The Green New Deal — Magical Thinking

magical thinking 2

“Magical thinking is the belief that one’s own thoughts, wishes, or desires can influence the external world. It is common in very young children. A four-year-old child, for example, might believe that after wishing for a pony, one will appear at his or her house.” (2)

So now we have it; a proposal by Congressional Democrats called the “Green New Deal” (1), for a sweeping agenda which will save the world from climate change and cure all the ills of society in one fell swoop.

Whether this resolution is awe-inspiring or ridiculous is likely in the mind of the beholder, but at the very least it is gargantuan and sweeping.

I’ve been told that I don’t suffer fools well. For a long time now we have been hearing sweeping proposals of “renewable energy” as the panacea for many problems.  Proponents of this “energy” almost never bother with the details. Why? Because the details do not work.  Their ideas are not simply magical thinking; they are wrong.  They are absurdly wrong, yet proponents continue their mantra as if by saying it over and over again it will become real. Let’s put this nonsense to rest.

A few years back, I wrote some articles on alternative energy. They can be found here   The Story of Alternative Energy  and here   Alternative Power Part II .  These articles elaborate on what follows. For more details and references, I suggest reading them.

At this time, I am going to review some of that information and look into a few other items mentioned in the “Green New Deal” resolution.

Before going further, let’s remember this number: 10000 Gigawatts.  This also can be stated as 10 million Megawatts, but we will stick with the former because it is easier to understand. What is this? It is the amount of electricty used in the United States every day: 10000 Gigawatts.

Alternative energy – Wind Power

turbine

Wind turbines are big, expensive, and largely inefficient.  The most common commercial wind turbine in the US is built by General Electric. It has blades 116 feet long, and stands on a 212 foot high tower. It  weighs about 235 tons.  They cost between $1.5 and $2.5 million dollars each, with a total construction cost of $3 to $4 million apiece.

Energy companies will tell you this turbine will power around 332 homes, but if you do the actual math as I did in my previous articles, the reality is about 83 homes, and only when the wind is blowing. The wind stops, they stop, electricity stops flowing.  The best realisitic assessment is that these turbines only produce electricity about 40 percent of the time.

Current wind turbine capacity in the US: 65 Gigawatts.

There are about 54,000 wind tubines in the US curently. Estimates of how many turbines it would require to power the US come in at around  583,000, using industry estimates of efficiency, which appear to be about four times too high. So, by my rough calculations, you are looking at the need for over two million wind turbines, which still would only work forty percent of the time.

Costs: These turbines cost about $1.5 – 2.0 million dollars each. Add contruction costs and land acquisition, and it comes out to about $4 million each. Total cost ? Try eight trillion dollars. In addition, annual maintainence costs are about $500,00 each, bringing the annual cost to maintain these turbines to about one hundred billion dollars per year.

Most “wind farms” are located in places like the Midwest, notably in Iowa and North Dakota, where there are vast stretches of empy land. These monsters are not at all practical in populated areas, particularly near cities. The occasional wind turbine seen in these areas is a novelty, not a serious source of electricity.

Wind power can provide supplemental energy. It is indeed renewable and essentially “clean” compared to fossil fuels. It is not, however a reliable subsititute, not even close.

Alternative Energy – Solar Power

Solar Panel with green grass and beautiful blue sky

There is no doubt that solar power is becoming more popular. Drive around most suburban neighborhoods and you are likely to see a number of homes with solar panels on the roof. It’s clear the selling of solar is taking hold.

But to what end? Therein lies the question.

First of all, they are not cheap. A system not subsidized by tax dollars can cost $15000 – $25000 for a single home. Most of the ones you see in the neighborhood are likely government subsidized, so they cost the homeowner (thanks to the taxpayer) far less.

So how effective are they? That is an excellent question, and if you Google it, you will find answers all over the board, most provided by companies selling the panels.

Solar panels average 15% efficiency. Remember, they do absolutely nothing at night or when the sun isn’t shining.  With all the hoopla out there, the best I could figure out is they could save the home owner as much as $1000/year on electric bills under the right conditions, but every situation is different.  Can they be an auxiliary for fossil fuel electricity? Yes. Are they a suitable replacement? No.

Current installed solar capacity in the US : 50 Gigawatts.

Our current capacity of both wind and solar power is 115 Gigawatts, about one percent of our daily needs. The bottom line is that neither wind nor solar energy are any more than supplemental power sources for fossil fuels. Contrary to their much ballyhooed promotion and magical thinking, there is nothing, absolutely nothing  to suggest they will become any more than minor supplements for the forseeable future.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

planes trains

Now it gets to be fun. Included in the Green New Deal proposals are plans to get rid of airplanes, build high speed trains everywhere, and require all cars be electric powered. It’s hard to know where to start.

Planes and Trains

According to the FAA, there are 43,000 daily commercial flights in the US alone, moving some 2.6 million passengers around the country. At any given moment, there are about 5000 planes in the air. That’s over 15 million flights a year, carrying not only passengers, but also over 42 billion pounds of freight.(3)

The “Green New Deal” proposes to get rid of all of these planes and replace them — with trains?

An airplane can fly from New York to Los Angeles in a bit under five hours at an average speed of 560 miles per hour. The newest high speed trains can travel about 160 miles per hour. The same straight line trip, if it were possible today (it isn’t) would take the train over 15 hours, three times as long, but that’s not even the point.

There are currently two high speed rail projects in the United States. Let’s take a look at them:

California:  California High Speed Rail (CHSR) was approved by the California legislature in 2008, with an initial $9 billion dollar bond to begin construction. Construction of the 800 mile long system from southern to northern California began in 2015. The initial segment was planned to be open in 2027, and the  first phase completed by 2033.

However, in February 2019, incoming California governor Gavin Newsome announced the plan would be scrapped after a 110 mile initial section is completed. The cancelletion came as projected costs for the project jumped from an original $40 billion to almost $100 billion with initial service in 2033. The section still planned is expected to cost about $11 billion dollars. (5)

Texas: The Texas Central Railway is a proposed 177 mile long hi-speed railway between Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston. Originally proposed in 2015, construction was to begin in 2018, but has now been posponed until sometime in 2020. Construction is expected to take about six years. The railway is being built by a private company.

That’s it. That is the extent of hi-speed rail in the US. Yes, there is the infamous Amtrak  Acella Express between Boston and Washington DC. which is technically a hi-speed train. But the fact is that anyone who has ridden it, as I have, will tell you it is too often very much less than high speed.

The notion that a massive network of hi-speed trains can be plunked down all across the country and replace air travel isn’t simply “magical” thinking. It smacks of delusion.

Automobiles

There are 268.8 million registered vehicles in the United States. 760,000 (3/10 of one percent) are electric.

The plan is to do away with gasoline/diesel powered vehicles and replace them completely with electric vehicles. While this includes all types of vehicles, including trucks, we will simply focus on cars.

An electric car is one that is fueled by power through a rechargable battery. The first commercial car of the modern era was the Tesla ($76,000) which became available to the public in 2008. Since then other manufacturers have entered the market, notably the Nissan Leaf ($29, 900), Chevy Bolt ($36,600), and electric versions of the Ford Focus ($29,100),  and Kia Soul ($33,900).

The batteries that today’s electric cars run on are based on lithium and nickel. Lithium is a scarce metal, and nickel is toxic. The batteries cannot be recycled, and present a toxic waste problem. Until or unless a better electric car battery is designed, electric cars as they exist today are not sustainable.

