Saturday, January 19, 2019

Playing Chicken With the American Public: The Ongoing Government Shutdown

Everyone knows about the game of "playing chicken". The concept is actually quite simple. Two or more parties agree to undertake some action or actions with increasing levels of risk or danger until there is only one person remaining. Most of these games, which are designed at testing one's courage or daring, are pretty harmless and meant just for fun. However, other games of chicken can be much more dangerous or even fatal, especially when those games include a car, motorcycle, or weapon. In Washington (and state capitals as well as city halls all around America), the game of chicken is played on an entirely different level. While lives aren't directly at risk, livelihoods most certainly are and the outcomes can be as equally traumatic.

Right now, there is a game of chicken being played out between Republican President Donald Trump and members of Congress, led by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). At stake is the direction the country takes over border security, the issue of illegal immigration, and the funding for a wall along the Mexico-US border, all wrapped up in what has become the longest lasting government shutdown in US history.

On one side, is President Trump who, true to his campaign promise, has demanded that funding---approximately $5.6 billion dollars---be included in the budget to build a wall along our southern border with Mexico to stymie individuals and groups, among which include some very powerful and dangerous drug cartels, from illegally entering the US. On the other side, led by Pelosi, Schumer, and many of the Democrats (and a few Republicans) who want to press forward with a budget absent any funding for the wall, or for the that matter, taking any additional steps to halt illegal immigration or the drug cartels. It should be noted that some of the individuals, like Pelosi, represent states and/or districts which defy US immigration laws and promote so-called "sanctuary" status.

What does that mean exactly? Simply this. It means that states or other municipalities will not cooperate with federal authorizes in helping to identify, locate, arrest, or detention of illegal immigrates. In some cases, state and local authorities have allowed illegals with criminal records and/or felony warrants to be released with alerting federal law enforcement agencies. This means even those who are known gang members or pedophiles. It means that illegals are afforded the same privileges that ordinary citizens have, such as voting in local elections and being issued driver's licenses, access to taxpayer funded programs including housing and medical care. Meanwhile, individuals who've applied to enter this country legally are, in some cases, denied these very opportunities. Compared to the $116 billion dollars illegal immigration cost US taxpayers annually. the $5.6 billion for the wall looks pretty cheap.

In 1982, the Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA) was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. This Act, which was enacted under Article One for the Constitution, Section 9, Clause 7 (aka "the power of the purse"), mandated that the federal government shutter or curtail all non-essential agencies and furlough individuals categorized as "non-essential". Excluded were agencies which involve national security. While this Act directs agencies to reduce or cease operation as well as to furlough without pay federal employees, it also directs the essential employees must still show up to work without pay and continue to do their jobs. As an aside, while employees understand this is a condition of their employment and willingly accept it as such, they must still cope with no money from their jobs coming in, which can obviously cause a great deal of stress and financial hardship, especially since they are not entitled to unemployment (the few who are must repay it when they return to work). Of course, they do receive their back pay when the budget crisis is over, it doesn't help with the here and now of daily life.

It should be noted that while President Reagan signed this Act into law, under his administration there were eight government shutdowns, both before and afterwards, which lasted a total of 14 days. Of course, there were earlier shutdowns as well, extending by to President Gerald Ford in 1976 which lasted ten days while there were five under President Jimmy Carter which lasted a total of 57 days. President George W.H. Bush had just one, lasting three days. President Bill Clinton had two which lasted a total of 26 days. President George W. Bush had none ("miss me now?") while President Barack Obama had just one lasting 16 days. Meanwhile, President Trump has had two previous shutdowns lasting a total of 4 days and there's no telling how long this current one will last.

Another aspect seldom considered is that government shutdowns affect not just agencies and federal employees, it also affects individuals and corporations who do business with the government; they don't get paid either, yet they have to continue to fulfill their contracts with the government in order to keep their contracts. That affects their employees, who may end up facing reduced or delayed paychecks or even layoffs (of course, for them, most are entitled to unemployment checks. However, those checks are only a percentage of what they earned and they don't last long). In addition, we forget about the billions the government pumps back into the economy in the way of services which are curtailed or stopped. That could include everything from funding of roads and bridges to subsidized school lunches, WIC, and after school care programs. In fact, 52% of the Department of Health and Human Services has been furloughed.

