New survival kit for feds

Friday - 12/2/2011, 2:00am EST

Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many federal agencies in the Washington area issued emergency survival kits to workers in downtown agencies. They were very basic. They contained water, maybe an emergency snack, and couple of other things.

People being people, some complained that the kits weren't much. Others were grateful. Some who didn't get them, or didn't think they were enough, made their own. That was then...

This is now. After the current session of Congress ends this month, feds may have to come up with and pay for their own updated survival kits. These would include:

  • A suit of light-weight armor with extra plating on the back.

  • A tin alms cup with instructions on how to apply for unemployment benefits.

  • An athletic supporter, if appropriate, with a cup protector.

  • Enough money and food to tide you over for some time.
No problem!

The failure of Congress to come up (so far) with directions for spending cuts has left a lot of people fearful and confused. That includes investors, both foreign and domestic, people with 401(k) plans and hundreds of thousands of federal workers who hear they may have to be fired from their jobs while Congress and the White House figure out how to create more jobs.

There are, to be sure, some optimists in Washington. But being a gloom-and-doom type is more fun, and generally pays better. So the glass-is-half-empty crowd is dominant here — at least among lawyers, lobbyists, politicians, think-tank thinkers and journalists. After all, people pay more attention if you yell "fire" than if you whisper "It's OK".

According to the scenario being followed by the worst-case-scenario crowd, the federal pay freeze will be extended for several more years. There is also talk of thousands of layoffs and month-long furloughs. Politicians predict that thousands of law enforcement personnel — from the DEA and FBI — could be laid off. That border patrol people will no longer patrol the border. And that travel will become more difficult (and maybe more dangerous) as the ranks of TSA screeners and FAA air traffic controllers are cut.

It hardly seems like good policy to furlough or lay off thousands of people when unemployment is already unacceptably high. Unless...

Some liberals see it as an acceptable way to sock it to conservatives who dominate the House and who would likely take the blame if there are serious disruptions in vital services. Some conservatives (in their hatred of government and, by association, government workers) may be willing to take the political heat if it creates a big enough train wreck. To some extent, both sides are using career feds as chessmen. Pawns, not kings.

A now retired, long-time observer who spent years on Capitol Hill , said two things:

"First, we've never been in a situation quite like this in living memory ... although we've been in worse. There is so much confusion that if anyone has a grand plan it not visible and may implode.

"Secondly, we have been at the brink before ... many times. A lot can happen between now and January, 2013 ... a lot can happen between now and the end of this month! Federal workers still have jobs and this constant pushing of the panic button is not doing them any favors ... People shouldn't do anything rash based on what 'they' the politicos may do to them."

He said people should plan, not panic.

Stay, as they say, tuned.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

An IBM computer analysis of billions of Facebook and Twitter postings indicates that high heels are losing a little of their height. The median heel heights mentioned in those social media posts dropped to two inches this year, from seven inches in 2009. The results were notable because it's generally hypothesized that heel heights — and other extravagant indicators of fashion — increase during tight economic times. An IBM researcher told The New York Times it's not the actual number that's important but the "relative movement."


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