Saturday, April 30, 2011

Inside a U.S. Embassy

If you are interested in joining the Foreign Service, this book, Inside a U.S. Embassy, is a must read for you.

The new edition has an added bonus. It has an article by Clayton Bond and his husband Ted Osius on a day in the life of a "non-traditional" Tandem Couple.

Though if you met them, you'd find that they, like me and my wife, are pretty darned traditional!

ON EDIT: One of my (and your, I assume) favorite bloggers, Donna from over at Email From The Embassy is also in there. So just one more reason you should get this book!

WP: Honor all those who die in service to our country

The Washington Post has a good piece today called Honor all those who die in service to our country that you should check out.

It talks about the difference between the ways military veterans who die in the service of the country and civilian employees who die serving, often in the same places, are treated.

While Congress dictates the way fallen soldiers are treated, it is left to the agency where the fallen civilian worked to decide how, and WHETHER, the employee is honored.

The article goes on to say:

"All those who serve our nation take the same oath of office. Whether they die in a combat zone, in a foreign embassy in a nation at peace or in an IRS building targeted by a citizen who hates the government, they have died in service and honor to that oath. Simple justice demands we return the honor they have given."


Friday, April 29, 2011

Washington Post gets it wrong

For the second time this week, the Washington Post has gotten it way wrong.

Not content with an unsigned editorial earlier in the week on the topic of their error, today they offered a signed editorial (I'll post the link once I find is in the print edition today) saying basically the same thing.

Which is, that Human Rights Campaign and others bullied the law firm house Speaker Boehner selected to defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act after the President and Justice Department decided to stop wasting taxpayer money to defend an unconstitutional law.

Apparently the post thinks that it is bullying not to reward a firm that takes a stand you don't believe it. (And let's not even discuss the inflamatory use of bullying here at a time when we have an epidemic of gay kids killing themselves because of bullying, because laws like DOMA reinforce to them and to the real bullies that they are second class citizens).

I, and HRC no doubt, believe in everyone's right to representation in court. Even the slimiest criminal has a right to a defense.

However, do you think that a firm defending a member of the Klan should get a civil rights award? I don't.

And I don't think a firm defending DOMA should get a top score from HRC's equality index.

And if my lawyer were defending such a law, I'd want to be told, so I could take my business elsewhere.

And this is what HRC did...they told the firms LGBT clients, via social media, what the firm was doing. And they declined to continue to give the firm a high score on their equality index.

That isn't bullying. That is taking your money and spending it with those who support you.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Well that's not how I got in...

If you needed more evidence that those in power have no respect for the Foreign Service, just check out this article:

Prisoner? No, Your Honor, I’d Rather Be a Diplomat

Yes, you read that correctly.

It seems that former NY state senator Vincent L. Leibell III, pleaded guilty in December to corruption charges, is going to be sentenced in two weeks, and prosecutors want him to spend two years in prison.

Leibell (R - Putnam Co.) has a better idea.

He wants to be a diplomat, maybe someplace like Iraq or Libya.

He of course has no experience and doesn't speak any of the languages used there, but then again, maybe he thinks his corruption experience would help him deal with any corrupt officials he met with.

Oh, and then he'd like to get a Master's in Diplomacy.

Even Leibell’s successor in the Senate, former Air Force officer Gregory R. Ball, a former Air Force officer, doesn't get it. He called the proposal a “slap in the face to all troops.”

No, it isn't.

It is a slap in the face to all diplomats.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

More Like Slammed Shut

I thought I was on a plateau.

I was wrong.

I am falling into a hole.

And that hole has a name: avatud uksed

It means "Open doors" and is the name of our new Estonian textbook.

You see, we finished the basic textbook (hold your applause) and have graduated to the next one.

Apparently we are now at the high school level...or not, if you ask me.

This book makes me feel whole new levels of stupid.

And I only have 10 weeks left to get to my 3/3.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

DiploPundit: Don't Be a Passhole

DiploPundit says "Don't be a passhole, go vote in the AFSA Elections."

