VIDEO: Late-night laughs: Hillary Clinton E-mail Edition

 Posted: 2:52 am EDT

Via PostTV

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.

 

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Our American Ambassadors — Just Saying Hello Collection (Videos)

Posted: 00:50 EST

U.S. Ambassador to Moldova James Pettit

 

U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa Mark Gilbert

 

U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma

 

Continue reading

USCG Hong Kong Celebrates the New Lunar Year of the Sheep

Posted: 17:55 PST

In celebration of this year’s Lunar New Year, the folks at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau sent their Consul General Clifford A. Hart, Jr. to learn the traditional Chinese art of paper tearing with master artist Lee Sing-man. A sheep with sunglasses came along. For USCG HK’s lunar greeting videos from prior years, click here and here.

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

 

State Dept Spox’s Hot Mic Moment: “That Egypt line is ridiculous.” No Kidding

– Domani Spero

 

Via The District Sentinel/Sam Knight

 

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the 12/1/14 DPB:

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the court’s decision dropping the charges against former President Mubarak?

MS. PSAKI: Well, generally, we continue to believe that upholding impartial standards of accountability will advance the political consensus on which Egypt’s long-term stability and economic growth depends. But beyond that, I would refer you to the Egyptian Government for any further comment.

QUESTION: So you don’t criticize at all?

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MS. PSAKI: It means that in general, we believe that courts should be —

QUESTION: It sounds to me like it means nothing.

MS. PSAKI: In general, we believe that impartial standards and the justice system should work as planned —

QUESTION: Yeah —

MS. PSAKI: — but I don’t have any specific comment —

QUESTION: But did —

QUESTION: But are you suggesting it wasn’t impartial?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more specifics on —

QUESTION: But I – wow. I don’t understand that at all. What does that mean? You believe that – of course you do. But was that – were those standards upheld in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything – any specific comment on the case. I’d point you to the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) justice was served? Do you think justice was served in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific on the case.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) not try —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — to argue with you or ask about the comment. Are you trying to understand what is – does – this decision means?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you.

Do we have anything more on Egypt?

QUESTION: Do Egyptians explain to you what’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: We obviously remain in close touch with the Egyptians, but I don’t have anything more to peel back for you.

QUESTION: Jen —

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Egypt? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, Transparency International is basically disappointed with that. And some international organizations have also expressed concern over, like, dropping all the charges against Mubarak, who’s accused of having murdered – having ordered the murder of protestors —

MS. PSAKI: I’m familiar with the case, yes.

QUESTION: — and also corruption, other things. And so you’re not willing to show your concern over that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we speak frequently, including in annual reports, about any concerns we have about – whether its rule of law or freedom of speech, freedom of media, and we do that on a regular basis. I just don’t have anything more specifically for you on this case.

QUESTION: Can you see if – can we ask for – push your people a little bit harder? Because I mean, you call for accountability and transparency all the time from any number of governments. And so if no one is held to account, if no one is being held accountable for what happened, it would seem to me that you would have a problem with that and —

MS. PSAKI: If there’s more we have to say, Matt, we will make sure you all know.

QUESTION: But I mean, what you have said, that the – what you said says nothing. I mean, it just – it’s like saying, “Well, we support the right of people to breathe.” Well, that’s great, but if they can’t breathe —

MS. PSAKI: If we have a further comment on the case, I will make sure all of you have it.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, aren’t you a little bit annoyed that the person who was elected by the Egyptian people, Morsy, is languishing in prison while the person who is accused of murdering hundreds of people is actually out on —

MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your effort, Said. I don’t have anything further on this case.

QUESTION: No, the reason we ask isn’t because —

MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m sorry. We’re going to have to move on.

 

Tsk! Tsk! Can’t imagine Ambassador Boucher accepting that kind of crap from any bureau. Next time, make the talking points drafter write in Plain English so we, the natives would understand what our government is talking about. And by the way, President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010Adobe Acrobat Reader icon on October 13, 2010. That law requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.” This response is neither clear, nor usable.

So — if the talking points do not improve with plain language, go ahead and please kick the door.  And if that doesn’t work either, get Madame Secretary to sign  a reassignment order (apparently the Secretary of State does that kind of thing) and send the drafter and/or approving officer off to Angola.

Noooo, not/not to Portugal. And check the mike next time.

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 Updated below on 12/15/14 @ 2:09 am via Ali Weinberg of ABC News:

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Ambassador Matthew Barzun Says Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch

– Domani Spero

 

Matthew Barzun, our Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s will soon get royally slammed for suggesting undiplomatically that he can’t stand British lamb.  The New York Daily News writes that “you don’t need to be fluent in the King’s English to predict the outrage.” Uh-oh!

Okay, so before you all get mad about the lamb, he also did try to learn a few sentences of Welsh in preparation for the NATO summit this week.  So he gets points for that.  Let’s hear it from Wales Online who is “delighted to see Mr Barzun having a go” at learning Welsh:

US ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, wasn’t shy about sharing the more painful moments of his attempts to learn his first few sentences in Welsh – despite taking nine attempts to master saying “Helô”.
[….]
Mr Barzun, who was appointed as ambassador to the UK last year after previously being ambassador to Sweden, posted the video of his Welsh attempts, which also included the essential “Croeso i Gymru, President Obama”, the very useful “dwi’n hoffi coffi” (I like coffee) and a very impressive beginner’s pronunciation of the famous Anglesey village Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch.
[…]
But he also displayed some knowledge of Welsh popular culture and one of our most famous export – confessing in Welsh that the three words of the language that Americans know are “Catherine. Zeta. Jones.”

 

We don’t know if they teach Welsh at FSI; though probably not.  In any case, here are the outtakes:

 

 

One of the commenters on WalesOnline writes, “Welsh is a really difficult language to master, even for the Welsh people !! The fact that you have made the effort , is such a compliment.”  

We imagine that Ambassador Barzun will probably impress most Welsh folks with his attempts to speak even a few phrases of their language. We’d be really impressed if the ambassador also gets to visit the Cardiff Rift that runs through Roald Dahl Plass, a public plaza in Cardiff Bay, and takes a selfie with our favorite Captain Jack Harkness. Captain Jack is there somewhere, somebody fiiiinnnnd hiiiiim and bring him back to the telly!

Oh, pardon me … what about the lamb? Those suggested recipes may have to wait until after the Summit, but the ambassador already realized he’s in a lamb stew of sorts:

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Freaking out over the disease that’s “coming for us”? Watch this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indian Foreign Service Hits YouTube, New Surprises Coming!

– Domani Spero

 

Via the Ministry of External Affairs India:

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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