Category Archives: Diplomatic Life

State Department Issues Nomination Call For First Golden Gooseberry Awards

– Domani Spero

Hollywood has the  Golden Raspberry Awards or Razzies for short, in recognition of the worst in film. The State Department now has the Golden Gooseberry Awards or the “Gozzies” in recognition of the worst performances of the year.  Below is the cable released to posts:

VZCZCXRO3921
RR RUEHIK
DE RUEHC #8174/01 2922053
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 012110Z APR 14
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO ALL DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 0428
RUEHRY/AMEMBASSY CONAKRY 0179
UNCLAS STATE 108174

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: AMGT, ABUD, AFIN, APER,
SUBJECT: CALL FOR NOMINATION- FIRST STATE DEPARTMENT ‘GOZZIES’ AWARDS

REF: STATE 015541

————–
Summary
————–

1. In response to a popular post on the Secretary’s Sounding Board, the State Department is pleased to announced the first call for the Golden Gooseberry Awards.  Nominations are due on the second week of November or the week immediately preceding the State Department’s Annual Awards (reftel), whichever is later.  Winners of the “Gozzies” Awards will be announced on or about April 1, 2015. End Summary.
—————–
Background
—————–
2.  On February 1, 2013, John F. Kerry was sworn in as the 68th Secretary of State of the United States, becoming the first sitting Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman to become Secretary in over a century. Following the tenure of two female secretaries of state and a most immediate predecessor who was popular and well-liked inside the building, Secretary Kerry, himself admitted, “I have big heels to fill.” To that end, Secretary Kerry wanted to ensure that some of the more popular initiatives and innovation started under the Clinton tenure continue.  For instance, the Secretary continue the tradition of “Meet and Greet” with embassy/consulate employees and families when he travel overseas.  Efforts on public outreach and social media engagement were expanded.  State’s bicycle to work program which resulted in showers for those who bike to work, and a monthly stipend for bike repairs and maintenance in lieu of the Government Metro Check subsidy was also given the nod.

3.  The employee “Sounding Board,” another innovation of former Secretary Clinton, is a visible platform for employee ideas and management response that Secretary Kerry’s team was interested in supporting boldly. On Secretary Kerry’s first week in Foggy Bottom, a request that the State Department needs its own version of the “Razzies” to recognize the worst performances was upvoted on the Sounding Board.   We listened, we asked questions, and we consulted with all stakeholders within the seven floors, the annexes and with employees in over 280 missions overseas.  Today, thirteen months after Secretary Kerry’s arrival in Foggy Bottom, the ‘Goozies’ Awards are finally here.  The ‘Gozzies’ are intended to serve as a reminder that the Secretary is listening, and that the worst performances will be held up as a teachable lesson on how not to behave as public leaders and servants.
—————————————————————————
GOZZIES AWARDS: ELIGIBILITY, CRITERIA, EXAMPLES
—————————————————————————

4.  Most Memorable HHE Shipper of the Year Award
Eligibility: All chief of mission employees who are in the rotational system and had to ship household effects. Nominations are welcome from post management, regional bureaus and State Department offices.
Criteria:  Selection will be based on (1) the most outrageous item shipped on HHE, (2) apportionment of blame to the General Services Office, (3) evidence of the degree of ignorance and idiocy demonstrated.  Names and supporting documents must be submitted online at state.gov/gozzies.
Example: An FSO shipped and stored 44 boxes of tiles, weighing 5,871 pounds as part of his household effects (HHE). FSO was advised that he owed $14,804.01 for packing, shipping, storage and repacking the tiles.  After filing a grievance, the Department later waived over $9,000 of this debt because FSO had not been timely notified of the disallowed items.

5. The Fair Share Escapee Award
Eligibility: All chief of mission employees who are subject to “Fair Share” requirement and have successfully evaded the rule for at least two assignment cycles. Nominations are welcome from  all direct-hire employees who have successfully concluded a tour in differential pay posts.
Criteria:  Fair Share rules require employees who are completing assignments to bid on differential pay posts if they have not served at a differential post during the eight years prior to their transfer eligibility date.  DS-6699, statement from DGHR, LinkedIn profiles, or Facebook posting indicating absence of differential post assignments in at least 9 years or more is required.  Names and supporting documents must be submitted online at state.gov/gozzies.
Example: See LinkedIn profiles and State Department bios.

6. Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct of the Year Award
Eligibility: All domestic and chief of mission employees of agencies. NDC is “that conduct which, were it to become widely known, would embarrass, discredit, or subject to opprobrium the perpetrator, the Foreign Service, and the United States.
Examples of such conduct include but are not limited to the frequenting of prostitutes, engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations, spousal abuse, spousal harassment to facilitate a contested divorce, neglect or abuse of children, manufacturing or distributing pornography, entering into debts the employee could not pay, or making use of one’s position or immunity to profit or to provide favor to another (see also 5 CFR 2635) or to create the impression of gaining or giving improper favor.”
Criteria: No formal nominations required.  Incident reports from Police Department, Diplomatic Security, indictment from the Department of Justice or a viral hit would suffice.  For consideration, names and links must be submitted online at state.gov/gozzies.
Example: DS Agent Charged With “Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct” Gets Three Days Suspension

7. ‘Old School’ Screamer of a Boss Award
The new consensus among leaders and managers is that screaming and yelling alarms people, drives them away rather than inspire them, and hurts the quality of their work. This award recognizes an individual in international affairs responsible for repeatedly throwing nuclear bombs and leaving officer’s blood and dreams all over the wall.
Eligibility:  All employees of the Foreign Service and the Civil Service including Senior Foreign Service and Senior Executive Service serving domestically or abroad, are eligible.
Criteria: An employee or group of employees familiar with the nominee’s performance, including direct reports, task forces, working groups and country desks, may nominate candidates. Nominations, not to exceed three typewritten pages are to be submitted online to state.gov/gozzies.  Nominees responsible for multiple curtailments from posts or early retirements/resignations of generalists/specialists from the Foreign Service will receive extra consideration.
Example: If your boss can scream like this, consider the submission of a nomination.

8.  The Consular Fraudster Award
This award recognizes criminal and unethical actions performed in conjunction with  consular work. It is inspired by the this consular officer jailed for visa fraud and bribery.
Eligibility: All domestic and chief of mission employees working in passport offices and consular sections
Criteria: No formal nominations required. Department of Justice indictment and plea agreement and/or jail term acceptable. Names and links must be submitted online at state.gov/gozzies.

9.  Department appreciates your full cooperation. As always, thank you for all that you do and for being part of this extraordinary team.  Questions, clarifications, suggestions for additional awards may be submitted online at state.gov/gozzies.

BT

 

Amazing! Kudos to Secretary Kerry and his team. And here we thought bureaucratic life must be quiet boring.  An agency official speaking on background emphasized that the “Gozzies” are the first of its kind in the Federal government and that a half dozen additional awards will be rolled out after the summer rotation.

Well, what are you waiting for?

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Earth Embassy Ganymede Administrative Notice #04-010103: Morale, WD-40, Duct Tape

– Domani Spero

Originally posted in Diplopundit on April 18, 2013. Republished today for a very good reason.

Administrative Notice #05-011300: Morale

It has come to management’s attention that there has been a lot of chatter and hyperspace email about morale and safety at this outpost.  This notice serves as a reminder to everyone under Ganymede outpost authority that discussion about morale is an unproductive use of work time. Morale is self-esteem in action; individuals who perceived that morale is lacking may need help in improving their self-esteem. Please make every effort to schedule an appointment to see the quadrant psychiatrist.

Ganymede management fully believes, like the 34th American President Dwight Eisenhower, that the best morale exist when you never hear the word mentioned. In that sprit, management formally informs all departments and employees that morale is not/not an issue and is not/not a subject to be discussed in hypermail, text, video, radio, verbal or any alternate manner of communication within and outside the mission.  Anyone caught peddling these stories will be subject to disciplinary action, including but not limited to curtailment of current assignment or a lengthy TDY to the outermost prograde moon of Carpo.

In an effort to be responsive to all concerns, below are some FAQs that the section  had the pleasure of addressing the last 12 moons. We hope that the answers are useful to you and your families and help alleviate persistent concerns.

