Border Security does not Equal a Wall

Perhaps the biggest argument against the necessity of a border wall comes from the social media posts of conservatives showing statements from Speaker Pelosi or President Obama about border security and the problems caused by illegals crossing into the US.  Somewhere along the line, probably from inaccurate conservative media sources, these people have the impression that Democrats are being hypocritical about Trump’s wall because they have advocated for tighter border security in the past but now, suddenly, because Trump wants a wall, they are against it simply because he is for it.

Nope.

Democrats have always been in favor of tighter border security.  Look at the record of both previous Democrats who occupied the White House in real, hard numbers, not conservative social media perspective without support.  Both of the most recent Democrats who served in the White House proposed budgets to beef up the border patrol and increase its effectiveness.  Neither of them showed much tolerance for people who simply crossed into the United States illegally for their own benefit and found places that would hire them without reporting them to the authorities.  On the other hand, they showed considerable compassion, as you might expect Americans who understand the fundamental values of this country, toward those who came here seeking refuge from oppression. The fact is, when the Democrats were in power during the Obama administration, the flood of illegal aliens crossing the border that happened during the Bush administration was shut down to a trickle by beefed-up border security and a better equipped, better funded border patrol along with a better funded drug enforcement effort that focused on ports of entry and on law enforcement infiltration of the drug cartels.  Some of the bigger, more powerful Mexican and Latin American drug lords were arrested and rendered ineffective.  The effort might have produced even better results had it not been for the Republican sequester which cut into the funding the had been provided for both the border patrol and the Department of Homeland Security.

But “increased border security” does not translate into “build the wall.” We have walls along the southern border, high walls that, in heavily populated areas are also doubled up with parallel fencing creating a “no man’s land” between the wall itself and the actual border.  The longest and most formidable stretch of barricade along the border runs from the Pacific Ocean, where devices have been built to attempt to keep people from circumventing the wall via the water, to a point about 60 miles east of the border area between San Diego and Tijuana.  This is the most heavily populated area on both sides of the border.  There is a metal-plate fence that runs along the actual border, and about 20 yards beyond that, on the American side, is the much taller barricade with the angled top and barbed wire.  This creates a “no man’s land” under surveillance, where many of those who manage to get over the initial fence are caught.  Similar barriers are found in the highly populated areas along both sides of the border all the way to the Gulf of Mexico east of Brownsville, Texas.

The “open” stretches of the border are not without security.  The geography all along the southern border forms some difficult barriers to cross.  In the deserts of Southern Arizona and New Mexico, there are few roads, and it is a long distance to the areas where there are enough jobs to sustain all but a small population of migrant workers.  Many of those who cross here illegally are employed by local ranchers in seasonal work and many of them are the same workers who return year after year.  Yes, it’s illegal for them to cross and also illegal to employ them, but that’s been going on for decades.  Most of those who cross the border in these places are migrant workers who don’t venture far into the United States and they wind up going back when they earn enough money.  The border patrols and local law enforcement don’t really bother much with them.  They are busy tracking down those involved in the drug trade and have been very successful in doing so.  Using aerial surveillance and infra-red cameras at short intervals, the barriers of terrain and climate are more formidable to cross for any who are not familiar with the territory.

But migrants and those seeking political asylum in the United States are not causing a “crisis” on the southern border, not by any stretch of the imagination.  That the United States is seen as a refuge from oppression is a concept of our own doing and our own history and the proximity of the US to countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where dictatorships, political corruption and the drug trade have made life miserable for millions means that our options to slow down the stream of immigrants from those countries are limited.  It is not as easy to “go in and help” those countries resolve these issues as most people think.  Conservatives don’t want to spend the money on it.  Liberals are loathe to interfere in the government affairs of sovereign countries.  So those who have the stamina, strength and can collect a few resources set out to try to find a better life for their families in the United States, just like all of our ancestors did at some point.  The United States has more than enough resources (if we make our wealthy corporate elite pay their fair share of taxes) to care for just about any number of Central American or Mexican refugees who could manage to get to our southern border.  We have a process that is capable of handling that efficiently and effectively.  And the migrant workers and asylum-seekers who come here are not terrorists, murderers or criminals.  The crime rate among them is far lower than it is among the population of any border town or city on the American side. Contrary to both Trump’s assertions and the reporting of the conservative media, these people are not creating a crisis on the southern border.

The real problem we have on the border is the drug trade.  And yes, it is a crisis.  But clearly it is not one that will be solved by spending $5 billion on a wall.  According to the local government officials, police departments and border patrol agents, the ground under the double barricade along the border south of San Diego is “like Swiss cheese” with the sophisticated tunnel system the drug cartels financed and built.  And the amount of traffic that comes through the port of entry makes it relatively easy for drug traffickers to smuggle their merchandise right through.  It is at It takes equally sophisticated intelligence and detection to keep up with that and according to Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security, we don’t have it because we can’t afford it.  Well, we could if we spent the $5 billion he wants to waste on a wall on giving our law enforcements the ability to stop it.  When local government officials, including law enforcement and local border patrol agents tried to tell him that on a recent visit to the border, he ignored them.

