New Ambassador Stephen King Presents His Credentials in Prague

Posted: 3:44 am ET

 

AND NOW THIS —

In related news, they loved Stephen King over there, but the other Stephen King.

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#Jerusalem Recognition: Protests and Limited Public Services #USEmbassies

Posted: 12:21 pm PT

 

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#Jerusalem Recognition: Security Messages and Suspension of Services #USEmbassies

Posted: 1:46 pm PT
Updated: 9:41 pm PT

 

Update: As of 1315 EST on December 6, 2017, the State Department has established a task force to track worldwide developments following the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The task force is located in the Operations Center and will include representatives from NEA, SCA, EUR, EAP, CA, DS, PM, PA, and H.

On December 6, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel (see Trump Admin Gets Multiple Warnings That Jerusalem Recognition Could Trigger Dangerous Consequences).

Politico reported on December 4 that the State Department has warned American embassies worldwide to heighten security ahead of a possible announcement. “The warning — delivered in the past week via two classified cables described by State Department officials — reflects concern that such an announcement could provoke fury in the Arab world.”

A day before the expected Jerusalem recognition announcement, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem issued a security message informing citizens that U.S. government employees and their family members are not permitted until further notice to conduct personal travel in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank, to include Bethlehem and Jericho.  It also notes that official travel  by U.S. government employees in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank is permitted only to conduct essential travel and with additional security measures. (See Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Jerusalem, Demonstrations on December 6).

On December 6, US Embassy Amman in Jordan reminded U.S. citizens of the need for caution and awareness of personal security.  It also  temporarily suspended routine public services. As well, U.S. government personnel and their family members in Jordan are limiting public movements, including an instruction for children not to attend school on December 7, 2017.(see Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Amman (Jordan), Possibility of Demonstrations, Temporary Suspension of Routine Public Services).

As of this writing, the following posts have issued security messages related to the Jerusalem recognition, some outside the immediate region.  Some of our posts in the NEA Bureau have yet to issue similar messages.

Should we remind folks of their “no double standard policy”?

Generally, if the State Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.  If a post issues information to its employees about potentially dangerous situations, it should evaluate whether the potential danger could also affect private U.S. citizens/nationals living in or traveling through the affected area.

The following security messages via DS/OSAC:

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Berlin (Germany), Personal Security Reminder

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Minsk (Belarus), Personal Security Reminder

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Ankara (Turkey), Demonstrations on December 6

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Lisbon (Portugal), White House Announcement on Jerusalem

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Rome (Italy), Personal Security Reminder

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Madrid (Spain), Personal Security Reminder

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: London (United Kingdom), Possible Protests

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Rabat (Morocco), Demonstrations

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Cairo (Egypt), President Trump’s Announcement that the United States Recognizes Jerusalem as the Capital

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GOP Tax Plan Includes Major Headaches For Homeowners #CallCongress

Posted: 3:28 am ET
Updated: 2:01 pm PT

 

Update: Tax Reform and the Foreign Service via afsa.org:

Several AFSA members have expressed concern that the House of Representatives version of the pending tax reform bill would impose a capital gains tax that could exceed $35,000 on anyone who sells their primary residence without having physically lived there for five out of the previous eight years. 

The good news is that, after Congress adopted the current two-in-five-year rule in the early 2000s, AFSA joined with groups representing members of the U.S. military in securing passage of a law in 2003 that extended the qualifying period by up to 10 years for a taxpayer who is away from their primary residence on a Foreign Service, military, or intelligence community assignment. The current House bill does not change that special provision. 

If the House provision becomes law, the 10-year extension for Foreign Service members would remain. Thus, the new five-out-of-eight-year rule would be a five-out-of-eighteen-year rule for Foreign Service members serving away from their primary residence.

If you may need to take advantage of this special treatment, please learn more about it in AFSA’s annual Tax Guide which is updated and printed every January in The Foreign Service Journal and on the AFSA website. Additional information is in IRS Publication 523 (page 5 in the current 2016 edition). The actual law is in Section 121 of the IRS code (26 USC 121).

AFSA would like to highlight the role of our then-Director of Congressional Relations Ken Nakamura, who was instrumental in securing the 2003 law affording special treatment for the Foreign Service. Since then, hundreds of AFSA members have each saved tens of thousands of dollars in taxes when they sold their primary residence after an extended period of overseas service. Your AFSA dues make possible victories such as this one.

