Alligators 'n Roadkill

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Some serious thought about our present Border Situation.


This is an email that I received today from our Border Spokesman, former Congressman, and recent candidate for Senate, Beto O'Rourke:
The President came to El Paso this week. He promised a wall and repeated his lies about the dangers that immigrants pose. With El Paso as the backdrop, he claimed that this city of immigrants was dangerous before a border fence was built here in 2008.
Beyond refuting his comments about border communities like ours (El Paso was one of the safest communities in the United States before the fence was built here), about walls saving lives (in fact, walls push desperate families to cross in ever more hostile terrain, ensuring greater suffering and death), and about immigrants (who commit crimes at a lower rate than those Americans born here), it’s worth thinking about how we got to this place. How it came to be that 11 million undocumented immigrants call America home, how we came to militarize our border, how we arrived at such a disconnect between our ideals, our values, the reality of our lives — and the policies and political rhetoric that govern immigration and border security.

El Paso Times, 2003
I’ve come to the conclusion that the challenges we face are largely of our own design — a function of the unintended consequences of immigration policy and the rhetoric we’ve used to describe immigrants and the border. At almost every step of modern immigration policy and immigration politics, we have exacerbated underlying problems and made things worse. Sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes with the most cynical exploitation of nativism and fear. Much of the history of immigration policy (and the source for the graphs that I’m using) is powerfully summarized in a report entitled “Unintended Consequences of U.S. Immigration Policy: Explaining the Post-1965 Surge from Latin America” by Douglas S Massey and Karen A. Pren.
In 1965, the U.S. ended the bracero farmworker program in part because of the substandard wages and conditions in which these Mexican workers labored. And yet, after decades of employing this labor, with our economy dependent on the laborers and the laborers dependent on access to the U.S. job market, the system of low-cost Mexican labor didn’t go away. Many of the same Mexican nationals returned to the U.S., returned to the same back-breaking jobs, only now they were undocumented. Ironically, despite the intent of the 1965 law ending the program, they enjoyed fewer protections and wage guarantees in the shadows as they continued to play a fundamental role in our economy.
As this same population converted from being documented to undocumented a wave of scary metaphors was employed to gin up anxiety and paranoia and political will to employ ever more repressive policies to deter their entry. It was good for politicians and newspapers, terrible for immigrants and immigration policy. Thus began the “Latino threat” narrative. As Massey and Pren write:
“The most common negative framing depicted immigration as a “crisis” for the nation. Initially marine metaphors were used to dramatize the crisis, with Latino immigration being labeled a “rising tide” or a “tidal wave” that was poised to “inundate” the United States and “drown” its culture while “flooding” American society with unwanted foreigners (Santa Ana 2002). Over time, marine metaphors increasingly gave way to martial imagery, with illegal immigration being depicted as an “invasion” in which “outgunned” Border Patrol agents sought to “hold the line” in a vain attempt to “defend” the border against “attacks” from “alien invaders” who launched “banzai charges” to overwhelm American defenses (Nevins 2001; Chavez 2008).”
The fear stoked by politicians produced the intended paranoia and political constituency demanding ever tougher immigration measures. The result of this was not to stop undocumented immigration. Instead it caused the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States to grow.
Here’s why: as we made it harder for people to cross into the United States, we made it less likely that once here they would attempt to go back to their home country. Fearing an increasingly militarized border, circular patterns of migration became linear, with immigrants choosing to remain in the U.S., many of them ultimately joined by family members from their home country.
This government-created condition continued to feed on itself:
The “sustained, accelerating accumulation of anti-immigrant legislation and enforcement operations produced a massive increase in border apprehensions after the late 1970s, when the underlying flow of migrants had actually leveled off. For any given number of undocumented entry attempts, more restrictive legislation and more stringent enforcement operations generate more apprehensions, which politicians and bureaucrats can then use to inflame public opinion, which leads to more conservatism and voter demands for even stricter laws and more enforcement operations, which generates more apprehensions, thus bringing the process full circle. In short, the rise of illegal migration, its framing as a threat to the nation, and the resulting conservative reaction set off a self-feeding chain reaction of enforcement that generated more apprehensions even though the flow of undocumented migrants had stabilized in the late 1970s and actually dropped during the late 1980s and early 1990s.”
This would only get worse.

