Friday, February 9, 2018

The Shutdown Diary, Valentine Edition: Postscript

Well, color me surprised.  They did it.

The government technically shut down for several hours this morning, while Ron Paul continued his one man crusade against increased spending (in the face of his vote to reduce revenues by way of sweeping tax cuts late last year).  While we slept, the Senate finally passed the budget, which funds certain programs for two years or more, and funds the government for another six weeks while they hammer together a real budget.  (So, you know, stay tuned in late March, right?)

Around 5:30 a.m. Central, the House also passed the bill, sending it to the President to sign.

Here's a link to the highlights of what the new spending bill does.  There are a lot of good things in the bill, though left-leaners don't like that it fails to address the dreamers and DACA (which issue does require attention) and right-leaners don't like the departure from fiscal austerity that they favor (and I also sympathize with their aversion to deficit-making spending).

So the Valentine shutdown was over before it began.  I'm frankly glad of it.  But the starting and stopping that comes from short term budgets and the now-regular run up to the brink of a shutdown (and, now twice, with a brief shutdown to follow) has got to stop.  This is no way to run a government.  Congress can do better.  And I encourage them to do better before March 23rd, when government funding is set to run out again.  Let's not put it to the last minute yet again.  (And by "let's," I mean, "you guys," because I am at your relative mercy . . . .)

Happy early Valentine's Day, folks.  See you after St. Patrick's Day, maybe . . . .

(Oh, and what did I DO today in light of the non-shutdown?  Went to work.  Went to the ophthalmologist. Went to lunch.  Went home for a nap to sleep off the eye dilation.)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Shutdown Diary, the Valentine Edition: Preface

Disclaimer:  The thoughts and feelings expressed in this post are solely the author's and do not represent the official position of any government agency.

Oh for fuck's sake.


It's 8:50 p.m. Central time.  I just checked CSPAN2:  It was showing a Ron Paul speech from earlier today in the lower lefthand corner and a view of an empty Senate chamber in the upper right with the legend, "Awaiting Senator to Speak."  Some random Senator, two hours before funding ends, is going to make a speech.


So they'll definitely get this new deal voted on in the Senate and then get the House to vote on it AND get the President to sign it into law in the next two hours.  Right?  Sure.

Who could have predicted this two and a half weeks ago, right?, that we'd be doing this again?  Oh wait, I did.  😉

And the stock market is going ape-shit too.  I'm sure the volatility in the market has nothing to do with the volatility in our government.

This is so frustrating.

I refrained from using more profanity just there.  Good girl.  Proud of me.

Hey, Mr. McConnell and Mr. Schumer, who was in charge of getting Ron Paul onboard with your two-year budget deal?  Did that person take a nap?

Never mind, I'm not watching CSPAN2 until 11 p.m. my time this go 'round.  I'm going to grab my puppy and a glass of wine and switch over to watch the Olympics until I get tired.  (And what's all this with the songs with lyrics in figure skating?  Is this new?  I don't like it.  When does curling start?)

See y'all on the flip side.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Shutdown Diary, January 2018: Day 3, An Orderly Shutdown

Disclaimer:  The thoughts and feelings expressed in this post are solely the author's and do not represent the official position of any government agency.

When the government shuts down, it doesn't just stop.  We who work for the government must actually do the work of shutting it down.  That means that we all go into the office today, despite the lapse in funding, to put up the appropriate out of office messages on our phones and emails, to file continuance motions, and generally to tie up all the loose ends so that everything will be semi-okay while we are out for however long we are out.  A skeletal crew is left in charge of each office to address emergencies, but we're literally, by statute, not allowed to do any work during the shutdown once we've completed our "orderly shutdown."

So I did that, the orderly shutdown.  It was confusing -- I think partly because no one expected the government to really shutdown.  People weren't as prepared as we were in 2013.  And it was stressful.  We had to request continuances of matters set for today, tomorrow, the rest of the week.  We didn't know what would happen.  I still don't know whether the continuance motion I filed was granted or denied.  But we had to do it and then leave and just kind of hope that everything turned out okay, and that the attorney in charge didn't find that she needed to be in three different courts at once.

