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SILVER SCREEN FEDS: ‘Apollo 13,’ ‘The Simpsons Movie’

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Russ Cargill oh-so-helpfully nudges President Schwarzenegger to pick the right plan. (from The Simpsons Movie, 20th Century Fox)

Today on Silver Screen Feds, Andy Medici takes a look at the best team of federal employees ever to grace the big screen: Mission control from “Apollo 13.” And keep reading for Stephen Losey’s take on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Russ Cargill, from “The Simpsons Movie” — the first character we’ve profiled who descends into outright super-villainy.

BEST FEDS: Mission Control, NASA, “Apollo 13″ (Andy Medici)

Most of the time, being a good federal employee requires working well as a team. Being able to finish projects on tight deadlines while dealing with multiple other priorities is a staple of any fed’s tenure in government.

And in this case, there may be no better federal team in cinema than NASA’s mission control from “Apollo 13.” The 1995 film — directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and lots of other people everyone recognizes — follows the journey of the Apollo 13 astronauts as they attempt to reach Earth safely after a disaster onboard the ship renders it nearly useless.

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Debt ceiling doomsday may come as early as Feb. 15

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Now that the tax portion of the fiscal cliff mess has been resolved — for now, at least — the next major dispute will likely be over raising the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said last month that although the federal government reached its debt limit Dec. 31, he could finagle another two months or so by taking so-called “extraordinary measures.” That implied the government could keep running as-is until the end of February.

It turns out those measures may not be all that extraordinary. The Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank that studies budgetary matters, just put out an analysis of the government’s finances that concluded it could run out of money as soon as Feb. 15. That would be just slightly more than a month-and-a-half — not the two months Geithner hoped for. To be sure, that’s just a worst-case scenario — BPC said the government may be able to keep operating until March 1, depending on factors such as how much revenue the government brings in.

But the point is, time is tight. And if the debt ceiling mess isn’t resolved soon, we could be looking at a partial government shutdown.

Oh, and the BPC report throws cold water on all the people hoping for a deus ex machina solution to the debt ceiling mess. There are “no silver bullets” to extend the date, it says. It cites two quotes from President Obama and his spokesman that the 14th Amendment doesn’t allow him to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling, as much as Democrats like Nancy Pelosi might like him to.

And minting a magical $1 trillion platinum coin to give the government more borrowing room — as has been repeatedly proposed over the last year — would be “impractical, illegal, and/or inappropriate,” the BPC said. Although, I’m not quite sure what their problem is. As The Simpsons showed us, nothing can go wrong with a trillion-dollar bill as long as you keep it out of the hands of Fidel Castro.

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A little something to brighten your Tax Day

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From The Onion

From The Onion: "While the USPS has seen an increase in stamp sales, workers are spending more and more time peeling them off windows, walls, and countertops."

Nobody likes paying taxes, of course, but here are two things that might take a little sting out of today. The Onion has the scoop on the U.S. Postal Service’s latest can’t-miss scheme for boosting its dwindling revenue: Late-night post offices to draw in the nightclub crowd.

“We’re busier than ever, though to be honest, a lot of these people’s packages never even make it to the processing center,” Loftus continued. “The address will be illegible, or the envelope soaked in beer or hot sauce. You’d be surprised how many people try to mail themselves hot sauce at 2:30 in the morning.”

And enjoy this clip from the Simpsons episode The Trouble with Trillions. No matter how hectic your last-minute tax filing was, it couldn’t have been worse than this: 

Sadly, it cuts off right before one of my all-time favorite Homer Simpson lines: “Would you look at those morons. I paid my taxes over a year ago!”

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“Making government cool” is the Obama administration’s Poochie

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"Can we rasta-fy the government by 10 percent?"

"Can we rasta-fy the government by 10 percent?"

If there’s one phrase I’m tired of hearing over and over from senior White House leaders, it’s their desire to ”make government service cool.”

An occasional quip would be one thing. But it’s become a mantra for the Obama administration, included in everything from official bios to speeches to interviews to strategic plans. And what’s worse, it’s a meaningless catch phrase. 

If the government is having a hard time attracting and retaining talented young people, it’s probably because it takes five months to hire somebody and because hard workers don’t feel properly rewarded and think slackers aren’t dealt with — not because of a perceived lack of cool. After all, there’s a good deal of evidence suggesting many young people are already interested in public service.

All the coolness talk reminds me of the Simpsons episode “Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie.” In it, television executives try to boost the ratings of the Itchy and Scratchy cartoon by adding a new, “hip” character called Poochie, who they describe as “extreme!” and “totally in-your-face!” But the transparent and desperate attempt at coolness falls flat with the show’s audience, and Poochie is quickly killed off.

Young people can see right through such superficial talk, and it only turns them off of what you’re saying. Simply repeating “we’re going to make government cool” may be the least cool thing anyone can do.

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