All posts by lewpubco

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.

Illgal 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

 

 

Storing Memories

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(Click on pictures for larger images)

I’m storing my electric trains. Actually, I suppose I’m “re-storing” them; they have been in my attic for 45 years.  Perhaps I should explain.

I received my first set of electric trains for Christmas in 1947, when I was two years old.  Back then, electric trains were the quintessential Christmas gift for little boys.

As a little kid, I was awestruck by the trains. Minitature detailed trains, moving around the track, blowing their whistles as smoke puffed from their smokestacks.  In those days, an electric train set was a kid’s version of “awesomeness”.

Over the years, my parents added to the set, always as Christmas presents.  The collection grew from one to three complete sets, and the platform leayout expanded as well.  My father was very gifted, and created increasingly-complicated layouts with bridges and tunnels and little towns. To this day, I am impressed with his skills.

The trains were Lionel, the premiere toy train manufacturer of the day. Lionel had been making trains since 1900, and my trains were the first of the post World War II series (the company stopped making trains during the war, instead working as a defense contractor).

The trains were sturdy, to say the least.  Manufactured at a plant in New Jersey that employed more than 2000 workers, Lionel Trains were works of art.  Cast almost entirely in metal, the trains were heavy and could readily withstand crashes and falls to the floor off a raised platform.

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The trains went up every Christmas until about 1955 or so.  By then, I was getting older, and the little kid in me was fading.  About that point, the trains went up in the attic and stayed there…until around 1970.

By then I had a son of my own, so after about fifteen years in storage, the train platform went up once again at Christmas.

We only had a small area for a platform, so I could only set up a small portion of the set.  I did that for about three years, and then once again, the trains returned to the attic.

For forty-five years.

The trains just came down from the attic.  I know they were up there for forty-five years because the newspapers they were wrapped in were dated 1972.

My thought was that seventy year old Lionel trains might be pretty valuable as collector items.  I knew they are still collected, so I thought I was sitting on a little gold mine  — not so much.

It turns out that many of the collectors of Lionel trains are old; like me. Not as many around anymore. There are other factors too; younger people who do collect trains look for the newer models; often made from plastic, but they have more detail, and are usually smaller scale.

I had a friend of mine who knows such things appraise my set.  The retail value was less than I thought, and selling them to a wholesaler would net me far less than that.  Of course I could put individual  cars on Ebay and try that, but I’m not so disposed.

I pondered this for awhile, and finally realized it wasn’t about the money, not at all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Those trains are almost all I have left from my childhood.  Everything else is long gone.  As I unpacked them, even after not laying eyes on them for over 45 years, there were instant memories.

From the time I was two years old, the trains meant Christmas.  That’s when they came out for a few weeks each year.  At first, under the tree, but then on to larger and more elaborate platforms with small towns and mountains and bridges.  I can still hear the sound of their whistles and smell the somewhat acrid smell of the “smoke” that came out of the steam engines.

Times were simple then; not like today — not at all like today.  Electric trains held a certain kind of “magic” for a little kid.  Average people didn’t fly in airplanes back then; the railroad was still king of long distance transportation.  When you got on a train, you were going somewhere not around the corner.  Trains inspired thoughts of travel to far away places.  They criss-crossed the country; everything traveled by rail.  There were two rail lines near my home; we saw trains almost every day, mostly pulling freight cars, dozens of them.  There were box cars of every description and color, tank cars, hopper cars, gondola cars. Every passing train evoked the fantasy of hopping aboard an empty boxcar and “riding the rails”.  Actually we did that sometimes.  We often would walk the railroad tracks to a nearby town that had an amusement park. More than once, we jumped into a boxcar on a slow-moving freight for a ride.  Not many twelve year olds do that today, I suppose.

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Back then, I never really rode as a passenger on a train, except for those brief freight car hops.  My first time as a legitimate passenger was on a train from Norfolk Virginia, to Providence Rhode Island.  I was in the Marine Corps, and being transported to the aircraft carrier where I’d been assigned.

That trip was almost mystical to me.  There were seven of us making the journey, and we had to change trains in Washington, DC.  We had a wait of several hours between trains, so we explored the Capitol. I remember it was April, and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.  It was beautiful.  In the train station (Union Station) they had a most amazing device; a machine that played video recordings of songs.  I think it was expensive to play, maybe a dollar, and we stood around watching a video of the Four Seasons singing “Sherry”.  We had no idea we were looking at one of the very first music videos.

Union_Station_Washington_DCUnion Station, Washington DC

From Washington, we traveled to New York City; another stop and change of trains.  This time, we walked to Times Square, another place we knew about but had never been.  It was like nothing we’d ever seen before

times square vintageTimes Square

Ultimately the train took us to our destination, but that first train ride confirmed for me that riding the train was a magical experience.

Over the years, I rode the train many times; most often the Philadephia – Washington DC Metroliner.  I still liked it, but times had changed, and the magic was gone.

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The trains are all boxed now, stored away for someone else.  As I cleaned them and wrapped them, and boxed them up, I realized you can store more than metal toys — you can store memories.

 

Lionel Corporation

 

The Kennedy Assassination Files

JFK 01

Zapruder Film

On October 27, 2017, the National Archives released some 3800 heretofore unseen files related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. A second group of over 500 files was released on November 3, 2017. A third group of 13,213 files was released on November 9, 2017.

In 1992, Congress passed the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992   (Public Law 102-526), which directed the National Archives to assemble a collection of all known government materials related to the assassination of President Kennedy. This included all known Federal, state and local records on the subject.

