Sunday, May 30, 2021

Memorial Day

Epitaph On My Own Friend

On this Memorial Day we should remember the pseudonymous FSO blogger Consul-at-Arms who, back in the day when FSO blogs were first becoming popular but were then cracked down upon by the Department and largely disappeared, was for a while the sole FSO blogger remaining.

He soldiered on until this month when, tragically, he passed away, far too soon. His friends and co-workers are mourning him, but I expect that some of his online readers might have known him only as Consul-at-Arms.

CAA was my oldest friend in the Department. We began as contractors both working in the same office for a few years, then later were both hired as Civil Service employees at the same time and again worked in the same office, with CAA ultimately becoming a Consular Officer and serving at several posts. Sharing an Army background and having similar interests, we stayed in touch on line and sometimes crossed paths at FSI over the many years. 

You can get a good sense of him from the image he used on his blog: a Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets sword above and a Scottish Claymore below, with U.S. Army insignia and decorations in between, on a field of desert camouflage. An active Reservist, he was called up for Desert Storm and served in many subsequent military assignments at the same time that he carried on his Consular career, deriving a great deal of satisfaction from both types of service. 

To honor his heritage, what could be better than a poem by Robert Burns? 

          Epitaph on my own Friend 

An honest man here lies at rest

As e'er God with his image blest.

The friend of man, the friend of truth;

The friend of Age, and guide of Youth:

Few hearts like his with virtue warm'd,

Few heads with knowledge so inform'd:

If there's another world, he lives in bliss;

If there is none, he made the best of this.

Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

"Alabama Woman" Regrets Becoming an ISIS Bride

Hoda Multana, the woman born in New Jersey and raised in Alabama who at age 20 traveled to Syria where she did social media for ISIS, is featured in a film about the women, like her, who are now stranded in Syria after the collapse of the ISIS califate. The film is The Return: Life After ISIS, which is a title altogether too optimistic for Multhana's particular situation, given that she had her U.S. citizenship revoked due to her father's status as a Yemini diplomat at the time of her birth, making her return impossible.

From this week's New York Post story about her:
“ISIS bride” Hoda Muthana — who fled Alabama to join ISIS in 2014 and is now barred from returning to the US — said she will regret the decision “for the rest of my life,” according to a report on Wednesday.

Muthana, 26, tried to explain what led her to become part of the terror group in the new documentary “The Return: Life After ISIS” by Spanish filmmaker Alba Sotorra Clua, People reported.

“When you are brainwashed, you don’t realize it until you snap out of it,” Muthana said. “I took everything too fast, and too deep.”

What she experienced was “this horrible way of life that I really regret for the rest of my life and that I wish I could just erase,” she says in the film, according to People.
The most American thing about her is the way she blames her overly strict parents and her poor relationship with her mother for her decision to go to Syria.
“I grew up as an American, born and raised in America, and all I had waiting for me in the future was an arranged marriage — the exact way my parents wanted it to be,” Muthana continued. “So I had no time to dream about anything.”
Disappointment set in at once, she now says:
In Syria, Muthana insisted that she expected to find “a happy place with Muslims, helping in hospitals, helping in schools, helping a community out and just being good decent Muslims to each other.”

Instead, “It was a big mess. It was hell on earth. Really,” she said.
But then, why did she propagandize for ISIS for quite some time before the califate collapsed? As the story notes:
She continued to post online, celebrating burning her US passport and calling for attacks on Americans.
That is a puzzle.

Havana Syndrome Strangely Neglected by State Leadership

Wasn't there an Accountability Review Board convened back in 2018 to look into unexplained medical injuries that occurred in Havana? 

There was, but evidently it failed to resolve much and there has been a lack of continuing attention to the problem. 

This past week several State Department employees sent a letter to Department leaders to say that "Havana Syndrome" sufferers are not getting proper care. You can read the letter here courtesy of NBC News.
A group of U.S. diplomats and other government staffers suffering from symptoms consistent with "Havana Syndrome" are voicing frustration with the Biden administration's early response, and warning that injured workers are still being denied proper care.
The letter included this digression into the signers' failed expectations: "After four years of challenges [Biden arrived, but] ... Unfortunately, our experience thus far has fallen short of our renewed expectations." 

I understand that to say: 'we spent the whole last administration expressing our distain and obstructing its policies as best we could, and this is the thanks we get? We're still waiting in line outside the 7th Floor and so far leadership has refused to hear directly from us. C'mon Man!© Stop the malarkey and do something.' 

