Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sequestration? What Sequestration?

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Matthew 25: 41-46

   I hesitate to write about this because everybody else is, but the hypocrisy is just too blatant to ignore. 
We’ve talked about what is known as sequestration before.
   That of course was written before the sequestration cuts began. Once they did begin to take affect last March the only budget cuts the media seemed concerned with were the cancellation of White House tours (which took place so the Secret Service would not have to furlough staff).
  Before it took place many on the right, or libertarian front didn’t think it was such a big deal, like Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of the dubiously titled “” He presented three questions for those worried about sequestration:
1. Under what sort of math do you figure that cutting $44 billion or $85 billion from a total tab of $3.6 trillion is anything more than a rounding error? Half of the cuts are slated for defense spending, which has grown massively over the past decade-plus. Do you really think that the military can't cope?
   There’s actually two questions here but let’s forget that for the moment. My answer to the first question is this: The regular kind... the abstract study of topics encompassing quantity, structure, space, change, and other properties. The second, nope. I think they can cope quite well with spending cuts. But will Congress allow them to, ah, that’s a good question:
2. Do you really believe that the sequester cuts will tank a $16 trillion economy? And if so, what's the multiplier on that? GDP is counted in such a way that most government spending automatically gets counted as increasing the amount of economic activity (the same doesn't hold for private spending, where different conditions hold). Do you at least agree in theory that government spending has been cut in the past without ruining the economy (and if you don't, why not)?
   Three questions here. 1. No, I don’t, but I also think it won’t help. 2. I’m not bright enough to understand what this question means, and have little desire or energy to try to figure it out. And 3. I’m not sure what Mr. Gillespie means by “ruining,” but historically I can site many instances where cutting government spending in a depressed economy has been detrimental for said economy, such as the current austerity measures in Europe that those governments steadfastly embrace (due no doubt by outside influences such as banks and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)), but which bring untold grief among those countries citizens. Austerity measures that have never proved successful at invigorating economies anywhere, ever. Austerity measures that have been thoroughly debunked: 
   And this from NPR:
   “Four years into Franklin Roosevelt's first presidential term, the worst of the Great Depression seemed behind him. Massive jolts of New Deal spending had stopped the economic slide, and the unemployment rate was cut from 22 percent to less than 10 percent.
   ‘People felt that there was momentum,’ U.S. Senate historian Donald Ritchie tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered. ‘Finally, there was the light at the end of the tunnel.’
   So Roosevelt, on the advice of his conservative Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, decided to tackle the country's exploding deficits. Over two years, FDR slashed government spending 17 percent.
   ‘All of a sudden,’ Ritchie says, ‘after unemployment had been going steadily down, unemployment shot up, the economy stagnated, the stock market crashed again. And now it seemed we'd come out of the Hoover Depression to go into the Roosevelt recession.’
   And 3. When will conditions be right to actually cut spending? There's a raft of anti-sequester people - such as Barack Obama - who pay lip service to the idea that government spending (especially government deficit spending) needs to stop or be reduced at some point in the future. But like St. Augustine in his partying period, they don't want to get straight just yet. So when might that be? If we can't afford to cut a tiny fraction of current spending now - after a year-plus of knowing this was coming and a major punting on the original deadline - when might we?
   Again, Mr. Gillespie would have us believe, as do the Tea Baggers and Republicans, that government spending is the root of all evil, and that said spending and the national deficit are the country’s greatest problems.
   That’s just a big bunch of what I like to call, hooey. Unemployment, income inequality, and slow economic growth are the largest problems facing the country right now (as far as the economy is concerned at least). And I’m not the only one who thinks so. My girlfriend thinks so too.
   And so do these people:
   Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton:
   And economist and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman:
   And our janitor here at the Las Americas, Theodore:
   “Deficit reduction moves us in the opposite direction. That’s because most consumers (whose spending is 70 percent of economic activity) are still losing ground, and businesses won’t expand and hire without more consumers.
   So government has to be the spender of last resort.”
   I mean it’s really rather obvious.
   Anyway, after the sequester cuts went into affect there wasn’t a whole lot of response from the public and media except to say that the sequester predictions of government shut downs, and furloughed FBI agents, and soldiers having to cook their own meals, etc., were bogus, and that the President was only trying to scare the American people and Congress by predicting dire economic results.
   A late March Rasmussen poll showed:
       Only 12% say the sequester cuts have had a major impact on them personally. Despite predictions that the sequester impact would grow over time, there’s no indication of that happening yet. The number experiencing a major impact is basically unchanged from the weekend the sequester first took effect. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
   The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey now finds that 51% of Likely U.S. Voters say they have experienced no impact of all in their personal lives from the sequester. That’s up seven points from the beginning of the month. Thirty percent (30%) say they have experienced a minor impact.
   Looking ahead, 59% of voters think the sequester cuts will have either a positive impact on their lives or none at all. Thirty-five percent (35%) still anticipate a negative personal impact, including nine percent (9%) who say it will be Very Negative. These figures reflect little change as well.
   The good folks at Fox were calling the budget cuts a “no-quester.”
   They’e pretty clever over at Fox.
   But most of those people polled were not poor... or young... or unemployed... or hungry. The poor, unemployed, sick, and hungry don’t have lobbyists in Washington to plead there cases. They are not considered an important voting block. They tend to get ignored by those in the government.
   Yet they are real people. If we cut them they bleed. They have children who need to eat and be educated.
   Mahatma Ghandi said, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members," and a lot of our right-wing friends will say, “Who cares what Ghandi said, he wasn’t an American.” Okay, here’s an American... a Christian American. "Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members -- the last, the least, the littlest."
~Cardinal Roger Mahony, former as Archbishop of Los Angeles.
   Quite frankly, we treat the least among us, in this wonderful Christian nation of ours, like shit.
   Here are 12 ways sequestration are affecting the least among us, and others, compiled by by Travis Waldron and Bryce Covert of ThinkProgress:

