Enough of Trump’s Sh*tdown

Ever since Trump announced his candidacy, up has been down, black has been white, wrong has been right. That trend continues as a man who is viewed by his supporters as a populist (seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people) obviously cares nothing about the 800,000 federal employees (about a quarter of all government employees) who are not being paid during this partial government shutdown.

This Trump Shutdown is now in its 16th day and some 420,000 government employees designated as “essential” (in some cases, the lowest paid) are being forced to work without pay. The New York Times writes, “This includes upward of 41,000 law enforcement officials [including FBI and DEA], 54,000 Border Patrol agents, and 53,000 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers”.

It can be no surprise that now some of those TSA employees have begun to call in sick in protest. According to CNN, “as many as 170 TSA employees called out [sick] each day this week” at New York’s JFK International Airport. At the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, “call outs have increased by 200%–300%.” And, union officials are predicting call-outs will increase when agents miss their first paycheck, forcing them to find other jobs to put food on the table, or pay their rent, or to stay home with their young children because they can no longer afford child care. What will happen is largely unknown though, since as TSA Administrator David Pekoske said, “We’ve never had a situation where officers did not get paid” since recent shutdowns have been of a duration that didn’t result in pay delay.

This, in a job where the annual turnover rate at some airports is already as much as 80%. About half of TSA agents after all, make less than $40,000 per year, and I for one, can’t imagine these jobs are the most fulfilling, stressless ever created. And, even if there are plenty of people to backfill departing employees, the on-boarding and training of replacement employees must be incredible and the instability and uncertainty caused by this shutdown aren’t going to help.

Reduced safety and security though, are the focus of airline pilots from Delta, United, JetBlue and others who have President Trump. “In a scorchingly fact-based letter” writes Inc.com, Captain Joe DePete of the Air Line Pilots Association (representing 61,000 pilots), wrote,

“I am writing to urge you to take the necessary steps to immediately end the shutdown of government agencies that is adversely affecting the safety, security and efficiency of our national airspace system.”

He goes on to write,

“The nation’s airspace system is a complex transportation network that involves government and industry partnerships to function properly, and the disruptions being caused by the shutdown are threatening the safe operations of this network.”

Finally, DePete points out

“Mechanical inspections, drone oversight and new enhanced communications systems are all threatened. Worse, air traffic controllers, airspace system maintenance personnel and Air Marshals are working unpaid.”

And although a TSA spokesman said,

“Security effectiveness will not be compromised and performance standards will not change”,

eventually something’s got to give. As a veteran TSA official said,

“If you’re not seeing long wait times at airports, there’s something on the security side they’re not doing.”

Options airports may use to keep lines down include fewer random pat down security checks on passengers, giving passengers who have not been vetted for the PreCheck program an expedited screening, or the use of a procedure called “positive passenger bag match” to loosen standards for checked baggage.

This is a scary proposition, but it shouldn’t be the only shutdown consequence giving us pause. A Republican authored op-ed in USAToday.com uses irony in its lead stating,

“In the name of strengthening border security, Trump refuses to fund the FBI, TSA, Coast Guard and Border Patrol(!). You can’t make this stuff up.”

And the New York Times Editorial Board writes that, “Trump’s Shutdown is Not About Border Security”, but rather, that the

“800,000 federal employees, and the citizens who depend on them, are being hurt for an empty political stunt.”

After all, they write, Congress has already,

“on a bipartisan basis…been allocating more money for border security – although the administration has spent less than 10 percent of what [has been] allocated in the past year.”

That’s likely because Trump claims there can be no border security without a wall, and he isn’t willing to learn about why that just isn’t true. He even claims that “‘many’ federal workers have urged him to ’stay out until you get the funding for the wall.” I doubt very seriously this is true, since a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that “only a quarter of all Americans support the shutdown” and only 35% favor including wall money in a spending bill. More likely this is about Trump placating his base as Senator Lindsey Graham recently expressed on Fox News,

“If he gives in now, that’s the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president. That’s probably the end of his presidency.”

