Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Kids, cover your ears

It’s true, you learn much more out in the real world than you do in school. Just look at the kids who today attended the State Department press briefing for Take Your Child to Work Day. Instead of lessons in nation-building or food aid, they were treated to a discussion of prostitutes and strip clubs. 

With Washington gripped by a widening Secret Service scandal, reporters just couldn’t steer clear of the salacious story. Soon after spokeswoman Victoria Nuland saluted the handful of underage observers, the questions moved to charges that Secret Service agents and other government workers cavorted with strippers and prostitutes while on overseas assignments. Nuland lamented the topic du jour and one Department employee jokingly moved to cover his daughter’s ears.

The roughly half-dozen kids were models of decorum. There they sat, on the sidelines of the briefing room, staring down at the floor. None asked a question. But they might have been thinking “Mom, Dad, when we get home tonight, you’ll have some explaining to do.”

Here are our top stories from Washington…

US on guard for attacks ahead of bin Laden anniversary – President Obama has reviewed potential threats to the United States ahead of the anniversary next week of the killing of Osama bin Laden, but there is no concrete evidence that al Qaeda is plotting any revenge attacks, the White House said. Bin Laden’s killing last year by U.S. commandos is touted by the Obama administration as one of his top accomplishments and it may help inoculate the president from Republican election-year claims that he is weak on national security.  For more of this story by Alister Bull, read here.

Biden knocks Romney for “back to the future” foreign policy – Vice President Joe Biden blasted Mitt Romney’s foreign policy vision as backward-looking and tied to George W. Bush, hammering the presumptive Republican nominee for thinking like a CEO and not like a commander in chief. The remarks were Biden’s latest attempt to define Romney as out of touch with Americans, and his foreign policy critique marked a shift from the Obama campaign’s focus on economic and domestic differences with the president’s Republican rival.  For more of this story by Jeff Mason, read here.

Ambassador Sean Penn? Dream on, President Chavez

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Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez regularly vents his fury against the United States, but there are a few Americans he’d like to talk to — such as Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Noam Chomsky and even former President Bill Clinton.

Chavez named his U.S. dream team on Tuesday as possibilities to fill  the role of U.S. ambassador to Caracas after his government turned down the Obama administration’s nominee, Larry Palmer.

The State Department was not nearly as starry eyed.

“We appreciate President Chavez’ suggestions but the fact is we are not looking for another candidate to be the U.S. ambassador to Caracas,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, adding that the administration still believed Palmer was the best man for one of the most difficult diplomatic jobs going.

State Department revs up NASCAR Diplomacy

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Foggy Bottom, rev your engines.

The U.S. State Department, for the first time ever, is turning to NASCAR to help get America’s message across.

The department said 11 young motor enthusiasts from Bahrain and Qatar will participate in the inaugural “motorsports exchange” this month, including a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in North Carolina and a stop in Miami for races at the Homestead-Miami speedway.

The young delegates from the Gulf, who are all involved in auto racing as drivers, mechanics or car or track performance technicians, will receive briefings on “NASCAR research and development, track safety, crew diversity and community and family involvement,” the department said in a press note.

Happy Birthday, Mr President? Palin takes on State Dept in Twitterburst

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Sarah Palin has a beef — and a tweet or two — for the U.S.  State Department.

Palin tweeted her outrage following a tongue-in-cheek tweet from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley that wished Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a happy birthday.

Crowley, who regularly tweets as @PJCrowley to about 6,250 followers, marked the Iranian leader’s birthday on Thursday with a plea for the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, two American hikers who have been detained in Iran for more than a year and face trial on suspicion of espionage.

Clinton sees diplomats of the future in cargo pants as well as pinstripes

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Congress to finance a major new U.S. push on overseas development aid, arguing that only by building up a global middle class will the United States increase its own national security.

Clinton, in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine which previews a pending State Department report on diplomacy and development, says it is essential for Congress to keep the money flowing even as the United States grapples with its own financial problems at home.

“The American people must understand that spending taxpayer dollars on diplomacy and development is in their interest,” Clinton wrote, saying it was time to put to rest “old debates on foreign aid.”

State Dept: church Koran burning plan”un-American”

There have been lots of angry words over plans by an obscure Florida pastor to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

But State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley pulled out the biggest gun of all on Tuesday in his effort to distance the government from the pastor’s incendiary proposal — he called it “un-American.”

“We are conscious that a number of voices have come out and rejected what this pastor and this community have proposed,” Crowley told a news briefing. “We would like to see more Americans stand up and say ‘this is inconsistent with our American values.’ In fact these actions themselves are un-American.”

US diplomat in Peshawar awarded heroism prize

Lynne Tracy was headed to work as principal officer at the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan, in August 2008 when gunmen wielding AK-47 rifles ambushed her car.

The gunfire flattened her vehicle’s front two tires and riddled the body of the car with bullets as her driver jammed into reverse and sped away.
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Tracy and her Pakistani driver and bodyguard all survived the Aug. 26, 2008, attack.

She made her way to the consulate later in the day and in the coming weeks led an effort to boost security even as some of her colleagues were moved to Islamabad or told to work from their homes.