Wednesday, June 3, 2020

If 1967 Was the Summer of Love, 1968 Was the Summer of Fire and Tear Gas

Federal troops in the Federal enclave of Washington DC, 1968

It was 52 years ago that federal troops, 11,000 of them, were used to restore order to Washington DC, after four days of rioting and arson had destroyed large parts of the city. They brought order with dispatch (note the - sheathed - bayonets on those rifles) and most of the public was glad to see it done. Most people in any kind of position of power back then, including those who ran the news media, were World War II veterans or at least were shaped by the experience of WWII, and had a whole different scale by which they measured harshness. Any crowd control measure short of shooting was easily accepted, and shooting was always an option.

I was a little kid at the time but I well remember the atmosphere. The first time I smelled tear gas was in the streets around National Airport, and I saw troops manning an M-60 machine gun at an intersection near the Capitol.

A dozen or so cities had riots that year that were at least as damaging as those in DC. One immediate political impact of that was to make some Police Chiefs run for office, such as those in Los Angeles and Philadelphia who became their city's next Mayor.

There's a lesson there. Keep your eye on the benevolent associations and collective bargaining structures of New York City's Police and Fire Departments, which could turn into very large and extremely effective political organizations overnight. Why should they not run someone against Mayor De Blasio?

One other lesson: the 1968 Democratic Party Convention turned into a shambles and its nominee, Vice President Humphrey, lost to a law'n'order Republican. Republicans went on to win four of the next five Presidential elections.

Who knows? Maybe the voters across America, and especially in the swing states, are taking the side of Antifa as they watch all the violence, but I kind of doubt it. We'll find out soon enough.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Who Will Pay For This Screw-Up in Ashgabat? The 90 to 125 Million Dollar Question

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, city of white marble and straight lines

This might be the most consequential screw-up in U.S. embassy construction since the Moscow debacle of the 1980s and 1990s. (For a summary of that long-drawn-out disaster, which nearly resulted in embassy construction responsibility being taken out of the hands of the State Department, see the embassy's website.) Anyway, that's the only other one I can recall in which we had to demolish a newly-built embassy.

If it weren’t for the COVID-19 emergency taking up all of Official Washington’s time and attention, we would surely see State getting thrashed by Congress and the White House over an OIG audit report for Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, that came out in February. No one seems to have noticed it yet, which is understandable given the pandemic health crisis. However, the report makes clear that there will be a follow-up, and quite possibly a formal notification to Congress of waste and mismanagement, so I don't see any way that my good friends in OBO will escape repercussions forever.

You can read all about it in Review of Delays Encountered Constructing the New Embassy Compound in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, a pedestrian title which gives no hint of the political dynamite inside the report.

The report is unclassified and uncontrolled, put out there on the internet for all the public and Congress to see. The OIG certainly isn't hiding it. They even put it in their Twitter feed on February 27. Hey, congressional oversight committees, you're missing a good one here.

The gist of the matter is that since 2016 OBO has been building a new U.S. embassy in Ashgabat, which is a city that imposes two absolute requirements on new buildings: they must have facades of white marble and they must be set back from the street a precise distance, which is referred to as "the red line." Well, we built the main embassy office in the wrong place. And now we will have to demolish it and build it again, this time in the place where the local authorities told us all along it had to go.

From the OIG Report:
[I]n July 2016, the Government of Turkmenistan halted construction of the NOB [New Office Building] because it was being constructed in a location that violated the city’s red line. This error occurred, in part, because OBO personnel failed to follow internal procedures that guide the planning of construction projects … Moreover, they did not require the Architectural and Engineering firm that prepared the project bridging design to deliver required planning documentation that would have alerted OBO about the proper placement of the NOB. In addition, the construction contractor, Caddell, failed to obtain required construction permits from the Turkmen Government prior to initiating construction. As a result, construction of the NOB was halted after approximately $26 million had been expended to construct the facility.

-- Snip --

The operational and financial implications from the improper placement of the NOB are profound. Specifically, because construction of the NOB has not been completed, embassy operations continue to be conducted from multiple locations. According to OBO’s FY 2014 Congressional Notification for constructing the NEC, this arrangement creates security and safety risks. In addition, OBO estimates that it will cost the Department between $90 million and $125 million to rebuild a new NOB in an approved location. This amount is approximately twice what was originally budgeted to construct the NOB.

So many fingers of blame to point at so many parties! And did they say we're going to pay twice the cost that was originally budgeted in order to get this project completed? Yes, well, that will happen when first you construct a building, then you have to tear it down and construct it a second time.

Keeping track, that’s $26 million in sunk costs – construction, design, contractor mobilization, project supervision – to build the wrongly-sited and unpermitted chancery office building, plus between 90 and 125 million in future costs to re-build the chancery on the correct side of the host government’s red line.

For some background on that red line, see The City of White Marble to appreciate how very, very, particular the host country’s government and its President - Protector of the Turkmen! - are about their architecturally eccentric capital city.

Ashgabat may be the strangest city anywhere outside of North Korea. Still, all they asked of us was a white marble chancery building that respected their setback distance from the street so as to keep our new embassy in geometric harmony with every other building in the neighborhood. That’s not so much to ask.