After I orderly shut down my business, I came home and walked the dog. I was very tired.  And hungry.  Orderly shutdowns are exhausting, at least mentally.

My fellow federal worker husband arrived home soon after I did, and we had lunch.  Then we folded all that laundry that I washed yesterday.  Then we waited.  (Oh, and ate some Milk Duds.)  I tried to have a nap, but all of the lawn equipment operating in our neighborhood made that difficult, though not impossible, because I did sleep a little, dreaming of leaf blowers (the best kind of nap, noted my lovely spouse, ruefully).

The Boy, by the way, went to school today, as it is a Monday.

As of mid-afternoon, the Senate had reached a deal to fund the government through February 8th (so, you know, about two and a half weeks), with the promise to the Democrats that DACA legislation would be taken up by mid-February (so, you know, not within the period between now and when funding would run out again on February 8th).

That doesn't seems like much of a deal to me, but, on the other hand, I think that the Senate Democrats have made the political calculus that shutting the government down over immigration is not as popular as they may have thought.  While it's true that a majority of Americans want something done to help the children brought to this country outside of proper immigration procedures, a majority of Americans also do not believe that it is worth shutting the government down.  In a midterm election year, the Senate Democrats may have determined that the political risk to themselves of continuing the shutdown is just too great. So I surmise that they probably accepted the promise of a vote on DACA "soon," versus continued negative headlines.

That's all just conjecture on my part, of course, but it stands to reason . . . .

Around 4:00 p.m. Central, the very, very short CR passed the Senate and moved to the House for consideration.  Since it's not exactly the same bill they sent to the Senate Thursday/Friday of last week, they have to vote on the new deal.

I actually turned on C-SPAN to watch some of the debate in the House (wondering what in the world, really, there was to debate).  Here's my summary:

Republican:  Your fault.

Democrat:  Nuh-uh.
Republican:  Uh-huh!
Democrat:  Nuh-uh!
Republican:  Uh-huh-infinitity!
Democrat:  Nuh-uh-infinity-plus-one!

They fortunately completed this very important discussion before the day was over -- it took less than an hour, really -- and the bill was sent to the President for signature.

The orderly shutdown today was, mercifully, mostly unneeded, and we should be back to work in earnest tomorrow.

Until next time, folks!   (Say . . . mid-February? 😁)

Shutdown Diary, January 2018: Day 2, in which I do a LOT of laundry

Disclaimer:  The thoughts and feelings expressed in this post are solely the author's and do not represent the official position of any government agency.

For some reason, The Boy was really wound up last night after the lock in.  He didn't get to sleep until after 11:46 last night.  I am that precise because that is the last time I remember seeing on my iPhone.  I wonder if there was a lot of sugar at the lock in . . . .

Today, hubby and I woke up around 7:00 and had breakfast.  I walked the dog.  And my partner in life and I had coffee and toast with peanut butter for him and yogurt and granola for me as we watched the latest episode of This Old House.

By the way, in the last shutdown diary, we had a cat, Roxy.  Roxy died in 2016.  He was diabetic and had many skin and allergy problems.  Poor guy finally succumbed.  He was an old guy, though, and lived a full life.  But it was still sad when we lost him.

The dog is a new addition.  He's a puppy, actually, 11 weeks old.  He's a cavapoo and, so far, he seems really cute and smart.  He needs a lot of training, of course, but I think that once he's gone to puppy kindergarten (that is, Basic Obedience 1, 2, and 3, and then the Tricks class), he's be a really fun dog.  He's fun right now, of course, but a handful.  He is a lot more work than I thought, and the first few days of adjustment were difficult -- I won't lie -- but we've all started to settle in nicely.  His name is Schoeff, pronounced "Chef."  (I know, I know -- It's a weirdly spelled name that no one will get right when they look at it.  It was the name his breeder gave him and we liked it so we kept it.  It apparently means "lay assessor at court" or "juror" in German.  Fitting name for the dog of two lawyers, and their boy.)  Schoeff likes This Old House and gets upset if you pause it.