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Tax lawyer/lobbyist and friend of a friend who is highly engaged on the Hill on both tax bills asked that we pass on this alert for homeowners:

A provision in the House tax bill (H.R. 1) could cost us $100,000 in capital gains taxes when we sell our houses.  Under current law, a homeowner filing jointly is allowed to exclude the first $500,000 of gain on the sale of a principal residence.  The House bill deletes the current law’s $500,000 exclusion of gain from the sale of a principal residence.  The Senate bill only lengthens the holding period from 5 years to 8 years, but retains the $500,000 exclusion.

The two bills will be reconciled in the next two weeks or so. I urge you to contact House and Senate tax writers asking them to adopt the Senate bill’s approach.  The most important person to contact is your home state Senator and your own Representative in the House.  

U.S. Senators – Get contact information for your Senators in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Representatives – Find the website and contact information for your Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives

In addition, you can call the office and leaving a message or, in some circumstances, sending emails to the following key decision makers:

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady:  Phone: (202) 225-4901

House Speaker Paul Ryan:  https://paulryan.house.gov/contact/email.htm email him or call his office to leave a message of concern at his Washington office (202) 225-3031.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:  https://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contactform and fill out the form or call his Washington office at (202) 224-2541

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch:  (202) 224-5251 or please call (202-224-4515), fax a letter to (202-228-0554).

Here is a Sample Message:  I oppose the repeal of the $500,000 exclusion for gain from the sale of a principal residence in the House Tax bill (H.R.1).  The $100,000 tax imposed by that repeal is important for my retirement, my family, and my ability to move to a new job in another location.  There is no tax reduction in the bill that will offset that tax cost.  The Senate version is better, and should be substituted for the House repeal.

It takes time and effort, but we understand that calls and emails coming from outside Washington, D.C. play an important role in this process.

You may review the text of H.R. 1 here; use the browser’s find function to see details under SEC. 1302. MORTGAGE INTEREST.

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Moderation may be the most challenging and rewarding virtue

By Aurelian Craiutu

He is a professor of political science and adjunct professor of American studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. His most recent book is Faces of Moderation: The Art of Balance in an Age of Extremes (2016). He lives in Bloomington.

Three centuries ago, the French political philosopher Montesquieu claimed that human beings accommodate themselves better to the middle than to the extremes. Only a few decades later, George Washington begged to differ. In his Farewell Address (1796), the first president of the United States sounded a warning signal against the pernicious effects of the spirit of party and faction. The latter, he argued, has its roots in the strongest passions of the human mind and can be seen in ‘its greatest rankness’ in popular government where the competition and rivalry between factions are ‘sharpened by the spirit of revenge’ and immoderation.

If one looks at our world today, we might be tempted to side with Washington over Montesquieu. Our political scene offers a clear sign of the little faith we seem to have in this virtue without which, as John Adams memorably put it in 1776, ‘every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey’. Although our democratic institutions depend on political actors exercising common sense, self-restraint and moderation, we live in a world dominated by hyperbole and ideological intransigence in which moderates have become a sort of endangered species in dire need of protection. Can we do something about that to save them from extinction? To answer this question, we should take a new look at moderation, which Edmund Burke regarded as a difficult virtue, proper only to noble and courageous minds. What does it mean to be a moderate voice in political and public life? What are the principles underlying moderation? What do moderates seek to achieve in society, and how do they differ from more radical or extremist minds?

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Why bureaucrats matter in the fight to preserve the rule of law

By Melissa Lane
Ms. Lane is the Class of 1943 professor of politics and director of the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. She is the author of a number of books, including Eco-Republic (2011/2012) and The Birth of Politics (2015), and has appeared often on the ‘In Our Time’ radio broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Via Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives

Socrates, while serving on the Athenian Council, sought to prevent it from making an illegal decision. Martin Luther, when a council convened by the Emperor Charles V in 1521 told him to recant, is said to have declared: ‘Here I stand; I can do no other.’ The United States’ attorney general Elliot Richardson and the deputy attorney general William D Ruckelshaus both chose to resign in 1973 rather than obey President Richard Nixon’s order to fire the special prosecutor investigating Watergate. More recently, the acting attorney general Sally Yates was fired after she announced that the US Department of Justice would not cooperate in enforcing President Donald Trump’s executive order against Muslim immigrants. They all said no. Each of them, for reasons of principle, opposed an order from a higher authority (or sought to prevent its issuance). They are exceptional figures, in extraordinary circumstances. Yet most of the time, the rule of law is more mundane: it depends on officials carrying out their ordinary duties within the purposes of the offices they hold, and on citizens obeying them. That is to say, the rule of law relies upon obedience by bureaucrats, and obedience of bureaucrats – but crucially, within the established norms of the state.

