US Embassy Jakarta’s “Golden Ticket” Contest

President Obama is scheduled to visit Indonesia on March 23-25.  US Embassy Jakarta’s Facebook page has been busy rounding up fans in time for the visit. The page currently has 79,989 fans racing towards the 100,000 mark. 

Last week, the embassy launched the “Golden Ticket” competition for its Facebook fans, asking them to compete via an essay competition.  The more than 60,000 fans can submit their essays for a chance win one of three all expense-paid educational tours of the U.S., where they’ll get to visit several of the places in America that had a significant impact on the life of U.S. President Obama.

To participate in the competition, fans write a short statement explaining why they deserve this “Golden Ticket” trip.  Five finalists will be chosen to appear on a televised special show where a panel of judges choose the three winners.  The U.S. Embassy-sponsored trips will include stops in Hawaii, where Obama was born; Chicago where Obama started his political career; and Washington, D.C., where Obama now serves as U.S. President. 
In addition to the “Golden Ticket” competition, the U.S. Embassy is using digital technology to connect to people in Indonesia, including a planned Popscreen technology advertisement inviting Telkomsel subscribers to receive SMS messages.  The U.S. Embassy Twitter (@usembassyjkt) is also using special hashtags (#ObamadiRI and #INAUSA), as well as encouraging participation in polls on the Facebook fan page.
Read more here.


More on CG Ciudad Juarez Casualties, Authorized Departure, Threats

Below is an excerpt from the Daily Press Brief on March 15 with Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley:

MR. CROWLEY: But finally, obviously, we are – we will, as the Secretary and the President pledged, work tirelessly with Mexican authorities to bring the killers of American citizens Lesley Enriquez, who was an employee of our U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, and her husband Arthur Redelfs – the killers to justice. We are – offer our deepest condolences to the families as well as to the spouse of a U.S. Consular employee who was killed in a separate incident. But the investigation is ongoing. Today is a Mexican national holiday, but the Consulate will be closed tomorrow to review its security posture.

QUESTION: Well, can you be – I mean, just generally, what did she do?

Yeah. I mean, worked in the Consulate, obviously – it was one of our busier consular sections to process —

QUESTION: Processing visas?

MR. CROWLEY:visas for citizens wanting – or for Mexicans wanting to travel to the United States. My understanding, that both of these – the spouse of the – our Consular employee, local national employee and her husband and – as well as Lesley Enriquez and her husband had both been at a private birthday party and were on their way – in the case of Lesley Enriquez, on their way back across the border. They lived on the U.S. side. She was a civil service employee. Beyond that, as to the circumstances of what happened, this is all part of the investigation.

What about the second part about the authorized departure?

MR. CROWLEY: Oh, the authorized departure was something that had – the decision had already been made and was about to be announced. Obviously, we’ve looked at the increased risk and criminality associated with – along the northern border between Mexico and the United States and had made that decision to offer – to authorize dependents to come back to the United States if they choose. I think the population is just over a hundred that would be potentially affected by this. As far as I know, it was just announced yesterday. I can’t say at this point how many have taken advantage of –

QUESTION: When was the decision made?

MR. CROWLEY: It was made last week.

QUESTION: And why –

MR. CROWLEY: Based on an assessment by diplomatic security about the conditions along the northern border.

QUESTION: Well, when last week?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I learned about it, I believe, on Friday.

QUESTION: Well, why was it not announced until Sunday?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think we were going to announce it as part of our revision of the travel advisory.

QUESTION: Were people able to take advantage of authorized departure before Sunday?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, these individuals that were involved in the incident yesterday would not have been affected by that announcement.

QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that they would have been. I’m just asking were there employees of the Embassy or the employee – families of employees of the consulates able to take advantage of authorized departure before Sunday?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not know.

QUESTION: Can you take that question? Because it goes to the whole double standard issue.

Double standard being?

QUESTION: The double standard being that when there is – when decisions like that are made, that they are not to be shared only within the Embassy community, but also made public. So if this decision was made and people were taking it and people knew about it and were taking advantage of it before Sunday, that would be (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not aware that anyone was taking advantage of it before Sunday.
Aside from this incident on Saturday, are you aware, were there any threats directed at – have there been, recently, threats directed at Americans or American diplomats?

Not to my knowledge.

