Confirmations: Baucus, Rivkin, Sewall, Stengel

— Domani Spero

 

On February 11, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following executive nominations for the State Department:

Previously on February 6, the Senate also confirmed the nomination of Max Sieben Baucus, of Montana, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the People’s Republic of China.

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Drowning in Smoggy Delhi: There’s No Blue Sky, So Where’s Blueair? (Updated)

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— Domani Spero

In December last year, Hindustan Times reported on how air and water pollution plagued Indian cities:

One in three people in India live in critically-polluted areas that have noxious levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and lung-clogging particulate matter larger than 10 micron (PM10) in size. Of the 180 cities monitored by India’s Central Pollution Control Board in 2012, only two — Malapuram and Pathanamthitta in Kerala — meet the criteria of low air pollution (50% below the standard).

The NYT also reported in February last year  that “The thick haze of outdoor air pollution common in India today is the nation’s fifth-largest killer.”

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response
Photo from January 11, 2013
(click on image to read more)

The State/OIG report from 2011 says that the health environment for US Embassy employees in India is “challenging, punctuated by frequent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.”  That’s putting it mildly.  Reports about the air pollution in India is nothing new but has not been as widely reported as the “fog” in China. That’s probably because we have @BeijingAir monitoring crazy bad air in China and no @DelhiAir to report on India’s bad air.  NYT reported this week that “The United States does not release similar readings from its New Delhi Embassy, saying the Indian government releases its own figures.” Click here to see NYT’s follow-up report why.

The Times of India notes that “Lately, a very bad air day in Beijing is about an average one in New Delhi” and cites disturbing comparative numbers between the two cities:

Clean Air Asia, an advocacy group, found that another common measure of pollution known as PM10, for particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, averaged 117 in Beijing in a six-month period in 2011. In New Delhi, the Center for Science and Environment used government data and found that an average measure of PM10 in 2011 was 281, nearly two-and-a-half times higher.

Of course, FS folks have been living and hearing about this for years.  Haven’t you heard — “If you have asthma or other breathing issues, think long and hard before committing to New Delhi?”  Last year, an FS member said, “Very unhealthy, especially for young children, during winter when dung, garbage, and everything else is burnt for warmth, and smog traps it within Delhi.”  In 2010, somebody assigned to New Delhi warned that “Asthma and skin disorders are on the rise.

We understand that you don’t get to see the blue sky for a couple of months. In 2011, somebody called it, “the worst in the world.”

This past weekend, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network released its 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.   The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks how well countries perform on high-priority environmental issues in two broad policy areas: protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems.

The announcement made special mention of improvement in India’s overall performance but cites dramatic declines on air quality. The announcement notes that “India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

India ranks 155th out of 178 countries in its efforts to address environmental challenges, according to the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). India performs the worst among other emerging economies including, China, which ranks 118th, Brazil, at 77th, Russia, at 73rd, and South Africa at 72nd.
[…]
In particular, India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

“Although India is an ‘emerging market’ alongside China, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, its environment severely lags behind these others,” said Angel Hsu of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and lead author of the report.“ Very low GDP per capita coupled with the second highest population in the world means India’s environmental challenge is more formidable than that faced by other emerging economies.”

Image via http://epi.yale.edu

Image via http://epi.yale.edu

This is not a health hazard that just showed up yesterday. So we were surprised to hear that at a town hall meeting at Embassy New Delhi, a medical professional reportedly said that none of the government issued embassy purifiers at the mission do the fine particles.

Wait, the US Embassy in New Delhi issued air purifiers that do not work for the  finest particles — the particles that do the most damage?

How did that happen?

Some folks apparently are now buying their own air purifiers. A mission member reportedly spent $1600 for purifiers to allow a breath of clean air inside the house.

Dear US Embassy India, we would have liked an official comment, but your public affairs ninja ignores email inquiries.  Call me, maybe — we’d like to know which smart dolt spent all that money for decorative air purifiers.

On a related note, early this month, China Daily reported that in December last year, the US Embassy in Beijing ordered 2,000 air purifiers  for its employees in the country from Blueair, a Swedish manufacturer:

The cheapest model from Blueair, the Blueair 203, costs 3,590 yuan ($591) from Torana Clean Air, Blueair’s official seller in Beijing, while it sells for $329 on the Best Buy and Amazon websites in the US.  The order placed for air purifiers by the US embassy was handled by the Swedish company’s American supplier, and the unit price was not disclosed.