El Paso Herald Post 1981 — source Patrick Timmons
After terror attacks in the 1990s and in 2001, the Mexican immigrant was a ready scapegoat for politicians, and the intensity and brutality of enforcement and deterrence measures increased. In the face of terrorism that originated in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, the United States chose to conflate the war on terror with immigration from Mexico and Latin America.
With the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001 the number of deportations skyrocketed, with nearly 400,000 sent back to their country of origin in 2009 alone. Not one of the 9/11 terrorists entered through Mexico — and yet Mexicans bore the brunt of this country’s immigration response to the terror attacks. Last year, the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism found that “there are no known international terrorist organizations operating in Mexico, no evidence that any terrorist group has targeted U.S. citizens in Mexican territory, and no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.” This year’s report found much the same: “there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”
In addition, walls and fences authorized by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 pushed migration flows to ever more treacherous stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border. More than 4,500 human beings died crossing the border from 2006 to 2017. Far too many of them children.
In recent years, as Mexican migration slowed and then reversed (more Mexican nationals going south to Mexico than coming north to the United States), and as total undocumented immigration reached its lowest levels in modern history, the country was met with the challenge of tens of thousands of Central American families fleeing violence and brutality to petition for asylum in our country.
This too is an unintended consequence. Our involvement in the civil wars and domestic politics of Central American countries, in addition to our ability to consume more illegal drugs than any other country on the planet while leading a military- and law enforcement-first drug control policy, has helped to destroy the institutions of civil society necessary for those countries to function. They can no longer protect their citizens, and their citizens are coming to us.
And how do we meet this challenge? The President, using the same racist, inflammatory rhetoric of years past, seeks to build a wall, to take kids from their parents, to deploy the United States Army on American soil, to continue mass deportations and to end the protection for Dreamers. In other words, he seeks in one administration to repeat all the mistakes of the last half-century. And with past as prologue, we know exactly how that will end.
Not only will it lead to thousands of Americans losing their farms and ranches and homes through eminent domain to build a wall despite the fact that we have the lowest level of northbound apprehensions in my lifetime; it will lead to greater suffering and death for immigrants who are pushed to more dangerous points of crossing; it will fail to meet the legitimate challenge of illegal drugs that are brought to this country (the vast majority crossed at ports of entry); it will further erode our humanity and our standing in the world; and it will not do a single thing to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers coming to this country.
But we still have a choice. In this democracy, if in fact the people are the government, and the government is the people, we still have a chance to prove it.
We can decide that we’ll get past the lies and fear, focus on the facts and human lives in our midst, and do the right thing. The end goal is a stronger, safer, more successful country. Critical to achieving that goal is having immigration, security and bilateral policies that match reality and our values.
  1. Extend citizenship to the more than one million Dreamers in this country. Not only those who are in our classrooms but those who are teaching in our classrooms; those who are keeping our country safe around the world tonight; those who contribute more to our communities than they’ll ever take.
  2. Give permanent legal protection and a path to citizenship to their parents, the original Dreamers.
  3. Bring millions more out of the shadows and on a path to citizenship by ensuring that they register with the government and gain status to legally work, pay taxes and contribute even more to our country’s success.
  4. Make us safer and more secure. Significantly reduce illegal drug trafficking and stop human trafficking by investing in infrastructure, technology and personnel at our ports of entry. The ports that connect us with Mexico are where the vast majority of everything and everyone that ever comes into our country crosses.
  5. Increase the visa caps so that we match our opportunities and needs (for work, for education, for investment, for innovation, for family reunification) to the number of people we allow into this country. Ensure that those who want to work in jobs that we can’t fill can legally come here and legally return to their home country.
  6. Fully accept our opportunity and responsibility under our asylum laws to welcome those whose own governments can no longer protect them — including women fleeing abusive relationships.
  7. Address visa overstays (which accounts for the majority of undocumented immigration) through better tracking of and notification to visa holders (a first step could be text message reminders) and fully harmonizing our entry-exit systems with Mexico and Canada (when a visa holder exits the U.S. and enters Mexico, we will then know that they have left the U.S.; currently, if they leave through a land port of entry we literally have no clue if they are still here or have returned to their country of origin).
  8. Make Latin America and specifically Central America a top foreign policy priority — stop relegating it to second-tier status — invest the time, talent and resources to assist in the development of the domestic institutions that will allow these countries to thrive and offer their citizens protection and economic opportunity. It is the only long-term solution to the number of asylum seekers and refugees coming to this country.
  9. End the global war on drugs. An imprisonment- and interdiction-first approach has not worked, has accelerated the erosion of civil society in much of Latin America and has militarized a public health issue to the detriment of all concerned.
  10. Speak with respect and dignity when referring to our fellow human beings who happen to be immigrants and asylum seekers, who in so many cases are doing exactly what we would do if presented with the same threats and opportunities. No more “invasions”, “animals”, “rapists and criminals”, “floods”, “crisis” — dehumanizing rhetoric leads to dehumanizing policies. We cannot sacrifice our humanity in the name of security — or we risk losing both.
This week, we welcomed the President to one of the safest cities in the United States. Safe not because of walls, and not in spite of the fact that we are a city of immigrants. Safe because we are a city of immigrants and because we treat each other with dignity and respect. A city that has the opportunity to lead on the most important issues before us, out of experience, out of compassion and out of a fierce determination to see this country live its ideals and rise to its full potential.

