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where do we go from here?

There has been a lot of coverage of the U.S. Government shutdown, some of it humorous, a lot of it vitriolic, and all of it utterly depressing. Although we too chuckle at John Stewart’s apoplectic tirades against what must surely appear as madness to those who are not familiar with our dysfunctional domestic politics, those of us who can logically connect the dots and understand how we got into this mess must also realize that there is little at which to smile, and that our political malaise goes a lot deeper than the current crisis.

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By and large we try to keep this blog apolitical. Partly, this is a professional choice: as representatives of the U.S. Government, we think it unwise to stir up political controversy. Mostly, we have avoided taking sides on thorny issues because we have found that not much good comes from discussing them in online forums. Opinions expressed through the anonymity of the internet tend to be even more rigid and reactionary than they are in face-to-face conversation. Also, serving abroad provides a welcome respite from the U.S. news cycle, which is sadly geared much more towards entertainment and scandal than investigative journalism or thoughtful analysis of the issues that affect our lives.

This issue is different. For one, as federal employees, it affects us in a very real and direct way. We are thankful that D’s current position makes him an “essential” employee and that he did not have to be furloughed this week like 800,000 less fortunate government workers, who represent 40% of our government’s civilian workforce. We are also thankful that D went to the office this week with the expectation of receiving a paycheck for his work, unlike many other colleagues who are continuing to do their jobs while knowing that they will not get paid until this impasse is resolved. After three years of a federal pay freeze, unconscionable sequester cuts, and incessant excoriation from some of our politicians, who express nothing but complete contempt for the very government they purportedly were elected to lead, we take no joy in knowing that our personal situation is marginally less precarious than that of roughly half our colleagues. These are dark times to be a public servant.

Also, partisan punditry aside, there should be little controversy about who is to blame for this shutdown. Perhaps the saddest aspect of this woeful moment in our nation’s history is how many people buy into the warped analysis and misleading narratives that distort this truth. Incidentally, just as an excellent Al Jazeera article took the media to task for the false equivalence that has fed our electorate’s lack of understanding of the issues at hand, Fox News perversely decided to call the current situation a “slimdown,” relying on semantics to declare useless the 800,000 federal employees who operate our veterans’ programs, provide support to low-income mothers and infants, run our parks and museums, carry out medical research, and underpin a wide range of other important services that had to be prioritized as less essential than our national security and a handful of other key government functions.

More to the point, it is difficult to remain optimistic about the future of our country knowing that the politicians who created an arbitrary fiscal cliff so that they could slash government services and punch holes in our safety net, and who have now shuttered the government altogether in a last-ditch attempt to undermine a law that was passed by Congress, signed by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court, and whose provisions are supported by a clear majority of Americans, are likely to be reelected in their gerrymandered Congressional districts. Their future remains secure while the rest of the country suffers the consequences.

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