1. Long-term unemployment: There are 4.7 million Americans who have been unemployed for longer than six months, but sequestration cut federal long-term unemployment insurance checks by up to 10.7 percent, costing recipients as much as $450 over the rest of the year. Those cuts compound the cuts eight states have made to their unemployment programs, and 11 states are considering dropping the federal program altogether because of sequestration — even though the long-term unemployed are finding it nearly impossible to return to work.

2. Head Start: Low-income children across the country have been kicked out of Head Start education programs because of the 5-percent cuts mandated by sequestration, as states have cut bus transportation services and started conducting lotteries to determine which kids would no longer have access to the program, even though the preschool program has been proven to have substantial benefits for low-income children. In all, about 70,000 children will lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

3. Cancer treatment: Budget cuts have forced doctors and cancer clinics to deny chemotherapy treatments to thousands of cancer patients thanks to a 2 percent cut to Medicare. One clinic in New York has refused to see more than 5,000 of its Medicare patients, and many cancer patients have had to travel to other states to receive their treatments, an option that obviously isn’t available to lower-income people. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) proposed restoring the funding, but the legislation so far hasn’t moved in Congress.

4. Health research: The National Institutes of Health lost $1.6 billion thanks to sequestration, jeopardizing important health research into AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. That won’t just impact research and the people who do it, though. It will also hurt the economy, costing the U.S. $860 billion in lost economic growth and at least 500,000 jobs. Budget cuts will also hamper research at colleges and universities.

5. Low-income housing: 140,000 low-income families — primarily seniors with disabilities and families with children — will lose rental assistance thanks to sequestration’s budget cuts. Even worse, the cuts could likely make rent and housing more expensive for those families, as agencies raise costs to offset the pain of budget cuts, and sequestration will also cut from programs that aid the homeless and fund the construction of low-income housing.

6. Student aid: Sequestration is already raising fees on Direct student loans, increasing costs for students who are already buried in debt. The budget cuts reduce funding for federal work study grants by $49 million and for educational opportunity grants by $37 million, and the total cuts will cost 70,000 college students access to grants they depend on.

7. Meals On Wheels: Local Meals on Wheels programs, which help low-income and disabled seniors access food, have faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts, costing tens of thousands of seniors access to the program. Many of those seniors have little access to food without the program, but Congress has made no effort to replace the funding.

8. Disaster relief: The Federal Emergency Management Administration will lose nearly $1 billion in funding thanks to sequestration, jeopardizing aid for families, cities, and states right as the spring storm season begins. The aid package Congress passed for Hurricane Sandy relief will also see more than $1 billion in reductions.

9. Heating assistance: The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps nearly 9 million households afford their heating and cooling bills. Sequestration will cut the program by an estimated $180 million, meaning about 400,000 households will no longer receive aid. These cuts come on top of $1.6 billion in reductions since 2010.

10. Workplace safety: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has long suffered from a lack of funds, which means its staff is so stretched that many workplaces go without an inspection for 99 years. The fertilizer plant that exploded in West, Texas, for example, hadn’t had a visit from OSHA since 1985. That will get worse, as sequestration will cut the agency’s budget by $564.8 million, likely leading to 1,200 fewer workplace inspections.

11. Obamacare: Sequestration cuts a number of important programs in the Affordable Care Act: $13 million from the Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan Program, or CO-OPs; $57 million from the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control program; $51 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund; $27 million from the State Grants and Demonstrations program; and $44 million from the Affordable Insurance Exchange Grants program, or the insurance exchanges.

12. Child care: Child care costs can exceed rent payments or college tuition and waiting lists for getting assistance are already long. Yet sequestration will reduce funds even further, meaning that 30,000 children will lose subsidies for care. For example, Arizona will experience a $3 million cut to funding that will force 1,000 out of care.

   But what does Congress, the entity that has brought about sequestration and allows it to continue, really care about?
   We shall see.

To be continued.

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