It looks like Nacho Libre‘s “Friar Storm” was reassigned from Mexico to Pakistan and we’re going to get Foreign Service officer Alex Talbot in a business suit. The Brink, is coming to HBO on June 21 with Jack Black playing FSO Alex Talbot and Tim Robbins, apparently playing the philandering or kinky (take your pick) Secretary of State Walter Larson. Aasif Mandvi, of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” plays Rafiq Massoud, a Pakistani employee of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. TV.com says that the dark comedy focuses on a geopolitical crisis (some rogue general took over somebody’s nukes) “through the eyes of three disparate, desperate men” who must “pull through the chaos around them to save the planet from World War III.” Sounds so totally not Madam Secretary.
Jack Black sure makes the apocalypse look fun in this new trailer for HBO’s “The Brink” http://t.co/gbR3pZX89d
We understand that if it catches on, we could be watching The Brink tackle different crises in different parts of the world for its next seasons. We would like to make a public appeal now that Alex Talbott put in Venezuela top of his bidlist so the next season will be set in the Western Hemisphere.
The Brink’s 10-episode season premieres June 21 at 10:30PM on HBO. Get your funny bones ready, or if you don’t have one, stay away from teevee this summer.
Or see video Foreign Policy Follies with Jen Psakihere via YouTube.
Oh, here below is one from Democracy Now:
We agree that the Maduro accusations have been ludicrous for a while now (see Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!). But when you add, “as a matter of longstanding policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means …” we tripped all over the hallways and stairwells and have all sorts of bruises to show for it. In times like this, we revert back to an old habit of getting drunk on bad rhymes. Who writes these scripts? Do they practice with a mirror? Folks, there’s a whole crowd of people on the Internets who can’t quit laughing over this. And they’re not just laughing at Ms. Psaki, or the State Department. They’re laughing at the United States of America. Ay dios mio! You, okay with that?
QUESTION: President Maduro last night went on the air and said that they had arrested multiple people who were allegedly behind a coup that was backed by the United States. What is your response?
MS. PSAKI: These latest accusations, like all previous such accusations, are ludicrous. As a matter of longstanding policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means. Political transitions must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and legal. We have seen many times that the Venezuelan Government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela. These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan Government to deal with the grave situation it faces.
QUESTION: The U.S. —
QUESTION: Sorry, Jen —
QUESTION: Sorry. The U.S. has – whoa, whoa, whoa. The U.S. has a longstanding practice of not promoting – what did you say? How longstanding is that? I would – in particular in South and Latin America, that is not a longstanding practice.
MS. PSAKI: Well, my point here, Matt, without getting into history —
QUESTION: Not in this case.
MS. PSAKI: — is that we do not support, we have no involvement with, and these are ludicrous accusations.
QUESTION: In this specific case.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: But if you go back not that long ago during your lifetime, even – (laughter) – this is not that long since —
MS. PSAKI: The last 21 years. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well done. Touche. But I mean, does “longstanding” mean 10 years in this case? I mean, what is —
MS. PSAKI: Matt, my intention was to speak to the specific reports.
QUESTION: I understand, but you said it’s a longstanding U.S. practice, and I’m not so sure – it depends on what your definition of “longstanding” is.
MS. PSAKI: We will – okay.
QUESTION: Recently in Kyiv, whatever we say about Ukraine, whatever, the change of government and then the beginning of last year was unconstitutional, and you supported it. The constitution was —
MS. PSAKI: That is also ludicrous, I would say.
QUESTION: — not observed.
MS. PSAKI: That is not accurate, nor is it with the history of the facts that happened at the time.
QUESTION: Yes, the history of the facts. How was it constitutional?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think I need to go through the history here, but since you gave me the opportunity – as you know, the former leader of Ukraine left of his own accord —
QUESTION: He did not leave his country.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I think we know the facts here, and we’ll certainly give you an article on the facts to take a look at.