No matter the reason for the shutdown, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) says forcing employees to work without pay “is nothing short of inhumane” and has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration. A previous such suit was filed during the 2013 shutdown and a federal judge finally ruled in 2017 that, “the government had to compensate 25,000 federal employees for damages due to the 2013 shutdown because it was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act to make workers do their jobs during the funding lapse.“ Those employees have yet to receive their damages compensation, but AFGE is hopeful that the precedence set will expedite matters this time around.

Of course, federal employees aren’t the only workers in government that are affected by the shutdown. More than 40% of the federal government workforce in fact, are white- and blue-collar contract employees, and many of the latter, in lower wage jobs as janitors and security guards. These workers likely won’t ever be compensated for their lost wages. Likewise, small businesses that depend on the patronage of government employees (restaurants for example) won’t recoup the revenue they are losing.

Ultimately, no matter the outcome, the shutdown will hurt us as a nation more than help us. The longer it continues, the more important work will backup, to include business ability to “E-verify” immigration status of new hires and immigration courts to deal with their already overwhelming backlog. Experts also calculate the shutdown will end up costing us more than the $5B Trump wants for his wall. According to Time.com, Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul said the 2013 shutdown that lasted 16 days

“cost us more to shut the government down than to keep it open”,

a statement rated true by Politifact.

The costs incurred according to the center-right American Action Forum, include federal budgetary costs, forgone services, and economic disruption. The federal employees will after all, eventually receive their back pay; and there is cost associated with: shutting down and reopening offices, lost productivity, inability to collect permits and fees, and a lowered GDP growth (estimated at $2B to $6B for the 2013 shutdown.) And in 2013, we weren’t also paying for President ordered troops to the southern border to fight off the threat of a migrant caravan. The Pentagon estimated it would cost $72M to pay for the deployment through December 15, 2018. The administration is now considering  an increased presence there until September 2019.

We recognize when troops are being used as political pawns though, because we’ve seen it before, even on our homeland. As the Associated Press wrote last year, “When former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama deployed the Guard to the border in 2006 and 2010, they were pushing Congress to pass wide-ranging overhauls of immigration policy. Both overhauls failed. A 2011 government review estimated the Bush and Obama deployments cost at least $1.3 billion.

Whether it is federal employees not getting paid, or troops going on BS missions, enough, is enough. I’m sick and tired of the little guy always taking it in the shorts while the powerful play silly games. Here’s an idea. How about the American people demand Congress work without pay until this issue is resolved? What if every single one of us called our U.S. Representatives and Senators over the next few days and left them the message that they should lead by example and work without pay if they are going to continue to require essential federal employees do the same? Here’s a link to the contact information for members of Congress: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials. It’s a small action, but as Margaret Mead said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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Stock in Concrete Companies?

As a leader in the military, I learned a long time ago that if something was easy to fix, someone would have already fixed it. President Trump evidently hadn’t learned that prior to his election, but since then, has time and again realized that uh, YEAH, this shit is hard!

Take the border wall for example. It might have been good “red meat” for his supporters, but there are three good reasons why there is not a finished border wall along our southern border: 1) it is a very complicated endeavor, 2) it is really, really expensive, and 3) it won’t solve the problem of illegal immigration. I mean, get real! Trump isn’t the first politician to try to make hay with this issue, but the rhetoric always slams into reality eventually.

I knew for example in 2011, that Arizona Senator Steve Smith wasn’t going to get anywhere with his “www.BuildTheBorderFence.com” initiative and I was right. Smith promised to raise some $50 million to build a 15 foot fence at busy border-crossing points and erect fences where there were no federal fences. After three years however, the project had only raise $265,000, not even one-tenth of the $2.8 million needed to build the first mile of fencing. As for the $265,000, last I could find the advisory committee assigned to do something with the funding were asking sheriffs how they would use it.

I also knew Trump would never get the wall built and he sure as hell wasn’t going to get Mexico to pay for it. Recent negotiations over the continuing resolution have proven Trump’s real lack of commitment to demand the $25 billion or so his wall is estimated to cost.

I have personal experience with the border wall – or more accurately, the lack of a working border surveillance system. After my retirement from the Air Force, I was hired by L–3 Communications as Deputy Program Manager for the Strategic Border Initiative, or SBInet. This “virtual fence” that would stop illegal immigrants at the border with a mix of guard towers, cameras, sensors and other infrastructure feeding data to a sophisticated IT system, was President George W. Bush’s answer to the problem in 2006. As a subcontractor to Boeing, L–3 was responsible for designing and building the towers and microwave system that was to provide electronic surveillance for the Border Patrol. I worked on the project for almost seven months, but eventually quit because I just couldn’t continue to be a part of the fleecing of the government that was occurring. On one of my trips to field test the system, I was at Playas, New Mexico. I recall being out in the desert with a colleague driving around in circles for hours so that the microwave could try to lock in on us. It didn’t work, and when I went to a meeting at Boeing where I felt like they were sitting around joking about how we weren’t making progress, I decided I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Not even my writing my Congressman (Webb – Virginia) with my concerns had helped, since he never responded. That’s when I knew for my own piece of mind, it was time to resign.

In February 2008, a Government Accountability Office report cited that “the radar information was too slow to appear on screens, and was being inappropriately triggered by rain and other weather phenomena. Camera resolutions was insufficient for targets beyond 3.1 miles and the stylus-controlled laptops mounted on moving vehicles were not rugged enough and were difficult to use.” No surprise to me that the project was killed in 2011, after about $1 billion in taxpayer dollars were flushed down the drain.

Eventually, Border Patrol officials decided to take a look at preexisting, tested technology and a $145 million contract was awarded to a U.S. based subsidiary of Israel’s Elbit Systems. As of 2016, the IFT system had been used successfully at one installation on the border.

Using technology (including drones) to monitor the border though, is way different than building an actual wall over the entire 1,989 mile United States – Mexico border. For starters, the terrain is very rough in some areas, much of the land is privately owned (either by individuals or Native tribes), there are hundreds of tunnels in use, there are significant detrimental impacts on wildlife migration and survival with endangered species laws causing complications, and where there is a will, there is a way. As former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano once said, “You show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.” In fact, I remember a story told me by a Border Patrol agent who said that they once watched Mexican drug smugglers, drive up to a section of the border wall, push a button on a remote control to raise the wall like a garage door, drive through, and then close the door again. When there is money to be made, or a desperation to make something happen, people will find a way.

All this aside, the U.S. does already have barriers along 653 miles of the southern border (mostly the western portion.) border barriersThese barriers range from 18-foot-tall iron fencing and corrugated metal to makeshift vehicle barriers and barbed wire. And “in 2015, the Border Patrol claimed an 81 percent success rate in apprehending or turning back people who attempted to cross illegally.” A large number of those trying to cross now though, are asylum seekers, who present themselves to border agents at legal ports of entry. The Department of Homeland Security also says that in FY2015, about 530,000 simply overstayed their legal visas after flying into the country, about 200,000 more than were caught at the border with Mexico. No amount of wall would have helped in these situations.

Oh by the way, the Mexican border isn’t the only one the U.S. shares and, the other one is twice as long. Wall proponents will often claim we must build it to keep out terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, but you almost never hear someone talking about our border with Canada. Because of the heavy forests and numerous bodies of water the two countries share, it is much easier to slip across undetected. If I was a terrorist, I know which border I’d pick to cross.

Finally, Bloomberg News reported in February 2017 that an August 2016 poll found that 61 percent of Americans are opposed to “building a wall along the entire border with Mexico,” and only 36 percent favored it. A Pew survey conducted in November-December 2016 revealed that only 40 percent of respondents thought building a wall was very important, or somewhat important. I suspect many of those who think the wall is important, live a long way away from the border and don’t really understand the issues at hand. Most of those who live along the border know building a wall is a fool’s folly as a separate poll in May 2016 of Southwest border city residents which found 72 percent of them opposed to it. What is really needed, says one, is a sensible immigration policy and enforcement of the laws intended to prevent U.S. companies from hiring undocumented immigrants. Supply and demand anyone?

Ah yes, but then that would hurt the corporations and we can’t have that, can we? Better to make American citizens fork over the $25 billion of their hard earned taxpayer dollars to build the almost 2,000-foot-long 40-foot-high concrete wall President Trump wants so he can keep a campaign promise that won’t fix the problem. Hmmmmm, wonder if 45 owns stock in any concrete companies?