El Paso — Ju├írez
We can learn from the errors of our past, have the courage to do what’s right while we still have the chance, and ensure that the President doesn’t commit this country to making mistakes from which we may never recover.
It’s up to us.
Beto

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Pie In The Sky

We often claim that our city of El Paso is, geographically, pretty large.  256.26 square miles, as a matter of fact.  Our population of just under 700,000, equates to about 2500 people per square mile.  By comparison, Dallas, Tx, is even larger, with a population of 3.2 million, and an area of 385.83 square miles, and 3469.9 people per square mile, and Houston is over 600 square miles, with a population of 2.3 million, which would be even fewer people per square mile.  Comparatively speaking, then, El Paso is sort of small potatoes.

Therefore, one may well ask, "Why are we always struggling to do things like those much larger cities?"  Particularly strange has been our recent destruction of a still usable City Hall in order to build a minor league baseball park, and the complete tear down of a once iconic, if not unique central plaza to be replaced by a "modern" and rather barren tiny square.  We also have been subjected to the introduction of a very expensive, but not easily accessible Top Golf facility, and something called iFly which, while still under construction, burned.  There is a planned Great Wolf Lodge that will also cost local tax payers a great deal of money.  There is continuous discussion about attracting new business to town, in order to create new jobs, but this is without ever addressing the reality of why new business, such as manufacturing, might not want to move to this isolated corner of far west Texas.

As some of you may know, El Paso has recently launched a Trolley system that runs a total of 4.8 miles.  Below is a map showing our already existing bus routes, which consistently carry buses that are always way under capacity.  As a matter of fact, according to City reports, our taxpayer funded public transit system loses more riders each year.

city bus routes



As you can see, the buses do cover a lot of the city.  However, the tiny little troller pretty much runs from nowhere to nowhere.  The route is obviously located in an area where comparatively few people actually live or work.  And, it is too short to be of any practical use for transportation, even if lots of people lived and worked along that route.
Trolley Route



However, once upon a time we did have a practical trolley system that covered a larger part of El Paso, and even crossed the border to run through a good part of Cd. Juarez, our former sister city.  Below is a photo of the interior of one of those trolleys (today's version features some of the same cars, renovated at great cost) when it was stopped at the international border crossing.  The man in uniform was a U. S. Customs agent checking for status.  It might be of interest to note that we rarely had to show any ID when crossing the border.  All we had to do was declare our citizenship.  Obviously, if one was a noncitizen, then one would be expected to have a border crossing card.





Nestor Valencia, a well known local artist who is behind many of the portraits you may have seen around the city, was also one of the planners for the Cordova Bridge -- Chamizal Park -- was also involved in helping to restore the Plaza Theatre and most recently helped plan the new San Jacinto Plaza:
"In 1920 through 1925 we had 52 miles of trolley system in El Paso. We were a street car system," Valencia said.  Valencia told ABC-7 that in 1922, the street car was moving 2.1 million passengers a year.
photos collected from around 1960, showing trolleys on both sides of the border can be seen here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0i5kqn9Efw
So, we are left with a number of questions:  Why did we just build this new trolley system, if we lack any real tourist attractions, don't need it for daily transportation, and cannot reasonably expect it, all by itself, to be a tourist attraction?  Why do we continue to subsidize a public transportation system that consistently loses money, while not really providing necessary transportation?  Why do we allow our elected representatives to neglect our streets at the expense of building unnecessary facilities and waste money fighting for things we don't need or want?

