Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Then I remembered...

I was feeling momentarily jealous today about the new A-100 getting their bid list and all the excitement and possibilities that go along with that.

And then I remembered...

Oh yeah, I HATE bidding.

(soooo glad I know where I will be through 2014!)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Welcome to the 152nd!

Yesterday I saw some of the latest crop of Foreign Service Officers. I spent a few minutes at the GLIFAA (Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies) table helping make sure that any LGBT folks among the new officers knew that:

1. We exist,

2. We are working for them even if they are afraid to come out, and

3. That it is more than possible to have a good career in the State Department as an out and proud LGBT person.

Beyond that, I just love seeing the new A-100s. I think I might bid to be the A-100 coordinator one day. I love their enthusiasm. it reminds me of how I felt back then and of why I joined.

So welcome to the 152nd!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Funny Visa Stories

SassAndSweet had a post this week about how everyone who has done a consular tour has been lied to. A lot. Like many many times per day.

And usually (I hope) badly. Of course, we wouldn't know if it was a good lie, right?

I worked the visa line in Jerusalem for 18 months before getting a chance to do some political work. In that amount of time, I did approximately 20,000 adjudications. Not a lot for a visa mill, but a helluva lot for Jerusalem. The only person in the system who had done more than I did was there for four years.

So you get lied to, and sometimes it is comical. You develop games to fake them out. "Is the computer going to tell me you worked in the US the last time you were there?" No, it isn't generally, but they don't know that. A friend of mine used to hand them the mouse and tell them it was a lie detector. That worked too. I made "priests" recite the Hail Mary (one real one asked if that was how I got people to pray for me and I said whatever works! I'll take all the help I can get!). I asked one priest who said he was going to help with Easter services when Easter was that year. He didn't know (and he had forged documents).

I am sure I missed one lie. Once I issued the visa, the girl ran from the window screaming a delighted "WWWWhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeee!" I'd really like to have that one back.

But sometimes the funniest ones are when then think telling you the truth will get them a visa.

"So your form says the last time you were in the US, you stayed 14 years. Is that correct?"


"Did you have a visa?"

"No, I crossed the Rio Grande." [Note: this was in Jerusalem that I got this answer.]

"I see. And you have been back 2 months?"


"And you want me to give you a visa?"

"Yes" Smiles broadly.


"But I told the truth!"

Yes you did. And the truth may set you free, but it also gets you a 10 year ban to re-entry.

Your turn. Share some funny visa stories.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Road Not Taken

Knight's Castle had a post today wishing Robert Frost a happy 134th birthday and thinking about Frost's poem The Road Not Taken in terms of his own career in the Foreign Service. I remember studying this poem in Mrs. Wigg's 6th grade English class and really liking it, but I admit to not having given it much thought since. But Knight is right: it is very fitting for those of us who have chosen this crazy, wonderful life.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

AOSL: Acronyms as a Second Language

Acronyms are a fact of Foreign Service life. Really, they are the first second language you learn at FSI, long before you get language training before heading to post. And like learning other languages, it takes a while for you to absorbe it and make it feel natural to you.

I had forgotten that feeling. I have long since lost the ability to speak WITHOUT acroymns. But FSO Spouse over at EF'M: The Life of a Foreign Service Spouse is currently going through that trial by fire, though I suspect that it may be more difficult for him as a spouse than it is for employees. We are sort of on an acronym immersion tour at FSI...

Anyway, he has drafted a very handy chart for you to begin learning FS acronyms. They are funny before you join the service, and hysterical after!

Speaking of EFMs, DiploLife noted today some resources for Trailing Spouses, including a Trailing Spouse Network group on LinkedIn with 198 members, that might be a good resource for networking overseas. DiploLife also mentions Ex-Pat Blog, which lists country related tips, blogs, discussions and individuals.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cafeteria Woes

Change is bad.

Yeah, I know that sounds funny coming from someone who chose a career where you change jobs (and homes and countries) every 1-3 years, but there you have it.

And our cafeteria is changing at work. We now have a new company handling it.

Or we will, on Monday. But I went down there yesterday and all the signs were gone. And so was the food! No more Toss (salads), no more Miami Wraps (sensing a naming trend?). And what is worse, most of the food was gone. The sandwhich place is still there, which is good, because that is what I usually grab. but it is clear that the old company is just serving what they have left. I wonder if there will be any food at all by the end of the week.

I think my (and everyone else's, based on my informal survey of cafeteria patrons. Okay, based on chatting with one woman in line yesterday) concern is that we don't really know what the new company will offer. Their specialty is hot Chinese buffet...great on occassion but not every day. Especially for people accustomed to eating foods from particular countries while serving in those particular countries. For example, don't serve me German food in a cafeteria. I have eaten it in German, and from my German grandfather's kitchen, and I don't want it unless it is really good.

And I don't want it every day.

There is also some talk about organic everything. Great, we'll have healthy options. But sometimes you just want greasy pizza. And I NEVER have time to leave this building for lunch. Never.

Oh well. I am only here until for another 3 months, when I head to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) for long-term training. Not that I am excited about the options there...the cafeteria is too small, too expensive, and the food is...meh.

But at least it hasn't changed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Speaking of Comments

I'm wondering how other folks deal with comments.

Back during the whole "prime candidate" exercise debacle, I was forced to make my comments moderated. With all of the bad (and unjust and completely avoidable) press the Foreign Service got after the press was allowed into a town hall meeting that was meant to be a forum for folks to air their concerns about the possibility of directed assignments to Iraq, I started getting some really negative comments. No matter how much we tried to get the truth out that we were stepping up to the plate and volunteering for Iraq, and that Iraq was the only embassy fully (and some might say excessively) staffed, the public was intent on believing we were afraid to serve in danger posts (that perception remains even though it has NEVER been true). One anonymous poster commented "wimps and weanies" literally dozens of times. So I stopped allowing comments to be posted to the site without my approval.

I approve almost all comments. I have a couple of exceptions. I do not approve unfounded attacks on the Foreign Service. Those are the most common negative comments I get, and they don't happen all that often. Civil disagreement, I am fine with. But I won't allow the service of the men and women of the Foreign Service to be denigrated.

The second exception is one that I had not yet had to deal with until my post about African American ancestors. So I now don't allow racist (or homophobic, though that has never happened) comments. Even if they try to cloak themselves in "facts." (Document it, or don't say it.) That kind of nonsense is not appropriate in polite society, and I don't allow it here.

Those are my lines in the sand. What are yours?

Monday, March 22, 2010

For Foreign Service workers in Mexico, Juárez slayings stress the increasing danger in drug war

A friend had a link to this on Facebook and I thought it was worth posting. It is a good reminder to Americans that it isn't just our military that endures dangerous conditions in order to serve.

For Foreign Service workers in Mexico, Juárez slayings stress the increasing danger in drug war

By TOM BENNING and ALFREDO CORCHADO / The Dallas Morning News

Laneice Brooker has not felt the direct fury of the vicious drug war stretching along the Mexico-Texas border.

But the unpredictability of that violence has gripped the 27-year-old Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros. She avoids certain parts of town and tries to alter her daily routine.

Most of all, she wonders when it might hit near her office, her house, her family.
"You don't know what may happen or where," she said last week. "It can happen in the best neighborhood or the worst."

The drug-fueled tension in Mexico weighs heavily on Foreign Service workers posted along the border. Many who came to Mexico with the expectation of a mostly low-key assignment have been jolted by the brutal warfare among the drug cartels that has ripped apart communities and killed more than 18,000 people across Mexico since 2006.

The recent gangland slayings of an American Consulate worker and two others in Ciudad Juárez, a city across from El Paso, is yet another reminder of the danger faced by Foreign Service workers in Mexico and across the world.

"This incident in Juárez may have opened the eyes of the American public," said Daniel Hirsch, a vice president of the American Foreign Service Association, which represents diplomats and consul officers. "But as terrible and shocking as it was, our eyes have been open for a long time in the Foreign Service."

