The interview

The Thinker by Rodin

This blog is principally a written work, but today you can hear my voice if you want. Simply click on the audio player and listen to the MP3 recording. The interview is 24:09 and is 34.8MB in size. (Download)

I was interviewed by NetRoots Radio as a voice in the federal shutdown. The interview was with “Fripp”, a co-host of the Netroots Radio Tuesday show “Kicking Ass”. The interview is not actually part of the show, but is available as a podcast. I simply give my two cents about what it is like to be furloughed and offered a few political opinions. If you read this blog regularly, you won’t learn much new except you get to hear what I sound like.

“Fripp” is actually a man named Tom who is my age and living near Portland, Oregon. Tom and I have been friends since 4th grade so he is unquestionably my oldest friend, thus I was a natural person for him to interview. The interview was done via Skype on Monday afternoon. The natural pauses in sentences have been removed by software. I don’t normally speak so succinctly.

You can learn more about Tom here.

The shutdown: what’s it all about, Alfie?

The Thinker by Rodin

Congress is threatening to send me back to work tomorrow. As of this writing (about 4PM ET) the final votes have not been taken but the thinking is that the Senate will approve the proposed “compromise”. House Republicans, bruised and bloodied, will allow Democrats and its few moderate Republicans to pass the bill. The real majority in the House, which is curiously not the Republican Party but Democrats and some moderate leaning Republicans, will finally wield its power, weak though it is. Government will reopen, the trash will be picked up off the National Mall and tourists and homeless people will start urinating inside the public restrooms on the mall, instead of outside of it.

And people like me will go back to work and try to pretend the whole two-week nightmare didn’t happen. I know it happened though. I got my final paycheck through the end of September. It was 43% smaller than the last one. Basically I was paid for six days of work instead of ten (we are paid biweekly). It seems likely that I will get back pay, although the Senate has not approved the bill yet. If there are winners in this debacle, I may be one of the few. I did not have a vacation per se, as it was full of nervousness, just with the cushion of a decent cash reserve. I never stopped working, but it was just not for the feds. Instead I mostly painted. I actually could use one more day as I did not quite finish restaining our deck (rails to come later). I was quite productive, just not for the mission of the United States. As part of my retirement mission: mission accomplished! Many of the chores I would have to do anyhow before we relocate in retirement are now done and two years ahead of schedule.

Mostly though this shutdown screwed lots of people. For most federal employees it was mostly a lot of time at home and trying to swallow their anxiety. For many federal contractors, it meant furloughs for the duration of the shutdown, and zero likelihood of being repaid. For the support people who service federal buildings, the janitors and cafeteria workers, for example: it’s a disaster with no income and no prospect that their employer will pay them for circumstances beyond their control. They tend to live paycheck to paycheck and their paychecks are paltry. For the economy as a whole, this is going to hurt, perhaps through a temporary rise in unemployment and loss of gross domestic product. The uncertainty caused by this shutdown will be quantified at some point and the number will be in the billions of dollars. Less tax revenues will increase the deficit. Less expenditure will affect retail sales.

The stakeholder that matters most is you, the taxpayer. Maybe you weren’t inconvenienced at an airport security line, but for the most part you could not enter a national park. You may discover yourself in the emergency room in a few weeks poisoned by meat you consumed that was unsafe because meat inspectors were furloughed. Certain people trying to close on house sales could not because their papers were not in order. The Center for Disease Control may be behind the eight ball if a new infectious disease breaks out as most of them were furloughed. Don’t assume the government saved money by “closing”. Federal employees like me will be paid retroactively but even if we were not, the actual costs would still be higher than not closing the government.

In reality, government is like a vast machine. It costs serious money to shut it down and serious money to start it up again. To use one example, many servers (computers used to serve information) were shut down. Servers usually work great provided you don’t turn them off. Some percent of these servers will not come back up, and will require parts and service calls. A lot of them will come up but won’t actually work properly. I expect when I turn my government computer on, it will complain because the antivirus software is more than two weeks out of date. I’m sure there will be other issues too. Computer woes will dominate most of my day tomorrow when I shuffle back into the office.

