Shared guilt…

May 30, 2008
By Tony Walther
If you had blood on your hands, you’d have a guilty conscience too.
I think that pretty well explains the latest mea culpa to come out of Foggy Bottom, Scott McClellan’s new blockbuster, “What Happened,” about how George W. Bush and his administration lied (or oversold?) to the public concerning Iraq.
But maybe it’s the public who ought to feel guilty. The facts have always been there. Even though the major TV networks fell in lock step with the official story, there were newspaper stories and magazine stories, and even a few, only a few, radio talk show hosts with the real story, before the whole mess began.
Well before we went into Iraq, the public was warned that that was what the Bush administration planned to do. The 9/11 attacks made it all possible. A position paper called the Project for a New Century had already been written and it said that what was needed was another Pearl Harbor to wake America up. Some neo conservative policy wonks had decided that America needed to take over or at least make its influence known in the Middle East, because, well, that’s where the oil is.
And I’m getting tired of explaining this, but the 9/11 attacks did not come from Iraq, but then who really cares? Even I don’t care anymore.
Regardless of disagreements as to the real facts in all of this, I think the unquestionable truth here is that we got suckered into another quagmire. We are wasting tremendous resources and suffering a tremendous loss in lives over what appears to be a blunder.
Yes, resources. At a time that we need oil, we have disrupted the oil supply out of Iraq.
We are in an economic crisis here at home. Could that be because of the billions, trillions we are and will spend in Iraq?
Way back when, the popular nonsense line was, “Bush is the president. He knows things we do not.”
I would venture to say that he probably does (such as just how much money he and Dick Cheney are making in all of this through their defense contractor and oil business ties). But what does that have to do with anything?
What exactly this special knowledge George W. Bush was holding, I haven’t a clue, but I do get the impression that he is not terribly bright. But his family does have money and holds great influence. In fact, that has been the business of his family, influence. They are professional influence peddlers.
Bush is or has been an alcoholic, reportedly a cocaine user, did not show academic prowess in school, failed at business (but rich people bailed him out because they knew his family connections and the resulting influence would be valuable some day), and he proudly crows that he is the “decider,” while seemingly to lament that he is not a dictator, because that would be easier.
One wonders how Bush got to be president in the first place. I suppose it’s because for whatever reason at the time of the elections a large portion of the voters (but not a majority in the first election which was as you recall decided not by the voters but the Supreme Court) felt that this simple speaking man was more down to earth than the more polished Al Gore, and then the even more polished and elitist John Kerry in the second election.
Ever since the Democrats got us bogged down in Vietnam and then saw the error of their ways and went pacifist for a few years, large numbers of the public have seen them as lily livered cowards who would sell out their country rather than fight for it. Never mind that Gore, a Democrat, and Kerry, a Democrat, were both Vietnam veterans. Never mind that tough talking George W. Bush was an AWOL (away without leave) Air National Guard member during Vietnam, no better than a deserter, really. But when you have decided you support someone, you kind of turn a blind eye to that person’s faults.
So back to Scott McClellan. He lied for Bush. Now he feels guilty. Before he dies, he wants to say that he is sorry. So did former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara about Vietnam. And former CIA director George Tenet also tried to explain himself, feeling guilty for letting the 9/11 attackers run free even though his own agents warned of them.
Back to Iraq. I still think the thing could be won. I even feel that Vietnam could have been won. The legitimate question may have been, should we have gotten involved in the first place. But isn’t that all academic by now?
Winning requires some type of definition. But I think what we want over in the Middle East is to stabilize things in Iraq and Afghanistan and let some type of western friendly government prevail. And I don’t think we ought to be embarrassed to make demands. We have considerable investment there already.
As much as John McCain bothers me with his willingness to stay the course no matter how long it takes, the idea of a Barack Obama going hat in hand Neville Chamberlain style to look for “peace in our time” bothers me too. And I certainly would not like to see a Jimmy Carter like president who would let the military miss a pay day (it happened back in 1978).
Hopefully this is not an either/or situation. There might be a third and acceptable way in all of this. A way we could phase out of the Middle East mess and still get something valuable out of it (oil?).
As for trying to create democracy in the Middle East, that has never interested me. Folks create their own democracy when they get good and ready. We didn’t invent democracy, I think it was the Greeks. The reason we have democracy in the United States is that it had already been developed in some form in England, and the colonists were only demanding that they have the rights of Englishmen.
If we mind our Ps and Qs here at home and practice what we preach about freedom instead of cloaking our government in secrecy and reducing individual liberties and creating a police state over the fear of terrorism and those terrible things that Bush knows and we don’t, the rest of the world might want to follow our pattern.
Yes, this was kind of a ramble or rant, but sometimes I just feel like writing what’s on my mind.
And who do I support for president? Haven’t made my mind up yet. I will certainly want to take a more studied approach than I did in writing off the top in this column. I would hope everyone does. I think this may well be the most important presidential election in a lifetime, or maybe that one eight years ago was…