I completely agree.

Don't know what a "passhole" is? According to DiploPundit, that is "someone who opts out of participating in a decision, but then complains bitterly about the outcome."

There are a lot of passholes in the Foreign Service. Although active duty Foreign Service make up more than 63% of the membership of AFSA, we were just 43% of the votes cast in the last election. Retirees are just over 26% of AFSA, but they made up 47% of the last vote.

Your vote matters.

I agree with DiploPundit that retirees should have a voice in the direction of the Foreign Service.
But DiploPundit adds (and I agree):

"..the active members of the Foreign Service, as the largest voting bloc and as the folks who have been repeatedly deployed to warzones, hardship/unaccompanied and dangerous assignments in the last decade, and who will continue to deploy to increasingly challenging assignments in the years ahead -- they need to have their voices heard, in shall we say, more appropriate collective tone of voice.

And-- they won't have their voices heard unless you, the active members, participate in greater number in the process of picking your own representatives.

The Foreign Service has changed in so many ways in the last decade alone. I think candidates who are on active duty, who have served in warzones or hardship assignments, who have specialized skills in management, human resources, and other functional skills, those who have professional spouses navigating unemployment overseas -- those with compelling and recent experiences from the trenches can only add to better representation of the rank and file of the service."

As I said before, I believe strongly that AFSA's President needs to be active duty. The Foreign Service of today is not the Foreign Service of old. We are not all retirees, with some of us just retiring in the future instead of the past. Some of us will leave the service because of the hardships we face. Some of us will leave the service because we don't value training enough. Some of us will leave the service because it does not take care of our needs and the needs of our families.

That is, we will unless we have a "union" that understands not just the needs of the retirees, but also the needs of the active duty Foreign Service.

That is why I voted for Susan Johnson, Daniel Hirsch and the entire slate Susan put forward. (and why I am writing in Mary Glantz, who was on the previous board and is unexpectedly staying in DC for another year). Because I think that despite the nastiness of the last election, this diverse group has worked together and is moving towards a better balance of active duty and retiree needs.

And that is why I hope you will vote, regardless of who you vote for.

So don't be a passhole.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Welcome to the 120th!

Unless my PJ-induced level of relaxation (I took today off...) has me confused, today is the first day for the 120th Specialist Class, and I wanted to wish them a warm welcome!

We have a couple of bloggers in that class (or at least we do until they get the lecture that may or may not make them stop blogging...sigh. Hang tough y'all!) and I wanted to call your attention to them as I move them from the "Future FS" blogroll to the Foreign Service blogroll.

So please stop over at:



World Craft

and give them a warm welcome!

A Place for our Stuff

Extra points for you if you get the reference in the title.

I got word this morning that we have been approved for our housing in Tallinn. It looks to be a great place...entirely too big but I'm not complaining!

It has enough bedrooms that each of our pets can have their own room...hmmm, I wonder if post thought I meant that my "kids" were actually kids...


It is walking distance to the Old City, the Embassy and, perhaps most important of all...a dog park.

Now if we could just get them to approve my wife coming with me THIS August (and not next August), all will be right with the world.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I have a date

A date with destiny.

Or despair. Depression. Dementia.

On of those.

That date is July 7.

That is eleven weeks from yesterday.

That is the day I will take my final language exam, the day that I will find out if I get that all important 3/3, if I get to go to post without a language waiver (or if I have to extend in training, thereby making my teacher, who would like to have a vacation too, HATE me). Also the date that I learn if I will be getting language incentive pay. Which I will need to offset the locality pay cut I will take to go overseas.

Thankfully the LTS and other training gods smiled on me and set my test for 2 pm. They had at first suggested it start at 7:30 AM(!), which is a recipe for failure. I don't do mornings.

Of course, this news could not have come at a better time (insert sarcasm here). Right while I am hitting another "Oh my god I am stupid" phase.

My teacher assures me it is actually because I have improved so much that I want to be able to say more and in more complicated ways.

