A Holiday Wish to the Hundreds of DS Agents Without a “Handshake” This Bidding Season

Posted: 2:09 am ET
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This Burn Bag was sent to us “as a holiday wish to the hundreds of DS agents still without even an handshake this bidding season and to their families who are also waiting.”  As requested, we’ve considered the following and are publishing the entire post in the sender’s hope that it might bring a little smile to those still waiting for their assignments.  Well, a little smile and as Mr. Google says in his imperfect Italian, maybe “accendere un fuoco sotto il sedere di qualcuno” … 

 

A Visit from the Saint “No Word Yet”

‘Twas just days before Christmas and all through the house,
Frustration was building for the DS spouse.
Bids had been entered in FSBid with great care,
In the hopes that DS would do its fair share;
The DS spouse wonders just what is in store,
for their beloved agent – alone – in Lahore.

October 31st, it came and it went,
But for DS agents few handshakes were sent.
When asks the spouse, oh when will we know?
Will it be Paris, Bangui, or Toronto?
Maybe a Field Office, far from DC.
Or perhaps a year or two with MSD.

Spouses query one another with fear and despair,
It really seams as if DS Does.Not.Care.
On November 4 and December 1, jobs are assigned one-by-one.
In hushed voices agents questions those around,
To what office or mission will I be bound?
Will it be the same as my tandem spouse?

We did all the legwork for the six posts that work,
For a DS spouse needing political work.
My GSO wife or my Management hubby,
Would be extremely happy in Abu Dhabi!
To the top of the list, will my name they call?
Will we know where were going, long before fall?

Uncertainty swirls as the days tick by,
The DS spouse lets out a great cry!
How will we get the kids into school,
If we do not know we’re going to Banjul?
Maybe its time to let this ship go.
Can’t you jump ship to be a U.S. Marshall, too?

The uncertainty for the DS spouse is a constant refrain,
The long hours, TDYs and standing in the rain.
The worry at home when the dear agents abroad,
Protecting our missions, our livelihood, our jobs
But alas, we play this game each and every year,
Just waiting and waiting, and waiting to hear.

By the time all is set and the last chess move is made
Someone will have gone through many a tirade.
That job is gone, and that one, too, what is the DS agent to do?
A now post or the third PSP – isn’t it time for something new?
The powers that be, simply do not see
Just what a drag this process can be.

The black hole of bidding in the hands of a few,
Determine the destiny with nary a clue,
Of what this does to house and home,
When the prices drags on they’re drafting a tome.
Over half of the cohort still waiting to know,
Would there, could there be a miracle?

On Christmas eve with a visit from St. Nick,
Will they let us know they’ve gotten on the stick?

A Christmas dream or a Christmas wish,
Waiting for a handshake, oh the suspense!
The call hasn’t come and the spouse is a fright,
As the DS agent again goes off in the night,
But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
This systems gotta change, cause it just isn’t right!

katnispeeta

 

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Mark Toner’s Last Briefing Before Vacation: We Can’t Stop Watching!

Posted: 4:40 am ET
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We’re guessing the State Department’s deputy spox was already thinking of vacation when he did his briefing on Thursday.  Still he was not on the beach yet, but on the podium when this happened.

Transcript via DPB, August 4, 2016:

MR TONER: Hi guys. Happy Thursday.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: And what makes it even more special is it’s a Thursday in August, which means tomorrow – everybody want to join with me?
QUESTION: No briefing —
MR TONER: True to our tradition, there will be – thank you, Matt – no briefing.
QUESTION: There will be one.
MR TONER: What was that, Said?
QUESTION: There will be a briefing. An old one.
MR TONER: An old briefing. (Laughter.) Anyway, welcome to the State Department. I think we have some interns in the back. Welcome. Good to see you in this exercise in transparency in democracy. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Is that what it is? (Laughter.) I thought it was a —
MR TONER: Sorry, I didn’t mean to break out in laughter. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I thought it was an exercise in spin and obfuscation.
MR TONER: All right. Can you tell this is my last briefing before vacation?

Folks, he needs that vacation, so give him a break, hookay?

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OPM Announces Operating Status Ahead of Snowmageddon, Look Who Got Upset at No Snow Day!

