Category Archives: Video of the Week

Dear Ambassadors — About That ALS #IceBucketChallenge. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

– Domani Spero

 

On August 17, we posted about Ambassador Heyman who took the ALS ice bucket challenge in Ottawa. (see Tweet of the Day: Ambassador to Ottawa Bruce Heyman Takes the ALS #IceBucketChallenge. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro also did the ALS challenge. Today, Ambassador Kenney did the ice dunk in Bangkok without a specific mention of ALS.  There’s a reason for that.

 

 

The State Department reportedly sent out an unclassified cable (14 STATE 101474) to all missions saying that State totally supports the ALS ice water thing but there are regulations to follow. The cable basically informed the ambassadors that they shouldn’t join in the craze since regulations state that they cannot use their position for any sort of fundraising.

I suppose, if you must join the craze,you need to write an action memorandum and first get permission from the State Department. Clearances from L/Ethics and Office of Emergencies in the Diplomatic and Consular Service (M/EDCS) are required before seeking approval from the Under Secretary for Management.

Y’all, welcome to the bureaucracy!

The relevant section appears to be in 2 FAM 960 (pdf) SOLICITATION AND/OR ACCEPTANCE OF GIFTS BY THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE, excerpted below:

No Department employee may engage in solicitation or other fundraising activities for U.S. Government use or for the use of an outside organization, without prior authorization, in writing, from the Under Secretary for Management, except as specifically authorized in 2 FAM 962.1-1 through 2 FAM 962.1-11 or 3 FAM 4123.4.

In order to obtain approval from the Under Secretary for Management for a solicitation or other fundraising request, the requesting office shall prepare an action memorandum and obtain clearances from L/Ethics and the Office of Emergencies in the Diplomatic and Consular Service (M/EDCS), as well as any other relevant offices. The memorandum must include the following:

(1) As much information as possible on the project for which funds will be raised;

(2) The amount of money to be raised;

(3) The potential donors to be approached;

(4) The method of raising money, including the proposed texts for any communications to be used in the solicitation;

(5) The availability of appropriated funds or alternative sources of funding; and

(6) The importance to the U.S. Government of the proposed project.

In addition, M/EDCS will incorporate into the memorandum information concerning any prior Departmental solicitations of the targeted donors.

Approval of solicitation or other fundraising proposals requires balancing the U.S. Governmental policy interests in favor of fundraising against the potential risks of Department involvement in raising money from the private sector. This process inherently requires making judgment calls about issues, such as the importance of the project and the risks that the Department will be subjected to criticism for its activities. In deciding whether to approve a solicitation, the Under Secretary for Management should consider:

(1) The amount of money to be raised;

(2) The degree to which the Department will be directly involved in the fundraising;

(3) Whether the money is being raised for unusual or exceptional expenses (such as capital improvements), which have more frequently been approved, or for ordinary operating expenses of the Department; or

(4) Whether the involvement of the private sector adds value to the project apart from financial assistance. (For example, the financial participation of a nongovernmental group in a public-private partnership may help to establish private sector linkages with the local country.)

The requesting office shall be responsible for providing the necessary information to M/EDCS, and L/Ethics to allow a determination about whether any of these factors exist with respect to a particular proposal.

Nothing quick or easy. But one other thing to think about — if ambassadors do this for ALS, they may get nudged or challenged to do it for others.  Where do they draw the line of what they will/will not support publicly? That’s why the regs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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State Department’s Embassy “Design Excellence” Initiative: Year in Review (Video)

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has just released a ‘Year in Review 2013-2014′ video, primarily highlighting the new embassies built under its “design excellence”initiative. You will note that some of the projects in this video have been completed while others like the New London Embassy, and those buildings in artist’s renderings are still undergoing construction or in the early phases of the projects  and won’t be completed for a few more years.

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) “sets worldwide priorities for the design, construction, acquisition, maintenance, use, and sale of real properties and the use of sales proceeds” for the State Department. The bureau has recently caught congressional attention with its New London Embassy project and its “design excellence” initiative. See Congress to State Dept: We Want All Your Stuff on New London Embassy Except Paperclips and New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?

