I hope this Thanksgiving finds you and your family safe, happy and secure.
Our thoughts go our to our friends in Kabul, where a bomb went off near the Embassy while they were having a Thanksgiving Day event, and to those in Mumbai, where the chaos at the hands of terrorists continues.
I am thankful all of the folks serving our country in those two places are safe, and I pray for those others, both American and not, enduring the unbearable.
I have to say, I really like blogs that make me snicker, and The Skeptical Bureaucrat and Consul-At-Arms are often good for that. So I thought I would share some of their take on the Overseas Pay Gap and Sen. Coburn's mistaken views on the issue.
TSB wrote Sunday about posts "Where The Pants Are Not Striped, and Cookies Are Not Pushed", one of which he recently visited for a very brief TDY. He gives you a hint or five about where that was:a volatile country...one of our most hazardous diplomatic posts. If you've been following the news, you can probably guess which diplomatic post that was from the following clues. All these incidents occurred there in the last week: a USAID contractor was ambushed and killed, an Iranian diplomat was abducted when departing his home for the office, two foreign journalists were shot, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of a sports stadium, and, in a region outside the city, a missile strike of unattributed origin killed five al Qaeda figures, one of whom was reportedly a suspect in a 2006 plot to bomb ten airliners heading to the U.S. from Britain. In addition to all that, a few months ago the principal U.S. diplomat there was ambushed while en route to the office but escaped unharmed. A few weeks after that incident, the principal officer of another, non-U.S., diplomatic mission was successfully abducted in a similar attack.
Why was my pencil-pushing self in such a crazy place so far from my cubicle? Because Danger is my middle name, that's why. (Actually, Risk Analysis is my middle name, but there is no way to make that sound dashing; in fact, it should be the opposite of dashing).
More to the point, why are any of my fellow citizens there?
CAA points out that TSB's fellow citizens are there"doing the jobs that our fellow Americans send us overseas to do, per the wishes and stated desires of our elected representatives and chief executive>"
Senator Coburn's communications director John Hart, in opposing the Overseas Compatability Pay Act (which would mean that folks serving overseas would not lose the DC locality portion of their pay...Senior Foreign Service and other agencies serving overseas already get to keep their locality pay, so it is only lower- and mid-level State folks who lose it), commented, as I noted in an earlier post, that"Congress should be focused on improving conditions of workers who have lost their jobs or may lose their jobs and not on handing out huge raises to foreign service officers who already receive very generous benefits overseas."But as TSB suspects that Hart and Coburn get their image of Foreign Service life from tv and the movies, and CAA adds that we, as Foreign Service Officers, have not helped the matter. CAA writes: "Sen. Coburn's out-of-touch communications director might not be basing his under-factual statement solely on the basis of late-night movie fare. He may have actually traveled abroad on a STAFDEL or CODEL ("congressional staff delegation" or "congressional delegation," respectively). In which case some of the fault for his unrealistic impression of Foreign Service life may actual be our own fault.
When congressmen or their staff members travel overseas, describing that experience as being "inside a bubble" does not do it justice. They are met, escorted, control-officered, protected, briefed, introduced, coddled, dined-out, and expense-accounted to a fair-thee-well all the way to "wheels-up." And all by FSOs. We so want to make a good impression on our congressional visitors, after all our Department is the one without much of a natural "consituency" back home, but we do ourselves something of a disservice when we make it look too easy to our visiting fireman."
TSB says that he"like to see someone correct the American public's perception of embassy life. Some sort of Foreign Service Truth Squad that could fill in the picture of what life is like in all those places where our diplomats work out of ratty hovels rather than palatial surroundings.He rightly refers to some of the places we serve as "hell holes." Yes, we usually get housed in some of the best housing available at post, but if the best housing is a hovel (or in Iraq, a shipping container), guess what you get housed in. I had a marine tell me of his serve at one Embassy where he literally fell through the floor of the decrepit building. Guess what post housing there looks like? My housing at my last post was decent (though I did regularly get trapped in my elevator, once for more than 30 minutes while it repeatedly went up and down from the basement to the seventh floor), but our consulate (which we had rented more than 50 years ago) was a health and security hazard. And my partner returned from her last post with pollution-induced asthma.
