Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What Happens to National Security after Gutting the State Department

A fascinating article by best-selling author and former diplomat, James Bruno:

https://washingtonmonthly.com/2017/12/05/what-happens-to-national-security-after-gutting-the-state-department/

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Veterans' Day Radio Show with Paul Berry on American Home and Family show


Dark Days Ahead for American Diplomacy


Like many Americans, I was surprised in November 2016, when, despite losing the popular vote by 3 million ballots, the quirky Electoral College system elected Donald Trump president, and again when he announced the nomination of Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state. I was, however, prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, conditioned as I am after 50 years of government service, to accept the outcome of elections, even when, because of the Electoral College, that will is not that of a majority of those who voted, and if recent polls are to be believed, a majority of those who didn’t.

As we approach the first anniversary of the Trump Administration, though, I’m left with a lot of doubt, and very little benefit, particularly when it comes to the dismal state of the country’s foreign affairs.

With the president engaging in name calling and bellicosity with North Korea’s mercurial leader pushing the world as close to nuclear war as it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, undercutting his secretary of state by publicly calling his statements on the need for diplomacy to solve the Korean crisis ‘a waste of time,’ and alienating many of our key allies through his actions and tweets, I’ve watched the United States’ global position gradually eroded over the past eleven months more than after our 1973 withdrawal from Vietnam. Secretary of defense James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, in summarizing Trump’s plans to reduce the Department of State to a hollow shell, said “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” Trump seems determined to do both. In February 2017, the White House draft budget proposed a State Department cut of 31%, but a $54 billion increase in defense spending. The defense increase was only partly offset by cuts to all civilian agencies and programs, which is bad enough, but the idea that we can increase military presence globally, while at the same time, decreasing or eliminating the diplomats and aid officials that work alongside the military in some of the world’s toughest spots, is not pennywise and pound foolish, it’s just plain foolish.

Tillerson, despite his success as CEO of Exxon, has not done much better at the State Department. His aloofness, failure or inability to convince the president to curb his tendency to ‘tweet before thinking,’ and failure to fill key senior positions across the entire department, have resulted in alienation and frustration at Foggy Bottom. Senior and experienced Foreign Service Officers have been leaving in large numbers, and little has been done to fill the experience void their departure creates. When Tillerson travels abroad, rather than working with our ambassadors (many of whom are charge d’affaires, because ambassadors have not been nominated), he has with him in meetings, sitting where the ambassador would normally sit, an aide who lacks foreign policy experience.

Failure to appoint senior leaders in the State Department, such as the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, for example, and leaving many of the bureaus under the leadership of individuals in an ‘acting’ capacity, has an immediate impact. Certain actions, such as the decision to evacuate an embassy, cannot be decided by an official ‘acting’ for the principal, which could result in a delay in making critical decisions. In addition, when coupled with the departure of so many senior career officials, people are placed in positions without having access to the advice and counsel of more experienced people. There are also long-term effects that neither Tillerson nor the president seem of aware of, or, heaven forbid, care about it. Eliminating so many senior people means that those in the junior ranks must work their way through the system without benefit of the experienced guidance those of my generation in the diplomatic service found so valuable in our careers. They, in turn, though forced to take on more senior responsibilities, lack the experience to effectively help those below them. After four years, this becomes a problem that will exist for a long time into the future, long after the end of this administration.

What we’re witnessing is the systematic destruction of our ability to exercise sober global leadership, and the erosion of our global reputation.

For the average American, there is also a price to pay. Hollowing out the Foreign Service will eventually reduce our ability to serve the interests of Americans who travel, work, or live abroad, and will reduce the level of service we provide to American business abroad. This is not good for our national security.

None of these problems will be solved by buying more ammunition.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017

My historical novel, 'Vixen,' nominated for Readers Choice Award

 I am excited to announce that my novel, Vixen, has been nominated for the Readers Choice Award in the Historical Fiction Category. I encourage all of my readers to go to www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-voting/ and go to category 14 (Historical Fiction) and vote for it. Vixen can be found near the bottom of the category page. Your vote will be greatly appreciated. Again, a reminder, go to    www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-voting/ and vote.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The New Centurions: Pro Atheltes Kneel to Stand up for Rule of Law


 When former San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick, knelt during the playing of the National Anthem at the start of the 2016 season to bring attention to police brutality against African-Americans, it kicked off a controversy that has even included the President of the United States.

Donald Trump, famous for his early-morning tweets about sundry subjects, often having nothing to do with his role as the country’s commander-in-chief, and frequently abrasive and abusive against his perceived ‘enemies,’ immediately inserted himself into the situation by demanding that any players refusing to stand during the anthem should be fired. In response, many more players (and some owners and other team officials) have either joined in the protests, or sided with Trump.

This controversial situation shows no signs of abating, and raw emotions have taken the place of rational thought as Trump continues to stir the flames with his ill-advised and often inappropriate tweets.

