Sunday, February 28, 2010

As Promised

I wish I could take credit for finding this gem. Actually my wife found it (though really, if I can't take credit for what she does, whose efforts can I take credit for?!)

At any rate, it seems particularly timely given our (me and No Double Standard) recent discussion of EERs and the like. What my wife found was Form FS 316, the Performance Report for Foreign Service Officers, Revised June 1949 (and then according to a stamp on the page, again revised in June of 1958).

Now by Foreign Service Officers, the form means male FSOs...there are no feminine pronouns on the form.

Also missing from the form are the big blank boxes you have to fill in (there is only one for a summary and recommendations). Not even a "suicide box." No, instead, it is a bunch of multiple choice descriptors and the rater is to underline the one which is most descriptive of the officer and his job performance and to x out the letter of the one least descriptive.

So an example is:
A. He will probably not go much further in the service
B. He demands a high degree of efficiency from those associated with him
C. He is not active in seeking desirable contacts
D. He is imaginative
E. He is probably one of our future career ministers.

You get the idea. As I said, SHE is not an option. But at least I couldn't find the part where they graded an officer on his wife's ability to host social functions.

So with that in mind, I thought I'd share some of the funnier descriptors:

*He shows little taste in his clothes. (Maybe this is why Secretary Powell had to put out the memo saying no flip flops or sparkly tank tops)

*He is inclined to be pompous (I wonder if they consider this a good thing or a bad thing?)

*He is careless in his personal habits (this is the guy who got dust on his pants and the dust stayed there for the whole season...he wore them EVERY DAY).

* He becomes emotionally upset at times. (What, screaming is bad?)

* He gives little promise of development (And yet still gets promoted)

* He is a clock watcher in slack periods (How is this a bad thing?)

* He is petty in minor matters (and in major ones, he melts down completely)

* He is slow (How often have you asked how someone passed the FSOT?)

* He does not wear well as one knows him better (He seemed nice for the first 5 seconds I knew him)

* He bores intelligent people (this is my personal favorite)

* He has an exaggerated idea of his own importance. (I am pretty sure I worked with that guy).

* He has a tendency towards hair splitting (is this a comment on his appearance?)

* He is of limited intellectual attainments (no doubt the guy who bores intelligent people)

* His personal appearance is an asset (well thank god for that)

* He is overbearing (In the Foreign Service? Shocking!)

* He impresses you as not being fully alive to the problem you are discussing
(or maybe just not fully alive?)

You know, as I read this through, maybe we should bring it back. Of course, there'd be tons of lawsuits ("You can't call me stupid! Everyone is special!"), but there'd also be some honesty in the EER. Really all you need to do is add a feminine pronoun.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Could I have some reorganization please?

So I am reorganizing my blogroll. It may take me a little while, but hopefully I will have it done today.

As you know, I have my blogroll divided in half...Foreign Service blogs from A-L and from M-Z. Okay, actually, it is divided into 3, with "other interesting links," but that doesn't really count. Just admit it, you knew what I meant. So stop giving me a hard time.

Anyway, I'd love to tell you that it was divided that was for ease of reader use. But the truth is, it was operator error. When I first started the blog, I added links without hitting save and so, duh, they didn't appear. I thought that meant blogger had a maximum number of links. And there weren't all that many FS blogs at the time, so I thought, I'd just create two lists!

And it worked...not because I split them but because I started hitting save.

Now you know my dirty little secret.

I am adding them together so that I can stop reliving my own personal shame every time I add a new blog (which is pretty often, as you might have noticed from the size of my blogroll(s).

Like I said, I should finish it up today. And then I promise I have an upcoming post you will just LOVE. I suspect it will give you as much of a laugh as it did me if you are already in the foreign service (though it may frighten you if you are still trying to get I will just assure you know that some things HAVE changed...sort of).

ON EDIT: Okay, it's done.

I discovered in the process that several blogs haven't had new posts in a long time. I have left them on the roll because their old posts may be of interest to you. Several blogs (One of The Cookie Pusher blogs (yes, there are two), Rees Family Bogota, Six Months of Settled and The Navigator) have all gone private/invitation only. I left the links anyway, in case you got an invite (sadly, I didn't!).

Several blogs have disappeared entirely, like Vamenos Let's go. I deleted those links. Others, like The Consuls' Files and Prince Roy's Realm are gone, but the links remain in case the return. For Prince Roy in particular, I know that he is just Facebooking more than blogging these days. I Facebook too, but under my real name, so I keep doing both (though I don't deceive myself that this blog is terribly many lesbian American Indian South Carolinian forme-archaeologist Public Diplomacy Officers can there be?).

Some blogs have changed Worldwide Chump isn't gone, he is just now The Kathmandu Diaries. I like the original name better, but as this blog used to be Life IN Jerusalem, I understand changing the name. And I just learned the biggest name change of all. Calling a Spade a Spade, one of my favorite blogs, is now Muttering Behind the Hardline (something we all have done).

And finally, I created a new blogroll for future FSOs. There are lots of them blogging these days and I have not added them to my blogroll (except for Two Crabs). From now on, I will add them there, and then move them to the FS Blogroll once they get in (because ALL bloggers are fabulous and will make it, right? Plus, the bloggers need to wrest the Department from the blog haters).

Finally, I am going to add an aggregator of sorts for some of my favorite blogs. I know you can do it on blogspot. I just need to figure out how.

ANOTHER EDIT: You can stop mocking me now...I added the gadget that aggregates the blogs I really like. If you aren't there, don't be offended. I'm adding things, but I am slow.

Friday, February 26, 2010

CNN: With violence rising, U.S. Consulate closes office in Reynosa, Mexico

With violence rising, U.S. Consulate closes office in Reynosa, Mexico

(CNN) -- The U.S. Consulate in the border city of Matamoros, Mexico, temporarily closed its Consular Agency in the nearby city of Reynosa because of heightened drug-related violence in recent days.

A "Warden Message" was issued by the consulate "to advise U.S. citizens of recent gun battles in Reynosa, Mexico, and cities surrounding Reynosa in the last week."

The mayor of Reynosa, located across the border from McAllen, Texas, told a Mexican newspaper that recent shootings have not been between authorities and drug cartels, but between two drug trafficking organizations operating in the region, the Gulf cartel, and the Zetas.

In response, the U.S. Consulate has restricted travel of American officials to Reynosa and closed its office there until further notice, the letter says.

"The Consulate General in Matamoros advises U.S. citizens to take the above information into consideration when making any decisions concerning traveling to or within Reynosa," the letter says.


Problems in Public Affairs

From the the Washington Post via the Associated Press. Since I am not an idiot, I will just post this without comment.

Internal report raps State Dept media shop

The Associated Press
Thursday, February 25, 2010; 8:59 PM

WASHINGTON -- An internal State Department report says the agency's work in publicizing administration foreign policy and its relations with the media have been hurt by poor communication, lack of staffing and uneven leadership in the Bureau of Public Affairs.

A review by the department's inspector general found that some employees had been instructed not to return phone calls to reporters asking sensitive questions and that the environment in one office was so tense and hostile that several workers fear violence.

The report, which was completed last week, was obtained on Thursday by The Associated Press.

The 63-page document also found that the duties of some career employees in the press office had been transferred to political appointees, which contributed to low morale. The report was compiled last fall, months after Hillary Rodham Clinton took the helm at the State Department.

"It's a tough report," said P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs who runs the bureau. "What the report shows is that the bureau has many strengths, but it clearly has some organizational weaknesses that we are aggressively trying to correct."

He said corrective action had already been taken on about a third of the problems identified in the report.

The inspector general conducts periodic reviews of each department bureau. The work of the Bureau of Public Affairs is deemed critical to the administration's ability to communicate its foreign policy to the American taxpayer and foreign governments and their publics.

The review praised the skill and professionalism of the spokesmen - both career diplomats and political appointees - who brief reporters daily from the podium at the department's headquarters. It also lauded the bureau's attention to new media and its use of social networking platforms to get out the Obama administration's message.

But it said the operation needed better direction and that a senior front office position empty for more than a year should be filled immediately as its vacancy "contributes significantly to weak bureau management and low morale.

At lower levels, the report said the Office of Press Relations, which in previous administrations has been a primary channel for answering inquiries from the media, had lost much of its role because Clinton's team believed it was not effective.
"Thanks to a perfect storm of administration transition, weak leadership, miscues, misunderstanding, personality conflicts and poor communication, PRS has been marginalized," it said, referring to the press office by its acronym.

The report said the office also may have lost credibility because it had been instructed not to respond to certain questions from reporters.

"Under direction from the front office, PRS does not return some reporters' calls, for inquiries that are deemed sensitive," it said.

Crowley denied there was a policy to ignore certain reporters' phone calls but said in some cases inquiries would be passed along to the front office, adding that calls are returned.

The report's most damaging findings involve the Office of Broadcast Services, which produces and distributes audio and video content to worldwide media outlets. That office, it said, is beset by severe morale problems and hostility between employees and managers.

It said several employees expressed concern "that violence in the workplace could result because of the high levels of workplace animosity and tension." The report called for the current director of the office to be replaced.

Crowley acknowledged "a serious morale issue" in the office and said it was being addressed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

WP: Maryland to recognize gay marriages from other places

The Washington Post seems to think AG Gansler's decision goes further than I did (or the DC Agenda does). As I understood it, the decision means that Maryland law does not preclude the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages, but that further action was needed to actually recognize them (which would be great, because then my wife and I could consider moving to Maryland instead of DC. I hated that I had to give up my right to representation in order to have my right to be married recognized). The DC Agenda seems to agree.

But according to the Post, Maryland "agencies should immediately begin affording gay married couples the same rights as heterosexual ones." That would make Maryland, along with DC, much better places for LGBT Foreign Service families than is neighboring Virginia. I suspect there may be something to the Post's position, particularly given Gansler's own statement in a press conference that gay couples should now be treated equally "unless and until" the legislature or courts decide different, and that the wing-nuts are now calling for Gansler's impeachment.

Maryland to recognize gay marriages from other places
By Aaron C. Davis and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) declared Wednesday that Maryland will recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and that its agencies should immediately begin affording gay married couples the same rights as heterosexual ones.

With Gansler's decision, Maryland in effect joins the District and a handful of states including New York that recognize same-sex marriages performed in four New England states and Iowa. The District also has its own measure legalizing those unions that is expected to take effect next week.

Gansler, a supporter of legalizing same-sex marriages, was asserting his authority as the top legal adviser to state agencies to answer a question that experts say had been left unclear by Maryland law. He was responding to a legislator's request that he issue an opinion.

The attorney general's opinion unleashed a torrent of emotions from both gay rights advocates and those opposed to same-sex marriage, adding a potentially explosive issue to election-year politics in Maryland. It is likely to be quickly challenged in court, Gansler acknowledged.

Republicans, socially conservative Democrats and several African American lawmakers from Prince George's County to Baltimore blasted the decision. One Republican lawmaker vowed to bring articles of impeachment against Gansler for trying to usurp Maryland law, which defines marriage within the state as between a man and a woman. The Roman Catholic archbishops of Washington and Baltimore and the bishop of Wilmington said in a statement that they take "strong exception" to the decision.

Gay and lesbian groups said the decision put the state on track toward legalizing same-sex marriage and would embolden them to push more strongly for pending legislation to do so. Similar measures have died in the legislature in years past.

The exact practical implications of Gansler's decision were unclear. David Rocah, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said he thought that the opinion could have "hundreds, if not thousands," of implications for same-sex couples married elsewhere. Rocah said the opinion could ensure same-sex spouses' rights to health benefits, inheritances, child support and even divorce.

Gansler said state laws have more than 1,000 references to spouses or marriage.

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who has consistently voiced support for civil unions but stopped short of endorsing same-sex marriage, said his administration would be "guided" by Gansler's legal opinion. Under O'Malley, Maryland has significantly expanded benefits to couples who register as domestic partners, but under Gansler's opinion, same-sex couples married elsewhere would no longer have to go through that step to get many of the same protections.

"I am confident that the Attorney General and his office will provide all necessary advice to state agencies on how to comply with the law," O'Malley said in a statement. "I expect all state agencies to work with the Attorney General's office to ensure compliance with the law."

Gansler's opinion answered a question about recognizing same-sex marriage that was posed last spring by Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., an openly gay Montgomery County Democrat.

In a roughly 50-page opinion that took nine months to compose, Gansler says the starting principle in state law is that a marriage that is valid in the place of celebration remains valid in Maryland. And even though the state narrowly defines marriages performed within its borders as between a man and a woman, Gansler says, such restrictions don't amount to a strong public policy argument that would override recognizing unions from elsewhere.

The opinion points to several examples Gansler says prove his case: Maryland has recognized common-law marriages from other states even though it does not have common-law marriage. The state has even recognized a marriage of a Rhode Island man and his niece that would have amounted to incest under Maryland law, Gansler said.

In a news conference, Gansler went beyond the written opinion, saying his writing should dictate how state agencies respond when same-sex couples from elsewhere request benefits and legal protections.

"It's not that foreign of a concept. I mean, it's just people. It's just like any other heterosexual couples," Gansler said. "However a heterosexual couple is treated that was validly married in Maryland or elsewhere, [a same-sex couple] will be treated like that here in Maryland, unless and until a court or the legislature decides differently."

His opinion is certain to have political implications. Democratic leaders in the state's General Assembly appear to have little enthusiasm for making same-sex marriage a marquee issue in the 2010 elections.

In the November general election, Baltimore County, a more conservative jurisdiction, will be among the key battlegrounds for statewide candidates, including O'Malley. Gansler is also up for reelection this year but has yet to draw any big-name opposition.

The former Montgomery County state's attorney won office in 2006 on a reputation as a tough-on-crime prosecutor. Since taking office, he has won plaudits from the more liberal wing of his party by becoming the first statewide official to endorse legalizing same-sex marriage. Gansler is believed to be gearing up for an expected run for governor in 2014, probably against several other Democrats who favor civil unions.