Postings in dangerous and potentially violent parts of the world are recognized as part of the job, several veteran diplomats said. Diplomats receive special training to avert threatening situations, and those in especially risky posts receive hardship pay.

The most visceral reminder of that sacrifice is seen in the State Department's lobby, where a plaque honors the more than 230 American Foreign Service officers who have been killed in the line of duty.

But the attacks have been particularly jarring in Mexico – one of American's closest allies and where vacationers have flocked for years. It's not Kabul. It's not Baghdad. It's not Islamabad. And that could be part of the problem, a career diplomat based in Mexico City said.

"This is a country that as Americans we all grew up feeling pretty safe in, pretty comfortable," said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We tend to drop our guard. And that puts us in a more potentially dangerous situation."

Drug crackdown

The uptick in violence and increased threat to American diplomats and citizens in Mexico can be attributed largely on two factors, experts said: Mexican President Felipe Calderón's decision to crack down on drug traffickers in 2006, which stirred up resistance by the cartels, and the insatiable appetite for drugs in the U.S.

Juárez and other border cities, including Matamoros and Reynosa, face drug trafficking groups that use their massive power to penetrate some of the most important institutions, from police departments to judicial institutions.

In Juárez, a city of more than 1 million people, funeral homes are packed and doctors shy away from working in hospitals. Coroners are overwhelmed by the sheer number of dead, about 500 this year and more than 4,500 since January 2008.

More than 116,000 houses sit vacant, according to city statistics, and more than 10,000 businesses have shuttered rather than pay steep extortion fees to gangs.

"Certainly, everybody in the building was aware things were getting worse outside," said Laura Dogu, the consular section chief at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juárez, who noted the increasingly dire travel warnings put out by the State Department.

Investigators have yet to determine whether the shootings of Juárez consulate worker Lesley Enriquez, her husband and one other man were aimed at consulate employees.

The three had just left a children's social event sponsored by another consulate employee on March 13 when men believed to be part of the gang known as Aztecas chased them for blocks, apparently in separate vehicles, and gunned them down.

The American couple's 7-month-old daughter, in the backseat of their SUV, survived the shooting spree, as did the two children of the third victim, Mexican citizen Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros.

'Not normal here'

Even before the attack, edginess and security had increased at the Juárez consulate, said another employee, who asked not to be identified. Staffers, for instance, were told to stay away from certain areas, including a favorite local hangout, El Reco Bar, near the consulate.

"It's not normal here anymore, at least not now," said the employee, whose activity now consists only of going to work and going home. "The sad thing is we've seen this violence for years around us, and I knew it was just a matter of time something like this would impact us."

Earlier last week, senior U.S. officials said the consulate office in Juárez had been the target of recent threats.

The State Department had decided the day before the killings to allow dependents of U.S. personnel in six U.S. consulates, including Juárez, to evacuate because of increased violence.

Despite the danger, Foreign Service workers along the border said they remain committed to serving their communities and helping turn the situation around.

Brooker, the consul officer in Matamoros, said the aura of violence there has not stopped people from living relatively normal lives, both personally and professionally.

"We still get to live a good life here," she said. "We still have a great opportunity to experience the culture and community here."

And consulate staff members are refusing to give up one of the basic tenets of diplomacy: connecting with people face to face.

Even in Juárez, where employees are coming to grips with the horrific killings, that willingness to interact with locals won't change, said Dogu, the Juárez consular section chief.

"We all joined to be able to serve in a variety of situations, including this one," she said. "It doesn't mean we will go about it blithely, but we will adapt and do our best to get the job done."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cuba: U.S. diplomat joined demonstrators

I am loathe to move on to a new topic, considering how much fun the language comments are, but here is an interesting piece from Foreign Policy.

Cuba: U.S. diplomat joined demonstrators

Cuba's state news agency is reporting that Lowell Dale Lawton, an official at the U.S. interests section in Havana, joined a protest march by the womens' opposition group Ladies in White yesterday. The Miami Herald's Cuba Colada blog translates the report:

The American diplomat mingled with the demonstrators and walked with them the length of the provocation, which was spontaneously rejected by the local people," Prensa Latina said.

On Tuesday, the agency said, two other diplomats – one German, the other Czech – took part in a similar street protest "in open collaboration with the petty counter-revolutionary groups organized and funded by the United States and some European nations.

"These actions of provocation in Cuba, with the presence of diplomats from the United States and western European countries, take place amid a media campaign against the island that intensified on March 10, when the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning alleged human rights violations," Prensa Latina concluded.

Police used force to break up the march by Ladies in White, an organization of the female relatives of political prisoners.

Lawton, along with the German and Czech diplomats were reportedly shown on television participating in the March. It does seem unusual that a U.S. diplomatic employee would participate in a political demonstration, but if the reports are true, it would seem to be a sign that U.S. officials aren't backing down from supporting Cuban civil society groups after the arrest of USAID contractor Alan Gross.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Your turn: Language Studies

I am going to be at the beach this weekend (my wife is doing her first half marathon and I will be cheering), so chances are I won't post until I get back on Tuesday. (But I will think about you all, I promise!).

A few blogs have mentioned language "issues" this week, like A Daring Adventure and Cromaroama, both of whom are studying Spanish at FSI. Cromaroama was even hoping for some verbal exlax! But at least her issue is not being able to talk, as opposed to the officer who's story we have all heard: at the visa window, she would ask the poor applicants "How many children do I have?" "Uh...three?" "You don't know how many children I have?! Where do I live?" "I don't know, Virginia?" "You expect me to give you a visa when you don't even know where I live?"

A little language is a dangerous thing!

I am currently taking early morning Russian here in the building, and while I LOVE studying language, it can still be challenging. Sometimes the word you are trying to say, which sounds right when you say it in your head, just WILL NOT come out of your mouth. The issue is doubly challenging for me since I am NOT/NOT a morning person, and my class starts at 7:30 am.

Of course, the tongue twisters in Russian are far from my worst language faux pas. When I left for Jerusalem, I had a 3/2+ in Hebrew (SO CLOSE to language incentive pay!), and I could get by pretty well in the language. Not fluent by any means, but better than conversational. So I did most of my interviews at the visa window without the assistance of an FSN. And there was this one day when I was talking with this lovely older woman, and I attemped to say, "I thought..." But I transposed the two syllables in the word, and, well...the woman blanched. The whole consular section erupted in laughter. Turned out that I said "I f*cked..."

At least I had the tense right.

So now it is your turn. What is your most embarassing language moment?

Friday, March 19, 2010

March Madness

No, not the basketball kind. Besides, UNC didn't make the tournament, so I am boycotting it. I am loyal even when my team sucks.

No, I am talking about the madness, or at least weirdness in The Building.

Lately, it has taken the form of shoes and smells.

The shoes I sort of get. It has been a long winter of having to wear heavy shoes so you can brave the snow. And sneakers I get in the morning and evening if you walk to and from work. But I am beginning to think we need to reissue Secretary Powell's infamous cable about dress codes. You remember that one? He reminded people that wearing sparkly tank tops, shorts and flip flops to work was not appropriate. Yes, I am serious.

I was in A-100 at the time, and couldn't imagine that anyone would really do that. But I have been noticing shoes lately. Lots of flip flops. Some of them sparkly, though to be fair, Secretary Powell didn't specifically mention sparkly flip flops. Just sparkly tank tops.

Yesterday, I saw a woman in a suit wearing SLIPPERS. The light brown suede kind with blue, red and green embroidery on them. And she had the heel mashed down so she could just shove her feet in them like clogs. But that doesn't make them clogs, not that clogs are appropriate either (and for the record, neither are crocs). With her black suit, they really stood out. And not in a good way.

And the smells. What is up with that? Now that I am taking early morning Russian, I am regularly walking down the most odd smelling cooridor in the building. There is one section that always smells like mollasses, and just beyond it, a part that smelled of smoked sausage. Further from there, a section that smelled of either urine or burned popcorn. Not sure which. And this is a regular occurrance at 8:45 am.