Want more? The majority of employees for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have been sent home without pay---just in time for flu season, not to mention the dramatic increase in problems along with southern border with a rise in various diseases like TB, whooping cough, measles, and so forth resulting from the "migrants" seeking illegal entry. The Food and Drug Administration has furloughed 45% of its employees, which includes individuals who inspect our food. The Department of Homeland Security has furloughed a substantial number its employees (what could possibly go wrong there?) while over 80% of the Secret Service has been sent home along with almost 80% of the Coast Guard and Border and Customs Protection Agency (again I ask, what could possible go wrong there?), and a majority of the US Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services. Even the E-Verify system which enables companies to check on immigration status has been shutdown. And the list goes on and on. In total, some 800,000 federal employees have been impacted with 380,000 being sent home without pay.

Of course the "good news" is that Congress, which is the primary cause of problem to begin with, is largely unaffected. Everyone in Congress still gets paid, as does their staff (Congressional members have a wide leeway as to whom they consider "essential" or not), as does the President and his staff. So, we once again have a situation where the ruling elite have exempted themselves from the laws in which they impose on us. Meanwhile, like grade school children, they've begun a "tit-for-tat" game of insults and withholding common privileges that you expect of our so-called "leaders". For instance, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had previously invited President Trump to the Capital Building in order to address a joint session of the House and Senate ( as required by law, the House Speaker extends the invitation to the President). Now, however, Pelosi has withdrawn the invitation, citing a lack of security (which makes you wonder what this Anti-Second Amendment Speaker is afraid of). However, she wanted to use Air Force One to fly herself, her staff, and certain family members to Brussels, Egypt, and then on to Afghanistan on a "non-essential" flight (she said she wanted to avoid stops). President Trump, however, declined her request, and instead suggested she take a commercial flight (Pelosi had just returned from a "working vacation" in Hawaii on the public's dime).

It's unlikely this kindergarten behavior will be stopping anytime soon, and why should it? After all, never party has any "skin" in the game they created. They are exempt from the law which enabled them to send people home or not pay people who are require to work. Congress and the President, as well as their staffs, continue to not just get paid, but have access to their own healthcare coverage, not to mention security, planes, and so forth...all at our expense...and the millions for corporate lobbyists continue to pour in. Meanwhile, the approval rating for Congress stands at 17% as of January 18, 2019 according to Ballotpedia . In fact, Congress's approval rating has been dismal for decades now and nothing has changed. As for President Trump, his approval rating is hovering at 39% nationally, although among Republicans and conservatives, he's at 83% according to a NPR/PBS Marist Poll. That's a huge divide, which may reflect the deep and widening divide of the country more than the dislike of Trump himself or his policies.

As for the wall, according to a recent Pew Report, 58% of those polled opposed a wall (though not necessarily increasing border security). However, among Republicans and conservatives, 82% support the wall while only 6% of Democrats agree. Moderate Republicans support the wall with 69% compared to moderate Democrats, with 89% opposing it. Those are substantial folks. They clearly show the division this country is facing over something as basic as border security. We see the same thing when we look at race, with 46% of whites supporting the wall compared to 20% of blacks and 23% of Hispanics. if we look at age, we see a similar pattern; 48% of those 50 and older want the wall as do 36% of those between 30 and 40 and 25% of individuals between 18 and 29.

So, what's the answer---is there an answer? We are a deeply divided nation, and that divide is continuing to deepen and widen. It's more than partisan. It's racial and its age based. Of course, we already know that the Democrat and Republican parties are different wings of the same ruling Oligarchy; each reflecting the agenda of various competing (and cooperating) cliques. If the idea confuses you, think of them as just two competing mafia families fighting over resources with the Oligarchs acting as the "High Commission". As long as they get their cut and their interests are protected, they're happy.

Meanwhile, the people must remain divided. A divided populace is easier to control, intimidate, and manipulate. The only real question here is whether or not we are going to accept our chains willingly or are we going to fight back? If we acted together, we could end this shutdown. We could force Washington to do their jobs. We could required that the same laws passed for us apply equally to them. We could impose term limits, end gerrymandering and Citizens United, or dictate an equitable tax reform that benefits the working class for a change. We have the power, but do we have the courage to use it?

New FAIR Study: Illegal Immigration Costs 116 Billion Annually

Anti-Deficiency Act

What's open---what's not---during a partial government shutdown

From airport lines to food inspections, here are all the ways a partial closure affects average Americans

All 21 Government Shutdowns in US History

No comments: