Parting Notes: Diplopundit, March 11, 2008-March 11, 2022

I did not realized the difficulty of writing the parting notes at the end of this blog’s journey (also see goodbye). I’ve put off writing for days and have instead worked on a stone pathway in my garden. It’s still unfinished but I’ve exhausted myself enough to sit down and write something today.
It felt as if after 5,110 days of running this blog, I’d ran out of things to say. Or perhaps it’s just that some things have changed and yet remained the same and that I’ve laughed myself silly for living in a simulation🤣! In any case, I will try to write down a few parting thoughts.

Social Media

When we started this blog over a decade ago, Foggy Bottom’s usage of social media was just getting its sea legs. Blogging was a source of excitement and anxiety (see Foreign Service Blogging: Tigers Have Teeth, Rather Sharp … Rawr!!!).
These days, we see folks, even self-identified high-ranking Foggy Bottom denizens, writing on their personal Twitter profile that their “tweets = personal views”. Do you remember in the old days (and in FSGB cases), being told that you are on duty 24/7? That is, you are on duty 24/7 until the government decides that you are not. That old political counselor who told his foreign counterpart that he had no personal opinion, only an official opinion would seem like a dinosaur these days.
Last year, two FS employees made the big news for social media posts, and one for reported participation in the Jan. 6 attack (remember – No Insurrectionists in America’s Diplomatic Service. How times have changed!
Twitter remains a dangerous sinkhole, official or otherwise. A tweet is immediate, and a retweets can travel quite a  distance rather quickly. For my readers who are in the FS, it still pays to be prudent what you tweet or retweet in your personal capacity, especially if you are self-identified as a U.S. diplomat.

Foreign Service Spouses

In 2009, I wrote Diplomatic Spouse Employment: A Drip in a Large Tin Roof.  Ten years later, do you seriously think that the prospects for spouse employment would be a lot different?
I’ve come to the sad conclusion that the lives of most FS spouses will continue to be challenging in the years to come. And their financial future will continue to be perilous. As American families become dual-income couples, the FS families will continue to be largely one employee working. Because it is not a priority, a majority of spouses will remain unable to work while overseas, thus, limiting their ability to prepare for their own retirement.  Time is a limited resource; once you’ve spent it, you won’t ever get it back. That applies to age and retirement accounts.
Don’t forget to attend the Retirement Seminar you say? What about if State starts allowing folks to take the retirement seminar upon tenure? Wouldn’t that make more sense for long term planning purposes?  Of course, spouses may only attend on “a space-available basis” as often the case with State. Drat that! Actually, it occurred to me that if more spouses have access to the retirement seminar, more employees may be forced to head for the exit.
While some agencies operating overseas have made provisions for spouses to be employed at certain jobs at US missions, it remains a hit or miss for State Department spouses.  Even when State can centrally fund jobs so they do not come out of post funds, State often doesn’t. One can blame Congress for consistently under funding diplomacy, but one can also recognize that jobs for spouses isn’t on any Secretary of State’s priority list, not even for retention purposes. Does State even know how many employees resign due to the inability of spouses to keep a career? Data not collected, hey? At some point in the future, it may be that only the independently wealthy can again afford to go overseas to represent our country.

Accountability

In early 2014, State/OIG confirmed to this blog that the practice of preparing Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) ended in April 2013. Ambassador Pancho Huddle, who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan and spent five years as a senior OIG inspector at the State Department, told us then: “When OIG dumped their IERs, they dumped their ability to make a real difference.” And I totally agree. I remain convinced that it was wrong to end that practice.  All teeth, but no bite have repercussions.
Recently, after 11 years, State/OIG returned to US Embassy Luxembourg. The 2011 report detailed poor management issues and stated that two DCMs, two section chiefs, and other employees either curtailed or volunteered for service in Kabul or Baghdad. That political ambassador resigned. Once that report was released, it generated a media feeding frenzy.
The 2022 report did not indicate much of an improvement. Post’s authorized staff included 32 U.S. direct- hire employees. A staff turn over of 42 percent over a 2 ½- year period under another political ambassador did not prompt any noticeable reaction from the Department or the media. Of course, this time around, the OIG did not show up in Luxembourg until three months after the well-connected political ambassador had departed!
But seriously! The DGHR and Undersecretary for Management must know about the curtailments of almost half the mission. No one thought to ask what’s going on when post got to 25% staff curtailments? Or it didn’t matter? Or was it simply acceptable losses to keep an appointee in place? Moving people and household cost money. But who cares, right? It’s only taxpayers money.
In the last administration in particular, accountability was just a long, strange word to be admired. In several documented cases of bosses behaving badly, and many more not documented in public reports, nothing really happened. Remember IO? Protocol? Or when top State Department officials commented on a leaked IG report and attacked the OIG? Or when the OIG was fired under cover of darkness?
I must add that the current administration has now nominated a political appointee whose performance was blasted in an OIG report during a prior tenure.  I hate to say this but it is likely that political connections and consideration will win the day and this nominee will get confirmed by the U.S. Senate no matter what the OIG report said in 2015.
While, I’m thinking about accountability, perhaps Secretary Blinken busy as he is these days, should task one of his top lieutenants to see what should be done about the reported toxic workplace at the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR). The office that leads global training on the prevention of workplace harassment and is tasked with investigating sexual harassment appears to be a problem in itself.  The OIG reportedly wasn’t interested in looking into various allegations in that office and did not respond to our inquiry. We’re hoping Congress can get the GAO to take a look.

