Shutdown highlights paradox in government

Michael Williams

What we buy reflects what we value. This logic can be extended to the federal government and what it does and does not choose to fund.

For this reason, the government shutdown has been intriguing to observe. In an act of political hubris, the Republican House shut down the government in protest of the Affordable Healthcare Act’s passage.

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

As it’s not a total shutdown, there are a myriad of government agencies that are still running with employee pay and some that are running without employee pay.

It’s worth examining what agencies are still operating and those that are furloughed. Again, those agencies that are up and running reflect the priorities of the United States and those with frozen funds are in the proverbial backseat. As I don’t have the space to examine every program funded and every program furloughed, I’ve chosen several examples to demonstrate a point.

While National Parks are closed to the public, many natural resource companies are still running extraction processes in the parks. E&E reports that “as of 2010, there were nearly 700 oil and gas drill sites…within 13 national park units, mostly in the Southeast.” They go on to note that while many operations have ceased due to dry wells, “there is significant oil and gas activity occurring at the Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida and at Lake Meredith National Recreation Area in the Texas Panhandle, despite both those units’ being shut to the general public.”

Funny, according to the infamous Citizens United court ruling, corporations are entitled to the same legal rights as individual citizens. One would think that the same legal limitations would apply too. Apparently, they do not. And for the record, Big Cypress and Lake Meredith are not the only examples.

Government programs for the impoverished have all but ceased, though thanks to the efforts of individuals on the ground concerned for the people they work with, some are still in a semblance of operation.

Zoe Carpenter of The Nation writes that as of last week the shutdown has “kicked 7,000 children out of Head Start and endangered 9 million women and children on WIC…” These WIC members include NMU students, Upper Peninsula citizens and even members of Indian reservations who are eligible for federal benefits. Federally funded centers for women fleeing domestic violence and assault have been slashed, leading to calls for individuals to donate monies needed to continue operating. Many of these centers have weekly budgets of five figures or more and cannot thrive on donations.

Despite the NOAA website and other subsidized weather monitoring services being down for a bit, climate is still a thing. Last week, in the midst of the shutdown, South Dakota saw record snowfall and a record die-off of beef cattle, a big industry for the state. NPR reports that “the number of animals [lost] is hard to confirm. In part, because the federal agency tasked with tallying livestock losses after a disaster is closed during the partial government shutdown.”

With the warm weather that preceded the blizzards, the cattle had not yet built up their winter coats. As a result, some in the state estimate between 50 to 80 percent of cattle dying of freezing and suffocation. Farmers who attempt contacting the USDA for aid get an automated message asking them to call back when the agency is operating.

Nevertheless, covert military operations targeting jihadists in Somalia have picked up since Thursday, Oct. 1.

Gene Healy of Reason.com has documented the growing presence of U.S. troops in Somalia, as well as the continued operation of the National Security Agency’s domestic spying. Funding to Syrian rebels has not ceased either. Many of these rebels ally themselves with al-Qaeda. U.S. foreign policy is characterized by paradox, even in the midst of a meltdown.

Healy presents a problem: are our priorities with the well-being of U.S. citizens or the agendas of the military-industrial complex?

As taxpayers and citizens are disregarded for political statements, the funding of foreign military operations has not ceased. As farmers in Rapid City, S.D. and mothers in Ypsilanti, Mich. yearn for government assistance, the cash-flow to Syrian insurgents cannot be stopped.

The federal government, for all its unique capacities to help its citizens (I mean taxpayers, I mean funders), chooses foreign priorities over domestic ones. It chooses aiding rebels over aiding retirees.

We need a counter-movement demanding legislation to defund Congress every time it shuts down the federal government. We won’t get paid for calling into work and nor should they.