Confirmations: Childress, Malinowski, Birx, Whitaker, Tueller, Westphal

- Domani Spero

 

The confirmations for presidential nominees are now moving as fast as a turtle’s pace.  Below is a round-up of the latest confirmations from the U.S. Senate this past week:

April 7, 2014

Mark Bradley Childress, of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the United Republic of Tanzania.

April 02, 2014

  • Tomasz P. Malinowski, of the District of Columbia, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
  • Deborah L. Birx, of Maryland, to be Ambassador at Large and Coordinator of United  States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS

April 01, 2014

Kevin Whitaker, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Colombia.

March 27, 2014

Matthew H. Tueller, of Utah, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class  of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the  United States of America to the Republic of Yemen.

March 26, 2014

Joseph William Westphal, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29

The newly arrived U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr. Joseph Westphal introduces President Obama, March 29, 2014 at the US Embassy. Behind Ambasador Westphal is Deputy Chief of Mission Timothy Lenderking (with red tie). Photo via US Embassy Riyadh/FB

 

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Photo of the Day: Shhh! Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake.

–Domani Spero
On April 4, during a visit to Morocco, Secretary Kerry stopped by at Rick’s Cafe owned by Kathy Kriger – a former State Department Foreign Service Officer.  The cafe apparently also has a piano player named Sam who presumably played “As Time Goes By” during the secretary’s visit.

Secretary Kerry then headed back home after a 12-day, 23,000-mile trip to Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa on April 4, 2014.  While he was gone, State/OIG issued a management alert over $6 billion in State Department contracting money.  In the alternate universe our Rick says, “You better hurry, they cannot properly account $6 billion in contracting money. And you’ll miss that plane.”  Our Ilsa [laughs] and says: “The whole world isn’t crumbling.  And don’t worry, I have my own plane and now have 371,006 miles!

 

ricks cafe_casablanca

Secretary Kerry Views ‘Casablanca’ During Visit to Rick’s Cafe in Morocco U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry watches a scene from the film ‘Casablanca’ during a visit to Rick’s American Cafe – started by a former State Department Foreign Service Officer – in Casablanca, Morocco, on April 4, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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Cuban Twitter: Short Message Service for Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan?

– Domani Spero

The month of April started off with a bang for USAID!  We saw the Twitter Cubano story first, and then there’s USAID’s reportedly $1billion a year “DARPA-like” innovation lab.  Also SIGAR John Sopko accused USAID of cover up in Afghanistan. And no, USAID Administrator is not going to New Delhi as the next US Ambassador to India. We were seriously intrigued by  the ZunZuneo story, the secret Cuban Twitter reported by the Associated Press. Can you blame us?

 

We thought the Associated Press did a great investigative piece. Sorry, we are not convinced that this was ‘breathlessly written.’

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.

McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

For a look on how much the U.S. Government spent on Cuban Democracy between 1996-2011, see a snapshot of the funding here.

In an interview with Popular Science, USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, who led USAID through the program, defended it.

“One of the areas we work in is in the area of rights protection and accountability,” Shah said. The highest-level official named in the AP documents is a mid-level manager named Joe McSpedon.

But Shah—despite the fact that the program was unknown to the public—said the idea that ZunZuneo was a covert operation is “inaccurate,” and pointed out that there are other USAID programs that require secrecy, such as protecting the identities of humanitarian workers in Syria. “These projects are notified to Congress and the subject of a thorough accountability report,” he said.

 

The AP story mentions two USAID connected companies: Creative Associates International as contractor and Denver-based Mobile Accord Inc. as one of the subcontractors.

According to Denver Business Journal, Mobile Accord is the parent organization of the mGive business, which helps nonprofits raise donation via text message, and of the GeoPoll business handling opinion surveys in developing nations.

The Guardian reports that the money that Creative Associates spent on ZunZuneo was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan, government data show. But there is no indication of where the funds were actually spent.”

