January 7, 2019

National parks are supposed to be beautiful. This group of Muslim teenagers is making sure they stay that way.

Federal workers who usually take care of national parks have been furloughed amid the ongoing government shutdown. That means no one is getting paid to empty overflowing trash cans, manage sewage disposal, or maintain trails, potentially threatening the health of people who visit the closed parks anyway, per National Geographic.

That's where the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association comes in. The group has dispatched dozens of its members, all Muslim males age 7 to 40, to clean up parks around the country, CNN says.

AMYA regularly cleans up communities as part of its service branch. So when it became clear there was no end to the government shutdown in sight, about 30 members started emptying trash cans around the National Mall and fishing trash out of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, reports The Washington Post. Dozens more gathered in Everglades National Park, outside Independence Hall, and at a handful of other parks to clean up this past weekend. "If there's an opportunity to serve, that is what Muslims do," said volunteer Sarmad Bhatti in describing the group's service ethos.

The National Parks Service has indicated it will dip into entrance fees to perform basic park services if the shutdown continues. Meanwhile, a group spokesperson said AMYA will keep looking for more parks to clean, and more volunteers to help do it. Kathryn Krawczyk

8:49 p.m.

White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has asked agency leaders to send him a list, due no later than Friday, of the programs that would suffer most if the government shutdown continues into March or April, people with knowledge of the matter told The Washington Post on Wednesday.

This is the first known White House request for information about the affect the shutdown is having on agencies, the Post notes, and suggests the Trump administration doesn't expect it to end anytime soon. Because of the shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history, 800,000 government employees have missed a paycheck, and if things stay the way they are, they'll miss a second one in a few days.

The White House has mostly focused on how the shutdown is affecting wait times at airport security, not the programs being interrupted, the Post reports. There's a lot to start worrying about: after Feb. 1, major operations within the federal court system will likely come to a standstill, and the Department of Agriculture does not have enough money to distribute food stamp benefits to about 40 million people in March. On Wednesday, the U.S. General Services Administration, which manages leases and contracts, told several departments that if the shutdown goes into February, there is no plan on how to pay the utility bills and lease payments next month. Catherine Garcia

6:51 p.m.

The House Oversight Committee announced on Wednesday it is launching an inquiry into the White House security clearance process.

The committee is now led by Democrats, and its chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), sent the White House a letter stating the probe is due to "grave breaches of national security at the highest level of the Trump administration." The goal of the investigation, he added, is to "determine why the White House and transition team appear to have disregarded established procedures for safeguarding classified information, evaluate the extent to which the nation's most highly guarded secrets were provided to officials who should not have had access to them, and develop reforms to remedy the flaws in current White House systems and practices."

The committee is requesting information on several current and former White House officials, including Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, and former aide Rob Porter, who was accused of spousal abuse. Despite the allegations against him, Porter was able to get an interim security clearance, and Kushner had to edit his application for a top-level clearance three times because he left out more than 100 foreign contacts. Catherine Garcia

5:31 p.m.

About 800,000 government workers have gone five weeks without a paycheck. Each one of them has missed an average of $5,600 in wages. And altogether, that's more than the $5.7 billion President Trump ever wanted for his border wall, a new study from Sentier Research has found.

Furloughed government employees, some of whom are still required to work, are about to miss their second paycheck since the government partially lost funding in December, The Washington Post points out. They're owed $4.7 billion so far, and that number will jump to $6 billion on Friday. But it's not as if that massive check has completely disappeared from the government's radar, seeing as Congress and Trump passed a bill guaranteeing all these workers — save for contractors — will be paid once the shutdown ends. That effectively means the government will have to pay more money than originally caused the shutdown, and some of it will go toward work that wasn't even completed.

The last major shutdown in 2013 led to $2 billion in lost wages for about 850,000 workers, an Office of Management and Budget study found. It also led to a .3 percent slowdown in economic growth at the time, leading to the general premise that one week of a shutdown causes a .1 percent drop in growth, the Post notes.

White House Economic Adviser Kevin Hassett predicted a slightly smaller impact on growth, telling CNN on Wednesday that there'd probably be a .1 percent drop every two weeks. But that still could mean big problems, namely a growth number "very close to zero in the first quarter" if the shutdown lasts through March, he said. Read more about the shutdown's economic consequences at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:42 p.m.

Mark Zuckerberg loves meat.

So much so, that he spent a whole year challenging himself to only eat meat from animals he killed himself — namely a herd of six goats he kept in his backyard. And during that year, he tried to feed one of those goats to Jack Dorsey, the Twitter CEO tells Rolling Stone in an interview published Wednesday. It didn't quite work out.