English: WD-40

English: WD-40 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
EaEmbassy Ganymede

Is Ganymede a family-friendly post?

Absolutely. It is the most family-friendly assignment in the quadrant with excellent schools and some of the best apartments available in the sector. Living conditions are approximated to be similar to the home planet and the quality of life is super-excellent.  Consistent demand for assignments to this outpost has repeatedly resulted in a long wait list at every rotation cycle.

I’ve been thinking of asking for a transfer to Ganymede.  But I heard that life there is a big joke … I don’t get what’s the joke.

Life in Ganymede is not/not a big joke. Once you understand that Ganymede is too big to fail, you’ll find your groove. This is the place where you want to be.  No other outpost will afford you the challenges and opportunities to excel and earn a fast-tracked promotion.

How safe is Ganymede given that riots are breaking out in all parts of the hostplanet:

Safe. Very safe, if you’re careful.

Ganymedeans breached the outpost walls, they can do it again, should I worry?

There’s no reason to worry.  Ganymedeans are not/not anti-Earthlings, anti-humans or what have you.  They were blowing off steam. Period. Now that they have, things should return to normal. If you think things have not returned to normal, give it time; things should return to normal. Soon.

There are assaults reported daily, it sounds like traveling around the hostplanet has become extremely dangerous. Is that perception correct?

Ganymede is the largest moon in this sector. Like any large, densely inhabited city on Earth (e.g. New York City, New Delhi, Bogota, Buenos Aires), crime is ever present. This is not/not unique to this outpost.  Travel in pairs if needed, and bring your stun gun, if necessary.

The Manager for Planetary Services reportedly quit over extreme bureaucratic bullying, is this true?

Absolutely not. The manager quit because the official got too old for the job. Other employers in this sector throw old officials out the airlock. Fortunately, EaEmbassy Ganymede has a generous separation package specifically for older workers traveling back to the home planet.

There are rumors and allegations that some of the top Ganymede officials have, on several occasions, pushed and bossed around subordinates and threatened them with penalties. How accurate are these stories?

Have you ever heard of American poet, Robert Frost?  He said that the reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.  Isn’t that an excellent point?  Stop listening to rumors. Stop worrying. All our top Ganymede officials were handpicked and subjected to a battery of reviews and 360 feedbacks from friends, peers, and colleagues. All with spectacular results. They are all as lovable and huggable as Alaskan polar bears.

I used to have an open mind, then I got to Ganymede and my brains kept falling out. What am I doing wrong?

To keep an open mind, a person needs only two tools: WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40. If it moves and shouldn’t, use the tape. This works even in Ganymede.

I am terribly upset that my concerns have not been taken seriously.  How do I set a laser printer to stun?

The management office works hard to address all of your concerns and aims to make every assignment to Ganymede a satisfying one.   Unfortunately, all laser printer at post at this time do not have a stun setting.  However, the procurement section is exploring the possibility of adding a stun setting to all laser printers with end of year funding.

 

Note that this is from a work in progress.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Morale is self-esteem in action,  is a quote by Avery Weisman; WD-40 and laser printer quips are found items around the net.

Ugh! Just saw that the Russians are interested on Ganymede, now.  Well, dammit, I am not changing my fictional embassy’s name again, so don’t write to complain about that.

 

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Open Season: This Year’s July 4th Independence Day Celebrations Officially On

– Domani Spero

Actually no, the season officially opened last month when U.S. Embassy Kathmandu celebrated the 238th Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America on February 22, 2014. Nepal’s Vice President Paramananda Jha was the main guest at the event.  According to Ambassador Peter W. Bodde’s prepared speech, this was the second year the embassy celebrated July 4th early “in the hopes of escaping monsoon weather.”  Also, they chose this week “because in February we honor the birthdays of two of our great presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.” Eleven members of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force Band based in Okinawa, Japan entertained the guests at the chief of mission residence. More photos are available here.

