Saturday, September 16, 2023

Recognizing the WWII Code Girls at Arlington Hall

You State Department people employees of the foreign affairs department of the Washington DC area's largest employer might already know this, but the former women's junior college known as Arlington Hall - which was seized by the U.S. Army in World War II, then passed into State Department control in the 1980s and is currently the location of the Foreign Affairs Training Center - was the place where enemy codes were broken and their military signal traffic was read during the war, making one of the greatest contributions to victory over the Axis nations. What's more, after the war code breaking continued only now directed at the Soviet Union.

Whenever I've visited FSI over the years the lack of a plaque or memorial or historical marker of any kind to recognize those codebreakers always bothered me. Well, now at least they are being recognized by the naming of a new on-site coffee shop. 

You may have seen the Department notice that went out earlier this week:
Join us as we officially dedicate our new on-site coffee shop as the Codebreaker Café in celebration of the heroic contributions of women codebreakers, as well as other notable contributions made to protect our nation, during World War II.
On the campus of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), the Codebreaker Café provides a panoramic view of Arlington Hall, which served as the top-secret home of U.S. codebreakers during World War II. It stands as a tribute to the courageous individuals who worked in secrecy to help shorten the war, saving countless lives.

"Saving countless lives," yes. More pointedly, breaking into Axis codes saved Allied lives by enabling the destruction of Axis forces, so this wasn't exactly a peaceful enterprise. And not all the code breakers of Arlington Hall were women, but about 80 percent were, so it was predominantly a female effort.

There's a bit more local Arlington history on Arlington Hall, and a good book about the Code Girls that has a broader focus. 

Enjoy your coffee the next time you're at FSI, and spare a thought for those Rosie the Riveters who worked with pencil and paper to help win our conflicts on the battlefields of the world. 


Sunday, September 10, 2023

Alabama School Suspends Six-Year-Old Boys for Playing Cops and Robbers

Read it here: 6-year-old suspended over cops and robbers game

This news takes me back quite a few years to my PTA days. While discussing with an elementary school Principal a similarly ludicrous bit of overreaction to a boy who had draw a picture of a gun, I attempted a little reductio ad absurdum by asking whether the boy would have been guilty of having cigarettes in school if he'd drawn a pack of Marlboros instead of a gun. 

At least, I thought that was taking the question to an absurd level. However, the Principal actually took it seriously and, after thinking it over, said something like 'it would depend on the circumstances.' 

So actual adults - school administrators - told these Alabama kids, in writing no less, that they had been in possession of guns in the form of their index fingers and thumbs. Those fools were playing pretend a whole lot harder, and with much more consequence, than the two boys were.  

I blame postmodernism for this. When all is subjective and relative, when the very concept of objective truth is thrown out the window, we are all just playing games and pretending. The adults no less than the six-year-olds. 

Honesty, I'd put the children in charge of the teachers if I could. They'd be no less fanciful than most school administrators today and a whole lot less cowardly and calculating.  



Saturday, September 2, 2023

Search For Four Billion Dollar [!!!] New FBI Headquarters Near Completion (Maybe)

The three most important factors in real estate are location, location, and location equity. What? Yes, that's what the competion for a new FBI site has come down to: whether the site is close to key locations of FBI business, and how many minorities of which particular kind might end up with some bucks thrown off from that sweet, sweet, land development deal. 

That scoreboard favors Virginia over Maryland, since it has all the locations and also antes up with a heavily Asian community in its Springfield location. Maryland has the equity part but no locations. Plus, the Virginia location is already owned by the USG so its procurement would be essentially free. Even for government business, free is a very good price. 

Here's the news story from yesterday: New FBI headquarters announcement expected soon

A decision over the future FBI headquarters could be announced in coming weeks, the News4 I-Team has learned, capping off years of discussions over the fate of the dilapidated J. Edgar Hoover building in downtown D.C. 
A three-member voting panel, comprised of two General Services Administration employees and one FBI employee whose identities are secret, are evaluating three suburban sites: Greenbelt and Landover in Maryland, and Springfield, Virginia. 

"The commander in chief of our country has said that he believes that equity ought to be a part of all of these selections, including this one,” Alsobrooks told News4, pointing to President Joe Biden’s two executive orders on “advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities” through federal agencies. 

The majority Black county has two potential sites under consideration: the former Landover Mall, owned by the Lerner family that also owns the Washington Nationals baseball team, and the Greenbelt Metro. If selected, the headquarters will go in part of its parking lot. The third option is near Springfield and Franconia in Virginia, on warehouse property currently used by the GSA. 

Alsobrooks argues Fairfax County already has its fair share of federal property and said now it’s her county’s turn to benefit. 

"What we're talking about is how we use taxpayer dollars to create job centers, to also create economic opportunity,” she said. 

Fairfax County Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said the people who live near the potential Springfield site deserve that opportunity, too. 

"This community also reflects a ‘need’ community,” he told News4. “This is not Great Falls. This is not Tysons. This is not McLean. We're looking at a totally different community." Census data shows Springfield is a majority minority community with its largest minority group -- at nearly 30 percent -- identifying as Asian. It has a median household income of $109,000. 

Landover and Greenbelt are also majority minority communities, with 70% of the Landover community identifying as Black, with a median income of $64,000, and 45% of Greenbelt residents identifying as Black, with a median household income of nearly $76,000. 