We don’t know what types of purifiers were issued at US Embassy India.  Popular brands like Blueair, Panasonic, Daikin, Sharp, Yadu, Honeywell are compared here as used in China via myhealthbeijing.  There is also a review of air purifiers by the Consumer Report that should be worth looking into; the report is only available to subscribers.  Or check with MED which should have this information available.

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Today at the SFRC: Bauchus (China), Chacon (DGHR), Smith (INR)

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–Domani Spero

Today, the  Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding its confirmation hearing for President Obama’s nominee for the next ambassador to China, the Director General of the Foreign Service and the Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.  You know where all the attention will be.

Via sfrc

Via sfrc

Presiding: Senator Menendez

Date: Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Time: 10:00 AM

Location: Senate Dirksen 419

Webcast: This hearing is scheduled to be live webcast. Please return to this page to view the hearing live and see the nominees prepared testimonies:

Panel One:

The Honorable Max Baucus (see WH announcement)
of Montana, to be Ambassador to China

Panel Two:

The Honorable Arnold Chacon (see WH statement)
of Virginia, to be Director General of the Foreign Service
The Honorable Daniel Bennett Smith (see WH statement)
of Virginia, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research
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Significant Attacks Against U.S. Diplomatic Facilities/Personnel From 1998-2012

by Domani Spero

The State Department recently released its compilation of significant attacks against U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel from 1998 to 2012.

The list notes that some attacks may not be included because, in certain cases, the motivation of the attacks could not be determined. In other cases, violence against individuals may not have been reported through official channels.  It says that the information is not an all-inclusive compilation but “a reasonably comprehensive listing of significant attacks.”

Thousands of protestors attacked the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, breaking windows, setting fire to the Consular Section entrance, and causing extensive damage. (U.S. Department of State Photos)

Thousands of protestors attacked the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, breaking windows, setting fire to the Consular Section entrance, and causing extensive damage. 2012 (U.S. Department of State Photo)

Below is the list of attacks in 2012 We have highlighted in red all attacks with death or injuries, including incidents where the casualties are non-Americans.

JANUARY 1 TO DECEMBER 31 – IRAQ: Unknown individuals targeted the U.S. Consulate in Kirkuk with indirect-fire attacks on 41 separate occasions; additional indirect-fire attacks were launched against other U.S. interests in Iraq.

*FEBRUARY 2, 2012 – BAMAKO, MALI: Demonstrators attacked a U.S. Embassy vehicle with stones while the vehicle was en route to evacuate Mission dependents from a local school. A second Embassy vehicle also was attacked in a different location. There were no injuries in either incident.

FEBRUARY 20, 2012 – KANDAHAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN: Unknown individuals attacked a U.S. Army convoy carrying one Embassy employee, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding two others.

MARCH 2, 2012 – ADEN, YEMEN: A gunman fired three rounds into the side window of a U.S. Embassy vehicle. No one was hurt in the attack.

MARCH 17, 2012 – FARYAB PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN: Insurgents fired two rockets at the U.S. provincial reconstruction team compound. No injuries or damage were reported.

MARCH 24, 2012 – URUZGAN PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN: An explosive device detonated against a vehicle outside an entry control point of the U.S. provincial reconstruction team compound, killing four Afghan National Police officers and one local national.

MARCH 26, 2012 – LASHKAR GAH, AFGHANISTAN: An individual dressed in an Afghan National Army uniform killed two International Security Assistance Force soldiers and wounded another at the main entry control point of the U.S. provincial reconstruction team compound.

APRIL 12, 2012 – VALLEY OF THE APURIMAC, ENE, AND MANTARO RIVERS, PERU: Presumed members of Sendero Luminoso terrorist group fired on a U.S. government-owned helicopter, killing one Peruvian police officer and wounding the Peruvian crew chief.

APRIL 15 TO 16, 2012 – KABUL, AFGHANISTAN: The U.S. Embassy compound sustained minor damage after heavily armed gunmen attacked several diplomatic missions and Afghan government buildings throughout the city.

APRIL 16, 2012 – GHOR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN: Unknown individuals attacked a U.S. provincial reconstruction team compound with small-arms fire but caused no injuries.

APRIL 16, 2012 – MANILA, PHILIPPINES: Protesters stole several letters from the sign at the Embassy front gate and threw paint onto the building.

JUNE 6, 2012 – BENGHAZI, LIBYA: An explosive device detonated outside the U.S. Special Mission, leaving a large hole in the perimeter wall but causing no injuries.

JUNE 16, 2012 – PAKTIKA PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN: Unknown gunmen opened fire on a U.S. Embassy helicopter, striking the aircraft and rupturing its fuel tank, but causing no injuries.

AUGUST 8, 2012 – ASADABAD CITY, AFGHANISTAN: Two suicide bombers detonated their explosives near U.S. provincial reconstruction team members walking near Forward Operating Base Fiaz, killing three U.S. service members and one USAID employee, and wounding nine U.S. soldiers, one U.S. diplomat, four local employees, and one Afghan National Army member.

SEPTEMBER 3, 2012 – PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN: A suicide bomber in an explosives-laden vehicle attacked a U.S. Consulate General motorcade near the U.S. Consulate General’s housing complex, injuring two U.S. officials, two locally employed staff drivers, a local police bodyguard, and several other policemen providing security for the motorcade.

SEPTEMBER 8, 2012 – ZABUL PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN: The U.S. provincial reconstruction team was targeted with two improvised explosive devices, but suffered no injuries.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2012 – BAGHDAD, IRAQ: Unknown individuals on the ground fired at a U.S. Embassy aircraft, but caused no damage to the aircraft and no injuries to those on board.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2012 – JERUSALEM: A “flash-bang” device was thrown at the front door of an official U.S. Consulate General residence, damaging an exterior door and hallway, but causing no injuries.

SEPTEMBER 11 TO 15, 2012 – CAIRO, EGYPT: Protesters overran U.S. Embassy perimeter defenses and entered the Embassy compound. No Americans were injured in the violent demonstrations that continued for four days.

SEPTEMBER 11 TO 12, 2012 – BENGHAZI, LIBYA: Attackers used arson, small arms, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars against the U.S. Special Mission, a Mission annex, and U.S. personnel en route between both facilities, killing the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. government personnel, wounding two U.S. personnel and three Libyan contract guards, and destroying both facilities.

SEPTEMBER 12, 2012 – TUNIS, TUNISIA: Demonstrators, at the U.S. Embassy to protest inflammatory material posted on the Internet, threw stones at the compound’s fence and tried to get to the Embassy perimeter wall, before police secured the area.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2012 – SANA’A, YEMEN: Protesters stormed the Embassy compound, looting property and setting several fires. No U.S. citizens were injured in the attack. Throughout the day, groups of protesters harassed the U.S. Embassy and a hotel where Embassy personnel were residing.

SEPTEMBER 14, 2012 – CHENNAI, INDIA: Protesters outside the U.S. Consulate General threw a Molotov cocktail, causing some damage but no injuries.

SEPTEMBER 14, 2012 – KHARTOUM, SUDAN: An angry mob threw rocks at the U.S. Embassy, cut the Mission’s local power supply, and used seized police equipment to battle the Embassy’s defenders, damaging more than 20 windows and destroying several security cameras.

SEPTEMBER 14, 2012 – TUNIS, TUNISIA: Protesters breached the U.S. Embassy wall and caused significant damage to the motor pool, outlying buildings, and the chancery. Separately, unknown assailants destroyed the interior of the American Cooperative School. No U.S. citizens were injured in either attack.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2012 – KARACHI, PAKISTAN: Protesters broke through police lines and threw rocks into the U.S. Consulate General perimeter, damaging some windows but causing no injuries.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2012 – JAKARTA, INDONESIA: Demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails and other material at the U.S. Embassy to protest inflammatory material posted on the Internet, injuring 11 police officers and causing minor damage to the Embassy.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2012 – BEIJING, CHINA: Protesters surrounded the U.S. ambassador’s vehicle and caused minor damage to the vehicle, but no injuries were reported.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2012 – PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN: Demonstrators outside the U.S. Consulate threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, and pulled down a billboard showing a U.S. flag.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2012 – LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM: During a demonstration by thousands of protesters outside the U.S. Embassy, an unknown individual threw a rock at the building, damaging a ballistic- resistant window.

