• Saying Goodbye, and Sorry We Messed This Up

    August 31, 2013 // 7 Comments »

    (Off topic here, but I wanted to say a few words after dropping my child off at college. Regular readers who hope to see evil and corruption exposed, tune in again. There’s still plenty of it out there, also in a way the topic of this essay. This originally appeared on Huffington Post)

    Mrs. We Meant Well and I sent off the last of the heirs to the We Meant Well fortune to college. She’s a good kid, smarter than me hopefully, and she should do well at school. Though she is more embarrassed than anything about half the stuff on this blog, her heart’s in the right place. It would be very odd if as a teenager she would be any different. Hell, if she was as cynical as me at her age, we’d need to have her see a doctor.

    I kept my mouth shut at the college– there are rituals to these things and dad-confessions are not among them– but I wanted to say sorry to her more than simply goodbye. My kids all grew up overseas while I served with the State Department (though they of course did not accompany me to Iraq). Despite the occasional job hassles, it was not a bad life. For most of the time the world was mostly at peace. We started the adventure around the same time that Desert Storm happened. After a week of silly paranoid concern that the Iraqi Army might somehow attack us in Taiwan, life went back to normal and continued that way until September 11, 2001. We were assigned in Japan at that time, and like all of you, watched the terrible events unfold on TV, albeit late at night because of the time zone thing. As the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I got up to make some sandwiches to bring in to work, knowing the phone would ring soon and I’d be called in to the Embassy. I remember as clear as glacier water my wife saying “Why would they call you in? That’s in New York and we’re in Tokyo!” Then the phone did ring and that was that. Forever after I would feel like a shadow looking for the sanctuary of a light.

    The world my kids grew up in no longer exists. We destroyed it. In reaction to the terror attack, we set the Middle East on fire (still burning), nearly bankrupted our own economy, turned air travel into a form of bondage play, and did away with our democracy in return for a security state that exists only to keep us perched on the edge of fear. Nothing pressed us into these actions; we did them all on our own, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, the NSA amok, all that.

    That night twelve years ago in Tokyo, when I was called in to the Embassy after midnight? As I approached the gate, I could see a large crowd gathered, not usual for after midnight and certainly not usual in calm-as-dust Tokyo. About a hundred Japanese had spontaneously gathered there, some with flowers bought who-knows-where at that time of night. They clapped for us as we walked in to work. They wanted to touch us as we walked by. It did not last long. Fast forward to March 2003 and a larger crowd gathered to protest the invasion of Iraq, and protest calls blew out the switchboard. Our security people let us out a back gate, saying it wasn’t safe to exit through the front door. In Tokyo. One bomb threat and false positive al Qaeda warning after another followed, hitting a low point when, after weeks of denying it, the State Department admitted that they had shipped diplomatic pouches into our Embassy that might have been infected by the anthrax that was in the U.S. mail system at the time. My office was near the pouch mail room and I had to take Cipro as a precaution and wonder if anything got into my home and my kids’ room off my clothes. Threats and terror alerts became a daily part of our new normal, there and in the U.S.

    So I wanted to say I was sorry to my child. Sorry we messed up the world for you. Sorry for, what, how many dead? Sorry countries where Americans used to be at least tolerated with our awkward shorts and sandals ‘n socks are now too dangerous to even visit. Sorry you’ll never see the ruins of Babylon in Iraq, or the Pyramids, unless you join the Army. Sorry you will never know what privacy is. Sorry that you, and your children, will live in an America that exists in a constant state of low-fever war. Sorry you will never know peace. Sorry that we not only did not defeat the terrorists but, by our actions, gave their cause new life and seemingly endless new recruits. Sorry you will never enjoy an airplane trip, sorry you will never trust your government, sorry you will always have that tiny glint of reservation when you hear the anthem, read the Constitution or wonder what happened. And while I am sorry that you’ll blame us, you are right to do so. We did it. Some of us actively participated, some passively let it happen. Some that tried to make changes failed to make them significant enough to hold back even some of the water coming over the levies. Sorry, but if anyone is going to fix this, it is going to have to be you. Do a better job than we did if you want to really find a way to say thanks for the piano lessons and ballet lessons, the puppy, for using the car, for me not being too mad when you violated curfew to spend more time with that boy, for the college tuition.

    Funny, but I also just sent my last draft for the new book off to the editor. He’ll make it much better and I know that, but I have given up something that used to be all mine at the same time. It’ll come back different.

    We sent my daughter off to college this weekend and while my wife cried about 99% of the time, I held back some tears until the very end. While some kid my daughter had never met before said “C’mon, we’re going out with the guys from the next quad!” I stood there hugging her not in that room but in a million places where she had fallen down or asked for ice cream or needed a diaper changed or the causes of World War I explained. I didn’t hug an 18 year old woman but a six year old, a 13 year old, an infant in diapers, a two year old angry about being wet in the snow.

    And despite my need to hold on to her for just that much more she felt closer in that moment to the anonymous roommate demanding she go out the door with her than to me and I knew simultaneously how I hurt and how right she was to need to leave. The space between us was a fraction of an inch but it was a distance I would never cross.

    Back home it was quiet. Just my wife and the stupid, now old dog. I walked outside and saw the trees were still an unbelievable green, but just a hint of yellow, almost too little to really see, more of a feeling. There were nine empty beer cans in the recycling bin and I could hear cicadas. I swacked a mosquito. I’m gonna really miss summer.



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    US Diplomat Enslaved Woman; Sadly, Not Uncommon Except in the Extreme

    October 11, 2012 // 6 Comments »

    Next time Hillary cranks up the PR machine to talk about women’s rights and the rights of workers, somebody might clear their throat and ask her to look inside her own State Department before opening her mouth in public.