Most of the drugs coming into the US across the border come through the busiest ports of entry through the large cities on either side.  The San Diego-Tijuana crossings see the most drug traffic but El Paso-Juarez and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas are not far behind.  There are enough video clips on conservative social media posts to demonstrate that both President Obama and Nancy Pelosi, along with most of the rest of the members of their party, favor strong border security and are willing to invest in those methods that have proven to be effective.  A wall will be an expensive boondoggle that satisfies the perceptions of the uninformed, but not an effective tool against the drug traffic that is the real crisis on our southern border.

 

 

On Alma Maters

One of the influences of my Baptist upbringing was on my education.  Growing up in a small Arizona town, the only educational option was the local public school.  It was actually a pretty good school, comparatively, consistently one of the best in the county and state, having been recognized as such in recent years.  But it was public education and by the time I was ready for college, I recognized the distinct secular influence on educational philosophy, and decided to dig up the extra tuition and fees for a Christian college.  I chose the one affiliated with Arizona Southern Baptists at the time, Grand Canyon College, now Grand Canyon University.

Grand Canyon College was an excellent school.  It was small, 1,300 students enrolled in all undergraduate programs at the time, on a campus on the west-central side of Phoenix.  Most of the students commuted from home, but the small residential community of about 400 was close-knit and friendly.  It was known state-wide for having a strong teacher education program and more than half the students there were majoring in elementary or secondary education.  The combination of a strong education program and a strong business program had produced a unique training and development major that attracted many students.  It’s Biblical studies were traditionally Southern Baptist in spite of its location in a western state and conservative at a time when other SBC state convention schools were moving to the left.  It was an NAIA power in men’s basketball and baseball, winning national titles in both sports with regularity.

So I majored in history and English, and minored in Biblical studies in preparation for a teaching career.  I didn’t realize at the time that my understanding of the differences in Christian and secular educational philosophy would lead me to a career in Christian school education, but the roots for that were grown while I was a student at Grand Canyon.

At some point following my graduation, the school’s leadership achieved university status, dividing the growing school up into colleges.  As the only accredited Christian-affiliated college in the fast growing Phoenix area, the school was bound to grow.  Unfortunately, a lack of responsible leadership within the sponsoring state convention led to a scandal in the Baptist Foundation of Arizona that not only crippled the ministry of Arizona Southern Baptists, who still suffer from its effects, but put the crown jewel of their ministry institutions, Grand Canyon University, at risk of closure.

You can read the long, horrible story of the financial misdeeds of the Baptist Foundation of Arizona by looking it up, I won’t go into it here.  It’s what happens when individuals have too much influence and power in a church organization and can hand-pick the trustees who oversee their operation.  Though the school itself was not involved in the scandal, since it was owned by the state Baptist convention, its assets, including its endowment and property, were at risk of being seized to pay off the massive losses incurred by the foundation.  The trustees had no choice but to declare themselves self-perpetuating and to separate the school from the convention’s ownership and control.

The school did take a financial hit, enrollment declined and for a while it looked bad.  But God was gracious and found a way not only to keep the school open, but also to expand its tents, so to speak.  Sometimes denominational control of a college can be a limiting factor, especially in a place like Arizona, where the Christian population is small and scattered among dozens of different groups.  In just a couple of short decades since impending disaster, my alma mater Grand Canyon University has emerged as the premier Christian university in the West.  From near-financial disaster, GCU strengthened its financial standing by becoming an on-line provider and built a niche in graduate level degree programs.  Initially setting up a corporation as a for-profit school, the university recently went back to non-profit status.  This fall, 20,000 students enrolled in on-campus classes and the total student body, including on-line students, adds up to more than 90,000, surpassing Liberty University as the world’s largest Christian university.  It has maintained its Christian identity and has become one of just a handful of schools in the country to offer certification programs for Christian school teachers.  It has a strong Biblical studies program and its own graduate level theological seminary.

I can only hope for the same kind of recovery for my other alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas.  Right now, it doesn’t look good.

Trustee boards elected by the annual Southern Baptist Convention gathering are in charge of seminaries.  Southwestern’s problems stem from a situation similar to that in Arizona; a trustee board hand-picked by the seminary president over a period of time, made up of individuals he could trust to let him run the school without much in the way of oversight.  He “earned the right” to call his own shots by doing something many Southern Baptists consider as an act that saved the convention from liberalism.  His “reward” was to be given the high paying, high prestige jobs of leading two of the denomination’s seminaries, Southeastern and Southwestern.