The ancient Greeks made no sharp distinction between political rulers and bureaucratic officials. They considered anyone in a position of constitutional authority as the holder of an office. The ancient Greek world did not have a modern bureaucracy but they did confront the question of respect for norms of office and of obedience to office-holders. Plato addresses these questions, in both the Republic and the Laws, in relation to the danger of usurpation of democracy by a budding tyrant.

Of course, Plato was no democrat. But he did recognise the value of liberty – most explicitly in the Laws, where he posited liberty, wisdom and friendship as the three values that ought to guide the work of government. Plato wanted to balance liberty with what we would call the rule of law. For him, that included not only obedience to the law, but also obedience to the officials who have to carry it out. In the Republic’s portrait of democracy (in some ways a caricature, to be sure), he warns against drinking liberty unmixed with obedience, likening it to wine unmixed with water – a serious social solecism for the ancient Greeks. Doing so, he thinks, can lead to a deterioration of the norms of political office. Too much liberty might lead to the point that a city ‘insults those who obey the rulers as willing slaves and good-for-nothings, and praises and honours, both in public and in private, rulers who behave like subjects and subjects who behave like rulers’ (translation by G.M.A. Grube revised by C.D.C. Reeve, in John M. Cooper (ed.) Plato. Complete Works (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997)).

To insult ‘those who obey the rulers’ by calling them ‘willing slaves’ is to reject the value of a norm of obedience to state office-holders. No constitution – no organisation of power into authority – can long subsist if the authority of its officials routinely merits defiance. The resister might be heroic and her actions could sometimes be necessary, but she must be an exceptional rather than an everyday case. Officials who defy illegitimate orders must logically always be the exceptions to a general rule of obeying orders, lest the very meaning of their defiance evaporate. Any conception of liberty, or any practice of government, that rejects the need for obedience to the norms of office, will destroy itself. So Plato reaffirms in the Laws that ‘complete freedom (eleutheria) from all rulers (archōn) is infinitely worse than submitting to a moderate degree of control’.

The statebuilding efforts of medieval and early modern Europe are great and complex endeavours, with their own rich histories. In relation to the rule of law and role of the bureaucrats, we can think of their papal chanceries, state treasuries and imperial ministries as a kind of foundation on which modern reformers and rulers and revolutionaries alike would build liberalism and the rule of law. These bureaucracies constituted the tools of power for rulers. In providing the impartial officials, rule of law procedures and institutional forms of equality, bureaucracy constituted the mechanisms to vouchsafe people’s rights. Liberal reformers used these very mechanisms to try to extend wider rights and liberties to more and more groups.

Max Weber, the influential early 20th-century German sociologist, feared that bureaucracy would be part of the over-rationalisation that he described as a looming ‘iron cage’. He feared it would grow too powerful, choking off meaning, value and political responsibility in its means-ends instrumental rationality. If Weber had lived a few years longer (he died at only 56, in 1920) and had been asked to speak about the crisis of liberalism in the young Weimar Republic, I think he would have expressed the concern (already present in his last writings) that no sufficiently charismatic and powerful politicians would emerge who would be able to bring the bureaucracy to heel. He saw bureaucracy as a major threat to modern life. The fear that the bureaucracy itself was vulnerable to tyrannical usurpation would not likely have crossed his mind.

Today, the US faces the threat of what we can think of as the political iron cage breaking down – possibly from executive leadership ignorant or contemptuous of the purposes of the organisation. Though obviously it has accelerated, the threat is not entirely new with the Trump administration. When president in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan pioneered the nomination of cabinet secretaries committed to abolishing or drastically curtailing the very agencies they were named to head. President George W Bush named agency administrators such as Michael D Brown, who lacked knowledge of his area of responsibility, as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Brown’s eventual resignation in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina betokened not heroic defiance but a reaction to the storm of criticism for his lackadaisical response to the crisis. These public officials were not committed to the basic purposes and processes of the bureaucracies they were appointed to lead or serve.

