk driving than the 28-year old passenger he left behind, Mary Jo Kopechne, and maybe that accounts for his greater presence of mind when the car spun around and water rushed inside.

It's not an Untold True Story, as I've recently  seen it referred to, because the story has been told before, especially in the 1988 book Senatorial Privilege (see the NYT book review here}.

The Successfully Suppressed and Largely Forgotten True Story would be more like it. I'm acquainted with a few 40-ish people who have worked in Washington for the Feds all their adult lives but never knew anything about the Chappaquiddick incident until now. The 50-ish and 60-ish people knew, however.

There was a remarkable fictional treatment by Joyce Carol Oates in 1992, Black Water, which is told entirely in the mind of the victim as she dies, and whose two-hour reading time corresponds with the time it likely took for Kopechne to die. Read the NYT review of that book here: "Her Thoughts While Drowning."

From the review:
Everything we learn comes to us in the moments just after the accident, Kelly's last moments alive, as she discovers that she's pinned in the car, as she refuses to believe that the Senator will not come back for her -- that he has in fact used her body for support to get out of the sinking vehicle -- and as she struggles to keep her head in the air bubble that was created as the car sank. Because we know the history, we know the outcome, and, in any case, Ms. Oates keeps it well focused. As the book draws to its conclusion, the refrain "As the black water filled her lungs, and she died" is repeated with very much the same frequency, and engenders much the same feeling of cathartic recognition, that one experiences hearing the choruses of the ancient Greek tragedies.
"She saw that. There was no mistake. Yet at the same time she was explaining to a gathering of people, elders, whose faces were indistinct through the cracked windshield that it was not what they thought ... he had not abandoned her to die in the black water ...

But, of course, he had.

The Chappaquiddick film is the only account of the incident since Oates' novel that pays attention to the victim who was sacrificed to Ted Kennedy's political career. In interviews, the film makers have said they wanted to depict Mary Jo Kopechne as a real, rounded, person, and not just as that school graduation photo that is all the public has ever seen of her.

That yearbook photo. Doesn't any other photo of her exist? Did no one take a photo of her between that class graduation and her 28th year? Evidently not, at least so far as we know. That photo was a ghostly presence that hung over Ted Kennedy's career for forty years after Kopechne's death. Only now, a decade after his own death, is she coming into definition.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Having a Capitol Spring

The Capitol weather forecast is for 4 to 8 inches of snow ending at 8PM.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

HRC, Bitter Clinger

So Hillary is in India this week explaining to the locals how she lost that election, or rather, how she won all the places that mattered but that wasn't enough to win the election (WaPo: Hillary Clinton takes her ‘deplorables’ argument for another spin).
Clinton offered some rather unvarnished remarks in India this weekend that sound a lot like her “deplorables” commentary from September 2016. She played up the states that supported her as more economically advanced than the states that voted for Trump, calling them “dynamic” and “moving forward.” Then she again suggested Trump supporters were motivated by animosity toward women and people of color.

“If you look at the map of the United States, there's all that red in the middle where Trump won,” Clinton said. “I win the coast. I win, you know, Illinois and Minnesota — places like that.”

“If you look at the map of the United States, there's all that red in the middle where Trump won,” Clinton said. “I win the coast. I win, you know, Illinois and Minnesota — places like that.”

She went on: “But what the map doesn't show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America's gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.”

Well, something else you can see in the election map is that lots of places that went for Obama in 2012 went for Trump in 2016. You can see them in this November 2016 NPR story with 3 charts that show "where the Trump surge happened and the places that flipped from supporting President Obama in 2012 to going for the Republican nominee and billionaire real-estate mogul just four years later."

Maybe I missed it, but how does Hillary account for those optimistic, diverse, dynamic, etc., etc., pro-Obama places of 2012 that turned into redneck Hicksvilles in 2016?

Here's a thought. Could it be that Hillary was just an unlikable person and terrible candidate who did not offer anything of much appeal to states with a majority of the Electoral College vote?

Silent Rex's Last Act

When I saw the news today about President Trump dismissing Silent Rex, my first thought was that the decision might have been precipitated by his press release of yesterday about the killing of a Russian ex-spy in Britain, since that statement differed from one released by the White House.

However, it now seems the decision was made a day earlier. That means the last independent act of SecState Tillerson was to issue this statement attributing responsibility for the nerve agent attack in the U.K.:
The United States was in touch with our Allies in the United Kingdom ahead of today’s announcement, including in a call between Secretary Tillerson and Foreign Secretary Johnson this morning. We have full confidence in the UK’s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the nerve agent attack that took place in Salisbury last week.