She could be right...or I could just be getting stupid again. It happens in language training.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mul on mantel!

Which means...I have a coat.

I finally bit the bullet. Okay, actually I finally found, after a lot of searching, a price I wanted to pay for a coat that seemed to be of the quality I wanted.

I found a deal on a Mountain Hardwear Downtown Down coat and it arrived yesterday.

It comes almost to my knees (it is supposed to be mid-thigh, but I'm short!) and is 650 count down. It has cuffs on the sleeves to keep the wind out, a detachable hood, and fleece on the inside for extra warmth. It is only water resistant, not water proof, but I found online that I can use Scotch Guard for Outdoor Material to make it waterproof (something very important in Estonia).

I do not, however, think this will be my true winter coat. I think this will be my fall/early winter coat. And maybe my spring coat. This coat has great reviews, but I am not sure people have used this against an Estonian-type winter. And it seems really light, especially compared with my really old down coat (appropriate for going out in the snow but not work), and I don't think that they have come up with great innovation in down, since it is the geese who actually make the down.

I plan to use my wool/cashmere dress coat as my summer coat!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

And Then There Were Two

So today was the last day for one of my classmates.

He took his test today...I hope it went really well.

He isn't leaving yet...he has more training to do...but once again I am reminded of just how little time we have left.

Cue panic.

It suddenly occurred to me that I am not feeling like I have improved much since we got back from our immersion. And so now I am worrying about whether I will get my 3/3.

Not that this would be the end of the would mean the end of my vacation, since I would get extended in language. But it wouldn't be the end of the world. Or maybe it would be...I could really use a vacation, and I think my wife will die if we don't get one soon.

Still, I can't shake the feeling that I should be better by now. Long-term language training is HELL on your self esteeem. No matter how good a language learner you are. No matter how good or nice (or bad or hateful...I have really lucked out on that account! Not all language teachers are created equal.) your teacher is.

So twelve weeks....11 1/2 really. Not much time to become awesome. And not a lot of time to get everything organized, since so many other things are up in the air...little things, like whether my wife will be with me.


Monday, April 18, 2011

We Missed You!

We had a nice GLIFAA lunch with the 160th A-100.

We had several folks show up from the 160th, including allies (we LOVE allies!).

It was good to get to know some of the newest FSOs. They speak well for the future of the Service!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Let's Do Lunch!

GLIFAA tries to have a brown bag for each new orientation class. Monday, the 18th, is the brown bag for the current A-100 and anyone else who would like to join us.

We LOVE allies!

We will be in one of the rooms off of the cafeteria at FSI (C-2107 I think, but I need to verify that!) beginning at 12:10.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Beginning of the End

We had a party today for the first of this crop of Estonian students to head off.

He wasn't in our regular class...he was just doing the short course. Still, I have served with him before and am delighted to serve with him again. So I am happy for him and sad to see him leave.

It signals the beginning of the end.

Next week, one of our core three in class will test and head off to other training. Then it really starts to get real.

We only have 12 weeks left of training. Twelve weeks to get to that elusive 3/3.

A little unnerving, but also a little exciting.

I think I would be more excited if more were nailed down for me and my family.

We still don't know what is going on with my wife's training.

Will she with me in August? Stay behind for a year? Only six months? Go to Baghdad instead? We just don't know.

And then today, we got our housing assignment.

It isn't the place I wanted, but I am sure it will be fine. It looks like it is gi-nourmous. And our bed will definitely fit in the master bedroom.

But because it is so huge, Post has to get a waiver for us. Because there are only two of us. Plus, even though we will be section heads, we are still only mid-level.

So more waiting...another week or two. More things up in the air.

I've blogged before on how you have to give up your need to plan when you join the service, right?

Yeah, I'm still working on that.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Back to Area Studies

I haven't been in area studies for a bit.

We (my classmate and I) missed a week for our immersion.

And then, for the new area studies studies, our instructor played Everything is Illuminated again. Those who had seen it were excused.

So I was back today...and it was a pretty good one.

