US shutdown blues: From end of earth to outer space
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he US government shutdown, now in its 16th day, has forced hundreds of thousands of federal workers to stay home and restricted many government services – from end of earth to outer space. And it has played real spoilsport for thousands of tourists from India and around the world.Outwardly the capital city of Washington does not look much different, though the morning traffic is a bit less chaotic, the metro trains are not that crowded and the White House lawns remain untended as President Barak Obama battles Congressional Republicans.
For them, it’s a case of so near and yet so far as they walk or drive past the city’s famed sites from the Washington monument to Lincoln memorial to Smithsonian museums, only to be greeted with boards proclaiming “Sorry we’re closed because of Federal Government SHUTDOWN.”
Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery has postponed the world premiere of “Yoga: The Art of Transformation”, an exhibition on the 2000 year history of the ancient Indian practice expressed through rare masterpieces of art from around the world.
All national parks across America were closed when the shutdown began Oct 1 with the Congress’ failure to pass a budget for the fiscal year beginning that date, but last week Obama administration allowed states to use their own money to reopen some of them.
Jumping at the chance, New York opened the Statue of Liberty, tourists returned Saturday to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park and to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Utah too opened all five national parks in the state.
According to one estimate, some 700,000 people a day would have been visiting the parks if they were not closed and spending $76 million every day.
The shutdown has impacted Americans in other personal ways too with delays on things like getting home loans and income tax refunds and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention furloughing investigators who probe outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.
The shutdown has sparked protests in big cities and small towns, including one Sunday in Washington where a few hundred people at a rally called by the conservative tea party movement tore down barricades erected at closed monuments on the National Mall.
Earlier protests brought out federal workers in cities like Chicago, Boston and Atlanta, and union members and citizens in Plano, Texas; Newton, New Jersey and Springettsbury, Pennsylvania. More demonstrations are planned for this week.
But snail mail continues to be delivered, federal air traffic controllers remain on the job and airport screeners continue to funnel passengers through security checkpoints.
The State Department also continues processing foreign applications for visas, and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services those for US green cards, or legal permanent residency.
But federal courthouses handling immigration cases are mostly shuttered and even the Supreme Court may shut its gates this week after the US runs out of cash with the country expected to hit its debt ceiling Oct 17.
The impact of shutdown has also reached the end of the world and outer space. The National Science Foundation has shut down its three stations in Antarctica and put research for the summer season that began Oct 1 on hold.
And With 97 percent of US space agency NASA staff furloughed, two American astronauts Mike Hopkins and Karen Nyberg aboard the International Space Station have been keeping in touch with the world via Twitter, according to VOA.
The shutdown has also spawned many a joke with David Letterman quipping:
“Even the NSA (National Security Agency) is out of business. And while they’re closed, while the government is shut down, they are asking citizens to please spy on each other.”
But for those hit hard by the shutdown, it’s no joke.
Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org