The promotion of electric cars is a bit deceptive. The high price Tesla is supposed to get about 250 miles per charge, but the lower price models mentioned only seem to get about 100 – 150  miles per charge. In addition, it has been learned that cold weather can significantly reduce the attainable milage from a charge.

The Green New Deal folks imagine everyone in the country zipping around in electric cars. They talk of thousands of “charging stations” everywhere. One comment: What powers the charging stations? Wind? Solar? Really?

Wrapping it up

Okay, so you get the general idea.  These utopian notions of a carbon free society saving the world from climate destruction are at best magical thinking.  They are the kind of thoughts one would expect from children, not serious adults.

One can almost accept outlandish notions from young, inexperienced, first time government officials. Such naivete is disturbing, but it seems to be the world we live in. That other more experienced officials  -including potential candidates for the Presidency would applaud and endorse this nonsense is not acceptable.

Serious people propose serious ideas. These people are not serious, they are foolish and delusional. They should not be taken seriously.

(1) Green New Deal — House Resolution 109 Text

(2) Magical Thinking

(3) FAA — Air Traffic by the Numbers

(4) Hi-Speed Rail — Wikipedia

(5) California High Speed Rail

Fake News — A Weapon of Mass Destruction

fake-news

Yeah, so this one got to me. By now, you’ve all heard the stories about the kids from Covington, Kentucky and their run-in with a Native American. In case you’ve been vacationing on Mars, let me fill you in with the background story. I don’t like using a lot of videos, because I know it takes time to watch them. This story, however, necessitates it.

On January 18, 2019, a group of high school students from Covington Catholic High School attended the annual March For Life rally in Washington DC. While they were there, they encountered a Native American, Nathan Phillips and a group of his followers. What happened next is where the story all begins.

Covington Catholic (Ky.) High School student Nick Sandmann, seen here standing before Native American activist Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memorial, says he has received death threats after video of their encounter went viral

This photo is from a video on Twitter that went viral. We’ll talk more about that in a little bit, but in a nutshell , all hell broke loose.

Here’s the video. The video is part of a longer MSNBC piece. They keep replaying the short snippit over and over.

This video is instuctive, as it includes an interview with Nathan Phillips. He presents one of his versions of the encounter, which subsequent videos show to be false. Notice MSNBC made no effort to question anyone else involved, nor review any other videos which were already online.

CNN presented a similar video. Notice how they embellished the story.

Okay, so the initial story portrays Phillips as seeing a group of white kids harassing a group of religious Black men, who were simply being religious. Here are those Black men, part of a group calling themselves the Black Hebrew Israelites. Notice how they call the kids “future school shooters”. They also called them “fags” .

Near the end of this video, you will see Phillips and his entourage come into the scene.  The Israelites see him coming and start saying something like “Here comes Gant, here comes Gant…” I have no idea what that means.

This set the stage.  Three groups, the high school kids, the Israelites, and the Native Americans, all in the same area but reasonably well seperated. The Israelites, who got almost no attention by the media were harassing both of the other two groups.

As Phillips and his group walked between the Israelites and the high school students, the Israelites started yelling that some of the students were wearing Make American Great Again (MAGA) hats (1:17). They (the Israelites) said, “Look at the Make America Great Again hats — look at the hats”

Phillips and his group turned toward the students and walked directly up to them, in direct contradiction of what he said in his interviews. He immediately got within inches of the student in the video and began beating his drum and chanting.

There are many, many videos online now, some quite long, expanding on this incident. This short analysis, however, hits the nail on the head.

Okay, so enough with the videos. You can find all you want on YouTube.  Let’s talk about the implications.

Fake News

So was this fake? No, it actually happened. But what makes it Fake News is the way the media reported it.

How it all started — talia#2020fight:

This is how it all began, a tweet on Twitter.  A tweet went out from this account, ostensibly owned by a California school teacher (later shown to be fake). The Tweet went viral, generating over 2.5 million views and was reTweeted at least 14,400 times.(1) Twitter has suspended the account, and is reportedly conducting an investigation. Stories indicate that some news media reached out to this account for information, but receiving no replies, went with this one minute video as the story. The history of the activity on the account is still online. To get some idea of the madness that errupted from it, follow the link below. (2)

So, relying on a single video from an unknown source on Twitter, the “reporting” of the story began. Did the media seek other videos, some of which were already up on YouTube? Nope. Did the media attempt to investigate what really happened? Nope.  Did the media attempt to interview any of the students? Nope and nope again. The sole initial interview was with Nathan Phillips who presented his story. This was the narrative, and this was what all the major media ran with.

All of them, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, all the major broadcast media. And the print media as well, The New York Times, the Washington Post, all carried essentially the same story based on a one minute long video and an interview with a single participant.

By the next day, the editorials came out, blasting these wicked teenagers for harassing and threatening this Native American Vietnam Veteran (he is not a Vietnam Vet).  The student’s own diocese threw them under the bus, implying expulsions and worse. The mayor of Covington was appalled. Celebrities and Congress members joined in the Twitter fray. Calls to “dox” them and essentially ruin their lives ran amok. There were even death threats against the students and their families. Their school was forced to close after online threats against the students.

The media groundswell became a tidal wave. Don’t believe me? Google a term like “MAGA kid” (the new perjorative for the student in the video). I just did and Google showed 116,000,000 results. Yup; One Hundred Sixteen Million entries on Google and counting. The media went totally nuts; I mean stark raving beserk over this “story”.

Why? Indeed why?

The Red Hats

So what caused all this to begin with? Demonstrations often have counter-demonstrations, but usually those involved are debating two sides of an issue. This was not the case here.

The students were in Washington to particpate in the annual March For Life rally, a pro-life/anti-abortion rally that has been taking place every year since 1975. Phillips and his people were there for the Indigenous Peoples March, a new event, which had no connection whatsoever to the pro-life event. By any logic, the two groups should not likely have even crossed paths, much less conflicted. What brought on the collision?MAGA hat

Some of the students were wearing Make American Great Hats. The Hebrew Israelites pointed this out to Phillips as he moved toward the students.  Was that his reason for getting up in their faces? Maybe, maybe not, but it was clearly the reason the media jumped on this and made a non-story into a national issue.

The optics were perfect for the media. A young, white, MAGA hat wearing male, “smirking” at an authentic Native American “elder” (He’s 64, by the way), indigenous peoples activist, and “keeper of a sacred pipe”, whatever the hell that means.  The optics were perfect, the video vague; a perfect chance — Get Donald Trump!

Yeah, that’s what it comes down to, those red hats. Absent the hats, the story still would have run, but without “legs”. Add the hats, and it was the anti-Trump media Trifecta: Pro-life white toxic racist boys wearing facist Trump hats harassing a poor Native American.  Bingo!

This was the perfect target for the Social Justice Warriors, and the media became their quite willing accomplices.

Madness. Mindless madness

The story is still playing out as I write this, although it has waned. The media suffers from chronic ADHD, and has to move on to another “story”.  One of the results of this is the families of the students may file a few lawsuits for libel and defamation of character against minors. I hope they do, and I hope they win.

It would have been hard to believe such insanity could exist only a few short years ago. Journalists once enjoyed respect, and were believed. It was expected that they sourced their stories and checked their facts.

I’ve been a newspaper reporter ( before they became “journalists”). Back in the 70’s and early 80’s I had editors who would castrate a reporter who got his facts wrong. Hell, we even doubled fact-checked obituaries.  It was important to get the story right. It meant something; your reputation and your newspaper’s  depended on it.

Something changed. Now getting it “first” is more important than getting it “right”.  Knee-jerk reporting is the name of the game.  This incident is only the most recent of other giant missteps by the news reporters. Similarly, too many news organizations seem to have a political agenda. They have pre-decided who is right and who is wrong. They have taken sides, especially in the political arena. The notion that any given news operation is objective seems less true today.

