Friday, January 25, 2019

The Shutdown Diary: The-Historically-Long-Isn’t-It-Silly-To-Still-Be-Calling-It-The-Yuletide-Edition Edition, Day 35

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.

Ah, here we go.  The dam broke.

Today, when I woke up to be "essential" (I was called into work today), here were the headlines in the Washington Post:

  • At least 14,000 unpaid IRS workers did not show up for work this week, House aide says

  • Public disapproval of Trump swelled over shutdown

  • Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone indicted by special counsel in Russia investigation

  • FAA delays flights at New York's LaGuardia airport, citing staffing shortages amid government shutdown

  • 'This is your fault': GOP senators clash over shutdown inside private luncheon

  • Senators negotiate in hopes of ending shutdown as dueling plans fail

In short, when I left for the office this morning, there was no telling what would go down.  The news was full of all kinds of stuff that makes you say, "Wonder what the history books will say about this in 50 years?  And will I be around to read them?"  (I'll only be 98 years old, after all.)  And, to my eye, the shutdown was just as likely to continue on another week (or five) as not.

But now . . . .  Now, at 4:28 p.m. Central time, there's a temporary compromise.  Both sides agree to a plan to reopen government without the border wall funding the current administration wants.  But for only three week -- until February 15th.  In that three weeks they will negotiate further on the border security piece of the Federal budget.  So, you know, we may be back here for a Washington's Birthday edition.  But for now, it appears that this temporary funding plan will pass and that the President will sign it.

Accordingly, unless something crazy happens between now and Monday (and, Katie bar the door, that might happen -- it's 2019, after all), I'm shutting this diary down for, at least, the next three weeks.  Let's hope it's a lot more.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Shutdown Diary: The-Historically-Long-Isn’t-It-Silly-To-Still-Be-Calling-It-The-Yuletide-Edition Edition, Days 33 and 34

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.

Today the Senate plans to vote on two measures, both of which they expect to fail. They must do this, apparently, to prove that both entrenched position that the two sides of this damaging, hurtful, ridiculous budget debate will not work so that a compromise position can be negotiate. Once again, this could have and should have been done literally weeks ago (I’m looking at you Mitch McConnell), but I am gratified that, at last, movement is being made.

However, it is somewhat disheartening -- no, a lot disheartening -- that we somehow have to have two symbolic vote-fails before the people on either end of the extreme decide that their favorite idea won’t work. How old are these people?  Every functioning adult person is capable of reasoning out the likely consequences and results of planned actions. We don’t actually have to apply the scientific method to every idea we have. SOMETIMES we are able to use spookymagical powers such as reasoning, logic, and experience to predict the future and understand when something will probably not work out as we would like it to before we even try it.  We don’t need to touch the hot pan to know it will burn us . . . .

But, hey, maybe Congress does. Maybe the entrenched Right and Left do.  So touch those hot pans, guys. Lose those votes. Then figure out what kind of budget oven mitt will give us all the most coverage and least amount of pain when you go to grab that hot pan a second time.

Well . . . .

Having strained that metaphor to the breaking point, I guess I’ll end here. Happy Thursday, folks.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Shutdown Diary: The-Historically-Long-Isn’t-It-Silly-To-Still-Be-Calling-It-The-Yuletide-Edition Edition, Days 28 through 32

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.
A month and a day.
After a month and a day, there appears to be a compromise position in the Senate.
So that’s today, Tuesday.
And although they’ve announced their deal today (Day 32), they won’t actually vote on it until Thursday (Day 34). And then, assuming it passes the Senate (not a cert), and unless the House votes immediately (and what are the odds?), and it passes the House with no changes (again, odds, please?) and the President signs it immediately, we will still be closed.
But at least there’s movement. But let me be clear:  allowing a month to go by before you actually propose a compromise is unacceptable. This literally should have happened weeks ago. Do better. Please continue to negotiate in good faith.  We are about to miss a second paycheck. Mortgages are coming due. Do better.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Shutdown Diary: The-Historically-Long-Isn’t-It-Silly-To-Still-Be-Calling-It-The-Yuletide-Edition Edition, Day 27

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 the first time in weeks, I was not nervous when I woke up today. Yesterday, we got some welcome news. The President signed the legislation guaranteeing back pay to federal workers once the government reopens. So, now, it’s just a question of when?
Of course, we only get back pay when the government reopens, and bills are coming due now. So we’ll get the money eventually, but maybe not in time to pay some bills.  If an employ is living paycheck to paycheck, the promise of a catch up payment, eventually, doesn’t actually pay the light bill. But it’s some comfort. Also, government contractors are not covered by that legislation, so they are still suffering significant loss of income with no guarantee that they will ever recover it. So the legislation that guarantees back pay is a small step in the right direction.
Mind if I wax philosophical?  Difficult times like these can be clarifying events. You re-examine your approach to life:
I should spend my money more wisely.
I should care for my mental and physical health better than I have been doing.
What’s my life coming to, anyway?
Stuff worth thinking about from time to time, but something people rarely do. If there is any sliver lining to the shutdown, personally anyway, perhaps it is that it has caused me to re-examine my life and how I’ve been approaching certain aspects of it so far.
Here’s an important to my kiddo, but not life altering example:
His 8th birthday is coming up in a few weeks. He’s the kind of guy who announces the theme of his birthday party somewhere between a day and a week after he has had the prior birthday party.
So we have known that we would have a Pokémon themed party for many moons.
Initially, I had planned to have special Pokéball cookies and cupcakes made. And I was going to cater the rest of the food in.
But with the shutdown, I’ve thought a lot about the cost/benefit of that kind of set up. Specifically, how much will the kids really care about that stuff. Does it need to be that fancy and expensive for the kids to have a good time? Who am I doing this for anyway?  So I’ve rethought the food. The kids don’t care. They just want sugar. The form of it and dollar sign on it matters little.
It’s not just birthday parties I’ve been rethinking, but a lot of things. The birthday party is just the easiest example, and the one I’m willing to share publicly.
Anyway, moments of extremis can be clarifying. I am glad of the clarity, if not the stress, that has come from this moment.
Now, off to learn more about therapods and birds. Happy Thursday, folks.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Shutdown Diary: The-Historically-Long-Isn’t-It-Silly-To-Still-Be-Calling-It-The-Yuletide-Edition Edition, Day 26

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.
Every morning when I wake up, I feel a little disoriented. Then nervous. The low-level anxiety sets in.  I have suffered with anxiety before.  I have taken medication for it in the past, but for the past 15 years, I’ve been able to manage it without medication. The current state of affairs with my job and the government exacerbates it. You know how you feel when you’re nervous about something?  Maybe you have given a speech and felt nervous before it or you have played a recital and felt nervous about it. This is how anxiety feels, but you feel it most of the time. Exercise helps me a lot, which is why I will definitely take my dog on a long walk today.
But, of course, everyone from shuttered agencies is feeling anxious. We just want to go back to work so we can pay our bills and feed our families.
Imagine being one of those IRS workers being called back in today with no pay in order to process your tax returns and send out your refund checks. Imagine what a slap in your face that would be.  "Please come in to work for free so that you can send out money to other people." Crimeny.
And, by the way, if you are deemed essential and told to come in, and then you refuse to go in because you’re not being paid, you can be disciplined and, possibly, lose your job. You’re being asked to incur the costs of a commute and daycare, maybe, to do this job, but you aren’t getting any money to actually pay for that commute or the daycare. Honestly.
So after my walk with my dog today, then what?  I think I will get on Shutterfly and work on my family’s 2018 year in review photo album. I can’t actually buy the album once completed, until we are back to work (and there’s a 50% off coupon, of course, because I’m not crazy), but I can work on it.
Oh, I also started an online class on Coursera, Paleontology: Theropod Dinosaurs and the Origin of Birds, out of the University of Alberta. (Theropods = T Rexes and similar.) So l’ll work on the next lesson on that. Takes about 2 hours to do one module.  If you like dinosaurs and have the time, I highly recommend the University of Alberta paleontology classes on Coursera. They’re great.
I’ll probably also look into what we need to do to collect unemployment. With both of us furloughed, and it now pushing toward a month with no pay, looks like we need it.
I went to Wal-Mart this morning and bought a few groceries. Stuff really is cheaper there. But the lines to check out can be frustrating. Not at 9:30 am on a Wednesday, though. We should shop there more often. They even have lots of organic stuff. So you can avoid chemicals in your food and save money too. Maybe not save time.  But money.
And...well, because I can’t figure out how to close this entry, I’ll just share a picture of my dog. Isn’t he cute?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Shutdown Diary: The-Historically-Long-Isn’t-It-Silly-To-Still-Be-Calling-It-The-Yuletide-Edition Edition, Day 25