DCMs as CDAs

In the old days, when the ambassador left office, the deputy chief of mission (DCM) routinely stepped in as charge d’affairs (CDA) (the accredited diplomat who serves as the embassy’s chief of mission in the absence of the ambassador or until a new ambassador arrives). This is how DCMs got their experience in leading the mission; it also allowed section chiefs to be acting DCMs and afford them the experience of running the embassy.
In the last few years we’ve observed a change in this routine practice.  In some cases, the State Department recalls retired FSOs to work as CDAs; in other cases, Foggy Bottom officials are sent out to manage the embassy until a nominee is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. What signal does this send to the active service members? We are aware of a few cases when DCMs who stepped in as CDAs were not functioning as expected (micromanagement, staff threatening curtailments, etc). It may be that in those case, Foggy Bottom had to send somebody to help steer the ship, but if DCMs are no longer afforded the traditional practice of becoming CDAs, when should they learn how to become COMs?

Assaults and Harassment

Readers following this blog are aware of the series of blogposts we wrote about sexual harassment and assaults in the Foreign Service. Those posts were some of the most difficult stories I had to write. Probably half the stories I heard did not make it to the blog because the survivors wanted me to hear their stories but did not want to share them publicly.
In the fall of 2016, we blogged that the Department’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief. In November of that year, the Department finally directed a task force to create a new section in the Foreign Affairs Manual for sexual assault (see U/S For Management Directs Task Force to Create New Sexual Assault FAM Guidance).
In 2017, the Department released a new section of the FAM addressing sexual assault reporting procedures (see @StateDept Releases New Sexual Assault Guidance For COM Personnel & Facilities Outside the United States). 3 FAM 1700 is far from perfect but sexual assault reporting wasn’t even in the FAM previously, so this was a start. If this blog played a role in lighting a fire under State to get that done, I am satisfied. The Department sent us a note at that time “to make absolutely sure” that we have seen it and gave us an “officially provided” copy of the new section.
In 2020, State/OIG released the long-awaited report on the Department’s handling of  sexual harassment reports. It was distressing to read. Both the investigations conducted vs the reported complaints and the underreporting are striking. Of the 24 cases where misconduct allegations including sexual assaults were substantiated, we have no idea how many perpetrators were criminally charged.
While I’m writing about this, a quick reminder that every COM facility with an assigned FS Medical Specialist should have at least three Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit (SAEC Kit) per 3 FAM 1700. Make sure your post have them.

Funny Bone Gone

Our 14 years of blogging about the State Department and the Foreign Service included poking fun at the Foggiest Bottom here, here, here  here, and here. But only once did I received an official  take down request (see Aww — @StateDept Sends Official Take Down Request For April Fools’ Day Cable). In April 1, 2017, I wrote, Inside @StateDept: Leaked Cable Provides Guidance For ‘America First’ Cost Savings Initiatives. Apparently, it wasn’t funny at all for the 7th Floor people. Poor things, they could not find their tickle bones.
Now, poor me, I’ve misplaced my funny bone after the back to back performances of T-Rex and the Mikey Po. You, too?