Read the whole Daily Press Briefing here.

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DHS’ American Diplomat Vanishes into Thin Air?

SignOnSan Diego reported that a federal grand jury Friday indicted a Department of Homeland Security employee working overseas on wire fraud charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego announced. Dario Tomas was stationed in Busan, South Korea, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Pierson. Tomas’ whereabouts is unknown; he recently fled his posting.

The indictment alleges Tomas duped investors out of $240,000 between May 2007 and October 2009. Tomas told investors that the money they gave him would be used to open a technical training school in the Philippines.
Pierson did not know what Tomas’ title was with the agency but said he worked on a Department of Homeland Security project that focused on security of container shipments.

This report quoting the Haeundae Police Department in downtown Busansays that Dario Tomas, 51, worked in customs in the south-eastern port city of Busan, and had left the country March 3, two days before his diplomatic immunity was to be revoked. Elsewhere, this DHS employee has been described as a “US diplomat” (see links below). 

I supposed, the news media could identify the subject as a Customs Attaché or Customs and Border Control Attaché, but then you have to explain that attaché is a French term in diplomacy referring to a person who is assigned (‘attached’) to the administrative staff of a higher placed person or another service or agency. And “diplomat” is easier to remember, especially if it has to do with fleeing or swindling a widow.

Apparently, this man had diplomatic immunity, but I have no way to confirm that.  And whatever is his title, it’s not going to help him now.  Interpol is reportedly involved in the search. And I still could not find that press release from the US Attorney’s Office in San Diego. 

But good grief! He reportedly swindled a widow, and then vanished?! What a rat!

SFRC Hearing: Robert Stephen Ford

Presiding: Senator Kerry
Date: Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Time: 9:30 A.M.
Building: 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building
The Honorable Robert Stephen Ford, of Maryland
to be Ambassador to the Syrian Arab Republic
You can view the hearing live or see the recorded video and read the prepared testimony of Ambassador Ford here.  

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Overlooked: Tate Mallory Receives Defense of Freedom Award

I did not see this when it came out, but thought I’d reprint this here even when late. Contractors are the unrecognized fourth leg of our foreign policy. If we have any doubt about that at all, let’s take them away and see how quickly the operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere would quickly fold without their support.  The article below is reprinted in full from ProPublica under Creative Commons:       

War Contractors Receive Defense of Freedom Medal for Injuries, But Attract Little Notice
by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica – February 18, 2010 1:08 pm EST
Falls Church, Va. — A former sheriff’s deputy from South Dakota named Tate Mallory got a medal for service to his country on Wednesday, but it didn’t get much attention. There was no top military brass at the ceremony, no long line of politicians waiting to shake his hand. Instead, Mallory stood on a dais in an anonymous hotel room in suburban Washington, D.C., looking pleased and slightly embarrassed as he was handed a Defense of Freedom medal.
“I thought that if someone was going to get hurt, it was going to happen to somebody else,” he told the audience, which included friends, family, co-workers, State Department officials and representatives from a congressional office or two.
Mallory was a civilian contractor who worked for DynCorp [1], a large defense firm that helps train police in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in western Iraq in 2006, punching a hole in his gut. He almost bled to death until U.S. Marines saved him.
He is one of thousands of civilians whose deaths and injuries are not included in the Pentagon’s official list [2] (PDF) of casualties from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A joint investigation [3] by ProPublica, ABC News and the Los Angeles Times found that injured civilian contractors routinely face drawn-out battles to get medical treatment paid for under a taxpayer-financed federal system known as the Defense Base Act.
The Labor Department, which tracks injuries to contract workers abroad, recently updated the tally [4]: Since 2001, more than 1,700 civilian contractors have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and nearly 40,000 have been reported injured.
More than a hundred contract workers have been given the Defense of Freedom medal [5] (PDF), a Pentagon citation that is the civilian equivalent of the military’s Purple Heart. Still, it’s difficult to track who receives the medal, which was created by the Defense Department after 9/11. Typically, corporations such as DynCorp or Houston-based KBR [6] nominate their workers, with the Pentagon approving the final award. But there is no centralized record of recipients, nor are the award ceremonies [7] (PDF) usually publicized.
Several of those at Wednesday’s ceremony, which was sponsored by DynCorp, lamented the lack of attention. They noted that contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan usually get in the news for bad behavior — such as wasting taxpayer money or the killing of innocent civilians.
Ken Leonard, a former DynCorp employee who was also recognized for valor on Wednesday, said Americans are not always aware of the contribution made by civilian contractors at work in the war zones. Leonard had both legs amputated after being injured by a roadside bomb in 2005. After 18 months of surgeries and rehabilitation, he returned to work as a police officer in High Point, N.C. [8]
“I’d say there was a public misunderstanding. I was there to work with the military,” Leonard said. “There’s a perception that we’re all gun-crazy, trigger-happy cowboys. That’s not the case.”