Most of the places we serve are far from the western European posts where Senators like to visit. TSB notes: "Having seen the U.S. embassy offices and houses in Bangui, [Central African Republic] and experienced the difficulties and uncertainties of simply getting there and back, I can assure my fellow Americans that Senator Coburn's lowliest intern wouldn't want to trade life styles with the most senior diplomat there, even with the housing allowance. Much less would he want to trade places with the diplomats in the hot-spot that I was happy to drive away from at high speed last week."
Or as CAA says:"As for the lowly interns.... I've met just one or two of those over the years who seem to still be nursing a grudge that they didn't pass the FS exam.
Michael Keller has worked on five continents during his 15 years in the foreign service. He's been in Germany, where the standard of living is pretty good, and the Central African Republic and Cambodia, where he could only hope that his three children suffered nothing more than bumps and bruises because of poor medical care.
He likes his work, but he's always confronted with a big source of frustration -- the overseas pay gap.
When State Department diplomats are posted abroad, they lose locality pay. That's the amount added to a federal worker's salary based on where they work.
Since 1994, when locality pay started, the increase for federal employees in the D.C. area has amounted to almost 21 percent. Moving overseas from the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters and other area installations means workers lose that differential.
There is support, on Capitol Hill and in the administration, for legislation that would close the gap. Committees in the House and Senate have approved such measures.
But that support has not moved Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican physician also known as "Dr. No." He's earned that nickname because he relentlessly uses a Senate procedure to hold up bills that require additional federal spending unless the legislation provides money to pay for its project.
"Congress should be focused on improving conditions of workers who have lost their jobs or may lose their jobs and not on handing out huge raises to foreign service officers who already receive very generous benefits overseas," said John Hart, Coburn's communications director.
That kind of talk could make a diplomat get very undiplomatic. But John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association, knows how to keep his cool (which should come in handy when he's transferred to Iraq next year).
Closing the gap is not a pay raise, he said calmly. "It's fixing an unintended inequality."
Naland doesn't quarrel with Coburn's right to oppose legislation closing the gap, "but his hold is preventing his 99 colleagues from voting," Naland said. "That's just the way the Senate works nowadays."
He does quarrel, however, with Coburn's notion that foreign service officers are seeking huge raises on top of other big benefits. It's true that diplomats get a housing allowance and, in some cases, dangerous duty or hardship duty pay. But that doesn't negate the need to close the gap, especially for lower-level diplomats.
Senior foreign service officers get those same benefits, but their pay is not reduced by the locality amount when they go abroad. That cut applies only to the junior and mid-level diplomats.
Furthermore, Naland said, the "allowances were never meant to obviate the need for the basic locality pay adjustment that all other federal employees get."
That's what upsets foreign service officers -- working cheek by jowl with colleagues from the CIA, who might pretend to be foreign service officers, and other agencies whose pay is not cut when they leave the D.C. area.
"It becomes an equity issue," Keller said.
And foreign service officers don't have the option of staying in D.C. They spend most of their careers outside the country.
The issue is compounded when a diplomat takes his family abroad because the family often loses the spouse's income, too. Sonja Keller had a growing career as a journalist and public relations officer when Michael was sent to the Central African Republic.
"The financial impact was significant," she said. Her income was greater than his, but the family had to give that up. "Once I left my job, my career basically stopped," she said.
She worked in embassies where her husband was posted, but it was "generally nominal stuff," she said.
That's not the kind of information that would attract potential foreign service officers, even if they were driven by public service more than big bucks. It also makes folks like Keller wonder if they should stay in the foreign service, when their retirement funds are being shortchanged by the current pay system."
Diplopundit covers this issue very well here. She says"I know what she [Sonja Keller] means; and that's a pretty familiar spouse story. For FS spouses, the "good" jobs are paid normally about $12-13/hour; about how much you get paid as a nanny in London. I knew somebody who was paid $2o/hour once and her boss thought that was way too much money. At one post, another FS spouse, the commissary manager who took care of our tiny store had an advanced degree in dance therapy. I'm quite sure she was not an exception. There really are "good jobs" out there, as long as you don't complain that you, too, have brains. I knew somebody who left a 100K job in DC and eventually took a 36K job in some blissful country - with free housing, of course (some expensive free housing, huh?).
There are way too many somebodies with the same story ... And onebody says its greedy for folks to asked for the closure of this pay gap? Go tickle yourself silly!
