Can the ESTA Euro Reciprocity Version be far behind?

Airbus A340-600 wide-body airliner of Cathay P...Image via WikipediaBack in March, we wondered out loud how long before other countries with their own travel/tourist promotion boards decide that they have forgotten to tack a $10.00 travel fee to visitors from the United States. Actually the total fee is $14 since there is an additional $4.00 “administrative cost.”

The ESTA fee went into effect earlier this month, and we’re now just hearing the furious feedback from the other side of the Atlantic.

Via Spiegel Online:

European Union officials are furious with a new US fee mandatory for most travelers from Europe. Calling the charge tantamount to a new visa requirement, the EU is now considering introducing a similar fee for American travelers.

Fourteen dollars may not sound like a lot. But this autumn, the sum — in the shape of the new fee being charged by the United States to some overseas visitors coming into the country — is proving enough to inflame tempers in the European Union. This month, an increasing number of members of the European Parliament and other EU officials are blasting the charge for being both incongruous and for running counter to US-EU agreements.

“I think it is a bit bizarre to introduce a tax to promote tourism,” intoned Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of European Parliament with Germany’s business-friendly Free Democratic Party during a recent debate on the issue in Strasbourg. In addition to pointing out that such a tax could actually dissuade people from traveling to the US, Lambsdorff also said “it seems a bit absurd that the US of all countries would tax people who are not represented in this debate. Taxation without representation, I believe, has played a certain role in American history.”

At issue is the so-called Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a $14 fee which travelers from 36 countries now have to pay prior to visiting the US. While $4 dollars of the fee is to be for ESTA administrative costs, $10 is to pay for US efforts to promote the US as a tourism destination. Travelers to the US, in effect, are being asked to pay for the advertising aimed at encouraging them to travel to the country.
The US fee applies only to travelers from countries not currently required to obtain a visa prior to travel — a list comprising 36 countries worldwide including every EU country except for Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania.

Some quotes:

“I remain convinced that these new requirements … are inconsistent with the commitment of the US to facilitate trans-Atlantic mobility.”
European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström

“The EU needs to continue negotiating with the US on this issue and, if necessary, introduce a fee of our own.”

Elmar Brok, a center-right MEP from Germany and chair of the European Parliament committee which overseas US-EU relation

“It seems peculiar […] that foreigners are requested to pay for promoting tourism to the United States, as this may possibly lead to less — and not more — travel.”

 European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic during the debate in Parliament

“Maybe the US is developing a new business model here: to have consumers pay for the advertising given to them. This is unbelievable.”

said German MEP Elmar Brok of the European People’s Party

“We are examining all possibilities, including an EU Esta system. A feasibility study is being worked on now and could be introduced in the future, if member states agree.”

from Commissioner Maros Sefcovic

The US Administration has been “discourteous to its friends
,” said one deputy.

Several members of the center-right European People’s Party, the largest in the European Parliament, issued a harsh response, calling the fee “harassment,” “unjustifiable” and a “burden on transatlantic relations.“We have to remind the U.S. once again,” the lawmakers said in a statement, “that transatlantic cooperation can only work if both partners are on the same level … . This rip-off is not acceptable.”

Darn! They called the USG’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization a rip-off. A rip-off as in a bad financial transaction where a person overpays for something?

According to this website, around 900,000 travelers will use it every month, estimated one MEP, paying $4 for administration and $10 to promote tourism to America.

That seems like a lot of eurobucks funding the whole travel promotion for the United States, doesn’t it?  I mean, think about it — the Europeans will be underwriting those nice NYC, New England, Alaska, etc. parks and adventure travel posters and brochures, DVDs, fancy postcards, website, blogs, and presumably the salaries of people doing the work of USA promotion.

We can understand why our friends across the pond are so very upset.

The major overseas destinations for American tourists are the UK, Italy and Japan.   Can you imagine what kind of tempest it would have created back here had those countries decided to add on a $14.00 travel fee for all American travelers?  Especially if the money we paid was used to promote travel to the UK, Italy and Japan to urge more American travelers to visit?

In essence, we’d have paid a fee to these countries so they could convinced our neighbors and friends to visit the Colosseum in Rome, or the Tower of London, or the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, etc. Their ads on our dime! Imagine the signs over in the national mall — caving in to foreigners and such things?      

One of our favorite bloggers, back from the grave, had to excuse herself to visit the vomitorium: 

There was a time when Madam believed that there were still depths to which the USG would not stoop.  No more.  The new ESTA fee has finally served to reach those ultimate depths.  At least this month.