Photo via US Embassy Nepal

Photo via US Embassy Nepal

Photo via US Embassy Nepal February 21, 2014

Photo via US Embassy Nepal
February 21, 2014

 

So, US Embassy Nepal had officially bumped off US Embassy Muscat for the first July 4th celebration of 2014.  On March 25, 2014, the US Embassy in Oman hosted its 238th Independence Day event.  According to ONA, Greta Christine Holtz, the US ambassador to the Sultanate gave a speech during which she affirmed the deep-rooted relations binding Omanis and Americans.  In 2013, the embassy celebrated July 4th on May 24. More photos available here. In 2012, we did, Chew on This: US Embassy Oman Celebrates 4th of July (in February) with Fast Food Sponsors.  It looks like they no longer display prominently the event’s corporate sponsors.

Photo via US Embassy Muscat

Photo via US Embassy Muscat

 

This year, we hope to do a Fourth of July fashion or food round-up.  Give us a heads up if you have something interesting at post.

 

 

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USG Declares Three Venezuelan Diplomats Personae Non Gratae

– Domani Spero

The Venezuelan Government notified the United States on the afternoon of February 17 that they have declared three of our consular officers at US Embassy Caracas personae non gratae. The three were given 48 hours to leave the country (see Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicks Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests).

On February 25, the U.S. Government kicked out three Venezuelan diplomats in response to the Venezuelan  Government’s decision.  The State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki identified the png’ed diplomats as First Secretary Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, First Secretary Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua, and Second Secretary Marcos Jose Garcia Figueredo.  Ms. Psaki said that the diplomats were given 48 hours to leave the United States. Citing Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Ms. Psaki also noted that the convention permits the United States to declare any member of a diplomatic mission persona non grata at any time and without the necessity to state a reason.

Asked to comment about the possible nomination of a new Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S., the spox had this to say:

“Well, as you know, a decision about an exchange of ambassadors is a mutual decision, so obviously, we’ve said months ago that we could – we would be open to an exchange of ambassadors but that Venezuela needs to show seriousness about their willingness and their openness to a positive relationship moving forward.”

Late the same day, Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro announced the nomination of Maximilien Arvelaiz to be the country’s first ambassador to the U.S. since 2010.  According to Bloomberg, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said that the nomination of Arvelaiz, a former ambassador to Brazil, was meant to “establish political relations at the highest level that will contribute to peace.”  

In 2010, then President Hugo Chavez caused the withdrawal of Venezuela’s agrément on the appointment of Larry Palmer as U.S. Ambassador to Caracas (see How Larry Palmer, the US Ambassador nominee to Venezuela got rolled?). Nicolas Maduro, then Foreign Minister presented the diplomatic note to the embassy formally withdrawing the agreement of Larry Palmer to be the Ambassador to Venezuela.  Ambassador Palmer was later nominated and confirmed in 2012 as U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

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AAFSW: A Guide to Connecting Communities at Overseas Posts via Facebook and WordPress

– Domani Spero

There was a time when embassy newsletters were distributed only in printed format. Do you remember that?  Later they were distributed as Word documents, then eventually as PDF files. We know that some posts put the newsletters up on the Intranet, not sure if all posts do this now. But even if they do put it up on the Intranet, only a third of all FS spouses are working (some outside the mission), which means more than two-thirds do not have regular access to the Intranet. We would not be surprise if at some posts, spouses still have to go into the Community Liaison Office (CLO) to use dedicated terminals to do stuff on the Intranet.

Hey! Look at the bright side, at least they’re not making spouses use the Wang for what they need to do online.

Typically the newsletters are produced by the CLO or by a contractor. We learned that at the Tri-Mission in Vienna, the official weekly PDF newsletter couldn’t serve as an easily accessible timely resource for answers to all the nitty-gritty questions that new arrivals to post always seem to have, such as finding a good dentist or figuring out the public transport system. Tri-Mission Vienna is not alone on this, of course. Most embassies have CLOs but they do not serve as call centers. At the time when smartphones  are ubiquitous, when there are 1,310,000,000 users on Facebook with 54,200,000 pages, access to timely information is still a challenge for some, particularly overseas.

Enter a couple of Foreign Service spouses who wanted a way to share information quickly and efficiently.  Kelly Bembry Midura and Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel put together a Facebook group, “Vienna Vagabonds” to provide support and advice to the Tri-Mission community.  Later they developed “TriVienna” (using free WordPress) as an unofficial resource for the American community in Austria. The site includes information for newcomers as well resources for navigating the city, schools, services and travels to neighboring areas. There are a few other posts with similar unofficial sites but they are still in the minority.

