Which is the more serious threat to life, liberty and property: The illicit violence practiced by a handful of furtive armed drug smugglers in the Arizona desert, or the increasingly brazen militarization of U.S. law enforcement — across the entire country — in the “war on drugs”?
According to some hyperventilating commentators, drug smugglers — with the guilty acquiescence of Barack Obama — have seized control of a huge swath of Arizona, thereby asserting alien sovereignty over what was once American soil. If this were true, points out libertarian journalist (and Arizona resident) J.D. Tuccille, the narcotics lords would preside over a kingdom “populated by rattlesnakes and cholla.”
What has actually happened is a minor but politically exploitable increase in criminal activity in one of the many drug smuggling corridors that have long existed in the southwest, channels of illicit commerce created in order to serve a huge market that persists despite decades of prohibition.
While Mexican bandits supposedly exercise dominion over reptiles and cacti, National Guard units throughout the country are actively involved in transforming nominally civilian law enforcement agencies into a full-blown domestic army of occupation. Last year, according to Albany, New York Fox affiliate WXXA, the New York State National Guard “assisted in more than 2,000 arrests … and had almost $150 million in drug, property, and weapon seizures.”
While they do engage in the occasional isolated shoot-out, the drug gangs supposedly controlling a section of Arizona aren’t terrorizing innocent families in late-night or early-morning armed raids. Nor are they detaining — and sometimes killing — motorists at checkpoints. They’re not plundering people in roadside shakedowns. Criminal violence of that kind is carried out every day by police — often with hands-on military assistance — as part of the “war on drugs.”
According to Col. Alden Saddlemire of the New York National Guard, the martial language used to describe this domestic campaign is literal, not metaphorical. “The war on drugs is an ongoing war,” Saddlemire told WXXA. “It’s a domestic fight [we] firmly believe in.”
According to official propaganda, the National Guard Counterdrug Program (NGCDP) “operates in all 54 states and territories to support local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies….. [The program] currently operates 125 OH-58 Kiowa helicopters to support federal, state and local Law Enforcement Agencies’ demand for aviation support in Counterdrug operations.”
Guard pilots and support personnel are actively involved in “area surveillance and reconnaissance; vehicle/fugitive surveillance and tracking, cover/force protection during RAID/Sweeps” and cannabis eradication operations.
One must hack through a dense thicket of acronyms in order to uncover what’s really happening here. The NGCDP — that’s National Guard Counterdrug Program — “recently realigned CD RAID Detachments into Security and Support Battalions,” the mystified reader is told without being informed that “CD RAID” refers to Counter-Drug Recon and Aerial Interdiction Detachments.
We then learn that although “mission focus” remains on “LEA support to CD operations” — that is, assisting Law Enforcement Agencies carry out Counter-Drug programs — “HLS/HLD missions will take on a larger role than before.” That singularly opaque clause refers to Homeland Security/Homeland Defense operations.
Deprived of semantic camouflage, this is an admission that the escalation of the military’s role in the “war on drugs” will segue into larger, and increasingly overt, domestic military role in “homeland security.”
The NGCDP is eager to dispense all kinds of military hardware — complete with “technical support” personnel — on any “civilian” law enforcement agency that puts in a request.
You want night vision goggles? Forward-Looking Infrared gear (which was used to such dramatic effect in the murderous final assault on the Branch Davidians)? Thermal imagers, surveillance aircraft, mobile gamma-ray automobile inspection units? Just give the National Guard a holler, and they’ll be happy to help.
Sure, this means some swivel-hipping around that pesky Posse Comitatus Act, but it’s pretty much a dead letter anyway.
Once the Guard is seamlessly integrated into the domestic counter-drug effort, they’ll be ready to carry out whatever other homeland security missions that arise: mass arrests of protesters and perfectly harmless civilians during political conventions, confiscation of firearms during disasters or other emergencies, or even — as Gen. George S. Patton once recommended — the use of total war tactics (summary mass detentions, summary executions of conspicuous troublemakers, the use of toxic gas and white phosphorous munitions) against organized dissident groups.
All of this has been done already, on a limited scale and in specific circumstances. Because of the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror,” the infrastructure is now in place to institutionalize those once-exceptional abuses, if — make that “when” — our self-appointed rulers choose to do so.
