Life on the Mekong and Other Rivers

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog, including strong statements in support of weinerdog-riding monkeys, are our own, and not those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thailand Tomorrow

So very happy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Secretary Clinton's Welcome Remarks at the U.S. Department of State

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you all so much. Well, I am absolutely honored and thrilled beyond words to be here with you as our nation's 67th Secretary of State. And I believe, with all of my heart, that this is a new era for America. (Applause.)

President Obama set the tone with his inaugural address. And the work of the Obama-Biden Administration is committed to advancing America's national security, furthering America's interests, and respecting and exemplifying America's values around the world. (Applause.)

There are three legs to the stool of American foreign policy: defense, diplomacy, and development. And we are responsible for two of the three legs. And we will make clear, as we go forward, that diplomacy and development are essential tools in achieving the long-term objectives of the United States. And I will do all that I can, working with you, to make it abundantly clear that robust diplomacy and effective development are the best long-term tools for securing America's future. (Applause.)

In my testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee, I spoke a lot about smart power. Well, at the heart of smart power are smart people, and you are those people. And you are the ones that we will count on and turn to for the advice and counsel, the expertise and experience to make good on the promises of this new Administration.

I want to thank Steve for his comments that really summarized the full range of experience and expertise of both the Foreign Service and the Civil Service, and also to send my appreciation to all of the nationals around the world who work in our embassies and work with government officials.

This is going to be a challenging time and it will require 21st century tools and solutions to meet our problems and seize our opportunities. I'm going to be asking a lot of you. I want you to think outside the proverbial box. I want you to give me the best advice you can. I want you to understand there is nothing that I welcome more than a good debate and the kind of dialogue -- (applause) -- that will make us better. (Applause.)

We cannot be our best if we don't demand that from ourselves and each other. I will give you my very best efforts. I will do all that I can, working with our President, to make sure that we deliver on the promises that are at the very core of what this new Administration and this new era represent. So we need to collaborate, and we need to have a sense of openness and candor in this building. And I invite that.

Now, not everybody's ideas -- (applause) -- will make it into policy, but we will be better because we have heard from you.

I also want to address a word to the USAID family. I will be there tomorrow to greet them and thank them for the work they've done on behalf of development through some very difficult years, because they will be our partners. (Applause.)

Now, as Steve candidly said, so far, we're thrilled. (Laughter.) This is not going to be easy. (Laughter.) I don't want anybody to leave this extraordinarily warm reception thinking, oh, good -- (laughter) -- you know, this is going to be great. It's going to be hard. But if it weren't hard, somebody else could do it, besides the professionals of the Foreign Service and the Civil Service and our Diplomatic and Development Corps. (Applause.)

Now, as you may have heard percolating through the building, you know, when I was first nominated, I realized that there was this living, organic creature known as the building. (Laughter.) And as you probably already know, we are expecting the President and the Vice President to be here in the State Department this afternoon. (Applause.)

Among the many conversations that I've had with the President and with the Vice President, over years, but certainly much more astutely and in a concentrated way in the last weeks, we want to send a clear and unequivocal message: This is a team, and you are the members of that team. There isn't anything that I can get done from the seventh floor or the President can get done from the Oval Office, unless we make clear we are all on the American team. We are not any longer going to tolerate the kind of divisiveness that has paralyzed and undermined our ability to get things done for America.

So the President will be here -- (applause) -- on his second day in office to let all of you know, and all who are serving on our behalf around the world, how seriously committed he is to working with us. So this is going to be a great adventure. We'll have some ups and some downs. We'll face some obstacles along the way. But be of good cheer -- (laughter) -- and be of strong heart, and do not grow weary, as we attempt to do good on behalf of our country and the world.

I think this is a time of such potential and possibility. I don't get up in the morning just thinking about the threats and the dangers, as real as they are. I also think about what we can do and who we are and what we represent. So I take this office with a real sense of joy and responsibility, commitment and collaboration. And now, ladies and gentlemen, let's get to work. (Applause.)