And then of course there was the very loud, musical fart that came from behind a closed door yesterday.

Luckily I walked fast enough to miss THAT smell!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Another Way to Look At It

Some of you may have read yesterday's post about the piece in the LA Times regarding the lack of African American Ambassadors. There can certainly be no doubt that the upper levels of the Department still bear the mark of the "Pale, Male and Yale" Days. I recall sitting in the Director's meetings for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research and noting that of the 25 or so folks at the table, only two were women (and one of those was from human resources) and none were people of color. I was one of only a few more women sitting in the chairs around the wall in the room, and I was the only person of color. I do think HR is doing a good job at recruiting more minorities, but it will take time for folks to rise up through the ranks, so it is no surprise that the people at the upper levels are still mostly white men.

But my wife, who is clearly smarter than I am, made a good point about the La Times piece. She noted that the majority of Ambassadorial posts in Europe are not held by career Foreign Service. Those really cushy posts (you know the ones, come on, name them with me), are filled with political appointees.

At this point, some 30% of Ambassadors are political rather than career foreign service. So the question is, are the numbers in the article reflective of all Ambassadors or just career Ambassadors? And if they are all Ambassadors, then the question isn't why aren't there more minorities in the Foreign Service. The question is, why isn't the President appointing more minority Ambassadors? (And I would just like to note that if they want to have an American Indian Ambassador now, I am certainly willing to volunteer. I live to serve.)

And while we are looking at numbers, what percentage of Ambassadors, both political and career, are women?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

LAT: Few blacks serve in top U.S. diplomatic posts

My boss pointed out this LA Times article to me today. This is not news to me, of course, but I did point out that there is not a single American Indian in a top diplomatic post. Just saying.

Few blacks serve in top U.S. diplomatic posts

The State Department is searching for new ways to bring minorities to high-profile positions. New assignments this summer will increase diversity, one official promises.

The State Department has fallen short in its efforts to promote African Americans to key frontline diplomatic posts, department officials and diplomats said, despite efforts to increase diversity under two black secretaries of State and a black president.

The State Department has high numbers of black employees overall, and some prominent African Americans in top positions, such as Susan E. Rice, ambassador to the United Nations. But officials said few minorities were climbing to senior frontline posts that wrestle day to day with some of the nation's most urgent international challenges in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Only one U.S. embassy in Europe is led by a black ambassador, for example.

The situation has stirred concern at the top ranks of the State Department, and officials are searching for new ways to bring African Americans and other minorities into such positions.

"It is essential that we make new progress on our diversity agenda," Philip Gordon, the assistant secretary of State for Europe, said in a recent statement to the European bureau.

State Department data from September -- the most recent available -- show that of the 32 diplomats then heading embassies and other U.S. missions in Europe, only one, John L. Withers, the ambassador to Albania, was black. However, Withers says he will leave that post later this year.

There were no African Americans among the 10 ambassadors or other chiefs of mission in South and Central Asia, or the 18 in the Near East, and only one among the 17 in East Asia.

However, 11 of the 37 missions in Africa were headed by African Americans.

Over the last decade, the department chose 36 black diplomats for embassies in Africa, but only three for embassies in Europe, in smaller countries -- Iceland, Albania and Slovenia.

Overall, African Americans make up about 16.3% of the State Department's employees, compared with about 12.8% of the U.S. population. But of Foreign Service officers serving overseas, 6.9% are black.

Latinos, Asians and Native Americans are also under-represented compared with their share of the U.S. population.

The shortfall of black diplomats in top embassy jobs has long troubled African American diplomats.

"It's a concern that many of us have," said Ruth A. Davis, who oversaw the Foreign Service as director general from 2001 to 2003, and who retired last month. "We would like to change it."

Nancy Powell, director general of the Foreign Service, said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was committed to naming more minorities to top jobs. "The number will be better" after new assignments are made this summer, she said.

The shortfall stems from a combination of factors, officials and diplomats said, including the fact that many young black diplomats have been drawn to African embassies because of personal interest, and because those embassies have been eager to recruit them.

Withers, the departing U.S. ambassador to Albania, said separate career tracks had evolved, keeping African Americans and others out of jobs that serve as close advisors to top U.S. officials -- what he called "whisper in the ear" positions.

Johnny Young, a four-time ambassador who is now retired, said that in the late 1990s, after five assignments in Africa, he sought a post elsewhere. Instead, he said, he was urged to remain in the region.

Eventually, he became ambassador to Bahrain, where he was the only black ambassador in the Middle East, and then, in 2001, was named ambassador to Slovenia.

He said he went to meetings with the European bureau's top officials and found himself scanning rooms of white faces. He joked to colleagues, "I'm the only fly in this bowl of milk."

State Department officials have stepped up minority recruiting. But some diplomats said the challenge was getting minorities into the higher-level posts from which ambassadors and their superiors were chosen.

"The intake side of things is not the issue," said Kenton Keith, a retired Foreign Service officer and former president of the Assn. of Black American Ambassadors. "There's nobody in the pipeline in the policy ranks."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

And then there were 200!

I found another Foreign Service blog today,Mobile Home, which brings our total number of blogs (both active and inactive) by members of the Foreign Service family to 200. And this does not include those on the Future FSO blogroll.

I met Matt Armstrong from Mountainrunner yesterday, and we talked about the placement of blogrolls. He has moved his off of his main page. For his blog, I think that makes sense. But I think my blogroll is one of this blog's most important services. No mantter the slice of FS life that interests you, you can find it here. Officers, specialists and spouses are all here. Even FS pets are here. I think that makes it a good tool for the FS community and a good tool for recruiting.

So my blogroll stays here, and here's to #200!

Opinion Space

The Department launched Opinion Space this week. Of course, I kept forgetting to post it because I had other things on my mind, like a loss to our community and idiot journalists. At any rate, the Department describes Opinion Space like this:

The U.S. Department of State is interested in your perspectives and input on a series of important foreign policy questions. "Opinion Space" is a new discussion forum designed to engage participants from around the world.

Every participant chooses a "point of view" on a global opinion map. Your position is not based on geography or predetermined categories, but on similarity of opinion: those who agree on basic issues are neighbors, those who are far apart have agreed to disagree. You can instantly see where you stand in relation to other participants; by reviewing their comments, you help the community highlight the most insightful ideas.

Monday, March 15, 2010


A couple things have pissed me off today:

Annoyance 1: One of the reporters [ON EDIT: Penny Starr from CNS News] at the Daily Press Briefing was grilling Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley on why we made a big deal about murders of the Americans serving at Consulate Ciudad Juarez and not the dozens of Americans who are killed there in drug violence. The answer is, for the same reason that we talk about soldiers being killed in Iraq but not dual American nationals there. Because while we value all American life, and indeed, all human life, we are talking about people who are in a place at the service of the Nation. It is the ultimate sacrifice of service, not an unfortunate tragedy befalling a tourist or a duel national. More Americans besides Victoria DeLong were killed in Haiti, but she died in the service of our country.

Annoyance 2: What the hell is the New York Times thinking putting a picture of the two dead Americans online?!

WP: Three with links to U.S. Consulate in Juarez are slain

The Washington Post had more information today on the three who were slain in the drug-violence in Cuidad Juarez Saturday. Two American citizens, a Consulate employee and her husband, as well as the husband of another consulate employee, were killed. All were members of the consulate community and everyone in the Department mourns their loss.

WP: Three with links to U.S. Consulate in Juarez are slain


State Department officials said authorities were still investigating whether the victims were targeted by drug gangs, but it did not appear that the slain consular employee was involved in counternarcotics work. Her in-laws identified her as Lesley A. Enriquez, 35, of El Paso, just across the border. She was a locally hired employee of the consulate whose job involved helping U.S. citizens, American officials said.

Her husband, Arthur Redelfs, 34, worked for the El Paso County Sheriff's Department, according to his brother, Reuben Redelfs.

"We do not have any indication at this point they were targeted" for their work or their links to the U.S. Consulate, said one State Department official. Another U.S. official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is underway, said the case "appears to be one of mistaken identity."

About the same time that Enriquez and her husband were killed, gunmen also fatally shot the third victim, a Mexican man married to a Mexican employee at the consulate. U.S. officials did not identify him.

Even the hard-bitten local police in Juarez were moved by the deaths of the American couple, according to the Juarez newspaper El Diario. When the officers arrived at the victims' bullet-riddled Toyota van, they discovered a baby girl crying disconsolately in the back seat, the newspaper reported. At first, the police thought the infant was wounded, but she was unharmed. The 7-month-old girl was the couple's first child, and they expected another in five months, family members said.

"This is shocking to everyone," Reuben Redelfs, the brother of the victim, told The Washington Post in a telephone interview from El Paso. "People need to know what's going on down here. It's become a war zone. . . . It's just horrible what's happening."


Sunday, March 14, 2010

State Department employee and spouse killed in Ciudad Juarez

Our thoughts and prayers go out to our colleagues and their families in Mexico.

2 Americans killed in drive-by shooting in Mexico

WASHINGTON — Three people with ties to the American consulate in a drug-plagued Mexican city were killed in a drive-by shooting, a U.S. official said Sunday.

The department noted the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City has advised American citizens to delay unnecessary travel to parts of the Mexican states of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua.

Two American citizens and a spouse of a Mexican employee were killed Saturday afternoon, a U.S. official said. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

The White House said President Barack Obama was "deeply saddened and outraged" by the killings of those linked to the U.S. mission in Ciudad Juarez.

"He extends his condolences to the families and condemns these attacks on consular and diplomatic personnel serving at our foreign missions," the White House said in a statement. "In concert with Mexican authorities, we will work tirelessly to bring their killers to justice."

The State Department authorized U.S. government employees at six U.S. consulates in northern Mexico to send their family members out of the area because of concerns about rising drug-related violence. At least 18,000 people have been killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug traffickers in December 2006.

The State Department said it would allow family members of diplomatic staff to leave border cities of Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros.

State Department spokesman Fred Lash said the decision to authorize consular employees' family members to leave the area was based not only on Saturday's killings but also on a wider pattern of violence and threats in northern Mexico in recent weeks.

The bloody drug war in has plagued the 200-mile U.S.-Mexican border for years, and once-busy streets are empty after dark. More than 45,000 soldiers have been dispatched to fight cartels since Calderon took office in late 2006, but the U.S. has been critical of Mexican efforts to fight the drug trade amid complaints of human rights abuses.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Come On Over!

So I have heard in the last couple days that several from our blogging community will be starting A-100!

Two Crabs (who really knows how to flatter a blogger by quoting her AND calling her blog the best FS blog on the internet [and my apologies to those like DiploPundit, who are WAY better than me!]) and Chronicles of a Foreign Service Life will be starting A-100 on the 29th of this month (along with a friend from my A-100 who left the Service and is coming back!). Herding Cats, as well as Livingroom Friends, will be in the May A-100.

I will be moving their blogs to the blogroll for those already in the Foreign Service soon!

ON EDIT: Looks like From the Back of Beyond will be joining the May 10 class as well!

Friday, March 12, 2010

State Dept. report identifies LGBT abuses abroad

That wind that was blowing yesterday was the collective sigh of relief of all of the people within the State Department who have to work on the annual Human Rights Report. The report is ginourmous (someone said 13 volumes this year...not sure if that is accurate) Every embassy contributes, usually having some poor political JO do the grunt work and then send it up the chain of command for changes, clearances, etc. Then they get it back, fix stuff, do all that all over again. Rinse, repeat.

My wife was working on the HRR in Jerusalem and our acting DPO, feeling sympathy for her efforts, said, "At least you'll only have to do this once in your career." To which my wife grumbled, "This is my THIRD time." She had to do the report twice in Baku.

I am especially gratified to see the emphasis on LGBT issues globally. It is nice to see that we matter, that the lives and the experiences of our LGBT brothers and sisters abroad matter.

This has certainly not always been the case.

State Dept. report identifies LGBT abuses abroad

A new State Department report reveals LGBT people in many foreign countries continue to endure discrimination and human rights abuses.

The annual State Department report on human rights abroad, made public Thursday, describes the state of human rights in each country, including the sometimes difficult conditions faced by LGBT people.

For the first time, most of the entries for each country have a section on “societal abuses, discrimination, and acts of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” giving these acts particular attention.

In remarks to the press, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted the importance of the report as a means to educate those who are interested in human rights.

“These reports are an essential tool – for activists who courageously struggle to protect rights in communities around the world; for journalists and scholars who document rights violations and who report on the work of those who champion the vulnerable; and for governments, including our own, as they work to craft strategies to encourage protection of human rights of more individuals in more places,” she said.

The new report identifies serious abuses against LGBT people in many countries, including cases where the government is threatening the lives of LGBT people or where LGBT people are facing torture.

The introduction for the report makes particular note of Uganda, where an anti-gay bill was introduced in September.

Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda, but the proposed legislation would institute the death penality for repeatedly engaging in homosexual acts or for having homosexual sex while HIV positive. Additionally, the bill would require citizens to report LGBT people to the government or risk fines and imprisonment.
The report states the introduction of the anti-gay bill in Uganda ”resulted in increased harassment and intimidation of LGBT persons during the year.”

“Public resentment of homosexual conduct sparked significant public debate during the year, and the government took a strong position against such conduct despite a December 2008 ruling by the High Court that constitutional rights apply to all persons, regardless of sexual orientation,” the report states.

The report also details the alleged human rights abuses against LGBT people in Iraq. Following a congressional fact-finding tour to the country last year, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who’s gay, had worked to draw attention to these alleged abuses.
Although homosexuality between adults isn’t illegal in Iraq, the State Department notes various reports of violence against gay men at the hands of non-governmental actors.

The report cites accounts in the media indicating that around 60 gay men were killed in the first few months of 2009, mostly in Baghdad, and the U.N.’s refugee agency found 30 gay men or boys were murdered because they were perceived to be gay.
“Numerous press reports indicate that some victims were assaulted and murdered by having their anuses glued shut or their genitals cut off and stuffed down their throats until they suffocated,” the report states. ”The government did not endorse or condone these extra-judicial killings, and the [Ministry of the Interior] publicly stated that killing men or lesbians was murder.”

The report also notes serious assaults against LGBT people in Jamaica. The country has a law against “acts of gross indecency” between men, which is generally interpreted as any kind of physical intimacy.

According to the State Department, human rights abuses against LGBT people in Jamaica include “arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of homosexual patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of such persons.” The report says police often didn’t investigate these incidents.

Individuals perceived as gay were often the targets of extreme violence, according to the report. In September, an honorary British consul in Montego Bay was strangled in bed. The perpetuator left a note at the scene reportedly denouncing the victim as gay.
“On October 12, a passerby accused a pedestrian on a Kingston sidewalk of being gay because he had been walking in an ‘effeminate manner,’” the report states. ”That person was subsequently attacked with a machete and four fingers were nearly severed.”
In a statement, Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, commended the State Department for providing detailed information on assaults against LGBT people abroad.
“The level of reporting on LGBT abuses this year is remarkably detailed and truly commendable, and unfortunately this new level of detail shows just how dangerous it is for LGBT individuals to go about their daily lives as ordinary citizens in so many parts of the world,” he said.

Michael Guest, who’s gay and a former U.S. ambassador to Romania, also praised the report, noting “many of the most egregious abuses have been committed in countries considered to be friends and allies of the United States.” He urged the State Department to develop strategies to counter these abuses in every part of the world.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

State Dept. plans new public diplomacy posts

This is in today's Washington Times and discusses the changes coming to Public Diplomacy as announced in Under Secretary McHale's strategic vision report.

State Dept. plans new public diplomacy posts

By Nicholas Kralev

The State Department plans to create seven new senior positions to ensure that a public-diplomacy perspective is always "incorporated" in policymaking around the world, as well as to respond quickly to negative coverage of the United States in foreign media.