The situation is even more dire for those with same-sex members of household. MOHs are not allowed to compete for even the nominal jobs available to spouses unless there is no qualified Eligible Family Member (EFM). Even then, some posts will not consider an MOH at all, or if they do, will hire them at the salary of a local hire, which is generally substantially less than what they pay EFMs. So while yes, we do sometimes get danger or hardship pay and we do get a housing allowance, our partners can usually not work at all (and this is in addition to having to pay to fly to and from the country, an expense opposite sex spouses do not have to deal with). Even if our partners stay home (which the Department admits diminishes productivity), they do not receive the Separate Maintenance Allowance that opposite sex partners receive. So when we go overseas to serve, our income is cut, our partner's income is lost, and we may still have expenses here in the states (for example, if you have a mortgage and the amount you can rent it for is less than your monthly payment).
Naland is right. This is not a huge pay raise. It is the right thing to do to help people continue to serve the country.
Officials with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team this week named at least seven openly gay people to transition panels assigned to review federal departments and agencies.
Three of the seven gays named to the transition panels — businessman Fred P. Hochberg, former San Francisco Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg, and labor attorney Elaine Kaplan — held high-level positions in the Clinton administration.
The Obama officials also named President Bush’s former ambassador to Romania, Michael Guest, to a transition panel assigned to review issues pertaining to the State Department. Guest became the nation’s second openly gay ambassador when Bush appointed him to the Romania post for a term lasting from 2001 to 2003.
Several national gay rights advocacy groups, meanwhile, were said to be considering whether to hold one or more gay-related events during the week of Obama’s Inauguration on Jan. 20.
During President Clinton’s inaugural festivities in 1993 and 1997, gay groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund — held as many as a dozen events, including a gay inaugural ball.
Gay choruses and gay marching bands also participated in some of Clinton’s official inaugural ceremonies. In 1993 and 1997, AIDS activists, at Clinton’s invitation, marched in the official Inaugural Parade while carrying cloth panels from the National AIDS Quilt.
Officials with HRC, the Task Force and the Victory Fund said they were deliberating over whether to sponsor gay-related events for the Obama inauguration, and HRC was expected to announce plans soon for another gay inaugural ball. But no plans had been announced by mid-week.
The seven known gays appointed to the Obama transition review teams are among more than 300 people appointed to transition review panels this week.
“The Agency Review Teams for the Obama-Biden Transition will complete a thorough review of key departments, agencies and commissions of the United States government as well as the White House,” a statement posted Monday on the transition team web site states.
The teams will “provide the president-elect, the vice president-elect, and key advisors with information needed to make strategic policy, budgetary, and personnel decisions prior to the inauguration,” the statement says.
Presidents traditionally appoint members of their transition teams to middle and high-level posts in their administrations. Officials working in presidential election campaigns also have been named to government agency jobs and White House positions under past presidents.
A number of gay rights advocates worked in paid positions on the Obama campaign, including gay Democratic activists Brian Bond and Dave Noble. They could not be immediately reached for comment.
Last week, reports surfaced that Obama was considering appointing his highest-ranking gay campaign official, deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand, as successor to Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean. Dean announced last week that he would not seek another term as chair.
Obama transition spokesperson Stephanie Cutter has said neither Obama nor the transition team would comment on any potential appointees to government or party positions until such appointments are officially announced over the next several weeks.
However, several news media outlets said reliable sources from the Obama camp disclosed that former presidential contender and Obama rival Sen. Hillary Clinton was on Obama’s short list to become secretary of state. According to media reports, Eric Holder, a former D.C. prosecutor who served as deputy U.S. attorney general under the Clinton administration short list to become attorney general.
Both Clinton and Holder have strong records of support on gay rights. While serving as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia in the 1990s, Holder met with gay activists over the issue of anti-gay hate crimes and created a unit in the U.S. attorney’s office that specialized in prosecuting hate crimes.
Hochberg, a longtime gay Democratic Party activist from New York, served from 1998 through 2001 as President Clinton’s deputy and later acting administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Achtenberg served as Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She later served as senior adviser to then HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros during Clinton’s second term in office.
Kaplan served in the Clinton administration as head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which is charged, among other things, with enforcing federal personnel policies and laws that prohibit discrimination against federal workers. Kaplan put in place policies that protected federal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Those policies were later reversed by Kaplan’s replacement at the Office of Special Counsel, Scott Bloch, a Bush appointee.
