On the Border: Prosecuting Americans for Saving Lives

SASABE, Arizona – A U.S. Army grunt freshly arrived from the Northwest was still puzzling over how to unwrap a tamale at the tumbledown general store and bar at this flyblown border outpost, but he had already sized up his mission to make America safe again.

“Kind of silly,” he said, with a chuckle. “Before, it would take a guy about ten seconds to get over that fence.” Now that troops have garlanded the steel uprights with concertina wire, he figures, “it’d take a little longer.” In any case, the fence ends five miles from here.

At the checkpoint, a veteran Customs and Border Protection agent, with a German shepherd and sharp eyes, echoed the soldier’s mirth. “I wish all those guys in Washington would spend just one day down here to see what the hell they’re talking about,” he said.

Not even the Berlin Wall was impervious, despite its machinegun towers and obstacle-strewn no man’s zone. Down here, 50 miles of forbidding desert watched by high-tech surveillance and green-striped SUVS do the job without evoking a hateful Evil Empire.  

After squandering perhaps half a billion dollars on a show of military farce, Donald Trump is sending another 3,750 troops to chew up the desert until September.

A clearly marked border, with sturdy fencing where useful, is hard to call immoral, as Nancy Pelosi does. Yet immoral is tepid understatement for Trump’s wild distortions to stoke fear and loathing among his base with a jihad aimed at anguished migrants and refugees.


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On Zapata, Bogey and Circling Vultures

TUCSON, Arizona - Two movie scenes, both by serendipitous circumstance from 1952, have always powered me through dark nights of the soul when it seemed as if humanity's better side was losing it. They may no longer be enough.

In “Viva Zapata,” peasants stop troops taking Marlon Brando - Zapata - to jail for resisting a corrupt president. One aims a machete at the telegraph line to prevent a call for backup. If you cut that, an officer shouts, it's rebellion. Brando growls, “Cut it!”

In “Deadline U.S.A.,” a mobster phones Humphrey Bogart, editor of “The New York Day” to warn him not to run an exposé, or else. “What's that noise?” he asks. Bogey replies: “That's the presses, baby. And there's nothing you can do to stop it.”

A growing number of outraged Americans are ready for rebellion. Presses roll at a big New York daily and another in Washington. In too many other cities, however, bad guys simply buy out newspapers, gut the staff, and dictate “content” that suits them.

Whether acquisitions are driven by politics or greed, the result is the same. As conflict, climate collapse and economic perils steadily worsen, Americans are fast losing touch with global reality.


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“I Said Bye-Bye”; Yes, Please. Adios

TUCSON, Arizona – Down here in the borderlands, Donald Trump’s fantasy world takes on stark reality far beyond the human suffering and senseless political drama that is rapidly isolating America from a world on which it is visiting wide-scale calamity.

Of course, the United States must protect its borders. This is a complex, long-term job for experts who understand the real problems, not a vainglorious plunge into idiocy by a cornered faux-president desperate to bamboozle a clueless cult he hopes can keep him in office.

It is now clear, even before Robert Mueller weighs in, that the Watergate cover-up amounts to a parking violation compared to Trump’s abuse of the presidency. Less obvious is the global impact of his obsession to wall off America from a world he is destabilizing fast.

To kick off a lecture series, “Keeping Up With a Mad World,” I wrote a tweet-sized summary:

“Earth boiling over, figuratively and literally; China eats our lunch, hungry an hour later. Moscow plays Russian roulette with nukes. 100 million refugees and migrants. Many die with whimper, others go out with bang. Allies shun America. Tyrants muzzle truth. Economic forecasts harrowing. Basically, we’re screwed.”

Those first three words are crucial since none of the rest matter if humans exit the scene. And Arizona makes the point with distressing clarity.


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The Perils of Trump’s Monumental Erection

TUCSON, Arizona - When Ronald Reagan declaimed, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” a sardonic addendum came to mind: “We need it in Arizona.” Even back then, too many Americans believed that some physical barrier could actually keep them safe in an unruly world.

And now today Donald Trump, committed to a monumental erection to satisfy his base and his own vanity, threatens to seal the entire southern border. That would shut Americans in, evoking the Berlin Wall that choked off a paranoid despotic state.

True, migrants can slip through barbed wire along some remote desert stretches south of here, unless bandits get to them first. But even if those green border patrol SUVs bristling with gun barrels don't swoop down, survival odds amount to a snowball's chance in a sauna.

Only the poorest, eager to work menial jobs and avoid trouble, come in the hard way. Drug smugglers tunnel under or fly over sturdy fences already in place. Mostly, those “bad hombres” Trump reviles fake papers or sneak past ports of entry in trucks and freight trains.

In fact, more Mexicans have returned home than have come north since 2010. Now Central Americans, driven by crop failure or violence, besiege the border. Trump's answer is to stop the economic aid they need to stay home and to embrace regimes they fear.

This standoff reflects a global threat second only to rising temperatures. Scores of millions are fleeing poverty or war. Europe has taken in many, but hard-right movements refuse more. As the climate worsens, human tides will swell, increasingly desperate and embittered.

Rebuffed people in dire straits are easy prey for extremist recruiters. But Trump, taking sensible pushback as a personal affront, paralyzes America's own government in the delusion that he is protecting the country from terrorism that his policies feed.


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Like Arab Spring, Gallic Winter Upends Social Order

PARIS – Café de la Paix went on war footing, its Belle Epoque windows near the Opera shielded by thick plywood panels. The Champs-Élysées, normally alive in December with a Christmas market full of food and fun, looks as if the Grinch stormed past in an armored column.

This is still France, with plenty of joie left in its vivre. But the Gilets Jaunes, quickly mastering Internet mob democracy, are rattling the foundations of an old society buffeted by extremist threats, a new world disorder and a fast-changing physiognomy.

The insurgency has neither leaders nor a plan. Yet, as Facebook alone suggests, it has millions of sympathizers in France, and those neon-yellow vests are spreading across Europe and beyond. On Friday, 1,000 “Elod Tsahov” (the Hebrew translation) wore them on the streets of Tel Aviv.

Attention focuses on louts who enliven their Saturdays by pitching cobblestones at cops. Riot police fire off teargas canisters directly into the scrum. Emergency rooms and jail cells fill. Ranks swell with kids from well-off families attracted by revolutionary zeal.

Mostly, though, the Gilets Jaunes are simply pissed-off people who work harder than ever yet still come up short, while a rich upper class (in French, “les ‘appy few”) socks away yet more wealth and pays less tax. They plot on social media and take to the streets to show their force.

The result is a Gallic Winter, a faint echo of the Arab Spring. Remember? A vegetable seller in a Tunisian backwater, protesting petty authority, set himself aflame. A groundswell deposed the president. Then Egyptians rose up against Hosni Mubarak. Things have not gone well since.


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