Category Archives: diplomacy

The Donald killed a humor column – or two

There’s a great column by Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post magazine section, titled There’s no silver lining to Trump’s win. So here’s my cat.

It is a quick follow-up to make up for a column he wrote in anticipation of Trump losing. Mr. Weingarten explains how he, like so many others in the media got it wrong. It had been written in the form of an obit, celebrating the death of a “Boys-Will-Be-Boys Guy.”

Oddly enough even I made the same mistake. In a column written for a later date.

I asked readers to join me in sending our condolences to the cartoonists of America. They (and the likes of Saturday Night Live) had been given nearly two years of unlimited, unimaginable humor material. From awkward physical gestures at the podia, to content ready-made for speech bubbles.

Weingarten’s replacement column is prefaced by this:

Readers who wish to complain can reach the author through the U.S. Consulate in Amsterdam, where he is seeking asylum.

(Of course, he is kidding.)

My replacement column is about the wall Canada is building on its southern border –financed by us of course.

(And of course, I am ‘serious’.)

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Posted by on November 16, 2016 in diplomacy, Media


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It’s settled then: There won’t be an oxymoron in the White House

For all the debate prep, no one could have contained Donald Trump as he hurtled toward the precipice, sliding on the rocks of loose talk. In the end, despite fancy slogans, websites, and stage props, something as basic as good communication skills makes or breaks a leader.

A free, seemingly easy-to-master, tool should be handed to someone of Donald Trump’s personality with a warning: “May cause user to implode.” Just like Twitter, a microphone could also be a dangerous tool. Indeed, many before him have been dispensed into the heap of disgraced leaders and also-rans because of a hot mic, or a video capture, or even a spool of tape.

Another interesting thing about Trump was his penchant for ‘truthful hyperbole’ – a term he used in his book, The Art of the Deal, which, to be fair was ghost-written.


But as is evident now, truthful hyperbole, a classic oxymoron, is the long fuse that led him to where he is, an outcast of the party he represents.

Citizens vote for leaders who articulate their hopes and needs. Thankfully voting for an oxymoron was not an option.

Footnote worth listening to: Nixon’s tape archive recording where he and his staff discuss ”lying to a base.’


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From ‘FLOTUS’ to ‘POTUS.’ Waiting for the Clinton Reset button

Hillary Clinton will be in our news feed, whether we like it or not. She is under scrutiny by conservative newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, and more liberal writers. That’s par for the course, of course, when one announces an application for the top job in the country – an application tendered this early in the race.

I know it’s not quite a race yet. It’s a photo-op here, a downplayed event there, and lots of conspiracy theories running behind her.

So scrutiny she gets, in my latest editorial column for LMD this month, titled From FLOTUS to POTUS :

Hillary has important credentials. As the then secretary of state, she did a long ‘internship’ in world affairs, but needs to learn the simpler arts, in domestic affairs, for instance. We also want to see her being more accessible, more forthright and transparent. She once presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov an unusual gift – a ‘reset button.’ As the race heats up, she may need to borrow that button, since citizens need to know what the former first lady (FLOTUS, in White House speak) might do for them should she become POTUS.

Read From FLOTUS to POTUS here. (pdf)



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War of the Worlds, fought in Zeros and Ones

Cyber War is a hot topic once again. It has been covered by the BBC (“Silent War’), and even by TR (Russia Today) which cites Edward Snowden, and Defon. Also CNN, has covered it –scary CNN style!– about attacks on individuals via social media.

Last month, I was asked to cover this topic for an upcoming special feature in LMD Magazine. I found out some disturbing activities, and reality-checks that the public doesn’t seem concerned about. After all, we are busy worrying about how corporations’ databases are being attacked, and personal information stolen, because that’s what the popular news networks latch onto.

“But make no mistake: America is under attack by digital bombs,” noted Senator Michael McCaul last year when calling for cybersecurity legislation.

In his book “@War: The rise of the military-internet complex.” Shane Harris gives us one example of how governments fight a War of the Worlds scenario. The Chinese have been hacking sensitive US databases for some time, but in one such attack, the government initially withheld this information. Possibly so as not to tip-off the Chinese hackers, he says.

This was a de-facto military assault on a military target. And the target? The design plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet in 2007, the so-called ‘fighter to end all fighters,’ that had a price tag of $400 million. It’s well reported today that more than 100 of the world’s militaries indulge in some sort of cyber war tactics. For more on this see Peter Singer’s excellent article in Popular Science.

For this article I interviewed Cornel Ruston, a Sri Lankan-born, California-based network security consultant, who talks about how why all organizations, not just government agencies need to protect their ‘crown jewels’.

The problem is, despite all the fancy communication technologies in our arsenal, we have become sluggish, in the way we communicate with all those who might help thwart cyber war-styled attacks. We tend to put more emphasis on the locks instead. But for every lock, there are a hundred lock-pickers.