There is never a justification for this type of attack – the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation – and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior. From Ukraine to Syria – and now the UK – Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.

We agree that those responsible – both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it – must face appropriately serious consequences. We stand in solidarity with our Allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses.

All questions of that particular killing and our response to it aside, how can any official USG statement say "there is never a justification for this type of attack – the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation?" Targeted killings are still targeted killings whether a nation does them with up close with poison or from far away with armed drones.

The press reported how Obama decided whom to kill with the aid of a 'disposition matrix.' Here's a handy flowchart that spells out the Obama administration's justifications for the killing of private citizens on the soil of sovereign nations. The Trump administration presumably does the same.

But, but, didn't Obama have magic bombs that never killed the wrong person? Actually, no, as the Obama White House admitted in 2016, its drone strikes had killed 64 individuals conclusively determined to be non-combatants, in addition to 52 individuals whose status remained in doubt. Private monitoring organizations such as the Long War Journal, the New America Foundation, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, have estimated there were several times that number of non-combatant casualties.

Personally, I support the use of targeted killing in at least some cases. And, if the USG wants to issue threats to Putin and demand consequences for the attack in the U.K., that's also okay by me.

But, so long as the USG conducts such attacks itself, please spare us the sanctimony.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Reward for Justice Went Unmentioned at U.S.-Jordanian Press Conference

The reward is for up to $5 million and it's offered by the U.S. State Department for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a Jordanian citizen, Ahlam Ahmad Al-Tamimi, for her leading role in the 2001 Sbarro restaurant bombing in Jerusalem, in which two of the victims were U.S. citizens. The U.S. charges against Al-Tamimi were unsealed on March 14, 2017.

See the details here:
A Jordanian citizen, Ahlam Ahmad al-Tamimi, also known as “Khalti” and “Halati,” is a convicted terrorist operative for HAMAS.

On August 9, 2001, al-Tamimi transported a bomb and a HAMAS suicide bomber to a crowded Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria, where the bomber detonated the explosives, killing 15 people, including seven children. Two American citizens were killed in the attack – Judith Shoshana Greenbaum, a pregnant 31-year-old school teacher from New Jersey, and Malka Chana Roth, a 15-year-old. Over 120 others were injured, including four Americans. HAMAS claimed responsibility for the bombing.

In 2003, al-Tamimi pleaded guilty in an Israeli court to participating in the attack and was sentenced to 16 life terms in Israel for assisting the bomber. She was released in October 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel. On March 14, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed a criminal complaint and an arrest warrant for al-Tamimi, charging her under U.S. law with “conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside the U.S., resulting in death.” The FBI also added al-Tamimi to its list of most wanted terrorists and considers her to be “armed and dangerous.”

A former student working part time as a television journalist, al-Tamimi drove the bomber to the target after pledging to carry out attacks on behalf of the military wing of HAMAS, according to the FBI. Al-Tamimi, who planned and engineered the Sbarro attack, chose the location because it was a busy restaurant. To reduce suspicion, she and the suicide bomber dressed as Israelis, and she personally transported the bomb, concealed inside a guitar case, from a West Bank town into Jerusalem. Al-Tamimi also admitted to detonating a small IED in a Jerusalem grocery store a few weeks prior to the attack as part of a test run.

So, we want Jordan to turn over Al-Tamimi, but Jordan refuses. You might think that would make for an awkward U.S.-Jordan press conference this week (see: Remarks at Memorandum of Understanding Signing and Press Conference) but no, the subject of murdered U.S. citizens did not come up.

Instead, Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi talked about our seven decades of mutual cooperation on countering terrorism and such, and he also said thanks for the latest MOU under which the U.S. will offer $1.7 billion to his Kingdom over the next five years.
Your Excellency [SecState Rex Tillerson], we highly value your continuous support for Jordan. We value the strong partnership and friendship ties between the two countries, and we look forward to continuing to cooperate together to serve our mutual interests and to accomplish peace, security, and stability in the region.

Before signing the MOU, I discussed with His Excellency the Secretary of State developments in the region, particularly with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Syria, and our common fight against terrorism and the strength of our relations ... We’ll continue to work together in pursuit of peace and stability. We will remain partners in the fight against terrorism until we destroy this evil.

SecState Tillerson's remarks included this:
I also want to highlight Jordan’s partnership and commitment to combating terrorism and violent extremism. His Majesty King Abdullah has long been a regional and global leader and a voice against terrorism, and is critical to our counterterrorism efforts.

