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The First Brick in the Wall between US & Mexico

President Donald Trump's administration announced a USD 600 million bidding contest late Friday night to kick off construction of The Wall, a towering physical barrier between the United States and Mexico.

 

The process will start with little walls — an unknown number of barriers of concrete and other materials that will serve as models for the bigger wall, which Trump made central to his political campaign.

 

Construction will proceed with unusual haste. Companies have just two weeks to submit proposals. Finalists will make a two-and-half hour long oral presentation to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which is overseeing the contest. Winners will be announced by late May.

 

Steven Schooner, a professor of government contracting at George Washington University, tweeted that the process was "extremely/uniquely complicated (and confusing)."

 

But CBP officials said the approach was designed to get the best value for the government.

 

"Through the construction of prototypes, CBP will partner with industry to identify the best means and methods to construct border wall before making a more substantial investment in construction," the agency said in a statement.

 

The bidding documents released Friday provide important clues as to what the Trump administration hopes to erect on the 1,200 miles of border with no physical barriers. Some 650 miles are already fenced.

 

The little walls are supposed to be tall. They should be "physically imposing in height" — 30 feet is preferred, though 18 feet is acceptable. However, the prototypes will be as little as 30 feet long, and cost as little as $100,000.

 

The little walls are supposed to be strong. They must be able to withstand attacks from "sledgehammer, car jack, pick axe, chisel, battery operated impact tools, battery operated cutting tools, Oxy/acetylene torch" for at least one hour, preferably four. They should also be able to span 45 degree slopes, and block tunneling. Contractors will build prototypes of concrete — Trump's preferred material — but also other materials that will allow visibility between the two sides. Once the government has determined a model, the prototypes may be demolished.

 

Finally, the little walls are supposed to be pretty — at least on the U.S. side of the border. The agency wants the walls to be "aesthetically pleasing" so that the color and texture blends into the environment on the "north side of the wall." There is no similar language for the Mexican side of the wall.

 

In addition to the tough building conditions, the agency clearly understands another difficulty will be political: Interested builders are urged to discuss their experience in "executing high profile, high visibility and politically contentious" construction projects.

 

Immigration activists are expected to protest construction of the wall, deploying tactics learned during the long, bitter protests over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. The bid calls for companies to hire their own private security contractors to protect their projects.

 

The final cost of the wall — and even whether it will be built — is a matter of debate. Trump has said he anticipates the final bill to be from $10 billion to $12 billion. The Department of Homeland Security has suggested a cost of around $21 billion. Trump's proposed budget has called for $2.6 billion to begin construction.

 

In Congress, some Republicans and many Democrats have opposed spending billions for an untested and possibly ineffectual border barrier. Trump has said he will force Mexico to pay for the wall. The Mexican government has rejected the possibility.

 

What is clear is that the Trump administration's methods will favor large, experienced government contractors with demonstrated experience in big construction projects. Companies such as KBR, Tutor Perini Corp., Parson Corp. and Fluor Corp. have all indicated an interest in building the edifice.

 

At the same time, the agency has asked bidders to explain how they will meet the agency's goals to deliver contracts to small, minority and veteran owned companies. Customs and Border Protection aims to pay 38 percent of its contract to small business, 5 percent to woman-owned firms and 3 percent to companies owned by disabled veterans.

 

In practice, the likely outcome is a few large government contractors overseeing a small army of subcontractors to build the wall.

 

More than 700 companies signed up for notifications about the building the wall, including more than 140 minority-owned firms — about 20 percent of the total. It is unclear how many of the firms possess the necessary experience and ability to participate in the bid.

 

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COMMENTS

SRINIVAS SHENOY

7 months ago

I feel if we too can create such barriers on our borders much of the present infiltration,smuggling, cross border terrorism etc. can be averted. The cost for such a construction in our case will be prohibitive.

Fired US Attorney Preet Bharara Said to Have Been Investigating HHS Secretary Tom Price

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was removed from his post by the Trump administration last week, was overseeing an investigation into stock trades made by the president's health secretary, according to a person familiar with the office.