So, anyway, it's Sunday.  A day at home is a typical day, just like yesterday, except we check the news a bit more often.  And a typical day for me means laundry!  We tend to have between 4 and 6 loads of laundry a week.  How can three people generate so much laundry?  And how much laundry do other, larger families generate?  How do you do it?

And the status of the shutdown as of the publication of this blog entry?  No deal. We are still close. Next vote on a budget is scheduled for noon Eastern tomorrow.

Status is decidedly quo.  The newspapers say that they're going to try to get a deal by the end of tomorrow.  And though that sounds hopeful, I'm not holding my breath.

See you for Day 2.  Night-night.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Shutdown Diary, January 2018: Day 1 - What does it mean for the government to shut down?

Disclaimer:  The thoughts and feelings expressed in this post are solely the author's and do not represent the official position of any government agency.

First, a lot of people have been asking me about the effect of the shutdown is on basic services that they enjoy from the Federal government.  Here's a link to a good article in the Washington Post, a Q&A covering the basics.

Now, what did I do the first day of the government shutdown?  Mostly, it was a typical Saturday.  Walked the dog (several times).  The Boy had a piano lesson followed by his girl-BFF's birthday party.  We gave the dog a bath.  The boy did some homework.  And in the evening, The Boy went to a lock-in and hubby and I had a date night.

But in between all of that, we watched the news to see what Congress was up to.  As of the publication of this entry, the headlines are as follows:

Neither Party's Leaders Give an Inch on First Day of Shutdown
                                                                      -- Washington Post

So . . . a productive day, then.  😐

Lawmakers Play Shut Down Blame Game
                                          -- The New York Times

Always important to establish whose fault a problem is before you solve the problem.  😑

Pink-Clad Multitude Gathers Downtown for 2nd Annual Dallas Women's March                                                   
                                        -- The Dallas Morning News

"Shutdown?  What shutdown?  There's a shutdown?  Of what?  God, I hope they haven't closed down Southfork.  I haven't been there yet, even though I've lived here almost 20 years."  (But, you know, well done, ladies, on trumping the national news.)

Thousands Flock Downtown For Women's March: 'We Have to Keep Standing Up'
                                        -- Chicago Sun Times

The Central Time Zone is feminist.

Head of Popular Girl Band Leads N. Korean Team to S. Korea
                                                             -- The Houston Chronicle
Never mind.  🏂

Why Does Congress Still Get Paychecks During a Shutdown?  It's in the Constitution.
                                                          -- The Washington Times


Photo Shows 'Ivy League Killer' Pretending to Crush Friend's Skull
                                                                 -- New York Post

On a lighter note . . . .  😬

So, there you have it.  Nothing happened in Congress today.  They want to point fingers at each other, but sincerely, they should circle up because, from my perspective, all side deserve a helping of recrimination pie.  Their central job is to fund the government.  If they can't figure out how to work together to do that, then, well . . . that's not good for our country.  Not just bad for the Republicans or bad for the Democrats.  Bad for Americans.  Because a Congress that cannot even work together to accomplish its central function is a sick body.  And this is the body that governs us.  Fingers crossed that tomorrow will be filled with something other than a multibillion dollar game of "I know you are, but what am I?"  Ladies and gentlemen of the United States Congress, I'm not interested in whose fault it is.  I am interested in how you fix it.  So do that thing.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Shutdown Diary, January 2018 -- Preface

Disclaimer:  The thoughts and feelings expressed in this post are solely the author's and do not represent the official position of any government agency.

Well, it's a little early yet to start this, I suppose.

It's only 11:20 p.m. Eastern time.  The Senate has forty minutes to decide whether we're shut or open for business.

C-SPAN shows 50 "yes" and 48 "no."  Five Democrats have voted "yes," among them the new Senator from Alabama, Doug Jones.  (The other Democrats are Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, and Claire McCaskill.)

But four Republicans have voted "no."  They are Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee and Rand Paul.  John McCain is not present (out of town recovering from cancer treatments, presumably).  And the Speaker of the House, Mitch McConnell, has also not voted.  He is likely not going to vote this round because if they are unsuccessful, he can bring it back to a vote on a procedural rule of some sort.  So he's probably not going to vote in order to preserve that option for himself.