Although he's critical to our counterterrorism effort, His Majesty apparently draws the line at turning over one of the Al-Tamimi family, even if it means he could add another $5 million to the pile of U.S. assistance.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

FBI = Federal Bacon Insatibility

Yeah, it was a testy hearing all right, just as the Biz Journal headline says: GSA sheds some light on FBI reversal in testy House hearing.

The House Oversight Committee called in GSA officials to explain their change in plans for replacing the FBI's decrepit headquarters building. After at least five years of feckless efforts to build a massive new FBI headquarters somewhere outside the beltway, the General Services Administration now prefers to demolish the old headquarters and build a smaller one on the same site.

That sounds good to me. The FBI headquarters will stay next to the Justice Department (of which it is a bureau, all pretense of being a separate agency aside), employee commutes and house-buying plans remain the same, and the GSA doesn't have to replace expensive specialized infrastructure that's already at the current site. What's not to like?

The answer depends on whether or not you're a Congressman from Fairfax County, Virginia, or Prince George's County, Maryland, the jurisdictions that have been lobbying for and drooling over and making promises about that multi-billion dollar new FBI campus for years. GSA's decision to keep it in the District rearranges the winners and losers rather drastically. I say it's a win for the taxpayers and the FBI, but that makes it a loss for the beltway real estate development and construction industries and the government-dependent economies in Fairfax and PG counties. It's also a loser for politicians in the District, whose tax base would be improved if the current FBI site were to be redeveloped as retail or hotel property.

The Committee's testiness was decidedly bipartisan, but the testiest of them all was the minority leader, my very own Congressman, Gerald Connolly (D-Va). He got the mic ten minutes into the session and bewailed the "body blow to public confidence” caused by GSA's change of mind, and the terrible burden of uncertainty it places on the long-suffering corporate big shots who sell buildings and real property development to the feds.

Oh, and the security! We can't forget about the security. The old Hoover building has no setback at all on that urban site, so very unlike the big sprawling campuses of the CIA, NSA, and all the other three-letter agencies. Has GSA no clue about security? At one point, Connolly suggested GSA should talk to the State Department about the overwhelming need for setback, if they won't take his word for it.

And the Trump! Don't forget him, either. GSA's old plan would have turned the vacated FBI site over to private developers who might, Connolly suggested, have built something there that would “directly compete” with the new Trump Hotel that is right across the street. I find it hard to believe there is enough high-end market in DC to support more than one hotel with rates in the $500-600 a night range and one-week minimum stays. But, if you must interpret GSA's decision through the lens of how it might benefit Trump's businesses, go right ahead. [Footnote: the Trump Hotel is also a GSA property, previously known as the Old Post Office Building, which coincidentally was used by the FBI as overflow space in the days before the Hoover Building.]

Most of the Committee's insinuations and insults were directed at Dan Mathews, Commissioner of the GSA's Public Buildings Service and the official who bore the main responsibility for standing in the way of congressmen like Connolly who are starving for a huge meal of federal bacon to bring back home just like West Virginia's Senator Byrd did in the old days, unashamedly and on a grand scale.

In his remarks, Mathews laid out some persuasive facts before his unappreciative audience. Facts like, the FBI has reduced its program requirements through consolidation of shared admin functions with its parent Justice Department, and will reduce its headquarters staffing from 10,000-some to 8,000-some, thereby making the current site a viable option for a smaller footprint. Anyway, the decision to give up on building a new site in Virginia or Maryland was forced upon GSA by a lack of sufficient funding to sign a contract with a private developer for a land-swap, and that decision was made back in July 2017.
In his first public remarks since Monday, Mathews explained during the hearing that the GSA came to its new recommendation after the agency canceled the prior search in July. Mathews, who previously served as a senior staffer to another House committee overseeing the GSA, said his agency canceled that search because it did not have sufficient appropriations to award a contract for the multibillion-dollar effort, which had been expected to cost nearly $3.6 billion.

The FBI then adjusted its requirements, recommending that it would only need room for about 8,300 headquarters staff, not 10,600, in a new facility. That adjustment lowered the GSA's cost estimate to around $3.3 billion and also opened up more options. He said the Pennsylvania Avenue site would not have been able to accommodate the larger number of workers but can be redeveloped to house the smaller number. The balance would be shifted to other FBI facilities across the country.

