The government shutdown may be over, but we as a nation have a great deal of work to do to make sure it never happens again. Yesterday on TomDispatch, Jo Comerford and I published a piece called "What Was Essential and What Wasn't." The government shutdown allowed us to glimpse our lawmakers' values, and what we saw was ugly. Here's an excerpt:
The government shutdown was partial and selective. Paychecks, for example, kept flowing to the very lawmakers who most fervently supported it, while the plush congressional gym with its heated pool, paddleball courts, and flat-screen televisions remained open. That’s because “essential” services continued, even as “nonessential” ones ceased. And it turned out that whether the services you cared about were essential or not was a matter of just who got to do the defining. In that distinction between what was necessary and what wasn’t, it was easy enough to spot the values of the people’s representatives. And what we saw was gut-wrenching. Stomach-churning.
Prioritized above all else were, of course, “national security” activities, deemed beyond essential under the banner of “protecting life and property.” Surveillance at the National Security Agency, for instance, continued, uninterrupted, though it was liberated from its obviously nonessential and, even in the best-funded of times, minimal responsibility to disclose those activities under the Freedom of Information Act. Such disclosure was judged superfluous in a shutdown era, while spying on Americans (not to speak ofBrazilians, Mexicans, Europeans, Indians, and others around the planet) was deemed indispensible.