So we went digging over at USASpending.gov. The first contract we located is a State Department contract with Mobile Accord in the amount of $969,000 and signed on September 18, 2009.  The contract description says: “Short Message Service Support to Be Provided to Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of PAKISTAN.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

 

The second contract also with Mobile Accord in the amount of $720,000 was signed in July 8, 2010:

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

So if Twitter Cubano was not a “covert”operation, what’s this over $1.6 million contract between the State Department and Mobile Accord for the Northwest Frontier Pakistan about?  The folks who prepared this data for USASpending.gov did not really intend to be inaccurate with this public information, right?  They just inadvetently spelled ‘Cuba’ as ‘Northwest Frontier Pakistan.’

And this is the official version of  ‘truth in reporting”as public service? What you don’t know can’t harm you?

If this money actually went to Twitter Cubano, and was hidden in plain sight, how are we to believe the accuracy of the data we see on the USASpending website?

Where else do we have similar projects for democracy promotion and/or regime change if possible, do you know?

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Snapshot: Cuba Democracy Funding to State and USAID – FY1996-2011

– Domani Spero

The Associated Press recently produced an investigative piece on ZunZuneo, a Twitter Cubano reportedly aimed at undermining the socialist government in Cuba that was managed by USAID.

The official government response cited a GAO report from 2013 which make no mention of ZunZeneo. The report, however, provides a snapshot of how much we have spent on the Cuba Democracy project from 1996-2011. Ay mucho dinero:

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, Congress appropriated $205 million for Cuba democracy assistance, appropriating 87 percent of these funds since 2004. Increased funding for Cuba democracy assistance was recommended by the interagency Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which was established by President George W. Bush in 2003.13 Program funding, which peaked in 2008 with appropriations totaling $44.4 million, has ranged between $15 and $20 million per year during fiscal years 2009 through 2012. For fiscal year 2013, USAID and State reduced their combined funding request to $15 million, citing operational challenges to assistance efforts in Cuba.14

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, $138.2 million of Cuba democracy funds were allocated to USAID and $52.3 million were allocated to State. (see GAO report pdf).

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-03

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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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Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?

– Domani Spero

 

Do you know how many Foreign Service members are currently awaiting approval for commissioning, tenuring and promotion in the U.S. Senate? 1,705. That’s 1,705 regular folks  in the career service, excluding the ambassadorial nominees.

Some of these names have been submitted since January, and they are all still pending in a dark cauldron brewing in the SFRC.

In a message to its members on March 18, AFSA writes that it “has worked diligently for months on this issue and we would like to alert you that last week, important progress was made in resolving the holds, through the leadership of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Senator Bob Corker (R-TN).   AFSA is confident that both sides have demonstrated the good will necessary to move the process forward and looks now to an amicable and expedited solution to this situation in the coming days.”

The Senate's side of the Capitol Building in DC.

The Senate’s side of the Capitol Building in DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

End of the month and here we are.  Neither the Chairman nor the Ranking Member of the SFRC has anything to say about this logjam on their website.

These employees are waiting Senate attestation so they are officially commissioned, tenured and promoted. And you know what, the Foreign Service “bidding season” is fast eating up the days in the calendar.

Why this can get complicated?

A good number of these employees pending at the SFRC will be “bidding” for their next assignments.   The Foreign Service is a rotational, rank-in-person system.  As a consequence, there will be “real” FS-01s, for example and “FS-02s” who are supposed to be treated as 01s but who technically are 02s.

The State Department reportedly is telling folks looking at bids to treat “02” bidders as “01s” and so on and so forth because of inaction from the Senate.

Oh crap, how do you sort them all out?

One frustrated official writes, “I can’t see how this won’t have a major impact as we’re evaluating employees.”

Not only that, we imagine that the bump in pay and associated hardship/danger/COLA allowances (a percentage of basic compensation) will also not get taken care of until the Senate officially blesses these names.

Since bad news comes in threes — you should know that Ambassador Arnold A. Chacon’s nomination as Director General of the Foreign Service got out of the SFRC in February 2 but has been stuck since then waiting for a full vote in the U.S. Senate.

WaPo recently reported that President Obama may have learned how to finally break through the months-long Senate logjam on his ambassadorial nominations: he or Vice President Biden must travel to the countries where nominees would be headed.

Unfortunately for the Foreign Service, neither President Obama nor VP Biden has DGHR listed in their immediate schedule.

Below is the list of nominations pending in committee:

  • Feb 10, 14     PN1419    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Scott S. Sindelar, and ending Christine M. Sloop, which 6 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on February 10, 2014.
  • Feb 10, 14     PN1418    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Mark L. Driver, and ending Karl William Wurster, which 59 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on February 10, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1384    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Beata Angelica, and ending Benjamin Beardsley Dille, which 381 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1383    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Kevin Timothy Covert, and ending Paul Wulfsberg, which 277 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1382    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Matthew D. Lowe, and ending Wilbur G. Zehr, which 242 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1381    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Gerald Michael Feierstein, and ending David Michael Satterfield, which 196 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1380    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Kate E. Addison, and ending William F. Zeman, which 121 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1379    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Kathleen M. Adams, and ending Sean Young, which 112 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1378    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Julie Ann Koenen, and ending Brian Keith Woody, which 94 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1377    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Susan K. Brems, and ending Ann Marie Yastishock, which 45 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1376    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Scott Thomas Bruns, and ending Janelle Weyek, which 23 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1375    Foreign Service Nominations beginning James Benjamin Green, and ending Geoffrey W. Wiggin, which 11 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1374    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Christopher David Frederick, and ending Julio Maldonado, which 3 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 09, 14     PN1317    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Ranya F. Abdelsayed, and ending Fireno F. Zora, which 135 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January  9, 2014.

We can’t help but think that this is one more  unintended consequence from the Senate’s “nuklear” option.  This WaPo piece on President Obama’s inability to fill many of his administration’s most important jobs is not even hopeful.

Doesn’t this remind you of  wreck ‘em Plants v. Zombies, the DC edition?

 

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U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell to Retire in May After 37 Years in the FS

– Domani Spero
The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi announced today the retirement of Ambassador Nancy Powell after 37 years in the Foreign Service:

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell Photo via US Embassy India/FB

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell
Photo via US Embassy India/FB

U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy J. Powell announced in a U.S. Mission Town Hall meeting March 31 that she has submitted her resignation to President Obama and, as planned for some time, will retire to her home in Delaware before the end of May.  She is ending a thirty-seven year career that has included postings as U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, Nepal and India as well as service in Canada, Togo, Bangladesh, and Washington, where she was most recently Director General of the Foreign Service.  Ambassador Powell expressed her appreciation for the professionalism and dedication of the U.S. Mission to India team who have worked to expand the parameters of the U.S.-India bilateral relationship.  She also thanked those throughout India who have extended traditional warm Indian hospitality to her and who have supported stronger bilateral ties.

 

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U.S. Embassy Pakistan to Get ‘Camel Contemplating Needle’ Sculpture at Reduced Price, Let’s Buy Two!

– Domani Spero

 

Joshua White, the deputy director for South Asia at the Stimson Center tweeted this last week:

On March 30, The Skeptical Bureaucrat blogged about it:

The U.S. State Department has purchased for $400,000 a reproduction of that sculpture you see in the photo above, and will display it at the new U.S. Embassy that is now being constructed in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Acquisition of “Camel Contemplating Needle” by John Baldessari. Includes production cost related to the procurement of representational artwork to be displayed at the new US Embassy Islamabad and reproduction rights.

Representational artwork in embassies is intended for cross-cultural understanding through the visual arts, or something like that. So, what does that sculpture say about how the United States sees its relations with Pakistan? Is one of us the camel and the other the needle?

Today, it became a Buzzfeed Exclusive, U.S. Taxpayers To Spend $400,000 For A Camel Sculpture In Pakistan:

A camel staring at the eye of a needle would decorate a new American embassy — in a country where the average income yearly is $1,250.
[...]
Officials explained the decision to purchase the piece of art, titled “Camel Contemplating Needle,” in a four-page document justifying a “sole source” procurement. “This artist’s product is uniquely qualified,” the document explains. “Public art which will be presented in the new embassy should reflect the values of a predominantly Islamist country,” it says. (Like the Bible, the Qur’an uses the metaphor of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.)

To emphasize Baldassari’s fame, the contracting officials pulled a section from Wikipedia. “John Anthony Baldessari (born June 17, 1931) is an American conceptual artist known for his work featuring found photography and appropriated images.”

In a statement, State Department press spokeswoman Christine Foushee said the proposed purchase comes from the department’s “Office of Art in Embassies.” In new construction projects, she said, a small part of the total funds, about 0.5%, is spent on art purchases.

