If they weren't so patently dangerous, the political inanities of Texas Governor Rick Perry might be entertaining. Unfortunately, it's hard to keep up with the tempo of his pendulum swings in logic. Perry famously pandered to the marginalized radicals of the GOP right by suggesting to various Texas Tea Parties that our state might still secede.
He started off toward the political precipice exactly a year ago; Perry turned down $556 million in federal funds for extended unemployment benefits for 45,000 Texans still looking for work. He said there were too many strings attached. What were these horrible requirements Texas had to abide by in order to bring back to the state some of the hard-earned tax dollars that had already been paid by the employed of Texas? Horrendous, socialist demands like extending benefits for laid-off workers in retraining programs and increasing benefits for individuals who had lost their jobs and had dependents.
In an almost incomprehensible turn of hypocrisy, a few months later the longest serving governor in Texas history asked the federal government for a loan of $170 million to cover its existing unemployment benefits. Because that was only a stopgap amount, the total is expected to reach $650 million in federal loans, which is about $100 million more than he rejected in stimulus money.
As they used to say in the Vega-Matic commercials: but wait! There's more!
When the stimulus package was passed by congress in January, the man from Paint Rock said he was not going to apply for the money Texas was eligible to receive for improvements in public school performance. By some accounts, Texas could have gotten up to $700 million. Our governor said he did not want to tie his great state to federal performance standards. Of course, when his predecessor became president and forced the fatuousness of No Child Left Behind down America's education throat, Perry made not a chirp. And hell, there wasn't even any money attached to that invasive piece of nonsense. If Perry were protecting an exemplary education system by turning down stimulus money, his decision might have been logical. Unfortunately, the Lone Star State is number 50 in our republic in percentage of residents with a high school diploma, and we are near the bottom in SAT scores. According to the National Education Association, our current expenditures per student rank 44th among states. So, yeah, we're in good shape. Thanks for the offer of $700 million, Mr. President, but we've got no problems.
The convolutions of Mr. Perry's gray matter must be a sight to behold because he's now got another contradiction he is pursuing that is flat dangerous. On the right side of his mouth, he speaks about secession and keeping Washington out of our lives but on the left side of his barbecue pit he's now demanding the federal government deploy unmanned aerial drones along the US-Mexico border. How does one secede while also using federal troops to militarize a border?
The recent killing of US Foreign Service workers in Ciudad Juarez has prompted the new round fear mongering. Even if the assassinations were not a case of mistaken identities, as has been reported, putting drones into the air is a permutation of a declaration of war. The war between the drug cartels has resulted in killings north of the Rio Grande but that is not a recent development and it is unclear how having the intrusiveness of big brother's eye-in-the-sky floating overhead might do anything to prevent that bloodshed. Perhaps, the governor ought to ask for enough spy planes to patrol the suburbs of Dallas and Houston and San Antonio and Austin and every other major city in America where those Mexican drugs are consumed. There would be no fighting and dying over the lucrative supply lines in Mexico if there were not a burgeoning demand for narcotics in the land of the free.
The US-Mexico border region is an enchanting and mysterious place. I lived near the big river for many years and I return on a regular basis. Building walls and sending drones and radar blimps into the air will continue the transformation of a once-friendly frontier into a kind of war zone. Nothing will be solved and the stakes will only get higher. I wonder what it will be like to be camping in the splendid Chisos Mountains on the South Rim, looking out at sunset from 8000 feet about the desert floor, and hear the distant drone of a drone.
A friend of mine, who spends most of his time in the ghost town of Terlingua just west of Big Bend National Park, fears the drones will be secretly armed and that one night when he is driving home from the Boat House Bar or Long Draw Pizza in the blackness of a western night, he might get lost on those bladed desert roads, look suspicious, and get lit up by a trigger happy twenty something staring at a remote screen in Dallas.
In a way, that has already happened. In 1997, the US deployed Joint Task Force 6, a military patrol of combined armed services, along the remote stretches of the border east of El Paso. They wore camouflage and sunglasses and hid in the creosote and cactus. A Marine saw what he thought was a drug smuggler in the distance and then he convinced himself the criminal had pulled a gun. He aimed down range, shot, and killed an 18 year-old goat herder named Ezequiel Hernandez, Jr. The boy was bringing the family's goats up from the river where they had been drinking water. He is buried on a lonely mesa with a view of the mountains to the west and Mexico to the south. The house where he lived his entire life and the spot where he died are all visible standing next to his grave. His impoverished family had little more than stones and a wooden cross his to mark the place where he lies.
And anyone who thinks that drones and guns and walls and soldiers will solve the problems on the border ought to stop by and visit Ezequiel's grave.
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