Posted: 2:55 am EDT
Updated: 1/27/16 at 4:53 pm, swapped tweet with YouTube link due to missing plugin.
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Via OPM:

Federal agencies in the Washington, DC area are OPEN and employees have the OPTION for UNSCHEDULED LEAVE OR UNSCHEDULED TELEWORK. Employees, who report to their worksite, should depart 4 hours earlier than their normal departure time, but NO LATER THAN 12:00 PM, at which time FEDERAL OFFICES in the Washington, DC area are CLOSED.

The video below by Gumburcules uploaded on January 21, is based on the movie Downfall.  So the Capital Weather Gang apparently lied again!! 43,365 hits and counting and this will now join the ranks of Hitler Rant Parodies on YouTube (yes, it’s a thing). The Washington City paper says that the video was created on a lunch break by thirty-year-old federal worker and D.C. native Andrew Huber.

 

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K. Hamster’s Spot Report From the #BigBlockofCheeseDay Event With @StateDept Deputies

Posted: 1:48 am EDT
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The State Department’s two deputies, Tony Blinken and Heather Higginbottom joined the White House for its third #BigBlockofCheeseDay on January 13 (see @StateDept to Join @White House’s #BigBlockOfCheeseDay — Have Your Policy Qs and Bad Cheese Puns Ready!).

Most of the questions are posted  under Secretary Kerry’s tweet (see below). Fair warning, most of the questions are  um, interesting to put it mildly. It’ll give you a window at the misconceptions out there on what diplomacy is and is not (also if you’re multi-tasking, you’re not doing your job), and the expectations the public hoards for our public officials (why don’t you have a magic wand, those sailors should have been home yesterday?).

The questions posted for Deputy Secretary Blinken are answered on his TL here: https://twitter.com/ABlinken. The questions and answers for Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom are posted on her TL here: https://twitter.com/hhigginbottom.

Below is Kissinger Hamster’s spot report from the Big Block of Cheese Day event.

He’s not perfect but what do you think? Should we keep him as a stringer?

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@StateDept to Join @White House’s #BigBlockOfCheeseDay — Have Your Policy Qs and Bad Cheese Puns Ready!

Posted: 1:44 am EDT
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This is the third year in a row that the White House is hosting the Big Block of Cheese Day. The Obama Administration has adopted the story of Big Block of Cheese Day from the popular political drama, The West Wing. Inspired by President Andrew Jackson’s 1837 open house featuring a 1,400 pound block of cheese, see the WH’s video from last year below.  As in the other BBCD, dozens of White House officials will take to social media for a day long ‘open house’ answering questions in real-time on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and via Google+ Hangout.  Check out these cheese puns to go!

 

 

See the list of those participating on January 13.  Think your questions Caerphilly and use the #BigBlockOfCheeseDay hashtag. We hope you’ll have a Gouda time!

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USCG Erehwon’s New Year’s Resolutions For Disaster Preparedness

Posted:2:05 am EDT
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The elves working at the FAM factory worked long and hard to get their directives out.  The elves know very well that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Nonetheless, they sent an ALDAC to all missions with a reminder to remember disaster preparedness as they start 2016.  There are, afterall, 10 Major Natural Disasters Predicted In The Near Future. If that’s not scary enough, here are the 5 Cities That Will Be Wiped Off the Map by Natural Disasters according to cracked.com.  And just because the world did not end in December 2012 despite the Mayan prediction and the Roland Emmerich movie, doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen, right?

The elves point out in the ALDAC that per FAM 1812, a crisis unready organization is one that:

  • Does not know where it is at risk
  • Does not routinely communicate internally or externally
  • Has not considered how to respond
  • Has not identified key managers
  • Has unclear policy guidance
  • Has no emergency procedures checklists
  • Has an uncertain/unclear media policy and strategy
  • Cannot anticipate
  • Is concerned more with liability than results

The American Consulate General Erehwon is vulnerable to natural disasters like flood, cyclones, heat waves, even droughts.  One year it almost drowned in flood, and was almost washed away another year by a super cyclone. The principal officer was wondering if the elves were talking specifically about his post when he saw the ALDAC.  He had nightmares that employees under his command were swept away by flash floods and he was eaten then spit out by an giant snake like Jon Voight in Anaconda.  Nightmares. And that my friends, is how USCG Erehwon ended up with the following New Year’s Resolutions For Disaster Preparedness this year.

