Saturday, February 28, 2009

Drugs, Guns & Jobs

Every time we drive up Interstate 10 toward Phoenix and points north, we stop at the rest area north of Casa Grande where there is a marker commerateing the Gadsden Purchase, ratified in 1854. This "purchase" finalized the border with Mexico and cleared the way for the construction of the southern route of the transcontinental railroad. It also brought into the United States a population of Mexican families who lived on this land and whose descendants remain there. These people also retain close ties to family remaining on the Mexican side of the border. The Tohono O'odham tribe (then known as the Papago) was split by the new border.

A decade ago we made the decision to move to the southern part of this area, approximately 30 miles north of the current border with Mexico. At the time we were told that we might be visited by men passing through on their way to find work and not to lock the car because, if stolen, it would suffer less damage if a drug runner could just take it without breaking a window or bothering you. Over this decade we have had no problems with either class of travelers.

However recently the atmosphere has changed. We had enjoyed regular visits across the border for wonderful lunches or dinners, just on the other side of the border fence. That is no longer recommended. In fact, our favorite restaurant is now closed and there have been gun battles in the streets. How and why has this come to be?

I believe that there are two basic, interlocking reasons for the current state of affairs: 1) the recent nativist attacks on immigrants and 2) the U.S. drug policy. Until a short while ago the human traffic had 2 coexisting components, the aspiring workers and the drug runners. But then a combination of nativist attacks on immigrants and the crash of the housing boom caused many immigrant families to wish to return to Mexico and certainly decreased the desirability of the US as a source of jobs. But, because of the increased enforcement of immigration laws, it is now harder for illegal immigrants to return home. That is one reason so many have brought their families north, because they cannot easily go home and then return for the next season's work.

This leads me directly to the other portion of the northward traffic, the drug runners. Drug runners exist to fill the market for their product in the U.S. It is just a fact of the market economy, the product goes to where the buyers are. And since the product is illegal in the U.S., guns, in fact, assault weapons (illegal in Mexico), are now part of the package. So we have a population of unemployed young Hispanic men (and women) and a thriving market in drugs, supplied from south of our border. This would seem to lead to a large supply of possible recruits for drug gangs, recruits that are distributed throughout the U.S. And we have plenty of gun stores with owners willing to sell assault rifles to anyone who will pay them. A recent sting operation by the Justice Department arrested more than 750 people nationwide.

Why have things gotten this bad? In all of the well publicized raids by the Homeland Security Dept, was none of this operation discovered? The immigration raids on homes around the country were billed as part of a search for dangerous immigrant fugitives. In fact, to assure the flow of money for the program from Congress, easier targets were chosen. The vast majority of those arrested had no criminal record, and many had no deportation orders against them, either. It was far easier to raid factories, especially after the owners had helped them by supplying all of the personnel records, than to track down dangerous felons. So the immigration war on immigrant gangs never happened and we have the situation that we, and Mexico, now find ourselves in.

The well reported violence south of the border is now reaching into Arizona (and I presume into California, New Mexico and Texas as well). Phoenix has had a bout of kidnappings and home invasions over the last year. The Phoenix police have formed a special unit to combat the problem. But they do not seek the publicity that Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County does. He is famous for his racial profiling stops, jailing people who cannot immediately prove their citizenship (can you?), marching prisoners across town in shackles and keeping them in inhumane conditions. While this type of violence has not hit our region, another side of the violence coin has. Gangs are waiting for immigrants along their routes and robbing, raping and killing these people. When the border patrol representatives are asked whether there were any special operations being conducted to deal with the spike of robberies, rape and other incidents of violence, the response is that they couldn't say for sure [Nogales International, Feb. 27, 2009]

Fortunately our immigration and national security policies are being reevaluated by the new administration. The policies should be aimed at protecting all people, not at assuring the flow of money from Congress. We must now work with Mexico to stop this war that we have given them.

Read the rest!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Our Representatives

When I was in high school one of my teachers asked us how we thought our elected representatives should vote, as we wish them to all the time or should they use their own judgment. At the time I was sure that our representatives should always vote their own minds, regardless of what their constituency wants. However, many years of experience watching politics has taught me that a balance is required. If the representative does not share much of the general outlook of his constituency, he/she will not be elected. But we also hope that he/she will be a well educated and very competent person who knows far more about and is willing to learn about all of the issues that will arise during his/her tenure. Unfortunately, many of the most important issues never seem to arise during a campaign.

Recent events have demonstrated some weaknesses in our "vetting" system for our elected representatives. First let us look at an issue that our representatives must always deal with, our economy. Dealing with the current economic crisis became a major issue both during the presidential primaries and then leading up to the election in November. During the primaries, one Democratic candidate rejected the opinion of all economists in order to favor a gasoline tax moratorium, believing this proposal would gain votes in the upcoming primary. When the full blown economic crisis hit, although he had previously said that he needed to learn more about economics, McCain wanted to suspend his campaign, postpone a debate and return to Washington to deal with the issue. One candidate, now President, Obama consulted with the team of economic advisors that he had assembled and then dominated the conference that followed in Washington before continuing to Oxford, MS for the debate. Our representatives will always have to deal with our economy. Why do we not want to know what their educational background is? Shouldn't they all have to at least taken Econ 101? Why not even more economics if we are going to rely on them to govern this country?

Another job that our senators must undertake is to confirm the President's cabinet nominees and other high level appointments. This always involves deep background checks, none of which the senators themselves have been subjected to. The utter hypocrisy of many of the senators comments on the tax problems of a few of the nominees, some extremely minor, was dumbfounding. Recently Politico sent 5 questions to all currently sitting senators on their tax situation. Their analysis of the responses showed that many (42) were not willing to even reply to the survey.
Some Senate offices took issue with the line of questioning, saying it was either unfair or an invasion of privacy. Aides to one senator told Politico that they considered the survey “presumptuous and intrusive.” Some Senate press secretaries encouraged others not to respond to the survey.
What qualifications should we require of our representatives? Should we require that they meet the same standards as those they pass judgment upon? Should they be required to show their competence to understand the economy within which our country's economy must operate, the world's economy? What must they understand about educating our children? What must they know about the way in which scientific research thrives and how it is best funded? We need to ask more questions of those who seek our vote. One of those is 'Will you have an open mind and be willing to listen to those who differ with you?' We live in a rapidly changing society. 'Are you able to learn new things?' If the answer is no, we do not need these people. Congress is full of them already.

Read the rest!