Sunday, June 24, 2012

Greece Scores On Germany

HT to Charles Crawford for this bit of classic British silliness:

Monty Python blast one into the back of the net - and describe the Eurozone Crisis with unerring wit and prescience.

How hopeless do you have to be when even Marx can't put any life into your attack?

The Germans are putting up a better offense against Greece in real life, fortunately.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pakistani Official Harassment of U.S. Mission Has "Reached New Levels Of Intensity"

U.S. Embassy employee at roadblock in Peshawar, Pakistani news photo

Late this afternoon the State Department released the report of the Office of Inspector General's Compliance Follow-Up Review for Embassy Islamabad and constituent posts in Pakistan. The big take-away is the unprecedented levels of Pakistani official harassment of our mission and its employees.

U.S. official entities operating in Pakistan have long been subjected to unusual, government-initiated obstructionism and harassment. That harassment has reached new levels of intensity, however, after the events of 2011. The embassy describes the harassment as deliberate, willful, and systematic. While other diplomatic missions have experienced similar treatment, the United States is clearly the principal target. The harassment takes many forms: delayed visa issuances; blocked shipments for both assistance programs and construction projects; denials of requests for in-country travel; and surveillance of and interference with mission employees and contractors.

Details of that harassment were redacted before the report was released.

That's a lot of black ink, and it continues for another page and a half. So many details to obscure!

But the OIG report is perfectly clear about another matter: 

Based on its visit, the OIG team would not dispute the characterization of Peshawar in the 2010 inspection report as the most dangerous post in the world.

They have that right.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Every Leak Has A Purpose

I was proud to be exposed
by Your Excellency,
I just wish, wish you gave me
time to flee

Yeah, it's too bad about that Pakistani doctor who helped us find bin Laden. I hope those 33 years in prison will go by fast.

Same with the Saudi-British agent inside al Qaeda in Yemen. I mean, the one who used to be inside. Oops, we did it again!

And then there is the NYT story about cyber attacks on Iran's nuclear program, the one that refers to interviews with three dozen White House and administration sources.

You know, if Senator Dianne Feinstein is really as mad about these leaks as she says she is, then she will put some White House officials under oath before her Senate Intelligence Committee and ask them questions. Why wait for Attorney General Holder's criminal investigations to proceed at their customary glacial pace when you have your own subpoena power?

Here's an idea: why doesn't Feinstein publicly ask President Obama to order any of his staffers with knowledge of these leaks to testify before her committee? Since, he has said he has zero tolerance for these leaks and is deeply offended by the suggestion that he might have tolerated them.

Why, I'll bet Feinstein and Obama together could get to the bottom of this mystery in no time. Because, after all, they say that's what they want.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Happy 237th, U.S. Army

The Army goes rolling along

My favorite government institution is 237 years old today. That's one more than the United States itself, because our nation's senior military service is the only national army that predates the founding of the nation it serves. I like that.

Still Perfect For D.C.

Nothing here but a misdemeanor, the jury said

The always diverting former Mayor of Washington DC, Marion Barry, is shocked by the ethical lapses of his fellow DC City Council members, and he gave them a good talking-to yesterday.

This is the same former Mayor of Washington DC who, back in 1990, was filmed by the FBI smoking crack cocaine, and who was subsequently acquitted on something like 14 felony charges by a local jury.

I was in Bogota, Colombia, the day he was arrested, and I still remember the Pearl Harbor-sized headlines in the local papers over that infamous still shot of Barry hoovering up a crack pipe. They said "ALCALDE DROGADICTO de WASHINGTON D.C." The editorials asked what Washington would do if it had been the mayor of Bogota caught on camera smoking crack, and suggested we would probably invade the country. Yeah, that was just a wee bit embarrassing.   

But despite it all, I truly like the guy. I agree with Mo'Kelly, Marion Barry is the greatest superhero ever. Yes, ever.
When Barry emerged from his FBI crack sting jail stint, he ran for a spot on the D.C. City Council representing Ward 8. Not only did he win, but he won with the campaign slogan, “He May Not Be Perfect, But He’s Perfect for D.C.”

Are you serious?!

When you extrapolate out the full meaning of the slogan, it would read something like …

“He may not be ‘perfect,’ given his crack addiction/arrest while cheating on his wife and soliciting a prostitute; but a crackhead, womanizer caught cavorting with prostitutes while serving as mayor is ‘perfect’ for D.C.

And he won …

If there has ever been an example of lower standards for voters electing their civic leaders in the history of elections, someone please show Mo’Kelly. Other than prostitutes and crack dealers (neither of whom vote), who exactly benefited from Barry in public office? Please point him or her out. Marion Barry is supernatural with super human abilities.

By the way, you can view Barry's smokin' performance in that FBI video here. Fast-forward to the 50 minute point for the crack pipe scene, with the money shot occurring at 52:30, immediately after which the guys in windbreakers burst in to the hotel room.

For a short time after that performance, there were some local high school-age kids who got together to act out the parts of Barry and his ex-girlfriend Rasheeda Moore in front of wide screen projections of the video, a la midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At the point where Rasheeda Moore starts loading the crack pipe, the girls would flounce back and front saying her lines: “You do it! You do it! It makes me too hyper! It makes me too hyper!” After the FBI busts in, the boys would sit down and hang their heads and say “bitch set me up ... I shouldn’t ah come up here ... Possession? With what, intent to use? That, little, that little bit, that, that little speck?" It was really excellent theater.

We get the elected officials we deserve. I will miss him when he's gone.

A Military Coup Is Also A "Transition"

Ex-President Mubarak has one foot in the grave - how many weeks has he been in a coma now? - but even so he may outlive the political movement that displaced him from power.

March Lynch, in Abu Aardvark's Middle East Blog, says That's It For Egypt's So-Called Transition:

But today's moves by the Constitutional Court on behalf of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) seem difficult to overcome and likely to push Egypt onto a dangerous new path. With Egypt looking ahead to no parliament, no constitution, and a deeply divisive new president, it's fair to say the experiment in military-led transition has come to its disappointing end.

-- snip --

Today, Egypt's constitutional court delivered the coup de grace by refusing to disqualify Mubarak's former prime minister Ahmed Shafik from the race and effectively dissolving the elected parliament by declaring the individual election of one-third of its members illegal. The former decision was probably the right one, to be frank, though it was a missed opportunity for a "hail Mary" political reset. But the latter was absurd, destructive, and essentially voids Egypt's last year of politics of meaning. Weeks before the SCAF's scheduled handover of power, Egypt now finds itself with no parliament, no constitution (or even a process for drafting one), and a divisive presidential election with no hope of producing a legitimate, consensus-elected leadership. Its judiciary has become a bad joke, with any pretence of political independence from the military shattered beyond repair.

-- snip --

The SCAF, in other words, may look to have won this seemingly decisive round. But it's not the endgame. It's only the beginning of a new phase of a horribly mismanaged "transition" that is coming to its well-earned end. What's next? A replay of Algeria in 1991? A return to Jan. 25, 2011? Back to 1954? A return to the petulant slow fail of latter-days Mubarak? An alien invasion using nano-weapons and transgalactic wormholes in the Pyramids? Nobody really seems to know... but I'm pretty sure we're not going to see a return to stable CloneNDP-SCAF rule. Of course, this being Egypt, maybe tomorrow the Court will just overrule itself and we can all go back to normal...

It sure looks like the Algiers '91 scenario, in which the army prevented an Islamist majority from taking power democratically in parliamentary elections, after which a civil war ensued which has never really ended.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

U.S. Consulate Herat Officially Opens

Deputy Secretary William J. Burns delivered the remarks at today's ceremony to open the new U.S. Consulate in Herat, Afghanistan:
And so we are here to celebrate the opening of the consulate -- this remarkable refurbished facility, leased from the Municipality of Herat. This was truly a community effort – we purchased local products to use in the refurbishment, some of which you can see on display in the waiting room next door. World-class quality, Chesht-e-Sharif marble now graces some of the floors. Every week, on average, more than 70 Afghans contributed their time and skills to the consulate’s construction. One expert carpenter turned plain packing crates into beautifully carved room dividers. And artwork produced by students from Herat University is displayed on the walls of the consulate.

That "remarkable refurbished facility" is not bad. Kudos to OBO.

As for the other remarkable refurbished facility in Afghanistan, the less said, the better.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

June 6, 1944 ... Anyone? ... Anyone?

A long-ago event somewhere

The piddling regard that our political leaders showed for the anniversary of the D-Day invasion yesterday still burns me up.

It wasn't only President Obama who took a pass on commemorating D-Day. And it wasn't only Michelle Obama, either, who went to a fundraiser of her own in New York while her husband was raising campaign bucks in California.

D-Day was an afterthought at best in this election year. Mitt Romney spent the day campaigning about small businesses, and Joe Biden was in North Carolina doing whatever it is that he does.

What really annoys me, even more than their avoidance of that incredibly momentous event, is the cheap and easy way they toss off a tweet with some trite sentiment. Romney's staff sent one saying "We should never forget #DDay.” Obama sent the same thing: “We have never forgotten their heroism. —bo”

Okay, they haven't forgotten it, great. But I notice they won't do anything to remember it, either. Maybe take a beak from fundraising long enough to meet one of the dwindling number of D-Day veterans. Or go to some suitable venue and hold an entire event with actual people. Or even just make a phone call to the French Ambassador, since at least they aren't bored with the whole 'World War II and all that' thing yet.

I have seen an excuse put forward for this non-observance, which is that Official Washington only makes a big deal out of D-Day on round-number anniversaries anymore. Therefore we observed the 60th and the 65th, and we'll do it again on the 70th, assuming we feel like it then. But it would be going overboard to do something on each and every little old anniversary.

Really? The 68th anniversary of a day on which 10,000 men were killed or wounded to get a toehold on the continent of Europe from which to liberate it from Nazi oppression is considered too small a matter to deserve more from our politicians than a couple of tweets?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Longest Day (Of Fundraising)

Les Braves - French sculptor Anilore Banon's tribute on Omaha Beach

The White House commemorated the 68th anniversary of the D-Day invasion by releasing a video of President Obama's 2009 speech at Normandy.