SEPTEMBER 27, 2012 – KOLKATA, INDIA: Protesters marched toward the American Center, rushed the gates, and threw sticks and stones at the facility, causing minor damage to a window.

OCTOBER 1, 2012 – KANDAHAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN: Unknown individuals opened fire on the U.S. provincial reconstruction team facility with small-arms fire, but caused no injuries.

OCTOBER 4, 2012 – KANDAHAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN:Unknown individuals targeted the U.S. provincial reconstruction team with small-arms fire, but caused no injuries.

OCTOBER 11, 2012 – SANA’A, YEMEN: The U.S. Embassy’s senior foreign service national investigator was shot and killed in his vehicle by gunmen on a motorcycle. The terrorist group Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack.

OCTOBER 13, 2012 – KANDAHAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN: A suicide bomber detonated a suicide vest as a delegation of U.S. and Afghan officials arrived for a meeting, killing two U.S. citizens and five Afghan officials.

OCTOBER 29, 2012 – TUNIS, TUNISIA: Two men in a car harassed and threw a can at a U.S. military officer assigned to the Embassy who was driving a vehicle with diplomatic license plates. The officer was not injured in the incident.

NOVEMBER 4, 2012 – FARAH, AFGHANISTAN: An unknown individual attacked the U.S. provincial reconstruction team facility with a grenade but caused no injuries.

NOVEMBER 18, 2012 – PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN: Two mortar rounds exploded near U.S. Consulate General housing, injuring one local guard and damaging the consul general’s residence with shrapnel.

NOVEMBER 21, 2012 – JAKARTA, INDONESIA: Demonstrators, protesting inflammatory material posted on the Internet, threw objects at the U.S. Embassy.

NOVEMBER 23, 2012 – MEDAN, INDONESIA: Demonstrators at the American Presence Post damaged a vehicle gate in an attempt to gain access to the ground floor of the building.

NOVEMBER 23, 2012 – PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN: A round of indirect fire landed near a U.S. Consulate General residence but did not detonate and caused no injuries or damage.

DECEMBER 4, 2012 – DHAKA, BANGLADESH: Demonstrators surrounded a U.S. Embassy vehicle on the road, attempted to set it afire, and threw rocks and bricks at it, shattering several windows and injuring the driver.

DECEMBER 22, 2012 – TUNIS, TUNISIA: Protesters forced their way into the Ministry of Justice to confront a visiting delegation of U.S. government investigators. No one was hurt in the encounter, but photos of the U.S. investigators inside the Ministry of Justice were later posted on social media and other Internet sites.

The complete list is accessible online here.

👀

 

 

 

 

 

Snapshot: Top Nonimmigrant Visa Issuance Posts FY2012

Via travel.state.gov:

Via travel.state.gov

Via travel.state.gov

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 5.39.23 PM

More Independence Day Celebrations 2012 – Around the Foreign Service

Catch up post on additional Fourth of July celebrations around the Foreign Service this year that caught our eye. The previous one we did is here: Independence Day Celebrations 2012 – Around the Foreign Service Round-Up.

US Mission Mexico

Guadalajara, Jalisco: Los Vice Cónsules Nick Geisinger y Timothy J. Dunaway interpretaron el himno nacional estadounidense durante la celebración.
Click on image for more photos of the Fourth of July celebrations in our Mexican posts.

US Embassy Paris, France

Ambassador Charles H. Rivkin at the 4th of July Garden Party, Ambassador’s Residence, July 4th, 2012.  More photos via FB here.

US Embassy Nassau, The Bahamas

On Tuesday, July 3 the United States Embassy commemorated the 236th Anniversary of Independence of the United States of America by hosting a celebration in Nassau, The Bahamas aboard the U.S. Naval Ship USS ANZIO docked at Prince George Wharf.  The event was held in partnership with the United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and included more than 200 of The Bahamas’ top leaders, representing the government, the business community, civil society, media, and the arts.

U.S. Charge d’Affaires John Dinkelman gives official remarks and toast at the 4th of July celebration. (Photo State Dept.)

US Embassy Dublin, Ireland

On July 4 2012, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney and his wife Patricia celebrated American Independence Day and hosted at their Residence in the Phoenix Park in Dublin the Third Irish American Flag Football Classic. Over 2,500 guests were in attendance for the Independence Day celebrations.

Photo from US Embassy Dublin/Flickr
(click on image for a slideshow)

US Consulate General Chennai, India

Photo via USCG Chennai/Flickr
Click on photo for a slideshow

US Embassy Afghanistan

U.S. Ambassador Stephen G. McFarland, the Coordinating Director of Rule of Law and Law Enforcement shakes hands with a Marine after he received his naturalization certificate on 29 June 2012 at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. Click on image for more photos

Photo from US Embassy Kabul/Flickr

US Embassy Cairo, Egypt

Ambassador Patterson on the dance floor during the Fourth of July celebration.  Photo from US Embassy Egypt via FB
Click on image for a slideshow

US Mission Pakistan – Islamabad

Photo via US Embassy Islamabad website

US Mission Pakistan – USCG Lahore

Consul General Nina Maria Fite hosted U.S. Independence Day reception at her residence. She was joined by Chief Guest Senior Advisor to the Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Zulfiqar Khan Khosa, U.S. Army Attaché Colonel Kurt H. Meppen, and USAID Punjab Director Theodore Gehr, and 400 guests from various walks of life. The event included the playing of the Pakistani and U.S. national anthems and a cutting of a cake.

Photo via USCG Lahore/FB

US Embassy Rome, Italy

Visitors arriving at the Villa Taverna for the Fourth of July celebration.  Photo via US Embassy Rome/Flickr
Click on photo for a slideshow

US Embassy Bangkok, Thailand

The theme of U.S. Embassy Bangkok Independence Day Celebration for this year is “The Great American Roadtrip.”

US Embassy Vientiane, Laos

Photo from Ambassador Karen Stewart’s Tumblr.
Click on image to read about it in the ambassador’s blog

US Embassy Beijing, China

Ambassador Gary Locke cutting the Fourth of July cake. Photo from US Embassy Beijing/Flickr. Click on photo for a slideshow

US Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau

Probably the most popular US mission online post for this Fourth of July, 11,000 forward and still counting. Via the WSJ:

For the July 4 commemoration of U.S. Independence, it stepped back into history to tweak the Party with its own words.  Accompanied by an exuberant image of the Stars and Stripes, its Weibo posting said:

On this day each year, joy and glory is felt by every good and honest person in this world. From the birth of this new nation, democracy and science were seeded beneath the foundations of a new liberal world… Day and night, the god of liberty shines her torchlight of freedom into the darkest corners of the earth, providing warmth for those who have suffered and reminding them there is still hope left yet.

This post quickly gained popularity and has now been forwarded more than 11,000 times.

Let’s see how long before the Chinese tigers bite.

Domani Spero

 

 

 

 

US Mission China: Chen Guangcheng Departs Embassy (Photos), Not End of Story

Via US Mission China/Flickr

[gigya src=”http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649″ width=”500″ flashvars=”offsite=true&lang=en-us&page_show_url=/photos/44740126@N07/sets/72157629948937897/show/&page_show_back_url=/photos/44740126@N07/sets/72157629948937897/show/&set_id=72157629948937897&jump_to=” allowFullScreen=”true” ]

Click here if the embedded slideshow is not accessible.

The text of the background briefing on May 2 with senior State Department officials is already up here.  The senior officials have a  lot to say but not a lot of answers to questions from the press.

Chen Guangcheng has now reportedly told The Daily Beast’s Melinda Liu, “I need your help, I’m absolutely, absolutely ready to fly out on Hillary Clinton’s plane. Please tell the embassy what I’m saying.

That’s absolutely going to be tricky, wouldn’t it?

Domani Spero

@United – Amb Gary Locke Goes to Bat for FS Pets and All Mission Employees in China

Foreign service pets and United are still hot. Most recently, our US Ambassador to China, Gary Locke (previously Commerce Secretary) went to bat for the FS pets on behalf of his mission employees and wrote to United’s Beijing office on this issue. He is the only chief of mission, as far as we know who has done this. Excerpt below from the Locke letter to United via AFSA. Read in full here.