In case you might have missed it, the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, signed into law earlier this year, implemented a new public-private partnership between the U.S. government and the nation’s travel and tourism industry.  (Since said industry is so responsible with its cash, apparently, and since similar ventures have worked so well in the past.  Please excuse Madam while she gags.) 

If you’re an overseas American, you don’t have to walk around with paper bags over your head as you tour around Brussels or Rome or anywhere in the 36 countries for the next few weeks.  If anyone inquire about this matter, blame it on … whatshisname… oh, Harry Reid.  But USG passport holders should be prepared to underwrite the tourism promotions of countries XYZ at some future time.
And although we agree that this is an unhappy development for our friends across the pond, and quite tacky, too — we feel the need to point out that $14.00 is a bargain since it is good for two years and does not include iris scans, ear scans, fingerprints, toeprints, mouth swabs, and real hair or skin samples.

Related posts:


Colton v. Clinton: Age Discrimination Case Fails in DC Court

Old People CrossingImage by schnaars via FlickrOn September 24, Judge Richard Leon of the District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed FSO Elizabeth Colton’s age discrimination case against the State Department.  Below are selected excerpts from the Memorandum of Opinion:

On the retaliation claim:
[C]olton has failed to comply with her statutory obligation to notify the EEOC within 180 days after the alleged unlawful practice-i.e., retaliation-occurred. As a result, her retaliation claim in Count III of the Complaint must be dismissed in its entirety.

On the non-promotion:
The failure to promote was included as an additional act of discrimination and retaliation in her First Amended Complaint filed on October 22, 2009. See id. As discussed above, the plain language of § 633a(d) requires plaintiff to have filed notice of her intent to sue within 180 days “after” the allegedly “unlawful practice” occurred. Since it was impossible for the January and April 2009 notices to include any allegations of the purported failure to promote in October 2009, Colton would have had to file another amended notice to comply with the statutory prerequisites to suit. See Morgan, 536 U.S. at 114 (finding failure to promote to be a “discrete act”). As she has failed to do so, to the extent that plaintiffs discrimination claim in Count I is based on the agency’s decision not to promote her, it must also be dismissed.

More below:

In Count I, plaintiff claims that the State Department discriminated against her on the basis of age by: (1) denying her the two-year position in Algiers; (2) failing to assign her to a position “equivalent” to the Algiers position; (3) denying her requests for an extension of service under 22 U.S.C. § 4052(b)(2); and (4) failing to promote her in October 2009. See CompI. ~ 91. With the exception of the failure to promote allegation,
which is not properly before this Court as explained above, plaintiff is, in effect, asserting that the State Department discriminated against her by complying with and enforcing the statutorily mandated age of65. This claim must fail as a matter oflaw, however, because our Circuit has already held that the mandatory retirement provision Colton is challenging here is a valid exception to the ADEA. See Strawberry v. Albright, 111 F.3d
943,947 (D.C. Cir. 1997).
The Circuit Court found that Congress’s reenactment of the mandatory retirement age in the Foreign Service Act of 1980-which raised the mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65-after the ADEA was made applicable to federal employees reflected Congressional judgment that “the ADEA’s general provision on age discrimination does not prohibit enforcement of the mandatory retirement provisions.” Id.; see also Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 68-69 (2000) (“Under the current ADEA, mandatory age limits for law enforcement officers and firefighters-at federal, state, and local levels-are exempted from the statute’s coverage”); Stewart v. Smith, 673 F.2d 485,492 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (finding maximum age rule for federal law enforcement officers to be an exception to the ADEA).
In light of this controlling authority, plaintiff’s challenge to the enforcement of the mandatory retirement provision must be dismissed. Her allegations of discrimination based upon the failure to assign her to the Algiers position simply reflect her disagreement with the defendant’s implementation and enforcement of the mandatory retirement provision. Plaintiff admits that the Algiers position or, for that matter, any other two-year tour of duty beginning in Mayor June 2009 would have required her to serve nine or ten months past her mandatory retirement age. See Compl. ~ 51. Colton also admits that she did not view any of the available one-year assignments as “equivalent.” See id. ~~ 64, 72. Thus, plaintiffs ineligibility for the Algiers assignment or any other assignment she thought “equivalent” resulted from enforcement of the mandatory retirement provision of the Foreign Service Act and, therefore, is not actionable under the ADEA.
What Colton fails to acknowledge is that she was denied the Algiers position because a/the mandatory retirement provision, which our Circuit has already held to be an exception to the ADEA. She further attempts to distinguish Strawberry by arguing that, unlike that plaintiff, who challenged his mandatory retirement after being forced to retire, she is complaining of alleged acts before she turned 65. As the defendant points out, this argument, if accepted, would subject the defendant to suit for all actions taken prior to the actual date that an employee must retire under the Foreign Service Act, even when the challenged acts are taken to implement or enforce the requirements of the mandatory retirement provision. Such a result is, of course, nonsensical. Simply put, it is irrelevant whether the challenged acts occurred before or after plaintiff s mandatory retirement, and it is of no moment when the suit is brought. The only pertinent question is whether a challenged act was undertaken to implement or enforce the provision. If so, then the ADEA’ s general prohibition on age discrimination does not apply. See Strawberry, 111 F.3d at 947.
Similarly, Colton’s allegation that the Secretary of State’s refusal to grant her an extension pursuant to § 4052
( d) was a discriminatory act is unavailing. Although the mandatory retirement provision grants the Secretary the discretion to retain a person for up to five years past the mandatory retirement age if in the “public interest,” there is no requirement that the Secretary do so.
Colton is woefully misguided to imply that this Court can and should disregard Supreme Court precedent if it appears outdated. The Supreme Court alone can overrule its own precedents, and the fact that a plaintiff articulates a new theory as to why a different result should be reached is insufficient to revisit a settled issue.

