Archive for the ‘government shutdown’ Tag

Shut Down Gets Personal   Leave a comment

As I said, Alaska as a LOT of federal employees. We’re 2 or 3 in the nation, depending on the news article. So there are at least three non-military federal employees going to my church. The “shut down” just got personal, because these are people I know and care about.

However ….

One man is still working — he’s TSA, so is considered an “essential” worker. He began looking for other work several months ago anyway. This is just making him look harder.

The stories of the other two are interesting in their diversity.

The woman who works for federal wildlife is freaking out because she didn’t plan for something like this and she can’t pay her bills.

The guy who works for the fire service was calm and collected. He typically takes a couple of weeks off this time of year because his schedule is insane during the summer fire season, so he’d be hanging out at home anyway. He and his wife and kids live on his income alone, but it’s a good income and they live modestly, so they have six months’ of operating expenses saved for a rainy day. He said when his slightly shifted two-week vacation is over, he’ll start doing the computer work he does all winter from home, so he will be legitimately eligible for back pay. I asked him if he could hang on until after Christmas as some of the pundits are saying it might go that long and he said he could. The State of Alaska has been head-hunting him for a decade, so if the federal government permanently contracts he’s likely got a job if he wants one. He’s got one more year before he has 20 in with the feds, which triggers important changes in retirement, which is what he’s holding out for — but he also really likes what he does in his job.

It’s painful to watch friends struggle. I’ve been there myself and I know it’s not fun. However —

Planning ahead for the inevitable federal contraction should have been Plan A for every federal employee. Right now it’s temporary, but it should be permanent. My friend who works for the fire service wisely planned for that inevitablity. Federal employees typically make 52% more than workers doing similar jobs in the private sector. They can afford to save for their future and they should.

Does the federal government really need to do things like the fire service? The fire service is an essential function in Alaska’s summers. Black spruce will burn if a moose exhales too warmly. I’m not saying the job my friend does is not essential. But does the federal government need to do it? The State of Alaska already has agencies that do something similar and my friend has already been given an open door to that employment.

Does the federal government really need to do wildlife service? Again, the State of Alaska has a very large wildlife division.

Does the federal government really need to do the TSA? These functions used to be done by private contractors for local airports. There’s no evidence that TSA is doing a better job than they did. Yes, three planes were hijacked, but I’m not convinced that the TSA could stop that any better than private contractors would.

Just because the contraction of government services became personal does not change my essential belief that the federal government is bloated beyond sustainability and needs to be severely pared down. Right now about 85% of the structure is still functioning, but in reality, by 2025, the structure should be one-third of what it currently is.  With the exception of those workers currently employed by the federal government needing to go find other jobs, the services that the federal government provides are largely unnecessary, duplicative of state-level agencies or could be performed by the private sector. Those federal employees who have good skills and a good work ethic will be able to find similar work in state government or the private sector. They probably won’t get paid as much, which stinks for them, but they should never have been allowed to make more than the prevailing wages of their employers (we the people) anyway.

Finally! A (Distant) Inconvenience?   Leave a comment

Word from the Alaska DIspatch is that fishing guides on the Kenai are having to cancel their charters and the vital airplane links all over Alaska’s largely roadless wilderness are being grounded because of the federal shut down.

Let’s be honest. This is more of a reducing diet than a shut down. Less than 15% of services have been “furloughed”. A shut down would be something to worry about. This is more like where we ought to plan to be in two years rather than where we’re forced to be because our elected officials won’t take needed action.

And, yes, I mean the Democratically-held Senate should be taking action to implement to cost-savings measures (including defunding ObamaCare) that the House has wisely proposed.

So, charters on the Kenai can’t operate because their federal permits are suspended.

That’s a problem if your bottom line relies on those revenues. I’m not arguing that people don’t need to go on fishing charters so what’s the big whoop. It is a big whoop because people can’t exercise their liberty and businesses are impacted negatively. And Alaska needs our general aviation commercial fleets to keep flying. People here cannot simply hop in the car and drive to the nearest market because there are no roads.

But ….

Why is the federal government involved in permitting fishing charters on the Kenai Peninsula in the first place? Why is it involved in certifying general aviation aircraft?

They don’t need to be. Fishing charters could be left to regulate their own numbers through private associations. GA carriers could certify aircraft safety through a similar system.

This is a crisis that the federal government created by taking those tasks on itself and then spending so profligately that they can no longer afford to accomplish those tasks. They were unnecessary regulation to begin with and now the suspension of oversight is being used as an excuse to make the slim-down painful. There’s a solution to that.

First — charter owners — just do it! Be careful how you do it. Don’t dump trash in our waters, etc., but just do it and if the feds try to pull your permit afterwards, refuse to accept their “guidance”.

GA carriers — just do it. Make sure your maintenance records are in order, take the safety precautions you normally would take and just do what needs to be done. And, if the FAA comes back and pulls rank, ignore them.

