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Weenies and the butchers’ bill

4 January 2010

Reducing the citizenry to a frightened puddle of passivity, hysteria and a child-like expectation of Absolute Safety is irrevocable and far more consequential than any specific new laws.  Fear is always the enabling force of authoritarianism:  the desire to vest unlimited power in political authority in exchange for promises of protection.

Glenn Greenwald on the hysteria surrounding U.S. reaction to, in one writer’s delicate description, “a recent attempt involving a guy who flame-broiled his dick while the no smoking sign was on”.

The United States “war on terror”, or whatever it’s called these days, has always been more theoretical than real.  When back in the U.S. one sees the  flags, and the “I support the troops” bumper stickers, but gets no sense of being in a country at war.  There are no calls for sacrifice (except from the overwhelmingly rural and minority kids who are getting the asses shot off), no sense of national sacrifice, and — most troubling — no acceptance of risk.

And, in order to maintain the illusion of a sacrifice free safety, are willing to pawn the family jewels, their liberties.  Greenwald’s remarks were an approving comment upon “middle of the road” New York Times columnist David Brooks, who wrote of the hysteria surrounding the failure to detect the abject BVD Bomber somewhere before he gave himself the blowjob from Hell:

… we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved. We seem to be in the position of young adolescents — who believe mommy and daddy can take care of everything, and then grow angry and cynical when it becomes clear they can’t.

Even had the incident hadn’t become just fodder for really bad and tasteless jokes (the best way to fight terrorists is to refuse to be terrified — especially by those whose threats are… ahem… impotent), Brooks’ critique would still be valid — perhaps even more so, in light of the experience here in Mexico with our own “war on [not nice people]”.

Mexicans, in common with other Americans, generally distrust their authorities (perhaps more so than north of the border, but that distrust is common throughout the hemisphere).  However, having had a longer history with authoritarian leaders than those northern neighbors, have developed strategies for resistance unavailable to them.  Like seeing and hearing, but not obeying.  Or simply seeing the government as an impediment on their own liberty.   There is a difference between passive resistance to authoritarians (as here) and passive acceptance (north of the border).

At any rate , Mexicans don’t expect a government of men (and women) to be perfect or  infallible. When things go wrong, no one is surprised, but no one is in denial either.

In the United States,  where a relatively long history of responsive government has convinced people that their leaders can “do something” — with apparently unending resources (while simultaneously not collecting taxes) — even about such unlikely potential threats as Nigerians with pyroplastic panties.  Although there is a nagging sense that normal and expected services (oh, like watching the national economy) are being neglected,  the overriding fear of an uncertainty in  life is creating that “frightened puddle of passivity,” as Greenwald called it.

The United States administration’s claim is that the country is under constant threat from the people they’ve invested (or pissed away) untold billions of dollars to protect themselves against. But, at the same time, by design kept isolated from the reality of that way, people are unable to accept that in war, once in a while, the other side will inflict damage on your side.

Here, where we have real people dying in a real war — but to my mind even more unnessary and pointless than the United States’ war against Iraq, Afghanistan et. al — the administration is at least willing, and the people to accept, that people get hurt… badly.

The “butcher’s bill” for Mexico’s “war” has come in for last year, but only one item on that bill is being scrutinized:

  • El Universal reports that upwards of 7,700 people were killed in violence stemming from organized crime in Mexico in 2009, a leap of more than 2,000 according to their figures…

(Gancho Blog)

Less noticed (and largely ignored north of the border) are a list of very real costs that make the bill even larger and more difficult to pay:

  • The Mexican army is responsible for a long list of disappearances and murders, along with the torture of 25 Tijuana police officers accused of corruption, according to a new report by London-based human rights group Amnesty International.

(Stephen C. Webster, Raw Story)

  • Governmental inaction and the inability of communications media to protect its reporters in high risk areas have contributed to converting Mexico into the most dangerous country on the continent for practicing the profession.

Reporters in this north American nation have lived through the worst year for their trade, 12 of their colleagues having been murdered, with seeming impunity in most cases.

(Emilio Godoy, IPS, via Jornada)

  • Fourteen people died and 21 others were injured early Saturday when a bus carrying agricultural workers and their families plunged more than 300 feet down an embankment off a curving mountain road about 70 miles east of Tijuana.