Like Alsobrooks, Lusk said plenty of his constituents would benefit from a new FBI headquarters and all the ancillary businesses that could thrive around it. According to data provided by Lusk's office to News4, his Franconia district is also majority minority, with about 22 percent of the population identifying as Hispanic and 19 percent identifying as Black. The same data show about 20 percent of households there earn less than $50,000 a year. 

"We've got to try to elevate. We can try to help these residents get into positions that are going to pay them a more competitive wage and salary,” he said. “We want to move them into the middle class." 

Equity is just one of five criteria under consideration. The others include transportation, cost to acquire and build, site development flexibility and the site's proximity to places like the White House, Department of Justice and Quantico

Three of those criteria – transportation, equity and cost – are worth 20% of a location’s portfolio. The site’s development flexibility is worth 15%, and its proximity to Quantico and other “mission-related locations” is worth 25%. 

That last criteria has proved its most controversial, however, dividing lawmakers from Maryland and Virginia when the GSA first announced the location criteria was worth 35%. 

"My response was: ‘That's a fix there. There's no way Maryland can be closer to Virginia than Virginia is,’” recalled longtime Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland

In response, Maryland called a press conference that included its entire delegation. Virginia doubled down with its own presser, but to the commonwealth's disappointment, the GSA eventually lowered the percentage to a quarter. 

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine called the change a mistake. 

"I wish they hadn't done that, because I think that suggests that it's a little more political than it is on the merits,” he said. 

The government warehouses on the Springfield site would need to be torn down before the new FBI location is built – something Alsobrooks said works in her county’s favor. 

Both she and Hoyer estimated the cost of relocating those buildings to be several hundred million dollars or more. By contrast, she said, “Prince George's … is shovel ready today." 

But Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, among those pushing for his state to win the site, pushed back on that idea. 

"The idea that somehow a site that's owned by the federal government would cost more than developing a private sector site just doesn't pass the smell test,” he said. 

The new building is expected to cost upward of $4 billion. 

FBI leadership unsuccessfully lobbied for its headquarters to remain in downtown D.C. and is expected to keep a smaller office of roughly 750 to 1,000 workers in the District. 

A senior FBI official told News4 that, no matter which location is chosen for the next headquarters, the FBI is committed to “fairness and transparency” in the process.
I have never been more impressed by our elected representatives! If you check a map, you will find out Steny Hoyer is indeed correct that Maryland cannot be closer to Virginia than Virginia is. Geography is destiny, and cruel, as Napoleon could have told him.   

And Virginia's Don Beyer showed his business smarts when he pointed out a free site is cheaper that one you have to pay for. He comes from a car dealership dynasty, after all, and it shows!

So, that $4 billion project will be decided by a calculation that includes location and equity. Virginia wins if the scoring committee gives it two Ls and one E, and Maryland two Es and no Ls.

Whichever way it goes, the losing side will probably go to court. The horrendous Hoover Building will continue to be a blight on the Federal Triangle for many years to come, I'm sure. 


Friday, August 25, 2023

Senator Menendez is 'Justice-Involved' Again and Loving It

(Imagine this in Shirley Bassey's voice)
Old Swinger,
He's the man, the man with the "bribe me" touch,
a grifter's touch,
Such a U.S. Code 18 swinger,
Beckons you to forget his conflicts of 'in'trst,
and don't convict!
I'll say this for my least-favorite corrupt public official: his many money-grubbing schemes and close escapes from the law do make for colorful reading. 

The New York Post has the latest installment here, in a story that strings together a fortune in gold bars, a New Jersey IHOP, a proposal in front of the Taj Mahal, a deadlocked jury, an imprisoned Medicare swindler, the overturning of a consular officer's denial of visas for a political contributor's personal 36DD immigrant program, and a front company set up by a politician's wife who was facing foreclosure before becoming suddenly and inexplicably rich. 

I mean, it's all so ludicrous that you could almost be tempted to give the crook a pass in return for his giving us so much humor. But then, you remember he's a U.S. Senator and, really, it's not a laughing matter. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

State Owns an Italian Rifle Range? Yes, Soon to Be ConGen Milan

The current issue of State Magazine - in-house publication, but available here to all our valued taxpaying citizens - has a piece on one of State's new consulate design projects, and it's an intriguing one since that new diplomatic premise will be an adaptive reuse of Italy's former national firing range.
"Few cities match Milan’s style, sophistication, and financial clout. A world city on a par with Los Angeles or Mexico City, Greater Milan’s ten million people and its strengths in commerce, design, education, finance, and media make it a leading European Union hub. Milan was the seat of the Western Roman Empire and later ranked among the great cities of the Renaissance. Today, Milan is culture and taste, business and fashion, art and elegance."
Exactly so! Culture and taste, business and fashion, art and elegance, are just what come to my mind when I think of my good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations

Specifically, it is OBO's cultural heritage staff that are taking the lead on this one. Bene per loro!
"OBO’s Office of Cultural Heritage produced a short film about how the United States is building a consulate general in Milan that will integrate classical Italian architecture and American design in a grand act of cultural diplomacy. The film can be seen here."
Please watch the film, and be aware that an unusually intelligent thing is happening here. For once, instead of going straight to the option of building a big ol' forbidding Fortress Embassy, we are using an existing structure that is of importance to our host government and adapting it to our use. That's a win-win for ourself and our host.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Tragedy Tour of the "Non-Profit Industrial Complex"

“The tour will start at City Hall, and continue through Mid-Market, the Tenderloin, and Union Square,” the webpage for the event says. “We will view the open-air drug markets, the abandoned tech offices, the outposts of the non-profit industrial complex, and the deserted department stores.”

The non-profit industrial complex? That's a new expression, to me anyway, but I love the concept. I assume it applies to the 'harm reduction' NGOs that have instituted euthanasia with box lunches for the city's thousands of drug addicts, making them comfortable until they take their final overdose.

 I hate what's become of San Francisco, but I love the blame-fixing of that expression.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Seriously, What is Wrong With Him?

FBI = Funding Backlash Immiserates (Virginia and Maryland Pols)

So there will be no $$$ billions coming out of Congress this fiscal year to pay for a new FBI HQ, or so it seems today.

That causes me no grief at all, since it is perfectly clear - to me, anyway - that the current downtown DC location is exactly where the FBI should remain, albeit in a new building to be built on the site of the current disastrous Hoover Building. 

As for "petty politics" and "political interference," the esteemed Representatives who are wailing about that today are the first ones to use the power of government without a second thought when they are in the majority. Today it's the other side that has the whip hand, and they are using it.

If the FBI wants the Republican majority to fund their relocation, they might try not pissing that majority off, as their Director did yesterday, and see if that helps.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Have We Ever Asked for the Return of Howitzer Shells? Would We Know How?

I have read in the news media that the U.S. has already supplied Ukraine with over two million howitzer rounds, but they continue to need more at the rate of seven, or eight, or nine thousand rounds a day (numbers vary depending upon the particular source you read). 

Are they really firing that many? Are some being diverted elsewhere?  

The Ukraine howitzer business has put me in mind of a scene in a very good although overlooked movie about the early years of our involvement in Vietnam. See the whole thing here: Go Tell the Spartans

The particular scene starts at 1:12:22 and runs to 1:15:45. In it, an American Major played by Burt Lancaster makes a subtle offer to oversupply a Vietnamese Colonel with howitzer shells in return for his artillery support to an American outpost under siege. 

He pitches an immediate air supply of 500 rounds from an American depot, followed by 1,000 more to be delivered later by truck convoy. 

[Vietnamese official seeing an opportunity]
It would take four or five days for the truck convoy to bring the shells from the American depot. That could conceivably be too late for their use could it not, major?
[Burt Lancaster]
Could be.
In such a case, the American depot would desire the return of the shells, would it not?
[Lancaster, astonished]
In the whole history of the United States they've never asked for the return of anything, be it guns, money, boats, or howitzer shells. They wouldn't know how to ask for the return of anything. If they did, it would screw up the bookkeeping and everybody in Washington would have a goddamn nervous breakdown.
You tell the colonel if he gets his hands on the ammo, it's his forever.
Has anything really changed other than the sheer numbers of rounds involved?

For Your Use and Enjoyment: Howitzers 101

Not for nothing is field artillery known as the King of Battle.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

U.S. Transfer of Cluster Munitions Undermines "International Opprobrium of Their Use" - Human Rights Watch

That gets to the heart of the matter. Both Ukraine and Russia have used cluster munitions over the eight-plus years the conflict has gone on, but that doesn't make much difference to international law on the subject. What nation that has them has not used them at some time or other? We certainly have

The U.S. has not signed on to the ban treaty, but about all of our coalition partners supplying Ukraine with weapons have, The UK, for instance, is a prime supplier of 155mm howitzers, the artillery piece that can fire those cluster shells we will now send. 

If an American cluster round is fired in a UK howitzer, does that constitute a treaty violation of the UK's part? I don't know, but at the very least that situation seems certain to raise a political argument. 

Saturday, July 8, 2023

A Brief Primer on Cluster Munitions

"The devastation and destruction of [155mm cluster rounds fired by howitzer] is almost beyond belief ... That is the munition of choice on the battlefield."

So yesterday President Biden pulled the lanyard on supplying Ukraine with cluster munitions from our war reserve stocks of 155mm howitzer rounds, and much political posturing ensued. (Lanyard? That's a little arty jargon I threw in there for the dwindling number of Americans who have served in ground combat forces.)

Cluster munitions were his choice for the Ukrainian battlefield, but by no means do all Democratic politicians or Progressive voters agree with bringing quite that much devastation and destruction. Objections based on international law are the least of it, really, compared to the threats posed by dissident Representatives on, say, the House Defense Appropriations and House Armed Services Committee.  

You can read about those disagreements here: Top Dems break with Biden over sending cluster bombs to Ukraine.

Much more to come on this before the dust and shrapnel settles over there.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

You Can Double Your Money

In our latest national game of Clue, should you guess that it was Col. Hunter in the Library with the Glass Pipe that did it, and if it turns out you were right, odds-makers are offering some sweet deals.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

FBI = Forever Battling the Interstates

As you may know, the General Services Administration is trying to replace the horrendous FBI headquarters, the Hoover Building, with a new one to be located in either northern Virginia or Maryland. 

Lots of money is at stake with such a large project, and that question of site selection has set up a squalid competition between the governors and legislators of the two states to trash-talk each other while elbowing their way to the top of the trough. 

Well, there are some decisive site selection considerations which are purely objective and empirical, and first among those considerations is location, location, and location. That brings us to the latest twist in the site selection competition. 

This week the FBI released data that documents the obvious: i.e., that the various key locations FBI agents need to frequent are all located in Virginia, not Maryland. Read it here: FBI Provides Data On Trips To Quantico As GSA Considers New HQ Site.