Some who are properly alarmed over all of this have invested their hopes in Sheriff Richard Mack’s campaign to educate and mobilize county sheriffs to resist federal usurpation of state and local authority. Sheriff Mack is an admirable man, and his campaign is worthwhile — but too many sheriffs have already been bought off by the Feds.
Paul Babeu, the Sheriff of Arizona’s Pinal County, has pioneered a new approach to federalizing local law enforcement: He has actually invited the Feds to occupy Arizona on the pretext of defending the state from the illegal immigrant “invasion.”
Sheriff Babeu — a PR-fixated political ally of arch-neocon John McCain — is consciously carving out a media-friendly persona as the heir to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. It was Babeu who induced a paroxysm of populist outrage by declaring that the Obama administration had effectively surrendered a swath of Arizona to Mexico.
"It’s literally out of control," Babeu insisted in an interview with Fox News. "We stood with Senator McCain and literally demanded support for 3,000 soldiers to be deployed to Arizona to get this under control and finally secure our border with Mexico.”
Pinal County — Sheriff Babeu’s jurisdiction — is well inside the border with Mexico. Pima County, which actually shares a border with Mexico, is the responsibility of Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who also takes a hard line on immigration enforcement but doesn’t share Babeu’s siege mentality or appetite for media attention.
Sheriff Dupnik is one of several Arizona law enforcement veterans who believe that the problems associated with illegal immigration are being inflated into a politically useful “crisis.”
Retired Mesa police officer Bill Richardson, who worked in counter-narcotics task forces in several Arizona counties, believes that Babeu — like Arpaio and Arizona state senator Russell Pearce (chief sponsor of SB 1070) — is “fanning the flames of fear, that the undocumented are the root cause of crime in Arizona. In fact, they are not.”
Whether or not this assessment is accurate, both immigration (legal and illegal) and violent crime have been steadily decreasing in Arizona over the past decade — a period encompassing Babeu’s entire law enforcement career.
Richardson, a long-time Arizona resident with decades of law enforcement experience, points out that Babeu — who relocated to Arizona after losing a mayoral race in North Adams, Massachusetts in 2001 — was a police officer in Chandler for just 5 1/2 years (during which time he served as head of the local police union) before being elected Pima County Sheriff.
Two of those years were spent in National Guard deployments — one of them in Iraq, the other on the southern border as part of a joint effort with the Border Patrol called “Operation Jump Start.”
Babeu, who enlisted at 21 and currently holds the rank of Major in the National Guard, often campaigned in uniform as a perennial Republican political candidate in Massachusetts. He was successful once, winning a spot on the Berkshire County Commission and a leadership role in the County GOP.
After three unsuccessful bids for higher office, Babeu followed his parents (long-time Republican activists themselves) to Arizona, which had a more congenial political climate. (Joe Arpaio, interestingly, is likewise a transplanted Massachusetts native.)
Babeu, who refers to McCain as his “hero,” is hard-wired into the neo-con-dominated Republican media apparatus, and he clearly has aspirations above and beyond his current position.
Just as importantly, 41-year-old Babeu — who is both a county sheriff and a National Guard major — literally embodies the ongoing merger of the military and law enforcement. He is the fons et origo of the notion that Obama, in an act of high treason, surrendered sacred American soil to Mexican drug gangs — which isn’t strictly true, of course, but is irresistibly potent to political opportunists.
Immigration, Babeu insists, “is the number one issue that faces Arizona.” This could be considered the truth in the sense that it is the most useful issue for candidates looking to build a political career, and opportunistic incumbents — including Senator McCain, who once supported amnesty for illegal immigrants but has re-cast himself as a flint-eyed border guardian in his ongoing re-election campaign.
As the current issue of Harper’s magazine documents, the most serious problems besetting Arizona have little if anything to do with immigration, and everything to do with the most recent Federal Reserve-engineered depression.
J.D. Tuccille points out that concern over immigration is most pronounced in Phoenix, rather than in the southern part of the state. Phoenix somehow survived the immigrant onslaught, but it may be doomed as a result of the collapse of the housing bubble.