Click on image for larger view

US Ambassador to China Gary Locke
(Photo from US Embassy Beijing/Flickr)

You rock, Ambassador Locke!

Domani Spero

Visas for Dollars Pilot Program Needs a Catchy Name, Just Don’t Call It Visa Express, Please

In mid-January, President Obama announced new efforts to increase travel and tourism to the United States. The WH announcement pointed to this as “part of a comprehensive effort to spur job creation.” Note the huge emphasis on numbers:

The number of travelers from emerging economies with growing middle classes – such as China, Brazil, and India – is projected to grow by 135%, 274%, and 50% respectively by 2016 when compared to 2010.  Nationals from these three countries contributed approximately $15 billion dollars and thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy in 2010.  In addition, Chinese and Brazilian tourists currently spend more than $6,000 and $5,000 respectively each, per trip, according to the Department of Commerce. […] In the 2011 fiscal year, consular officers adjudicated more than a million visa applications in China and more than 800,000 in Brazil, representing 34 % growth in China and 42% growth in Brazil. Improving visa processing capacity for China and Brazil is particularly important because of this growth.

The WH has charged the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security with the following:

  • Increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40% in 2012.
  • Ensuring that 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application.
  • Increasing efforts to expand the Visa Waiver Program and travel by nationals eligible to participate in the Visa Waiver Program, and expanding reciprocal trusted travel programs for expedited travel (such as the Global Entry program).

A preview of this efforts actually happened back in November when the State Dept trotted out its Managing Director for Visa Services Ed Ramotowski and two Minister Counselors for Consular Affairs, Chuck Bennett from US Embassy Beijing and Don Jacobson from US Embassy Brasilia to talk about growing visa demands in China and Brazil. What about India? More on that later.

From Ed Ramotowshi | State/CA/Visas

  • [C]onsular officers issued more than 7.5 million visas around the world’ represents a 17 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2010.
  • Since 2005, visa issuances went up by 42 percent
  • Approximately 65 percent of foreign travelers who come to this country don’t need visas. They come from Canada and countries in the Visa Waiver Program.
  • Goal is to expand capacity to adjudicate more than 2.2 million visas in China and 1.8 million visas in Brazil by 2013.

From Chuck Bennett | US Embassy Beijing 

  • US Mission China  adjudicated more than one million U.S. visas for Chinese applicants during Fiscal Year 2011; represents a 34 percent increase over last year
  • Issue visas to nearly 90 percent of all Chinese applicants who apply
  • Have added temporary staff and extended work hours
  • Over the next year, will add 50 more positions in China
  • In the process of adding 22 additional visa interview windows in Guangzhou, 20 new windows in Shanghai, 8 new windows in Chengdu, and 8 new windows in Beijing.

From Don Jacobson | US Embassy Brasilia

  • US Mission Brazil adjudicated more than 820,000 visas in the fiscal year that just ended, an increase of more than 42 percent over the previous year.
  • Goal in Brazil is to have the capacity to adjudicate more than 1.8 million visas by 2013
  • Since 2005, consular officer staffing in Brazil has doubled; will double again this year
  • In October alone, adjudicated more than 90,000 visas in Brazil, 67 percent more than October of last year (2010)
  • Adding more than 50 more consular officer positions over the coming year; estimates that one officer can process about 20,000 applications a year

There are currently about 50 officers in US Mission Brazil, so this increase would be a 100% bump in staffing.  US Mission China currently has about 100 officers with 50 more expected.  So where are these visa officers going to come from?

Here is what Mr. Bennett said:

Some of these people – many of these people are just new Foreign Service officers. And in the Foreign Service, often the first two tours in an officer’s career are spent doing consular work. We also have a new program where we’re bringing on, what we are calling, limited, non-career appointees. That is, people who are already trained in Mandarin Chinese and in Portuguese for Brazil, and these folks are coming in basically on one-year contracts, which are renewable for up to five years. They are going through all the same training that a Foreign Service officer would go through and some additional training. The advantage is that they already have language skills. And then based upon their performance, their contract can be renewed up to five years.