Interestingly enough, the Assassination Records Review Board, which oversaw the project, gave some credit for the creation of the archive to Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie JFK. It was believed that Stone’s movie created a significant popular belief among the public  that the government and/or the military were in some way co-conspirators in the President’s assassination.  All records were to be made public on October 27, 2017, twenty-five years after the enactment of the law.  Here’s a clip from the movie:

The Files

There are over five million documents in the National Archives pertaining to the Kennedy assassination. You can buy copies of the documents for only $.80 each, which means a copy of the entire collection can be yours for a mere $4 million.

Many of the documents have never been completely seen by anyone, largely due to them being heaviliy redacted (censored). Over 3600 documents had never been seen by the public at all. Some Federal agencies, most specifically the FBI and CIA, argued against the release of non-redacted documents. Some of the reasons for their argument were that real names of confidential informants could be made public, and/or intelligence gathering operations could be compromised. President Donald Trump overrode their arguments and the final documents were released on November 9th.

The Task:

The first release on October 29 consisted of 2891 documents. The second on November 3 included an additional 676 documents. A third release on November 9 released 13,213 more documents. The actual database entries, however, require looking at an astonishing 20,574 entries, spread over 412 pages of database. Many of the documents are duplicated in various places in the database. Some of the documents appear to be meaningless — a fax cover sheet without any attached document, or a document so badly faded it is impossible to read. Similarly, many documents reference reports that are not in the database. Perhaps they can be found elsewhere in the National Archives, but not online.

The documents can be downloaded into an Excel spreadsheet, probably making them easier to manage and organize; however, the sheer size of a massive download such as this goes beyond the ability of any but the most completely dedicated researcher — a task beyond me.

Document Dump?

There is no rhyme nor reason to the database, other than it being loosely organized by agency (FBI, CIA, etc). It is not in sequential order, nor any other order I could ascertain.  A document from 1963 might be followed by one from 1975, followed by another from 1964. Some documents go back as far as 1945, and seem to present no relevence to the assassination or to Kennedy whatsoever.

Some of the documents are absolutely non-related, such as one referring to a CIA employee taking a leave of absense to attend to her sick father.

There are many seemingly unrelated files among these documents, including large FBI folders on Martin Luther King and interogations of Soviet defector Yuri  Nosenko. The files are lengthy and include field agent reports and and allegations that seem unsubstantiated, such as one that reports that Martin Luther King had an affair with singer Joan Baez.

These unrelated or periferially related files seem oddly placed in the Kennedy archives. If one were of a suspicious mind, it would be easy to suspect these files were placed in these achives deliberately. These archives were sealed for many years and possibly could have remained sealed even longer. The archives could possibly be an excellent repository for items never meant to see the light of day.

ce- 133a

Lee Harvey Oswald

FBI Files

The bulk of the FBI reporting during the days following the Kennedy assassination seem to display the wide-spread effort coupled with enormous frustration. Most of the reports from field offices include efforts to find anyone who knew anything about Oswald or Jack Ruby. Most of the field office reports indicated specialized efforts — the Dallas field office, for instance, focused on anyone connected with Oswald, and any connections to Cuba, while the Chicago field office concentrated on organized crime, and any connections Ruby may have had when he lived there. Other offices were looking at the Ku Klux Klan, and other white supremacy or neo-Nazi groups.

Other field offices seemed to do their best to generate reports to send to headquarters, no matter how trivial. The Los Angeles field office spent considerable time running down former strippers who had worked for Ruby in Dallas, but had moved to LA.

The Newark (NJ) FBI office may have had the oddest report. It seemed that a man in Mays Landing NJ received a letter with the return logo of Parkland Hospital on the envelope (Parkland Hospital was where President Kennedy was rushed to after the shooting, and where he subsquently died). The local rural free delivery mail carrier noticed the return address, and called the FBI.

The Newark field office placed the man’s mail under surveilance.  Using information they gathered from a cooperating local postmaster, if seemed the man’s story was that he was involved with a poetry group and was a judge of a poetry contest. The man indicated (to the mail carrier) that he received poems in the mail from around the country to judge. While he was not asked directly, a possible explanation for the Parkland Hospital envelope was that an employee there was writing poetry, and simply stole some of the hospital’s envelopes to use.

The explanation did not satisfy the FBI, and they apparently did not want to tip their hand to the man by just interviewing him.  Instead, they attempt to engage a confidential informant with the notion that the informant would befriend the man, and somehow get inside his home to search through his records.  They were not successful doing this, and apparently the mysterious envelope case simply faded away. FBI Newark Field Office Report

Mark Lane, a New York attorney, was one of the earliest conspiracy theorists about the Kennedy assassination. He believed the Kennedy  murder was a conspiracy, and began giving public lectures about his theories within weeks after the assassination.  He would later write a book entitled Rush to Judgment, which was a best seller and spent twenty-nine weeks on the New York Times best seller list.

From the archives, the FBI was clearly interested in Mark Lane. They planted confidential informants at many (if not all) of his lectures to report back to the FBI what was said at the lectures.

The FBI also showed a susbstantial interest in New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who’s investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy was the basis for the  movie JFK.  Several files indicate FBI efforts to learn anything about what Garrison was doing in his investigation from any and all sources.

The FBI files are often of questionable value.  Many times the “file” is simply a cover sheet or cover letter referencing an item that is not to be found in the database.

CIA Files

Overall the CIA files, many of which have never been seen by the public before, are more extensive than other agencies. Some of the files run for hundreds of pages and are quite detailed.

