Government shutdowns are too easy on too many of us

In one episode of the original “Star Trek,” two warring nations conducted their wars entirely by computer. Nobody got hurt. At the end of the war, members of the losing side had to report to an extermination chamber and give themselves up to be painlessly killed. They all complied, politely.

The moral of the story, as declaimed by Captain Kirk, was that this civilization had made war too easy and therefore would never address the underlying issues.

That’s what we’ve done with government shutdowns. Our federal leaders have made them too painless. Millions of Americans will consent to being pawns in a political power game, because it’s not as bad as it should be.

As I write this on Friday, December 21, it appears the shutdown is going to happen. I started looking for information. What sacrifices will the American people have to make?

If you were planning to go to Carlsbad Caverns for Christmas, you’re probably out of luck. Not exactly a national emergency. Some other parks will be open, but the National Park Service says bathrooms will be locked.

The shutdown doesn’t affect every agency because some appropriation bills have already passed. The agencies covered by those bills are funded for now.

The armed forces won’t be getting the time off. If the Chinese were thinking about invading us, this is not their moment. Whether the people who defend us from cyber attacks are employees of the same department, I don’t know.

If you are an employee in one of the federal agencies affected by the shutdown, and you provide an essential service, you’re still supposed to show up to work, whether you get paid or not. I think the word “essential” really means “urgent.” It doesn’t mean the rest of you are unimportant.

I was immediately concerned about a couple of things. First was the safety of the food supply. According to the reports, agriculture inspectors will not be off the job. But, says Vox, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration could both reduce the number of inspections they conduct. I don’t know who inspects what and I’m not waiting to find out. I will be filling my freezer with fresh meat and vegetables this afternoon.

Second was the weather. Though we in New Mexico don’t worry much about hurricanes, one of the most important and underrated jobs in our government is weather prediction, especially the heroic pilots who fly into hurricanes. Those pilots are part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and they will stay on the job, but without pay.

Agencies that provide benefits, like Social Security and Medicare, reportedly are not disrupted with respect to routine distribution of money. But if you need help from one of those federal agencies, it’s possible no one will be there to answer the phone.

The shutdown of the Department of Agriculture will probably affect farmers. An analysis from the Democratic side of the US Senate says farmers and ranchers will be looking for information on how the new Farm Bill will affect their operations, but nobody can answer those questions or assist them in signing up for programs.

Though the Justice Department is to be shut down, one report says the Mueller investigation is not affected, because it has its own source of funding.

Who cares? We’ve managed to create a so-called government shutdown that’s only an emergency for those directly affected. For the rest of us, it’s somewhere between a disruption and an inconvenience.

Utah has already prepared an alternative recreation guide for those disappointed by being unable to visit Utah’s spectacular national parks. Good thinking, Utah!

If the shutdown were going to be real, we’d have a suspension of all air travel, right before Christmas, and other immediate and dramatic impacts that would remind us of the reason we have government in the first place and what we expect of the people we elect to run it.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2018


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