Bloch recently resigned at the request of the White House following allegations that he politicized the office’s hiring and enforcement policies.
Guest had served for nearly 20 years as a career U.S. Foreign Service officer at the time Bush named him ambassador to Romania in 2001. After completing his term as ambassador in 2003, he became dean of the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, which trains Foreign Service officers.
Guest created a stir in 2007 when he announced he was retiring from government service, in part, to protest a State Department policy that denies spousal benefits, including security protections, to same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers stationed at overseas posts. He said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had authority to provide some of the partner benefits but she declined to do so.
Earlier this year, Guest said he was supporting Obama’s presidential bid.
The other openly gay members named to the transition review teams, in addition to Hochberg, Achtenberg, and Guest, include Rick Stamberger, president and CEO of SmartBrief, Inc., an online news publisher; Brad Kiley, an official with the Washington-based Center for American Progress think tank; and Thomas Soto, co-founder of Craton Equity Partners, a large “clean technology” investment fund based in Southern California.
Stamberger is serving on a transition panel reviewing the White House Fellows program. Kiley and Soto are serving on panels reviewing the Executive Office of the President, with Soto focusing on the workings of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
"While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect." -- Barack Obama, June 1, 2007
The Obama-Biden Plan
Fight Workplace Discrimination: Barack Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees' domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. Obama also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: Barack Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: Barack Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell: Barack Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. Obama will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was saddened to learn that two members of our valued professional team were shot and killed Wednesday in the Peshawar province of Pakistan. Stephen D. Vance, a USAID contractor with CHF International and his driver were serving the common interests of the U.S. and Pakistan in bringing peace and stability to a country that has long been wracked by violence and conflict.
Stephen was deeply committed to his work on a USAID-funded job creation and workforce development project in Pakistan's FATA region, and he was highly respected by his colleagues in Pakistan and throughout his organization. He had fully immersed himself in the community in which he worked. We extend our most heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of these fallen colleagues.
American men and women and foreign nationals alike put their lives on the line every day in an effort to further the humanitarian and development programs throughout the world and they deserve our deepest gratitude. It is this dedication and compassion that keeps us all dutifully committed to our work.
There has been a lot of speculation floating around about who will be the next Secretary of State. I have heard (only from the media) Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. John Kerry floated around. Diplopundit has done a bit of speculating here and here. Here is the latest, this from CNN.
Hillary Clinton's name mentioned as possible Secretary of State From CNN's Jessica Yellin and Gloria Borger
(CNN) — Two sources close to the Obama transition team tell CNN that Senator Hillary Clinton’s name has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Secretary of State.
One source close to Hillary Clinton tells CNN that as of early yesterday, Senator Clinton had not been contacted by the transition team about a possible cabinet appointment. This same source tells CNN that Senator Clinton would not necessarily dismiss such an offer.
A spokesman for Hillary Clinton, Philippe Reines, tells CNN “Any speculation about cabinet or other administration appointments is really for President-Elect Obama's transition team to address.”
On Monday night, while walking into an awards ceremony in New York, Senator Clinton was asked if she would consider taking a post in the Obama administration. She replied, "I am happy being a Senator from New York, I love this state and this city. I am looking at the long list of things I have to catch up on and do. But I want to be a good partner and I want to do everything I can to make sure his agenda is going to be successful."
"Finally tonight as promised, a Special Comment on the passage, last week, of Proposition Eight in California, which rescinded the right of same-sex couples to marry, and tilted the balance on this issue, from coast to coast.
Some parameters, as preface. This isn't about yelling, and this isn't about politics, and this isn't really just about Prop-8. And I don't have a personal investment in this: I'm not gay, I had to strain to think of one member of even my very extended family who is, I have no personal stories of close friends or colleagues fighting the prejudice that still pervades their lives.
And yet to me this vote is horrible. Horrible. Because this isn't about yelling, and this isn't about politics.
This is about the... human heart, and if that sounds corny, so be it.
If you voted for this Proposition or support those who did or the sentiment they expressed, I have some questions, because, truly, I do not... understand. Why does this matter to you? What is it to you? In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships, these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is your option. They don't want to deny you yours. They don't want to take anything away from you. They want what you want -- a chance to be a little less alone in the world.
Only now you are saying to them -- no. You can't have it on these terms. Maybe something similar. If they behave. If they don't cause too much trouble. You'll even give them all the same legal rights -- even as you're taking away the legal right, which they already had. A world around them, still anchored in love and marriage, and you are saying, no, you can't marry. What if somebody passed a law that said you couldn't marry?
I keep hearing this term "re-defining" marriage.
If this country hadn't re-defined marriage, black people still couldn't marry white people. Sixteen states had laws on the books which made that illegal... in 1967. 1967.
The parents of the President-Elect of the United States couldn't have married in nearly one third of the states of the country their son grew up to lead. But it's worse than that. If this country had not "re-defined" marriage, some black people still couldn't marry...black people. It is one of the most overlooked and cruelest parts of our sad story of slavery. Marriages were not legally recognized, if the people were slaves. Since slaves were property, they could not legally be husband and wife, or mother and child. Their marriage vows were different: not "Until Death, Do You Part," but "Until Death or Distance, Do You Part." Marriages among slaves were not legally recognized.
You know, just like marriages today in California are not legally recognized, if the people are... gay.
And uncountable in our history are the number of men and women, forced by society into marrying the opposite sex, in sham marriages, or marriages of convenience, or just marriages of not knowing -- centuries of men and women who have lived their lives in shame and unhappiness, and who have, through a lie to themselves or others, broken countless other lives, of spouses and children... All because we said a man couldn't marry another man, or a woman couldn't marry another woman. The sanctity of marriage. How many marriages like that have there been and how on earth do they increase the "sanctity" of marriage rather than render the term, meaningless?
What is this, to you? Nobody is asking you to embrace their expression of love. But don't you, as human beings, have to embrace... that love? The world is barren enough.
It is stacked against love, and against hope, and against those very few and precious emotions that enable us to go forward. Your marriage only stands a 50-50 chance of lasting, no matter how much you feel and how hard you work.
And here are people overjoyed at the prospect of just that chance, and that work, just for the hope of having that feeling. With so much hate in the world, with so much meaningless division, and people pitted against people for no good reason, this is what your religion tells you to do? With your experience of life and this world and all its sadnesses, this is what your conscience tells you to do?
With your knowledge that life, with endless vigor, seems to tilt the playing field on which we all live, in favor of unhappiness and hate... this is what your heart tells you to do? You want to sanctify marriage? You want to honor your God and the universal love you believe he represents? Then Spread happiness -- this tiny, symbolic, semantical grain of happiness -- share it with all those who seek it. Quote me anything from your religious leader or book of choice telling you to stand against this. And then tell me how you can believe both that statement and another statement, another one which reads only "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
You are asked now, by your country, and perhaps by your creator, to stand on one side or another. You are asked now to stand, not on a question of politics, not on a question of religion, not on a question of gay or straight. You are asked now to stand, on a question of...love. All you need do is stand, and let the tiny ember of love meet its own fate. You don't have to help it, you don't have it applaud it, you don't have to fight for it. Just don't put it out. Just don't extinguish it. Because while it may at first look like that love is between two people you don't know and you don't understand and maybe you don't even want to know...It is, in fact, the ember of your love, for your fellow **person...
Just because this is the only world we have. And the other guy counts, too.
This is the second time in ten days I find myself concluding by turning to, of all things, the closing plea for mercy by Clarence Darrow in a murder trial.
But what he said, fits what is really at the heart of this:
"I was reading last night of the aspiration of the old Persian poet, Omar-Khayyam," he told the judge.
"It appealed to me as the highest that I can vision. I wish it was in my heart, and I wish it was in the hearts of all:
I know it is a cliche', but I am going to say anyway what you already know. Vote. It is important.
Lots of folks have died to give you the right to vote. Lots more have died in other countries for want of what you have, the right to have your say. Vote for them. People you have known and loved in your lifetime were excluded from the right to vote because they weren't white or weren't male. Vote for them.
People, including the military and the foreign service, are STILL serving, STILL sacrificing, STILL dying, for your right to vote. Twenty-nine years ago today, on November 4, 1979, a group of Iranian students took over our embassy in Tehran and held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. Those diplomats were serving for you, serving you and your right to vote. (You can read more about that and see the names of the hostages on Diplopundit.) Vote for them too.
Even if the person you support doesn't win, honor the fact that you get to have a say because so many have fought for it before you. Please don't throw that away.
This blog is intended to give anyone who is interested some insight into life in the Foreign Service. The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. State Department. But hopefully, I won't say anything that will even make you wonder.