They need 60 votes in favor of the continuing resolution (the "CR") to limit debate.  This is known as "cloture."  It's the filibuster killer.  If they don't get the 60 (3/5 of the Senate), they can't close debate on the CR.  And, thus, no actual vote on the bill.

Or, more precisely, in the words of the U.S. Senate Glossary (yes, that's an actual thing):  Cloture is "[t]he only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster. Under the cloture rule (Rule XXII), the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes."

They're not getting cloture before Midnight Eastern.  Or, at least, I don't think that they will.

So tomorrow's Saturday.  I wouldn't go to work anyway and I rarely work on the weekends anyway.  (I established something called "boundaries" when I left the law firm and have attempted to maintain clear lines of demarcation between "work time" and "home time."  Weekends, unless absolutely necessary, are always home time.)

But the difference this weekend is that it's not merely that I wouldn't choose to work, but, if it were one of those absolutely necessary weekend (which it is, thankfully, not), I would not be permitted to work.  I have not been deemed essential -- that is, excepted from the furlough -- which means that as of midnight Eastern, if there is no funding via the CR or otherwise, I am not allowed to work, even if I wanted to.

So there.

Time now, 11:36 p.m. Eastern.  Twenty-four minutes to go.

C-SPAN shows no movement.

So here we are.  It's been roughly four years and three months since the last shutdown.  Do you remember why we shut down last time?  It was the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.  This time, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA.  I make no observations of comments about the legitimacy of the government shutdown in either case.

But I can tell you this:  It's not a vacation for me and those like me.  It's day upon day of uncertainty, wondering whether we will be paid when we are brought back to work.  Because Congress doesn't have to pay us. They have to vote to give us our back pay.  In 2013, they did.  But they don't have to, and so this year, just like in 2013, we'll wait and get a little more anxious every day.

11:54 p.m. Eastern.  The Washington Post says that Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell will be speaking from the Senate floor.

I see nothing yet.

Well, I think I'll sign off and walk the dog before I go to bed.

See you on the flip side for Day 1, unless, of course, they get something done in the next five minutes (11:55 p.m. Eastern).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Parsing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

I was just in the car listening to the song, written by Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (Misfits, Ultravox, and others), for Band Aid, a conglomeration of British musicians in 1984 with the purpose of raising money to help the people of Ethiopia, who were suffering famine at that time. 

And as I listened to this Christmas song of my youth — this feel-goody, do-goody, late-middle-20th-Century, holiday ditty — my early 21st Century, late-middle-aged brain was horror struck.  To explain why, I shall now parse the lyrics of this modern Christmas classic, giving you my line by line reaction. 

It's Christmas time, and there's no need to be afraid.

Indeed, there should not be, Paul Young. 

At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade.

Yes. Good things. Good thoughts.

And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy.

Yes, Boy George, let us share our bounty with those less fortunate. I am with you and for you. 

Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time.

Joy to the World!

But say a prayer and pray for the other ones.

The other ones?  That phrase hits my ear wrong in 2017.  Like setting them apart, over there — They are “the other,” they are not us.  Hmm.  Maybe through the lens of time, this construction “the other ones” to describe people literally starving to death on another continent was an okay construction. In its time. You know. Bob Geldof had his heart in the right place.  And this is George Michael’s voice at its most pure. Letting it go. For now . . . . 

At Christmas time, it's hard but while you're having fun,

Hard to think about other people’s pain when you’re having fun. This is true, Simon LeBon. Humans are selfish creatures. 

There's a world outside your window, and it's a world of dread and fear,

Also true, Simon, true both then and now. And the dread and fear seems a lot more local in 2017 than it did in 1984 when it was waaaay far away in Africa. 

Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.

Did they intend all along to have Sting sing the word “sting”?  Or is it a happy accident?

And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.

I don’t know. Maybe they bring hope, the church bells, a reminder of faith in a God that saves to the people of this majority Christian country. 

Well tonight thank God it's them, instead of you!

Holy shit, Bono (and Bob and Midge)!  Is “better you than me” really the sentiment we’re going for here? (Here’s where I was literally horror struck.) I mean, Bono really belts it out here, and I’ve always really liked this part. But the line!  The painful awkwardness of that line!  Clang. 

