US Embassy Laos: Ambassador Karen Stewart Raps at StreetWave05, I dare you to look away

Video via The Vientiane Times:

See, it’s hard to look away; stuck in my head forever now.  A blog pal worried, “Imagine her corridor rap….I mean rep…. now.”  A longer and more more fuzzy clip from the US Embassy is here. Can’t tell what she is rapping about, unfortunately, as the video in the embassy’s YouTube channel contains no description of what this is about.

Ambassador Karen B. Stewart is a career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service.  In July, 2010, President Obama nominated her to be U.S. Ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, she was confirmed by the Senate on September 29, and presented her credentials to the President of the Lao P.D.R. on November 16.

A native of Florida, Ambassador Stewart joined the Foreign Service as an economics officer in 1977. Her last overseas posting prior to  Vientiane  was as Ambassador to Belarus where she was apparently disliked by Europe’s last dictator, and had to return to the U.S. even before the mission in Minsk was shrunk to a skeleton crew.

No, I don’t think she performed this rap in Belarus.

And yes, I am extremely worried that some other American ambassador elsewhere is going to try and top this.

Thanks to Kelly (see comments) for posting the translation of Ambassador Stewart’s rap from the embassy’s FB page:

“I am really happy and excited. I love music and singing. I rap all the
time at the embassy. I’ve got a pen in my right hand, a mic in my left.
Who would believe the Ambassador can rap? I’m the Ambassador, my name is
Karen Stewart. My raps are all clean, so the police don’t have to
check. Who would believe I’m 59 years old? I’ve got mad rapping skills
like a 14 year old!”

I understand that the video uploaded to the QDDR site is actually titled “u-s-ambassador-to-laos-raps-to-teens-about-counterfeit-medicines.”

After 18 Yrs in Kazakhstan, Peace Corps Will Reportedly Suspend Operations Due to Safety Issues

The Peace Corps will reportedly leave Kazakhstan soon, with all
volunteers pulled out of the country and the local staff disbanded. Unconfirmed reports
indicate that this decision is due largely “to growing safety issues,
including terrorism and what has become the highest sexual
assault/rape level among PC countries worldwide.”

Here is a quick background of the Peace Corps operation in Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world, a country nearly four times the size of Texas and one of the United States favored partners in Central Asia.

Over 1,176 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Kazakhstan since the program was established in 1993. Currently, 126 Volunteers are serving in Kazakhstan. Volunteers in this Central Asian nation work in the areas of education, organization and community development, HIV/AIDS with support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program, and youth development. English education Volunteers teach Kazakhstani students and also introduce local teachers to new methodologies through innovative team-teaching techniques. Organization and community development Volunteers help increase the capacity and technical skills of local community and non-governmental organizations; and youth development Volunteers teach work skills, healthy lifestyles and leadership to Kazakhstani youth. Volunteers are trained and work in Kazakh and Russian.

According to the State Department, the United States provided roughly $1.205 billion in technical assistance and investment support in the country between 1992 and 2005.

A PCV who blogs in Adventures in Kazakhstan writes:

“Yes Kazakhstan does currently rank number 1 among all Peace Corps for incidents of rape or sexual assault. Again, the extent to which this affected the decision to remove volunteers is unknown. I do not believe that Kazakhstan is an overly dangerous country. I have never truly felt threatened or unsafe. %90 percent of my experience has been positive, and the people here have ultimately expressed nothing but warmness, kindness, and hospitality. That being said, we did unfortunately have 4 (that I know of) incidents of rape/sexual assault within a 1-year period. While incidents do happen in every PC country, I think it is very rare to have this many incidents occur in such close proximity.”

I don’t know if one of those four incidents is this one which made it to the local papers on November 11, 2011.  Or if this case is the fifth.  See Peace Corps volunteer sexually abused in Karaganda oblast.

On Nov 2, the US Embassy in Astana released the following Emergency Message for U.S. citizens:

“In light of the explosions in Atyrau on October 31, 2011, the U.S. Mission encourages U.S. Citizens in Kazakhstan to review the most recent Worldwide Caution (see below). We urge U.S. citizens to exercise vigilance and to take measures for their own safety and security at all times. These measures include paying attention to surrounding circumstances and events, avoiding crowds, and keeping a low profile.”

I’ve just reviewed Kazakhstan 2011 OSAC Crime and Safety Report: Astana, a report prepared annually by the U.S. Embassy.  There is no mention of rape anywhere. 

Email inquiries to both the US Embassy Astana and the Peace Corps office in Kazakhstan requesting confirmation for the suspension of operation have yet to receive a response.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.
Photos from US Peace Corps/Kazakhstan/Flickr

Taiwan Foreign Affairs Say Its Official Did Not Underpay Filipino Servant in Kansas … Oh, Really?

The TECO official case in Kansas is not the first case of an alleged abuse of a foreign worker in the United States by a foreign diplomat. 

