The State Department enjoys a multi-billion dollar budget. Why then would Hillary Clinton embarrass the United States in front of the Russian Foreign Minister?
Steven J. Mopsick mentioned that the people working at the IRS are the brightest America has:
Almost everyone at that level has a law degree, but these people went [to] the finest schools where they distinguished themselves with their scholarship and achievement. Also they all tend to be very conservative in their social and moral habits. Not necessarily conservative politically, but very modest when it comes to drinking, socializing, and who they hang around with in their very brief “off” hours. These are people who mix it up with the best and brightest people at the top of other agencies, almost all of who are at the top of their game. They are challenged on their positions and reasoning and no one ever survives in Washington if they think they are going to get by on the basis of bull shit, not at that level of government.
Undoubtedly, this estimation also applies to the geniuses at the State Department, with their fine educations at Ivy League schools. That is how they manage to get a blooper like this caught on video:
Now how do you avoid “overcharging” other nations instead of “resetting” your relations with them? Here are some suggestions: (1) A Harvard degree is not going to help. You may think that you are God’s linguistic gift to humanity, but if you haven’t actually lived in the other country and rubbed shoulders with the people who speak the language as a mother tongue, you will never know when you make a mistake like this. (2) To avoid such bloopers, you must also have humility. You have to admit that you are not the smartest person in the room because you consulted a English-Russian dictionary, and that maybe, just maybe, a native speaker of the language knows more than you. (3) It may help if you have friends who went to school (primary and high school) in that language and are able to answer translational questions with some accuracy. Clearly, the State Department, despite having a multi-billion dollar budget, is unable to find even one native speaker of Russia to help them with a simple “reset” button as a gift to the Russian foreign minister. How embarrassing! And how arrogant.
Americans who have never lived overseas don’t have many native speakers of foreign languages as their best friends. Expats do. Not only do they learn the languages of their respective countries of residence, they have spouses, children, and friends who are native speakers. [And I should add, their children tend to make incessant fun of them when they make linguistic errors.]
The Foreign Services Institute courses that the State Department offers are great, but they won’t prevent a person from making some pretty colossal gaffes. For example, I used the FSI course to learn French, but I did not know the difference in pronunciation between “eu”, “ou” and “u”. So as a result, when I first tried to say, “I can” (“je peux”), I was actually saying, “I stink” (“je pue”). Then there was the American lady in Geneva who would try to say, “Merci beaucoup” (“Thank you very much”), but instead said, “Merci beau cul” (“Thank you, nice ass!”).
Linguistic issues are just one of many cultural barriers to foreign countries. The United States really does need the help of her expats to sort out a whole array of issues. And as good as some of the US military or even the diplomatic corps are at getting to know the countries in which they are stationed, there is no substitute for the kind of knowledge that expats have.
But I suppose we are like Lieutenant Dunbar in Dances with Wolves or Jake Sully in Avatar: we’ve gone native and our loyalties are questionable.
@Petros & , Steven J. Mopsik.
If the IRS has the smartest people working for them, please explain the following:
The tax law for a few years allowed withdrawals from IRA’s to be sent directly by the IRA custodian to a Qualified Charity, and thus be exempt from Tax. Such Qualified Charitiable Distribtions are to be identified by the letters QCD on the Form 1040, but there are no provisions on this form to actually identify the qualified charity by name. Of course being made from non-taxed income the taxpayer cannot claim a charitable contribution for such QCD contributions.
So I, along with probably millions of other retirees, took advantage of this provision. Then received a not very friendly letter from the IRS assessing taxes on this QCD because I had failed to report it as taxable income.
Providing documentation that this QCD had been made directly to the charity by the IRS custodian resulted in cancellation of this additional tax assessment some 60 delays after I submitted the evidence that it had been done in accordance with the law, but I suspect that I was not the only one who went through this. If I was assessed, probably every one else to did it was also assessed. If the IRS folks are so intelligent please explain why the Form 1040 did not include any space for the taxpayer to provide information on the QCD and thus avoid the unnessary cost to the IRS which probably amounted to several million dollars, of sending out massive mailings of deficiency notices and the hours of taxpayer’s time and the extra out of pocket cost and headaches incurred by the affected taxpayers to substantiate the correctness of excluding these distributions from taxable income?
This tax incentive, by the way, was not renewed by Congress for 2012.
That the IRS has the smartest people is upside-down. They have the dumbest people, lowest paid, bottom of the class, drop-outs, failures, as does the US govt in general.
The capable ones are in private industry. This is why the IRS is 4-5 steps behind the tax-cheaters.
This is something Europeans, Canadians, Japanese, Chinese, etc, do not understand.
Why would the US put the least capable people in govt. The answer is very complicated and deserves 5-6 posts in itself. But this is an important cultural issue that expats and immigrants should know, but take years to figure out… to their detriment.
The gist of it is that it is intentional. Americans do not want a powerful govt. The less the govt can do, the better, so they intentionally hobble it with incapable people.
The DOS video proves it. In private industry someone would be fired for that mistake. In DOS they laugh it off. They know they have to make the best with the incompetent people they have.
The brightest..right… a friend sent me a link this morning to a Bloomberg new story. The second paragraph starts off with, “The 70 U.S.-based companies studied hold $1.2 trillion in profits around the world. GE and Pfizer have built up the most money outside the U.S., with $102 billion and $63 billion respectively, according to securities filings”
So, go after 70 year old grandma’s but not massive corporations? Maybe they’re not so dumb – after all, who has more money to try and defend themselves?
Apple has 60 billion and growing at an exponential rate.
The thing about the US is that internationalisation is generally an afterthought. Work related to foreign languages or foreign markets is low-status and is thus considered the domain of underpaid immigrants. (This is probably one more reason why people like Tom Coburn and Chuck Grassley think expats are unnecessary to promote US exports). And if you’re in a situation where you can’t hire an immigrant (e.g. due to security clearance concerns), you throw the work at an intern with a dictionary instead.
Funnily enough, I was actually taking a Russian class at the time the whole peregruzka/perezagruzka nonsense came out back in 2009. The teachers were both mainland Chinese. Our entire class knew the difference between the two words, because we’d been drilled to death on Russian verbal prefixes. Americans dislike this style of language education, but it’s hard to argue with success: China Radio International’s Arabic, Urdu, Swahili, Russian, etc. services are staffed mostly by native Chinese. Whereas the foreign language newsreaders on US equivalents like VOA and RFA are all immigrants.
Haha, too funny!! Serves them right.
@Peter – I think what the US DoS uses nowadays is way different than the old FSI cources. The military DLI courses are vastly different than the old DLI courses you can find on eric.gov. For me, the books are EXCELLENT at getting a nice small framework in place with a foreign language. But it took me hours and hours and hours and hours of practicing with people to get good. It took me 3 months of watching the local “soap operas” EVERY DAY with no subtitles or closed captions to REALLY train my listening abilties.
So I think the books are good, but nobody will be Euro Level C1/C2 by studying them, more like B-1.
Geeeez: I practiced for hours the phrases and responses to the old French FSI course. People used to compliment my French. I could even use the subjunctive correctly: Il faut que vous alliez. But I had no idea what they were saying until I learned some basic profanity. That’s when I realized that about 25% of what people were saying was just bad words.