At the @StateDept’s International Women of Courage Awards, a Regrettable Lack of Courage

Published 12:15 am EDT

 

Secretary Pompeo (Mar. 7  – Excerpt):

Women of courage exist everywhere. Most will never be honored. They face different challenges, but challenges that still matters. I’ve personally, of course, had this experience as well. I’ve witnessed women service in my time in the military and have been inspired by them in my personal life. My mother, too, was a woman of courage. She was born in rural Kansas. She helped make ends meet while raising three kids. She never managed to get to college, but made sure that each of us had enormous opportunity. You all know women like this. They’re strong. She was dedicated to providing opportunity for me and my siblings, and we didn’t appreciate the sacrifices that she had endured. And she also raised me to be really smart; I met another courageous woman, Susan, my wife, who’s here with me today. (Laughter and applause.)

We all know – I know – from a lifetime of experience that women of courage exist everywhere and they’re needed everywhere. That’s one reason I’ve appointed women to dozens of senior leadership roles here at the place I am privileged to work. From under secretaries to assistant secretaries to non-career ambassadorships, we know here we can’t succeed without empowering women worldwide, and that means we need to make sure that we have women empowered at our department worldwide.

And now it’s my honor to welcome our distinguished guest speaker today, a woman of incredible power and courage, a woman who has been a powerful advocate in her own right. Since becoming First Lady, she’s been increasingly outspoken against the enslavement of human trafficking and sexual abuse of women and girls all around the globe. I know she will continue to be an influential leader, an influential voice who inspires future women leaders like herself all around the world. Please join me in welcoming the First Lady of the United States of America, Melania Trump. (Applause.)  Full Text»

Wow, okay, can somebody please tell the secretary of state that he needs better speechwriters, pronto?!

Also you’ve probably seen the news already about the rescinded award for Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro.  FP reported:

“…the State Department spokesperson said in an email that Aro was “incorrectly notified” that she had been chosen for the award and that it was a mistake that resulted from “a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies.” “We regret this error. We admire Ms. Aro’s achievements as a journalist, which were the basis of U.S. Embassy Helsinki’s nomination,” the spokesperson said.
[…]
To U.S. officials who spoke to FP, the incident underscores how skittish some officials—career and political alike—have become over government dealings with vocal critics of a notoriously thin-skinned president.
[…]
In the minds of some diplomats, this has created an atmosphere where lower-level officials self-censor dealings with critics of the administration abroad, even without senior officials weighing in.

Our understanding is that posts who submit  nominations for this award are typically required to affirm that they had thoroughly vetted their candidates,  including social media.  The nominations do not happen in secret. Posts actually have to tell their candidates that they’re being nominated otherwise they may not be available when the award is handed out. Posts also have to tell their candidates when they are not selected.

It is likely that we won’t now exactly what happened here until we get to the oral history part many years down the road.

For now, we’re just watching out on who will throw those unnamed lower level officials under the bus, then run them over some more until you see the tire tracks on their souls?

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Finns and Friends #RakeTheForest For Trump’s California Fire Prevention Moment

 

After you’re done laughing out loud, please consider (if you can) helping the displaced people in California who lost loved ones and homes in the wildfires.  Below are links to a few groups. Thank you!

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Trump Arrives in Helsinki For “Meeting” With Putin, Not Summit

 

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Happy December! Amb. Adams Had Already Met With the Real Santa in Helsinki

Posted: 12:53 am EDT
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Via
US Embassy Finland/FB:

You’ll never guess who the Ambassador just met in Rovaniemi…the real Santa Claus! We can’t share what he wished for (or it won’t come true). But we can share that he is participating in the #RovaniemiProcess. We all wish the best for Santa’s home in the Arctic and the #RovaniemiProcess will help make that happen. Check it out to learn more: http://www.rovaniemiprocess.fi/en

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Ambassador Charles Adams, Jr. was born on August 25, 1947, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where his father, a career officer of the U.S. Foreign Service, was on assignment. As an FS kid, he had previously lived in Canada, France, Germany, Morocco, Senegal and Ghana.  He was nominated by the White House in July 2014, and was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 24, 2015. He assumed charge of Embassy Helsinki on August 3, 2015.

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Confirmations: Adams (Finland), Phee (S.Sudan), Pettit (Latvia),Delawie (Kosovo), Kelly (Georgia), Noyes (Croatia)

Posted: 7:30 pm  PDT
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On June 24, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominations by voice vote:

Cal. #129 – Charles C. Adams, Jr., of Maryland, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Finland.