There will be lots of this plus also restarting the human processes. There will be more than two weeks of email to sift through and all sorts of conversations about how our priorities will shift that will take time and tax productivity. I was supposed to have all my employees’ performance evaluations done by the end of October. That’s probably not going to happen. My guess is that our productivity will be fifty percent less than usual for several weeks. Some of our planned work for the year is going to slip. You will get less governing for your tax dollars.

This of course was part of the calculus of Tea Party Republicans. They want less government. True believers as they are, they were willing to die on their swords for the cause, except of course for a few loudmouths like Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who has reluctantly decided not to filibuster this last minute “compromise”. He’s having a hell of a first term, having won the antipathy of every senator except possibly Mike Lee (R-UT), who also has agreed to suspend his craziness. You have to wonder why they did, because breaching the debt limit and creating a massive recession is a great way to shake up Washington. Maybe in a fit of sanity they realized they would be marked men when NRA members whose investment portfolios would be halved in value because we breached the debt limit put them in the crosshairs.

The sad reality, which was easy to predict but that Republicans probably won’t admit, is that they lost badly. Obamacare was not stopped, as I predicted. The debt limit was not breached, although rating firms may downgrade our credit worthiness anyhow for all this pointless brinkmanship. The sequester remains but now it appears that agencies will have more discretion on how it will be implemented, plus both sides agree to have talks about getting rid of it altogether. The government could shut down again in January and the debt limit may be breached again in February as well. It’s more likely though that this will be handled more sanely, considering how badly it went for Republicans this time around. The only “concession” I see is a fig leaf one: people getting subsidies for Obamacare are subject to a more stringent audit, but auditing was already in the law. The agreement is basically a tacit surrender by Republicans. What is worse, it they have tarnished their brand. Less than a quarter of the country now “like” Republicans. They are likely to lose the House in 2014.

It’s too early to say whether the Republican Party suffered a fatal wound from this. Gerrymandered districts will be a reality through the next census but it is likely that Tea Party influence will quickly wane now. What is likely to replace them are not moderate Republicans, but sane conservatives.

Hopefully one lesson they will learn is that shutting down the government is counterproductive. Obama, and by inference all future presidents, will no longer negotiate under threat of shutdown or default. Power will have to be wielded the constitutional way again. We will remain the United States of America. The South’s new attempt at open rebellion has failed.

Furlough Diary, Day 13

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m running out of places inside my house to paint and patch. The lower level is now completely repainted. I finished that project last week when I repainted the back of one door that I had neglected in the spring. The walls consisting of our master bedroom closets and vanity have been repainted. The master bedroom itself still looks good enough where it doesn’t seem worth my effort. Last time I painted it, it involved bringing in the ladder I use to get to the roof to paint the room’s vaulted ceilings, a tedious process that I will be glad to leave to the next owners. Last year we had a contractor paint the vaulted ceilings in our living room and hallways, so that’s all done.

So I’m been reduced to painting parts of the kitchen. The planter box that extends over the kitchen sink and out into the yard needed a new coat of semigloss, as did the door to the pantry which still had its original coat of paint. There are a few more doors that need painting but that’s it, aside from my daughter’s bedroom. She is occupying it, so I’ll paint it when she moves out. It’s an odd feeling to be virtually caught up on painting chores, likely for the first time in my life. All this is thanks to dysfunction in Congress.

Which means if this continues, and it looks likely at least for a few more days, outdoor chores will be next on my agenda. Four days of often-unrelenting rain from a Nor’easter has kept me indoors with the paintbrush. Staining the deck again, a chore I have ignored for years, is obviously next up when the weather decides to cooperate. According to the non-furloughed staff at the National Weather Service, we should finally see the sun tomorrow.