A number of questions need to be asked and answered in order to bring some sanity back into this situation.

Is there anything, other than personal respect, that requires any American citizen to render honors to the anthem or flag? As a former professional military officer, I’d have to say, it depends. Military regulations require uniformed personnel to render appropriate honors, whether in or out of uniform, but there is no statue that can require non-military personnel to do so. If this argument is about rendering proper respect for our national symbols, I have to ask, what about the many examples of misuse of the national flag?

The Flag Code, though not a law, establishes certain procedures and actions in respect to the national flag. Flag etiquette requires that the flag not be”

-          Used as drapery, or for covering a speaker’s desk, draping a platform, or any decoration in general.

-          Embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything to be discarded after temporary use.

-          Used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, policeman, fireman, or members of patriotic organizations.

What, then, should the reaction be to singers who wear headwear, jackets, or pants with the flag on them, or the NASCAR vehicles with flags on them, which are exposed to dirt, grease and exhaust fumes? What about the display of the national flag alongside the Confederate flag, a symbol of forces that rose in rebellion against the United States?

It would seem to me that, if we’re going to have conniptions about people kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, we should be indignant over the blatant misuse of the flag, should we not?

If Donald Trump, who attended a military high school, but is ignorant of the bugle calls that he should have heard every day he was in school, is so upset over this exercise of the Constitutional right to protest, he should be equally indignant over the blatant disregard for flag etiquette.

That he is not speaks volumes. Patriotism is not something that can be legislated or demanded. It arises naturally when people feel respected by those waving the symbols. Our energy would be better spent learning and respecting the rule of law established by the Constitution, and showing respect for those whose views differ from our own.

It’s time to stop tweeting, and start thinking.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Daniel's Journey Western series republished with Rusty Spur Publishing imprint

My westerns for young readers series, the Daniel's Journey series, has been republished under the Rusty Spur Publishers imprint. Check them out by clicking on the images below:







Friday, October 20, 2017

The Presidential Fitness Test - The President Show

Trump, Tweets, and Telephones, Oh My!


Once again, Donald J. Trump, our commander-in-chief, thanks to the mathematical vagaries of the Electoral College, is in a dispute involving the family of a service member killed in combat. This time, the controversy stems from a phone call Trump made to Myeshia Johnson, wife of Army Sergeant La David Johnson, who was killed in an ISIS ambush in the African country of Niger recently.

According to Representative Frederica Wilson (D, FL), Trump told the widow that Sergeant Johnson “knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.” Trump, as he is prone to do, went immediately on the offensive, tweeting that the representative’s account was a total fabrication.

White House chief of staff, John Kelly, a former marine whose son was killed in combat in Afghanistan, went public to ‘explain’ the situation and ‘defend’ the president, and in the process exposed Trump for the liar we all know him to be. According to Kelly, Trump tried his level best to ‘communicate warmly, with empathy.’ In his remarks, Kelly alludes to the fact that Trump did indeed use language similar to that claimed by Wilson, but added that he was stunned and broken-hearted by her conveying these details to the media.

This is a lot of he-said, she-said, with both sides digging in. Just to keep the smoke swirling, I’d like to add a possible third scenario for consideration.

It is possible that Trump did want to be warm and caring in his calls to the families of the deceased, but you must remember that we’re dealing here with Donald J. Trump, former reality TV personality whose catch phrase is ‘you’re fired,’ and who was coached by former McCarthy-era lawyer to deal with criticism by attacking with overwhelming force. Trump, to my knowledge, has never shown empathy in his life, and is incapable of considering anyone’s feelings but his own. Added to this, anyone who has listened to him speak when he’s not reading prepared remarks, has to have noticed that he is not the most erudite of people. He rambles, repeats, utters unconnected sentences, and pretty much says whatever pops into his mind. I, for one, can easily imagine him on the phone, without a written script, saying something along the lines of what he’s accused of saying, and thinking to himself—if he ever thinks while he’s talking—that this is a pretty neat thing to say.

During my time in the army, I served on occasion as a casualty assistance officer, a duty that required me to interact with the families of soldiers killed in Vietnam. I can tell you, in situations like this, you’re walking on egg shells. The wrong word, and the wrong time, or in the wrong way, given the grief these people are experiencing, can blow up in your face. Even for those of us with military experience, it was often difficult to find the right way to say the right thing. Trump, whose military experience consists of being exiled to a military school where he apparently didn’t even learn bugle calls, can hardly be expected to understand the sense of loss involved here.

Here’s where the real problem is, in my humble opinion. Rather than acknowledging that he might have expressed himself less sympathetically than required, apologizing for any grief his words caused, and moving on, Trump did what Trump does whenever anyone criticizes him—he attacked like a wounded pit bull, and began hurling accusations. Liar, liar, pants on fire, he screams at Wilson. His knee-jerk reaction is yet another example of a man who is not a deep thinker, not even a medium deep thinker, for whom the truth is whatever he says, and anyone or anything contradicting him is ‘fake.’