We understand that the bureau is still working on providing Congress with the documents requested during the latest congressional hearing. Congress won’t be back in session until September 8, and then, it will only conduct business for a couple of weeks before it runs out again.  Nonetheless, we are hearing that there may be personnel shuffles at the bureau in the offing.  We’ll update when we know more.

 

Related items:

-05/31/11   Compliance Follow-up Review of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (ISP-C-11-26)  [2452 Kb]  Posted June 8, 2011

-08/30/08   Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (ISP-I-08-34) Aug 2008  [1846 Kb]

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USAID’s undercover Latin youth — whose brainchild is this, pray tell (video)

– Domani Spero

 

Read more here. Documents about this program is at http://apne.ws/UxJ05x.

Whose brainchild is this, pray tell.

Alan Gross, the  65-year-old American citizen mentioned in this article has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. His family has mounted a petition demanding Mr. Gross’ “immediate release” and  that “the Cuban and U.S. governments sit down and resolve Alan’s case.”

This morning, USAID released a statement about what it calls, the AP’s “sensational claims,”excerpt below:

Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society. USAID makes information about its Cuba programs available publicly at foreignassistance.gov. This work is not secret, it is not covert, nor is it undercover. Instead, it is important to our mission to support universal values, end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies. Chief among those universal values are the right to speak freely, assemble and associate without fear, and freely elect political leaders. Sadly, the Cuban people and many others in the global community continue to be denied these basic rights.

One paragraph in the article captures the purpose of these and many civil society programs, which is to empower citizens to “tackle a community or social problem, win a ‘small victory’ and ultimately realize that they could be the masters of their own destiny.” But the story then goes on to make sensational claims against aid workers for supporting civil society programs and striving to give voice to these democratic aspirations. This is wrong.

USAID remains committed to balancing the realities of working in closed societies–particularly in places where we do not have a USAID mission and governments are hostile to U.S. assistance–with our commitment to transparency, and we continuously balance our commitment to transparency with the need for discretion in repressive environments. In the end, USAID’s goal is to continue to support democracy, governance and human rights activities in multiple settings, while providing the maximum transparency possible given the specific circumstances.

A couple of items from that USAID statement: 1)   “the Cuban people and many others in the global community,” does that mean this happened in Cuba and elsewhere?; 2) “with our commitment to transparency” — USAID’s Cuba programs data available publicly at foreignassistance.gov only covers FY2013 and 2014 and not the years covered by the AP report. USAID also would not tell the AP how much the Costa Rica-based program cost.

These young “aid workers” from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Peru sent to Cuba could have been arrested and jailed for 10 years for the work they did for USAID, and the agency would have been able to claim that these are not USG employees.  The US has not been able to effect the release of USAID contractor Alan Gross, would it be any more successful intervening for the release of foreign nationals who are not?  Also, the notion that you can run democracy promotion operations like this in certain parts of the world and that it will not have a dangerous blowback against USAID employees advancing development work in other parts of the world, is frankly, lunacy.

Does USAID have a scenario planned for what happens after a ‘Cuban Spring’unfolds in Cuba? Is it publicly available at fomentingchange.gov?

Just a reminder, the nominee for USAID OIG, in case you’re wondering has been waiting for Senate confirmation since July 2013 (see Officially In: Michael G. Carroll – From Deputy IG to USAID/OIG).

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USCG Milan: How to Talk With Your Hands Like a Real Italian – Watch!

– Domani Spero

 

The same post that brought us Statue Of Liberty celebrates 4th of July last year is back; this time teaching Americans how to talk with their hands like a real Italian. Here is US Consulate General Milan with the 16 hand gestures in rap.

Italy remains one of the top most visited countries in the world. Over 2 million Americans visited it last year. If it’s on your travel list this year, this might help you?

 

 

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Video of the Week: “But we’re speaking Japanese” 日本語喋ってるんだけ

– Domani Spero

Last year, we posted a video asking “What kind of Asian are you?” (see Video of the Week: Where are you from? Where are you really from? No, where are your people really from?).  This week, the creators of that video are back with a new one called “But we’re speaking Japanese”which takes place in Japan and highlights perceptions in race and culture.  Stella Choe a non-Japanese speaking Asian American sitting at a table full of multi-cultural Japanese speakers….which confuses the waitress and…well…you just have to watch to see what happens.  The video also stars David Takeo Neptune , a caucasian who was born and raised in Japan.