Painting has kept me too busy to feel cabin fever set in, but even thirteen days later it still feels unnatural to be home so much. I wisely brought home my plant at the office before leaving on October 1st. I found comfort going to the office most days and find that I miss that routine, not to mention the excellent view of the Shenandoah Mountains on clear days. Except for one trip to Starbucks, I have had no coffee. I keep my coffeemaker at work, and I routinely have two cups of decaf at my desk with lunch. My diet has changed since the furlough. I am less likely to have a salad with lunch, simply because my house has no salad bar, unlike the cafeteria at work. Aside from the cat who usually just wants to be fed, my companion is now WAMU, the public radio station in Washington D.C. that has mostly NPR public affairs content. My portable radio tuned to WAMU follows me as I move from room to room with my paintbrush. It’s a welcome distraction but of course it is mostly shutdown politics and I rarely learn anything new. But unlike my employer at the moment, at least it is something of a new constant in my life. The Diane Rehm Show, the Kojo Nnamdi Show, Talk of the Nation and of course Morning Edition and All Things Considered now follow me through the course of my day. This week will be a trial because it’s membership week. I give the station money every year but I simply cannot deal with the drivel that is membership week. Which means it will be WSCP (C-SPAN radio) next week, when I can tolerate that or, more likely, the sounds of silence.

I am not panicking over money but sometimes I feel like I should proceed with more financial caution. We are going through a cash flow challenge of sorts, which means I will probably have to start drawing from savings soon. My wife is more than gainfully employed, but she is subcontracting, and only gets paid once a month. This means all expenses are paid from my checking account, which consists of my last paycheck plus a few hundred dollars. And boy the expenses have been coming in! A lot of these are routine expenses but there continues to be large numbers of copays, mostly related to my wife and her accident in April, as we continue to chase down the cause of her seizure. There are initial consult fees, test fees, fees to tell you what the test said, random statements in the mail demanding more money, etc. Since October 1st, there has been about $350 in copays and more in prescription medications. Arguably all are necessary.

My next paycheck will be about half of my regular amount, for whatever period is covered through September 30 and that will be it for me until the furlough is over. It looks like we will be paid for the furloughed time. The bill is currently stalled in the Senate, basically on their back burner, but likely to get approved at some point. Still, there are no guarantees. Like Mr. Spock I am trying to stay logical. It makes all the sense in the world to keep hitting the Lowes for paint and other home improvement supplies, even with no money coming in. I keep an account for home improvements, so these expenses will come out of this account, but for the short term it just makes the balance in my checkbook creep toward zero.

Trying to read the tealeaves across the Potomac River continues to be something of a black art. When or if I get to go back to work is unclear. Some days it looks promising and other days less so. The only obvious thing is that Republicans are getting seriously pummeled on the shutdown. I started out skeptical that the shutdown would mean that Democrats would retake the House in elections next year. Now I think it is more likely than not, despite the gerrymandered districts that heavily favor Republican incumbents. Some part of me is rooting for the shutdown to continue if it makes this outcome all the more probable. Even Republicans, or at least the sane ones still around, are figuring out they need to cut their losses. When groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce declares it will support Republican moderates and campaign against Tea Party affiliated candidates, you know something has changed.

What the country needs the most are not necessarily more Democrats, although they are certainly preferable to Republicans, but more moderates. The long-term consequence of this shutdown may be the return of moderates of both political stripes. This shutdown is likely to validate the thesis that a country cannot be governed with extremes on both sides holding power. We need more Mark Warners and (yes, hard to hear me say this) Chris Christies so that they can keep either extreme from getting too far away from the sensible center. We need pragmatists. We need horse traders for politicians again. God help us, we need the earmark. We are starting to see the value of the earmark, which is not so much to put plums in Congressional districts but as the oil that imperfectly moves the gears of government. If these are outcomes of the shutdown, I will welcome then.

In the meantime, I have not yet exhausted my list of home improvement chores, so I will continue to work on them doggedly while the shutdown lasts.

