Tina K. Russell

May 19, 2009

The fantasy approach to gun violence

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:02 am

Fight Drug Cartels, Not Guns, McCain Says – NYTimes.com
The drug war in Mexico should not be used as an excuse to try to restrict American gun rights, Senator John McCain told thousands of people who gathered here for the National Rifle Association’s annual convention.

Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, said that the United States needed to do more to crack down on gun smuggling into Mexico, but that such assistance in Mexico’s war against drug cartels did not require restrictions on the gun rights of law-abiding Americans.

“It should be noted that any effort to restrict gun ownership in the U.S. will not stop Mexican cartels from acquiring guns and ammunition from other countries,” Mr. McCain said on Friday. He added that cartels were already getting grenades and other weapons from other countries.

I really hate this argument for two reasons.

  1. Okay, perhaps other countries aren’t doing their part. But, are we doing ours? (And, will we have any right to criticize them if we do not?)
  2. Can anyone say with a straight face that Mexican drug cartels won’t be hurt—massively—by taking away their biggest supply of automatic weapons, which currently flows freely across the border? Doesn’t it make sense to force them to go to smaller, more remote, and less developed locales to fetch their AK-47s? (And if our massive pipeline of guns to Mexican thugs is somehow immaterial in the grand scheme of things, why have their arsenals become more sophisticated since the lapse of the assault weapons ban?)

To think that we can help solve the Mexican cartel crisis by considering only the smuggling of guns (good luck with that border), and not the buying and selling, is pure fantasy. Mexican cops and civilians are dying while we dither.

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January 8, 2009

A surge for every occasion

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:34 pm

U.S. Plans Border ‘Surge’ Against Any Drug Wars – NYTimes.com
The soaring level of violence in Mexico resulting from the drug wars there has led the United States to develop plans for a “surge” of civilian and perhaps even military law enforcement should the bloodshed spread across the border, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday.

Mr. Chertoff said the criminal activity in Mexico, which has caused more than 5,300 deaths in the last year, had long troubled American authorities. But it reached a point last summer, he said, where he ordered specific plans to confront in this country the kind of shootouts and other mayhem that in Mexico have killed members of warring drug cartels, law enforcement officials and bystanders, often not far from the border.

“We completed a contingency plan for border violence, so if we did get a significant spillover, we have a surge — if I may use that word — capability to bring in not only our own assets but even to work with” the Defense Department, Mr. Chertoff said in a telephone interview.

Welcome to a world where absolutely any problem can be solved with a “surge.”

I’ve got an idea. Why not cut off the cartels’ supply lines? It’s a threat to our security that drug cartels in Mexico have become powerful enough to challenge the police force in all-out war. Why not address the fact that 9 out of 10 of their guns come from the United States, thanks to our insanely liberal gun laws? Why not address that assault rifles are not used for self-defense, are not used for hunting, and are instead used to kill Mexican cops in a destabilizing situation that could spill into the United States?

The Long War of Genaro García Luna – NYTimes.com
[Mexican police chief Genaro] García Luna was in Washington to make the rounds of U.S. government agencies and Congressional offices … García Luna met with government officials and diplomats and gave a stilted power-point presentation to policy experts. He seemed more interested in the photographs he had brought, his way of making a blunt point about a touchy aspect of U.S.-Mexican relations: the vast majority of weapons in the cartel’s arsenals (80 to 90 percent, according to the Mexican government’s figures) are purchased in the United States, often at loosely regulated gun shows, and smuggled into Mexico by the same networks that smuggle drugs the opposite direction. García Luna has a hard time concealing his anger about the fact that U.S. laws make it difficult to do much about this “brutal flow” of firepower. “How is it possible,” he asked me, “that a person is allowed to go buy a hundred cuernos de chivo” — AK-47’s — “for himself?” In the United States, he said, “there was a lot of indifference.”

Why not address that this kind of madness might be why people want to leave Mexico for our border so badly?

July 17, 2008

Police and Mexico’s drug war

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:11 pm

The Long War of Genaro García Luna – NYTimes.com

I’m of two minds about the drug war. On the one hand, I don’t think the police can necessarily be used to end Americans’ bad habits by force, and I definitely cringe at the sheer volume of young people we corral into prison for minor drug offenses (where they will develop the identities, contacts, and skills of criminals) when we could be treating and rehabilitating them to make way for real criminals in our strained system of justice. On the other hand, I don’t like the idea of substances like cocaine or heroin, drugs that attack Americans in moments of weakness and then make them do anything for one more hit, being sold as legitimate products, even if such legalization would take the bottom out of the illegal drug market and the massive private armies it funds.

