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WASHINGTON – A growing chorus of critics is accusing the Obama administration of creating a long, strange list of unnecessary problems to make sure the government shutdown looks as bad as possible.
According to reports from across the country, the National Park Service has closed privately run restaurants, inns and marinas, claiming it doesn’t have the resources to let them stay open.
And now, farce has become reality in the government shutdown.
The website “i Own the World” posted a doctored photo to joke that the administration was trying to block the view of Mount Rushmore.
It’s not a joke anymore.
The government is not using helicopters to hold up a screen, but it appears to be doing what it can to block the view.
The Sioux Falls Business Journal reports, “The National Park Service placed cones along highway viewing areas outside Mount Rushmore this week, barring visitors from pulling over and taking pictures of the famed monument.”
After the cones appeared on their state road, South Dakota officials asked federal officials to remove them. Some were removed, according to Dusty Johnson, chief of staff for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, R-S.D.
Federal officials claimed the cones were a safety precaution, meant to channel cars into viewing areas, not prevent their entrance.
But Johnson wasn’t buying that.
“I think reasonable people can disagree about that,” he said.
The cones were removed to make way for plows when a blizzard struck Friday. Johnson said the state is watching to be sure the cones reappear.
The Buffalo News reported that a tour group from western New York was unable to take pictures of Mount Rushmore because highway viewing areas were coned off.
“It’s all closed up,” a tourist told the Buffalo News.
“They won’t even let you stop and take a picture. You can only drive by,” complained Hilde Wernet.
“They won’t even let you pull off on the side of the road,” said Jim Hagen, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tourism. “I just don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish.”
“It disgusts me that taxpayer resources were used on this act of stupidity,” Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., told the Sioux Falls paper. “This is federal government arrogance at its worst.”
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said it’s “outrageous,” and it seems to him, “[T]he administration wants to make this as painful as possible.”
Thune blamed Senate Democrats, saying they could easily pass spending bills to fund parks, and anything else.
“They, obviously, prefer to have the issue and not the solution,” he said.
Johnson said the governor even offered to use state funds to keep Mount Rushmore open, but the National Park Service turned him down.
“I can’t even believe we’re having this conversation,” he said.
Amber Alert Backfire
One closure apparently backfired so quickly, the federal government moved to immediately to reverse it.
The Amber Alert website issues information about abducted children.
“The Amber Alert system was never interrupted, but to eliminate any confusion, the informational site maintained by the Justice Department has been restored,” a Justice Department explained to CNN.
(Meanwhile, first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” website remained operational.)
Part of a pattern
The Mount Rushmore incident is just one of a series of shutdown-related moves by the National Park Service that, instead of saving money, would seem to be costing more money to enforce.
National Park Service employees tried to erect barricades surrounding parking lots at Mount Vernon, which has been privately funded for 150 years.
But the staff at George Washington’s estate turned the government employees away and removed the barricades.
The owner of the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina said he tried to defy Park Service and stay open, but park rangers blocked his driveway to prevent customers from entering.
Bruce O’Connell told the Washington Times he isn’t draining any federal funds because his workers are not employed by the government, and his fire and police services are supplied by the county.
He said it probably cost the federal government more money to post the rangers in his driveway.
The Times also reports, “Americans across the country have embraced the chance to flout the closures as a defiant act of civil disobedience.”
“The Internet has been flooded with photos of people going around traffic cones and vehicle barricades to get to parking lots, bicycle paths and hiking trails.”
Seniors kicked out of their home
The National Park Service has also gotten into the eviction business.
Eighty-year-old Ralph Spencer and his 77-year-old wife, Joyce, say the government has kicked them out of the home they own because it sits on federal land at Lake Mead, Nev.
The Spencers said a park ranger told them Thursday they had 24 hours to get out of the cabin they’ve owned since the 1970s.
The federal government apparently did not consider it necessary to evict the Spencers during any of the 17 other shutdowns since 1976.
Joyce told a local television station they are OK, but the move was a lot to handle for the pair of senior citizens.
As difficult as possible
A National Park Service employee also revealed, “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.”
Several congressional committees have begun looking into whether the administration is, indeed, using the Park Service to try to make the shutdown as painful as possible for Americans and to increase political pressure on Republicans.
But the White House apparently believes playing hardball is a winning tactic.
A senior administration official told the Wall Street Journal, “We are winning. … It doesn’t really matter to us” how long the shutdown lasts, “because what matters is the end result.”
As WND has reported, that includes the Obama administration allowing the suspension of experimental treatments for children with terminal cancer during the shutdown.
The president threatened to veto a measure offered by Republicans to keep the National Institutes of Health funded.
When a reporter asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., why the Senate wouldn’t try to help “one child who has cancer” by approving such a bill, he retorted, “Why would we want to do that?”
Feds try to close the ocean
Just as the National Park Service apparently had no problem trying to close the airspace in front of Mount Rushmore, is didn’t flinch at trying to shut down “1,100 square miles of open ocean” to fishing boats.
Breitbart reported the Park Service informed charter boat captains the Florida Bay and Biscayne National Park were “closed” due to the shutdown, and rangers will be patrolling to enforce the ban.
The flap over actions by the Park Service began Oct. 1, the very first day of the shutdown, when it appeared to go out of its way to try to keep veterans out of the World War II memorial.
Members of Congress intervened and escorted the vets around barricades that had appeared overnight.
No funding exists to keep the World War II Memorial open, but the administration found funding to erect a barricade.
Also closed to the public were the memorials for World War I, the Korean and and Vietnam Wars, as well as the Washington Monument and the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.
Video by WND’s Jeremy Murray showed two tourists at the top of the steps being confronted by a park officer and escorted off the site. When the second one reached the top, however, the crowd below cheered.
War on the military?
The administration’s reach has even extended across the Atlantic Ocean, shutting down the Normandy American Cemetery in France.
The Armed Forces Network has been prevented from broadcasting sports programming to American troops overseas.
Military priests face arrest ministering on military bases during the shutdown, “and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so,” wrote John Schlageter, the general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA, in an op-ed.
“With the government shutdown, many [government service] and contract priests who minister to Catholics on military bases worldwide are not permitted to work – not even to volunteer,” he added.
Golf but no groceries
However, the president’s little-used retreat at Camp David will stay open.
Most Camp David employees are still on the job, including chefs, gardeners, electricians.
More than 250 staffers are still getting paid to run the 180-acre vacation compound in Catoctin Mountain Park, Md., designed specifically as a presidential getaway and equipped with a pool, tennis courts, a skeet range, bathhouse, bowling alley and a horseshoe pit.
However, it has no golf, and President Obama has spent only 78 days there in his five years in office, preferring to spend his weekends hitting the links at military golf links, which have been kept open during the shutdown.
While golf courses at military installations remain open, commissaries at those sites have been shut down.
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth