REAL ID

Some of you may remember several days back when I ranted about expiring refrigerators and driver’s license issues. Turns out the driver’s license pursuit was a much bigger problem than I had imagined.

In years past, the impending expiration of a driver’s license triggered a notice from the state advising a person to go get a new one. No longer. You’re on your own now. Apparently, you’re supposed to just “know” when the four years or eight years are up on the current license. I’ll put that on my calendar for 2026.

In years past, one received notice, went to the local DMV, turned in the old license, grimaced through yet another horrible photo, and waited a bit to be handed the new one.

Well, I’ve got news for you.

When I went to DMV and took number 68, I heard them call number 6. Without hope, I glanced around the packed room and decided to follow the advice posted prominently by the stand dispensing numbers. There, a sign stated that a person could simply go online to renew a driver’s license. How genius!

Once home, I looked up the DMV website. I searched diligently, but nowhere on that site was there information about how to renew a license online. So I called. The guy said, no, no way to renew online. He thought I’d probably misread.

So okay. I explored further on the website and discovered that in Washington County, a person might visit satellite DMV offices at various places around the county. Woohoo! Aside from West Fork, the one nearest me, DMV operates at Springdale, Lowell, and Lincoln. How lovely!

Additional exploration of the website revealed that a stack of documentation would be required to renew a license. It seems Arkansas has embraced new federal rules, effective August 8, 2018, for identification cards and drivers’ licenses. As per the website: “The State of Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration will begin issuing new Driver’s License and Identification Cards in the summer of 2018. The new cards provide more security features.” and “The card with a GOLD STAR on the top right corner is an Arkansas REAL ID Driver’s License or State Identification card in compliance with Federal Real ID Act of 2005.”

Also, “Arkansas is taking part in the federal nationwide initiative to improve the security of state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, which will help fight terrorism and reduce identity fraud. On October 1, 2020, anyone who boards a domestic flight or enters a federal building will either need an Arkansas REAL ID driver’s license (DL) or Identification Card (ID), or will need to provide a regular identification and additional accepted forms of identification.”

The requirements for the new card are outlined at https://www.dfa.arkansas.gov/images/uploads/driverServicesOffice/Req_Doc_for_VES_color_version.pdf. A total of five documents are required, six if your name has ever changed (as in marriage): state-issued birth certificate including raised seal, secondary proof of identity, proof of name change (if any) such as a marriage license,  proof of social security number, and two proofs of residency.

So I dug around in my files, collected the documents, and next morning breezed down to the address given, 222 Webber Street, West Fork. It’s the community center. Locked up tighter than a drum, no lights on. No signs on either door about DMV.

Steamed, I left early the next morning for the Fayetteville office. It was pouring rain, so surely only a few people would be there. Wrong. The place was packed. I took a number, waited a half hour, then asked someone why they advertised a West Fork office if it wasn’t open. She said, “Oh, they’re only open on Wednesday.”

Oh, is this secret insider knowledge? I didn’t even bother to ask why there wasn’t a sign on the door at West Fork stating that information. I didn’t ask why the Fayetteville office had a sign posted saying that driver’s licenses could be renewed online when they absolutely could not. I double checked the sign, just to make sure. Yes, there it was in plain English.

On Wednesday, I went to West Fork, waited for the three people ahead of me, and then went into the office where a very nice attendant explained that the new REAL ID cards were only issued at the Fayetteville office. He said he just needed my driver’s license. He asked if I wanted to renew for four or eight years. I renewed for eight.

All through the next eight years, I won’t have a REAL driver’s license. I have no idea if this means I’ll be turned away from the airport if I should decide to go somewhere, but at this point, I don’t care.

I did go back and look at the website about satellite offices. There, one line up from the bottom, appeared the information on hours. Office Hours: W 8:00a – 4:30p

I guess it was too much trouble to write WEDNESDAY only instead of just “W.”

I feel so much safer now.

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I Killed a Dog

When I was twelve, I killed a dog.

We lived in a rent house next door to Frank and Ethyl McMillen, a nice older couple who allowed our entire family (dad, mom, me, sister, two little brothers) to tromp into their living room every Monday at 8 p.m. to watch Gunsmoke on their nice big console television. The adults sat in chairs, Frank and Ethyl in their recliners, we kids on the floor–they had carpet– and sometimes Ethyl would serve us homemade cookies but only when my mom said okay.

