The Real State Of The Union

As the captain gave his State Of The Union address, he was standing on an unsteady deck.

I had the opportunity this week to speak with a federal employee recently retired after 40 years with the U.S. government.

Federal workers’ morale is not good, he said. For a long time the government has pursued a policy of converting federal employee positions to contract positions. I presume the goal is to save money and to relieve government of responsibility for employees, and it’s working.

Federal employees idled during the month-long government shutdown will receive back pay, the retiree explained. Contract employees who work alongside federal employees in the same buildings will NOT be paid.

The numbers:

Approximately 800,000 federal employees will be paid; approximately 1 million contract federal workers will not be paid.

You might say it’s a dirty little secret. But it’s not a well-kept secret. I read the same information in a newspaper. However, most Americans are unaware that 1 million workers will not be paid. Or they simply don’t care.

The U.S. is fighting wars (sometimes secret wars) with mercenaries paid by private contractors, instead of soldiers paid by the U.S. Army. And the civilian government is staffed by contract workers, instead of official federal employees.

Morale is horrible among both official employees and their contract fellow workers, said the long-time employee. Contract workers are leaving the government in droves, he said. Departing workers are taking years of experience and irreplaceable skills with them, said another man at the table. The government is being weakened, and possibly wrecked.

I suppressed the image of rats leaving a sinking ship. It’s not the right image.

I summoned a vision of contract sailors, classified as “non-essential” and deemed not worth paying. They are disembarking from a stricken ship, with unseen damage below the waterline. A skeleton crew remains aboard.

Sailors are manning the lifeboats in orderly fashion. Meanwhile, a proud and inattentive captain is on deck reading a speech. Assembled officers applaud dutifully. The captain is unaware that the deck beneath his feet is unsteady and the ship is listing.

sunset ship boat sea

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

— John Hayden

 

New And More Dangerous Stage In U.S. Constitutional Crisis

The 35-day (partial) government shutdown, longest in American history, ended Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, with a temporary and grudging truce between President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress. The truce expires on Feb. 15. Some Federal agencies began reopening on Saturday, and about 800,000 government workers will receive paychecks. Date of paychecks to be announced.

The shutdown, the fight over a border wall at the Mexican border, and most importantly, the Constitutional crisis involving the power of the U.S. Congress to appropriate government funds and the power of the president to do . . . whatever . . .  is off the front pages of American newspapers.

We might be forgiven for thinking the storm is over.

But the Constitutional crisis has entered new and more dangerous territory. Trump has threatened to declare a state of emergency and/or shut down the government again if Congress fails to meet his demands by Feb. 15.

President Trump made a concession, gave in to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s demand to reopen the government before negotiations could begin. Trump’s seeming capitulation means nerve-rending pressures on both sides.

Trump is being portrayed as the loser. He is vilified by his Republican base. His most hard-core supporters adopted his promise of a wall as a divine right, a modern Manifest Destiny.  I can only imagine that he believes he must deliver on his promise to build a border wall, or all is lost for him.

Pelosi and Democrats are portrayed as the winners. Many on the far left are celebrating. The reality is that Pelosi is now under excruciating pressure to negotiate in good faith. Does she have any good faith?

Pelosi will feel pressure even from her own Democrats in the House of Representatives. But Pelosi says she will never agree to build any border structure, anywhere. Many Democrats agree. And of course many Democrats are willing to make at least some concessions, to build a little bit of wall, or a fence. Here, or there.

Let’s talk about it?

How negotiations will play out is totally unpredictable.

In order to resolve the deadlock and end the Constitutional crisis, there must be good-faith negotiations. Compromises must be made. Both sides must give up something in order to achieve compromise, unless one side is willing to accept defeat and declare unconditional surrender. Compromise is essential. See the problem?

What happens if compromise is not reached by Feb. 15?

It’s totally unpredictable. It appears that Trump would have little choice but to declare his emergency, spend money on a wall without Congressional appropriations. Or shut down the government again, and who knows when it would reopen?

Or maybe the deadline could be extended?

Unpredictable negotiations, unpredictable presidential actions. Weeks of uncertainty.

And it probably wasn’t on the front page of your Sunday newspaper. Nothing about the shutdown on Page 1 of the Tampa Bay Times, which claims to be the largest newspaper in the third-largest state. Nothing on page 2A or 3A. Nothing about the shutdown, the temporary truce, the Constitutional crisis. Not until Page 10A, at which point the Tampa Bay Times reports:

“Some national parks open to visitors post-shutdown”

Well, national parks ARE important. The story also reports that airports are returning to normal operation. But the Smithsonian Institution won’t reopen until Tuesday.

