Video Round-Up: Do You Hear What I Hear? Introducing the New Ambassadors

— Domani Spero
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These ambassador introduction videos are the product of State/IIP, under the umbrella of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. From best we could tell, these videos started slowly in 2010 but has now become standard fare for almost all chiefs of mission before the ambassadors get to post. They more or less come from one script — a thank you to President O, a greeting in the foreign language, include spouse, kids (or other relevant relatives) and/or pets, a mention of any prior visit to host country in college or any connection to the host country, a visit to some Washington,D.C. memorials, and say you look forward to meeting everyone in your host country.

If you feel bad about these videos, you’re not alone. One ambassador has choice words to say about these videos: “The Youtube videos newly minted ambassadors make are downright embarrassing.  They give an impression of proconsular self-regard which is in bad taste.  Diplomacy is premised on a world of sovereign states.  The State Department’s  fascination with social media suggests that it no longer thinks that is the world we live in, a strange notion for a foreign ministry.”

And the band marches on. These videos we must say are looking better than the previous ones but they still come across as somewhat artificial and forced at times. And that holding hands and picnic scene in the bottom clip below cracked us up. The best ones are those where the COM delivers the entire intro in the language of his/her host country, and appears naturally before the camera. Take a look and see!

 

Michael Hoza, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon.
In French.

 

Ted Osius III, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam.
In Vietnamese.

 

Kevin Whitaker, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia.
In Spanish.

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John Bass, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey

 

Scott Rauland, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires to Belarus

 

Douglas Silliman, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait

 

Tom Kelly, U S Ambassador to Djibouti.
Subtitled in French.

 

Alice Wells, U.S. Ambassador to Jordan.
Subtitled in Arabic.

 

Joan Polaschik, U.S. Ambassador to Algeria.
Subtitled in Arabic and French.

 

Andrew Schapiro, U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic

 

Jane Hartley, U.S. Ambassador to France and Monaco

 

Bruce Heyman, U.S. Ambassador to Canada

 

Kevin O’Malley, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland

 

Suzi Levine, U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland & Liechtenstein

 

Robert Sherman, U.S. Ambassador to Portugal

 

One ambassador is not in this video series.  Ambassador John Tefft, our current ambassador to Moscow, who was previously ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania (was also chargé d’affaires in Moscow from 1996-1997) did not jump into the bandwagon. Newsweek notes that he has been “handed diplomacy’s version of “cleanup on aisle 6!” Ambassador Tefft’s operating style as a “traditional” diplomat with old-school, low-key professionalism,” is considered “a huge asset in Moscow, and perhaps the only style that can work” in the current situation, according to Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.  The embassy confirmed that Ambassador Tefft did not cut an intro video, but with four ambassadorships under his belt, he’s not a stranger.

 

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State Dept Spox’s Hot Mic Moment: “That Egypt line is ridiculous.” No Kidding

— Domani Spero
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Via The District Sentinel/Sam Knight

 

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the 12/1/14 DPB:

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the court’s decision dropping the charges against former President Mubarak?

MS. PSAKI: Well, generally, we continue to believe that upholding impartial standards of accountability will advance the political consensus on which Egypt’s long-term stability and economic growth depends. But beyond that, I would refer you to the Egyptian Government for any further comment.

QUESTION: So you don’t criticize at all?

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MS. PSAKI: It means that in general, we believe that courts should be —

QUESTION: It sounds to me like it means nothing.

MS. PSAKI: In general, we believe that impartial standards and the justice system should work as planned —

QUESTION: Yeah —

MS. PSAKI: — but I don’t have any specific comment —

QUESTION: But did —

QUESTION: But are you suggesting it wasn’t impartial?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more specifics on —

QUESTION: But I – wow. I don’t understand that at all. What does that mean? You believe that – of course you do. But was that – were those standards upheld in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything – any specific comment on the case. I’d point you to the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) justice was served? Do you think justice was served in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific on the case.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) not try —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — to argue with you or ask about the comment. Are you trying to understand what is – does – this decision means?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you.

Do we have anything more on Egypt?