Governor Parnell has already stated that the State of Alaska is willing to take up this argument. So, just do it! Push back! Act like free men and women and make use of your liberty and, hey, force the State to have this discussion with the feds.

When will there ever be a better time for civil disobedience to nonsense administrative state regulation? Let today start a new chapter in our relationship with the federal government — a chapter in which we take back our liberty and the federal government looks petty and tyrannical if they try to stop us.

Bears and the Federal Shutdown   3 comments

Nine days into the federal “shutdown”, I finally encountered a potential inconvenience.

http://www.newsminer.com/news/local_news/alaska-bears-make-a-meal-out-of-federal-shutdown/article_e9ce1a8c-3086-11e3-aaf1-001a4bcf6878.html

The White Mountain National Recreational Area is just over the ridgeline from our family cabin. It’s possible we share the same bears. We certainly have an aggressive grizzly in our valley.

And, now the federal government is not hauliing away the trash from the bear-proof garbage bins and the bears are snacking at the wilderness equivalent of White Castle.

“Sweet” bears — those who have been habituated to human food — are more dangerous than truly wild bears. It’s remotely possible that these bears might someday wander across the ridge into my valley and attempt to eat me … which is one of the many reasons I own a gun.

Of course, this is actually easily dealt with. Just give me the key to the bins and send me out with someone carrying a shot gun and we’ll haul the garbage out and seal up the bins so humans won’t keep using them and put signs on them saying “Haul your trash”.

This is, by the way, what we do at our cabin. We haul our trash and police our food. Alaskans have been doing this for generations. It was the NPS and BLM who brought in the bear-safe bins and tempted us to use them. Prior to that, we were smart enough to not attract bears.

So, I promised I’d report when I encountered an inconvenience. I haven’t yet, actually, but potentially — maybe — someday — but it didn’t need to be in the first place.

What Is Essential Service?   Leave a comment

The government shutdown, which so far doesn’t seem to affect anything important in my life, is good practice for what we will have to do without when the federal government collapses from unsustainable debt, so it might be a good idea to ask ourselves –

What is an ESSENTIAL federal government service/program?

Don’t get me wrong! I loved the Statue of Liberty when I saw it and Independence Hall is on my bucket list. The Smithsonian museums were really cool, and I was sorry to miss the National Zoo on that trip. The Grand Canyon is beautiful and, while I’d rather raft through it than ride a mule down the side of it, I get that people enjoy that. But –

Are these ESSENTIAL federal government services? There’s two questions there, by the way.

  • Are they essential?
  • Does the federal government need to do them?

PBS used to have an advertisement – if PBS doesn’t do it, who will?

Well, it turned out that cable TV does a lot of what PBS used to do and from what I can tell, PBS is still producing shows, so the answer to the question is – HGTV and A&E and PBS with a different funding stream. The world didn’t end. My TV viewing options changed, but they expanded rather than became more limited. Ain’t market competition wonderful?

So, are national parks an ESSENTIAL government service? Someone who doesn’t live in Alaska is going to have to weigh in on this one because I can go into the woods anytime I want with no help from a federal agency. In fact, federal agencies RESTRICT my access to nature with rules, regulations and permits on the assumption (I gather) that I’m going to dump radioactive waste in the wilderness. Because unpermitted hikers go into the wilderness for the express purpose of destroying the wilderness, don’t you know?

Anyone familiar with Old Sturbridge Village? It’s a non-profit “living” museum funded by donations to the foundation that owns the museum and grants from state and local governments. As far as I can tell, they don’t take federal funds, though I didn’t research whether they’d ever gotten a federal grant. The point is, they aren’t an agency of the federal government. News has it that it’s open today.

Ditto Colonial Williamsburg, another living history museum, which receives no regular state or federal funding. They’re a private non-profit foundation that operates a for-profit wing that provides the largest percentage of funding. I believe they’re open today as well.

In fact, there are dozens of private, non-profit and/or state-funded museums and cultural centers all across the United States that are open today AND paying their employees.

So, Question #2 can be definitively answered as – NO! The federal government does NOT need to be the manager/owner/tyrant of parks. We could have these cool things without the federal government doing them.

As for Question #1 – are these services ESSENTIAL? I suppose if you work for the federal government at the National Zoo, your job is essential … to you … but is that job so essential to the public good that I should have to pay for it? There are folks working for Old Sturbridge Village and Williamsburg and they get paid by the people who are actually using those services and/or individuals and organizations that support the work of those foundations. Nobody is saying the Statue of Liberty isn’t worth having around. The argument is — is it essential and must it be done by the federal government?

I think the answer is, to both questions, no. It’s not essential, but it’s cool and I hope it’s around for a long time to come, but a private non-profit or the New York State Parks system could administer it just as well.

Now we can move on to determining if the next bunch of furloughs meet those two requirements. The longer the shutdown goes on, the more opportunity we have to evaluate the necessity of the tabled programs and the non-federal alternatives to providing the important ones.

The federal government is going to have to reduce to a manageable size eventually anyway, so we might as well get in a little practice.