Thank you and God bless you.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Baseless and Bizarre

Europe Baffled By Broken Gas Promises (Gorst, FT)
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Financial Times
By Isabel Gorst

The bitter gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine descended into near-chaos on Tuesday, leaving European Union diplomats baffled as promises to restart supplies fully were broken and Moscow suggested that the US had meddled in the affair.

In a potentially alarming twist on Tuesday night, Gazprom, the Russian gas company, said it was unable to meet its legal commitments to supply European countries with gas because Ukraine was allegedly blocking the flow across its territory.

Russia and Ukraine both defied terms of a contract agreed last weekend with the EU to allow an EU-backed monitoring mission to observe gas transit, leaving people in 18 countries across the continent with supply disruptions.

José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, expressed “disappointment at both the level of gas flowing and our concerns about the access of our monitors”, in a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister.

Russia began the day by feeding small volumes of gas into a pipeline across Ukraine to the Balkans, but Ukraine refused to transit the supplies, citing technical reasons.
Alexander Medvedev, the deputy chief executive of Gaz­prom, said: “We believed the door for Russian gas was open, but again it has been blocked by the Ukrainians.”

He accused the US of encouraging Ukrainian action: “It looks like . . . they are dancing to music being orchestrated not in Kiev but outside the country.”

Oleh Dubyna, president of Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state gas company, said it was technically impossible to pump gas to the Balkans via the route proposed by Gazprom without cutting off supplies to eastern Ukraine. “We did not open the valve because there is no capability,” said Mr Dubyna.

A spokesman at the US embassy in Kiev rejected as “baseless and bizarre” Gazprom’s charge that the US had interfered in the dispute.

On Tuesday night, Mr Medvedev said Gazprom had declared “force majeure” on its gas exports to Europe and warned it would unleash its “entire legal arsenal” against Ukraine.

The latest twist in the dispute made a mockery of the EU-mediated agreement, experts said.
EU officials said the monitors had, after long delays, been given access to control rooms at gas dispatch centres but they would not predict when flows would resume.

Jonathan Stern, head of gas research at the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies, said Russian and Ukrainian statements were “all smoke and mirrors”.

“We should not be listening now to what Medvedev or Naftogaz tell us. We should be listening to the monitors,” he said.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Winter Comes to Kyiv

Just in time for a gas cutoff.

But it was cold enough for the sun to come out today, so we headed out for some sledding.

Some snow removal work.

And general winter revelry.

And we noticed the ingenuity of the local drunks. After you drink your liter of Chernigevske, just cut a whole in it, put some seed in, hang it from a tree, and feed the birds.

What we've been up to

So not alot of updates in a while. We've been busy -- or maybe just doing things not worth reporting on.

Work has been busy as Ukraine lurches from political crisis to political crisis and Katherine and Jack have been busy playing guitar, playing in the snow and generally growing up (Jack, not Katherine. She's still very immature.)

So, a quick pictoral history of our goings on since Thanksgiving.

12 adults and 6 kids for Thanksgiving. Pretty crazy, but we were able to eat in peace...

...once we turned on the TV for the kids.

Jack got a belated birthday package from his cousins in Minnesota. Courious George books AND related paraphenalia. A big hit.

Katherine and her friend Cecile organized a gift drive for two local orphanages. They collected gifts for 175 kids -- then had two parties with entertainment, snacks, and gifts. Later, we went to a third orphanage with some embassy colleagues for another party with gifts and yours truly did a bang up job of being Santa. Jack was a bit freaked out when I took the santa suit off, but now he talks about it every day. Daddy beard. Daddy santa. Whatnot. No pictures yet. We left our camera at home that day.

Christmas cookies at Gundo and Claire's house.

We've been spending most of our evening free time listening to Green Day and playing guitar. But not just any Green Day - just the faster, harder stuff.

Merry Christmas!

Jack was excited to spend Christmas with Babba and Grandpa

Thursday, January 01, 2009

And a cold new year to you

Gazprom Cuts Off Gas Deliveries to Ukraine

Supposedly Ukraine has stored gas sufficient for 3-months demand.

And Happy New Year!