QUESTION: Do Egyptians explain to you what’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: We obviously remain in close touch with the Egyptians, but I don’t have anything more to peel back for you.

QUESTION: Jen —

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Egypt? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, Transparency International is basically disappointed with that. And some international organizations have also expressed concern over, like, dropping all the charges against Mubarak, who’s accused of having murdered – having ordered the murder of protestors —

MS. PSAKI: I’m familiar with the case, yes.

QUESTION: — and also corruption, other things. And so you’re not willing to show your concern over that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we speak frequently, including in annual reports, about any concerns we have about – whether its rule of law or freedom of speech, freedom of media, and we do that on a regular basis. I just don’t have anything more specifically for you on this case.

QUESTION: Can you see if – can we ask for – push your people a little bit harder? Because I mean, you call for accountability and transparency all the time from any number of governments. And so if no one is held to account, if no one is being held accountable for what happened, it would seem to me that you would have a problem with that and —

MS. PSAKI: If there’s more we have to say, Matt, we will make sure you all know.

QUESTION: But I mean, what you have said, that the – what you said says nothing. I mean, it just – it’s like saying, “Well, we support the right of people to breathe.” Well, that’s great, but if they can’t breathe —

MS. PSAKI: If we have a further comment on the case, I will make sure all of you have it.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, aren’t you a little bit annoyed that the person who was elected by the Egyptian people, Morsy, is languishing in prison while the person who is accused of murdering hundreds of people is actually out on —

MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your effort, Said. I don’t have anything further on this case.

QUESTION: No, the reason we ask isn’t because —

MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m sorry. We’re going to have to move on.

 

Tsk! Tsk! Can’t imagine Ambassador Boucher accepting that kind of crap from any bureau. Next time, make the talking points drafter write in Plain English so we, the natives would understand what our government is talking about. And by the way, President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010Adobe Acrobat Reader icon on October 13, 2010. That law requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.” This response is neither clear, nor usable.

So — if the talking points do not improve with plain language, go ahead and please kick the door.  And if that doesn’t work either, get Madame Secretary to sign  a reassignment order (apparently the Secretary of State does that kind of thing) and send the drafter and/or approving officer off to Angola.

Noooo, not/not to Portugal. And check the mike next time.

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 Updated below on 12/15/14 @ 2:09 am via Ali Weinberg of ABC News:

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Here’s What You’ve Been Waiting For — a Rap Video Featuring the Embassy Drexel Furniture!

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

One of our readers sent us a YouTube link below to a rap video reportedly filmed entirely in one of our Embassy houses. “The proof is in the background – the Drexel Heritage furniture!” We are not big on rap music but who can ignore the Drexel furniture?

It looks like the clip was made in early October in Abidjan, Ivory Coast  and currently has 800+ views. Dear heavens, that avocado green couch is a nightmare!

 

According to http://www.marvinjperry.com/contracts/:

Drexel Heritage Furnishings Inc., based in Drexel North Carolina, ranks among the top furniture manufacturers in the world in terms of size and volume. Drexel Heritage has been a major supplier to the Federal government since four thousaand bedroom suites were made for government housing at Oak Ridge, Tennessee during WWII.

Drexel Heritage has teamed with Thomasville Furniture and MJP to provided the packaged room program for State Department, USAID Missions, and agencies at US Embassies. Includes complete furniture sets for: dining area, living area, bedrooms, etc.

A lot of online ink has been spilled over the Drexel furniture in the Foreign Service, here, here, here, and here to mention a few. This is the real State Department cover-up!

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Tweet of the Day: Amb @KristieKenney Announces Departure

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

 

Ambassador Kenney was nominated on July 19, 2010 by President Barack Obama to be the US Ambassador to the Royal Kingdom of Thailand. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 29, 2010.  She assumed charge of the US Embassy in Bangkok in January 2011. When she depart post next month, she’ll be a couple months short of a four year tour.

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Tomorrow’s News Today: This Week Could Potentially Be a Heck of a Mess!