Ken Silverstein of Harper’s points out that 61.5 percent of all Phoenix mortgages are “underwater,” and unemployment is probably running at about 18 percent or higher. The latter figure can’t be explained as a case of immigrants “stealing” jobs from natives, since the housing implosion led to a dramatic contraction of the immigrant labor pool.
Forty-five minutes southwest of Phoenix there’s a town called Maricopa that didn’t exist ten years ago: It was created at the height of the Fed-induced housing frenzy. It’s quite possible that Maricopa won’t exist a decade from now: It was a town built entirely on fraud.
“They weren’t building homes,” explains the consistently quotable Jay Butler, an associate professor of real estate at Arizona State University. “They were building mortgages that they could put into mortgage-backed securities in order to sell them to investors in China and France.” Amid a pervasive atmosphere of moral hazard, mortgage loans were extended to practically anybody with a pulse and the ability sign the necessary documents. The results were utterly predictable.
Four years ago in Maricopa, speculators were buying whole tracts of houses and builders were demanding a 12-hour turnaround on permits in order to meet existing demand. Today, that future ghost town registers a “distress index” (percentage of home sales involving bank-owned or pre-foreclosure properties) of 76.8 percent.
“In a neighborhood called Maricopa Meadows,” writes Ken Silverstein, “we rolled past a block of McMansions, all but a handful of which had gone into foreclosure.” Silverstein’s guide observed: “You’ve got people doubling up in houses so they can split utilities…. The story is the same from here to Queen Creek to Buckeye, in all these places that people scattered before the crash.”
As the New York Times recently reported, the real estate industry in Arizona is now essentially a subsidiary of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are entirely non-viable tax-subsidized entities sitting on more than $4 trillion worth of bad debts.
When the Fed’s bubble was expanding, Realtors sold homes to unqualified buyers at grotesquely inflated prices. Now that the bubble has burst, Realtors in are doing a similarly brisk business in repossessions. Given the dim prospects for an economic rebound, it’s profoundly doubtful that many of those homes will ever be re-sold. And the coming commercial real estate crash will be at least as devastating for Arizona, a “branch office” state with little local industry apart from agriculture.
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As her state descends into economic ruin, Governor Jan Brewer — hailed by Republican conservatives nation-wide as a heroine for signing SB 1070 — is working diligently to impose a drastic sales tax increase on the state. Borrowing a familiar leftist trope, Brewer has claimed that people will “die” unless the regressive tax increase is enacted in the midst of a deepening economic contraction.
As Governor, Brewer (who, like Babeu, is allied with McCain) has done nothing to reduce the size and expense of the state government. The timely and welcome distraction provided by the controversy over SB 1070, notes Barbara Hollingsworth of the Washington Examiner, saved Brewer “from a nasty primary challenge” arising from her $3 billion sales tax increase. Some opinion polls now place Brewer just five points behind President Obama in a hypothetical 2012 match-up — solely on the strength of her perceived role as a proponent of “secure borders.”
Brewer’s reputation was enhanced by an open letter to Obama in which Brewer demanded a “border surge” involving at least 6,000 troops. And it wasn’t noticeably injured when she made the risible claim that the “majority” of illegal immigrants are working as “mules” in the employ of drug cartels — a claim immediately and decisively shot down by T.J. Bonner of the National Border Patrol Council.
Displaying gallantry through heroic understatement, Bonner said that Brewer’s demented claim “doesn’t comport with reality.” This isn’t surprising, given that Brewer and her allies aren’t in the reality business. Like narcotics pushers, they’re in the business of promoting altered states of consciousness for profit — such as the perception that Arizona is about to be devoured in a Mexican anschluss.
Brewer persisted in her reality-aversive treatment of the immigration issue by repeatedly making the horrifying and entirely unsubstantiated claim that illegal immigrants had committed “beheadings” in Arizona.
“We cannot afford all this illegal immigration and everything that comes with it, everything from the crime and to the drugs and the kidnappings and the extortion and the beheadings,” stated Brewer in an interview with Fox News. While it’s true that some drug-related murders in Mexico have involved beheading, there’s not been a single documented case of that kind in Arizona. This didn’t deter Brewer from reiterating that claim — citing unspecified “law enforcement agencies” as sources — in a subsequent interview.