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Message from Beto O'Rourke


The government of the greatest country the world has ever known, the wealthiest, most powerful nation on the planet: closed until further notice.
This shutdown – hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans working without pay during the holidays, basic government functions no longer available to the taxpayers who fund them – didn’t have to happen. The Senate passed a compromise government funding bill two days ago, 100–0. The men and women who can’t agree on what to name a post office were able to unite and unanimously agree on how to fund the entire government.
But maybe it was intended to happen.
Maybe in the face of an investigation that seeks the facts surrounding allegations of collusion with a foreign government and obstruction of justice within our own government… as one aide after another pleads guilty… as the stock market tumbles… as men and women intent on keeping their dignity and their conscience flee his administration… perhaps the President calculates that by adding to the blizzard of bizarre behavior over the last two years and shutting down the government at Christmas, while his own party still controls each branch of it, the institutions that we need for our democracy to function (and to ensure no man is above the law) will be overwhelmed.
From a President who promised action, we got distraction.
But my concern for the country goes beyond the immediate pain and dysfunction that this shutdown will cause. Beyond even ensuring that this President is held accountable. What’s happening now is part of a larger threat to us all.
If our institutions no longer work, if we no longer have faith in them, if there’s no way to count on government even functioning (three shutdowns this year alone), then perhaps ultimately we become open to something else. Whatever we choose to call it, whether we openly acknowledge it at all, my fear is that we will choose certainty, strength and predictability over this constant dysfunction, even if it comes at the price of our democracy (the press; the ballot box; the courts; congress and representative government).
If there were ever a man to exploit this precarious moment for our country and our form of government, it’s Trump. Sending 5,400 troops to U.S. border communities during the midterm elections. Organizing Border Patrol “crowd control” exercises in El Paso on election day. Defying our laws by taking children from their parents, keeping kids in tent camps, turning back refugees at our ports. Calling the press “the enemy of the people” and celebrating violence against members of the media. Pitting Americans against each other based on race and religion and immigration status. Inviting us to hate openly, to call Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, to call asylum seekers animals, to describe Klansmen and neo-Nazis as very fine people. Seeking to disenfranchise fellow Americans with made up fears of voter fraud. Isolating us from the other great democracies as he cozies up to dictators and thugs. Lying again and again. Making a mockery of the United States – once the indispensable nation, the hope of mankind.
So we can engage in the immediate fights about blame for this latest shutdown… fall into his arguments about a wall, or steel slats, at a time of record border security and in the face of asylum seekers – our neighbors – fleeing the deadliest countries in the world… we can respond to his name-calling and grotesque, bizarre behavior… or we can pull up, look back at this moment from the future and see exactly what is happening to our country.
We are at risk of losing those things that make us special, unique, exceptional, those things that make us the destination for people the world over, looking for a better life and fleeing countries who lack our institutions, our rule of law, our stability.
If ever there was a time to put country over party it is now. This is not about a wall, it’s not about border security, it’s not about Democrats and Republicans. It’s about the future of our country – whether our children and grandchildren will thank us or blame us. Whether we will lose what was fought for, made more perfect, by the men and women who risked and lost their lives at Antietam, on Omaha beach, in Jackson, Mississippi… whether we will be defined by greatness and ambition or pettiness and fear. Whether we will continue to live in the world’s greatest democracy, or something else.
In the short term – let’s pass the funding bill that was agreed to by the Senate 100–0 just a few days ago. Send it to the President with the confidence that we represent the people of this country and that we are willing to override his veto if he cannot respect their will. Show that government can work, that we can see past our immediate differences to serve the greater good. To put country over party. To put country over one man. To do what we were sent here to do.
In the longer term – we must strengthen all of our institutions at the very moment they are called into question. Some clear opportunities for Congress: Ensure that our representatives in government reject PAC money, corporate and special interest influence. Demand that they hold town halls in our communities, listen to and respond to their constituents. Show America that they are working for us and for no one else.
Take action on the most urgent issues of our day: climate change, healthcare, endless war, income inequality, immigration, the vibrancy of rural communities and inner cities, education and criminal justice reform. Define the goal in each area, build the coalition to achieve it, find the common ground (between parties, between branches of government), and move forward. Prove that our system of government – whatever its problems – is still the best thing under the sun.
It’s action vs. distraction. One will save our democracy, the other will lead to its end.
- Beto

Thursday, October 11, 2018

No Excuses. Just Vote!


Love is a pile of ____, A Musical

We were invited to a performance of a play at the Teatro de la Ciudad de Chihuahua, in Chihuahua, Mexico, this past Saturday evening. This was a presentation of the City of Chihuahua, and featured some very professional actors.
                                                         
                                                           The Playbill:








Before I mention the play itself (other than showing you the playbill, that is), let me tell you about the venue.  The theater itself is old, and its location has variously been occupied by theaters known by names such as Betancourt (1877-1904, when it was destroyed by fire), Teatro Centenario (until 1938, when it was again destroyed by fire), then Cine Colonial (1947-1992, when the doors were closed).  As the names might suggest, it was a regular theater, with live performances up until it became a movie theater in 1947.  Following the closure in 1992, the theater was not used until the City opened it as The Theater of the City, in 2001.