And finally …

When I started blogging in 2008,  some readers told me they read this blog in secret; that no one in their offices would admit to reading the blog. Not sure what was the penalty if caught reading the blog then. Years later, I would get occasional notes from individuals telling me that they had informed this office or that office that they have reported their complaints to this blog. Goodness me! I’ve almost always pass up on those stories because there are processes in place that exist for a reason, and frankly, I did not appreciate being used as a “We told the witch, watch out!” warning. How times changed!
I hope our readers join us in sending thanks to our diplomatic employees and their families. Thank you for your dedication to our country and for your willingness to serve in often difficult and dangerous places. Thank you, also, to the foreign service national employees whose support is essential to our overseas operations. I understand and appreciate the hardships you face and the sacrifices you all make. I am sad to leave but you have my deep respect and admiration.
###

 

goodbye

On March 11, 2022, I will have been blogging for 5,110 days. However, the time has come for me to bid goodbye and put this blog to rest. There is no single thing that’s making me hang up my er, quill and ink. Mostly, I’m just  totally exhausted but, I’m also disillusioned;  not a good combination in the head space.
I will keep blogging to the very end (March 11).  Please note that I am not/not soliciting contributions for another year of blogging.  The last blog post will be on March 11, 2022. The Twitter handle @Diplopundit will also retire on March 11, 2022.

Continue reading

Giving Thanks With a Grateful Heart

This Thanksgiving Day, with a grateful heart, I thank  all of you who made it possible to keep this blog going. This has been a long journey and most of you have been with us since we started; without your dedicated support, the blog would have folded its wings some time ago.
I am forever grateful for your kind support and affording us this uncommon existence online. Thank you for reading, and thank you for for keeping us company. It has been my great honor to share this small corner of the world with you. Thank you with all my heart. ❤️❤️❤️ — D

###

 

 

 

On #WorldPressFreedomDay, Congrats to @StateDept For Holding Itself Accountable

The life of a blog has no certainty. In most cases, a blog has a lifespan better than that of a mayfly. A day. But most blogs do not make it longer than winter bees (six months). We have to-date survived through 26 winter bee seasons! So that’s amazing! Whatever is in the horizon, we are thankful to all of you who made these seasons possible. We are on the last few days of our eight-week annual fundraising. We are grateful to over 400 readers who pitched in since we launched a few weeks ago. If you care what we do here, and you are able to help, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your support.  ❤️❤️❤️ D!

On May 2, 2021, Secretary Tony Blinken released a statement for World Press Freedom Day. Excerpt below:

Tomorrow, the United States joins the international community in celebrating World Press Freedom Day.  Information and knowledge are powerful tools, and a free and independent press is the core institution connecting publics to the information they need to advocate for themselves, make informed decisions, and hold governmental officials accountable.  The United States advocates for press freedom online and offline, and for the safety of journalists and media workers worldwide.

Freedom of expression and access to factual and accurate information provided by independent media are foundational to prosperous and secure democratic societies.  Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of expression includes the right of all individuals “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
[…]
The United States is committed to working in partnership with members of the media, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and other concerned governments to support access to information and defend freedom of expression and the brave journalists who face intimidation, harassment, arrest, and violence in exercising their rights.

