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July 31, 2010

Mexico Week in Review - July 31, 2010

When you separate the absolute rumor and the absolute truth, this has been an eventful and tragic week in Mexico.

Friday, the American Consulate in Ciudad Juarez was closed indefinitely because of what was called a credible bomb threat. This follows the car bomb in Juarez Thursday that killed 4 people.

"We're not taking any chances, especially since we know cartel gangs are increasingly desperate and frustrated," said a senior U.S. law enforcment official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "You cannot be too careful on questions of security."

Earlier this week, the Mexican military raided the "safe house" of Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel was raided. Coronel was killed during the raid when he attempted to fire back at the hoard of three helicopters and 200 paratroopers.

No doubt that eliminating "The King of Ice" responsible for much of the methamphetamine distributed by the Sinaloa Cartel is a "victory" for Calderón. However, the patterns of violence will almost certainly ramp up as the cartel factions both in and outside of the Sinaloa jostle for position. Coincidentally, and tragically,

15 bodies were found near Guadalajara where Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel have continued their bloody battle for control and pre-eminence in the state of Tamaulipas.

The situation in Mexico is sad for the citizens who live in fear. This is an internal challenge for the Calderón government. However it is made worse by misinformation and purposeful rumor mongeroing. Last weekend, the rumor that Los Zetas had taken over two ranches near Laerdo was quickly debunked, yet even after a week, in some dark corners of the Internet, the sources of that rumor persist in believing that there is a media coverup. I didn't post the earlier article on this subject until Wednesday, mostly because of time pressures created by my real job, but also because I had hoped that the rumor would die down. As others did, I checked my sources and satisfied myself that my sources were a lot more credible than "Internet journalists."

It was never my intent to write so often about the violence in Mexico. But over time, and because of physical location, it became important to offer some personal opinions and insight into how the situation can be seen so close to the border. Some have suggested that rumors that spread last weekend were "misinformation." I don't quite understand the purpose of this misdirection (if that is what it was). Do the Zetas really need to plant false stories when their actions are so visible? Other than driving traffic to their web sites, there would be little to gain for the so-called Internet journalists to spread false stories.

Objectively, it can be concluded with the spread and frequency of violence South of the Border, that Mexico faces an internal war that rivals the Prohibition time violence that ripped through American cities among the various "families" of the Mafia. Blame anyone you wish, but the ability of the cartels to take over and control large parts of the Mexican countryside is an internal problem of Mexico. It has and will continue to spill over the border and affect Texas and other border states.

Border security and immigration policy are the two critical issues for U.S. citizens. The posturing and law suits all distract from the real issues. What must happen for the border to be secured?

July 28, 2010

Zeta Invasion Rumors Won't Die

The rumor spread like wildfire and then died like the Edward Cullen character in the movie "Twilight" (yet even in the light of day, it actually still hasn't died). Mid-morning this past Saturday a web site (referring to itself as an on-line publisher) claimed that Texas had been invaded. More specifically, the article claimed that two ranches on the American side of the border in Laredo Texas had been overtaken by Los Zetas. The real issue here is that even after denials, these people still insist that the event happened.

The scary thing is, it's as if some people actually want to believe there's a media conspiracy. They would actually rather hear their news from people who reinforce their beliefs. Opposing viewpoints be damned. And in the case of the drug cartels taking over ranches in Laredo, they apparently aren't even that interested in the truth.

It is true that in the past, Los Zetas and other Mexican nationals have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. These incursions have concerned many people in the U.S. government and along the border. It is also true that Los Zetas have established training camps on the U.S. side of the border (this really isn't new news). It is also true that the border violence, especially in Ciudad Juarez has resulted in bullets fired across the border and recently striking the El Paso city hall. Further, it is true that teenagers associated with the drug cartels are members of street gangs and now even populate some high schools in Texas.

It is not true that two ranches in Laredo Texas were taken over by Los Zetas this past weekend.

Some in the blog world have cited the lack of coverage by their foils, the traditional media, as proof that "something was going on." Others have claimed that because local law enforcement did not respond to their inquiries, there was something going on.

It is not true that two ranches in Laredo Texas were taken over by Los Zetas this past weekend.

Los Zetas are dangerous and deadly. They behead and dismember their targets. Yes, Los Zetas are rogues with an objective of overtaking the drug cartels and inserting themselves firmly into the game of the drug war (actually, they already are a factor). It is true that Los Zetas and elements of other drug cartels have exerted influence in places like Austin Texas.

It is not true that two ranches in Laredo Texas were taken over by Los Zetas this past weekend.

As early as 2005 there were publicized incursions across the border by Los Zetas. If we need only one reason to secure the border, it should be to keep the violent elements of Mexico's drug cartel war out of the United States. But it could well be too late.

Maybe it is, but I don't consider this a function or matter of the extreme conservative blog world making a non-issue into a major event, even in the face of denials and facts to the contrary.

But officials with the Laredo Police Department, Webb County Sheriff's Department and Border Patrol said they knew nothing about such an incident, while Erik Vasys, an FBI spokesman in San Antonio, said the agency does not comment on rumors. "The public would be the first to know if anything was going on," said Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar on Sunday afternoon. "Our deputies went out there and talked to ranch owners in the area and found nothing."

Someone even "tweeted" me that "We in TX are routinely getting hit with gun fire coming from Mexico side war," It's pretty easy to talk about things happening from a distance. Well, this "tweeter" lives in North Texas, approximately 500 miles from where I sit right now (if you aren't concerned with the speed limit I sit about 2 hours from Laredo).

Fear mongering for what purpose? Certainly, the weekend before Arizona SB1070 is supposed to go into effect has nothing to do with it, right? Distracting everyone from the real issues of border security and immigration enforcement is not a productive thing to do.

July 26, 2010

White House Sparks Fury With Wikileaks Statement

On the heels of the Wikileaks release of yet more classified information (see: Wikileaks Hath Spoken: Now Step Aside Or Get Stampeded By Journalists Seeking Pulitzers) the White House was quick to deflect the ensuing media maelstrom from itself.

This bit of spineless tap dancing from the White House borders (at best) on an endorsement of the storm.

"The period of time covered in these documents (January 2004-December 2009) is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy."

Someone will have to put in a few hours of overtime wordsmithing to persuade me how the above is any different from the attitude that the White House is 'technically responsible for Guantanamo Bay, but not really responsible.'

Of course, the fury may well be confined largely to those deployed in harms way and, well, guys like me. It certainly isn't shared by the Pulitzer class.

That is a truly loathsome, immature and irresponsible statement from the Office of the President. Any president.

July 23, 2010

A Mea Culpa

I have personally been very unproductive for the better part of a year, maybe two, with sporadic fits of effective productivity here and there. There are a lot of causes that can be pointed to and a lot of opportunities for 'woe is me' self-told tales of difficulty from exhaustion to migraines and from burnout to a relationship with my wife damaged by my own immersion and self-seclusion.

But the simple fact of the matter is that none of these challenges are unique, and I have far less impacting challenges than many. I have not, for instance, been diagnosed with cancer as some others have. I have not lost a child nor had to endure divorce.

The fact of the matter remains that I am still a healthy man. And while I may not have been as productive on the National Security front as years prior, my relationship with my nearly effectively-estranged wife has never been better. Ever. My girls are healthy and happy and even my dog still likes to play. We are, in fact, leaving for a week of fun together at the beach.

Life, in short, is good.

With all of this at the forefront of my mind, combined with a recent trip back to my rural Illinois hometown and friends for the first time in 25 years, I have resolved to begin again with a renewed focus. No matter what I thought my personal excuses were, real or imagined, the need for straight, effective and accessible communication on national security and related international events has not diminished, but rather increased.

