Saturday, January 19, 2019

Another conspiracy theory that isn’t real

The USA’s far-right is awash in conspiracy theories, so much so that sometimes it seems as if they have no time for anything else, including ordinary life. Those conspiracy theories permeate down into the ordinary conservative world and supporters of the Republican Party who spread and spread fact-challenged and elaborate theories of “what’s really going on”. There’s one going around that most people seem unaware of.

The conspiracy theory says that the shutdown is being deliberately prolonged because, they say, after 30 calendar days, or 22 working days, all federal employees furloughed in a shutdown can be fired through a procedure called “Reduction in Force” (RIF). The claim started with an anonymous piece published by the far-right site, Daily Caller [I never link to far-right and questionable sites, but you can copy and paste this link: https://bit.ly/2spIhGT] supposedly written by a “senior official” in the current regime. Maybe. Maybe it’s an elaborate trolling of the gullible in the rightwing media and online groups. Or, maybe it’s real, but, shall we say, uninformed.

That was picked up and explained in self-referential style by lots of entities on the USA’s far right, one in particular tried to connect the dots [again, copy and paste the link: https://bit.ly/2W3g9ai]. They, like many other rightwing sites, also referred to a partial explanation of the RIF process [I haven’t had time to evaluate the source, so: https://bit.ly/2T2VwsS].

When I first heard about the conspiracy theory, I was extremely sceptical. It’s a lie, for example, that federal employees can’t be fired for cause, and if a worker was really deliberately frustrating the current regime’s agenda, that would be cause for disciplinary action. At worst, the worker would probably have to be given the opportunity to improve their performance, which is fair, but non-performance is non-performance.

But then I remembered something. In May of last year, the current occupant of the White House issued three executive orders intended to make it easier for government agencies to fire federal workers. They also placed strict limits on union activities. A federal judges said NO.

However, there was also the fact that the current occupant himself asked Congress to make it easier to fire federal workers, and members of his regime have complained about how hard it is to politicise the federal bureaucracy. Well, that’s not exactly how they expressed it, but it was clearly what they intended to do: Stack the bureaucracy with loyalists who would do anything, legal or not, to advance the regime’s goals.

So: Is there anything to this?

Probably not. As Snopes recently pointed out, the rules for RIFs only apply to “administrative furloughs”: “A planned event by an agency which is designed to absorb reductions necessitated by downsizing, reduced funding, lack of work, or any budget situation other than a lapse in appropriations.”

What is currently happening is classified as “emergency furloughs”, which results from a lack of appropriations. The main difference is that “administrative furloughs” are planned and foreseeable, while an “emergency furlough” is dependent on action by Congress, which on its best days is unpredictable.

So, the law is clear that the current regime cannot use the RIF process to fire workers because of an emergency furlough—but that doesn’t meant they won’t try. Lawsuits, court injunctions, and more legal defeats for the current regime being the inevitable chain of events.

But while all that was happening, people wouldn’t be talking about how much serious legal trouble the current occupant is, so maybe distraction’s the real plan. Once again.

And, anyway, it’s common enough for the far-right to fall for credible-sounding but completely wrong conspiracy theories.

Earlier this evening, I saw a meme that said that Congress had passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and appropriated $50 billion to build a border fence, but President Obama never did, so where did the money go, and maybe that’s what Democrats were trying to hide. Say what?!

Meme-spreaders (Right or Left) almost never check out the accuracy of the memes they share, so it’s not surprise that this one is flat out wrong.

In 2006, during the time of Bush the Second, Congress did indeed pass the Act, but they appropriated only $1.4 billion; the $50 billion figure comes from estimates: “the whole cost, including maintenance, was pegged at $50 billion over 25 years”. Very different numbers.

The Department of Homeland Security complained that the specified fence wasn’t appropriate for all areas of the border, and in 2007—Bush the Second was still president—Congress amended the Act to allow the DHS Secretary to decide what was best.

By 2011, when President Obama was in office, DHS reported that they’d completed 99.5% of the fence. In 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that fence had been completed in 2015. In 2017, the GAO reported that $2.3 billion had been spent to deploy the fence—which actually was more extensive than what Congress mandated—and that it would require billions more to maintain.

So: In 2006, Congress appropriated $1.4 billion for a border fence, and not $50 billion. The fence was built and completed during the time of the Obama Administration—repeat that, the fence mandated by Congress was completed, and it was done during the time of President Obama. Nothing about the rightwing meme was true.

That’s two rightwing conspiracy theory memes busted in one post. Whew! I better take some more time off from blogging!

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