The two spouses have now put together a guide, through the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) on how to set up similar online communities at posts overseas.  The guide which is pretty straight-forward includes setting up FB pages at post, setting up a community website using WordPress, and privacy and security.  CLOs everywhere should applaud this effort. Community members working together could only enhance the cohesion of the mission and this should make information and resources easily available and shareable.

Before anyone complains about this to Diplomatic Security, please read the material, okay?

Kelly Bembry Midura is a writer and the Content Manager for AAFSW (http://www.aafsw.org). She has for many years advocated for making information more accessible to Foreign Service family members.  She blogs at http://wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com. Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel worked as a research social scientist before her husband convinced her to try life in the Foreign Service. She blogs at http://kidswithdiplomaticimmunity.wordpress.com.

As an aside on Intranet access for spouses — the Defense Department has long provided online access and information to spouses of service members. For instance, Military OneSource offers 24/7/365 access to information on housing, schools, confidential counseling and referral services at no cost to Service members or their families.  Its Military Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program also offers spouses assistance with career exploration, education and training, career readiness, and career connections.

At the State Department on the other hand, spouses and family members do not even have access to feedback about life at post from other employees, unless they have logins to the Intranet.  Out of  11,528 spouses and adult family members, over 8,700 are not working or are not working at the mission and do not have regular Intranet access.  We suspect that funding the Intranet access for FS spouses and family members would cost less than a wink of what we’re spending at the Sinkhole of Afghanistan.

But — here we are in 2014 and the 21st century statecraft is still missing at home.

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‘Ethics Answers’ Talks Hypothetical Ethical Scenarios — Cuz There Are No Real Life Examples?

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– Domani Spero

State Magazine now includes an ‘Ethics Answers’ box where hypothetical ethical scenarios Department employees might face are presented. The January issue includes the following (pdf):

Q: I was recently assigned to a new post. My new supervisor frequently has me do personal things for her, like typing her son’s college application or picking up her dry-cleaning. I feel I shouldn’t be asked to do these things. Am I right?

A: Yes. Ethics regulations prohibit a supervisor (or any Executive Branch employee) from encouraging, directing, coercing or requesting a subordinate to perform these types of personal services during work hours or personal time. By asking you to perform these tasks, your boss has taken advantage of her official position to gain personal services she would otherwise need to perform herself or pay someone else to do. Under ethics rules, this is a “misuse of position”—using official time, authority, title, information or resources for private gain, either one’s own or another’s. Other examples of misuse of position include using one’s official position to obtain a travel upgrade, asking the visa office to give priority to a friend’s visa application or using your official title to fundraise for your child’s school.

For help with real ethical questions, email ethicsattorneymailbox@state.gov.

Why can’t the ethics attorney use real cases without mentioning names and posts?

Let’s try this.

The ambassador’s OMS at an EUR post was routinely asked to take the dog and kids for walks while the boss worked after hours.

Or, during the embassy’s Christmas bazaar, the ambassador’s OMS and an official residence employee were tasked with selling bags and crafts owned by the ambassador’s wife.

Is that too hard?  You may play the ethics crossword puzzles here, have fun, learn the regs. Pardon me, and then what?  After you know that you’re right, what then?  An excellent question that we hope “Ethics Answers” would answer one day.

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Drowning in Smoggy Delhi: There’s No Blue Sky, So Where’s Blueair? (Updated)

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– Domani Spero

In December last year, Hindustan Times reported on how air and water pollution plagued Indian cities:

One in three people in India live in critically-polluted areas that have noxious levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and lung-clogging particulate matter larger than 10 micron (PM10) in size. Of the 180 cities monitored by India’s Central Pollution Control Board in 2012, only two — Malapuram and Pathanamthitta in Kerala — meet the criteria of low air pollution (50% below the standard).

The NYT also reported in February last year  that “The thick haze of outdoor air pollution common in India today is the nation’s fifth-largest killer.”