Here's the money quote: 
The new June document, titled “New FBI Headquarters Site Selection Plan: Background Information on FBI Mission Requirement Criteria,” stated that evaluation of site proximity to FBI Quantico has been a key consideration throughout the process of choosing a new headquarters site “because the FBI’s law enforcement and national security operations will always rely on physical responses and in-person interactions.”
Distances matter when surging to a command post, responding to a WMD event, meeting to review evidence and build a case, or driving to Quantico for hands-on training or joint exercises,” the FBI said in the document. “From a time-savings and environmental perspective, it is meaningfully important to limit the need for the FBI workforce to spend several hours in a car commuting back and forth between locations.”

Maryland, give it up. Your proposed sites were never serious contenders. At this point you should drop out in the overall interests of the government and then hit GSA up for some tasty consolation prize.   

Friday, June 9, 2023

Assange Update: UK High Court Found No "Properly Arguable Point" in His Appeal of Extradition


I swear I post these Julian Assange updates more because I like the update theme song than because I care at all about the pallid Assange.

Well, according to CNN today:
A High Court judge in London has denied Julian Assange permission to appeal an order to extradite him to the United States, where he faces criminal charges under the Espionage Act.
The decision was dated Tuesday and is the latest in a years-long legal saga. His camp told CNN on Thursday that they will lodge a new appeal next week.
In a ruling dated June 6, 2023 and seen by CNN, Mr. Justice Swift said Assange’s application had been refused stating that “none of the four grounds of appeal raises any properly arguable point.”

After 12 years of more or less self-engineered confinement, first in the Ecuadorean embassy and then in his present lockup, Assange may be, at least in some theoretical sense, fractionally closer to actually being delivered to the U.S. for trial. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

"Liberals Now Love the FBI! (Some Do, Anyway)"

I just finished a great biography of J.Edgar Hoover by historian Beverly Gage. The most striking part of it was the clear continuity of Hoover's practice of waging political warfare against his social adversaries, be they Martin Luther King, Jr., or the KKK, and the practices of today's FBI as detailed in the Durham report

Here's the gist of it from an interview (here):

Gage: COINTELPRO is the most notorious program of Hoover’s tenure as FBI director, although it was not publicly known during his lifetime. COINTELPRO stands for Counterintelligence Program. And what the FBI meant by counterintelligence was not just surveillance of activist groups, but active disruption and harassment measures. The FBI would use things like threatening anonymous letters or fake press articles making fun of the Black Panthers or other groups they viewed as threats. They even had cartoonists at the FBI who would draw fake cartoons. They would get those published because they thought it would really upset people in the organizations that they didn't like. 

This part of “counterintelligence” involved disruption tactics not aimed at ever bringing anyone to court or even getting information for the files, but getting movements and organizations and leaders to fight with each other, to factionalize, to kind of collapse from within. We have famous examples of what the FBI did to Martin Luther King Jr. or to the Black Panthers. The FBI was very involved in watching and trying to create disruption in the Panthers around the time of the May Day protests in New Haven in 1970 [during the murder trial of Black Panther Bobby Seale]. They were using these tactics on student activist organizations, the New Left, and others. 

But one thing I don’t think people know is that the FBI was also doing that sort of thing to far-right organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations. Not with the same energy and enthusiasm as they were always applying to the left, but they were doing it. 

From a more pointed interview with (here) we get to this large and rather obvious observation about current politics:

MICHAEL BRENES One of the more interesting aspects of your book is that you show how liberal Democrats aided Hoover’s rise and hold on power. Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Hoover to FBI director at the height of the New Deal; Bobby Kennedy disliked Hoover but still, in his own words, “deferred to him” many times; Lyndon Johnson and Hoover had a limited friendship that led to the “greatest political alliance of [Hoover’s] career,” as you write. Why did American liberals enable Hoover? What are the connections between American liberalism and the growth of the national security state? 

BEVERLY GAGE Hoover’s close relationship with liberals — and with liberalism — fascinated me as I worked on the book. Though Hoover was appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) in 1924, it was really Franklin Roosevelt who gave him much of his power. 

Under Roosevelt, FBI agents expanded their role in federal law enforcement, becoming the great heroes of the New Deal’s War on Crime. During World War II, they expanded again, this time into a national domestic intelligence force. Roosevelt also taught Hoover how to sell the FBI’s work to the public. Both men believed that the work of government was not self-evident, that the American people had to be shown and taught to have faith in federal power. 

Lyndon Johnson embraced Hoover, too. In 1964, he exempted Hoover from mandatory federal retirement at the age of seventy, a key decision that allowed Hoover to stay in power throughout the critical years of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Throughout his presidency, Johnson used Hoover in a variety of ways — often to contain the Civil Rights Movement, on occasion to empower it. The most outrageous FBI operation of the 1960s, its campaign of harassment and surveillance aimed at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., took place with Johnson’s knowledge and support, even if Johnson did not necessarily know every detail of what the FBI was doing. 

We might think of Hoover’s relationships with these liberal titans as strange or anomalous, because we know Hoover best for his conservative social views. But it makes sense that figures like Roosevelt and Johnson, famous for their ambitions and their willingness to use the power of the state, would admire a skilled state-builder like Hoover. Those relationships also highlight the ways that liberals in power have often been suspicious of the Left and have supported efforts to contain and discredit left-wing groups. 

MICHAEL BRENES During the presidency of Donald Trump, we saw a curious faith in the FBI’s ability to create democratic outcomes, to deliver us from Donald Trump. Robert Mueller was treated as a savior by mainstream liberals. How do you explain the recent embrace of the FBI as an institution that can serve American democracy? After all, faith in the FBI to stop Trumpism occurred while the organization was surveilling protestors during the 2020 George Floyd protests and pondering the use of spyware to hack mobile phones — tactics that echoed back to Hoover’s era. And what does this tell us about Hoover’s legacy for American politics? 

BEVERLY GAGE Liberals now love the FBI! Some do, anyway. Polls show that Democrats on the whole are now far more supportive of the FBI than Republicans are. Most of that has to do with Trump, of course. But it’s also a reversion to an earlier period in FBI history, when liberals admired and empowered Hoover — and for some of the same reasons we see today. Though Trump is the key point of contention, defenders of the FBI now point to its designated role as an objective, nonpartisan, investigative force loyal to the facts and to the law — the most noble part of the FBI’s history and traditions. Of course, today’s liberals may be making some of the same mistakes that mid-century liberals did: In supporting the FBI, they may be ignoring possible excesses and abuses. That’s one of many areas where Hoover’s example ought to be instructive. 

Absolutely true. Liberals now - and not for the first time! - love the FBI. 

I say we ought to keep Hoover's name on any future FBI headquarters building as a reminder of how his spirit fills the institution, and apparently always will. 

And by all means carve this 2016 exchange between FBI big shots into the facade: “He's not ever going to become president, right? Right?! No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” 

Nothing better conveys what Jacobin called the left's "faith in the FBI to stop Trumpism." 

Some people who aren't paying attention found it shocking that a senior FBI official would express extreme animus for a presidential candidate and make it his official business to prevent that candidate's election. But Hoover would have approved. 

Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division Peter Strzok was simply following in the footsteps of his many predecessors who had done the same to all of their enemies from the anarchists of 1919 to the civil rights movement and the New Left of the '60s. 

'Stopping Trumpism' was in the highest traditions of J. Edgar Hoover.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

My Local Congressman Targeted in Baseball Bat Attack; Lessons Could Be Learned

The attacker was not wearing a MAGA hat, so most commentators were caught flatfooted at first. Their second reflex was to blame this on a rising tide of attacks on politicians. However, it looks like this was a more mundane incident, and not one of much political use, so I'd give it two days max before it disappears from public consciousness. 

The suspect's father gave the news media some interesting information (here) that clarifies his son's motive and mental state.
Pham’s father, Hy Pham, told the Washington Post his son was schizophrenic and had dealt with mental illness since his late teens. Hy Pham told the newspaper he had been unsuccessfully trying to arrange mental health care for his son.
In May 2022, a person whose name and community of residence matches Xuan-Kha Pham’s sued the Central Intelligence Agency in federal court. In a hand-written complaint, the plaintiff alleged the CIA had been “wrongfully imprisoning me in a lower perspective” and “brutally torturing me with a degenerating disability consistently since 1988 till the present from the fourth dimension”.
Delusions of persecution involving the CIA, or the U.S. government more generally, are quite common among schizophrenics. Way back in 1993 there was a shooting outside the CIA's entrance (here), after which there was a major security risk assessment which included research into the risk to government offices from mentally disturbed persons. 

It turns out that a very large percentage of diagnosed paranoid schizophrenics have delusions of persecution that could motivate attacks on government offices and persons. So that's a known risk, against which any government office can mitigate by keeping up a mild level of visitor screening and access control. 

Here's a hint: if a visitor at your congressman's district office door is holding a metal bat, and you are not organizing a softball fundraiser, then it would be a great idea to have a substantial door you can lock by pushing a button. 

After the Paul Pelosi attack Congress provided its members with a small budget for additional security measures. For a change, maybe they'll spend that on physical barriers like a door that will withstand a bat instead of on CCTV cameras which are useless against violence.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

National Museum of American Diplomacy Presents My Good Friends From OBO

Ben Franklin was on his own to find a place to work in Paris, and so were his fellow ambassadors until the Foreign Buildings Act of 1928 created a legal authority for State to own properties abroad. 

Now, there are so many diplomatic properties abroad - in every country but Iran and North Korea - that State has a Bureau to manage them, and a program to protect our cultural heritage in embassy art and architecture.     

If you'll be in town around noon on May 18, please consider coming to the NMAD for a presentation on the history of diplomatic architecture. 

(p.s. That funny round building is our embassy in Dublin.) 

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Deadbeat Dad Goes to Court, Political Repercussions May Follow

Somebody rode on Air Force One and all I got was this lousy T-shirt 

"Email correspondence between then-Deputy Secretary of State Blinken and Hunter Biden shows that meetings were set up by Blinken using his personal email address instead of his government address." 

Oh? We haven't heard the last of that, I'm sure. From the Washington Examiner:
On May 22, 2015, Hunter Biden asked Blinken to get together to get his "advice on a couple of things," in response to which Blinken set up a meeting using an AOL address instead of his address. At the time, Hunter Biden had been working for over a year on the board of the Ukrainian energy giant Burisma. 
[Representative] Wittmann had asked Blinken in December 2020 if he was aware at the time that Joe Biden’s son was serving on Burisma’s board, and Blinken replied, “To the best of my recollection, I was not.”
Maybe those emails will refresh his memory. 

