Friday, August 20, 2021

"Tho' All the World Betrays Thee"

Thinking of the ignominious end of our doomed national effort in Afghanistan, with all its enormous humanitarian costs, I've been listening to the mournful Joe Strummer version of The Minstrel Boy:

Harry Dunn Case Update: Depositions Postponed, Possible Signal of a Settlement?

Somewhat interesting news dropped yesterday when the Dunn family's loquacious spokesman/advisor advised the UK news media that, by mutual consent of the parties, the depositions of the American driver and her husband, which had been heavily promoted in UK media for the 'Mum faces son's killer' drama, are now postponed without explaination:
Issuing a short statement about the postponement, the Dunn family's spokesman Radd Seiger told the PA news agency: 'By mutual agreement, the depositions of Mr and Mrs Sacoolas scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday have been postponed.

'The family accordingly are now remaining in the UK and in the meantime they are once again focusing their attention on securing justice in the criminal case.

'We are unable to go into any further detail at this time.'
Notice that he is unable to go into any further detail except, that is, for the further detail he had already gone into, which was that rather odd statement about how the family is now focusing on the nonexistent UK criminal case. I say nonexistent because there is no prospect of any prosecution so long as the USG continues to refuse to waive the driver's diplomatic immunity.

So, what's up with the civil suit? We know the presiding judge has remarked that the case should have been settled long ago, and we also know the plaintiff's lawyer responded to that remark by, essentially, pleading that the family's highest priority is the emotional satisfaction they would derive by going through the civil process. Would you deny the mother her long-sought opportunity to be face to face with the driver in a small room?

I would think that the last moment before the two principal characters go face to face might also be a great moment for the defendants to offer a settlement. Did the insurance company make an offer, and did the family's lawyers - meaning the real ones on this side of the Atlantic, and not that retired ambulance chaser and neighbor who the family is in thrall to - strongly advise accepting it? 

Stopping the civil process short of its emotional climax would surely go against the family's wishes, but recall that the family is now on its second set of American lawyers after a mysterious blow-up with the first set, and perhaps they decided they can't afford to reject legal advice a second time. Maybe they need to take stock of what they really want here.

Taking a payout and then turning their full time and attention to the futile pursuit of a criminal trial might be their best course.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

"All Americans Out ... Local Nationals Left Behind"

Contrast that with SecState Blinken's performance on ABC News' This Week, less than one hour ago:
'This Week' Transcript 8-15-21: Sec. Antony Blinken
KARL: Respectfully, not much about what we're seeing seems too orderly or standard operating procedure. I just -- just last month, President Biden said that under no circumstance, and that was his word -- those were his words, under no circumstance would the U.S. personnel, embassy personnel be airlifted out of Kabul in a replay of the scenes that we saw in Saigon in 1975.

So, isn't that exactly what we're seeing now? I mean, even the images are evocative of what happened in Vietnam.

BLINKEN: Let's take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon.
Not to dispute SecState Blinken, but it is manifestly the case that in the evacuation of Saigon we did not leave (most) of the local nationals behind. 

My Vote For Most Iconic Photo of Evacuation From Kabul

The Taliban are still outside the city and talking about a transitional government, so no one is forcing that guy at gunpoint to paint over female images, but everyone knows what will be expected of them and they are already complying. 

My vote for most iconic image of the U.S. Embassy's hasty departure is the one below. Forget all the photos of choppers over the embassy, here's the final act of our evacuation: dropping helmets and body armor just before boarding the flight out.

The equivalent in Saigon '75 was the evacuees dropping their small arms into the embassy pool before getting on the chopper.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Harry Dunn Case Update: Judge Approves Protective Order Requested by USG

In the matter of Charles et al v. Sacoolas et al, the civil suit against the American driver in the Harry Dunn fatal road crash, the judge hearing the case has granted the protective order that was requested by the U.S. government.
ORDERED that the United States' motion 62 is GRANTED. Signed by District Judge T. S. Ellis, III on 08/13/2021.
The USG requested the protective order due to concern that depositions of the defendants could go into areas that would implicate national security interests. Yesterday, after hearing from both sides, the judge approved the order. 

