Friday, November 17, 2017

Morale and the Trust Deficit

It's been almost exactly two months since the last public announcement about the Department's redesign planning.

The Secretary’s Message on the Redesign went out on September 13 ("I am writing to update you on the progress of the redesign. This ongoing effort to transform the State Department and USAID to be more effective and efficient would not be possible without you") along with four charts on the redesign team composition. On September 29 the Deputy Secretary briefed Congress ("the Redesign provides a new foundation for our diplomacy and development professionals to define America’s leadership in the world for generations to come"). There's been nothing further from them since then.

Of course, every day there has been another news story blaming Silent Rex for the evisceration of the State Department and the purported rock-bottom morale of its employees. Yesterday it was CNN: “Tillerson under fire for turmoil at State: ”
As the battle over staffing unfolds, multiple sources tell CNN morale inside the State Department is at the lowest level in years, largely because of the perceived talent flight and an insular and distrustful approach from Tillerson and his team that's being interpreted by longtime employees as not valuing their input.

The rebukes [that is, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker's complaints] mark the latest headache for Tillerson, whose rocky first year in office has been marked by disagreements with President Donald Trump and an inability -- or unwillingness -- to connect with career staff at the State Department, which has led to plummeting morale.

Insular, distrustful, and unable or unwilling to connect with the staff, whose morale then goes plummeting? Pardon my insensitivity, but that sounds like Tillerson is accused of not doing enough hand-holding with Generation Snowflake.

And then, there is the downsizing of the State Department. But we’ve been there before. Back in the Bill Clinton administration the State Department cut more than 2,000 employees and closed consulates in 26 foreign cities. The Agency for International Development (AID) closed 23 missions overseas. Staffing has been both higher and lower in the recent past than it is right now.
The Office and Management and Budget has ordered the State Department to slash 8% of its full-time employees [which cannot be met by normal attrition alone, hence the hiring freeze and the possibility of buyouts].

Still, State Department officials are pushing back on assessments that Foggy Bottom is hemorrhaging talented employees. They argue there are more senior diplomats on hand today than at the beginning of the Obama administration.

There are currently 983 senior foreign service officers, with 63 more waiting for Congress to approve their promotion to senior tiers, according to State Department figures. This is more than the 931 when President Barack Obama took office in 2009. (There were more than 1,000 senior foreign service officers on hand at the height of the Obama years.)

CNN also states that "Tillerson has approved 2,300 exemptions from the hiring freeze as of last month, according to the State Department. That includes more than 300 foreign service officers and 150 civil service staff employees."

Assuming those numbers are correct, in what way are the current budget and staffing situations either unprecedented or a hollowing-out of the State Department?

Then there was this:
Trump's assertion earlier this month that "I am the only one that matters" in formulating foreign policy has also contributed to widespread unease that career expertise is not valued.

Characteristically blunt language, but is Trump not simply doing a Trumpian take on Obama’s observation that elections have consequences? [“Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won. So I think on that one I trump you.” – President Obama to House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, January 23, 2009.]

Who can deny it? The President is, in fact, the one who really matters in regards to national policy.
"The State Department has a history of frank discussion before policy decisions are made," McEldowney [Nancy McEldowney, who last June resigned as director of the Foreign Service Institute] said. "But we were told early on there is a 'trust deficit' and if you want to rebuild that trust, get in line and follow the policy.' But internal debate does not equal disloyalty or disobedience. Quite the contrary."

And yet, after the frank discussion and internal debate, elections do have consequences. There can be no effective difference between the President and his Executive branch on policy matters.
Said one career officer of the foreign service: "We have always been a grumpy group" … "This is not just about how the place is managed. It is about the politics, policy and a whole approach to diplomacy. We are a country in the midst of serious political change that will have a profound impact on how we do our foreign policy and people are having to come to terms with that."

That anonymous career officer hit the nail on the head. The political pendulum swings both ways, and if you intend to have a government career of any length at all, you will sooner or later have to come to terms with serious political changes with which you disagree.

Are you genuinely distressed by ideas that run contrary to your worldview? Then get over it. Just remember that the most meaningful difference between any President of the United States and you is that he or she got elected and you did not. Until the pendulum swings back your way, you will simply have to endure the politics and policies of others.

Human Hair Threatens to Take Down DC's Metro

I let it fly in the breeze
And get caught in the trees
Give a home for the fleas in my hair
A home for fleas
A hive for the buzzin' bees
A nest for birds
There ain't no words
For the beauty, the splendor, the wonder Of my...


But not so wonderful when it gums up the electrical system of the Washington DC Metro, though.

According to NBC News, 'Beyond Vulgar': Human Hair Buildup in Metro System Poses Fire Threat :

Hair and other human fibers are accumulating in Washington D.C. Metro tunnels in such large quantities that the gunk poses a threat of electrical sparks and fire, a transit consultant tells News4.

So much hair and skin cells built up on insulators that support the electrified third rails that the mess looks like a thick layer of felt, said a safety specialist from Amalgamated Transit Union, the largest labor union representing transit employees in North America.

"I was flabbergasted -- flabbergasted -- at the amount of hair that's in the Metro," Brian Sherlock said.

It's not just hair and fibers -- dust and debris also are gathering, according to Sherlock.

He said the issue can become especially dangerous when debris gathers near the high-voltage third rail.

"The amount of debris is just beyond vulgar to think of," Sherlock said.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld acknowledged the issue.

"Hair literally comes off of people and off of clothing and gets sucked up," he said.

This hair issue is not one that Metro has independently studied, but Metro has made efforts to increase the regularity of trackbed cleaning since 2016, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

I don't ride the DC Metro much anymore, but it looks like a ride at Disney World compared to the New York City subway and most other old underground rail systems. How much skin and hair buildup must those have???

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"Detroit Officers Posing As Drug Dealers Get Into Brawl With Detroit Officers Posing As Drug Buyers" - and Fox New 2 Detroit

Sources say guns were drawn and punches were thrown while the homeowner stood and watched ...  "You've gotta have to have more communication, I guess," said the resident. "I don't understand what happened about that - communicate."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Now, There's a Trust Deficit

A tragedy happened in New York City yesterday after an Australian diplomat at the UN had too much to drink, took too big a risk on a high rooftop, and placed entirely too much trust in the wrong person.

