Traveler’s Triathlon

Today I am attempting the traveler’s triathlon — a three-leg trip with tight connections, heading into snow country, in winter. Add in a government shutdown and what that potentially means for TSA workers, air traffic controllers, and every other federal employee who works in the nation’s air traffic system, and the degree of difficulty ratchets up to just about Iron Man Triathlon levels.

So far, though, so good. No bad weather, no security delays, no de-icing issues, and no mechanical problems. I had to run through several terminals and concourses at O’Hare, but that just gave me some much-needed exercise.

If my last leg leaves and arrives on time, I may just need to buy a lottery ticket when I read my ultimate destination.

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When The Shutdown Hits Home

You could almost forget about the government shutdown, it being the holidays and all — except for the fact that the port-a-potties at the national park next door have been closed and sealed and aren’t available for use. The sign on the door reads: “AREA CLOSED. Because of a lapse in federal appropriations, this national park facility is closed for the safety of visitors and park resources. Please visit http://www.nps.gov and select ‘Find A Park’ for additional information about access to other parks and sites in this area.”

You learn something new every day, I guess. I had no idea a port-a-potty is a “national park facility,” or that letting a visitor use it for its intended purpose would pose a risk of safety to visitors and national park resources. An inoperable port-a-potty seems like a good metaphor for our federal government these days, though, doesn’t it?

Don’t Come To Work Tomorrow. You Are “Non-Essential”

As a result of the possible (probable?) government shutdown, I learned this morning that the various agencies, including the military, are reviewing their work force to determine who will be furloughed and who will continue to work.  “Essential” workers will continue to work and “non-essential” workers will be furloughed.  What?  Non-essential employees?  How do you say “bloated government?”  Why do agencies have non-essential workers?  Who are these people and what does it do to their self esteem to be told “you don’t need to come to work tomorrow.  You are “non-essential”?  (What jobs do they have?  Non-essential in charge of filing staple guns?)  Imagine approaching your company CEO, your firm’s managing partner or the owner of the small business where you work and asking for approval to hire a non-essential employee for your department or office.  You explain the person is not necessary to the performance of the operations of the company or department and the non-essential will be provided with benefits and a salary in the tens of thousands of dollars.  Will you be rewarded for your clear thinking and societal concerns for the unemployed, or will you be asked to join the ranks of the non-essentials?

If  the government had to get along with only essential employees, how much lower might the cost of government be?  If we weren’t paying non-essential workers, what would the unemployment figures be?  Which is worse, higher unemployment or higher governmental costs?  ( I know, we have to pay unemployment benefits to the unemployed non-essential worker, etc. and we have their self esteem to worry about.  But, is an unemployment check harder on self esteem than working in a non-essential job?)  If a non-essential were not hired by the government would he or she figure out how to become an employed essential in the private sector?  Would lower taxes be derived from not paying non-essential persons?  Would tax savings result in more consumer spending, which would create more essential jobs in the private sector?  Would some of the out of work non-essentials use their ingenuity and innovate new products and services creating more essential jobs?  These Econ 101 arguments simplify the continual debate among economists.  But, not unlike the argument against deficit spending which says that the government should balance its budget and quit (at least reduce) deficit spending as we have to do in our homes and private businesses, sometimes simplified versions of the economic dilemma makes good common sense.

Maybe, like sequestering turned out to be not such a terrible thing, shutting down the government for awhile may not be so terrible either.  After all, the essential jobs will continue to be performed and, apparently, only the non-essential frills will be postponed.

In The Grip Of Shutdown Sameness

It’s been about six months since our last government crisis, so I guess we’re due.

This latest crisis arises — surprise! — from the inability of the Republicans and the Democrats, of the House of Representatives on one hand and the Senate and the President on the other, to agree on a short-term funding bill to keep the government operating.  If the parties do not come up with a way forward by midnight tonight, there will be a partial governmental shutdown.

Of course, the inability to agree on a continuing resolution is only the immediate cause of this latest “crisis.”  The issues cut much deeper.  From spending, to taxes, to the Affordable Care Act, to a host of other issues, our two political parties have fundamental differences of opinion about what government should do and its role in our everyday lives.

I’m not going to write today, however, about those policy differences.  It’s all been written before, by countless people, and there really isn’t anything fresh or compelling to be said.  I would simply point out to our political leaders that, when you constantly lurch from one “crisis” to another, the state of “crisis” eventually becomes the norm.  We’ve gone through the brinksmanship and the dire warnings again and again, and we’re still here.  Sequestration took effect . . . and the sun rose the next day.  After a while, the constant cries of wolf fall on deaf ears.

If this latest “crisis” provokes a partial government shutdown, how many Americans will even care?  They’ll find refuge in the final episodes of Breaking Bad, or the baseball playoffs, or something else of more immediate interest and impact on their lives.  Sadly, our political leaders may actually have let the country drift to the point where most people don’t even give a crap that our government is totally dysfunctional.

Budget Chicken

We are a few hours away from the point at which the federal government will run out of money and have to shut down — at least in certain respects.  President Obama, House Republicans, and Senate Democrats are trying to hammer out a deal as the witching hour draws ever closer.  It is like a huge game of chicken, where each side hopes the other will blink.

In the meantime, the competing factions posture in an effort to assign the blame for any shutdown on the other party.  Today House Republicans passed yet another stopgap bill that would fund the Defense Department for the rest of the year and give negotiators another week to try to work out a deal.  Even though the President has signed other continuing resolutions to provide interim funding, he says this one is a mere distraction and, if it is presented to him, he will veto it.  Senate Democrats say House Republicans are in thrall to “extreme” elements, like the “tea party” movement, that makes reaching an agreement impossible.  Finger-pointing rules the day.

How fractured and ridiculous our governmental processes have become!  Our politics are so polarized that we can’t do anything without having our backs to the wall and disaster looming just ahead.  Consider that the budget being discussed now is the current budget, and is an issue only because last year Congress and the President didn’t enact a budget when they were supposed to — and that was when the process was totally controlled by one political party, with a Democrat in the White House and huge Democratic majorities in each House of Congress.  If agreement wasn’t possible then, what chance do we have now, where Democrats control the Senate, Republicans control the House, and President Obama has already announced that he is running for reelection?

Regardless of their political beliefs, every American should be disgusted and concerned about what is happening right now.  This is not “good government.” Small groups of legislators, aides, and administration officials are engaging in closed-door negotiations, cutting the kinds of back room deals and unholy bargains that inevitably make us cringe.  Crucial decisions are being made under enormous time pressures, without the kind of careful consideration and public scrutiny that help politicians make sound judgments.  In this kind of super-heated atmosphere, can anyone have confidence that the strutting negotiators will reach reasonable and rational decisions?  And if agreement is not reached, and a shutdown occurs, we can be sure of one thing:  the bickering and bitterness that will occur in the wake of that failure will make the current hyper-partisanship look like the group hug in the last episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.