Two Ways to Look at the Not-Exactly Shutdown   3 comments

I had an interesting lunch hour today. I ran into an old friend from my social work agency days. And then I talked with my current coworkers who are most engineers.

SOCIAL WORKER: Isn’t it awful that the Republicans are forcing the government to close down in order to defund the Affordable Care Act? You State of Alaska workers must be so distressed!

STATE OF ALASKA ENGINEER: Isn’t it awful that the Democrats are forcing the government to close because they refuse to get their spending in order, starting with ObamaCare. The “close down” hasn’t affected me in the least and so far every federal agency I interact with in the course of my job appears to be manned.

You see, there’s two ways to view the shutdown that still has most federal workers working.

The GOP did it by refusing to allow a CR that wasn’t tied to ObamaCare.

The Democrats did it by refusing to allow a compromise on ObamaCare.

Those who really, really want ObamaCare are going to see it as the GOP being evil, but if you’re one of the 60% of Americans who say you don’t want ObamaCare, the choice is yours. The media wants you to believe that the GOP is acting improperly, but I view it as the GOP has finally grown a pair and is actually exercising legislative authority to stop the implementation of a bill that was passed in an unconstitutional manner.

The Democrats are the ones who refused to compromise. Obama is equally guilty. He could pull a Bill Clinton and work toward fixing our government spending problem. Clinton did that when he embraced welfare reform and acted like it was his idea, even though six months prior he’d been completely against it. Obama, of course, isn’t going to do that because dictators don’t have to listen to the people or follow any law higher than themselves.

The GOP, for once, has it right and it is the DEMOCRATS who are refusing to compromise in order to fund regular government operations. That’s their choice, but it’s the wrong one to make.

The Issue in a Nutshell   2 comments

Alaska’s Rep. Don Young voted in favor of the House bill that led to the government “shutdown” and issued a statement Monday evening Alaska time critical of the Senate.

“Hours away from a government shutdown, House Republicans have shown a willingness to come to the table, compromise, and put forward an actual solution,” Young said. “This is the third time we have offered them something different, but the Democrat-controlled Senate remains entrenched, demanding their way or the highway and risking the livelihood of thousands of hard-working government employees, all to prove a political point.

“Our latest proposal is simple: Delay the individual mandate of Obamacare by one year, which is consistent with what the Obama administration has already done for big business,” Young said. “We also believe that members of Congress and political appointees in the White House should not get any extra help in paying their skyrocketing health-care bill resulting from this new and flawed health-care system that each and every American must now join.”

Government Closes Down and …???   Leave a comment

The federal government is “closed” as of midnight last night and … well, Alaska has a lot of federal government. About 13000 Alaskans work for the federal government, for example … not including direct military personnel. So a government shutdown should affect us a lot.

Denali National Park closed last week because it’s at a high elevation in Alaska and it always closes about September 15 to 30. Construction season is already winding to a close because we’ve seen terminal dust (what Alaska’s call the little dustings of snow that start a few weeks before true winter slams us), so the funds were already paid out and the projects are finishing. There was still a long line into Ft. Wainwright this morning. Traffic was a little slower because it’s Municipal Election Day here, but really there was nothing different from the thousands of mornings I’ve set out for work.

I’m old enough to remember the Carter administration “shutdowns” and how non-eventful they were. Oh, the media insisted my grandmother would have to eat cat food, but in reality, not much happened. The Clinton administration shutdown was a little more concerning because of the way Clinton stroked the 24/7 media, but in reality, nobody died, planes did not drop from the sky, and we got welfare reform out of the non-ordeal. Whatever happened to welfare reform anyway?

In truth, local and state government affects our daily lives far more than the federal government does … unless we’re employed by the federal government (which might be something worth spending mental energy on). The mayor of my city has the means to ruin my day any number of ways, starting with not plowing the street in front of my home after a heavy snowfall (which happened about 20 years ago because of the results of a citizen’s initiative designed to — oh-oh — control the growth of city government). On the other hand, the federal government almost always impacts me negatively. For example, the EPA seeks to end wood-burning for home heating in my community, which will add about $6000 a year to my housing costs and they’re going to do it by forcing the borough (like a county) into implementing highly unpopular regulations, threatening that if they do not comply, they’ll lose out on federal funding.

Federal funding may not be the root of all evil, but the love of federal funding was probably tied up in Adam and Eve’s Fall from Grace.

If we would get the federal government under control, we would need to send less money to DC, meaning we could keep it local and use it on things that actually affect our lives … like snowplowing — or, hey, I could use it to buy home heating fuel. Interesting how that works.

So stay tuned. I plan to post the minute the federal shutdown inconveniences me in any way. Please don’t hold your breath, because I can’t think of anything I had planned to do that interfaces with the federal government and I wouldn’t want anyone to hurt themselves waiting for it.

This is a good thing with some negative SHORT-TERM consequences that we can use for the LONG-TERM benefit of the nation.

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