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Watching the national news is rarely an uplifting experience.

While the events unfolding in Washington and around the world affect us indirectly, we are normally somewhat insulated by the political machinations. That detachment allows us to maintain our sanity, but it also provides a false sense of security.

That was the case for me for the past couple of weeks regarding the ill-conceived government shutdown. There are no federal employees in my immediate family, therefore, I wasn’t personally affected.

Granted, there have been a few minor annoyances, but I’m ashamed to admit to I was less empathetic to the plight of federal employees than I should have been.

That self-serving bubble was punctured earlier this week when I received an email from the Friends of Crab Orchard.

The group is holding a potluck dinner earlier next week for the employees of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and their families. Because of the shutdown, refuge employees are not allowed to work. As a result, they are not being paid.

While I can’t speak for the refuge staff, I’m pretty sure none of them signed up for this.

The dinner is not a fundraiser, but a gesture to let the dedicated refuge staff know that their work is appreciated. Furthermore, it is a sign of support from the community federal employees have chosen to make their home.

The gesture is fantastic. A night of fellowship with friends will provide a brief reprieve from the worries and stress associated with not receiving a paycheck.

The need for the gesture is maddening. When you think of the individual staff members who are undergoing hardship for a senseless political fight — it makes your blood boil. The most egregious thing? The shutdown has nothing to do with Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge or its umbrella agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It is about vanity. It is about political leverage. The employees of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge and the Shawnee National Forest are nothing more than pawns.

Even more maddening, the issue could be resolved easily.

Both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate have passed resolutions that would keep the government running while the sticking point — a border wall between the United States and Mexico — is negotiated. Unfortunately, the House bill, identical to the Senate’s, was passed by a Democratic house, so Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell won’t bring it to a vote.

The House has also passed bills that would re-open areas of the government, excluding the Department of Homeland Security, but again, no action is being taken.

Viewed from a distance, these actions are mind-boggling and confounding. Viewed the context of seeing friends and colleagues suffer as the result of this political inertia … it borders on criminal.

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LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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