"All I can say, Mr. Mathews, is I just do not feel your answers hold up," Connolly said. "I think they contradict, as I said, six years of laying the groundwork for a different rationale for where it ought to be located, the value of consolidation, the danger of lack of consolidation, and the legitimate physical security concerns. And the rationales coming out of the GSA do not add up."

Connolly said it may be necessary for the GSA's inspector general to look more closely into the recommendation and added that the episode "is not a good moment for the GSA, and what I really worry about, besides process, is the mission of the FBI and, frankly, how it can be impeded by this decision."

Step off, old man. What you've been "laying the groundwork" for is a huge federal bacon-drop in Springfield, Virginia, and I don't think the mission of the FBI was your first concern.

In fairness to Connolly, let me say that his fellow elected officials in Maryland are just as avaricious and Trump-obsessed as their counterparts in Virginia.
Prince George's County spent over $1M pursuing the FBI headquarters, county economic development head David Iannucci said. County Executive Rushern Baker, who is running for Maryland governor, also questioned the administration's motivations.

"This decision is beyond logic but it is clearly political," Baker said in a statement. "The Trump Administration is now proposing to spread FBI offices across the country to states like Alabama, Idaho, and West Virginia — all states that voted for President Trump."

I like this business of snatching the bacon away from under the nose of my esteemed Member of Congress. Whether or not he gets his meal in the end will probably depend on the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections. Meanwhile, the mission of the FBI will continue to suffer as it makes do in that complete disaster of a headquarters building.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Well, That Was Very Brief

The Government Shutdown of 2018 barely had time to register with the public before the Senate Democrats voted to end it, with all but 16 - counting the two independents who normally caucus with them - of their 49 members voting to end cloture at 12:30 PM today.

Why such a very quick reversal? Here's a clue: a Harvard-Harris poll conducted just before the Friday night government shutdown found that 65% of voters would support a DACA deal that secures the Southern border, ends chain migration, and eliminates the visa lottery. That level of support was consistent across nearly every demographic group, including 68% of those who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Whats more, fully 81% of voters want to reduce legal immigration by at least half of its current number.

I'm guessing the Democratic caucus took one look at its internal polling on DACA and gave up that fight as quickly as they possibly could, getting nothing in return from the Republic leadership except the promise of a future Senate vote on some still-to-be-identified bill, something which neither the House nor the White House have so much as promised to consider.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Can Gov't Shutdown Theater Play When An Administration Won't Set the Stage?

So THE GOVERNMENT IS SHUT DOWN, oh my! Of course, it's normally shut down on a Saturday anyway, but if the shutdown continues into Monday, here's how it will, or more often won't, effect my fellow feds:

Social Security checks will still go out. Except there have been no actual checks since March 2013, after which date all federal benefit payments have been made electronically, but, you know, they continue to exist as a rhetorical scare tactic.

Doctors and hospitals will still receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. Federal employees will continue to receive health benefits even if their agency doesn’t make premium payments on time. According to OPM's shutdown guidance, the enrollee share of Federal Employee Health Benefits Program premiums will accumulate and be withheld from pay upon return to pay status.

Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Program enrollees will continue to receive coverage for 12 consecutive months without cost to the worker or the agency. Federal retirees under both the Federal Employees Retirement System and the old Civil Service Retirement System will continue to receive scheduled annuity payments. The Thrift Savings Plan will operate as normal except that furloughed employees will not be able to make payroll contributions while they are not getting paid.

The 850,000 or so federal employees who may be furloughed come Monday morning can safely assume they will get back pay when the fiscal hoopla is over, as has happened after each and every previous lapse in appropriations.

All law enforcement functions will go on as usual, and Transportation Security Administration officers will continue to screen airport passengers. National parks and monuments will remain open.

Speaking of those monuments, that's where Government Shutdown Theater began. The National Parks Director back in the Nixon Administration would protest budget cuts to his agency by shutting down parks and monuments for two days a week:
When the Nixon Administration cut the NPS budget in 1969, [NPS Director George] Hartzog responded by closing all the national parks for two days a week, including prominent landmarks like the Washington Monument. He later commented, “It was unheard of; even my own staff thought I was crazy.” There was political criticism by both Republicans and Democrats, but the magnitude of citizen complaints persuaded Congress to reverse its decision and restore the funds. Hartzog’s strategy was dubbed the “Washington Monument Syndrome” by The Washington Post.
We saw a lot of that strategy during the 16-day government shutdown in 2013, including the utter absurdity of yellow tape put up around open air monuments. There won't be any of that from the Trump Administration.

Like that tree that falls in forest, will the public notice a government shutdown that makes no noise?