Pork vs. research…

May 29, 2008
By Tony Walther
If ever there has been an appropriate use of the phrase “pork barrel spending,” the federal farm bills probably are it – but I wonder if a jab by Sen. John McCain was off the mark.
Sure the farm bills have been notorious for paying millionaires, many of whom have little to no connection with farming, millions of dollars in subsidies, and they pay farmers not to grow things (there are legitimate reasons, though, such as soil conservation), and they pay hefty subsidies to legitimate farmers, but ones who really are not in need of a handout because they are already millionaires or at least quite wealthy. And a world food shortage has significantly boosted crop prices, but the subsidies continue.
But an Associated Press story quoted the Republican presidential candidate, who unsuccessfully tried to help the president veto the current farm bill, as taking a swipe at the 2008 farm law. It said he questioned why it called for spending for such things as “$20 million to collect seeds for research and $35 million to develop hard white wheat.”
Sounds to me like the foregoing is a better use of funds than sending them to residents of the canyons of New York City who have no connection with a farm, other than they may be invested in one.
I read this, just after I read a story about the government cutting research for a scientist in Minnesota who is the only federal scientist whose main mission it is to protect the nation’s $17 billion wheat crop. In other parts of the world, a world already facing a desperate food shortage, a disease called stem rust is threatening wheat crops. And it could come here. In fact, it did come here in the early 1950s. The answer then was to develop a special strain of wheat resistant to the disease. But now there is a new strain of the rust disease and the disease is evolving and attacking heretofore resistant wheat varieties. It’s like in the hospitals where viruses are becoming immune to antibiotics.
So that, Sen. McCain, may be why there needs to be money spent on seed research. I have to admit, from the AP story about McCain’s remarks, I do not know which research program he was referring to, but I doubt that he did either. It was just campaign rhetoric to take a swipe at supporters of the current farm bill, now law. A lot of those supporters are Democrats, go figure. A lot are farm state Republicans too.
McCain probably does not have a good grasp of agricultural subjects. But even though his state, Arizona, has a lot of desert, strangely enough, it also grows wheat. Maybe he should check with some of his own state’s farmers.
And what about that “hard white wheat?” Sounds funny, I guess, to non-agriculturally interested folks, but the fact is, the University of Nebraska has a program that includes the development of this potential crop. Hard red winter wheat is the common variety now grown in that state, but the hard white wheat fetches a higher price on the world market. Certainly seems like that would help the nation’s economy. One of the things we still produce in humongous amounts in this consumer oriented, import crazy nation is food.
Under the new 2008 farm law, supposedly some of the abuse, such as dolling out millions to millionaires, has been excised, but the rich will still get richer via the farm bill.
Two thirds of it, interestingly, goes to nutrition programs, to include food stamps. I know the Farm Bureau organization and other ag groups often lobby against social programs, but they often support food stamps. Go figure.
Some $30 billion will go to keep land idle. That’s primarily a conservation measure, I suppose.
And there is a slight cut in the ethanol incentive to refiners to help alleviate the competition between fuel production and food. I never could understand how producing a tractor work intensive crop such as corn (big diesel and chemical fertilizer and water use) and then making more fuel out of it, makes sense. I do see the sense, possibly, in making fuel out of corn byproducts, something that is being done already in Arizona, of all places.
And then there was one corn belt senator who disingenuously held up an ear of feed corn and said: “I don’t think anyone would want to eat this.” He was supporting ethanol because it makes corn worth more, and he was implying that citified folks don’t understand that they’re just growing feed corn for ethanol, not sweet corn you’d put on your table or grind up and make tortilla’s with. Doesn’t make any difference Sen. Foghorn Leghorn. If you drive up the price of feed corn then that pound of bacon or those dozen eggs or that corn fed steak costs more and you’re also using land and inputs that might be used for direct food crops.
McCain’s opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, got ridiculed while campaigning in Iowa corn country for suggesting the price of arugula is high at the Whole Foods Store. But, he later explained that he was just suggesting that sometimes farmers might want to look at alternative crops. Maybe not now. Corn is fetching a pretty good price down on the farm. On the other hand, there is a growing grow and consume food near your home movement.
Politicians who may have little to no farm background often get made fun of when they visit farming country – it’s all great sport.
But food production is taking on a new prominence. There is a growing world hunger crisis and the climate experts are predicting it could even hit home in the near term.
The farm bill is huge and hard to analyze, but it should get close scrutiny. It’s a done deal for now, but in the future the pork should be separated from the necessary research.