Many people now believe that they cannot trust the media any longer. They think the news has become filled with propaganda, trying to advance a viewpoint rather than seeking the truth.

Incidents like this suggest those people are right.

 

(1) Twitter Suspends Account… CNN Business

(2) Twitter Thalia#2020fight — thread

 

Movies of 2018: A Review

I enjoy movies, I always have. I see more of them these days in retirement;  probably bacause I have a nice movie theater nearby, and senior citizens can get in for $5.  I’ve seen sixteen movies this year, more than usual, but 2018 was an unusually good year for movies.

That’s not to say they were all good. I saw some mediocre movies, notably Winchester,  The 15:17 to Paris, and most of all Vice, which was flat out terrible.

My observation has been that movie quality seems to run in patterns. Every other year, it seems to me, is a good year.  2018 was a good one, so I’m not expecting much next year.

Anyway, here are a few I liked:

Honorable Mention:
Hostiles

Starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi, Hostiles is the story of a Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Bale) charged with taking Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Studi) and his family from New Mexico back to their tribal home in Montana.

Blocker takes the assignment only under threat of court martial, as he an Yellow Hawk have a history as enemies.

Along the way the group crosses paths with settler Rosalee Quaid (Pike), whose family was massacred by Comanches. She was the only survivor.

There are solid performances here. Christian Bale is restrained and understated but delivers a solid performance.  Rosamund Pike ably demonstrates why she is receiving more and more accolades. Wes Studi delivers his best performance since The Last of the Mohicans.

A Quiet Place

I’m not usually into science fiction or horror films,  but this one definitely has a twist.  Directed by and starring John Krasinski (The Office), and co-starring Emily Blount, this movie is almost totally without dialogue.  Kransinski pulls off the seemingly impossible, holding the viewer’s attention, and keeping the audience on edge for ninety minutes straight.

In a nutshell, it’s about an alien invasion.  The aliens cannot see, but have such an acute sense of hearing, that the slightest sound brings them flying in for the kill. It’s tense, it’s scary, and it’s fun.

7 Days in Entebbe

I enjoy movies based on real events, and I am old enough to remember this 1976 event.  The film stars Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruel, and follows the events after terrorists highjacked an Air France airplane filled with Israeli’s and landed it in Uganda.

The terrorists demanded ransom and the release of Palestinian militants. The Israeli government instead took the audacious risk to rescue their citizens from over 3000 miles away.

Special Category 

Before I get to the finalists, there was one exceptional film, a documentary which truly stands out

They Shall Not Grow Old

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy),  produced an extraordinary documentary to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Using archived footage from the British government; Jackson and his team spent three years converting silent black and white film to a full-color sound movie that is absolutely stunning.

The film is both a wonder of the application modern technology, and an emotional story that honors those who fought in that war. This is history coming alive like never before. It is well worth seeing.

The Winners

5. The Mule

This is not Clint Eastwood’s best movie. However, it proves that at 88 years old he can still act and direct with the best of them.

4. A Private War

I’m falling in love with Rosamund Pike. I’ve seen her in four films this year, and her best performance is in this biopic.

Marie Colvin was an American correspondent who worked for the British newspaper The Sunday Times. For twenty-seven years she was the Time’s foreign correspondent, covering wars and conflicts around the world, but most often in the Middle East. She lost an eye during fighting in Sri Lanka, but continued to put herself anywhere there was fighting and a story to report. To say that she was a brave and amazing woman is an understatement.

Rosamund Pike rises to the occasion, and portrays Colvin in a way that does service to one of the best war-time reporters of the modern era.

3. A Star is Born

Oh yeah, I liked this movie, I really did. I was never much of a Bradley Cooper fan until I saw him in American Sniper;  that changed my mind. As far a Lady Gaga — damn, that woman can sing!

Of course this movie is a remake of a remake. People argued over which version was best, but I say who cares? This version has plenty going for it and was a most enjoyable two hours in the theater.

2.Bohemian Rhapsody

I mean really, was 2018 a great year for musical films or what?

You either loved Queen (I do) or you did not. If you were a fan, this is not a movie to be missed.

Rami Melek (Mr. Robot) delivers an uncanny, wonderful performance as Freddie Mercury, the genius behind Queen. Mercury and Queen were outrageous and extraordinary, and this film delivers  by telling their story and by being filled with the music of Queen.

1.The Green Book

Viggo Mortensen is a really good actor.  In this role, based on a true story, he takes on the role of driver for jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a road tour through the deep South in the early 1960’s.

The interaction of the two actors is supurb. It’s a gritty look back at a time of turbulance, though the eyes of two men from different worlds with nothing in common, and the bond that forms between them. Excellent film.

In a year of good films, this one was the winner for me.

Of course, most of these films are gone from theaters now, although some may come back at Oscar time. All should be available on DVD soon.  If you’re looking for a movie some night, you can’t go wrong with most of these.

 

 

 

Immigration Part Six: Temporary Protected Status and a Caravan

 

TPS 01

Immigation and immigration law are controversial and often confusing subjects. In this piece we will take a look at how the law addresses people from different countries, and in particular those currently coming to the US from Honduras.

Hurricane Mitch formed  on October 22, 1998 in the Caribean Sea. Over the next ten days, it became one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever hit Central America, causing over 11,000 fatalities, 7000 in Honduras alone. Most of the other deaths were in Nicaragua.

Honduras suffered massive damage. As much as 80 percent of it’s transportation network, including roads and bridges was destroyed. Agriculure was destroyed, and fresh water became nearly unavailable. Twenty percent of the population was left homeless.

Countries from around the world donated over $6.3 billion dollars to the Central America recovery effort.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Immigration Act of 1990.  The bill was first introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy in 1989. The Act increased levels for overall immigration, and included several controversial portions, including a new “Diversity Immigrant Visa”. The law also included the new “Temporary Protected Status” Visa.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

The bill established a procedure whereby the Attorney General (now Secretary of Homeland Security as of 2003) could provide temporary protected status to immigrants who are temporarily unable to return to their home country due to armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other extraordinary conditions: (7)

  • there is “ongoing armed conflict” that creates unsafe conditions for returning nationals;
  • there has been an earthquake, flood, drought, epidemic, or other environmental disaster that makes the state temporarily unable to accept the return of its nationals, and the state has requested TPS designation; or
  • “extraordinary and temporary” conditions in a state prevent its nationals from returning safely. (5)

On January 6, 1999, then Attorney General Janet Reno designated Honduras as the first recipient of TPS status due to Hurricane Mitch.

Since the origination of the Act, twenty-two (22) countries have been given this status. As of this writing, ten still remain: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras,  Nepal,  Nicaragua,  Somalia,  South Sudan,  Sudan,  Syria, and Yemen. As of 2017, there are approximately 300,000 immigrants residing in the United States with Temporary Protected Status, some since 1999.

Unlike illegal immigrants, individuals receiving a TPS Visa may not be deported unless they break the law. They are permitted to work in the US, although they do not receive a “Green Card”. In addition, TPS holders are eligible for a range of Federal benefits:

“Refugees and asylees are eligible for food stamps/SNAP*.  Refugees and asylees are eligible for SSI benefits and Medicaid for seven years after arrival and are eligible for TANF** for five years. After this term, they generally are ineligible for SSI, but may be eligible, at state option, for Medicaid and TANF.”(* SNAP is Suplemental Nuitrition Assistance Program,** TANF is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).(8)

“Temporary” Status

In the past (prior to 1998), the temporary aspects of this status usually meant just that. Twelve countries were granted TPS status, and that status generally expired in less than five years, even with extentions. (7) The ten countries granted TPS since 1998 however, have had their temporary status extended again and again.

