Wait, What?

The Latest: Trump administration looks to prevent pay freeze | WTOP

The Trump administration says it’s exploring ways to prevent a scheduled federal workers’ pay freeze from taking effect while government workers are furloughed by the partial shutdown.

And in the same voice:

Trump announced the pay freeze in his 2019 budget proposal in February and later in letters to Congress.

Is it any wonder Congress does not know what to put in a bill that 45 will sign when he is talking out of both parts of his ass at the same time?

What a Government Shutdown Really Means

Spoiler: It does not mean politicians feel any pain.

If you have not met a Federal employee or contractor, or live more than a short drive from the Beltway (what we call the I-495/95 asphalt loop that circles DC), it is understandable that you have a rose coloured glasses opinion about what a government shutdown (even a partial shutdown) means. So, to help you understand the impacts on ordinary people, let me explain it to you.

This current shutdown is a partial shutdown. What does that mean? In this case, it means that only a small number of agencies are affected — specifically, the Department of Homeland (In)security, Justice, EPA, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, HUD, and a handful of others. Agencies, including the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services, to name a few are not impacted because their budget was approved after the earlier shutdown this year (yes, that’s right, this is the second shutdown in 2018, now rolling into 2019). I will not discuss the political hand-waving being done, but that does not mean this had to happen. Instead, let us look at the impact.

Personnel

It is estimated that this shutdown will impact some 800,000 people. That is 800,000 full-time Federal employees, and contractors. Let’s put this in perspective, shall we?

In November, General Motors announced it was laying off 14,000 employees. Wells Fargo quietly laid off 26,000, and Verizon is dumping some 10,000 employees. The layoffs in the Auto Industry caused a great hue and cry, but the other layoffs barely caused a ripple, in the press. Everyone agrees, however, that those numbers are significant numbers to be laid off in an economy that is growing. That is less than 10% of the total workforce that has been idled by the Federal Government. The official term is furloughed, and it is important to remember that the Federal Workforce has not been laid off (the same cannot be said for the contractors).

So why the difference in wording. Because being a Federal Employee comes with many benefits, and those benefits, come with a couple of significant catches. As a Federal Employee, you get at least nine days off a year (you know, all those Federal Holidays that none of the rest of us generally get). They get discounts at hotels, transit benefits, and a generally stable pay structure. In exchange, they cannot do certain things that the average employee can (look up Hatch Act for example), but it also means they cannot legally hold a second job. Which means, that if they are furloughed they cannot apply for unemployment insurance (since they are still technically employed), they cannot go and get a part-time job to carry them over until they are paid again, and best of all, if they are deemed essential they have to continue to work without the benefits of pay.

Federal employees will, eventually, get their pay. The bill has already been passed to pay them once the budgets are allocated, but until the money is available, they cannot be paid, even if they are required to stay at their posts. So be kind to that TSA employee. He may not be making much money, but at the moment, he is working and not being paid.

I mentioned that contractors are a particular case. Most contractors, assigned to work for agencies that are shut down, are not being paid, because their companies are not being paid. Moreover, since they are not working, they cannot receive pay for that time. They are, in all reality, laid off. Some of the larger contractors will carry these employees over. Either by forcing them to take paid time off, or send them off to training, but even that will not be a long-term fix. If their agency is not funded in a short period of time, usually two weeks in my experience, they will be out of work. Let me repeat this. Federal contractors, who work for agencies that are close, will be out of work if this is not resolved quickly. How many people are we talking about? As many as 10% in some agencies, considerably higher in other agencies. So those layoffs at GM and Wells Fargo are comparable to the layoffs that are happening in the Federal sector over the Christmas break.

Economics

The Government is closed. Look at all the money the Fed is saving. Again, this is not entirely accurate. The people that are full-time employees are, in fact, going to be paid. So there are no payroll cost savings.

Further, the lights, heat, and phones are still being utilized, even at a minimum extent (although if you notice, many of the Federal websites are still online) so those bills will have to be paid to the local utilities, eventually. But so do the mortgage, utilities, and other bills for the 800,000 employees who are not receiving a paycheque. These 800,000 people still have to feed their families, put gas in their cars, put clothes on their bodies — all without a paycheque. The gas company continues to send gas to their houses on the assumption the bill will be paid. Remember that many of these employees are not being paid a great deal of money. You can look up exactly how much they are being paid online. Also, like most Americans, living paycheque to paycheque is the norm. So missing even one paycheque is economically risky.

However, there are other impacts, some of which are invisible. Some of which are quite visible.

Because an agency is shuttered, it means that no one is eating Enzo’s Lunch Special at the local deli. Most of these restaurants barely survive with the local trade. Take it away for a day, a week, a month, and suddenly Enzo’s deli is no longer there. Car repairs are put on hold. Home upgrades. Tuition. The impacts are a real example of how trickledown economics really works. One domino falls, and it might not cause a cascade. Several falling and the cascade may be unstoppable. Eight hundred thousand people represent a lot of falling dominos and a lot of small to medium businesses being impacted.

So if you think that is not that big a deal, then think about this. The Federal Government is not paying its bills. At least those agencies that are closed are not paying their bills. The largest business in the United States is not paying its bills. However, companies have started doing work on the assumption that they will be paid. Uniforms are being made; servers are boxed, boots are ordered. Dell might be able to absorb a week or two shutdown and not have it negatively affect their bottom line, or their stock price, but other companies have already announced or will be announcing the hit in the fourth quarter or the first quarter of 2019. If this shutdown goes more than two weeks, expect those impacts to begin to show on the markets. If they have not shown up already in the significant downturn just after the shutdown was announced.

Access

A commenter on a site posted: I just went to my local National Park. The gates were up. You don’t need park rangers to allow you access to our national resource.

All well and good. The National Park Service, part of Interior, is unfunded and many of the Rangers are not patrolling the parks. Some parks are open, unattended; others are closed. However, Rangers and other park workers are not there to just collect the entrance fee (which is trivial). They are there to keep bad things from happening to the natural resource: no Rangers, no fire watch. No fire watch, well, we could lose acres to wildfires. No Rangers, no one stopping poachers, or others doing bad things on Federal land. No Rangers, or even park workers, no one to clean up the trails when the trees fall or rebuild bridges, or come and get you if you get into trouble. Think about that before you go out.

In DC, more visible than anywhere else, many tourists have discovered what the shutdown means in person. The Smithsonian museums are closed. Many tried to stay open until at least New Years, but come January 1, they all closed. Moreover, this is impacting many people and their plans.

As I mentioned, most of the government websites are still operational, although many have banners saying they are unattended. Got a question about your Known Traveller status? It’s going to have to wait. How about that citizenship application? Sorry, not today. Import license that is critical for making that end of month deadline? Hope you have alternate plans. Anything that is not automated is not being processed. So even if it is automated, if there is a piece of paper required, it will not be sent out.

A Shutdown is Expensive

If I have not convinced you that a shutdown is impactful, and more than just a political stunt, let me share some additional numbers.

The 2013 shutdown estimated a one-week shutdown would likely decrease fourth quarter annualized growth by 0.1-0.2 percentage points. Politico posits that the cost of the current shutdown could cost millions of dollars a day.

Quantifying the exact cost to the government is difficult, in part because every shutdown is different. Between November 1995 and January 1996, the government shut down twice for a total of 27 days as Democrats and Republicans clashed over Medicare funding, among other issues. A subsequent analysis conducted by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget estimated that both shutdowns together cost the government $1.4 billion—more than $2 billion today after adjusting for inflation.

That is not an insignificant cost. So that money is in addition to the funds that must be allocated to keep things open and running.

So if like many, you are shrugging your shoulders over the shutdown, I hope I have convinced you that, despite your political leanings, a shutdown is just brinksmanship. It has no positive outcome. Moreover, for many, the hand they have been dealt is not a winner.

New DSM-5 Entry for 2019

Donald Trump rejects Democratic funding plan, wishes Happy New Year to ‘haters’

2019 WILL BE A FANTASTIC YEAR FOR THOSE NOT SUFFERING FROM TRUMP DERANGEMENT SYNDROME

The only person currently suffering from this is the man in the White House. The rest of us are trying, mightily, to stay the course, not knowing what #TDS will bring us in 2019.

Most Are Looking

Shutdown ‘unnerving, frustrating’ for federal contractors | WTOP

Offering advice to impacted contract workers, Chvotkin said they should stay in close communication with supervisors because their status could change quickly. He also advised to be ready to return to work as soon as possible, if needed.

The reality is that if you are not reporting to work, your resume is already on the street. Fifteen to twenty percent of the contractors working for companies that are unfunded will not be returning to their current assignments. Which will make restarting after the shutdown even harder.

Catch 22 Is Only The Start

An unfunded, unopened government sure is expensive

One email came to a friend from a contractor employee in Loveland, Colorado, who operates a large federal data center. The employee said the agency wants the servers turned off to avoid overheating. How’s that? The agency believes it can’t pay the electric utility so the cooling equipment, and hence the servers, will have to be shut off.

Trouble is, with the agency closed no federal employees can go on site. So the contractors can’t go in and do the power-down.

If you are scratching your head, let me put it this way, the contractors cannot be paid. The agencies do not really know what they can and cannot do. And so services may or may not be available when you need them.

Good luck, and …

Someone Explained the Outgoing DefSec’s Resignation Letter

Trump: Mattis out as of Jan. 1; deputy to be acting chief

Irritated with the criticism and fallout from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation, President Donald Trump on Sunday pushed the Pentagon chief out the door two months earlier than planned, an acrimonious end to a tense relationship that had been eroding in recent months.

If I was the next guy I would make sure my resume is current.

Can I have what they’re smoking?

Mick Mulvaney says DHS can’t ‘spend money from Mexico’ for wall: ‘We have to get it from the treasury’

Mulvaney said that through the new agreement, “American workers are going to do better, the government is going to do better, and you could make the argument that Mexico is paying for it in that fashion.”

Seriously? This is how the current administration is justifying taking five billion dollars from the US taxpayer for a device to prevent border crossings. A device that the Chinese will tell you did not work as advertised, but did employ a lot of people. Mostly slaves.

I can think of a lot of things that five billion dollars can buy that will do a lot more good for the US economy. And for those playing the home game, five billion is the buy in. Current estimates are north of $20 bn for actual completion. For that the US could make Dominica a State. With cash left over. Or how about 50,000 teachers for a decade? No? 50,000 miles of road repairs. Surely that is just as important, and the follow on spending would boost a number of local economies. How about feed 3.4 million people for a year. We always hear about the homeless, many of whom are veterans in need of more than just food. We could also house some 300k of them.

Clearly preventing a tiny percentage of illegals has a cost (yes, tiny. The Census estimates less than 20 million illegals are in the US. That is the population of the state of Texas or a bit more than 4 times the population of New York City. A drop in the bucket) but the cost of building an ineffective preventative wall is even higher when you consider what can be built with it. (The next aircraft carrier is only $13 bn).

Let’s go Congress, show some leadership. Fix immigration.

Your Rights Are Not What You Think

“Aden described the scene in a Facebook post Saturday, adding that the officer who told him that he wasn’t being detained has an “ignorance of the law and the Fourth Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution that should disqualify him as a customs officer.” (WTOP)

Regrettably for Mr. Aden, as well as everyone else that considers themselves a citizen of the United States, whether natural born or legally converted, the law is not that clear and the rights granted under the Constitution do not actually apply as you have been deluded into believing (and if you think a Founding Father or two just rolled over, join the crowd). The article What Customs and Border Officials Can and Can’t Do highlights this in chilling detail.

As more and more of us are learning, especially with the more tyrannical leadership under Number 45, the Constitutional provisions offer you no protections within 100 miles of the United States Border. Let me say that again. According to the law, any member of the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CPB) has the legal right to stop you, perform an unsanctioned search and seizure, and detain you without a warrant. If your jaw just hit the floor, join the club. If you are confused, think about this. The Border of the United States is not just with Canada and Mexico. There is an invisible border twelve miles off the coast of the United States. Take a ruler. Draw a line from that 12-mile limit one hundred miles into the interior of the United States. Draw it one hundred miles from the US/Canadian border and 100 miles from the Mexican border. Tell me how many cities are inside that border? Tell me how much of the population fo the United States lives inside that line. Upset yet? You should be. Inside that zone, many of the provisions of the Constitution can be suspended without cause and there is nothing you can do about it. And it is only going to get worse, not better.

The person in the street shrugs, security comes first [B. Cockburn]. If that is your attitude, either you never plan to travel anywhere, or you do not understand how damaging this is to our foreign relationships. But as this sort of nonsense continues, it is likely that the United States will see a departure of its citizens. Those citizens that have the option to go somewhere else. The brain drain started when the IRS cracked down, in many cases irrationally, on funds overseas. This resulted in a serious backlash in financial markets that is already causing issues with US funds abroad. This type of harassment of citizens and foreigners alike will have negative impacts. Travel, tourism, and goodwill are important in international relations. When the country’s citizens are treated as criminals, the only one left will be criminals.

I listened, now it is your turn

I did not write this, but it sums up the previous eight years and highlights just what the next four years will be. And if you think I have pulled my punches before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

“I listened as they called my President a Muslim.
I listened as they called him and his family a pack of monkeys.
I listened as they said he wasn’t born here.
I watched as they blocked every single path to progress that they could.
I saw the pictures of him as Hitler.
I watched them shut down the government and hurt the entire nation twice.
I watched them turn their backs on every opportunity to open worthwhile dialog.
I watched them say that they would not even listen to any choice for Supreme Court no matter who the nominee was.
I listened as they openly said that they will oppose him at every turn.
I watched as they did just that.
I listened.
I watched.
I paid attention.
Now, I’m being called on to be tolerant.
To move forward.
To denounce protesters.
To “Get over it.”
To accept this…
I will not.
I will do my part to make sure this great American mistake becomes the embarrassing footnote of our history that it deserves to be.
I will do this as quickly as possible every chance I get.
I will do my part to limit the damage that this man can do to my country.
I will watch his every move and point out every single mistake and misdeed in a loud and proud voice.
I will let you know in a loud voice every time this man backs away from a promise he made to them.
Them. The people who voted for him.
The ones who sold their souls and prayed for him to win.
I will do this so that they never forget.
And they will hear me.
They will see it in my eyes when I look at them.
They will hear it in my voice when I talk to them.
They will know that I know who they are.
They will know that I know what they are.
Do not call for my tolerance. I’ve tolerated all I can.
Now it’s their turn to tolerate ridicule.
Be aware, make no mistake about it, every single thing that goes wrong in our country from this day forward is now Trump’s fault just as much as they thought it was Obama’s.
I find it unreasonable for them to expect from me what they were entirely unwilling to give.”

–Author Unknown

Why Primaries?

Sunday morning, I awoke to discover that Marco Rubio had won the primary in Puerto Rico. Two thoughts emerged from this.

First, why is there a primary in Puerto Rico? Or Guam? Or any other non-state, since none of these people get to actually vote in the Presidential Election because none of these jurisdictions send people to the Electoral College. They do not even have voting representation in the House or Senate. So why, exactly, was there a primary there?

And this brought me to my second question. Who, exactly is paying for all of these primaries? I have a sinking feeling it is me. In my little town, they had to pull out the voting machines and ran through the process as if it was a real election, including the full up election board. My question – why? Who cares? Why does this have to be done this way and, more importantly, why do I have to pay for it? The primaries are a function of the parties. They created them, they direct when they happen, and they throw a snit whenever one state or another decides to hold them out of some predetermined order.

Again, why?

I have to dig back through US history, but I cannot believe that this whole circus of primaries has been around since the beginning. And I am pretty sure most Americans would be relieved if they did not have to listen to all the vitriol and blovating that has been consuming the media for the better part of the last two years, and certainly since the beginning of 2016. Is there a reason that the United States cannot choose a President in less than four years? At the very least, is there a reason we have to go through the mess that is the primaries? Given how few people actually voted in the primaries, most have tuned out the noise. If the goal is to get more people involved, perhaps the cycle should be condensed. I know I would pay more attention if the elections stated in September and ended in November of the same year. Instead of starting in December, the month after the elections have occured.