To be sure, we must not be blind to the ways in which the machinery of state will remain a major resource for parties and politicians who seek to control and to advance their own ends. My point is that, while aspects of this machinery might remain intact, challenges to evidence-based reasoning, fair procedure and impartial officialdom – to the whole apparatus of bureaucratic office and the rule of law – threaten to corrode it. Whether in the long run the machinery itself can withstand this corrosion is an open question.

There is an irony here. Weber’s fear was that the iron cage of rationalising modernity, including bureaucracy, would stifle liberty, meaning and ultimate value, squeezing out responsible, charismatic politicians. Yet today, faced with the menace of charismatic, reckless politicians, what Weber feared as an iron cage appears to us to be the building block of some of history’s most hard-won rights. Plato looks more prescient: long ago he warned of both the charismatic but irresponsible politicians, and the insouciant, irresponsible officials who serve them, who risk eroding the norms of office on which the values of the rule of law and liberty rest.Aeon counter – do not remove

Melissa Lane

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

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Senate Confirms Callista Gingrich as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

Posted: 1:53 am ET
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For a short while on Monday, Callista Gingrich was trending on Twitter. It turned out that the U.S. Senate finally voted on her nomination as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. She got the nod in a 70-23 vote. Was there ever any doubt that the U.S. Senate would not confirm the spouse of the former Speaker of the House?

Of course, Twitter blew up when news of her nomination came out, also when she was actually nominated, and when she had her confirmation hearing, and Monday was no different when the Senate finally confirmed her. Given the notoriety of these lovebirds, we suspect that news will follow wherever Ambassador Gingrich and Newt, her husband and former Speaker of the House go. Except now, the Klieg lights will be more intense as she speaks for the United States Government in the Holy See, and as Newt tags along.

Instead of a search result returning “spouse of a U.S. politician”, her Wikipedia page has been updated on the date of her Senate confirmation to indicate that she is the United States Ambassador to the Holy See (Designate), with taking office still marked “TBD.” We can totally understand a woman reinventing herself. She could have asked for any other job in this administration, but she picked a diplomatic post. From now on, she will be known as Ambassador Gingrich, and not just Newt’s third wife. 

Of course, her nomination will be accepted there. Diplomatic courtesy requires that before the United States appoints a new chief of diplomatic mission to represent it in another state, it must be first ascertained whether the proposed appointee –in this case, Mrs. Gingrich — is acceptable to the receiving state, the Holy See. The acquiescence of the Vatican is signified by its granting agrément to the appointment. Her nomination would not have been made public had the Vatican did not find her nomination acceptable. It is unusual for an agrément to be refused, but it occasionally happens, as in the case of the French Ambassador nominee who was reportedly rejected because he was gay.

YOU KNOW WHO ELSE IS BACK? The sharp tongued- Princess Sparkle Pony is on Twitter.

Related posts:

 

#ThrowbackThursday: President Nixon Upset By Press Reports on @StateDept Appointments

Posted: 2:52 am ET
Follow @Diplopundit

 

Via history.state.gov:

In his diary entry for February 1, Haldeman wrote the following: “Session in afternoon with K[issinger] and Harlow, mainly about ambassadors and key appointments. [President] upset by press reports that he’s not changing people, especially in State. Ordered me to have resignations of all non-career ambassadors and all LBJ political appointees on his desk Monday. Said he’ll write them and ‘accept resignation with pleasure.’ Feels we haven’t done enough to get in good new people that are ours. He’s right. Problem is need to deal with Democratic Congress, and P isn’t tough enough with his Cabinet officers. Won’t make them fire incumbents and/or take our political recommendations. Ehrlichman now in charge of this, we’ll see how he can produce.” (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)

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SecState Who Was Called a Dog, Reportedly Called POTUS an “F-ing Moron” #RealLife

Posted: 4:10 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

Less than 48 hours after Secretary Tillerson was called Donald Trump’s dog (see WaPo’s Dana Milbank Goes Scooby-Doo Slap-A-Lympics on Tillerson – Holy Bow Wow!), NBC News was out with a scoop where Secretary Tillerson was reported to have called POTUS a  “moron” this past summer (see Tillerson’s Fury at Trump Required an Intervention From Pence). So then Mr. Tillerson, fourth in line to the throne, excuse me, the presidency, came out to speak to his long lost friends in the media in Foggy Bottom.

