It’s all rainbows and unicorns, apparently

What a week. Seriously. Between all that’s happening domestically and internationally, it’s been nerve-wracking. Reading the FS blogosphere’s opinions, remarks, and observations has been interesting and informative. It’s nice to have a community of more-or-less like-minded people who contribute smart, insightful, and poignant posts about just what is going on out there. Better than the 24-hour news cycle any day.

Here in the Dominican Republic, we’re kind of insulated from the protests going on in the Middle East (obviously). Insulated, but not cut off. Dictators are being deposed from their long, tyrannical stints as heads of state by the people they have repressed for decades as the world anxiously watches to “see what happens next.” The D.R. is no stranger to violent and brutal dictators… Trujillo was assassinated in 1961 after 2 “official” reigns of terror and 30 years of bloodshed and oppression. The CIA may or may not have had nothing or everything to do with his death.

The other bit of news coming to us through many (Word doc – pops), many, many, many, many channels hits a little closer to home. There is a lot of discourse, and let’s face it, no one really knows what the bill or the amendment mean (here’s the text of the amendment, last page, last amendment). There’s a thread on Livelines trying to decipher what’s what, and really, it’s not much help. I know there’s little chance that this can pass the senate (they’ve said it’s DOA), but even if it does, Obama has said he’ll veto it.

So if this does come to pass (though it shouldn’t), what does it mean? I have no idea. Word on the street says we’ll lose 8 or 16 or 24 percent of our pay (depending on whom you ask). Who knows? Here in the D.R. we get 15 percent hardship pay and our COLA is about 8 percent. As far as I know, we haven’t seen a dime of OCP yet, though I don’t get to see the paystubs (thanks USG for making everything impossible to access!)… will it hurt our bottom line? Maybe. Student loans, credit card bills, household help, TV and internet, and expensive groceries all strain our budget, but we get by. Could we do it with less? I don’t know. On one salary, no way in hell. With me working? Possibly.

What’s the take-away here? Well, with recent developments in D.C., I sure hope that the responsible parties can come up for air for long enough to realize that this is just a sh*t idea. It’s not like we Foreign Service families can “weather the storm” as well as they think we can. We all have a lot on our plates without the added stress of wondering where our next paycheck will come from and how much less it will be. Seriously, Congresspeople, do you think you could fill my wife’s shoes (and those of countless other FSOs who have sacrificed SO MUCH to serve our country)? Do you think you and your family would be able to adapt and sobrevivir?

When you take away the OCP from single-income families (as many, many FS families are due to the dearth of work opportunities overseas), you take away the ability of these families to remain above-water. When you remove the ability to pay for some semblance of normality overseas (i.e. a decent wage, because, let’s face it, money DOES equal happiness whilst serving abroad – familiar sh*t costs money, yo), you’re going to have a LOT of unhappy trailing spouses, FSOs, etc., and your attrition rate is going to rise. So the hiring surge State undertook to promote the cause of diplomacy in place of military aggression will go by the wayside, and we’ll be forced to spend even more on our military and increase our deficit even further (all in the name of “national security”, natch). The current air of “big government = bad” making its rounds through Washington and the Red States really fails to see that big military = big government. What is the military other than an extension of the government that funds it (especially when said military is used to promote “democracy” in regions that aren’t ready for it)? Our diplomatic corps have made much more headway in these troubled areas than the brute force approach, and you want to cut the pay of these same people who sacrifice, umm, just about everything to serve unaccompanied in dangerous-as-hell areas to promote U.S. foreign policy?

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this whole push to cut the budget/deficit by “whatever means necessary” and the threat of a government shutdown. Did it work in 1995 or 1996? Why are we advocating more of the same? All these new politicians are thumping their chests in the name of doing away with “politics as usual”, but their tactics look eerily familiar. Not to mention that not a single Congressperson will miss a single paycheck. Do you think they’d be so quick to advocate for a shutdown if the money was being taken from their pockets too? I think not. The legislature is all about self-preservation.

Before I get off my soapbox (and possibly be asked to discontinue my blog), one last thing: as diplomats, we’re not elites, we don’t get special treatment, we don’t lead a cushy life. It may seem like that to some from their offices/couches/podiums in the States – “Oh, you get to travel the world and live in government-provided housing and go to cocktail parties and x, y, and z! How can you possibly complain?” I can complain plenty. I haven’t seen my sister and her family in almost a year, my parents in 3 months, many of my friends in a lot longer. My wife and I have never met our niece on her side. I live a rather insulated, solitary life in a country that is close enough to the U.S. to be almost the same but fundamentally different. I have to double-lock all of my doors, have bars on all my windows, have a 15-foot wall surrounding my house, and have to constantly worry that my housekeeper is stealing from me. I have to be targeted as “the rich Gringo” at every opportunity, I have to sit at home all day because job opportunities here are marginal at best. I have to take a severe pay-cut to go back to work in a job that I am over-qualified for, I have to speak a foreign language all the time. I have to breathe in horribly-polluted air and worry that my growing son is breathing the same crap into his lungs. I have to deal with 2 dogs that are bored and getting destructive because there’s no place for them to run and get their energy out. I have to wonder whether it’s going to take 8 minutes or 60 minutes to make the 5-mile trip to the Embassy because of the time of day and traffic. I have to decide what’s more important, going to my cousin’s wedding (who I haven’t seen in 4 years) or seeing as many people as possible on our home leave.

You know what? I wouldn’t give up this life for anything. I know my wife wouldn’t give up her job for anything. I know all of her colleagues are in the same boat. We make sacrifices all day, every day, and if we have to sacrifice a little more to keep Congress’ constituents happy and put a tiny little bit of money back into the coffers, guess what? We will. We serve our country no matter what because it’s what we’re asked to do.

Do me a favor, folks, and write your Senators and Representatives and let them know that you do not support Amendment 583 in H.R. 1. It would help a lot of us out immensely. We’ll continue to serve you abroad regardless of the outcome, but knowing that our friends and family are behind us can really help us through.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Senator Reed.

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