The dramatis personae in this story of – likely – waste and mismanagement include:
  • OBO’s first project manager, now retired, who failed to ensure that the local legal assessment report was properly filed away with OBO headquarters
  • The architectural firm OBO used to prepare the planning documents that guided the eventual design and construction, which failed to press with OBO the issue of the missing local legal assessment
  • The Office of Acquisitions Management and the Office of the Legal Advisor, who must now determine whether a screw-up by the first project manager relieved OBO's construction contractor from its contractual obligations, or whether that contractor is liable for damages
  • The construction contractor, Caddell, who failed to obtain a local building permit, or to verify that one had been obtained, before plunking that new chancery down right on top of the local red line; Caddell is now on the hot seat for paying big damages to OBO, or, just maybe, to boldly charge OBO even more money to compensate for the four years it has been required to suspend work on the chancery ('equitable adjustment for the cost and time impacts'), which I bet would be quite the bargaining chip in a possible settlement negotiation
  • The U.S. Congress, who will eventually wake up to this news, if not now, then in a few more months when they may well get official notice from the OIG that it has found a case of waste and mismanagement

There are also lesser players, like the OBO Director and his headquarters staff, and the Under Secretary for Management. I foresee a judge and jury getting involved, as well.

The current U.S. Ambassador and his predecessor come off pretty well, since the OIG makes clear that they both tried to talk sense to Washington while headquarters officials dithered in the four years since Turkmenistan authorities ordered a halt to construction, refusing to bite the bullet and just demolish that offending chancery.
“By January 2019, the U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan informed OBO that he saw no realistic chance the Turkmen Government would allow the building to be completed in its current location, and he advised OBO that the only path forward was to demolish the NOB and rebuild it in accordance with the Turkmen Government’s red line requirement. In June 2019, the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador met with the President of Turkmenistan and again attempted to find a solution other than demolishing and rebuilding the NOB. In response, the Turkmen President reiterated that the red line is Turkmen law and must be upheld.”

But instead of accepting that Turkmen reality, OBO tried to wriggle off the hook. It proposed adding a massive fig leaf – an earthen berm – to make the chancery’s red line intrusion harder for passersby to see, but the locals authorities didn’t go for that. It explored a partial demolition of the unfinished chancery, but that was not a viable option. It even asked the locals if they would be open to a cost-sharing arrangement to pay for the full demolition and reconstruction of the chancery, but no such luck.

To me, that dithering and wishful thinking is the greatest fault in this sad story. It should not have taken four years to face the facts and understand there is no way out of this dilemma other than knocking down that partially-finished chancery. The sooner you do it, the faster this will be over and the fewest dollars will have been wasted.

Now, having dragged the problem out for four years, not only does OBO still have to rebuild the chancery, but State has a major legal problem and financial exposure on its hands if it tries to fix responsibility on its construction contractor, Caddell. After all, it was Caddell that failed to obtain a construction permit for the new embassy, which is a huge oversight, to say the least. So doesn't Caddell own this 90 to 125 million dollar problem? Maybe. But what equitable adjustment does OBO owe Caddell for the four years since it ordered Caddell to stop work on the biggest part of its Ashgabat contract? The answers will depend on how a judge sees contractual orders of precedence and other matters of procurement law.

Finally, let’s not forget the staff of the U.S. Mission in Turkmenistan, who will continue to have their operations split between multiple locations, some of them highly deficient in both security and safety (in particular, seismic safety) for years to come.

More to come on this, for sure.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Police warn about fake ‘coronavirus inspector’ - (Maryland) Capital Gazette

“Residents should not open their homes to anyone claiming to be checking for the COVID-19 virus or offering to clean their home,” [Bowie MD Police Chief] Nesky’s department warned in a statement released on the scam.

Socially Isolated, But Ready to Roll

As if working from a cubicle in an office annex in Rosslyn VA wasn't already isolated enough, now I'm teleworking from home half the time.

On my in-office days, the benefits are clear: near-empty streets and a record short door-to-door commute, my local Starbucks bravely hanging in there with mobile orders and pick-up service (unlike Peets), and - best of all - being allowed to park in the office building garage. What a perk!!! Now I know how the One Percent live.

On my at-home days, telework connectivity-wise, GO has been just okay but Microsoft 365 has been great. My biggest problem on home-bound work days has been the temptation to do on-line shopping.

With time on my hands, I've started to do long put-off chores. For one, I finally disassembled the slide on my old Glock so as to clean the striker channel and firing pin assembly. A bit embarrassed to admit I'd never done that before. I've never had any kind of function glitch with that highly reliable pistol, but now it'll be just that much nearer to perfection. I'll never have to hear Michael Caine say "you failed to maintain your weapon, son."

As the weather turns warmer, I expect to do more outside chores that I've been putting off forever. With no time or daylight lost to commuting now, I can afford to spend a couple hours a day on my lawn. Hey, I might really grow some grass this year!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

U.S. Hospitals Pretty Well-Resourced Against COVID-19

Image from NPR

NPR had an alarming story today revolving around an interview about the current limits of intensive care resources for treating COVID-19 patients, in particular whether there will be enough ventilators for the most severely afflicted. But by far the most interesting info was buried when NPR linked to but otherwise ignored a research report by a society of intensive care professionals on just that very topic.

Why so little interest in that report, especially when it answered some of the questions raised in the main body of the story?

Here's the story: As The Pandemic Spreads, Will There Be Enough Ventilators?

First the gloomy main body:
Ventilators are generally a temporary bridge to recovery — many patients in critical care who need them do get better. These machines can be crucial to sustaining life in certain emergency situations. And if there is a surge in seriously ill patients, as COVID-19 spreads, ventilators could be in short supply, from hospital to hospital or nationally.

And if there's an increase in very sick patients on a scale like what happened in China, Dr. Eric Toner says, the U.S. is not prepared. Toner studies hospital preparedness for pandemics at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

"We are not prepared, nor is any place prepared for a Wuhan-like outbreak," Toner tells NPR, "and we would see the same sort of bad outcomes that they saw in Wuhan — with a very high case fatality rate, due largely to people not being able to access the needed intensive care."

