Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Harry Dunn Case: You Can't Get Elvis Without Colonel Parker

That's right, the latest twist in this sad story made me think of the disasterously bad manager of Elvis Presley, the one who dictated every step Presley made and pretty nearly destroyed his career. Parker was summed-up thusly: "The Colonel was often described as a cross between P.T. Barnum and W.C. Fields; in the King's court, he was combination court jester, Svengali and Robin Hood." 

Wow, that sure does resemble someone I've blogged about quite a bit. He even has a physical resemblance to Parker.

I'm prompted to blog about him yet again because this week he and the family of the victim have whipped themselves up into a state of outrage that looks unprecedented. The cause of it all was the refusal of the U.S. Embassy in London to include the family's spokesman/adviser/lawyer in a personal meeting the family had requested with the Embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission. Compounding this alleged offense, the embassy directed its emails on the matter to the mother of the victim, the requestor of the meeting, and pointedly not to her spokesman. 

The Embassy responded today:

Here's a sample of the family spokesman's unbalanced response to this perceived slight:

"Misery upon misery ... monster ... poisonous" etc. It's enough to make me wonder why they sought a personal meeting in the first place. Such aversion to the DCM seems to have escalated all at once. 

Here's the mother citing what she believes is her legal right to have her spokesman present and managing every aspect of her engagement with the Embassy: 

Note she says "the Embassy is based in the UK ... I know my rights and I'm sticking to them." That refers to the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (the Victims' Code), which is the statutory code that sets out the minimum level of service that victims should receive from the UK criminal justice system. It does not, of course, apply to the U.S. Embassy in London, or impose any obligation on the USG to address the family through their chosen representative. 

That's the problem when you're managed by a Colonel Parkeresque pitchman whom you let dictate everything you do and say. He just isn't reliable. Only last week he was pitching a virtual trial of the American driver if she would do it from the UK Embassy in Washington because - as everyone who watches a lot of television knows - an embassy is the sovereign soil of its government. It isn't really, since the 'embassy as sovereign soil' thing is a myth. But, if only last week he believed that myth, then why doesn't he now believe that the U.S. Embassy in London is the sovereign soil of its government and therefore not bound by the UK Victims Code? 

Sovereign or not, the U.S. Embassy in London may be on borrowed time, since Colonel Parker's Twitter feed is full of calls for nothing less than a break in U.S.-UK relations. Oh, you embassy swells will rue the day you trifled with him.   

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Harry Dunn Case Update: A Civil Suit is Filed, A Bad Guy Talks a Lot, UK Government Contradicts Itself, and Virtual Nonsense Abounds

The UK authorities held a meeting with the Dunn family last week, billed as an update on what they've been doing in the months since they charged the American driver with reckless driving but were denied her extradition back to the UK by the U.S. Secretary of State. As usual, no one was satisfied with anything and we are no closer to a resolution then before. In fact, the events of last week most likely will ensure a couple more years of futile activity. The BBC reports:
Harry Dunn's family say they have been told prosecutors do not believe the woman accused of killing the teenager in a crash had diplomatic immunity.
Commenting after the meeting, Greg McGill, the CPS [Commonwealth Prosecution Service] director of legal services, said "Today we have met with the family of Harry Dunn to update them on the various steps the CPS has taken over the last 10 months to secure justice in this tragic case.
"The challenges and complexity of this case are well known, but the CPS and other partners have been working tirelessly to do all they can so that Anne Sacoolas faces the charge we have brought - causing death by dangerous driving.
"We know this is a very difficult process for the family, which is why we wanted to assure them personally that we continue to seek justice for them and for the public."
Now, since the UK Foreign Minister has repeatedly told the public and the Parliament that the accused did indeed have diplomatic immunity, a position which is apparently unchanged, the UK government is now taking two different positions on that critical matter. So far, it seems happy to live with that dissonance. 

In a side note, the family disclosed the record of an internal email from the Prime Minister's office in which some perceptive person exclaimed "this guy is bad!" in reference to the family's spokesman / grifter / Svengali / ringmaster and all-round hustler.

I like the exclamation point. Not merely "bad" but "bad!" So we know that No. 10 employs at least one staffer of discernment. 

Of course, the bad guy in question, instead of owning the bad guy label, immediately hid behind the parents, just as he did a few months back when the Northants Police called him out for misrepresenting something they told him about international notices.
“So to see that I am being referred to as a ‘bad guy’ is clearly a problem, but I do whatever the parents ask me to do, so any attack on me is an attack on these parents."
Actually, it's an attack on just him, and one that's thoroughly justified. 

Ahead of the meeting with CPS, the family announced that it has filed a civil suit for damages (here) in United States District Court, Eastern District of Virginia. That will ensure time-consuming back-and-forth actions on jurisdiction, etc., before the suit can be tried, if it ever is, as well as provide a good reason to further delay cooperation with any UK court action. 