That's it. No speech today, other than the ones he gave at four fundraisers in California. There was no special event, recognition of World War II veterans, or of military families, or anything of the sort.

If he's going to blow the anniversary off, I'd prefer that he ignore it completely rather than send out a lame re-run from three years ago.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Queen's 60th Is The Stones' 50th (Because Time Is On Their Side)

It hit me by surprise to realize The Stones will soon launch a 50th Anniversary Tour.

That clip is from 1964, which is two years after The Stones started playing together. Those guys are seriously old now. And my parents probably let me stay up to watch that back then, which tells you about me.

Fun fact: the youngest of The Stones was older than the oldest of The Beetles. And yet, they're still working.

This pleases me, since The Stones were every boy's favorite group back then. The Beetles were strictly for the girls.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Queen Elizabeth Knows Her Way Around A Rifle

Okay, I know the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Weekend will include a Derby - I mean, a Darby - a Piccadilly Big Jubilee Lunch, a pageant of fancy carriages, a thousand-boat flotilla in which the Queen will ride in a barge fitted with two tons of gold leaf, and lots more stuff along those lines.

My wife is enthralled by it all. I, however, am a more flinty republican who doesn't enjoy that sort of royal display.

But the Queen has got me by the way she handled that SA-80 service rifle during a visit to a UK military base the other day. She wasn't just posing. That's a good natural grasp she has on the rifle's foregrip. I'll bet she has fired many a fine side-by-side shotgun on country holidays in Scotland, and the familiarity shows. She is really working that optical sight, too, not just looking over it. Of course, the Queen is a World War II Territorial Army veteran, after all.

Good for her. There are other Heads of State who are less than half her age but couldn't handle the politician's obligatory manly photo-op nearly so well. Seriously. I am not kidding. Some of them are more metrosexual than the Queen, and that's even allowing for her white gloves and elegant hat.

Another Fine Mess GSA Has Gotten Itself Into

Former GSA executive Jeffrey Neely bears just a little bit of a resemblance to Oliver Hardy, no?

Maybe he's a fan, because he used a classic Hardy-ism in an e-mail that was released to the media by the Issa Committee yesterday, part of a document dump that exposed another astonishing abuse of the taxpayer by the U.S. General Services Administration.

From the WaPo this morning, ‘Virtual’ GSA employees spent $750,000 on travel over nine months:

Ninety-five high-ranking employees at the General Services Administration who are assigned to work from home racked up $750,000 in travel expenses over nine months, documents show, prompting concerns from agency officials but no action to curtail the expenses.

-- snip --

Even the executive, Jeffrey Neely, was surprised to learn of the travel expenses for the 95 employees who work from their homes, according to e-mails and other documents provided to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which oversees the federal workforce.

“OMG,” Neely wrote in an e-mail last October to a colleague, Regional Commissioner Robin Graf, who had sent a spreadsheet to several managers with a breakdown of the travel reimbursement costs for “virtual” employees. She expressed concern about a lack of oversight of these employees.

100 virtuals and most of them with some pretty serious grades,” Neely wrote, referring to the employees’ General Schedule status. “[W]ell this is a fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Neely forwarded the e-mail chain to other colleagues with this message: “This will take your breath away. Don’t share further.” The work-from-home employees were apparently traveling to regional headquarters in the Public Buildings Service and other events.

-- snip --

Of 95 work-at-home employees, 12 are supervisors who received reimbursements of more than $200,000 for travel-related expenses in 2010 and 2011, the documents provided to congressional committees show. A majority of the 95 are listed at the GS-14 and GS-15-level.

The last word was had by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, who played the Stan Laural-straight man to Neely's Oliver Hardy: “This indicates a lack of proper oversight and an ignorance of the regulations that govern federal telework programs.” What? This is about mere ignorance of the regulations? Thanks, I needed a good laugh. 

Well, well, well. I can't decide which aspect of this news I find more amazing. The fact that "virtual" employees working from home racked up quite that much travel expense - and I assume that is all domestic travel, so $750K equates to a whole lot of trips - is pretty good all by itself.

Even more amazing is that GSA has at least 48 ("a majority of the 95") employees at the GS-14 and GS-15 levels working from home. What kind of work can be done at home that justifies a GS-14 or GS-15 position? Those are as high as the General Schedule goes, after which it's Senior Executive Service. The 2012 General Service pay scales show the base pay for the lowest step of the 14 level is $84,000 and the top step of the 15 level is $129,000, and there is locality pay on top of that for almost all of the places where GSA employees live.

I don't know what kind of senior executive work these GSA employees can legitimately do from home in the first place, but, most amazing of all, twelve of them are supervisory employees. Aren't they supposed to be supervising someone other than themselves? I mean, that supervisory responsibility must have been part of the job description that justified their senior level positions in the first place.

Who supervises the supervisors? Evidently not GSA.