The CIA files included files on Martin Luther King similar to the FBI files, which some might find odd inasmuch as the CIA was supposedly prohibited from domestic surveilance. The CIA also had files on Howard Hunt and James McCord, both former CIA operatives involved in Watergate, and strangely, a file on Claire Booth Luce, a prominent Republican writer, ambassador, and wife of Henry Luce, the publisher of Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated.

Another strange file in the CIA group is the 1960 Field Double Agent Guide. It is exactly what it seems to be: a ninety-six page guide about how to become a double agent. Field Double Agent Guide

An extremely odd CIA file is called The Unsanitized Diem Report, about Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, who was assassinated in Vietnam just a few weeks before President Kennedy. The report. never released before, is unsigned, marked “Top Secret – Eyes Only” and it is noted there were no copies made, but it would be hand-delivered to ? (not stated).  Reading the fifty-one page report, it suggests that the United States began supporting a coup of Diem during the summer of 1963. It also suggests, through the documents presented, that Kennedy was kept “in the loop” on coup activities right up until the time Diem was assassinated.  By the same token, it appears Kennedy was receiving conflicting information from different agencies, each of which seemed to have differing opinions on the regime in Saigon.

The inter-department rivalries were even more exacerbated in Vietnam, with the CIA supporting Diem, but the State Department  and the Defense Department wanting him out. The State Deparment went so far as attempting to have the CIA’s Chief of Station (COS) in Vietnam removed. The Chief of Station was re-assigned to Washington in October, clearing the way for a coup. The new COS in Vietnam sent two cables to Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, which in part recommended the assassination of Ngo Dien Nhu, Deim’s brother, and his wife, famously known as “the dragon lady”.  He received a terse reply, ordering him to re-write his cables, leaving out references to assassination, because “…we cannot be in position actively condoning such course of action and thereby engaging our responsibility therefor…”

The report goes on much further, but strongly indicates the US goverment was complicit, if not directive in the ultimate assassination of Diem. The President’s actual in-depth knowledge of all this is a bit obscure. It is unclear why this mysterious report is in the Kennedy Assassination archives. This seems to be another seemingly unconnected piece of information that  found its way into the files. The closeness in time of the assinassination of Diem and Kennedy however, does provoke thoughts of a possible link to some conspiracy theorists.

 

JFK 03Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald

HSCA Files

During 1976-1978, the House Subcommittee on Assassinations (HSCA) conducted an investigation into the Kennedy Assassination.  The committee was created to review the findings of the Warren Commission (1963-64), and to look into new information. Part of the reason for the creation of the committee was significant public perception that the Warren Commission had not adequately investigated the assassination of President Kennedy. Among other things, the committee re-visited ballistic and photographic analysis, as well as pathology and fingerprint reports. The committee conclusions were in marked contrast to the Warren Commission report.

There are several committee documents in the Archive release. One such document, a fifty-four page deposition from a former CIA employee probes the belief among CIA employees that Lee Harvey Oswald was, in fact, a CIA employee. HSCA Deposition from CIA employee.

Interesting Finds

The files in this archive are like a potpourri — a mixture of the seemingly disconnected, that if properly blended create an interesting scent. Some of the oddities discovered include:

A memo from the Secretary of Defense (OSD) outlining contingency plans for an invasion of Cuba: Operation Mongoose: Invasion of Cuba. This plan was supposedly killed by Defense Secretary McNamara in mid-1962.  But strangely enough, it pops up over a year later, being activated, this time without an operational name.

This becomes even more interesting when coupled with a memo from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) discussing CIA requests for military support in the form of personnel, ammunition, training facilities and even Navy SEAL teams, on July 29, 1963,  just four months before Kennedy was assassinated: DOD Operations against Cuba (1963). The memo states that several of these requests had been fulfilled, including deliveries of ammunition and boats.

Operation Mongoose was presented to then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in March of 1962, but he rejected the plan.  It appears, however, that  more than a year later, the military and the CIA were actively in training for such an invasion.  Then, suddenly, it all just disapeared.  Cuba was never invaded, and no more memos can be found. What happened? Who stopped this clandestine mission that conceivably could have led to all out war with Cuba? We don’t know, and perhaps we never will.

There were several balls in the air during the few months before the Kennedy assassination. In addition to the apparent clandestine actions directed against Cuba, the situation in Vietnam was in turmoil. Both Cuba and Vietnam offered the potential to become international crises. Kennedy’s cabinet seemed to be at odds with each other over the handling of both of these areas. It appears he was receiving conflicting information from the opposing parties, and some actions may have been taken without his complete knowledge or approval.

Interestingly, it seems that some of the same “players” in the CIA and DOD were connected to both the potential invasion of Cuba, and the Diem assassination.

Summary

Of the more than 20,000 data entries in the Archives, I reviewed somewhat over 1200, just barely scratching the surface. A detailed review and the following of “threads” that emmanate from the documents could possibly take years to pursue. I doubt I will dig into these files much farther;  it is decidedly time-consuming, and can be fairly tedious.

In all, it was a fascinating experience. While many of us have read accounts and seen movies about the Kennedy assassination, we generally don’t have access to raw data. Memos and reports written in real time concurrent with the event present  a vivid picture, one not found in history books.

Like many people, I have had my doubts and speculations about the official findings.  I thought some of the “conspiracy” theories were often overwrought and sometimes silly. Reading these documents, I’m not so sure. There seem to be far too many unanswered questions, and after reading the documents I have more questions than ever before.

Was there a “smoking gun” buried in these files? I didn’t see one. The documents strike me as a jigsaw puzzle; if correctly connected, they may create a picture. The shear volume of data, however, seems to make the completion of that puzzle difficult to impossible.