The Memorandum of Opinion is here.

We are still trying to reach Dr. Colton’s lawyers for a statement. 

Sorry folks, there won’t be any show for now. Please mind the old people sign (political appointees, civil servants and contractors excepted, of course).

Later ….

This made me think of John Scalzi — probably because in his Colonial Defense Forces, you have to be 75 to sign up for the Army;  his Colonial Union want people who who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living to fight their wars.

But not yet, not here, not now.    

Officially In: William Brownfield to State/ International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL)

William BrownfieldImage via WikipediaOn September 22, President Obama announced his intent to nominate William R. Brownfield to be the State Depatment’s Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). The WH released the following brief bio:

William R. Brownfield is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service.  He has served as Ambassador to Colombia, Venezuela and Chile.  In Washington, Mr. Brownfield’s assignments have included Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Executive Assistant in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, Member of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff, and Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. He has also served overseas in El Salvador, Argentina, Panama, and Switzerland.

A native of Texas, Mr. Brownfield received his B.A. from Cornell University, graduated from the National War College.

* * *

Three-times ambassador, Bill Brownfield is, of course, the other half of soon to be three-times ambassador Kristie Kenney (bound for Bangkok as soon as she receives Senate confirmation).   

Related item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 9/22/10

Officially In: Kurt Tong to APEC

SHANGHAI. An informal meeting of heads of the ...Image via WikipediaOn September 22, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Kurt Walter Tong to be the United States Senior Coordinator for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum with the rank of Ambassador.  The WH released the following brief bio:
Kurt W. Tong is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. He is currently serving as Economic Coordinator in the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Mr. Tong has served overseas in the U.S. Embassies in Manila, Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul. Most recently, he held the position of Director for Korean Affairs at the Department of State. Prior to that, he was Director for Asian Economic Affairs at the National Security Council. Mr. Tong was a Visiting Scholar at the Tokyo University Faculty of Economics.

He holds a B.A. from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Related item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 9/22/10

US Embassy Seoul Hosts the Governator on Trade Mission in South Korea

The Governator tweeted about his Asia trip (see selection below and @Schwarzenegger) and posed with the Embassy Marine Detachment.

On September 14, 2010, US Ambassador to Seoul Kathleen Stephens hosted a reception in honor of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Governor Schwarzenegger came to Korea on a trade mission, highlighting the close ties between the Republic of Korea and his state. Pictured below: Jeju Governor Woo Keun-Min, Representative Na Kyung-Won, and Gangwon Governor Lee Kwang-Jae with with the Governator and the ambassador.

Photo from US Embassy Seoul

From Ambassador Stephen’s blog: “Governor Schwarzenegger and I with the U.S. Marine detachment – the governor told us all to flex our biceps for the photo, but I’m not sure you can tell that I’m trying!”

Photo from Ambassador Stephen’s blog


Before Korea, he was over Alaska, of course:

Over Anchorage, AK. Looking everywhere but can’t see Russia from here. Will keep you updated as search continues. 

He stopped in China and saw our ambassador there:

Having breakfast with Ambassador Huntsman


Then he visited Tokyo and saw the PM but did not seem to stop by our embassy there:

Meeting with Prime Minister Kan in Tokyo

He arrived in South Korea and tweeted about the US Embassy in Seoul:

The US Embassy in Seoul pulled out all the stops


Then the Governator went to see the troops before heading back to California:

Greeting our great troops in Seoul right now to thank them for their service http://twitpic.com2olu9k