Hillary Clinton caused controversy after reports revealed she used a private e-mail account during her time as secretary of state. Late-night hosts Jon Stewart, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon couldn’t resist a few jokes at her expense.
“I don’t have the FAM in front of me. I can certainly check and see if there were certain policies, if there were regulations. The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.”
That’s a direct quote from the official spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State, Jennifer Psaki, who managed to change internal agency policy in just eight words during the Daily Press Briefing on March 10, 2015. Here is a screenshot from the transcript that you may look at just as soon as you’ve picked up your jaw from the floor.
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Dammit! Yahoo called the FAM “regulations.” It obviously has no idea there’s something wrong with its search engine!
Okay, let’s try searching for this at the State Department’s official website at state.gov.
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Well, it turns out, those folks running the official agency website also have no idea they have this all wrong. Calling the FAM “regs” is not acceptable because that stands for “regulations.” This would make us all think that the FAM is regulations. And according to the official spokesperson, the FAM is really just recommendations. And if so, this must mean that the Foreign Affairs Manual is just a suggestion or proposal for the best course of action for State Department employees. Are folks subjected to it free to decline some or all those recommendations?
That FSO who was imposed charges to the amount of $14,804.01 by the State Department for packing, shipping, storing and repacking household effects (HHE) that included 44 boxes of marble tiles weighing 5871 pounds – may now go back and ask for a refund. The specialist who was disciplined “for improper personal conduct and failure to follow regulations” following an extramarital sexual relationship with a local national and not informing his wife about the affair, may now go back and tell the FSGB that he’ll decline the State Department’s recommendations.
FSGB No. 2009-041: The Department argues that the regulation in effect in 1999, 6 FAM 161.4 (currently 14 FAM 611.5(2)) clearly prohibits shipment and storage of construction materials as HHE. As a Foreign Service Officer, grievant is responsible for knowing all of the applicable regulations.
FSGB No. 2011-051 (pdf): Department regulations state the applicable policies regarding employee conduct that may result in disciplinary action. Grievant was obliged to know these regulations and to conform his conduct accordingly. 3 FAM 4130, Standards for Appointment and Continued Employment, provides guidelines for when disciplinary action may be taken against an employee. 3 FAM 4138 provides that disciplinary action may be taken for:
criminal, dishonest or disgraceful conduct (see section 3 FAM 4139.14); . . . conduct which furnishes substantial reason to believe that the individual may be or is being subject to coercion, improper influence, or pressure which is reasonably likely to cause the individual to act contrary to the national security or foreign relations of the United States; . . . conduct which clearly shows poor judgment or lack of discretion which may reasonably affect an individual or the agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities or mission.
This is going to put the entire Foreign Service Grievance Board out of work, right?
Anyone who’s ever been cited for FAM infractions and/or been disciplined as a result of the contents in the Foreign Affairs Manual may consider ringing their lawyers. All employees, presumably, are now welcome to decline any or all recommendations under the FAM?
“The best way to treat obstacles is to use them as stepping-stones. Laugh at them, tread on them, and let them lead you to something better.”
― Enid Blyton, Mr Galliano’s Circus
The Tumblr for Foreign Service Problems has been around for many months now. Sometime this past spring it also joined Twitter. Yes, it is hysterical and absolutely spot on. Below are some of our favorite entries to delight your day. Unless, the Foreign Service has also ruined your sense of humor, in which case, we pray you get it back — fast! or that could quickly be a future entry. With permission from @FS_Problems:
When someone mistakes you for being the Ambassador’s personal household help rather than a Foreign Service Officer or Specialist
When you know that you won’t be promoted before you TIS/TIC out and just don’t care any more.
— FS Problems (@FS_Problems) August 22, 2014 (Note: TIS for time-in- service, time in a combination of salary classes, computed from date of entry into the Foreign Service; TIC for time-in-class, time in a single salary class).