By the way, concerning the mother of that adorable four-year old, I had been under the impression - based on news accounts - that she was a stripper when she encountered the POTUS's son, but that is not correct. 

Texts retrieved from that abandoned laptop of Hunter Biden's show that she was employed by Rosemont Seneca, Hunter’s own firm, and so presumably in a capacity that required clothes. 

She might be missing a workplace harassment angle in her legal campaign to pry some of his millions loose from Hunter.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

This is Why Normal People Hate Politics

Well, there is more than one reason for that, of course. But exactly that cringey fawning beyond-embarrassment-and-maybe-even-self-awareness tone of puppy-love for a politician is alone enough to make regular people hate politics.

What does it take to make a man debase himself like that? What could possibly be in it for him that would outweigh the contempt he must feel for himself? 

Potomac Fever is a disease that strikes not just presidential candidates but also the long, long, trail of moochers and sycophants that follow in their wake. That is just sad. 


Tuesday, April 18, 2023

NJ Senator Menendez is 'Justice-Involved' Again

According to NBC News today, my least favorite elected offical, New Jersey's Senator Menendez, is under federal investigation again, for public corruption, again. 

Campaign finance records show Menendez's campaign has spent about $200,000 to pay two law firms as well as a document search company. 

Sources familiar with the matter have previously said that Menendez has been under criminal investigation in connection with a Weehawken meat company, IS EG Halal, that won an exclusive contract with the government of Egypt. Several sources have said owners of that company have given expensive gifts to the senator’s wife in the past. 

Investigators have sent out dozens of subpoenas, with sources familiar with the matter saying they are looking into whether Menendez used his position as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee – which oversees $2 billion in aid to Egypt – to help the New Jersey company get the exclusive contract.
The last time the Justice Department prosecuted him he escaped justice due to a deadlocked jury. Maybe he'll be that lucky again.

Newly Upgraded White House Fence Defeated by Infant Intruder

So, for lovers of trivia and minutia, can you guess how actual security design professionals determine how close is close enough for the spacing of pickets in a high-security fence? 

Hint: the human head is the most irreducibly small element that an intruder has to push through an opening. No matter how skinny a body may be in all other dimensions, the adult head can't get smaller.

How large is that typical adult head, and how would you know? Sample hat sizes? Conduct experiments? Survey your friends?     

Thanks to the U.S. taxpayer, none of that is necessary because the motherlode of body measurement data comes to us from the U.S. Defense Department. If you are prepared to be suitably impressed, go to page 478 at the linked report and check the head measurement known as the 'bitragion breadth.' 

That's the smallest head dimension relevant to a picket fence. An intruder must get that front width of his head through an opening if the rest of his body is to follow. 

I urge you to really appreciate the scientific legitimacy of DOD's anthropometric data. Go deep into the dork forest of sample sizes and standard deviations. 

Thanks to that good work, we can say with a high level of confidence that 5.5 inches of clear opening distance between the pickets of the White House fence is enough to stop nearly all intruders (not counting infants, of course), without being ridiculous or unaffordable. 

A tip o' my government hat to whoever worked on that project.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Biden Reaches Out to Republicans - Not That Kind!

Amid the expected gaffes and flubs of an overseas POTUS trip, Joe Biden topped himself today by posing for a selfie with Gerry Adams, the former President of Sinn Fein and someone who, while definitely not the political front man for a terrorist group, you understand, exercised quite a bit of influence with the 'hard men' of the IRA Army Council. 

The two have met and done grip-and-grin photos together a couple times before. Way back in 1993 Biden lobbied the Clinton administration to issue visas to Adams and his close colleague Martin McGuinness and allow them to visit the U.S. over protests from the UK. 

McGuinness, unlike Adams, made no bones about being the IRA's chief of staff during some of the worst of the IRA's campaign against the British. 

The IRA war may be over now and all that, but you have to wonder how our British allies see that friendly gesture.

Friday, April 7, 2023

NPR Gets Owned By Elon Musk (Our Biggest Taxpayer)

He who pays the piper calls the tune, and fewer and fewer people are listening to NPR these days whatever tune they play. 

Listenership is down from its pandemic peak of 30 million a week to the current 9 million, according to Pew Research. Digital media must be the only thing keeping NPR afloat these days, even as it cancels programs and makes major layoffs

Maybe that 'listener-supported' money will make up the $30 budget gap NPR is facing. Oh, that reminds me - This post was made possible by the Winston and Muffy Wellborn Foundation, creating a more just, diverse, and equitable world by tax-sheltering a small part of his Robber Baron great-grandfather’s trust fund bucks. I hope that helps. 

Amid all that fiscal trouble, now comes the new post-Elon Twitter labeling NPR as state-affiliated media to NPR's great dismay. So great that NPR is currently refusing to use its Twitter account. 

Maybe Twitter is just doing its part in fighting mis-dis-and mal information in social media. Homeland Security can't carry that whole load by itself, so thanks, Elon, for policing your own corner of the internet. 

The argument for calling NPR state-affiliated is the federal appropriation of $525 million in tax money that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting got this fiscal year. That's up from the usual appropriation of $490 million. 

NPR’s website says that federal money is "critical" to its radio operations, so maybe it is not entirely crazy to call NPR state-affiliated. They aren't making their way without government money, after all. The very words national and public are heavy hints at the least. 

