The Philippines Sends USG Notice of Military-Pact Termination #VFA #180days

 

Via Rappler (Philippines):

On Monday night, February 10, Duterte launched a fresh round of verbal tirades against the US saying while top officials, including President Donald Trump, were trying to salvage the VFA, he was bent on having it terminated. (EXPLAINER: Visiting Forces Agreement)

Duterte first broached his plan to terminate the VFA on January 23, after the US canceled the visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa. Dela Rosa is Duterte’s first Philippine National Police chief known as the architect behind the government’s bloody anti-drug campaign.

The President later said he was serious about his decision, adding his choice to do so was anchored on US lawmakers’ moves to impose travel and financial restrictions on Philippine officials linked to the detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima and alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs) under the Duterte administration. (READ: Why the Global Magnitsky Act matters to the Philippines)

 

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Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch Retires From the Foreign Service After 34 Years of Service

Updated: 3:54 pm PST with correction on Amb. Yovanovitch’s promotion to Career Minister in 2016.

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine who was one of the top witnesses in the Trump Impeachment hearings reportedly retired from the State Department.  Ambassador Yovanovitch served 34 years in the U.S. Foreign Service.  She previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia (2008-2011) under President Obama and to the Kyrgyz Republic (2005-2008) under President George W. Bush.
Based on her online bio, Ambassador Yovanovitch is 61 years old, which is four years short of the mandatory retirement in the U.S. Foreign Service. (Foreign Service employees are eligible to retire at age 50 with 20 years of service).
Ambassador Yovanovitch was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service Class of Minister-Counselor in 2007. She was ranked Minister-Counselor during her last two appointments as Ambassador to Armenia in 2008 and as Ambassador to Ukraine in 2016. The maximum time-in-class (TIC) limits for Minister-Counselor is “14 years combined TIC with no more than seven years in the class of Counselor.” We don’t have public details beyond what is on congress.gov and the FAM, but it looks like she has not reach her maximum TIC in 2020. It is also likely that she was eligible for promotion to Career Minister prior to her retirement. Correction: Amb. Yovanovitch was promoted to Career Minister in 2016 (thanks B!)
So why would she retire? Perhaps she got exhausted by all the controversy. Or perhaps she simply realized that, given her rank, she could not find a warm home in Pompeo’s State Department nor is she going to get another presidential appointment under this Administration.  Having been yanked out of one assignment without an onward assignment, with a huge WH target on her back, we’ve always suspected that she would not be able to return to Foggy Bottom or get another overseas assignment.
Per 3 FAM 6215 career members of the Foreign Service who have completed Presidential assignments under section 302(b) of the Foreign Service Act, and who have not been reassigned within 90 days after the termination of such assignment, plus any period of authorized leave, shall be retired as provided in section 813 of the Act. 
Ambassador Yovanovitch was detailed to a university for a year. As a career member of the Foreign Service,  she was recalled from an assignment but wasn’t fired after her posting at the US Embassy in Kyiv. In reality, her career ended in Kyiv. Without that university assignment, it’s likely that she would have been subjected to the 90-day rule and be forced into mandatory retirement last summer.
In any case, that university assignment would have ran out this spring but in May 2019, it allowed the State Department to pretend that this was a normal job rotation. For the State Department, it also avoided one spectacle: given that the recall quickly became very high profile and political, they would have had to explain her mandatory retirement in Summer 2019 following the conclusion of her presidential appointment without an onward assignment.
Her case underscores some realities of the Foreign Service that folks will continue to wrestle with for a long time. How breathtakingly easy it was for motivated bad actors to whisper in powerful, receptive ears and ruin a 34-year career. You may have thought that Administration officials could not possibly have believed the whispers, that over three decades of dedicated service meant something, but believed them they did. Since this happened to her, how easily could it happen to anyone, at any post, at any given country around the world? Then to realize how thin the protection afforded career employees, and how easily the system adapts to the political demands of the day.
Note that in the Foreign Service, retirements may be either voluntary or involuntary. According to State, involuntary retirements include those due to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65 (except DS special agents where the mandatory retirement age is 57), which cannot be waived unless an employee is serving in a Presidential appointment, or if the Director General of the Foreign Service determines that the employee’s retention in active duty is in the “public interest”; and those who trigger the “up-or-out” rules in the FS personnel system (e.g., restrictions in the number of years FS employees can remain in one class or below the Senior Foreign Service threshold).
Voluntary non-retirements include resignations, transfers, and deaths. Involuntary non-retirements consist of terminations, as well as “selection out” of tenured employees and non-tenured decisions for entry level FS employees.
Between FY 2018 and FY 2022, the Department projected that close to 5,900 career CS and FS employees will leave the Department due to various types of attrition.  Most FS attrition reportedly is due to retirements. In FY 2017, 70 percent of all separations from the FS were retirements. For the FY 2018 to FY 2022 period, the attrition mix is expected to be 80 percent retirements and 20 percent non-retirements.

