On The Dusty Trail To Las Cruces

It’s 275 miles from Tucson, Arizona to Las Cruces, New Mexico, as the crow flies, and it’s just about the same distance if you’re traveling by car.  You get on I-10 and head east, and it’s a straight shot on an unbending road that takes you past long freight trains rattling west and dusty mountains framed by blue sky, bright sunshine, and high clouds.

And speaking of dust, the section of I-10 from Tucson to Las Cruces is one of the few places in America where you’ll see highway signs warning you of what to do if you’re caught in a dust storm.  As I took in the brittle, dry look of the surrounding landscape, with only a few desert plants here and there and lots of exposed earth, it wasn’t hard to imagine a dust storm kicking up.  Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any dust storms — the recent snow presumably tamped down the dust, and it wasn’t that windy, anyway — but I now know from seeing multiple signs that you’re supposed to pull to the side immediately, turn off all lights, set your emergency brake, take your foot off the brake, stay in the vehicle with your seatbelt buckled, and wait until the storm passes.

Shortly after you pass from Arizona to New Mexico you pass a notch in the southern border of the state that puts you within 40 miles or so of Mexico.  If you look south from the roadway you see desolate countryside that probably hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, more dusty looking mountains in the distance, and not much else.  You do, however, have a great selection of Mexican AM radio stations to keep you company as you roll along.

All About The Wall

You may have missed it, but Tuesday was the deadline for companies to submit bids for the design of “the wall” that President Trump proposes to build along at least some parts of our southern border with Mexico.

Customs and Border Protection is supposed to review the bids and announce finalists in June, and then some of the finalists are expected to build prototypes of their designs on government-owned land in San Diego.  The AP reports that the government is expected to select four to ten finalists to build 30-foot-long prototypes at a cost of $200,000 to $500,000 each.  Customs and Border Protection has indicated that it is looking for solid barriers, made of materials like concrete, rather than “walls” that rely on technology.

a0af3a441932abf668a4b1a868ee7b0aWe don’t know exactly how many companies submitted proposals, although apparently about 200 companies expressed interest in the border wall project.   I’m guessing that there were lots of bids.  What construction companies could resist bidding on a project that potentially involves pouring enormous amounts of concrete to build a barricade that extends for hundreds of miles?  The “wall” would make your standard highway construction project seem like a minor matter.

And although all of the bids haven’t been made public, we know what some companies are proposing because they have voluntarily disclosed their bids.  One bidder thinks the wall will become a kind of tourist attraction, and proposes a 56-foot-high wall designed with a walkway at the top to allow visitors to enjoy the desert vistas.  (“Hey kids!  Where should we go on our summer trip this year?  Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, or the border wall?”)  A different proposal suggests that nuclear waste be buried in trenches along the wall — which presumably would quash any meaningful tourist activity, by the way.  Another company wants to erect solar panels on parts of the wall, to generate electricity that can be sold to communities in both the U.S. and Mexico to help pay for the wall’s cost, which would allow President Trump to say that he had met, at least in part, his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for the wall.

Will a wall actually be built, given the significant opposition to it?  We don’t know at this point, but we do know one thing:  the bids that have been made public so far indicate the this effort at large-scale wall building could be a very quixotic exercise.

Always A Castle Builder

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Richard’s on vacation in sunny Mexico, and his fiancee Julianne snapped some photos of him building a sand castle.  It’s some good castle-building work on his part — part of a long line of castle-building prowess that dates back to his childhood.

I have happy memories of building castles with Richard and Russell when they were kids.  Good to see that the architectural tendencies still run strong!

The Pope And The Donald

While aboard the papal plane today, flying back from an appearance in Mexico, Pope Francis was asked about Donald Trump’s notion of building a wall between Mexico and the United States.  The Pope said that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”  When Trump heard about the Pope’s comment, he replied that it was “disgraceful” for “a religious leader to question a person’s faith.”

pope-mexicoI suspect that the Pope will soon regret his response, if he doesn’t regret it already.  It’s not that the Pope doesn’t have every right to give his opinion on what qualities or actions are “Christian” and what are not — of course he does, because after all this is the Pope we’re talking about.  As the head of a Christian denomination with millions of members spanning the globe, he obviously can, and regularly does, speak about such topics.

In this instance, though, I think the Pope’s comments were ill-advised, because they come in the middle of an American presidential campaign and obviously were directed at a particular candidate.  It seems to diminish the Pope, somehow, for him to weigh in on something so secular and tawdry as an American political campaign.  We’ve come a long way since the days of the Kennedy-Nixon election of 1960 — when John F. Kennedy’s Catholic faith was a big issue, because opponents whispered that he would be taking direction from Vatican City — but the Pope’s comments on a candidate still seem . . . unwise.  When most people associate the Pope with a focus on the spiritual, even a brief foray by him into an increasingly bitter, mud-slinging political campaign is a bit jarring.