In an ambitious strategy that goes beyond any previous efforts to reach out to other countries, the Obama administration "seeks to become woven into the fabric of the daily lives of people" there, its top public-diplomacy official said Wednesday.

"We must do a better job of listening, learn how people in other countries and cultures listen to us, understand their desires and aspirations, and provide them with information and services of value to them," said Judith A. McHale, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

Ms. McHale presented the administration's strategy, which emerged from an eight-month review of the government's programs in the field, at a hearing of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee. She repeatedly used the word "narrative" to describe how the United States is being depicted overseas.

"In this information-saturated age, we must do a better job of framing our national narrative. We must become more proactive and less reactive," she said.
"Increasingly, our opponents and adversaries are developing sophisticated media strategies to spread disinformation and rumors, which ignite hatred and spur acts of terror and destruction. We must be ever-vigilant and respond rapidly to their attacks against us," she added.

To spearhead such an effort, the State Department will create a new position of deputy assistant secretary for international media support, who will report to the assistant secretary for public affairs, P.J. Crowley.

Six additional deputy assistant secretary positions will be added to each of the department's so-called regional bureaus, which cover Europe, Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

"These officers will be responsible for ensuring that a public-diplomacy perspective is incorporated as part of senior policy deliberations and for coordinating all our public-diplomacy initiatives throughout their respective regions," Ms. McHale said.

"We are taking steps to ensure that our policies and programs are informed upfront by a clear understanding of attitudes and opinions of foreign publics," she said.

Including public-diplomacy officials in policymaking was also a priority for Karen P. Hughes, undersecretary of state in the George W. Bush administration. She became a full participant in then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's senior planning meetings, but a true integration of public diplomacy in the policy process has yet to be achieved.

The importance of such an integration across the government was cited by Mrs. Hughes and two other former undersecretaries, James K. Glassman and Evelyn S. Lieberman, during the same hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on international operations and organizations, human rights, democracy and global women's issues.

Mr. Glassman, who succeeded Mrs. Hughes at the end of the Bush administration, said that public diplomacy is "in doubt," because "it is not today being taken seriously as a tool of national security by policymakers."

Mrs. Lieberman, the first occupant of the undersecretary post when it was created at the end of the Clinton administration, said the State Department's "public-diplomacy practitioners are not considered equal" to other diplomats.

At the same time, both Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Glassman cautioned against an obsession with "being liked" by foreigners, which Mrs. Hughes called a "fundamental misunderstanding" of the purpose of public diplomacy.

"Today, in the war of ideas, our core task is not how to fix foreigners' perceptions of the United States, but how to isolate and reduce the threat of violent extremism," Mr. Glassman said.

Ms. McHale, a former CEO and president of Discovery Communications who took office in May, has kept a low profile compared with Mrs. Hughes' high visibility, which was mainly a result of her close personal relationship with Mr. Bush.

Edward P. Djerejian, a former career diplomat and founding director of Rice University's James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy, said there is no doubt that, in the current administration, President Obama is the nation's "top spokesman."

"They are using the president in a major way," said Mr. Djerejian, who headed a congressionally mandated commission on public diplomacy in 2003. "The undersecretary is a coordinator and a substantive manager to ensure the instruments of public diplomacy are used across the government."

Collected Words of Career Advice

This was sent to me by a colleague who got it from their CDO. I think there is some excellent advise here that I want to share with you.

Collected Words of Career Advice

The Foreign Service, as one of my mentors once put it, “is an old, tradition-laden organization, replete with baroque forms and largely unarticulated expectations.” Unlike the military, the Service seldom passes on to recruits in any systematic fashion the attitudes and codes of behavior it lives by. Over the course of my career, I’ve collected words of career wisdom and Foreign Service insight from officers I respect and developed some thoughts of my own. I’ve gone through these and provide below a mix of tactical and strategic career advice I think is useful for mid-level political Officers. As always when I give you personal advice rather than professional guidance, let me caveat by noting that these are my subjective views. Other officers may have different views about what makes a good Political Officers and what are the keys to a successful Foreign Service career.

Be good at what you do. Be the go-to guy/gal for your issues. Know your stuff, be enthusiastic and reliable, and take appropriate initiative. Own your portfolio. Managers love officers who are genuinely interested in, and thus intrinsically motivated by, what they do.

o Corollary: Know your place. This is what the Promotion Precepts call “workplace perceptiveness.” We are not a Service of equals. As 03 and 04 officers, you have a lot to contribute and a lot learn. I’ve seen, and internally cringed for, junior officers who interact in meetings as if they were the peers of more senior officers. It’s the functional equivalent of that colleague in you’re A-100 class who made it a point to tell everyone he or she planned to be an Ambassador within five years. Deference communicates respect.

Your career success will be in direct correlation to your ability to establish and maintain good professional relationships. As one senior officer put it to a Washington Tradecraft course, “People not line charts” are the key to getting things done. Build a strong network of relationships: in your office, in the Department, in the interagency. Be nice to people. We are a small community; it may take a few years, but, trust me, what goes around very often comes around. For me the bottom line is this: Brilliant analysts, returned Peace Corps volunteers, Masters Degree holders from prestigious universities, skillful writers, former Fulbright Scholars, former Hill staffers…these are a dime a dozen in the Political cone. What will set you apart are excellent interpersonal skills.

Be the kind of colleague people want to work with. Skills and competence (especially hard language skills) and doing your job well are essential. But this is the floor, not the ceiling. I’ve attended bureau meat markets and hired people; what gets people jobs is their good personal and professional reputations. The most competitive officers (usually) are those you want to work with.

Keep perspective. I really like the first of Colin Powell’s Rules: “It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.” In my experience, it often does.

Be careful with e-mail. Think twice about putting sensitive stuff in e-mails, which can be discoverable and/or forwarded to others. Take a deep breath before writing, then delete, that zinging comeback to that offensive e-mail that that idiot sent you. Check your tone – what you think is simply a minimalist e-mail reply could easily strike the recipient as rudely terse.

No one cares more about you than you. As your trusty CDO, I come close, of course, but in the end, it’s on you to look out for you. The Department has a whole huge bureaucracy to advance its interests. Document things. Get stuff in writing. For example, when you are unclear on something that involves money – say, R&R travel – (1) check multiple sources, e.g., your supervisor and your post Human Resources Officer and your CDO to get the guidance you need; (2) get that guidance in writing, e.g., an e-mail; and (3) seek confirmation that you’re doing the right thing before you finally do it, if there’s any question in your mind. And if it involves money, you should question it thoroughly. Save financial- and personnel-related written communications, including travel vouchers.

Always carry a pen and paper. Be prepared.

Take responsibility. If you screw up, own it. This is not always the norm in our culture but it will pay off in the long run. It will likely make a positive impression and establish your integrity.

No surprises. Bosses hate, absolutely hate, to be surprised by things because they have bosses too, and nothing is worse than being caught flat footed in front of your boss. It might be painful to tell your supervisor that the memo will be late or that you forgot to get a loaner cell phone for the visiting Congresswoman, but better that then not to prepare him or her for the inevitable angry blast from the Assistant Secretary or the Ambassador.

Be good on process. Spell check. Have correct margins. Read preparation instructions. Check your e-mail in a timely fashion. Provide people with interim reports so they know where things stand. Return calls. Be on time for meetings. Be responsive to OMSes and Staff Assistants. These are little things that, over time, people will notice (and remember).

Have a good sense of humor. As our military colleagues would say, a good sense of humor is a force multiplier. And being able to laugh, especially at yourself, is what will keep you sane in the long run.

Don’t just point out problems, have solutions to offer. Most managers are busy and will appreciate your effort to reduce their workload.
o Corollary: Think and plan ahead. If you’re proposing a new initiative, what’s the roll-out strategy? For issue X, who are the stakeholders beyond the immediate Department officials, and what are their concerns – and what can be done to address them? Make friends and connections with those who know how much things cost, what the admin, HR, or legal issues might be. Be able to see a decision or choice through to the finished product, ideally from a variety of stake-holder perspectives.

