By Frank Robins
SEATTLE, OCCUPIED DUWAMISH TERRITORY — October 4, 2013
“Government Shutdown” — the words are blocked across every paper in the country this week. It sounds like a good idea — and how great it would be if it were this simple! But the majority of federal discretionary spending, deemed essential, continues unabated: the military, all 116 federal prisons, border enforcement, surveillance, and federal law enforcement. (Except for labor law enforcement, of course. Goodbye OSHA inspections; time for some direct action.)
The Department of Defense is the largest employer on the planet, with 3.2 million employees, almost all considered essential. But the Bureau of Indian Affairs will shut down, including the “disbursement of tribal funds for tribal operations,” while BIA law enforcement and detention centers will continue operating. 93% of border enforcement personnel will continue working and hunting brown people (although the troubled e-Verify program will be down). Overall, 80% of 4.1 million federal employees are engaged in such “essential” tasks. In the words of Trevor Timm, the “NSA will continue to spy on you during the government shutdown, but they won’t be processing any of your Freedom of Information Act requests.” Welcome to the new police state.
Meanwhile, emergency funding for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides food and medical care for pregnant women and new mothers, runs out October 31st. Food stamp benefits and free school lunches would run out after this month. (Here are some resources if you need to brush-up on dumpstering, Food Not Bombs, shoplifting, or flash robs.)
Campers were given 48 hours to vacate national forests and toxic waste clean-up will halt as the EPA shuts down, but federal lands will remain open for mining. The Center for Disease Control is shutting down to “emergency services only” just in time for flu season, while the National Institutes for Health will not admit new patients and not fund clinical trials.
In short, U.S. politicians are flirting with austerity measures like never before seen—hard and fast, Hollywood disaster film style. Ultimately, capital couldn’t care less. If business-as-usual is restored, capital wins; if the social safety net is shredded, capital wins.
Stay tuned: a default on the U.S. national debt on October 17th would likely have the effect of taking the U.S. dollar out back and shooting it in the head, setting off the largest economic shit-storm in the history of capitalism. Even big business is getting alarmed about right-wing extremism. The U.S. House’s so-called “suicide caucus” all represent districts which have been gerrymandered into safely white Tea Party majorities. It wouldn’t be the first time big business’ fascist dogs slipped off their leashes.
Furthermore, this sort of brinkmanship has become ingrained in world politics. As Peter Gelderloos writes about global warming:
If they go too far, they will not be the ones to bear the gravest consequences. And can we really expect any less of them? After all, we’re talking about the same institutions, run by the direct successors of the same people who toyed with the fate of the world in the same way during the Cold War, knowing full well that they had their nuclear bunkers to run off to. It was only by good luck that they did not annihilate all of us in a nuclear holocaust.”
The question becomes, what comes after catastrophic shocks to the global system? And how do we prepare?