In this case, it’s his pants that are burning. And, it’s his inability to reflect on his words and actions, his refusal to take responsibility for his shortcomings or admit that sometimes he’s just . . . wrong, that lit the match.

I almost feel sorry for John Kelly. His sense of loyalty to his boss seems to have trumped (no pun intended, really) his sense of integrity. While he didn’t explicitly lie, his mealy-mouth defense of Trump came close, perilously close to it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

On location filming 'Air America'

Below are some candid photos taken by my wife, Myung, during location filming of 'Air America' in Mae Hong San, Thailand in 1990.

Me sitting on airfield ramp sandbags during a lull in shooting.  
With another cast member at airfield.



The Wild West Showdown with J.C. Hulsey: Episode 99 05/03 by Wild West Showdown with J-C- Hulsey | Entertainment Podcasts

The Wild West Showdown with J.C. Hulsey: Episode 99 05/03 by Wild West Showdown with J-C- Hulsey | Entertainment Podcasts: J.C. Hulsey has lived in Midlothian, Texas over thirty years. He's a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He has been married for 57 years. He enjoys Western movies and TV Shows, (especially the older ones) and reading about Mail-Order Brides. He is also the owner of six cats (all stray cats, showed up on the back porch) and one dog (rescue dog) He worked for 33 years at Bell Helicopter. He served in the USAF for five years, and the Air National Guard for four years. He started writing songs in his early twenties. He recorded a couple of songs in the late 1960s. He started writing poetry in the 1970s to share with others. He self-published them on Amazon in 2013. He still felt the need to write something different. He tried writing a book in the 1970s, but it was never finished. In 2014, he felt the urge to write a Western novel. However, he needed something different than what was on the market. What about a young Christian Gunfighter? That book turned into a series of seven books that won First Place for Best Westen Series in 2015 from Texas Association of Authors. His is also the founder and chairman of Outlaws Publishing LLC. Music by Jason Castro, Donna Ray & Kevin Collins Chad Prather's Thought For The Day Special Guest Author Charles Ray

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Another Reason to Support Washington's Metrorail


I have been a frequent rider on Washington’s Metrorail since moving to this area in July 1982, when I retired from the army and joined the Foreign Service. Having lived in a number of countries before and after 1982, I am a firm supporter of efficient mass transit in urban areas, and until recent problems began plaguing Metrorail, particularly the Red Line, which is my main method of transportation around the metro area, viewed DC’s system as one of the world’s finest. I’ve been a passenger on the rail systems in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, London, Tokyo, and Seoul, and viewed our system as one of the most orderly and efficient.

Until recent arguments among the jurisdictions over funding, increasingly frequent breakdowns on the Red Line, and a degradation of order and cleanliness throughout the system, I would never have believed that our system would be in trouble. Alas, it seems to lurch from problem to problem, with no end in sight.

Unlike other urban mass transit systems, Washington’s Metrorail doesn’t have a dedicated budget, but must rely instead on contributions from the three political entities it services, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. In dire need for funds to upgrade in order to merely maintain a modest level of efficiency, the political hassles among the jurisdictions threaten even the now somewhat-degraded service.

I continue to support the system, though, because it is necessary. No urban area can thrive without efficient, affordable mass transit. It makes sense, in terms of helping the economy and protecting the environment. There is, however, another reason it should be strongly supported, and not just by the local political jurisdictions, but the national government as well, and one that has not, to date, been a part of the public discussion.

As a diplomat for over thirty years, I’ve observed the negative effects of the divides between social, political, ethnic, and economic classes in places around the world, both in developed and developing countries. While ethnic differences will always be with us, and economic disparities can only be partially mitigated, the factor that aggravates them is the communication divide that exists within societies. When people of these different demographics get few opportunities to know each other, their views are shaped by impressions and propaganda. When they are put in situations where they actually get to ‘know’ each other, those impressions often change—sometimes for the better.

That is what I’ve seen on Metrorail. When I first came to Washington, DC in the late 1960s, and Metrobus was the only form of mass transit, interactions between and among the area’s various social and economic classes were limited and fleeting. A laborer from Silver Spring seldom had extended contact with a stock broker residing in an affluent Potomac neighborhood, and that stock broker had probably never seen where the man doing his lawn lived. Metrorail went a long way toward changing that.

Before I retired in 2012, in particular during two assignments in Washington—two years working in Rosslyn with the State Department’s Office of Defense Trade Controls and three years as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, with an office in Crystal City, I was a daily commuter on Metro’s Red, Orange, Blue, and Yellow Lines. Not only did I have the opportunity to sit cheek by jowl with residents from neighborhoods from all over the area, but saw many of those areas during the surface portion of my commute. I heard dozens of languages spoken, often had conversations with bored fellow riders who, after a few minutes vented about jobs or family problems, and observed the dress and mannerisms of a broad swath of the population. Five years of people watching gave me a better sense of the area than did thirty-five years of reading and watching the local news reports. It also helped me develop a more inclusive sense of community, and contributed to my decision to stay in the area after retirement. I see myself as a citizen of a diverse community, where all the different flavors, like the new M&M multi-colored candies, add up to a most satisfying whole.

