US Shutdown: PubMed, Twitter, Trolls and Medicine

The news in Twitterville and Facebookland is the US Government Shutdown. It seems pretty complicated if you ask me, with a lot of financial considerations being taken into account to understand why the government is shutting down, so, I will use internet memes that have been doing the rounds, in an effort to clarify my stand wherever it becomes wobbly on the logical nature. Here is one which sums up why the US government is doing an Indian Government thing (basically, going on strike!):

US Govt. Shutdown Meme

One of the first sites we doctors and medical students noticed to be down was the PubMed site. It was not “down” per se, but its homepage transmogrified to carry a horror message:

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 1.25.50 AM
PubMed shows a warning sign

If you cannot quite read the ominous message that is portrayed rather loudly on the site, then here is a closer view to help you understand the writing on the wall:

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 1.43.31 AM
PubMed Message: Shutdown Day

The fear with most of the “.gov” websites was that they would close down as keeping websites up and running takes a lot of funding and a lot of background work. This costs money; and in the USA today, that is one rare commodity.

So what is the whole brouhaha about? From my meager understanding of the American system, it appears that the Federal Government has failed to reach a consensus on a bill to dictate federal spending, hence, there will be no spending on non-essential services and commodities and everything else, life as one may know it, will come to a grinding halt. This seems like a rather extreme way of protesting. So, one might enquire what caused this. The quarrel is over a bit of legislation known as the Affordable Care Act or, more popularly, Obamacare. The Republicans have sworn to keep the ACA from getting funded, if need be, by making the American government come to a grinding halt (and in the process, become a bit of a joke in the international community). Meanwhile, POTUS Obama, took to Twitter to vent his anger. He was, of course, hell bent on making Obamacare a reality. Right before the “bridge came falling down”, he tweeted:

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 1.50.36 AM
POTUS Tweets the Shutdown

I like the veiled use of the word “extremists” which has a bit of a “terrorist” connotation. In true style as shown in Hollywood movies, the POTUS and White House refused to negotiate with these “extremists” and the resulting cavil meant that nobody came to a consensus about the issue of deciding how to spend the money. In a follow-up Tweet, such veiled-assertion-ness is cast to the winds as he says, in what my overactive imagination portrays to be an exasperated tone:

Obama Blames the Republicans
Obama Blames the Republicans

Despite the whole drama, President Obama is clearly determined to not give in. In fact, soon after lashing out at the Republicans, he went ahead and posted a short tweet that the detractors have interpreted in a myriad ways (from socialist propaganda to veiled threats to innuendos referring to the covering of the human male genital organs during coitus):

Obama: #GetCovered
Obama: #GetCovered

And this whole issue has, of course, meant that the trolls have had a field day. The whole business of socialism-universal coverage-communism has been raked up; and since Americans are slightly easy to poke into a debate when the issue is communism, the Twitter fights have been epic. I am, of course, taking no sides, but like watching the scripted bouts of WWE, I am also enjoying the fencing bouts on Twitter. The best part starts when both the parties have run out of logic while defending their indefensible parties, and then elevate the debate to the level of name calling and abusing. I am not posting any of those tweets because I follow the principle of “never feed the trolls”.

The US government came very close to a shut down in 2011 but this time it has happened for real and although most analysts believe that it shall not stay out long enough to cause any permanent damage, aside from the global embarrassment, it is the first time in the last 17 years that the government has actually shut down… this is only the 18th time in the history of the nation that it has had its government shut down.

Hospitals are running normally and hopefully the doctors will get paid retrospectively for working on this day. In contrast, 800,000 Americans involved in running non-essential services will not be paid for the period of this shut down. The benefits (especially under the Veteran Affairs (VA) system) for the month of October has already been paid. The danger is that if the shut down continues for 2-3 weeks, then the coffers shall run dry and the November benefits will get delayed. However, this is unlikely to happen as this long a shut down would be a financial devastation and would make the public so strongly antagonise the parties that nobody shall take a leave.

The military is usually expected to function without pay on such shut downs. However, the POTUS signed a bill just before the shut down that ensured that the military will get paid for their work, but retrospectively.

In any case this whole event shows how divided American government is today; and what is worrisome is that might be said of almost any country.  So, to end on the same meme theme:

Where’s your freedom?

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