Cal. #130 – Mary Catherine Phee, of Illinois, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of South Sudan

Cal. #149 – Nancy Bikoff Pettit, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Latvia.

Cal. #150 – Gregory T. Delawie, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Kosovo.

Cal. #151 – Ian C. Kelly, of Illinois, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Georgia.

Cal. #152 – Julieta Valls Noyes, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Croatia.

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The State Dept’s Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 2015)

Posted: 11:31 EST
Updated: 21:57 PST

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The “cost-of-living” allowance or COLA is officially called “post allowance” in the State Department.  It is an allowance based on a percentage of “spendable income,” i.e. money you can really put your hands on to spend on goods and services.  The allowance is calculated by comparing costs for goods and services in multiple categories – including food (consumed at home or in restaurants), tobacco/alcohol, clothing, personal care items, furnishings, household goods, medical services, recreation, public transportation, or vehicle-related expenses – to the cost of those same goods and services in Washington, D.C.

The State Department’s Office of Allowances determines a ratio between the average cost of goods and services at the foreign post to costs in Washington, D.C.  It then evaluate expenditure patterns between the foreign location and Washington, D.C. to establish an overall cost index, which may be adjusted biweekly for exchange rate fluctuations.  If the overall cost of goods and services at a foreign post, taking into account expenditure patterns, is at least 3% above the cost of the same goods and services in the Washington, D.C. area, the office  establish a post allowance. See DSSR section 220 for more information.

According to state.gov, this allowance is a balancing factor designed to permit employees to spend the same portion of their basic compensation for current living as they would in Washington, D.C., without incurring a reduction in their standard of living because of higher costs of goods and services at the post.  The amount varies depending on salary level and family size.

We put together a list of countries and posts with the highest State Department COLA rate as of January 2015. Posts in Europe (EUR), Africa (AF), East Asia Pacific (EAP) and the Western Hemisphere (WHA) are represented.  No posts from South Central Asia (SCA) and Near East Asia (NEA) made it to this top list.  The traditionally expected expensive posts like Tokyo, Vienna, Hong Kong, Sydney and Rome are all in the 35% COLA rate and are not included in this list (we chopped the list at 42%; representative posts in France at the 42% rate are included).

Note that we added a couple of columns for the cost of a McDonald’s meal (or equivalent) and cost of a regular cappuccino from numbeo.com, a crowdsourcing site for cost of goods and services around the world. For another snapshot  on most expensive cities for expat employees, click here with data from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living ranking (costs compared to NYC) and Mercer’s Cost of Living surveys from 2014.

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

 

 Update:
Corrected the spelling for Ediburgh. Also the Allowances Bi-Weekly Updates dated February 8, 2015 indicate several changes on the COLA table, so we updated it to reflect that newest data. Switzerland went from 90% to 100% in this latest update. Shanghai, Copenhagen, Auckland and Wellington went from 50% to 42% COLA posts.  Helsinki, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Versailles and Oslo were all downgraded from 42% to 35%, so we took them off this table. It is conceivable that the rankings in allowances will change again in a couple of weeks or in a few months.  The bi-weekly updates are located here.  The original list we did based on end of January data is located here.

 

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Photo of the Day: Ambassador Oreck Poses With Naked Finnish Arms in New Holiday Card

— Domani Spero

You might remember this blog post this spring: US Embassy Helsinki: Ambassador Bruce “Biceps” Oreck Launches Innovation Center.  That post includes a photo of Ambassador Oreck’s holiday card from 2012 showing a naked arm.  Imagine the scandal!

Now he’s baaaack!.  Folks, say hello to the members of the Finnish Sauna Society and Ambassador Oreck.  No foreseeable scandal.  Includes only Finnish naked arms, and proof of lesson learned!

And not/not Photoshopped.

Finland_oreck xmas

Now, go complain why he’s wearing a shirt in the sauna!

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US Embassy Helsinki: Ambassador Bruce “Biceps” Oreck Launches Innovation Center

Remember in December when our man in Finland, Ambassador Bruce Oreck caused quite a stir when his holiday card made it to Al Kamen’s In The Loop column? This one:

oreck

Boulder’s Daily Camera could not resist with “Call it bicep diplomacy. Hopefully he doesn’t set off an arms race.”  Ahaha! And here he is without a shirt on featured on the cover of Kuukausiliite.