(Sandra Dibble, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2 January 2010)

The first of those items, military misconduct, is particularly galling in that my source was a north of the border news item, where even the idea of using the military in civilian law enforcement is universally condemned by the right and the left.  It’s no secret that soldiers, like any other group given power (and weapons) will sometimes abuse that power.  And, even the best disciplined military will engage in abuses (Abu Garib, anyone?).  When the Mexican government decided to “do something”… at the behest of the United States in my opinion… there were going to be problems.  If the cost was not calculated at the beginning of the operation, it should be looked at now.

The second — the deaths of journalists (and the unknown effect on other journalists) — is not always, and not usually “collateral damage” from the “war on narcotics traffickers”.  But, having made the decision to stamp out an export to the United States by any means necessary, the State is overlooking normal civil protections.  Most of the reporters killed in the last year had nothing to do with the “narco wars”, but were involved in investigations of environmental or public heath and safety issues.

The bus accident happened after the close of 2009, but transportation safety and regulations are federal responsibilities.  That is just one of those environmental and public health and saftty issues that has been shunted aside.  The bus did not appear to be properly registered, and it had a brake problem that should have kept it off the road.  As in the United States, and on behalf of the United States, basic protections and basic governmental services are being stinted as funds are spent — or wasted — on this single overriding and expensive “war”.

  • In 2009,750 Mexicans — 58 percent of them women or minors — died while crossing into the United States.

( Jornada, 3 January 2010)

How many of these women and children are driven to emigrate by fear of state induced violence against the narcos, or by the narcos, is probably negligible. But, that the Mexican government has sunk its resources into a an economically wasteful enterprise of dubious value (much as the United States has) and — more immediately — has taken policy steps more designed to protect the very people it is sending its soldiers to protect from receiving a profitable rural export, it is contributing to those 750 deaths.

A few small credits, way down on the “butcher’s bill” are worth scrutinizing:

  • On December 3, Mexico City police freed 107 human trafficking victims who were forced to manufacture shopping bags and clothespins under “slave-like” circumstances. Officials reported that the victims exhibited signs of physical and sexual abuse, and were also malnourished, as they had been given only chicken feet and rotten vegetables

(Council on Hemispheric Affairs)

  • The Federal District prosecutor announced that thirteen men and two women have been consigned to prison, accused of aggravated corruption of minors, pimping, trafficking in humans and criminal conspiracy…

(el Universal, 29 December 2009)

Note these two “successes” are the result of local police and prosecutorial investigations. Those who, like the people in the United States who expect “the government” to resolve “the” problem, are pushing the idea of a unified national police might take note.  Labor violations (which both these cases involved) should not be a local police matter, but the federal officials are “otherwise engaged”. Local people are left to ameliorate (not guarantee they never happen) the sins of omission and commission of imperfect human beings on a budget badly eroded by both the Mexican and the U.S. “wars.”  And sometimes do.

But those credits are more than canceled out by the hidden charges.   Hidden charges like  court and legal reforms; the stalled (and now forgotten) billion tree plan; forest and watershed protection; mine safety; teacher training… things announced by the Calderón Administration but then forgotten as  focus turned to preventing the people of the United States from indulging in whatever it is they find worth indulging in about Latin American agriculture products and rural industries like meth production.

Mexican’s public is NOT, as the Los Angeles Times put it, “Missing in Action” in the “Drug Battle”. Mexicans are  appalled by the butcher’s bill.      Mexicans also questioning why they are paying for steaks, when they wanted hot dogs, and when, north of the border, they are demanding secure steaks, bought on credit with their liberties, and acting like weenies.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 4 January 2010 9:53 am

    Just a small note to the comment about rural minority kids in the US armed forces – and HIGHLY tangential to your post (which I really enjoyed). The average age of soldiers in the US conflict now is 30 … and so is the average age of the soldier that dies. African American enrollment is down 6%. Most new recruits are from middle class suburban areas. Hispinic recruitment is up due to increased GI bill benefits, however, so there you have a category of poor “ethnic” kids. 73% of recruits are “white.” No surprise that the top 5% of income earning areas has almost no representation of participants in the armed forces.

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