Regardless of frontier. Well, now, let me tell you a story.
On March 12, 2021, the State Department announced the appointment of former Ambassador Pamela Spratlen as the Senior Advisor to the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF), aka the Havana Syndrome task force reporting directly to the Department’s senior leadership. (See Ambassador Pamela Spratlen Designated as Senior Advisor to Department Health Incident Response Task Force).
On March 13, I sent an email to the State Department asking if I may submit emailed questions for Ambassador Spratlen to respond regarding the Havana Syndrome and the Task Force.
On Monday, March 15, I got a response from the State Department: “Sure you can send along your questions.”
On Tuesday, March 16, I got another email from the State Department: “Yes, you can forward your questions.”
Late on March 16, I forwarded  sixteen questions via email for Ambassador Spratlen. See the questions here.
On Wednesday, March 17, the State Department acknowledged receipt of questions sent via email: “Thank you for sending this along.”
Then crickets.  Then some more crickets.
On April 5, 2021, I sent a follow-up inquiry.
Still crickets.
On April 8, I sent a follow-up to my follow-up.
There was just radio silence.
As often the case, we get an unofficial chirping cricket. Maybe it was the middle of the night, who knows?
No response was forthcoming. Now apparently, “traditionally State has not engaged with anonymous bloggers.”
Whoops! That was so funny I almost died laughing. This blog has been running almost uninterrupted as a pseudonymous blog since 2008. We can tell you for a fact that the State Department has traditionally engaged with this blogger.
Via the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A frequently cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:
Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.
[…]
These long-standing rights to anonymity and the protections it affords are critically important for the Internet. As the Supreme Court has recognized the Internet offers a new and powerful democratic forum in which anyone can become a “pamphleteer” or “a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox.”
The State Department at another time has respected these rights, and has traditionally responded to our inquiries through the years. We’ve covered Foggy Bottom at the tail end of Rice’s tenure, and through Clinton, Kerry, Tillerson, and Pompeo’s tenures. We’ve been around so long, we have a headful of gray follicles to show for it.
In 2017 during Tillerson’s tenure, State suddenly stopped responding to this blog’s inquiries or request for comments. What happened in 2017? Tillerson and his crew caused quite a mess in Foggy Bottom. On April 1, 2017, we wrote  Inside @StateDept: Leaked Cable Provides Guidance For ‘America First’ Cost Savings Initiatives to celebrate the time honored tradition of April Fools’ Day. Back in those days, we still had some humor left.
Apparently, the State Department’s leadership at that time not only got really pissed but also lost its damn mind over a joke. This blog was sent a take down email which we published.  See Aww, @StateDept Sends Official Take Down Request For April Fools’ Day Cable.
And that was the end of our exciting relationship with the nameless “Senior State Department Officials” who all held office at the Public Affairs bureau. No one from Foggy Bottom’s PA shop ever wrote back to say, we can’t engage with you anymore because my gosh! you’re an anonymous blogger! (For the record, we’re not anonymous, we have a pen name!).
One contact from another bureau eventually told us … so sorry, we’re not allowed to respond to you.
Fast forward to 2021, the new administration came to office. We got exactly one response from the PA shop before the somebodies shut it down and put our emails back in the “do not respond” lock box.
Truth to tell, a non-responsive State Department was not the end of the world. We are not short of unofficial sources, and typically, what we get from our unofficial sources are better information than the carefully crafted PA talking points. Still, there are times when we do need to have the official word of the State Department. There are occasions  when we need to have its officials on record on specific issues, or to be accountable for the government’s actions. As Secretary Blinken message for this year’s World Press Freedom say, “Information and knowledge are powerful tools, and a free and independent press is the core institution connecting publics to the information they need to advocate for themselves, make informed decisions, and hold governmental officials accountable.” 
And here we are, whether Foggy Bottom likes it or not, we’ve been connecting information with the public since 2008. To the 7th floor folks reading this blog — we may not be the newspaper of record but the Havana Syndrome questions  are for this blog’s readers who needed answers to these questions just the same.  Why? Because there are no answers from inside the building. Or worse, folks fear retaliation when pursuing answers to questions like these.
So just one last question. Is the State Department, our great defender of First Amendment Rights and World Press Freedom around the world using this blogger’s pseudonymity as an excuse not to answer questions about its own handling of attacks which resulted in injuries among its employees, and god knows who else? See Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer.

###

 

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021

Last year I considered transitioning the blog to a subscription-based newsletter. Some readers suggested Patreon or Substack. I thought about it, and then I thought some more. It does seem like everyone is moving to the subscription only newsletter model. Ultimately, I decided to continue as before. While only a fraction of the blog’s readers contribute to the annual fundraising, I believe it still serves a purpose to keep the blog open for everyone as long as we are able to do so.  
This month this blog will reach a milestone of sorts.  13 years going on 14 years of blogging. Most of that time, I was blogging regularly. Might we get to the 15th year? Maybe. We’ll have to see, shall we?
Diplopundit’s last round of funding ran out in August 2020. I have not done any fundraising since then. Fortunately, hubby has saved me from being a bag lady. Without him, I’d be a Walmart greeter who wouldn’t have time to blog :-(. This year I’m trying to raise $50K in 6-8 weeks. I am asking for your support – if you’re able –  to help keep the blog going for another year; this would fund the blog from March 2021 to March 2022. Note that we will no longer use our PayPal donation button. This will help focus our attention and our supporters’ efforts on one fundraising a year.
When the blog started in 2008, social media was not an ever present reality in our daily lives. Today, there are many ways to obtain news and information. For this year, the blog will focus its attention on stories that would normally not be covered by the large media outlets. We will still link to Twitter because that’s where news breaks first, and will still link to the top stories of interest. The blog will endeavor to bring stories, both good and bad, to our readers. Our primary focus will continue to be on the men and women serving our country in support of diplomacy and on their families, as well as on the health of the institution we appreciate, regardless of its imperfections. 
As a dedicated gardener with a renewed appreciation for patience, I pledge to continue the watch from the wall and hope that you continue to visit our little corner of the world.  
Thank you to all who support the blog by sharing relevant tips and information.
Here’s hoping that our readers and supporters are able to help keep the blog alive for another year. 
GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