Furlough Diary, Day 8

The Thinker by Rodin

Things are “curiouser and curiouser”, as Alice put it. However, Wonderland is a lot less baffling than Washington, D.C. in the midst of a massive government shutdown. I keep expecting things to make sense but in really there is no sense in all this. It feels a lot more like Catch 22 than Alice in Wonderland.

There really is no point to the government shutdown. Republicans have already tacitly conceded that the shutdown has not stopped Obamacare. The health insurance exchanges are online, albeit sporadically given the overwhelming demand and the apparently poor job of software engineering by the contractor for the federal exchange. You would think that since their tactics obviously didn’t work they might concede reality, get over their snit and reopen the government. After all, Senate Democrats have already conceded to Republicans on the size of the continuing resolution, a cut from last year’s Spartan levels.

But, no, that would mean a loss of face, which is way more important than leaving much of the federal government shut down. House Republicans won’t allow a simple up or down vote to be taken on funding the government, although the votes are there to reopen the government. However, the House did vote 408-0 to pay federal workers like me, retroactively of course, for sitting at home. It’s reasonable to ask, “Gosh, if you are going to eventually pay us anyhow, why not send us back to work?” That way at least national parks would reopen and people desperately needing to get into NIH cancer trials might get the opportunity.  But no, that’s can’t happen because you see if we are actually ordered to do something productive then Republicans can’t make people’s lives miserable, and you can’t prove the government is shut down unless people’s lives are miserable. Take out the misery and the whole thing becomes pointless.

In my case, what this amounts to is I am getting an IOU not just to stay home, but also to actively not work. It was made very clear to me when I left work a week ago: I was not to do anything resembling government work, under penalty of law. I’m forbidden from even turning on my government furnished laptop computer, or logging into my government GMail account from my personal computer. Which means I am making excellent money, more than $60/hour plus benefits, to mostly paint my house. Yesterday it was our upstairs bathroom, which needed touching up before our house goes on the market in a couple of years. It actually required totally repainting the room when the paint I purchased turned out to be glossier than what was actually on it. I figure if this goes on long enough, I’ll run out of chores to do around the house. I still have a list that includes cleaning and re-staining the deck, painting part of our master bedroom, washing all our windows, mulching the garden and removing the last of the weeds from it as well. Then I will start on the next set of non-house chores: getting the car inspected and taken in for a tune up. It used to be these were hassles but now I can do them at a time that suits me and eventually get paid obscenely for the privilege. Plus I can sleep in late, although I seem to be up by 8 AM anyhow. For this I can thank our dysfunctional Congress.

Defense Secretary Hagel has decided that most of his employees are essential after all, and called them back in to work. No phone call has arrived from my chain of command. I assume our systems are running okay, but obviously I can’t find out. I do know that when this hullaballoo is over I’ll be just one more civil servant trying to make the chaos stacking up in the office into something orderly and attainable again. All our yearly plans will have to be rethought and re-scoped, at additional time and expense, of course. In all our project plans, there was no place for a task called “government shutdown” but clearly something will have to give: scope, time or cost. Not even a government shutdown can change these facts of life.

The real crime here is the loss of governance. Nowhere in our constitution is there a Hastert Rule, which says only items that a majority of the House’s Republicans agree to vote on will get voted on. This rule, if you think about it, is more insidious than the filibuster. The filibuster is a way to ensure the minority gets heard. The Hastert Rule allows no opportunity for the minority in the House to have any say on what comes before the House. It becomes even more like Catch 22 when you consider that many Republicans are totally okay with breaching the debt ceiling, in fact they are eager to see it happen. It’s not such a big deal, they say. Simply use cash coming in to pay off our foreign creditors. Everyone else can wait. My goodness, what kind of glue are they sniffing? If just one social security payment is late because of this, the Republican Party is done: dead as a doornail in the 2014 elections. It’s amazing they can be so totally clueless about the obvious. It just goes to show the danger of ideology because it can overrule any common sense whatsoever. The real “hostage taking” that President Obama referred to today will be the Republican Party. It has already being held hostage by the Tea Party. It’s like that scene from Blazing Saddles where the sheriff points a gun at his own head.

All work in government is essential because Congress authorized it. It’s just that a lot of the work does not seem essential when you did not vote for the law. The work I do involves planning projects that take years to move from idea to implementation. It means lots of requirements, prototypes of system changes, vetting with user groups, detailed project plans, project tracking and oversight and lots of levels of testing. Declare this work nonessential and you make government less effective. In my case, the impact is that our scientific data is less likely to be shared, or shared as quickly as it could be. It could impact interdisciplinary studies needed to understand the impact of human activities on our climate.

I doubt it’s more important for me to sit at home and paint walls instead. However, if this is how you want to stop government from governing, it is effective, just much more costly than letting government do its business. If Congress wants to tell us this work is no longer essential, it can pass a law and we’ll stop.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep painting. The money is great!

Dancing the Furlough Kabuki

The Thinker by Rodin

Much to my surprise, the government shutdown I anticipated last week never happened. The snarling, obfuscation and “my way or the highway” statements on Friday suggested (at best) a weekend with the federal government shutdown. Much of the noise was apparently posturing. A deal was struck late on Friday. Another continuing resolution was passed by both houses and hurriedly signed by the President. Staff worked through the weekend writing the bill both houses of Congress will vote on this week to cover federal discretionary spending through the end of September. Its passage is not assured, but seems likely.

If you truly want to gum up the workings of government, keep dribbling out money to agencies week by week with no idea of how you will ultimately be permitted to spend it. This “gumming the gears up” strategy seems to have worked well so far, from the perspective of someone nested inside the federal bureaucracy. We have spent all sorts of time and money just figuring how to shutdown gracefully if required to do so. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s like trying to turn off an aircraft carrier. It can be done but happens only when it is decommissioned, so no one bothers to figure out how to do it. Guidance on who was essential, who was not and what the rules would be for a furlough were confusing and were constantly shifting. What systems needed to be maintained and which could be stood down during the furlough were also subject to great change. All sorts of preliminary and revised guidance documents came down, many of which were lengthy and could not be read fully in the time required. On Friday there were last minute meetings by senior leadership in my organization, resulting in even more last minute meetings with staff that still left questions open. It seemed at one point that if you were “nonessential” you could not even read your work email after midnight on Friday.

I was in Denver on business all week, which made it even more confusing. I monitored email and listened in on conference calls all while trying to work in a conference room but I received little clarity. In the middle of the afternoon on Friday, I finally boarded a bus to Boulder to spend the weekend with my brother. I left convinced that if I saw my office on Monday it would only be to issue furlough notices to my employees, return my laptop computer and get my own furlough notice. Fortunately, my airfare home was prepaid, but we were warned that if a shutdown happened then our government credit cards could not be used after midnight last Friday. My travel expenses, like baggage and shuttle fees, might come out of my own pocket.

One thing was for sure: I was “nonessential”. I remember reading some news report where some citizen who was asked about the shutdown said that we should get rid of all nonessential people in the government. Think of all the money that could be saved! I am sure this citizen was one of many with the same opinion. Here’s the reality: essential people cannot do their work for long without nonessential people. Take the human resources office, for example. They are likely all nonessential employees. The essential employee though has to hope he does not get a workplace injury, because someone in HR would need to facilitate a claim. Similar things are true about my job and my “nonessential” staff. One sailor may be able to maintain the rigging on a small ship, or even a large ship in a calm sea. It’s in stormier seas that you need extra crew. Moreover, no sailor will stay for long on a ship where the cook does not have meals ready in the galley. No autopilot mode can last forever. Eventually, many other people are needed to keep the whole thing working. An immense amount of coordination is needed to run government lawfully and in a planned and systematic fashion.