Gansler said that it will probably be up to the state's highest court to issue a final verdict but that he thinks his opinion provides a road map for same-sex couples to win.

Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-Anne Arundel) said he is convinced that Gansler's opinion will be overturned by courts, and he promised to bring articles of impeachment against the attorney general.

"It is not up to the attorney general, and that's the reason I will be bringing charges of impeachment," Dwyer said. "The opinion doesn't change the law. It in effect usurps law."

But even some of the Maryland lawmakers who attended a celebratory news conference Wednesday afternoon were not entirely clear on all the practical effects.

"I'm struggling to parse that out," said Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), an openly gay delegate who was joined at the event by her spouse, Deborah.

The couple held a marriage celebration in Maryland in 2005 and was legally married in California in 2008. At the news conference, Mizeur held up a copy of their marriage certificate.

"The [attorney general's] opinion says my state can and should recognize my marriage," Mizeur said.

Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DC Agenda: Maryland may recognize same-sex marriages

This from the DC Agenda is great news for LGBT Foreign Service families. If Maryland acts on this and offers recognition of out-of-state marriages, it will mean Foreign Service families will be able to choose to live in either Maryland or the District and have their marriages recognized. Virginia, of course, does not have marriage equality, and as of last week, no longer even offers protection from discrimination to LGBT state workers.

As one person said, Virginia can legally advertise jobs with the phrase "gays need not apply."

Maryland may recognize same-sex marriages, Gansler says in opinion
Posted on 24 February 2010 by Joshua Lynsen

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler says a same-sex marriage that is “valid in the jurisdiction in which it was contracted” may be recognized in Maryland under state law.

“Such marriages may be recognized in several ways,” says the opinion. “First, legislation enacted by the General Assembly could provide for recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages generally, or for particular purposes. Second, in the absence of legislation, the Court of Appeals, applying common law choice-of-law principles, could decide that such marriages will be recognized in Maryland, either generally or in particular circumstances. Finally, a state agency may also address the recognition of out-of-state marriages on particular matters within that agency’s jurisdiction, so long as the agency’s action is consistent with any relevant statutes and court decisions, including federal laws that may govern the agency’s activities.”

Gansler’s long-awaited opinion, released Wednesday morning, also notes that Gov. Martin O’Malley cannot force state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere.

“An executive order of the governor must be consistent with existing Maryland law, as
enacted by the General Assembly and construed by the courts,” the opinion says. “While the state Constitution and statutes accord the governor broad powers in certain areas — for example, in matters concerning executive branch employees — many questions concerning recognition of out-of-state marriages arise in the courts and cannot be addressed in an executive order.”

The full opinion is available online here. DC Agenda will have full coverage of the opinion later today.

New Design for London Embassy

This piece was in today's Washington Post. So much of the debate of "fortress embassies" has portrayed the issue as either-or. We can either keep our diplomats safe or we can have attractive, inviting embassies. And much of what I have seen has fallen on the side of "we are really being paranoid...we need to be more inviting." Sorry, but since I don't get a gun or bullet-proof vest, and since terrorists DO like to target diplomats overseas, I like safe embassies.
So I am really glad to see the new design is both safe AND inviting.
Because like our soldiers, I know that serving my country is dangerous. And like them, I want to be able to control the amount of danger as much as possible. I suspect my dad and wife would agree!
Photo courtesty of KieranTimberlake
KieranTimberlake chosen to build 'modern, open' U.S. Embassy in London

By Philip Kennicott
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The State Department has announced that a Philadelphia-based architecture firm has won the closely watched competition to design the new U.S. Embassy in London. KieranTimberlake, which also designed an innovative and environmentally sustainable structure for Washington's Sidwell Friends School, beat out three other major architectural firms.

The design calls for a secure and environmentally efficient glass cube set atop a colonnade in a landscape with a pond and pathways open to the public. Speaking from London, architect James Timberlake called it "an urban building in an urban park."

The other finalists, in a process that began with 37 entrants and was winnowed to four over the past year and a half, were Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, Morphosis Architects and Richard Meier & Partners Architects.

Seeking fresh thinking

The decision to open the design selection to competition is rare but not unprecedented -- this is the fourth time the State Department has done so -- demonstrating the importance of the London embassy to the United States' long-standing relationship with Great Britain. It might also reflect the State Department's desire for fresh and deeper thinking about how to design aesthetically pleasing but secure facilities. In recent years, the government has relied on standard embassy designs as it worked to rapidly replace or upgrade overseas facilities in the nervous post-2001 environment. Many of those were criticized for being fortresslike, forbidding, and isolated from their surroundings and the people they serve.

The choice of the KieranTimberlake design suggests that the more open process has yielded exactly what the State Department's Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations was looking for: "a modern, open and secure" building that was sensitive to London's architectural context.

Set on a site of almost five acres on the south side of the Thames River, the new structure will be positioned on an angle to the surrounding streets. A semicircular pond will function as a protective moat along the Thames side, while a spiraling landscape to the south sets the building away from potential car or truck bombs. A complex envelope of blast-resistant glass and a polymer skin (known as ETFE) will provide both security and energy efficiency while shading the building on its sun-exposed sides.

"I have to be careful in talking about specific security requirements of this particular building," Timberlake said. "But the glass skin is quite robust."

It also helps the building, which is estimated to cost about $500 million, put a transparent face to the city and maximizes natural light for workers inside. Photovoltaics in the building's skin and on its roof will generate electricity.

Design drawings show a cube that shimmers and dissolves in muted rhythms both vertically and horizontally. The spiraling landscape continues as a motif inside the building, culminating in the "ever more focused, secure and enclosed center atop the structure."

Jane Loeffler, author of "The Architecture of Diplomacy," a history of U.S. embassy facilities, praised the selection.

"They really want to make this a positive statement, and it looks like they are doing that," Loeffler said. "It is very fashion-forward, but it's not just trendy; it has rationale and science behind it."

The KieranTimberlake design wasn't the most radical in terms of its basic shape and silhouette. That honor belonged to the Morphosis proposal, which placed an irregular, curving and angled form on top of columns. But the Morphosis drawing (provided by the State Department) suggests a complicated landscape of perforated grassy terraces and green roofs that would have put blank walls to the street in some locations. Richard Meier & Partners proposed a sleek assemblage of vertical and horizontal planes defended by security bollards. Pei Cobb Freed offered a more basic curving glass and metal hat on top of a dull plinth, with a high fence around the perimeter.

The KieranTimberlake design is more formally pure, and effective at maintaining openness.

Self-reliant in a crisis

The winning design's emphasis on sustainability isn't just trendy architectural positioning, argued Loeffler. It is symbolically important as a diplomatic gesture. It also demonstrates how sustainability and security are interwoven in embassy architecture. A structure with its own water and energy sources isn't just kind to the environment, it's also self-reliant during a crisis. Loeffler cites the U.S. Embassy in Haiti -- an exemplar of the State Department's recent more fortresslike structures -- which withstood last month's devastating earthquake and has kept functioning through the aftermath.

