J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, October 07, 2013

Stand With the Park Service

Kevin Levin of Civil War Memory used this icon yesterday on a posting titled “I Stand With the Park Service.”

It refers to how Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas berated a National Park Service ranger for trying to carry out her assignment to close the World War 2 Memorial in Washington. Why had she received those orders? Because Neugebauer and his colleagues in the House Republican Caucus are trying to use the federal government’s new fiscal year to negate the 2012 election.

As many folks pointed out, Neugebauer was partly responsible for closing that monument, and was still receiving his hefty salary. The ranger was not responsible, and was working without pay to ensure that monument remained safe. But in Neugebauer’s mind he was justified in saying that she “should be ashamed.”

The right wing of the Republican House made that monument a battleground for the cameras, insisting on Tuesday morning that it be opened for a delegation of World War 2 veterans from Mississippi (curiously, an all-white delegation from a state that was 49% African-American in 1940). The charity that had flown those veterans to Washington had nothing but praise for the N.P.S., but Neugebauer and others on the right attacked the agency with accusations and conspiracy theories lacking both sense and evidence.

According to rulings late in the Carter administration, and thus in effect for more than thirty years, it’s illegal for federal employees to work without Congressional authorization and funding. The only exceptions are for people whose work is deemed essential to our health and safety. I’m very fond of visiting national parks, especially those related to the Revolution, but I’d never claim that activity was essential to my health. Furthermore, many national parks have dangerous or fragile areas. Public monuments are subject to vandalism and littering. Therefore, the N.P.S. shuts down all but security operations during federal government closures.

Like other federal agencies, the N.P.S. had to announce its contingency plan in advance (P.D.F. download). That report indicates that over 21,000 agency employees have been furloughed. Those who remain are dedicated public servants working to preserve our shared heritage and resources despite not being paid. And they’re just a small part of the overall federal workforce barred from doing the jobs this Congress had until September demanded that they do.

If Republicans in Congress and the voters who support them really feel that it’s better to close the federal government than to provide people with health insurance, then they should accept the consequences of that choice and stay away from national parks and other federal facilities. Instead, many insist on maintaining all the benefits they usually enjoy (with no promise to pay for them) and blame others for the inconveniences their actions have brought on us all.


John L Smith Jr said...

This is the type of "faction" fighting that President Washington foresaw. :(

Adam Carriere said...

The cause of the shutdown may come from the legislative branch but the erection of barricades was ordered by the executive branch. There is no reason to wall off the monuments or any of the out door national park facilities. Camps, visitor centers, museums and even rest rooms those may need to be closed due to the lack of staff to monitor and clean them but there is no reason barricades should stand between the American people their historic and natural sights. Now it clearly needs to be posted that the use is at your own Risk etc but the barricades should come down. Both sides are behaving shamefully in using the national parks and the dedicated rangers who staff them as tools to advance their own agenda.

J. L. Bell said...

I need to ask you, Adam Carriere, if your comment is based on any experience managing a public facility like a park or historic site. Because the comment doesn't offer any actual evidence in favor of its broad claims, and it contradicts remarks from people who've worked in that field for years, as shown on Kevin Levin's blog.

As I wrote above, the N.P.S. and other public agencies filed contingency plans before the House Republican Caucus forced the federal government into shutdown. Those legislators knew what effects their votes would have. They chose to proceed because of their stated larger goal of preventing Americans from having wider access to health insurance.

I'm happy to discuss evidence-based claims. I'm not interested in wishful attempts to blame “the executive branch” as if this shutdown were not the House Republicans’ decision.

Mary said...

I saw this on the news! It made my blood boil! The nerve. I just don't understand why Boehner is letting the minority of Tea Partiers take over. No end to the madness is in sight.

J. L. Bell said...

Speaker of the House John Boehner seems to be behaving like any politician, worried about the views of the people who elected him and who might replace him. In his case, that’s not the voters in Ohio since he has a safe district. It’s the House members who elected him Speaker and who might replace him if he’s not sufficiently rightist enough for them. I suspect he‘s looking for some fiscal result he can show as a trophy in return for compromise. However, since the right wing hasn’t been able to agree on what a satisfactory compromise and is otherwise split (having trouble passing what are usually popular appropriations bills), neither Boehner nor anyone else knows what would seem sufficient.