McMillens had a dog named Penny. Her muzzle had started to turn gray and her black-and-white body had taken on some extra weight. Little terriers like that don’t handle extra weight very well. She walked like a sausage with legs. We weren’t encouraged to pet Penny. She moved stiffly and had her own ideas about company. But she never growled or scared us.

Each day I walked to school down a long gravel alleyway that ran from beside our house (and McMillen’s house) due west to the end of the block. The route then took me across railroad tracks, then alongside the athletic field and into the north wing of Will Rogers Elementary where I attended sixth grade. When school was over, I walked home.

One day as I returned home, I heard kids shouting and screaming. I spotted a group of kids jumping around on the far side of McMillen’s house, so I ran over there. At least six kids of various ages had gathered around the flower bed where Penny and another dog were in a fight. Only Penny wasn’t fighting. The other dog, a brown boxer more than twice her size, had her by the throat and pinned down.

One little girl screamed, “He’s going to kill her.”

I saw that was true. I ran around and knocked on the McMillen’s door, but I already knew they weren’t home. I looked around for a weapon—a shovel, a stick—something I could use to pry the dogs apart. I considered reaching down to pull the boxer off Penny, but then I worried the boxer would attack me. I thought of calling for help, but everyone there had been yelling and no one had come.

I was the oldest kid there, a head taller than anyone else. Someone had to do something, and the task fell to me. I couldn’t stand there and watch Penny be killed.

So I kicked the boxer. In the head. With my saddle oxfords, big heavy shoes I had to wear with specially-made arch supports inside so I wouldn’t get fallen arches. My feet in those shoes dangled from the end of my legs like concrete blocks. It wasn’t without some serious clout that I aimed and fired with the toe of those shoes.

The boxer didn’t budge. In retrospect, I suspect my assault may have only intensified his determination. I kicked his head, careful not to also hit Penny. She had collapsed by now, resting against the red brick wall of the house and the well-tilled soil of Ethyl McMillen’s rose garden.

I kicked again and again, each time terrified I’d miss and hit Penny or that the boxer would turn and sink his teeth into my leg.

Why didn’t he let go? Why didn’t somebody come, a grown-up, someone who would know what to do? My heart pounded. Sweat poured off me. I was shaking all over.

Finally the boxer let go. Penny didn’t move. The boxer trotted away. The kids dispersed. I went home.

Two or three hours later, my dad stood outside talking to a man. My dad came back inside and asked me if I knew what I’d done. I told him what happened. He shook his head.

“That man,” he said, gesturing. “He came down here to tell me that his kids’ dog just died. In their bathtub, bleeding from his nose and ears. He said you kicked him to death.”

I stood there as all the feeling drained out of my head and chest. I couldn’t breathe. I had killed a dog. It wasn’t that my dad lectured me or seemed angry with me. He seemed bemused, unsure what to think that his oldest child had done such a thing.

The man had told him they paid fifty dollars for that dog. Did my dad have to pay him for the dog? I don’t know.

I don’t remember if my dad said I’d done something wrong. But I felt terrible anyway. No one hugged me and said they understood, that everything would be okay. No one seemed to recognize the trauma of my experience.

I think I cried later, after my sister in the twin bed next to me had gone to sleep, when no one would see or hear me.

I didn’t mean to kill a dog. I was trying to save a dog. Surely everyone understood that. Who else had any idea of what else I could have done? What anyone could have done? But it was my fault their dog died and they were mad.

Penny died, too. She would have died even if I hadn’t killed the boxer with my big heavy oxfords. My right foot.

It was their fault the boxer died, not mine. I understand this now. They had a dog who for no apparent reason invaded Penny’s home turf and attacked her. A dog like that shouldn’t have been allowed to roam loose, but in those days, leash laws didn’t exist. For all I know, the boxer may have killed other dogs in that neighborhood.

At the time, I knew none of that. I only knew that I had kicked a dog to death and its owners were mad at me and my dad was uneasy with the whole thing. I think the McMillens thanked me, but I don’t remember that part.

I remember the deep red of the brick, the soft sun-warmed dirt, the rose bushes and the big evergreen at the corner of the house. I remember the agitated neighborhood kids jumping around, yelling. I remember that boxer straddled over Penny as her big dark eyes bulged, her mouth gaping while the boxer kept his jaws firmly fastened over her throat. I remember the impact in my body of each kick, of holding myself steady for yet another carefully aimed blow to the boxer’s head.

I remember the impact of my foot against that dog’s skull. It traveled up my leg, through my hip, up my spine, and lodged in my head where memories stay forever.