Toner says all hospitals have some lifesaving ventilators, but that number is proportional to the number of hospital beds in the institution. An average-sized hospital with 150 beds, for example, might have 20 ventilators. If more were needed, hospitals that need them could rent them, he says — at least for now. But if there's a surge of need in a particular community — patients with serious pneumonia from COVID-19 or pneumonia related to flu, for example — all hospitals in the area would be competing to rent from the same place. "So that's a very finite resource" he says.

The latest study available estimates there are about 62,000 ventilators in hospitals nationwide. That figure is seven years old — so the actual number could be higher.

There are also some machines in federally stockpiled emergency supplies, though the exact number isn't public.

"There is a strategic national stockpile of ventilators, but the numbers are classified," says Toner. It's been "publicly stated," he says, that there are about 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile. "That number might be a bit outdated, but it's probably about right," he says. Other estimates range from 4,000 to somewhat less than 10,000.

At that point NPR linked to this highly pertinent and current - it's dated yesterday - report by the Society of Critical Care Medicine, U.S. ICU Resource Availability for COVID-19, which paints a much less dark picture.

First, look at Figure 1, the comparison of U.S. critical care beds to other countries. The United States has 34.7 ICU beds per 100,000 inhabitants, significantly more per capita than anywhere else except Germany, which was second with 29.2. After that, the numbers drop off sharply. If you're in the UK or China - 6.6 and 3.6 per capita respectively - just hope you won't need a critical care bed.

The report gives comprehensive numbers for ventilators on hand and details of all aspects of employing them during an emergency, including the limits on our ability to absorb surge supplies due to the need for spare parts, disruptions in international supply lines, and the need for trained personnel to safely use ventilators.
Supply of mechanical ventilators in U.S. acute care hospitals: Based on a 2009 survey of AHA hospitals, U.S. acute care hospitals are estimated to own approximately 62,000 full-featured mechanical ventilators. Approximately 46% of these can be used to ventilate pediatric and neonatal patients. Additionally, some hospitals keep older models for emergency purposes. Older models, which are not full featured but may provide basic functions, add an additional 98,738 ventilators to the U.S. supply. The older devices include 22,976 noninvasive ventilators, 32,668 automatic resuscitators, and 8,567 continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) units.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and other ventilator sources: The SNS has an estimated 8,900 ventilators for emergency deployment. These devices are not full featured but offer basic ventilatory modes. Accessing the SNS requires hospital administrators to request that state health officials ask for access to this equipment. SNS can deliver ventilators within 24-36 hours of the federal decision to deploy them. States may have their own ventilator stockpiles as well. Respiratory therapy departments also rent ventilators from local companies, further expanding the supply. Additionally, many modern anesthesia machines are capable of ventilating patients and can be used to increase hospitals’ surge capacity.

The addition of older hospital ventilators, SNS ventilators, and anesthesia machines increases the absolute number of ventilators to possibly above 200,000 units.

I'll note that the absolute number of ventilators does not include U.S. military resources which may also be available, and which probably exceed the medical capabilities of most countries.

All in all, I was quite reassured to read that linked report.

As of today, the U.S. has had only 1,629 COVID-19 cases and 41 deaths (about half of which occurred at the same Kirkland, Washington, nursing home). That's only 5 cases per million of population. There were a little over 100,000 cases worldwide, most of them in only five countries, when WHO declared it a pandemic.

Of course, we and the rest of the world will have many more cases before the pandemic subsides. But let's not ignore the realities that the U.S. has had remarkably few cases in comparison to nearly every other country, that we are far better resourced than others to handle the most severely afflicted patients, and that our population is spread out over a large landmass that will make it feasible to surge more resources to the locations in greatest need as events dictate.

So get a grip. Stay away from large crowds, wash your hands often, and let's all hope that Tom Hanks recovers quickly.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Most Headshakingly Bad Thing of the Week

"Warning: If you have recently purchased Meth, it may be contaminated with the Corona Virus." - Merrill, Wisconsin, Police Department

"Please take it to the Merrill Police Department and we will test it for free. If you're not comfortable going into an office setting, please request any officer and they'll test your Meth in the privacy of your home. Please spread the word! We are here for you!”

Help Hillary Name Her Podcast

Yes, she's doing it, starting a podcast. Here's the news from Politico yesterday:
The yet-to-be-titled show will be co-produced by audio giant iHeartMedia, which produces original content such as Will Ferrell’s “The Ron Burgundy Podcast,” and, through iHeartRadio, is also a major distributor for the biggest names in conservative talk radio. They include a who’s who of right-wing commentators who have pilloried Clinton and her family over the years: Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Ben Shapiro, and Sean Hannity. The Joe Rogan Experience, whose host recently endorsed Bernie Sanders, is one of iHeartRadio’s most popular shows.

I'll be the first to subscribe to that. But, yet to be titled? We cannot allow that to stand. I don't know if Hillary is open to suggestions from the public, but these are mine.
  • The Mellifluous Voice of Hillary Diane Rodham (and Sometimes) Clinton
  • I Have No Recollection, but I Do Have This Podcast
  • How Come No One Names Their Kid “Hillary“ Anymore?
  • Bitter BlackBerries
  • HRC Interviews Some of the People Who Should Answer For What They Did to Me
  • HRC / DC
  • Hillary Unchained (Freedom’s Just Another Word For Nothing Left to Lose)
  • Uncorked, Self-Medicated, and Ready To Talk and Talk and Talk
  • Straight Outta' Chappaqua
  • I Coulda’ Been a Contender
  • I Coulda' Been Somebody
  • Instead of a Bum, Which is What I Am

A podcast like that is exactly what we need in these trying times. Nothing but great info and entertainment can possibly come out of this new HRC initiative.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Stripper who broke jaw in fall from pole may never twerk again - New York Post

"The Dallas stripper who broke her jaw in a 15-foot drop from a pole will likely never grace the stage again, sources close to her told TMZ ... Genea Sky’s fall from the pole at XTC Caberet Dallas on Monday has left her “scared to death” and contemplating leaving the industry, the sources told the gossip site."