News from blog world…

May 28, 2008
By Tony Walther
Want to know what really goes on inside Iraq? I suggest you google up: McClatchy blog, Iraq. You’ll read what actual Iraqis write.
Now I can’t guarantee that will really answer your questions, but you will get a different perspective. I’ve only read a little bit so far. It’s written in true blog fashion like a lot of folks write e-mails – misspellings, kind of stream of consciousness. But you can forgive the writers because they are, after all, doing this in a language other than their native tongue and doing a good job of it.
So, why don’t you check it out?
Since I haven’t read enough of those blogs to get a true sense of them, I’ll leave that subject
for now. But it does get me to thinking. The internet is full of garbage (hopefully, not this column), raw, unverified information, unedited material, and outright propaganda. But it is also full of information, information we never had access to before now. No longer are we completely constrained by the “official story” (ala 1970s Argentina and its Dirty War, or 1960s USA and what the Pentagon Papers revealed). We are not limited to news that becomes the news because that’s what our own government line is or because that’s what editors say is the news.
We are not confined to groupthink of the in-club reporters who all went to the same schools and hobnob with the folks that they are supposed to be objectively covering. It’s hard to shade the truth or cover things up when it’s all on the internet, thanks to freelancers. Of course most folks still don’t have the time to web surf all day to read all this new information. And one has to sift through a heck of a lot of garbage and has no way of knowing what is true and what is patently false.
But it is a new age in information. The internet is what brought the communists in Eastern Europe down, I think. The communist government in China is doing all it can to censor the internet. Who knows? That might happen here some day.
While I don’t think that there ever was or is a coordinated conspiracy between our government and the traditional news media concerning the dissemination of news and information (except maybe during the world wars and maybe Korea), there is or at least has been a kind of defacto conspiracy of sorts (and you thought the press fought the government). Noam Chompsky writes about this (don’t have a cite, just look it up somehow).
In the traditional approach, when there were only three news networks on television and the big newspapers, such as the New York Times, and the wire services, such as AP and UPI, were the main sources of news, everyone pretty much followed everyone else. If I am a reporter and I cover a political convention and I file a story that seems to be different from everyone else’s, my editor would be dubious and probably have me rewrite it to conform or just spike it (throw it out), as they used to say.
And reporters at the top end are paid better than they used to be (we are talking about the top end, not anything I ever had to do with). TV news people have come so close to the rich and famous, they are the rich and famous. That’s why TV network news people have often wound up interviewing each other.
But there is a whole new world of information out there. It gets through. And the traditionalists have to face it. It forces them to cover things and adjust to things they never had to contend with heretofore.
Barack Obama’s loose talk about simple folks clinging to their religion and guns while he was talking to an elitist gathering in San Francisco probably would have never seen the light of day in the past under traditional news media coverage. But today, you can’t keep a secret. Those remarks might well cost him the presidency.
There is of course good and bad to all of this. We don’t really need all the sordid details sometimes, I think. And worse than that, we are getting far too much unchecked information that turns out to be misleading or outright false. But we have turned a corner and I doubt we can ever go back, unless the internet breaks down or governments (besides the Chinese) find out an effective way to censor it.
I like what has happened. But I also long for the old days. The anticipation of the daily newspaper, or even the weekly journal.
And back to the Iraq blog thing, here’s a not-so-funny but probably insightful joke told by an Iraqi:
An American, Frenchman, and an Iraqi get arrested inside Saudi Arabia for drinking alcohol. They are each sentenced to 20 lashes. The administrator of the punishment is in a good mood because he has just learned that his wife has given him a new baby boy. He tells each one of them that they can have a wish before the lash is administered. First up, the American wishes to have a pillow strapped to his back. That lasts for five lashes before it is torn to shreds, leaving him with 15 unprotected lashes. Next up, the Frenchman wishes for two pillows. They only last through 10 lashes. Finally, it’s the Iraqi’s turn. The administrator of the punishment says: “For you, since you are a neighbor and a fellow Arab I grant you a second wish.” So, much to the surprise of the man with the whip, the Iraqi asks for 100 lashes as his first wish. His second wish: to have an American strapped to his back.

Afterthoughts, Memorial Day…

May 27, 2008


By Tony Walther

If you don’t tear up and get a lump in your throat and want to salute the flag while attending a Memorial Day ceremony, well I don’t know what to say. I did.

At my wife’s urging, we attended a ceremony in our home town. There was a color guard, drill team, a fighter jet flyover, speeches, patriotic music, the national anthem, and even a parachutist who jumped in.

What got me all teary eyed was when they played “Over Hill, Over Dale,” the Army theme song. And isn’t that kind of silly? I mean even though I joined the Army, I was not, to say the least, an enthusiastic soldier, much of the time. I served in Germany for most of my tour, even though it was during the Vietnam War. No, it was not the Army I was feeling nostalgic or whatever about, it was being part of something. If it were a bunch of people just like me that we were supposed to recognize, it wouldn’t be worth the bother. But I was there along with everyone else to honor those who should be honored. I am just grateful that I could have been an inconsequential part of the whole thing.

But it all makes me so frustrated. Here I come back home all fired up with patriotism and the pride of what our flag, the Red White and Blue, represents (or should). But I feel there is some kind of disconnect. Our leaders seem to say one thing and do another. They spur us on to fight or support the fight for freedom. But they then quibble about how best to do it (and expecting the troops to get it done all the while). Send in more troops, pull out troops, send more in or hand it over to someone else. Meanwhile, the troops on the ground (or in the air, for that matter), men and women, are left to fight on while the so called leaders wring their hands or give silly speeches saying we have already won.

Here at home we have polls. The public is growing tired of the war (or maybe they are not). I suspect that most (yes most) are actually rather oblivious to it all. Life goes on here.

Come on folks. If we really are in a fight for freedom and our survival, then we need to get on with it. If not, then how did we get suckered into going over there in the first place? (Oh, that’s right. You were to busy with your own life. Wasn’t someone else supposed to be watching that?).

It seems that rightly or wrongly we have committed ourselves to the fight over there. Maybe we need to get serious and consolidate our gains, secure what we have and hold it at that. We have taken over Iraq and I suppose Afghanistan (you don’t hear much about that one) too. We do have troubles holding on to all of it, but with a total commitment of forces we can do it.

The Democratic candidates have pledged to get us disengaged, although they have hedged on that a bit if you read the fine print. The Republican candidate wants to fight for as long as it takes, but I’m sure he could find wiggle room on that one too (it’s time to hand it over to the Iraqis. Remember what happened when we handed it over to the Vietnamese? Well, in case you forget, there was a lot of bad stuff, executions and retraining camps. Years of misery and then they got over it. And maybe that’s what will happen this time, or maybe this is different).


I have written on all of this many times. I think a lot of different ways all at once on it all. But I am not in charge. And thank goodness for that. But leadership is what we need now.

We need someone or some people who know and can articulate what our exact mission is over there and come up with a clear and reasonable proposal on how to accomplish it. Spelling out every detail would not be practicable, necessary, nor wise. But we need more than vague generalities and platitudes.

I think someone who could articulate a clear and convincing and doable sounding plan might be worth voting for.

It’s hard to mix complicated politics with natural, instinctive feelings of patriotism, and I am glad that the speakers kind of over simplified things (we’re fighting “the war on terror,” as if such a thing could be won and won for how long?), and I didn’t mind that they overlooked the fact that we are not always one hundred percent correct in all of our ventures (well meaning I can only hope).

