The Voice of America Deals With White House’s False Claim of ‘Largest Audience to Ever Witness an Inauguration’

Posted: 1:26 am ET

 

The VOA Charter signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976 provides that VOA serves “as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.” The Charter says that VOA news “will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.”  VOA broadcasts about 1,800 hours of radio and television programming each week to an estimated global audience of 236.6 million people. It is broadcasts in 47 languages.

On the White House Press Secretary’s first briefing of January 21, The Voice of America initially repeated Mr. Spicer’s false claim about the inauguration crowd but took down the tweet after being called out in public for it. A couple of hours later, The Voice of America posted and tweeted its AP-written Factcheck: Trump and Spicer’s Statements on Inaugural Crowd Size.

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U.S. Diplomacy Center Pavilion Opens With @JohnKerry, @HillaryClinton, @madeleine, and Colin Powell

Posted: 5:47 pm PT

 

Secretary of State John Kerry together with former Secretaries of State Madeleine K. Albright, Colin L. Powell, and Hillary Rodham Clinton marked the completion of the U.S. Diplomacy Center Pavilion located at the State Department’s 21st Street Entrance on January 10 with a well-attended reception.

The U.S. Diplomacy Center (@DiplomacyCenter) will be a 40,000 square foot, state-of-the-art museum and education center dedicated to telling the story of American diplomacy. Visitors will explore the role of diplomacy through interactive exhibits, compelling artifacts, hands-on education programs, and diplomatic simulations.  The Center’s goal is “to demonstrate the ways in which diplomacy matters now and has mattered throughout American history.  Diplomacy and the work of our diplomats in over 250 embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions are vital to our nation’s power, image, and ability to advance its interests around the globe.”

The funds used for this project?  The Department of State has a public-private partnership with the Diplomacy Center Foundation (DCF), founded by the late Senator Charles McC. Mathias, Ambassador Stephen Low and others. The costs for the construction of the museum and the fabrication of the exhibits are raised through a private sector capital campaign. The Department of State contributes space, staff and security for the Center. Taxpayers will not be paying for building the USDC; the center makes up less than .003% of the Department of State’s annual budget.

Here is a bit of history on the Center via the Foundation:

Foreign Service Ambassador Stephen Low (1927 — 2010) and Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias, R-MD (1922-2010) formed the Foreign Affairs Museum Council (FAMC), a nonprofit organization, to help build the first facility dedicated to American diplomacy in the United States and to raise funds from the private sector for the project. In 2013 the FAMC Board of Directors changed the name to Diplomacy Center Foundation. […] In 1999, Ambassador Low and Senator Mathias met with Secretary Madeleine K. Albright about their vision for a museum and education center of American diplomacy. Secretary Albright recognized the need and decreed that the museum should be located at the Department of State.

In 2010, Secretary Clinton appointed Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, Ambassador to Portugal, retired, to lead the fund-raising efforts on behalf of the Department. Simultaneously, the leadership of the Foreign Affairs Museum Council was assumed by William C. Harrop, a career Foreign Service Officer who had served as United States Ambassador to five countries. To date, $47.5 million of private sector funds have been raised from corporations, foundation and individuals toward the $55 million needed to build the Center. Under this new Pavilion will be the Founding Ambassadors Concourse where educational conferences, symposia and other USDC events will take place. The Founding Ambassadors initiative is led by Stuart A. Bernstein, Ambassador to Denmark, retired.

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Related posts:

 

Mexico Arrests Suspect, Reportedly a US Citizen, in Shooting of US Diplomat in Guadalajara

Posted: 3:34 pm PT
Updated: 4:30 pm PT

 

Mexico’s Fiscalía General del Estado de Jalisco announced today that the suspect on Friday’s attack of a U.S. consular official from USCG Guadalajara had been arrested (see American Diplomat Wounded in Targeted Attack in #Guadalajara, Mexico). According to the state attorney general on Twitter, the suspect was handed over to Mexico’s federal attorney general’s office .

