The 71st Secretary of State on His First 100 Days

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Secretary of State Tony Blinken was confirmed the 71st Secretary of State on January 26, 2021.  If our counting fingers are correct, today is his 100th day anniversary. If not, well, we got some GIFs anyway for the anti-swagger secretary of state.
—1. The 71st Secretary of State did not cause an international embarrassment by using #swagger in his hashtag diplomacy. Employees here and abroad did not have to work under that witlessly desperate Department of Swagger seal. We have it in good authority that performance evaluations will not/will not suffer for lack of …. what’s that? Gotcha! Will not suffer for lack of excessive flamboyant swaggering.

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—2. He has not/not challenged female reporters to find Ukraine or any other country on an unlabeled world map following any interview. Why? Because he has a solid sense of self-control, a work requirement for a top diplomat. We do not expect him to lose his temper either before any reporter although he may serenade them.

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—3. He has not removed a reporter from the secretary of state’s upcoming trip because the reporter’s co-worker asked awesome but unwelcome questions. We have it from exceptional authority that “Petty” is not his secret security code name.

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—4. S did not end up visiting North Korea during his first 100 days but if/when he ends up visiting the “hermit kingdom,”  we expect reporters will not to get banned from the secretary of state’s plane for reporting about the top diplomat’s food choices. How do we know this? See #3. 

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—5. Given his prior performance, we predict that he will have the good sense not to smile for a photo-op if he must meet, as his job requires, with a foreign leader responsible for the dismembering of another human being.  No smiling, period! 

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—6. He has not/not started an infrastructure project to build bridges with wealthy donors and patrons for a future political campaign. Our very helpful source indicate that no infrastructure project of this kind is on the Secretary’s project list for his entire tenure. 

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—7. He has not uttered self-serving mush like, “I’m flattered when people say Tony will be a good United States senator representing New York.”  Fantastic! So we don’t have to play that silly ‘he’s running/he’s not running’ game.

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—8. He has not made “staff recruitment” trips to battleground states, unlike his predecessor, so that’s good! On the other hand, his Press Office in Foggy Bottom has an email chewing doggie for questions they do not like. Just like his two predecessor!  So, that’s not/not good! 

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—9. He has not/not assigned a Senior Advisor to handle important taskers such as picking up stuff, taking care of dogs, making salon appointments, planning events unrelated to the official mission, etc. etc. A source informed us that unlike in the immediate past, no DS agents have been sent to restaurants wearing brown paper bags over their heads to request waiving $8 plating fees for bringing in outside food. 

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–10. The 71st Secretary of State has not/not announced that he is trying to achieve good diplomatic outcomes for the  people of New York, his home state, even if it is the 4th most populous state in the country. He is not thirsting to become the next senator from New York or the next President from New York while doing his day job as Secretary of State. And that’s a very good thing. 

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Brought to you by your fully-vaccinated blogger:

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

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

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

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

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

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@SecBlinken’s Memo on COVID-19 Vaccinations and His Commitment to @StateDept Employees

Last week, Secretary Blinken sent a memo to State Department employees titled, “COVID-19 and My Commitment to You.”
The memo notes that “Our first priority must be to take care of our people—the more than 76,000 women and men who carry out the work of the Department in good times and tough times.”
He addressed the vaccination question:
“I know that many of you are asking, “When will I be vaccinated?” “When will my family be vaccinated?” My team and I want to get you and your families vaccinated as soon as possible—and we want to make this process as transparent as possible, so you have a better sense of how long it will take. We won’t stop until the entire workforce has the opportunity to be vaccinated. I wish this process were faster, but rest assured that we are pushing hard, and we will get there.”
The memo further notes that the State Department has “deployed nearly 80 percent of our received vaccine allotment to our overseas workforce” to-date. “Everyone at a given post is offered the vaccine at the same time. As the national supply increases, we will keep making the case for the State Department to receive our full allotment—as the lead foreign affairs agency and an integral member of the national security community with employees deployed in every corner of the globe, often in harm’s way,” Secretary Blinken wrote.
In his memo, Secretary Blinken also said, “we commit to keeping you informed with regular updates in the weeks ahead.”
He also encouraged all employees “to use leave to rest and recoup—and to seek help when necessary” and urged the need “to care of ourselves—and each other.”
Finally, Secretary Blinken said that he reminded the leadership team that we have no greater responsibility than the health, safety, and wellbeing of the people we’ve been entrusted to lead. Collectively, we are doing everything we can to support our entire workforce. We will get through this. And until then, let’s be sure to show one another the consideration, respect, and kindness everyone deserves. That’s how we will emerge from this crisis a strong—maybe even stronger—team, just as we’ve done in the face of other challenges throughout our long history.”
Also see @StateDept’s Vaccination Efforts For Overseas Posts Under Fire, a Test for @SecBlinken.


 

 

 

Reactions From President-Elect @JoeBiden’s Nominees

 

President-Elect @JoeBiden to Name Aide and Former State/D Tony Blinken as 71st Secretary of State

 

@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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