I wanted a day to feel good about things. I saw our flag. I heard the speeches and thought of our fallen veterans and those still fighting. I heard the music, and I watched and heard the jet fighter fly over. And that parachutist flying the national banner with him landed right on target, feet flat on the ground. I got what I came for.

Thanks dear for asking me to go.


Postscript: My quick research tells me “Over Hill, Over Dale” is not technically the name of the Army theme song and that the lyrics have been changed from the original version of what was called the “Caisson Song”. But everyone has heard it that way. Sometimes you just have to go with what really is.

Memorial Day…

May 25, 2008
(copyright ) 
By Tony Walther
It’s confusing because there is more than one day that celebrates the contributions of veterans, but this is Memorial Day, which specifically honors those who have sacrificed their lives in all of our wars.
Fortunately for my family, each of the three sons has served in the military, but each of us is alive. Dad missed World War I because he was too young, and World War II because he was too old by that day’s standards. But he was a cadet in high school. You should see the photo of him and his brother in their campaign hats and those ballooned trousers.
My oldest brother put in 20 years in the Navy. I joined the Army, serving something over three years altogether. My other brother was nabbed by Uncle Sam between college and law school and did a tour in Vietnam with the Army.
But this day is to honor those who did not return.
We’re flying a flag we purchased the other day. Put it up right away, and I think we’ll keep it up. Don’t need a holiday as an excuse to fly it.
I always say I don’t follow a standard political ideology, but anyone who knows me realizes that I tend to be progressive (the neocons would call me liberal, liberal, liberal) .
No, usually I’m no flag waver. And isn’t there a saying: “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”?
On the other hand, I have no use for flag burning or desecration of any kind. I see nothing good coming out of that. I would not forsake my country or dishonor it for anything. I may think that others, some politicians for instance, do, but I’m not going to stoop to their level to make a point.
And why do people sacrifice their lives for their country? Sometimes they may be just accidental heroes. I mean no disrespect there. Some just feel that strongly. They have a sense of duty. Some were forced into the situation. Remember, we used to have the draft.
In the end, it makes no difference. Dead is dead. Maybe they took one of our spots, so we could live.
If you’ve read my columns you know that I do not exactly support the war over in the Middle East. I have said, though, that if we must fight it, then we owe it to ourselves and our troops to go full out, win it and get out.
While I wholeheartedly believe in supporting our troops, I find the slogan “support our troops” to be mindless jingoism. It is a rhetorical device to make someone who does not support a war policy to have to commit to supporting it, because if one doesn’t, then one must be not in support of the troops in battle. And that would be shameful.
Well, Mr. and Mrs. Bumper Sticker, I do support our troops and think they need the supplies, the armor, and top medical and education benefits. I also think the policy that sends them where they are is a totally different matter. So if I were to say, for instance, that I am against the war, I could still rightfully proclaim to be in support of the troops. But you wouldn’t buy that. But I can, perhaps, think more complex thoughts than you, Mr. And Mrs. Bumper Sticker.
However, there is no complexity to my unwavering reverence to all who have made the ultimate sacrifice to their country. They were not allowed to decide the whys, they just performed the duty that was thrust upon them. Even those in our current all-volunteer military are doing simply what they are obligated to do. Someone has to fill the ranks. To all I say: Thank You!

To blah or not to blah…

May 24, 2008

So Mitt Romney’s looking to buy some ocean front property in La Jolla, Ca. He’s on McCain’s short list for VP. And it’s speculated he also might be establishing residency to run for Governor of California. Please say it isn’t so. Even though I don’t care for Mitt, I had earlier, before I started this blogging thing, predicted Romney would go far. He’s a smooth talker. I did not realize the Morman thing would cause him problems. Anyway he’s at it again. I have more to say on McCain VP selection later in this blog.

I hope you’ll check out my in progress online novel at my Yahoo 360 blog site. I’m new at this blogging stuff, so if you don’t already have it on your favorites list, I have some complicated (not really) instructions:

Call up Yahoo 360, then look for Home with a blue background, to the right of that click on search, and key in Anthony Walther. That should do it. You’ll have to look down the page a bit, but you should see Anthony W and also the title of my novel, Tuleville Sundown.

I may just dedicate this site to my novel(s).