Enter President Trump

When President Trump entered office, he determined that existing long-lasting TPS orders were not to be extended.  In January of 2018 the government announced that temporary protections for asylees from Nicargua (2500 immigrants) will expire in January 2019. Haiti (59,000 immigrants), July 2019. El Salvador (263,260 immigrants) will expire in September 2019. Honduras (86,000 immigrants) January 2020.

On May 4, 2018, the United States Department of Homeland Security declined to renew temporary protected status for Hondurans, stating, “Twenty years is enough time for any country to return to some semblance of normalcy after a natural disaster. Normal does not mean ideal. Honduras, like many other nations that have received TPS designation, was gripped by poverty and turmoil before it was struck by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. There is no reason to believe that these longstanding problems would be solved by another extension of TPS.” Honduran individuals with temporary protected status were given 18 months to depart the United States. (7)

People from these countries have few choices. They can apply for citizenship, a long and costly process, or they can attempt to stay illegally. Since they are registered in the system however, the government knows where they work and live and would likely be easily deported. Obviously, this is being met with protest:

TPS 02

Asylum:

Asylum is the seeking of protection in another country when one may be persecuted in their own. According to the United Nations since 1948, everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution based on race, religion, nationality, or political opinions. The right to request asylum however, does not mean that asylum must be granted.

There are normally about 320,000 asylum cases pending adjudication . On average, cases have been taking over 1000 days, almost three years for final decisions. In some locations, such as New Jersey and California, the wait time has averaged 1300 days. As of May, 2018, there was a back-up of 697,777 total immigration cases pending before 334 immigration judges nationwide.

Typically, if an immigrant makes it into the United States and requests asylum, they are detained for a short period of time, assigned a hearing date, released into the US, and told to return for their hearing. This is what is meant by the term “catch and release”.  Frequently however, partially because of the long wait for a hearing,  the person does not return, and remains illegally in the US.

The Adminstration sets an annual ceiling for resettlement of refugees. President Trump reduced that number to 45,000 for FY2018. President Obama had raised the ceiling to 110,000 during the last year of his administration.

Applicants can apply for asylum at any US embassy or consultate in the world.

This brings us to the “Caravan”caravan

 

There is, at the time of this writing, a large migration of people from Honduras, heading toward the US border. Dubbed the “Caravan”, this group seems to vary in size as it moves along, but numbers in the thousands of people.

The caravan began around October 12, with about 160 people. It rapidly grew in size, with numbers estimated between 5000 – 7000 near the end of October. Precise numbers are non-existent, and the count seems to vary as the size of the group expands and contracts along the way.

The reasons given for the migration are multiple; poverty, lack of job opportunites, crime, violence , climate change, etc.  Regardless of the reason, the migrants are hoping to plea for asylum once they reach the US border, which likely will be in late November, if the group does not disperse. There have been “caravans” like this before, but some have disbanded before reaching the US.

Regardless of the results of this “caravan”, one thing is clear; there is an uptick in migration toward the US border, and how it will be handled is not clear, largely because the government, especially Congress has failed to address the issue or update current law.

Opinion:

First, it needs to be stated that the current migration from Honduras seems to be planned and orchestrated. Large groups of people from countries do not simply migrate spontaneously without a reason. It would appear there are those trying to take advantage of the special status of Hondurans.

Secondly, these migrants do not have to come to the United States to apply for asylum. They can do so at any American embassy or consulate. There are ten (10) such American consulates scattered across Mexico, but there seems to be little interest in applying there. This “surge” is orchestrated to reach the US border.

Back in the days when masses of immigrants came to our shores from around the world, the United States had few immigation laws and virtually no limitations on numbers; but now we do. Congress has seen fit to put limits and qualifiers on who gets into the country and who does not. This is the law.

Laws are only useful if they are obeyed and enforced. Deliberate disobedience to the law is a criminal offense. Willful non-enforcement of the law is neglect and malfeasance.

Lawful immigration is acceptable and welcome, illegal immigration is not. A person who comes into this country illegally has broken the law, and is guilty of only a misdemeanor. If that person is caught, deported, and comes in again, it is a felony, and they are a criminal. That may not seem right, but that is the law.

Congress writes the law. They can change it. Congress has repeatedly failed to revise our immigration laws, creating an untenable situation. We cannot blame someone from a poor country trying to come to the United States. We can blame our own government for failing to address this issue, and failing to enforce or change the law.

 

(1) USCIS: Temporary Protected Status Designated Country: Honduras

(2) Federal Register: Termination of Desgination of Honduras for Temporary Protected Status

(3) Federal Register: Extention of Honduras TPS Status

(4) Wikipedia: Hurricane Mitch

(5) Temporary Protected Status Policy

(6) Immigration Act of 1990

(7) Wikipedia: Temporary Protected Status

(8) Congressional Research Service: Noncitizen Eligibility for Federal Public Assistance

(9) USCIS Credible Fear Interview

(10) USCIS Asylum Office Workload June 2018

Impeachment: High Crimes and Misdemeanors (Part One)

Okay, buckle up folks. This one is going to be a little boring. I originally thought this would be one essay, but as I got into it, I realized the topic is too complex. I decided to break it into pieces. And there is the operative word” “complex”.  Contrary to the nonsense being bandied about today in the media and all over the Internet, impeachment is a very complex process. Because it is so serious, it is important that people understand not only how the process works, but what are the actual grounds to impeach an elected official, in this particular case, the President.

inpeachment 01

“Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body formally levels charges against a high official of government. Impeachment does not necessarily mean removal from office; it is only a formal statement of charges, akin to an indictment in criminal law, and is thus only the first step towards removal. Once an individual is impeached, he or she must then face the possibility of conviction via legislative vote, which then entails the removal of the individual from office.” (1)

Impeachment is a serious matter. Even more serious when concerning a President of the United States.  Impeachment has been used by the U.S. government nineteen times, but only twice for a President (Andrew Johnson, 1868, Bill Clinton 1998).  One US Senator was impeached (William Blount 1797). The remaining sixteen impeachments were of judges or cabinet officials.

The Constitution

So, what exactly is the authority for impeaching a President? It’s found in the Constitution, Article 2, Section 4, and reads like this:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

This very small passage gives rise to great discussion which we will attempt to cover, point by point.

First of all, what are “high crimes and misdemeanors”?  The Constitution names two of the “high crimes”; they are treason and bribery.

The Constitution is very specific about the definition of treason (Article 3, Section 3, Clause 1): “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”

The Constitution does not define bribery.  It is generally accepted as an official taking money or gifts that influence the official’s behaviors.

The “Misdemeanors” part gets a little trickier. Originally the framers chose the word “corruption”, followed by “maladministration”. Ultimately they settled on “misdemeanors”, a term used in British law that could run the gamut from misappropiating funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not spending allocated money, or even threatening a grand jury. In other words, the very vagueness of the term allowed it to be used by prosecutors to charge almost anything they deemed as an abuse of power as a “misdemeanor”.

Of the nineteen actual impeachment processes since 1797, (mostly judges), the misdemeanors that have been charged included being habitually drunk, showing favoritism on the bench, submitting false expense accounts, making false statements under oath, and other similar charges. Of the eighteen impeachments, only nine resulted in removal of the official. In the remaining cases, the official either resigned or was acquitted.