 

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Secretary of State, Fourth in Line to the Throne, Sends “Perfect Message” and Gaslights the Whole World

 

Just before we went offline last week, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo went viral for his after-interview encounter with NPR host Mary Louise Kelly (see  Oy! NPR Host’s Questions About Amb. Yavonovitch Triggers Pompeo Meltdown).  And because bullying behavior is not a bug but a feature in this administration, Pompeo’s treatment of the NPR host was readily approved by the President of the United States. “That reporter couldn’t have done too good a job on you yesterday, huh? I think you did a good job on her, actually.” Such normalized behavior that the whole room broke into laughter and Pompeo even got a standing ovation, and a pat on the back for his effort.
How come the State Department has not given this guy their professional ethos award yet? How long before the Foreign Service Institute start teaching Pompeo’s leadership principles? When are you going to hang up your selfie with somebody who is obviously a “perfect” role model for diplomatic demeanor and professional behavior in this upside down world?
Prior to Pompeo’s trip to Europe and Central Asia (London, U.K.; Kyiv, Ukraine; Minsk, Belarus; Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan; and Tashkent, Uzbekistan January 29 to February 4), NPR reporter Michele Kelemen was notified that she was being removed from the press pool covering Pompeo’s trip. It should be noted that Michele Kelemen is NPR’s diplomatic correspondent and Mary Louise Kelly, the reporter who Pompeo reportedly berated is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR’s award-winning afternoon newsmagazine. Unlike Pompeo (who’s meltdown was triggered by questions about his “defense” of Ambassador Yovanovitch), NPR President and CEO John Lansing came out publicly to defend an NPR employee doing her job. We expect that Mr. Lansing and NPR will pay a price for making that difference in treatment starkly clear.
This is not the first time pettiness was demonstrated by State when it comes to its treatment of journalists covering the agency. In 2018, Bloomberg’s Nick Wadhams covering Pompeo’s trip to North Korea wrote about Pompey breakfast of “toast and slices of processed cheese” thereafter known as “the Pompeo cheese incident.” Somebody wasn’t happy with that coverage and Wadhams was subsequently informed by State that he would not be allowed on Pompeo’s plane for then upcoming trip to the Helsinki summit.
It seems writing about unhealthy food intake and dropped f-bombs can get reporters booted off the USG plane.
On February 2, during a stop in Kazakhstan, Pompeo was asked about the NPR incident and the kind of message it sends to countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus, whose governments routinely suppress press freedom. And below is Magic Mike’s response about the “perfect message” it sends:

QUESTION: Okay, let’s turn to the question about rights and press freedom. Last year RFE-RL journalists were physically attacked while doing their jobs, multiple times, and authorities have made no progress to try to find those responsible. Before you departed to this trip you had a confrontational interview with a National Public Radio reporter, and after that trip your department removed another NPR reporter from the press pool. Did you retaliate against NPR? What kind of message does it send to countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus, whose governments routinely suppress press freedom?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I didn’t have a confrontational interview with an NPR reporter any more than I have confrontational interviews all the time. In America that’s the greatness of our nation: Reporters like yourself get to ask me any question and all questions. We take hundreds and hundreds of questions. We talk openly. We express our view; they ask their questions. That’s how we proceed in America. And with respect to who travels with me, I always bring a big press contingent, but we ask for certain sets of behaviors, and that’s simply telling the truth and being honest. And when they’ll do that, they get to participate, and if they don’t, it’s just not appropriate – frankly, it’s not fair to the rest of the journalists who are participating alongside of them.

QUESTION: But what kind of message will it send?

SECRETARY POMPEO: It sends a message – it’s a perfect message. It’s a perfect message about press freedoms. They’re free to ask questions. There were – there’s a reporter from that very business who was at a press conference just yesterday. It’s wide open in America. I love it. I hope the rest of the world will follow our press freedoms and the great things we do in the United States.

Perfect message!
Jesusmariajosep!
Pompeo asking “for certain sets of behaviors, and that’s simply telling the truth and being honest” is one of the most laughable parts of that interview with the 70th secretary of state. Tee-hee-hee! When he makes this kind of point, it makes us laugh and pee-pee in pain. Ugh! Get us some Depend Hiphuggers already, we won’t be able to stop laughing at this for a while!
Since the rest of the world is not stupid, folks can presumably see what kind of “perfect message” the secretary of state is actually sending to the press corps. In the aftermath of “the Pompeo cheese incident”, even if they were wronged, Wadhams and Bloomberg reportedly declined to make any comment. As far as we know, Bloomberg has not been blocked from the plane in other trips.
In the case of NPR, the public radio’s CEO came out to defend his reporter, and Mary Louise Kelly not only reported about the bullying in the post-interview incident but also wrote about it (also see “Pompeo Called Me a ‘Liar.’ That’s Not What Bothers Me)“. The State Department’s response was to bar, not Kelly but another NPR reporter from covering the trip. The message is perfectly clear: if they don’t like your questions, or your reporting, or demeanor when conducting an interview, they will not only kick you out, they will kick out every other reporter from your organization. They will put you in an ice box and they will bury that ice box under the dog house 60 feet down, and throw away the shovel.
So the next time something like this happens, will our media outlets expect their reporters to just take the abuse quietly? Or lose their chance to ask questions from this um … “exemplary” public servant (and great secretary of state in an alternate universe) who gets a standing ovation for behaving badly. We hope they’re thinking about this now because this will happen again. And again.
We’ve seen this happened in other countries, haven’t we? In countries where the government has successfully “trained” the media to “behave” a certain way in its press coverage, and where journalists then “get to participate” —  it’s always sunny, life is always great, the people are always free, and their government, of course, is always, always truthful and honest in its  island of perfection.

For the Record: “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.” #ParnasTapes

 

 

Was it the Mustache or the $5Billion Demand For U.S. Military Forces #furloughwarning

 

Ambassador Harry Harris was originally nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to Australia in February 2018. The nomination was withdrawn by May 2018 and he was nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea the same month. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 28, 2018  by voice vote. He arrived in Seoul in July that year, and made his first public appearance on July 7, 2018.
As far as we could tell, he’s been sporting that mustache since he arrived in Seoul almost two years ago.  We did not hear about the mustache in 2018, so it has to be more than the mustache when the bad press started in the later part of 2019. If he was pestering the host country to pay up for the cost of U.S. troops in the country, that could do it. He’s not a career diplomat but he was a career military official. That means whatever he’s doing is blessed by his chain of command in Foggy Bottom. Or by the guy talking loudly on Twitter.
So apparently, the United States originally demanded $5 billion in payment for U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. Now it’s down to slightly under a billion or else. Bloomberg is reporting that the USG will send furlough notices within weeks to the base workers if no deal is made.

U.S. officials have indicated they’ve backed off Trump’s initial demand that President Moon Jae-in’s administration pay about $5 billion a year for U.S. forces stationed there, more than five times the $900 million in a stopgap one-year agreement that expired on Dec. 31.[…]U.S. officials say they are required to give those workers 60 days’ advance notice that their pay might be cut off because the last of the funds under the previous deal is running out.

Watch out. This is the same Administration which shut down the Federal Government for 35 days from December 22, 2018 until January 25, 2019 making it the record holder of the longest U.S. government shutdown in history.

Ex-@StateDept DAS and NSC’s Russia Expert Andrew Peek on Admin Leave Pending Investigation

 

Andrew Peek was part of the Trump Landing Team at the State Department in December 2016 (see Trump Transition: Additional Agency Landing Team Members For @StateDept).
On  December 8, 2017, Foreign Policy reported that Peek, a former U.S. military intelligence officer  and former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve was to become the deputy assistant secretary of state covering Iran and Iraq.
Peek officially became the NEA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iran and Iraq on December 11, 2017.  He replaced Chris Backemeyer who was deputy assistant secretary for Iran in 2017. Chris Backemeyer currently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Assistance Coordination and Press and Public Diplomacy in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Peek also replaced Joseph Pennington, a career foreign service officer who was deputy assistant secretary for Iraq (2015-18). Joe Pennington is currently the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.
Click here for Peek’s official bio per state.gov.
On January 18, Axios and other media outlets report that Peek who had Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison’s job at the NSC since November 2019 has “been placed on administrative leave pending a security-related investigation.” Bloomberg reporter notes that “the top Russia expert on Trump’s National Security Council has left his post, escorted out of the White House on Friday.”

 

GAO Report Cites @StateDept’s Obstruction in Ukraine Security Funds Review

 

Via GAO:

We also question actions regarding funds appropriated to State for security assistance to Ukraine. In a series of apportionments in August of 2019, OMB withheld from obligation some foreign military financing (FMF) funds for a period of six days. These actions may have delayed the obligation of $26.5 million in FMF funds. See OMB Response, at 3. An additional $141.5 million in FMF funds may have been withheld while a congressional notification was considered by OMB
[…]
Letter from General Counsel, GAO, to Secretary of State and Acting Legal Adviser, State (Nov. 25, 2019). State provided us with limited information.
[…]
As a result, we will renew our request for specific information from State and OMB regarding the potential impoundment of FMF funds in order to determine whether the Administration’s actions amount to a withholding subject to the ICA, and if so, whether that withholding was proper. We will continue to pursue this matter.

HFAC Seeks @StateDept Documents on Possible Surveillance of Amb Yovanovitch