"She’s also hoping to use her viral fame to improve the lives of other exotic dancers, but she’s not sure how best to go about it, according to the report."

Harry Dunn Case Attracts New Supporters, But No New Action

(Above, opposition leader Corbyn asks Prime Minister Johnson questions about the Harry Dunn case.)

Last Sunday the British press, claiming anonymous "multiple sources in both Washington and London" dropped the surprising - or maybe not - revelation that the American driver in the case was at one time employed by a three-letter agency of the USG. Surprisingly little media buzz followed.

I will note that claiming to have a source "in Washington" implies the source was a knowledgeable American official, while in fact it could have been a British official, or a journalist, or anyone, even a drunk in a bar, who was merely located in Washington. Anonymous sources support about one half of the local economy of Washington. If you pay any attention at all to the news media you may have a jaundiced view of how reliable such sources are.

That revelation about the American driver, whether it's true or false or something in the middle, makes no difference at all to the key fact of the case. As the UK Foreign Secretary had already explained to the House of Commons, and as he explained again this week in an email to the Dunn family, the driver was notified to the UK as the family member of an employee of the Administrative and Technical Staff of the U.S. Mission, and therefore she had diplomatic immunity to the criminal jurisdiction of the UK at the time of the fatal accident. What job she may have held in the past or present has no bearing on that.

Anonymous and unreliable sources nothwithstanding, the news of last Sunday brought the Dunn family two new allies on the political left: George Galloway, who in 2003 was expelled from the Labour Party for calling on Arabs to fight British troops, not to mention the diversion of six-figure money from the humanitarian Iraqi oil for food program to his wife and to his own private charity at a time when Galloway was campaigning to end UN sanctions on Iraq, and Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour leader, who in the 2019 general election led Labour to a net loss of 60 seats, leaving it weaker than it has been since 1935.

Maybe it's just me, but those two don't sound like they have a lot of influence on either the Boris Johnson or Donald Trump administrations.

Although, there is one lovely bit of British wackiness about Corbyn that warms even my flinty heart. He is a "gridder," that is, he admirers drains and manhole covers, which evidently is a real thing in Britain.
For years, the nation’s devoted admirers of drains and manhole covers lacked a really high-profile representative. Not any more: Jeremy Corbyn’s bold admission that he likes to photograph drain covers, despite the fact that “people think it’s little odd”, has put drains and the people who love them in the spotlight.

We need a new word to describe that kind of thing, one that means 'something that sounds exactly like the premise of an old Monty Python skit but which is, however improbable, real.' How about Ministry-of-Silly-Walks-ian? [See this]

So, you may wonder, how did the Dunn family spokesman / ringmaster respond to Sunday's anonymous and unreliable revelation of a three-letter agency connection to the case? Well, he telephoned an anonymous "senior diplomat" in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and then wrote a press release about their frank exchange of views.

From the sound of it, the conversation did not go well from the spokesman's point of view.
"You stand with the US Govt in insisting that she had diplomatic immunity and thus have no issue with her freedom to leave the country, as she chose to do. The parents to this day do not understand how their own government, meant to be representing them in this matter, are taking the position that they are.

-- Snip --

You were not able to move matters on at all from your email. You said that you are unable to comment on anyone’s status as a spy or otherwise due to protocol. I made the point that it would have been better for the parents to have found out from the Foreign Secretary rather than a Sunday newspaper. His credibility as you know in the parents’ eyes was questionable and he failed in his duty of candour to them.

You reiterated that everything that can be done is being done to ensure we get Justice 4 Harry. These words are empty and are falling on deaf ears. The time for talk is over. We need to see what is being done.

The Foreign Secretary wishes to meet with the parents again. They will happily do so when you have given disclosure of all the documentation sought through the Judicial Review and the FOIA requests. No disrespect is intended and he will understand how the parents feel. We will hopefully hear from you positively in this respect. We will happily inspect those documents in a secure setting and undertake to keep them confidential, if that will help and then meet with him afterwards.

The parents are far from satisfied with the communication from Government to them and have no visibility as to what is being done. It has been several weeks now since the extradition request was rejected. We were told that all options were being reviewed. Where are we please?

The parents now require that meeting with the Prime Minister which he has so far managed to evade. Even Donald Trump saw these parents. It is a national embarrassment that Mr Johnson does not appear to wish to do so. Would you please reiterate that request. If he will not do so, will no10 please do us the courtesy of saying why instead of just ignoring the request. The parents are entitled to hear from the leader what he intends to do to bring Anne Sacoolas back and to keep the citizens safe from harm.

We request please a timetabled action plan to secure Anne Sacoolas’s return. The parents are completely in the dark and yet again the authorities are completely in breach of the victims code. They are not being supported and are not being kept informed. That is unforgivable and must be rectified without any further delay. I have copied in Janine Smith at the CPS in csse she is able to or wishes to rectify matters at her end.

If the Government are unable to secure her return, then they need to say so. Harry’s friends as you know will not accept being sitting ducks any longer. This government appears either unable or unwilling to protect them. They will therefore have to take matters into their own hands and the bases will have to close. They have demonstrated their ability to blockade those bases and those will only increase in frequency and intensity. Biker Groups are also planning on riding to the US embassy. It is remarkable that they are having to go to these lengths while the Government stands idly by.