Cowardly Arkansas

Nearly two years ago, Arkansas voters passed a constitutional amendment that granted sick and dying people legal access to marijuana. Soon after, the Arkansas legislature waded in to introduce a flurry of bills whose sole intention was to throw every possible obstacle into the path of this amendment’s implementation.

Worse, even after the legislature settled back and allowed the amendment to move forward, tangled amateurish administrative and regulatory processes resulted in lawsuits, further delaying legal medical use.

The outcome has been a circus of not-so-funny setbacks for over 5,000 patients already qualified for this medicine. Now the earliest estimated date for the availability of medical marijuana is summer 2019. Even more egregious, the amendment does not allow for the use of clones from already growing plants, meaning months will elapse between the planting of seeds and any harvestable crop.

This outrageous delay and its collateral damage rests at the feet of every elected official now holding the power to jumpstart this program. Even though the amendment requires that marijuana for medical use be produced in this state, the time has come for the governor and/or legislators to introduce an emergency measure to import marijuana from any of the other 29 legal medical marijuana states in order to provide for credentialed patients until such time Arkansas can scrape its sorry act together.

Research continues to show that cannabis is effective for seizures, spasms, nausea, PTSD, and pain. A New Mexico study found that 84% of patients who received access to medical cannabis reduced their opioid prescriptions. Israeli researchers discovered that smoking cannabis improved many of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. Another study found that cannabis substituted for prescription medications in 63% of patients. [1] There’s no shortage of proof that marijuana provides relief for a variety of chronic and acute medical conditions.

What is the point of forcing Arkansas people to continue suffering?

Who among our elected leaders has the courage to provide for Arkansas people as this amendment intended?