                                            The theater from the street

The presentation that we saw was an original play whose name ends with the well known emoji for "poop."  The name is literally suggesting that love is nothing more than a pile of same.  Basically, despite my own inability to hear and completely comprehend the dialogue, I got the gist of the idea that young couples today argue over petty things, and have a bit of trouble resolving their differences.  It is a comedy, and it does have a number of really decent songs.

                                            A great view of the interior

I have to confess that I was disappointed from the get go to see the actors using microphones, and in my opinion, that took something away from the entire presentation.  Even though these were the behind the neck, hang near the mouth type, they could not overcome the rustle of clothing too close, or the inevitable movement that put the mikes too close to the mouth.  So, in addition to the fact that young people tend to talk too fast for us older folks, and my own limited Spanish, I had to deal with distortion that was pretty much present throughout.  In short, my comprehension of this play was very limited.


                                              Some of the intricate detail

I understand that at least one of the songs belongs to one Cristian Castro, a well known Mexican singer, and a brother of one of the cast members.  That brother played the part of the Psychiatrist, and his name is Marcos Valdes, who just happens to be the son of Loco Valdez, a famous Mexican comedian, and a member of a very distinguished family of actors.  Marco's mother is Veronica Castro, a famous singer, actress, producer, and presenter.

I guess I'm trying to say that this play has some serious bona fides, and, as I did mention, it is a professional presentation that was - for me, at least - marred by the use of microphones coupled with a less than ideal sound system.

Monday, October 1, 2018

So, Why Does The U. S. Have A Department Of Defense?

I have been thinking about our yuge (we're talking major Bigly here) National Debt and Deficit, and other woes of the Trumpian Era, and this one thing keeps bothering me.  Now, I grant you, this did not begin with the current administration.  It began a long, long time ago, when we first chose to ignore the warnings of Dwight D. Eisenhower, when he talked about the Military Industrial Complex, upon his leaving the office of President.  It escalated over the years, and then got really, really bad in the wake of the stupid that followed 9/11.
I am talking about Defense Spending, and the seriously out of control Department of Defense!  Why should our spending on what we euphemistically call Defense be so damn high?!
Just to be sure that I had this right, I looked up the word:
DEFENSE:
NOUN
1.      the action of defending from or resisting attack.
"she came to the defense of the eccentric professor" · 
synonyms: protection · shielding · safeguarding · guarding · security · fortification · 
·        an instance of defending a title or seat in a contest or election.
"his first title defense against Jones"
·        military measures or resources for protecting a country.
"the minister of defense" · 
synonyms: armaments · weapons · weaponry · arms · 
2.      the case presented by or on behalf of the party being accused or sued in a lawsuit.
synonyms: rebuttal · denial · vindication · explanation · mitigation · justification · 
3.      (in sports) the action or role of defending one's goal against the opposition.
"we played solid defense"

I do not see anywhere in that definition, anything about sending our armed forces to any other place on this planet!  Do you see words like "invasion" or "occupy" in there?  I sure do not.  I mean, how is invasion of Iraq equal to "protecting" our nation?  Did Iraq have the power to invade us, and only the Defense Department was aware of that?  So, how are we defending our nation by invading the Middle East, and making war on nations, when it was individual terrorists who brought down the Twin Towers?  Why did our "Defense" not prevent that horror?  Isn't that what Defense is supposed to do?  When did Defense become Offense?  Why are we OK with this?

Have we all forgotten just how much money we've allowed our Defense to piss away over the years?!  Are we all totally ignorant of the good that could have been accomplished with that much money, if diverted towards the infrastructure, or health care, or education?  Does it not hurt you to think of all the waste?  All the loss?

How is joining an all volunteer Army, and going off to countries whose citizens never hurt us equivalent to "serving" the nation?  Hint:  If you joined the Army (or, the Navy, or the Air Force, or the Marines, or even the Space Farce) to serve your country?  You don't need to go to some far away place to do that.  You can "serve" your country right here at home by volunteering to house and feed the homeless, or educate young people, or volunteer at a hospital, or go to work fixing broken streets and highways!

And, if we have a desperate need for Defense of our nation (I abhor the use of that word, "homeland"), then should we not have shoreline artillery batteries, Air Force Bases near our borders, and Army posts?  Why must our Defense be concentrated overseas?

I mean, if we have some 800 +/- bases across the world, that is not even remotely like Defense.  That's Empire Building, and we have always denied any bent towards Imperialism.

Personally, I think it is way past time to stop saying that we must have a huge Defense budget, and time to begin calling it what it is.  It is either an invasion budget, or an empire building budget, or better yet, an Offense Budget, because all of those are more accurate and honest.

Bottom line, for me, is this:  We don't need a humongous military force.  No.  More.  War.