Daily Archives: May 18, 2012

State Dept Restores Blog, But All’s Not Well – Whatareyougoingtodoaboutit?

When I left to run errands around noon yesterday, Jen’s blog, The Dinoia Family has been restored in the blog roll of careers.state.gov.

By the time I was back online briefly late afternoon, there’s this note from  Jeffrey Levine, the outgoing Director of Recruitment, Examination and Employment(HR/REE).  Mr. Levine is also President Obama’s nominee to be the next Ambassador to Estonia.

To our Bloggers:
As you can see, we have re-linked to Jen Dinoia’s blog and sincerely regret any offense we caused. We appreciate all your efforts to share your personal Foreign Service experiences (writ large) and are pleased to offer them a wider audience. We will certainly try to be more sensitive in future decisions regarding placements. Thanks again for your efforts and your service.
– Jeff Levine, Director of Recruitment, Examination and Employment

WaPo has already picked up this blog restoration story, and has updated its article with Mr. Levine’s note and a quote from the State Dept’s spokesman Mark Toner:

Earlier, in a statement to The Post, State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner said the blog “has been restored” on the State Department’s recruitment page. “It had been taken down as part of a periodic effort by a contractor to review and freshen the blog links on the site.”

But the statement was at odds with what Dinoia was told in an e-mail early this week by a recruiting and marketing consultant for the agency when she discovered her blog had been removed from the State Department blogroll.

So this tempest should be done already, yes? I think – folks of a certain pay grade over at Foggy Bottom are betting that if Nipplegate, to borrow the term from another blogger, can be the FS bloggers’ quick win, then it will go swiftly away by the next news cycle.  The less than 24-hour restore time is quite amazing, but then, that’s the idea of a rapid response; so folks stop blogging about nipples already and you over there can stop snickering, too.

Hold on … not so fast, I’m trying to catch my breath here.

First, an FSO who commented in this blog politely writes, “I don’t get how “censorship” was introduces into Ms. Dinoia’s case. No one is telling her to stop talking. She was taken off a blog roll.”

And I have to agree he has a point.  It is the State Department’s blog. And like the blog roll I have in Diplopundit’s side bar, I have my bloggy reasons for selecting the links I’ve put up there.   Jen herself writes:

“No, it’s not my list.  Yes, they can update the list anytime they want.  However, they came to me.  They asked me to participate and I felt a little notice or a reasonable explanation as to why I was removed was not out of the question.”

So while “nipple” may have been the offending word, no one from the State Department actually told Jen to stop blogging about nipples, no one actually censored or prevented her from exercising her right to free speech. I should make that clear.  Will you buy that? Okay, fine, let’s not call it censorship.  They just ditched her blog, a catalog of a Foreign Service life that is so personal it would not — what’s the word? resonate. Would not resonate. More than being removed from the blog roll, I think that’s the one that was most hurtful.

FS spouses who at one time or another have heard themselves referred to as “just a spouse” were struck by online lightning. And so, the reactions were immediate and not at all surprising.

But we also know that even if we don’t call this incident an act of censorship by the State Department, the State Department has selectively censored blogs for various reasons.  They refused to call it censorship, of course, because that is such a bad word.  Censorship is something that Iran, or China or North Korea does, but not the oldest cabinet agency of the United States.  Such BS. They clubbed this one twice. Twice. Others do not need more career-aches, so will not be dragged across this blog.

And because the State Department does not do censorship, it will not tell FSOs in writing to shut down their blogs (Van Buren excepted). Adverse actions are paperless, warnings are behind closed doors, and in its wake, some folks were nudged into retirement, some assignments broken, spouses scared out of their wits on what this would do the careers of their loved ones. And the “chilling effect” is just that, chiiillllll out! One could vigorously argue that if you don’t like the free speech restrictions imposed on you, then you can find a job elsewhere. I imagine that’s a similar argument given to women who complained of discrimination not too long ago and we know how that turned out.

Here is another FSO who blogged specifically about the larger picture:

What State did with Jen’s blog – and especially the response sent to her email – may have been insensitive and ill-advised, but it wasn’t censorship. Jen’s blog will live on and delight its readers whether State links to it or not. However, that doesn’t mean censorship isn’t a problem in the FS blogging world. People DO get pressured to stop blogging by bosses or coworkers. Their jobs, their livelihoods get threatened because of their blogs. Not mine thank god, at least not yet, but it happens. Those blogs go dark, and that’s where the censorship charge starts to be more realistically applied. THAT’s where the risk is. THAT’s where the battle is. Let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill when the mountain’s already there.

And she is right, of course. In fact, that mountain is right there – it’s called Peter Van Buren. Until he wrote that critical book, he was a respectable member of the Foreign Service community.  He followed the book clearance procedure in the regs, and State broke its own rules. Instead of admitting this mistake, it went after him. Instead of addressing the content of his book, it went after him. Since he is retiring in September, what other reason is there for pursuing him in such dedicated fashion except to make him a memorable example? He is by no means, the only one, he’s just the most public one willing to put up a fight.