We had a speaker come talk to us about Polish politics. And even though I am not going to Poland, I found the talk interesting and relevant.

Just wanted to give credit where credit is due.

We still have no news on my wife's In Country Language Training. We are crossing fingers, toes, eyes and everything else we can think of that her appeal will be approved.

I really don't want to spend another year apart.

We apparently got our housing assignment today and it wasn't the apartment we requested. However, it is supposed to be a bigger and even better apartment nearby.

I can't wait to see the pictures.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Freudian Slip

So here's something funny.

I now know enough Estonian to make a Freudian slip.

We were talking about the budget and how we were relieved that the shutdown had been averted so we didn't lose our pay.

What I meant to say was:

"Tänan Jumalele" or Thank God.

What I actually said was:

"Tänan rumalele" or Thank Stupid.

You can just make of that what you will.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Who Was Happy To Go To Work Today?

Me, that's who.

Yes, really.

I really love my job...I also really like getting paid for it, so I can do other things I really like.

Like pay my bills!

I also like being better able to background is solidly and proudly working class. My mom came from mill workers and military, my dad from coal miners and military (we believe in service). I am the first in my family to graduate college, and I was graduated from a state university in my home state. Nothing fancy here.

And I know from experience what it is like not to have enough money to pay my bills. I know, and wish I didn't, how long you can put off paying certain utilities before they get cut off.

I haven't been in that position in years, far longer than I have worked for the Department. But I remember it...and I never want to go there again.

So yeah, really really happy to be at work today.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Sorry to Disappoint Them

Don't you just know they were scheming on how to redecorate the place once the government shut down and they were finally able to take over FSI?

Working On It

Okay, so we have a budget.

I am happy, relieved and still pissed off.

Why did it have to go right to the edge before the people whose job it is to pass the budget and who would be least affected by a government shutdown could get off their collective a$$es and pass a budget? And could we go ahead and do the 2012 one, due in September, while we are being agreeable, rather than giving federal employees another collective ulcer and panic attack?

That said, I am trying to relax, breathe, and focus on the positive. I can go to work. I can pay my bills.

And I can focus on trying to get the Department to agree to let my wife come with me to post in August.

I can also start thinking again about going to post.

So today, I finally recycled computers that I have had longer than my wife. Arlington was having a special recycling day, so I removed the hard drives got rid of the rest.

And I have started thinking of other things I can donate to Goodwill. Like my crappy bike. And the old bread maker we have NEVER used. And the VCR and tapes we haven't touched since the advent of DVDs. And the stereo that plays CASSETTES (to be fair, it plays CDs too, but who doesn't just use their ipods these days?). And I got buy in on all of the above from my wife, so a trip to Goodwill is in my very near future.

I also checked out this site, and I wonder if any of you have heard of/used it:


I saw it suggested to someone as a way that you can do things like watch tv on hulu when you are overseas. Or order things from the US like e-books for your kindle when the servers want you to be originating from a US IP address.

That would make living overseas much easier.

Speaking of which, when I was in J'lem, I also used ShipitAPO when we wanted to order electronics and such from places that would not ship to an APO address. They give you a physical address where your order is shipped, then they send it on to you at the APO for a small fee. I found it very worth it.

Okay, back into planning mode...maybe soon my inner calm will return.

Friday, April 08, 2011

This Is What Patriots Look Like

Another thing to be mad about

One more way this whole shutdown thing is ticking me off:

It makes me a stupid language student.

If you know me, you know I am a doer. I don't like to sit around and worry about something. I like to try to fix it.

These days, I am angrier than I have been since I was in Jerusalem, and for the same reason:

I am powerless.

And on two sides. Both from Congress and the Department.

In Jerusalem, I felt that my life was no longer mine to control. That people who did not have my best interests at heart had too much control over my life. I was powerless, and I very nearly left the service over it.

Being powerless is not my talent.

There is nothing, nothing, nothing, I can do to make Congress do the right thing, do their job, and pass the budget.

