Shutdown? Baseball and business as usual in Ohio

A sign tells visitors that New York's Statue of Liberty is closed. In Ohio, the mail still showed up and children were ferried to school.

The shutdown of the United States government is hardly the main thing on the minds of most Americans this week. Far from it, judging by the half-page headline of an eight-page special section that covered Cleveland's newspaper, The Plain Dealer, the morning after it began.

"Now is the time" it read, sounding like a reference to an in-depth look at the US government debacle. Instead, what followed were detailed analyses, graphics and dramatic photos of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, which had qualified for the baseball playoff games that began on Wednesday night.

Even the headline on the paper's actual front page and main section, buried inside the baseball special, was dismissive of the shutdown's impact on the heartland.

"Washington grinds to a halt," it read, implying that it was pretty much business as usual outside the US capital.

And so it was.

The day the government shut down, the mail still showed up - late. But then it always is.

A taped message at Social Security, the federal government's retirement benefits programme, said some of its services might be unavailable but indicated that senior citizens' coveted monthly cheques would arrive on their usual days this month and next. Its website was also up and running.

School buses in Brecksville - and no doubt everywhere else in the country - arrived to take students to their classes and after-school activities. Funding for public primary, middle and high schools comes mainly from city property taxes and state income and business taxes, not federal sources.

Universities like Cleveland State and Ohio State (OSU), as their names imply, run on state taxes, in addition to tuition, too. But one facet of public universities like OSU, as well as private institutions like Brown in Rhode Island, that could take a hit over time are departments dependent on federal grants for research.

OSU vice-president for research Caroline Whitacre told The Lantern, its daily student newspaper, that the length of the shutdown is what matters most.

"The biggest thing from our perspective is how long it lasts," she said. "If it's only a few days, then we will be OK."

An e-mail message from Brown noted that students who receive US$6million (S$7.5million) annually in US federal grant and work-study funding and US$2.9million in government loans could also feel the pinch, depending on "the duration of the shutdown".

One obvious example of the indifference of ordinary Americans to their government's shutdown was the scene at nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park, whose fauna, flora, caves and waterfalls fill a large chunk of Brecksville, as well as parts of the Cleveland, Ohio area.

Signs said its popular Towpath hiking, biking and jogging trail - which runs along remnants of the historic Ohio Canal - was closed. Yet hikers, bikers and joggers were not to be deterred on a gorgeous early autumn day, with leaves changing colours and temperatures over 25 deg C.

Unlike many national parks, museums and attractions which have their own gates or roads that can be sealed, two-lane city streets run through the Cuyahoga. So visitors who found barriers blocking parking areas simply left their cars and sport utility vehicles along its streets and an adjoining county-run Metropark.

US National Park ranger Jared Brower, one of a skeleton crew of rangers still on duty, said: "We're just telling them the park is closed."

Much like it has in presidential elections, Ohio played a prominent role in the political showdown that prompted the shutdown. The man smack in the middle of it is Speaker of the House John Boehner. As leader of its majority Republicans he has been criticised for his inability to convince his colleagues to pass a budget acceptable to US President Barack Obama and other Democrats.

Mr Boehner is a representative from Ohio's Eighth Congressional Westchester district in the heavily conservative south-western city of Cincinnati. His family once ran a bar and restaurant where CNN caught up with an elderly customer and asked how she felt about it. She compared the budget battle to a notorious Civil War-era feud between two families on the neighbouring Kentucky and West Virginia border.

"It's like the Hatfields and McCoys fighting with each other all the time," Ms Irene Boebinger told the cable TV news network. "Get your act together."

zach@sph.com.sg


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