The New York Post reports, UN diplomat falls to his death from balcony after ‘trust game’ goes wrong:
A game of “trust” took a deadly turn for an Australian diplomat, who plunged to his death from his Manhattan balcony early Wednesday during a night of boozing with friends and his wife, police sources said.

- snip -

While on the roof, the diplomat, who serves as the second secretary to the UN for Australia, then climbed to a higher roof landing where he began swinging a female friend around, sources said.

Once he put her down, everyone decided to go back inside.

While inside, the 24-year-old man, who is the husband of the woman Simpson had been swinging, confronted Simpson over the gesture, sources said.

The two men then stepped out onto Simpson’s balcony, where Simpson told the husband that he meant no harm, according to sources.

To prove to the husband that he could trust him, Simpson suggested playing the “trust game” — in which Simpson would lean back on the ledge and trust the man to catch him before he would fall.

Simpson jumped up onto the balcony railing and sat on it facing the apartment before he fell backward, sources said.

The man told investigators that he put his arm out to catch him, but Simpson slipped and fell to his death, according to sources.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Waiting For Those Buyouts and Bonuses

That New York Times article the other day about State Department to Offer Buyouts in Effort to Cut Staff certainly is getting a lot of attention, especially for one based entirely on what anonymous officials confirmed. So far as I can tell, no one has actually been offered a buyout yet, and those typically are offered early in October, so as to maximize the salary savings to the agency doing the buyout.

And check out the story's last paragraph. Those anonymous officials also confirmed that some classes of State employees will not be urged to retire early, but may be offered incentive bonuses to stay longer.
Some State employees will not be eligible for the buyouts, including many members of the security, information technology, medical and building staffs, areas in which the department is trying to hire more people or is offering offering bonuses for them to stay.

I haven't heard of any offers of retention incentive bonuses, either.

Assuming buyouts are actually offered, how much will they be? Office of Personnel Management rules say they can be up to $25,000:
The Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment Authority, also known as buyout authority, allows agencies that are downsizing or restructuring to offer employees lump-sum payments up to $25,000 as an incentive to voluntarily separate.

Last year, Congress boosted the buyout amount for Defense Department employees to $40,000, good through Sept. 30, 2018. The Trump administration’s budget proposal sought to increase the value of State Department buyouts $40,000 as well, but who knows whether that will happen.

It may mean nothing, but I was tipped to expect a public announcement soon, possible on November 17, about the implementation phase of the Department's reorganization plan.

Why No ARB For the Sonic Attacks in Cuba?

Five members of Congress, three of them Florida Republicans — Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Díaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo — plus West Virginia Republican Alex X. Mooney and New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires, have sent a letter to U.S. Comptroller-General Gene Dodaro asking for a report on the sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba. As U.S. Comptroller, Dotaro heads the Government Accountability Office.

Among other things, they asked whether an Accountability Review Board was convened to identify vulnerabilities in the State Department’s security programs, and if not, why not?

Good question. Given that employees were reportedly harmed by the mysterious attacks, an ARB could be warranted.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"Pride and prejudice: Gay lions seen in Kenya 'need counselling' and 'must have been influenced by homosexual men behaving badly in national parks' says country's 'moral policeman'" - Daily Mail  

Despite the fact that homosexuality among lions has been observed for decades, Dr Mutua is convinced that the lions would either have spotted gay men having sex in front of them, or been possessed by demons.

Back to Bollards

Photo from Conceptual Site

Here we go again. Another truck ramming attack in a city, this time New York. And again the politicians and the news media talking heads are going around and around about lone wolves, radicalization, human intelligence, and immigration. Good luck to them with getting all of that straightened out.

While they work on those big and complicated issues, the city planners and the architecturally-mined security types have a small and simple solution that would preclude such attacks on the most attractive targets, and thereby make this threat a good deal more manageable.

You know the answer - more bollards! They've already worked to prevent a mass killing in New York when a mentally disturbed person drove through Times Square. Surely this week's attack will convince the city to ramp up deployment of passive anti-ram barriers around high-traffic pedestrian venues. Well, maybe it will.

The attack could have been far worse if it had been executed just a little bit more efficiently. Sayfullo Saipov seems to have been aiming for school children, considering that his route led directly to a High School and he ended his attack by crashing into a school bus.

As a local resident told NPR:
"We have so many schools around this area," she said. "And it was shortly after 3 [p.m.]. It could have been worse if the police hadn't responded as quickly as they did."

Indeed. Or if Sayfullo Saipov, the sad sack Shahid that he was, hadn't lost his bag full of knives when he crashed the truck, leaving him with nothing but a pair of phony pistols in his hands when he jumped out of the truck searching for more victims.

At least one local politician, City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, is calling for the obvious first response to this increasingly-popular form of terrorism:
During Friday's conference, Rodriguez announced that he is planning to introduce legislation to require metal bollards along sidewalks with heavy pedestrian traffic, as well as in front of schools. He also told reporters that he envisions a Times Square entirely free of cars between 42nd and 47th Streets, and would support a DOT study to that effect. "I think we should look at the possibility," he said.

Why not? It wouldn't be the solution to everything but it would greatly reduce the opportunity for more truck ramming attacks on our most vulnerable places and people. Isn't that enough? Put another way, it would be "reasonable protection at a reasonable cost," as this astute security newsletter pointed out:
The real chance to increase public safety in this and in many similar soft-target scenarios, lies with the Security Designer and Civil Engineer: engineering and traffic controls, combined with architectural and security elements will reduce opportunity and increase means requirements. These classic Force Protection principles are neither cost-free nor 100% effective, but are wisely employed in a distributed fashion providing reasonable protection at a reasonable cost. When optimized for each municipality (or town, park, business), they will increase security and safety while limiting cost and potential liability.

Urban planning and public safety concerns are converging; hardening critical infrastructure has left smaller, softer targets (including pedestrian and bicycle paths) as low-hanging fruit for opportunistic perpetrators. Terrorist organizations have actively spread these targeting suggestions to their followers, and the threat will persist for the foreseeable future. This iteration of public security enhancement is in the hands of the planners, designers, architects, engineers, and Law Enforcement liaison personnel. Soft targets need not remain vulnerable, nor do they have to be transformed into unusable, unwelcoming space in order to provide safety.