In 2008, the GAO identified 42 household workers with A-3 or G-5 visas who alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomats with immunity from 2000 through 2008. The report said that the total number is likely higher for four reasons: 1)household workers’ fear of contacting law enforcement, 2) nongovernmental organizations’ protection of victim confidentiality, 3) limited information on some cases handled by the U.S. government, and 4) federal agencies’ challenges identifying cases. Read more here.

Taiwan News reported the following update on its TECO diplomat arrested in Kansas for “fraud in foreign labor contracting for fraudulently obtaining a Filipino servant for her residence.” Excerpts below:

A preliminary government investigation has found that a Taiwanese diplomat who has been arrested in Kansas City on labor fraud charges did not underpay her Filipina housekeeper as alleged, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said in a statement Monday. In the statement, the ministry explained why Jacqueline Liu, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City, paid her maid US$400-US$450 as charged when the employment contract called for a monthly salary of US$1,240. The ministry said the maid wrote to Liu saying she was willing to have US$790 deducted from her salary per month to cover the costs of accommodation, food, health care and insurance, according to the investigation. “In this case, the maid would receive US$450 per month,” the ministry said, adding that Liu also gave the maid an additional US$140 every month for food and groceries. That made the actual payment US$590 per month, the same figure as that Liu reported to the MOFA when asking the ministry to reimburse her expenses, the statement said.

According to the affidavit in the criminal complaint, Jacqueline Liu, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Kansas City “paid the Filipino worker $400-450 per month, although the employment contract stipulated a salary of $1,240 per month. Liu allegedly required the victim to work six days a week, 16 to 18 hours a day, and forbid her to leave the house without permission. Under the terms of her employment contract, the affidavit says, she was to work no more than eight hours a day, 40 hours per week, and her presence was not required inside the residence except during working hours.”

Now – that Filipino servant worked in Kansas.  For many years, the minimum wage in Kansas was set to $2.65, the lowest in the nation. The state wage was increased to match the federal level on January 1, 2010.  Let’s say the servant worked for eight hours a day for six days a week, that would be $7.25 x 8 hours = $58 x 6 days=$348/week x 4 = $1,392 per month. If the contract stipulated a salary of $1,240 per month, that maid looks underpaid by $152 every month, right there and then.

However, the complaint also alleged that the victim was required to work “six days a week, 16 to 18 hours a day.” If true, she was seriously underpaid.

The Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its reported statement says that US$790 was deducted from the servant’s salary per month “to cover the costs of accommodation, food, health care and insurance, according to the investigation.”

Wait a minute — 9 FAM 41.31 N9.3-3 Personal Employees of Foreign Nationals in Nonimmigrant Status is pretty clear about that. Visa regulations require that “The employer and the employee have signed an employment contract which contains statements that the employee is guaranteed the minimum or prevailing wages, whichever is greater, and free room and board.” That contract is required before a visa is issued.  Read below:

A personal or domestic employee who accompanies or follows to join an employer who is seeking admission into, or is already in, the United States in B, E, F, H, I, J, L, M, O, P, or Q nonimmigrant status, must meet the following requirements:

(1) The employee has a residence abroad which he or she has no intention of abandoning (notwithstanding the fact that the employer may be in a nonimmigrant status which does not require such a showing);

(2) The employee can demonstrate at least one year’s experience as a personal or domestic employee;

(3) The employee has been employed abroad by the employer as a personal or domestic employee for at least one year prior to the date of the employer’s admission to the United States;
If the employee-employer relationship existed immediately prior to the time of visa application, the employer can demonstrate that he or she has regularly employed (either year-round or seasonally) personal or domestic employees over a period of several years preceding the domestic employee’s visa application for a nonimmigrant B-1 visa;

(4) The employer and the employee have signed an employment contract which contains statements that the employee is guaranteed the minimum or prevailing wages, whichever is greater, and free room and board, and the employer will be the only provider of employment to the employee;

(5) The employer must pay the domestic’s initial travel expenses to the United States, and subsequently to the employer’s onward assignment, or to the employee’s country of normal residence at the termination of the assignment.

Furthermore, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 includes the following:

“In Section 203 of the legislation, Congress has incorporated State’s requirement for an employment contract between a domestic or personal employee or servant applying for an A-3 or G-5 visa and the employer.  This section also provides that the contract must include the employer’s agreement “to abide by all Federal, State, and local laws in the United States,” and not to withhold the passport, the employment contract, or other personal property of the employee. The contract must also include “information on the frequency and form of payment, work duties, weekly work hours, holidays, sick days, and vacation days.”

So not only are diplomatic employers required under U.S. law to pay minimum wage, and provide free room and board, they also are prohibited from withholding the passports of their foreign workers.

Temporary workers/students in the United States have the right to:

  • Be treated and paid fairly;
  • Not be held in a job against your will;
  • Keep your passport and other identification documents in your possession;
  • Report abuse without retaliation;
  • Request help from unions, immigrant and labor rights groups and other groups; and
  • Seek justice in U.S. courts.

See more here.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Star quotes the U.S. lawyer for the TECO representative: “Our next step is trying to finalize a plea agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office.”

Related post:
Taiwanese Official in Kansas Charged for “Fraudulently Obtaining a Filipino Servant”