The case against applying that label is in Twitter's published definition of state-supported, which excludes "government funded operations that exercise independent editorial control, such as the BBC (sic)." I add the "sic" because the BBC is entirely funded by its government via mandatory license fees charged to any British person or organization using any type of television equipment. The BBC is independent of its owner? Get out of here.  

That definition needs a reality check if anyone believes there can be independent editorial control when a media outlet is dependent on a government for its funding. NPR itself states “Federal funding is essential to public radio's service to the American public and its continuation is critical for both stations and program producers, including NPR.” Critical for its continuation = dependent upon. 

NPR appears to be allergic to simply reporting that $525 million figure, since when they disclose their funding they dance around the total amount by breaking it into several categories. Nevertheless, the critical role of federal funding is clear from this NPR explainer on its financing:
Federal funding is essential to public radio's service to the American public and its continuation is critical for both stations and program producers, including NPR.
Public radio stations receive annual grants directly from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) that make up an important part of a diverse revenue mix that includes listener support, corporate sponsorship and grants. Stations, in turn, draw on this mix of public and privately sourced revenue to pay NPR and other public radio producers for their programming.
These station programming fees comprise a significant portion of NPR's largest source of revenue. The loss of federal funding would undermine the stations' ability to pay NPR for programming, thereby weakening the institution.
Elimination of federal funding would result in fewer programs, less journalism—especially local journalism—and eventually the loss of public radio stations, particularly in rural and economically distressed communities.
After all that pleading NPR really ought to admit the state-affiliated label, and just be happy they aren't called state-owned.


Update as of 4/9/23: NPR is now labeled "government funded media." Further update: NPR still hasn't refused any government funding. 


Thursday, March 23, 2023

A Familiar Three-Act Dramatic Structure is Playing Out In Manhattan

Manhattan DA Bragg is playing his part to perfection:
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) for the first time on Thursday addressed a claim by former President Trump that he would be arrested in connection to an investigation into a hush money payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels, calling it the creation of a “false expectation” (here).
You've probably seen it before.

Act 1: "We've got Trump at last! He'll never wiggle his way out of this one!" 

Act 2: Trump effortlessly wiggles his way out of this one. 

Act 3:


 This is even better than the old Roadrunner vs Wile E. Coyote cartoons. 

Hungarian Foreign Minister Has Some Advice For Us

The U.S. Congress directs that State create those human rights reports which so annoy the sensitive and high-strung foreigner. 

That's why they are done. But doesn't anyone in charge think about how incredibly insulting it is when we interfere with the internal affairs of sovereign nations? Counterproductive, even. 

Isn't there a Prime Directive about not interfering with other cultures and civilizations? There should be.

The State of American Diplomacy in 2023, House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing Today


You can read The Hon. Antony Blinken's opening statement here, in which we learn we are at yet another "inflection point," if you will pardon the umpteenth time that strange phrase has been rolled out.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Who Said It? Marianne Williamson or The Sphinx?


Which of these pearls of wisdom were cast by the loquacious spiritual guru and sometimes presidential candidate Marianne Williamson (here), and which by The Sphinx? Frankly, they both get pretty formulaic.

Answers will be posted Friday.  

1. "We are number one. All others are number two, or lower."
2. “If a train doesn't stop at your station, then it's not your train.” 

3. "He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions."

4. “You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” 

5. "You must lash out with every limb, like the octopus who plays the drums. "

6. “Always seek less turbulent skies … You are the one who is flying the plane.” 

7. "When you care for what is outside, what is inside cares for you."

8. “A tulip doesn’t strive to impress anyone. It doesn’t struggle to be different than a rose."

9. "You must be like the wolf pack, not the six-pack."

10. “And no one will listen to us until we listen to ourselves.” 

11. "To learn my teachings, I must first teach you how to learn."

12. “Until we have met the monsters in ourselves, we keep trying to slay them in the outer world. "

13. “Please enter where You already abide."


Friday answers:

1. - The Sphinx
2. - Marianne
3. - The Sphinx
4. - Marianne
5. - The Sphinx
6. - Marianne
7. - The Sphinx (although it sure sounds like Marianne)
8. - Marianne
9. - The Sphinx
10. - Marianne 
11. - The Sphinx (again, it sounds so much like Marianne)
12. - Marianne
13. - Marianne

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Official USG Overseas Travel Is Its Own Reward, But Sometimes There Are Also Gifts

Say, what time have you got? I could just check the ridiculously expensive wristwatch that I was given by some foreign government I visited on official travel, but unfortunately I had to turn that over to the National Archives.

Yes, it's the time of year that we see NARA's report of foreign gifts to traveling USG officials, and how they were 'disposed of.'   

Read the report here

Joe Biden got some nice swag, as you might expert. Among the many items he had to accept because "Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government" were Australian leather boots and French fountain pens, a "Hardcover Book: The Bidens of India" (?), and for 'Doctor' Jill Biden, a sweet Salvatore Ferragamo Black Leather Purse and Clutch (estimated value $2,410.00). There were also perishable items, such as a bottle of sparkling sake that was "handled pursuant to United States Secret Service policy" chug-chug

SecState A. Blinken and his traveling parties also got some expensive fountain pens as well as several hyper-expensive watches valued up to $10,000 (each). A poor DS agent got a lousy ballpoint pen from the protocol chief of Qatar. A much luckier female traveler got a Francesco Smalto fur coat, estimated value $950.00, from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Well, it gets cold in the desert at night, you know. Like everything else in the report, it got turned over to NARA. 