Wouldn’t mind if you’d check out my Tony’s Transport Blog at

I’ve done about three posts on the transport blog. Wished I could make that one into some kind of business, but I’m stuck in slow gear. I do think, though, that if I could keep it up, I could provide some good info and thoughts on the subject. I spent some 13 years hauling freight and have watched the trends in shipping all that time. For over-the-road trucking, it was go-go-go, when I first started. Wait, no, that is not actually correct. Trucking is always susceptible to up and down freight levels. I was once laid over for a week on the east coast and then finally got a load of empty plastic containers that I hauled to the Hershey plant in Oakdale, Ca. I think that plant is now closed down.

Even if you’re not hot on freight, it’s interesting, because really, that’s how everyone gets what they need. It comes to you on a truck, as well as via other modes of transportation. But trucks account for most of it, and are virtually always in the chain of transport somewhere.

Okay, I’m stuck on one subject here, so let’s move on:

–Hillary maybe has gone off the deep end implying that she needs to stay in the race in case her opponent meets an untimely demise. That’s not actually what she said, but it could have been interpreted as such. Somehow, I think the Clintons have worn out their welcome.

–Although I wrote a Walther Report that called for us to speak softly and carry a big stick, Obama may be risking being seen as a Neville Chamberlain type appeaser with his willingness to talk to anyone attitude. Peace in our time.

–If McCain can keep his energy level up, I think he could really give Obama (or Hillary) a run for the money. That is not an endorsement of McCain.

–I think McCain ought to choose Condoleeza Rice as his running mate. Now I have not been impressed with her, but I know she is a smart woman, and I think once she sheds Bush, she might show better judgment, or not. She certainly has the credentials to be president and could be if McCain were to win, then become incapacitated (and no I’m not committing another Hillaryism) or decide not to run for a second term or she might run later for the top spot after being vice president. If they ran against Obama, the Republicans could crow that at least they are willing to put a woman on the ticket.

–Young voters may make the difference this time around. If they vote, they could well provide the winning majority for Obama.

–And, as the Clintons used to say, “it’s the economy stupid.” If the economy stays bad, the Democrats will likely win. I still can’t figure out why they lost after Clinton, since he left office with a booming economy (although it was ready to go bust). Oh., that’s right, I always forget, Gore did win the majority of popular vote, but it was close.

–Skyrocketing fuel prices are forcing us to adopt economies and efficiencies we should have been practicing all along. In this instance, the free market, supply and demand, seems to be working. While I always suspect that there is at least some manipulation going on, I think the law of supply and demand is the main culprit.

–I wish our politicians would quit kowtowing to pastors such as Wright and Hagee (Obama had to shed the first and McCain the second) and all those right wing religious groups. Rather than try to impress them, they should look up and then look in the mirror and quietly give thought and prayer. What if a politician never spoke of religion, but quietly attended church once a week? Would he or she be any less righteous? And what if a politician were not a believer? Well then that would be up to the voters to decide, if that was among their criteria.

–Need to write a Walther Report about my own bout with cancer. But it is not something I care to dwell on that much. But it would help me to learn more about what I need to know and I think it might help others too, who might stumble upon these words on the world wide web.

–Doctor’s orders, due to a possibly compromised immune system I have to stay away from crowds, so I am imprisoned here at home over this long and rainy Memorial Day weekend in Northern California.

–Talk about wrapping one’s self up in the flag, the wife (“the wife”, as the oldtimers used to say) bought this humongous flag (made in USA) that we are flying out on the front porch. The breeze makes it wrap around the unsuspecting walking by. It also gets caught up in the rain gutter. I better break to Google up instructions about proper flag etiquette. While I’ve never considered myself a flag waver, I do have great respect for the old Red White and Blue and don’t see any good coming out of dishonoring it. I’ll look that up right now…..Okay, I’m back. The site I brought up claims if it’s an all-weather flag it’s okay to fly it in the rain (the gutter thing is a problem).

–I wish everyone, including me, would quit watching commercial televison. The programs are junk and the commercials are too many, too fast, to zippy, to edgy, obscene, often violent (both program content and commercials) and most of the time I don’t even get them (they apparently are not targeting me). And why must we be bombarded with all those personal product messages and the endless sex enhancement ones?

–No one forces us to watch TV and apparently no one is forced to read my blogs, because according to my blog services, I’m not getting many hits. Later.