Back to bollards, ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

DS Assistant Secretary Nominee Gets a Hearing

I missed this when it happened, but the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on October 18 for four State Department nominees. One of them was Michael Evanoff, the nominee for Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security. Senator Isakson (R-Georgia) presided.

You can view the hearing on the Committee's website, here.

In Evanoff's prepared remarks, which come at the 12 minute mark in the hearing video, he ended with a pitch for completion of the much-needed but long-delayed-by-shameless-Congressional-infighting-over-whose-district-will-get-it Foreign Affairs Security Training Center.

After several years of delays, the FASTC is at last under construction at Fort Pickett, Virginia. See this for some background.
"I will also put special focus on the continued overhaul and refinement of security training for Department of State employees. This includes intensive specialized training for all DS agents and the on-going expansion of the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) course for all employees working overseas under the authority of the Chief of Mission. It also includes the completion of the Department’s Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) at Fort Pickett, Virginia. Once fully up and running, this state-of-the-art facility will allow DS to provide more efficient and effective hard skills training – such firearms, explosives, antiterrorism driving techniques, and defensive tactics – for roughly 10,000 students annually."

Upon hearing that, Isakson at once made a weak swipe at FASTC, asking Evanoff to consider the inadequate and inappropriate law enforcement training centers that already exist in Georgia instead of a new purpose-built one in Virginia. Much later on in the hearing, at the 44 minute mark, Senator Kaine (D-VA) made an equally weak motion in support of FASTC at Fort Pickett. The long battle over which state will get FASTC is apparently over now, but some hard feelings remain.

The first question Evanoff received came from Isakson. At the 35 minute mark, Isakson asked this very broad question: does Mister Evanoff know of any effort made since the Benghazi reviews and Accountability Review Board report “to build up and beef up security diplomatically?"

Yes, Senator, he knew of several. I can think of one, too: that dedicated state-of-the-art training center will eventually be completed at Fort Pickett despite years of obstruction by you and some of your fellow Congressmen. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Story of the Week

Yes, please do give him what's just and equitable

Newspaper stories ruined pimp's 'good reputation,' lawsuit claims - CTV News Vancouver

"Words published in the Vancouver Sun Newspaper and National Post Newspaper ruined [Moazami's] good reputation and character" ... The convict is seeking $250,000, costs and any other relief the court “may deem just and equitable.”

Reza Moazami was found guilty on dozens of charges in September 2014, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual interference and human trafficking offences. His 11 victims ranged in age from 14 to 19 years old ... Among the disturbing facts heard in the case was that the pimp would abuse the girls physically to get them to comply with his demands. In some cases he would also attack a small dog that was beloved by his victims to force their cooperation, the court heard.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A "Litany of Stupidity" All Around

No one at the arrival press conference asked Mr. Boyle whether his wife had something to say about all that has happened to her. She has remained silent, at least in all the media reports I've seen on this incident.

From the AP story on Boyle's arrival back in Canada:
"The stupidity and evil of the Haqqani network's kidnapping of a pilgrim and his heavily pregnant wife engaged in helping ordinary villagers in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan was eclipsed only by the stupidity and evil of authorizing the murder of my infant daughter," he said.

Boyle said his wife was raped by a guard who was assisted by his superiors. He asked for the Afghan government to bring them to justice.

"God willing, this litany of stupidity will be the epitaph of the Haqqani network," he said.

He said he was in Afghanistan to help villagers "who live deep inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan where no NGO, no aid worker and no government has ever successfully been able to bring the necessary help."

Joshua Boyle before his pilgrimage to help those villagers:

Joshua Boyle and his silent wife after years of captivity:

While I don't want to ridicule someone who has suffered so much, really, what did Boyle think he was doing by trekking with his seven-month pregnant wife "deep in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan"?

And what "necessary help" exactly was he bringing with him? Is he a doctor, or was he packing in a village-load of food or clothing, or digging a well, or doing anything of any use whatsoever? Haven't those villagers suffered enough themselves without having to put up with a neckbeard Muslim wannabe self-described “pacifist Mennonite hippy-child” from rural Canada hanging around them?

I can easily understand why Boyle says, at the end of his statement, that we shall all be judged by the intentions of our actions and not by their consequences. He cannot afford to be judged by their consequences.

Frankly, I wish the Pakistanis had retrieved her and left him there.

Dusting Off the Bauhaus Fortress, and Other New Construction Awards This Week

Photo of U.S. Embassy Athens from Discover Diplomacy

My good friends in Overseas Buildings Operations have had a hot hand this past week, signing contracts for the construction of a new U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, Guatemala, and for the construction of a new U.S. Embassy Annex in Kampala, Uganda, and for the major rehabilitation of the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece.

The Athens project is by far the most complex and architecturally interesting of the three awards. The project "includes the rehabilitation of, and additions to, the existing chancery and other buildings. The architect for the project is Ann Beha Architects of Boston, Massachusetts." That design firm, as we learned from Architect Magazine, specializes in "dusting off forgotten buildings and marshalling them into the present day" and the firm's proposal to OBO "conveyed a sophisticated understanding of the issues involved in renovating historically significant buildings and experience with rehabilitation of complex mid-century modern structures."

Our chancery building in Athens could use a good dusting off. OBO describes it as follows:
The Athens Chancery, by architect Walter Gropius, one of the most celebrated representatives of the famed Bauhaus School, is a modern tribute to ancient Greek architecture. The architect designed the building as a metaphor for democracy in the country to which modern democracy owes so much.

Completed on July 4, 1961, the three-story edifice is markedly open. The landscaped courtyard provides a place for discussion and meeting. The white columns and brilliant reflective surfaces of the exterior façade are clad with Pentelic marble, the famous stone used in the Parthenon, other buildings on the Acropolis, and throughout the ancient Mediterranean. Black marble from Saint Peter, Peloponnesus, gray marble from Marathon, and other native Greek marbles are used throughout the building. The beautifully-turned wood stair railing was made with Greek pearwood by Greek artisans.