Ouchy! The new ambassadors to Argentina and Hungary just made it to Comedy Central but perhaps the best feature was the WH spox, Josh Earnest who dodged with “Frankly, I was not part of this decision-making process.”
Jon Stewart rips: “That is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen the president’s press secretary do. His entire job — his only job — is built around trying not to go, ‘Hey, look, I just fucking work here.’ But that’s what he did.”
click on image to view the video
We hate to think what this would look like if/when that fellow for Norway gets the Senate nod. We’ll have The Daily Show trampling on the salad bowl.
— Domani Spero Follow @Diplopundit
The Public Service Recognition Week for 2014 ends today. If the official clock was not broken, around 4 pm yesterday, Friday, the State Department’s Human Resources Bureau (DGHR) sent out a message to inform folks that there will be no monetary compensation for the 2013 Foreign Service MSIs.
For readers who may not know this, MSI stands for Meritorious Service Increase per authority in 22 U.S.C. 3966(b) (Section 406(b) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended). Under 3 FAM 3121.3-2 it is the policy of the Department to provide an increase to the next higher step of the member’s class for especially meritorious service.
In any case, the email message explains that State faced “serious financial difficulties” in 2013 due to several factors including sequestration. “We made a number of decisions to conserve resources including halting the monetary portion of extending meritorious step increases granted to a portion of those employees recommended for promotion by the 2013 Selection Boards but not actually promoted.” In fact, DGHR points out, no other Foreign Service, Civil Service or Locally Employed Staff received a monetary award for 2013 performance, with the only exception being Safe Driver awards apparently targeted toward the lowest paid Locally Employed Staff.
Apparently, following the passage of the FY 2014 budget, there were questions about retroactive payment to 2013 MSI awardees. Since it appears that retroactive funding may not be a possibility, there were also questions whether the step increases could be funded going forward.
Yesterday, just before COB, the acting Director General Hans Klemm (nominee as DGHR Arnold Chacon is still stuck waiting for confirmation in the Senate) informed everyone via email that “after careful thought and deliberation on how best to handle the 2013 MSIs” it’s been decided that there will be no retroactive monetary compensation to those MSIs conferred by the 2013 Selection Boards. There was no mention what happens going forward.
Part of the message from Ambassador Klemm says that Bureau of Human Resources is “determined that we do two things equally well: manage a vigorous program to recognize and reward truly outstanding performance, and enhance intrinsic motivation as we face continuing fiscal challenges in the coming years.” We imagine they have to figure out how to make everyone simply enjoy an activity or see work as an opportunity to learn, explore, and actualize their potentials? He pledged to “doing the best for all of our talented and committed employees, recognizing that some things we want and arguably deserve are not always within reach.”
Uh-oh! The email message reportedly closed with an exhortation that employees continue to “do your best.”
We understand that things are fiscally tough (unless related to the money sinkhole in Afghanistan) and we must confess we don’t know how much money is needed for the MSIs. But where’s the fire? This is the bureau tasked with rewarding and motivating employees. And it could not wait until next week when it’s no longer Public Service Recognition Week to to deliver the bad news.
Bravo for picking the most imperfect timing of the week! Here have some candies!
Original image by Ewon Amos via Wikipedia
Less than an hour after Ambassador Klemm’s email blast, Secretary Kerry sent out his own email with the subject line, “My Thanks on Public Service Recognition Week.”
On his ‘thank you’ message to State and USAID employees, Secretary Kerry complained that Hallmark doesn’t make a card that celebrates Public Service Recognition Week. So he sent an email thanking his employees for the work they do. He notes that the work isn’t always easy and often it’s even dangerous – but that all of the employees – Foreign Service Officers, Civil Service employees, USAID team, Diplomatic Security, and locally employed staff “make a difference in the great enterprise of making this world a little safer and a little stronger each and every day.”