My return home woke me to the unchanged fact that while I say I communicate in plain language and even have a show introduction that says "Thinking the wonkish language of peers, but not speaking it," the hard truth is that I have at times absentmindedly strayed from that. This occurred to me unmistakably when asked so many times over a few days exactly what it is that I do nowadays. I'm just not so sure I've remained true consistently to doing as I say I do. It's time to change this, correct this.

And so, considering the above mea culpa, August 2010 will see a new beginning and a renewed focus on communication and teaching for those who want to understand, who need to understand, but who simply can't find what they're looking.

Special guest DC wonks on news programs often spend more time talking a language made for each other rather than a much broader public. And so they consequently find themselves reduced to the sound of Charlie Brown's elementary school teacher by the viewer or being traded for a few minutes of Wheel of Fortune. Not sure how this promotes a better public understanding of national security issues beyond a nearly closed circle of friends, really.

I have two passions: Communication and National Security. It is time to return to my roots and start again from the very basics. That's a pretty rare combo, in my experience. Usually one takes strong precedence over the other. National Security guys find themselves communicating on the inside, while the Communications guys find themselves in a constant quest for face time and NatSec interviews. I've pursued neither at the expense of the other.

But I have pursued them both at the expense of my family, and I am learning to do this without neglecting my girls. My priorities for at least eight years, frankly, have been out of whack. "Steve is so dedicated," one would hear. Yeah? Perhaps they weren't asking my wife. No amount of dedication matters - nor the achievements - if you begin to lose your family.

But with this renewed approach and renewed focus, there is a job to be done, and it's back to the basics and from Square 1. I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, but this begins with writing (or re-writing the folly from the White House) a National Security Strategy document. It must define why we bother and what's important - and obsession with 'climate change' is not an acceptable strategic cause. The bigger difference beyond topic and focus, however, will be in the language employed and the format in which it is released - a series of focused and digestible chunks, not one massive 50-page document no plumber or dentist will ever bother to digest.

For the next week, however, there is much sand, saltwater, ice cream and boardwalks ahead for my girls and I. Life is good. You should look around once in a while. You might miss it.


July 11, 2010

"Silent Raids"

Recently it has become apparent that more businesses than might considered reasonable by most people are hiring illegal immigrants and flying under the radar. But not anymore!

One of the actions being taken by the Obama Administration is referred to as "silent raids." Despite the constancy of the discussions on Threatswatch about Arizona 1070, administrative audits by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are beginning to investigate and prosecute companies that empoy illegal immigrants.

"[B]usinesses must be held accountable if they break the law by deliberately hiring and exploiting undocumented workers. We've already begun to step up enforcement against the worst workplace offenders . . . . We cannot continue just to look the other way as a significant portion of our economy operates outside the law. It breeds abuse and bad practices. It punishes employers who act responsibly and undercuts American workers. And ultimately, if the demand for undocumented workers falls, the incentive for people to come here illegally will decline as well." President Obama, speech given at the American University's School of International Service in Washington, DC on Comprehensive Immigration Reform (July 1, 2010)

There are huge fines incurred by the employers. Honestly, it is probably good that the illegals are fired rather than deported (are you shocked?).

It has been written here before that there are humanitarian issues associated with the illegal immigrant problem. Not only is the government of Mexico culpable for not making it possible for their own citizens to live a safe life above the poverty subsistence level, but it is pretty clear that Mexico enjoys the influx of money sent back by workers living here in the United States. Depending on the source, it is clear that billions of dollars are sent from the US to Mexico each year. Silent raids are a good thing.

Over the past year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has conducted audits of employee files at more than 2,900 companies. The agency has levied a record $3 million in civil fines so far this year on businesses that hired unauthorized immigrants, according to official figures. Thousands of those workers have been fired, immigrant groups estimate.

Silent raids make the employer that decides to break the law pay for that "privilege."

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