Trump is building a wall for only $64 million and in only two years

From a recent trip to Washington, D.C.:

A large swath of recently public space (used by both tourists and protesters) has been blocked off and is now patrolled by assault rifle-toting guards. Part of this is associated with the construction of a new fence around the White House. The 3,500′ fence will, if there are no overruns, cost $64 million and take approximately two years (AP).

What if the the southern U.S. border fence were completed in this fashion? The White House fence is 0.66 miles long, so the cost will be approximately $100 million per mile. Wikipedia says that 649 miles of the 1,954-mile border is currently fenced. So if the same techniques were used down in Texas and New Mexico, we would be doing 1,305 miles at $100 million per mile, which comes out to a fairly reasonable $130 billion (a couple of months of spending on public housing and Medicaid?).

[Trump cannot take all of the credit for this achievement. The Feds say that planning began in 2014.]

The citizen in the photo above holds a “Hate Won’t Make America Great” sign, but the souvenir vendors a block away apparently disagree:

[Nancy Pelosi said that it was “immoral” to build a more extensive border fence (but the current 649 miles did not have to be dismantled, apparently, because those are the moral miles of fence?). If a Democrat wins the White House in 2020, will this $64 million project be abandoned?]

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True cost of Medicaid is 2X headline cost?

I recently attended a talk by the CEO of a hospital with $2.6 billion in annual revenue. She noted that patients on Medicaid are 40 percent of the census and that Medicaid pays only 50 percent of the cost of treatment. In order to at least break even at this not-for-profit, therefore, she has to charge privately insured patients enough extra to make the books balance.

(A doc who was formerly Physician-in-Chief of this hospital and then president of another hospital said “you can’t make money doing research” and, financially at least, “teaching is hopeless”.)

This might explain why apparently healthy people are paying such big premiums. “Employer Health Insurance Is Increasingly Unaffordable, Study Finds” (nytimes):

A relentless rise in premiums and deductibles is putting insurance out of reach for many workers, especially those with low incomes.

Instead, she quit her job last summer so her income would be low enough to enroll in Medicaid, which will cover all her medical expenses. “I’m trying to do some side jobs,” she said.

The average premium paid by the employer and the employee for a family plan now tops $20,000 a year, with the worker contributing about $6,000, according to the survey. More than a quarter of all covered workers and nearly half of those working for small businesses face an annual deductible of $2,000 or more.

Annual Medicaid spending is supposedly roughly $600 billion per year, about 3 percent of GDP. But if hospital-related charges are the majority of Medicaid costs and, in fact, the hospitals are recovering half of their expenses from unrelated privately insured patients, the true cost of Medicaid to Americans is closer to $1 trillion per year (about 5 percent of GDP, meaning that people who work 40 hours/week have to stay at work on Friday from 3-5 pm to pay for Medicaid).

Note that this off-books funding for Medicaid is done in a regressive manner since the money is extracted silently from all Americans with employer-affiliated or other private health insurance. I.e., the cost of a health insurance policy also contains a hidden tax to pay for about half of Medicaid (and also to pay for the uninsured who throw out the hospitals’ $100,000+ bills?).

[Anecdotally, we know plenty of folks in Massachusetts who are careful to refrain from earning more W-2 wages than the thresholds for public housing and MassHealth (Medicaid) eligibility.]


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Gitmo costs $13 million per prisoner

The NYT took a rare breather from its study of Donald Trump and calculated that U.S. taxpayers spend $13 million per prisoner per year at Guantánamo Bay (story):

The 40 prisoners, all men, get halal food, access to satellite news and sports channels, workout equipment and PlayStations. Those who behave — and that has been the majority for years — get communal meals and can pray in groups, and some can attend art and horticulture classes.

The prison’s uniformed staff members also include a Coast Guard unit that patrols the waters below the cliff top prison zone; Navy doctors, nurses, psychological technicians and corpsmen; a unit of Air Force engineers; lawyers, chaplains, librarians, chaperones and military journalists. Each has layers of commanders who oversee their work and manage their lives at Guantánamo.

In 2018, Congress approved spending $115 million on a dormitory-style barracks complex to replace trailer housing for 848 troops. But no contract has been awarded, construction has not yet begun and Navy spokesmen could not provide the target completion date.

So there are at least 848 troops to guard 40 prisoners?

Readers: What’s a good comparison for this $13 million/year cost? A high-end hotel in Havana is about $150/night or $54,750 per year. Add another $45k for room service and each prisoner is costing the equivalent of 130 hotel rooms with food.

[Separately, how can the NYT know that the 40 prisoners are “all men” unless the reporters have recently queried each one regarding his/her/zir/their current gender ID. Is the NYT making cisgender-normative assumptions?]

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A University for the People becomes an Apple Store

During a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I worked near the Carnegie Library, dedicated in 1903 as “A University for the People” and engraved with the names of authors such as Shakespeare and Plato. Today it is a place for people who prefer to read Facebook posts on their iPhones…

In my own Facebook post at the time of encountering this mixture of private philanthropy, government administration, and conspicuous consumption, I wrote

it is a shame that the Republicans who control the DC local government could not resist becoming stooges for Corporate America.

Are the minds of District residents being elevated by this repurposed temple to reading? Here’s a sticker from a nearby lamppost:

(I saw these in multiple location around the city; see also

Who is excited to order an iPhone 11?

