"Good fences make good neighbors," goes the old adage. That civilizing thought refers to such friendly structures as the beautiful rock walls of New England, elegant split rails in the South, iconic whitewashed pickets of the Midwest and even privacy fences in neighborhoods all across our country.
But the neighborly adage definitely did not contemplate the 700-mile, 20-foot-high, drone-patrolled, electronically monitored fence of steel and razor wire that our government has erected across our nation's border with Mexico, from the tip of Texas to California's Pacific Coast.
This thing is not a fence, but a monstrous wall of hostility, a deliberate affront to our Mexican neighbors. As Sen. John McCain aptly put it in a recent debate on immigration, our Land of the Free has constructed "the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall!"
There are four big flaws with the theory that you can "secure" a border (i.e., keep people from crossing it) by throwing up a big ol' wall. First, it doesn't work. A 20-foot wall quickly begets 22-foot ladders — people are innately inventive, and those determined to get in or out will find many ways to do it.
Second, walls create bigger problems than they resolve, for they are deeply divisive. Our Mexican wall is ugly, both literally and in the unmistakable message of contempt it screams nonstop at the Mexican people. It's generating bitterness toward us — and that turns neighbors into enemies.
Third, that wall has physically ripped healthy relationships apart. For centuries, families, friends, businesses and cities themselves were thoroughly integrated into unified communities across the artificial line drawn on a map.
Fourth, such walls are insanely expensive — so far, Washington has hurled tens of billions of dollars at this one to build, maintain and police it. Enforcement alone costs $18 billion per year. In addition, states have dumped untallied billions into it.
Can these policymakers even spell w-a-s-t-e? Yet the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly in June to waste another $46 billion to build 700 more miles of the hateful wall and double the number of militarized border agents. Is there no other need in our country for that money? Nothing constructive we might do with it?
But I shouldn't be too harsh on Washington, for both Republicans and Democrats are beginning to respond aggressively to economic needs. "It has been a tough time," says one Washington insider, noting with relief that a new spending proposal "could help out."
Unfortunately, he and Congress aren't referring to your tough times or helping out with your needs. No, no — they are rushing to the aid of the multibillion-dollar military-industrial complex. The government, you see, has not been getting our nation into enough wars to satisfy the insatiable appetite that Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and other war profiteers have for government money. But now they've spied a new place they can militarize with their high-tech, high-cost, razzle-dazzle weaponry: yes, that border we share with Mexico.
In recent months, these corporate predators deployed an army of lobbyists to Congress, armed with mass campaign contributions. Targeting the immigration issue, "border security!" is their battle cry. They've already conquered the Senate's bipartisan immigration bill, stuffing it with $46 billion for goosed up militarization of the 2,000-mile border. They've literally turned the immigration bill into a corporate honey pot. More drones! More electronic gadgetry! More agents needing more weapons, night vision goggles and other war toys!
Various corporate lobbyists put their specific wish lists directly in the Senate bill. Rather than calling generally for the purchase of certain categories of hardware, it mandates brand-name purchases. For example, the bill requires the Border Patrol to buy six airborne radar systems from Northrop at $9.3 million each and 15 Black Hawk helicopters from Sikorsky at $17 million apiece.
What we have here is the emergence of a full-fledged monster — a Border-Industrial Complex that literally will tax us with an ever-expanding policy of permanent border war.
How long before they use the cry of "terrorism!" to militarize the Canadian border, too? And what after that? My guess is they'll want to seal off those pesky antiwar radicals in places like Vermont! Ultimately, they can fence all of us in. Or is it out?
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)