So, for all these reasons, I entreat the powers that be to take a broader, more inclusive view of mass transit in this area. In addition to helping people move about better for economic reasons, and protecting the environment, maintain the system in order to continue building the Washington area’s sense of community. In a time when partisan divides threaten our unity more than ever, we need something to pull us together. A one-hour political speech won’t get the job done, but a one-hour commute can get it started.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

My (un)official photograph

After leaving government service, I grew a beard and started living the
bohemian life.

Friday, August 18, 2017

15 Amazing Ways to Write Faster: Become a Better Writer in No Time

15 Amazing Ways to Write Faster: Become a Better Writer in No Time: Need dissertation help? Our professional dissertation writers are ready to help you out 24/7! High quality, on-time delivery, 100% original works!

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Trump-Kim War of Words


Watching the national and international news, where the war of words unfolding between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is like watching two bullies vie for dominance over the playground, I’m torn between laughing and crying. Laughing because these two child-men, with their over-sized egos and disregard for common courtesy, would under other circumstances be jokes, fodder for late-night comedy shows, and crying, because their playground in this case is nothing less than the world.



Since assuming leadership after the death of his father, Kim has been one of the more provocative leaders of North Korea, a country that has made a specialty of bad behavior and bellicosity since the end of the Korean War. Trump, on the other hand, a reality TV personality, with his own out-sized ego and lack of introspection, has, since his surprise win in the 2016 election, added bellicosity to the American political and diplomatic playbook.



The problem is that neither man understands the other. Kim lives in a hermetically-sealed environment where everything is filtered through the lens of the Western threat to the feudal country, and a cultural need to save face at all costs. Trump, on the other hand, lives in self-imposed ignorance, eschewing reading or reflection, and defaulting to his bullying style to get his way, a hallmark of the way he has traditionally conducted his business affairs. While I can’t say it with any assurance about Kim, my guess is, like Trump, he pays little attention to advice from underlings unless it fits his preconceived opinion, and like a child whose tantrums have elicited a response from beleaguered parents, believes that his way of doing things works.



Kim doesn’t understand how the U.S. system works, and like many foreigners, takes what our politicians say publicly at face value. Trump doesn’t have a clue about Korean culture or psychology—or anyone else’s for that matter. Kim threatens because threats have worked in the past. It has gotten food aid from the South and the international community, and he has been allowed to continue developing North Korea’s nuclear capability—a capability that I’m convinced he thinks the country needs in order to survive. Trump bullies because he is, not to sugar coat it, a bully. He bullied in business, he bullied in the campaign, and it has worked for him, so he continues to bully from the White House. He bullies everyone; his friends as well as his adversaries; so, he believes that the way to handle Kim is to just be a bigger bully. What else explains his statement that his ‘fire and fury’ statement was probably ‘not strong enough.’



The U.S. president doesn’t seem to have a clue about how international relations work, and he seems incapable of filtering his speech. Thus, instead of letting his ‘fire and fury’ statement stand for itself, and moving on to other things, he doubles down. His attitude seems to be, if Kim threatens, I’ll threaten ten times worse, unaware that he’s dealing with a man from a culture that believes in the saying, ‘better to burn down the house than to let one bed bug escape.’



Let’s be clear here; something that Mr. Trump seems incapable of; this is not just about North Korea and its nuclear blackmail. It’s about the existence of the Korean Peninsula. With thousands of long-range artillery pieces aimed south, Kim would be able to kill hundreds of thousands and do untold damage even if the U.S. launched a pre-emptive strike against his nuclear sites—provided we even know where they all are. And, of course, the Chinese have said that if the U.S. strikes first, they will support their North Korean ally. If North Korea strikes first, they will remain neutral. I don’t really believe that, but it’s nonetheless chilling that they would go so far as to say they would side with North Korea if we attack first. Kind of changes the dynamics a bit.



But, I don’t think Trump paid much attention to that. He’s like a lot of politicians who have no military experience or knowledge, but who are fascinated by all things military. He seems to believe that having the strongest military on the planet is all a country needs to impose its will on others. After a stalemate in the Korean War and a loss in Vietnam, many, even in the military, know better. That strong military needs to be backed up with strong diplomacy, which Trump seems to disdain, and strong alliances, which he seems determined to undermine.



Knowing the two personalities involved, I don’t see the war of words deescalating any time soon. One can only hope that wiser heads on both sides of the Pacific will eventually prevail, and both men will find something else to occupy their narrow minds and short attention spans.



In the meantime, those of us on the sidelines can only watch and wait.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Putin has more than one card up his sleeve


Is this the new face America presents to the world?


The need for a stronger American diplomatic service - American diplomacy at risk.