 

This reminds us of a similar story overseas when a U.S. citizen came up to an embassy interview window demanding to see the consul.  Did not want to speak to an African American officer. Did not want to see an Asian American officer.  Demanded to see  the “real” American in charge of the office. So the staff got their section chief to speak to the U.S. citizen at the window.  The way we heard it told, the section chief, a Mexican American ambled over to the interview window and said, “I’m the American Consul and I’m in charge, how may I help you, sir?” Boom!
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US Mission China: Ambassador Max Baucus Says Hello and Xie Xie

– Domani Spero

The video below was produced by the Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs in March 2014. Speakers include Max Baucus and his wife, Melodee Hanes.

Via State/IIP:

“Former Senator from Montana, Max Baucus, returns to China as the U.S. ambassador with his wife, Melodee Hanes. While in China, the ambassador is very interested in working on a number of issues and seeing many different places. In this video he will tell you all about it. His wife will also tell you a little bit about the ambassador and just where you may find him running around – literally!”

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US Embassy Dublin: 5 Ways Americans Invented St. Patrick’s Day

– Domani Spero

The Irish Times writes, “five ways Americans invented St Patrick’s Day, apparently.”

One YouTube commenter says, “Corn-beef and cabbage isn’t a tradition here it is potatoes and steak.” Another writes, “Obviously a joke just not funny.”

From somebody not/not happy about this:

“Americans did not invent Saint Patrick’s Day, which is an ancient Christian feast day, they just invented deeply tacky celebrations with an excess of lurid green elements (tolerable shades do exist) and inappropriate Scottish kilts (which Irish people do not wear), fake leprechaun outfits (leprechauns do not wear green) and fake-coloured quasi-“red” beards (leprechauns do not have red hair). It is noteworthy how leprechauns are never seen any more; they have been shamed into deeper reclusiveness than ever.”

From somebody who just love St. Patty’s Day Saint Paddy’s Day:

“Love St. Patrick’s Day Parades!! The one in St. Louis, Mo is great fun. Just visited Ireland and loved it. Everyone wants a bit of Ireland, so green pints, rivers and parades. Americans love to invent holidays, it means getting together for the parade and the the pints. Just glad it was invented!!”

Don’t pinch us, we’re wearing a non-tacky green leprechaun outfit on Monday!!

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State Dept on Ambo Nominees’ “Certificates of Documented Competency” — Working On It

– Domani Spero

The American Foreign Service Association was in the news yesterday after announcing that it will file a suit against the State Department if, by end of business day today, it does not get the certificates of demonstrated competence for ambassadorial nominees (see AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again).

The topic made it to today’s Daily Press Briefing with the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki answering questions about AFSA’s FOIA requests for these documents which were reportedly filed on July 29, 2013 and a second request filed on February 28, 2014.  Ms. Psaki refused to make a prediction of whether State would respond to AFSA’s request by the close of business today.

At about 3pm EST, ABC News tweeted that AFSA is giving the State Department until tomorrow morning to furnish the requested “Certificates of Documented Competency” for ambassador nominees.

When you look at that AFSA FOIA request delay of 7 months and a week, it might be useful to note that in FY2012, the State Department’s total requests in backlog is 10,464.   In fact, according to foia.gov, State has one of the highest backlogs, second only to DHS. In FY 2011, the average number of days to process a simple case was 156; for complex cases, 342. Some cases have been pending for 5 or 6 years (see State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why).  The oldest pending request, as you can see below is 1,922 days.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06

Here is the short version of the March 6, 2014 DPB:

Screen Shot 2014-03-06

via Word It Out

Below is the long version from the March 6, 2014 DPB:

QUESTION: The American Foreign Service Association said yesterday that they were going to be filing suit against the State Department if, by end of business today, you don’t provide certificates of demonstrated competence for ambassadorial nominees. So I just wanted to know if you had any reaction to that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, AFSA submitted a FOIA request on July 29th 2013 to our website – this is just some details for all of you to be aware of – seeking certificates of a demonstrated competence for every ambassador from January 1st 2013 to the present. We receive, as many of you know, about 18,000 FOIA requests per year. Generally – we generally process requests on a first in, first out basis. So we’re currently actively processing the request in accordance with the statute and the Department’s regulations, which applies to the specific release they put out yesterday.