If you like a sneak preview of the article, it will be released on Feb 26th.


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The revolution will be censored (and blogged!)

Unlike when utilities are down, life doesn’t appear to go quiet when the Internet is down. Or cut off.

While on-ramps to social media sites are blocked, as we see in Egypt this week, something else gets to work. Call it the Internet effect. The connected world has learned to find its way around broken nodes, to bypass toll-gates, and evade any form of censorship — soft or otherwise.

This is what happened in Egypt on Thursday.

Foreigns journalists were being attacked and arrested, including two AP journalists and a Guardian reporter who were beaten up. (Listen to the Guardian’s Jack Shenker’s recording of this.) He was released and was able to blog about it:

Along with nearby protesters I fled back down the street before stopping at what appeared to be a safe distance. A few ordinarily dressed young men were running in my direction, and I assumed they were demonstrators also escaping the oncoming security troops. Two came towards me and suddenly threw out punches, sending me to the ground. I was then hauled back up by the scruff of the neck and dragged towards the advancing police lines… All attempts I made to tell them in Arabic and English that I was an international journalist were met with more punches and slaps;”

Other voices are getting out, too, despite the bans and threats. The next few days will certainly reveal if such attempts can contain the uprising, or backfire.

While Washington wrestles with the right response, other countries (and not just those countries in the region) are obviously watching this live-action drama closely. “Authoritarian governments” observed Clay Shirky,  “stifle communication among their citizens because they fear, correctly, that a better-coordinated populace would constrain their ability to act without oversight.” But any attempts to promote social media as the tools for regime change are wrong, he warns. This is not what the Twittering masses want to believe.

Promoting access to media and social media as a basic human right is complicated from a foreign policy perspective. Consider what Wikileaks has just done!

But the lesson is clear.  The world is quite a different place now, with amplified communication and greater means of collaboration.


Passport to ‘Digital Citizenship’ Webinars next week

Really happy to announce a series of Web conferences that I will be starting next week for the U.S Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Webinar on social media - US Embassy, Colombo Sri LankaThis follows a digital video conference I conducted last year for the U.S.E, in association with the US State Department.

These six workshops –Webinars– are designed to be more interactive; the majority of participants will be at one location in Colombo. They were selected based on their application and response to a survey on the state of social media in Sri Lanka.

We are covering the usual suspects: Blogs, social networking, micro-blogging, video sharing and social search.  The attendees are from diverse backgrounds: advertising, corporate communications, government, web-based businesses, management, universities, media and non-profits.

Presenters: To make these sessions more focused and relevant I have brought on board some top practitioners to co-present with me. They are:

Dan Wool, a corporate communications and PR consultant for APS, a large electric utility in Arizona. Dan co-founded one of the world’s top blogs on public relations, marketing and social media.

Steve England, Chief Technology Office of MobileSoft, an advocate of on-demand digital printing who advises large tech companies and international advertising agencies on interactive marketing.

Gary Campbell, a communications manager at Arizona State University, a former print journalist turned digital, who has led numerous university training sessions in social media.

I will also bring in a few ‘surprise’ guests who will pop-in with some real-world examples of how they are using a particular strategy in their communication!


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Two years of ‘broad public access’ at State Dept blog

Last week Dipnote, the blog by the State Department, turned two.

So much has happened in two years. It was the year that the iPhone debuted, and Microsoft bought a stake in Facebook. A few months before that TIME named all those people creating content and connecting through social media as the ‘Person of the Year’ – the famous “YOU” issue.

Luke Forgerson, Managing Editor of Dipnote

Luke Forgerson, Managing Editor of Dipnote

Dipnote took to this new way of communicating with amazing flair. If there is one example of I’ve been using repeatedly to illustrate how any organization could stop firing press releases and start a conversation, it’s been them.

Think about it. Foreign policy to many is as sexy as watching paint dry. But given the right angles –heck, the right to loosen up– and the interest in listening as much as speaking, it turns out to be a different animal.

I have talked to many organizations who are terrified at the thought of saying something that could come back to bite them. Blogs, and videos, and photos pulled from a diverse group of individuals seem like total anarchy to them. It might damage the brand, they fear. The question I get asked a lot is ‘What if someone says something nasty?” –followed by “should we publish that too?”

I won’t go into the responses I give, but you’d think a group of people who represent the brand image of a country must have thought about this a lot. There must be bookshelves of white papers and journals on this subject in their offices. There must be legal advisers shaking their heads in disbelief.

And yet…

If you look at the social media initiatives the State Dept has rolled out over the past few years, these ‘government employees’ seem to take to new media in a way you’d expect of a marketing organization. Maybe they understand that good marketing is all about good communication. It’s more than the ingredients of ‘technology and talent‘ that Sec. Clinton spoke about.

It’s about using social media as an antenna not a bullhorn.


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