And, of course, Pope Francis’ comments just serve to allow Donald Trump to mount his high horse, clothe himself in righteous indignation, and further burnish his reputation as the anti-establishment candidate.  I’m afraid that Pope Francis will learn that anyone who associates or interacts with Donald Trump ends up being tarnished by the experience.  Why stoop to comment about such a person?

 

Trumpelstiltskin

You may remember the Grimm’s fairy tale about Rumpelstiltskin, the odd little man who helped a miller’s daughter spin straw into gold and become a queen.  A year later, after the odd little man returned to collect on her promise to give him her first-born child, he gave her the chance to keep her baby if she could say his name.  When she ultimately said his name was Rumpelstiltskin, the little man became infuriated, stamped his foot so hard that it plunged deep into the ground, and then tore himself in two trying to free himself.

And so it is with Donald Trump — except he expects everyone to know his name already.

Trump can’t quite spin straw into gold, but he is a flamboyant figure who has a talent for cashing in on his mysteriously gained celebrity millionaire status through TV shows and business deals.  But he wants to be seen as a kind of legitimate political figure, too.  So he has declared his candidacy for President, and being Trump he has done it in the loudest way possible — by focusing on immigration and contending that “the Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States” who are “in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”  He says the United States “has become a dumping ground for Mexico and, in fact, for many other parts of the world.”

Trump’s anger-fueled, extreme views on immigration have been attacked as racist and have attracted a lot of media attention — and whenever candidates get media attention it helps their standing in the polls.  According to a recent CNN poll, Trump has moved up in the crowded field of Republican candidates. However, no rational person expects Donald Trump to be the eventual Republican nominee, or even a serious contender when the primaries start and polls measure more than simple name recognition.

But Trump’s furious political foot-stamping has come at a cost that threatens to shred his business dealings.  NBC, Univision, and Macy’s have all ended their business deals with him, and most recently the PGA decided not to hold an event at the Trump National golf course in California.  And as Trump tries to explain his views on immigration, and continues to offend millions, we can expect his business ventures to experience additional fall-out.

The Donald could have been satisfied with a TV show and a catchphrase.  By throwing his elaborate coiffure into the political ring, Trumpelstiltskin has put himself in a deep hole and may end up tearing himself apart.

Mexican Clowns Issue Their Denial

Last Friday, at a party in Cabo San Lucas, a gunman disguised as a clown shot and killed a reputed drug lord.  In a hit that sounds like a set piece from a Quentin Tarantino film, the assassin wore a clown wig, red nose, and costume.

Mexican clowns reacted swiftly to the troubling incident.  At a clown convention this week in Mexico City, they denied that the gunman was a true clown.  A real member of the “clown profession,” they say, would have been easily identifiable by his costume, mask, and face paint.  (Apparently, it is a fundamental part of the professional clown code to always wear your known stage costume whenever you participate in a public criminal act.)  One of the attendees said he could swear on his mother’s grave that it wasn’t a clown.

I’m sure Mexico was reassured by the clown convention’s steadfast denial of any clown involvement in the shooting.  No doubt towns and villages throughout Mexico were unsettled by the thought that murderous bands of rogue clowns might be roaming the countryside, emerging by the dozens from tiny cars, ready to stomp people with their too-big shoes, blind victims with spritzes from a seltzer bottle, and then open fire after tying off a balloon animal.

Many people, myself included, think clowns are creepy and unfunny as it is.  It’s nice to know, at least, that they aren’t routinely out there gunning down people at children’s parties.

Univision Digs Into The “Fast And Furious” Fiasco

I’ve written before about “Operation Fast and Furious,” a disastrously misguided gun tracing operation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) during the Obama Administration.  The American news media hasn’t shown much interest in “Fast and Furious” — or the Justice Department’s stonewalling in response to questions about the project — but now Univision is picking up the slack and doing some fine reporting about the ill-conceived operation.

Univision has focused on the impact of the nearly 2,000 guns that the BATF allowed to be “walked” out of the United States into Mexico.  Amazingly, the BATF lost track of the weapons, many of which ended up in the hands of Mexicans gangsters.  Univision has identified  “Fast and Furious” weapons that were used in murders, kidnappings, and mass killings.  Some were used by hit men who opened fire on a birthday party of young people in Ciudad Juarez, killing 14 and leaving another 12 wounded.  Others were part of an armed attack on a rehabilitation center where 18 people died.  By any standard, the BATF’s operation has been a bloody disaster — and the human toll has fallen mostly on Mexico, which already had its hands full with drug lords and mounting violence even before the American government foolishly decided to allow hundreds of weapons to cross the border.