Presidential Impeachments
Andrew Johnson

andrew johnson

Andrew Johnson was Abraham Lincoln’s Vice President, and assumed the Presidency when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. Johnson, a Democrat, had immediate problems with the Republican-dominated Congress during reconstruction. Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which required Johnson to receive Congressional approval to fire any  member of the executive branch who had been approved by Congress. Johnson believed the Act was unconstitutional, and responded by firing the Secretary of War, a Republican. Congress responded by passing eleven articles of impeachment, including sending orders through improper channels and conspiring against Congress. In the Senate, only three charges were brought, and he was not convicted.

The case against Andrew Johnson seems clearly a partisan political attack, with little substance, giving some insight into just how nonsensical articles of impeachment can be.

Bill Clinton

clinton

Bill Clinton’s problems began when a special counsel was appointed to investigate Whitewater, an Arkansas land deal that Clinton had participated in twenty years earlier. In a good example of the “reach” of an appointed special counsel, the investigation expanded to include the firing of White House travel office staff, the misuse of FBI funds,  and Clinton’s affair with Monica LewInsky.  The House Judiciary Committee  presented eleven impeachable items, all related to the LewInsky affair. The Committee voted four articles of impeachment, including perjury before a grand jury, obstruction of justice, and misusing and abusing his office. Clinton was impeached, but not convicted by the Senate.

Some people believe that Richard Nixon was impeached. He was not, and avoided impreachment by resigning from office.

The Process of Impeachment

Impeachment proceedings begin in the House Judiciary Committee. Any bills of impreachment are referred to this committee. As part of the Judiciary Committee inquiry, the Committee may collect evidence, hold hearings and hear testimony of relevent witnesses. Typically the committee has both a majoriy and minority counsel, one for each party.  If grounds for impreachment are found, the Committee formulates the Articles of Impeachment. The committee then votes on the articles, and if passed, they are referred to the entire House of Representatives, which then debates the issues.

If Articles of Impeachment are approved, the House appoints managers, who act as procescutors for each article. A hearing on the matter is held in the Senate, with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as the presiding official. The hearings are conducted as a trial, with witnesses and testimony. The defendant is entitled to legal counsel, and may cross-examine witnesses. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Senate debates the issues in private. A two-thirds majority is needed for a conviction and removal from office.

The entire process can be quite lengthy. What follows is the timeline of the Clinton impeachment:

January – August 1994: Attorney General Janet Reno appoints Robert Fiske Jr. as special prosecutor in the Whitewater Investigation. He is replaced by Kenneth Starr in August.

January 1998: Starr receives permission to expand his probe to include the Clinton/Lewinsky relationship.

September 1998: House of Representatives receives report from Ken Starr (3183 pages of testimony and evidence).

October 5, 1998: the House Judiciary Committee recommends a full impeachment inquiry.

November 19, 1998: Starr presents his case to House Judiciary Committee

December 11, 1998: House Judiciary Committee approves three articles of impeachment.

December 19, 1998: House of Representatives approve two articles on impeachment.

January 14, 1999: Trial begins in Senate

February 9, 1999: Senate begins closed-door deliberations.

February 12, 1999: Clinton acquitted.

So this is the basic process. In future articles, we will discuss  more current issues, especially how they may relate to President Trump. Inasmuch as the media seems to have caught impeachment fever these days, it is likely there will be much to discuss.

References:

(1) Impeachment — Wikipedia

(2) Gerald Ford — Wikiquote

(3) Presidential Impeachment Legal Standards

(4) Alan Dershowitz Unitary Theorty of the Executive

(5) Unitary Executive Theory

Constitutional Rights Foundation High Crimes and Misdemeanors

The North Platte Canteen

north platte

I love Nebraska. I’ve had the occasion to go there over a dozen times, mostly for an annual Vietnam veterans reunion. I’ve crisscrossed the state and met hundreds of wonderful people. They were friendly, kind, and most welcoming, which is something a person from New Jersey never expected.

But I’m not writing about the whole state, I’m writing about one town in particular, one very special town; North Platte.

I’ve been to North Platte at least a half dozen times, and I love the town. But a recent article in The Wall Street Journal reminded me about the specialness of North Platte, something I’d like to share with you.

To tell this story, I have to go back in time, all the way back to World War II; but stay with me, because I’ll be bringing you right back to today at the end.

First of all, a little geography. North Platte was a stopping/ watering lcation for the Union Pacific railroad, which ran smack through the town. Back in those days, steam locomotives had to stop periodically to take on water for their steam engines. North Platte was always a stop. The Union Pacific, founded in 1862, was the first transcontinental railroad, running from Council Bluffs Iowa, to the Pacific Ocean.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the United States was at war. Just ten days later, on December 17th,  a train loaded with soldiers from the National Guard was on it’s way west. Thinking these were fellow Nebraskans, over 500 local people showed up to greet the train, bringing homemade cakes and pies and sandwiches for the troops.

It turned out that the troops were not from Nebraska, but were National Guard troops from Kansas. The townspeople fed them anyway, and the whole story starts there.

One woman from the town, Rae Wilson, thought it would be a good idea to meet all the trains. The next day she started working on the canteen. Volunteers poured in. Local merchants donated goods.  By the day after Christmas, when the next train arrived, they were up and running. The North Platte Canteen was born.

North Platte Canteen 02

Before long, train after train filled with troops were passing through and the locals were greeting 1000 troops a day; but that was only the beginning.

The word spread about the canteen, and donations and volunteers began to pour in.  A coffee importer sent cans of coffee, churches sent turkeys and other food. Benefit dances and socials were held to raise money for the canteen. Volunteers from as far as two hundred miles away came in to serve food to the troops. Boy scout troops and other youth groups raised money. In all, people from over one hundred twenty five communities donated time and money to the canteen.

It was a time of rationing. Items like coffee, sugar and gasoline were rationed. People gave up their spare ration stamps to send to the canteen. Farmers sent produce to the canteen rather than selling it. The women showed kindness in many different ways. They helped soldiers write letters home, they passed out fruit, and magazines, and decks of cards.  Every day they baked birthday cakes. Any soldier having a birthday that day got a birthday cake.

north platte canteen 03

And the numbers kept growing as the war progressed. More and more trains arrived in North Platte, sometimes as many as 32 trains a day, from early morning until after midnight. Every train was met, every single train. In all over six million troops stopped at the North Platte Canteen and were met with Nebraskan hospitality. Over 55,000 volunteers from across Nebraska volunteered their time at the canteen.

Watch this before reading on. We’re not done yet.

The war ended in August 1945. The canteen remained open, however, serving the trainloads of soldiers, sailor, and Marines who were now coming home.  It finally closed it’s doors in April 1946. The building was demolished in 1973, so the North Platte Canteen is gone….

But not yet.

Now we come to today.

This past June, less than two months ago. A National Guard unit from Arkansas completed it’s annual training in Wyoming. Over 700 National Guardsmen would be returning home, this time by bus; 21 buses in all. The bus company noted that North Platte was along the route, and contacted the local visitors bureau to see if they could handle that many troops, in and out, for a quick snack.

They had no idea the response they would get.

The word went out and literally hundreds of North Platte citizens showed up to volunteer. This time it was at the North Platte Events Center. The Canteen building was gone, but it was revived in spirit. The Arkansas troops were met with sandwiches, salads, and fruit, cakes, brownies and cookies. The mayor stood at the door and shook the hand of every soldier.

north platte 01

north platte 02

north platte 07

north platte 04

The world may have changed, but North Platte had not. When service members pass through their town, it’s something they will never forget.

That’s who these people are. This is the Heartland. This is America.