Contemporary architecture magazines described the chancery as “a symbol of democracy at the fountainhead of many old democratic and architectural traditions” by “one of modern architecture’s Olympian figures,” Walter Gropius, and his associates at The Architects Collaborative (TAC). Gropius said that he sought “to find the spirit of [the] Greek approach without imitating any classical means.” The podium, quadrilateral plan, interior patio, exterior columns, and formal landscaping were all handled in a thoroughly modern way.

The building’s climatic response includes ceramic sunscreens, wide overhangs, free flowing air at continuously slotted over hangs, and a bipartite roof. Upper floors hang from the roof structure. Gropius placed a reflecting pool at the main entrance and fountains in the landscape to create serene settings and cooling from the Greek sun. The floor plan is arranged in a sweeping crescent that embraces a large formal terrace descending to a lawn and garden.

The Athens Chancery remains a fresh and optimistic bow to the classical ideal and one of the most prominent Bauhaus buildings in Greece.

So basically, the chancery is supposed to look like the Parthenon - see the resemblance? - only with a Modernist flat roof and glassed-in sides. It doesn't seem like promising material for a Fortress Embassy of the modern type.  But, I have all the confidence in the world that my good friends can pull this off.

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"naked drunk Florida man"

"Naked drunk man allegedly fired guns into the air to test if they’d work" - New York Post

Authorities say a naked drunk Florida man wanted to know if his .45-caliber gun and shotgun worked, so he fired them into the air.

Monday, October 9, 2017

U.S. Embassy London's Contraband-Filled Bushes

The current U.S. Embassy

The Wall Street Journal had a nice article last week about the common practice of embassy visitors using the surrounding landscaping to hide the items they aren't allowed to bring inside.

Read it here: London’s No. 1 Hiding Place: The Bushes Outside the U.S. Embassy - Items such as bike helmets and scissors are prohibited at security, so many visitors stash them in a nearby park

Hey folks, just wait until they open the New U.S. Embassy in London. You'll be delighted to find lots of trees, bushes, and a lovely water feature in which to stash your stuff. Do step carefully if you choose to go into the water. 

The new U.S. Embassy, opening soon

Federal Hiring Freeze is Working

So, the hiring freeze President Trump imposed in partial fulfillment of a political promise is working. The number of Federal employees has been declining slightly all during 2017. As of the end of September there were 2,860,00 of us, the fewest since August of 2016.

See the Bureau of Labor Statistics data here: Current Employment Statistics, Federal Government employees

Alexandria Releases Report on June Shooting at Republican Congressional Members and Staffers

The attempted mass killing of Congressional Republicans by a crazed Bernie Sanders supporter happened almost three months ago, and this week the local district attorney's office released a report on the use of force by local Alexandria police and two U.S. Capitol Police officers.

Read it here: Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney City of Alexandria Use of Force Investigation and Analysis

The report is heavy on guns-and-ammo details, of course. A few things that stood out for me:
During the gun battle, the suspect fired a total of at least 70 rounds: 62 7.62x39mm rounds fired through the assault rifle and 8 9mm rounds fired through the semi-automatic handgun.

Because the suspect fired 62 rifle rounds out of 80 rounds that he carried in two box magazines [the SKS carbine the shooter used had been modified to accept removable box magazines], he must have done a magazine change at some point during the incident. Therefore he had some degree of calm and deliberateness. There is every reason to suppose that he would have killed most of the Congressmen and staffers there if a Capitol Police protective detail had not been present.
In aggregate, the agents and police officers fired a total of at least 40 rounds.

Of those 40, they struck the suspect with only three rounds. Not so surprising, really, considering the ranges involved. The two Capitol Police officers were siting in an SUV parked just outside the ball field when the shooting began. One of them stayed there throughout the incident, using the car for cover. The second officer ran from the SUV to the ball field, and back to the SUV to retrieve more ammunition for his pistol. The officers had only pistols, and they were trading shots with a gunman armed with a rifle.
The distance from the black SUV to the suspect’s location behind the storage shed was approximately 30 yards, or about 100 feet.

Most people, including most police officers, are not terribly accurate with pistols beyond 50 feet or so. Most law enforcement pistol training is concentrated on much shorter distances. Consider that the FBI's pistol qualification course for agents is shot mostly at ranges of 15 yards or less, with the longest stage being only 10 shots fired at targets 25 yards away. The shooter in Alexandria never came as close as 25 yards to any of the officers involved.

Here's the key moment in the incident, when Special Agent David Bailey, one of the two Capitol Police officers, ran onto the ball field and interrupted the shooter.
SA Bailey saw Rep. Scalise fall to the ground after being struck by a bullet and he ran onto the field to go to the Congressman’s aid; however, he began taking gun fire as he entered the field, hearing bullets go past his head. He saw the suspect firing from his position near the third-base dugout.

SA Bailey, standing near the first-base dugout, returned fire with his Glock pistol. Later, the investigation would reveal that SA Bailey fired a total 10 rounds from that position toward the suspect. These rounds likely caused the suspect to lose focus and become less accurate as he fired. They also caused the suspect to change position in an attempt to engage the agents and therefore drew his attention from the players on the field.

The Capitol Police officers prevented a massacre by keeping the gunman engaged until the Alexandria Police arrived, which was about three minutes after they received the first call. What finally stopped the shooter was an Alexandria officer with a rifle, an AR-pattern patrol rifle that was carried in the trunk of his cruiser.
ERT [forensic services] recovered three spent .223 cartridge cases in close proximity to where [Officer] Jensen stopped his cruiser during the incident. The spent cartridge cases were approximately 65 yards from where the suspect was located when he was shot, meaning that the suspect was approximately 200 feet from Jensen when Jensen fired.

Officer Jensen did it right. The report relates how he saw the gunman moving toward the Capitol Police officers, took careful aim at him and fired one shot before ducking down behind the cover of his cruiser, then shifted his position before he popped up and took aim again. In that way, he struck the gunman with two of three rounds, stopping him.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Harry Dean Stanton RIP

1926 - 2017

That's a long career. He was Tramp in Cool Hand Luke way back in 1967, and worked up until just a couple years ago, but I think he was most memorable in Repo Man (1984).