Governor Hutchinson, do you not care about the people you pledged to protect and serve?

~~~

[1] Citations at https://www.leafly.com/news/health/the-top-medical-cannabis-studies-of-2017

What’s the Goal?

[Note: All images posted to this article are efforts to damage Democrats and/or progressives.]

Hardly a day goes by on my Facebook newsfeed that doesn’t include a bashing of Democrats. And this by those who consider themselves liberals or progressives. This is deeply troubling.

For one thing, what other party has a chance of stopping the Republican power play that has brought us Trump? Some of my friends who post these tirades against Democrats like to believe that the Greens, or the Democratic Socialists, or Libertarians are a viable alternative to Democrats. To that I say, what are you smoking?

No third party has won a presidential election since … uh, never –

The last third party candidate to win a state was George Wallace of the American Independent Party in 1968, while the last third party candidate to win more than 5.0% of the vote was Ross Perot, who ran as an independent and as the standard-bearer of the Reform Party in 1992 and 1996, respectively; the closest since was Gary Johnson in 2016, who gained 3.3% of the vote running as the Libertarian nominee. The most recent third party candidates to receive an electoral vote were Libertarian  Ron Paul and Yankton Sioux Nation independent Faith Spotted Eagle who received a vote each from faithless electors in 2016.[1]

You’ll note that among those names of third party ‘winners,’ not one of them has become president.

Not that this bit of logic holds any sway with rabid anti-Democratic Partiers who insist on calling themselves progressives.

Note the not-so-subtle bow tie signaling the likelihood this man is gay.

Oh, I get it. We’re tired of not getting the reforms we’ve championed for a generation. Corporations have become more empowered, not cut down to subhuman status where they belong. We need universal healthcare, an end to the drug war, and foreign policies that do not involve our military in 150 countries around the world. It’s a long list of disappointments for a generation of idealists.

Never mind the advancements Democrats have achieved in reproductive rights, gender rights, labor rights, healthcare, and minority rights, to name a few.

The visceral anger voiced against Democrats seems to stem from many sources. Sadly, one of the loudest voices in that anger is that of people who see themselves as progressives, perhaps most notably those who supported the failed campaign of Bernie Sanders. An entire industry of conspiracy theories has sprung up to explain why Bernie did not win the Democratic nomination rather than Hillary Clinton. The most popular of these theories is that she and her henchwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz somehow changed votes in key states in order to cheat Bernie out of the nomination.

There has never been a shred of evidence that anyone changed votes or didn’t count votes in the Democratic primary elections which ultimately gave Clinton the nomination. Intense scrutiny by multiple interested parties has concluded that no laws were broken. The “yeah, but” claims rise from the Ever Faithful Bernie Supporters who argue that Bernie didn’t get a fair shake, no matter whether laws were broken or not.

But there’s a larger context that is more important than what happened at the DNC and is getting lost in the back and forth over joint fundraising agreements and staffing power. The Democratic Party — which is a different and more complex entity than the Democratic National Committee, and which includes elected officials and funders and activists and interest groups who are not expected to be neutral in primaries — really did favor Hillary Clinton from early in the campaign, and really did shape the race in consequential ways. ..The irony is that Sanders was a prime beneficiary of this bias, not a victim of it. The losers were potential candidates like Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Warren, or Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper — and, thus, Democratic primary voters, who ended up with few choices in 2016… [2]

A similar conclusion by the Washington Post stated:

Clinton received 3.7 million more votes than Sanders did — and it is questionable that this was due solely to the timing of debates. For this reason, there is an important difference between the DNC’s preferring one of the presidential candidates and its rigging the nomination process.

In short, two things can be true simultaneously: The DNC tried to help Clinton’s campaign, but this did not have much impact on whether Clinton won the nomination.[3]

These details and scores of other similar conclusions carry no water for the Bernie faithful. Every possible conspiracy against Bernie is held aloft as his supporters do their best to undermine the Democratic Party. “Oligarchy” is the buzz word for this angry cohort–any wealth that supports Democrats is evil.

It’s not just that the DNC subjected itself to unfavorable opinion doing what other political parties have done since the beginning of time. It’s that key figures from Clinton on down have been singled out for hate campaigns, arguably incited in part by Russian propagandists who have seized on any and all means to eviscerate the progressive movement in the U. S.

This image and the article attached was posted on Facebook by a progressive friend of mine who apparently never questioned the source. The image has been altered to make Pelosi look evil. Not surprisingly, the origin of this post is the Free Beacon, an extremist rightwing group. http://freebeacon.com/politics/pelosi-trashes-inconsequential-democrats-new-leadership-following/

But why do otherwise intelligent liberal/progressive voters suddenly despise the Democratic Party?

It’s as if they don’t understand that the party is made up of local committees peopled by hard-working volunteers who elect local representatives to go to state conventions where decisions are made about the position of the party in that state. At the state level, delegates are elected to carry out the party’s wishes. These people then go to the national convention where they become active voters on the party’s platform and formalize the primary vote into an elected candidate.

So we’re pissed that the Democrats lost and want to blame anyone within range. That anger is directed not only to Clinton, but to party officials like Tom Perez and Democratic Congressional leaders.

Is it Bernie’s fault for taking advantage of his outsider status to undermine Clinton’s support?

Is it the DNC’s fault for allowing Bernie to run as a Democrat?

Is it Hillary’s fault for her pattern of support for big money interests and political maneuvering and being Bill’s wife and whatever you want to say about her work as Obama’s secretary of state?

Was Hillary a flawed candidate? Yes—she’s the perfect example of an empowered woman lacking the charisma that political figures must have.

Did unconscious gender bias impact her campaign? Of course it did. Women are supposed to be nurturing and submissive, not aggressive and powerful. Did this cognitive disconnect cause her to seem dishonest, i.e. not a ‘real’ woman?

Would Bernie have won the election if it weren’t for the bad acts of the DNC?

Personally, I think it’s highly unlikely. Even with the full support of the Democratic Party, Bernie would have suffered massive campaign assault for his embrace of socialism, even if it was/is ‘democratic socialism.’ It’s the word ‘socialism’ that makes this position vulnerable, not necessarily the policies it espouses. It’s too fine of a point to expect a majority of voters to understand the difference between communism, socialism, and democratic socialism.