The challenges faced by the architects were profound. The new embassy, which is slated to break ground in 2013 and be completed by 2017, replaces the still controversial architectural landmark designed by Eero Saarinen at Grosvenor Square (opened in 1960). Aging and overcrowded, the Saarinen building's close alignment with the streetscape, and other structural issues, had made the building increasingly problematic and cluttered with security add-ons. But the decision to find a more secure site for a modern embassy was fraught with sentiment: The relocation to the south side of the Thames not only exchanges a tony north Thames address for a gritty south side one, but it breaks a tradition of American diplomacy at Grosvenor Square dating to John Adams's appointment as the first U.S. minister to the Court of St. James's in 1785.
The Nine Elms site, as the new location is known, is in an "industrial, or post-industrial" part of the Borough of Wandsworth, according to Timberlake. The goal, he said, is to help Wandsworth catalyze development in the area.

The competition for the London design follows more recent competitions to design embassies in Beijing (won by Skidmore Owings & Merrill in 2001) and Berlin (won by Moore Ruble Yudell in 1995). Before that, the first competition for a U.S. embassy was also for London, in 1956, which Saarinen won. The Saarinen building was sold to a Qatari real estate development company in December, though the United States will continue to use the structure until relocating to the new one.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Letter from my Congressman

David Price (D-NC) regularly makes me happy that he is my representative. He did again yesterday when he sent me the following letter:

Thank you for contacting me regarding H.R. 3567, the Respect for Marriage Act. I am pleased to report that I am a cosponsor of this legislation.

As you know, in 1996, Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage and grants each state the authority to refuse to recognize such marriages performed in other states. H.R. 3567 would repeal DOMA, effectively extending federal recognition and benefits to all married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation. The legislation also would require states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

I believe DOMA is discriminatory, and I will continue working for enactment of the Respect for Marriage Act in the 111th Congress.

Again, thank you for contacting me, and please continue to keep in touch on issues of concern.

Member of Congress

Monday, February 22, 2010

Washington Times commentary: Haiti heroism

From today's Washington Times. Nice to hear from the FSOs about the work going on in Haiti.

HENNING: Haiti heroism
Americans' swift determination saved lives

By Michael Henning

The Haiti search and rescue effort is historic and heroic by any measure. More live rescues over more days were achieved in the 2010 Haiti effort than ever before. I was lucky enough to have been able to provide some of the local support that helped make the difference.

The first international responders to any earthquake are search-and-rescue (SAR) teams that deploy from around the world to any nation within hours. These teams of highly trained rescuers extract survivors from collapsed structures, knowing that every minute counts. SAR teams rely heavily on local support, and in the case of America's two internationally certified teams from Los Angeles and Fairfax, Va., on U.S. government funding provided through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Around 4 a.m. on Jan. 14, about 35 hours after the magnitude 7 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, I was working in the U.S. Embassy's control room when an electronic report from Washington indicated a Haitian trapped under rubble had sent a text message to a relative in the United States requesting help. As a USAID Foreign Service officer, I knew that our Disaster Action Response Team (DART) would know what action to take based on this information. Unfortunately, the team had barely arrived in Haiti, so I ran down to speak directly with the Fairfax SAR team, which was ready to mobilize. As I explained the report, the Fairfax team immediately swung into action, preparing the rescuers and their gear to do their first reconnaissance of the site.

Critically needed was transportation to a hilly site several miles away through windy roads of unknown condition, lined with now homeless thousands sleeping in the streets. Having served in tough places before, I knew that a good local driver and safe vehicles would be crucial. Luckily, U.S. embassies and USAID missions always have such drivers on nonstop duty through any disaster. Without seeking prior approval, I found an embassy driver who directed me to the USAID dispatcher on duty.

All of these local men understood immediately the simple fact that if we could just get these Virginia rescuers to the site, minutes saved could translate into lives saved. We finally got a van loaded with gear and men that would best suit the team. I later learned that the driver of that van got the first recon team to the site in just 15 minutes, a drive that normally would take an hour or more. After struggling to figure out how the tens of thousands of pounds of additional gear and personnel would cram into a sport utility vehicle or two, we stumbled upon a large flatbed truck that would do nicely, and off it went minutes later.

It is a tribute to the dispatcher and his weary men - all of whom had lost their modest homes or members of their family, or both, and were sleeping on the streets like the rest of Port-au-Prince - that they heroically managed to get things moving so quickly and effectively in the middle of the night. But I know that our common humanity and our strong commitment to help others were uniquely compelling and sufficient motivation to drive us onward in the face of daunting challenges.

Twenty-four hours later, the first survivors were pulled from that pile - a Haitian bellhop, still in uniform, who, 64 hours after being buried alive, walked away with just a small cut on his forehead. Next was an American who joked with the rescuers throughout the effort to extract him. That American was taken back down the hill in one of three makeshift ambulances. At about the same time the next morning, the same drivers, dispatcher and I commandeered the vehicles again without orders or permission in order to carry out more rescues. My colleagues and I have never been prouder about seizing the initiative under extreme circumstances and helping save lives during those two early mornings in Haiti.

Michael Henning is a U.S. Agency for International Development Foreign Service officer and was one of the first to arrive in Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake. He is a member of the board of the American Foreign Service Association.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Boston Globe: Massachusetts challenges federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act

This makes me think my wife and I should retire to the state where we were married.

Massachusetts challenges federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act

The Boston Globe
February 20, 2010

A federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman forces Massachusetts, the first state in the country to legalize the freedom to marry, to discriminate against same-sex couples, state Attorney General Martha Coakley argues in court papers.

Coakley’s office filed a lawsuit in July challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
In court papers filed in US District Court on Thursday, Coakley asked a judge to deem the law unconstitutional without holding a trial on the lawsuit.

Coakley argues that regulating marital status has traditionally been left to the states. She said the federal law treats married heterosexual couples and married same-sex couples differently; for instance, when determining eligibility for Medicaid benefits and when determining whether the spouse of a veteran can be buried in a Massachusetts veterans cemetery.

The law forces Massachusetts “to engage in invidious discrimination against its own citizens in order to receive and retain federal funds in connection with two joint federal-state programs,’’ Coakley said in the court filing.

“Massachusetts cannot receive or retain federal funds if it gives same-sex and different-sex spouses equal treatment, namely by authorizing the burial of a same-sex spouse in a federally funded veterans’ cemetery and by recognizing the marriages of same-sex spouses in assessing eligibility for Medicaid health benefits,’’ she said.

The filing was made in response to a motion by the US Justice Department to dismiss the lawsuit and to support Coakley’s request to declare the law unconstitutional without holding a trial.
The Obama administration has acknowledged that the marriage act is discriminatory and wants Congress to repeal it. But the Justice Department has said it has an obligation to defend laws enacted by Congress while they are on the books.

Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, had no immediate comment yesterday on Coakley’s court filing.

In court papers filed in October, the Justice Department disputed the state’s assertion that people have a right to federal benefits based on marital status.

“There is, however, no fundamental right to marriage-based federal benefits,’’ the Justice Department said.