The Republicans and their supporters won’t acknowledge that the Senate passed a budget in March that has lower spending than what Rep. Paul Ryan forecast just a couple of years ago. They don’t seem to see that the Senate passed a continuing resolution based on sequestration budget levels (i.e., the lower spending the right insisted on). In other words, the Republicans could declare victory and move on. But their right-wing members are talking about vague goals like ending “disrespect,” however their egos define that.

J. L. Bell said...

When the Founders drew up the Constitution, they pictured a republican society without set “factions“ or parties. They understood interest groups, but believed they’d form shifting alliances. But before the end of the 18th century, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were sitting down with Aaron Burr in New York to form what became the Democratic-Republican party. Federalist officeholders like George Washington and John Adams opposed such parties because, well, their alliance had started off in power.

With winner-take-all district votes, game theory predicts the formation of a two-party system. American statesmen looked at the Whig-Tory split in Britain and wrongly decided that couldn’t happen here. But for most of U.S. history we have had two dominant political groupings. If the Founders had accurately foreseen that future, might they have designed the federal government differently?

J. L. Bell said...

An example of what I call O.I.P. Derangement Syndrome built from this manufactured outrage.

J. L. Bell said...

Here's the "I am not ashamed" product line at Cafe Press.

Joe Bauman said...

HOORAY, Mr. Bell! Well said! The shame is on the radical faction that is holding our whole country hostage.

Adam Carriere said...

My evidence is the fact that the 1995 shutdown did not see any such barricades. Believe me I do not hold Congress blameless they caused this shut down. The execution of the shut down does fall on the executive branch through its various agencies going up to the President.

It may be the barricades are not politically motivated but the parks have become a symbol of this shutdown. I can't help but think that this was an intentional decision make be certain groups and individuals to advance their own agenda.

It certainly seems to be that one of our finest institution (the National Parks) have been turned into a weapon in a debate that has nothing to do with them and it sickens me.

Adam Carriere said...

Just to clarify something. I too stand with the Park Service employees who are caught in the situation and only trying to carry out their orders and do what is right in their own eyes. They are blameless and as you say should not be ashamed of the job they are doing.

J. L. Bell said...

So your analysis isn't based on experience maintaining a park or historical site, Adam Carriere.

I think your analysis is missing two important historical events. First is the kamikaze hijackings of September 2001. Anyone who's been in Washington before and after that time knows that the city has become much more security-conscious. The National Park Service budget was changed greatly to put a lot more money toward security and lot less toward everything else. It may be a shame, but it shouldn't be a surprise, that the agency's contingency plans today are more security-based than in the 1990s. That's what Congress's allocations demanded.

Second, it's impossible to credit any argument that the WW2 Memorial was kept open during the 1995 or 1996 shutdowns. That monument didn't open till 2004.

Adam Carriere said...

Mr, Bell I have not claimed any such administrative experience at any point. Stop trying to make it sound as if I somehow represented my self as anything other than a citizen with an opinion.

I did not argue the at any point that the World War II monument was open in the 1995 but no there were no barricades in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial or similar structures in 1995. I think those can serve as reasonable approximations of the World War Two Memorial.

Again I think access to all of the National Parks should be restored to their owners the American People.

As to security its a real concern I won't denies that but I cant help but think these measure are taken as much for their visibility as their necessity

J. L. Bell said...

I never suggested that you misrepresented your expertise, Adam Carriere. Anyone can see my comments above in which I asked for the basis of your statements and then noted you had no professional experience behind them. Your claim that I suggested something else has just as little evidence behind it as your other claims.

That's my main point: you're presenting claims without experience in the field which contradict the statements of people who do have experience in the field. Your "evidence" doesn't reflect what it's like to work in the N.P.S. Your attempt to blame "both sides," particularly "the executive branch," is a political position that doesn't reflect reality.

Mary Jean Adams said...

