OPM Sample Letters to Creditors During Furlough Have Been Around At Least Since 2013

The sample letters to creditors issued by OPM is available here.
Or click Sample Letters for Creditors, Mortgage Companies and Landlords (Word file) [85.5 KB]

We understand that the OPM sample letters to creditors during the furlough are actually driving some of our readers “insane.” This blogpost is for you. The first Wayback Machine capture of opm.gov was January 23, 2013. You will note that the website does not include sample letters to creditors. But there was a shutdown on Tuesday, October 1, 2013, which lasted for 16 days. A December 31, 2013 capture of opm.gov includes a longer Furlough Guidance including Sample Letters for Creditors, Mortgage Companies and Landlords (Word file) [49.87 KB]. The four-page document includes a cover page titled, “Sample Letters”, and three temple template letters to creditor, mortgage company, and landlord.

In December 2016, OPM similarly had undated issued a Sample Letters for Creditors, Mortgage Companies and Landlords (Word file) [85.5 KB] online. This document includes basically identical sample letters from 2013. The sample letters issued by OPM on December 27, right to that note about consulting “your personal attorney” is identical to the 2013 and 2016 versions. There were other government shutdowns prior to 2013, but the Wayback Machine does not include any opm.gov archive before 2013. It is possible that these letters existed prior to 2013 and they were just not archived online or they may have been created first in 2013 during the October 2013 shutdown to assist federal employees who encountered problems with creditors, mortgage companies, and landlords during a two-week shutdown. If you were at OPM or OMB and was nerdy enough to follow this in 2013, let us know.

OPM’s current version of the sample letters, although not marked as an update in the OPM website, removed the reference to a “personal attorney” and now just says “Following are sample letters that you may use as a guide when working with your creditors.  OPM is not able to provide legal advice to individual employees.”  This version is still four pages long but, it appears that OPM had also removed the last letter, the “Sample Letter to Landlord” and page 4 is now just an empty page. The Landlord sample letter includes the item about “the possibility of trading my services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments” which garnered a lot of attention on social media.

#

Advertisements

Trump Threat: Cutoff Aid to Central America’s Northern Triangle

In October 2018, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes the following about the “northern triangle”:

“Instability in Central America is one of the most pressing
challenges for U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere.
Several nations—particularly El Salvador, Guatemala, and
Honduras in the “northern triangle” of Central America—
are struggling with widespread insecurity, fragile political
and judicial systems, and high levels of poverty and
unemployment.
[…]
On October 22, 2018, President Trump said he intends to
cut off, or substantially reduce, aid to the northern triangle
countries. He has significant discretion to do so with funds
appropriated in FY2018, since Congress designated “up to”
$615 million for the Central America strategy, effectively
placing a ceiling on aid but no floor. The Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2018 (P.L. 115-141), also empowers
the Secretary of State to suspend and reprogram some aid if
he determines the northern triangle governments have made
“insufficient progress” in addressing various legislative
conditions.
[…]
Congress has placed strict conditions on assistance to the
northern triangle in an attempt to bolster political will in the
region and ensure foreign aid is used as effectively as
possible. According to the Consolidated Appropriations
Act, 2018 (P.L. 115-141),

 25% of assistance for the central governments of El
Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras must be withheld
until the Secretary of State certifies that the
governments are informing their citizens of the dangers
of irregular migration, combating human smuggling and
trafficking, improving border security, and cooperating
with the United States to receive and reintegrate
repatriated citizens who do not qualify for asylum.

 Another 50% must be withheld until the Secretary of
State certifies that the governments are addressing 12
other concerns, including combating corruption;
countering gangs and organized crime; increasing
government revenues; supporting programs to reduce
poverty and promote equitable growth; and protecting
the rights of journalists, political opposition parties, and
human rights defenders to operate without interference.

The State Department certified that all three countries met
both sets of conditions in FY2016 and FY2017. For
FY2018, it has issued certifications for all three countries
regarding the first set of conditions but not the second set.

Read more: U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America: An Overview, October 2018 (PDF)

CRS R44812: U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America: Policy Issues for Congress 2017 (PDF)

Secretary of State Statistics: Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter

Prior to Rex Tillerson, Senate votes confirming the secretary of state have been bipartisan. Vance, Christopher, and Powell all had voice votes. Baker and Albright had 99-0 votes. Rice had 85-13. All the rest had at least 90+ votes in the Senate until Tillerson who got 56-43, the lowest confirmation vote recorded going back to the Carter years. The current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the rank with the second lowest votes at 57-42. On January 23, 2017, he was previously confirmed CIA Director by the Senate by Yea-Nay Vote. 66 – 32

 
Nomination Announced Hearings Received Confirmed Votes
TRUMP          
Michael
Pompeo

March 13,
2018

April 12,
2018 
 March 20,
2018
April 26,
2018 
 57-42
No. 84

Rex
Tillerson

December
13, 2016
January 11, 2017 January 20,
2017
February 1, 2017 56-43 
No. 36
OBAMA          
John
Kerry
December
21, 2012
January 24, 2013 January 22, 2013 January 29, 2013 94-3 
No. 5
Hillary
Clinton
December 1, 2008 January 13, 2009 January 20, 2009 January 21, 2009 94-2 
No. 6
BUSH          
Condi
Rice
November
16, 2004 
 January
18-19, 2005
January 4,
2005
January 26, 2005 85-13 
No. 2
Colin
Powell
 December
16, 2000
January 17, 2001 January 20, 2001 January 20, 2001 Voice Vote
           

Source: U.S. Senate Cabinet Statistics (click on image for larger view)

This clip of the secretary of state talking about the “rapture” is not new (though we’ve just seen it). It has been around prior to his confirmation earlier this year. Although 10 more senators refused to confirm him as SecState than the year earlier as CIA director, he got one more vote than Tillerson (including seven Democratic votes) and was confirmed as 70th Secretary of State (with the second lowest votes at confirmation).

This video appears to be from his 2015 appearance at the “God and Country Rally” at Wichita’s Summit Church in June 2015.

Emergency Messages During Government Shutdown

A tsunami hit the coastal areas around the Sunda Strait in Indonesia (between the islands of Java and Sumatra) on December 22, 2018. It affected the Pandeglang, South Lampung, and Serang districts (as well as the resort area of Anyer). As of this writing, the tsunami death toll is now 373, with 128 missing and 1,459 injured.

The location of the tsunami is about 108 kilometers from the capital city of Jakarta. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta (with constituent posts in Surabaya, Medan, and a Consular Agency in Bali) issued a Message to U.S. Citizens: U.S. Embassy Jakarta – Tsunami on the West Coast of Banten and Lampung on Sun, 23 Dec 2018.

The Embassy Alert to U.S. citizens provides the following actions to take and contact information for those requiring assistance:

Actions to Take:

  • Carefully consider travel plans and avoid nonessential travel to tsunami affected areas.
  • Review the Travel Advisory for Indonesia
  • Review information about what to do in the event of a tsunami.
  • Notify friends and family of your well-being.
  • Review information from the Government of Indonesia’s agency for disaster managementhere (Indonesian language only) and here.
  • For regular updates, follow the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya on Twitter and Facebook and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta at Twitter and Facebook.

Assistance:  

The Alert message is currently on travel.state.gov and the embassy’s website, but it is not pushed on to social media due to the government shutdown. The State Department’s deputy spox says that they “are not aware of any U.S. citizens directly affected, but stand ready to assist as needed.”

The Alert message suggests that for regular updates people should “follow the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya on Twitter and Facebook and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta at Twitter and Facebook.” But those feed are no longer updated regularly due to the lapse in appropriation.

Our Foreign Service posts in Jakarta say “visit @StateDept for updates.” We note of only two official tweets to-date: one tweet from @TravelGov calling the tsunami a “Weather Alert” (though tsunami can be caused by weather when the atmospheric pressure changes very rapidly, this tsunami is believed to have been triggered by an underwater landslide caused by the eruption of the nearby Anak Krakatau volcano), and one tweet from the State Department through the deputy spox. While the multiple deaths and injuries in the Indonesia tsunami did not appear to include American citizens, disasters and calamities (besides the one unfolding in Washington, D.C.) could happen anytime.

See US Embassy Jakarta’s tweet:

One of the last few tweets sent by US Consulate Surabaya was about the tsunami before it announced that its Twitter feed will not be updated due to the lapse in appropriation.

The former strategic planner for the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) cited a policy cable from 2013, adopted formally as guidance in the Foreign Affairs Handbook which explicitly states that overseas missions using social media “should continue to do so in a crisis.” https://fam.state.gov/FAM/10FAH01/10FAH010060.html …. He rightfully noted that we are at an era when gov’t communication via social media is expected, particularly from a US embassy during a crisis affecting its host country. We agree that the use of social media to facilitate emergency communications with the public must be a prime consideration, rather than an afterthought. Posts’s feeds were the first place we looked up when we saw the tsunami alert online. We are sure we’re not the only one looking for information.