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.
I want to eat everything.
It’s stress.
I also want to day-drink.
So, instead of doing that, I cleaned out our closet and sort of forced my fellow-furloughed husband to go through his clothes in the process.
Call it the furlough purge.
But what else to do with the day if not purge . . . Or gorge myself on jalapeño Cheetos and red wine.
So, yeah no binge, all purge.
Hmmm, what to do tomorrow?
Oh!  I made tentative coffee plans for Friday with a pre-school mom friend. Our kids go to different schools now and barely remember each other, but we remember and like each other well. It will be nice to see her in the event that the furlough goes into Day 28.
Is no one else bugged about this yet?  What does this shutdown signify for democracy and our three branch form of government?  If one branch of government holds another branch hostage, is that just okay with everybody?  In this republic?  Good with everyone?  Yeah. Republics stand or fall based on whether the people support the republic. Don’t believe me?  Go read some Roman history.
Anyway, I’m trying to be productive. Trying not to get sad again. And keeping my fingers crossed for functioning government.
We did a pretty good job, though, huh? With our closet clean out?

Plus, I got myself a "new" sweater in the bargain. It traveled from his side of the closet to mine. 😄

Now what?  Maybe I’ll read a book. Maybe some Cicero . . . .

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Shutdown Diary: The-Historically-Long-Isn’t-It-Silly-To-Still-Be-Calling-It-The-Yuletide-Edition Edition, Days 22 to 24

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.
Days 22 and 23 can be fairly characterized as follows: Cub Scouts, Laundry, and a first viewing of Frozen. (It was GREAT!)
What I really want to write about is Day 24, today, a Monday. I was deemed essential because there was a very important meeting in one of my large cases followed by a very important hearing in that same case.
It was stressful. Once again, I was faced with the feeling that I needed to do weeks worth of work in a day. And, of course, there was no time for that. Even though I was at the office for 12 hours, I didn’t even get through my email.
Fun fact:  My department doesn’t pay overtime or give credit hours even for 8+ hour days when we are funded. Why would I work more than 8 hours when I get paid only for 8, even in ordinary times?  Because I have ethical obligations.  Because I feel honor bound to see it through.  Because it is my duty as a public servant to execute my job to the best of my ablity, and sometimes that takes more than eight hours in a day.
By the way, I have heard that SOME people in certain segments of the media think that (or say that) the only people suffering the shutdown are bureaucrats in Washington D.C. "It’s just D.C. bureaucrats who write regulations. So don’t worry about them."
May I now disabuse any of my audience of this fallacious belief?  Two government lawyers participated in this hearing today that relates to public health:  Me and an attorney representing HUD. We both did this with no pay. We both did this though we missed a paycheck this weekend. Neither of us are bureaucrats. We are boots on the ground trial attorneys who are enforcing the Federal laws to protect public health and ensuring that the system is free from fraud. Not a draft regulation in sight.
Outside of that, here is an incomplete list of categories of un-bureaucrat-government-workers who are also being forced to work without pay:
*Federal prison guards.
*The Secret Service (you know, the guys who guard the President).
*The TSA (those folks at the airport who scan your bags and bodies to make sure terrorists don’t bring bombs onto planes).
*The FBI.
*The FDA (those folks who make sure the food and drugs you put in your body are safe).
*Those folks at the IRS who process your tax returns and cut the checks for your refunds.
*National parks staff.
*Air traffic controllers.
So if any of my dear readers ascribe to the notion that it is merely bureaucrats affected, please drop that notion immediately. You and whomever you received that notion from are wrong. It’s real people, doing outside-the-Beltway jobs to ensure that YOU are safe.
So, now that that’s out of the way, let me end on an extremely high note, a towering high note, a high note so high that only dogs can hear it:  My friends. My fellow attorneys. My friends who, when they saw me appear today, were all kindness and sympathy. Your words, your smiles, your pats on the back, your pats on the shoulder, your hugs meant more than I can say. Some of you read this blog. You know who you are. And YOU are the best. You lifted my mood with your kindness and sympathy, your smiles, your kind words, your participation in my gallows humor. If there was one good thing about my work day today, it was you guys. I have been sad, bitter, and angry. You guys made me feel valued and appreciated. And that has made all the difference for my state of mind and my mood. We may battle in the courtroom occasionally, but, in the end, that’s just business. You are good friends. Thank you. ❤️
Ah, and here’s how I end my day, hunting Heffalumps with Pooh, Piglet and my boy. Not a bad finale.