Speaking to the World
Affairs Council of
Greater Reading.

Following is the text of remarks made to the World Affairs Council of Greater Reading on June 14, 2017.

As sad as it is for me to admit, during my more than 50 years of government service, I observed that most Americans tend to ignore the world beyond our shores unless a crisis draws their attention. Some even think, unfortunately, that building walls will ensure our security. The inescapable reality, though, is that events beyond our borders, whether we pay attention to them or not, have a profound effect on each of us.
We live in a time when we have to face a broad array of global challenges that impact every aspect of our lives; from the air we breathe to the clothes we wear. Issues such as transnational disease, conflict, movement of people, and international terrorism in areas around the globe affect our security and well-being.
National security requires strong defense, a robust economy, and the ability to effectively manage international relationships—or strong, professional diplomacy. Following current political news, it appears that the main efforts to ensure our national security revolve around substantial increase in our military capability. Now, I spent the first twenty years of my adult life in uniform, so I’m not against having a strong, capable military. But, any professional military person will tell you that trying to achieve true national security solely through military buildup, without growing the economy and having capable management of our international relations is like trying to sit on a three-legged stool with two of the legs missing.
We do need an effective defense, and that we need a strong economy goes without saying. But, both of these must also be underpinned by effective diplomacy if they are to achieve their aims.
It is unfortunate in world affairs that sometimes force of arms is necessary, but even when that is the case, diplomacy is also essential. It was diplomacy, for instance, that facilitated an alliance with France during our war for independence, making victory possible. Diplomacy created a system of long term prosperity after World War 2. And, it is diplomacy that will have to consolidate any military gains if true peace and stability is to be achieved in the world’s current conflicts, such as the seemingly perpetual state of war in the Middle East. Diplomacy is need before, during and after conflict.
Economic prosperity also requires diplomacy. Regardless of how we view it, globalization is here to stay. The American economy was built on foreign and domestic trade from its beginnings, and currently about one in five American jobs is related to international trade and about half of our exports go to developing countries. This does not happen in a vacuum. It is our diplomats who grease the wheels of international commerce, through negotiation of trade agreements, assistance in settling trade disputes, and helping American companies navigate foreign markets.
From the very beginnings of the Republic, America has called on the talents of its citizens to carry out diplomatic functions at home and abroad. In the early days, with such men as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Jay, men of education and ability well-known to the national leadership, this was effectively done. Consular affairs were handled by businessmen, also known by or with connections to the political leadership. As the demands of diplomacy grew along with the size and complexity of the government itself, a system of political spoils—to the political victor belonged the spoils of government positions—developed, and the quality of our diplomatic and consular services declined. The spoils system reached its height during the administration of Andrew Jackson. Until the passage of the Rogers Act in 1924, our diplomatic and consular affairs were in the hands-sometimes incompetent hands—of politically connected men of wealth. It should be noted that women and minorities were not included in this number except for a few African-American appointments after the Civil War, mostly to places like Liberia and Haiti.
The purpose of the original Foreign Service Act, and all subsequent iterations, including the most recent, the Act of 1980, was to create a career foreign service, characterized by excellence and professionalism, . . . to assist the President and secretary of state in conducting foreign affairs. In addition, the 1980 Foreign Service Act committed to creating a foreign service that was ‘representative of the American people . . . knowledgeable of the affairs, cultures, and languages of other countries, . . . and operated on the basis of merit principles.’
After passage of the Act of 1924, which combined the diplomatic and consular services, journeyman positions in our missions abroad were finally held by career personnel rather than politically connected amateurs, and some high level assignments, including ambassadorial positions, also went to career employees.
Now, though, nearly 100 years after the creation of the career foreign service, despite the outstanding efforts of career foreign and civil service personnel, America’s ability to lead globally is declining. The reasons for this decline are both political and institutional.
American diplomacy over the past few decades has turned back toward the spoils system of the nineteenth century. During the past forty years the number of political appointees in upper- and even mid-level positions in the Department of State has significantly increased. In 2014, for instance, the percentage of non-career political positions (including special envoys, special representatives, coordinators, senior and special advisors) was 64%. The percentage of active duty Foreign Service personnel, on the other hand, was 15%. In 1975, active Foreign Service personnel in Assistant Secretary positions and above was 60%, but by 2014, with an increase in the number of such positions, active duty Foreign Service personnel only occupied 30% of such positions. The number of senior civil service personnel in such positions remained at 3%.