The summary of the law suit, which you can read at the above link, contains the absolutely scurrilous allegation that the American driver did not call for assistance after the accident, but rather "left Dunn to suffer" and ultimately to die. In fact, as the driver's attorneys announced in a statement released to the public this busy week, she did in fact call the RAF Croughton police, who responded right away and assisted Dunn; a passing motorist she flagged down had already called for local emergency services. If anyone left Dunn to suffer and ultimately to die, it was the ambulance service, which took 43 minutes to arrive at the scene due to a dispatching mistake, and took two hours to get him to a hospital. The American driver stayed at the scene until police told her to go home. 

The last word for this week goes to the family spokesman, always as voluble as he is ignorant of international law. A few months back he was surprised to learn that international law is not made by the United Nations. Now, he's telling the news media "Harry Dunn's alleged killer could be tried on British soil by holding virtual proceedings in the British embassy in the US, according to his family’s lawyer." 

Only if you get your information about diplomatic immunity from movies like Lethal Weapon II is a foreign embassy the 'sovereign soil' of its country. In the real world, a foreign embassy is only a diplomatic premise which the host country recognizes as having certain privileges under international law, including legal inviolability. 'Sovereign soil' is a movie and TV trope. 

Anyway, regarding that proposal of a virtual trial as a way to work around the refusal of the USG to extradite its diplomatically immune persons abroad and subject them to real trials, it's a non-starter. The same international convention that makes them immune to the criminal jurisdiction of a host country also makes them immune to having to give testimony in the court of a host country. The SecState would have to waive immunity in order to allow a trial in which the accused could give testimony, and he appears to have made his refusal to waive immunity absolutely clear. 

Next up is a protest march on the U.S. Embassy in London on Tuesday, the first anniversary of the departure from the UK of the USG family member who was subsequently charged in the case. I do not anticipate any news being released then, since all the parties involved seem to have fired all their ammo last week.


Update as of Monday, September 14. The rally-protest at the U.S. Embassy which had been planned for tomorrow is now cancelled. The family cited COVID-19 concerns as the reason.   

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Watch While Hillary Says "the Russians" Three Times in Twenty Seconds

For fans of Hillary, you can watch the full Instagram video here.

By the way, Hillary misspoke about those Congressional briefings. According to CNN, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe has informed members of Congress that "the ODNI will primarily meet its obligation to keep Congress fully and currently informed leading into the Presidential election through written finished intelligence products" instead of in-person briefings, in order to ensure the briefings are not misunderstood or politicized, or selectively leaked.

I never feel at all sorry for Bill Clinton, but if I ever were to, this would be the time. Buster Keaton knew what I'm talking about.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Hatch Act Exception for High-Ranking Officials; Too Late for Outrage

I expect that Swaggerin' Mike will slip through the the aghast & outraged mob after his remote address to the Republican convention.
"It's all just shredding the Hatch Act," a current U.S. diplomat said, referring to the federal law that prohibits government employees from political activity on the job or in their official capacities.
But, is it? Not according to the Congressional Research Service report titled Hatch Act Restrictions on Federal Employees’ Political Activities in the Digital Age (2016):
The Hatch Act provides an exception to allow certain high-ranking officials to “engage in political activity otherwise prohibited ... if the costs associated with that political activity are not paid for by money derived from the Treasury of the United States.” The exception is available to employees who hold positions with responsibilities that “continue outside normal duty hours and while away from the normal duty post,” such as presidential advisers or cabinet officers appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. In other words, these officials may engage in political activities during what would be considered official working time, as long as federal funds are not used for such activities. Any such official must reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the federal resources used in campaign activities.
You can look it up in 5 U.S.C. §7324(b)(1), and 5 U.S.C. §7324(b)(2). A SecState is, in fact, free to engage in political activities which would otherwise be prohibited to lesser officials. Quod licet Jovis, non licet bovis.

That is perfectly plain in law. Like I always wondered in school, why does no one do the reading?

Of course, there  is also the argument about long-standing traditions:  
[Pompeo is] breaking with long-standing traditions aimed at isolating American's foreign policy from partisan battles at home.
But, is he? I'd like to know when, exactly, we observed any such tradition. In recent years we've had a SecState who had just finished running for President and another who was preparing to run for President. Folks, the position is far from being isolated from domestic politics. 

Everyone knows that 'politics stops at the water's edge,' or at least that's what Senator Vandenberg said back in the 1940s, right? Considering that he was a Republican who was in office throughout five consecutive Democratic administrations, that statement always struck me as his wish rather than a description of reality. Truman and Roosevelt never expressed any such sentiment, and they were the ones in charge of foreign policy, not Vandenberg. 

It's rather too late and far too unrealistic to be aghast and outraged about domestic politics creeping into the SecState's role.

Friday, August 21, 2020

ICE, ICE, Baby

This is an example of what I so dislike about journalism today. I care very little about the substance of the story - which is that Muslim detainees at an ICE facility in Miami have been served meals for the general population instead of prepared Halal meals - but it irks me when news outlets print an advocacy group press release without making the least attempt to question the contents or to comment on the group's bias. 

If you’re at all curious about the situation in Miami, and if you read the news in a critical light, the way all news should be read, you might first note that all of this material is coming from an advocacy group. And if experience has taught us anything, it is that advocacy group press releases are always balanced, forthright, unbiased, and if anything understated. Caveat emptor

Then, you might want to hear what ICE has to say about it before you participate in a moral panic. Get a grip on yourself. Prisons and detention centers are not hotels, and prisoners can’t order the meals they want.