So as a result, I could go without pay for who knows how long. And for those who say that non-essential workers got paid in the past, I say two things: first, the climate in Congress is different now. I doubt this Congress will approve pay for those who didn't work. And second, during the last shutdown, people went without a paycheck for six weeks. Could you do without your pay for six weeks? And even if you could, is that really the emergency you had your savings for?

There is nothing I can do to supplement my income, even if I wanted to. I can't get a job waiting tables or what have you...not allowed. I have to sit and stew. And hope they figure it out before I can no longer pay my mortgage.

There is nothing I can do to change the fact that even if I don't get paid, I will have to pay back the government for my insurance I will have less money even when I get paid.

There is nothing I can do to keep the government from targeting only the lower and mid levels of the Foreign Service with a 24% pay cut when we go overseas. There is nothing I can do to stop them from freezing my pay for nearly 1/4 of a 20 year career.

And I really hate being able to do nothing.

It makes it difficult for me to concentrate, to focus on ANYTHING else. It makes me want to sit on my couch and eat chocolate.

And it definitely makes me a bad language student. I have no focus left for it. And the sad thing is that I love it. I didn't go to the AFSA rally today because I didn't want to miss any time in class. And I was sad as I left FSI because I want to come to work on Monday. I want to serve, and right now my service takes the form of learning a lnaguage even though it likely means I won't get promoted this year because that is what my country needs for me to be the best FSO I can for it.

And then there is the Department.

What I also really want to do is go to post in August.

I LOVED being in Estonia. And every single person I have talked to, right up to the Ambassador, has said I have a section full of rock stars. Having met them, I agree. I want to work with them. I don't want to delay coming.

But as I told them when I met with them, I believe in family. I believe in a work-life balance.

I don't want to go without my wife, especially not for a full year, especially when it is completely avoidable. Especially when we have already spent three years apart for the service.

And yet, the Department, or at least the committee of those nameless people who get to decide, has determined that she may not study language in Estonia.

Even though Estonia has GREAT language school.

Even though learning a language in a country where that is the language spoken is MUCH better than learning it here (and the Department knows this, which is why we have so many people studying Arabic overseas instead of here).

And even though it will cost the Department somewhere in the neighborhood of $60,000 MORE to force her to study here. (Oh but they are different pots of money...of course all those pots come from the same big pot, right?)

Of course we are appealling...the appeal goes to the same people who already rejected it.

It makes me wonder, given some of the comments coming out of CDA lately, whether part of the problem is that the committee doesn't consider us a "real" tandem, a "real" family.

So I am angry. I am powerless.

And I really hate it.

Let Us Serve

From the Washington Post:

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Latest from AFSA President Susan Johnson

I deeply regret that the failure of Congress to reach a compromise on the FY-11 budget means that the possibility of a government shutdown looms ever larger. The Department has now sent three ALDCAS to the field (11 State 031766, 11 State 031767, 11 State 031768) outlining guidance for a possible shutdown. We have posted these ALDACS, together with other information, in our “Government Shutdown Information Center” on our website ( Please monitor that site for news on developments. Also, please read the final paragraph of this message for important information on our “Rally to Serve America” at the Harry S. Truman Building on Friday, April 8.

We still hope that Congress will enact appropriations for 2011 (or, failing that, pass another continuing resolution) in time to avert a shutdown. If these efforts fail, however, we know that the professionals of the Foreign Service will uphold the highest standards in managing an orderly process that will enable us to resume our full range of duties as quickly as possible after a budget is passed.

A warning to all of you: Please take very seriously the State guidance that, “… no employee may work if he or she is in a non-excepted status. Employees are advised that 'work' includes reporting to work as well as using fobs, Blackberry, and teleworking.” (In preliminary briefings, Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy has assured us, however, that employees may continue to use government-issued fobs and Blackberries to communicate with AFSA in the event of a shutdown. AFSA staff and officers who rely on and addresses will retain access to them in the event of a shutdown.) The imminent possibility of a furlough is a good opportunity for each of you to ensure that we have a current personal e-mail address for you. If you have not received this message at such an address, please take the time to send an e-mail to, giving us your current non-government e-mail address.