Under some "rule or regulation" where Zuckerberg lives in Palo Alto, California, "you can have six livestock on any lot of land," Dorsey explains to Rolling Stone. So he had six goats, and killed one of them with a "laser gun and then the knife" before Dorsey came over one day, the Twitter head said. Zuckerberg explained this process to Dorsey, told him he'd be serving the goat with salad, and then pulled the meat out of the oven. "It was cold," Dorsey said, so he just ate his salad.

If you're looking for some context, Zuckerberg sets self-improvement goals every year. In 2011, that meant he chose to "basically become a vegetarian since the only meat I'm eating is from animals I've killed myself," he confusingly explained at the time. He ended that challenge a year later, and has since gone on to devour meat-shaped birthday cakes and thoroughly explain how to grill brisket and ribs in a Facebook Live video. It's all very odd, so catch more of Dorsey's subtle digs at the carnivore at Rolling Stone. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:33 p.m.

TSA employees are finding themselves at the center of the government shutdown debate.

Transportation Security Administration screeners at airports across the country have been working without pay while the partial government shutdown continues into its second month. In some cases, workers have called in sick or quit, and in others, they are relying on an airport food bank to get through the missed paychecks.

Some TSA workers say their work is important enough that a mass protest could force lawmakers to end the impasse over border security funding. "There's this talk going on that if the TSA workers would take a stand, would walk out, then the airlines would get to the president and he'd have to make a decision to stop the shutdown," TSA agent Cairo D'Almeida told The Seattle Times.

While plenty of pundits have suggested such a move, hoping the ensuing chaos would pressure President Trump to cave on his demand for $5.7 billion toward a border wall, it's a big ask for TSA workers, who, as federal workers, can be fired and even prosecuted for striking. "I know President Trump wouldn't hesitate one second to get rid of the entire federal work force," said D'Almeida.

Still, many TSA employees recognize that they are in a unique position to shape the debate surrounding the record-breaking shutdown. Earlier this week, 7.5 percent of the TSA workforce called in sick, more than double the rate on the same day last year, reports ABC News. That strain alone is creating some political pressure, but it's risky to intentionally cause more trouble. "It's unfair this political burden has fallen to us," D'Almeida told the Times.

Read more about what federal workers can do about the shutdown here at The Week. Summer Meza

4:12 p.m.

We regret to inform you that the following is true:

Former Texas congressman and failed Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke performed in an objectively bad cover band throughout 2003 and 2004. The band wore incredibly tight white onesies and sheep masks at performances. O'Rourke even tried to swing a New Zealand accent when singing. And unfortunately, it's all on video now widely available thanks to Mother Jones.

While O'Rourke was battling Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for his seat, the state's GOP reminded everyone that the Democrat was in a punk band in his youth and was also very cool. But a decade after that band broke up, O'Rourke and some friends started a punk rock cover band called The Sheeps. The ungrammatical group pretended it was "a very famous band from New Zealand" that wore masks because it "didn't want people to know our true identities," the band's bassist tells Mother Jones. Anyhow, it's pretty obvious that O'Rourke is on the right in the video below.

O'Rourke was a fully grown adult in the above video, seeing as he'd already "started a web design company and taken tentative steps toward a career in local politics," Mother Jones says. Luckily, he proved a bit more talented at the latter careers, and The Sheeps faded as quickly as they began. Still, there are more videos of similar performances curated at Mother Jones, if you're into that sort of thing. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:24 p.m.

Hulu is lowering the price of its basic plan just a week after Netflix raised the price of theirs.

Hulu said Wednesday that the price of its cheapest plan would be reduced from $7.99 per month to $5.99 per month, The Verge reports. This is the Hulu plan with commercials; getting rid of ads will still cost $11.99. The streaming service is, however, raising the price of one of its plans: the live TV package, which will now cost $44.99 rather than $39.99. These changes will be implemented at the end of February.

Like Hulu, Netflix's cheapest plan used to be $7.99, but that will soon go up to $8.99, meaning a basic Hulu account will now cost $3 less per month than a basic Netflix account. The key difference, though, is that no Netflix plan includes advertisements. These are just the latest shots Hulu has fired at Netflix after previously dropping a documentary about Fyre Festival days before Netflix was able to release its own.

As The Verge notes, changes are likely to come to Hulu in the coming year, as Disney is set to take majority ownership over the platform. Disney currently owns a 30 percent stake in the company, as does Fox — Disney will take over those shares once the company finalizes its purchase of Fox. Disney also plans to introduce the new streaming service Disney+ in late 2019. Brendan Morrow

See More Speed Reads