Homeland Security approaches John Oliver’s Wall Cost Estimate

In previous posts, I have commented on the news analysis used in John Oliver’s comedy show called “Last Week Tonight.” Amid the comedy, there are detailed news stories about pay-day lending, supplemental drugs, court system abuse of low-income offenders, voting fraud, etc. During interviews, he has been recognized by at least two legitimate news sources, CBS News and PBS Newshour, for his team’s veracity.

Last year, well before the election, Oliver had a news/ comedy piece on our then campaigner, Donald Trump, about Trump’s estimates of his escalating price tag on his infamous wall. In various clips, Trump said $2 Billion, then he would increase it to $4 Billion then to $7 or $8 Billion, etc. I think Trump topped out around $12 Billion.

Oliver asked a construction engineer to come up with an estimate. Based on broad assumptions (height, materials, etc.), the engineer estimated $25 to $30 Billion. The engineer also added you have to factor in the cost of ongoing maintenance, which is not inconsequential.

Yesterday, Reuters published a story where Homeland Security estimates the cost of the wall. Here are the two lead paragraphs from Reuters:

“President Donald Trump’s ‘wall’ along the U.S.-Mexico border would be a series of fences and walls that would cost as much as $21.6 billion, and take more than three years to construct, based on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security internal report seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The report’s estimated price-tag is much higher than a $12-billion figure cited by Trump in his campaign and estimates as high as $15 billion from Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.”

There are two key takeaways here. Our now President likes to toss figures and data around like they are candy and offers them up without back-up. He just presumes people will take him at his word. In this case, a man who is a real-estate developer significantly underestimated the cost of building something.

The other takeaway is Oliver’s team should be commended for the underlying journalism in his comedy show. I have written before his team has far more credibility than some actual news sources who do not want to take the time to get it right or are so biased they take a politician at his word. So, the next time our President makes fun of Oliver, my suggestion would be to look more closely at Oliver’s position as he likely did more homework.


26 thoughts on “Homeland Security approaches John Oliver’s Wall Cost Estimate

  1. I love the John Oliver show. I wonder if not my pres. has been wrong before? I heard he is pithed off that a woman played Spicer on SNL…now they are trying to decide which women will play each cabinet member , one suggested Betty White as sessions. Trump just can’t keep quiet.

    • Holly, I do as well. Due to scheduling, I have not seen his show since Trump was inaugurated, so I need to catch up. It would be nice if DT was as concerned about Michael Flynn’s lying about his conversation with the Russian ambassador and Pence and Spicer’s lying to cover up, than he is a woman played Spicer on SNL. Keith

      • It would be nice if our elected officials in congress were concerned about the lies and the russian communication. I hear that Putin may turn Snowden over to Trump. This morning a tweet from Snowden “obviously I never turned over secrets to a foreign government or they would not be letting him leave the country…” something to that effect. I hope we get our hands on him.

      • Holly, I would not be surprised if something is amiss with DT and Putin. The Flynn thing (lying about his conversation with the Russian embassy and Pence and Spicer’s lying to cover it up) will start some unraveling and the CIA concurred with some the DT Russian dossier findings. Keith

      • I really have little doubt there is a lot we don’t know about the Putin-Trump connection and Flynn’s recent comment that he “cannot remember” if they discussed sanctions in the conversation held prior to his nomination is beyond any reasonable persons ability to accept. The cover up is another slap in the face by this gang of thugs but will gladly be swept under the rug by his sheeples. Frankly, I am reminded of Reagan’s inability to remember, but he did have a legitimate excuse as it turned out.

      • Holly, you are right to equate Flynn’s not remembering with Reagan’s. Reagan committed an impeachable offense with the Iran-Contra affair and apologized on TV for misleading the American people. If Oliver North had not fallen on his sword, there could have been grounds for impeachment (people forget this piece of history when they remember Reagan).

        Flynn’s not remembering the principal reason for the timing of the call is equal hogwash, in my view. This administration is having a very hard time with the truth and, unfortunately, it is relentless and often brazen. Keith

    • Hugh, good first point as illustrated by your last one. There is a reason Trump often spoke in front of his airplane. He could say any number and be believed as “heck, the guy owns a plane, so he must be right.” Keith

  2. Excellent, Keith! We should be outraged by Trump’s loose use of words and numbers and by the appalling idea of “the wall” among other things.

    How many people can you feed for $21.6 billion dollars?

    I’m creating a stop-motion piece on it this weekend…satire…gotta keep speaking up.

    Thank you!

    • Thanks Tanya. I look forward to your piece. One thing I have noticed about government estimates, is they are usually low. So, the $25 to $30 billion figure may be closer to the actual than the Homeland $21.6 billion. The Reuters article actually gives Trump more credit with the low ball $12 billion, as he started out at $2 billion and kept adding to it with each speech. Keith

  3. Good information, Keith! And possibly not factored in is that much of the land required for the wall is privately owned, thus requiring additional funds to purchase land. Not to mention the natural barriers such as canyons that present obstacles. One article I read a while back said that with all that factored in, it could cost in the $80 billion range by the end of the day. And even that does not factor in, as you said, maintenance, PLUS the cost of lost revenue to the U.S. and the damage to our own economy. I fail to see why DT and Congress think this is a good idea???

    • Jill, all excellent points. On the John Oliver show he noted the land acquisition would be additional. Of course, our President said today he would make it cheaper. Given your added input, that would be hard to fathom. Keith

      • I truly hope a feasibility study proves it impractical and the idea is nixed before any construction begins. It is a terrible plan … so many downsides and not a single redeeming quality.

      • Jill, it would not be DT’s first bad investment. Six bankruptcies and other bad deals should have told us something. Keith

      • Jill, apparently his spotty business record was the man behind the curtain. His followers paid more attention to the blowhard wizard of oz image. Keith

      • Jill, as for his plan to make it cheaper, that would be par for the course. By the way, that is how Congress tried to strangle the ACA, by not paying insurers the risk corridor premiums. Humana wrote off $591 million, e.g. in uncollected payments from the government. Keith

  4. A zillion-dollar wall, and here in Jama there’s a new bridge about to be built that spans a very short distance, but I think someone said it will cost 7 million… Something seems quite out of balance….
    Up there in the USA, so many others could benefit from that money that will b spent on ‘the wall.’ – ha, like teachers being paid what they’re worth… and down here, there are people still living in tents – and the rainy season has turned the dirt streets to mud and muck.. if only they’d bandaid the streets first….

    • Lisa, build bridges not walls. The man’s travel ban has been ruled unconstitutional, yet should be highlighted is it has already made us less safe and makes us out to be a pariah. The wall is in the same vein. It may seem to stop illegal immigration, but illegal border crossing is not how most folks get in. I agree totally the money could be better used. Keith

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