While the Constitution gives the president the power to appoint whomever he wishes to ambassadorial positions, the Foreign Service Act of 1980 states that, ‘positions as chiefs of mission should normally be accorded to career members of the Service,’ and that ‘Contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor in the appointment of an individual as a chief of mission.’ We all know that this latter ‘condition’ has often been ignored by administrations from both political parties. Furthermore, Section 304 of the 1980 Act, relating to appointment of Chiefs of Missions states that, ‘an individual appointed or assigned to be a chief of mission should possess clearly demonstrated competence to perform the duties of a chief of mission, including, to the maximum extent practicable, a useful knowledge of the principal language or dialect of the country, and knowledge and understanding of the history, culture, economic and political institutions, and the interests of that country and its people. Instances when political appointees, especially so-called campaign finance bundlers, have been notoriously defective in such knowledge only serve to weaken American diplomacy in the eyes of the public and, more importantly, the foreign audiences these chiefs of mission are appointed to deal with.
Proliferation of political patronage, though, is not the only factor contributing to our diplomatic weakness. During political campaigns, foreign aid is often a target used by politicians to stir up their supporters, and calls for a reduction of American tax dollars ‘flowing to foreigners’ is all too common. This despite the fact that all foreign aid (which includes funding for foreign affairs agencies such as the State Department and USAID) is less than two percent of the federal budget. Even if it was eliminated entirely, particularly given the penchant some politicians have for increasing military budgets, it would have almost zero impact.
Take the current administration’s proposal to slash the State Department’s budget by more than 30%, while at the same time increasing the defense budget. Any savings from the decrease are more than wiped out by the defense increase, and there’s the added problem of the weakening of our diplomatic capability at a time when it’s needed most—as a number of senior military and intelligence officials have pointed out. Sadly, our State Department and the American Foreign Service Association, charged with the job of carrying out our diplomacy, and thus with protecting the resources needed to do it effectively, have been for the most part either quiet or acquiescent in this unwise move.
In addition to the impact politics has on our ability to exercise diplomatic leadership effectively, foreign affairs institutions, the State Department and the Foreign Service, must also shoulder some of the blame for the decline.
For a long time there has been within the State Department a significant effort to homogenize the Foreign Service and Civil Service, expressed in the QDDR as requirement to ‘break down institutional, cultural, and legal barriers between the Foreign Service and the Civil Service. This is troubling in that the legal barrier being referenced is the Foreign Service Act of 1980, and this is nothing less than a commitment to ‘break down’ the law. That it comes from some senior FSOs in addition to the State Department’s Civil Service and political leadership, is only more troubling.
Merging the Foreign Service and Civil Service not only weakens our diplomacy, but it can lead to irreparable harm to both services. Each service has a clear role to play in carrying out the country’s foreign policy, blurring the lines that distinguish them from each other, rather than taking action to enhance and empower each in their unique roles, only weakens both.
An area where State and the Foreign Service have both been woefully deficient is the failure to establish a career education system for American diplomats.
The U.S. Foreign Service stands nearly alone among professions in the United States in its lack of stringent pre-entry requirements, formal accreditation, and requirement for continuing education or re-certification. While more than half of entering Foreign Service personnel have post-graduate degrees, less than a third have those degrees in international relations, economics or development.
Entry training for new Foreign Service personnel is neither education nor training. Instead, it’s familiarization with the organization and administrative procedures, with little time devoted to the history or practice of diplomacy as a profession. Through the rank of FS-01, or the equivalent of an army colonel, training opportunities are limited – with most emphasis on language training (and even that is restricted depending on career field) and certain technical or tradecraft skills. Most chances for ‘education’ only come at the FS-01 or higher level, and the slots available are limited. Further, during my career, I was shocked to see FS-01’s, worried that long-term training would take them out of the EER/Promotion loop too long, turn down long term training opportunities such as the National Defense University or one of the service war colleges. I often, in fact, took flak from colleagues for my practice of requesting an FSI course at the end of every one of my overseas tours, and signing up for frequent short courses during my domestic assignments, instead of focusing on ensuring a good EER for my current job and lobbying for my onward assignment.
I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. While America’s diplomatic service is made up of some very intelligent, dedicated people, because of a number of cultural, political, and bureaucratic factors, we’re not getting the most from that service. We hire the best and brightest, walk them to the deep end of the pool, and toss them in with the injunction, ‘Swim!’  That many do is less a credit to the system than to their dogged determination.
That we’ve been successful since creation of the career Foreign Service in 1924 is, in my humble opinion, nothing short of a miracle. But, in today’s world we can no longer depend upon miracles or divine intervention. With the dangers lurking around every corner, we need to recognize that diplomacy, our front-line in the war on just about everything, is in grave danger.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

