The Student Union will be right back...

This just might be what some of my colleagues call a "teachable moment." Or, it just might be a longish silence.

As I expect many of you have heard, the U.S. federal government is in a partial shutdown. Partial because some government services, like the border patrol or air traffic control, remain operating, and shutdown because other elements of the government are not.

Budget Battle
Yet another institution closed due to the federal shutdown. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The why of the shutdown is both very simple and stupefyingly complex. First, the simple. Every year, starting October 1st, the U.S. Congress must approve - and the President must sign - a budget to fund federal government operations. If a budget is not signed for any part of the government, that part simply cannot operate as technically there is no money to be spent.

This year, Congress was unable to agree on funding nearly any part of the government, with the one exception of pay for active-duty military personnel. That means that large parts of the Executive branch, and perhaps some parts of the Judicial branch in the near future, will have to be shut down. Smart observers will note that there's one branch missing here: the Legislative branch. All of Congress remains fully funded, thanks to the 27th amendment to the Constitution which specifies that salaries in the House and Senate cannot change until after a congressional election.

Now, some parts of the government are still operating, despite not being funded. For example, mail delivery will continue, Social Security checks will go out, and even here at the VOA, live radio and TV broadcasts will continue, despite the fact that none of those employees will be paid until Congress approves appropriations for the government - that's because those and other services are considered to be in national security interests.

That said, large parts of the federal government will not be open. And sadly, that includes the "Student Union", for the time being.

Believe it or not, all that was the easy part. Some government services are open, some are closed, and that will be the state of affairs until Congress acts and the President approves. Pretty much end of story.

The stupefyingly complex part of the answer revolves around the many policy debates and political divisions that currently roil the American landscape. Key among those is the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as "Obamacare." Explaining the hows and whys of those differences could fill a newspaper and then some...and I, as your editor, only am allowed a few more hours to work before I have to shut down myself.

Here's the point: until the federal government is fully funded, it's unlikely the "Student Union" will be up and running. That''s a shame, as I'm sure many of our new team of contributors have much to say. I wish I could share those stories, but I won't be allowed to. In fact, I won't even be allowed to check incoming emails from you all, let alone answer them. No Facebooking, no tweeting - no nothing.

We've set up a few posts for auto-publish. That means they were prepared pre-shutdown, and I just programmed the blog to automatically publish them on a certain date and time. Additionally, until we're allowed back to work, I won't be able to post or reply to any comments you leave.

So if this is a teachable moment, when we return I hope we all can share some perspectives on this. That, and move forward with your thoughts, questions and perspectives on studying here in the U.S.

Apologies for the temporary silence, but we'll be back very soon - I hope. Until then, best of luck to all in your classes!