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US government dysfunction should alarm more than just panda fans

By Curtis Stone, Chengliang Wu (People's Daily Online)    10:37, January 08, 2019

Giant panda Beibei is seen beside its birthday cake during a celebration at Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington D.C., the United States, Aug. 22, 2017.

The Smithsonian National Zoo’s beloved live Giant Panda Cam was turned off last Wednesday amid the ongoing partial government shutdown in the United States.

Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute managed to stay open for the first 11 days of the shutdown, which began on December 22, 2018, but was forced to close its doors on Tuesday, Jan. 1, after its prior-year funds ran out because Congress and the White House are unable to reach a funding agreement.

The much-loved Giant Panda Cam went black the following day on Wednesday.

The Zoo’s official statement read: “The Smithsonian's National Zoo is closed due to a federal government shutdown. The Zoo’s live animal cams require federal resources, primarily staff, to run and broadcast. They are deemed non-essential and will not stream live until the federal government reopens.”

Its less popular streams have also been shut down, but the Giant Panda Cam has long been a favorite. For example, when giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to twin panda cubs in 2015, close to a million panda fans tuned in to watch the stream.

The unfortunate situation is that until a deal is reached to end the shutdown, panda fans will be unable to enjoy the 24/7 live broadcast of resident giant pandas Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and Bei Bei chomping on bamboo, playing in trees, and tumbling in the grass.

This may seem like a trivial matter. But for some, the loss has been unbearable, and they are calling for an end to the shutdown so that they can get on with life and enjoy watching the pandas.

Some people have even called it a step too far and are outraged at the US government for being unable to do its job and reach a deal.

The US government shutdown is an internal affair, so it is not really a concern for the Chinese people. But the shutdown of the panda cam has attracted a lot of attention in China and beyond.

The situation has also created some laughter.

On the English-language website of People’s Daily Online, one reader joked that China might need to place a guard around the pandas for safe keeping and possibly live stream it to the world.

Another reader wondered if the giant pandas will be detained for "spying" and, if so, be put in a CIA black site because they may feel threatened by the intelligence of the pandas.

Some even went further and joked that the US government might use the opportunity to comb through panda waste for alleged "technology theft."

Of course, such comments are just a joke.

However, for many everyday Americans who are currently unable to even obtain a marriage license, the ongoing government shutdown is no laughing matter.

As the alarming situation shows, the reality is that the US government shutdown is having a real effect on the lives of everyday Americans, who are stuck in the middle of a political game being played between Congress and the White House.

The shutdown also highlights the disturbing level of political dysfunction in the United States, the result of a system that can be so divided and paralyzed that it is nearly impossible for the government to actually do things.

The loss of the Zoo’s panda cam, while relatively minor in terms of overall impact of the shutdown, is just another sign that US democracy has become what American scholar Francis Fukuyama and others have labeled as a “vetocracy” — meaning the US government has become dangerously ineffective.

Zhang Weiwei, a Chinese professor at Fudan University who has debated Fukuyama on such issues, has argued that the separation of powers in the United States has its weaknesses, as many vested interest groups fight against each other to block reform initiatives that are necessary for the country. As Professor Zhang has pointed out, it is getting harder to build a social consensus within the Western democratic countries. And as a result, the Western system of democracy has become more and more problematic.


(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Wu Chengliang, Bianji)

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