As the Univision report points out, the “Operation Fast and Furious” has become a political football in the United States, where the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for failing to produce documents.  As a result — and because the American media has failed to do its own investigative reporting on the matter — the massacres in Mexico with “Fast and Furious” firearms have been largely ignored north of the border.

Our government’s failure to fully acknowledge responsibility for the botched operation, and the bloodshed it has caused, is reprehensible.  We can only hope that Univision’s effort to put a human face on the cost of “Operation Fast and Furious” might shame the U.S. government into action, and embarrass American journalists into doing their own reporting on this scandal.

Horror South Of The Border

Yesterday Mexican officials found the headless bodies of 49 unknown people — all with hands and feet also cut off — on a highway near the city of Monterrey. The bodies, already beginning to decompose, were dumped in a pile on the road.

Mexico has been dealing with drug violence for years, and its politicians keep promising to end the killings and curtail the powers of the drug cartels.  However, the violence seems to be getting worse, with cartels and their enforcers fighting for control of territories, thousands of people killed in the conflicts, and decapitations becoming increasingly common. Moreover, this latest lawlessness strikes very close to home for Americans.  Monterrey is the capital of the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, which is located just across the border from Texas.

Incidents like this make Mexico seem like the location for apocalyptic fiction about a future where social order has totally broken down and only brute force prevails.  We can’t afford to have Mexico descend into utter chaos, however.  Although we obviously need to pay attention to the financial disasters that are rocking Europe, we can’t afford to forget about our neighbor to the south, and the possibility that the awful violence could spill over onto American soil.

Fast And Furious And Foolish

Let’s ponder, for a moment, “Operation Fast and Furious,” an ill-conceived, botched initiative that apparently was the brainchild of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) during the Obama Administration.  The fact that the effort was named after a hyper-macho, testosterone-laden Vin Diesel movie probably tells you all you need to know about the wisdom and thoughtfulness underlying the operation.

Operation Fast and Furious was supposed to help the BATF track and stop arms trafficking across the U.S.-Mexican border.  As part of the operation, the BATF not only allowed loads of guns to be purchased and delivered into the hands of Mexican drug cartels but also, according to testimony from agents, prevented American agents from stopping the flow of arms across the border.  Unfortunately, the BATF couldn’t keep track of the guns, and they have ended up at crime scenes along the U.S.-Mexican border — including the scene where a U.S. border agent was murdered.  A recent letter from congressional investigators to Attorney General Eric Holder states, in part:  “The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in those activities.”

The stench surrounding Operation Fast and Furious is exacerbated by the fact that congressional investigators are claiming that the federal government is not being forthcoming about who knew about and approved the operation.  Recently the acting director of the BATF came forward, with his personal attorney, to testify before congressional investigators about apparent efforts by the Justice Department to block his testimony.  The DOJ denies any cover-up or wrongdoing.

With respect to the cover-up allegations, we’ll just have to see where the congressional investigation leads.  What does seem to be undisputed, however, is that this hare-brained operation involved U.S. agencies facilitating criminal activities that resulted in violence and death, including — apparently — the death of an American border agent.  How could any federal agency (or agencies, if more than one in fact was involved) have thought that injecting even more guns into the Mexican drug wars along the border was a good idea, and then been so careless in keeping track of the guns involved?

We should all keep the foolish riskiness of “Operation Fast and Furious,” and the unbelievably bad judgment exercised by those who approved and implemented it, in mind the next time we hear that the federal budget can’t be cut, or that we should just trust federal agencies and bureaucrats to make decisions on our behalf.

Death South Of The Border (Cont.)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently observed that the spiraling violence in Mexico was similar to the situation in Colombia 20 years ago, when drug cartels controlled parts of the country, and said that drug cartels are looking more and more like insurgencies.  A Mexican official rejected the comparison — but the fact remains that car bombings, the killing of mayors and other government officials, and similar tactics of insurgencies are increasingly frequent occurrences in Mexico.

It is encouraging to hear Administration officials publicly recognize the rampant problems in Mexico.  Having identified the seriousness of the problem, perhaps the federal government will now take more vigorous steps to address the dangers posed to our country by the escalating Mexican violence and our porous southern border.

Signs of Trouble

Yesterday an interesting story reported on signs posted in Arizona by the federal Bureau of Land Management.  The signs warn that drivers are entering “an active drug and human smuggling area” and “may encounter armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed.”  The signs suggest that travelers drive farther north.

Given the presence of these signs, can anyone really question why Arizonans are so incensed about immigration problems and the lack of border security?  If the Obama Administration insists that enforcement of federal immigration law really is an exclusively federal issue, as is the case in its lawsuit against Arizona, then don’t those signs confirm that the federal government has miserably failed in that task?  Although Americans have many different views on immigration, I think a vast majority of Americans would agree that the borders need to be secure, such that “armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed” can’t easily enter our country.

What is happening in Arizona is intolerable — and in view of the rampant drug-related violence and disorder in Mexico, is high dangerous to our national security.  Warning signs obviously are no substitute for personnel and equipment that actually secure our borders.

Death South Of The Border (Cont.)

The news from Mexico keeps getting more chilling.  I’ve noted in several posts — see here and here — the escalating violence in our neighbor to the south and the resulting risks for our country.  Time now has a story about the recent assassination of Edelmiro Cavazos,  the mayor of Santiago, Mexico.  The assassination of a political figure is bad enough, but what really makes the story disturbing is that the mayor’s own police officers apparently have confessed to participating in the killing.

Tales of corruption involving the Mexican security forces — where government officials shake down tourists or foreign businesses or accept bribes to look the other way when illegal transactions occur — are legendary.  There is an obvious difference, however, between petty corruption and outright participation in political murders.  If police officers and security personnel switch sides and join the drug gangs, there could be a breakdown of social order and Mexico could become much more dangerous than it already is.

America should pay more attention to Mexico.  We should offer them whatever assistance we can to help them deal with the problems of the drug gangs — and we should take the steps necessary to make sure that our border is secure and the violence cannot spill over into our country.

More Mayhem In Mexico

Thursday night a car bomb exploded in Juarez, Mexico, killing four people.  The bomb, which supposedly was planted by one of the Mexican drug cartels, used the same kind of detonation device used by terrorist groups like Hezbollah.  The terrorist-style bombing continues a pattern of killing in Mexico that recently included the assassination of a gubernatorial candidate in one of the Mexican states bordering Texas.

Juarez, incidentally, is right across the border from El Paso, Texas and within a stone’s throw of Fort Bliss.  The continuing drug war violence in Mexico is just another reason why one of our national priorities should be securing the southern border, to make sure that the violence in Mexico does not spill over into the United States.

Death South Of The Border

Rodolfo Torre Cantu

The brazenness and bloodiness of the continuing Mexican drug wars is astonishing.  On Monday, a drug gang gunned down Rodolfo Torre Cantu, the leading candidate for governor of the state of Tamaulipas, one of the Mexican states along the border with Texas.  The candidate was out campaigning when his motorcade was stopped by a truck blocking the road and the cars in the motorcade were riddled with bullets, in an incident that sounds like the Sonny Corleone death scene in The Godfather.  Rival Mexican drug gangs have apparently begun to increasingly target governmental and political figures, and Cantu was their most high profile victim yet.

The overall death toll from the Mexican drug wars is even more amazing.  Experts estimate that 22,000 people have been killed by drug-related violence in the last four years.  Consider that slightly more than 5500 Americans have died in the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq since those conflicts began in 2001 and 2003, respectively.  Four times as many Mexicans have been killed, and in a shorter time frame!

This is bad news for America on multiple levels.  No country wants to have lawlessness on its border, and if Mexican drug gangs are bold enough to ambush leading politicians on public streets in Mexico, they likely are bold enough to try to cross over into American territory if they think it would benefit them.  Moreover, law-abiding Mexicans will not long tolerate living in a country where criminal violence reaches such levels and gangland killings go unpunished.  Those who are concerned about illegal immigration into America should be especially concerned that Mexico does not devolve into a state of criminal anarchy and chaos, because the flood of illegal immigrants that will result will dwarf what has happened to date.

In The Neighborhood (Cont.)

I’ve posted before on the terrible problems in Mexico with drug gangs and killings.  Unfortunately, the problem seems to be getting progressively worse.  In the last few days American citizens who worked at the U.S. consulate in Juarez were gunned down, and Juarez now is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.  According to this article, the onslaught of violence is causing middle class Mexicans to flee the city, which may mean that the city will simply spiral downward into more violence and, ultimately, complete disorder and chaos.

Mexico has never been a real focus of our foreign policy, but that clearly needs to change.  Mexico and the U.S. share a border hundreds of miles long.  The fact that there are armed gangs roaming the streets directly across the border, killing people with apparent impunity and the direction of drug lords, obviously is not good for our security in this country.  The possibility that the over-the-top violence could spill over into this country should be of concern to every American.