Sequester This

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell said that while he wasn’t a manual laborer of any sort, he figured he could pass for a poor gardener or a “tenth-rate farm hand” if he had to. But, while he thought he could work the fields, he knew he couldn’t work the mines. “By no conceivable amount of effort or training could I become a coal-miner,” Orwell said, “the work would kill me in a few weeks.” This may very well have been true, but, had Orwell grown up in the sooty industrial squalor of Manchester or in the dirt poor hollers of Appalachia, I’d imagine he would have found a way to conceive of the necessary effort. There have always been and there will always be jobs that no one wants to do and there are two major ways of getting people to do them: paying a lot of money to folks who have a choice or paying a pittance to those who don’t. More often than not, and especially when unskilled labor is involved, employers go with option number two. The unspoken truth behind our current national dialogue concerning immigration policy is that much of America’s economy is built on the backs of unorganized, underpaid, undocumented immigrant labor. The profits made by big agribusiness and a hundred other industries are based off of the calculated exploitation of men, women and children who are in the United States illegally and have no bargaining leverage as a result. When your employer can threaten to send you on a slow boat to whatever developing nation you’re from it can be a little difficult to negotiate wage rates and advocate for benefits.

Little more than a century ago, the vast majority of America’s working landscape resembled that which undocumented workers are forced to endure today. Thankfully, a little something called the labor movement came along and bestowed upon us an wide assortment of populist goodies such as the weekend, the 40 hour work-week, collective bargaining rights and workforce safety laws. While I would never dare to impugn the good name of our corporate overseers today—they take care of that themselves—the ruling or business owning class in America has a long and storied history of wonton disregard for the lives, well beings and happiness of their workers. It is only due to the rough, plodding progress of organized labor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that we the people managed to force them the owners to not take small children out of the classroom to toil in the factory. With that being said, it would have been impossible for the labor movement to have enjoyed this success without the oftentimes begrudging assistance of Federal and state governments.

Yep...That Sounds RIght

Yep…That Sounds RIght

One of the primary purposes of the federal government, and one of main reasons why conservatives despise most aspects of it, is to serve as an intermediary between businesses and the workers they employ. Without the passage and codification of rules and regulations clearly outlining the distinct rights of working Americans, big business would do everything short of burning their employees for fuel if it would raise their profit margin. Government is there to enforce these laws and to hold these businesses to task for any failures on their part to adhere to the law. If it was up to the free market, your Oscar Meyer wiener might have a thumb in it from some unfortunate bastard who got his hand too close to the industrial sized butcher’s saw at the slaughterhouse. Thankfully, our government’s Department of Labor provides funding to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure that our nation’s abattoirs adhere to various guidelines to prevent someone’s thumb from getting lopped off on the job. And, if a worker does happen to lose an opposable digit in a slicing accident, the Department of Agriculture oversees the Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) to see to it that no thumb or any other kind of undesirable meatstuff makes its way into those hot dogs.

That is, the Departments of Agriculture & Labor would usually carry out these tasks. With the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts resulting from sequestration going into effect, the abilities of many government organizations to perform their necessary duties have been compromised. According to a sequestration report from the Executive Office of the President’s Office of Management and Budget, there will be around $53 million in cuts to FSIS and $28 million in cuts to OSHA as a result of the sequester. Keep in mind, these cuts aren’t being made because of recommendations from an economic study saying that the benefits from cutting 5% of these two agencies outweigh the costs of losing the services they provide. These cuts were made with no point or purpose because Congress and the Executive Branch underestimated their own capacity for incompetence. Republicans and Democrats purposely made the sequestration cuts as indiscriminately harmful as possible to try and force themselves to compromise on a long term budget deal. Well, it didn’t work and now we’re chopping our nose off to spite our face.

Much of the talk in the news media concerning sequestration focuses on two topics: a) which political party or figure “won” the sequestration battle and, b) what effect the sequester will have on our nation’s already sluggish economy. With regards to the first topic, fuck you. As for the second, I believe it is important to analyze how these ridiculous spending cuts will effect our precarious economic recovery, but I also think that keying in on the broader picture misses the true damage of the sequester. Wall Street can dismiss the cuts as having a negligible impact on the economy, but what about the impact on the workers that make up that economy and the families they provide for? This is one case where it is the trees themselves, and not the forest as a whole, that truly matters.

Sequestration is expected to take $168 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. That money represents tens of thousands of beds and treatment slots for the severely and persistently mentally ill and those of us suffering from the rigors of addiction and alcoholism. On top of that, FEMA is expected to lose $928 million in disaster relief funding, along with another $117 million in funding for state and local programs. As the east coast reels from the devastation of Super Storm Sandy and broad swaths of our nation are suffering from crippling drought, we’re going to cut more than a billion dollars from men, women and children who have had their lives washed away or dried up? Potentially worst of all, $333 million is being cut from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. Low income mothers and their small children will have food snatched from their table because our representatives in Washington couldn’t do their damn job.

By no conceivable amount of effort or training could I become a politician. The work would kill my soul in a few weeks.

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Categories: US Politics

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