Thursday, October 10, 2013

While Rome Burns


While Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives "wile" away their time by shutting down the government and threatening to blow up the global economy by refusing to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, the issues and activities that the federal government is required to manage continue apace. We all know that the shutdown has put thousands of people out of work, had devastating effects on veterans, hurt business, and stunted the recovery. But what many people seem not to realize, is that America's ability to effectively combat threats to national security has been degraded. The longer the shutdown goes on, the greater the risk that something will blow up in our face, figuratively or literally.

There are both domestic and foreign threats to consider. Iran, for example, under its new president, Hassan Rouhani, has launched a charm offensive to waylay fears over its nuclear program. Do we believe the program is strictly for peaceful purposes? No way. Do we know how close Iran is to realizing their ambition to create a nuclear weapons development capability? We have a close approximation. Is there a chance we can, through an coalition of foreign powers with similar concerns and interests, persuade Iran to accept limits on its nuclear developments? Yes; not a good chance, but worth a shot. How are we doing on the latter initiative? Not worth a damn. We're shut down.

North Korean scientists are thought to have attained the ability to build uranium-based nuclear bombs on their own, cutting the need for imports that had been one of the few ways outsiders could monitor the country's secretive atomic work. How are we doing tracking on the Hermit Kingdom's nuclear weapons and delivery systems? Who knows. We're shut down.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told Congress this week that the partial federal government shutdown has forced the furlough of some 70 percent of employees throughout the intelligence community. Intelligence agencies are focusing on the biggest threats: counter terrorism and nuclear nonproliferation. So some other issues, such as detecting and defending against cyberattacks and keeping an eye on ballistic missile launches around the world, have to fall by the wayside. Why? We're shut down.

The Department of Homeland Security has promised to stay on the job protecting Americans from foreign and domestic terrorists, but the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers run by DHS have shuttered training operations for federal agents. The closure of these services could delay when newer employees with the Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection and Capitol Police can go on the job. Meanwhile, FBI activities are suspended for longer-term types of investigations of crimes that don't involve an immediate threat. Training and other support functions have been slashed. Hopefully, terrorists will do the right thing and take a break while Republicans continue their hissy fit over not winning the 2012 presidential election and insist on keeping the government shut down.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which monitors the nation's 100 commercial nuclear power plants, is set to furlough 3,600 employees on Thursday after depleting funds amid the government shutdown. The shutdown will disable non-emergency licensing of nuclear reactors, emergency exercises, and the inspection of nuclear materials and waste licensees. What will the impact be? Well, as Condoleezza Rice might say, let's hope it's not a mushroom cloud floating over some unfortunate city while FEMA is shut down.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they could handle recalls and high-risk foodborne outbreaks, but they are less likely to discover them because most of the people who investigate outbreaks have been furloughed. Routine food safety inspections conducted by FDA are suspended, so most food manufacturers won't have to worry about periodic visits from government inspectors to make sure their facilities are clean. U.S. food inspections abroad have also been halted.

I've always thought that America's leaky food inspection system presents terrorists a great target to create death and destruction. Americans would be well advised to either stop eating, or march on the Capital and tell the stupid-fuck House Republicans, "ENOUGH, ALREADY!!"

Stop this fucking SHUT DOWN!!!

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