THE BLOG
10/10/2013 05:20 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Shutdown Reveals Our National Priorities

This isn't a government shutdown. We should stop calling it that. It's a demonstration of our national priorities. When Congressional Republicans initiated Civil War 2.0, they caused the US government to grind to a piecemeal halt. If we look at the parts of the government that are still in operation, we can get a pretty good idea of what matters to the powerful folks in Washington, DC.

Here's the thing: the entire U.S. government has not shut down. Only the parts having to do with Americans and their lives have shut down. That means the poor are first in line for a beating. Followed by anyone who relies on food safety inspections -- that would be everyone -- or any other instrument of government that oversees domestic matters. The closure of national parks is an obvious example, but the Center for Disease Control is closed, too. In the middle of an antibiotic-resistant salmonella outbreak.* Bon appetit.

The National Institutes of Health are shut down. Housing assistance is cut off. The Women, Infants, and Children program is shut down -- I've got your family values right here, guys. SNAP runs out of money at the end of October. Veterans' services are at half power. Most of the Justice Department is shut down. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is shut down, so if you're into derivatives fraud, this is a great time to be alive. The freakin' Environmental Protection Agency is shut down. NASA has gone dark. Social Security checks are going out, but that's all the agency has staff for. And you're not getting a passport or a visa any time soon.

We are living in a libertarian paradise at the moment, Objectivist's complaints notwithstanding.

But do you know what's not shut down? The military-industrial complex. Our war business continues to thrive.

Any office that "provides for the national security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life and property" is still open. That's the military. It's the NSA, the CIA. Now, the Department of Defense took a cut, but only in the areas that might actually improve American lives -- they've suspended environmental engineers and death benefits for the families of fallen troops, for example. Big weapons and materiel manufacturers like Lockheed Martin have had to furlough some workers -- but only because the government inspectors who check their work have been mothballed. And of all the government, it looks like the DoD is first in line to get back to full funding.

There are other non-military operations that have kept going. USAID, which is the outfit that services foreign aid, has so far escaped any cutbacks, as well. That's good news for international agencies trying to administer development projects overseas -- although it indicates how much that agency is beholden to the military that it's been kept open. Air traffic controllers are still at work, too. After all, Congresspersons fly in airplanes. Nor is Congress shut down, although it appears to be.

The most telling shutdown in this regard is the TSA. We've been told since the formation of the agency that the TSA is keeping us common folk safe from the 9/11 terrorists by photographing our genitals and X-raying our shoes. Is the TSA shut down? Of course not, because security. But guess who's working full-time without pay? TSA agents. In other words, the agency is actually shut down, but its employees have to keep showing up for work.

So the imperial part of America's business is in relatively good shape. We still have our wars, our thousand-odd international military installations and bases, our ready arsenal. At home, our communications can still be monitored, our privacy kept to a minimum, and there's always a SWAT team at the ready to keep the hippies under control. Maybe it's naïve of me, but when I contemplate nations that prioritize war, weapons, policing and surveillance over the health and wellbeing of their citizens, I tend to think of places like North Korea.

The national priorities of the semi-United States have been made abundantly clear during this unnecessary, aimless crisis: we love the mighty and despise the weak. It's baffling, then, why Congress is doing everything it can to make ordinary Americans as weak as possible.

*I read today that the CDC has brought a few workers back to deal with the outbreak. With the FDA no longer performing food safety inspections, who knows? Maybe these CDC folks can stay busy.

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?