The Defense of Marriage Act was enacted in 1996 when it appeared Hawaii would soon legalize marriage equality and opponents worried that other states would be forced to do the same.
Since Massachusetts began honoring the marriages of gay couples in 2004, the state has issued marriage licenses to more than 15,000 same-sex couples. [Link]

Saturday, February 20, 2010

CASAS: It's Time to Change the Culture

Lest you think I exaggerated in my post about "Some People", you need to read this post over at Calling A Spade A Spade. Actually, read it even if you didn't think I exaggerated.

Here's some of what he said:

Do you see what I'm getting at here? The spinelessness that holds you back from an honest employee assessment is part and parcel of the same hesitation we have at delivering truth to foreign powers -- to our long-term detriment.

The U.S. Department of State is in need of a fundamental cultural makeover. But there's another problem: if you decide to stand on principle and deliver honest feedback in response to 360 inquiries, write forthright assessments of your subordinates, write awards only when they are truly deserved, then you disadvantage those you work with, because everyone else is playing the game.

He's right. I have never gotten a Superior Honor award. I think I may have deserved one maybe once. I have gotten some Meritorious Honor awards I deserved and some for reasons that had little to do with me. I have seen people who have gotten nearly A DOZEN Superior Honor awards. These are individual and limited in quantity. So what was this person doing to help his subordinates? How was he working as a team player? It sounds instead like he was stealing all the sunlight from those around him, since I doubt anyone is REALLY that good.

I know another who also got lots of Superior Honor awards. He wrote his own EER, made his boss sign it, then cut and paste part of the text into an award nomination and got his boss to sign it. His boss was apparently afraid to say no.

We don't have honesty in our evaluation system and can't until we change the culture and have it across the board. Because partial honesty means you risk harming good officers while mediocre or worse rise to the top . As CASAS says, everyone else is playing the game.

And honest assessment doesn't mean encouraging good officers to be spineless to get ahead. As I said over at CASAS, I had a supervisor once try to put as my area for improvement that I was blunt. That he thought this was an undervalued quality in the Service but that he feared it might hurt my career (so what that means is, I think this is good but really you are better off to lie?).

I made him change it, not because it isn't true (it is...I am blunt, appropriately I think), but because it isn't an area I feel the need to improve. And if you are going to give me an honest assessment, awesome, but don't do it in the form of telling me (and the reviewers) that I need to change something you don't really think I need to change but your fear for my career tells you that you think I should change anyway. It probably means I won't make Ambassador, but if I finish my career having had fun jobs (whether career enhancing or not) and with my integrity in tact, I'll be happy. But I don't think that is true of most.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Two Lunchtime Discussions on LGBT Rights in Africa

The Council on Global Equality sent out a notice on two upcoming lunchtime discussions that may be of interest to you if you are interested in Africa, foreign affairs, or LGBT issues (even better if you are interested in all three).

Tuesday, February 23, Uganda Discussion at Human Rights First

The first lunchtime event, focusing on the “Anti-Homosexuality” Bill in Uganda, will be hosted by Human Rights First on Tuesday, February 23, at 12 PM. The lunchtime discussion will feature a presentation by Julius Kaggwa, who is one of the leaders of the local coalition in Uganda that has been opposing the “Anti-Homosexuality” Bill that is now pending in parliament there. Julius has also testified before the U.S. Congress on the harmful human rights implications of the Bill.

At the office of Human Rights First
100 Maryland Avenue NEWashington, DC 20002
Conference Room 3 (first floor, United Methodist Building)
Event Date: Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Event Time: 12pm

Mr. Kaggwa is the director of the Support Initiative for people with atypical sex Development (SIPD) in Uganda, which is a member organization of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law. SIPD promotes human rights for people with atypical sex development and is currently campaigning against the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda’s parliament. Mr. Kaggwa testified last month to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission about the bill and is currently in Washington, DC to attend the 2010 Human Rights Summit, hosted by Human Rights First and Freedom House.

Lunch will be served

For any questions or to RSVP, contact:
Stephanie DiBello at 202-370-3329 or

Friday, February 26, Southern Africa Discussion at Open Society Institute

On Friday, February 26, the Open Society Institute will host a lunchtime roundtable discussion on concerns about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights in Southern Africa. Sisonke Msimang, director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), and Vicci Tallis, manager of the OSISA HIV/AIDS Program, will share their perspective on the status of LGBTI rights organizing in the region and some of the key opportunities and challenges facing the local movement. They also will discuss how U.S.-based international partners can be supportive. Michael Heflin, director of the LGBTI Rights Initiative at the Open Society Institute, will moderate.

OSI-Washington, D.C. (1120 19th Street NW 8th Floor, Washington, DC)
Event Date: February 26, 2010
Event Time:12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
Sisonke Msimang, Vicci Tallis, Michael Heflin

Please RSVP for OSI event here here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Some People

Some people really need to be brought down a notch.

There seems to be an abundance of such people in "The Building."

I heard a story recently about a guy who got on the elevator and looked around to see if there was anyone he considered important on it. Deciding that none of them were as important as he felt he was, he pushed the reset button so the elevator would only stop on his floor (the 7th floor, of course). He obviously was too important to waste his time letting other people get off at their floors before he got off at his, even though they were on the elevator first.

No one said a word to him, likely because they weren't sure who he was. Maybe he was really high ranking. Maybe he was on a first name basis with the Secretary.

I witnessed this kind of arrogance yesterday.

I was in line at the post office downstairs waiting, like about 6 or 7 other people, for my turn to mail my package. A woman walks in with a Fedex box (note I said the post office, NOT the Fedex drop location). She walks to the front of the line...or almost the front, because the guy at the front of the line was standing just a bit to far to the center of the aisle. So she used her Fedex box TO SHOO HIM out of her way so she could get in front of him in line!

I have no idea who this woman is, but she obviously thinks she is important. And again, no one said a word to her.

She went to the postal clerk and asked about sending her Fedex box, and the clerk began giving her directions to the drop box. The woman interrupted her, and the clerk said, "M'am, this is not Fedex!" and then resumed giving directions to the drop box.

Now had she been a decent human being, she'd have likely been able to accomplish the exact same thing by just saying, "I just need to ask a question. Do you mind if I go next?" I'd have let her go, as I suspect most people would.

But she was clearly too important to be decent.

Ugandan anti-gay pastor airs gay porn in church

This came in from the wires. I wonder if he shows them straight porn to demonstrate the value of marriage...

Ugandan anti-gay pastor airs gay porn in church

KAMPALA, Uganda – A Ugandan pastor is showing gay pornography at church to try to garner support for a proposed law that would impose the death penalty for some gays.

Martin Ssempa showed the videos to some 100 adults during a church service Wednesday in Uganda's capital.

He says he plans to show the films regularly to educate churchgoers on gay sex and also plans to show the videos to parliamentarians. He says some churchgoers cried after watching the videos, which he said he downloaded from the Internet.

Ugandan gay rights activist Julian Peppe condemned Ssempa's decision to show pornography in church, saying he should be arrested and needs mental rehabilitation.