Just as we were about to post this, Reuters is reporting that Italy’s Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano, erupted on December 24, and causing the closure of Catania airport on Sicily’s eastern coast. The social media accounts of US Embassy in Rome and its constituent posts in Florence and Naples have not been updated since the government shutdown took effect on December 22. Consulate Milan appears to be updating with holiday tweets as of nine hours ago. There does not appear to be any update from @StateDept concerning the Etna eruption.

Brett McGurk, U.S. Envoy in ISIS Fight, Quits Over Trump’s Syria Withdrawal

FBI Offers $20,000 Reward For ID in Nov 30 U.S. Consulate Guadalajara Grenade Attack

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeking the public’s assistance in learning the identity of the two individuals allegedly responsible for the November 30 grenade attack on the U.S. Consulate compound in Guadalajara, Jalisco. The FBI is offering a reward up to $20,000 dollars in exchange for information leading to the identification and arrest of these individuals.  Anyone with information about this incident or the identity or the whereabouts of these individuals is urged to contact investigators at a toll free number 001-800-225-5324 or at 33-3268-2349.   All information can remain anonymous and confidentiality is guaranteed. Read more below:

Trump Shutdown Officially On Over Border Wall Funding

It looks like Washington, D.C. is one real hotspot with ever brimming chaos these days. Folks who write those Real Post Reports should do one for the United States of America.

Dec 21, 1988: PanAm103 Bombing #Lockerbie

Uh-Oh News: No Denuclearization Until U.S. Removes Nuclear Threat

In the 1990’s, denuclearization, a key aim of U.S. diplomacy, was at the heart of a series of crises on the Korean Peninsula throughout the Clinton Administration. Via history.state.gov:

Season 1:

There were signs of hope in early steps toward denuclearization. In January 1992, North Korea publicly committed to signing the nuclear safeguards agreement with the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to permitting inspections of its primary nuclear facility at Yongbyon. In April of the same year, the North and South signed the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which barred the parties from developing or acquiring nuclear weapons and limited them to using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes only. […]

The parties returned to negotiations, but these, too, faltered as North Korea resisted IAEA inspections. By March 1994, North Korean diplomats threatened war if the United States and South Korea went to the U.N. In May North Korea withdrew from the IAEA. A last-minute private trip to North Korea by President Jimmy Carter in June 1994 averted war and led to U.S.-North Korean bilateral negotiations and the October 1994 Agreed Framework for the denuclearization of North Korea.

The Agreed Framework was a staged, multilateral agreement involving the two Koreas, the United States, and Japan. It required Pyongyang to halt its nuclear activities at Yongbyon, allow IAEA monitors in, and eventually dismantle the facility. In exchange, the United States, Japan, and South Korea would provide light water reactors, and the United States would provide interim energy supplies in the form of fuel-oil. Each stage was to build confidence that the parties were willing to continue.

In carrying out the agreement, however, numerous setbacks eroded trust among the parties. While the United States followed through on its promises to ship fuel-oil, the U.S. Congress delayed the deliveries. The 1997 IMF Crisis limited the ability of South Korea to contribute to the construction of the light water reactors, leading to delays. Meanwhile, North Korea engaged in provocative acts against South Korea and Japan, testing ballistic missiles and pursuing other weapons activities. In 1998, suspected nuclear weapons activities at Kumchang-ri brought the Agreed Framework to the brink of collapse. Once inspectors were finally allowed in, they found no evidence of nuclear activity, but mistrust remained high. The Clinton administration worked to get the Agreed Framework back on track, leading to the visit of a North Korean envoy to the United States, a joint statement of no hostile intent, and a reciprocal visit by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang in October 2000.

However, despite these efforts, the nuclear issue was still unresolved. It was not long before the next crisis would arise, requiring the international community to take another approach to addressing the denuclearization issue. North Korea broke out of the 1994 agreement in the winter of 2002, resulting in the opening of the Six-Party Talks the following year, hosted by China.

Season 10: 

Jim Mattis Quits in Protest Over Trump’s Chaos Strategery

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
3000 DEFENSE PENTAGON
WASHINGTON, DC 20301 41060

Original Document (PDF) »   

December 20, 2018

Dear Mr. President:

I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions – to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability Within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.

#