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time.

It doesn’t snow in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is north of the Equator, between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. It does rain, though, and they do have rivers, including the Nile (see later verse below).  Also — side note — you know where else it won’t snow this Christmas time? Australia. Do the Australians know it’s Christmas time at all?

The greatest gift they'll get this year is life (Oooh).

Ummmm, I can’t dispute this for them then, for me then, for us now. 

Where nothing ever grows, No rain or rivers flow.

The famine in Ethiopia occurred in the midst of a Civil War. Human Rights Watch and Oxfam UK have concluded that the 1983-85 famine in Ethiopia was “in large part created by government policies, specifically a set of so-called counter-insurgency strategies and ‘social transformation’ in non-insurgent areas.”  In other words, the Ethiopian government did it in order to put down a rebellion. It wasn’t caused by drought. It was caused by politics and corruption. Also, plenty of rivers in Ethiopia, see above, so rivers do flow . . . . 

Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

Probably, they do/did. It’s 62% (roughly) Christian. But I’m guessing their Christmas traditions were/are vastly different from those of the UK (or the good ol’ US of A), but I’m also guessing they celebrate(d). 

Here's to you! Raise a glass for everyone!

“You should feel good about yourself for caring about the benighted people of Africa.”

Here's to them!  Underneath that burning sun!

“Yay, them, in their uncomfortable living conditions!” (Actually, parts of Ethiopia are quite temperate, despite its location in the tropics.)

Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

Yes, probably. 

Feed the world, Feed the world, Feed the world.

Yes. Good. 

Let them know it's Christmas time again.

Assuming they knew and then forgot . . . .

[Repeat and Fade]

So, okay, yeah. The song is of its time. It’s a bit tone deaf by today’s standards, but so is Bugs Bunny and we still love him (mostly). 

Still, there’s this overarching paternalistic theme. I’d never noticed it until today when I was, for some reason, really listening to the song and not doing as I usually do, which is to allow it to sweep over me in waves of nostalgia. It smacks of the benevolent white man coming to save the savages:  “We will give you life. We will show you Christmas. We will save you with westernization.” 

Bob Geldof and Midge Ure didn’t mean to sound like English missionaries going into the wilderness. They had every good intention, I am sure.  But that attitude was kind of baked into mid-20th century culture:  White people must save the brown people from themselves. It never rains in Africa. There is no groundwater in Africa. It’s always scorching hot in Africa.  There are no plants in Africa.  People in Africa live in dirt with flies on their eyelids. (Damn you, Sally Struthers.) The northern European/American experience of a snowy Christmas is the only positive experience of Christmas. (Sucks for you, Australia.)

Today, we don’t think that way — or we shouldn’t — and we are shocked when we find someone who does.  And so this decades old song’s very Western view of the world (and especially the, “Oh Lord, thank goodness it’s not me!”) clangs louder in contemporary ears than it did 33 years ago. 

And, apparently, I’m not the only person who has been struck by the tone of the 30-year-old lyrics this century. Apparently, those lyrics rattled the ears of the Band Aid 30 crowd too.  (Band Aid 30 raised money for the Ebola epidemic victims.)

In my googling lyrics for this post, I found that the lyrics had been changed when they remade the song for a new era and a new crisis three years ago.

Here are the new lyrics, which replace the bit starting with Sting’s line, “Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears”:

Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there's death in every tear.

And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.

Well tonight we're reaching out and touching you.

Bring peace and joy this Christmas to West Africa.

A song of hope they'll have is being alive.

Why is comfort deadly fear?  Why is to touch to be scared?

How can they know it's Christmas time at all?

Here's to you!  Raise a glass to everyone.

Here's to them! And all their years to come.

Can they know it's Christmas time at all?

Feed the world, let them know it's Christmas time again.

Heal the world, let them know it's Christmas time again.

[Repeat and Fade]

No more better them than us lyric, see?  And it’s just a little less us/them than the 80s version. A tiny bit of growth and change over three decades. Good things. 

Merry Christmas.