Monthly Archives: July 2017

The 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


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


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:



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 (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:


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