The proposed bill has sparked protests in London, New York and Washington.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Albania protects LGBT people from discrimination

In light of yesterday's post about the Virginia Governor removing protections for LGBT people, this from Albania.

Albania protects LGBT people from discrimination

On 4 February 2010, the Parliament of Albania unanimously adopted all inclusive anti-discrimination law which bans discrimination in on the grounds of various characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

ILGA-Europe welcomes this development and congratulates Albanian human rights groups and LGBT activists as well as Albanian politicians for making a joint effort to tackle discrimination.

Albania is a potential candidate country for joining the European Union and is required to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. ILGA-Europe regards new Albanian anti-discrimination legislation as very positive step as Albania is now one of a very few countries in Europe which explicitly bans discrimination on the grounds of gender identity. It also goes further compared to some latest EU Member States which only ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in employment and not in other areas of life.

Lilit Poghosyan, ILGA-Europe’s Policy & Programmes Officer, who oversees the organisation’s work in the Western Balkans, said:

“We congratulate Albania on this important step towards EU integration and elimination of all forms of discrimination. We hope that the new Albanian anti-discrimination law will be a good example for other countries in the region aspiring to join the European Union and have not yet adopted similar laws.

Moreover, we hope that Albanian example will influence Macedonian authorities to revisit their recent decision to delete sexual orientation from the list of banned grounds of discrimination in their anti-discrimination bill currently being debated. Macedonia is a candidate country for EU membership and is under obligation to provide protection against sexual orientation discrimination.”

Digger comments:
Some folks in Albania are giving some of the credit for this legislation to US Ambassador John Withers for supporting Albania's LGBT community. Ambassador Withers has personally met with key LGBT group and human rights organization leaders. He was the primary speaker at a public International Day Against Homophobia lecture, has written an op-ed for an Albanian newspaper, and supported numerous other activities designed to build support for LGBT human rights. He is an example of the difference folks in the foreign service can make in the lives of the LGBT community everywhere.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Virginia: State Employees Lose Protections from Anti-LGBT Discrimination

In case you wondered whether or not discrimination is alive and well:

Virginia: State Employees Lose Protections from Anti-LGBT Discrimination

Gov. McDonnell has signed a new executive order that strips former protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation for employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia, while legislation to protect those employees has died in the state’s legislature.

On Monday, Feb. 8, the state Senate passed legislation to protect public employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The bill would have codified and expanded previous policy set by executive orders from former Governors Tim Kaine and Mark Warner based on sexual orientation only, but the legislation died in a House subcommittee on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

Gov. McDonnell first opposed protecting employees based on sexual orientation when he was Attorney General, arguing that the state’s discrimination policy should be defined by the legislature. His new order, which includes all previously protected categories including race, sex, religion and age – but not the previously protected category of sexual orientation – was signed on Feb. 5, but was first reported on Wednesday, Feb. 10. Current attorney general Ken Cuccinelli supports Gov. McDonell’s legal reasoning. The Governor has released a policy he recently sent to staff members and Cabinet secretaries indicating that his office would not discriminate “for any reason,” but his message could hardly be clearer: discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is not prohibited.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for all public and private employers, and an additional 6 states have an executive or administrative order prohibiting discrimination against public employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Want to learn more about GLIFAA?

In conjunction with the start of the new A-100 class, there will be an information fair tomorrow from 11 am to 2 pm in the exhibition hall at Main State. GLIFAA (Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies) will be one of many affinity groups with a table there. Feel free to stop by if you want to learn more about GLIFAA, including if you'd like to join or find ways to get involved.

PHB: New Documentary Highlights Plight of LGBT Binational Families

I found this piece today at Pam's House Blend.

This is an issue facing many LGBT Foreign Service families. Like our heterosexual colleagues, many LGBT Foreign Service officers and specialists find that special someone while serving the country overseas. But unlike our heterosexual colleagues, we are not entitled to expeditious naturalization of our foreign-born spouse. In fact, we are not entitled to petition for them to become American at all. We have difficulty serving in the US because our spouse can not get a long-term visa to the US (though efforts are being made to change that), and after years of serving our country, cannot retire to the country we devoted our lives to without splitting up our families.

New Documentary Highlights Plight of LGBT Binational Families
by: SteveR

On January 28, 2009, there was a knock on Shirley Tan's door.

The mother of two, originally from The Philippines, was starting her morning as usual. She was getting her 12-year-old twin sons ready for school, and preparing to see her partner of 23 years, Jay Mercado, off to work. The scene in their home in Pacifica, California, could have been any day in virtually any family's home in America.

That is, until the 7am knock on the door.

When Shirley answered, she was told that agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency were "looking for a young Mexican girl."

In fact, they were looking for her.

The ICE agents produced an order of deportation, which Shirley had never seen before, then handcuffed her and threw her into a waiting van.

Shirley, who had been violently assaulted by a relative in her native Philippines, was detained and told she would be sent back there because her application for asylum, filed years earlier, had been denied. Her attorney, who had moved since the original asylum request was filed, did not receive notice of the denial. Instantly, Shirley's entire family - and the life she had built over two decades with them - was in jeopardy.

SteveR :: New Documentary Highlights Plight of LGBT Binational Families

Despite the fact that Jay is an American citizen, and that both of her sons are also citizens, Shirley was faced with leaving all of them behind. Because Jay is also a woman, she could not sponsor Shirley for residency, as straight Americans with spouses can do. The twins would be unable to sponsor their mother for residency for another 9 years.

"[W]e can't even protect Shirley," Mercado says in a new film, directed by filmmaker Stewart Thorndike, released on Sunday by Immigration Equality, an organization working to end discrimination against lesbian and gay binational families. "They wanted us to be torn apart, and that's something you don't do to a family."

Yet, for more than 36,000 lesbian and gay families like Shirley and Jay's, separation is a very real possibility. Nearly half of those families, like the Tan-Mercados, are also raising young children.

"The lack of recognition for lesbian and gay couples under immigration law is, literally, ripping loving families apart," said Rachel B. Tiven, Immigration Equality's executive director. "For every day that passes without action from Congress, another family faces separation and another child is put in jeopardy of losing a parent."

"People of conscience cannot sit idly by and let this happen," she says. "A generation of children are at risk of losing the only families they know."

On Valentine's Day, house parties across the country screened the new documentary(see below). Its debut coincided with the launch of the Immigration Equality Action Fund, which will lobby Congress to pass an immigration reform bill that includes lesbian and gay families.

"This is our moment," Tiven said, referring to pledges by the White House and Congress to tackle immigration reform this year.

Tan remains in the country because of a rare "private bill" introduced on her behalf by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who sponsored the measure after hearing from many people in their community, including her parish priest, who weighed in on behalf of Tan, a Eucharistic minister in the local Catholic church.

Now, Tan and Mercado have joined Immigration Equality in working for passage of the Uniting American Families Act - a bill to end discrimination against lesbian and gay immigrant families - either on its own or as part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

"What will make me feel safe," Tan says in the film, "is [when] the Uniting American Families Act will pass . . . so I can stay here . . . without any fear that I can be picked up at any time; that I can be deported at any time."

