The US on Tuesday cautioned that companies that invest, provide venture capital, or have supply-chain ties to the Xinjiang region of China “run a high risk of violating U.S. law,” due to widespread reports of forced labor and other human rights violations against ethnic minorities in the region.
Companies who don’t pull out of the region could violate statutes that criminalize benefitting from or importing goods that are the result of forced labor. The advisory also warned US companies against assisting in the development of surveillance tools for Xinjiang or supplying US-made goods to entities that use forced labor.
In 2020, activist groups accused some of the world’s biggest fashion brands – including Nike and H&M – of sourcing cotton from factories that exploit the forced labor of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. Over a million ethnic minorities have been detained in Xinjiang, a region that produces a fifth of world’s cotton, and activist groups have called for companies to exit the region to avoid profiting from human rights violations in the area.
Staff in two US government bureaus warned leaders against pursuing an investigation into the origins COVID-19 because it would “open a can of worms,” according to an internal memo viewed by Vanity Fair.
Thomas DiNanno, former acting assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, said in the January 9 memo that staff in two bureaus told managers “not to pursue an investigation into the origin of COVID-19,” per Vanity Fair.
DiNanno, appointed by former President Donald Trump, said in the memo that his team had faced “apprehension and contempt” from technical staff, and a “complete lack of response to briefing and presentations” on the matter.
DiNanno was responding to a memo from Chris Ford, acting undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security.
The staff who raised the concerns were from DiNanno’s bureau and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, DiNanno said in the memo.
A group of US diplomats and employees who say they’ve suffered from the so-called “Havana Syndrome” have written a letter criticizing the government’s response to them, saying they have been denied proper medical care and had their evidence ignored.
The “Havana Syndrome” is a mysterious condition that has afflicted American staffers around the world, including in Cuba and China, that some experts have attributed to microwave attacks.
In the May 25 letter to the State Department obtained by NBC News, the officials listed a series of what they deemed failings in the US government response to the officials falling ill with the condition. The letter was sent on behalf of 21 officials US officials and their spouses diagnosed with actual or possible Havana syndrome, NBC News reported.
They said the State Department continues to “1) Deny employees and injured family members access to proper medical evaluation and treatment 2) Reject scientific evidence regarding the injuries and treatment needs and 3) Invalidate our injuries and experiences.”
In contrast, they claim, military and intelligence officials with the syndrome “have had a different level and frequency of engagement.”
“After four years of challenges, we were hopeful that the new administration would welcome a partnership with us to ensure those affected receive the care and treatment they need and ensure appropriate care for the new cases,” the staffers wrote.
“Unfortunately, our experience thus far has fallen short of our renewed expectations.”
Last October, CIA and State Department employees told The New York Times they were fighting for proper treatment, with one suggesting a cover-up by then-President Donald Trump’s administration.
Insider has contacted the State Department for comment on the May 25 letter.
The department told NBC News that Secretary of State Antony Blinken was receiving regular updates about the situation and has “made clear that this is a priority for him.” It added that the investigation into the cause of the syndrome was ongoing.
They reported concussion-like symptoms including headaches, dizziness and nausea, which in some cases have required months of medical treatment. Some reported hearing a loud piercing noise just before the onset of symptoms.
CNN reported that some officials have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries, and continue to suffer from symptoms including headaches years after the attack.
Two recent cases have occurred in Washington DC, one in the environs of the White House, increasing pressure on the Biden administration to establish what is causing the officials to fall sick.
Politico reported that US intelligence believes that the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency, may be behind the attacks.
Federal government agencies are attempting to establish the cause of the syndrome. A report by the National Academies of Science last December found that the syndrome was likely being caused by directed microwave radiation. While not attributing any blame for the incidents, the scientists noted that research into microwave attacks had been conducted by the Soviet Union.
A bipartisan group of US senators last week unveiled legislation to provide greater financial support for those with brain injuries caused by the syndrome.
The US State Department will now recognize the citizenship of babies born through in vitro fertilization or surrogacy, a win for same-sex couples.
The State Department on Tuesday announced that babies born abroad to married couples where one parent is a US citizen will automatically be granted citizenship in the US.
Existing law required babies born abroad needed to have a blood relationship with the parent who was a US citizen. The new policy announced Tuesday requires the baby to be genetically related to one of the married parents.
The move is a victory for gay couples and married couples who have children through in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, or other assisted reproductive technology.
“This updated interpretation and application of the INA takes into account the realities of modern families and advances in ART from when the Act was enacted in 1952,” the state department said in a press release announcing the policy change.
The update also asked US citizens to “reconsider all travel abroad.”
“This does not imply a reassessment of the current health situation in a given country, but rather reflects an adjustment in the State Department’s Travel Advisory system to rely more on CDC’s existing epidemiological assessments,” the statement said.
The US is considering a joint boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing over the Chinese government’s human rights abuses, the US State Department said Tuesday.
“It is something that we certainly wish to discuss,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. “A coordinated approach will not only be in our interest but also in the interest of our allies and partners.”
“This is one of the issues that is on the agenda, both now and going forward,” Price added, making clear that a final decision has not been made.
In a later statement to Yahoo Sports, an unnamed State Department official stressed that no such talks have yet taken place. “We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners,” the official said.
The US government has been ramping up criticism of and pressure on the Chinese government over human rights violations, which led to a public spat between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s top diplomat in Alaska last month.
Human rights groups say the Chinese government has forced over a million Uyghur Muslims and other minorities into detention camps in the Xinjiang region, though Beijing has vehemently denied the allegations.
Blinken has said what’s happening to the Uyghurs amounts to genocide, while calling on China to release “all those arbitrarily held in internment camps and detention facilities.”
Human rights lawyer Djaouida Siaci told Axios that a boycott could open the door for the International Criminal Court to begin an investigation into the allegations of genocide in Xinjiang.
GOP Sen. Mitt Romney in a New York Times op-ed last month said the US should engage in a diplomatic and economic boycott of the 2020 Beijing Olympics.
“Prohibiting our athletes from competing in China is the easy, but wrong, answer. Our athletes have trained their entire lives for this competition and have primed their abilities to peak in 2022,” Romney said.
“The right answer is an economic and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics. American spectators – other than families of our athletes and coaches – should stay at home, preventing us from contributing to the enormous revenues the Chinese Communist Party will raise from hotels, meals and tickets,” Romney added. “American corporations that routinely send large groups of their customers and associates to the Games should send them to U.S. venues instead.”
The last time the US boycotted the Olympics was during the 1980 summer games in Moscow.
The US Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
International influence isn’t something that comes cheap – even when you’re a super power.
America’s badly blemished brand will only begin to get better if the government dedicates a massive amount of money to addressing the challenge. This is not even a one-billion-dollar problem. We are talking tens and probably even hundreds of billions. Despite the considerable price tag, it is both necessary and worth the extraordinary expense.
Rebuilding costs money
The US has long taken for granted its soft power. Because of the country’s economic dominance, educational excellence, and scientific successes, many argued America simply did not need to spend large sums to promote the country’s values policies abroad.
In fact, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the US shuttered many of the American cultural centers and libraries overseas, the government called it part of the “peace dividend” that was being returned to taxpayers.
The US normally spends about two billion dollars a year on public diplomacy programs. These range from government-sponsored international media channels like the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe to foreign exchanges including the famous Fulbright scholarships. It also covers salaries for American diplomats and their staff to work at home and abroad in communications and cultural offices.
At this particularly perilous point for our nation, we desperately need a massive infusion of funds into our public diplomacy programs, increasing the budget to at least $10 billion per year. That would still be less than the cost of our newest aircraft carrier.
More military equipment will not return the respect we lost under President Donald Trump. In fact, as former Defense Secretary James Mattis put it, if State Department funds get cut, “then I need to buy more ammunition.”
Public diplomacy also happens to deliver dividends directly to the American worker, ensuring we can secure better trade conditions and fewer tariffs. Lastly, as the world has tragically witnessed in the past year, less pressure on China and other countries to deal with their own public health issues can have serious implications for our safety.
It’s time to put the money where America’s mouth is
I was shocked by how little money was available when I worked in our embassies as a press attaché and later ran the public affairs office.
When entertaining foreign officials, we would literally bake homemade cookies, because there wasn’t enough to pay for store bought pastries. Hours were spent searching through discounted books on Amazon, so we could stretch our bare bones budget. I even had to resort to asking family and friends for donations. This is a pretty pathetic way for the most powerful country in the world to manage its strategic promotion and persuasion programs.
Our international influence efforts have been stuck on autopilot for a while. The current budget, adjusted for inflation, is actually less than what we were spending in the early 1990s. This, despite the fact that the threats we are facing have multiplied and the policies our diplomats are asked to defend are much more unpopular in many more places.
I run a public relations firm now. If a client did not increase their budget for three decades, no matter what we did, the results would undoubtedly be disastrous for their corporate reputation. It would be malpractice for us to continue running those programs, expecting to have much of an impact, especially following multiple major crises.
President Barack Obama worked to increase funding for public diplomacy in his first year, but it again got cut as budgets tightened throughout his term.
President Joe Biden and most of the Democrats on Capitol Hill have railed against the damage done to the country’s standing on the world stage under former President Donald Trump. They’ve mentioned less the money it will take to rebuild our reputation. With the party in control of both the executive and legislative branches, now is the time to do something about the problem.
I continue to sadly believe that there is no restoring the United States to its former global glory. That does not negate the need to repair and try to rebuild America’s image and influence. Even a small amount of progress would pay big dividends. But, the public and our leaders have to be clear eyed about the considerable destruction done and more importantly what it will take to regain a modicum of the trust and credibility we used to enjoy.
It is time we finally started getting serious about protecting our national brand and promoting our foreign policy interests. Without a major infusion of new resources, we will remain badly out gunned on the global information battlefield. The sad, sorry state of our reputation and lack of respect for our country is truly a national emergency. It is one that merits being treated and funded as such.
Unpaid internships have come under renewed scrutiny in recent days, as discourse has swirled online over their potential for exploitation and inequity. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even weighed in with a tweet on Monday, writing: “Pay your interns! It’ll improve your operation and make it more diverse and just.”
Now, Sens. Cory Booker and Tim Scott are taking it one step further, introducing a bipartisan bill to make all State Department internships fully paid. Booker has already been an advocate for paid internships.
In a press release, the duo cites declines in the number of women and Black workers at the State Department.
The bill would make all State Department internships pay the jurisdiction’s minimum wage. It would also provide housing for students who would live outside the US for their internships, as well as for students who work more than 50 miles away from their permanent addresses. In addition, travel for getting to and from those locations would be covered and targeted outreach to minority-serving institutions would be mandated.
“For far too long, the State Department has failed to recruit low-income and students of color within their internship program largely due to it being unpaid,” Booker said in a press release. “Having a diplomatic corps that represents the diverse makeup of the United States will increase the institutional knowledge and capacity of the State Department and improve our image abroad.”
“This commonsense legislation will make internships at the State Department fairer, more rewarding, and more open to all, and is a crucial part of my focus on ensuring American diplomats reflect the diversity of the American people,” Castro said in a press release.
There’s a larger movement to make internships paid
Carlos Mark Vera is the executive director of Pay Our Interns, a group that advocates for paid internships and supports Castro’s legislation. Since its founding in 2016, Pay Our Interns has been changing the conversation around getting interns paid. It was previously successful in getting Congress to allocate $31 million to intern compensation – and now it’s chipping away at the State Department with this bill.
“This is, in my opinion, the golden standard,” Vera told Insider. He said a highlight is how it would make pay the minimum wage rather than a stipend, which sometimes are not enough to live on.
The bill would transition all unpaid internships to paid ones in three years, and has built-in reporting guidelines, for instance on whether interns are going to public or private schools, what their home state is, and other transparency measures.
What if Joe Biden is just not able to steer America’s ship of state back to safer waters?
What if, at the end of his term, there was a vigorous, valiant attempt to restore or at least repair America’s international influence after the destructive presidency of Donald Trump but the damage was simply too great and our adversaries had grown too strong?
I ask the question as my expectations are not exceedingly high for the new president. It is not because I am rooting against him. In fact, quite to the contrary. As a former diplomat, I desperately want Biden to rebuild America’s preeminent position in the world. But, my time on the frontlines of conflict and crises – from Iraq to Venezuela – have forced me to approach any effort to reshape the world stage with copious quantities of skepticism and a strong shot of cynicism.
The world is already well into a post-American era. Biden does not change the US’s present predicament, nor for that matter could almost any leader in his position. The United States squandered its credibility and standing on the global stage over the past two decades. There is no recovering them now.
Yet, the new administration enters office with hopes high at home and abroad. Undoubtedly, such lofty aspirations will be disappointed, some even dashed. However, even if Biden is only able to deliver on a small portion of his foreign policy promises, that will still represent progress and help pave the way for greater stability and security.
Despite the goodwill and grand plans to build our country back better, there remains a very real scenario in which Biden is not able to make much progress. Dare I even say it, our position in the world could worsen. Like President Obama in Syria, he could fail to respond adequately to a major crisis, further eroding confidence in our leadership. Another massive cyber or disinformation attack, like we have repeatedly seen from Russia would certainly weaken the strength of our institutions. An attack our military, with considerable casualties, would also draw into question our readiness and resolve.
I worry that many have failed to account for or accept these and other plausible possibilities. Time and trying will tell, but America’s influence on the world may just be too far gone for it to come back.
What does our country do then? One path would perhaps see a return to Trumpism or some populist politician who has picked up his MAGA mantle. But another four years of America First would be catastrophic. Russia and China would accelerate their aggression, as allies struggled to contain the destabilizing effects of their encroachment on economies, democracies, and a rules-based international order.
Another version of events might see Biden forced to throw in the towel, like President Lyndon Baines Johnson, in pursuit of a second term. The Democrats would likely then look to Vice President Kamala Harris to take the reins. Undoubtedly, she would face considerable challenges trying to recalibrate the policies of an administration in which she played a leading role.
Sensing America’s distraction and diminished position, we could well see countries attempt to seize the moment to secure an advantage. Not just the larger nations, but particularly mid-size and even small ones. North Korea could try to blast its way to sanctions relief. Azerbaijan could attempt to take more territory from Armenia. A full-scale conflict could break out in the Middle East. The list goes on. My warning is that if Biden fails, it may well usher in a period of even more upheaval, truly upending the international order.
Who could step in to save the world? With their own divisions and difficulties, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and other major democracies would struggle to replace the role we once occupied. Others would simply be too small to battle Beijing. In my assessment, it would largely fall on corporations to try and rein in reckless actions and remind countries that conflict comes at considerable cost. It is unlikely that would be enough to dissuade them from a destructive course.
We continue to look out at the prospects of the new Administration through rose colored glasses. I fear that our hopes for its success are also crowding out thoughtful consideration of the case in which they are unable to overcome today’s considerable challenges.
It is time to come to terms with what would need to be prepared and done in that event. The United States might no longer set the global agenda or even get the privilege to stay on international offense. Instead, we need to start figuring out how to play better diplomatic defense. Otherwise, things could get really bad, really quickly for America and its allies.
Brett Bruen was the director of global engagement in the Obama White House and a career American diplomat. He runs the crisis-communications agency Global Situation Room.
Around 200 people attended a holiday party hosted by the State Department on Tuesday night, ignoring COVID-19 rules, The Washington Post reported.
The event was hosted at the presidential guesthouse after there was a positive coronavirus case on-site in the last week.
Two officials who spoke to The Post anonymously said that two bars were set up in the guesthouse and staff who wore masks poured drinks for guests. They also said that ambassadors of Afghanistan, Egypt, SouthKorea, and Guatemala, attended.
The event featured a tour of the White House’s vaunted holiday decorations and a self-guided tour of the Blair House.
The department did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment at the time of publication but a spokesperson told The Post that the “Holiday Cheer” reception that was supposed to follow the tour was canceled out of concern for spreading the virus.
Another event is reportedly scheduled for December 16, where more than 180 foreign ambassadors, who can bring their spouses, were already invited.
A State Department spokesperson told Business Insider’s Azmi Haroun that, “We plan to follow all Diplomacy Strong guidelines in compliance with health officials’ guidance.”
For these events, guests will be required to wear masks and have their temperatures taken. Additional health guidelines will also be sent to attendees prior to the event, the Department told Business Insider in a statement.
The coronavirus has infected more than 15.3 million people in the US so far with over 289,000 deaths according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The highly contagious virus has spread across the US at record rates in the past several weeks.
In September, a ceremony to officially announced President Donald Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court was deemed a super-spreading event, where dozens of attendees later tested positive, including Trump himself.
COVID-19 regulations in Washington, DC, and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limit indoor gatherings to no more than 10 people.