Secretary Kerry released the following statement on January 8:

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I want to thank the Government of Mexico for their swift and decisive arrest of a suspect in the heinous attack against our Foreign Service Officer colleague in Guadalajara, Mexico. The safety and security of U.S. citizens and our diplomatic staff overseas are among our highest priorities. My thoughts and prayers remain with this officer and his family during this difficult time. I wish him a speedy recovery.

The Guardian’s latest reporting on this incident cites a source within the Guadalajara police force who spoke on condition of anonymity, and identified the suspect as Zafar Zia, a 31-year-old American citizen (AmCit) of Indian origin.

The source said Zia was captured in a joint operation by the FBI, DEA and Jalisco state officials in Guadalajara’s affluent Providencia neighbourhood early on Sunday morning. The suspect had a .380 caliber pistol tucked into his waistband when he was arrested. The authorities also seized a Honda Accord with California license plates, a wig and sunglasses that may match those seen in footage of the shooting, and 16 ziplock bags containing 336 grams of a substance believed to be marijuana.

US Mission Mexico has declined to provide further information to the media about the shooting and declined to identify the employee or his position at the consulate general; information that is already widely reported in U.S. and Mexican media.

A separate news report says that the suspect had moved to Guadalajara in November 2016 from Phoenix and had been residing in the city since. The report also says that “the apparent motive for the attempted murder appears to have been a disagreement over an undisclosed visa process.” A local report confirms that the suspect has been residing in a farm in Colonia Prados Providencia for about two months. All the rooms on site were reportedly rented by students.

Consular officials have been screamed at, and spit on by rejected visa applicants, and there are obviously some very unhappy visa applicants but if this is true, this would be the first time since 2010 where an armed attack is tied to a visa office (see Three from US Consulate General Ciudad Juárez Dies in Drive-By Shooting). There was a time when all that separate a visa officer from a visa applicant is an open counter.  Easy to grab and physically attack a visa official or employee. We kind of recall that the hard line interview windows started going up in the early 80’s. Our go-to pal for this stuff told us that there were certainly incidents of client aggression and assaults in both visa and citizen services sections but believed that the interview window upgrade was just part of the larger hardline standard (i.e., putting forced-entry and ballistic protection between public areas and the general work area).

The U.S. Government has spent millions upgrading embassy security and beefing up security protection inside consular offices but this attack shows how vulnerable our people are overseas even when they are just going about the ordinary routines of daily life (going to a gym, using an ATM machine, driving a car, etc).  The latest GAO report on diplomatic security points out that the worst attacks against our diplomatic personnel actually occurs while they are in transit (see GAO Reviews @StateDept’s Efforts to Protect U.S. Diplomatic Personnel in Transit).

In any case, if true that the suspect is a U.S. citizen, a couple of thoughts: one, he would not have a need for a U.S. visa, unless it is for a fiancee/spouse or other family members of foreign origin.  We probably will hear more about this in the coming days. Two, as a U.S. citizen arrested in a foreign country, a U.S. consular officer assigned at the American Citizen Services branch in USCG Guadalajara would have to visit the suspect in jail; as U.S. consular officers do worldwide to ensure the fair and humane treatment for U.S. citizens imprisoned overseas.

We should note that the U.S. and Mexico has an extradition treaty that allows for the transfer of suspected or convicted criminals from one to country to the other. So this case might yet end up in a U.S. court. Latest update from AFP says that the suspect will be deproted deported back to the United States to face further legal action.

 

Meanwhile, USMission Mexico has released a Security Message urging precautions following the shooting in Guadalajara.

Related posts:

Employees of U.S. Consulate General Monterrey (a non-danger post) face credible security threat in Mexico Apr 2016
USCG Monterrey: USG Personnel Banned From Driving Between Post-U.S. Border, Also Extortions Up by 24%
US Mission Mexico: ICE Special Agents Killed/Wounded at Fake Roadblock on Road to Monterrey
New Mexico Travel Warning: “Authorized Departure” remains in place for Mexico’s northern border cities, Monterrey to go partially unaccompanied with no minor dependents
US ConGen Monterrey in Mexico Goes Unaccompanied
US Consulate General Monterrey personnel urged to keep kids at home following American School Shootout
Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay
New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status
Republicans got mad, mad, mad about danger pay, local guards, violence; calls for closures of consulates in Mexico
Snapshot: The State Department’s Danger Pay Locations (as of February 2015)
Mexican Border Consular Posts Get 15% Danger Pay
Where dangerous conditions are not/not created equal …
State Dept’s New High Threat Posts Are Not All Danger Posts

The Many Adventures of Secretary of State John Kerry (2013-2017)

Posted: 12:50 am ET

 

Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry has travelled the most number of miles at 1,395,606 than any other secretary of state. He has also spent the most number of days on the road as America’s top diplomat (588 days to Clinton’s 401) but apparently Henry Kissinger still holds the record at 200 for the most number of countries visited by a secretary of state; Kerry visited 91 countries while Clinton’s record is 112 countries.

Nonetheless, we doubt if Secretary Kissinger’s travels were as immortalized as Secretary Kerry’s many travel adventures. From getting lost in the Gobi Desert to escaping being cooked alive by the cannibals of the Isle of Embers, America’s Finest News Source  covered the secretary of state’s travels with admirable dedication. Here are some favorites via The Onion:

BANGKOK, THAILAND—Spitting out a broken tooth as his opponent lay motionless on the bare cement floor, a battered Secretary of State John Kerry emerged victorious Wednesday evening from an underground kickboxing tournament at Bangkok’s notorious Bang Kwang Central Prison, sources reported.

PANGSAU, MYANMAR—Thinking quickly to thwart disaster as he ventured deep into the Myanmar rainforest to meet with State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi, Secretary of State John Kerry threw a vine over a pit of quicksand to save the life of his 12-year-old Moroccan companion, Drumstick, sources confirmed Monday.

BOGDARNYA, RUSSIA—Working frantically to gain access to the system’s override settings at the computer terminal controlling the impending implosion, Secretary of State John Kerry scrambled to stop the self-destruct sequence of an underground bunker located thousands of feet below the Russian countryside Tuesday while oligarch Dmitry Granovsky taunted him from the numerous banks of monitors positioned throughout the facility, sources confirmed.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA—Telling the U.S. secretary of state this was his final chance to hand over the briefcase he had been pursuing for months, Malaysian ambassador Dato’ Seri Halim Wan Salleh reportedly promised John Kerry he would spare his life in return for the item Friday as he held the dangling American statesman over the side of the Petronas Towers Skybridge.

LOW EARTH ORBIT—Having stowed away aboard a Soyuz resupply rocket and silently slipped into the International Space Station as part of a high-level fact-finding mission, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly found himself forced to jettison two Russian henchmen from an airlock Monday after being set upon by the thugs in an ambush that resulted in a violent zero-gravity struggle to the death.

NOVOSINKOVO, RUSSIA—Staring directly into the drooping eyes of the woozy, flushed henchman sitting across from him in the back room of a dimly lit tavern, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly downed another vodka shot Sunday night as the last of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s security detail passed out beside him.

KINGDOM OF GOLDEN SANDS—Throwing herself in front of her beloved U.S. secretary of state as the royal executioner raised his scimitar, Princess Amirah of Arabia reportedly begged her father the sultan Friday to spare John Kerry’s life.

THE ISLE OF EMBERS—With the natives’ drumbeats suddenly falling silent as a mysterious midday darkness rolled across the island, sources confirmed that a solar eclipse occurred just in time Friday to stop imperiled U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry from being cooked alive by cannibals.

KIEV, UKRAINE—Following his overnight arrival in Ukraine amid the escalating regional tensions over the the Crimean peninsula, sources confirmed seeing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wearing a trench coat and cloaked in shadows at the back of a seedy, smoke-filled Kiev café Tuesday while reportedly awaiting a woman known to him only as Dasha.

SOUTHERN MONGOLIA—After failing to arrive at his destination in the Middle East this week for diplomatic talks with state leaders, sources confirmed that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had inadvertently traveled to Central Asia and is currently lost somewhere in the Gobi Desert.

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Trump’s Twittersation: Will FSI Soon Teach The Art of the Walk Back?

Posted: 1:10 am ET
Updated: Jan 15, 11:27 am PT

 

If the President-elect continues to tweet after January 20, and every indication says that he will, how does that affect the work of diplomats? How does that impact bilateral and multilateral relationships? This is a whole new different ball game.  Will foreign governments and foreign publics learn to take Trump’s tweets “seriously, but not literally?” And how is the Foreign Service Institute now preparing public affairs officials for overseas assignments? Our officials will soon be tasked with explaining the Trump policies and pronouncements at over 275 missions abroad. Is the school now or will soon be teaching the Art of the Walk Back?  What does the Magic 8 ball look like from your desktop?  We are entertaining predictions in our comment section or contact us here.

Here’s inspiration all the way from Asia —

 

 

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Greek Ambassador Kyriakos Amiridis Murdered, Wife and Brazilian Policeman in Custody

Posted: 8:30 pm PT

 

The Greek Foreign Ministry released a statement on the death of its ambassador in Brazil:

The Brazilian authorities just officially announced the identification of the remains of the deceased Greek Ambassador to Brazil, Kyriakos Amiridis, which were found charred in the region of Nova Iguaçu in Rio de Janeiro.

We express our deepest sorrow at the tragic death of Ambassador Kyriakos Amiridis, a friend of Brazil, who throughout his diplomatic career served Greece conscientiously and responsibly. The late diplomat served at the Permanent Mission of Greece to the EU, at the General Consulates in Rio de Janeiro and Rotterdam, and at the Greek Embassy in Belgrade during the first phase of the war in Yugoslavia.

A milestone in his career was his term as Ambassador of Greece in Tripoli, Libya, and his decisive role in the evacuation, under conditions of extreme violence, of the Embassy staff, of Greeks in Libya as well as of thousands of third-country nationals from Libya in the summer of 2014.

Finally, his contribution to the organization of the International Conference on “Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East” in Athens in October 2015 was of key importance.

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Russia Responds: -35 Not Cold Enough, Will Not Expel Anyone; Trump Praises Putin’s “Great Move”

Posted: 5:53 pm PT

 

Yesterday, the United States PNG’d 35 Russian officials and imposed new sanctions (see USG Declares 35 Russian Officials Persona Non Grata, Imposes New Sanctions). There was also a CNN report that the Anglo American School of Moscow was ordered shut down yesterday. The director of the school released a statement on FB today saying senior Russian officials have refuted the story and that the school is planning to open as scheduled following the holiday break.

Yesterday, MFA Russia said “We will certainly response adequately.”

Today, MFA Russia says “-35 is not cold enough.”  Russia has responded to USG actions by saying that although it has “a right to retaliate” it will not “resort to irresponsible kitchen diplomacy” but will plan “further steps to restore Russian-US relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration.”

It also says it will not expel anyone and invites “all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas children’s parties in the Kremlin.”

The Russian Consulate in San Francisco where some of the PNG’d officials are located tweets that “It’s so difficult to remain diplomatic… but we will.” It also released a statement on FB on its “very different, very undiplomatic feelings” saying “We hate to have to say goodbye to close to a dozen of our colleagues, our friends.”

Meanwhile, President-elect Trump has responded to Mr. Putin’s decision not to go with a ‘tit for tat’ response with a tweet praising the Russian leader’s “great move” and melted down Twitter:

The parody accounts, of course, are having a field day today and presumably, the next four years.

Da end.

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23 Days to Inauguration: Kerry Delivers Middle East Peace Speech, Netanyahu Looks to Trump

Posted: 5:13 pm PT

 

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POTUS and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe Visit Pearl Harbor

Posted: 2:54 pm PT

 

“As the prime minister of Japan, I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place, and also to the souls of the countless innocent people who became victims of the war.  We must never repeat the horrors of war again.  This is the solemn vow we, the people of Japan, have taken. And since the war, we have created a free and democratic country that values the rule of law and has resolutely upheld our vow never again to wage war.”

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Transition Team Requests Staffing and Program Info: How Did This Turn Into “Rounding Up Names”

Posted: 4:06 am ET

 

The Trump Transition team at the State Department apparently sent a memo to employees requesting information on staffing and funding of gender-related programs. Some emails we got made references to news reports asking for names. Some in social media talks about the “demand” for a list of State Dept staffers working on “gender-related” issues and “women’s equality.”  Both NYT and WaPo carried the same story of the transition request.  Somebody provided a copy of the request to the NYT.

The one-page memo, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times, asks for a summary “outlining existing programs and activities to promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence, promoting women’s participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship, etc.”

It also asks for information on positions dedicated to those activities, as well as how much funding was directed to these programs in 2016. The responses were due by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the same day the questionnaire was circulated within the department.

WaPo reported that the request is “stroking fears of another witch hunt.” The New York Times reports that the request has “rattled” the State Department. One publication says that “Trump’s transition team is rounding up names of US State Department staffers working on gender-equality issues.” Oh, hey, the “State Dept” is now trending on Twitter.

We suspect that those “freaking out” have not been through a number of presidential transitions.  The Trump Transition was asking for positions and program funding, it does not look like it was asking for names. We think the request is reasonable as the new administration assumes office. The new administration will have new program priorities and it may cut funding and staffing on some programs more than others.  Will it cut programs focused on gender equality? It’s possible, but that is its prerogative, as it was when the Obama Administration assume power eight years ago.  Employees may disagree with those priorities, and policies, but their commitment to the Service is to serve the administration of the day whether they personally agree with those policies or not (see On the Prospect of Mass Resignations: A Veteran FSO Cautions Against Rash Decisions).

Poor Mr. Kirby had to explain this at the podium:

The incoming administration will make their own policy decisions based on the foreign policy agenda that President-elect Trump lays out. That’s their job. That’s why we have elections in this country. And the professionals here at the State Department – and they’re all professionals – will carry out that foreign policy agenda and they will support that foreign policy agenda.
[…]
As I said yesterday, it is normal, it is usual, it is typical, it is expected that as a new team comes in – and I saw this for myself eight years ago when I was in the Pentagon for the transition between President Bush and President – then-President-elect Obama – for a transition team to want to have a sense of organization, of resourcing, and of staffing for the organization and the sub-units of those – of that organization that they’re about to lead.
[…]
The people that work here, now that I’ve had two years to see it, they are true professionals. Whether they’re political appointees or career Foreign Service or civil servants, they are professionals. And while I can’t discount that some of them might have some anxiety, I can assure you and I can assure the American people that they will face change squarely on, that they will respond appropriately, that they will remain professionals, and that whatever the foreign policy agenda that is being pursued by the incoming administration, they will support it, they will implement it, they will inform it, and they will help guide it, because that’s what they do. 

Please don’t disappoint Mr. Kirby.

We should add that FSOs (Generalist) and FS Specialists have an average of 12 years and 11 years, respectively, in the Department. Civil Service employees have about the same average number of years in the Department at 11 years.

Which means that the average employee came in during the Rice tenure under President Bush, and has served through two of President Obama’s terms under the Clinton and Kerry tenures at the State Department. The last time there was a huge policy shift during their employment was in 2008 when the White House transitioned from Republican to Democratic leadership.

No doubt there will be issues and policies in the future that some folks at the State Department may consider their red lines. But today is not that day.  The “panic” or freak out” at today’s, or rather yesterday’s reported request may have been driven by higher anxiety or trepidation but folks need to recognize the need for bureaucratic discernment, particularly during this transition, but also when the new administration is in place.

No one likes change but there it is every four or eight years.  The political appointees will leave to make way for new political appointees.  There will be new priorities and low priorities. Some old programs may be cancelled, and some new programs and initiatives will certainly be prioritized but the career services go on.  The State Department needs its best people now more than ever.  As Ambassador Bill Burns said recently, the ability of American diplomats to help interpret and navigate a complicated world matters more than ever.  We’re counting on our career folks not to get “rattled” whether dealing with this complicated world, or anything else.

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