For a little context, see this entry in PacerMonitor:
Minute Entry for proceedings held before District Judge T. S. Ellis, III: Motion Hearing held on 8/13/2021 re62 MOTION for Leave to File Motion for Protective Order and Supporting Ex Parte, In Camera Submission filed by UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Daren Firestone and Jay Nanavati appeared on behalf of the plaintiff. Nicholas Lawrence appeared on behalf of the defendant. Dennis Barghaan, Jr., James Powers and Anthony Coppolino appeared as Interested Party on behalf of the USA. Matter argued. Parties advised the Court depositions are set to take place on August 24, 2021 and August 25, 2021. If any disputes arise from the depositions, a Hearing is set for 8/27/2021 at 01:00 PM in Alexandria Courtroom 900 before District Judge T. S. Ellis III
The plaintiffs and their cheering circles haven't yet taken to social media to denounce this decision, which is a lapse that I attribute to the late Friday afternoon posting of the decision and the time difference between Alexandria, Virginia, and the UK. It might be Monday before they wake up to this latest adverse decision in the case.

The next scheduled actions in the case are depositions of the defendants on August 24 and 25.

Friday, August 13, 2021

An Infrequent Wind is Blowing

We're not quite to that point yet, but somebody in Kabul is probably keying up White Christmas about now.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Roofs, Choppers, and Memes

There's the photo that every lazy news media intern will pull up this week to run with stories about the evacuation of U.S. Embassy Kabul.

That building wasn't the embassy in Saigon. The photo was misidentified way back then, and, even though at least some people know better, they find that image more satisfactory than the truth. In the popular mind it is the embassy in Saigon, and that's all that matters today. So, by extension, it's every other embassy as well.  

Fans of non-fiction about the evacuation of U.S. Embassy Saigon can see this.

Getting Worked Up For No Good Reason at the Press Briefing

Yesterday's Department Press Briefing for August 11, 2021, featuring Department Spokesperson Ned Price, started with AP's Matt Lee getting worked up over Mr. Price's refusal to give him a simple answer.

Matt Lee is one of Hillary Clinton’s old "AP friendlies" so I hate to see him get frustrated or overwrought.

There is video at the link, but here's the transcript:
With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thanks. Just before we get to what I’m sure will be Afghanistan, I just want to – on the administration’s commitment to democracy, human rights, which I think includes freedom of the press and your support for that, I just wanted to ask you really quickly about the situation with Julian Assange in London, the court hearing that was held today.

- snip -

MR PRICE: This is a matter before the Department of Justice. It’s a matter the Department of Justice is pursuing.

QUESTION: It’s not a matter before the Department of Justice. It’s a matter before the British court. But I just want to know if your position, the State Department’s position, that you represent to the Department of Justice who then represents you has changed at all.

MR. PRICE: Matt, the Department of Justice is pursuing this. I will leave it to them to pursue and to characterize the United States Government’s position on this.

QUESTION: Okay, so the State Department’s position hasn’t changed, correct?

MR. PRICE: Matt, the Department of Justice is speaking for the United States —

QUESTION: Oh, my god.

MR. PRICE: — in a law enforcement matter.

QUESTION: Why can’t you give straight answers? Yes or no, has it changed or not over the course of the last eight years?

MR. PRICE: The Department of Justice in this matter —

QUESTION: I am fully aware, Ned.

MR. PRICE: Matt, you don’t need to be combative, okay? You don’t need to be combative.


MR. PRICE: I know you like to get worked up, but please, this is —

QUESTION: I’m not trying to get worked up. I just want a straight answer. Did —

MR. PRICE: It’s a simple matter that’s before the Department of Justice.
Since Matt is upset over the legal troubles of Assange, allow me to link to my favorite WikiLeaks product, its 2016 publication of emails from Hillary’s campaign chairman, American Oligarch John Podesta, brother of lobbyist Tony Podesta.

From that story:
“And then there’s the overly docile press, who were so eager to help Clinton get elected. In one email chain discussing the upcoming release of exchanges between Clinton and writer Sidney Blumenthal, insiders noted that the Associated Press appeared to be willing to allow the Clinton campaign to plant favorable stories. “[T]hey are considering placing a story with a friendly at the AP (Matt Lee or Bradley Klapper), that would lay this out before the majority on the committee has a chance to realize what they have and distort it,” wrote Nick Merrill, the Clinton campaign’s traveling press secretary.”
Their AP friendlies obliged.

When did Matt Lee turn so unfriendly? Hey, maybe if he offered to do the Biden team some favors, Price would give Lee that straight answer he wants.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Former SecState Pompeo: Diet Coke Yes, Japanese Whiskey No

The news media is running with another Pompeo ethics scandal, or would-be scandal, not unlike the ones it ran over the non-scandal of his renting a house on Ft. Belvior as an offical residence when he was Secretary of State.

The State Department is looking into the whereabouts of a $5,800 bottle of Japanese whiskey that was gifted to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to State Department filings in the federal register.

The government of Japan gifted the whiskey to Pompeo in 2019, the document says. But it is unclear if Pompeo himself received the whiskey or if a staffer accepted it.