-- Snip --

We request that one single cabinet member now be appointed as our main point of contact, Andrea Leadsom having been dumped from the cabinet without a replacement point of contact for us being appointed. Geoffrey Cox, who we were told was looking at the trial in absentia and Interpol Red Notice, is also gone. Does anyone intend to update us as to what is going on?

The family spokesman is a blowhard, but he has a certain legitimate complaint. The UK government seems to have gone into duck and cover mode lately and is avoiding making statements of hard truth, with the exception of their insistence on the American driver's protected diplomatic status. On that, at least, they have all along been willing to incur the family's tabloid-enabled wrath.

But when does this dance end? The family's demands are escalating and taking on an imperious tone. They demand meetings with the Prime Minister; they demand review of official documents as a precondition for meeting with the one cabinet Minister who is wiling to meet with them; they insist on a fictitious right by private citizens to change UK official understanding of international law and practice regarding diplomatic immunity; they insist on meetings with the USAF Commander at RAF Croughton and on being present when she meets with the Chief of Northants Police. They demand more and more. I wonder if President Trump didn't create a monster when he met the family in the Oval Office.

When does the UK government bite the bullet and tell the family the real bottom line? They can provide driver education for those American scofflaws at RAF Croughton and require local driver licencing. They can limit or end any existing arrangements on diplomatic immunity that apply to USG personnel at RAF Croughton or elsewhere. They can even try the American driver in absentia, providing a judge will play along by disregarding her diplomatic immunity.

But what they cannot do is force the driver to return to the UK. Neither can they change international law on diplomatic immunity, not unless they care to withdraw from the Vienna Convention and accept the consequent loss of immunity for UK diplomats abroad.

Six months on from the fatal accident, the UK government is apparently still waiting for the time to be ripe to tell the family those hard truths, but the Dunn family still isn't willing to hear them.

Unless the UK leadership plans to surrender to the family’s demands, at some point someone in authority will have to say directly to them “I’m sorry for your loss. The government has done all it can to bring the driver to trial in the UK, but international law makes her immune to the criminal jurisdiction of the UK unless her immunity is waived by the USG. And, as you know, the USG adamantly refuses to waive her immunity or agree to her extradition. We have thus exhausted all our options for a criminal trial. As a public matter, this is now at an end. I hope you will seek help in dealing with your personal grief, and I offer you any grief counseling assistance the government can provide.”

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Gentlemen, Pay Attention

Apropos of nothing, except that I've been listening to the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood soundtrack, here's a classic bit of blue-eyed soul from 1965.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Big PR Week for the Harry Dunn Case

The family spokesman was over here again this past week, busy as a one-man band doing media hits and lobbying the high and mighty from Capitol Hill to the UN. At least, that’s what he was doing if you take his press releases at face value. He sends them out via, where he writes them in the third person, and I see that they are often quoted in re-typed by various UK news outlets.

The big week included farce as he attended a press conference held by Lisa Bloom, the made-for-tabloid lawyer who is representing six women pursuing civil claims against the estate of the late Jeffery Epstein, trying to get a publicity bump by ‘joining forces’ to call for a swap/prisoner-exchange of the American driver for Prince Andrew, who has refused to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement about his friendship with Epstein.

That’s tabloid bait, but hardly a serious proposal.

The week went downhill for our traveling drummer when first the State Department and then the United Nations Secretary-General both declined his request for meetings.

Now, I don’t think he truly expected that State Department lawyers would meet with him or the Dunn family to explain the internal deliberations behind the denial of the extradition request, or to open that decision up for debate. Why in the world would they?

But I do think he really was surprised to find out the United Nations does not make international law.
Vienna is a UN convention. I accordingly approached the Secretary General of the United Nations to ask for a meeting to discuss such a review [a review of the entire Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations] and to seek his guidance on the way forward. Having initially received a warm response from his office, I eventually met today with David Hutchinson, Principal Legal Officer in the Office of Legal Counsel. Prior to the meeting, I received a terse email from him stating that my invitation was misplaced and that the Secretary General had no lawful competence to get involved. It was a matter for Member States to address.

He must be very confused about international law if he thought the UN makes it and can unmake it. In fact, international law is made by multilateral treaties. All the UN does is record such treaties, like this one.

Too bad. They'll be no group hug with the Secretary-General, who would then magically abolish diplomatic immunity.

Now that the UN has declined to play along, what higher authority can he take his pitch to next? I suggest he try the United Federation of Planets. Oh, I know that’s not real, except in the imagination of Star Trek fans. But then, his whole pitch is based on fantasy in the first place because on this planet the family members of the Administrative and Technical staffs of diplomatic missions are immune from the criminal jurisdiction of their host countries.

I suppose it’s all harmless grifting until somebody gets hurt. The British tabloids released photos and published home and family details about the American driver this week, which I notice they tend to do when the Dunn family spokesman visits the U.S. Given the sustained high level of hatred towards the driver that the tabloids have stoked among the British public and some U.S. parties – browse the comments on British news articles about the case and you’ll often see fantasies of murder – I hope someone is filing for restraining orders against the tabloids’ local stringers/stalkers and taking precautions against the nutters out there.

So, now it’s back home again, where I guess he must have a day job he needs to attend to. Or does he? I see he identifies himself on social media as the COO and CLO of something called Squid Networks LTD. And what’s that? A failed, and now dissolved, attempt to raise funds for a bitcoin-based gaming product that didn’t exist.

Here's an independent review for anyone thinking of investing in Squid Networks' Initial Coin Offering:
The company behind Reef – claiming to be known as Squid Networks – has an extremely weak incorporation. The majority of their team have nothing but schooling and menial work behind them and have no industry or technical experience. Their company was founded for the sole purpose of raising money for this project. They also have no financial staff listed.