Promotions: Work hard, do your best, do what you can to have a strong EER, and make sure that your eOPF is correct. Then let it go. If you get promoted, wonderful. If you don’t, give yourself 24 hours to grieve, then move on. Really. Don’t waste time trying to figure out what why you weren’t promoted (and why others were). You can tilt at that windmill all you want, but you will never find the answer and it will only make you bitter.

Remind yourself of your values, frequently. We operate in a very powerful professional culture whose values pervade our daily lives and affect our sense of self-worth, often without our conscious awareness. The culture tells you that “any job worth having is exhausting.” That if you’re really good, you should be promoted as soon as you are eligible. That you should avoid long-term training assignments and detail assignments. That asks you why would you want to go to “backwater” post X, which is off Washington’s radar. That you should of course prefer the stretch assignment in a job that'll make you unhappy to the at-grade job that you’d love. You need to be aware of this powerful cultural force and actively push back.

o Corollary: There are many different kinds of Foreign Service careers. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, multiple war zone assignments will be right up your alley. If you want a good life/work balance, you can do that too. If your eyes are on the ambassadorial prize, then you will want to Staff Assistant-NSC-Washington assignment it up to the top, quickly. If what really matters to you is that you have interesting assignments, that’s another course. Each track has a price you’ll have to pay: slower promotions; less time for self, life and family; health and safety risks. You need to know what you want, make your choice, and then be happy. Fend off the nagging “cultural” pressure that tells you that you should have made different choices. Remember who you are.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Here's a More Accurate View: The Foreign Service, A Rewarding Life But It’s Not for Everyone

Now here is a better view of what we do, and as far as the title is concerned, truer words have never been spoken!

The Foreign Service, A Rewarding Life But It’s Not for Everyone

On the diplomatic side, they implement U.S. foreign policy. On the compassionate side they distribute humanitarian assistance to impoverished peoples. They promote American business; bring American culture to millions through American art, literature and music. They help American citizens who become stranded abroad; by invitation of the host country, they teach the best American agricultural techniques to poor countries, which in turn become productive trading partners rather than aid recipients.

If you know little about this army of civilians who work at our embassies and USAID (Agency for International Development) missions around the world, you’re not alone. Fact is, most Americans don’t know what an embassy or USAID mission does. Maybe you question whether your tax dollars are getting the best bang for your hard-earned bucks? Since I’ve spent half my life working for these institutions my view is biased. The few ugly Americans I ever saw were tourists. But of one thing you can be certain, for the pure joy of writing, I’m telling–not selling.

For example, if you’re thinking of taking the Foreign Service Officer exam with an eye toward working for the U.S. State Department (it’s not for everyone), you might want to read an excellent manual published by the American Foreign Service Association, “Inside a U.S. Embassy, How the Foreign Service Works for America,” At the very least, it will give you insight into whether working overseas for Uncle Sam is the career for you. But manuals are not my forte. As in fiction, where I’m scrupulous in the accuracy of historical ingredients before mixing them into my fictional pie, when it comes to non-fiction I’m just as accurate, but I prefer to write from the heart.

In future articles I’ll introduce you to the people who literally are America’s first line of defense. From seasoned diplomat to Peace Corps volunteer, they’re bright, they’re unique and they’re totally committed. A highly trained cadre of tux at the table and boots on the ground, you’ll see them in hellish holes and in paradise. You’ll learn who does what and why–yes, even how it affects you directly.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, I’ll take you to where tribal residents feed on crocodiles–and vice versa, where yogis run naked in the snow and yoga meditation is an every day practice, rather than the vogue. You’ll drop in on an American jewel in the crown of an African Kingdom; schmooze in a local coffee house and listen in at an embassy party. Ultimately, I hope you’ll be informed and proud of these dedicated folks, who under tough and often dangerous conditions make a difference in the lives of others, maybe even yours, every day.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

What A Day!

On the day that D.C. celebrates its first legal same-sex marriages, news flash from my home state of South Carolina:

The state legislature has canceled ALL funding for HIV/AIDS


Has added an amendment to a teen domestic violence bill prohibiting teachers from discussing violence within the context of gay relationships. Because apparently it is better for gay teens to get beat up by their partners than for the state of South Carolina to admit to teens that gay relationships exist.

I'm so proud. Sigh.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Whole Lottsa Blogs!

So today I counted, and I have 190 Foreign Service blogs listed, plus another 14 future FSOs (who we know will be moving to the FS blogroll any time now!).

That's a whole lotta blogs! (and if I am missing any, let me know!)

Aren't we a creative bunch!

International Women's Day

In honor of International Women's Day, I thought I would share the transcript from the Secretary's statment marking the day.

In addition to today's statement, on Wednesday, she will host the annual International Women of Courage Awards at the Department of State on Wednesday. (Go here for more information on the honorees) and will present the Global Trailblazer Award to Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation at the 9th annual Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards at the Kennedy Center.

On Friday, the Secretary will deliver remarks in honor of the 15th Anniversary of the United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing at the United Nations.

Statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

International Women’s Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day—a day to reflect on the progress the world has made in advancing women’s rights, and to recognize what work remains to be done.

This year marks an anniversary very close to my heart. Fifteen years ago, along with women and men from around the world I attended the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The message from that conference rang loudly and clearly, and still echoes across cultures and continents: Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.

One hundred and eighty-nine countries represented at Beijing adopted a Platform for Action that pledged to increase women’s access to education, healthcare, jobs, and credit, and to protect their right to live free from violence. We have made great progress, but there is a long way to go. Women are still the majority of the world’s poor, unhealthy, underfed, and uneducated. They rarely cause violent conflicts but too often bear their consequences. Women are absent from negotiations about peace and security to end those conflicts. Their voices simply are not being heard.

Today, the United States is making women a cornerstone of foreign policy because we think it’s the right thing to do, but we also believe it’s the smart thing to do as well. Investing in the potential of the world’s women and girls is one of the surest ways to achieve global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for women — and men — the world over.

So on this International Women’s Day, let us rededicate ourselves to advancing and protecting the rights of women and girls, and to join together to ensure that no one is left behind in the 21st century.

A video message from the Secretary is available here.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

What the election of bigots in Virginia means

I wonder if the people of Virginia realize what they have done in the election of McDonnell and Cuccinelli, particularly in this latest slap at the LGBT citizens of this state.

I knew, when they were elected, that this was going to usher in dark times for LGBT Virginians. And sure enough, shortly after taking office, McDonnell stripped LGBT Virginians from protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

So now, if you are an LGBT employee of the state of Virginia, you can legally be fired, or never hired, simply because you are gay.

Cuccinelli took it a step further this week, telling state schools they could no longer offer protection from discrimination for LGBT faculty, staff and students. This means gay professors can be fired or never hired. It means gay students can receive failing grades because a professor doesn't like gays and lesbians.

But none of this is the unintended consequence of this knuckle-dragger's opinion.

Schools that do not have a non-discrimination clause will have trouble recruiting the best and brightest. Not that I am saying that LGBT folks are the best and brightest simply because of their sexual orientation (though of course some of us are the best and brightest in our own right!). Plenty of studies have shown that non-discrimination clauses do more than attract LGBT applicants. They also attract fair-minded straight applicants who want to work for a place that values all of its employees and treats them equally. But that isn't the only way this new policy will affect Virginia's universities to attract the best and brightest, It is because the publications where most academic positions are listed will not allow listings from schools that do not have a non-discrimination clause. So all the scholars looking for their first (or fifth)teaching post will never see an ad for a school no non-disrimination clause in the Chronicle of Higher Education because it won't be there. It isn't permitted.

Likely our rankings in the Princeton Review will fall too.

All because Cuccinelli and McDonnell are bigots.

I eagerly await the day when I can move from this state to a place where my service to the country is valued and where I am a full citizen.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

If you won't mind...