Bernie’s continuing call for raising taxes wouldn’t have helped either. Whether his identity as a Jewish American would have been a factor remains unknown, but it is worthwhile to note that a Jew has yet to be elected to the presidency. Not to be forgotten, also, is his out-of-wedlock son and a honeymoon visit to the Soviet Union in 1988.

It’s easy to romanticize a curmudgeonly white-haired man who says all the things the left wants to hear. But it’s foolish to lose sight of the real question here. Losing sight is what put Trump in office.

Yes, the Democrats have done plenty to provoke progressive ire starting with the devastating 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago where the party’s powerbrokers allegedly encouraged Mayor Daly’s assault on protesters, undermined the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy, and defeated the anti-war effort. The result was the election of Richard Nixon.

Similar angry disenchantment with the Democratic Party came into play when Bill Clinton not only did nothing to advance progressive causes like marijuana legalization but also managed to get caught messing with an intern. Then there were Hillary’s actions as Obama’s secretary of state that caught her in the web of controversy in big money, corporate maneuvers, and foreign debacles like Benghazi. Evidently neither Clinton recognized the potential for their enemies to use such activities against them.

Which is another big complaint about the Democrats — we’re not mean enough, not vicious enough, in fighting the oligarchs/conservatives/fascists of our day.

But none of that compares to the harm caused by Republican administrations, a list that needs no repeating here.

Nothing would please our adversaries, foreign and domestic, more than to convince us not to support Democrats.

What matters is the outcome. With the help of hate toward Democrats, we now have Trump.

Two factors must rule the end game in any political contest: (1) Which is the more progressive choice and (2) Which more progressive choice has an actual chance of winning. Compromise, whether we like it or not, is the bedrock of politics.

The choice is simple–move forward toward a better future (progressive) or step backwards toward a mythical ideal past (conservative).

 

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_third_party_performances_in_United_States_presidential_elections

[2] https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/11/14/16640082/donna-brazile-warren-bernie-sanders-democratic-primary-rigged

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/11/04/no-the-dnc-didnt-rig-the-democratic-primary-for-hillary-clinton/?utm_term=.2a736b57ee42

What Do We Do About Immigration?

Immigration at the U.S. southern border from Latin America, especially Central American countries south of Mexico, exploded after Reagan’s ill-conceived intervention in local politics. His decision, heavily influenced by the CIA, provided guns and money to right wing militias in order to prevent legally-elected leftist leaders from reforming the land policies and economies of those nations.

For example, his Iran-Contra deal illegally sold guns to Iran where profits were channeled to finance Central American right wing militias. During that same time period, the CIA allegedly imported cocaine to the U.S. to raise money for the militias. The result was a blood bath of local people who only wanted their land back from multinational corporations and few wealthy despots.[1],[2]

These policies and resulting disruption brought floods of Latin American immigrants to the U.S. as refugees. Groups of El Salvadoran refugees in Los Angeles were subsequently preyed upon by local gangs which resulted in the formation of an El Salvadoran gang to protect the people. That gang became MS-13.

This is but one example of how U.S. foreign policy lies at the heart of our immigration troubles.

In an ideal world:

  • The U. S. President and Congress would agree to appoint a bi-partisan or non-partisan commission of policy experts to develop an entirely new immigration policy with a six-month deadline. This would replace the tangled and incomprehensible patchwork of laws currently on the books. Both the president and Congress would agree beforehand to implement the recommended policies as law within two months of the commission’s conclusion.
  • A separate nonpartisan commission, also with a six-month deadline, would draw up recommendations on foreign policy changes to address root causes of immigration from afflicted countries. U. S. resources currently earmarked for immigration extremes such as housing detainers and/or a ‘wall’ would be diverted to provide aid to those nations for education, U.N. observers over law enforcement and judicial process, and humanitarian aid.
  • Congress would create a 5-member bi-partisan committee to develop FACTS about immigration (pro and con) and mount a public education campaign to dispense those facts to the American people.
  • The president would encourage state and local governments to host forums where citizens could present ideas and concerns about immigration. This input would be channeled to the commission for consideration. This is not so much to expand commission information, although it is that, but mostly to engage the public as a force for proactive change.
  • During the commission’s study period, the president would direct an immediate suspension of I.C.E. activities regarding current U.S. residents who may be undocumented.

Sadly, there’s not currently a president or Congress capable of such action.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran%E2%80%93Contra_affair

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIA_involvement_in_Contra_cocaine_trafficking

such action.

We Have Met the Enemy and he is us

What’s missing from the debate about our borders? The reason why.

People don’t just pick up and leave their ancestral homes and extended families without a good reason. In so doing, they face a dangerous and expensive journey in search of a new home. Yet despite the risks and hardship, these folks feel they have no choice.

What we hear is news about brown-skinned folks mobbing our borders, crossing rivers and sneaking into the promised land. We see them standing in lines, tear-stained kids’ faces, our media swamped with shouting heads about illegal immigration. Build a wall! Trump yells.

What does any of that do to solve the problem?

Nothing.

The problem is ours. It is we who have caused this, maybe not us individually, but us as part of a Western culture’s willingness to overrun and exploit anyone weaker than us in order to enrich ourselves.

As reported on the PBS Newshour last night,[1] most of the current surge of immigration comes from three nations: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. These are collectively among the most violent, poverty-stricken areas of the Americas. To fully understand the terrible state of affairs in these countries, one must go back several centuries to the Spanish conquest when everything of value was stolen from the people. Since then, land ownership by rich plantation owners and all-powerful foreign corporations has removed people from their traditional way of life and left them with nothing but poorly paid jobs, if that.

The role of the United States intensified during the 20th century as socialist ideals filtered into Latin America. People embraced the idea of taking back the land from foreign interests and the wealthy power brokers in their country. The U.S. took an active albeit secretive role in destroying such efforts, as described in an article in the May 2016 issue of The Nation:[2]

…the active role Washington played in the “dirty war” in El Salvador in the 1980s, which pitted a right-wing government against Marxist guerrillas. The United States sent military advisers to help the Salvadoran military fight its dirty war, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and military aid.

The United States went well beyond remaining largely silent in the face of human-rights abuses in El Salvador. The State Department and White House often sought to cover up the brutality, to protect the perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes.

In March of 1980, the much beloved and respected Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was murdered. A voice for the poor and repressed, Romero, in his final Sunday sermon, had issued a plea to the country’s military junta that rings through the ages: “In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.”  The next day, he was cut down by a single bullet while he was saying a private mass…

Eight months after the assassination, a military informant gave the US embassy in El Salvador evidence that it had been plotted by Roberto D’Aubuisson, a charismatic and notorious right-wing leader. D’Aubuisson had presided over a meeting in which soldiers drew lots for the right to kill the archbishop, the informant said. While any number of right-wing death squads might have wanted to kill Romero, only a few, like D’Aubuisson’s, were “fanatical and daring” enough to actually do it, the CIA concluded in a report for the White House.

Yet, D’Aubuisson continued to be welcomed at the US embassy in El Salvador, and when Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s point man on Central America during the Reagan administration, testified before Congress, he said he would not consider D’Aubuisson an extremist. “You would have to be engaged in murder,” Abrams said, before he would call him an extremist.

But D’Aubuisson was engaged in murder, and Washington knew it. (He died of throat cancer in 1992, at the age of 48. Abrams was convicted in 1991 of misleading Congress about the shipment of arms to the anti-Sandinista forces in Nicaragua, the so-called “Iran/Contra” affair. He was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, later served as special adviser to President George W. Bush on democracy and human rights, and is now a foreign-policy adviser to GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz.)

Then there was the murder of three nuns. The Nation’s article continues:

No act of barbarism is more emblematic of the deceit that marked Washington’s policy in El Salvador in the 1980s than the sexual assault and murder of four US churchwomen—three Roman Catholic nuns and a lay missionary—in December 1980, a month after Ronald Reagan was elected president.

The American ambassador, Robert White, who had been appointed by President Jimmy Carter, knew immediately that the Salvadoran military was responsible—even if he didn’t have the names of the perpetrators—but that was not what the incoming administration wanted to hear.

One of Reagan’s top foreign-policy advisers, Jeane Kirkpatrick, when asked if she thought the government had been involved, said, “The answer is unequivocal. No, I don’t think the government was responsible.” She then sought to besmirch the women. “The nuns were not just nuns,” she told The Tampa Tribune. “The nuns were also political activists,” with a leftist political coalition (Kirkpatrick died in 2006).

This history and the criminality of U.S. behavior in El Salvador is but one of many similar circumstances across Latin America. Our violent suppression of activists like Che Guevara and other native leaders occurs time and again. We’ve been unwilling to allow local people to reclaim their lands, now largely functioning as an extended plantation for multinational agri-business.

El Salvador has always been a largely agricultural country and despite recent shifts agriculture has continued to be a mainstay of the economy. Conflicts and peasant uprisings over the land date back more than four centuries, to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. Since the last 19th century, the most fertile lands have been concentrated in few hands, “An oligarchy known as las catorce (the original fourteen aristocratic families, which has later expanded in number) and used to grow coffee for export, forcing small-scale farmers onto marginal quality lands and making their subsistence increasingly precarious. In the second half of the twentieth century, an alliance of conservative civilians (dominated by las catorce) and military officers ruled the country until the late 1970s.

“A vicious circle was created whereby concentration of land by the wealthy furthered inequality, which led to land degradation and caused conflict that finally escalated into full scale civil war in 1980.” The long civil war decimated the environment, a result of the government’s “’scorched earth’ strategy designed to decimate the insurgency’s base of support in the countryside.” [3]

This destruction resulted in large-scale migration to urban areas which has placed further stress on the country’s delicate ecosystem. A long term result of the war and the ensuing shift in demography has been continuing conflicts over land and the ecological impact of its use near urban areas.

“… the real cause of the civil war in El Salvador is the issue of agrarian reform. The oligarchy tries to prevent it at all cost. The party of the landholding elite has close ties with the death squads…[4],[5]

Its topsoil depleted, its forests all but gone, its water and air polluted by chemicals, livestock, and human waste, El Salvador is a picture of where we’re headed. It’s the canary in the coal mine, a predictor of Western hemisphere futures where overpopulation, lack of environmental protections, and concentration of land ownership are allowed free rein.

Trump’s eager rallying cry against evil gangs—in particular MS-13—barely skims the surface of the real problems facing El Salvador and, by default, the rest of us.

The Mara Salvatrucha gang originated in Los Angeles, set up in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants in the city’s Pico-Union neighborhood who immigrated to the United States after the Central American civil wars of the 1980s.

Originally, the gang’s main purpose was to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other, more established gangs of Los Angeles, who were predominantly composed of Mexicans and African-Americans.[6]

With over 30,000 members internationally and its power concentrated in the so-called ‘Northern Triangle’ of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, MS-13 is a cautionary tale for us all. But that’s not the full picture for El Salvadorans:

The defense ministry has estimated that more than 500,000 Salvadorans are involved with gangs. (This number includes gang members’ relatives and children who have been coerced into crimes.) Turf wars between MS-13, the country’s largest gang, and its chief rivals, two factions of Barrio 18, have exacerbated what is the world’s highest homicide rate for people under the age of 19. In 2016, 540 Salvadoran minors were murdered—an average of 1.5 every day.

While a majority of El Salvador’s homicide victims are young men from poor urban areas, the gangs’ practice of explicitly targeting girls for sexual violence or coerced relationships is well known. Since 2000, the homicide rate for young women in El Salvador has also increased sharply, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization. To refuse the gangs’ demands can mean death for girls and their families.[7]

This explains why increasingly the people surging north to U. S. borders in search of safety are single young people and especially young women. It also exposes the ignorance and immorality of the Trump Administration’s recent decision to no longer accept gang violence as an adequate reason to offer sanctuary to immigrants and of its plans to reduce foreign aid to El Salvador. As further evidence of the administration’s deaf ear to the very real crisis of the region, it has reduced the immigration quota for people from the Caribbean and Latin America from 5,000 to 1,500.[8]

As you sow, so shall you reap.

~~~

 

[1] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/migrants-risk-the-dangerous-trip-to-the-u-s-because-its-safer-than-staying-home

[2] https://www.thenation.com/article/time-for-a-us-apology-to-el-salvador/

[3] A. Weinberg, ICE Case Studies, Case Number: 22, Case Mnemonic: ELSALV Case Name: El Salvador Civil War. May 1997. http://www1.american.edu/ted/ice/elsalv.htm

[4] M. Dufumier, “Reforme Agraire Au Salvador,” in Civilisations, Vol. 35, No. 2, Pour Une Conscience Lation-Americaine, Prealable A Des Rapports Sud-Sud: Centra d’Etude d l’Amerique Latine (Institute de Sociologie de l’Universite de Burxelles: 1985. 190. http://www.jstor.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/stable/41229331.

[5] https://www.trustingpeace.org/blog/english-version/land-use-in-el-salvador-who-owns-the-land-and-how-do-they-use-it-a-basic-human-rights-issue#_ftn8

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS-13

[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/03/el-salvador-women-gangs-ms-13-trump-violence/554804/

[8] Ibid

Works of Man and Nature

A few days ago I headed out to explore a road I’d never been down before. It’s less than fifteen minutes from where I live and in my current work-in-progress on the history of the West Fork valley, the road is mentioned often. I thought I should see it.

I was not prepared for what I found there.

Winn Creek Road. Named after the creek and Zadock Winn, a man who drowned there back in the early days of settlement. Other Winns established homesteads up that valley, too, and maybe the road took that name before Zadock drowned back in 1852. The road veers off southwest from Woolsey Road south of West Fork amid wide flat pastures framed on either side by steep, thickly-wooded hillsides.

You know you’re getting to the good part when you see the “Pavement Ends” sign. The road narrows. You slow down as tires hit the gravel and a cloud of dust rises behind you. The valley attenuates to its essential elements and tree canopy encloses the roadway in welcome shade.

To the right, the hillside rises sharply, its massive rock outcroppings mostly hidden in dense undergrowth and hardwood forest. I imagine how it must have looked to the first man to blaze this path, hacking his way through brambles and vines. I imagine how he eagerly awaited the next curve of the creek as it curled through the 30-foot deep ravine to the left, perhaps thirsty, perhaps eager to splash water on his sweaty neck.

