Dec 10, 2013
How America Became a Third World Country: 2013-2023
Posted on May 22, 2013
By Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford, TomDispatch
As it happened, they didn’t have to wait long to find out. The first ripples of impact began to spread quickly indeed. Losing some government funding, cancer clinics in New Mexico and Connecticut turned away patients. In Kentucky, Oregon, and Montana, shelters for victims of domestic violence cut services. In New York, Maryland, and Alabama, public defenders were furloughed, limiting access to justice for low-income people. In Illinois and Minnesota, public school teachers were laid off. In Florida, Michigan, and Mississippi, Head Start shortened the school year, while in Kansas and Indiana, some low-income children simply lost access to the program entirely. In Alaska, a substance abuse clinic shut down. Across the country, Meals on Wheels cut four million meals for seniors in need.
Only when the FAA imposed furloughs on its air traffic controllers did public irritation threaten to boil over. Long lines and airport delays ensued, and people were angry. And not just any people—people who had access to members of Congress. In a Washington that has gridlocked the most routine business, lawmakers moved at a breakneck pace, taking just five days to pass special legislation to solve the problem. To avoid furloughs and shorten waits for airline passengers, they allowed the FAA to spend funds that had been intended for long-term airport repairs and improvements.
Flights would leave on time—at least until runways cracked and crumbled. (You undoubtedly remember the scandal of 2019 at Cincinnati International Airport, when a bright young candidate for Senate met her demise in a tragic landing mishap.)
And then, of course, the Pentagon asked for an exemption, too. We’re talking about the military behemoth of planet Earth, which in 2013 accounted for 40% of military spending globally, its outlays exceeding the next 10 largest militaries combined. It, too wanted a special exemption for some of its share of the cutbacks.
And remember that, just as the sequestration cuts began, carbon concentration in the atmosphere breached 400 parts per million. (Climate scientists had long been warning that the level should be kept below 350 for human security.) Unfortunately, as with the groundbreaking research that led to the Internet, it takes money to do big things, and the long-term effects of cutting environmental protection, general research, and basic infrastructure meant that the U.S. government would do little to stem the extreme weather that has, in 2023, become such a part of our world and our lives.
Looking back from a country now eternally in crisis, it’s clear that a Rubicon was crossed back in 2013. There was then still a chance to reject across-the-board budget cuts that would undermine a nation built on sound public investment and shared prosperity. At that crossroads, some fought against austerity. Losing that battle, others argued for a smarter approach: close tax loopholes to raise new revenue, or reduce waste in health care, or place a tax on carbon, or cut excessive spending at the Pentagon. But too few Americans—with too little influence—spoke up, and Washington didn’t listen. The rest of the story, as you well know, is history.
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Copyright 2013 Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford
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