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Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford: Congress Tweeted While America Burned

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Cracked Pavement

A grim look into the United States’ austerity-driven future.

Three days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress passed a joint resolution called an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). You might remember it. In layman’s terms, it was a carte blanche for the Bush administration to go to war wherever it wanted, whenever it wanted, however it wanted, under the guise of fighting anyone who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the September 11th attackers, or “harbored” any terrorists or terror organizations connected to the attacks. That document, more than any other, launched the Global War on Terror or GWOT. President Obama long ago ditched the name and acronym, but he kept the global war.

And don’t expect that to change. On Thursday, Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Sheehan went before Congress and insisted that the Defense Department couldn’t be more “comfortable” with AUMF, as it was written, and that not a word should be altered or amended for changed circumstances. The Pentagon was so comfortable, in fact, that its officials foresee using that resolution to continue its drone-powered “dirty wars” in the Greater Middle East and Africa for years to come. “In my judgment,” Sheehan said, “this is going to go on for quite a while, yes, beyond the second term of the president… I think it’s at least 10 to 20 years.”

So there you have it. The military got its blank check for overseas wars, for sending out the drones and the special operations forces, and has no plans to change that before 2023, if not 2033. In other words, for at least the next decade, the GWOT, whatever label it’s given, will continue to be the central fixture of American foreign policy.  It’s not going anywhere. Today, TomDispatch regulars Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford of the invaluable National Priorities Project look at the “homeland” a decade into the future, as the effects of Congress’s austerity policies sink in. Put the two together and what a grim scene you have: a country investing in war in distant lands as it crumbles here at home. Andy Kroll

How America Became a Third World Country 
2013-2023 
By Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford

The streets are so much darker now, since money for streetlights is rarely available to municipal governments. The national parks began closing down years ago. Some are already being subdivided and sold to the highest bidder. Reports on bridges crumbling or even collapsing are commonplace. The air in city after city hangs brown and heavy (and rates of childhood asthma and other lung diseases have shot up), because funding that would allow the enforcement of clean air standards by the Environmental Protection Agency is a distant memory. Public education has been cut to the bone, making good schools a luxury and, according to the Department of Education, two of every five students won’t graduate from high school.

It’s 2023 — and this is America 10 years after the first across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration went into effect.  They went on for a decade, making no exception for effective programs vital to America’s economic health that were already underfunded, like job training and infrastructure repairs. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Traveling back in time to 2013 — at the moment the sequester cuts began — no one knew what their impact would be, although nearly everyone across the political spectrum agreed that it would be bad. As it happened, the first signs of the unraveling which would, a decade later, leave the United States a third-world country, could be detected surprisingly quickly, only three months after the cuts began. In that brief time, a few government agencies, like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), after an uproar over flight delays, requested — and won — special relief.  Naturally, the Department of Defense, with a mere $568 billion to burn in its 2013 budget, also joined this elite list. On the other hand, critical spending for education, environmental protection, and scientific research was not spared, and in many communities the effect was felt remarkably soon.

Robust public investment had been a key to U.S. prosperity in the previous century. It was then considered a basic part of the social contract as well as of Economics 101. As just about everyone knew in those days, citizens paid taxes to fund worthy initiatives that the private sector wouldn’t adequately or efficiently supply. Roadways and scientific research were examples. In the post-World War II years, the country invested great sums of money in its interstate highways and what were widely considered the best education systems in the world, while research in well-funded government labs led to inventions like the Internet. The resulting world-class infrastructure, educated workforce, and technological revolution fed a robust private sector.

Austerity Fever

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