Welcome to 1984, er, 2019…NewSpeak Is Alive And Well

Trump told lawmakers he prefers word ‘strike’ to government shutdown, sources say | WTOP

President Donald Trump told congressional leaders during a meeting Friday to try to negotiate terms to re-open the government and that he preferred the word “strike” in describing the ongoing government shutdown, a person familiar with the meeting and a Democratic aide told CNN.

George Orwell wrote, in the opening line of his essay Politics and the English Language:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it.

This was before he wrote his novel 1984 in 1948. One of the hallmarks of 1984 is the discussion of Newspeak. I am sure Orwell would be delighted to see how the current President of the United States has not only adopted his vision but implemented in such as way as to make it a vital part of the political discussion!

The current government shutdown is not a strike. It is not a refusal to work organized by a body of employees as a form of protest, typically in an attempt to gain a concession or concessions from their employer. It is the temper tantrum of an adult who is not getting his way. Period. Also, worse, it is a temper tantrum that has now expanded to include a group of mostly white men who are upset that they are not going to get their way, so they are taking their toys and going home, putting thousands of Americans at risk, economically and socially. This is not about security. It has never been about security, despite what the current holder of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would have you believe from his tweets. This is about the unbridled lust for power and what happens when someone says No.

For 45 to call this a strike is another example of how he is twisting the narrative to shield his actions from those that are not paying attention. At this point, do not be surprised to find him saying we have always been at war with Oceana. But good luck trying to understand just who that is.

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.

Good-Bye 2018

As we are less than 24 hours away from 2019, at least here on the East Coast where I live.

Rather than recount the success and failures of the past year, mainly because there were more failures than successes, I am going to put the year firmly behind me and move forward into 2019.

Can things be worse? Sure. It can always get worse. According to several folks, 2018 suffered some $155 billion in losses due to natural disasters. And there were a lot of those, and there can be more. But that is last year. For 2019, we are looking forward.

I Missed All Of These

The 10 worst movies of 2018

And while “velociraptors in a mansion” isn’t the worst idea, the film’s lackluster story and absence of character development made audiences even more nostalgic for the days of Laura Dern and Sam Neill.

And that is the best of comments about these movies. I guess it is a good thing I did not shell out to see them in a theatre.

Is This The Beginning of the End of Social Media?

As we approach the end of 2018, only people that have not been around the Internet for more than a microsecond are not wondering what will become of social media. In case you have not been paying attention, we are down to two social media players. Failbook (and their associated properties) and Twitter. So that, ladies and gentlemen, is it. On December 17, the exodus from Tumblr, the last pseudo-independent platform began as Verizon ordered all adult content remove. Now Verizon owns three failed platforms – the remains of AOL, the bad parts of Yahoo, and Tumblr. Zuckerbergland is composed of Failbook, Instasomething, and Whywoudyouuseitapp. Twitter is hanging on by a thread, but it is skating on thin ice. Snapchat is circling the drain, and other companies like MeWe and Diaspora are trying, unsuccessfully to fill the gap. G+? Well, Google is shutting it down, and it was a ghost town anyway (at least according to the technical press) and with a second data leak, Google has announced that it is closing G+ by April, instead of later in the year as they had originally announced. Not that it matters, most of the G+ communities have already shuttered their circles and moved on to Plusporia and similar nodes.

So why the end of social media? Well, you probably were asleep when Australia announced it is demanding the ability to crack encrypted streams. They claim, at the moment, that they are not asking for backdoors, but as a member of Five Eyes, it is only a matter of time before the US asks for a similar ability. Then do you think any encryption is valid? Meaning that anything you post online, you might as well post on a postcard and send it to your nearest newspaper. Many have already been doing this of course, but if you are not a fan of walled gardens, then does it matter?

I am not, nor have I ever been a fan of walled gardens. So as we go into 2019, and my options are reduced to Zuckerbergland or … well, this site, I am choosing this site. My G+ ID will remain for a bit. I am debating closing that account, but I have begun the process of closing all my other online profiles, Twitter, and email accounts. I do not need them, and they do not offer any value beyond taking up bandwidth, so why maintain them.