New Store - New Designs!

For designs that are just a bit edgier than those in my UhurubyRay store on Zazzle, check me out at Designs_by_Ray on Zazzle. Not a lot there now, but I'll be adding new designs on a daily basis. You can't beat these deals, and if you want to make a statement (political, fashion, or whatever) check it out.

Go to:  https://www.zazzle.com/designs_by_ray

Here's an example of what I'll have available:


Comey Attack Ads Inspire Stephen To Create His Own

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Ready for a Fight!


With former FBI Director, James Comey, set to testify publicly before Congress on June 8, Donald Trump is gearing up for a no-hold's barred fight. I predict that as Comey testifies, the Donald will tweet. Should prove to be interesting.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Unintended Audiences


When I served as the American ambassador to Zimbabwe (2009-2012) I had a conversation with a southern African politician that intrigued me. He said that when African politicians spoke publicly, it was a good idea to know who they were really addressing, because they only spoke to their intended audience, and anyone else who happened to overhear should shut their ears.



Watching and reading the news lately about the shenanigans of the 45th President of the United States, this conversation came to mind. Just at the time Donald Trump’s considering petitioning the Supreme Court to reinstate his ban on visas to people from five predominantly Muslim countries, he’s been busy on Twitter and giving interviews that expose the true reason behind that ban—just such conduct that caused two federal judges to put a hold on his original attempt, on the grounds that his public utterances gave a different interpretation to the motives behind his executive orders—motives that were at odds with what the DOJ attorneys were telling the courts.



Again, he demonstrates his tone-deafness, or his inability to understand that words and actions have consequences.

As a result, my poison pen could not resist the following piece of art.


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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Trump's Troubles

This should actually need no caption.

White House Bridge Games

Given the Donald's oversized and fragile ego, the language of bridge bidding might have to be changed in the White House.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Ascendancy of Incompetence


With intellectuals and experts currently under siege from some rather high places, and a coterie of national leaders who appear to disdain contemplative thinking and even reading, it’s easy to think that the disease of anti-intellectualism is beginning to infect the world; but especially the United States. While it’s certainly true that there is a strain of anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism (in this case, elite in a positive sense) prevalent in many parts of the western world, it would be wrong to think that this is something new.



The Trump Administration didn’t invent this phenomenon, but it has regrettably taken full advantage of it, showing a negative attitude toward science, art and humanity in general, and a general tendency to value entertainment, a casual attitude toward truth and facts, and a glorious self-righteousness. Negative attitudes toward intellectualism, however, are a deeply-ingrained, long-held fact of American life that predates the founding of the country.



In the 17th century, the Puritan, John Cotton, wrote, ‘The more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan you will bee.’ Despite the fact that Puritans established America’s first institutions of higher education, among many, especially the rural and working classes, there was a general disdain for secular education. According to the economist, Thomas Sowell, the early colonial people of America were wary of the educated upper classes who had been their persecutors in Europe. There were intellectuals among the early settlers, but very few, as few had the skills to survive in the harsh environment of the American frontier. The early whites who came to America were first mostly indentured servants, and later, peasant and workers fleeing economic, religious, or political deprivation in caste-bound Europe.



By the 19th century, when most of the country was rural or worked at hard labor in the few urban settlements, bookish education was seen by many as unimportant and unprofitable. Nor was there much high regard for so-called experts. Woodrow Wilson, when he was governor of New Jersey in 1912, said, “What I fear is a government of experts.’ The common interpretation of the freedom and equality enshrined in the Constitution (for white males property owners, but not for women, blacks, Native Americans, or certain undesirable non-northern Europeans) was a core belief that everyone was equal, regardless of their lack of knowledge.



The author, Isaac Asimov, summed it up succinctly. “There is a culture of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”



At the risk of offending some of my religious friends (and, I do have a few), religion has played a role in embedding this disdain for knowledge in the American psyche. In the late 19th century, the evangelical preacher, Dwight Moody, said, “I do not read any book, unless it will help me understand the book. I would rather have zeal without knowledge; and there is a good deal of knowledge without zeal.” His successor, the fiery preacher Billy Sunday, said, “If I had a million dollars, I’d give $999,999 to the church and $1 to education. When the word of God says one thing and scholarship says another, scholarship can go to hell!”



This philosophy is seen in the parsimonious funding of public education in this country. Our public school teachers are among the poorest compensated of professionals, in comparison to other developed nations, and that seems to be rearing its ugly head again with the current administration’s attitude toward public education. It’s also seen in the fact that most of our colleges focus not on educating students, but training them to get jobs.



What this attitude has led to, for anyone willing to think about it, is truly frightening. We like to think of ourselves as a great nation, the most powerful on the planet. True, as far as the ability to project military power and destruction, but what about building things? A World Economic Forum report in 2010 ranked the USD 52 out of 139 nations in the quality of college math and science education. Half of our graduate students in the sciences are foreigners who go home after getting their degrees. A 2012 Gallup poll indicated that 40 percent of Americans under 44 have not read a book at all since leaving school, and 42 percent of Americans thought God created us in our present form 10,000 years ago. This same poll found that just over half of the people surveyed read anything for pleasure. A 2008 University of Texas study showed that 25 percent of public school biology teachers believe that humans and dinosaurs inhabited the earth at the same time.



As if these statistics are not frightening enough, a Gallup poll some years ago found that 74 percent of Republicans in the Senate and 53 percent in the House deny the validity of climate change, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.



With some religious and political figures mired in such a swamp of ignorance, and the lack of a credible counterweight in the education system, it’s no wonder that we’re in the state we’re in. We live in a time when social media and communications technology, products of the intellect of some pretty smart people, have become the engines that have helped accelerate the decline of intellect across the land. People no longer have to think. They can just ‘google’ it, and with the judicious use of the proper search terms, they don’t have to subject their un-inquiring minds to any ‘facts’ with they disagree.



I am not ashamed to identify myself as an intellectual, as someone who is not content to merely ‘do’ things, but also to ‘understand’ how and why things are done. I’ve endured being called a nerd and geek for most of my life, and will wear those labels proudly to my final resting place. But, being a thinking person, I can’t help but despair. Experts are being ignored and pushed to the far margins of the policy making process in favor of ‘politically and ideologically reliable’ incompetents, who act often without thinking through the consequences of their actions. Thankfully, the checks and balances built into the system by the Founding Fathers are still in place to stem some of the more egregious errors. But, like the dripping water that eventually erodes the rock away to create a chasm, if we don’t divert the stream of ignorance that is now more a torrent than a drip, even those foundations are in danger of being washed away.



Instead of the slogan, ‘Make America Great Again,’ we should perhaps try to ‘Keep America Great.’

Friday, April 28, 2017

Anti-Immigration Sentiment: What Trump and Sessions Need to Know


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana



During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump hit immigration issues hard, much to the delight of his Rust Belt supporters. Since his inauguration, he and his attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, have endeavored—not too successfully—to fulfill his campaign promises. In their efforts to appeal to the nativism and economic angst of denizens of America’s Rust Belt, they have repeatedly stressed the three main points of his campaign:



-          A ban on granting entry to the U.S. of people from certain predominantly Muslim countries.

-          Building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to stop the flow of people from south of the border.

-          Punishing U.S. cities who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement; the so-called Sanctuary Cities.



So far, the administration’s efforts have met with a resounding lack of success. Federal judges shut down two attempts to impose a Muslim ban, and a federal judge in San Francisco has temporarily halted DOJs attempt to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities. Noise continues to be made about building the wall, but Mexico has been adamant in its refusal to pay, and it’s unlikely that the congress will come up with the massive amount that would be needed to build the bloody monstrosity.



If Trump and Sessions were more aware of history, in particularly, America’s fixation on anti-immigration, they might have taken a saner approach to this whole issue.



The history of opposition to immigrants in America is older than the nation itself. Before independence, for example, Benjamin Franklin railed against the increase in the number of Germans arriving in the colonies, fearing that they would not assimilate, and would overwhelm the ‘English’ community.



Starting in the late 1790s there was vociferous opposition to political refugees from France and people from Ireland fleeing the potato famine, mainly on the basis of their Catholic faith, which led to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which sought to stem that flow, and Catholics in America were banned from holding public office.



In the 20th century, anti-immigrant sentiment took on a racial tone in response to the number of Asians arriving in America and competing with native born for jobs, particularly in the western states. The federal government, wanting to avoid alienating Asian countries with whom we had diplomatic relations, held out against this sentiment for a long time, but finally caved to domestic pressure, leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1902, which stopped all immigration from China, and the Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan in 1907, which limited immigration from that country. The Chinese Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943, as a gesture of goodwill to our Chinese ally in World War II, but the full limitations of the act weren’t abolished until 1965.



Despite being thought of as a nation of immigrants, American nativists began pushing for exclusion of people not from northern Europe in the late 1800s, and labor unions opposed many immigrants on economic, moral, cultural, and racial reasons. Publicly, the unions stated that this influx of ‘undesirables’ would flood the labor market and lower wages.



The sentiment against Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, which saw an upsurge in the 1990s, and a giant uptick with the rise of the Tea Party movement after 2014, is not a recent phenomenon. Anti-Mexican movements began in the early 1920s, often involving the mass deportation of Mexicans.



These past anti-immigration activities and sentiments have created foreign relations problems for the U.S., often at critical times when we’ve needed the cooperation of other countries.



More recent anti-immigration sentiment, though, has had more direct consequences. In Georgia, for example, when the state legislature passed a draconian anti-immigration law in 2011, thousands of agricultural workers fled the state for more hospitable locations, resulting in an over $300 million loss in the state’s melon crop, and a potential total economic loss of $1 billion. There have been similar losses in other states that have dipped their oars in the immigration enforcement waters.



Another important aspect of the new administration’s push for local and state governments to participate in enforcement of immigration laws (civil rather than criminal, which they have a responsibility to do) is that these police forces are ill-equipped for such work. In addition to a lack of training in the complex civil laws relating to immigration, they lack the manpower to take on immigration enforcement and still protect their communities. Further, when local police begin to involve themselves in identifying, detaining and deporting foreigners, it complicates their ability to gain the trust of the very communities they need in order to perform their principal mission.



One can’t help but wonder if the president and attorney-general have given any thought to the complexity of what they’re insisting that states and cities do. Or, do they even care?



The nation’s reputation, at home and abroad, has suffered because of past actions that were counter to our professed credo. Are they setting us up for another round of the same?