I’m fairly sure we’ll never know the absolute truth in our lifetimes. That being said, digging into the archives of one of the most mysterious crime stories in modern history was, as they say, “quite a trip”.

 

National Archives – JFK Assassination Records

 

Immigation Part Four: Yaca DACA Doo…. History of the “DREAM” Act

dream

(Note: This is the fourth of a five part series)

There is much ado these days about immigration; legal and illegal, but mostly about “Dreamers” — young people brought illegally into the United States as children.

It’s all very confusing, so I thought it might be instructive to walk it through step-by-step.

“DREAM” is an acronym (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). The Act was first introduced on August 1, 2001 by Senators Orin Hatch (R) and Dick Durbin (D). It was an Act to grant conditional residency  and ultimately permanent residency to alien minors.

The first important thing to note here is that the DREAM Act  never passed  Congress, even after being re-introduced several times.  It never became law.  This is important, because it is often referred to in the media as though it were law. This is not true.

As far as the Act itself goes, there were a number of critieria to be satisfied for a person to become a “Dreamer”:  They must have entered the U.S. before the age of 16 and have been in the country for at least five consecutive years. They must have graduated from high school or hold a GED, and be of “good moral character”. There are several other aspects to the Act, but they are not relevant for our purposes at the moment, since the Act never became law.

The Battles

Without going into extensive detail which can be found elsewhere, let it be said the the DREAM Act was the basis for a number of legislative battles in Congress. Various permutations of the bill were scrapped, re-written and reintroduced over the years, most notibly during 2006-2008, when several variants of immigration reform were introduced, but none were passed, often due to partisan fighting.  Congress continued arguing and debating the bill and other variants right through 2011.

2012

In January 2012, President Obama announced his administration would cease deportation of illegal immigants who met the criteria of the DREAM Act. That same year, Obama created a program by Executive Order known as DACA, (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which allowed “Dreamers” to obtain a renewable two-year deferrment from deportation. This program was created through a Presidential executive order, which only has legal standing while the President is in office, unless renewed or allowed to stand by a subsequent President. Over 700,000 people registered under DACA.

In 2014, Obama attempted to expand the provisions of DACA, but  he was sued by several states, and the courts blocked the expansion. On September 5, 2017, DACA was rescinded by President Trump, with a six-month implementation delay.

All Hell Breaks Lose

dreamers 1

No sooner had Trump signed the recission order, and the media went crazy. Endless stories of “Dreamers” who would likely be deported filled the media. The legal issue became a social media war.

Legal/Schmegle

“DACA was legal”. “DACA was unconstitutional”. “DACA was…” anything you want it to be. Try Googling the legality of DACA and you will go blind trying to read all the pro/con arguments, many by opposing legal “experts”.  Who is right and who is wrong seems to be as much based on political pursuasion as anything else.

Here’s the thing however: Congress makes immigration law, not the President; that’s a fact. The DREAM act has always been a bill, not a law.  Implementing it or delaying it has never been a factor since it never really existed as law to begin with.

Obama was  probably within his power to create DACA, although this is  not “settled” law in any case. A Presidential Executive Order is something difficult to challenge. He issued the order, but critics suggest he went beyond  the scope of his power, saying this was “selective” enforcement of immigation law. Regardless,  it was allowed to stand until the end of his presidency.  Now that order is gone, or will be in six months.

The Water is Muddy

In reality, DREAM and DACA have nothing to do with each other, even though they have been constantly tied together in the media. DREAM is legislation that has been waiting sixteen years to become law, with no end in site. DACA was an executive order issued to pause deporation. Any person caught illegally in the United States can be deported; DACA simply stalled that process temporarily for some people.

The problem comes with interpretation. For whatever reasons, DREAM and DACA have become tied into some symbolic form of amnesty;  the notion that “Dreamers” will be allowed to live happily ever after in the United States if they file certain forms and pass certain standards. This is not true.

Current immigration law of the United States came into effect in 1965. For over fifty years, the law has been tinkered with, and the immigation issue has been simmering. Since 2001 and three presidents (Bush, Obama, Trump) the pot is now boiling and Congress can’t seem to find a way to turn down the burner. There are an estimated 11 million (or more) illegal immigrants in the country today. Technically, every single one is a candidate for deportation.

So what was the point?

I suspect Obama created the “renewable” DACA because he believed Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election, and it would be extended by her executive order indefinitely, until the DREAM act was eventually passed. If so, it was a political gamble, and he was wrong. In creating DACA, he created a larger problem.  DACA was interpreted (incorrectly) as a beginning step to permanent residency. It was like trying to start the motor of a car that has no motor. Without a law behind it, DACA had no where to go.  Thanks to an abundance of media and social media attention, DACA and DREAM were incorrectly paired, and the result was massive misunderstanding about what would (or even could) happen.

The creation of DACA exacerbated the problem. It was incorrectly presented as a “fix” when everyone in government knew that at best it was temporary.  Legal or not, it created an illusion of a solution, when it only complicated the entire process.

Ironically, Trump ending the DACA program may be the best thing to happen.  It’s not likely he will begin the wholesale deportation of “Dreamers” in six months, but it is technically possible. Trump has put Congress on the hotseat. He is being the “bad cop”. Congress now must work quickly to amend the immigation law or suffer the consequences; for the “Dreamers” and for themselves politically.