All of us in the Foreign Service are accustomed to going the extra mile, and doing whatever it takes to get our jobs done. It goes against our instincts to simply leave work undone. But, if you are designated a “non-excepted” employee and are furloughed, you must exercise the service discipline which has guided you through your career and simply force yourself not to perform official work in any way, shape or form.

The Department has noted that Chiefs of Mission have broad authority to determine which personnel at post are necessary to conduct essential functions in the event of a shutdown. It has issued guidelines to assist COMs in making these decisions, but we may reasonably anticipate that there will be some differences among our many posts in the implementation of these guidelines. 11 State 031768 notes that, “Rotating personnel to perform excepted functions may be made at bureau and post discretion.” We encourage decision-makers to be flexible in their application of this guidance, as a means of sharing the economic losses among employees in the event of an extended shutdown. (Note that, at this point, we have no indication that furloughed employees will eventually be paid for hours not worked because of a shutdown.)

Please note that AFSA staff, including our Labor Management staff at Main State and USAID, will continue to work during a shutdown, and can be reached as usual by e-mail and phone. 11 State 031768 notes that questions regarding your rights and entitlements during a furlough may be directed to your Executive Director and Post Management Officer. It also notes that you may use grievance procedures under 3 FAM 4400 to contest decisions regarding the furlough. If you believe that decisions implementing the furlough have not been made in an evenhanded manner, please let us know. AFSA stands ready to assist its members in these uncertain times.

AFSA, in coordination with our colleagues in AFGE, is organizing a “Rally to Serve America” this Friday, April 8, at noon in the Edward J. Kelly Park opposite the Marshall Center entrance of the Harry S. Truman Building (i.e. opposite the 21st and Virginia Ave. entrance of the Main State Building). We have alerted Members of Congress and the media to our intent to demonstrate our simple desire to do our jobs. Please come out to support this effort!

A non-response from Sen. Hagan on OCP

Remember how back in February, I asked you to write your Senator about not taking away our overseas comparability pay and thereby forcing only the lower and mid-leveled among us to take a 24% pay cut when we go overseas?

Well I wrote my Senator, NC Senator Kay Hagan. I told her about how I was an my colleagues serving overseas would be taking an immediate pay cut. How they were serving in places like Libya longside folks from other agencies along with the higher ranking of our own service, who did not have to take such a pay cut (any pay cut, in fact).

I asked her to help fight the cut.

Here is the response I got...makes me doubt anyone actually READ my letter. Notice there is not the first mention of the Foreign Service. And it took her two months to come up with this...

Guess who I will not be voting for next time?

April 6, 2011

Dear Friend,

Thank you for contacting me regarding federal spending and the national debt. I share your concerns about the need to encourage fiscal responsibility and use taxpayer dollars wisely. I apologize for my delayed response.

Our nation's debt has been accumulating dangerously over the last decade, primarily as a result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the severe economic recession that began in 2007 led to lower tax revenues and higher deficit spending as Congress took steps to unfreeze credit markets and revive the economy. All of these factors combined to put us on a fiscally unsustainable path that must be rectified. I understand that our country cannot continue deficit spending far into the future and I am working to enact a number of policies that will help address our nation's deficit and debt.

During the 111th Congress, I voted for an amendment to H.J. Res. 45 to reinstate the budget principle known as "pay-as-you-go," which requires that legislation increasing the deficit be offset by measures that reduce the deficit by an equal amount. It will help ensure that we do not burden future generations with the bill of our policies today. That amendment was agreed to by a vote of 60-39, and I believe it is a good start to controlling deficit spending.

In an effort to strengthen the pay-as-you-go budget principle and reduce the deficit, I have supported numerous bipartisan amendments to establish a five-year cap on discretionary spending. Discretionary spending caps have a proven track record of controlling government spending and reducing the deficit. In the 1990s, both discretionary spending caps and pay-as-you-go policies were in place under bipartisan agreements, and produced four balanced budgets and budget surpluses from 1998-2001. The five-year cap on non-security discretionary spending in President Obama's 2012 budget is a good start, but we must take a comprehensive approach to deficit reduction that includes entitlement spending and tax reform.

In addition, I also supported a proposal offered by Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) to create a bipartisan commission to address our long-term deficits. While that proposal did not receive the 60 votes required to pass, I was encouraged when President Obama announced plans for a similar commission co-chaired by former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, of North Carolina, and former Senate Republican leader Alan Simpson.

I was among the group of senators who advocated for the creation of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which President Obama created on February 18, 2010. The 18-member Commission was tasked with producing recommendations for reducing the deficit, and its leaders showed tremendous leadership throughout the process. On December 1, 2010, the Commission published its final report, which you can read here:

The Commission produced a set of bipartisan recommendations to help us get the national debt under control. Although a majority of commissioners supported the final report, it did not receive enough support to trigger automatic consideration in Congress. I do not agree with everything in the report, but I believe that the commissioners showed tremendous courage by addressing a wide range of issues, from tax policy to health care costs. Most importantly, their work will help keep the process of addressing our fiscal outlook moving forward. On December 3, 2010, I was one of 14 senators who sent a letter to the White House and the bipartisan congressional leadership, urging them to address our pressing fiscal challenges by considering the Commission's report.

As Congress considers deficit-reduction measures and budget proposals for fiscal years 2011 and 2012, I will certainly keep your thoughts about federal spending in mind. I look forward to working with my colleagues in a bipartisan fashion to put our fiscal house back in order.

Again, thank you for contacting my office. It is truly an honor to represent North Carolina in the United States Senate, and I hope you will not hesitate to contact me in the future should you have any further questions or concerns.


Kay R. Hagan

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Let Us Serve America!

I got an email this afternoon from AFSA State VP Daniel Hirsch saying that AFSA is holding a rally at the Edward J Kelly Park near the 21st Street Entrance of the State Department on Friday April 8, 2011, at noon.

The theme will be "Let Us Serve America!"

This is an opportunity to turn out and help AFSA protest Government shutdown. I plan to attend, and I hope you will come and will urge as many people as possible to attend with you.

You can also visit AFSA's Shutdown Information Center here.

The site reminds members that "Lessons learned from the shutdowns in the 1990s indicate that most problems were financial in nature. Members who do not have overdraft privileges or lines of credit with their banks may want to set them up as a precaution. Remember that if you have a mortgage that is paid automatically, you need to have sufficient funds in your account to cover your mortgage payment."

How To Screw Those Who Serve

Brought to you courtesy of Congress:

* Freeze federal employee pay. The latest proposal from the Republicans calls for our pay to be frozen for FOUR YEARS. Make this freeze include step increases and promotions. This means that pay will be frozen for nearly 1/4 of a 20 year career, which will also affect our retirement income.

(A report released by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis) said, "Federal workers deserve to be compensated for their important work but pay levels, pay increases and benefit packages need to be reformed to be in line with the private-sector.” Please do...because studies show that white-collar federal employees earn about 25% LESS than similarly experienced people in the private sector.)

* CUT the pay of those serving overseas by 25%, but only those who are in the Foreign Service and then only those in the lowest levels.

* Shut down the government, so that "non-essential" employees can not work and may not be paid...not a problem really, since we don't have mortgages, utilities, kids...oh wait. We do. Just like every other taxpayer.

*Generously offer to continue paying insurance for federal employees, but insist that they pay back their portion of the insurance when the government re-opens, EVEN IF THEY DON'T GET PAID.

*DON'T allow furloughed federal employees to get another job, because that would be considered separation from service. (You didn't really need to eat did you...guess there is more than one way to be inspired to diet...)

*Allow furloughed federal employees to apply for unemployment, depending on the state's rules, bearing in mind that if they DO get back pay, they will have to pay back the assistance they got, including the taxes paid on it. Of course, they won't get that tax money back until they file next year, but hey, who wouldn't want to give an interest-free loan to the government that clearly values you so much?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

If you can't say anything nice...

You probably shouldn't write a blog post.

I haven't felt much like writing lately...I feel like things have been coming at me from all sides.

First there is the is looking more and more likely. And I am really tired of being America's whipping boy.

Federal employee salaries make up about 0.25% of the budget. It is the big untouchables that make up 85% of the budget: social security, medicare, defense, and debt maintenance. But of course, let's see if we can balance the budget by cutting NPR, foreign aid, federal salaries. Oh, and let's not forget to give the rich a tax cut. Because they'd take that money and create more jobs...except that as recent tax cuts and record profits have shown, they aren't.

And there are folks just jonesing to shut the government, many of them in Congress. Of course, THEY won't lose their pay. Those Congressmen, like the one who complained he was "barely scraping by" on $174,000 a year (wish I had THAT problem), can't go without his salary during the shutdown because his family needs the money. But those Congressmen, unlike the "essential employees" who will be forced to work but may never get paid for it, won't even have to wait for their paycheck. They'll get paid all along...because they need their salary.

But I guess my family doesn't need ours. Yes, we have two incomes, but we are both federal employees. So we lose both of our salaries.

Makes it challenging to pay the bills.

And for those who are calling for all "non-essential" employees to be fired...I would remind you that they are people like me, who are in training. They are people like park rangers, janitors, and more. Hard working people who the government can do without so long as it seriously scales back what it does. Things I bet you'll miss when it happens.

And then we have it coming from the other side...the Department.

The committee of those who get to decide decided that my wife could not do in country language training.

Meaning we will likely have to spend a year apart.

Even though we have already spend THREE YEARS of her nine years with the Department apart at the needs of the service.

Even though it will cost tens of thousands of dollars MORE for her to stay here rather than come with me. (But it is different pots of money, they tell those pots don't all come from the same big wonder we have budget problems).

We are appealling, but not optimistic.

Told you I had nothing good to say...

Sunday, April 03, 2011


If you are a member of AFSA, you probably got a ballot in the mail in the past week.

All too often, active duty members are less likely to vote than retiree members. I think you should vote, and I am going to give you my two cents on who to vote for even though you didn't ask.

First, two-time GLIFAA board member Ken Kero-Mentz is running as a state rep. He is smart and committed and I think he will represent us well on the board. Also, because not enough people stepped up to run for State Rep, I hope you will consider writing in Mary Glantz. She had not expected to be in DC this year, which is why she did not run for re-election. But she now thinks she may be here...I hope you will consider writing her in, since she is on the current governing board and makes certain that the needs of the active duty and the future of the Foriegn Service are foremost in the minds of the members of the governing board.

This time, only one position is contested, that of president. Long-time AFSA board member Tex Harris and current president Susan Johnson are running for the position.

I think Tex is a great guy, super committed. But I hope you'll consider voting for Susan.

And here is why: I sincerely believe that we need an active duty person as president.

Of course we need to take care of the needs of our retirees. But Tex once said that we are all retirees, that some of us just are future retirees. And this simply is no longer true.

I think that someone who is not active duty is not in touch with the issues we face. Many of us, far more often than in the past, will leave this career for a variety of reasons. Ours is not the Foreign Service that the current retirees served in. We have far more unaccompanied posts that in the past.

In the past, people could not imagine quitting this career once you got in. And now, plenty leave over a variety of issues. When I was in Jerusalem, every person I served with (including me and my wife) were looking for other jobs. At least three have left the service.

Which is why we need to keep Susan Johnson.

She has, over her past term, proven she understands our issues and deals with them with a deft touch. She has formed alliances with management without forgetting that her job, first and foremost, is to advance the best interests of the foreign service, even when this conflicts with management.

I hope you'll consider voting, and voting for Susan, Ken and Mary.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Diplopundit going dark??

One of my favorite blogs, Diplopundit, received a "polite" take down warning about the blog. Scary stuff. Makes you wonder who will be next?