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response
Photo from January 11, 2013
(click on image to read more)

The State/OIG report from 2011 says that the health environment for US Embassy employees in India is “challenging, punctuated by frequent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.”  That’s putting it mildly.  Reports about the air pollution in India is nothing new but has not been as widely reported as the “fog” in China. That’s probably because we have @BeijingAir monitoring crazy bad air in China and no @DelhiAir to report on India’s bad air.  NYT reported this week that “The United States does not release similar readings from its New Delhi Embassy, saying the Indian government releases its own figures.” Click here to see NYT’s follow-up report why.

The Times of India notes that “Lately, a very bad air day in Beijing is about an average one in New Delhi” and cites disturbing comparative numbers between the two cities:

Clean Air Asia, an advocacy group, found that another common measure of pollution known as PM10, for particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, averaged 117 in Beijing in a six-month period in 2011. In New Delhi, the Center for Science and Environment used government data and found that an average measure of PM10 in 2011 was 281, nearly two-and-a-half times higher.

Of course, FS folks have been living and hearing about this for years.  Haven’t you heard — “If you have asthma or other breathing issues, think long and hard before committing to New Delhi?”  Last year, an FS member said, “Very unhealthy, especially for young children, during winter when dung, garbage, and everything else is burnt for warmth, and smog traps it within Delhi.”  In 2010, somebody assigned to New Delhi warned that “Asthma and skin disorders are on the rise.

We understand that you don’t get to see the blue sky for a couple of months. In 2011, somebody called it, “the worst in the world.”

This past weekend, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network released its 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.   The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks how well countries perform on high-priority environmental issues in two broad policy areas: protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems.

The announcement made special mention of improvement in India’s overall performance but cites dramatic declines on air quality. The announcement notes that “India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

India ranks 155th out of 178 countries in its efforts to address environmental challenges, according to the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). India performs the worst among other emerging economies including, China, which ranks 118th, Brazil, at 77th, Russia, at 73rd, and South Africa at 72nd.
[…]
In particular, India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

“Although India is an ‘emerging market’ alongside China, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, its environment severely lags behind these others,” said Angel Hsu of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and lead author of the report.“ Very low GDP per capita coupled with the second highest population in the world means India’s environmental challenge is more formidable than that faced by other emerging economies.”

This is not a health hazard that just showed up yesterday. So we were surprised to hear that at a town hall meeting at Embassy New Delhi, a medical professional reportedly said that none of the government issued embassy purifiers at the mission do the fine particles.

Wait, the US Embassy in New Delhi issued air purifiers that do not work for the  finest particles — the particles that do the most damage?

How did that happen?

Some folks apparently are now buying their own air purifiers. A mission member reportedly spent $1600 for purifiers to allow a breath of clean air inside the house.

Dear US Embassy India, we would have liked an official comment, but your public affairs ninja ignores email inquiries.  Call me, maybe — we’d like to know which smart dolt spent all that money for decorative air purifiers.

On a related note, early this month, China Daily reported that in December last year, the US Embassy in Beijing ordered 2,000 air purifiers  for its employees in the country from Blueair, a Swedish manufacturer:

The cheapest model from Blueair, the Blueair 203, costs 3,590 yuan ($591) from Torana Clean Air, Blueair’s official seller in Beijing, while it sells for $329 on the Best Buy and Amazon websites in the US.  The order placed for air purifiers by the US embassy was handled by the Swedish company’s American supplier, and the unit price was not disclosed.

We don’t know what types of purifiers were issued at US Embassy India.  Popular brands like Blueair, Panasonic, Daikin, Sharp, Yadu, Honeywell are compared here as used in China via myhealthbeijing.  There is also a review of air purifiers by the Consumer Report that should be worth looking into; the report is only available to subscribers.  Or check with MED which should have this information available.

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Inbox: A Note From an Unarmed Diplomat

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–Domani Spero

We received the following via email from an “unarmed diplomat” who wrote, “I knew Sean, so this is personal with me.”