We are very concerned when examining ICOs which have no supervision of funds, and no exit scam proofing.

The Reef project is a risky investment. It has not been audited and no ICO Fund Supervision Scheme has been set up.

-- Snip --

Squid Networks created their company with the sole purpose of launching an ICO to raise funds for their project. On their website (which is unresponsive) they claim they’ve been in business since 2017, but the company was only registered on the 15th March 2018.

The registered address of this company is hundreds of miles from the locations of any staff, as per LinkedIn profiles. They have written in their Google business statement that the company was “created to make Reef”.

Their “partners” are small gaming organisations with no assets or real liability. They incorporated the company with just 3 GBP.

-- Snip --

The team has extremely weak foundations and is comprised almost entirely of staff that haven’t ever held technical roles, and who have finished high school education within the last year or two.

-- Snip --

This is a clear fundraising scheme with no working product.

Wow. With all that going for it, Squid Networks still went out of business? That's hard to believe. British investors must be so hard-nosed that they expect a product to exist before they sink millions into it.

The bitcoins didn’t roll in for that pitch. He’s done much better pitching the Dunn case, whose GoFundMe account does not, so far as I am aware, accept bitcoin.

As this latest burst of noise subsides, the action on the Harry Dunn cases moves back to the UK government, where they will have to decide whether or not to attempt a trial in absentia.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

So You're Telling Me There's a Chance?

(Above) Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab spoke to the House of Commons on the Harry Dunn case, October 21, 2019.

This week SecState Pompeo visited London and held meetings with his UK counterpart, Dominic Raab, to discuss many important matters, one of which was the status of the Harry Dunn case. Last week Pompeo formally denied the UK's request to extradite the American driver involved, since at the time of the incident she had status which conveyed diplomatic immunity to the UK's criminal jurisdiction. As his spokesman explained, to extradite a person despite such immunity would negate the entire practice of diplomatic immunity.

Regarding that matter of diplomatic immunity, Foreign Secretary Rabb is in complete agreement with Pompeo, as he explained at length to the House of Commons back in October, and also as he replied to written questions submitted by the Shadow Foreign Secretary. The key exchange of their Qs and As is as follows:
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, whether Anne Sacoolas was protected by diplomatic immunity (a) in her own right and (b) as a dependent of her husband (i) since she first arrived in the UK and (ii) on the 27 August 2019.

A: As I explained to the House on 21 October, at the time of the accident, the American involved had diplomatic immunity as a result of the notification of her husband as a member of the administrative and technical staff of the US Embassy based at the Croughton annex.

As I also explained to the House, the UK Government was notified of the family's arrival in the UK in July 2019. The individual involved held immunity from the point of her arrival.

It's very simple. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, article 37, para 2, states "Members of the administrative and technical staff of the mission, together with members of their families forming part of their respective households, shall, if they are not nationals of or permanently resident in the receiving State, enjoy the privileges and immunities specified in articles 29 to 35 [which are the privileges and immunities enjoyed by Diplomatic Agents, including immunity to criminal jurisdiction]."

The American driver was the family member of someone notified to the UK as a member of the administration and technical staff of the U.S. mission, therefore she had immunity to criminal jurisdiction.

To argue with those facts is to deny reality.

But then, why not deny reality? For some, denial is all they have to work with.

Flailing about for something with which to feed the news cycle in the days leading up to Pompeo's visit, the Dunn family's spokesman seized on a remarkably dumb idea that has become a staple of Twitter chatter: what about trading naughty Prince Andrew for the American driver? American law enforcement reportedly wants to interview Andrew about his dealings with the late Joseph Epstein, and he reportedly has refused to cooperate. Now, a swap of those two makes no sense on any level, but let's pretend it's a serious proposal.

The idea was brought up during both of Pompeo's UK press events, to greater or lesser amounts of laughter. During his BBC event with Foreign Secretary Raab it went this way:
QUESTION: I’ll do my best. James Landale, BBC. Secretary Pompeo, first of all, now that the UK has agreed to give Huawei some access to its 5G network, is the U.S. going to make good on its threat to review its intelligence-sharing relationship with the United Kingdom? Is the risk of Huawei really worth endangering the Five Eyes relationship?

Secondly, on the Harry Dunn case, can you just explain to us in the English audience, what is it about the Special Relationship

MR GODSON: Just – can we answer the first question?

QUESTION: No, no, no. No, forgive me. What is – what is it about the Special Relationship that allows a U.S. citizen to run over and kill a young English boy and evade justice?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So let me try and take your question – I’ll try and take your questions in reverse order.

This was an enormous tragedy. An American had an accident here. The United States is terribly sorry for the tragedy that took place, the loss of a British citizen’s life. It was horrible. We’re doing everything we can to make that right. We’re doing so in a way that I think protects the important relationship between the two countries as well. We’ll continue to work on this. Dominic raised this with me yesterday when we spoke. I think he raised it with me each time we’ve spoken since this has happened. We’ll continue to work our way through to try and get a good resolution, a resolution that reflects the tragedy that took place that day.

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB: Look, the – on the Harry Dunn case, look, of course we – there’s two basic objectives here, which is we want to see justice done for the family and we want to make sure it can never happen again and it doesn’t ever happen again. I had a good conversation with Mike about that. We’re going to work on every aspect of that and want to see this get resolved.

And you asked about the extradition treaty. We want to make that work on both sides. It’s usually valuable to both sides and the – we’re committed to it, and so we don’t want to see any weakening of it.

QUESTION: Thank you. Jason Groves from The Daily Mail. Foreign Secretary, you’ll know that there’s been a public outcry over the Harry Dunn case. Can the extradition treaty survive this? Is it under strain?

And Secretary of State, you’ll be aware that a U.S. state attorney this week asked Prince Andrew to cooperate in the FBI investigation to Jeffrey Epstein. Do you support that call? And some people are even suggesting there could be some kind of barter between the two cases. I mean, is that even possible?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m sorry, can you repeat the second part of that, please?

QUESTION: The second part – where did you get up to?

SECRETARY POMPEO: (Laughter.) Yeah, so the question is there would be some trade between —

QUESTION: Some people have suggested there could be some kind of bartering between we want Anne Sacoolas, you want Prince Andrew. Is there a deal to be done? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I mean, I can answer that. I am confident each of these cases will be resolved on their relative merits. It’s how – it’s how each of our two systems operate.

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB: Yeah, I’d totally agree. There’s no barter with – it’s a rules-based approach, that’s what the treaty does, and we both see the extradition treaty serves both sides. And we want to make it work. And so that’s the approach, and there’s no haggle, and no one’s raised Prince Andrew – frankly, no one’s ever raised that with me as of yet.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes. Now they have. (Laughter.)

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB: The Daily Mail has raised it. The good offices of The Daily Mail.

It was raised again during Pompeo's interview with LBC Radio:
QUESTION: Extradition is always a contentious area between any country, and the U.S. and UK have had their issues over the years with Gary McKinnon, where Britain didn’t extradite him, and now, of course, we’ve got the Anne Sacoolas case. How aware are you of the depth of public opinion – not actually just in Britain, but polls in America show that most Americans think that she should be extradited back here to face British justice?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I just want to re-emphasize what a tragic event this is. The loss of life as a result of this automobile accident is absolutely tragic. I can’t imagine to know the pain of the family. We have enormous sympathy for them. The President had a chance to meet with that family. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that we address all of the things that might have contributed to this – safety training, all of the things that can reduce the risk that something like this could ever happen again.

QUESTION: But she won’t be coming back here?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re having a conversation about a lot of things. We’re going to do everything we can to get this right and to make this as right as anybody can make it when there was a loss of life. We can never put it all the way back, sadly, but we’ll do everything we can to put this in the best possible place.

So, to recap what Pompeo said: of course the American driver will not return to the UK, but, on this sensitive occasion of a press interview, I will tap dance around that harsh fact by talking up a possible future resolution of some sort that will suit the circumstances of this tragic loss of life. And again, no, she won't return.   

Naturally, the Dunn family spokesman overlooked all that. Keeping hope and false expectations alive, he looked on the sunny side when he was interviewed by the BBC:
Radd Seiger, spokesman for Mr Dunn's family, has noted that despite his clients' caution, "the secretary of state is no longer saying [Mrs Sacoolas] will not return".

Well, he didn't, did he? Not in those interviews, anyway. He's only said she won't return when he was speaking to the UK Prime Minister, and to the Foreign Secretary, and when he refused to waive the driver's immunity, and again when he denied the extradition request. The U.S. Ambassador to the UK and President Trump have also said on multiple occasions that she will not be returned to the UK.

But, hey, he didn't say it in so many words that time. Which naturally leads to a Dumb and Dumber meme:
What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me... ending up together?

Not good.

Not good like one in a hundred?

I'd say more like one in a million.

So you're telling me there's a chance?

Seizing on that faintest glimmer of unrealistic hope, the family spokesman is now scheming to bring the U.S. military to its knees by holding a demonstration every now and then at the front gate of RAF Croughton, scene of the tragic accident.
He said the protest was ‘the only way to get our feelings across to Washington’. Mr Seiger added: ‘Diplomat or not, there is no escaping facing the legal system in these circumstances. ‘The US admin must also commit to never doing this again. Otherwise, US operated bases in the UK will have to close.

Pentagon, you have been warned.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Extradition Request Denied in Harry Dunn Case

It was US UN Ambassador Powers' convoy, and no one was arrested or charged

So finally, after two weeks of delay, the SecState has made it official. He rejects the extradition request made by the UK Home Office in the Harry Dun case.

The reaction to that so far:
  • The UK Prime Minister expressed his displeasure and called Trump to reiterate his demand for the American driver to return to the UK.
  • The UK Foreign Secretary called the US Ambassador to express his government's disappointment, and says he is "urgently reconsidering" his options; one of which, so far unspoken, would be a trial of the driver in her absence.
  • The mother of the crash victim says she suspected this decision was coming, but still insists she won't move on until the American driver stands trial in the UK.
  • The family's spokesman has amped-up his usual tempo of tweets and radio/TV interviews, called for everlasting hellfire and damnation onto Trump and SecState Pompeo, demanded meetings with the Prime Minister, the UK Defense Secretary, and the USAF commander at RAF Croughton - that's on top of his demand last week for a meeting with the UN Secretary General - and, of course, insisted against all evidence that if you only believe hard enough, and contribute a little money, the American driver will be returned to the UK someday, even if that day is far, far, away.

The family's spokesman has been on a tear this weekend, pitching his product like he's the new Billy Mays selling the new Shamwow. Last week he was telling the rubes that the U.S. government has approved 100 percent of all extradition requests ever sent from the UK, so it's a slam-dunk that they'll approve this one, too. Now, he's on to bemoaning how the denial of extradition has destroyed US-UK relations until the next 'reasonable' US administration comes to power and retroactively approves the extradition request. It goes without saying he is 100 percent certain that will happen. Just as he was 100 percent certain the American driver did not have diplomatic immunity in the first place, and then he was 100 percent certain the U.S. government would waive that (presumably non-existent) immunity.