I was just hoping some folks to go to this site, where Natusi has reposted his garbage, and leave some comments.

Friday, March 05, 2010

More on our "cushy" life

Check out DiploPundit's take on Natusi's BS article that I discussed yesterday. The picture is especially nice.

One commenter yesterday said this guy had been hired by the Department and fired after about two weeks. If you google his name, you can see he clearly has an ax to grind. So much for unbiased commentary, right?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

A Response to Utter BS About FS Life

Zoe, a fellow American Indian from South Carolina (yes, that means we are probably related somehow!) and part of the FS blogger community, from over at Something Edited This Way Comes asked my thoughts on this piece that ran in Atlantic Free Press: American Diplomats Shun Hardship Posts in Third World Counties, particularly because he mentioned Jerusalem. He said, "Jerusalem is considered a hardship, which does not make any sense. To anyone who has ever visited Jerusalem, it is a joy to be there, not a hardship. Apparently, living in close proximity to Arabs is a hardship for American diplomats."

I'll address that particular statement in a minute.

But just let me say that this piece by Matthew Nasuti is one of the most ill-informed pieces of drivel I have read in a long time, and as someone who blogs on the Foreign Service, I read a lot of negative stuff about our work. Nasuti knows nothing about Foreign Service life and employs the most tired and inaccurate stereotypes he can find.

Let's start with our "generous base salary." Junior Officers join the Foreign Service at an FS 04 to FS 06, with the lower the number, the higher the rank. Starting salary at FS 06 is $38,394. The highest salary for someone coming in at FS 04 is $77,837. Trust me, anyone who comes into the Foreign Service as an FS 04 could be earning MUCH more in in the private sector, but we choose to take a pay cut to serve our country. Now, when we serve in Washington, DC, we get 24% locality pay, meaning that FS 06 makes $47,693. Let me assure you, that is not a high salary in D.C. But they lose that locality pay when they go overseas, and they are the only American public servants who do. Folks from other agencies keep their locality pay salary as their base salary, even though they are serving at the same embassies and consulates that we do. Senior members of the Foreign Service keep it as well. Efforts are being made to correct this, but currently, the lowest ranking, lowest paid Foreign Service Officers are the ONLY ones to take a pay CUT to go overseas.

The cut doesn't end there. When they are in the states, the spouses of FSOs can easily work to supplement their family income. Not so overseas. The few jobs available are extremely low paying, and the truth is that most FS spouses can not find work overseas. Yes, they get housing or a housing allowance. But this is of little consequence if they lose both the spouse's salary and a portion of their "generous base pay" and still have a mortgage to pay in the states.

He talks about the swimming pools and clubs for Americans in Baghdad. Did he mention that in some places, diplomats have those swimming pools to insure they have drinkable water? Of course not. He also neglects to notice the PTSD people return with after being awoken nightly by bombs, after losing colleagues to IEDs, after narrowly escaping death themselves. They work 7 days a week in physically and mentally unhealthy conditions. Yes, they get paid a big bonus. They earn every penny. And keep in mind for that JO, every penny could be less than $80,000. And unlike the military and other Americans there, they pay income taxes on every penny.

He mentions our housing, and how we live like elites compared with our neighbors in these countries. It is true, we often get some of the nicest housing a country has to offer. But that doesn't translate to nice housing. Victoria DeLong's house in Haiti didn't protect her. It collapsed on her and killed her.

He mentions language shortfalls. That is true. And not because we don't want to learn languages. All of us have languages other than English. But the truth is that we are so understaffed do to the lack of hiring in the 90s and the rapid build up of our embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan that we don't have enough people to fill our posts, let alone give them language training. They are working on that, both with recruitment of speakers of critical needs languages and general increased recruitment. But we had to wait for Congress to give us permission to increase our numbers. We can't just allocate money to it...they approve the number of FSOs. So fixing that issue takes time, but it is one we are all committed to. And meanwhile, our embassies are staffed at only 70% (except Iraq and Afghanistan, which is nearly completely staffed because we volunteer for the hard posts).

He mentions Beijing, but doesn't tell you about the FS spouse who has lost her health to the pollution. Her husband has lost his hearing from an unknown virus and poor health care. Sure, they are in a historic city. But there is a huge difference in visiting a historic city and living there. And they are paying the price. And their hardship pay was reduced.

And while we are talking about living in historic cities, let's do talk about Jerusalem. First, it is profoundly offensive that he thinks the hardship is living near Arabs. I LOVED my Palestinian colleagues, and I found the Palestinian people warm and hospitable. And Jerusalem is, as I have said many times, a wonderful place to visit. But living there is hard. The tension there is palpable. The people who live in Jerusalem are not the secular Jews and Arabs of Tel Aviv. They are the ones who choose to live on the seam, to fight with their very existence the battle of who belongs there. Daily you see Palestinians having their homes, homes they have lived in for generations, bulldozed over an unfair permitting process. Daily you seem Israelis who have been the victims of terror attacks. Daily you watch the size of the settlements increase and the chances for peace decrease. You see protests, sometimes you get caught in the middle of them, especially if you have, as part of your job, covering the areas most disputed. You worry about terror attacks. And because the issue is so important to so many people, the hours are long. The Secretary and other high level delegations visit often and it is hard to get a break. I came out of there physically and emotionally drained. It is a wonderful place to visit, but it is a hard place to live.

I recommend you go to his site, but not to read his drivel. Instead, read the comments of the FS families. I have not responded there because I could not do better than they have.To a person, they are all proud, as am I, of our service, and they all love this crazy life we lead. But no one would accuse someone who loved being in the military of having an easy life, and they should be aware that neither do we. We just love serving our country and are tired of the crap people peddle about our life of service when they have never walked in our shoes.

PHB: The Department of State is broadening its look at the treatment of LGBT Africans

I should probably be ashamed. I am really not sure how I missed this, but thanks to Pam's House Blend for finding and posting it!

The Department of State is broadening its look at the treatment of LGBT Africans

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter in January to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk because of his concern over what he called the barbarity of Uganda's proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill ("kill the gays bill").

In his response to Senator Wyden, the Department of State's Assistant Secretary of Legislative Affairs, Richard R. Verma, revealed that not only is the Department carefully monitoring the situation in Uganda, it has broadened its view to the entire African continent.

The State Department is also evaluating attitudes and laws that marginalize and criminalize and penalize the LGBT community in Africa more broadly. We have asked all of our embassies in Africa to report on host country laws and pending legislation that criminalizes homosexuality. In addition, our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has established a task force on LGBT issues to strategize a United States Government response to LBGT issues worldwide.

This is not only excellent news for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people living in African countries, but for those of us right here at home. The more light that the Department of State shines on policies in other countries that are infringing on the human rights of LGBT people, the more scrutiny our own policies here at home will receive in return. You can't be a beacon of liberty abroad if you oppress your own. It seems that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton understands this.

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor describes itself this way:

"In democracies, respecting rights isn't a choice leaders make day-by-day, it is the reason they govern." - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Promoting freedom and democracy and protecting human rights around the world are central to U.S. foreign policy. The values captured in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other global and regional commitments are consistent with the values upon which the United States was founded centuries ago. The United States supports those persons who long to live in freedom and under democratic governments that protect universally accepted human rights. The United States uses a wide range of tools to advance a freedom agenda, including bilateral diplomacy, multilateral engagement, foreign assistance, reporting and public outreach, and economic sanctions. The United States is committed to working with democratic partners, international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, and engaged citizens to support those seeking freedom.

I was not immediately able to find any information on the LGBT task force mentioned in Mr. Verma's letter. However, the brand new fact sheet "Tracking Human Rights Worldwide: The State Department Country Reports" lists the following bullet point in the section titled "What's new about the Country Reports this year?"

Expanded coverage of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, as well as a section on "Other Societal Discrimination" covering persons with HIV/AIDS.Kudos to Secretary Clinton and President Obama for recognizing that LGBT rights are human rights, and for making LGBT people a visible part of the equation. I count this as solid progress.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

10th Anniversary of Britain's Pet Passport Scheme

I found this today on the 10th anniversary of Britain's pet travel scheme. In a nutshell, it makes it possible to bring your pets to Great Britain without having to put them through quarantine.

This is a big deal for me personally. I would never bid on a country that would force pets to go through the kind of quarantine once required in Great Britain. It was hard enough coming home from Jerusalem. When I bid on Jerusalem, there were no quarantines coming or going. But bird flu struck in Gaza while we were there, and although my parrot never left Jerusalem and so was not exposed, she was subjected to quarantine on our return to the U.S.

It was a nerve-wracking experience...not for my bird, but definitely for me! For a month I worried, fretted, called in to check on her, asked if she was happy, playing with the toys I sent, eating the food and treats I left. It was torture.

In the end, I have nothing but praise for our quarantine center in NY. It is staffed by caring professionals who love birds. My baby did just fine. But it is something I want to avoid if possible and something I never want to put her through in a place where the facilities are not regulated (as was the case in Britain).

Along with this piece, you should check out their site, as well as their blog. I have added links under Other Interesting Links. I think there will be some useful information there for those of us who serve with our fur and feathered children.

Pet Travel Scheme - 10th Anniversary

Today (March 2) is the 10th anniversary of the Pet Travel Scheme which was originally championed by Lady Mary Fretwell. For more than 100 years prior to the approval of the Pet Travel Scheme, the United Kingdom had a strictly enforced quarantine program in effect. Bring in a dog, cat, guinea pig or rabbit, and they had to spend six months in one of 80 quarantine kennels in Great Britain, with virtually no exercise and with only the kennels’ contracted veterinarians to check them out. There were no uniform statutes governing these kennels–the kennel owners voluntarily agreed to provide respectable care, but this often was lacking.

“My husband was in the Foreign Service, so this meant that each time we returned to England from a post our basset hound had to go through that awful quarantine,” says Lady Mary Fretwell. “Over the years, we could see how the quarantine conditions got worse and worse.”

The final straw came in 1987, when Lady Mary and Sir John Fretwell returned to England from their final post in Paris. “We came back with our basset hound,” Lady Fretwell says, “and it was a terrible quarantine experience. Our beloved Bertie, our favorite of all the bassets we’ve had over the years, was a different dog after this horrible experience, and died soon afterwards. This pushed us into doing something about the quarantine situation in the UK.”

The result was an organization called “Passports for Pets,” and because of the untiring efforts by the Fretwells and 10,000 members and many volunteers who pushed for changes in the pet entry system, there is now in place a specific method of bringing cats and dogs into the UK without going through quarantine.

A happy note is that over 10,000 pets have been brought into the UK without any incident of rabies since the inception of the program. The Pet Travel Scheme was certainly a victory for pets traveling to the UK!

Happy Marriage Equality Day, DC!

It’s Official – Couples Apply for Marriage Licenses in DC

At 8:30 a.m. today the first same-sex couples submitted their applications to receive a marriage license in the District of Columbia. First in line were Angelisa Young and Sinjoyla Townsend, together for 13 years and also mothers. The couple was up all night anticipating this historic day and joined scores of other couples in the pre-dawn rain to get the opportunity to protect their families. Angelisa and Sinjoyla plan to marry on Tuesday the 9th, the earliest day they can receive their license now that they’s applied.

The road to marriage equality in the District has been long and was paved by innumerable champions along the way. From the record breaking attendance at legislative hearings, to two successful (and overwhelming) votes by the DC Council, to finally the Mayor’s signature, local advocates built a strong coalition featuring religious leaders and District residents.

Of course, marriage equality has not been without its opponents. Efforts to undercut DC’s elected representatives have been funded and led by the familiar players in the national anti-LGBT groups. They’ve repeatedly gone to court — and lost — and even yesterday continued grasping at straws with meritless appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court and a separate Federal suit to try and stop this progress. Anti-equality members of Congress tried to get in on the action, but fair-minded leaders never brought their bills to a vote.

Reflecting on today’s events, HRC President Joe Solmonese said:

“This law is an important step towards equal dignity, equal respect and equal rights for all residents of our nation’s capital. Starting today, same-sex couples in D.C. will be able to enjoy all the rights and responsibilities that come with civil marriage. At the same time, the law also preserves the right of clergy and congregations to adhere to their faith traditions. Today represents a hard-fought victory for D.C. residents and a poignant reminder – here in the home of our federal government and most cherished national monuments – of the historic progress being made towards ensuring equality for all across the nation.”

Faith leaders also celebrated the day with Rev. Dennis Wiley, co-pastor at Covenant Baptist Church and a co-chair of DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality, saying simply:

"Love has won out over fear. Equality has won out over prejudice. Faith has won out over despair."

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

OIG report on PA and the 3-page coffee pot memo

I will start off with telling you I have not read the IG report. However, DiploPundit, who is clearly a better person than I am, did, and found some doozies:

The Office of Broadcast Services (PA/OBS) [...] "enjoys a strong reputation for customer service and technical expertise. However, acrimonious internal management problems have eroded teamwork and contributed to a tense and unproductive work environment. Bureau management must take action to address the leadership issues in the office.” Some items of note:

#2: Tensions have boiled over into confrontations be­tween the office director and employees that resulted in disciplinary or administra­tive actions against subordinates on several occasions. Several employees expressed concerns to the OIG team that violence in the workplace could result because of the high levels of workplace animosity and tension.


#6: One employee cited a three-page memorandum that the office direc­tor issued to all staff on the proper use of the office coffee pot as an example of the unproductive interchange that now prevails. Seriously? Man, I want to read that memo, pronto!"

I confess I knew about #2 already, but #6 is new to me. I really need to see that memo too!

More FSO humor: consular vs political

Thanks to Muttering Behind the Hardline for noticing this piece on the difference between consular and political work at Adventures in Good Countries. It is hysterical and 100% spot on!

I particularly sprayed Mountain Dew over this:

CONS: This is urgent! [Read: Someone is in danger!]

POL: This is urgent! [Read: Washington wants this real bad like!]

And this:

There aren't any FSNs in POL. Well, I mean, there are, but not physically in POL -- they're way over there, in the unclassified part of the building that you never think to step foot in. You probably have no idea what they're doing. In fact, you, PolOff, said to have your fingers on the proverbial pulse of the country in which you're stationed, can go pretty much all day without even seeing a Jordanian. Try that in CONS, and the FSNs will come find you and feed you things.

And let me tell you, the thing I miss most about Jerusalem is Consular FSNs (and how well they fed me).

It is important to note that you will NOT lose weight in a consular section.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Suite 2318

From Politico's Laura Rozen:

Suite 2318

Clinton communications aides DAS Philippe Reines, Caroline Adler, Ashley Yehl, Ellen Connell, Dan Schwerin, David Helfenbein and Nick Merrill put out a spread of punch, cupcakes, Doritos and M-n-Ms, and invited State staff and press to a Friday afternoon "suite warming" at their den down the hall from the Foggy Bottom press bullpen.

Among the State staff who came by and sampled Adler's homemade quiche, deputy director of the Policy Planning shop Derek Chollet, ambassador nominee to the OSCE and former spokesman Ian Kelly, USUN's Meredith Webster, Undersecretary of State for Management Pat Kennedy, Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner, and several of the foreign policy press.

The seven room suite for the "strategic communications team" (or in State Department acronymese "SCT") features Obama's photo hung above Clinton's official photo, aides pointed out -- notable perhaps because several of the team -- Reines, Adler, Merrill -- were former Clinton campaign aides. (This correspondent didn't see Biden's official photo, but maybe just missed it. The veep apparently took some time finding an official photo he was happy with.)

The cozy vibe -- homemade goodies, landscapes on loan from State's Art Bank, Ikea couches -- contrasted with a recently leaked IG report that said morale was low in the public affairs bureau. Also boosting morale, much of the team gets to escape endless D.C. winter on a trip with Clinton and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Arturo Venezuela next week to Brazil.