We must say that if we were approaching the big 60 and we have guns like that, we would pose without a shirt, too. And then you’d call that gun-boat diplomacy, no? But hey, so what?!

Last year Ambassador Oreck also wore a fashionable rhubarb summer hat but no one complained about that. Take a look, isn’t that cute?!

Ambassador Oreck and Ms. Cody Oreck visited the charming Kumpula School Garden on June 15. Host Janne Länsipuro (in the photo) styled a fashionable rhubarb summer hat for the Ambassador as it was a warm and sunny day!

Ambassador Oreck visited the charming Kumpula School Garden on June 15. Host Janne Länsipuro (in the photo) styled a fashionable rhubarb summer hat for the Ambassador as it was a warm and sunny day! (Photo via US Embassy Finland)

But we want to write this post because we actually are quite of fan of Ambassador Oreck’s approach to his job  in Finland.  Pardon me? Oh, yes … we know he is a political appointee, that’s not necessarily a red mark in our books. Why? We just happen to think that one is either a good steward of the U.S. mission overseas or not. So there’s no “but” here.

Anyway, you might not remember this but the US Embassy in Helsinki celebrated the 236th Independence Day with hard hats.  That’s because they were in the middle of a renovation project at post.  Instead of renting out a place somewhere for the 4th of July celebration, they (including the guests) just put on hard hats and carried on with the fun.

And remember the official residence in Embassy Port of Spain  which the OIG described as having “a feeling of neglect and disrepair, in part because the previous Ambassador viewed repair activities as intrusive?”  Well, it was the exact opposite in Finland.  In December last year, Ambassador Oreck’s wife  posted this on the embassy blog, which we thought was amiable and considerate:

Work continues apace here at the Embassy to restore the Residence and to open the Innovation Center.  Since we are passionate about both historic preservation AND high-performance building techniques, we have decided that it is better to live through the chaos ourselves so that the next Ambassador won’t have to deal with the disruption. We deeply appreciate the forbearance of our dear neighbors.  We do literally feel your pain!

Storybook_innovation_Center_2_blog

Embassy renovation project (photo via US Embassy Finland)

State/OIG also did an inspection of US Embassy Helsinki. The report says that there were concerns about the 9 months of noisy and dirty construction, and the lack of information about what comes next but the inspectors reported that “It is clear that employees do not question the need to renovate the dilapidated and unsafe facilities at Embassy Helsinki. Many also understand that without the Ambassador’s persistence, the project would not be underway (a judgment shared by OBO).” Also this:

An energetic, construction savvy, and persistent Ambassador has revived a stalled project to renovate the antiquated and unsafe chancery buildings; he is extremely involved in all details of the renovation and sees keeping the project on schedule as one of the greatest contributions he can make during his time in Finland. 

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) acknowledges that the embassy renovation project would not have been funded or advanced at an accelerated pace without the constant pressure of the Ambassador, both from Helsinki and during frequent trips to Washington.

Screen Shot 2013-04-25

In Helsinki, new high-security spaces–mostly without windows–had to be inserted into a complex setting of heritage buildings and neighborhood, on a prominently visible site looking out over the Gulf of Finland. Here too climate was significant, as well as the profound cultural context of modern architecture and design in Finland.The new wing is attached to a remodeled 1926 apartment house, the Annex, and had to fit into a tightly circumscribed footprint, as determined by security requirements–an exercise we called ‘form follows setback’. But we welcomed the fish-shaped plan that resulted, as a form complementary to the historic neighbors, a contrast that is accentuated by materiality. The curved walls are rendered in vertically textured warm white brick toward the street, and a spectrum of textured glass surfaces facing the waterfront, reflecting the often icy context of the Gulf, as well as Finland’s famed modern glass craft. (Via Moore Ruble Yudell)

Ambassador Oreck reportedly logged about 250,000 miles in dozens of trips between Washington, D.C., and Helsinki to personally address concerns about costs and security. “In 36 months, we went from ‘no’ to ‘done,’ ” he said.

Early this year, the embassy staff returned to the building and the Innovation Center was officially opened in late February. The Innovation Center houses the public offices of the U.S. Embassy in Finland and is reportedly one of the most energy efficient embassy buildings in the world.  According to the embassy, the Center also “harnesses the best of Finnish technology by being the first U.S. government building in the world to use district cooling and heating.”

Somebody once said that it’s what you do on your third and fourth tries that matters.  We’re glad that Ambassador Oreck did not give up when he was told ‘no’ the first time.
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