So now we know what’s important to Americans, or at least to newspaper editors. National parks, airports, and the Smithsonian.

The callow irresponsibility of the media is as much to blame for this crisis as the actions of politicians. And the American public, with its short attention span, is not interested. The American public has gone shopping, or something.

In the end, we Americans will get what we deserve, whatever that may be.

— John Hayden

Secret Agenda Behind Government Shutdown

Is it possible that President Trump is prolonging the partial government shutdown to reduce the size of the government workforce? That’s been a Republican goal for decades: Starve The Beast.

I am not the type to entertain conspiracy theories.

At least I never was before. But with the shutdown more than a month old, and 800,000 government workers unpaid, people are getting desperate. And angry. One attempted suicide has been reported. How much longer can unpaid workers hang on? How many paychecks can workers miss before they turn away in desperation to other jobs?

Sorry, but after 70 years, I’m cynical enough (or maybe I’m old and dotty) to wonder if there’s a secret motivation behind this shutdown. Trump thinks federal workers are part of the “Deep State.” Trump wants to “drain the swamp.”

But let’s be fair. Maybe Nancy Pelosi has motives, too. Her motives are not so secret. Pelosi is intractable. No negotiations for her. Does she care about government workers? Or is she motivated by the glory of a Democratic victory in 2020? Talk about cynical.

Between Trump and Pelosi, “political ethics” is an oxymoron.

Is the Administration ready to fire workers who fail to show up? How many “essential” workers are calling in sick because they have no money for gas, or lunch, or daycare for the children? The most often cited problem is gasoline. Do you know anyone who walks to work? People commute to work. They drive or take the train. Many workers drive SUVs or pickup trucks that guzzle gas. Some have long commutes, 80 to 100 miles is not common, but neither is it unheard of.

Gasoline to drive round trip to and from work for a week adds up, unless you drive a Prius. What happens when a worker can’t pay for gas?

What happens when the time comes to choose between gas and food? 

If federal prison guards call in sick, guards on duty are held over at the end of their shift. Work without a paycheck? How about work a double shift without a paycheck! Under dangerous conditions.

Some federal prisons are reportedly providing cots for sleeping so guards don’t have to drive back and forth. Solves the gas problem. Work without pay, remain on site 24 hours a day.  Might as well work an extra shift. With guards transformed into virtual prisoners, who takes care of the children at home? Some federal workers are single parents.

Are children alone at night, with no one to feed them or keep them safe? It is possible. Somewhere in this great big country, a child is alone and hungry because a parent is at work and unpaid.

Similar problems must be developing for FBI agents, and yes, Border Patrol agents. And air traffic controllers and airport security personnel. Dangerous prisons, dangerous airports. No gas, no food, no money, no one to care for the children. How long can a worker stand it before he gives up? Or blows up?

It sounds like hysterical speculation. I’m embarrassed to write it. And yet . . .

Most Federal workers are well qualified for something. What about Border Patrol agents? Aren’t they be qualified to be police officers? And maybe get paid more than their present jobs. Certainly get paid more regularly. An FBI agent could make big bucks managing security for a corporation. Coast Guard members? No, they’re military, they are the only ones who can’t just up and quit and go drive for Uber.

So I ask the crazy questions:

How many workers will be in nervous breakdown when the shutdown ends? How many workers will be gone when the shutdown ends?

How many will take other jobs and not look back? How many will be fired? Will Donald Trump celebrate?

It’s preposterous. It can’t be true.

— John Hayden

Trump’s Wall Is The Lesser Evil Compared To Danger Of Extended Government Shutdown

cap header

PHOTO BY JOHN HAYDEN

Shutting down the United States government, even a “partial” shutdown, is an irresponsible action with dangerous consequences.

It’s worth repeating:

Shutting down government, closing and disabling government, is hugely irresponsible and downright dangerous. It brings America to the edge of chaos. It puts us within sight of anarchy. As the shutdown continues, uncertainty and disorder spread through American society and economy.

Disorder spreads slowly at first. At some point disorder can quicken and run out of control.

Free government cannot be taken for granted.

It is easy to destroy government, if that is what a tyrant wants to do. It is difficult to restore a broken government.

We all need to understand the implications as the government shutdown extends from days to weeks. Do we understand what it means when a country stops paying its workers?

Do we understand what it means when a president threatens to extend a shutdown indefinitely? When a president threatens to seize power by declaring an emergency? It is not a normal thing. I don’t believe any American president has ever issued such a threat before.

Americans need to recognize that we are risking a transition from democracy to tyranny. We are flirting with chaos, anarchy, autocracy.

What to do?

Both sides are responsible. Either side could choose to end the shutdown. At this point, it doesn’t matter who takes the blame. But it might matter who gets the credit for ending the crisis. We can sort that out later.

Trump’s border wall in and of itself is not important. It’s almost entirely symbolic on both sides.

Suffice it to say that the physical structure of a wall can do little harm. It might even do some good, preventing a handful of unauthorized immigrants and a few drug smugglers from crossing the border. Certainly, there is no crisis at the border. The Border Patrol is capable of doing its job.

Let us stipulate that the wall is not strictly necessary. The main harm is that it will cost a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere. But the cost will not break the bank.

The Wall Is By Far The Lesser Evil.

Clearly, the wall is now a small evil, but the danger to America of prolonging the government shutdown is a great evil.

Responsible and wise is the leader or politician who steps forward, takes this dangerous shutdown by the horns, throws it to the ground and drives a sword through its heart.

Certainly, President Trump could be that responsible and wise leader. Unlikely.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer could be courageous and wise leaders. I think Pelosi and Schumer are more likely to recognize the danger of continuing the shutdown. They are more likely be reasonable, while Trump is more likely to be egoistic. 

Would you rather go into the history books as a courageous and reasonable leader? Or as an egoistic maniac? Trump, Pelosi, Schumer, make your choices.

I beg any politician who has it within their power to do the right thing and end this dangerous crisis. If it means appropriating money to build a wall, so be it. It is a small price to pay.

The courageous and wise leader who ends the deadlock may be seen as losing; they probably will be reviled by their friends. Such is often the lot of great leaders. That’s why “Profiles In Courage” is a short book.

There may be consequences for the 2020 election. We have time to sort that out.

— John Hayden

President Trump Details Alleged Crisis At Southern Border And Announces Meeting Tomorrow With Congressional Leaders

President Donald Trump tonight described in dramatic words what he called a “humanitarian and security crisis” at the southern border between the United States and Mexico.

He reiterated his demand for $5.7 billion to pay for a physical barrier at the border, a barrier that he said would be a “steel barrier rather than a concrete wall.” It was his first televised speech from the oval office as president, and lasted about ten minutes.

Trump noted that a significant part of the Federal government remains “shut down,” and said the “only solution” is passage of a spending bill, which he said is being blocked by Democrats in Congress.

The president announced that he will hold a meeting with Congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday to discuss his demands.

Importantly, Trump said nothing further about any actions he might take if Congress fails to appropriate the requested money. He made no threats indicating an imminent Constitutional crisis, did not use the word “emergency,” and gave no indication of how long the partial government shutdown might continue.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, disagreed strongly about the existence of a border crisis and need for a border barrier in brief comments after the speech by the president, who is a Republican.

No resolution appears likely at tomorrow’s White House meeting, based on the president’s speech and replies by the Democratic leaders. The possibility or likelihood of  escalation of the deadlock, including unilateral action by the president, is no more clear than before the speech.

During the shutdown, affected government workers are not being paid, although some are required to continue working because they are considered “essential.”   The Defense Department and the military is not included in the shutdown because that funding had already been passed by Congress. However, the Department of Homeland Security and other major agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture, are included in the shutdown.

Trump said the proposed barrier is necessary to prevent entry into the United States of large numbers of criminal gang members, drug smugglers, and other immigrants, people for whom he said  “we have no space.” To emphasize his point, the president detailed at least four heinous crimes by people illegally in the country. He said the decision to build the barrier is a choice between right and wrong.

— John Hayden

 

 

United States At Brink Of Constitutional Crisis

The Constitution of the United States of America assigns and reserves to Congress — and only to Congress — the power to appropriate government funds for spending. Under the Constitution, the President of the U.S. has no power or authority to spend government money without Congressional appropriation. As I understand the Constitution.

George Washington was the first president of the United States under the Constitution. Will Donald Trump be the last president under the Constitution?

Tonight, President Trump will address the country from the White House on the issue of spending government money, collected from tax-paying citizens, to build a “wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border.

If Trump attempts tonight to declare a “state of emergency” and spend money to build a wall in defiance of Congress, what are the consequences?

Would we face the most serious constitutional crisis in United states history?

Exactly how would such a crisis be resolved? The third branch of U.S. government, the Supreme Court, would presumably make that decision.

Could Trump attempt to prevent the Supreme Court from sitting? Would the Supreme Court rule in favor of Congress or the President? What happens if the president attempts to defy an order of  the Supreme Court?

