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Peter Van Buren Headshot

R.I.P Our Government

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If you're reading this, you're probably a federal worker sent home because your employer, our government, ran out of money to pay you.

Welcome to our world.

The scene in Congress is as ugly as it has been in some time, perhaps resembling the ultimate breakdown of our system of government last seen in the days before the Civil War. At that point the lines had been drawn and were no longer negotiable, literally black and white. There were no compromises left to explore as Congressmen acted simply out of self-interest ("I wish to support using human beings as livestock") with no regard for the nation as a whole.

The issue today is selfishly drawn -- Congress acts simply based on a cold calculus of what it thinks will increase chances for reelection. No one seems to care a touch for the nation. This demonstrates the extent of our failure. Even as the U.S. is trending toward our own form of fascist exceptionalism, where real power is controlled by industry with the complacence of government, backed up by a surveillance state that views citizens as the enemy, we can't even get the damn trains to run on time.

Meanwhile, some 16 million of our children, 22 percent, live below the federal poverty level. That line is set at $23,550 a year for a family of four. Anybody out there with enough scratch for a computer and an internet connection want to try that on? In fact, on average, a family of four needs at least double the money just to cover basic expenses. Using that standard, actually 45 percent of our children live in low-income families. Meanwhile, our Secretary of Labor spends his time concerned about kids in other countries being forced to work to survive.

While we spend lavishly on schools, bridges, roads and utilities in Afghanistan (the latest is over $100 million so a few kids can go to college in Kabul for free) and previously in Iraq, our own infrastructure is crumbling.

I could easily cite similar facts on education, crime, incarceration rates, employment and the like showing the growing disparity not just of income, but of life, between our tiny rich and our growing poor. It is almost as if our government is actively seeking to create a permanent underclass to drive down wages. We are witnessing an apartheid of dollars.

I will admit to not yet knowing enough about Obamacare to offer an intelligent opinion on its likely effectiveness. But I know this: My family lived in the UK for a few years, where free health care was available to every person. While there are criticisms about that system, I can only say the care we received was extraordinary. We lived also in Japan, where healthcare is available to all at very low cost. While there are criticisms about that system, I can only say the care we received was extraordinary. A comprehensive health care system can indeed work. In fact, in the dozens of countries where we lived or traveled, health care was available at costs far below the U.S. In any of the first-world places, no child was left to suffer for lack of money. In the third world, that was not the case. It is obvious which pole the U.S. is tumbling toward.

Federal workers, welcome to a taste of our world, where everything is uncertain and your life is on the line if you lose your job. Now, I understand that whenever Congress eventually gets around to re-funding the government you'll be back at your jobs-for-life, with nice benefits. More power to you. But, if you can, take these days of pseudo-unemployment to spare a thought for what is going on in our country outside the Beltway.

I enjoyed all that job security and good benefits too, in my more than twenty years working at the State Department. I live now on a retiree's federal pension. But none of that precludes me from thinking about others. In fact, I feel it requires me to do so.

What I'd like to end with is to say that as long as we don't have a working government, providing us the services we paid for via our taxes, we should not have to pay those taxes. Unfortunately, that would result in me going to prison, a service that is still quite robust. Instead, for us the living, the immediate task is simple. Congresspersons are acting in their own self-interest, hoping to get reelected, and our own lives be damned. Do this: vote for anyone except an incumbent. If a noticeably large number of incumbents never see office again, perhaps -- perhaps -- someone in our own government will remember us out here.