Shutdown Shenanigans

President Donald Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, meets with Congressional leadership Wednesday, January 4, 2019, in the Situation Room. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The impasse between the legislative and executive branches in Washington, DC has led to the “government shutdown” dominating U.S. news in recent days. Before addressing the issue itself and its connection to Armenian concerns, here’s some background, just on the federal levelit seems there have been some state shutdowns, too.

This is not the first shutdown. I remembered two others. According to Wikipedia, there have been nine others with the first occurring in 1980. All were shorter in duration, with two lasting just one afternoon or impacting just one federal department. All but two impacted far fewer federal employees. The previous shutdowns occurred, as with the current one, because the aforementioned branches of government could not agree on issues of spending, either broad, some might call them “principled,” issues of spending. As I understand it, all federal employees eventually got reimbursed their back-pay once the shutdown ended.

This time, it’s different. This one is the longest in US history, and the impasse is over one issuethe infamous border wall. The question is whether to spend $5.6 billion to build a barrier of some sort along the US-Mexico border as a means of preventing illegal crossings. Some 800,000 federal employees are going unpaid. More than 400-thousand of them are considered “essential” and are working without pay, but will be compensated after the shutdown ends. Another 380,000 have been furloughed. As things currently stand, this group will not be paid (however, a similar situation in a previous shutdown led to lawsuits and the employees getting paid).

Obviously, the 800,000 employees with families to feed, mortgages to maintain and bills of all sorts to pay are experiencing the strongest impact. What are they supposed to do? Get temp jobs? It is utterly heartless to put them in this situation which is not of their making. They have done nothing wrong, yet they are being punished. But citizens are also impacted. National parks are being shut down. Some government assistance programs to the needy are being affected. Security functions are being undermined, which is really ironic since President Trump claims his paramount concern is border security.

This is utterly irresponsible. The leaders causing this mess have mostly never been in need and probably have little visceral sense of the bind people are in. This applies mostly to Trump, who started out as a millionaire and has since (allegedly) become a billionaire. How can he possibly know what living paycheck-to-paycheck is like? The irresponsibility is borne out by another smaller example. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established by law in 1965. It is funded primarily from lease payments to the government for offshore oil and gas drilling. The money is used to purchase land and easements for the public to use (though some of the money is often diverted for other purposes). It is extremely popular and has funded numerous projects over the past half century. The law requires periodic reauthorization and enjoys broad, bipartisan support. But the Senate leadership blocked re-authorization which would otherwise have passed easily. This demonstrates the vindictive/petty/destructive state of mind among those making the decisions. Otherwise, why would a popular, helpful, beloved, politically-supported program not be reauthorized?

As to the current shutdown, the fault is clearly Trump’s. He has gladly accepted responsibility. Thus, he clearly demonstrates an utter lack of understanding of the US system of government. The branches of government are supposed to check one another and ultimately generate some mutually tolerable compromise. Yet Trump is insisting on an all-or-nothing approach and refusing to negotiate, thus foisting the shutdown on the country. He doesn’t care, he’s just acting like the spoiled brat he has been all his life. Enough is enough. End it. Put everyone back to work and do your jobs as president, representatives and senators!

(L to R) Diaspora Minister Mkhitar Hayrapetyan, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and former Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobyan (Photo: Hayern Aysor)

The connection to the Republic of Armenia is that it is in the midst of a reorganization of ministries, with several of them slated for oblivion. The one we, Armenians living outside of the country, have heard the most about is the Diaspora Ministry, but others are on the chopping block too. This may be a good idea. Certainly, reviewing the utility and performance of agencies cannot hurt, but the mindset behind such a process is important. If someone is a neo-ideologue approaching the matter predisposed to believe there is bloated bureaucracy needing trimming, then that’s likely what they’ll see. Instead of coldly evaluating whether certain functions are needed and whether they are being performed by the agency, they’ll simply attack the problem with an ax and feel good about having done something. Meanwhile, the employees who lose their jobs will be stuck, much like those furloughed by the US shutdown. Their lost income will negatively impact the already struggling Armenian economy.

If the treatment of the Diaspora Ministry is any indication, the process is sorely lacking. There is no question that this ministry has failed to live up to expectations. Largely, that was due to the incompetence of the previous minister, Hranush Hakobyan. Equally, there is no question that this is a necessary ministry, with the huge task of integrating the life of the Diaspora (some 75 percent of our nation) with that of the two Armenian republics. This must be done. Let’s spell out the task at hand, appoint competent and dedicated people to the ministry to achieve the goals set out. Instead, we’re just hearing that it is being dissolved with its functions possibly moved elsewhere.

Nowhere is this kind of irresponsible governance acceptable, not in North America nor in the Armenian Highlands. Let’s squeeze our leaders and representatives and oblige them to act responsibly, putting the public interest ahead of any personal, egotistical approaches or half-baked, impractical, but ideologically/politically appealing approaches. Let them know how you feel, from Washington to Yerevan!

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Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
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4 Comments

  1. Garen is repeating the talking points of the hate-trump crowd. The shutdown responsibility rests 100% on the Democrats, and is 100% political. They previously supported the wall and the shutdown cost has exceeded the 5+ billion requested. Absolutely no reason to deny the President his symbolic request!

    • I don’t like the comment on “incompetence” of Hranush Hakobian. You can’t know anything about her level of competence. I have never been her fan and actually I have detested her to certain extent. but I can’t stand statements that sound openly misogynistic. Pashinyan himself being a mere “competent” journalist has so far shown competence in leading the crowds against his predecessors which doesn’t mean at all that he is going to show competence in leading the state, not in the least by assigning his gang of walker-followers with doubtful qualifications and competences to ministerial positions. Currently without even a whisper of debates with the public and expert professionals he is tailoring the whole government to his own personal liking. Don’t jump forward with conclusions. After all this kid sitting next to him and I virtually mean kid, Mkhitar, has assumed the position of the Chairman of the Permanent Parliamentary Commission on Science (wow), Education(wow), Culture(wow), Diaspora (wow), Youth (wow) and Sport (wow-wow)… A roast chicken would laugh at anybody who expects him to have a notion of what is competence on any of these spheres.

  2. Blame it on the twin simpletons. Chuck Schumer who would be unemployed if he weren’t milking the senate and Nancy Pelosi, the supreme idiot who is the poster “child” for term limits.

  3. The orange man-baby wants to hold the country hostage unless he gets his pipe dream of a wall (which’ll never work). I recommend the “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” episode on which Oliver exposes the unfeasibility of the whole idea.

    Trump makes Bush look tolerable.

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