PSA For New Ambassadors Preparing to Ditch Their DCMs, Yo – Be Careful What You Wish For

Posted: 1:53 am ET

 

Remember in 2011 when we posted about the search queries in our blog for “Ambassador window of time to ask DCM to leave” and “When can the ambassador ask the DCM to leave”? (see Which Ambassador is planning to unload his/her DCM shortly and other curtailment news).

The Ambassador-DCM relationship is among the most important in determining the success of a diplomatic mission. At some point if it doesn’t work, a former DCM and now retired FSO who spoke from experience told us, “it’s better to move on.”  But that’s altogether different from not even giving the new working relationship a chance to work.

We have it in good authority that a reminder is needed about tossing out a deputy ambassador without considering the consequences. Below is a post from 2011 that we are reposting as a Public Service Announcement for the newbies:

In diplo-speak, the query is about curtailment which means shortening an employee’s tour of duty from his or her assignment. It may include the employee’s immediate departure from a bureau or post.  In this instance, possibly that of the deputy chief of mission in some unknown embassy (where about a third of total posts are encumbered by political ambassadors).

The Foreign Affairs Manual, fondly known as the FAM says that curtailment is an assignment action, not a disciplinary one. Ha-ha! Oops, did I laugh out loud? Hookay, it may not be a disciplinary one but it follows the employee around, kind of like a dark cloud that follows Eeyore all over the place.

Now on to the law of unintended consequences —

Remember the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark who according to the OIG report asked her DCM to leave post in January 2010?  That resulted in a DCM staffing gap of 9 months. That’s 270 days where the chief of mission (that is, the ambassador) even with an acting DCM may be forced to function as her/his own executive officer dealing with the nuts and bolts of running an embassy.

The regs says that the ambassador can initiate an involuntary curtailment, which gives the chief of mission wide authority over this matter.  In fact, one political ambassador went though five DCMs during his tenure as George W’s ambo in paradise. The whole two Bush terms. We even wrote a tanka about it.  Another political ambassador went through seven permanent and temporary DCMs in less than one presidential term.  Only one served more than six months! That one deserves a super tanka, I know, just haven’t got around to writing it.

Anyway, kicking out the embassy’s #2 officer may seem easy enough – he/she is not your relative and the USG pays for him/her to be relocated elsewhere but we must point out something kinda important here. See, State Department assignments are usually arranged so that folks have assignments a year before they move or rotate to their new posts. Which means, when the chief of mission unloads a staffer, particularly in the higher ranks, there isn’t anyone waiting in the wings to take over at a moment’s notice. Except sometimes, the mothership sends in a retired Foreign Service Office to be temp DCM. Which is fine and all, except what happens if you don’t like him/her, too? I imagine that’s how you could end up as a record holder of sorts or in the top list of folks who should get Bob Sutton’s book for Christmas. And that’s not something you really want to hang on your wall next to that stuffed moose head, trust me.

So like Eminem sings it —

….be careful what you wish for

cause you just might get it and if you get it

then you just might not know what to do wit’ it ….

You’re welcome!

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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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PSA: If You’re Using Gmail, Consider Getting a U2F Security Key to Secure Your Account

Posted: 1:38 am ET
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The private email of a State Department official working in the Office of Analysis for Russia and Eurasia (INR/REA) was reportedly hacked. FP reported a few days ago that the throve of emails include at least two years’ worth of personal emails from the private Gmail account, as well as personal information.

Whether you’ve been using Gmail for years, or have recently moved from Hotmail to Gmail, you need to consider getting a Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) security key to secure your private email account. You can start with FIDO U2F from Yubico if you want to check it out. It is  pretty straightforward to set-up. Note that you can only use the key with Gmail when using the Chrome browser (or Opera) at this time. We’re not on FB or Dropbox but you can reportedly use this key to secure those accounts, too.

For folks who must regularly update wills and prepare “go-bags” (pdf), here is one more thing to consider:

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PSA: No More Extra U.S. Passport Pages After Dec 31, 2015

Posted: 12:31 am EDT
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We’ve previously blogged about this back in April (see Next Generation U.S. Passport To Roll Out in 2016, No More Additional Page Insert Starting Jan 1, 2016).  The US Embassy Bangkok below has a reminder, that extra pages will no longer be available after December 31, 2015. Check your nearest embassy or consulate if you need additional pages before then.