Steven Beyer of Beyer Projects, the art dealer for the project, points out to Buzzfeed that while some Americans may find it frivolous for the government to pay for art, others will find it important. “It depends on what part of the public you are in,” he said. “If you go to the museum and enjoy art and are moved by it, things cost what they cost.”

“Things cost what they cost” would make a nice motto.

In December 2013, The Skeptical Bureaucrat also blogged about the  artwork of Sean Scully that will be displayed at the future new U.S. Embassy in London:

The incomparable State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf displayed some performance art of her own at last Friday’s daily press briefing when she tried to explain why she thinks this purchase is “a good use of our limited resources” (yes, she does):

Okay, on the artwork, we have an Art in Embassies program run through the Office of Art in Embassies which curates permanent and temporary exhibitions for U.S. embassy and consulate facilities. It’s a public-private partnership engaging over 20,000 participants globally, including artists, museums, galleries, universities, and private collectors. For the past five decades, Art in Embassies has played a leading role in U.S. public diplomacy with a focused mission of cross-cultural dialogue and understanding through the visual arts and the artist exchange.

In terms of the London piece, like much of the art purchased by this program, this piece was purchased under the market price after considerable negotiation with both the artist and the gallery. This is an important part of our diplomatic presence overseas. We maintain facilities that serve as the face of the U.S. Government all throughout the world, and where we can promote cross-cultural understanding, and in this case do so for under market value, we think that’s a good use of our limited resources. Yes, we do.

Expect the official response to inquiries on the albino camel with blue eyes contemplating a gigantic needle artwork to take a similar line.

Go ahead, and just write your copy already.

Here’s one that reportedly takes 3 days to clean to bring on the full shine!

Tulips by Jeff Koon U.S. Embassy Beijing, China

Tulips by Jeff Koon
U.S. Embassy Beijing, China Photo via Art in Embassies/FB

 

The Office of Art in Embassies, in the Directorate for Operations, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO/OPS/ART) curates, plans, and administers exhibitions of original art for the chief of mission residences overseas. It is also the office which oversees all aspects of the creation of permanent collections for new embassies and consulates through the Capital Security Construction Program. With a focus on cultural diplomacy, these collections feature the artistic heritage of the host country and the United States.

So far, we have not been able to locate a list of the artworks in the State Department’s permanent art collection.

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State Dept’s Selfie Diplomacy: #UnitedForUkraine; Now Waiting For Selfie From the Russian Bear …

– Domani Spero

In the last 48 hours, we’ve been seeing a bunch of selfies from the State Department with the hashtag #UnitedForUkraine.  The NYPost writes:

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was mocked Thursday after posting a photo of herself on Twitter holding a sign that read #United­For­Ukraine @State­Dept­Spox.
[...]
Psaki defended her photo.

“The people of Ukraine are fighting to have their voices heard and the benefit of communicating over social media is it sends a direct message to the people that we are with them, we support their fight, their voice and their future,” she said.

Now stop picking on Ms. Psaki, she’s not alone on this and at least she’s no longer using the hashtag #RussiaIsolated. The UK is set to start buying gas directly from Russia this fall despite threats  of  further sanctions against Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine.

In any case, here is the Selfie Collection, a work in progress:

UnitedforUkraine_Psaki

Jen Psaki, State Department Spokesperson

unitedofrukraine_stengel

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, and Ms. Psaki’s boss’s boss

Selfie Missing:  Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Frantz, Ms. Psaki’s boss.

unitedofrukraine_evanryan

Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan

UFU_maconphillips

Coordinator for International Information Programs Macon Phillips

Selfie Missing: Coordinator for the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Alberto Fernandez

Unitedofrukraine_michellekwan

Michelle Kwan, State Department Senior Advisor

UFU_embassykyiv

Embassy Selfie:  Ambassador Pyatt with US Embassy Kyiv staff

 

Then our man in London, Ambassador Matthew Barzun ruined the fun and raised the bar with a Winfield House selfie via Vine:

 

Now we just need a selfie from the Russian bear.

Oops, wait … what’s this?  The Russian bear, missing a hashtag…

 

Google'd Putin riding a bear

 

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