 

A Soldier Never Forgets North Platte — Wall Street Journal

North Platte Canteen — Wikipedia

Lincoln County Museum — The North Platte Canteen

Old Timer

old timer

I was walking into a WaWa recently, and a cop was coming out. He held the door open for me. I picked up my pace a bit to get to the door, and he said “Take your time Old Timer, take your time…”.

Old Timer? Indeed. It was a first, and it hit me like a two by four. What the hell does that mean? Is that like Old Codger? I looked it up in the dictionary, and Merriam-Webster defines it as “a person who has a lot of experience…”. Not bad — not great, but not bad. An Old Codger, it turns out is a little different;  that’s an “eccentric but amusing old man…”. At least he didn’t call me that.

The cop was right, of course, and he wasn’t being disrespectful, quite the opposite; but still…

I have been around for awhile, coming up on three score and thirteen (figure that one out if you can). I’ve had my AARP card for a long time now. I’ll accept Senior Citizen, or as Rush Limbaugh calls us Seasoned Citizens.  Reaching retirement age is hard to deny. It may be hard to believe that I’ve lived this long, but I can’t deny it. Reflecting on that, I’ve seen quite a bit in the course of my lifetime:

I’ve lived through fourteen Presidents, the Korean War (I was young, but remember it),  and Alaska and Hawaii becoming states. The first late night talk show on TV with Steve Allen; the Salk polio vaccine; the beginning of somthing called “Rock and Roll”, and Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show. I remember Sputnik.

I remember the “new” movie techniques; Technicolor and CinemaScope. and a new sound called Stereo.  I watched the first TV show broadcast in color (Bonanza), ate at the first McDonalds in my area, ten cent hamburgers. I remember watching Don Larsen pitch the first, and still the only perfect game in a World Series.

I remember well JFK and the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missle crisis. I remember the Berlin Wall, and the day it fell. I vividly recall when Kennedy was shot, and watched Oswald get shot by Jack Ruby on live TV.  I played my role making history in Vietnam.

I watched the first man land on the moon, and followed the Nixon impeachment hearings on TV. I remember Three Mile Island and when the Iranians took our people hostage. I remember Abscam and when Reagan was shot. I remember watching the Challenger blow up on live TV.

All these things and so much more happened during my lifetime, so I guess I am pretty seasoned.

The world has changed quite a bit over those years, but isn’t it always changing? Time seems to move much faster these days, but there are still twenty-four hours in a day.

Maybe we know we’re old, but we just don’t like that being pointed out to us. Our culture has always celebrated youth; it’s programmed into us. To be young is to be handsome or beautiful, strong and vital, and full of life. To be old, not so much. Old people are just there. Most younger people don’t really even see us, they see an image of what they will eventually become and don’t necessarily like that they see.

That’s okay, we were the same way when we were young.  We get it.

Just don’t call us “Old Timers”.

 

Asteroid Day

asteroid day

While you were enjoying (or not) the exceptionally warm weekend of June 30 — July 1, you likely did not know  that  Saturday, June 30th  was International Asteroid Day.  It’s a commemorative date of sorts, marking the day of June 30, 1908, when the “Tunguska event” took place in Siberia.

On that day, 110 years ago, an extra-terrestial object flattened over 770 square miles of Siberian forest. No one knows exactly what caused it. It is largely thought to be an air-burst of a meteorite, perhaps exploding around five miles up in the air. This is considered an impact event, even though it left no impact crater, just scortched earth. Estimates of the object’s size suggest it was about the size of one or two football fields.

It may have been a comet, it may have been an asteroid, no one really knows, but early estimates of the size of the explosion (since disputed), put the force at about 15 megatons of TNT, about 1000 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The blast flattened some 80 million trees. Due to the remote location, there were no human casualities, but it would have easily destroyed a large city.

So is this interesting or relevant? Maybe or maybe not, but it is a fact that we recently had a visit from our first inter-stellar (not from our solar system) flying object, called ʻOumuamua.  It passed by us a few months ago, and buzzed on out , back in to deep space. It was a bit smaller than the object in 1908, about the size of a football field. It may have been a comet, but it was so small and moved so fast, scientists are not sure. The interesting part is that it originated from somewhere out in space, and we don’t know where.  It did not come close to earth in our terms, about 124 million miles away, about the distance between Mars and Jupiter. In space distances, however, it was pretty damn close. Here’s an artist conception, click on the image for a larger view:

oumuamua-comet_1024

So here’s what got me started on this piece:  Many years ago, way back in 1977, I read a book called Lucifer’s Hammer.  It was a sci-fi novel, the first apocalyptic novel I recall reading. By coincidence, I stumbled on a copy of the book as I was packing up some old books to donate to the library. All the other books went, but Lucifer fell out, and hid under the driver seat of my car. I just found it, so I thought I should write about it, and here we are.

The book was dramatic to say the least. Lucifer, which turns out to be a comet, breaks up upon entering the earth’s atmosphere, and creates havoc around the world. Chaos ensues, and the rest of the story follows the survivors in the post-apolcalypic world.

There have been countless end-of-the-world scenarios; they are one of the mainstays of Hollywood. With out an apocalypse of some sort, countless movies from Mad Max to Independence Day to the World War Z zombie apocalypse would never have been made. All this doesn’t even include TV series like The Walking Dead.

Most of the movies and TV shows do quite well, at the box office and in TV ratings. We seem to enjoy the notion of the world ending in some sort of dramatic and spectacular fashion.  Perhaps we imagine ourselves as one who survives, or hope we would be one of the ones who doesn’t.

lucifers hammer

It seems from what I’ve read, that people, especially Christians have been having notions of the Apocalypse for centuries. Generation after generation, some folks think they are living in the end of times; that it’s going to be all over during their lifetime. Early thoughts of an apocalypse were often Bible-related, God ending mankind in some catastrophic way, perhaps an asteroid.

Modern society (and Hollywood) has of course expanded on the theme. We (society) can meet our demise in an endless variety of permutations, from space invaders, to viruses, to zombies, not to mention prehistoric dinosauers if we visit the wrong theme park.

So, why? What is the fascination with mega-disaster? Why do we fill movie theaters, almost gleefully watch people die by the thousands while we chomp on popcorn and candy?

I can’t say I had any real ideas about this, but looking around online, I found a few interesting pieces.

One suggested than an apocalypse must have two parts. The first is that real life always seem on the brink;  poor leaders, broken economy, global warming, you name it; disaster is right around the corner. The second part, and the most interesting is it never actually happens. Millions may die, the world may be in shambles, but there are always survivors. Someone is left to start over, to re-boot the human race, better than before. So the essence of the apocalypse becomes hope.

To be sure, some films break this tradition. On the Beach, and These Final Hours, both nuclear disaster movies, come to mind. But they are generally the exception to the rule. Most often, there are survivors, embattled, desheveled, and barely holding on sometimes, but by golly, the human race will survive!

There are a couple of other theories out there which merit some discussion. The first one is that we just love to watch destruction. Sound lame? Then why do people rubber-neck at auto accidents, or why does a fire draw a crowd? Is there something in our nature that likes watching things destroyed? Another is that we have a fascination with death, and that death on a large scale lets us watch from the comfort of our movie seat.

Another theory is that the apocalypse lets mankind start over. We screwed up, but we won’t the next time.   It also lets indivduals theorize how they would fit in in a new world. Would they be a leader? A follower? A taker? A giver? Mankind gets another chance.

Another thing  — apocalyptic movies often open in the summer. The summer “blockbuster” is often about mayhem or one kind or another.