If you've seen it, then you know the life of a Repo Man is always intense. He lived it well.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hillary's Still Switching Between Left and Right

Left, right, left, right, left, right

In her CBS News interview yesterday, Hillary Clinton highly recommended a yoga practice called alternate nostril breathing as a tool for calming her post-election nerves.
"I just felt this enormous letdown, just kind of loss of feeling and direction and sadness," Clinton said. "And, you know, Bill just kept saying, 'Oh, you know, that was a terrific speech,' tryin' to just kinda bolster me a little bit. Off I went, into a frenzy of closet cleaning, and long walks in the woods, playing with my dogs, and, as I write-- yoga, alternate nostril breathing, which I highly recommend, tryin' to calm myself down. And-- you know, my share of Chardonnay. It was a very hard transition. I really struggled. I couldn't feel, I couldn't think. I was just gob-smacked, wiped out."

I like how she's just tryin' and tryin' like a regular lower class gal who drops her Gs. Did Hillary do that kind of vernacular politickin' back when she was a candidate?  I can't recall.

But back to alternate nostril breathin' breathing. Slate Magazine has an explainer about that today: The breathing technique that helped Hillary Clinton cope with her election loss.
According to the website for the Chopra Center, a wellness center co-founded by the alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra, alternate nostril breathing is a technique meant to calm the mind and alleviate stress. Breathing exercises are a fundamental part of yoga. Pranayama, the specific discipline that deals with controlling your breathing, comes from classic Indian yoga and has been around for centuries. It can be translated to “the control of the life force.” Apart from alternate nostril breathing, there are also practices to breathe in deeply and expel the breath quickly; ones that focus on feeling the motions of your stomach while you breathe; and ones in which you hum or chant while exhaling.

The guru Deepak Chopra notwithstanding, the fact is that almost everybody breathes out of one nostril at a time anyway, yoga or not. It's called the nasal cycle. Any benefit Hillary may have gotten from deliberate alternate nostril breathing was at best a placebo effect.

The Chardonnay part was probably effective, though, alcohol in moderation being the most efficient substance for the relief of anxiety ever discovered.

The Senator Got the Tub, But the Taxpayers Got Soaked

Limestone tub at the Seasons Hotel, George V, Paris

When Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) wanted to book three nights in a $1,536.96 a night Paris hotel suite that featured a “King bed, work area with internet, limestone bath with soaking tub and enclosed rain shower,” he didn't need to pay for it himself. He got it compliments of his wealthy friend, political contributor, and fellow party animal Doctor Salomon Melgen. Doctor Melgen could afford it since he was loaded due to his business practice of defrauding Medicare to the tune of $105 million.

An extravagant hotel room was the least of Dr. Melgen's gifts to Senator Menendez. According to the U.S. Department of Justice "among other gifts, Menendez accepted flights on Melgen’s private jet, a first-class commercial flight and a flight on a chartered jet; numerous vacations at Melgen’s Caribbean villa in the Dominican Republic and at a hotel room in Paris; and $40,000 in contributions to his legal defense fund and over $750,000 in campaign contributions. Menendez never disclosed any of the reportable gifts that he received from Melgen on his financial disclosure forms."

And so, way back two and a half years ago, Senator Menendez was indicted on one count of conspiracy, eight counts of bribery, and three counts of honest services fraud. The indictment spelled out how Menendez used "his Senate office and staff to advocate on behalf of Melgen’s personal and financial interests."

Here's the indictment:

Well, Senator Menendez finally went on trial this week, although I have seen little to no news media coverage of it so far.

Despite his indictment on public corruption charges, the U.S. Senate has not taken any action against Menendez. It has not expelled him, sanctioned him, or even removed him from his committee assignments. One of those assignments was to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which I'm sure was especially pertinent to Menendez's ability to assist Dr. Melgen by pressuring the U.S. State Department to issue visas for the doctor's foreign girlfriends, an offense which features in the indictment.
Bob Menendez was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 113th Congress and continues to serve as a member of the powerful Committee that helps shape foreign policy of broad significance, in matters of war and peace and international relations. In the current 115th Congress

How lucky for Melgen that he had a pet Senator in an ideal position from which to write a letter of support to the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic for a 22-year-old girlfriend and her 18-year-old sister who wanted to visit him in Miami. And when the sisters' applications were denied (a memo outlining the reason read: “Siblings, 18 and 22 yrs old. No children. No previous travel. To go visit a friend in Florida. Neither is working. No solvency on their own. Not fully convinced of motives for travel.”) the good Senator Menendez was willing to take the matter up with the ambassador and with high-ranking officials in the State Department. The sisters were re-interviewed and got their visas the second time around.

Senator Menendez of the Foreign Relations Committee was also willing to write letters of support for a Ukrainian model/actress girlfriend of Melgen's who needed a tourist visa, and for a Brazilian actress who Melgen set up as a law student in Miami.

There is lots more in the indictment, including a charge that Menendez interfered with State Department officials to further one of Melgen's side businesses - purchasing the exclusive right to sell port security inspection equipment to the government of the Dominican Republic - while simultaneously trying to prevent the Department of Homeland Security from sending the Dominican Republic free inspection equipment.

Unless there was a Senator-caught-with-a-dead-prostitute extortion angle here à la Godfather II - and I do not totally discount that there might have been - Menendez was abusing his office out of simple greed. He certainly wasn't the first. Twelve previous U.S. Senators have been convicted on various charges while in office. Political reactions to those convictions have varied.

The last such case was in 2008, when Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) was found guilty of seven counts of making false statements, after which there were immediate and bipartisan calls for his resignation. Barack Obama said that Stevens needed to resign to help "put an end to the corruption and influence-peddling in Washington." In any event, Stevens was never sentenced and his conviction was thrown out due to prosecutorial misconduct so egregious that the Department of Justice opened criminal contempt investigations on six members of its own prosecution team.

The last Senator to be convicted before Stevens was Harrison Williams (D-NJ), who was convicted of taking bribes in the Abscam investigation in May of 1981. He brazenly stayed in office until March of 1982, resigning only when the Senate was about to vote on his expulsion.

Should Senator Menendez be convicted, expect him to go the Harrison Williams route and stay in office while he appeals. Unlike with Williams, I'd also expect the Senate to tolerate his presence for at least as long as it takes to get another Democratic Governor in New Jersey. Should Menendez resign before Gov. Cristie leaves in January 2018, Cristie would presumably appoint himself to fill Menendez's term, improving the Republicans' thin 52-to-48 Senate majority. What's a little more corruption and influence-peddling in Washington compared to that?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Friday Night Document Dump: More of Hillary's Email

Pursuant to FOIA litigation, the Department of State tonight released another batch of Hillary Rodham Clinton's emails that were sent by her while she was SecState. Read them here.

