Sunday, February 21, 2010

shocking cuts

The President (of the United States, not Mexico) is cutting his budget.

Buckle your seat belts.  Budget revisions are always bumpy rides.  Everybody seems to have a sacred cow in danger of being gored -- to mix my metaphor meat.

But I will not weep over one cut.  The administration has decided to curtail the federal plan to spend $6.7 billion (US) to secure its border with Mexico with a "virtual" electronic fence.

If that term sounds familiar, you are probably about my age.

Robert McNamara and his whiz kids thought they could win a bloodless victory in Viet Nam by installing a virtual fence along the borders between South Viet Nam and Cambodia, Laos, and North Viet Nam.  It didn't work.  That red flag flying over Saigon is proof of how effective the idea was.

The proposed virtual fence between the United States and Mexico is designed for a far more benign presence -- economic invaders.

Let's stick one red herring back in its can.  Most people who turn a jaundiced eye on this project do not support an open border policy.  At least, I don't. 

As long as sovereign nations exist, they are the sole arbiters -- with a few exceptions -- of what happens within their borders.  And who comes across those borders.  A nation that cannot support its borders is not sovereign.

The reason most of us oppose the fence (in addition to the obvious comparison with such unsavory louts as Erich Honneker and Enver Hoxha) is simple: it won't work.  In fact, it hasn't worked.

The idea sounded easy.  In the early 2000s, the border had a series of disconnected electronic devices to detect incursions.  The plan was to integrate and update the existing system, using cameras, ground sensors, and radar, for that fabled $6.7 billion.

After spending $672 million and slipping far behind the scheduled operational date of 2011 to 2014, the pilot system is still not working. 

Software problems.  Video malfunctions.  Satellite link lags.  All have conspired to spike the system.

And spiked it is.  At least, everything is spiked except the still non-operational pilot system.

The tragedy is that until the United States can show some control over its own borders, much-needed immigration policy reform will be politically impossible.

When I left Melaque on Wednesday, I had an interesting conversation with my taxi driver.  He had worked for six years in Colorado in the "services industry."  He returned home when the American economy looked no better than the job market in Melaque.

He said he would eventually go north again -- unless the job opportunities improved in Mexico.

That is the solution.  Not fences.  And it is one Presidents Fox and Calderón has recognized.  Mexico will not stop exporting some of its most ambitious workers until its economy grows.

But that has turned out to be as chimeric as the virtual fence.


Anonymous said...

Always, always....where there's a will, there's a way!!! Mary

norm said...

I like how the EU does its internal economic borders, folks are free to work and travel within the system without much of any paperwork. I think the Americas would do well to adopt a more liberal policy toward its neighbors all the way around. The current restrictions hold every one down in their ability to be productive. The only people who gain under our current policy are the people who want to hire labor at below the going rate by employing a person who can not complain because not only do they get fired but kicked out of town on a rail for complaining.

Anonymous said...

$6.7 billion?
For some reason the United States thinks that any problem can be solved with money.

Problems are solved with brains not bucks - Rick

Anonymous said...

What is a sovereign state these days? And what does it mean to have an adequately controlled border? What is a border and what is it supposed to achieve?

I imagine all of these concepts are in a state of fluidity these days, and it will take a bit of time for out thinking to catch up with the reality.


Anonymous said...

Something there is that loves a wall,
even though not useful at all.
Tall and thick and made of brick,
it's space for posters folks can stick.
Or if one needs a political goat,
it's there to grab at the moral throat.
And practically it's something to do
employing the fence-maker and his crew.
And looking on, those being kept out,
know where not to cross, when not to shout.
And those looking out from within,
sipping late afternoon tonic and gin,
can feel secure and safe and sound,
atop their fiction-laden mound,
most certain secure from foreign din,
unaware that fences also keep things in.

Merida Mikey said...

Excellent post! Well stated. I find it quite ironic that everyone can easily identify the problem, but no one can come up with a solution.

An electronic fence at 6.7 billion isn't the answer, that's for sure!

Howard said...

Yesterday's [Feb 21] Correo de Manzanillo had extensive coverage of "campesinos" - people who work the fields. Lack of work in the southern states has transient farm workers moving to Colima. They live in the country - cardboard shelters, no running water, no sewer system, no social supports - and are paid one hundred pesos a day. This is a very significant issue.
What are their options? What can Mexico do for them? What is they want to try their luck in the USA?

I would be interested to know your view after you have read the on-line story.

Steve Cotton said...

Mary -- Or, where there's a wall, there's a way.

Norm -- President Fox proposed a similar system for the three NAFTA nations last year. Such an approach would probaby require Canada and The States to adopt a more libertarian approach to their social welfare systems.

Rick -- The size of the project should have been an early warning that it simply would not work. Like most big governmebnt ideas, it had a nice shine, but was rotten at the core. The most shocking aspect of this is how conservatives jumped on board this train speeding toward a cliff.

ANM -- The notion of a sovereign nation is the same as it has been for centuries. I know that you have been beguiled into believing that the nation-state system is a 17th century invention. But it runs far deeper than that.

Anonymous -- ANM again, I think. Nice poem.

Merida Mikey -- I wish I had a better answer. But I suspect it lies in improving respective economies rather than building barriers.

Howard -- Mexico is in an incredibily delicate position. All three of its major sources of foreign currency -- tourism, oil, remittances -- are in decline, and the major one (oil) is in a death spiral. Oil is a perfect example of where the Mexican economy can be improved. There are undiscovered oil fields in the gulf. But Mexico needs foreign partners to find them in deep water. The ghost of Porfiro Diaz still haunts Mexican politicians -- to the extent that what will work becomes taboo. And that taboo runs deep in southern Mexico. The trick will be transitioning Mexico to a liberal economy without triggering rebellion in areas that still honor the grail of the commune.