It is a campaign that has taken on personal importance for her sons, Joriene and Jashley, too.
"Why is this happening to our family?," one asks in the film.

"My mom's a good person," his brother adds.

You can make an impact in the lives of Shirley, Jay and their sons - and tens of thousands of other families like theirs - by watching the video, passing it along and visiting to learn more.

"We premiered this film on Valentine's Day," Tiven said, "in solidarity with every family who just wants to be with the people they love."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

I hope where ever in the world you are, it is with someone you love.

If you are not with the person you love, I hope you are reunited soon, and if you have not yet found the one you love, I hope that they soon find you.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snowlmec Head

I am only posting this because, as you know, I am an archeo-geek. A friend of mine (another Indian archaeologist. She has my dream job...archaeologist for the Smithsonian) came up with the idea of building an Olmec Head snowman. She invited me to help, and if I had not been in work clothes, believe me, I'd have been there!

In case you haven't seen or heard of the originals, here is an example (Olmec Colossal Head Number 6, San Lorenzo):

Baltic Pride: The Embassy of the USA supports the decision of the Mayor

From the Facebook group "Baltic Pride:"

The Embassy of the USA supports the decision of the Mayor

On Thursday, the 28th of January, the Ambassador of the USA in Vilnius, Anne E. Darse expressed support for the decision of the Municipality to issue a permit for the Baltic Pride March. The ambassador also presented a message from President Barack Obama regarding the rights of gay people.

“<…> in the name of the USA the Ambassador supported the decision of the City Council to permit the march “For Equality”. She also stressed that the position of Lithuania’s capital completely coincides with the position of the USA regarding this issue”- is stated in the announcement by the City Council.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

House to Home: Personalizing Your Overseas Living Space

Below is a blurb about a new (and FREE!) e-book titled House to Home: Personalizing Your Overseas Living Space. Reader, blogger, life coach and FS spouse Sarah Novak is offering this book at her blog, Inspired Overseas Living.

Are you tired of your overseas house not feeling like a home? Are you confused about where to start? This brand new, 22 page e-book will guide you through managing the transformation from start to finish. The e-book is a collaboration between myself, A Life Coach, and Mindy Jeppesen, a Professional Organizer and fellow expat.

This e-book is one part workbook, one part tips and tricks and one part action plan! In Part 1, you’ll look back on what you liked about past spaces, assess your current space and create a rich vision for what you want now. In Part 2 we’ll teach you the secrets to organizing your space successfully and creating a home that supports and re-energizes you. Once that learning is done, the only thing left to do is to get on with the implementation. Part 3 is all about getting into action and will take you through step-by-step regarding what you need to do to make your vision a reality.

As Foreign Service spouses ourselves, we have seen that creating a comfortable, energizing living space is one of the biggest factors that guarantees successful integration into a new country. Our hope is that this e-book will give you the structure and tools you need to transform each new space you inhabit!

To receive your free copy of From House to Home: Personalizing Your Overseas Living Space, please go to and enter your email address in the top of the right-hand column.

Sarah Novak, Global Lifestyle Designer

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Enough Already!

I confess. I don't like snow.

I used to, back when I was growing up in the south and we got maybe 2 inches every four years or so.

I still liked it when I first moved to Syracuse to work for the newspapers there. But living in Syracuse quickly killed it for me. I vowed never again to live somewhere with an annual snowfall greater than my height (I vow that I may break with my next assignment...need to check that). I'm pretty short, but that still leaves a lot of leeway.

I will admit I enjoyed coming back, after spending three weeks away dealing with estate issues, and having an extra day off. It was like a little respite from all I have been dealing with.

Even the second day was okay. But today, on our third day of the government being closed, I have discovered that I am not meant for a life of tv and bonbons. I would happily return to work if the damned snow would stop and the roads were cleared.

But the snow is supposed to keep going until tonight, meaning that the roads will be awful tomorrow. I am betting on another day off.

We already had 30 inches on the ground in my neighborhood, and are supposed to get another 10 or so before this stops.

Best new phrase for today's snow that I have heard so far: Snoverkill.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

LGBT Foreign Affairs Scholarship

LGBT Foreign Affairs Scholarship Board

The LGBT Foreign Affairs Scholarship Board will award one $2,500 scholarship to a disadvantaged student who plans to intern in a foreign affairs-related field in the summer of 2010. The LGBT Foreign Affairs Scholarship serves as need and merit-based financial aid for students pursuing degrees and/or careers in foreign affairs. The fund helps reduce the personal costs for students in high cost areas such as Washington, DC or in other world capitals or cities.

The Scholarship partners with the U.S. Department of State’s officially recognized LGBT affinity group, Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), to foster knowledge of international issues and careers for disadvantaged youth (view more information about this group here:

Sunday, February 07, 2010

NYT: Smoke the Bigots Out of the Closet

This is a really nice op-ed about the repeal of DADT specifically but also generally about changing attitudes towards gays and lesbians. It is just this kind of change that has enabled LGBT Foreign Service families to more easily serve their countries without abandoning their families.

Smoke the Bigots Out of the Closet

A funny thing happened after Adm. Mike Mullen called for gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military: A curious silence befell much of the right. If this were a Sherlock Holmes story, it would be the case of the attack dogs that did not bark.

John McCain, commandeering the spotlight as usual, did fulminate against the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But the press focus on McCain, the crazy man in Washington’s attic, was misleading. His yapping was an exception, not the rule.

Many of his Republican colleagues said little or nothing. The right’s noise machine was on mute. The Fox News report on Mullen’s testimony was fair and balanced — and brief. The network dropped the subject entirely in the Hannity-O’Reilly hothouse of prime time that night. Only ratings-desperate CNN gave a fleeting platform to the old homophobic clichés. Michael O’Hanlon, an “expert” from the Brookings Institution, speculated that “18-year-old, old-fashioned, testosterone-laden” soldiers who are “tough guys” might object to those practicing “alternative forms of lifestyle,” which he apparently views as weak and testosterone-deficient. His only prominent ally was the Family Research Council, which issued an inevitable “action alert” demanding a stop to “the sexualization of our military.”

The occasional outliers notwithstanding, why did such a hush greet Mullen on Capitol Hill? The answer begins with the simple fact that a large majority of voters — between 61 percent and 75 percent depending on the poll — now share his point of view. Most Americans recognize that being gay is not a “lifestyle” but an immutable identity, and that outlawing discrimination against gay people who want to serve their country is, as the admiral said, “the right thing to do.”

Mullen’s heartfelt, plain-spoken testimony gave perfect expression to the nation’s own slow but inexorable progress on the issue. He said he had “served with homosexuals since 1968” and that his views had evolved “cumulatively” and “personally” ever since. So it has gone for many other Americans in all walks of life. As more gay people have come out — a process that accelerated once the modern gay rights movement emerged from the Stonewall riots of 1969 — so more heterosexuals have learned that they have gay relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers and co-workers. It is hard to deny our own fundamental rights to those we know, admire and love.

