Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Shut It All Down

Plus: Nonessential government programs (all of them?), AI firefighting, tech-world hit pieces, and more…


Congressional impasse With a government shutdown looking ever more likely, the Senate is now debating whether Ukraine aid ought to be included in whatever stopgap bill they pass to fund the government.

At midnight on Saturday, the fiscal year ends. Congress has not passed the bills it needs to in order to fund the government for another year, which means a group of Democratic senators are eyeing a temporary measure—called a continuing resolution—to keep the government up and running while negotiations continue. But a significant sticking point in the existing spending feud is $25 billion in new funding for the Ukraine defense effort, which several vocal House Republicans oppose.

Excluding “contentious provisions” like that line item would allow it to be a “clean” measure that might enjoy broader support among Republicans in the House, which also have to pass it to keep the government open,” reports The New York Times. Some senators reportedly personally assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last week during his visit that American aid to Ukraine would not cease, but others fear that will sink the bill when there’s no time to waste.

Besides, “even if the Senate is able to assemble and pass a temporary spending measure in the next few days, it is uncertain whether [House Speaker Kevin] McCarthy would even bring the legislation to a vote,” adds The New York Times. “Doing so would be likely to provoke a formal challenge to his hold on the speakership, presenting him with a choice between keeping the government open or igniting a fight for his job.”

So what? What’s wrong with a government shutdown? This whole fight is about more than just McCarthy keeping his job; people ostensibly depend on the federal government to provide services that matter to them, or so the argument goes.

Of course, a shutdown doesn’t actually mean the federal government fully grinds to a halt (be still, my heart); instead, services deemed nonessential are suspended (like Food and Drug Administration inspections; administration of Medicare and Social Security programs but not actually cutting the checks) while services considered essential (air traffic control, border protection, law enforcement, maintaining the power grid, that dreaded IRS with its new infusion of cash from that time Congress singlehandedly stopped inflation with a well-named bill, and a long list of other things) carry on. Federal employees get temporarily furloughed, with backpay paid later.

In short: Not all that much actually happens, and an astonishing number of government programs are considered essential. In some cases, the calls as to what’s “essential” vs. “nonessential” are bizarre: WIC gets shut down but SNAP continues issuing benefits, for example.

There are some knock-on effects to such disruptions. During the 2013 shutdown, for example, people were turned away en masse from national parks which resulted in lost revenue and a funding crunch later on. During the 2018–2019 shutdown, a lot of TSA agents and a few air traffic controllers refused to show up for work, which created major travel issues and shut down all of New York’s LaGuardia airport for a time. Generally speaking, though, government shutdowns don’t affect people’s day-to-day lives as much as some in the media claim and, since so much of the government stays running and so many government employees end up still getting their paychecks, they’re a bit of a misnomer.

In fact, I have some candidates for agencies we could shutter (forever): the TSA, with its 80-95 percent failure rate at detecting explosives and weapons, would be a great candidate. (Just saved the government $10 billion annually.) Maybe the Environmental Protection Agency, which keeps trying to regulate carbon emissions and power plants to little effect, and which stands in the way of controlled burns. (Just saved another $10 billion, you’re welcome).

Scenes from New York:

Mayor Eric Adams proposes more accessory dwelling units, scrapping parking minimums, and loosening certain zoning restrictions. A bunch of lefties still aren’t satisfied, despite the fact that these incremental changes are certainly a step in the right direction for those who care about housing affordability, because… of city rules surrounding what constitutes a bedroom. (We will return to our regularly scheduled programming of dunking on Adams shortly.)


  • The mayor of Dallas is switching his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.
  • Ozempic nation?
  • The fitness influencers who eat raw organs and take steroids are facing lawsuits.
  • A wildfire-fighting AI tool “leverages panoramic cameras that capture minute-by-minute snapshots of their surroundings. Those images are then analyzed by an AI algorithm that has learned how to look for signs of fires. It’s a job that’s traditionally been done by human eyes, whether it’s bystanders phoning in a fire or lookouts posted in towers,” reports Bloomberg.
  • Inside Coco Chanel’s class anxiety and Nazi spy tryst.
  • Kind of a stunningly weird hit piece from Intelligencer on OpenAI head honcho Sam Altman. One description of AI contained within: “What we’re talking about is laying claim to the creative output of millions, billions of people and then using that to create systems that are directly undermining their livelihoods.” And, from that same tech exec: “Do we really want to take something as meaningful as artistic expression and ‘spit it back out as derivative content paste from some Microsoft product that has been calibrated by precarious Kenyan workers who themselves are still suffering PTSD from the work they do to make sure it fits within the parameters of polite liberal dialogue?'”
  • Good take:
  • Yaron Brook and Bryan Caplan debated the merits of anarcho-capitalism at the Soho Forum.
  • Wealth by generation:
  • “This may seem old-fashioned,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D–N.J.) told reporters on Monday, but that $550,000 in cash that investigators found in his home? It’s a habit that’s rooted in his parents’ experience in Communist Cuba. What a strange card to play in the face of the many bribery charges he’s facing (for the second time in his political career).
Liz Wolfe is an associate editor at Reason covering tech, free speech, and China and co-host of the Reason Livestream. She has interviewed sex workerstattoo artistsventure capitaliststech CEOscrypto hype men, and the occasional restaurateur. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.


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