A return to the real Internet may be just what the doctor ordered. What about you?

There Should Be A Law: Christmas Carols

Even though it snowed in Metro Washington, DC yesterday, it is still only the middle of November. And while many of you probably do not support my position that the Christmas Season should be restricted to the two weeks from December 15 to December 26, I am confident that many of you, especially those in retail, think that the push of Christmas into almost September in many cases, is excessive.

Today, while sipping my latte from a Christmas themed cup, I noticed that the music playing was, indeed, Christmas carols.

To me, this is excessive.

I grew up in Canada. The Thanksgiving dinner, held in the United States in November is held in mid-October in Canada. Then it is Hallowe’en. Many a Hallowe’en saw me trick-or-treating with a coat under my costume. But no Christmas ornaments were competing with the jack-o-lanterns for attention. And it was not until late November or early December when the Christmas decorations began to arrive.

In the US, it seems to be entirely different. Over the last decade, we have seen Christmas decorations arrive earlier and stay up longer, and incorporate the themes of the holidays it is stepping on. A turkey in a Christmas sweater is very jarring. And of course, the carols. Those insidious earworms that flood the background sonics to the point where they cannot be ignored.

Further, as the Christmas season expands (balloons), we are hearing complaints about it stepping on the sanctity of Thanksgiving. I wrote a post about that fallacy back in 2014, and it is as relevant today as it was then. You cannot have it both ways.

Maybe someday, the economic cycle will be less focused on the fourth quarter as the retail make or break quarter, but until that happens, I cannot see any way to avoid starting Christmas as soon as possible, but could we wait until Black Friday? This Christmas year round is really getting tiring. And I am so tired of hearing Run Run Rudolph.

Auto-start Auto-stop Engines

I recently had the opportunity to drive a car with these new auto-start/auto-stop engines. You know the type. You are standing next to an idling car, and suddenly the engine stops. In the old days, we called it a stall, but new engines are doing it for fuel savings and saving the environment. I am all for protecting the environment, but I am not a huge fan of these engines. Let me explain.

These were first seen in high-end Mercedes and BMW cars. Today, they are everywhere that is not a hybrid. The idea, as I said, is to reduce carbon emissions while at idle, something most cars do a lot of in urban environments. Idling creates a lot of carbon because the gas does not fully combust, unlike when the vehicle is in motion (not entirely sure why) and it also creates a pocket of concentrated CO2 gas, along with some other not so healthy gases. So anything that makes idling cleaner is a good thing.

The problem comes about when you need to actually get going again. Because the engine actually stops, there is a brief delay before it gets started again. This is a bad thing in certain situations.

For example, if you are anything but number one in line, the delay in getting the engine started, and the gears engaged (all of which is automatic) is not a big deal. The three or four-tenths of a second it takes is manageable and usually is accounted for by the car in the number one slot getting his vehicle moving. Not a big deal.

However, if you are in the number one slot, and the car behind you is not suffering from waiting for his engine to start, you are going to get honked at, at the very least. I had a couple of near collisions simply because it took that much longer to get the car moving off the line when the light turned green.

The second issue is safety. I was taught, when I learned to drive a stick shift, that you never ride the clutch. The engine should be engaged at all times. The problem is that the sensor that puts the engine to sleep when you are idling at a traffic light does not know the difference between idling at a traffic light and waiting to make a left-hand turn. I had the engine cut out just as I had an opening to make a turn and missed the opportunity because the engine was off and had to restart. Fortunately, there was no one behind me trying to make the light as well. This is not safe. The same is true with stop and go driving. I had the engine shut off just as I went to touch the accelerator.

Finally, a minor note. The engine shutting off also shuts off the air conditioner. It will kick back on, but I can see where hot climates will result in higher in-cabin temperatures, especially in stop and go driving, where the engine shutting off actually makes it more uncomfortable inside for the passengers. Again, I cannot see this as a win.

I am sure someone has done the math, and everyone is perfectly happy with the reduced emissions, while the safety issues are perceived as minor. As a driver, I do not find that these sorts of engines are good, or safe. Time will tell.

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.

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.