He starts with expressing his commitment to the success of President Trump:

There were some news reports this morning that I want to address. First, my commitment to the success of our President and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as Secretary of State. President Trump’s “America first” agenda has given voice to millions who felt completely abandoned by the political status quo and who felt their interests came second to those of other countries. President Trump’s foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country.

He spent a paragraph of his remarks addressing the “erroneous” reporting involving the VP though he did not talk about that Nikki Haley part of the report helpfully provided on the record by his comm advisor:

To address a few specifics that have been erroneously reported this morning, the Vice President has never had to persuade me to remain the Secretary of State because I have never considered leaving this post. I value the friendship and the counsel of the Vice President and I admire his leadership within President Trump’s administration to address the many important agendas of President Trump, both from a foreign policy perspective and a diplomatic – I’m sorry, a domestic objective.

This presser is clearly intended for an audience of one. His  speechwriters get points for calling POTUS “smart” and remembering to include the “America First” slogan:

Let me tell you what I’ve learned about this President, whom I did not know before taking this office. He loves his country. He puts Americans and America first. He’s smart. He demands results wherever he goes, and he holds those around him accountable for whether they’ve done the job he’s asked them to do. Accountability is one of the bedrock values the President and I share.

Oops … and this!

While I’m new to Washington, I have learned that there are some who try to sow dissension to advance their own agenda by tearing others apart in an effort to undermine President Trump’s own agenda. I do not and I will not operate that way, and the same applies to everyone on my team here at the State Department.

His full statement is here.

Congrats to Tillerson’s speechwriters. It worked!

Click here for the State Department spox Heather Nauert who officially denied from the podium that the Secretary of State called the President of the United States a “moron.”  For the record, the reporter  said “My source didn’t just say he called him a moron. He said he called him an f-ing moron.” 

We’d like to know what kind of talking points Public Affairs is sending out to the field so our diplomats overseas can respond to their host countries’ inquiries, and whether they’re allowed to wear brown paper bags over their heads.

One reporter asked during the Daily Press Briefing, “Tillerson’s own spokesperson came out and walked back information that he had given to that story that apparently wasn’t accurate. And he said that he spoke out of line about conversations that he was not privy to. So that seems to me that he contributed inaccurate information to that story. On another occasion he denied conversations had happened between the State Department and the White House that multiple sources told us did happen, including a White House source. So how can we believe what the State Department says did or did not happen when Tillerson’s own spokesperson seems to be putting information out there that is not necessarily accurate?”

The spox’s response: “Honesty, being forthright, integrity is something that the Secretary has spoken to often. That is a value that he holds very close and very dear.[…] My colleague issued some tweets in response to that. I think I certainly share his sentiment in that he regrets those. His statement say that he spoke out of line about conversations he wasn’t privy to.”

The reporter pursued the question: “But if he’s giving information to a reporter that is categorically false on what seems to be now two occasions, how does the Secretary feel about his own spokesperson?”

The spox’s response:  “I have not asked the Secretary that question.”

Um … “why not?”

AND NOW THIS —

We all know that this is not going to be the end of this exhausting drama. We’re just gonna stock on this shirt in our bunker so we’ll have a permanently screaming owl on our chest 24/7 from hereon (via Amazon Affiliate).

 

American values? Tillerson: “The president speaks for himself.” Uh-oh!

Posted: 4:51 am  ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

Axios writes: “We’ve been hearing for weeks, from sources who’ve spoken to the president, that Trump is getting more and more fed up with Tillerson, who has still yet to staff his agency.” The report enumerates multiple criticisms directed at Tillerson:
1) why he still doesn’t have political appointees in the top roles at the State Department;
2) Tillerson hasn’t put in the time to build goodwill with Washington’s foreign policy community or with the media;
3) reports that Tillerson has destroyed morale at State, empowering only the tiniest inner circle;
4) Qatar;
5) Venezuela and Tom Shannon;
6) Iran;
7) Tillerson’s Chief of Staff Margaret Peterlin

AND NOW THIS —

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