The ACLU says that it is easy to defend freedom of speech when the message is something that many people find reasonable. I think that’s right on target.  But also when the speaker is cuddly, likeable, not abrasive as emery board — that defense is easy.

But of course, we cannot defend freedom of speech then pick and choose which parts of speech we want to protect. But … but, he writes about the dirtiest laundry, and he seems always angry and he uses such colorful, offensive language and etc. etc… and that all may be true but isn’t the defense of freedom of speech most critical when the message is one most people find disagreeable?  In Mr. Van Buren’s case, a message that most members of the Foreign Service find disagreeable.  Still, Mr. Van Buren’s protected speech is every FSO’s protected speech.

But you say, you’re nothing like him. Or you will never be like Peter Van Buren, described in one blog as “the most recent State Department “white blood cell” looking to do to some institutional housecleaning at Foggy Bottom.” I’m sure Mr. Van Buren did not imagine himself like this 20 years ago.  How can you see what life is like 20 years down the road? It bears repeating that what the State Department is doing to Mr. Van Buren, it can easily do to anyone in the Foreign Service. As Madam le Consul used to say, repeat, rinse.

So here’s some food for thought — if we were offended that the word “nipple” caused Jen’s blog to be ditched from the official blog list, shouldn’t all of us be concerned that State requires clearances for every blog post, every tweet, every sneeze coming from Mr. Van Buren, and Mr. Van Buren alone?

To paraphrase Chomsky — if you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech even for views you don’t like.

Mr. Van Buren’s late and sudden non-adherence to a shared social code of Foreign Service life never to wash dirty laundry in public, and for crossing the boundaries of polite expression so valued in the diplomatic service makes him an FSO-non grata in most parts of the Foreign Service community.  But if the members of the community are only willing to defend the views that they like, wouldn’t they, too, be guilty of censorship by consensus?

Domani Spero

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Filed under Dissent, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, FSOs, Peter Van Buren, Realities of the FS

US Mission Iraq: Salad Bar Kerfuffle Due to 90% Drop in Daily Food Convoy Caused by “Regulatory Impediments”

Back in February, amidst the reported salad bar kerfuffle at the US Embassy in Baghdad, we asked a few questions, which obviously did not get any answer, good or bad (read Stop “whining” about the salad bar to the NYT, it’s “inappropriate”):

Did State anticipate that crossing the borders now manned by Iraqis would be messy? Did they anticipate that the Iraqis would want to approve/deny entry of supply convoys but that the government may have no process in place, but will never admit it?  Did State anticipate the multiple layers of bureaucracy required to approve entry of frozen chicken wings, and salad bar weeds trucked in from Kuwait? Is there a new SOP on what to do if the Iraqi guards do on chay break the rest of the day while supply trucks gets barbequed under the sun?

A U.S. Air Force airmen from the 70th Medium Truck Detachment lead a convoy through Iraq with a load of equipment and supplies Oct. 30, 2011. With less than five miles left before crossing the Iraqi border, the convoy of 43 vehicles traveled 1,100 miles in 7 days, hauling equipment out of the country as part of an effort to meet the deadline for the U.S. military to transition out of Iraq.
Photo by Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen

Now we know why they had no green weeds and went rationing the chicken wings. According to SIGIR:

“Earlier in the quarter, senior Embassy officials spent a significant amount of time working with the GOI to expedite the entry of U.S. food convoys from the Safwan border crossing, which lies just north of Kuwait. Reportedly, the number of trucks that entered Iraq through that crossing dropped for a time from 400–600 per day down to about 60 because of regulatory impediments imposed by the Ministry of Transportation.”

While the “impediments” imposed by the Iraqi Government hardly surprised us, we were quite stumped by the number of trucks running the food convoys.  Please note that we’re not saying our folks should not be feed.  It’s us — we just can’t begin to  imagine a hundred trucks end to end in a convoy, much more 600.  Every day.

Everything that has to do with our continuing project in Iraq is super-sized: the embassy is a giganotosaurus, the embassy staffing is over the top (no matter the “right-sizing”), the front office has one ambassador plus 5-6 assistant ambassadors, there are 350 police trainers, no 190, 100, 50, oh, who knows?

So 8,070 feet of food trucks lined up end to end should be a normal sight, considering the location, right?  Not that anyone would put them end to end, that would be much too tempting for the fireball guys. Except when the trucks are stuck end to end at the border crossing.

The report did not say if the “impediments” have been removed, or what other food sourcing options (MREs excepted) have been planned or implemented.

Domani Spero

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Filed under Countries 'n Regions, Food, Govt Reports/Documents, Iraq, State Department, Transition, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Baghdad

Photo of the Day: In Afghanistan, Even “COIN Stars” Get Bored, Too!

Via ISAF Media

COIN Stars | Afghan National Army soldiers take notes during a counterinsurgency leadership course at the COIN Academy at Camp Julien March 15 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
(Photo from ISAF Media/Flickr)

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Filed under Afghanistan, Photo of the Day, War