The Road to Rio Rico

May 23, 2008
By Tony Walther
You pass the tall buildings of Tucson and the shabby looking industrial kind of strips along Interstate 10 and then head due south on Interstate 19 out into the saguaro cactus lands. Soon, you see an alabaster edifice in the distance on the right, gleaming in the hot Sonoran Desert sun. That’s the San Xavier Mission. Then more drab desert, and then you might spot an oasis here and there. That would be golf courses for the retired Anglo snow birds from the frigid North, Midwest, and East.
You’re on the road to Rio Rico, and then Nogales, which is the name of the towns on both sides of the U.S.- Mexican border.
Besides the golf courses, you will have seen some modern, clean looking retirement villas.
But the farther south you go, the more drab it gets, or some might say “colorful.” But really, drab is the only appropriate word I can come up with.
At Rio Rico, just north of Nogales, there are produce sheds, where fruits and vegetables, primarily coming in from south of the border, are stored temporarily in cold boxes and then loaded onto semi-trucks headed to all points in North America.
Speaking Spanish in these parts, even on the north side of the border, is a distinct advantage. I know. I’ve been there. Unfortunately, my Spanish is limited to my memory of three semesters of studying it in college and some I’ve heard on the road, and maybe on Telemundo. So I really have little advantage.
But in reality, even north of the border, you are in Mexico, for all intents and purposes.The same holds true for many parts of Los Angeles and in other areas of the Southwest (and, really, all over the USA nowadays).
I have described this in order to set some kind of scene about Mexican-American relations and the tumult on the border and in the interior of Mexico.
My knowledge of Mexico is admittedly limited. The first time I was there was in 1964 when I was in high school. During a summer vacation, my family ventured into Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso. People were living in cardboard shacks. They did have a brand new dog racing stadium, though. I doubt the shack inhabitants attended. The place was empty when we were there.
The next time I would enter Mexico was when my wife and I took a somewhat adventurous trip to Rosarito Beach, south of San Diego, via, Tijuana. We also visited Ensenada, Mexico on that trip.
From the San Diego airport we traveled via bus, trolley, bus again, and then foot. On our way back we hired a teenaged girl to drive us to the border in her Camaro, and she let us off. We had our suitcases in hand and we walked through customs with no passports. We had voter identity cards – why? I don’t exactly remember. The customs officials looked at us curiously for a second, raising their eyebrows, and then asked a couple of questions and then let us pass through. There was a moment’s fear in our minds. We thought that we might never get back to our home land again, and we desperately wanted to. That was in the early 90s. Today, we’d probably be two people without a country, neither citizens of Mexico, nor appearing to be citizens of the United States, coming in the way we did. On foot. No passports. Suitcases in hand.
And my wife and I entered Mexico one more time, later in the 90s. We got off a cruise ship at Ensenada and did the tourist thing. Why? Darned if I know. I’m not trying to put down Mexico, but it was just not our thing. Lo siento.
I will say, though, that when you get away from the tourist area, Ensenada has a bustling downtown, with people riding mass transit to and from work and shopping in the stores and eating at lunch counters in scenes that would resemble most any north American large city.
(I know. Mexico City is a huge modern metropolis. And I’m not like the unworldly, typical gringo acquaintance of mine who got off a cruise ship in Caracas, Venezuela and was amazed that they had “skyscrapers and everything.” Hey, they have oil too, just like Mexico.)
Basically, what I’m trying to say, it’s two different worlds (my last description notwithstanding), north and south of the border. North of the border you have Yankee Doodle Dandy Anglo heritage representative democracy with no real class system (although some say there is — okay, Ivy League, maybe) and south of the border you have a paternalistic society, primarily composed of the rich and the poor, the patron and the peasant, or I should say the patron and the campesino, though there is nowadays an emerging middle class (just when some say we are losing that here in the good old USA).
U.S.- Mexico relations have always been paternalistic on our part. We have always said we want to have good relations with our friends to the south. We had the Good Neighbor Policy and then the Alliance For Progress, and I don’t know what we have currently. But the problem has been, according to those who write about it, that we tend to work with the rich people and the benefits of our policies usually accrue to the upper class in Mexico and U.S. investors. An example of this might be in agriculture. There is a lot of big time farming in Mexico. We import one heck of a lot of produce from Mexico, but mostly from the big farms. Meanwhile, small farmers down there are left out of the bonanza and so are the other poor. We can afford to buy the Mexican imports up here (so far), but the poor down there can’t compete so well with us, to sell their crops or buy our food.