Here, the NYT magazine runs a great profile of Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s new chief of police and point man for their war on drugs. I’m not sure exactly where I should stand on Mexico’s drug war… it may or may not have been a good idea, given that it replaced a long period of calm and stability that was both untenable and morally contemptible. (Essentially, cops and drug lords had an understandin’. Read the article.) The drug war, of course, has produced utter chaos, with high-level police assassinations and an epidemic of police corruption rising from the drug cartels banding together as one force to fight the state. It’s also worth noting that Mexico is losing, and not only can it not afford to lose this war, we cannot afford for them to lose.

The thing is, García Luna cheerfully admits that they will be unable to eliminate drugs per se, noting that Colombia, regarded internationally as a success in America’s drug war, has had no notable decrease in drug traffic since the toppling of the fearsome Escobar empire. What cannot be allowed to continue is a morass of private armies fighting–and in many cases, winning–against the state for control of governance. Police works because they have a monopoly on violence, because they’re the biggest, best-armed gang on the block, and they’re accountable (ideally) to the taxpayers for their actions. Like any monopoly on a good or service, cornering the market on violence causes there to be less violence overall. In other words, competition causes lots of people to be killed, combatants and noncombatants, by police and non-police, in never-ending turf wars that distract from the full extent of police duty. García Luna essentially says (though I am the one paraphrasing John Kerry) that drug crime cannot be eliminated, but it can be reduced to the level of a nuisance. It must be reduced from its current level, where drug lords and their private armies are challenging the state monopoly on violence and causing good people to die in the process, and threatening the proper growth of the Mexican state.

Here’s where the US comes in. I must stress that it is absolutely essential that Mexico not lose. Democracy, economy, prosperity, none of these things can exist without the baseline of rule of law. I think the prospect of Mexicans streaming across the border en masse to come to our great country is a legitimate concern (though a logistical one, as I think our culture will survive and be better off for their participation), but one prong of that concern needs to be supporting Mexico, its fight against lawlessness and corruption, so that Mexico can flourish as a country and we will cross each others’ borders to relax and visit family rather than to flee plummeting economies.

I’m not saying that Mexico’s government is at all desirable (in fact, my impression is that their president right now is completely illegitimate, like Bush was in term one). It’s rife with corruption and reinforces the kind of cynicism that causes people to pack their bags and head north, or to join the deadly drug cartels. I’m saying that we cannot afford to let Mexico fall apart, as we are friends, we are allies, and we ought to be sure peace and stability exist in our corner of the world before we worry about others’. I’m saying that the rule of law is important and needs to be supported firmly by those, like me, who oppose violence in all of its forms. I’m saying that we cannot just send large aid packages full of money, but also personnel, clean and well-trained American police commandos to work with Mexico’s forces. As we’ve seen in Iraq, sometimes stability does come down to sheer numbers. (There were other factors in Iraq, but I’ll talk about those some other time.)

Here’s one more thing: while he appreciates America’s support, there’s one thing about us that reasonably bugs him.

When I met García Luna in Washington in January, soon after the shootout in Tijuana made headlines in the United States, he was carrying with him a manila envelope full of color photographs. The photographs were grisly full-color shots of dead Mexican police and narco gun caches — a police officer bleeding on the ground; the aftermath of the shootout; the underground firing range. García Luna thought of them as a sort of secret weapon of his own.

…  García Luna met with government officials and diplomats and gave a stilted power-point presentation to policy experts. He seemed more interested in the photographs he had brought, his way of making a blunt point about a touchy aspect of U.S.-Mexican relations: the vast majority of weapons in the cartel’s arsenals (80 to 90 percent, according to the Mexican government’s figures) are purchased in the United States, often at loosely regulated gun shows, and smuggled into Mexico by the same networks that smuggle drugs the opposite direction. García Luna has a hard time concealing his anger about the fact that U.S. laws make it difficult to do much about this “brutal flow” of firepower. “How is it possible,” he asked me, “that a person is allowed to go buy a hundred cuernos de chivo” — AK-47’s — “for himself?” In the United States, he said, “there was a lot of indifference.”

Guns go south and drugs come north. That’s depressing. (You could say that at least these assault weapons are going to well-regulated militias, though ones that mow down Mexican cops.) If we want Mexico to clamp down on drugs, then we need to do our part and clamp down on guns. Part of the state monopoly on violence needs to be a monopoly on the factors of production. Guns do have legitimate uses, such as hunting, and neither handguns nor assault rifles fit those purposes. The Second Amendment is explicitly for the purpose of state security, and I do not see how our insanely loosely-regulated gun market fits that purpose, either.

Blecch, I hate talking about violence. Let’s talk about something else…

July 14, 2008

People of the cloth, people of the bracelet

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:06 pm

This is from an article on a priest whose predominently Hispanic church became a haven for families caught up in the Agriprocessors immigration raids in Postville, Iowa.

On Religion – Immigrants Find Solace After Storm of Arrests – NYTimes.com
Already, members of the church staff and a Spanish teacher from a nearby college were tallying the names of the detained workers. Father Ouderkirk conducted his own version of a census in this predominantly Hispanic parish. Gone were all but two members of the choir he had assembled over the years. Gone were all but one of the eight altar servers. Gone were the husbands from the weddings he had performed, and gone were the fathers of the children he had baptized.

As for the mothers, many of them also worked at Agriprocessors and had been arrested. In a putative show of compassion, federal authorities released them after putting an electronic homing device on each woman’s ankle to monitor her whereabouts. These mothers were, in the new lexicon of Postville, “las personas con brazalete,” the people with a bracelet.

During his earlier tenure at parishes in North Texas and Marshalltown, Iowa, Father Ouderkirk had experienced immigration raids twice before, but never on this scale. By the second day, he had moved back into his bedroom in the rectory.

“It’s like God saying, ‘I gave you a little practice,’ because this is the worst,” Father Ouderkirk said in an interview late last month at St. Bridget’s. “This has happened after 10 years of stable living. These people were in school. They were achieving. It has ripped the heart out of the community and out of the parish. Probably every child I baptized has been affected. To see them stunned is beyond belief.”

It seems stupid, to me, to be focusing our law enforcement efforts on people that remind me so much of our ancestors, the early settlers, working hard and chasing the American dream. (I’ve mentioned before that my lineage traces back to the Mayflower; we didn’t exactly have green cards, either.) Whatever crafty means they employed to come here and stay, I hardly think heavy-handed deport-’em-all tactics are warranted, especially given how such brutal efforts have ripped hard-working families apart.

America is a nation of immigrants. Deal.

June 10, 2008

On racism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:06 am

States Take New Tack on Illegal Immigration – Series – NYTimes.com
Three months after the local police inspected more than a dozen businesses searching for illegal immigrants using stolen Social Security numbers, this community in the Florida Panhandle has become more law-abiding, emptier and whiter.

Sheriff Wendell Hall of Santa Rosa County, who led the effort, said the arrests were for violations of state identity theft laws. But he also seemed proud to have found a way around rules allowing only the federal government to enforce immigration laws. In his office, the sheriff displayed a framed editorial cartoon that showed Daniel Boone admiring his arrest of at least 27 illegal workers.

His approach is increasingly common. Last month, 260 illegal immigrants in Iowa were sentenced to five months in prison for violations of federal identity theft laws.

At the same time, in the last year, local police departments from coast to coast have rounded up hundreds of immigrants for nonviolent, often minor, crimes, like fishing without a license in Georgia, with the end result being deportation.

In the immigrant community, fears now cloud the most basic routines. Many Hispanics said they avoided being seen or heard speaking Spanish in Wal-Mart, even if they live here legally. Others detailed their habit of meticulously checking their cars’ headlights, blinkers and registration to avoid being pulled over.

This is absolutely sick. There’s no question that crossing over the border into the States without a visa or passport is a crime. What I’m not sure of is when this became the worst crime in the world, a crime so bad that we can subvert every one of our laws, and our entire system of justice, to combat this. These are, generally, people who come here, work hard, and chase the American dream, and we treat them like dirt for it. Everyone involved in this should be deeply ashamed for how they’re tarnishing this country’s name.

(Might I remind you that this country was founded by illegal immigrants? Anyway…)

Oh, and, incidentally, identity theft panic is being used in Oregon, at least, to push zero-tolerance foreign worker laws. So, be wary when somebody asks you to sign a petition to help “identity theft victims.”

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