NOTE FOR ANONYMOUS DONATIONS: Making a donation anonymous means that your name will  not be visible to the public on the campaign page. You can make this choice either at the time of making the donation or afterwards, through your donation receipt or GoFundMe account. Please read more here: https://support.gofundme.com/hc/en-us/articles/203687114-Donating-Anonymously-


 

 

 

Is it still okay to say, “Oh, you shameless flamingo?”

Last week, the outgoing secretary of state with just days left in his tenure tweeted to the Nobel Prize with a suggestive photograph that his boss get the award. Oh, yes, so very sad and embarrassing indeed.
We did not tweet back, we subtweeted. Twitter flagged it in a nanosecond for “violating” its rules against “abuse and harassment.” Twitter did not say which part they considered offensive.
Let’s see.
Sure @NobelPrize is really going to give one to a twice impeached president (impeached on December 18, 2019 and January 13, 2021)
who incited a mob (see text of trump speech inciting a mob)
that could have decapitated our legislative branch (“Yesterday they could have blown the building up, they could have killed us all, they could have destroyed the government”
hang mike pence, (see video of mob screaming “Hang Mike Pence“)
and put you first in line of succession (see line of succession)
#shamelessskunk (because the word “worst” is not enough for the occasion)
Oh, dear. We get the feeling that Twitter was really offended by the words “shameless” and “skunk” unless it was offended by the repetition of facts.  The two words put together seemed appropriate for a secretary of state whose tenure is an insult to the very old gal in Foggy Bottom. Yes, the same secretary of state whose upside down dictionary says swagger means humility.
Anyway, having allowed the soon to be former president to run amok on Twitter during his campaign and his entire tenure in office, the social media platform finally decided to lock him out of his account on his way out the door. And to show its great effort of cleaning up the barn after it has been filled with sh*t this past several years, Twitter had to show your blogger that a tweet blasted into its public sphere is now considered “abuse and harassment”.  Who would consider “shameless skunk” as fighting words, or as a threat or words that constitute incitement? Obviously, Twitter did and  locked us out of our account.
What else might they consider unacceptable words in the Twitter universe? “His Rotundity?” How about “most fervid lapdog?” “his blundering, maladroit, offensive self?” “selfishness at the expense of the national interest isn’t the mark of an honorable diplomat or a patriot“? No? Well, give it time or maybe its algorithm will learn fast. 
On the bright side — at least a social media company could not charge us as “a malicious and seditious person, and of a depraved mind and a wicked and diabolical disposition” as the government did with Matthew Lyon (1749–1822) when the then representative from Vermont was charge under the Sedition Act of 1798. Lyon was imprisoned under the Act after accusing President John Adams of having “an unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp.” Imagine that.
Of course, Twitter is a corporation with its own rules. No doubt locking up the chief inciter’s account has limited the dissemination of the big lie and helped avoid further incitement. But we need to decide as a society if we want big tech to be the arbiter of what is acceptable language in the public sphere. It could decide tomorrow that  “#badactor” or “#absolutelydisgraceful” are also harassing and inciting words and could block anyone who tweets them.   And by the way, if “skunk” is off limits, what other animals are also off limits? If somebody eats all the shrimp at an official reception, can you say, “oh, you shameless flamingo,” or would that be considered harassment, too?
Now, you got us wondering how long it would take to get locked out for tweeting dangerous words like #shamelessgangofelks, #hordeofhamsters, #troopofapes, #conspiracyoflemurs, and perhaps the most dangerous one out there,  #shamelessmurderofcrows.
In any case, we’ve been asked to remove our tweet before they would give us back access to our account. Since we are a guest on its platform, we have complied but we will from here on also limit our presence on Twitter until they can figure out what are they doing and how exactly are they cleaning up their house. We are not deleting the account at this time as we have multiple links to the blog that would leave orphan spaces here.  But we can choose not to use it as a regular stop.  You can still reach us through our contact page here.
We must admit that we’ve been wondering for awhile now how much of our news and social media diet actually contributed to the deleterious effects on our mental health, our family members, friends, or folks in our communities.  Not being on Twitter these last few days wasn’t bad; it brought us some clarity. Instead of scrolling and refreshing the screen, we took long walks, did some bird watching and worked in the garden. In a few months, the wildflowers will be in bloom. Like Thoreau said, all good things are wild and free. True, out there in the open fields. On Twitter, in a few months, there will be new trends to replace the old trends that will be just as wild. Wild but not really free.
We are relieved that a new day is nearly here. We pray for a safe and successful presidential inauguration on January 20. Still, we could not shake our despondence away.  Truth to tell, your blogger is mentally and emotionally exhausted. Blogging may be sporadic for awhile until we can figure out if this old girl still has fire for the next ride.
🖤-D