In terms of broadly speaking, obviously, in nominating ambassadors, we look – the Administration looks for qualified candidates who represent Americans from all walks of life and who show true zeal for serving their country, and we’ve received interest and recruited talented people from all across the country and all kinds of professional backgrounds, whether they are Foreign Service – well, that’s – they proceed through a different process, there, of course, but political appointees who may be from the business sector, who may be from a public service sector. We feel that this kind of diversity helps represent who we are and the United States around the world.

So long story short, we are reviewing their request. We process requests as they come in. Certainly we welcome the comments of anyone and views of anyone on these sorts of issues, but I think it’s important to remind everyone of what we look at when it comes to ambassadorial nominees.

QUESTION: Jen, they submitted this request in July? How many months ago?

QUESTION: January.

QUESTION: No, July 29th, she said.

QUESTION: I thought you said January.

MS. PSAKI: For every ambassador from January 20 –

QUESTION: Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry.

QUESTION: So how long should they expect to wait until you finish processing your request? And why should they even have to submit a FOIA request for this? Why wouldn’t you just – if they asked for it, why wouldn’t you just turn them over?

MS. PSAKI: They were asking for specific documents that are –

QUESTION: Right. But this is not an organization that has a questionable interest in this. It’s an organization that, in fact, represents – I mean, it is the – basically the union for Foreign Service officers, so it’s not really an outside party.

MS. PSAKI: Well, oftentimes, Matt, there’s a processing aspect that needs to take place with these requests, so –

QUESTION: Right, I’m sure that – I’m sure everyone is thrilled, everyone who’s ever filed a FOIA request to the State Department or any other government agency is thrilled, but I think that –

MS. PSAKI: There are many people who do. That’s part of the challenge in processing them.

QUESTION: Right. Okay, so you just threw this in the big pile, in the in-box with every single other request, even though they clearly have some – they have demonstrated interest in this subject. I don’t understand –

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say we threw it in a pile, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, you did. You said you get 18,000 requests a year, so – and –

MS. PSAKI: We do. We process them.

QUESTION: So when they –

MS. PSAKI: But obviously, we’re working to review their request and see how we can meet it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But specifically they asked for it to be by the close of business tonight. Otherwise, they’re going to take their – take this to legal action.

MS. PSAKI: I understand that.

QUESTION: Are you saying that you will not be able to get it to them by end of day tonight?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of that. We’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Just – can I have one –

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Where – you are now processing this specific request, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’re actually looking at it and trying to satisfy it?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. If you get 18,000 FOIA requests a year, what is the typical time lag for processing a request? Is it, as in this case, I guess, eight months or – is that typical or is it less, is it more?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific time breakdown for you. I’m happy to see if there’s anything like that we can provide.

QUESTION: And was this one –

MS. PSAKI: We’re – they’re about to start the press avail, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Was this one jumped to the front of the queue for any reason or no? It was processed –

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are cases where – and they asked for expedited processing, and some cases that question is asked. This didn’t satisfy the specific laid out standards for that, but we’re still working to see if we can process this as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But it was not – was it jumped ahead or no? Or it –

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re still working to see if we can process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: No, no, that’s not my question, though. My question is whether it got – I understand that they may have requested expedited processing –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and did not – denied it because they don’t meet the standards, which happens to a lot of people.

MS. PSAKI: And at the same time, we’re still working to expedite – to process this as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Right. Right. Right. No, but I’m sure you’re doing that with the other 17,199, right? I mean, the question is whether you are doing this faster.

MS. PSAKI: Specifically with this one, we are –

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: — working to process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But quicker than everything – others’ stuff?

MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t work in that exact way, but we’re working to process it as quickly as possible.

Ali.