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

 

The Googles tell me that For the Record is an investigative news magazine on TheBlaze. The show was created by Glenn Beck to “restore the truth” in journalism. We’ve never watched it but just so you know, the show is coming back this week.  It has released two three teasers on YouTube and Twitter; one on September 10, a second one on September 15 and another one on YouTube today.  All flashy clips alleging cover-ups and corruption in the State Department. If you’re an old time Foggy Bottom watcher, you will recognize many of the faces and the names. in these clips.

 

 

 

Here is one posted today on YouTube:

 

It appears from the short clips that this is related to the Richard Higbie case (see Higbie v. Kerry) and the still unresolved? non-public? ongoing? investigation on the CBS News allegations (see CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).

In November last year, the OIG told us that “the eight cases to which you referred continue to be under review.”

This past spring, we’ve revisited this investigation without much success. (see Murders in Juárez …. And What About That State/OIG Report on Diplomatic Security?). Also  State/OIG Is Hiring! One Senior Investigative Counsel Wanted for Complex/Sensitive Allegations and State/OIG Files Report to Congress, Wassup With the In-Depth Review Over CBS News Allegations?

Today, State/OIG told us that as per OIG policy, the office has no comments to make on the status of any possible, pending, on-going or future investigation.

So upfront we must tell you that we don’t know the disposition of these investigations. What we know is that the show will go on tomorrow, September 17 at 8 pm. Due to the titillating and salacious contents of the CBS allegations, we suspect that this will attract enough eyeballs to make it to next day’s news cycle.

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SIGAR: Not angling for another gov job, movie role, book advance or to be next YouTube hottie

Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

“Unless a piece of information is legitimately classified or otherwise restricted, it ought to be available, even if disclosure is not technically required. And, when disclosure is legally required, as by the IG Act, then agency refusal to provide timely access to the data is intolerable.” — DIG Gene Aloise, SIGAR 

 

Patrol Boat Purchased for the Afghan National Police (SIGAR photo)

A BOAT, A BOAT! Patrol Boat Purchased for the Afghan National Police (SIGAR photo)

A couple of days ago, Gene Aloise, the Deputy Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) was at the CIGIE Federal Audit Executive Council Annual Conference in Virginia and gave a speech on “Transparency—For the IGs and the Public Interest.” He was standing in for John Sopko, the IG, who apparently is still recovering from knee surgery.  Excerpt below:

You may have noticed that many SIGAR reports have made the news. One reason is that we publish, post, tweet, and otherwise publicize virtually everything we do.

Some people are unhappy with the fact we get press coverage, even though our two-person press shop pales in comparison to the squadrons of PR people at Embassy Kabul, ISAF, or DOD. Some people think we’re doing this to attract attention and gratify our egos.

They are mistaken. Neither John nor I are angling for another government job, movie role, book advance, or trying to become the next YouTube sensation.

We simply follow the basic principles that: (1) unless it’s a security risk or classified, we publish it; and(2) if it’s worth publishing, it’s worth publicizing.

We seek publicity because publicity has impact.

Very few Americans have seen the Health and Human Services Department IG reports on billing fraud against Medicare for motorized wheelchairs. But millions of people have had the chance to read, in print or online, the Washington Post’s 4,000-word illustrated story on August 16 that dramatized and humanized the problem.

The Post noted that Medicare has paid out more than $8 billion for motorized wheelchairs for 2.7 million people, even though a large but unknown portion of the payments involved offers of free wheelchairs, recruitment of people with no mobility problems, and prescriptions faked by corrupt doctors or even by scammers using the names of dead doctors.

That’s the kind of story that gets attention. Editorial writers, ordinary citizens, congressional staff, and think-tank researchers pick up on such revelations and weigh in. Members of Congress call hearings and draft legislation. Agency heads eagerly or reluctantly draft responses, policies, and testimony. With any luck, things get better, whether systematically or a bit at a time.

Let’s face it: No matter how good an IG audit, GAO report, or commission finding may be, if it falls into a black hole and molders unnoticed while Washington bustles on, it helps no one.

Widespread dissemination of IG reports can promote the following good outcomes:

  • Publicity brings problems to the attention of senior leaders whose information gatekeepers may not have relayed unwelcome news.
  • Exposing incidents of waste can motivate people to do the right thing, whether sharpening their own performance or calling out problems.
  • Publicity may prompt managers to take corrective action before they get a nasty memo from the boss.
  • Publicity can deter government contractors from cutting corners, using substandard materials, or tolerating unsafe practices if they fear they may not get paid, or be debarred.
  • Publicity can deter fraud. When potential wrongdoers read about a federal civilian, military member, or contractor going to jail and paying big fines for taking kickbacks or bribes, or stealing, or smuggling, they may decide not to give in to temptation.
  • Publicity can encourage people to come forward to the IG community. Some of our best tips and other information have come from senior officials, including generals and ambassadors, who approach us here or in the field, or use the SIGAR fraud hotline.
  • Publicity that points out successes and best practices can encourage agencies to continue improving their own performance, or to follow the example others have set.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, publicizing our work gives the American taxpayer—and congressional appropriators—confidence that someone appointed by the President of the United States is looking out for how their money is spent.

As our friends in the armed services would say, publicity is a force multiplier for the substantive results of your hard work.

When you turn up an important finding that involves serious threats to mission, to lives, to public funds, or the public interest, don’t be shy about spreading the word beyond the usual channels of distribution. It’s legitimate, it’s helpful, and—even if some officials get peeved at you— it’s a public service.

Read the whole thing here.

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Ambassador Matthew Barzun Says Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Matthew Barzun, our Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s will soon get royally slammed for suggesting undiplomatically that he can’t stand British lamb.  The New York Daily News writes that “you don’t need to be fluent in the King’s English to predict the outrage.” Uh-oh!

Okay, so before you all get mad about the lamb, he also did try to learn a few sentences of Welsh in preparation for the NATO summit this week.  So he gets points for that.  Let’s hear it from Wales Online who is “delighted to see Mr Barzun having a go” at learning Welsh:

US ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, wasn’t shy about sharing the more painful moments of his attempts to learn his first few sentences in Welsh – despite taking nine attempts to master saying “Helô”.
[….]
Mr Barzun, who was appointed as ambassador to the UK last year after previously being ambassador to Sweden, posted the video of his Welsh attempts, which also included the essential “Croeso i Gymru, President Obama”, the very useful “dwi’n hoffi coffi” (I like coffee) and a very impressive beginner’s pronunciation of the famous Anglesey village Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch.
[…]
But he also displayed some knowledge of Welsh popular culture and one of our most famous export – confessing in Welsh that the three words of the language that Americans know are “Catherine. Zeta. Jones.”

 

We don’t know if they teach Welsh at FSI; though probably not.  In any case, here are the outtakes:

 

 

One of the commenters on WalesOnline writes, “Welsh is a really difficult language to master, even for the Welsh people !! The fact that you have made the effort , is such a compliment.”  

We imagine that Ambassador Barzun will probably impress most Welsh folks with his attempts to speak even a few phrases of their language. We’d be really impressed if the ambassador also gets to visit the Cardiff Rift that runs through Roald Dahl Plass, a public plaza in Cardiff Bay, and takes a selfie with our favorite Captain Jack Harkness. Captain Jack is there somewhere, somebody fiiiinnnnd hiiiiim and bring him back to the telly!

Oh, pardon me … what about the lamb? Those suggested recipes may have to wait until after the Summit, but the ambassador already realized he’s in a lamb stew of sorts:

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Freaking out over the disease that’s “coming for us”? Watch this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indian Foreign Service Hits YouTube, New Surprises Coming!

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Via the Ministry of External Affairs India:

 

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France Commemorates Liberation of Paris – #WeAreFreeMerci!

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Our friends in France commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris, August 19-25, 1944.

 

Vive la France!

At the U.S. Embassy in Paris, a 45-star flag returned in 2013 is now on permanent display.  The American flag was donated by Jean-Baptiste Lapierre fulfilling a promise he made to his grandmother to return the flag to American hands. A U.S. soldier reportedly gave the flag to Lapierre’s grandmother during the liberation of Paris in 1944. According to stripes.com, the 45 stars on the flag suggest it was likely made between 1896 and 1908 when the U.S. had just 45 states.

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