The Continuing Frog Boil

Boiling FrogThe U.S. budget sequestration went into effect on March 1, 2013.  It was designed to reduce defense and certain non-defense discretionary spending by annually declining percentages through 2021.  It applies these cuts with the fine precision of a large asteroid smashing into the Earth.  It was said to be designed as a pressure on Congress and the White House to hammer out a budget agreement on a timely basis and was not supposed to go into effect because its stupidity was unthinkable.  Apparently, some of the major actors in that drama didn’t do enough thinking, because we’re living with the sequester now.  Oddly, we are not hearing much of a wail from those affected.  There are reasons for that.

First, the impact of the sequester on defense spending is small enough to be a rounding error for the agencies with nearly unlimited spending ability and which buy thousand-dollar toilet seats, tanks for fighting the non-existent Soviet Union in a land war and trillion-dollar airplanes that no one wants.  Besides, when the affected contractors are unhappy with the government they don’t march in the streets.  Their comments are given behind closed doors, so you don’t hear them.

Second, many of the domestic program cuts only affect poor people and nobody listens to them.  For example, study after study has shown that early childhood education is the cornerstone for later success in higher education and for a lifetime.  But the sequester cut 57,000 children out of the Head Start program, thus necessarily relegating them to a much dimmer future.  Understand, though, that the Head Start victims of the sequester are poor kids whose parents’ voices aren’t heard in Congress because those parents don’t make large campaign contributions, so they don’t have access.  And you can’t hear them because the corporate media doesn’t relay their brutal reality.

Here is another example.  The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that the sequester would produce a reduction in economic growth of 0.6%, saying that this would affect job retention for 750,000 Americans.  “Retention” is not about new jobs.  It is about employed people just keeping their jobs.  That means three-quarters of a million Americans will lose their jobs because of the unthinkable sequester.  Like the parents of kids kicked out of Head Start, the newly unemployed don’t have access, so you don’t hear their voices, either, and it is relatively easy for the rest of us to ignore the change.

Third, we human beings only become aware of change when a big WHUMP! smacks us in the head.  Most of the time we tolerate small changes quite easily and don’t even notice them.  By the time we at last notice their accumulation into a WHUMP!, it is too late to prevent the adverse consequences that we will live with forever.  That is to say, most of us are living with the unrecognized effects of small changes and, like live frogs in a slowly heating pot of water, we fail to recognize that we are being boiled alive.

Yet, metaphorically speaking, that is what is happening to Americans.  We are tolerating changes like the sequester, either because each change is very small, as they are for most of us, or we are accommodating them because we are powerless, as it is for the poor, the disenfranchised, the unemployed – the very people who don’t contribute big money to political campaigns.

And the incremental deterioration story gets worse.  The current government shutdown engineered by Ted Cruz (R-Psych Ward) and his extremist pals has already kicked another 7,000 kids out of Head Start and 19,000 more are on the way out the door.  Those kids will under-perform and we will lose the benefit of their contributions and their genius.  Some will drop out and be a weight on society and some will turn to crime for survival.  For those who don’t care about those kids, surely even the investment class understands the value of spending a buck today to get a return of two in the future.  Yet all they seem to be able to see is that they want everything now.

Head Start is just one example of incremental changes that are absorbed with barely a public whimper – there are many more – but we will all pay the price.

On the other hand, here is a happy thought: we’re saving money today because we’ve cut unemployment compensation for those 750,000 Americans being laid off this year and we won’t have to listen to them complain because they don’t have a voice powered by campaign contributions.

Come to think of it, perhaps you are not donating thousands of dollars to the right legislators every election cycle.  If that is the case, you just might want to check the thermometer in your pot.  It might be edging up the the WHUMP! mark at the top of the scale.


Definition: The Republican Caucus – a gathering place for the clueless.


“Let me just check my talking points, and  .  .  .  Why, here’s something flamboyant and hateful I can say to rile up the base and make them cheer for me.  And here’s another.  Wow!  There’s a whole pile of ’em!  I’ll never run out of self-serving drivel.”  Sen. Ted Cruz in an imaginary and oh-so-brief moment of honesty.

Copyright 2023 by Jack Altschuler
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