 

 

Goodbye 2020, a Most Cruel Year!

 

This has been a difficult year for us but harder for those who are facing empty chairs across their tables this year and harder still for those who will never get to hug their loved ones again. We have been lucky that while a few loved ones contracted coronavirus earlier this year, they all mercifully recovered from the illness.
However, the dark clouds hovering us all as we watch the deaths continue to set gruesome records have been inescapable. Of course, it is not just the coronavirus though, and it’s not just just one thing happening, but many things happening all at once. And none of them any good.  How did we get to become a full candidate for the Banana Republic Pageant? We try not to blog while angry, and holy moly macaroni, it turns out that’s really hard!
Thank you to everyone who took the time to check how we’re holding up and for helping keep our spirits up.  We are grateful for your kind thoughts even if we have not been the best of correspondents the last several months. Frankly, we don’t know yet what to do next year.  In about another three months, we would have been blogging for 13 years. We are wondering if we can still make a difference or if we have reached the end of the line here.
For readers sending us stuff even for the Burn Bag, please do not send us attachments unless we have agreed in advance to accept them. We regret that unsolicited attachments will not be opened for prudent reasons.
For readers looking for jobs with the incoming Biden Administration, please direct your inquiries to the Biden Transition website. This blog has no official connection to the Transition and we are not able to respond to every query.

Also the Consular Affairs Saga Continues

Meanwhile, at the State Department, a CA-EX-Special-Assistant announced that Mora Namdar “will serve as Acting Assistant Secretary for the bureau until a new Assistant Secretary has been appointed.” Career FSO Ian Brownlee apparently will continue to serve as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary. So with just 20 days to go to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Pompeo’s State Department had to bring in someone from the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) to become Acting Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs! Makes you turn your head sideways and asks, why, the why is this even happening? (Also see Whistleblower Reprisal Complaint, Sept 29, 2020 PDF).
The less-than 50 word announcement was actually missing a crucial part. The acting assistant secretary is a political appointee and will be required to step down by January 20 when the Biden administration takes office. Somebody please correct this asap before folks get the wrong impression (Also see CA’s Carl Risch Reportedly Quit Over the Weekend, Decamps to DOJ).

@StateDept Gets Yin and Yang on China

And while the outgoing secretary of state has been talking China, China, China on social media, we understand that the State Department has been fairly quiet about the treatment of U.S. diplomats and family members returning to their assignments in China. U.S. diplomats are apparently not allowed to home quarantine. We understand that all returning staff must spend 2 weeks in a Chinese government owned hotel, with families separated with men put in one room and women and children in another — “one dirty hotel room for two weeks” with apparently, no kitchenette, or laundry. This is just one more test to show how USG employees can make the best of a bad situation? Excuse me, even small children and babies must learn to make the best of a bad situation, too? 
State Department employees and family members going to China are reportedly required to get both a nasal swab and antibody blood test within 48 hours of leaving the United States. They are tested again upon arrival at the airport by the host government;  then tested again on the 13th day of their quarantine. The question then becomes — why are our diplomats not allowed home quarantine? Is the United States placing Chinese diplomats on USG quarantine upon arrival here for their diplomatic assignments?  
OFM’s Diplomatic Note 20-162 notes that the United States suspended entry of individuals from China but “Notably, the entry suspension is not applicable to individual foreign mission members seeking entry into or who are transiting the United States on A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 visas. However, even with respect to exempted individuals such as the visa holders listed above, such individuals may be medically screened, and where appropriate quarantined for up to a 14-day period to prevent the spread of the virus.”
CDC guidance for international travelers as of today says that “CDC does not require that international travelers undergo mandatory federal quarantine, but does recommend travelers do the following after an international flight-Get tested with a viral test 3-5 days after travel AND stay home for 7 days after travel; Even if you test negative, stay home for the full 7 days; If your test is positive or you have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate yourself to protect others from getting infected and follow public health recommendations; If you don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 10 days after travel.”
So why is the State Department fine with subjecting our diplomats to Chinese quarantine? Is somebody just filing this under the “needs of the service” folder? Psst! Wake up!

The New Kid in the Block Is Still Happening? 

Did we hear correctly that there is a congressional hold for the creation of a new bureau of Crisis and Contingency Response (CCR) at the State Department? Oh, but alas, the State Department hasn’t really paid that much attention to Congress, has it?  So just nah, apparently, they went ahead with the creation of this new bureau in the waning days of Pompeo’s Foggy Bottom tenure? What the what? Real oversight in the Senate has been almost non-existent the last few years. Do not be shocked if the GOP somehow keeps the majority, and the good senators suddenly find their jello spines miraculously strengthened in the new season. There may even be righteous orations from those exercising their vocal cords and flexing their secret/not so secret ambitions. (Also see New @StateDept Bureau to Take $26 Million, Plus 98 Staffers From the Medical Services  Bureau).

Pray Tell, Who/What Lighted the Damn Fire Under State/OBO?

Well, the sale of the ambassador’s residence made news back in summer. But why was State/OBO in a hurry to sell this property? We were told recently, “We do not have a new residence to replace it.  We are paying for a splendid suite at the King David in the meantime.” Oh, golly, something else for State/OIG to look into, hey?  Wait, the THIRD acting inspector general had also left? How many inspectors general and acting inspectors general have now been lost in the span of just 12 months? This is a record to beat, yes?
It’s a good thing we just have a few more days to go. We can’t stand any more darn records to break!
This was a close call, wasn’t it?  Let’s hope 2021 will be a kinder year, and will not make our lives any shorter than it already it.  Stay well. Sending air hugs to all who needs it!
–DS

 

 

 

Red

From a red planet,
Absent our clear misfortunes
I quietly return.
Now, with heart filled with fresh tears,
Our Olympic Mons unfolds.

~ * ~

We’re coming back to blogging semi-regularly for the next few weeks. It is possible that the blog may transition into a subscription blog or newsletter in the future but we haven’t made that decision yet. We will continue to look for options on how to improve the blog’s sustainability. We will update you with changes as we know more. For now, the blog will continue as it has done in the past, although, we may focus more on the alphabet soup reports and the less covered parts of the big house. We also owe a bunch of you some response. We hope to get back to everyone within the next few days. Thank you! –DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BlogNote: On hiatus as of Sept 1st, but please stay tuned

Over 500 supporters responded to Diplopundit’s GFM fundraising last year.  We reached our funding goal hours before our self-imposed deadline of August 5, 2019 and that allowed us to blog for a year. Our funds ran out this month.  So we’re back in our old cycle of anxiety about how to make ends meet for the remainder of the year and into next year. Asking for donations as you may already know is the least enjoyable part of running this blog.
We’ve tried various ways to keep this blog open since 2008. The fact is while we have over 11,000 subscribers, we have a more limited number of blog supporters who pitched in when we ask for help once a year. About 500 donors have kept this blog going year after year. An overwhelming majority of them, we hear from only once a year during our fundraising.
We did our first fundraising in 2014 with minimal success.  After that, we were closed to calling it quits but OneFSO, TwoFSO, and 373 donors made sure this blog made it to its 7th birthday in 2015.  They (and more) came back to help in 2016, 2017, and 2019 (2018 was a darn mess so we were in a hole that year).
You folks kept this blog alive and we remember, and are grateful.
This year, as we consider the blog’s future and our next adventure, you will clearly be in our thoughts.  This blog will be on hiatus for the month of September. There will be no updates for at least four weeks. Sometime in October, we hope to fly the blog again, perhaps in a different medium. But for now, your blogger will be off to Mars on a mental health break!
You can continue to reach us via this blog: https://diplopundit.net/contact-us/ and via email at contactblog[at]diplopundit[dot]net. Response may be slow for the next several weeks. Be kind to each other and stay healthy.

Update: We’ve received emails asking about a new fundraiser.  At this time, we do not anticipate launching a new fundraiser for the remainder of the year. Apologies for the confusion.