Regarding that particular 100 percent certainty about how a post-Trump U.S. administration will surely agree to extradite the American driver, I am not at all persuaded. Recall how President Obama insisted on the diplomatic immunity of an embassy security contractor in Pakistan who caused the deaths of three Pakistanis, two of whom he shot and the third of whom was struck by a vehicle in an attempt by associates of the contractor to retrieve him from the shooting scene. A fourth Pakistani, the widow of one of the first three victims, later killed herself to protest the possibility that the Pakistani government would let the contractor go. That incident was about the worst possible challenge you could have to the principle of immunity, and a political-emotional mess at least equal to what's resulted from the Harry Dunn case, but Obama stood up to it.

And contrary to the constantly-cited sentimentality about how 'you can't just walk away' from a fatal traffic accident, diplomats do, indeed, walk away from fatal traffic accidents with some regularity. Consider the 2016 incident in which a convoy of armored vehicles transporting our US UN Ambassador Samantha Power in Cameroon struck and killed a 7 year-old child. The vehicle continued to Power's destination. No one was arrested or charged. The family of the dead child received a compensation package from the USG consisting of $1,700 cash, two cows, hundreds of kilos of flour, onions, rice, salt, sugar, soap, and oil, and a contribution toward a well for their village.

The Harry Dunn case has gone way beyond what could be settled with a compensation package, of course. The UK government, Northamptonshire local police, the family, and the general UK public all say they won't be satisfied with anything short of prosecution. But extradition won't happen; it actually can't happen, not without negating the practice of diplomatic immunity. So, a trial in absentia followed by a European arrest warrant for the driver might be a partial propitiation of public opinion.

Could a trial and arrest warrant also be a long-term solution? There is an interesting precedent for that in the now-resolved case of Sabrina De Sousa, a former U.S. Consular officer in Italy who was tried and convicted in her absence and later arrested pursuant to a European arrest warrant and returned to Italy. The situation is somewhat different in that, as a Consular officer, De Sousa did not enjoy immunity to the criminal jurisdiction of the host country (Italy), as diplomatic agents do. But close enough.

In her case, after the Trump administration intervened, the host country commuted De Sousa's sentence, reducing her penalty to the point that Italian prosecutors revoked their extradition order, and she went free with no warrant hanging over her in the future.

Suppose a trial in absentia in the Harry Dunn case resulted in a conviction for careless driving versus dangerous driving, and a sentence of no imprisonment? That wouldn't satisfy everyone, but it might satisfy enough of everyone to reduce public interest.

So far as the family moving on and going about its grieving process, that appears, sadly, to be a lost cause. Its spokesman/adviser/Svengali has got them convinced that nothing less than the American driver being hauled back to the UK will allow them any closure at all.

And, golly, he's always so certain of everything, that will surely happen, right?

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Extradition Requested in Harry Dunn Case

At long last, yesterday, January 10, the UK Home Office initiated an extradition request for the American driver in the highly charged matter of the traffic accident which resulted in the death of 19 year-old Harry Dunn.

Presumably, that means the UK Home Office has determined that it could prosecute the driver in that case despite the driver's having diplomatic immunity to UK criminal jurisdiction at the time of the accident. Or else, it has given in to political/emotional blackmail and passed the ball to the U.S. government where it knows the request will be denied. The last sentence of the Home Office announcement - that this is now "a decision for the U.S. authorities" - makes it sound like the latter.

Here's a primer on all you need to know about extradition law and procedure. The bottom line up front is that the U.S. SecState has final discretionary authority to approve or disapprove an extradition request. Clearly, he will disapprove this one, since SecState Mike Pompeo and his official spokesperson have firmly and repeatedly stated his position that the extradition of a person back to a country where that person was previously covered by diplomatic immunity would essentially negate diplomatic immunity itself. And the USG is not interested in abolishing diplomatic immunity.

But will this particular request even get that far? If I were a betting man, I'd bet the USG will reject the request - that is, not even consider it or process it for a decision - on Monday of next week.

In that bet, I think I am on the same frequency as the Dunn family's spokesman, who started to hedge his rhetorical certainty about extradition as soon as the request was made. In the BBC story of yesterday:
Dunn family spokesman Radd Seiger said she [the American driver] will "100% be coming back".

"I have no doubt in my mind, the only thing I can't tell you is when," he told BBC Breakfast.

"This campaign won't stop until Anne Sacoolas is back in the UK facing the justice system. There is no celebration and until she is back, we won't rest.

"This lady is accused of taking Harry's life, then fleeing the country. No-one is above the law in modern society. You don't get to move to a country, break a law in that country and then leave."

Mr Seiger said that under the circumstances, the family was "really pleased" the UK authorities had taken the "huge step towards justice", but if the Trump administration was to ignore or reject the request, it would be re-presented should another administration come into power.

So to recap, he is "100%" certain that in this, or possibly another alternative future dimension, she will be dragged back to the UK. The tell was that he is only 100 percent certain, whereas a pitchman should always be one thousand percent certain, or ten thousand percent, or a million percent certain.

Moreover, I don't think this extradition request would play well in any administration that might succeed the Trump administration. Besides, that next administration could just possibly be headed by Mike Pompeo, now that he's reported to be giving up on plans to run for the Senate.

A country that's got its swagger back would surely never allow its diplomats or their spouses to be extradited.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

You Can't Be Too Careful With Snow

The afternoon rush hour came early for us in the Washington DC area today. To be precise, it came at 1:00 PM, which was the deadline for vacating our offices according to the OPM operating status for Tuesday, January 7, 2020

And, sure enough, it did start to rain, and then snow, right about 1 PM. The snow might get an inch deep before it stops around 7 PM tonight.

I fear for tomorrow.