The letter writers named several practical measures that the Department could, indeed, take to help its injured personnel, even if the exact cause of their injuries remains unknown.
The staffers are also urging the administration to increase diagnostic and treatment options for children affected by Havana Syndrome, ensure long-term monitoring of injured workers for 10 to 20 years, and conduct baseline testing on diplomats before they're sent abroad — something Canada's government is now doing in the wake of the unexplained incidents.

It sounds like the Canadian government is taking the lead on this matter. What exactly is the problem on the 7th Floor? 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Secret Service Scandals Revisited in New Book

With such entertaining material to work with, especially the sex scandals, it's no surprise that a WaPo reporter has written a book about the rash of Secret Service failures we've seen in recent years. Of course, the Secret Service spokesperson has pushed back:
Cathy Milhoan, director of communications for the Secret Service, praised the agency in a statement. “The U.S. Secret Service is aware of an upcoming book which re-hashes past challenges the agency overcame and evolved from,” she wrote. “Now and throughout its 156 year history, the agency’s skilled workforce is dedicated to the successful execution of its critical protective and investigative missions.”
All those many "challenges," ranging from the Columbian prostitutes to the demented intruders who had the run of the White House and grounds, are now in the past? Okay, if you say so.

Personally, I still think the Service is running a clever media campaign to attract mid-20s male slackers to government employment.

Still Biden His Time on Ambassadorial Nominees

According to the Current Ambassador Tracker from our friends at AFSA, as of mid-May the Biden administration has nominated only ten persons to fill 189 total positions.

C'mon, man!© You know how long it'll take to get people through Senate confirmation hearings. If you want anybody in those positions this year, then stop the malarkey and appoint somebody, already.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Harry Dunn Case Update: New Team of Lawyers Appointed (at the Request of the Old Team of Lawyers)

My favorite lawyer, hands-down, is Saul Goodman. But he isn't available for the civil suit that I've been following, the one launched by the parents of Harry Dunn in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

This week it was out with the old, in with the new, as the old team of lawyers requested that the judge in the case allow them to separate themselves from the plaintiffs. This is the second time the Dunn family has changed lawyers in mid-course, the first time being after they lost their case before the UK High Court. Of course, this time the reason for separation might be a little different than mere disappointment over a failed argument. Because the old team took the initiative to separate themselves from the Dunn family, it would seem there was a serious disagreement between the parties.

What could that disagreement have been about? Since a civil suit can really only be about monetary damages, some might assume the old team became frustrated by the family's refusal to settle, maybe because the family is above all else obsessed with the pipe dream of forcing the defendant to return to the UK for trial despite her diplomatic immunity.

Possibly the disagreement was over something else, but I don't completely dismiss the monetary motive. There won't be much monetary damages awarded in the case of an unemployed 19 year-old with no dependents, however, that cold reality is in contrast to the warm and fuzzy million dollar payday which the family's carnival barker was talking up last year.
With a U.S. criminal trial out of question since the accident occurred in Britain, the family is pursuing a civil case, Seiger said, adding that it would seek “significant” damages.

In the U.S. you can sue for millions of dollars if someone spills some hot coffee on your hand at McDonalds,” he said.
The McDonald's lawsuit? That guy is so consistently wrong that I marvel how he keeps his con going. FYI, here's a debunking of the spilled coffee canard.

And so the civil suit goes on, just with another delay, presumably, as the new team gets acquainted with the client it has taken on. Can they persuade the family to settle for something that is in the general vicinity of reality? Probably not.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

New Consulate Office Building in Hermosillo, Mexico, Topped Out

Sweet deal for CG Hermosillo, which gets to move out of the quirky building it has occupied since the early 1980s, the one that kind of resembles a Pizza Hut only with a pagoda roof. You can see it in this photo, courtesy of Mexican news media:

The old building was the product of a family-owned construction firm that at one time very nearly monopolized the diplomatic construction business of the USG in Mexico. The patriarch had been a subcontractor on the early 1960s embassy job in Mexico City and his two sons went on to build most of our consulates, including the ones in Tijuana, Guadalajara, Ciudad Juarez, and Monterrey. The family saved design expenses by using the exact same design to build both Juarez and Monterrey, which is commendable.

Hermosillo was the end of the family's streak of good luck, as by then OBO had finally decided it would henceforth take charge of its own business in Mexico. Ever since, OBO has been replacing one old Mexican consulate after another with 'safe, secure, and sustainable' New Consulate Compounds. Plus a New Embassy Compound, too, assuming that project ever gets completed.    

So, NCC Hermosillo marks the end of an era for OBO in Mexico. What's more, the old consulate was the last time OBO ever built a new office building anywhere in the world without taking security standards (boo, security) into account, because in that pre-Inman Commission day there were no standards, at least none that were mandatory.

Enjoy the new building, Hermosillo.