What with it being the Friday before a three-day weekend, we'll all have plenty of time to browse them.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

And the Last Word on The Sounding Board Goes to ...

A monk works on an illuminated manuscript

To my good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations! Congratulations to all of you who used the Board to plead for rescue from the coming innovation of paperless design reviews.

I always took the The Sounding Board to be a harmless escape value for people who wanted to vent their frustrations, but, I totally stand with my OBO comrades in complete opposition to doing away with paper design drawings. Maybe no one who hasn't done the design review job will really understand this, but you can't keep a mental picture of the 3-D thing you are reviewing if you have to look at it through a series of 2-D keyholes. It just doesn't work.

So why does OBO management want to go paperless? I suppose because people just assume higher tech is always better. But paper is a technology too, and very plausibly a better one for the design reviewer's job. Bigger monitors on smaller desks - due to a simultaneous planned cubicle tight-sizing - will not help in the least.

If anyone in OBO reads this, please take up the cause after The Sounding Board closes tomorrow.

P.S. - About the monk and his manuscript above, a colleague of mine from years ago once asked me "how's the monastery?", by which he meant OBO. That was the perfect word for the place. Have you ever walked past the rows of cubicles on the engineering and architectural floors of SA-6, seen all the worker bees crouched over their desks covered with sheets of design drawings, pens and pencils in hand, surrounded by stacks of more design packages piled up around them, and imagined them as medieval monks in monastery cells pouring over illuminated manuscripts? For what is an architectural design drawing if not a modern-day illuminated manuscript? The illusion was even stronger in the days before CADD when they all did their drawing and drafting over a slanted desk, sometimes with a big magnifying glass.

That's how I see them. The monastery will just not be the same if it ever loses the paper.

Everybody Laughs at the Redneck Until the Flood Comes

I can't recall the WaPo doing this sort of thing before, but today it celebrated the virtues of rural blue collar men - you know, the pickup-truck-and-bass-boat crowd. The occasion was the water rescue work being done by rednecks Agro-Americans country gentlemen in the flooded city of Houston.

Read it here: In crises such as Harvey, you want outdoorsmen on your side:
The country is suddenly grateful for this “Cajun Navy,” for their know-how, for the fact that they can read a submerged log in the water, and haul their boats over tree stumps and levees and launch them from freeway junctions. There are no regulators to check their fishing licenses or whether they have a fire extinguisher and life preservers on board, which they don’t … Spending hours in monsoon rains doesn’t bother them, because they know ducks don’t just show up on a plate, and they’ve learned what most of us haven’t, that dry comfort is not the only thing worth seeking ... You can’t help but be struck by just how much they know how to do — and how much your citified self doesn’t. Trim a rocking boat, tie a secure knot, navigate the corduroying displaced water, and interpret the faint dull colors in the mist-heavy clouds.

Wow, that is like lyric poetry.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Resignation Acrostics: Resistance Rallying Cry, or Just Feeding the Administration's Myside Bias?

I see there has been another acrostic resignation letter. First it was the 17 members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. See their letter here, with its R-E-S-I-S-T message. I had never heard of that Committee before, and after looking at the examples of the "Committee's accomplishments over the years” that are highlighted on its About Us page, only three of which are from this century, I wonder what it was all those committee members did before they resigned and whether the taxpayers will miss them now that they’re gone.

And today it’s one of the Science Envoys the State Department employs as unpaid volunteers, a UC Berkeley professor named Daniel Kammen, who has resigned and put an I-M-P-E-A-C-H acrostic on his resignation letter. I'm sure he'll be missed. However, Science Envoys “usually serve for one year” as it says here, and since Kammen was appointed on March 31, 2016, it looks like he was due to leave about now in any case. So he added a little humorous touch to his inevitable resignation letter. How edgy, kind of.

No one enjoys that sort of gag more than me, you understand. All good clean bureaucratic fun. Back in the Cold War years, I managed to rename the branch for which I worked the “Certification and Core Chancery Policy” Branch so that it could have the office symbol “xx/xx/CCCP.” That office symbol was on the books for about two weeks before a senior official got the joke and changed it back.

About Mr. Science Envoy Kammen’s resignation letter with the IMPEACH message, though, how is it anything more than a puerile gesture? The audience for that is who, exactly, outside of his faculty lounge?

Nothing in the new fad of anti-Trump acrostics will have any impact on Trump himself, surely, or on anyone else who makes decisions for his administration. If it makes any impression at all on them, it will be to confirm the Trumpists’ preconceived opinion of government lifers and political appointees as a hostile Deep State that is to be dismissed or simply ignored.

Enjoy yourselves and resist away, all you many appointees and commissioners out there, but don’t pretend you’re not validating the negative expectations of the guy who got elected.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

Gun-Wielding Bride Arrested After Allegedly Assaulting Groom - News Channel 5, Murfreesboro TN

"Responding officers let the husband know the honeymoon was over and his new wife was going to jail," said Sgt. Kyle Evans with the Murfreesboro Police Department.

As described in a Murfeesboro Police Department report, 25-year-old Kate Elizabeth Prichard, the bride, and her spouse were drunk and arguing outside the Clarion Inn and Suites when Prichard pulled out a 9mm pistol from her wedding dress, threatened the groom, "J-Rod" Burton, with it and then fired a shot into the air, causing bystanders to call the police.

The inevitable Facebook search resulted in a bit of TMI about the bride and groom. "In advance of her marriage, Prichard last month got a pubic tattoo declaring “Property of J-Rod.” The lucky J-Rod replied with "I love her crazy ass."

You may wonder whether or not this marriage can be saved. I say, why not? J-Rod has made his own mistakes with firearms in the past, when he was arrested in 2015 for shooting a member of a rival motorcycle club in the foot during an argument inside a Clarksville clubhouse. But he was given a second chance when a judge let him plead guilty to a reduced count of reckless endangerment. So I'm saying he should be slow to judge others.