Pompeo said Thursday that he never received the bottle of whiskey and that he had "no idea" it was missing, nor what happened to the gift.

"I assume it wasn't ever touched. It never got to me. I have no idea how the State Department lost this thing, although I saw enormous incompetence at the State Department during my time there," the former secretary of state said during an appearance on Fox News. "Had it been a case of Diet Coke, I'd have been all over it."

- snip -

American officials are prohibited from accepting personal gifts from foreign governments. But "non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government," the State Department says in the filing, so the gifts are turned over to government archives.
This latest exercise in self-pleasuring by the news media was brought on by the report of the Office of the Chief of Protocol; Gifts to Federal Employees from Foreign Government Sources Reported to Employing Agencies in Calendar Year 2019.

I love to browse that annual gift report just to see the amazing stuff that foreign magnificos think to give our traveling USG dignitaries. Like all the jewelry. I mean, how many pairs of pearl earrings can any one FLOTUS wear?

And the ridiculously expensive wristwatches! Among many examples, see page 42 wherein a CIA employee(s) was given men's and women's Rolexes valued at $8,000 apiece by a foreign government whose identity is redacted. Their disposition is recorded only as "disposed," with no hint of how that was accomplished. Another CIA employee was given a woman's Rolex valued at a much more reasonable $2,000, which he or she chose to purchase rather than turn over.

BTW, purchase is always an option with foreign gifts, although one that is rarely taken. Our Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya once purchased a ring given to her by Gaddafi.

Agency people aren't the only ones getting super high-end watches. DOD bigshots get them too, and even more ridiculously expensive ones! General Joseph M. Votel, Commanding General USCENTCOM, received a Rolex valued at a whopping $14,995 from the state of Qatar, plus a few more of somewhat lesser value from Bahrain and Afghanistan, and even a couple from foreign officials whom he couldn't recall later. 

Hey, General, every PX sells perfectly good G-Shocks starting at around 50 bucks that are plenty macho and tactical. Try sporting one of those when you meet your foreign counterparts and maybe then they wouldn't take pity on you and insist that you accept a Rolex or two.

I hope someday we find out the National Archives have been running an underground chop shop to turn all that expensive foreign jewelry into salable commodities. General Votel could maintain his effort in Afghanistan forever with the proceeds of that operation.

And then, there are always gifts of guns and knives. President Trump was gifted with a sweet CZ-75 pistol from the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, and an "Ottoman Empire rifle" - not further identified - from the Prime Minister of Bulgaria. I already own a quite wonderful CZ pistol, but the thought of an Ottoman Empire rifle has my imagination working overtime.

Finally, on page 21 of 92, we come to the smoking gun: a bottle of Japanese whisky from His Excellency Suga Yoshihide, Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan, received 5/10/2019, with an estimated value $8,374 and its disposition reported only as "pending" and a footnote disclaiming that the information about disposition "is valid as of the date of receipt from the reporting agency to the Office of the Chief of Protocol."

What? Disposition of that contraband hooch has been pending ever since 2019? Cue the dramatic music, cause that's Pompeo's ass, right there. Oh, wait, that particular bottle was given to The Honorable Matthew Pottinger, Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Asian Affairs. Forget it.

The bottle of Japanese whiskey that went to Pompeo is recorded on page 30, and that one was received on 6/24/2019, had an estimated value of $5,800, and its disposition is recorded as "unknown" with a footnote stating that "the Department is looking into the matter and has an ongoing inquiry."

From all this I have learned that the Japanese make some super-expensive whiskey, the very best bottles of which are given to assistants to the POTUS, with Cabinet Secretaries getting a lesser product which, to quote a good movie, I'm sure is quaffable but far from transcendent.

Now, I had always been under the impression that gifts of consumables are not turned over to the Archives or GSA, but rather are disposed of pretty quickly and directly and probably by the security details that accompany our traveling dignitaries. Is that no longer true? Or should the Department direct its ongoing inquiry to the security detail that accompanied Secretary Pompeo to Japan?

Consider the delicious matter of Senator Romney's Wagyu meat, a gift of His Majesty King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein, King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, with an estimated value of $500. On page 88 of the report the disposition of that gift is listed as simply "Disposition - Disposed of." No details are given, but is it hard to guess what that means? 

Surely Romney's party didn't pack the meat in a cooler and try to deposit it in the National Archives after they got back to Washington. Moreover, so far as is reported, he didn't purchase that gift either, despite its $500 value somewhat exceeding the $390 threshold at which government ethics rules about gifts kick in.

Did you pony up for that BBQ, Senator?