The CIA section of the report had some good mysteries. First, the expensive watches. They got them, of course, like everyone else, but the CIA often disposed of them by destroying them instead of turning them in to NARA. I suppose that's disposal with extreme prejudice. And then there's the "box of eight high-end Davidoff Royal Release Cigars" estimated at $800.00, which was disposed of via "official use." Official hundred-dollar cigars? Some cognac and wine was also disposed of "officially", as was a custom bike with travel case and GPS, estimated value $11,594. Does the CIA use bikes for business transportation?

DoD got some good booty as well, like the "sabre with curved steel blade" from Saudi Arabia, estimated value $8,100, and suitable for beheadings.  Of course, there were guns. "Two RPKs, one machine gun, two Lee-Enfields, one Springfield, and four AK-47 rifles." disposed of by means of official display. That was my favorite, at least the Lee-Enfields and the (presumably Model 1903) Springfield rifles. 

Traveling Congressmen accepted gifts of travel and meals from foreign governments, just as they do from contributors here at home. What was the disposition of those gifts, you may wonder? Well, maybe they said thank you. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

China's Balloons Explained (by People's Liberation Army Report of 2018)

Thursday, February 16, 2023

FBI = Federal Boondoggle at Impasse

The Hoover Building in Legos (better built than the real thing)

Bottom Line Up Front, as we say on official memos now. The best solution to GSA's search for a replacement FBI Headquarters is to simply build a new building on the site of the current one

The self-promotions of Maryland and Virginia in their competition to be the site for the GSA's big FBI HQ construction project has gotten even more unseemly and descended into trash-talking. See: Heated exchange over FBI HQ sparked by Virginia leaders' comments.
State lawmakers resorted to name-calling Wednesday in an ongoing fight over the relocation of a federal building. Virginia leaders struck a nerve with their competitors in Maryland when they pitched themselves as the best location of the new Federal Bureau of Investigation's headquarters. 
At a press conference Wednesday morning, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) said Maryland authorities had not been truthful, in their attempt to persuade federal officials to choose one of the two Prince George's County sites competing for the proposed 2.1-million-square-foot headquarters. He advocated instead for choosing the Virginia location in Springfield. 
"Our friends across the river have done everything they can to try to cook the books to get FBI to locate in Maryland," Connolly said. 
The comments drew a sharp rebuke from Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who claimed the criteria for siting the new FBI headquarters had been suddenly "manipulated" to favor Virginia's bid after a 10-year process. 
"It is so intellectually dishonest of Virginia and really, to be honest, quite laughable," Alsobrooks said. “The whole thing stinks to high heaven, and anyone who can't smell that, something's wrong with their smeller.”
There are pros and cons to each state's pitch, but let me to cut to the chase. To repeat, the best solution is to simply build a new FBI HQ on the site of the current one. The city of DC is sitting on the option that would best satisfy all of GSA’s site selection criteria, not to mention that the Fed already owns it. That's a win for the taxpayers, I say, even after factoring in the need for swing space. 

The DC Mayor and city council ought to like that option enough to fight for it, but they have so far been absent from this squabble, and I don’t think that’s because they are above grubbing for government bucks. Possibly they’ve been bought off by an insinuation that the Fed will give them the current FBI property for commercial redevelopment. [Insert derisive laughter here.]

I've commented on the FBI's horrendous headquarters building a number of times before; click on the FBI label below to see. The Hoover Building is a spectacular failure in every way, despite being the most expensive federal office building ever at the time it was built. It is long past time to put that wretch of a building out of its misery. 

The rational thinker in me figures GSA will award the project to the Virginia site, which objectively and empirically meets the site selection criteria much better than the Maryland sites. 

But the dreamer in me wishes GSA would come to its senses and surprise DC with the project it hasn't competed for. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Congratulations Wordsmiths, State Gets an A+ For Plain Writing

Sadly, compliance with that Act has not been uniformly great. For 2022 the average federal agency scored a mere C, which may not come as a surprise to you if you are familiar with any federal agencies. But I am pleased to report the State Department got an A+. See the Federal Report Card for 2022 here

So, what accounts for this competent drafting? Did State start passing out the Elements of Style, which once upon a time was a routine handout for new college students? That would be good. 

Better yet, it could stock all offices and annexes with collections of Hemingway novels! Now there was some good plain writing. 

"You must face the white bull that is a screen with no text on it" were his exact words of advice to writers, I think I recall from one or another of his stories. 
All you have to do is write one real bullet point. Make your action memo a clean, well-lighted place. Write the truest Ambassador Briefing Checklist you know. 

That's some good stuff, even if we no longer drink grappa all day long and write with pencils in little French notebooks. 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

German Military Music: I Like the Tune, But Can They Dance To It?


Will Germany send in the Leopards to Ukraine? Im Sturmwind dahin

I have no idea, but the Panzerlied is a kick-ass tune, and I am happy to see it is used once again by the Bundeswehr. It shouldn't have been banished due to its origins in the WWII Wehrmacht armored troops. 

It's hard to remember, now that Germany has the smallest army in NATO, but at the height of the Cold War it had about 4,000 Leopard 2s. Today it has about 350.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

RT Hon Cleverly Answers Your Questions

I have to hand it to the Rt Hon, this kind of thing makes a lot more sense as light public outreach than do Anthony Blinken's annoying Spotify playlists.

Plus, he only took up six and a half minutes of your time to deliver those Qs and As. He got in and then he got out. Very good.