Can these two crazy tattooed kids find happiness? I hope so.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Detesting Trump and Others

The London Review of Books has a very nice piece on The Age of Detesting Trump. It's just not clear which party the author detests more at this point, Trump or the feckless media / Democrat opposition to him.

My favorite parts:
The centre-left media went to sleep after the Iran-Contra scandal of 1986-87, dozed through the Clinton years, and were half-asleep and nodding when they approved Cheney and Bush’s war in Iraq and Obama and [Hillary] Clinton’s war in Libya. For obscure reasons, they have been quite certain that Western dismantling of yet another Arab country, Syria, is the surest path to a sane policy in the Middle East. All the mainstream outlets, with CNN and the Times at their head, have now re-emerged as anti-government centres of news, opinion, and news perceptibly mingled with opinion. But they are new to the work of ‘resistance’ and it shows.

-- snip --

[Jared Kushner's plan, or] any plan for back-channel privacy is properly viewed as an attempt to dodge the civic duty of all Americans to submit to US surveillance. Now that we know what we know about Putin, nobody should be free of surveillance: not the president or his advisers or his cabinet; and surely not members of Congress, either. And federal or state judges, and ordinary citizens – why not? The age of detesting Trump is the age of reliance on the deep state and trust in the ‘intelligence community’. If they can’t save us, who will? They need all the powers they have been given if they are to achieve what they must.

-- snip --

The unhappy pattern [of failing to differentiate between news that is true and rumor that you wish were true] anyway is starting to be noticed. The Times published a sharp letter to the editor a few days later that noticed how the paper had now crossed the line separating news analysis from invective ... This has happened across the board, in the culture of the Trump presidency: you see it in the newspapers, the magazines and in television. Mainstream media are speaking almost in unison; they are out of control with a consistency that shows they have forgotten what control feels like ... PEN announced that its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award, which went to Charlie Hebdo in 2015, would be given in 2017 to the two million persons who participated in the women’s march against Trump.

-- snip --

Trump won election to the highest office in the US government by heaping contempt on government. In this, he confirmed and strengthened a tendency of the party he ran with, going back as far as the Reagan administration. The Democrats by contrast remain the party of what-government-can-do-for-you; and a substantial mass of their rank and file denies his legitimacy. He stole the election, they say; it was handed to him by Comey, or by Putin, or by an electoral college whose numbers have no right to cancel the votes of a majority of three million people. The trick, Democrats feel, is somehow to delegitimate Trump and the government he leads (it isn’t a real government) and then move in to take his place, but with a government that has somehow been relegitimated.

-- snip --

The best recourse of sanity to those who would rather defeat Trump than disgust his supporters may be simply to recall that he has at his back the massed weight and momentum of the Republican Party. It doesn’t much matter who is making use of whom: they are not about to part company, while the Democrats have to defend the shrinking redoubt of just 18 of 50 statehouses and a respectable but thoroughly confused minority in Congress. It is Republicans today who see themselves as makers of a revolution.

-- snip --

Nothing now would better serve the maturity and the invigoration of the Democrats than to give up any hope of sound advice or renewal from Bill or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. They were pleasant to think about, but their politics have turned out wrong, and there’s nothing they can do for us now. ... You may curse Putin and Comey and misogyny and Wisconsin, but Trump is marching through the departments and agencies with budget cuts and policy changes that will be felt for years to come. Trump is the name of a cause and not just a person, and you can only fight him with another cause. The name of it might be climate change.

London Review of Books, you had me right up to "climate change."

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

GSA Pulls the Plug on New FBI Headquarters

When GSA announced it was ending the decade-long search for a new FBI headquarters I noticed the WaPo's commenters assumed that Donald Trump must have ordered it as some sort of personal retaliation against the FBI. In reality, it was the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the GSA’s Inspector General who drove the decision, and the writing has been on the wall since late May.

It's all explained in a construction journal (here) which, back in December 2016, reported on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's decision to cap the FBI's project funding, as well as impose a maximum size on the new HQ building and set a deadline of two years for GSA to close the deal, among other conditions. Furthermore, the journal linked to the March, 2017, GSA Inspector General's critical report on the planning and funding of so-called exchange projects, in which the Fed swaps property it already owns to compensate private developers for new projects. The new FBI HQ project is such an exchange, and the GSA's IG now takes a dim view of them.

The GSA announced in March that it was delaying site selection for the new building until it received a firm financing commitment from Congress, and no such commitment has come. The decision to cut its losses and cancel the project was pretty much inevitable.

Not that the FBI doesn't need a new headquarters. It does. The current HQ is a complete disaster on aesthetics and architectural merit, security, practicality, space needs, maintenance and repair costs, and all other grounds. Because half the building's space is unusable, FBI offices are scattered around the city in leased properties, which is expensive and makes for a dysfunctional program. They'll build a new place someday, but it will have to be in accordance with the conditions that Congress lays down.

More Bollards Are Coming to Your Town

The truck ramming attack in Nice last year killed 87 and injured 484

Vehicle ramming attacks directed at pedestrians have become the deadliest form of terrorism in the West, accounting for just over half of all deaths in terrorist attacks.

And that, naturally, means that cities in the U.S. will see increased use of passive anti-ram barriers - bollards - around high-traffic pedestrians avenues and large venues. The WaPo reported this the other day, vehicles as weapons of terror: U.S. cities on alert as attacks hit the West:
As terrorists overseas increasingly turn to vehicles as weapons, cities across the United States, concerned such attacks could happen here, are ramping up security in public spaces to protect areas with heavy pedestrian traffic.

-- snip --

Transportation planners are exploring innovative ways to use landscaping to create buffers between roadways and sidewalks. Security companies say they are being consulted on how to protect main streets.

“Big cities are realizing that they could have a mass casualty event on all four sides of an intersection at any time,” [said Rob Reiter, a pedestrian safety expert and chief security consultant at Calpipe Security Bollards, one of the nation’s top bollard manufacturers].

-- snip --

U.S. law enforcement officials say the threat of such attacks is real. In an advisory issued in May, the Transportation Security Administration alerted the nation’s trucking companies about the rising risk of rental trucks and hijackings and thefts for purposes of such an attack. The agency urged vigilance as terrorist groups continue to employ the less sophisticated tactics, which can be carried out with minimal planning and training, but have potential to inflict mass casualties.