    Rape

    According to court documents, a U.S. Department of State diplomat (LinkedIn photo above) and her husband tricked an Ethiopian woman into accompanying them as their domestic servant to Japan, where they held her virtually as a prisoner in their home and forced her to work for them for less than $1 per hour and where the husband repeatedly raped the woman with his diplomat wife’s consent. A Virginia federal judge awarded the victim $3.3 million in damages on a default judgment against the couple. The diplomat retired from the State Department with full pension and then fled the country.

    The victim, identified only as “Jane Doe,” told the court she was hired by the Howards in 2008 as a live-in housekeeper at the couple’s home in Yemen, where Linda Howard worked at the U.S. embassy. Doe says she agreed to move with the couple to Japan after Linda Howard was transferred to the embassy there and that she was promised wages of $300 per month, time off each week, health insurance and a safe place to live and work.

    Once in Japan, Doe says, Russell Howard repeatedly raped her, forced her to perform oral sex and sexually assaulted her. Doe says Linda Howard was complicit in her husband’s sexual abuse, telling Doe that she should gratify her husband and make him happy. Doe, who speaks little English and no Japanese, says the Howards also used nonphysical force, such as isolation and threats of deportation, to coerce her into servitude.

    Justice?

    After five months in Japan, Doe says, she fled the Howards’ home in the middle of the night. She says that after she reported the abuse, the State Department removed Linda Howard from her overseas post and launched an investigation into the Howards.

    Once back in Washington and while the so-called investigation took place, Howard, according to her LinkedIn profile, worked among other places as a recruiter and assessor for people seeking jobs with the State Department. She tells us on LinkedIn that she received a Superior Honor Award, with cash bonus, from State in June 2011, which would have been well after any investigation commenced. Her LinkedIn profile also references Cleared Connections, an employment site for government workers, suggesting she retained her security clearance from State.

    Linda Howard acted in bad faith by telling the court that she was unaware of any upcoming overseas job-related travel and then two weeks later retiring and leaving the country, the magistrate judge said. She also refused to appear for a deposition as ordered by the court and refused to communicate with Doe’s attorneys to facilitate discovery as ordered by the court, Magistrate Judge Jones said.

    Now, a question: if the allegations are true– and a Virginia court says they are– Mr. and Mrs. Howard committed felonies on federal property. Mr. Howard is an Australian citizen, so maybe it is a huge guess to wonder if they are outback there. Has the FBI been called in by State, as the FBI has jurisdiction over crimes on federal property (that why they are the lead investigators in Libya now)?

    Or is Julian Assange the only Australian the State Department cares about bringing to justice?

    U.S. Embassy Prostitution

    Unfortunately the story above is not an isolated incident. America’s diplomats are allowed by both U.S. and most foreign laws to import and employ domestic help pretty much without oversight. The workers are typically from Third World countries, and often do not speak the local language. Lacking friends, social contacts and legal protections, State’s diplomats are free to treat their household help pretty much any way their conscience allows. Most are fair and decent, but there is little safety net underneath when things go bad.

    For example, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has had its share of problems. In the early part of this decade, the embassy paid-for-dormitory for domestics (so they did not have to live with their diplomatic masters) was found full of women not connected with the embassy, some of whom were prostituting themselves on and out of U.S. government property. The public restroom just outside the dorm was a known quickie spot for night time taxi drivers looking for sex. Things were handled nice and quietly by State and the story stayed out of the news and out of the taxpayers’ attention.

    Economic Enslavement?

    A bit further back, one Tokyo embassy U.S. diplomat identified here as Thurmond Borden, had domestic troubles. The story is that in 1993, 40 year-old Lucia Martel was working as a domestic in Manila. In March of that same year, Mr. Borden was visiting the Philippines on vacation with his Filipino wife, and the couple was looking for a woman. Mr. and Mrs. Borden offered Lucia a monthly wage of about Y30,000 (USD300). To comply with the Japanese immigration regulations, a written contract was signed that contained very different language. The contract stated her working conditions as six days/week, eight hours/day, a monthly salary of Y150,000 (USD1500), and an overtime pay of 125%. The contract papers were submitted both to the U.S. Embassy and to the Japanese Immigration Bureau.

    Lucia started working at Borden’s residence October 16, 1993. Despite her contract, she was forced to work from six in the morning to ten in the evening, and was not allowed to rest even on Christmas and New Years according to reports.

    On May 22, 1994, reports were that Lucia complained to Mrs. Borden and the latter confiscated Lucia’s original contract, return air-ticket and Alien Registration Certificate. This Certificate is very important for expatriates in Japan. It must be carried at all times and if caught without it, one may end up being taken into custody by the police. Lucia went to the Naka-ward municipal office to have a new card issued. The shocked office staff who heard her story contacted the police. A cop officer visited the Borden’s residence to take Lucia’s Registration Certificate back from Mrs. Borden. Mr. Borden, returning from his work, was said to have become enraged. He allegedly shouted, “Go back to the Philippines!” to Lucia. Lucia feared that she might be assaulted. She fled the residence taking none of her belongings except the clothes she was wearing.

    Lucia eventually tried to sue the Borden’s, and organized protest marches outside the U.S. embassy. The State Department, however, claimed diplomatic immunity on Borden’s behalf and the Japanese legal system dropped the case. State Department records list Borden now as the head of the Consular Section in Jakarta where, among other tasks, he has responsibility for issuing maid visas to U.S. diplomats’ domestic help bound for the U.S.



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