Since the first U.S. immigation laws in 1882, immigration has always been a contentious issue: Immigration Part Three: Who Gets in and Who Doesnt. Congress does not like the subject, and has traditionally kicked the can down the road, avoiding it as much as possible. This time, thanks to President Trump, they may no longer be able to avoid it. Political and social pressure will mount, and these are the two things that get the attention of politicians.

green card

The issue is fraught with political and social issues. It is a good example of politicial ineptitude. Both political parties have created more havoc than should have been anywhere necessary.  I suspect that six months from now, I’ll have more to write about.

Dream Act – Wikipedia

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – Wikipedia

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Camouflage the Waste…

 

afghan uniform

Did you know we pay for the uniforms for the Afghan Army?

Did you know that since 2007 we have bought that army 1.3 million uniforms along with an additional 88,000 pairs of pants and it cost U.S. taxpayers $93 million dollars?

Would that little factoid bother you a bit more if I told you that $28 million of those dollars were wasted?

Gather around the campfire kiddies, I’ve got a little story for you.

First, a little background: When I got out of the Marines in 1968, we were still wearing olive drab (OD), the same color field uniform worn since World War II. They looked something like this:

olive drab

This was the color used by American troops not only in Vietnam, but before that in Korea. This color was used during World War II  in the jugles of the Pacific, in winter time in Europe, and in the desert fighting Rommel. Same color.

Around 1969, the first “camouflage” uniforms were issued. They looked something like this:

camouflage 2

Ostensibly, this camouflage made our troops less visible to the enemy,  blending in with the surrounding terrain. Obviously this depends on the pattern matching the terrain, and the military has used and experimented with any number of colors and patterns with such names as “tiger stripe”, “woodland”, “chocolate chip” and “cookie dough” for desert terrain.

Military “camo” went mainstream in the 1980’s. It’s popular with hunters and outdoorsmen, campers, military wannabes and teenagers.

The military continued to experiment with camouflage, and in 2001, the Marine Corps, thanks to computer technology,  introduced its “pixelated” uniform MARPAT (Marine Pattern) featuring small square blocks of color which was considered an improved camouflage technique. The field has blossomed since then.

Okay, there’s a lot more to this, but it gets us away from our point. What is important is that camouflage patterns can be both patented and copyrighted. The US government has a number of camouflage patterns available for it’s use without having to pay copyright fees, but there are also a number of private companies who design and sell camouflage patterns. These companies own the copyrights on the designs they create.  So far so good? Now let’s go back to Afghanistan…

It seems that back in 2007, the Afghan Defense Ministry decided it needed new, distinct uniforms for the Afghan National Army (ANA). Up until then, the US had been supplying the Afghans with uniforms from a variety of sources, both manufactured locally and “hand me downs” from US Department of Defense (DOD) stock.

It gets a little fuzzy at this point, but apparently US officials in Afghanistan approved the purchase of new uniforms, by-passing normal DOD methods for obtaining uniforms for foreign soldiers.

Disregarding normal procedures, US officials allowed the Afghan Defense Minister to “shop online” for a camouflage pattern he liked. He found one. The problem was this particular pattern was owned by a Canadian company, and was “proprietary”, or trademark protected. Using this pattern would require that royalities be paid to the Canadian company.

Using a “sole source” contractor requires a number of specific procedures be performed and permissions given. None of this was done. In addition, the color of the pattern, a forest green, did not seems at all appropriate for a largely dry desert country like Afghanistan.

No matter. The Afghan Defense Minister liked what he saw, and American officials were not willing to tell him “no”, even after it should have been realized they were violating Pentagon rules by authorizing the contract.

But they bought them anyway, from the Canadian company. In all, they bought 1,364,602 uniforms . In addition, the standard US design apparently wasn’t good enough, so they replaced buttons with zippers, added hook and loop fasteners and more pockets, making each uniform even more expensive. According to the  Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report that finally dimed this thing out, this added about 43% to the cost of each uniform over the standard non-proprietary uniform.(1)

Even as this was happening there was a dispute within the Pentagon. The DOD contracting office apparently tried to stop this purchase but were overrode by US officials in Afghanistan.

Keep in mind that throughout all this no one ever tested this pattern to see if it would actually be an effective camouflage for use in Afghanistan, a normal part of the purchasing process.

The Special Inspector General’s report was issued June 30, 2017.

In addition to concluding that the DOD paid $28 million more than necessary for the uniforms, the report strongly suggests the camouflage used could be more harmful than helpful:

“As a result, neither DOD nor the Afghan government knows whether the ANA uniform is appropriate to the Afghan environment, or whether if it even hinders their operations by providing a more clearly visable target to the enemy…” (1) The Inspector General’s report was sent to Defense Secretary Mattis in June.

There is nothing in the report that suggests criminality.  In fact, the report strikes a neutral tone, only pointing out that rules were apparently broken and/or there was some very sloppy management of taxpayer dollars.

So…. A million here, a million there.

We’ve been in Afghanistan, “nation building” for fourteen years.  Estimates on the cost of the wars there and in Iraq vary, from two to six Trillion dollars. Yes, that’s Trillion with a  deliberate capital “T”.

Let’s just say it’s been $3 Trillion. In that case, a $28 million dollar overage is a rounding error in petty cash.  And that’s exactly the problem.  We’ve reached the point where it’s easy to throw away the people’s money.  There are even stories that suggest we may be paying for a “ghost army” of Afghan soldiers and police that don’t even exist.

Back in 1965 author David Halberstam wrote a book about Vietnam entitled “The Making of a Quagmire”.  If Halberstam were alive today, he would probably be astonished to learn the quagmire he wrote about back then was just a little mud puddle.

