I listened to the hearing the House Committee on Border Security recently had about border control, & SBI Net. I was so cheered by the overall skepticism I heard. I wish I'd written down the names so I could deliver my critique more clearly, but I'll do my best. If you'd like to listen for yourself, and maybe find out the names I can't recall, it's on CSPAN at http://www.c-spanarchives.org/program/id/212546
A Mr. Aguilar was very good at blowing smoke and not answering the questions he was asked -- no Congressional hearing would be complete without at least one person playing the smokeblower role.
The Boeing representatives were out of central casting for slimy, slippery crooks. The congressman with the Southern accent, who questioned why what is basically a camera on a pole not only needs to cost billions of dollars, but doesn't work and never has. He was great. The congressman from New Jersy, who asked about "performance standards," as if there were any performance to standardize, was also appropriately skeptical, if dry and boring. And what I would like to know is this: why do we need to take pictures of this? Are we trying to prove people are crossing the border illegally? Is there some question about that? How stupid is this? I understand also that this ungodly expensive, utterly worthless "technology" only affects 53 -- count 'em, 53 -- miles of the southern border. The outrage never stops. It makes me tired to even contemplate reacting appropriately.
A Boeing representative offered a printer analogy to excuse his company's bizarrely expensive total failure to perform. He talked about how he has sometimes bought a printer that he can't get to work, and he has to tweak and fiddle to get it to to do what it should do -- the printer is SBInet and he's the American taxpayer I guess. It was infuriating. It's one thing for him to have trouble with a printer that might have cost him -- not me -- a hundred dollars. It's something else altogether for him to ask me to provide him with a printer that works, to give me not that one hundred dollars, but a million dollars to do it, and then I proceed to not only fail miserably in that task, but I keep coming back and asking for another million dollars to fail miserably over and over again -- and the most amazing part of this story is that he not only doesn't show me the door, he keeps rehiring me AND I get to raise my price each time with some excuse a kindergartner wouldn't swallow. It's less hard to believe that Boeing continues to come back to greedily feed at the publlic trough while producing absolutely nothing in return for the favor, thanthat they keep getting away with it. Of course Boeing is a greedy pig -- that's the beauty of capitalism. That We The People, supposedly represented (and extremely well paid by the good old American taxpayer, just like Boeing is) by the United States Congress, keep inviting them back -- that's what's very, very hard to take.
I understand they renewed Boeing's contract for SBI. So much for that laudable skepticism I mentioned. I'll never forget Ross Perot talking about how good Washington was at turning a ten cent solution into a ten dollar one -- something along those lines. Asking who did we imagine our representatives were going to listen to, us, or the guy running up and down the halls of Congress with a suitcase full of money. Simply one more ignored voice of conscience and reason, in a very long line of such voices that get ignored, and often ridiculed. Funny how nothing changes.
An article called "Privatizing Immigration Control" by Joseph Richey, in the "Border for Sale" series on the outstanding CorpWatch website, offers the following anecdote from the 2006 hearings about the then only proposed SBInet plan to secure the border:
"A little company like I used to own before I came to this Congress, and [that] my son operates today, could set a mile of this in a day pretty easily. . . .We are spending $8 billion on 2,000 miles. That is $4 million a mile. Now, if you pay me $4 million for a mile of that desert down there and say, guard that mile, Mr. King, I would say, for $4 million, you would not get a cockroach across that border." You can read that article at: http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=13845. It's a dandy.
That was a Republican congressman talking like Republicans used to talk. Now the only people raising any significant hell about this kind of thing are Democrats. That guy is a dying breed. Many obscure Republicans and all prominent ones are 100% in bed with private contractors, when once they were the ones trying to protect us from them. What a world -- but I digress. He is Republican Steve King from Iowa, and the privatization he's talking about is the privatization that does a better job at a given task than government does -- "better" meaning it costs less and actually works. What we're calling privatization now does a much worse job than government does -- "worse" meaning exponentially more expensive and completely ineffective and in the case of SBInet, "completely ineffective" isn't nearly eloquent enough to describe the utter failure of this idiotic boondoggle of a worthless billion dollar pile of cameras on poles and 20,000 new salaried personnel all doing absolutely nothing towards accomplishing the task they were hired to accomplish -- at gigantic expense to the taxpayer. Gigantic. It would be one thing if we actually got something for all that money. But between horror stories like this and the pathetic noise the far right fringe is making about the nearly insignificant $54 million that ACORN has gotten over 15 years,-- and that the stupid press is covering ad nauseum while the much, much larger story i.e. SBInet et alia gets ignored not only by the grotesquely foolish Tea Baggers who wouldn't know real government waste if it bit them on the leg, but ignored also by the the corporate-owned so-called free press -- my eyes glaze over and I simply have to stop thinking about it or I'll explode.
Let's tell the truth about this. The only reason we're doing idiotic things like paying Boeing a gazillion bucks to install cameras that don't work on poles somewhere in Arizona, which even if they did work wouldn't do jack to impact the border situation, is because it's politically incorrect to do something effective. If we're going to keep all of our borders wide open I wish we'd at least be honest about it. These billion dollar sops Congress throws at us to somehow placate us while they continue to do the opposite of what they say they're doing with said gazillions of dollars WHILE they continue to collect their big paychecks we provide them AND enjoy the cush perks we provide them with on top of their pay, is the very essence of evil. Running them out of town on a rail isn't an adequate penalty for their revolting betrayal, but since this is a public place and there's a lot of talk about how bad it is to suggest, in public, that terrible things be done to elected officials, I'm going to have to settle for it.
Notice that I have not weighed in on the actual issue of border security. I do have an opinion about it of course -- but I have been careful not to express it here. I simply happened to switch on the TV, still on the CSPAN channel from the last time I watched television, just to have some noise in the room while I went about my work. This particular congressional hearing happened to be being broadcast when I did that. It's a particularly infuriating example of the way that Congress works, but it's only one example. It could have been a hearing about anything -- Halliburton and Katrina, KBR and electrocution showers -- anything. It still would have had all the same components: token skepticism from Congress, slimy contractor spokesmen, and ungodly amounts of taxpayer money for things that do less than nothing. It happened to be about border control. But that's nowhere near the point.
I was grateful for the skepticism I heard from the members of the committee. What can I say -- I'm desperate. But it would be truly wonderful if I could one day be grateful for them kicking Boeing out of this equation, saving us billions of dollars, and securing the border with the ten cent solution instead of the billion dollar one. If they would stop wasting the amount of our money that they waste we could have rebuilt every house that Katrina destroyed, shored up our crumbling bridges and roads, turned our schools into the beacons they once were, made sure no American sleeps under bridges, goes hungry, or dies for lack of medical attention and had plenty left over -- maybe to return to the people they confiscated it from if that isn't too much to ask.
Now wouldn't that be something?