Also, from the nearby Smithsonian American Art Museum, a 1905 portrait of Andrew Carnegie:


  • Carnegie was the Bill Gates of his day. Carnegie became the richest man in the world through a combination of intelligence, hard work at an early age, a certain amount of what we today would regard as illegal insider trading, and connections. Once he was the richest guy in the world, everyone listened to everything he said very carefully. He looked around and decided that the greatest evil facing the world was war. War did not provide who was right, only who was stronger. After concluding that he was, in addition to being the richest guy in the world, probably one of the smartest, he invested much of his money and most of his energy in achieving peace among nations. Folks such as Teddy Roosevelt privately thought that he was an old fool, but nobody would say it to his face. Carnegie pushed for peace and mediation among nations and spent four of the last five years of his life watching World War I sweep through Europe. [The analogy with Bill Gates is that, after becoming both the richest and smartest guy in the world, he decided that he could solve the problems of poverty and disease in Africa that had defied attempts by the world’s biggest governments and NGOs.]
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Border Patrol flies 7-person helicopters with 1-2 people on board

Customs and Border Patrol brought one of their Airbus H125 (formerly known as a “Eurocopter” and/or “AStar”) to Oshkosh this year. The $2,000+/hour machine holds up to 7 people. Plainly the mission could not be done with a $450/hour Robinson R44, right? The Robby seats only 4.

How many people are in the AStar at any one time? Either 1 (the pilot, also acting as observer) or 2 (pilot plus observer in the front left seat). The four back seats are empty nearly all the time.

Does the AStar actually perform better? The pilots said that the A/C in the machine was nowhere near powerful enough to keep up with the sun and greenhouse effect, so it is unclear why an R44 Raven II with A/C wouldn’t be at least as good. Or, if they’re determined to burn Jet A, an R66.


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Eisenhower was a moon landing denier…

… at least when it came to the value of the Apollo project. Here’s a June 18, 1965 letter in the EAA Aviation Museum, from former President Eisenhower to astronaut Frank Borman:

He describes JFK’s pledge to race to the moon as “a stunt” and points out that the timing of the announcement was calculated to distract the public from the “Bay of Pigs fiasco” (JFK and his team discarded militarily superior plans left over from the Eisenhower Administration).

Eisenhower points out that it would have made sense to spend $2 billion per year on stuff that might have “definite benefits to the peoples of the earth.” But the river of tax dollars dumped into Apollo did not make sense to him.

The other big learning from the museum visit was how Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne was able to work without the exotic materials of the Space Shuttle. The museum explains that the spacecraft/aircraft essentially pancakes or belly flops into the atmosphere, thus slowing down quickly and not building up high speed and high heat like the Shuttle does.

[Update after seeing comments from readers and talking to a friend who is an actual rocket scientist at NASA: the main reason that SpaceShipOne does not need the elaborate heat shielding is that it is suborbital and going much slower than the Space Shuttle. There is no new technology better than the Shuttle’s old tiles, but the old technology of ablative heat shielding is what most current space ship designs are using. One good feature of ablative shielding is that as it flakes off it carries away built up heat. The one promising innovation is establishing a boundary layer of gas on top of the surface exposed to re-entry heat, much as jet engine components are cooled by a layer of flowing fresh air.]

A portion of the museum concentrates on machines of war, which inevitably produce death. What is sufficiently upsetting as to require a trigger warning?

How about a double secret trigger warning and substantial drapery?

This is why God gave us always-with-us camera phones: (the “Fat Man” atomic bomb model directly across from a patron)

Eisenhower’s Air Force One for shorter hops, a twin-engine piston:

(Today a Boeing 757 would be used instead of this six-seater.)

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American regulations meet smart immigrants: free college tuition with guardianship

Sadly paywalled, but one of my favorite recent news articles: “The College Financial-Aid Guardianship Loophole and the Woman Who Thought It Up” (WSJ).

A smart immigrant from Bulgaria read the rules for college financial aid written by comparatively dumb Americans and figured out how any child can get a free college education, as long as the parents are smart enough to waltz down to the local probate or family court and transfer guardianship.

Of course, under the “almost everything is a federal crime” system, the government is now planning to make an example of her.


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Government agriculture bureaucrats object to living anywhere near a farm

From CNN: “Employees turn their back on Agriculture secretary over being relocated to Kansas City”

Apparently one thing that they learned at the USDA is that one should try to avoid living in an agricultural region of the U.S.!

(Kansas is awesome for general aviation enthusiasts. A $200,000 (used) Piper Malibu with the extended tanks STC can reach anywhere in the Lower 48 nonstop from Kansas.)


  • before agreeing to any move across state lines, a wise American will check the respective family law regimes that apply: Missouri versus D.C., Maryland, or Virginia. (Child support profits are more likely to be capped in Missouri compared to the winner-take-all jurisdictions in the D.C. metro area; a Missouri court is also more likely to award 50/50 parenting time to children, thus resulting in a huge reduction in child support cashflow if both parents work)
  • before picking a house in the Kansas City area, it would also be worth checking Kansas family law, which is dramatically different than Missouri’s (i.e., the definitions of “justice” and “best interest of a child” are completely different on either side of the state line)
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