Mr. Ramotowski added:

One of our challenges in meeting demand both in Brazil and China is just we don’t have enough Chinese and Portuguese speakers coming in at the entry level who already have those languages. So this program is going to help us get more people on the ground quickly.

Okay, so now what about India which was mentioned by the President but was not invited to the preview party? According to Hindustantimes and other local papers, James Herman, Minister-Counselor for Consular Affairs had a press release following President Obama’s announcement touting a streamlined visa process plus the following US Mission India visa figures:

  • Over the last five years US Mission India increased staffing by over sixty percent; opened two new consulates in Hyderabad (in 2009) and Mumbai (in 2011).
  • Indians represent the highest volume of work visa travelers to the US; and the second highest number of foreign students in the United States
  • 2011 was a record year for H1B work visas—over 68,000 processed by Consular Team India alone
  • US Mission India processed close to 700,000 visa applications in 2011

We went looking for Mr. Herman’s official statement at the US Embassy Delhi website but it’s not available there or in the State Department’s website. We emailed the embassy inquiring where are these numbers cited by local reports but never got any response. Official statement released but not here or there or anywhere, must have been a new kind of secret presser.

Meanwhile the State Department’s Fact Sheet notes that the pilot program will streamline visa processing for certain low-risk applicants, such as individuals renewing expired visas, or some categories of younger or older first-time applicants. The expectation is that this will “benefit tens of thousands of applicants in Brazil and China; saving them time and money, and encouraging them to choose to visit the United States again.”  And spend money here, of course.  Perhaps anticipating a possible blow-back, a reminder from Visa Express post 9/11, the Fact Sheet adds this:  “…. given that national security remains this Administration’s highest priority, individuals identified as higher-risk will remain subject to interviews – in addition to the full screening and review all visa applicants receive.”

Even if all applicants are interviewed, that’s not the most important challenge. Thomas Furey, the Consul General at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia from 2000-2001 was once quoted saying that the expectations for the visa interview are unrealistic because you are asking the Consular Officer to “predict the future.”  There is something to that.  The underwear bomber reportedly had a visa issued in 2004 and then again in 2008 prior to his attempted attack in 2009.  Had the attack succeeded, the supervisory Consular Officer who overturned the 2004 application and the Consular Officer who issued the visa in 2008 would have been dragged through live coals for not foreseeing the future. The shoe bomber, of course, came from a visa waiver country, and did not even need an interview.

Domani Spero

Foggy Bottom’s “Secret” Blog, Wild Geese – Oh, It’s Pretty Wild!

What does NBA phenom, Jeremy Lin have in common with the following?

  • 林书豪Jeremy Lin (2010-)
  • 出身哈佛的总统(任期)
  • 约翰·亚当斯John Adams (1797-1801)
  • 约翰·昆西·亚当斯John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
  • 海耶斯Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
  • 西奥多·罗斯福Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
  • 肯尼迪John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
  • 小布什George W. Bush (2001-2009)
  • 欧巴马Barack Obama (2009-)

Heck if I know. But the bloggers of Foggy Bottom’s blog, Wild Geese, apparently know. Except that they’re not telling us. (Laura R says they all went to Harvard).

In the aftermath of the Pop the Magic Blog Disappearance of our favorite FS blogger in China, one of our readers helpfully suggested that the best way to avoid blogging trouble is obviously, to blog in Chinese like the Wild Geese bloggers. Here is what the reader actually wrote us:

In order for a blog to survive 21st Century Statecraft (and Alec J. Ross knows about this), you have to write it in Chinese so that nobody knows what the heck you are saying. Just look at the “Wild Geese” blog written by two Chinese contractors working for the Bureau of International Information Programs at http://blogs.america.gov/mgck/. There’s no English translation so nobody at the State Department knows what they’re really saying or how they’re saying it. It’s like it’s a secret blog lurking in the shadows of America.gov, a website that was archived last year.

And here I thought I was good at keeping track of what’s going on over there. But it gets worse — even the State Department’s China Desk apparently cannot read what the blog says because — it’s in Chinese with no English translation! Is it common to have a China Desk Officer who has other languages except Chinese?

Then it gets double bad. Our blog reader continues:

US Embassy Beijing website (http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/usintro.html) mentions Wild Geese in English but no English translation of what the blogs say. China Desk is in the dark. IIP Chinese blog team acts like a renegade group of nativists (IIP is remnant of former USIA) with former PRC nationals calling the shots on what gets written for blog posts. Most of what they write is a waste of taxpayer money (good luck with OIG on that one). State’s “partnership” with the fiery anti-American Chinese “Global Times” news portal (http://blog.huanqiu.com/?316055) strains credibility. They’re too willing to submit to Chinese censorship. China blocks VOA but not IIP. Too cozy for comfort. See South China Morning Post article on jailing of Chinese writers http://topics.scmp.com/news/china-news-watch/article/Pen-is-subject-to-the-sword.

They’re calling the shots on what gets written in the blog? Good grief! Peter Van Buren calls the shots on what gets written in his private blog and State sends him a weekly report! And he writes in English!

So I used the Googles to look up the blog but I get all sorts of other wild guesses from the search engines. So the blog must have had no index bots and it does not get listed.  Almost as if only those with the secret link can read it. Now, where’s the fun in that?  Anyway, I eventually used the link sent by our reader.  The blog is hiding in plain site in US Mission China’s website (see a screen capture below) but it actually resides in the America.gov server: http://blogs.america.gov/mgck/

The America.gov website says that it is no longer being updated.  Except that the Wild Geese blog continues to post items of every sort.  Besides the recent post on Jeremy Lin, it also has the following posts:

1.  Guy with a furry hair.  Is that a Queen’s Guard?  The last I heard these soldiers are charged with guarding the official royal residences in London. There are no royal residences in the District of Columbia.

2. Who are these people and what are they doing up that tree, er pole?

3.  Something about extreme makeover? Is this relevant to US-China relation?

4. Is that Hillary and is she having coffee, again?

See, that’s what happens when you put up a blog with no English translation in a USG website nonetheless. The successor of America.gov, IIP Digital (you may stop laughing at the name right now!) actually has translations in the following languages for their products:

Now, official products for public consumption also have to go through a clearance process.  Are we to understand that the Wild Geese blog posts do not even go through that process? I can’t even begin to imagine that.  Since the blog exist over the dead body of America.gov, who do these bloggers report to?  Since it does not pop up in the search engines, what use does it have if no one can easily find it? Perhaps more importantly, who has oversight over this official blog? And does the oversight official speak/read more than a 2/2 Chinese?

Matt Armstrong who was Executive Director of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy until December 2011 (when it was killed by Congress) and was supposed to be in Beijing the week the commission’s authorization expired chimed in about the Geese:

“I’ve been consistently told the Geese are republished in China, including in anti-US Chinese media (a score in my book) and content was driven by Embassy Beijing’s outreach staff, including those who speak/read Chinese (in other words, this isn’t a renegade group).  Monitoring is done by the Embassy and EAP.   It is monitored by the Chinese speakers in the EAP bureau, some on the China desk and some on the EAP Public Diplomacy desk.”

Presumably, there is someone among them with more than a 2/2 in Chinese.

噢,這真是個快樂的進展……噢,这真是个快乐的进展……
*Oh, juh jen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan…

Matt also points out that the blog’s audience “is not the US but China,” and “not even Chinese nationals abroad, but mainland China, which it seems to effectively penetrate at apparently relatively low cost.”   We get that, of course. Still would be nice to have an English translation and wouldn’t it be interesting to see its penetration rate relative to cost?

I do have to admit that the idea of blogging in Chinese or other super hard languages has a great appeal.  According to our mathematical calculation, FS blogs in super hard languages has a 5% to 0% chance of ever getting in real trouble.  And if diplomatic spouses start blogging in super hard languages like Chinese or Arabic , the harassment would likely be down to almost zero instantly because 1) State does not have enough Chinese or Arabic speakers, 2) to actually read the blog and find it offensive enough to be pulled down requires a translator, too much paperwork to request for one; 3) all human translators are deployed elsewhere, and online translators include dirty words.

Domani Spero

Updated on 2/19 with comments from Matt Armstrong of http://mountainrunner.us/

*Oh, this is a happy development…