Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rory Kennedy and The Fence (HBO documentary airing Sept. 16)

Rory Kennedy's upcoming HBO documentary “The Fence” (“La Barba”) presents a compelling argument that the border fence, the subject of the film, is an ill-conceived and expensive mistake.

The documentary itself crosses that difficult border from education into entertainment. The audience at the preview screening in Los Angeles was laughing heartily many times throughout the film.

The facts about the fence are so absurdly funny by themselves that Kennedy and crew can afford to underplay them, with delicious results.

The first time we are shown the fence, we see a sturdy structure stretching across a desert region. While not insurmountable, it does look like it could at least serve as a deterrent -- until the fence abruptly ends.

Roughly 700 miles of fence have been erected along a border region that stretches some 2,000 miles. The fence simply stops and starts in various places. Anyone wishing to cross the border need only follow the fence until they come to a gap.

What this three-year, $3 billion dollar project has done is to force people, seeking to cross the border, to go through more hazardous conditions along the way. It’s also not clear that spending more money to close the gaps in the fence would have the desired effect.

The film presents the strong determination of people who wish to cross the border. As one foreigner noted, “Human beings have more ideas than any device.”

Anyone who buys into any of those ridiculous stereotypes that Mexicans are ignorant, lazy, or “illiterate in any language” (as one Fox News guest says in a captured clip) should consider the ingenuity of the methods the “coyotes” -- smugglers of humans -- have come up with to get people across the border.

One coyote explained how they dug holes under the fence in the morning, guarded them carefully during the day, and then sent people under the fence at night. Yet another man showed how he cut open parts of a car to hide passengers under seats and even in the foot well of the passenger side of the front seat.

Another technique was to bring trucks bearing ramps (like the ones used to ferry new cars across the country) right up to the fence so a car could literally drive from the ramp down over the border fence.

The coyotes charge thousands of dollars to people wishing to cross the border. Would you pay $5,000 to come to America to pick crops in subhuman conditions at less than minimum wage? How horrible must one’s life be for them to want to pay that price for such work?

Wouldn’t that $3 billion have been better spent on improving the living and working conditions of our southern neighbors to reduce their incentive to come to America in the first place?

One of the more hilarious moments was shot at a golf course that sits south of the border wall but north of the actual border. The border is denoted by the Rio Grande River, which bends and curves. Instead of building the fence along the river, a decision was made to just build the fence straight across in some spots, creating a strange region that is still part of the United States, but south of the fence.

One such region involves a golf course. How bizarre that you need to bring your passport to return from a golf course that is already in America. The absurdities abound.

The film has a point of view, but it is not a completely one-sided presentation. The filmmakers spent a good deal of time following a group of Minutemen who were busy patrolling the border on their own volition, loaded with weapons and a strong belief in the righteousness of their cause.

The filmmakers gave them plenty of screen time to explain the reasoning that led to the creation of the fence in the first place. To them, this isn’t about Mexican immigrants coming across the border to work American farms. This is about potential terrorists entering America to create another 9/11.

Rory, who narrated the film, counters this point with a map sprouting X’s to show where certified terrorists have entered the country, Rory reads off the names of the cities -- New York, New York, New York, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, New York, New York, New York -- and notes, with the kind of dry wit her father Robert Kennedy was famous for, that a pattern seems to be emerging.

One of the film’s most poignant moments was the display of a map showing where immigrants died. While scattered across the border region, there were noticeable areas of concentration.

How horrible must one’s life be that they are willing to die to cross into another country? Can any fence hold back those who feel that level of desperation?

The film also touches on the environmental cost of the fence. As Rory noted in a Q&A after the screening, this is some of the most pristine land in America.
The fence prevents the migration of scores of creatures, including deer, mountain lions, and bears, among others. One shot shows some deer nosing up to the fence, presumably wondering how they could get to their usual stomping grounds.

As one man noted in the film, imagine someone coming into your home and walling you off from your kitchen, or your bedroom. That’s what we’ve done to a number of species.

Several times, the film references President Ronald Reagan’s famous “Tear down this wall” moment. This is not who we are, as Americans, several voices in the film say. We don’t build walls. We’re a nation of immigrants.

So how did this travesty come about?

Read the rest of my review at

Friday, September 03, 2010

Just the facts, please, re taxes and economic growth

I've become increasingly disillusioned with so-called "news" programs these days. It seems that "balance" has been substituted for actual fact. Is it fear? The media owners' biases? For the life of me, I don't know why "news" networks put opinions on the air instead of actual content.

For example, who cares whether someone thinks tax cuts will help the economy? Why not examine the actual facts to see if they support such an assertion?

This Slate article states:
During the period 1951-63, when marginal rates were at their peak—91 percent or 92 percent—the American economy boomed, growing at an average annual rate of 3.71 percent. The fact that the marginal rates were what would today be viewed as essentially confiscatory did not cause economic cataclysm—just the opposite. And during the past seven years, during which we reduced the top marginal rate to 35 percent, average growth was a more meager 1.71 percent.
As the article notes, the economic growth may have happened for other reasons at the time that it did. But one thing is absolutely clear from the data. Lowering tax rates did not spur any significant economic growth at any point. So that argument is simply ridiculous.

It's equally unsupportable, factually, to claim that raising taxes on the rich slows economic growth. As the data in the above article clearly shows, that is not true. In fact, the reverse may be true.

For those who complain about entitlements, realize that Social Security is not a freebie. We all pay into it as we work, so it makes sense we all should have access to those funds when we retire. It's a forced savings account. The word "entitlement" has come to mean something unearned. but we did earn that money.

And why don't fiscal conservatives ever stop to ponder the cost of war? That's the biggest drain on the budget, by far.

But this isn't about politics. This is a post about facts, and the need to evaluate facts, rather than weigh opinions. And facts show that lowering taxes do not improve the economy, and that raising taxes not only won't hurt, it might even help grow the economy.