Sooooo…. We’ve come a long way from Asteroid Day,  but that sometimes happens when I just shoot off in a direction. Going back to original topic, just remember there are millions of asteroids out there — maybe one of them has our name on it.  :-)

Tunguska Event

‘Oumuamua

Why do we Love Apocalyptic Movies?

Why do we Love the Apocalypse?

 

 

 

 

Immigration Part Five — Seeking Asylum From Failed States

JUCHITAN, MEXICO - AUGUST 06:  Central American immigrants ride north on top of a freight train on August 6, 2013 near Juchitan, Mexico. Thousands of Central American migrants ride the trains, known as 'la bestia', or the beast, during their long and perilous journey through Mexico to reach the U.S. border. Some of the immigrants are robbed and assaulted by gangs who control the train tops, while others fall asleep and tumble down, losing limbs or perishing under the wheels of the trains. Only a fraction of the immigrants who start the journey in Central America will traverse Mexico completely unscathed - and all this before illegally entering the United States and facing the considerable U.S. border security apparatus designed to track, detain and deport them.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

One of the things which comes up frequently in the immigation controversy is asylum — immigrants seeking special protection from dangers and/or risks in their own country.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), asylum protection can be offered to people  who have suffered persecution or fear they will suffer persection because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Notice the fairly narrow definition. Essentially it says that a particular person must be able to identify one of these specific reasons, and that they have been or are at danger of suffering persecution because of it. This is important, because we will be coming back this this definition.

Refugee and Special Situations

The USCIS notes special situations which could allow entrance into the United States  of humanatarian concern, such as natual disasters. Generally speaking refugees and are not expected to stay in the United States, and are “sheltered” only until the situation which caused their flight from their country is resolved. As we shall see, this definition has been allowed to expand to cover several areas beyond its original intent.

The USCIS also designates “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS) for refugees from countries considered to be in turmoil. There are currently ten countries on this list, but for the purposes of this article, we will only be looking at some countries in Central America: El Salvador (9/9/19),  and Honduras (1/5/20). The dates in parenthesis are the dates when this temporary status are schedule to end, but these dates can be changed.

Ostensibly, the TPS for the above countries was issued due to natural disasters: El Salvador: Earthquakes (2001), Nicaragua: Hurricane Mitch (1998), Honduras: Hurricane Mitch (1998). Notice these “temporary” protections are now twenty years old.

Immigrants from countries with TPS cannot be deported as long as the TPS is in effect. TPS holders reside all over the U.S. Most TPS holders from El Salvador live in the Washington, DC (32,359), Los Angeles (30,415) and New York (23,168) metropolitan areas. Honduran TPS holders live mostly in the New York (8,818), Miami (7,467) and Houston (6,060) metropolitan areas. (11)

Central America

Central America

 

The only thing stable about some of the countries that make up Central America is their instablity.  Plagued by poverty, crime, and disease, this region suffers from continous instability.

Three countries form the “Northern Triangle” of Central America: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. They have a combined population of about thirty million people.  The average per capita income in these three countries is $6793. Per capita income in the United States is $58030.

El Salvador

The smallest and most densely populated country in Central America (6.4 million), with a per capita income of $8900/year. It has  the highest murder rate in the world, 60/100,000. (4) (7) (8)

From Wikipedia: “From the late 19th to the mid-20th century, El Salvador endured chronic political and economic instability characterized by coups, revolts, and a succession of authoritarian rulers… …devastating Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992), which was fought between the military-led government and a coalition of left-wing guerrilla groups… …the country continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, inequality, and crime.” 

According to CBS News some 60,000 to 100,000 members of the infamous MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs terrorize the population throughout the country, causing many to flee for the United States (2)

In an interesting , if ironic footnote, the second largest gang in El Salvador, M-18 (also known as the 18th Street Gang), also actually originated in Los Angeles, and expanded south to El Salvador, sort of a north-south cultural exchange.

Sky News presents an interesting video of the realities of El Salvador today. It’s a little long (23 minutes), but interesting:

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for some 195,000 Salvadorans currently in the United States ends in September 2019. President Trump has indicated he will not extend this date, making these TPS participants liable for deportation.

Guatemala

Guatemala has a population of 15.5 million and an annual per capita income of $8200. It has a murder rate of  26/100,000, and ranks as the 15th highest murder rate in the world (4) (7) (8)

Between 1954 and 1996, Guatemala suffered a series of coups and a civil war, destablizing the country. US involvement during this time period was not insignificant. Since then, Guatemalan politics have been rife with scandal. In 2016 a UN prosecutor described the government as a crime syndicate. Crime is high in Guatemala, largely as a result of continuing conflicts between the government and the people left over from the civil war. Guatemala is also a major drug trafficking route for drugs coming north from South America and headed to the United States. Guatemala is also known for human trafficking, including sex trafficking. Both MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang operate in Guatemala. There are an estimated 32,000 gang members in the country.

Since 2016 Guatemala has four times requested Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Gualamalans illegally in the United States, based on volcanos and other natural disasters. TPS has not been approved.

Honduras

The third of our “Northern Triangle” countries of Central America is Honduras. Honduras has a population of about 9.1 million people, an annual per capita income of $5500, and a murder rate of 54/100,000 people, making it the 2nd highest murder rate in the world. (7)(8)

Like other countries in Central America, Honduras has suffered a variety of internal conflicts and governments, and interventions by the United States over the years. The term “Banana Republic” was first used to describe the country by author O. Henry in 1904.

In addition to dealing with hurricanes and other natural disasters, Honduras suffered a coup d’etat in 2009, that was condemned by both the Organization of American States and the United Nations, who called the new government illegal.

Temporary protected Status (TPS) granted to Hondurans after the 1998 Hurrican Mitch, is due to expire in January 2020. President Trump has indicated he will not renew this status, making 57,000 Hundurans currently in the United States liable to deportation.

The Failed States

At this point we get subjective. The fundamental definition of a failed state is “a state whose political or economic system has become so weak that the government is no longer in control” (Google Definitions).

The three countries in this article are technically not “failed”, but are considered “fragile” states by the non-profit  Fund for Peace (12). The factors considered in evaluating countries are social, economic, and political. Each of these three countries fall within the “Warning” bracket of potentially failing states. The states are scored every year, and these countries exhibit a continually downward trend. In other words, it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.

It should be noted that the United States provides foreign aid to these countries, mostly for education and agriculture, a total of about $50 million per year for all three combined, about the same provided to Bosnia ($49 million), less than to the Congo ($60 million), and far less than to Afghanistan ($126 million).

Which unfortunately brings us, once again back to the major problem faced in each of these countries: crime.

MS-13
MS-13

          “Mata, roba, viola, controla” (Kill, steal. rape, control)

That’s the MS-13 motto above. We’ve written about these bad boys before, but their impact on these countries, and the resultant flow of immigrants seeking asylum from them appears to be the single largest factor in the migration north.

“Mara Salvatrucha” is the name. “Mara” is slang for “gang”, and “Salvatruchas” are supposedly peasants trained to become guerilla fighters. The “13” denotes their affiliation with the “Surenos”, a group of gangs that pay tribute to the Mexican Mafia while in prison. Other variants of this explanation exist.

Ironically, this gang was home grown in the USA.  The gang was formed by Salvadoran immigrants in the 1980’s in Los Angeles. The gang was created to protect Salvadorans from other gangs of Mexican and Afro-Americans. When gang members were caught committing crimes, they typically were deported back to El Salvador. This allowed them to recruit in Central America, and expand rapidly.  Another similar gang, the Barrio 18, or 18th Street Gang, also formed in Los Angeles, and has a similar history.  These two gangs account for the 60,000 to 100,000 gang members in El Salvador alone, along with another 32,000 in Guatemala, and thousands more in Honduras. There are an estimated 10,000 MS-13 members currently in the United States.