QUESTION: And Jen, they said that – AFSA said that they also filed a second FOIA request on February 28th.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So did they express to you their – because I know there was discussion between counsels.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So was that part of the aspect, that they didn’t feel that the July request had been processed or addressed within a – expeditiously enough so that –

MS. PSAKI: You’d have to ask them that question. I’m not sure if they are basically about the same thing or not. So I’m happy to check, and you may want to check with them and see what the reason was for the second one.

QUESTION: These documents are – what they’re seeking or these certificates are not classified, are they?

MS. PSAKI: No, but they’re still internal files, and so obviously we go through a process –

QUESTION: Fair enough. But they’re for a very small number of people, 50. Do you have any idea how many pages one of these things is?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s every ambassadorial nominee for the last 14 months.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So –

QUESTION: And how many – well, actually, it wouldn’t have been originally –

MS. PSAKI: 15?

QUESTION: No, because they filed it in July asking for every one that went back to January. So –

MS. PSAKI: But when you meet it, you’re abiding by what the FOIA request –

QUESTION: Fair enough. How many pages is one of these things?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific number of pages for you.

QUESTION: It seems to me like this is a very limited request from an organization that’s got a very, very important interest in this subject, and that frankly, they should, if they ask, should be allowed to see – without having to go to through the FOIA processing. Was there any – did – do you know – are you aware if they asked outside of FOIA to get this – to get these documents?

MS. PSAKI: They are closely engaged with our chief of staff and deputy secretary of state, and have a range of meetings. So I know that all of these issues have been discussed. In terms of this specific request, I can check if there’s anything we can share on that.

QUESTION: So in other words, you said no. They asked, you said no, you have to submit a FOIA? Is that –

MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying that’s how it all went down. I’m saying they have many channels for having discussions with people in the Administration. And if there’s more to share on whether they made this specific request outside of the FOIA request process, I’m happy to check into that.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea if there is a chance, even a remote chance, that the processing will be finished by 5 o’clock this afternoon?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to predict when it will be finished.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but –

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re working to process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: I understand that. But is there a possibility that it could be done by 5 o’clock?

MS. PSAKI: There’s always a possibility.

QUESTION: There is. Okay.

QUESTION: How many nominees are we talking about? Have you got a figure?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a figure.

Well, then, tomorrow, maybe  — or we’ll wonder who’ll stop the rain …

 

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One More Expert — Live from Crimea

– Domani Spero

After watching the news for days now, the tween in our house is starting to worry that we are on the verge of World War III.  We are pleased to see TDS’s new Senior Caucasian Correspondent Jordan Klepper deliver this live report from Crimea.

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Happy New Lunar Year of the Horse – Let’s Talk Horsey!

– Domani Spero

Last year, they had a snake looking for food. (see USCG Hong Kong & Macau: Lunar New Year Greeting for Year of the Snake) This year, a different animal is up at the consulate — a horse, looking for a job. Consul General Clifford A. Hart, Jr., the staff of the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau, and a “new Consulate employee” wish you a happy and healthy Year of the Horse in this new video:

The Shanghaiist gave this a thumbs down, calling it “weird” — “The U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau has released a ‘2014 Lunar New Year Greetings’ video, and something has gone catastrophically wrong. Remembering that there’s a woman hiding under the desk in each shot, with her hand crammed up a horse-sock, doesn’t exactly help.” It also called last year’s lunar greeting video, “freaking terrifying.”   The Shanghaiist is one of China’s most popular English-language blog/portals, founded by American writer Dan Washburn in 2005.

USCG HK’s lunar video, published last week has been eyeballed 69,577 as of this writing.  That’s more than the views of its lunar video greetings from 2013, 2012, and 2011 combined.  The use of Cantonese seems appreciated by the locals, “[Y]ou speaks Cantonese in this video that means you and your team are respect to HK people and the local culture…” A majority of commenters appear to give it a thumbs up, despite being well, weird.  But then, someone pleaded, “Please bring the US army here to eliminate the locusts coming from China.” We thought, locusts, what locusts?  It turns out in Hong Kong, “locust” is a derogatory term for immigrants and tourists from China.  The anti-China sentiment is  playing out in the comments section of USCG HK’s page.

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