“I am not surprised that State ignored post’s requests for security.  I am even less surprised that Amb. Stevens wanted to put his “boots on the ground” there – which meant that others had to follow him there.  Beginning with Condi Rice this notion that diplomats could do “expeditionary diplomacy” has been increasingly ill-advised and terrifying.  Diplomats, unlike the military, are neither trained nor equipped to be in the middle of armed insurrection, yet the path to promotion is through such assignments.  So long as promotions and onward assignments are linked to danger posts, then there will be pressure for State personnel to be in those places and for warnings and trip lines to be ignored.  So long as danger is a “glorified career cone” (so to speak) then career ambassadors will push to be in such places, dragging their staff along.”

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US Embassy New Delhi RSO Wayne May Given 48 Hours to Leave India Over L’Affaire Khobragade

– Domani Spero

On January 9, a grand jury indicted Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade for visa fraud and for false statements.  Around the same time, Washington granted the Indian diplomat accreditation to the Indian Mission to the United Nations and requested that India waive the immunity that her new status conferred.   After India refused, Washington reportedly asked for Ms. Khobragade’s departure from the United States.  By Friday evening, the Indian diplomat was back in New Delhi, embraced as a returning hero. Mayur Borkar, the spokesman of the Republican Party of India is quoted by Reuters saying,  “We will be meeting her soon. She is an inspiration to the people of our country.” 

The State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki says that the charges remain in place and that Ms. Khobragade is not permitted to return to the United States “except to submit to the jurisdiction of the court.”

“[T]he charges against her have not changed. Once she departed – prior to her departure it was conveyed to her and to the Government of India that she is not permitted to return to the United States except to submit to the jurisdiction of the court. Her name would be placed in visa and immigration lookout systems to prevent the routine issuance of any future visa, and upon her departure, a warrant may be issued for her arrest. This does not change the charges. The charges remain in place.”

Ms. Psaki also confirmed the Government of India’s request for the withdrawal of a specific individual from the U.S. Mission in India. Note that both sides are using the polite term “withdrawal” or “expulsion” and did not make a declaration of “persona non grata” for either individual.

“I can confirm that a U.S. official accredited to the Mission India – to Mission India will be leaving post at the request of the Government of India. We deeply regret that the Indian Government felt it was necessary to expel one of our diplomatic personnel. This has clearly been a challenging time in the U.S.-India relationship. We expect and hope that this will now come to closure and the Indians will now take significant steps with us to improve our relationship and return it to a more constructive place. I don’t have any other specific details in terms of the individual and the name of the individual or their specific travel plans at this point.”

Reciprocity also known as equivalent retaliation is the diplomatic version of a stick fight. Nobody dies or the game ends, but no blow goes unreturned, regardless of who is right or wrong.

Screen Shot 2014-01-10

(Click on image to read the text of the daily press brief with Ms. Psaki)

We‘ve learned yesterday from our State Department sources that the member of US Mission India who was asked to depart within 48 hours according to news report is Regional Security Officer and Supervisory Special Agent Wayne May. His wife who works at the embassy as a Community Liaison Officer will presumably also leave.  Mr. May has now departed the country according to the Times of India.  On local media, he is alleged as either having issued the visas or alleged to have facilitated the travel to the United States of Sangeeta Richard’s family. The Times of India is reporting a direct connection between RSO Wayne May and the family of the Kohbragade maid.

The parents-in-law of Sangeeta Richard, the domestic help at the centre of the India-US diplomatic spat, worked with US diplomat Wayne May who was expelled by India for his role in the Devyani Khobragade episode. This seems to be the main reason why May is said to have gone out of his way to facilitate the “evacuation” of Sangeeta’s husband Philip and children by arranging T-visas (trafficking) for them.

We don’t know much of the the specifics of this case except through the USDOJ posted documents. We do know this — Mr. May is a member of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the law enforcement arm of the US Department of State.  As an RSO, his responsibility includes security,  investigations and threat analysis overseas.  We estimate that he manage about a quarter of the embassy staff in New Delhi.  Since the Khobragade case was a criminal investigation, we doubt very much if Mr. May just woke up one day and decided on his own to piss off the host country by doing whatever he did. Or did not do.  As far as we know, Mr. May is not a consular officer who issues visas nor a travel agent who process airline tickets. But apparently, he is the “it” person in this multi-phase diplomatic rat-tat-tat over a diplomat who allegedly underpaid her maid and was strip searched during her arrest.

