Weekend Shutdown Reader: Lest We Forget

Let's reflect on what a handful of people managed to do.

I hope and pray this is almost over, and while it's ending I direct your attention to today's trenchant column by Ross Douthat. But on other fronts... 

1) Lest we forget: geography. A reader based in California (and now in China) sends these maps:

I’ve appreciated your ongoing emphasis on the need to focus on the tiny group of members of Congress, who like most of the others, represent safe districts where they needn’t bother hearing a contrarian word. I thought that you might appreciate these two maps, one of them brought to me this week by Richard Florida in The Atlantic.

Map of the places whose representatives brought us the shutdown (New Yorker):

Where America’s Inventors Are (uses metro areas rather than congressional districts)

Now you’re off with your wife on this voyage across America finding that innovation isn’t always certified by patents, but I think that the relative lack of overlap in these maps is revealing. A minority of Americans seems committed to a past that never quite existed and hopes for a future that seems rather unlikely. I think a third map indicating districts which receive more in federal support/investment than they contribute might look a bit more like the suicide caucus map than the innovation map.

2. Lest we forget: the damage still being done. From a reader who works on a military base in the western half of the country:

I’ve been reading your readers’ comments on the shutdown with great interest.  Unfortunately, in my opinion the (totally justified) focus on the catastrophic consequences of a debt ceiling breach has distracted both the media and the public of the less-dramatic but still very damaging consequences of the shutdown. 

I’d also like to call your attention to the hardships that have already been caused by the sequester, which has gotten even less attention.  I’ve had the opportunity to watch all of this up close, because both my husband and I work for a hospital on a military base.  The sequester has already hampered our work a great deal.

 I work with military families, and our clinic has been slowly ground down by inadequate staffing, particularly to our administration staff.  We’ve all gotten countless complaints from parents that can’t get through to their clinicians on the phone, can’t get appointments scheduled, etc.  Most of the providers (including me) are giving out our direct line numbers now, which is not very efficient, but patients/families in a crisis have to be able to get ahold of us.  Our providers (with a couple of exceptions) weren’t subject to the one-day-a-week furloughs over the summer, but our administration staff was, which made a bad situation even worse. 

Several of our administration staff were furloughed again after the shutdown, though they are back at work now.  One of them is a single parent, and her family has been in very perilous financial circumstances.  Another is married to another DOD worker, who is still furloughed.  They have 3 children.  I have no idea how they are managing.  All of we providers are living in fear that one of our patient families will have a crisis that we won’t find out about until it’s too late and someone is damaged or dead.  The people we work for are families that have already been through terrible times because of the impact of the wars and deployments.  They don’t deserve to have their care disrupted too. 

The nation made a commitment to the soldiers when they enlisted that they and their families would get good-quality health care.  None of us knows when we’ll be paid again (we did just get paid, but have been told not to expect anything after that until this is settled), and I’ve seen some Republicans in Congress saying the people who have been furloughed shouldn’t get paid, which is an atrocity as far as I’m concerned.  We’re all still working, and making gallows-humor jokes, but you can’t expect people to keep working indefinitely for no pay. 

There have already been some resignations from the hospital staff, and the local economy is hurting because we’re all cutting back on our spending.  The Republicans claim to be the champions of the military, but they are the ones responsible for all of this.  The fact that they started this because they found the idea of millions of people being able to get health care appalling is almost beyond belief.  Several of us have privately said to each other that they should be tried for treason.

If you choose to publish this, please don’t use my name.  I don’t want someone to read this and think I am criticizing my co-workers or hurting the reputation of my clinic or hospital.  We are doing the best we can under very difficult conditions.

In the same vein, this past week in California I interviewed a major figure in the state's—and therefore the nation's—tech economy. What effect was the government turmoil having on research projects?, I asked him. "It will be an integrative effect, like pouring sand on a fire," he told me. "For a while, it doesn't do anything. The question is how long it goes on." He also stressed that this month's problem, the idiotic shutdown, was less troublesome than the possibility that "the sequester" would become the long-term baseline. 

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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