 

(1) Special Inspector General Report (SIGAR) 

(2) Pentagon Accused of Wasting $28 million — NBC News

(3) Camouflage Intellectual Property Law

(4) Criminal Investigation Launched Over Afghan Uniforms

 

The Wall

 

wall

Donald Trump wants to build a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico. He has made this sentiment clear since the very earliest days of his Presidential campaign. He has been mocked, scorned and verbally pilliored in every  imaginable way. He has been called a racist and a xenophobe and worse.

But he’s not wrong, and here’s why:

The border between the U.S. and Mexico runs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, a distance of 1989 miles. The border touches four states; California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.  There are forty-eight (48) authorized border crossings. It is the most frequently crossed international border in the world, with over 350 million legal crossings annually.

No one really knows how many illegal border crossings there are each year. In 2016, the U.S. Border Patrol reported 408,870 apprehensions of illegals crossing the border with Mexico. As part of these apprehensions, they seized almost 1.3 million pounds of marijuana and over 5000 pounds of cocaine. (7)

Critics of Trump’s plan focus on social and economic aspects of illegal immigration. Most discussions are about jobs and fairness and being welcoming to migrants and refugees. One thing the critics rarely talk about is:

The Drugs

cartel

Drug cartels from Mexico and Central America ship their drugs into the United States across the Mexican/US border. Estimates of the value of these drugs crossing the border each year range from $10 billion to $50 billion dollars. No one actually knows the true amount, and $30 billion dollars is considered a conservative estimate. Mexico is the number one foreign supplier of marijuana into the United States. Mexico is the number one foreign supplier of methamphetamine into the United States. Mexico is a major supplier of heroin into the United States. Mexico is a major transportation corridor for cocaine into the United States.

The illegal drugs imported into the United States cost taxpayers between $200-$300 billion dollars per year  in the criminal justice system; criminal apprehension, incarceration, hospital and emergency services costs, and productivity. (3)

History of the drug cartels

Drug trafficing, (cocaine) into the United States actually dates back to the 1950’s, when the previously legal drug was made illegal. At that time, illegal drugs were controlled primarily by family “clans” in Chile.  US sponsored pressure on these drug families actually forced the spread of the product into Peru and Bolivia.

As the illegal drug grew more popular in the United States, additional pressures on these countries under President Nixon and the newly created Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) actually forced distribution networks farther north, into Colombia. This spread, along with rising profitabilty gave rise to the first drug cartel kings  in Medellin, Colombia: the Ochoa brothers and Pablo Escobar.

Under Nixon, the primary anti-drug focus was on marijuana and heroin. This focus allowed an opening for cocaine, which was often considered “glamorous” at the time, making it more expensive and more profitable for the sellers. Since cocaine was much easier to smuggle into the country, drug producers quickly shifted away from Marijuana and into cocaine. By 1980, over 100 tons of cocaine per year were being smuggled into the U.S. from Colombia alone.

The growing market encouraged more drug entrepreneurs, and along with them the cartels grew. In Colombia, rival cartels were started in the central part of the country (Bogota) and in Cali, near the Pacific Ocean.

The cocaine business blossomed in the 1980’s. Ironically, pressure from the US government and interdictions on cocoa producers, created shortages, spiking prices for the product. Wholesale prices jumped from $15,000 to $60,000 per kilo. The cartels made even more money than before.

Rivalries between cartels and law enforcement attempts by the government turned Colombia into a killing zone. For all practical purposes, the cartels ran the entire country. Relentless pressure by the US on the cartels helped eliminate some of the Columbian gangs, but proved to be an opportunity for those closer to the US market — Mexican cartels.

The Mexicans had been trafficers for Colombian product for years, but crackdowns on other ports of entry, Miami, for example, created opportunities for Mexican cartels to push more drugs into the United States. Cocaine, coupled with marijuana, heroin, and the up and coming methamphetamine business, boosted income and profits exponentially. By the 1990’s income from drugs exceeded $30 billion dollars per year, far exceeding Mexico’s largest legal export oil, which brought in $7.5 billion per year.

Coming to a neighborhood near you…. No, they’re already here

ms-13

At least nine Mexican cartels are operating  in the streets near you; in every Amercian city and most of the suburbs.

Their names are Sinaloa Cartel — the cartel of the infamous Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Others include the Juarez Cartel, Los Zetas Cartel, Los Caballeros Templarios, Beltran-Leyva Organization (BLO), New Generation Jalisco, Los Cuinis, Gulf Cartel (Cartel Del Golfo)(CDG)  and the Michoacan Family (La Familia Michoacana)(LFM).

Think thy’re not near you? Think again. Here’s a map complied by the Washington Post:

cartel3

 

The Gangs

Not all criminal gangs are cartel orginated. Others have their own origins but work with the cartels in the distribution of drugs. Some worthy of comment:

MS-13

MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) originated in Los Angeles in the 1980’s. Most members are Central American (mostly from El Salvador). This is a gang that formed in LA, but spread into Mexico and Central America and all across the United States.

From Wikipedia: “In the U.S., the MS-13 has an especially heavy presence in Los Angeles County and the  San Francisco Bay Area in California; the Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas of Fairfax County, Virginia, Montgomery County, Maryland, and Prince George’s County, Maryland; Queens, New York; Long Island, New York; Newark, New Jersey, Plainfield, New Jersey; Jersey City, New Jersey; Elizabeth, New Jersey; the Boston, Massachusetts area; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Houston, Texas. There is also a presence of MS-13 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.”

It is estimated that MS-13 has as many as 50,000 members worldwide, with as many as 10,000 in the United States.

These are some very bad boys. In addition to drug trafficing and wholesale murder, they get involved in human smuggling, child prostituion, arms trafficing, extortion, money laundering, kidnapping and a host of other felonies.

MS-13 (2)

There are countless gangs in the United States besides MS-13; the Latin Kings, the Aryan Brotherhood, Barrio 18, the Bloods, the Mongols Motorcycle Gang, the Crips, the Mexican Mafia, and on and on and on. There are an estimated 30,000 gangs in the United States, and many, if not most have their fingers in the illegal drug trade.

Finally, it should be noted that these gangs are responsible for in excess of 2000 murders each year. Those concerned with gun deaths in America should take note that gang-related murders are the largest single cause of such deaths.

Will building a wall change anything?

Critics, as expected, say “no”. To be sure, there are already sections of the border with physical boundries; some wall, and some fence. There is a ten foot high wall along a fourteen-mile section south of San Diego. Various starts and stops over the last two decades or so led to the creation of a bit over 600 miles of fence along the border. In some places, the fence abruptly just ends; making it simple to just walk around. Calling much of the existing barrier a joke would be an understatement.

There are also legal issues, as some of the border passes through privately owned land and Indian reservations. Previous attempts at eminent domain have been met with lengthy litigation.  Additionally, there are environmental issues, terrain issues, and a host of other potential problems.

Discussions about type of barrier run from the sublime to the ridiculous. Below are some of the current types of fencing used on the border. Click on the image for a larger view:

fence

All of these have been penetrated; over, under, around or through. There is no easy answer here; nor an inexpensive one.

How much would it cost?

Estimates from supporters to critics run the gamut. It seems almost impossible to get accurate figures, based on the many variables, such as type of materials, size and a maze of terrain obstacles. Based on estimates running from MIT engineers to the Department of Homeland Security, it appears a practical cost would be between $20 and $30 billion dollars, plus millions more each year for maintainence. In addition, this would be a multi-year construction project.

Is it worth it?

Focusing only on crime and illegal drugs, would a wall reduce drug trafficing into the United States?

Critics argue that trafficers will find a way to get in regardless of barriers — they always have so far. But that begs the question.  What they have surmounted to date is a hodge-podge of half-baked measures, not a completed security barrier.

If indeed illegal drugs cost Americans $200-300 billion per year in related criminal costs, a barrier that reduced that traffic by even ten percent would pay for itself almost immediately.

Reducing the amount of drugs coming into the country is only part of the problem — the supply portion. Demand is another issue altogether.  It is possible to work on both sides of that equation, but only if the public is supportive and dedicated to it. The social aspects of building a wall are legitimate topics far beyond the scope of this article.

Building a wall may be practical or it may only be symbolic. The question is whether or not the American public wants to take on the issue of illegal drugs and the crime associated with it, or allow things to continue as they have.

1. Drug Trafficing from Mexico — FBI

2. Heroin Addication Costs US More Than $50 Billion/Year — Newsweek

3. Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society — US Department of Justice

4. A Pre-History of Mexican Drug Violence

5. Wikipedia: MS-13

6. FBI: Violent Crimes — Gangs

7. United States Border Patrol Statistics 2016

Where in the World is Tristan de Cunha?

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I’ll admit it, I have some strange interests. One of them is a fascination with geography. I love maps. I love reading about unusual and exotic places around the world, especially the off the grid, out of the mainstream places.

Some of these places aren’t exactly paradise; in fact the living conditions are often pretty extreme. It’s enough to make one wonder why people live there. I’m not talking about places with indiginous populations that have been there for eons; these are places where people can come and go if they choose.

In this piece, I’m taking a look at a few I’ve found and find interesting. Thanks to software like Google Earth, we can get a far better look at these places than using the books and maps I used as a kid. If you want to find out about Tristan de  Cunha, you’ll have to read to the end. So okey-dokey, here we go….

(Click on pictures for larger images)

Spitsbergen (Norway)

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The largest and only permanently populated island of the Svalbard archipelago in northern Norway. It’s a pretty big island, 15,000+ square miles, with a population of only 2642. The Amazon television series Fortitude is fiction loosely based on this island.

Mining and arctic research along with tourism are the principal employers on the island.  Ten different countries conduct research activities on the island. It is also the home of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, containing more than 10,000 samples of seeds, a back up supply of cultivatable seeds in the event of a global disaster.

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Spitbergen is 1261 miles north of Oslo Norway,  but only about 650 miles from the North Pole. It’s pretty cold there. While summer temperatures can average highs of 39-43 degrees (F), winter high temps are only about -12 to -16 degrees.

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Tourism is the second largest industry in Spitsbergen (behind mining). Cruises and “polar bear” sighting tours are popular. Because of the polar bears, however, don’t go outside without your rifle.

RØDMERKET: Bildet skal brukes i VGHELG  og er belagt med restriksjoner  ISFJORD RADIO, LONGYEARBYEN 20120328  Matreise fra Isfjord Radio,, ti mil fra Longyearbyen. Stedet er bygd om til et moderne hotell med gourmetmat. Den mest kortreiste maten du kan tenke degfinner du her. Ishavsrøya er selvfisket, reinsdyret er felt av den siste fangstmannen som fremdeles holder til her. Kokken er anerkjent og omgivelsene magiske. Arktisk norsk og eksotisk mat. Vi sneier også innom Barentsburg og et par andre steder på veien til og fra. Arktiske naturguider: Steinar Rorgemoen (48) og Ingebjørg Schrøder (26) og Lena Danielsen (30). FOTO: KARIN BEATE NØSTERUD / VG RØDMERKET: Bildet skal brukes i VGHELG og kan være belagt med restriksjoner RØDMERKET Dette bildet skal brukes i VGHELG og kan være  belagt med restriksjoner.

 

Ascension Island (Great Britain)

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Located in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 1000 miles from the coast of Africa, and 1400 miles from the coast of Brazil, Ascention island is a remote part of British Overseas Territory. The island was used by the United States as a military base, and is still the home of a British Royal Air Force base. The island hosts antennas that are part of the international Global Positioning System (GPS), and some telescopes operated by NASA.

There are five settlements on the island, with a total population of 806, according to the 2016 census. The island has a hot desert climate, with temperatures only varying slightly year-round. Average high temperatures run from 79-86 degrees (F), and average lows 70-76, with very little rain.

There is technically no right to permanently  live on the island, and residency is permitted only by employment contract. This has been disputed by some of the long-time expatriate employees living there.

Georgetown is the capital and chief settlement on the island, with a population of about 450.

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Tourism: The island was not opened to tourists until 2002, and even today it is not easy to get there.  There are no commercial flights to the island, but until this year, passengers could actually book limited seats with the Royal Air Force to fly to the island. This option is not longer available due to poor runway conditions on the island. Sport fishing and an abundance of sea turtles attract some tourists. The island also boasts the world’s worst golf course. Most tourists arrive by way of a Royal Mail Ship. Hotel accomodations are sparse:

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It may be difficult to get to Ascension island, but apparently the fishing is pretty good:

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Norfolk Island (Australia)

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Located 877 miles east of Australia, Norkfolk Island has always been one of my favorites. The island is only about 14 square miles in size and has a population of about 2200 residents.

The island was a British penal colony for about fifty years.  The penal system was abandoned, and civilian settlement began in 1956. The island was turned over to Austalia in 1914.

Temperatures on the island are continually mild. The average low temperature is 56-67 degrees (F), and the average high is 65-77 degrees.  The island is known for a pine tree, known as the Norfolk Pine, its primary export as a popular ornamental plant.

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The island, once under autonomous government, is now governed by Australia. Life seems pretty idyllic, with such societal problems at crime almost non-existant. The island has three police officers. The largest town on the island is Burnt Pine, with a population of about 180. The rest of the residents live scattered around the island.

Burnt Pine is the only township on Norfolk Island. Once a brutal penal colony under the British, Norfolk Island is now a peaceful, quiet, little island with a population of around 1100 residents.The largest celebration on the island is Bounty Day (June 8) celebrating the arrival of mutineers from the HMS Bounty, whose decendents still live on the island. Some of the casualness of living is seen in telephone listings in the local phonebook, where residents are often identified by their nicknames such as Cane Toad, Dar Bizziebee, Lettuce Leaf, Goof, Paw Paw, Diddles, Rubber Duck, Carrots and Tarzan.

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Tristan de Cunha (Great Britain)

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There it is, Tristan de Cunha (click the picture for a better view). Never heard of it? Most people haven’t.  It holds the honor of being the most remote inhabited place on the planet.

Located in the South Atlantic Ocean, it is an 80 square mile island with a population of about 262 people. The island is a British Overseas Territory and the only town is named Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.

Remote is no exaggeration. Take a look (click the image):

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Tristan de Cunha is near — nothing! Over 1200 miles from the nearest populated island, and 1500 miles from the nearest continent!

The island has an interesting history. Although the island was discovered in the 1500’s, the first permanent settler was strangely, an American from Massachusetts, who landed in 1810 and claimed the island as his personal property. The British took umbrage,  and annexed the island as an overseas territory. The island consisted of a garrison of British Marines and a small civilian population. After some difficult winters, the British decided to evacuate the island, and offered to take the civilians. After a vote, the civilians refused to move. It was reported that no ships even visited the island from 1909 to 1919, when a British shipped stopped to tell the islanders that World War I was over, a war they never knew had even started.

A downside to living on the island is the volcano. Queen Mary’s Peak is the summit of the 6700 foot high volcano that looms over the island, and it the basis of the island’s formation. In 1961, an erruption of the volcano forced the evacuation  of the island’s entire population. The islanders took to the ocean in open boats, and were picked up by a Dutch cruise liner. The islanders were settled in Great Britain, and most returned to the island in 1963.

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Edinburgh at the base of the Volcano

The average temperatures vary very little year round on the island, running between 55 and 65 degrees farenheit all year long. The island is frequently rainy. So what is it like living there? Check out the video”

 

 Tristan de Cunha (Wikipedia)

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

British Overseas Territories

Tristan de Cunha website

Queen Mary’s Peak

 

Werewolves of London and other Silliness

I was about eleven years old when I recall hearing my first “novelty” song”

The Flying Saucer sold over a million copies, and rose to the #3 position on Billboard rankings for 1956. It was the very first of what would be called a “mashup” recording today. It’s novelty made it very popular, and it was constantly being played on the radio. This tune opened up the floodgates for a tsunami of strange and weird songs. Continuing the space theme was The Purple People Eater:

Just a few years later (1962) a Halloween novelty song was introduced that we still hear over fifty years later. Here’s Bobby Pickett appearing on American Bandstand:

To get a sense of how times have changed since then, watch Ray Stevens sing about  Ahab the Arab (1962)

Everything is so serious these days, we seem to take too little time to just chill. Sometimes I just like hearing  a silly song:

Finally, one that I’ve never grown tired of. Warren Zevon at his best: