Politics roundup: Government shutdown lumbers on with little relief in sight


As the shutdown enters its third week, we have more and more questions about the future. Plus, confusion about Syria and the Mueller investigation.

About that wall

Now in its third week, the ongoing shutdown of the United States government is shaping up to be one of the longest in history. And, unless some major concessions are made in short order, there are no signs that it will stop any time soon.

Today, hundreds of thousands of federal workers will mark their first missing paycheck. Increasingly, workers like TSA employees are calling in sick, many reportedly to work at jobs that pay them actual money for their labor. People in “essential” jobs have been required to work without pay or risk losing their positions entirely. In the past, all of these workers have been compensated when the shutdown ended.

Yet, this is not the political world of even a few years ago. No one, from the White House to Congress, seems committed to compromise. The President wants just over $5 billion for a border wall, while Democrats refuse to budge. Both sides contend that the other is holding the government and a large swath of Americans hostage.

Meanwhile, more and more people are beginning to worry. Federal employees are increasingly feeling the financial strain. National parks are closing or are dealing with a potentially dangerous lack of park rangers to assist visitors. Air traffic controllers and aviation inspectors claim that travelers are also at risk, given lowered standards and fewer workers overall. The FDA has ceased its inspections.

A variety of other things, from new drugs to craft beers requiring label approvals, are being held back as departments are unable to address the influx. Aid programs such as WIC and SNAP could also shutter, leaving many Americans without a vital lifeline to basics such as food for their families.

What could fix the situation? The White House might use funds originally dedicated for storm aid or declare a national emergency in order to strong-arm money out of the situation. The national emergency plan, however, would almost certainly be met by legal challenges from a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Democrats and other politicians have attempted a compromise, but Vice President Mike Pence has reportedly told them that the President will broker no such deal. The failure of the deal was such a downer for Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) to tell reporters: “I have never been more depressed about moving forward than I am right now. I just don’t see a pathway.”

Graham’s fellow Republicans are also feeling the tug of war between the demands of the President and growing discontent from their base. Senators from more moderate states, such as Colorado’s Cory Gardner, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, and Maine’s Susan Collins, are likely torn. Their own growing doubts could make compromise even more difficult, even as Republicans still control the Senate.

The President has dangled the possibility that the shutdown could continue for “months or even years”. If that is truly the case, the consequences of this ongoing turmoil could be unforeseen.

Confusion on Syria

The President’s recent assertion that the United States was going to withdraw all of its troops from Syria was met with confusion. That is, confusion from the general public as well as members of the President’s own Cabinet. Indeed, it seems that practically everyone but the Commander in Chief was taken off guard by the announcement.

It’s not exactly that the President isn’t known for last-minute decisions, seemingly made without the help of qualified advisors or officials. That, on the whole, is not groundbreaking news. Then again, this move concerns the ongoing civil war in Syria, multiple international figures, and thousands of military personnel who need to be moved out of the region. If it is not surprising on a philosophical level, it should at least be something that generates a lot of concern.

Perhaps chief of the confused people is National Security Advisor John Bolton. After the President’s announcement, he contradicted the entire affair, saying instead that a troop withdrawal would need a timetable and considered policy decisions. Ultimately, he said, U.S. troops could not really withdraw from the region until Islamic State terrorists are totally defeated.

Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country’s military would postpone its own action in Syria following a discussion with White House officials. Previously, Turkey’s forces were set to attack the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S. ally led by Kurdish fighters. Indeed, Turkey has been a staunch critic of the relationship between the United States and the Kurds, a Middle Eastern ethnic group that has control of an autonomous region in Iraq. Kurds also form considerable minorities in nations such as Iran, Syria, and Turkey. Kurdish nationalist movements have pushed strongly for an independent state. Having an ally such as the United States, then, could be a significant factor in this cause.

The specter of an inadvertent or even quasi-intentional clash between the the U.S. and Turkey was unsettling for many. Thankfully, everything seemed as fine as it was going to get for the time being. That is, until the middle of this week.

That’s when Erdogan said Turkey would forge ahead with its campaign if the U.S. didn’t hurry up with its troop withdrawal. Again, tensions have increased, both as Erdogan continues and the White House wavers on its ultimate course of action.

Today, the U.S. military announced that it has already started withdrawing troops. After all of the concern described above, the White House has walked back the President’s statements. Now, the troops will be disengaged from Syria “slowly”, though the details of the situation remain to be seen.

White House gears up for fight with Mueller

Robert S. Mueller III is wrapping up his independent investigation. That is newsworthy enough, though anything associated with Mueller’s moves at what may feel like an agonizingly slow pace (at least, in light of more frantic news stories like the ones above). Yet, we seem to see and end to this process, and a potential agent of great change: Mueller’s report.

That looming report could be making administration officials nervous, given the growing evidence of connections between staffers and Russian agents, such as former campaign manager and recently convicted felon Paul Manafort.

Back in November, the President submitted written answers to Mueller’s investigation. According to lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the President declined to answer any questions that focused on possible obstruction of justice. Much has been made of that charge, between the sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey and other efforts to influence witnesses who could testify against the administration.

Legal advisors to the President claim that these matters would fall under executive privilege, making them off-limits for the investigation. No in-person interviews have taken place between the President and anyone from Mueller’s team.

While Giuliani and other members of the White House legal team strenuously deny any wrongdoing, it is clear that they are preparing for a battle. Besides any confrontational language thrown around on Twitter, White House counsel Pat Cipollone has hired 17 more lawyers.

Furthermore, depending on the results and who receives the report — it is likely to be Bill Barr, nominated to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions — Mueller’s findings may not even become public. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who currently oversees the probe, is also set to leave once Barr takes over.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

For all of the history, beauty, and, yes, strife behind the matter, the art of flowing arranging is ultimately pretty simple. You take some aesthetically pleasing flowers — maybe even a leaf or two, you daring artist — and put them together in a container.

That’s not to say that floral arrangements can’t be marvelous works of art, or that the florists who create them don’t put in considerable time and effort into their craft. But, perhaps, it is okay to simplify things, to enjoy something that’s really just beauty for beauty’s sake without overthinking it.

If you’re a helpless overthinker, though, at least there’s a lot of dramatic history to putting pretty flowers in a vase. Florists have been out there working since at least Ancient Egypt.

Related Story. Democrats control the House of Representatives. Now what?. light

As it turns out, the Dutch took the whole thing to extremes with the 17th century “tulip mania”. Essentially, people went wild for tulips, but not enough to justify the growing economic interest in the recently introduced bulbs. In fact, those hardy flowers growing in your own yard or container were the partial source for the first recorded speculative bubble. When the tulip market imploded in early 1637, many investors were in for a rude awakening. You can learn more about it in Tulipomania by Mike Dash, and even in the high-minded literary world of The Paris Review.