Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A little different take on Memorial Day...

Sunday, May 29th

This Memorial Day, remember the diplomats, too, says Clayton McCleskey

WASHINGTON — They are the proud, the few and the unarmed. They dodge bullets in the mountains of Afghanistan and brave the deserts of Iraq. They serve as America’s face to the world, from violence-ridden Mexico to the financial hubs of Asia to the capitals of Europe. They promote American
business and protect American citizens abroad. They are the men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service.

On Memorial Day, we rightly pause to remember those who serve our nation in military uniform. But we should also recognize the more than 12,000 members of the American diplomatic corps who serve in Washington and in 271 missions across the globe.

“They are the ones out there on the front lines trying to advocate and explain [American] policies, regardless of which administration they are
serving,” said Karen Hughes, former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy under President George W. Bush. She praised the Foreign Service as “a very dedicated group of public servants” who “work and make sacrifices around the world in some very difficult assignments.”

You may think of diplomats as tuxedo-wearing statesmen sipping cocktails at summits in Switzerland, but American diplomats are deployed in places like
war-torn Africa and Afghanistan, where they often face the same dangers as members of the military. One diplomat I spoke to said he has been shot at
five times in the line of duty.

Yet, even as America’s engagement with the world is growing more crucial, budget hawks are circling over the State Department. Speaking to the National Conference of Editorial Writers this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned, “There’s a huge gap between perception and reality … and people think that we can balance our budget on the back of our foreign operations.”

The continuing resolution passed to fund the government cut $8 billion for the State Department and USAID — while increasing the Defense Department’s budget by $5 billion. The demands on the State Department are growing, but the budget isn’t.

“It is so out of whack with what we have to be doing,” Clinton lamented.

Part of the problem is that many Americans misunderstand diplomats’ role. Diplomacy isn’t about throwing money at the world. Yes, foreign aid — which
accounts for only about 1 percent of the total federal budget — is a useful diplomatic tool. But too often diplomacy is dismissed as wasteful global charity or useless hemmin’ and hawin’ at the United Nations. Whether working to secure access to natural resources (like oil), leading reconstruction in Afghanistan or screening hundreds of thousands of visa applicants, diplomats are producing concrete results. They are the facilitators of globalization.

In an interconnected world, diplomacy is becoming ever more relevant to the daily lives of Americans, especially when it comes to the economy. Diplomats pave the way for American businesses to make profits at home by expanding overseas.

“If companies want to grow, if we want to grow our GDP, if we want to be competitive on a global basis in the 21st century, people really have to
step up to export and export more, because that’s where the growth opportunities are,” said Lorraine Hariton, U.S. Special Representative for
Commercial and Business Affairs.

Texas definitely enjoys the dividends of diplomacy. According to the latest figures from the International Trade Administration and Bureau of the
Census, in 2009 the Dallas-Fort Worth area exported $19.9 billion worth of merchandise. And because of the Open Skies agreements liberalizing
international air travel,Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport will see “billions of dollars in new business,” Clinton said this month.

Members of the Foreign Service play a crucial role in making that kind of lucrative international agreement possible, part of a government-wide
campaign to help American businesses increase exports.

“We need to set up partnerships and relationships all around the world so we can understand the market needs in Kenya as well as the market needs in Fort Worth,” Hariton said.

Indeed, to maintain America’s global competitiveness and to capitalize on the opportunities globalization creates, we need a well-funded diplomatic

“Diplomacy used to be thought of as the quiet, behind-the-scenes, government-to-government communications,” Hughes told me.

It’s now so much more than that. “In order for America to enact the kinds of policies we want to enact around the world,” Hughes explained, “we have got
to build a public case for those policies, for our values and for our interests.”

Our diplomats are out in the trenches doing just that, often at great personal danger — remember the Iranian hostage crisis? Foreign Service
officers have also been the targets of drug violence, insurgent attacks and kidnappings. Yet they man their posts, safeguarding American interests and
protecting U.S. citizens overseas.

This weekend, as we salute our military, we also owe a tribute to America’s diplomats, many of whom are in conflict zones riding in the same Humvees as
the troops. The only difference is that they can’t shoot back.

*Clayton M. McCleskey is a contributing writer for The Dallas Morning News based in Washington. His email address is letters@claytonmccleskey.com.*

Monday, May 23, 2011

Links to the photos...

Just a reminder that to get to the photo site just click on any blue highlighted words with in a post like: Photos or click the top link on the right margin to Craig and Renee's photos or simply type in your browser: Picasaweb.google.com/hairynleggz. Enjoy!

Propaganda Park

Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day, (after a down pour on Saturday that nearly canceled our softball games) so we took the Metro to whats known as Propaganda Park. It's real name is VDNKh Park. This was an expo area where the Soviet State was to showcase product made in different parts of the Union. Each region had a massive building, many with grandiose entry ways and fabulous art work inside. Huge gold water fountains and large green spaces lined the walkways. With the fall of the USSR funding for this center was dropped and many of the buildings fell into disrepair. Now many are homes for vendors and small museums or simply empty. Several buildings are under renovation and there are plans to return the park to its former glory.

The architecture and details on the buildings is something to see and I hope the photos give you some idea. There was even a mock up of a Soviet era power station and a Vostok rocket. We had some lunch with friends at a cafe near the big Ferris wheel and got home in time for a good grillin' evening on the compound with our neighbors.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Star City, the place of cosmonauts.....

On Saturday I had the opportunity to travel to Star City. This is the facility where Russia trains its Cosmonauts and other folks prepping for space journey. US Astronauts also spend time here. I took a lot of photos of the trip out and back along with the facility. It's only 30 or so km from here but traffic is so congested on the route it takes 2 hours to get there. Saturday morning is a bad time for "dacha" traffic, all the folks going to their getaway homes. We passed many of them along the way, many no more than a few hundred square feet with no running water. We also passed a satellite dish that was at least a mile off the road and still looked huge, maybe 200 feet across or more.

The worst part of the traffic was near our destination where 4 lanes goes down to 2 to cross the train tracks, very busy train tracks. We arrived to a very wooded area with lots of rather nondescript 60's era buildings. It reminded me of a rundown or maybe unkempt college campus. The bus barely fit through the gate. When we got off the bus we were met by our tour guide, a very nice gentlemen who spoke some English and was in the space program for 30 plus years, first as a cosmonaut in training and then as an engineer.

We visited three different buildings. First was the Aqua Center where space work is practiced in the underwater mockups. Then we visited the simulator building and finally the centrifuge building. I was most amazed by the centrifuge as it is the largest in the world.
We then visited some of the grounds and the monument to Yuri Gagarin.

The trip back was uneventful and took much less time then the trip out. This was another unique tour I have been able to go on here and hope to do more.

Photos, photos, photos!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Another 3 day weekend....

A busy 3 day weekend. On Sunday we took an electric train up to Sergiev Posad. We had been there back in February to stay at the Pancake Hill Bed and Breakfast. While there Sveta, our very gracious host, asked if we could look at an oven she had that would no longer work. (Renee had told her I was an appliance technician). She could get no one local to even look at it. So John and I did a little troubleshooting and found a burnt switch. It took me a while to find a replacement. John's folks are here from the States and wanted them to see the sights in Sergiev Posad so we all loaded up and headed out. Jodi was in tow along with Renee and one of her co workers, also named John.

The train trip was like dropping back a few generations with hard, thinly covered wood benches. Unsanctioned vendors wandered the aisles hawking everything from hand wipes to socks. We had a little bit of a time finding the right station after getting off the Metro, but with some local help we made it. The trip was about an hour and a half to get there but only an hour back. Lots of scenery along the way with many interesting characters getting on and off. We arrived to some fresh pancakes, fixed the oven, did some sightseeing and had a very nice late afternoon meal that Sveta prepared for us. She welcomed us like family and it made us all feel good!

Monday was one of Russia's biggest holidays, Victory Day. It celebrates the victory over Germany and its allies in WWII. The city is cleaned up from the winter decorated and a major military parade is held. The parade rout is very long but no one marches. Its all motorized equipment so it moves fast for a parade. The whole thing took maybe 30 minutes but there was some impressive hardware. After we wandered the Old Arbat with friends Dawn and Scott, had lunch at the Hard Rock and wandered some more before calling it a day.

Lots of photos here