Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Federal Budget

The U.S. Congress is in the process of making difficult decisions to reduce government spending. When President Obama announced that all federal employees would not receive a cost of living increase for the next two years, I supported his decision.

Unfortunately, Rep. Tom Reid (R-NY) set his sights on diplomats, assuming that we do not deserve fair compensation for the sacrifices we make by serving our government overseas. I also want to note that other federal employees serving overseas have always received Washington locality pay and are not included in Rep. Reid's proposed cuts.

If you agree that we deserve to be fairly compensated for the sacrifices we make when serving overseas, I included a letter explaining the situation that you can send to your Congressional representatives. I also included a link to a blog article that gives a good description of what life is sometimes like for us.

Dear Senator/Representative XXXX,

I support efforts to eliminate wasteful and unnecessary spending across all our federal agencies as part of the effort to reduce our national deficit. However, I am concerned by current legislative proposals that call for reversing a carefully considered bi-partisan plan to modernize the pay system of the Foreign Service that is in the process of being implemented.

The Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 was adopted as a way to reduce the government-wide disparity between the public and private sectors and is a basic component of salary for all civilian Federal employees, based on annual survey data collected by the Department of Labor. As a result of this law, every federal government employee working in the United States received “locality pay” as part of their salary. Until 2009, the only United States government civilian employees who did not receive this part of their salary were Foreign Service personnel serving their country overseas.

Locality pay for Foreign Service personnel and other federal employees serving in Washington, D.C. is now approximately 25%. Under the law prior to 2009, Foreign Service personnel serving abroad sacrificed this part of their salaries and took large pay cuts to their base salaries. As a result, because retirement packages are based upon base pay (including “locality pay”), Foreign Service officers representing their country abroad received smaller retirement packages than their colleagues who stayed in Washington. This was not sustainable and in 2009 a bi-partisan solution was found to correct this policy problem. Closing the pay gap is not a pay raise -- it is a correction of a 17- year-old unintended inequity in the worldwide Foreign Service pay schedule—an inequity that grew every year.

Today thousands of Foreign Service employees serve in hardship assignments around the globe, which now constitute nearly 60% of all posts. The number of unaccompanied posts has increased more than fivefold in the last decade. Assignments overseas are increasingly challenging, difficult and in many instances, dangerous. There has been strong bipartisan recognition that it is time to invest in diplomacy and development. Penalizing Foreign Service employees whose mission is to serve overseas to advance and protect our national interests by cutting their base pay undervalues the importance of their work, widens the gap between those serving in the United States and those facing hardships and sacrifices overseas and creates real disincentives to serving on the front lines of American diplomacy and development.

I hope that you will support the Foreign Service and help ensure that its members are not penalized for service overseas.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Morocco via Madrid

Since we had to fly through Madrid to get to Marrakesh, we decided to spend two nights, seeing as we really enjoyed Madrid when we went last spring. We made sure to see the Prado museum last time, so this time we decided to check out the Reina Sofia museum. The most well-known painting in this museum is Pablo Picasso's Guernica. I didn't realize quite how big it would be: 11 feet tall and almost 26 feet wide! Picasso created it as an anti-war symbol after the bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica, and the painting depicts the suffering during war among other things.

Here was another interesting painting, made even more so after listening to the description through the museum headphones.

We also got to see some cool Salvador Dali paintings. I realized I enjoy his paintings a lot more now than I did while studying them in college. (Maybe my mind has become sufficiently warped enough to "get" his crazy paintings now?) Here is the one I really liked, although I feel it just doesn't come across the same at all as it did in person. It is called The Endless Enigma.

We had some tapas at a German beer hall, in which we discovered tables with beer taps in the middle of them!

We had to go back to the place that had the best olives I've ever had. I was afraid they would be serving a different kind of olive, but I was lucky. They were exactly the same!

And of course, what other way to end an evening in Madrid but with churros con chocolate!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Marrakesh, Morocco

We just got back a few days ago from a great trip to Morocco. Our friend Rebecca came with us, and it was the first time any of us had been on the African continent. We had a very fun time, and getting to experience the city of Marrakesh and the Moroccan people was so interesting. I will do a couple updates on the trip to share what we did. For now - here are some of the shots we got wandering around the souks in the medina......

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lisbon from Jesus' point of view

Do you recognize this statue?

It is the Cristo Rei monument in Lisbon. Here is another shot from far away:

If it looks familiar, it was inspired by the "Christ the Redeemer" statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Here is a picture of that statue and the awesome view that comes with it in Rio:

Cristo Rei is a Catholic monument and shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. It stands on the bank of the Tejo river, across from the city of Lisbon. We've been wanting to check out the view for a long time now, and it was a nice day, so we decided to make the journey. (Luckily there is an elevator to take you to the top!)

We recently got a new camera - a digital SLR. It was the perfect occasion to play around with it and get some good shots at the same time. Enjoy the pictures!