#1.  The EAP is boring but a must-read.  I need to get familiar with post’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP). This year, no kidding. I now recognize that a plan is just an illusion of preparedness in a binder unless accompanied by training and constant practice.  We all need to know the plan and know the drill. As one ambassador once said, “we drilled for asylum seekers, for bomb threats, for anything we could think of.” I guess, we’ve got to do it.  Per 7 FAM 1812.1, my broadest and deepest responsibility is to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens in the event of a crisis. I will make sure that the plan is tested, that regular radio tests are done, and we go through the mission’s telephone tree, even if I have to run the tests myself.

#2. I will no longer skip the Crisis Management Exercise (CME).  Yes, the CME scenarios are occasionally fantastic but an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear meltdown did happen all at the same time at one post. It could happen again elsewhere. Per 7 FAM 1812.1-9, a crisis management exercise at post is an excellent way to test planning and identify problems to address before a crisis hits.  I get that. Really. No, I would not want a Congressional committee asking me on C-SPAN why I missed the crisis management exercise at post.

Debris fills the land in Ofunato, Japan after a tsunami during a search and recovery mission on March 15, 2011. Members of the Los Angeles Search and Rescue Team, Task Force 2 are responding to the recent national emergency in Japan due to the earthquake while providing needed care, rescue techniques and tools.

Debris fills the land in Ofunato, Japan after a tsunami during a search and recovery mission on March 15, 2011. Members of the Los Angeles Search and Rescue Team, Task Force 2 are responding to the recent national emergency in Japan due to the earthquake while providing needed care, rescue techniques and tools. 4th Combat Camera Squadron Photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel St. Pierre Date Taken:03.15.2011 Location:OFUNATO, IWATE, JP

#3. Remember the humans, yes I will. People applying for visas show up whether there’s a flood or a cyclone as long as the consular section is open. Local employees show up as long as the office is open. Per 7 FAM 1812.4-1, while the host government and even other embassy sections may exert pressure to keep visa services open, the protection and welfare of U.S. citizens must always take priority over visa services.  Also postponement of a conference or a dinner party is not/not the end of the world. I will be mindful that local staff supporting a conference or a dinner party have family members to take case of in the event of a crisis or a natural disaster.  When flood water is rising or when the cyclone is roaring, post closure “out of an abundance of caution” actually makes sense.

#4. I will be visible, present and attentive. I will show up for my colleagues, post clients and the community before, during, and after a crisis. I heard that leaders who hide or appear removed from the crisis negate their perceived and expected leadership actions.  I will be there for you next time, and every time after that. I know now that I cannot just show up for a photo-op after a crisis, even if the photo is for DipNote. My colleagues rolled their eyes the last time I did that, and there’s apparently a video of that! So never again!

#5. I will work to improve communication. I was personally distressed at the unfolding calamity. I did not do any town halls though I heard that the RSO did one brief radio announcement.  I know now that my staff needed to hear from me before, during and after the incident. I will endeavor to improve my communication skills to avoid misunderstandings, inaccurate information, and misinterpretations.  One ambassador once used the embassy radio network to brief the staff twice a day during a coup d’état.  After things settled down, staff members expressed their appreciation for these briefings, noting how reassuring it was to know what was going on and, moreover, that someone was at the helm. I will try my best to emulate that.

#6. I will learn to prioritize. I am learning that people are more important than events or things. More important than the blasted dinner reception for the principal officer’s conference. Or that antique china cabinet that needs rescuing from rising flood water. Per 7 FAM 1814.2, a disaster checklist would be helpful to capsulate the plan into a streamlined format that outlines what needs to be done, and in what order.  If there are sacrifices to be made – and there will be – I will step up to the plate first. Yes, everyone will get fuel for their home generators before mine. I promised I will be the last one the support staff will need to worry about in a crisis.

#7 . I will attempt to understand the likely response of the host government. What options are available when ports are closed or when roads are dangerous? What happens if shelter in place is no longer the best scenario? Per 7 FAM 1813.3-1, I will make every effort to learn and understand the response infrastructure the government has in place, get to know the officials who would have primary responsibility for crisis management and identify any predetermined sites the host government plans to use, such as communications centers, emergency shelters, mass feeding areas, etc.  I need to know who can assist post if the unthinkable happens and there are no USG assets to rely on.

