Thursday, January 26, 2023

Congratulations Wordsmiths, State Gets an A+ For Plain Writing

Sadly, compliance with that Act has not been uniformly great. For 2022 the average federal agency scored a mere C, which may not come as a surprise to you if you are familiar with any federal agencies. But I am pleased to report the State Department got an A+. See the Federal Report Card for 2022 here

So, what accounts for this competent drafting? Did State start passing out the Elements of Style, which once upon a time was a routine handout for new college students? That would be good. 

Better yet, it could stock all offices and annexes with collections of Hemingway novels! Now there was some good plain writing. 

"You must face the white bull that is a screen with no text on it" were his exact words of advice to writers, I think I recall from one or another of his stories. 
All you have to do is write one real bullet point. Make your action memo a clean, well-lighted place. Write the truest Ambassador Briefing Checklist you know. 

That's some good stuff, even if we no longer drink grappa all day long and write with pencils in little French notebooks. 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

German Military Music: I Like the Tune, But Can They Dance To It?


Will Germany send in the Leopards to Ukraine? Im Sturmwind dahin

I have no idea, but the Panzerlied is a kick-ass tune, and I am happy to see it is used once again by the Bundeswehr. It shouldn't have been banished due to its origins in the WWII Wehrmacht armored troops. 

It's hard to remember, now that Germany has the smallest army in NATO, but at the height of the Cold War it had about 4,000 Leopard 2s. Today it has about 350.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

RT Hon Cleverly Answers Your Questions

I have to hand it to the Rt Hon, this kind of thing makes a lot more sense as light public outreach than do Anthony Blinken's annoying Spotify playlists.

Plus, he only took up six and a half minutes of your time to deliver those Qs and As. He got in and then he got out. Very good. 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Harry Dunn Case Redux: Cosplay Justice Was Good Enough


In the end, all it took to reconcile the Dunn family's demands for justice with the UK government's political embarrassment over the reality of diplomatic immunity was a pretense of a criminal trial. 

Pretend that the defendant is present in a UK court room, and listen to someone in a powdered wig pronounce a stern suspended sentence (while acknowledging she is powerless to impose any actual sentence in reality) and all the players will go away more or less satisfied. 

Since we're learning lessons, here are two important lessons that I think my own government is missing. 

First, we should take a big cue from how the UK handled immunity when one of its diplomats killed a cyclist in a road traffic accident, which was by the offending diplomatic leaving the host country and neither he nor the UK ever mentioning it again. What, no lawsuit? No request to waive immunity? No extradition request? No moralizing? No public vendetta against the diplomat involved? No, there was none of that. 

Second, we should adopt the UK's practice of denying the public any information about incidents in which it claimed immunity on behalf of its diplomatic staff. Take a look at the quick brush-off the Foreign Office gave to a 2014 request in FOI release: diplomatic immunity claimed by British diplomatic staff:
FOI ref: 0995-14 explains that diplomatic immunity has been claimed on a small number of occasions and if the details were to be released it could lead to the individuals concerned being identified. It has therefore been withheld under section 40 (personal information) of the Freedom of Information Act
"Personal information," right. You wouldn't want any personal information, or even identities, getting out or else the UK press might stalk and harass your people. 

If we're in a lesson-learning mood, I hope those two lessons will get absorbed over here. Next time - and of course there will be a next time - just stonewall. 

Money Motivates These Georgia County Court Clerks


Crazy and corrupt it may be, but the law in Georgia allows county court clerks to keep as their personal income the $35 processing fees they collect when their courthouse is used as an acceptance facility for U.S. passport applications. 

Atlanta News First, Superior court clerks legally pocketing thousands in passport processing fees:
In 2021, Cobb’s superior court clerk raked in more than $220K, while Fulton’s pocketed $360K in passport processing fees, on top of their salaries.
Impressive! Government is not a philanthropic activity, after all. And, mind you, the clerks earned that money the hard way - $35 at a time. 

I hadn't known that there are alternatives to using a U.S. Post Office or U.S. Passport Agency or Center when applying for a passport, but there are, and paying a $35 fee to those alternative acceptance facilities is legit, actually

So what I want to know now is where does Georgia find court clerks with the incredible stamina and enough hours in the day to process that many passport applications? I mean, the one in Fulton County is doing more than 10,000 applications a year, or 27 or so every day assuming she works 365 days a year. When you figure in that she must also be doing some Fulton County work, too, that is really extraordinary. 

According to the linked Atlanta News First story, some Georgia legislators are planning to end this sweet deal by amending state law to prohibit clerks keeping the fees as personal income. 

Well, I guess that's the right thing to do. But then, don't expect those clerks to show the same superhuman motivation when they're processing those passports for free.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Who? Who? Who? Who Said My Dog Bites? Who? Who? Who?

There are distburbing relevations about President Biden's relations with his Secret Service detail in a book that's coming out in January (here), with some quotes released today.
President Joe Biden was so disturbed by the Secret Service’s handling of text messages sought by the House January 6 select committee that he stopped speaking candidly in the presence of special agents assigned to his protection detail, a new book on the Biden White House has revealed. 
In The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House, author Chris Whipple writes that Mr Biden’s discomfort with the post-Trump era agency began early on in his presidency, when it became clear that “some of” the agents charged with protecting him from assassination were strong supporters of the man he defeated in the 2020 election, former president Donald Trump. 
-- snip -- 
He added that Mr Biden’s trust in his protection detail was further shaken by a March 2021 incident involving a Secret Service agent and his then-three-year-old German Shepherd, Major. 
Major, who Mr Biden adopted from the Delaware Humane Association in 2018, was the first rescue dog to serve as First Canine. He allegedly bit a Secret Service agent in the private residence portion of the White House on 8 March 2021, and was temporarily relocated to Delaware for training in the wake of that incident, though he later bit a National Park Service worker just after returning to the White House at the end of that month. 
According to Whipple, Mr Biden was quite sceptical about the details of the first alleged biting incident. He writes that although no one disputed that an incident had taken place, the president “wasn’t buying the details,” particularly the alleged location of the biting. 
Whipple reveals that Mr Biden expressed his concerns to a friend while he was giving a tour of the White House family quarters. The president reportedly pointed to the alleged location of the biting — on the second floor of the executive mansion — and told the friend: “Look, the Secret Service are never up here. It didn’t happen”. He added that Mr Biden thought “somebody was lying ... about the way the incident had gone down”.
C’mon, man, stop the malarkey. First the poor old guy has to keep quiet around Secret Service agents who he thinks might be spying on him. Then, those agents spread all kind of lies about his dog. 

Next thing you know, someone will be stealing his favorite Jello cups right out of the Oval Office refrigerator. There is nobody you can trust in Washington.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

DS Agent Complaints Boiling Over to News Media, Something to Watch