-- snip --

The latest threat has cities in Europe, Australia and North America making new investments, from barriers along a number of bridges across the River Thames in London to retractable bollards in the tourist area of Surfers Paradise in eastern Australia. Vehicle barriers along roads around the All England club were among the enhanced security measures surrounding Wimbledon this week.

-- snip --

In Washington, which is filled with high-profile targets as the nation’s capital, law enforcement officials would not discuss specific tactics, but they acknowledged that they are pursuing various means to protect pedestrians, including the installation of more bollards on city streets. “We are always trying to stay a step ahead of these terrorists,” said Jeffery Carroll, the assistant D.C. police chief

I noticed that many WaPo commenters recommended banning vehicles from city centers, but that simple solution isn’t practical. Office buildings, residences, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues need supplies delivered and trash removed. Pedestrian-only places still need emergency vehicles, public transit, handicapped transport, etc. We cannot completely separate vehicles from our urban centers.

However, there is another measure we could take, and I'm surprised the WaPo didn't mention it since it has already mitigated the damage from one ramming attack. Automatic emergency braking, or collision avoidance systems.

In March 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced that the manufacturers of 99% of U.S. automobiles had agreed to include automatic emergency braking systems as a standard feature on virtually all new cars sold in the U.S. by 2022. Europe already deploys them for some commercial trucks, and they became mandatory for new heavy vehicles in 2015.

Beyond the routine traffic safety benefits you'd expect from such systems, there is evidence that the emergency braking system on a hijacked commercial truck prevented greater damage during the 2016 Berlin Christmas market ramming attack.

Bollards and automatic brakes. They are coming soon to a city near you and to your next car.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Transfer Visa Functions to DHS? Who's Listening to Whom?

When you talk to the hand, does the hand listen?

Shall the Trump Administration transfer all passport and visa functions from State's Bureau of Consular Affairs to the Department of Homeland Security? According to Reuters, the Listening Survey Report that will form the basis for a reorganization of the State Department recommends doing so. "There may be an opportunity to elevate efficiency and reduce cost by this change … Indications are that doing so would elevate security at our borders" it said.

Oh? Who indicated that? The report doesn’t say. Possibly no one did, at least no one among the 35,000 State employees who responded to the survey. But then, the only voice worth listening to may have belonged to Carl C. Risch, the current Acting Chief of Staff in the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (DHS), who will be nominated to be the next Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs.

See Diplopundit's posts on this matter here, here, and here.

No matter who listened to whom, there is a long history of legislation and policy on the question of whether passport and visa functions would be better served if retained with State or transferred to DHS, and so far the decision has been to keep them with State.

The post-9/11 Congressional debate on visa policy and the roles of State and DHS resulted in a 2003 memorandum of understanding between the two agencies. See this Congressional Research Service report from 2004, which was updated in 2011, for the details.

Quoting from both reports, the pros and cons of moving visa functions to DHS were, briefly, these.
Proponents of DOS playing the lead role in visa issuances assert that only consular officers in the field have the country-specific knowledge to make decisions about whether an alien is admissible and that staffing approximately 250 diplomatic and consular posts around the world would stretch DHS beyond its capacity.

Those who supported retained immigrant adjudications and services in DOJ and visa issuances in DOS point to the specializations that each department brings to the functions. They asserted that the "dual check" system in which both INS and Consular Affairs make their own determinations on whether an alien ultimately enters the United States provides greater security.

Others opposing the transfer of INS adjudications and Consular Affairs visa issuances to DHS maintained that DHS would be less likely to balance the more generous elements of immigration law (e.g., the reunification of families, the admission of immigrants with needed skills, the protection of refugees, opportunities for cultural exchange, the facilitation of trade, commerce, and diplomacy) with the more restrictive elements of the law (e.g., protection of public health and welfare, national security, public safety, and labor markets).

They also pointed out that under current law, consular decisions are not appealable and warned that transferring this adjudication to homeland security might make it subject to judicial appeals or other due process considerations.

Voices in support of moving Consular Affairs's visa issuance responsibilities to the proposed DHS asserted that consular officers emphasize the promotion of tourism, commerce, and cultural exchange and are lax in screening foreign nationals who want to come the United States.

Some argue that visa issuance is the real “front line” of homeland security against terrorists and that the principal responsibility should be in DHS, which does not have competing priorities of diplomatic relations and reciprocity with foreign governments.

I count more cons than pros. So it's settled then, the functions remain with State, right?

Not so fast. There is still the important matter of political perception. How does the Trump Administration perceive State versus DHS as the implementer of its visa policy?

Writing in National Review a month ago, Jonathon Tobin, the online editor for Commentary, pointed out why the Administration might not trust State as much as DHS:
In January, 1,000 State Department staffers signed a cable protesting Trump’s original travel-ban order. But, unfortunately, the problems in the Foreign Service go beyond such flamboyant, and clearly inappropriate, gestures. As the New York Times reported this week, tension between the White House and senior levels of the diplomatic corps is rising. If true, this is troubling because if senior personnel — people who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations and who should be setting an example of apolitical behavior — are ready to step outside their lane and demonstrate their opposition to the government of the day, that raises the possibility that the president can no longer count on the loyalty of the Foreign Service.


[W]hen diplomats start acting like free agents rather than like the voice of those who were elected to set foreign policy, the notion of a conflict between career civil servants and those chosen to run the government stops being a paranoid fantasy ... setting policy is still the purview of the president, not the civil service.

That highly publicized dissent channel cable on the travel ban, and the more innocuous resistance stuff, may be nothing more than the actions of people shell shocked by election night, but they nevertheless create an impression. DHS, meanwhile, is showing itself to be very highly motivated to carry out the White House's policies on immigration and aliens. If you were in the White House, which agency would you trust with a critical part of your agenda?

This is far from a done deal, no matter what the Listening Survey reports or what State's reorganization contractor reads in its word clouds. To transfer those functions to DHS the Administration would have to overcome significant bureaucratic and financial barriers, plus, it would just be a bad idea for all the same reasons that Congress already found in the years after 9/11. But that doesn't mean it won't happen all the same. Should State ends up losing those functions, it will be a self-inflicted wound.