 

Tom Price, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, came under scrutiny during his confirmation hearings for investments he made while serving in Congress. The Georgia lawmaker traded hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shares in health-related companies, even as he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry.

 

Price testified at the time that his trades were lawful and transparent. Democrats accused him of potentially using his office to enrich himself. One lawmaker called for an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, citing concerns Price could have violated the STOCK Act, a 2012 law signed by President Obama that clarified that members of Congress cannot use nonpublic information for profit and requires them to promptly disclose their trades.

 

The investigation of Price's trades by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which hasn't been previously disclosed, was underway at the time of Bharara's dismissal, said the person.

 

Bharara was one of 46 U.S. attorneys asked to resign after Trump took office. It is standard for new presidents to replace those officials with their own appointees. But Bharara's firing came as a surprise because the president had met with him at Trump Tower soon after the election. As he left that meeting, Bharara told reporters Trump asked if he would be prepared to remain in his post, and said that he had agreed to stay on.

 

When the Trump administration instead asked for Bharara's resignation, the prosecutor refused, and he said he was then fired. Trump has not explained the reversal, but Bharara fanned suspicions that his dismissal was politically motivated via his personal Twitter account.

 

"I did not resign," he wrote in one tweet over the weekend. "Moments ago I was fired."

 

"By the way," Bharara said in a second tweet, "now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like."

 

Bharara was referring to a commission that was launched by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013 to investigate state government corruption, only to be disbanded by the governor the next year as its work grew close to his office. In that case, Bharara vowed to continue the commission's work, and eventually charged Cuomo associates and won convictions of several prominent lawmakers.

 

Bharara referred questions from ProPublica to the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York. A spokesperson there declined to comment. The Justice and Health and Human Services departments also didn't respond to requests for comment.

 

A White House spokesperson didn't respond to questions about whether Trump or anyone in his cabinet was aware of the inquiry into Price's trades.

 

In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that Price traded more than $300,000 worth of shares in health companies over a recent four-year period, while taking actions that could have affected those companies. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, chaired the powerful House Budget Committee and sat on the Ways and Means Committee's health panel.

 

In one case, Price was one of just a handful of American investors allowed to buy discounted stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics — a tiny Australian company working on an experimental multiple sclerosis drug. The company hoped to be granted "investigational new drug" status from the Food and Drug Administration, a designation that expedites the approval process.

 

Members of congress often try to apply pressure on the FDA. As ProPublica has reported, Price's office has taken up the causes of health care companies, and in one case urged a government agency to remove a damaging drug study on behalf of a pharmaceutical company whose CEO donated to Price's campaign.

 

Innate Immunotherapeutics' CEO Simon Wilkinson told ProPublica that he and his company have not had any contact with American law enforcement agencies and have no knowledge of authorities looking at Price's stock trades.

 

Another transaction that drew scrutiny was a 2016 purchase of between $1,001 and $15,000 in shares of medical device manufacturer Zimmer Biomet. CNN reported that days after Price bought the stock, he introduced legislation to delay a regulation that would have hurt Zimmer Biomet.

 

Price has said that trade was made without his knowledge by his broker.

 

In a third case, reported by Time magazine, Price invested thousands of dollars in six pharmaceutical companies before leading a legislative and public relations effort that eventually killed proposed regulations that would have harmed those companies.

 

Louise Slaughter, a Democratic Congress member from New York who sponsored the STOCK Act, wrote in January to the SEC asking that the agency investigate Price's stock trades. "The fact that these trades were made and in many cases timed to achieve significant earnings or avoid losses would lead a reasonable person to question whether the transactions were triggered by insider knowledge," she wrote.

 

What federal authorities are looking at, including whether they are examining any of those transactions, is not known.

 

Along with the Price matter, Bharara's former office is investigating allegations relating to Fox News, and has been urged by watchdog groups to look into payments Trump has received from foreign governments through his Manhattan-based business. Bharara's former deputy, Joon Kim, is now in charge of the office, but Trump is expected to nominate his replacement within weeks.

 

ProPublica reporters Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott and research editor Derek Kravitz contributed to this story.

 

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Is Preet Bharara Trying to Tell Us Something?

Fired by President Donald Trump, Preet Bharara left behind a mysterious, thirteen-word message. "By the way, I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like," he tweeted on Sunday.

 

Americans are getting used to deciphering the tweets of a president who eviscerates his enemies in 140 characters or less. So perhaps it's inevitable that a public official whom he dismissed would fight back in the same way — and similarly raising questions about the tweeter's intent and state of mind.

 

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York said he could not elaborate on Bharara's tweet. And the ex-prosecutor himself has made no further public comment, leaving those familiar with the Moreland Commission's history to speculate about the presidential parallels.

 

The cryptic reference to the corruption-fighting commission, which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unexpectedly disbanded in March 2014, could simply mean that Bharara knows what it's like to be let go when there's still important work to be done. Or it could be read to accuse Trump, like Cuomo, of trying to axe an investigation before it brings down his friends. In the most sinister interpretation, it could even be a threat or a portent — since Cuomo's allies ultimately faced justice anyway.

 

"I think Preet is way too smart to simply say something that might have wide-ranging implications without thinking it through," said Chris Malone, a political science professor at City University of New York's Lehman College. Malone said he thinks Bharara was "sending a message" that "you're cutting off an investigation in midstream."

 

Following a series of corruption scandals involving state lawmakers, Gov. Cuomo created the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, as it was formally known, in July 2013 to root out corruption in politics and state government. It was named for a 1907 law known as the Moreland Act, which gives the governor broad authority to investigate state agencies. The panel's 25 members included current and former district attorneys from across the state who were empowered to issue subpoenas and compel testimony.

 

The panel issued a first draft of its findings in December 2013 and vowed to "proceed with ongoing investigations as we continue to follow the money." Those investigations hadn't reached their conclusion when, four months later, Cuomo abruptly dismantled the commission.

 

Cuomo said at the time that a package of modest ethics reforms agreed to by the legislature eliminated the need for the commission. But a subsequent New York Times investigation revealed that Cuomo's aides undermined the commission as the panel's subpoenas started getting close to the governor's office. The timing suggested Cuomo was concerned that the commission might dig up unwelcome facts about his administration.

 

Enter Bharara. After Cuomo disbanded the panel, the Moreland Commission handed over documents, computer files and other materials from its investigation to the federal prosecutor, who vowed to take over its mantle.

 

Those documents helped lead to the downfall of longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Both were indicted by Bharara's office and convicted on corruption charges. Another Bharara inquiry led to bribery charges against Cuomo confidant Joseph Percoco and several other players in upstate economic development programs championed by the governor, though Cuomo himself was not charged with any wrongdoing. Percoco and seven other co-defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges in December.

 

Bharara's office handled hundreds of cases on everything ranging from public corruption to insider trading to accounting fraud and drug trafficking. It's unknown whether any of his cases touched on the Trump administration, but the possibility exists: Trump Tower, the president's unofficial residence, falls squarely within Bharara's district.

 

Last November, the president asked Bharara to stay on as the chief prosecutor for the district. Bharara came out of the meeting at Trump Tower saying "I expect that I will be continuing to work at the Southern District of New York" under President Trump. Nevertheless, on Saturday, Trump fired him.

 

"He made such a big deal of bringing him to Trump Tower and telling him that he's going to stay on," Malone said. "Something obviously changed."

 

The Moreland Commission handed off its materials to Bharara. Perhaps Bharara's tweet implies that he, too, has documents to share with other investigators. If so, we'd like to suggest a worthy recipient: ProPublica.

 

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COMMENTS

shadi katyal

7 months ago

First let me say that we Indians are proud of Bharat Bharara for his hard work and honesty as he has not taken any sides. He was incorrectly criticised by UPA government for his arrest of non-diplomat Devika but he stood byt his action and proved right.
It is true that every change of President of different party, such attorney are asked to resign so that new administration can bring their own party affiliates.
Mr. Bharara might have been given the understanding that he can continue but maybe he was investigating something which might touch Trump business and thus asked to resign.
He has a bright future to run for political office in next election either for congress or state of New York. We wish him well

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