Saturday, November 22, 2014

When Will It Be a Lesbian's Turn

The Senate is finally getting around to clearing some of the ambassadorial nominees that have been sitting in limbo for months and months.

I suspect this could be happening because they know that when the Republicans take over in January, Presidential appointments could be more contentious.

I am really happy to see this happening. We need to have ambassadors in our countries. It says a lot about the seriousness with which we take the relations with that country and it affects the work we are able to do.

I am particularly happy to see folks like Donald Lu, who is going out as Ambassador to Albania, get confirmed. I have never met him, but every single person I have spoken to about him said he is a guy to work for. That they would work for him anywhere. That is the highest compliment a Foreign Service Officer can get.

And I am ecstatic to see Ted Osius' confirmation as Ambassador to Vietnam. Up to now, all of the current openly gay Ambassadors have been political appointees. Ted is a career officer, as is his husband Clayton Boyd. I have never met Ted, but Clayton is an awesome guy. I'd love to work with him one day.

But still missing from this lineup are openly gay Ambassadors of color or openly lesbian Ambassadors (career or political). Yes, I have heard speculation that this female Ambassador or that was lesbian (though that is often something speculated about any strong woman regardless of her sexuality), but I am talking about an out lesbian. A role model to the lesbians of the world and to the lesbian diplomats in the Department.

When will we see those appointments?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Risks We Take

For all of you still convinced of how easy the lives diplomats live are, Email from the Embassy has a good piece this week on the risks we take to serve the country in the Foreign Service.

Everyone knows the risks we take to serve in some of the most dangerous places in the world. At least, I like to think they know. Sometimes I am not so sure. But to refresh your memory, there have been 21 attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates since the 1998, when our embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar e Salaam, Tanzania were attacked. Fifteen of that attacks have happened just in the nearly 11 years I have been a part of the Foreign Service. Hundreds have died in those attacks, including the one everyone now remembers, the one at Benghazi, which took the life of my friend, Ambassador Chris Stevens.

But there are other risks too. Risks we are aware of but sometimes try to push from our minds. The Department is why we can retire with full pension after 20 years instead of the usual 25-30 the federal government requires.

That risk is to our health.

We serve in places where healthcare is far less than what we can get in the U.S. while the risk is far greater. Ebola is just the most recent example. In addition to the courageous health care workers risking and sometimes losing their own lives to help the people of the affected West African countries, there are also diplomats serving in those places, working to make sure we can get help where it is needed. But this is far from the only place. When I went to visit my wife in Baku, a pre-checkup at my then university advised me simply not to go. And added that if I got sick with ANYTHING, to leave the country. As Donna mentions in her piece above, she sacrificed hearing in one ear to the pollution in China and now wonders about the mysterious chemical she inhaled for a day in Moscow before they were warned to turn off their heating systems and close all windows. One of my wife's A-100 classmates lost 1/3 of his intestines to a mystery bug at his first post.

There are cancer clusters from people who served at certain posts together. malaria, respiratory illnesses from years of pollution, and mysterious miscarriages. And even for me, there is a potential connection between vitamin D deficiency and arthritis. But mine, like so many others, can't necessarily be traced to my service.

Like Donna, most days, I think the risk is worth it. And I know if my knees are the worst of it, I have gotten off easy.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Searching For Diversity in the Foreign Service

PBS' show "To The Contrary" had a nice piece this week on the Foreign Service's efforts to become less pale, male and Yale.

The show does a good job of showing where we have succeeded and where we have a ways yet to go.

Personally, I would have liked for them to talk more about the lack of American Indians at State. I think there are only about 35 of us throughout all of State's Foreign and Civil Service. That number would be less than the percentage of the population if it were entirely FSOs. American Indians make up about two percent of the total U.S. population. At 13,000 Foreign Service Officers and Specialists, that number is only 1/5 of one percent. When you consider the additional 11,000 Civil Service employees of the Department, you begin to see exactly how small the representation of American Indians at State really is.

I know it is hard to recruit Indian people. People in my own tribe don't understand why I would do this. Why I would go so far from home. But it is important because we represent an important part of America's story, one that the world needs to hear. We are uniquely situated to talk about this country, warts and all, and our willingness to still serve it and believe in the best that it can be. And in communities with minority populations, previously occupied peoples, or indigenous populations, we are uniquely able to speak the language so to speak.

While I am a member of the newly formed employee affinity group for American Indians and I have in the past gone to speak to universities with significant Indian populations, it is my hope that I will one day be able to work in recruiting for the Department and hopefully make our numbers more representative.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I Forgot To Tell You

It is sometimes hard to remember to post things about language training.

So here it is. Albanian is hard, but not as hard as Estonian. But still hard.

We have been moved to block A (you might remember I complained about being on Block B here). I don't know how long it will last, but it is objectively better. There is parking, food in the cafeteria (which is no longer a half-eteria, as they have finished the renovations), and the schedule allows us to make some much needed doctor appointments (something all FS folks do when they are back in the states). Plus, we have a good class with great chemistry and similar abilities and a good teacher who is willing to let us geek out on grammar.

And we all know anything geeky is likely to make me happy.

We also both had our first progress test last week and we both did well. Nice to be over that hump.

Oh, and I finally got assigned to DC...only three months after I arrived....

Now for my locality pay to catch up!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ten Parting Thoughts for America's Diplomats

I meant to share this with you back when it was published last month.

It is some parting thoughts by William Burns, a career Foreign Service Officer who is retiring after serving as Deputy Secretary of State, the number 2 position at the State Department. He is uniformly respected and admired, and will be missed.

10 Parting Thoughts for America's Diplomats: As one of America's foremost diplomats hangs up his spurs, lessons from 33 years at the State Department.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Don't expect to get kissed....

You probably (hopefully) noticed we had an election last week. Hopefully you even voted.

You probably (hopefully) also noticed that the Republicans gained control of the Senate and maintained control of the House.

The Washington Post had a good piece on why this might make federal employees nervous. Because you can bet money that federal employees will be getting screwed again. And don't expect to get kissed.

"A look at what the Republican-dominated House has already approved provides a good indication of what will soon get much greater consideration in a Republican-dominated Senate. For starters, take the budget plan the House approved in April.

It would save Sam $125 billion over 10 years — at the expense of his employees.

The GOP has repeatedly given feds good reason to be wary of a Republican-controlled Congress. Last year’s 16-day partial government shutdown was engineered largely by recalcitrant House Republicans. At the same time, it’s worth remembering that the three-year freeze on federal pay rates was proposed by President Obama, a Democrat, and approved with a bipartisan congressional majority. Those two things, the pay freeze and the shutdown, angered the workforce and hurt its morale more than any other issues in recent years."

That's right, we get to continue to be Congress's favorite whipping boy. They will make cuts to our pay and our retirement, even though federal salaries make up only 15% of discretionary spending, and discretionary spending is only about 29% of the entire federal budget.

But it makes them look good to their voters.

Guess whose salaries and retirements won't face any cuts?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

SC determined to bring up the rear....

A federal judge today found South Carolina's ban on marriage equality unconstitutional.

Photo courtesy of SC Equality
This should come as no surprise, since the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found the ban unconstitutional last month. And while that ruling concerned a case from Virginia, all the states covered by the Fourth have seen the handwriting on the wall, have stopped wasting taxpayer dollars, and started allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Except, of course, South Carolina.

Because Governor Haley, who vowed that "This administration will continue to uphold the will of the people," wants you to remember her as the governor who continued to fight for the will of the people, much as George Wallace is remembered for photos of him blocking black students from entering Alabama schools after desegregation. Maybe she could block the doors of the courthouse as same-sex couples try to enter for marriage licenses.

Make no mistake, SC's governor is just as much on the wrong side of history as he was, and history will be no kinder to her. Remember too that slavery was once the will of the people.

Likewise, SC Attorney General Wilson has already said he will appeal this the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The same court that has already ruled that the bans are unconstitutional. A ruling that the Supreme Court has already declined to review.

His argument is that the 6th Circuit Court has since ruled that such bans ARE constitutional. But they are the only court to rule that way of more than forty federal court rulings. And SC is not covered by that court. True, that ruling may mean the Supreme Court will have to address the issue again soon, and hopefully this time more fully, and it has even been rumored that the ruling was designed to force the Supreme Court to get involved. But that does not change the fact that the issue has been addressed by the very court he is appealing to, and the Supreme Court already refused to hear an appeal of that ruling.

In case you are wondering why all this matters, consider the words of William Lucas Walker, who is, like me, a South Carolinian in exile. And consider the same-sex families still living there:

"I love South Carolina. Loved growing up there. Love going back. Despite the fact that we're two guys with kids, in 15 years we've never had a bad experience. Our family is welcomed at Sunday services by the same congregation that's known me since I was child. Our kids have been cared for in the same nursery where I used to play. On my October trips, when Kelly and the kids aren't with me, the minister always asks to see pictures. That's the South Carolina I love.

But it doesn't mean we're safe. Not as a family. Not in case of emergency. Every time we go back together we can't avoid the unspoken stress of wondering what might happen to us if there were some sort of accident or medical crisis. Would Kelly be recognized as my spouse? Would I be recognized as his? Would we be seen as our children's parents? Allowed to make medical decisions for each other or for them?

 It's not a hypothetical fear."

 It is done, South Carolina. Get on the right side of history. Be the state I love.

Your drive to get to be the very last state with institutionalized bigotry is embarrassing. And your citizens deserve better than you wasting their money on that.