Tuesday, July 21, 2015

10 Ways to Fix America's State Department

Foreign Policy had an interesting piece written by retired FSO Joseph Cassidy about how to fix the State Department.

He says: "A hypothetical graph of the State Department’s influence through history would have its obvious high points — William Seward serving as Lincoln’s confidant and advisor, George Marshall rebuilding Europe after World War II, James Baker organizing a global coalition in the first Gulf War and consolidating post-Cold War Europe — but fewer of late. With the rise of large, permanent defense and intelligence bureaucracies after World War II, and the more recent increase in size and stature of the National Security Council begun under Henry Kissinger and expanded since, State’s role is ever more constrained. Its regional and thematic policy experts are often muscled out of big decisions by other parts of the executive branch.

That is a waste. State’s impressively smart, hardworking, and principled employees could be investment bankers or tech titans or big firm lawyers (and some have been). Instead, they choose public service, with its lower pay, fusty hierarchy, and often considerable danger. American diplomats abroad are busy assisting U.S. businesses and American citizens in trouble, investigating war crimes, tracking corruption and terrorist financing, and representing Washington in treaty negotiations. Meanwhile, their colleagues back at Foggy Bottom toil in an organization that is neither agile, efficient, strategic, nor particularly relevant."

You can read the whole piece here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Change of Plans

Our UAB and HHE are on their way. My wife will be in two days. 

I will not.

Those of you who know me from the real world (and, who are we kidding, from Facebook, though to be fair, all of my Facebook friends are people I have real world ties to), know that my language test did not go well. Almost there is not what you want to hear about 43 weeks. So our transfer, including this past weekend's packout, has become maddeningly more complicated than it needed to be.

My wife and I were supposed to leave together (though on different flights because the main airline the Department uses doesn't allow parrots and the cost construct for that flight was pretty expensive, so my wife will use the regular flight). We were supposed to leave on Wednesday. This Wednesday. So we arranged our packout for this past weekend.

It was supposed to come after a week of leadership training and a few days off (read, days organizing) for me and a week off and a few days off for my wife (also for organizing). But with the test issue, that didn't happen. Instead, my week of leadership was exchanged for more time in language class, because it turns out that it takes four weeks to have your test reviewed, to pursue a language waiver, or to take enough additional language training to retest.

I am pursuing all three, in case you were curious. My plan now is to head to post on August 5, two weeks after my wife gets there (and no, this doesn't means she will unpack and set stuff up for us...she didn't unpack her shipments in Azetbaijan in the three months between her departure for post and my first visit there. Nesting is not really her thing.)

So I am still in language. No vacation for me. Meaning I couldn't help much with the packout of the UAB and HHE. Also meaning that the packout for storage and the car had to be postponed until August 3. So there has been much more stress than there should have been. I feel far less on top of this PCS than I have previous ones (though the movers were impressed with my labeling system...stickers on everything for UAB, HHE and storage since there wouldn't be two of there to organize and then supervise).

So our UAB and HHE are on their way to Kosovo, and my wife will begin her journey with one of our cats in twoo days. I have two more weeks in language and I retest on July 31. It is possible that either the waiver or a positive review of the test will come through by then (because I actually felt like I did better than my score on the test, but that is another story...), but it is already too late to change anything. So even if I get the waiver or find I passed at least one part of my test, I will still retest in the other part and leave on the 5th (Me, the dog, one of the cats, and the parrot. Fun.).

And if you are the religious sort, I wouldn't mind any prayers or positive energy you want to send my way. I am already carrying around a four-leaf clover my mother found in West Virginia. Can't hurt, right?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Greg Delawie Confirmed as Ambassador to Kosovo

In all the excitement over the Supreme Court decision, I forgot to mention that the Senate confirmed our new Ambassador to Kosovo, Career Foreign Service Officer Greg Delawie.

I talked about him a bit here. But the short version is I hear great things about him and am looking forward to working for him in Kosovo. He will be sworn in this Friday and is expected in Kosovo next month.

He has his own twitter account, by the way. I encourage you to follow him at @AmbDelawie if you are interested in what is going on in Kosovo and our embassy there.

Confirmed at the same time was Julieta Valls Noyes as Ambassador to Croatia. Julieta is currently Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, but I knew her when she was in charge of the Operations Center. I was working on INR Watch at the time, and I watched her support her people in a way they hadn't been supported before. Morale improved considerably under her direction, and many of the ways I try to manage my staff come from watching her. Her embassy is incredibly lucky to have her.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Feel Free to Unfriend Me

Exactly two years ago today!
I am ecstatic about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision making marriage equality the law of the land.

If you disagree, if you don't think I should have the right to have my marriage recognized nationwide, please if we are friends on Facebook or in life, feel free to unfriend me.

But before you do, I ask you to consider how you would feel if your spouse was hospitalized and weren't allowed in the room? I don't have to imagine. I have experienced it.

How would you feel if your spouse died, and you weren't allowed to bury him or her because you were a legal stranger and the law required immediate family to claim the body, even if that person was someone your spouse hated? What if you weren't allowed at the funeral? I have friends who experienced this after 20 or more years together.

How would you feel if you lost your home because your spouse died and you had to pay inheritance tax on "their half" of your home. It has happened to many gay people.

Civil marriage brings some 1,300 rights and responsibilities. Wills don't cover it. And some states could ignore even wills. And medical powers of attorney. It happened, a lot.

And hopefully it won't any more.

So maybe you still have religious beliefs that oppose marriage equality. Fine. But you don't get the right to impose those beliefs on others. Because you know what? My church believes in marriage equality. We were married in the church.

Think marriage is a Judeo-Christian ideal? Then why can atheists marry?

Think it is for procreation? Then why can the elderly and the infertile marry?

They can, because just as was determined in Loving v Virginia in 1967, marriage is about love, and it is a civil right.

And before you worry that this means your church will be required to marry gay people, it won't. A Catholic priest is not forced to marry non-Catholics. A rabbi is not forced to marry Christians. In fact, when we got married in our church, our pastor had just refused to marry a couple because they did not want to go through the required premarital counseling. Churches will still get to decide what is right for them, Just not for everyone else.

So please celebrate with me, because for the first time, I feel like a full citizen. I feel like the country that I serve, that I have kept faith with, has finally kept faith with me.

And I want to close with this, Justice Kennedy's eloquent final paragraph in the 5-4 ruling:

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be con- demned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

U.S. Embassies Flying Rainbow Flag for Pride

I am glad to see all the ways the Department and our embassies around the globe are celebrating Pride Month. I was especially happy to see our embassy in Tallinn raise the flag again, as I know many embassies hesitate to fly it (does the FAM allow it or not...our conclusion was yes, just not about the American flag. I am good with that.)

Of course, the State Department had a Pride event:

LGBTI+ Pride at State: Remarks by Deputy Secretary Higginbottom
Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom delivers remarks at the Department of State’s "Pride at State" event.
Posted by U.S. Department of State on Friday, June 5, 2015
You can check out articles on it on the Department's blog as well as at The Advocate and the Washington Blade.

Here is a few pieces on some of the ways embassies are marking the month.

Obama uses embassies to push for LGBT rights abroad

Gay pride flag hoisted above US embassy in Israel

Plus a nice FB cover photo from AFSA, our employee association

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Should I Stay or Should I Go

First, a belated Happy Pride, y'all.

It may be the curse of being in language training (ONE of the curses of being in language training?), that I just don't find myself writing here much. There isn't a whole lot to say about studying language: it is hard, testing sucks, hitting walls hurts. Rinse, repeat.

And so I have found myself not writing, even when there were things I could post...as I type I have at least three webpages up on events I should have covered.

So maybe I am bored. Or lazy. Or bored and lazy.

And I think about just not blogging anymore. Not taking the page offline, but just leaving it. So people can use the blogroll or any info they find useful in the blog.

This isn't the first time this has crossed my mind. Nine years is a long time for a blog.

But inevitably, as has happened every. single. time. I have considered quitting, I meet someone for the first time who tells me how helpful the blog was when they joined the service.

And I feel guilty (because I am a former Catholic, and are any Catholics really completely "former"?), and I stay.

And so it happened again this weekend, at Pride.

And so I am back. I am I will try to write more. And I will hope that I have something interesting and useful to say, especially once I get to Kosovo next month.

Or sooner, depending on SCOTUS.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

LGBT Envoy Berry on Latin America

The Washington Blade had a nice piece on State's Special Envoy for LGBT rights Randy Berry and his comments on Latin America,

Berry: Latin America at ‘forefront’ of global LGBT rights movement