The Fed Shutdown Just Keeps Getting Weirder

Oct 15th 2013
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By Teresa Ambord

Oh what odd images the shutdown hath wrought. You've heard of the trouble WWII vets had when they were initially told they couldn't visit the war memorial, though they eventually were allowed through. You've probably also heard of the public outcry when death benefits to families of fallen soldiers were refused. This too was resolved after a private nonprofit known as the Fisher House Foundation said it would pay the benefits until the government reopened. (The fed has since relented and agreed to make those payments during the shutdown.)

Those outcomes of a stalled government are outrageous enough in the Land of the Free, but here are some snippets of other effects of the shutdown you may not know about. 

There's Chris Cox, just a nice guy visiting from South Carolina, pushing a lawn mower around the grounds at Lincoln Memorial. Why? Because the grass was neglected, leaves piled up, and trash strewn everywhere. Nobody was doing anything about it, so Cox did. He bought a used mower and a leaf blower and went to work. Eventually the police chased him away, but not till he'd been at it for a few days, pushing a mower adorned with a bright blue South Carolina flag. "I'm not going to apologize for it", he told reporters. "I didn't find it a nuisance to be here. I found it my duty to be here." What a novel concept . . . doing your duty in Washington, DC. 

Boats in Alaska are ready to go crabbing so Americans and others can enjoy crabmeat in the coming months. But instead, the fishermen are in limbo because nobody is at work setting the rules and regulations or issuing permits for the season. Even a few days delay could cost the crab industry millions, and that means the cost of seafood will soar. 

John Bell, a guy who likes to run the trails at Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania, parked his car at an exterior lot and started his run on open trails. Everything seemed business as usual, that is, until he looked back and saw his car surrounded by the flashing lights of park ranger vehicles. It hadn't occurred to him that the government would try to shut down open range spaces that require no federal personnel. For that slip of judgment, he was slapped with a $100 fine. 

Then there were the barricades that were on public lands in Grand Teton National Park. "Were" is the operative word there. A bison with an itchy neck found them useful for a good scratch, till he knocked them down while his fellow bison looked on. The bison didn't get the notice that no work was to be done on federal land. No work to be done, that is, except the much more expensive, intrusive, and sometimes senseless work of closing down anything and everything possible.

Passing by Mount Rushmore, tourists who aren't allowed into the now-closed federal land can still view the monument from a pull-off on the highway. Except . . . they can't. Because the feds blocked the pull-off with traffic cones, lest someone get an illegal glance at Mount Rushmore. What they need there are a few bison to take on the government. 

A woman's family who wanted to honor her wish to celebrate her one hundredth birthday at her favorite spot, the Carrot Tree Kitchens Restaurant in Yorktown, Virginia, almost had to cancel their plans. The restaurant, which is inside the historic Cole Digges House, is on federal property. No federal input or labor is required to keep the restaurant open, but that didn't stop the feds from ordering owners Glenn and Debi Helseth to leave. The Helseths did leave, but they didn't stay away long. "I couldn't deny [her]", said Helseth of the birthday girl. But beyond that, he told reporters, all of his contractual obligations continue, including payments to the fed, and his employees were put out of work for no good reason. "These are hardworking people who can't be unemployed for weeks on end", he said. "These people aren't furloughed, they are literally shut down." 

Starbucks, two blocks from the Capitol, is collecting donations – not for the homeless, the truly jobless, or the downtrodden – but for furloughed workers. There's even a sign there telling people to dip in and take from the donations if they need the money. Of course, just how bad off can someone be if they're still drinking coffee at Starbucks?

How about those polls? They're everywhere. The results vary, based on who conducts the poll and who responds, but one thing is clear . . . Congress and President Obama aren't looking good. Some polls got creative and offered more choices than just Democrats, Republicans, and Barack Obama for popularity and approval. Let's just say it's a sad, sad day when our elected leaders lose out to such unwelcome competitors as dog poop, toenail fungus, and even the IRS. No kidding. An even bigger surprise, perhaps, is that when asked who they like better, survey respondents overwhelmingly dissed Congress and President Obama in favor of another universal pariah – their mothers-in-law. 

How much of this shutdown business is necessary? It depends on who you ask. Who's to blame? Same answer. But it does make you wonder what the real point is. A political stalemate is one thing, but making it illegal even to stop at a highway pull-off and view a gigantic, open-air monument like Mount Rushmore from outside the federal park is just plain bizarre. The fed may be technically shut down, but chances are someone is busy calculating the potential revenue to be had by penalizing all those scofflaws who get caught glancing at a monument, from any distance. 

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