Between the U.S. and Egypt, barbs and then . . . tweet nothings

Correction: An earlier version of this column implied that taxpayer funds paid for the March 23 Navy-Marine Corps ball. The ball was paid for by the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society, which is a private, nonprofit charitable organization. This version has been corrected.

Al Kamen
Columnist April 3, 2013

A strange global kerfuffle erupted on Wednesday involving two comedians, the Egyptian president and a briefly deleted Twitter account.

Here’s how the exchange went down, as reported by our colleague Max Fisher: It began when the U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweeted a link to a segment by Jon Stewart of the “Daily Show” bashing Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. In the clip, Stewart dismisses Morsi as a “crazy guy” and criticizes his treatment of Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

That provocative tweet clearly didn’t sit well with Morsi. His official account tweeted back: “It’s inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda.”

The U.S. Embassy appears to have responded to Morsi’s message by temporarily shutting down its Twitter account. Foreign Policy says that the State Department urged the embassy to put it back online for fear of having it “appear as if the U.S. is caving to the online pressure.”

And when the embassy account did reemerge a little while later, the recent offending tweets had been removed.

Morsi, too, appeared to have deleted the tweet questioning the embassy’s original tweet.

Got it?

Explains our colleague Ernesto Londoño:

@USEmbassyCairo has been among the most active and interactive twitter accounts run by the State Department. Over the past couple of years, it has fielded questions in real time on everything from slow visa processing and U.S. tear gas export policy to reports in the Egyptian press that the embassy has pushed back on.

Whoever is behind the account has been on a curiously long leash, considering how risk- averse Foggy Bottom tends to be on message control, particularly in the Arab world.

But now it looks like they might get reined in a bit.

Sequestration drops the ball

It’s prom season — not just for high school kids renting tuxes, but for members of the military, whose formal balls crop up like corsage blooms in the spring.

This year, sequestration and tight fiscal times are playing the spoiler, at least for the Army, which has canceled its annual fancy-dress Birthday Ball because of the budget cuts, according to a recent memo from Army Secretary John McHugh and Gen. Raymond Odierno.

“Due to the uncertain Fiscal Year 2013 funding caused by the combined effects of a possible year-long Continuing Resolution (CR) and sequestration, along with the need to protect funding for wartime operations, we are cancelling the HQDA Army Birthday Ball scheduled for 15 June 2013,” the killjoy memo states. “This action supports the department’s overall effort to reduce spending of appropriated funds.”

Which means there’ll be no soldiers in formal dress adorned with medals. No dancing in the Washington Hilton ballroom, no women in gowns, no toasts.

The event is usually one of the social highlights of the year for hundreds of Army soldiers and spouses; last year’s bash featured musical performances by a jazz band from Howard and by the group World Class Rockers, which features former members of Journey, Boston, Santana, Steppenwolf and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Even though the big party is kaput, the Army plans to mark its 238th birthday with other, more modest events, the memo notes, including gatherings at Mount Vernon and Capitol Hill, a cake-cutting at the Pentagon and a wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetary.

No formal gowns needed.

The Army will save $400,000 by canceling the party, an Army spokesman said.

Still, the fiscal straits haven’t stopped other military formal dos, like the Navy-Marine Corps ball — one of the military’s best-known galas — which was held on March 23. The ball was held by the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society, which is a private, nonprofit charitable organization.

Hill GOP updates its status

Republicans have been wringing their hands over how to catch up with Democrats on the technological front.

But at least on Capitol Hill, Republicans appear to be more readily adopting to the new modes of communication.

While congressional Democrats have greatly upped their use of social media to communicate with constituents in the past few years, Republicans continue to enjoy a formidable lead, according to a recent study by the Congressional Research Service, as highlighted by the Federation of American Scientists Secrecy News.

For example, in September 2009, only 38 percent of senators and House members had Twitter accounts. By January 2012, that percentage more than doubled, to 78.7 percent. Slightly more than 87.2 percent were on Facebook.

“In 2009, 60% of Twitter-registered members were Republican and 40% were Democrats,” the study said. By 2012, the lead had narrowed a bit — to a still-substantial 56 percent to 44 percent.

But it’s not as if congressional folks are posting and tweeting very much. House and Senate Republicans averaged 1.28 tweets a day and 0.73 posts, the March 22 report found. Democrats had 1.18 tweets and 0.49 posts a day.

Other studies show lawmakers tend to use social media to link to news releases, local appearances and events, or to talk about themselves. A 2009 University of Maryland study cited a fine tweet from former Democratic House member and now Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie : “I just completed weightlifting workout at the Nuuanu Y.”

Not a lot of interaction, it appears.

The great solidarity race

The Solidarity Stampede has begun!

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday volunteered to take a pay cut in solidarity with Pentagon employees who will have to take 14 pays of unpaid leave by Sept. 30 because of the sequester.

Defense Department spokesman George Little said Hagel would give back 14 days’ pay, or about $10,750 on his salary of nearly $200,000 a year. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter is doing the same. Actually, Carter made his pledge a little while back.

President Obama followed suit Wednesday with plans to return 5 percent of his salary — or a flat $20,000 — an administration official told our colleague Scott Wilson, in solidarity with federal workers who are going to be furloughed.

One would anticipate the rest of the Cabinet will jump in tout de suite. No time to do a contest, but let’s see who’ll be the last.

Another Chicagoan to Ottawa?

President Obama’s pick to be ambassador to Canada is fellow Chicagoan Bruce Heyman, a Goldman Sachs partner in the Windy City, mega-fundraiser and member of the Obama campaign’s national finance committee, CBC News in Canada reported Wednesday.

Heyman runs a private wealth fund at Goldman Sachs, and his areas of responsibility include parts of Canada, the network reported, noting that he and his wife raised more than $1 million for Obama. He would replace David Jacobson, who’s also from Chicago.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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