But that’s not the whole explanation for the scant pushback in Washington to Mullen and his partner in change, Defense Secretary Robert Gates. There is also a potent political subtext. To a degree unimaginable as recently as 2004 — when Karl Rove and George W. Bush ran a national campaign exploiting fear of gay people — there is now little political advantage to spewing homophobia. Indeed, anti-gay animus is far more likely to repel voters than attract them. This equation was visibly eating at Orrin Hatch, the Republican senator from Utah, as he vamped nervously with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC last week, trying to duck any discernible stand on Mullen’s testimony. On only one point was he crystal clear: “I just plain do not believe in prejudice of any kind.”

Now that explicit anti-gay animus is an albatross, those who oppose gay civil rights are driven to invent ever loopier rationales for denying those rights, whether in the military or in marriage. Hatch, for instance, limply suggested to Mitchell that a repeal of “don’t ask” would lead to gay demands for “special rights.” Such arguments, both preposterous and disingenuous, are mere fig leaves to disguise the phobia that can no longer dare speak its name. If gay Americans are to be granted full equality, the flimsy rhetorical camouflage must be stripped away to expose the prejudice that lies beneath.

The arguments for preserving “don’t ask” have long been blatantly groundless. McCain — who said in 2006 that he would favor repealing the law if military leaders ever did — didn’t even bother to offer a logical explanation for his mortifying flip-flop last week. He instead huffed that the 1993 “don’t ask” law should remain unchanged as long as any war is going on (which would be in perpetuity, given Afghanistan). Colin Powell strafed him just hours later, when he announced that changed “attitudes and circumstances” over the past 17 years have led him to agree with Mullen. McCain is even out of step with his own family’s values. Both his wife, Cindy, and his daughter Meghan have posed for the current California ad campaign explicitly labeling opposition to same-sex marriage as hate.

McCain aside, the most common last-ditch argument for preserving “don’t ask” heard last week, largely from Southern senators, is to protect “troop morale and cohesion.” Every known study says this argument is a canard, as do the real-life examples of the many armies with openly gay troops, including those of Canada, Britain and Israel. But the argument does carry a telling historical pedigree. When Harry Truman ordered the racial integration of the American military in 1948, Congressional opponents (then mainly Southern Democrats) embraced an antediluvian Army prediction from 1940 stating that such a change would threaten national defense by producing “situations destructive to morale.” History will sweep this bogus argument away now as it did then.

Those opposing same-sex marriage are just as eager to mask their bigotry. The big arena on that issue is now in California, where the legal showdown over Proposition 8 is becoming a Scopes trial of sorts, with the unlikely bipartisan legal team of David Boies and Ted Olson in the Clarence Darrow role. The opposing lawyer, Charles Cooper, insisted to the court that he bore neither “ill will nor animosity for gays and lesbians.” Given the history of the anti-same-sex marriage camp, it’s hard to make that case with a straight face (so to speak). In trying to do so, Cooper moved that graphic evidence of his side’s ill will and animosity be disallowed — including that notorious, fear-mongering television ad, “The Gathering Storm.”

The judge admitted such exhibits anyway. Boies also triumphed in dismantling an expert witness called to provide the supposedly empirical, non-homophobic evidence of how same-sex marriage threatens “procreative marriage.” In cross-examination, Boies forced the witness, David Blankenhorn of the so-called Institute for American Values, to concede he had no academic expertise in any field related to marriage or family. The only peer-reviewed paper he’s written, for a degree in Comparative Labor History, was “a study of two cabinetmakers’ unions in 19th-century Britain.”

In another, milder cross-examination — on “Meet the Press” last weekend — John Boehner, the House G.O.P. leader, fended off a question about “don’t ask” with a rhetorical question of his own: “In the middle of two wars and in the middle of this giant security threat, why would we want to get into this debate?” Besides Mullen’s answer — that it is the right thing to do — there’s another, less idealistic reason why President Obama might want to get into it. The debate could blow up in the Republicans’ faces. A protracted battle or filibuster in which they oppose civil rights will end up exposing the deep prejudice at the root of their arguments. That’s not where a party trying to expand beyond its white Dixie base and woo independents wants to be in 2010.

Polls consistently show that independents, however fiscally conservative, are closer to Democrats than Republicans on social issues. (In May’s Gallup survey, 67 percent of independents favored repealing “don’t ask.”) This is why Scott Brown, enjoying what may be a short-lived honeymoon in his own party, calls himself a “Scott Brown Republican.” A Scott Brown Republican isn’t a Boehner or Hatch Republican. In his interview with Barbara Walters last weekend, he distanced himself from Sarah Palin, said he was undecided on “don’t ask” and declared same-sex marriage a “settled” issue in his state, Massachusetts, where it is legal.

It’s in this political context that we can see that there may have been some method to Obama’s troublesome tardiness on gay issues after all. But as we learned about this White House and the Democratic Congress in the health care debacle, they are perfectly capable of dropping the ball at any moment. Let’s hope they don’t this time. Should they actually press forward on “don’t ask” in an election year with Mullen and Gates on board — and with even McCain’s buddy, Joe Lieberman, calling for action “as soon as possible” — they could further the goal and raise the political price for those who stand in the way. Recalcitrant Congressional Republicans will have to explain why their perennial knee-jerk deference to “whatever the commanders want” extends to Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Stanley McChrystal on troop surges but not to Mullen, who outranks them, on civil rights.

The more bigotry pushed out of the closet for all voters to see, the more likely it is that Americans will be moved to grant overdue full citizenship to gay Americans. It won’t happen overnight, any more than full civil rights for African-Americans immediately followed Truman’s desegregation of the armed forces. But there can be no doubt that Mike Mullen’s powerful act of conscience last week, just as we marked the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro, N.C., lunch counter sit-in, pushed history forward. The revealing silence that followed from so many of the usual suspects was pretty golden too.

Friday, February 05, 2010


I appreciate all the kind words. I posted about it mostly so folks wouldn't worry I had stopped blogging and disappeared (we all know that happens in our ranks). And this death has been especially hard...when my mother died 13 years ago, my grandmother and I assumed the roles of mother and daughter for each other. So in ways it feels like losing my mother all over again. I am not finding concentration coming easily these days.

Luckily, I have a wonderfully understanding boss, who, when I told him I was coming back to DC Wednesday and would be in the office Thursday afternoon (after a doctor's appointment) or Friday at the latest, told me just to come Monday instead.

So instead of having to go to work today and worry about how the roads would be by early release, I got to stay home and watch the snow. I am not a fan of snow, but today it strikes me as pretty and sad. And that for a moment, the world is being forced to come to a stop, maybe to allow me to catch up.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


I just wanted to put up a brief note of apoplogy for being missing in action. I had a death in my family and have been back home dealing with funeral and estate (and grief) issues. And by home, I mean the land of dial up internet with no Washington Post, no CNN, and no local news channel that cares about anything other than news from that state (and really only news from the central part of that state).

So I have been out of the loop.

I am back home (my home in DC that is) now and trying to get caught up.

Hopefully there will be new (and hopefully interesting to you) posts soon...