He writes in part:
“One of the things that has struck me about the State Department and USAID is the remarkable diversity, expertise, and experience we have to offer – and the unique way each of you fits into the larger mosaic of the work to try and do something pretty fundamental but pretty profound: making this complicated world a little less complicated, a little more orderly, a little more free. That’s about the best epitaph anyone could ask for, the best gift you can share through your service. And none of it works unless we’re all working together.”
“Everywhere I travel, in every meeting, from Bogota to Beijing” – he writes that he is deeply impressed of his employees’ “commitment to a future that’s stronger and more prosperous in a world that’s changing faster and becoming more interconnected than ever before…”
Sorry folks, he has traveled 418,891 miles to 48 countries; we think, he really meant from here to here but that’s too many places to list down.
The best part perhaps — this part of the message:
“You get to spend your whole careers believing in something that will never go out of fashion: You believe in diplomacy – you believe in something bigger and more important than any of us as individuals…”
We must note that since Friday was the last working day of the week, it would have been weird had the Secretary sent his thank you email today, the end of the Public Service Recognition Week. But certainly, DGHR should have been more attentive.
“Makes for a nice end to the week,” the snarky angels of Foggy Bottom said.
And the most requested video to feature in this blog is, you got it — Alanis Morissette singing, Ironic…
Updated 5/7/14 @1109 am PST (see additional entries below).
Updated on 5/8/14 @0807 am PST (scroll down to see where this embassy version originally started).
One of our blog pals sent us this interesting chicken question of the day: why did the chicken cross the road? (thanks N!). A question that has been repeated and changed numerous times since it first saw print in 1847. But the embassy edition below has some of the most interesting answers to that question. Our source says that this has been doing the rounds inside the walls. Sending around funnies like this could get folks in trouble with their information systems security officer (ISSO). As a public service to our readers, we’re republishing this here so you don’t have to forward it to all your friends with a dotgov email. We have no idea who wrote this up or from which post this originally came from, but can we just agree that this is pretty hilarious?
QUESTION: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Ambassador’s Staff Assistant to Management Counselor: Please draft a reply for the AMB’s signature as to why the chicken crossed the road. Please send in your response NLT COB today.
Buildings & Maintenance Officer: We don’t have any space for the chicken in the New Embassy Compound (NEC) if it crosses the road. The chicken either needs to go back or move to the USAID compound.
Management Counselor: Let’s get an expert from Washington to come and help us determine why the chicken crossed the road and/or to help the chicken cross the road.
Assistant RSO: Did the chicken request country clearance to cross the road? We can’t just let every Tom, Dick, and Henrietta cross the road. They must be able to provide proof regarding the mission essential nature of their crossings as well as prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are entitled to 6×6 inches of space at the NEC. Chickens without country clearance will be summarily returned to the other side of the road and left to fend for themselves.
Regional Psychiatrist: We should all try to understand why the chicken felt it had to cross the road
Health Unit: The chicken should definitely NOT cross the road until we have determined what our response will be in the case that the chicken is carrying Avian flu.
Protocol: Before the chicken approaches the road, it must be determined if the chicken will be referred to as His Excellency, Minister Counselor or Madam President. The chicken must receive an invitation to cross. Said chicken must RSVP and bring invitation and photo id to cross the road. Once invitation is accepted, the seating plan will be organized and chicken may be Guest of Honor.
HR: We don’t care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to ensure that the chicken has spent 365 days on this side of the road and no more than 63 days in other locations due to R&R and/or RRBs. Also, there must be a new chicken to take their place and there must be a one-week overlap before the old chicken can cross the road because we don’t take gaps on this side of the road.
FMO: That darn chicken still hasn’t filed a travel voucher since the last time it crossed the road and cannot cross the road again until all his vouchers have been approved.
Public Affairs (Day 1): EMBASSY PRESS RELEASE – Today a substantial milestone was achieved when the chicken took the next step in the evolution of independent, democratic government when it crossed the road — cautiously looking in both directions first — without the involvement of the Embassy or U.S. military. Though there are bound to be bumps on this long road to peace and prosperity, we are encouraged by this positive sign.
Public Affairs (Day 2): EMBASSY PRESS RELEASE – We remain encouraged by the step taken by the chicken to cross the road. Though no USG advisor took part in the actual crossing, we acknowledge that there were some USG advisors present at the time. This remains a great day for the chicken and a substantial step towards fully independent democratic institutions of government.
Consular Section: Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (as currently amended) requires us to have less concern for why the chicken crosses the road than for what will compel the chicken to return to this side of the road after a temporary stay on the other side. This section of the law is specific and demanding and all applicants to cross the road are presumed to be going to the other side to stay permanently unless they can demonstrate to the adjudicating officer that they have ties to this side of the road that are so strong that the applicant will be compelled to return to this side after a temporary stay on the other side. While the ownership of a nest or coop on this side of the road or even leaving chicks or unhatched eggs on this side of the road may contribute to the chicken’s overcoming the assumptions inherent in Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (as currently amended), in and of themselves they do not constitute “compelling ties.” While ineligibility under Section 214(b) is not permanent and the chicken may re-apply to cross the road at any time, it is doubtful that the Consular officer’s decision will be different in the absence of a substantial change in the chicken’s current circumstances. It will probably be in the chicken’s best interests to wait at least one year before re-applying to cross the road. I regret that I am unable to give the chicken a more positive reply at this time.
USAID Director: Of course, we rebuilt the road so that the chicken could cross said road. But we shouldn’t be expecting that chicken to cross the road on their own – it’s too much work. So we’ve arranged for two subject matter expert chickens to come in and help the first chicken out.
CLO: Can you call the Housing Office? We forgot to arrange meet and greet for the chicken when it arrived here after crossing the road. But we do have a happy hour planned for Friday afternoon to welcome the chicken to the embassy.
Seabees: Upon inspection, we found that the road had been built according to standards, except the road crossing safety equipment. The safety equipment was paid for by the USG but not installed, nearly leading to the death of the chicken.
Refugee Officer: This displaced chicken may be intending to seek asylum or refugee status in order to escape the persecution of the genocidal meat eaters and war criminals who are annihilating the chicken population through widespread and systematic attacks using inhumane instruments of torture such as butcher knives and skewers. Furthermore, they are subjecting the chicken population to the mental anguish of knowing their loved ones are being served weekly on the Kebab Grill.
MSG POST 1: Cluck and Cover, Cluck and Cover: Chickens are crossing the road.
Second Big Voice from PA System: Attention in the Embassy, Attention in the Embassy: The explosion you just heard was an IED hitting a chicken crossing the road. Do Not React. I repeat, Do Not React.
Supervisory RSO: A military age chicken (MAC) was crossing the road as the Ambassador’s motorcade was passing by with lights and sirens blaring. The Ambassador’s bodyguard in the follow car fired several BBs that landed in the front of the MAC. The MAC continued its aggressive approach and the bodyguard then fired two well-aimed M4 rounds at approximately 25 meters. The MAC came to a complete stop. The motorcade continued to its destination without further incident after the remains of the MAC were recovered by personnel from the Road Kill Café.
RMO: There will be a Town hall meeting in Road Kill Café to mourn the loss of one of our finely feathered friends. The DCM will be available to answer your questions and the RSO will give a presentation on road safety procedures and practices.
Political Section: The fact that the chicken crossed the road shows that decision-making authority has switched to the chicken in accordance with the transition of power. From now on, the chicken is responsible for its own decisions.
USAID Contractor: We were asked to help the chicken cross the road. Given the inherent risk of road crossing, and the rarity of chickens, this operation will only cost $326,004.
Officer from an unnamed, non-State Department Agency: We cannot confirm or deny any involvement in the chicken-road-crossing incident.
Employee Association: Obviously he was crossing the road because the new Employee Association-run bar is on the other side of the street.
Translators: Chicken he cross street because bad she tangle regulation. Future chicken table against my request.
OBO: (no response)
Thanks for the laugh!
Updated 5/7/14 @1109 am PST: The original drafters of this embassy edition left out a few, so – many thanks to our readers for the contributions below:
Political Counselor: Mr. Ambassador, if you would allow me to go back to my office and work on this critical Chicken Issue, I’m sure I can come up with a draft response within the next two weeks or so. But, you have to understand, that given the complexity of this issue, my response will need to contain numerous caveats.
Economic Counselor: Mr. Ambassador I have just analyzed the parameters of this Chicken issue, and I can state with certainty that, given a constant temperature dew point spread, the Chicken in question crossed the road at 3.2001 MPH plus or minus .001 MPH.
Management Counselor (reader suggested rewrite): Mr. Ambassador, how would you like the chicken to cross the road?
Security Protective Specialist (submitted by SPS from Post X): Provided QRF and AIC for a Chicken crossing the road. Overtime charged 12 hours.
General Services Officer: Was there an approved NSDD-38? Is there full ICASS buy-in? Did the chicken fill out a housing questionnaire and is there an assigned sponsor to put in a motor pool and expeditor request? Did the chicken follow all of the travel regulations including City-Pairs and the Fly America Act and did the chicken provide notification for its UAB and HHE shipments?
Defense Attache Office: Do you think we can get the military Aged Chicken (MAC) into West Point? It will greatly increase our mil-to-mil relations with the chickens of the world.
Security Assistance Office: Selling the newest rifles to the chicken to protect it as it crosses will support our industrial infrastructure and build our mil-to-mil relations.
Regional Security Office/OMS: The access request did not specify which side of the road the chicken would be on. Political Office/OMS: Was the chicken Leahy Vetted?
Front Office/OMS: The chicken submitted a decision memo regarding crossing the street, however, it was not in the correct format. Please see the Executive Office Handbook, Page 14, and resubmit.
Updated on 5/8/14 @0807 am PST (thanks Baghdad Anne!)
The day this post went up one of our readers told us this reminded her of something see saw when she was in Iraq. Today,we learned where this originated. “It was a group of us in Embassy Baghdad back in May 2007. We started with one that appeared in “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” and updated it and expanded it considerably.”
American Diplomacyis the Publication of Origin for this work. The author, David A. Langbart is a senior archivist in the Textual Archives Services Division at the National Archives. He specializes in the records of the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies. We have previously excerpted his work here and here in 2013 and most recently this year on the women in the Foreign Service. Excerpt from his piece, Bureaucratic Pique:
An essential aspect of the U.S. foreign policy program, especially since the 1930s, is the use of cultural representatives abroad. Having major musicians perform overseas under the auspices of the U.S. government is a major component of the cultural program. Planning for such events did not always proceed smoothly. In June 1974, the attempt to arrange for one such event led to a unique bureaucratic response, if not the specific performance itself.
In late June 1974, the U.S. embassy in the Philippines informed the Department of State of the impending inauguration of a new folk art theater, part of a cultural complex on Manila Bay. The embassy reported that while the Philippine Government had invited ministers of culture from a number of friendly countries, and the embassy expected several “significant” attendees, the U.S. had not received such an invitation because it had no cabinet level equivalent.
The embassy further reported that the noted pianist Van Cliburn had agreed to perform concerts on July 3 and 4, just a matter of days away. In order to give Cliburn an official imprimatur, the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs requested that the U.S. designate the performer as a “special cultural representative” or similar title. The ambassador, William Sullivan, noting that Cliburn was a “local favorite,” endorsed the idea, writing that “This strikes me as an easy and painless gesture for the U.S. Government to make in order to earn a useful return of Philippine appreciation.” Given the timing, however, he noted that the issue needed to be resolved quickly. 1
And because nothing is ever resolved quickly in a bureaucracy, stuff happens. Ambassador Sullivan would have been spectacular on Twitter!