The house has passed 8 appropriations bills/joint resolutions to fund key components of the government. One of these is House J.R. 70 which specifically funds the national parks and museums. All 8 of these languish on Harry Reid's desk as he refuses to bring them before the Senate for a vote.

J. L. Bell said...

Mary Jean Adams, you've provided a miserably incomplete and one-sided description of the situation in Washington. The Senate passed a budget in March; Republicans have refused to bring that to a conference committee. The Senate passed a continuing resolution last month at the Republicans' sequestration funding level; House Speaker John Boehner refuses to let the House vote on it without attaching extraneous measures. Most observers believe it would pass.

It's true that the House, having shut down the government to the detriment of the American people and economy, is now trying to reverse the effects on the most popular and visible programs. The right-wing media and gullible supporters are claiming that this is a meaningful attempt at resolving the crisis. It's not. Let's not pretend that those late, cynical half-measures are anything but a transparent political ploy.

Al J said...

It seems that both sides want the Parks open. The House passed a Bill funding 99.9% of the government which disagree with that of the Senate by the funding for an unpopular Bill, though both sides like several portions of the Bill. Thr Senate rejected the House Bill. The House than passed a Bill fully funding the NPS. The Senate Majority Leader has refused to put the Bill up for a vote.

I would suggest that one call their US Senators and demand a vote on the NPS Bill, which would show that they want funding for the Service, as they say they do.

Curious, I called the Honor Vet Service to ask if any Blacks mad the trip, noting your statement of zero. They said 5 had signed up but 2 had canceled for medical reasons, one died and two were there. They said about 5% of their travelers are Black Vets, some states more and others less.

I know the Democrats great issue is greater government spending and the GOP's is less. Also the Republicans seem to be more concerned with Public Debt - currently at 17 Trillion and counting.

J L; What do you think the Founders would think of the increases in Gov't Spending and Public Debt. (I know it is often hard to discuss these things without showing rancor to one side or the other, but try to answer without blsming snybody!)

J. L. Bell said...

AJ, your summary of the situation is one-sided. As I stated above, the Senate passed a budget back in March; Republican members have blocked the move to a conference committee to resolve differences with the House budget. In September the Senate also passed a continuing resolution to fund the National Park Service and the entire government; the House leadership did not bring that up for a vote, instead insisting on a bill that also undercut the health-insurance reform law.

(By "an unpopular Bill," I assume you mean that health-insurance reform law. It's no longer a bill; it's a law that's been reviewed by the Supreme Court with many provisions that have already taken effect.)

Many observers have guessed that the Senate's continuing resolution bill would pass the House if the Speaker brought it up for a free vote. He has claimed otherwise, but did not put that claim to a test. Your suggestion that people call their senators for a vote rather than their representatives is therefore slanted toward one side of this dispute.

It's interesting to read that you called "the Honor Vet Service." It's actually called Honor Flight Network. I specifically pointed to three flights from Mississippi and linked to a webpage showing photographs of 83 veterans. If you can point out the two black vets from Mississippi who made that flight, I would be pleased.

The Republicans do indeed speak about cutting government spending now. They had less to say during the last administration as government spending and the federal deficit rose substantially. That administration began with the national debt going down and ended with it rising sharply. Therefore it seems incomplete to characterize the Republicans as you do.

I stand with most economists in believing that the federal government should have spent more to fuel the economy away from the recent recession and paid down the debt in more prosperous times. Deficits are a long-term concern, particularly with our aging population and financial promises to senior citizens, but a stronger economy would have helped our future problem as well as our current situation.

The Founders disagreed about the scope and design of the U.S. government as well as many other policies. The Congress and states issued a lot of currency during the war to allow big government spending, producing high inflation. Alexander Hamilton believed that gathering the public debt would strengthen the national government and economy; his opponents resisted that policy, but closing down national banks and even paying off the debt in the Jackson administration led to economic troubles. Different politicians interpreted those events differently, often according to the views they started with.

The study of economics has become much more sophisticated since the 1790s, and the country’s population, technology, and place in the world have changed. Therefore, I don’t think there are clear policy lessons to be had from the Founders’ politics.