Posts Tagged ‘government shutdown’

Memories of my youth: Genteel poverty

December 29, 2018

The military has never been exceptionally well paid. In recent years, despite the lies the President tells, pay has been adequate, and pay raises at least kept pace with inflation. But at the end of the last Century there were times when enlisted members with families qualified for food stamps. There was a ten year period when my real income (counting taxes and inflation) didn’t change, despite an increase in seniority and a promotion.

Back in the late 50’s and early 60’s, we lived in a state of what might be called genteel poverty. There was no trouble keeping food on the table and shoes on our feet but there was nothing extra for any but the smallest luxuries.

I had always been a bookish lad and living on Vandenberg AFB in my early high school years, my tastes tended toward space science and satellites and such. Since all the major aerospace firms had offices on base, it was possible to write to them and get publicity packets, with photos and other handouts. One such letter prompted a call from the Convair folks, and after a discussion of what I was interested in, they invited me to come down to their San Diego plant to look at the Atlas production line. This was the chance of a lifetime for a nerdy high schooler.

Atlas assembly line

Alas, it was not to be. The trip would incur expenses — travel, lodging, food, and so forth, more than our budget would allow. My parents talked it over, seriously trying to find a way to make it happen (send him down on the bus, alone; see if there were friends he could stay with in San Diego). After a long while they concluded that there was no way to do it. We simply didn’t have the money.

I, of course, was crushed. But I’d heard their discussions and I knew their decision was not taken lightly. Maybe some other day.

That came back to me when I was reading about the impact of the government shut-down. Now, this time the military was not effected. The DoD has an on-time budget, the first time in ten years. But hundreds of thousands of other government employees (including the US Coast Guard, which is DHS, not DoD, and so doesn’t have a budget) were going into the new year, trying to fund the equivalent of a couple dozen trips to San Diego with nothing in their bank accounts and useless OPM advice in their mail boxes.

Shutting down the government

December 22, 2018

I’ve been through this before, both in and out of government. It’s not a lot of fun. Essentially, a government shutdown is a game of chicken between the two parties, or in this case, the President and the Congress.

As usual, the people who get hurt are the little people, the ones in government who make sure things keep moving. Despite what the Republicans think, most government workers (clerks, staff workers) don’t make a lot of money, and most people who provide services to the government (janitors, security guards) make even less. If they work in Washington, DC, they are making ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

The people I knew, and know, in government are proud of what they do, serving the country and their fellow citizens. Here’s a couple of non-shutdown examples. One woman I knew, a DIA analyst and the wife of a banker (you’d recognize the name), could have been part of the white-glove and tea party set in Northern Virginia. Instead, she was coming to work at 5AM of a dark December morning to prepare Intelligence analysis reports for the morning briefing. She did it because she felt it was important work. She wasn’t alone.

Many commercial offices have Christmas parties this time of year, where they shut down for four hours or so, and everybody relaxes. Not so with the government offices I was in. It might be time for the office party, but that meant having your slice of cake on the desk next to your keyboard while you wrote up some analytical input for the next day. The party went on, but so did the work.

During a government shutdown, that work has to go on as well. Those who were designated as essential were required to come to work (at 5AM). They just weren’t paid for it. They were working on the hope that Congress would include back pay when a budget was passed, but there was no guarantee. My examples are from mid-level workers, ones who could afford to miss a paycheck. Others are not so lucky. The janitors and clerks were not “essential”, so they got furloughed, which meant no work and no pay and live on their meager savings in the dead of winter until the situation resolved itself.

For contractors, the situation was even more fraught. It was illegal for us to do any work on a contract during a stoppage. Depending on the company, we might get paid by the company (and the company wouldn’t get any reimbursement, because we weren’t allowed to bill against a contract) or we might not.

Of course, none of the politicians who are currently thumping their chests and comparing the length of their dicks will be hurt by any of this. They get paid if they do their jobs or not. The current consensus is that the Republicans, and Trump, will get the blame for this. The historical experience is that this will suppress support for their party for the next six months or a year, with limited impact on the next election, come 2020.

An open letter to Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers

October 5, 2013

Ms Rodgers,
I am nearly seventy years old, a military veteran, a Republican for most of my life. I lived in Washington, DC, for fifteen years. I’ve lived in your district for fifteen years. I voted for you, once. I have never seen such irresponsible conduct as is now being shown by you and the Republican Party in the House of Representatives.

I wasn’t going to write to you about the shutdown, but your latest screed forced my hand. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a tissue of lies from one end to another. You must have an exceedingly low opinion of the voters of eastern Washington if you think that document will be believed by anyone smart enough to read an email.

You had the chance to be a statesman. You are in a safe Republican district, and there’s no-one in sight who can mount a credible threat from your right. You could have been one of the sane┬ávoices in Congress, but instead you voted to furlough tens of thousands of hard-working government workers and shut down much-needed services, like NIH, in what amounts to a fit of partisan political pique because you lost the game of partisan politics.

The LA Times reports that, in an 1860 speech at New York’s Cooper Union, President Lincoln said:

Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events. […] A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!”

This describes your actions exactly.

I cannot say that you’ve lost my vote over this, because you lost that years ago when you voted against ACA, and then lied about what it said. What I can say is that you have encouraged me to spend some time searching the country for Democratic candidates in competitive districts, and then supporting them with my campaign contributions.