It needs to be noted that MS-13  is not  a drug trafficking cartel. Though they have had some minor affiliations with Mexican Cartels, especially the Sinaloa Cartel, the gang’s participation in the drug trade is minor, perhaps due to a distrust between the primarily El Salvadoran members and the Mexicans.  Murder, rape, extortion, prostitution and human trafficking are the calling cards of MS-13.  In essense they are thugs, not nearly sophisticated enough to operate as a drug cartel.

Which brings us to the actual problem as it relates to the United States.

These gangs are essentally terrorists, and strongest in Central America. Their tactics, combined with ineffectual and/or corrupt governments in these countries have created a growing migration of people fleeing these countries and headed for the United States.

migrants

They head for the United States seeking asylum. Asylum from the criminal gangs terrorizing their countries. But they are also economic migrants, trying to escape poverty and failing government.

Coming back to our original definition of asylum, seeking protection from persecution: How does their claim match the policies of the United States?  How liberal or how strict should the granting of asylum be? Remember, there are over thirty million people in these three countries. How many should the US allow,  and for how long? A few years, until things possibly get better in their countries? Twenty years? Forever?

Most of these immigrants are low-skill, poorly educated people. Who supports them, and how will they fit in to the US economy? There are no easy answers to these questions. These problems will likely continue and increase in the coming years. It is the responsbility of the Congress of the United States to confront these problems and create suitable immigration laws, something they have failed to do for decades.  Time is running out for decisions. Left alone, we will find ourselves with thousands or even millions of immigrants clamoring to get into the United States, and a government of our own who is failing both them and us.

 

(1) USCIS — Asylum

(2) CBS News: Firsthand Look El Salvador Gang Violence

(3)New York Times – Violence in Nicaragua…

(4)CIA World Fact Book

(5)Honduras Violence — Philadelphia Inquirer

(6) Over 100 Politicians Murdered in Mexico

(7) United States Department of State

(8) List of Countries by Intentional Homicide Rate

(9) Gangs in Central America — Congressioal Research Service

(10) In Central America Gangs like MS-13 are Bad, but Corrupt Politicians May be Worse

(11) TPS Fact Sheet

(12) Fund for Peace

Fake News — Part One

fake-news

Plastic straws brought me to this. Straws, the plastic tubes, once made of paper, that we use to sip sodas. Those straws. I’ll get to that story a little later, but first some background.

Ever since the election of Donald Trump, we have heard the term “fake news” over and over again. Much of the time it is Trump saying it, but the term has risen to the level of a colloquialism. People say it all the time, and the definition of what is “fake” and what is not seems to depend on opinion as much as anything else.

In essense, the case is made that much of today’s media, especially the “main stream” media (MSM), no longer seem bound by actual facts in their reporting. The truth is bent, twisted, folded,  spindled and generally mutilated at will. My facts are your falsehoods, and vice versa. It doesn’t really matter which media we’re talking about, The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NBC, or a host of other “media” outlets, large and small. Everyone is playing fast and lose with the truth.

Of course there are “fact-check” organizations, but even they have come under fire for interpeting the truth according to their political pursuasions.

So now let’s get to the story that brought me to this, but first the disclaimer; I got this story from an article on Reason.com (link below). I followed all of their links, and checked them further as far as I could, and found other info from other sources, from there, also cited.

straws

Its seems that a legislator in California is proposing a bill which would fine restaurants and/or servers $1000 for offering customers a plastic drinking straw with their drink, unless the customer specifically requests it. The logic behind this is the enviornment, and straws not being biodegradable, and all that yadda yadda. I use the phrase because we’ve all heard this kind of thing a million times. Nothing to see here, and that’s not the fake news part anyway.

The story is about the numbers. Every news report about this issue cites the number 500 million as the number of plastic straws Americans use daily.  Yup, a half billion straws a day. That means all 300+ million of us are slurping drinks through straws every day of the year. I won’t even calculate the totals, it’s too silly  —-  Actually, I did calculate the totals. A half billion straws a a day  works about to over 182 billion straws a year. Dividing that by the population, I came out with 567 straws for each of us per year. That’s 1.5 straws per day each, every day of the year. Maybe you? Not me, I doubt I use 25 percent of that number.

So where do these numbers come from? The Los Angeles Times cited them, and the National Park Service has the same figures on it’s website. So who did all these calculations?

This is where it gets interesting. As far as anyone can figure, the numbers came from a nine year old kid.

His name is Milo Cress, and he’s about 17 or so now.

milo cress

 

Milo seems like a nice enough kid. He’s from Vermont, and he’s made some news as a promoter of good environmental practices.

It seems that back in 2011 when he was nine, Milo started a project called Be Straw Free. Milo has been very successful bringing attention to the problems of plastic straws in the environment, and been recognized nationally with awards. This is all good. As I said, he seems like a nice enough kid.

The 500 million straws a day story goes something like this: When Milo was starting his project (at the age of nine) he supposedly contacted many straw manufacturers for details about the numbers of straws used. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be substantiated in any way. so we have to take Milo’s word for it.

And apparently we do. With no more documentation than this, major news media literally around the world have reported this figure. These media have included the Washington Post, CNN, Reuters, Time, National Geographic and even Al Jazeera. The same numbers get reported again, and again and again, thanks to Milo. (I posted some links to these stories at the bottom of the page).

I decided to check the “fact-checkers”, so I looked this up on Snopes.com. Snopes does mention the issue and notes that the high straw usage figures do indeed appear to come from Milo. Snopes, however, hedged by saying “no one has proven that figure wrong…“, and called it a “mere academic quibble”.   Hmmmm…. Let me see if I have this right. Snopes is saying the figure could be true, since it hasn’t been proven wrong, and besides that, it’s only a “quibble”.  Unusual response, I thought from the premiere “fact” checkers.

There probably are lots of straws out there, and they are not good for the enviornment, so it’s a good idea to reduce the numbers used. Milo is doing a good job, so who cares how many we use each day?

The media should care. The media should care they use a number that no one can substantiate. They should really care that the number likely came from a kid. They should care because it’s about getting it right. It seems to me that some journalist from all these upstanding media writing articles about this might have picked up a phone and called Milo. The converstation might sound like this:

“Hey Milo, old buddy, we’re checking these numbers you used about plastic straws. Can you tell me where you got these figures, back when you were nine years old? Did you keep notes? Who did you talk to? How did you calculate this? Just a little factcheck here Buddy, nothing serious, but some people get hung up about these things…”

Is this trivia in the world of “Fake News”? Probably, but it’s also the problem. We rely on the news media to get it right, but it seems our expectations are not always met today. Journalism has gotten sloppy. “Fact-checking” means my “facts” or “your facts”? Too many people are playing fast and loose with the truth.

It would seem to me that with all the claims of “fake news”, the media would go above and beyond today to be scrupulous. They should be very careful to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s”.  But hey, that’s just me, what do I know?

I’ll be doing more “Fake News” stories in the future. This is just too much fun to pass up.

 

Al Jazeera — 500 Million Straws/Day

Be Straw Free

California Plastic Straws — Reason.com

CNN — 500 Million Straws/Day

Los Angeles Times — Drinking Straw editorial

National Park Service message about straws

Milo Cress

National Geographic — 500 Million Straws/Day

Snopes on Plastic Straws

Time Magazine — 500 Million Straws/Day