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PSA: Know the Risk #Raise Your Shield Campaign: Spear Phishing

Posted: 4:02 am EDT
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The National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) is responsible for leading the counterintelligence and security mission across the USG. It is putting out the campaign focusing on spear phishing. It will reportedly be targeting social media, human targeting, and travel awareness. You can learn more at http://www.ncsc.gov but fair warning, the website is slow and cumbersome, hard to navigate and not terribly user-friendly.

Via the Office of the Director of National Intelligence:


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Here’s the Don’t Be THIS Guy: Spear Phishing video:

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US Embassy Ljubljana: Where Ambassador Mussomeli Runs for Office in Election 2012

US Ambassador to Slovenia Joseph A. Mussomeli gets a starring role in this public service announcement urging U.S. citizens to register to vote.  Gotta give the brains behind this a thumbs up for fun and creativity. We particularly like the pan down of the ambo’s feet. Wait! He’s barefoot! And he’s running for president?  And he wears a shirt that says “I am awesome.” What’s this world coming to, only awesome people can run for the presidency?

In any case, if you don’t vote this guy will win, he has a 100% approval rating from a most ignored but easily swayed demographic.

New absentee voting info for overseas voters via the US Embassy in Slovenia:

New absentee voting laws are in effect for the 2012 elections.  You will no longer automatically receive ballots based on a previous absentee ballot request.  All U.S. citizens outside the United States who want to vote by absentee ballot in the 2012 primary and general elections must complete a new Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) every year if they wish to vote from abroad.  States are now required to send out ballots 45 days before an election.  No matter what state you vote in, you can now ask your local election officials to provide your blank ballots to you electronically (by email, internet download, or fax, depending on your state).  You can now also confirm your registration and ballot delivery on-line.  Be sure to include your email address on the form to take advantage of the electronic ballot delivery option.  This is the fastest and most reliable way to receive your ballot on time, and we strongly recommend every overseas voter take advantage of it.  Learn more at the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s (FVAP) website www.FVAP.gov.

Go register and vote.

 

 

 

 

PSA Diversity Visa Scam: Meet Our YouTube Stars

The diversity visa scam email recently forwarded to this blog made me look up the scam alerts and public service announcements (PSA) on the same subject. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the following are the videos put together by our consular sections to warn the public against the diversity visa or green card lottery scams.   Our top pick is the PSA from the US Embassy in Bangkok and our second pick is from the US Embassy in Tbilisi. The first two PSAs are clear, camera sharp, short and to the point, and both carry subtitles in the local language. The consular officers have camera presence, well-modulated voice, good lighting, and lucky enough to have excellent audio-visual support.

Tips on how to avoid Diversity Visa scam
US Embassy Bangkok | Duration 1:45 min

Green Card Lottery Scam
US Embassy Tbilisi |  1:17 min

Diversity Visa Lottery Fraud Warning
US Embassy Prague |  1:26
This video with Consul General David Beam from U.S. Embassy Prague is short but not so sweet, has no subtitle in Czech and the camera image is shadowy and fuzzy.

Diversity Visa Lottery Fraud
US Embassy Islamabad | 1:06
This PSA with Brad is short and sweet, to the point, and has a subtitle. But the speaker talks too fast, too animated and twitches around so much it makes me dizzy. The video transition is also distracting.

Whatever you do, if you’re planning your own PSA, stay away from the Fox and the Bear, like the US Embassy in Romania whose consular section has put together three videos on diversity visa scams.

http://youtu.be/oymH1u6ZmTk 6:59
http://youtu.be/w0bGoRUPYao 7:51
http://youtu.be/anPBna9oRzY  8:40

Apparently, the Fox and the Bear tale was based on a Romanian folktale like this one.  Maybe the Fox Tricked the Bear tale could work as warning props but these videos are all over 5 minutes in length — that’s too long for a PSA and I’m sorry to say, quite boring.

Domani Spero