ReThink Afghanistan vs. Why Afghanistan Matters

You know about the Brave New Foundation’s project advocating the rethinking of Afghanistan, right? No? Well, in February last year, Brave New Foundation released the first chapter of “Rethink Afghanistan,” a new full-length documentary about the U.S.’ escalating military involvement in that country. Directed by Robert Greenwald, creator of Uncovered: The War on Iraq and Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, Rethink Afghanistan was released and posted in installments on YouTube and at

Late last year, the Allied Joint Forces Command HQ/NATO also started a contest called “Why Afghanistan Matters.”
The Allied Joint Forces Command HQ Brunssum is a NATO headquarters in Brunssum, the Netherlands. It is directly subordinate to SHAPE, the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe, and provides oversight to the International Security Assistance Force, in Afghanistan.
The Contest started on 1 Dec, 2009 and ends 30 Apr 2010.  Submissions are accepted until 31 Mar, 2010, with one month after reserved for voting only.
The “Afghanistan Matters” Photo Contest (the Contest) is open to persons who have reached the age of majority in their jurisdiction of residence at the time of entry.  JFC HQ Brunssum personnel involved in judging or determining eligibility of contest submissions are not eligible to compete. 
Offer apparently void where prohibited by law or national service regulations. Where would that be?  In any case, I was struck by item #8 of its contest rules, reprinted below:
8. Submission may not contain, include or involve any of the following (as determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion): obscene, profane, lewd, defamatory content; crude, vulgar or offensive pictures, depictions, images, language, gang signs and/or symbols. Gratuitous violence. Nudity, explicit graphic or sexual activity. Commercial products such as clothing, toys, food and/or their trademarks, brands, logo or endorsements. Hard liquor use or product images. License plates, name tapes or identification, phone numbers, personal addresses (physical or email) or otherwise. Illegal drug or alcohol use or abuse. Derogatory characterizations of any ethnic, racial, sexual or religious groups, humiliate other people (publicly or otherwise), any assault or threatening of others. Material which defames Afghan culture or Islam is specifically prohibited. Trespass or the violation of other people (publicly or otherwise) or their property, any assault or threatening of others. Illegal (discriminatory, harassing) or inappropriate activity, behaviour or conduct (i.e. inflicting emotional distress). Revealing classified or sensitive techniques, tactics or procedures. Any other content, display, materials and/or images that is or could be considered inappropriate, unsuitable or offensive, as determined by Sponsor in its sole discretion. All submissions must be suitable for publication as determined in the sole discretion of Sponsor. Entrants may not copy or otherwise plagiarize the Submission from any source. Any Entry not in compliance with the above and does not meet Contest requirements will be disqualified. All submissions will be reviewed for content before being published or judged; however, such review does not relieve the Entrant from responsibility for compliance with the Official Rules.
Submissions may not contain “gratuitous violence” – I think that means violence that is not justified or violence for the sake of being violent;  like shock and awe in video games – they’re not acceptable.
Go ahead and check out the beautiful images of Afghanistan here. I found a couple of pictures with a medic but do not expect to see any gory, gut-wrenching horrors of war; you have to go elsewhere for that.  
There is something obscene about a war zone sanitized like this.  A beautiful country with majestic mountains (no poppy fields), hardworking and hardy people (half needs help, half wants to blow you up), Coalition forces bravely on patrol, children with heart-breaking smiles; and no blood or body parts anywhere in sight.  
Five digital cameras up for grabs (Nikon D90 SLR with Nikon 18-200 mm lens)! That’s about $12,500 at least, but cheaper than hiring a Madison Avenue PR executive.    
Excuse me — I think I’m going to be sick. Look away, look away … don’t watch!