So using terms like “essential” and “nonessential” were probably not the best choice of words. “Critical” and “noncritical” would have been better. In my office, only one person was deemed essential, and it was not a manager. It was a technical guy who could troubleshoot problems with our critical servers. In the event of a shutdown, we were told it was against regulations to check our email. Why? We would be working and we could not be compensated for “nonessential” activities, therefore it was unlawful to do so. How do you move from nonessential to essential? Someone who is essential has to tell you that you are essential, and then you are only allowed to work until your essential work is done, and then you go off the clock. Oh, and don’t expect to be compensated until after the shutdown is over.

You would think that if you are furloughed, nonessential and unpaid to boot, then you should be able to be a free agent during the furlough. If I wanted to earn some extra income working the French fry vat at the local McDonalds, I should be able to do so. Not so fast! There are rules for these sorts of things. If my agency suddenly is funded, then I still may be nonessential but I must report to work. Nor can I volunteer my time while furloughed, or take a paid or unpaid vacation because I need to be available if something essential does come up. Nor can I file for unemployment, at least not immediately, because in Virginia where I live I have to wait two weeks. In short being furloughed doesn’t mean that you are out of a job, just that there is no money to pay you and you cannot work. Technically, you remain employed, but you don’t earn a salary and need to stay close to home. Oh, and you can’t call your supervisor because they are nonessential too. In short, being furloughed is a Catch 22. In theory, you could be on furlough for years, draw no salary, and yet be unable to accept another job.

In the 1995-1996 shutdowns, in the end it did not matter. Congress subsequently reimbursed employees who were nonessential as if they had actually worked. This time if a furlough happens everyone agrees reimbursement won’t happen. In some sense, this is unfair, but not to the taxpayer who sees no point in paying anyone who is not working. It is unfair from the perspective of a federal employee who is willing to work, cannot and is not allowed to do any other work as well. Their only option is to quit the federal government altogether. Unfortunately, with HR being nonessential, there is no way to quit until the furlough is over. You can’t even call your boss to say, “I quit!” So starting a new job during your furlough is in some sense, illegal.

So far these procedures have been all moot, but I imagine they will occur, and probably sooner rather than later. The federal debt limit must be raised soon, which offers Republicans more opportunities for furlough shenanigans. Then there is the FY12 budget, whose passage will make the FY11 budget look like a cakewalk. Perhaps clarity will return after the 2012 elections. I have some hope that by then voters will be so sick of extreme polarity that they will vote sensible moderates into office. I’d best not count on it.

No sense of proportion

The Thinker by Rodin

After six weeks or so of stalling, it appears that the federal government will “shut down” at midnight on Friday. It’s déjà vu for some of us who make our living as public servants. Given that the fiscal clock runs out in twenty four hours, it’s unlikely that some acceptable continuing resolution or fiscal year 2011 appropriation bill will somehow emerge, pass both houses of Congress and get signed into law so quickly. Which leaves us pondering really the imponderable: how long will it last this time?

Some think that it will be over by Monday morning, as this has happened in the past. The theory goes something like this: Republicans need to shutdown the government to satisfy the Tea Party, but once the government is actually shutdown, the base is miraculously satisfied enough that the House, Senate and the White House can agree on a bill that will win enough grudging support to bring government back to life by Monday morning. Except for possibly canceling the Cherry Blossom parade, the impact would not be felt in any meaningful way until Monday anyhow. Those of us with longer memories remember the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, and see House Republicans this time in an even ornerier mood than then, so for us it’s best to husband cash and to try not to panic.

One thing I am confident about: Republicans will come to rue their “my way or the highway” high stakes brinkmanship. It does make the Tea Party and conservative base happy, because Republicans are a party of that believes in sadism for anyone not like them. But the fact remains the House is not the entirety of Congress and the President is a Democrat. No one side gets everything. It has never been this way in the past. A shutdown of any length is not going to change this fact. Moreover, poll after poll shows the public having a bad case of buyers’ remorse from the 2010 election. The longer a shutdown goes on, the steeper the political price that Republicans will pay. Those less motivated by ideology can see that the political winds have already shifted.

If Democrats have trouble governing because they devolve into too many factions, Republicans have trouble governing because they are too united and have no sense of proportion. Taking no prisoners may make them feel good for a while, but it wins them no new political support. As evident in Wisconsin and elsewhere, mainstream America is aghast by the current Republican overreach. They elected Republicans on the hope that they would help grow the economy and jobs. Jobs seem to be the last thing on their agenda. Instead they are hopelessly entangled in causes that the public does not care about. Defunding Planned Parenthood and bringing the government to a halt is more important than creating jobs?

What this shutdown will show, if it lasts for more than a week, is exactly what Republicans fear most: the value of government. It is one thing to furlough a relatively highly paid civil servant like me. It’s another thing to put America’s soldiers on half pay, most of who are already living from paycheck to paycheck. These people comprise a significant portion of their base; they are the last people they should be pissing off. But that’s just the start of it. Tell Mr. & Mrs. Taxpayer that their income tax refund, which they really need, will join a growing backlog of claims. Senior citizens vote disproportionately for Republicans, but if they need to file for Social Security, or try to claim a disability benefit, they will be out of luck. Then there are all our national parks that will be shuttered. It’s going to be like the Iran Hostage crisis. The media will cover it 24/7. “It’s Day 11 of the government shutdown and Mr. and Mrs. Jones from Camden, New Jersey are here at the gates of Yellowstone Park, furious that they cannot visit the park they had long planned to see.” Camera crews will be queued in front of the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument and Yellowstone Park as the 80,000 visitors a day trying to use our national parks cannot. It’s going to be terrible PR.

Who will they hold to blame? A party that already went more than half way to accommodate Republican demands? Or a party that won’t budge one inch from a hard-line position on both deep spending cuts in discretionary spending and who insist on tilting at windmills by cutting programs like Head Start, programs Americans overwhelmingly approve of? It’s not hard to see who will get the blame, and from the headwinds in Wisconsin and elsewhere the public will echo the same theme: Republicans have no sense of proportion and are being completely unreasonable. The only question will be how much damage Republicans will choose to inflict on their brand before they move toward actual compromise. If the Tea Party has its way, their miscalculations will quickly put Democrats back in charge of Congress and the White House in 2012 as well as render their whole movement as obsolete as Glenn Beck’s soon to be canceled TV show.

Meanwhile, the longer the shutdown lasts, the more it hurts independent businesses, the states and the private sector, those Republicans claim to care about. The federal contractors they champion who live off the federal dole will start to lay off workers and find their profits sinking. The hotels, restaurants and other service providers who cater to those who enjoy our national parks will find themselves in increasingly greater financial distress. The states, which depend on federal revenue sharing to shore up their Medicaid expenses, will have to pay for these services out of pocket when they are already financially stretched. Tourists planning that trip to France will not be happy when they find that all but emergency passports are nonessential services but their pre-purchased airline tickets are nonrefundable. A sustained shutdown is a great way to slow down our economic recovery just when it is gaining traction. In addition to about 800,000 federal employees with no incomes, many more will also feel the pain. The unemployment rate is likely to jump if it goes on for several weeks. Economic pain will spread more every week it endures as all those who support these services lose business and employment.

A  shutdown of any sustained length will simply boomerang against Republicans. The longer it goes on the more damage it will do to their brand. Ironically, a shutdown is a trap of their own making, which is wholly preventable. A smarter political party would be making measured moves toward implementing their agenda by finding issues that resonate with Main Street America so they can build their majorities. They would not be jumping into perilous waters, such as proposing massive changes to Medicare and Medicaid which have no chance of becoming law but simply show them as being obstinate.

If we must have a shutdown for Republicans to learn this lesson once again, well, I guess bring it on. John Boehner must be suffering from long term memory loss to allow this to happen to his party, given that he witnessed what happened the last time.

To quote Forrest Gump: Stupid is as stupid does. Blind and reckless ideology will be the Republican Party’s undoing one more time. The good news for Republicans: voters have no sense of collective memory, so they will probably put them back into power again before too long. Then the same pointless cycle can play out until our great republic finally devolves into chaos and dust.