Recognize that the COVID-19 situation must have impacted ICE detention centers just as it has everything else, so detention center food service has gone to one-size-fits-all. No more 'plating' or unnecessary handling of food. It is unwarranted to assume this is a deliberate assault on the religious freedom of Muslim detainees, or that they are being fed nothing but pork.  

The bottom line is that Muslim (and vegetarian) detainees of ICE, or indeed of any prison or jail in the world, will have to pick out what they want to eat from that which they are served. If the solution is to give them more veggies, I'm all in favor.

You Can't Beat a Dead Horse Too Often In an Election Season

That's Quarters No. 1 at Fort Myer, which is almost certainty not where SecState Pompeo resides, but it's one of a series of General Officer's quarters there and probably gives you an idea of what his place is like.

I looked up that photo because yesterday Politico re-did a NYT story from 2018 that insinuated there was some kind of scandal surrounding Pompeo's lease of a house on Ft. Myer, although it couldn't quite say what that scandal was, exactly. I commented on that story back then and thought it failed to score any points.

Politico revisits that old matter today based on a barely-smoking gun that consists of a memo from a Navy lawyer, written two weeks after Pompeo was confirmed, and taking a poor view of options for housing him in the Navy Hill annex which is located across the street from the State Department.  The possibility of a residence on Ft. Myer had not yet been broached at that time.    

The warmed-over story still strains to achieve scandal status. Here's my favorite part:

Pompeo personally pays “fair market value” for the residence, State officials said, without giving a dollar amount. At present, according to department officials, providing housing-related security for the Pompeos costs taxpayers $1.6 million a year, roughly $413,000 less than what it cost at his previous residence, the rental house in Virginia. Pompeo’s security costs also are around $1.5 million a year lower than the more than $3 million it cost to secure the homes of former secretaries Rex Tillerson and John Kerry, officials said.

Just to clarify, this is a story that Politico thinks makes Pompeo look bad, not Kerry or Tillerson or Hillary. As a taxpayer, I don't see it that way. In fact, I hope every SecState in the future will be offered a Ft. Myer residence, and if they choose to live elsewhere, we'll send them a bill for the $1.5-ish million in residential security measures that will be needed to make their private property secure enough for them to do the job that they sought.

The distinguished former Permanent Undersecretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy, now retired but still sharp as ever, was quoted: 
Patrick Kennedy, a former undersecretary of State for management, wasn’t privy to the specific details of the Pompeos’ arrangement, but he said there is merit to the idea that the government — the military if necessary — should provide housing for a secretary of State.

The key reason? “It’s getting harder to protect the secretary of State,” he said, noting that in today’s politically charged atmosphere, even top U.S. health officials are receiving threats.

A military base not only offers more built-in security, but it’s probably easier to arrange for such needs as the construction of secure facilities where the secretary can read classified documents, Kennedy said.
He should know these practical matters better than anyone else. I'll count that as an endorsement for Swaggerin' Mike's housing arrangement.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Swaggerin' Mike Struts Over Long-Delayed Publication of OIG Report Requested by House Democrats

SecState Pompeo has something to dance about. He wants you to know that the OIG confirms no wrongdoing in emergency arms sale to counter Iran, and he's doing a victory lap today.  
In brief, back in May 2019, President Trump declared an emergency that permitted the USG to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and other partners in the region without going through Congress. As the SecState noted in his press release today, that emergency authority is explicit in the law and has been exercised by five of the last seven Presidents. Yes, even Jimmy Carter. 

As of yesterday, we found out that the OIG had determined: “[T]he Secretary’s May 2019 use of emergency authorities was executed in accordance with the requirements of Section 36 of AECA ... the Emergency Certification Was Properly Executed ... and the documentation complied with the requirements outlined in the AECA.”  

What's more, "The OIG briefed these key findings to the Department in November 2019 and March 2020 under former Inspector General Steve Linick, including the finding that the OIG found no wrongdoing. The Acting Inspector General recused himself from this review. It is unclear why the OIG required an additional 10 months to finalize the report since its key conclusions were briefed to the Department." 

Unclear? Oh, don't be coy. Tell us what you really think. 

"In June 2019, every Democratic Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee signed a letter directing the OIG to embark on this legal review, despite the fact that the Secretary exercised a specific authority granted to the Executive Branch by Congress in law ... Now that the OIG has completed its work, we hope these Members and media outlets who echoed their baseless accusations will publicly accept the findings of the report they requested from the OIG and immediately retract their statements from the past year." The press release cites a couple such statements by HFAC Chairman Engel and Ranking Member Menendez. 

Look at that timeline. Five months after the HFAC Democratic members requested that State OIG investigate this matter, the OIG reported its negative conclusions internally. After a further four months it reiterated that internal report, but still did not publish a final report, which would have publicly exonerated the SecState. 

Is it just my imagination, or is 2020 an election year? 

The Inspector General who was in charge during that slow crawl, Mr. Linick, was removed from office in May, 2020. A mere (?) three months after that, the report was finally published.