Time to read the Constitution. God Bless America.

— John Hayden

Gas Prices In Florida Continue Down

gray industrial machine during golden hour

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Gasoline selling as low as $1.93 and $1.91 in my part of Florida on Friday. It’s less than a week since gas prices broke the $2 barrier. Welcome to a strange New Year.

Most stations in my area, north of Tampa-St. Pete and near the southern edge of the Nature Coast, are attempting to hold the gas price line at about $1.94. The ground in Florida is sandy, so you can consider that a line in the sand. A line that’s already been crossed. If gas prices break below $1.90 a gallon next week, will it become a price rout? Probably not.

Today I also noticed that one gas station in my neighborhood has closed since Christmas. Closed for renovation or reconstruction? Or closed for good? Or would that be, more accurately, closed for bad?

With both Ford and General Motors going out of the car business, I wonder how many dealerships will close or consolidate this year and next? How many autoworkers will be laid off? For the record, the companies will continue making a few old-fashioned cars, such as the Ford Mustang. And Ford and Chevy will remain very much open for business. But not Buick. Not sure about Cadillac.

American automakers are simply giving up on sedans and focusing on SUVs and trucks, which remain popular and profitable. American automakers are surrendering to Japanese and Korean automakers. Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler can’t compete, or don’t have the will to compete.

Are falling gas prices and rising popularity of large SUVs and trucks mutually reinforcing trends?

With large parts of the U.S. government closed on purpose by U.S. “leaders” and many Federal workers no longer being paid, with automakers and gasoline industries closing facilities and laying off workers, and the stock market . . .

I can’t finish the above sentence. My mind is unable to grasp the implications.

Where is the bottom?

— John Hayden

Gas Prices In Florida Last Day Of 2018

The going rate for regular gasoline in my part of Florida was $1.96 a gallon yesterday, Dec. 30, the penultimate day of 2018. And the temperature today, New Year’s Eve, 80 degrees, bright sunshine, delightful. Cheap gas, sunshine, just another day in paradise. Lest you become too envious, New Year’s Day will be only about 76 degrees, followed by a week or more of moderate or falling temperatures.

Seven-Eleven, WaWa, branded stations, all $1.96. A few holdouts were trying for $1.97 or $1.98; probably didn’t have an employee available to change the price.

(Explanation: The average gas station is fully automated. One human cashier for the impoverished or simply backward customers who don’t have credit or debit cards. The convenience stores have two or three other workers, but they’re making coffee or fast food. They have nothing to do with the gasoline pumps. So what’s the  point? Automation and resulting human unemployment is one reason the price of gas is what it is.)

Then late yesterday evening, I saw a $1.94 !! sign at a Citgo station! And, I spotted a lone Sunoco station still stuck at $2.01. Maybe that station is closed? Maybe it’s been abandoned?

Let the record show that all gas prices have that nine-tenths of one cent tacked on at the end. It’s a strange and antiquated marketing custom of the gasoline business. Bamboozling the customer out of an extra nine-tenths of a penny? People have long internalized the ploy. The extra nine-tenths cent has been on gas station signs since at least my childhood, and that’s more than a half-century ago. So, for the unsuspecting reader from some faraway land, such as Antarctica or Pluto, let it be clear. Yesterday’s $1.96 gas was really a fraction of a penny less than $1.97. And who cares?

Who knows what the price is today, the final day of 2018? Not me. I haven’t been out yet, but I’ll update this post later. It’s probably lower. Since about Christmas, the price of gas has been falling about a penny a day. At this rate, we’ll have $1.50 gas by spring. That is, $1.50 gas, BUT ONLY IF prices go in a straight line. Few trends ever follow a straight line. But you knew that.

Will the stock market follow gas prices? Despite the ceremonial wailing and gnashing of teeth by the wealthy class, who tend to be more emotional about money than, say, poor people, there remains a whole lot of profit available for the taking in the stock market when it reopens on Jan. 2, 2019.

All the profit that was in the stock market on the first day of 2018 is STILL THERE.  Everything that happened in 2018 was fluctuation. Up-up-up, and, down-down-down. Turn around, and repeat. Other words, 2018 was a wash, a big NOTHING. The test is yet to come.

So stock market 2019? Can you say profit-taking? Maybe. Or maybe, more inflation of the bubble? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, who wants to bet that the price of gas will be lower on the first day of 2019 than the final day of 2018? I predict gas will hit $1.90, at least, before it goes back up. But my predictions are worth not even nine-tenths of one penny.

Happy New Year to all, whatever it may bring,

— John