It is  our understanding that Mr. May has been the RSO in New Delhi since 2010.  So yeah, he is already due for a regular rotation.

Now, the big question is — who will the GOI demand to leave next, the fingerprint lady on Window #6?

Today, it is widely reported on Indian media that India is also insisting that the US should drop the charges of visa fraud against its diplomat as she was not guilty of any wrongdoing according to External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. That indictment could actually be more problematic for the GOI.  Besides its missions in Washington, D.C. and New York, India has consulates general in San Francisco, Chicago, Houston and Atlanta. The minimum wages for those locations are as follows: California-$8.00 per hour; becomes $9.00 on July 1, 2014 (San Francisco minimum wage is higher at $10.55 per hour); Illinois-$8.25 per hour; Texas -$7.25 per hour; Georgia-$5.15 per hour. California’s Domestic Worker Bill of Rights also went into effect on January 1, 2014.  Writing for Hindustan Times, former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal (via) said this: “Indian diplomats taking domestic staff to the US accept the minimum wage requirement when all concerned, including the US visa services and the State Department, know this is done pro-forma to have the paper work in order.” NDTV reports that Indian diplomats in the US are worried “since their domestic helps also come on A3 visa like Ms Richards.” The report using unnamed sources says that there are “around 14 such ‘ticking time bombs’ in the US right now.”

A side note on the “T” visas for victims of human trafficking and qualifying family members — that’s not something that one office or one person can just issue because the official feel sorry for the applicant.  The “T” visa status is obtained from the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). One of the eligibility criteria is for an applicant to “Demonstrate that [he/she] would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if removed from the United States.”  Victims of trafficking applicants are also strongly encouraged to submit Form I-914, Supplement B, Declaration of Law Enforcement Officer for Victim of Trafficking in Persons, to show law enforcement agency support.  That declaration, signed by a law enforcement officer and a supervisory officer serves as primary evidence that the applicant is a victim of trafficking and that he/she has complied with reasonable requests from law enforcement. Once USCIS approves the change of status to a “T” visa, the applicant then had to deal with USCIS Vermont Service Center in St. Albans, VT.  to obtain derivative approval for qualifying family members.  Family members overseas then have to apply for their visas at their nearest embassy overseas.

To imagine that all this was orchestrated by one officer, including the investigation in the United States, and the actual filing of charges by the Southern District of New York because the escaped maid’s in-laws work for the officer’s family in New Delhi is simply ludicrous.

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U.S. Grand Jury Indicts Indian Diplomat Devyani Khobragade (See Documents)

– Domani Spero

On January 9, a U.S. Grandy Jury indicted Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade for visa fraud (count one) and for false statements (count two). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has now posted copies of the indictment and the exhibits (includes the alleged fake employment contract and alleged real employment contract).

INDICTMENT, EXHIBITS & RELATED LETTER: U.S. v. Devyani Khobragade

A U.S. government official told Reuters that the State Department accepted India’s request to accredit Ms. Khobragade at the Indian Mission to the United Nations and then asked India to waive her diplomatic immunity that the status conferred.  India reportedly denied the request which resulted in Washington asking for Ms. Khobragade’s departure from the United States.

Apparently, one of Ms. Khobragade’s attorneys told CNN late Thursday afternoon that she was still in the United States, but declined to say whether she planned to leave later. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York subsequently released the following statement:

“This Office had been advised by the State Department that, pursuant to their request, Devyani Khobragade was to have left the United States this afternoon. In a letter sent to the Court upon the filing of the Indictment of Ms. Khobragade, we stated our understanding that she had left the country. Subsequent to the filing of the letter, Ms. Khobragade’s lawyer advised that she has not, in fact, departed the U.S.”

This may end the contentious U.S.-India row but this is not the end of the case against Ms. Khobragade.  In a filing to the New York court, Manhattan US attorney Preet Bharara writes that “the charges will remain pending until such time as she can be brought to Court to face the charges, either through a waiver of immunity or the defendant’s return to the United States in a non-immune status.”

Pending charges could complicate future plans of visiting or residing in the United States as Ms. Khobragade is reportedly married to a U.S. citizen.

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