Creeks were the roads before roads, paths cleared by regular torrents where in times of low water, man or beast could walk without fear of ambush by tick or cougar. Infinite generations of rocks large and small line the creek bottom. Pale brown, gray, occasionally black where the roaring water has undercut shale, limestone and sandstone claim the greater share of the lithic congregation. I pass a few houses, some buried on deeply wooded hillsides with “No Trespassing” signs at the driveway, others laid out alongside barns and white graveled drives.

The valley and its waterway curl under the dominating rise of these northern slopes of the Boston Mountains. Here and there ancient landslides or silted bends form little meadows suitable for a house, a garden, even pasture. I drive along watching the land slowly rise as I pass further south. I think of pioneers who claimed these places as their own, the long process of clearing fields to plant their wheat, corn, oats, cotton, and tobacco. I think of their log cabins, the children they raised, perhaps descendants living here still.

I’m immersed in the past when travel through places that required heavy wagons pulled by mules or a faithful horse to pick its way across the rugged land. I think of the millennia before white men, when Natives crept through the underbrush watching buffalo herds graze. I think of the millions of years it has taken this tiny place on our planet to form, primeval seas that covered the land then receded, the rush of glacial melt carving its way through countless layers of primordial continent with its fossils of all that came before.

Finally the road and creek bed approach the same level. I could stop, walk past a broken down fence line, and wade. I could sit and watch the water sparkle in sunlight as it rushes along its path.

I round a last curve and stop mid-breath. My heart leaps into my throat.

A surreal scene spreads across the narrow valley. My mouth falls open in shock. I’m instantly transported to a science fiction world. It’s almost more than I can take in.

There, straddling the stream and rising so high I must lean forward to see the top, are massive square steel pillars that hold up Interstate 49. The juxtaposition of the interstate and its structural supports against the backdrop of this venerable wild landscape is almost too much to absorb.

I stop, take pictures, try to come to terms with this bizarre reality. I examine the way the highway engineers planned to use the upper canyon wall as a launching pad for the roadway to fly across this valley. I study the exposed layers of earth and stone cut over countless eons by this now-trivial stream, laid bare as if pages of a book waiting to be read.

Not so trivial, even now, it seems. Evidence of raging flood mark the edge of the roadway, grass twisted and brown with silt, knots of weed tangled in fences. I think of Zadock Winn who believed he could cross even though the water foamed and seethed in its torrent. I thought of how, in all things, Nature will always win.

She will win here, too. For now, traffic clatters and roars far above my head, the steady drumming of tires, the regular lub-dub lub-dub as one after another vehicle crosses each section. Some bracing rattles more loudly than others, perhaps already loosening from its original moorings. There is no peace in this valley.

I drive on. Another quarter mile up the road, the creek takes a ninety-degree bend, providing me the fullest view of its intrinsic beauty.

I peer down from the road where it hugs the hillside forty feet above the water. This is the widest point of its course, ornamented in sparkling ridges as layer upon layer of rock gradually step down through the curve. I can almost hear children laughing as they splash and play in the shallow cool water.

Ahead, if I ventured another three miles or so, I’d arrive at Highway 74 where a left turn would take me to Winslow or a right turn would drop me into the wonderland of Devil’s Den State Park. I turn around and go back the way I came.

I drive home slowly, jarred from my normal frame of mind. The experience of that creek and its valley remains an arresting memory I won’t soon forget. It compares with the best stories I’ve seen or read where astonishing realities intersect with the commonplace. The interstate and its undergirding simply do not belong in that landscape.

Yet I’m twenty plus years past any of this being new. Surely the people who lived here during construction grew familiar with the mind-boggling scale of the interstate’s design. Surely the workers laboring day after day through the pouring of concrete and operation of massive cranes to erect these towers saw their labor as being rooted in the ground. It is rooted in the ground. No doubt the foundations for these support towers are driven deep into the strata far below the creek bed.

I wonder how long it will stand, this high-flying roadway built to accommodate a life lived too fast for contemplation of creek bottoms and tumbled rocks. How many decades will these pillars remain? I imagine a future time when only the towers still stand, the path for vehicles long since rusted and crumbled by the forces of weather, traffic, and time. How much of the concrete will fall to this scenic valley? What will it look like here in a hundred years, a mere blink in geologic time?

I’m disappointed in my words and even the photographs to adequately describe my visceral experience of this location. It’s worth the drive to put yourself there, to stand staring up at the work of man while surrounded by the work of Nature. Questions of time, space, and existence arise spontaneously. Of our place in the continuum, of what the future might hold.