Barack Obama has probably appointed more Indian-Americans to positions in his administration than any former president. They range from Kal Penn whose role is as a liason to the Asian-American community to Vivek Kundra who is Federal Chief Information Officer. But there are several others and they are listed in this article in the Hindustan Times.

But the one that caught my attention is Vinay Thummalapally who was appointed to the post of the US ambassador to Belize.

I have to admit that I had never heard of Thummalapally. It turns out that Vinai K. Thummalapally was the President of MAM-A Inc., formerly Mitsui Advanced Media, the nation’s leading manufacturer and distributor of archival recordable optical discs. He is
originally from Hyderabad and moved to the U.S. in 1974 to pursue his engineering studies. He received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from California State University in 1977 and completed post graduate Business Administration courses at California State University in 1980 and the University of Tennessee in 1995.

What drew my attention to Thummalapally was an article “Nothing better than a plum ambassadorship” by Melvin Durai which appeared in Indolink. It is well written and funny especially to anyone who is familiar with the Indian/US slant. It also shows that some things never change – like how ambassadorships are awarded under different administrations. Here is the article:

Barack Obama promised to bring change to Washington, but did you see whom he selected as ambassador to Belize? His old college buddy Vinai Thummalapally!
The folks in Belize had better give me a call. For only $9.99, I’ll help them learn how to say “Ambassador Thummalapally.”

Thummalapally, in case you’re wondering, has no experience as a diplomat, but he did pass Obama’s foreign service exam, which consisted of a single question: “How much money did you raise for me, bro?”

The correct answer for Thummalapally was “more than 100 grand — and I also told the media that you’re the best thing to happen to America since Slim-Fast.”

The Colorado business executive also donated $4,500 of his own money for his pal’s presidential campaign, while his wife, Barbara, gave $2,800. There were no strings attached, of course, just a note from Barbara that said: “Dear Barack, Vinai and I believe in you so much, we’re giving you all the money we had saved for our vacation in sunny Belize. I told Vinai that Belize can wait. Poor guy, he really had his heart set on going. He even read the Lonely Planet Travel Guide and bought a really nice beach umbrella.”

Well, perhaps Barbara didn’t send a note, but she and Vinai were probably aware that raising money for Obama’s campaign could result in an ambassadorship.

Vinai: “We’ve raised only $50,000. We need to raise more. I don’t want to be sent to Cote d’Ivoire.”

Barbara: “Yeah, me neither. That would be as bad as going to Ivory Coast.”

Vinai: “If we raise a little more, we could go to Belize, Jamaica or even Namibia.”

Barbara: “What’s so great about Namibia?”

Vinai: “I’m not sure, but that’s where Angelina Jolie goes to give birth. Did you know that she’s the UN Refugee Agency’s Goodwill Ambassador?”

Barbara: “She must not have raised much money for the agency. I’d rather be a Macy’s or Saks Fifth Avenue Ambassador.”

Obama followed the dubious practice of previous presidents — Republicans and Democrats alike — in rewarding his contributors and friends with plum ambassadorships. A plum ambassadorship, in case you didn’t know, is an ambassadorship to a country where plums are grown. Plum ambassadorships are considered more desirable than mango and banana ambassadorships. (Now you know why Thummalapally and others described their fundraising as “very fruitful.”)

John Roos, a California-based lawyer who raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s campaign, was appointed ambassador to Japan. Poor guy — if he had raised a little more, he could have been off to Paris. That job went to Charles Rivkin, president and CEO of an entertainment company. Obama selected him as an ambassador not just because he had raised almost as much money as a CEO earns, but also because he had produced the children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba! and, as such, was familiar with foreign-looking creatures.

Louis Susman, a lawyer and investment banker who raised at least $400,000 for Obama’s campaign and inauguration, earned himself an ambassadorship to Britain. Talk about a plum post. He’ll get to have lunch with Prince Charles, tea with the Queen, and dinner with Susan Boyle. Well, one out of three isn’t bad.

So what happens to all the career diplomats, the ones who have tons of foreign service experience, but didn’t raise a penny for the president? They get sent to countries in the developing world that don’t have the amenities of Tokyo, Paris or London, that don’t have the sunny beaches of Belize or Jamaica. But on the bright side, people in these countries can be quite welcoming. In a few remote islands, for example, the people are constantly sending invitations to the U.S. Embassy, eager to have the ambassador for dinner.

Give Obama some credit: he may have smoked pot at one time, but he doesn’t want any of his friends to end up in one.”

So, now you too know a little about Thummalapally – information that will be of no use to you unless you happen to be a contestant on Jeopardy and if the clue that comes up is “Vinay Thummalapally”, you can confidently answer “Who is the US ambassador to Belize”. Your competitors will probably have no idea so you can actually take your time pressing the buzzer!

10 Responses to “Barack Obama & Vinay Thummalapally”

  1. Vivek says:

    The fact that the UK posting has gone to someone who is not a career diplomat is probably a sign of just how secure the Anglo-American bond is. Then again, it’s probably just that their deputies are doing all the work, as the below article implies:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/worl.....uis-susman
    However, it’s disappointing that despite the mandate for change etc. – lobbyists and fund raisers still hold sway in Washington.

  2. TJ says:

    I have to agree with you, Vivek – some things just don’t change. One sort of hoped that with Obama it would not be business as usual but I think the reality is that the need for funds trumps everything else. What we are seeing in the health care reform battle is the power of certain vested interests like the insurance companies who are spending tens of millions of dollars to water down or kill the much needed reform.

    We talk about corruption in India and other parts of the world. I think the only real difference when it comes to such corruption is that in India it is all-pervasive and there is a lot of petty corruption. In the case of the US, it is mch more subtle – but when it surfaces, it generally involves large bucks. I find it laughable when Congressmen insist that their vote is not influenced by contributions from lobbyists and other companies.

  3. saira says:

    On a lighter note, i found the whole article quite amusing 🙂

  4. TJ says:

    Actually, Saira – that is what first attracted me to the subject. I thought the article was very humorous.

  5. DS says:

    Actually Vinai has been wonderful for Belize, he was a great pick especially since he understands the politics of a third world country. He is the most humble person, attends local rotary meetings, local fundraisers, he has brought a uniqueness to this post that has never ever been brought before. He has assisted with fundraising activities to benefit the local zoo when it was destroyed by the hurricane. His wife, Barbara has been working with women and children’s groups to bring resources to Belize…they are AMAZING people and Belize will miss then when they are gone!

  6. TJ says:

    Thanks for your comments, DS.

    Glad to hear that the Thummalapallys’ are well regarded and have done a good job representing the US.

  7. I WAS SO HAPPY THAT MY FORMER MANAGER HAD THE BEST LUCK ON HIS OWN I WORK WITH HIM FOR HOW MANY YEARS AND WITH ASIAN RACE HE IS ONE OF THE BEST MANAGER THAT I EVER HAVE WHO WAS THE KNOWLEDGE ON ANY ASPECTS OF LIFE AS WE HAVE TALKED ABOUT POLITICS IN THIS COUNTRY BUT NOW HIS STARS SHINE ON HIM SO BRIGHT! MY HATS OFF FOR MY FORMER MANAGER AT WEA MANUFACTURING INC…IS THERE ANY SITE TO SENT A PERSONAL MESSAGE TO THE HONORABLE AMBASSADOR TO BELIZE?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Lol I’m closely related to him and have the same last name but different spelling…so true about “The folks in Belize had better give me a call. For only $9.99, I’ll help them learn how to say “Ambassador Thummalapally.”

  9. Uday udapachar says:

    Great to see our school Alumni Nrupatunga High School Hyderabad and my Father Student Proud moment for Nrupatungans

  10. James says:

    Some dumb asses Dont understand some basics. God save them .

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