Friday, August 30, 2013

Closing Time

I am officially shuttering this blog. 

Thanks to all who have followed our/my adventures and read what I spent time and energy writing. I appreciate all the readers, but the time has come to close this avenue.

Best wishes to all.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bonuses for IRS Employees

The title of the article reads "IRS to pay $70M in employee bonuses" and goes on to explain that because of our monetary woes and the institution of sequestration that these types of expenditures (of discretionary funds) should be canceled.  This according to a directive written by Daniel (Danny) Werfel when he worked at the Office of Management and Budget.  Mr. Werfel must have forgotten all about that as he is now the acting IRS Commissioner, and is apparently planning to hand out 70 million American taxpayer dollars in "bonuses." 

 In the State Department I can tell you that we don't get bonuses - even in good financial times.  We do have a system to offer awards (accompanied by a monetary component of usually no more than few hundred dollars) to employees who have really gone above and beyond in support of diplomacy.  This practice has been suspended until further notice. 

Seems we have a case here of rules applying to one, but not the other...which to my mind undermines the principle of equal treatment for all, an ideal integral to what it means to be American.

I also do not think government employees should receive bonuses of any kind.  That is more appropriate to a for-profit organization where one's efforts have directly impacted the bottom line and increased the company's profit.  Government is not a for-profit organization, or at least it should not be.

But this article begs the question, just what does one do at the IRS to warrant a bonus?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Another Fallen Colleague

My sincere condolences to the family and friends of my fallen colleague, Anne Smedinghoff.

Unfortunately I read this article from the British press, and I must ask why they were out walking?  What kind of protection were they given?  How is it possible that they did not know exactly where they were going? No one had made a dry run?

The article says, "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday railed against the 'cowardly' terrorists responsible for the attack" and that the FBI is investigating.  In fact, killing is as natural to terrorists as swimming is to fish.  We can't really blame them for doing what they do, but shame on us if we allowed ourselves to be easy targets.  

Perhaps Secretary Kerry will insist upon a top down review of the security protocols in place to determine if the right steps were taken to protect unarmed diplomats.  It is one thing to give your life in service to your country when you've actually taken prudent measures to protect yourself, but it is a whole other thing to lose a life because of carelessness.  In the first case the blame rests on the terrorists, in the second the responsibility rests, ultimately, on the chief  mission.

I find this information very troubling, especially given the lack of concrete action taken after the attack in Libya.  I fear more of the same will become a more common occurrence.  These precious lives should not be given in vain.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Its Iraq

A posting in Iraq is other.  Nothing seems to follow the standard rules of practice. 

So, what's it like to work in Iraq?  It is difficult and full of contradictions.  I cannot speak to working in Baghdad, but I can say most people really don't want to go there.  I know only what it is like to work out in the consulates, in the northern part of the country. Out here you have conflict upon conflict - diplomacy vs security, left over Dept of Defense vs Dept of State, contractors vs direct hires, etc.  There are lots of demands by Baghdad and DC, but no people or resources to accomplish their demands, but even those are often put aside in favor of more pressing immediate needs and demands of the people living and working here. We have more than one compound, there are competing demands and definitely a difference in living conditions and acceptable circumstances at each.

As I have said time and again...what makes all the difference is the friends you make and the people you meet.  I'd rather be in a bad place with people I trust and like, than to be in a palace with those I cannot trust and do not like.  I am lucky enough to have a few that I trust very much, but there are just as many that I do not trust.

This kind of environment brings out the very worst in people.  It is an extreme situation that exposes many of our flaws.  If there is little in the way of resources are you going to share generously or will you become a selfish hoarder?  When chaos reigns will you work well with others so that everyone can meet their goals, or will you demand that you take precedence?

I once told a superior that doing my job is easy, it's navigating the personalities that is so difficult.  She agreed.  In our arena of Iraq there are a few leaders among us, but the hierarchy is so poorly defined, resources are sparse and too many people think they are in charge.

There is a clash of cultures between those who want to remove ALL possible danger, those who know they must work with the uncertainty and get out into places that can be dangerous; some literally think there are villians lurking just outside the gate while others move about outside our gates like they were in Philadelphia.  Contractors complain that they have to dry CHUs (housing with no bathrooms) while we have wet CHUs (two rooms share a bathroom), but they make a heck of a lot more money that we do and I can guarantee they would not do my job for my pay in this country. 

Then there is the problem of using "contractors" as our main security supplement.  Direct Hire DOS oversee contractors.  Iraq says we have too many Americans and wants us to bring the numbers down, Baghdad agrees.  So who are we going to replace them with?  Iraqis?  Certainly there are Iraqis who are honorable, but what of those who can be bought or blackmailed?

So what is working in Iraq like?  It is stressful.  It can make you angry and frustrated.  It can leave you not knowing who to trust, who is telling the truth or how things are really supposed to happen.  And though we do get some "down" time, you are never really off the clock.  You are available 24 hours a week for days on end.

Oh, and everything is covered in a not so thin layer of dirt...that has just now turned to mud because they rainy season has arrived.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sept 11 Libya

Tragic events in Libya resulting in the death of our U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, and Tyrone Woods.

They certainly were brave men among men for doing what diplomats do - stepping into the breach.  A breach is by definition a rift, a rupture, a schism, a is the antithesis of continuity, connection, or unity.  A breach, by its very nature, is chaotic, uncertain, not harmonious and therefore is risky, perilous, even dangerous.

Much is made of the valor of soldiers who, with arms, stand in battle alongside their brethren in defense of others, or aggressively bring the battle to the enemy.  But I wonder if any see the raw courage of those who enter perilous situations without armor or weapons, without the cavalry to protect them in order to extend a hand to strangers (who may or may not receive them) in order to build genuine relationships based on trust and mutual respect.

Ambassador Stevens and many faceless others have worked with like minded people in Libya to help strengthen them, to encourage them and teach them anything we know that can help them overcome their own countrymen who would rather take this fragile nation down the road of radical Islam, anarchy and align with less favorable partners.  We learned on the original 9/11 that a few people from a small country with few resources and little education can hurt us dramatically.  Who ever thought the Taliban in Afghanistan harboring a small group of Al Qaeda devotees would be so relevant to their own lives? 

Our own national security is dependent upon our diplomats who find ways to weave together alliances and bring stability to strife-torn regions in ways that all our military hardware and personnel cannot do.  Our diplomatic community accomplishes great things because they are willing to do what few others are - step into the breach.

Much has been said about the lack of security for the Ambassador and the people working for us.  I'm sure much more will be said. But I wish more people understood that we accept higher risks to perform our duties out in the field every day than most people do in their own lives.  We do it because we believe we can make a difference, for love of country and for the love of mankind.  We know we cannot make the world a place of utopia, but we're willing to affect change where we have the opportunity. America should be proud of their diplomatic corp.

I'm sorry to say that most Americans have no clue what their diplomatic corp does for them.  I am doubtful they appreciate us, or hold us in esteem even remotely similar to military forces.  But I know that they were heroes, just like many others who work everyday in difficult, even dangerous circumstances that you will never know.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Riding Gators

Occasionally the night is cool and calm, and we take advantage by sitting outside and chatting away the time.  On one such night not too long ago I and several of the ladies did just that.  It was almost midnight when one of them asked me if I want to take the gator for a ride..."uh, what is a gator?"  She said it's lots of fun, you wanna drive it?  Apparently she had been driving this little gem around, instead of a real vehicle.

Here is picture of what a brand new one looks like.  But ours was anything but "new."  This one was covered in dirt, ripped seats...and does NOT have working headlights.  This is important because our compound does not have lights either.

It was only after we were off on our midnight adventure that I realized she was quite tipsy, which only added to the giggle factor.  Our compound is also very much under construction and every single day new trenches are opened up, so as we went at a top speed of 12 miles an hour through the dark she would occasionally yell, "is that a trench!?!" to which I would answer "Nah! that's just a ditch!"  Which we would promptly drive right through.

It doesn't take long to hit a wall (a barrier between us and the "outside" world) so we had to change directions several times.  Only after I was sure she was securely holding on, did I swing the wheel and slide us sideways in the loose gravel to make a 180...yes, we caused quite a stir on the compound so late at night, giggling, laughing and flying by men with guns....who wondered who in the *&#@ was making all the racket (we did wave as we went by, and some of them waved back!).

It was over too soon, but an enjoyable little jaunt all the same.  The next day they put in generator powered street lights...seems someone fell into a trench and got hurt, lol.  Wasn't us!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Killing a Little Time

Well, the move is complete and we are trying to settle into our new surroundings.  Pretty much everything is different, not better or worse, just different.  Making the adjustment to how everything functions differently in trying to do your job can be frustrating.  I know I have been utterly frustrated and at times overwhelmed at the massive amount of learning I must do to simply accomplish the simplest tasks...but I see that as a pattern in my job.

I have gotten quite comfortable in my CHU with a nice large rug, several of my things from home and reminders of friends and loved ones.  Today has been a day of refusing to go to the office, and simply puttering around, doing laundry and watching TV.

It can be very monotonous when you live and work with the same dozen find your conversation options are kind of narrow.  I've found myself making up stuff when someone asks me what I have done or will do.  I tell them I mowed the yard today, took the dog for a walk and went to the ice cream store; or that I'm off to shop at Target or Walgreen's.  We've all talked about naming things and streets here in this barren construction zone.  I have called our street Pineview Terrace, because there aren't any pines, not much of a view and certainly no terraces, LOL.

You might think I'd be bored, but I'm not.  You'd be surprised how much time a woman can kill pampering her feet and hands, moisturizing hair and skin.  I'm just thankful for having a few hours when it doesn't feel like the world is going to come to an end if you don't do this one more thing.  Hurray for killing time!