We do export food to Mexico. I can personally attest to that. I’ve hauled tons upon tons of Washington State apples right to the border below San Diego. And the Mexican inspectors are particular.
And then there’s the drug problem. The demand for illegal drugs is so high up here, that the drug cartels in Mexico will stop at nothing to keep the pipeline going. They are currently in open warfare with the police and in fact the whole government. Several high officials in Mexico have been murdered. Many of the border towns are reportedly lawless, with the criminals in virtual control.
There have been cross border incidents in which persons clothed in Mexican army uniforms, but probably not real soldiers, but drug runners in disguise, have shot at our border patrol agents. We even have two of our agents in prison for allegedly shooting a drug runner, who was allegedly unarmed. The arrested border patrol agents disputed those allegations (that’s somewhat of a separate issue, but nevertheless related to my piece here).
Former Mexican president Vincente Fox was not able to stop the drug cartels. The new president, Felipe Calderon, immediately declared war on the cartels with an offensive against them to include the use of the military, after assuming office in December.
On May 9, it was reported that gunmen murdered Mexico’s acting chief of the Federal
Police. Hundreds of law enforcement agents have been murdered by drug cartel gunmen. And the violence is taking place well into the interior, not just on the border.There is also much corruption in law enforcement in Mexico.
Police chiefs in border towns have been murdered and some of the surviving ones have crossed into the U.S. and asked for protection. They have asked for asylum not from their government, but from criminals in their country.
On May 19 it was reported that four bodies of persons who appeared to be shot execution style were found near Rosarito, which is about 20 miles south of the border from San Diego. One of the victims was believed to be an American citizen. And a drug link was suspected.
There is a civil war going on below our own southern border, one that could potentially be more menacing than what is going on in the Middle East. Mexico is our second largest trading partner behind Canada. We need them. They need us.
And there is no reason we should not have the best cooperation possible between our two nations. But we need to look at their whole society. We need to do more than have one-sided programs that only help a minority of the society there. A Mexican society that had a much better distribution of the wealth would be healthy for all concerned. Prosperous folks appreciate what they have and don’t want to give it up to drug lords. Folks with no future and no power can succumb to hopelessness and the fear and intimidation that the drug cartels inflict. And law abiding prosperous Mexicans don’t sneak north across the border.
We also need to look at our own society and take serious steps to curb the demand for illegal drugs. We do need to keep up the pressure on drug dealers, but at the same time we have to look for root causes. I’m not going to opine on what those root causes might be. I think that would take another essay.
Illegal immigration coming north from Mexico has been a big issue. Strangely enough, what with the downturn in our own economy, many of those illegals have headed back south. Who knows? Maybe poor north Americans might sneak across the border into Mexico. Their economy is actually doing somewhat better than ours right now, although the downturn in remittances from Mexican workers here has hurt many families down there.
Home Depot is facing a big time slump in its home improvement market with the failing housing market and home mortgage crisis here (yes I have seen the brand new reports of an upswing here with bargain hunters in the home market and good for them!).
Meanwhile, Home Depot’s business is booming south of the border. Still a minority, middle class folks in Mexico are taking out mortgages on new homes. According to one article I read, mortgages are a relatively new concept there. Heretofore, you either inherited a home or built one by hand, I suppose often with native materials.
It would also be nice if we could do something in this country to stem the flow of jobs to Mexico, even though Mexico of course needs jobs too. A car parts factory in the Sacramento area recently closed shop and let go some 144 workers. And it was a 40-year-old business. It’s moving to Mexico. Who knows? Some of the lost jobs here may have been held by persons of Mexican origin? There has to be a way to promote a healthy economy that offers opportunity to all in both nations.
No, I’m no Mexico expert, as you can see. But I did try to piece together what I knew of the subject into some type of coherent essay. I think Mexico is currently in trouble, but hopefully the trouble can be resolved with a sincere show of concern on our part and determination by their government and citizens, and I hope that we can live in peace and prosper together (podemos vivir con la paz y prosperidad juntos or to use the catch phrase of the day, si’ se puede).
Se vayan con Dios mis amigos.