#8: I will request mental health services for my staff.  I will make it clear that getting treated for a mental health issue is a sign of strength and responsibility, not weakness, and that my request for a visit from RMO/P is not a “check the box” exercise nor to shield myself from criticisms but in recognition that people handle traumas and crises differently.

9. I will do a debrief. From now on, post will do a lessons learned debriefing exercise and endeavor to share it with others. The exercise will include a collective self-analysis of actions taken and leadership decisions, successes and failures, and perhaps most importantly, what can be made better if the same thing happen again in the future.

#10. I will thank people and show appreciation.  I will learn to show appreciation to everyone who made it possible for post to survive the crisis. I will remember to prepare appropriate awards for staff members, and formal commendations appropriate to persons outside of the mission who provided assistance. I will pat myself on the back but only in private and will not self-nominate myself for any award even if I think I did a most excellent job.

Happy First Week of 2016! If I’m not faithful to these new year’s resolutions, you know what to do!

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Riding with HRC and what’s this about tolerable ambos?

Posted: 7:08 pm EDT
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Uh-oh! What’s this about”tolerable” ambassadors? HRC was Secretary of State from January 21, 2009 – February 1, 2013.  The email below was sent early morning on a Sunday, July 15, 2012.  According to history.state.gov, HRC was on travel from July 14-​16, 2012 in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt where she met with President Mohammed Morsi, Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, and Christian leaders. She also dedicated the Consulate General at Alexandria.

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US Embassy Moscow Wields Wicked Red Pen of Doom on Fake State Dept Letter

Posted: 2:38 am EDT
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Via dailymail.com:

The Kremlin-friendly Izvestia newspaper claimed that Washington was attempting to discredit politicians loyal to President Vladimir Putin.  It published what it claimed were emails hacked from the US State Department’s computer system.  However, the US Embassy in Moscow dismissed the accusation and provided a commentary on the letter and all its inaccuracies.  The Embassy even helpfully tweeted the newspaper: ‘Next time you are going to use fake letters — send them to us. We’ll help you correct the errors.’

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Stock up on red pens @WBStevens!

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State Dept Advises POTUS to Plastic Wrap His Luggage During Philippine Visit! #bulletscam

Posted: 4:18 pm EDT
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President Obama is traveling to Turkey, the Philippines, and Malaysia from November 14-22, 2015. He arrived in the Philippines last night where he will participate in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit.  It looks like the last several weeks, the Philippines has also been roiled with allegations of a bullet planting scheme at its international airport to extort money from  travelers.  It has even spawned a highly-popular mobile app game, in which users play as a “victim” at the Manila airport who has to navigate carefully to avoid bullets from being dropped onto the traveler’s luggage. Oy!

The BBC reports that the scam called locally as “tanim bala” (planting bullets) meant that passengers have been faced with fines, charged with the illegal possession of ammunition or had to cancel their flights. Just last week, Philippine media reported that airport cops allegedly asked P30K (about $600) from an American missionary who entered the Philippines and was alleged to have a bullet in his luggage.

8List Philippines notes that anyone can fall victim to this scam including Japanese touristsforeign missionaries65 year old grandmothers and Philippine overseas workers returning/departing the Philippines.

Over 30 cases of unlawful possession of ammunition have been reported from January to early November of this year, a spike from last year’s low of only 12 cases. The scandal took off when the media picked up the story of a 56 year old OFW travelling back to Hong Kong being detained for two days after being apprehended by the Office for Transport Security (OTS), which is directly under the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC).

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Today, we found this report from The AdoboChronicles:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Adobo Chronicles) –  U.S. President Barack Obama is just one of the many dignitaries confirmed to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit to be held this month in Manila, Philippines.

Recent  developments at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) have sent chills to the international community and has prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a travel advisory to Americans traveling to the Philippines, including Obama.

NAIA has been in the headlines recently because of a scheme called laglag bala  or tanim bala in which incoming and outgoing passengers at NAIA are being detained for bullets found in their luggage as they pass through airport security.  It is alleged that the bullets are being planted by airport personnel with the intent of extorting money from the unsuspecting passengers.

Obama is known to want to carry his own overnight bag and briefcase whenever he travels to other countries.

image7

President Obama carrying his own luggage that still needs plastic-wrapping service.

The State Department has therefore advised Obama to wrap his briefcase with plastic when he arrives in and departs from Manila so that he is not victimized by the laglag bala schemers.

Many passengers flying in and out of NAIA have resorted to wrapping their luggage and carry-on bags with plastic to prevent the schemers from planting bullets without their knowledge.

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Although based in the Bay area, The Adobo Chronicles appears to be the Philippine version of The Onion, America’s finest news source.

Now that you’re done laughing, Embassy Manila apparently did warn about carrying bullets through the Manila airport but that warning is not posted anywhere on its website or its social media arms. We’ve asked about it but have not heard anything back.

 

 

Meanwhile, the Filipinos are busy online:

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Abolish the State Department? Really? Should we pretend to freak out now or later?

Posted: 12:17 am EDT
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The GOP candidates have been trying to out-crazy each other under the shadow of the Trump circus canopy. Cruz would like to “abolish the IRS; take all 125,000 IRS agents, and put them on our southern border.” The same candidate would also like to get rid of the Department of Education.  Paul asks in a video on the website AbolishNow.com that supporters sign a petition to have Congress also eliminate the IRS. At least seven candidates want to end “birthright citizenship” under the 14th Amendment, which grants everyone born in the United States of America the right of citizenship. Jindal suggested abolishing the Supreme Court. Carson suggested eliminating the Department of Veterans Affairs. Before suspending his campaign, Walker proposed scrapping the National Labor Relations Board, eliminating public employee unions and making right-to-work the national standard for workplaces.

Last week, a former United States Senator representing Pennsylvania, the one with a Google problem, added his voice to the “abolish this or that” crowd. Mr. Santorum was a GOP presidential candidate in 2011; he suspended his campaign in April 2012. This past May, Mr. Santorum announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Apparently, Mr. Santorum now has a two-campaign cycle dream of abolishing the U.S. Department of State.

Who knew?

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What else did this smart potato say?

[protected-iframe id=”051ec3f838001f830f13b9d055f7f65c-31973045-31356973″ info=”//giphy.com/embed/j0GARdxDb2pgY?html5=true” width=”480″ height=”270″ frameborder=”0″ class=”giphy-embed”]

via GIPHY

 

Can you hear him? No?

Apologies for the glitches, it sound like he does not like the State Department because employees there spend way too much time talking to foreigners?  Maybe they speak way too many foreign languages and not enough American?  American officials also wear strange shoes and un-American clothes, is that it? Ay, caramba! Oooh, do not/do not show him the fantastic headgears, you, internationalists, you!

Here are Santorum’s specific complaints according to BuzzFeed:

“I said that when I ran four years ago — the first thing I’d do is abolish the State Department and start all over.”

“I have to tell you, I dealt with them for 12 years, I was on the committees that had a lot of interaction with them, and, you know, not that there aren’t a few good people in there,” Santorum continued. “I’m sure there are really good, dedicated public — but look, it’s just, they are a bunch of internationalists who do not look after the interests of the United States. They don’t look at the world from the standpoint of the United States and our principles being the ones that are the best.”

“They’re relativists, they’re internationalists, and they are not serving the interests of the American people,” Santorum concluded.

“It’s like, if all the tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” Santorum said. “Every problem that the State Department has, the answer is diplomacy. Why? Because if it’s not diplomacy, they don’t have a job.

“And so the answer is never to do anything, the answer is always to appease, to talk,” he continued. “I mean, I’m sure that they, that John Kerry, they’re just having the greatest love-fest over at the State Department right now, because they got a deal!

You guys are having a love-fest and you did not invite us … please send photos?!

Two candidates have already suspended their campaigns but Mr. Santorum’s campaign for some reason appears to still be chugging along. We imagine that his candidacy will fold sooner than later. But it looks like he is unable, as yet, to accept the unbearable inevitability of his short campaign life.

So okay, let’s see who else he plans to abolish with brain waves next week. Then we’ll pretend to freak out.

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