Southwestern was, under more moderate Baptist leadership, the largest theological seminary in the world.  More than 5,500 students attended classes on its campus on “Seminary Hill” on the south side of Ft. Worth.  When I was there, the convention and a number of private contributors combined to provide classroom education without tuition.  We paid a “matriculation fee,” and our housing if we lived on campus.  The only condition was an agreement to spend at least five years serving the convention through ministry service in one of its churches or institutions.

And even though in denominational political terms the SBC was led by “moderates” during Southwestern’s golden years, the seminary itself was unswervingly conservative in every aspect of its curriculum and instruction.  Many of its alumni were deeply involved in the “conservative resurgence” in the SBC and much of the content of the written works of many of its professors was used in support of the BFM 2000 when it was written.  The school’s thorough commitment to conservative, Biblical scholarship in a genuinely Baptist tradition is one of the reasons I consider the favor-granting, loyalty-demanding spoils system of the current denominational leadership abhorrent and counter to Christian principles of the integrity of a denominational operation.  Had it been left alone by the resurgence leadership, it would still be the SBC’s largest, most influential and most conservative theological seminary.

Since the turn of the 21st century, however, Southwestern has been attempting to weather a decline in enrollment, from over 5,000 students to under 2,000.  Money has been tight.  The school instituted a fee schedule with tuition charges by the credit hour, scholarship money declined and the school increased its indebtedness to build facilities not justified by enrollment drops.  The trustees themselves are now calling the school’s financial situation “bleak,” large numbers of employees have been let go or laid off and it doesn’t seem like very many people are in the loop to know what is going on.  It should be very disconcerting for Baptists when this sort of thing happens.  Is this the Baptist Foundation of Arizona scandal all over again?  Over the next few months, we shall see.

The time I spent at Southwestern was a time of personal inspiration and renewal of faith for me.  I had some of the best professors and classmates.  It was a revival in every way.  I hope that it experiences the same kind of renaissance that Grand Canyon University has experienced.  It will need a visionary leader who is committed to theological education and can see the bigger picture of where the students will be making an impact for Christ in the world,  not someone who is given the presidency of the seminary as a reward for service in a denominational preacher war.

 

 

And Now for a Change of Pace…College Football: The Playoff and the Bowls

And who cares?

That’s from a long time fan of the game.  College football has been one of the purer forms of the sport in spite of recent commercialism that seems to be inevitable in popular American sports.  I can turn on the television and get involved in a game involving two teams from anywhere in the country if it’s competitive, whether it’s at a game at Slippery Rock University playing their rivals in front of 3,500 fans packed into their stadium or one at West Virginia University when 61,000 pack every inch of space to watch the Mountaineers take on Oklahoma.

But this  year’s bowl season isn’t as exciting as it has been in the past and it seems like the atmosphere after the regular season ends is getting worse, not better.  That’s because the elitist, exclusive “playoff system” that has developed out of the equally bad BCS has made almost every other game besides the two bowls that share the playoff and the championship meaningless.

Look at the evidence.  One bowl game this season, the “Serve Pro First Responder Bowl” which was initially known as the “Heart of Dallas Bowl” was cancelled due to severe weather.  Boise State trailed Boston College 7-0 when the storms moved in and stopped the game in the old Cotton Bowl stadium on the Texas State Fairgrounds where about 20,000 people were outnumbered by 70,000 empty seats.  Most of the others have trouble gathering a crowd since the students are home for the holidays and a win or loss doesn’t change the amount of the check that the athletic department gets.

There are Too Many Bowl Games

It has become difficult in recent years for enough teams to meet the bowl eligibility threshold of six wins during the regular season to fill in all of the tie-ins to conference that are guaranteed by the bowls.  Some of the games have been built around schools outside of the power 5 conferences to have an opportunity for post season play and that’s a good thing.  But in order to survive as a business, bowls need to dig deep into the power 5 conferences to fill slots, especially if one of the teams from the conference has been selected for the championship series.

The overblown, overrated SEC has negotiated a set of bowl tie-in slots that guarantee most of their schools get an opponent that they can beat, rather than an equally ranked team from another power 5 conference.  Some of the higher paying bowls, like the Citrus, or the Sugar when it isn’t involved in the championship series, have a little more clout to get two higher ranked teams, but for the most part, the SEC team is always the higher rated team in their bowl game.  The Big 10, ACC, and Pac-12 also do the same thing when it comes to great matchups like the Cheez-it Bowl, or the Red Box Bowl.

A 6-6 or even a 7-5 season isn’t good enough

The SEC is the only one of the power 5 conferences that doesn’t require its teams to play 9 conference games.  Even though they’re a two division conference, they play 8 conference games.  And you won’t catch Alabama scheduling any other power 5 teams for non-conference foes.  They’ll stick with football powerhouses like Arkansas State, the Citadel and Louisiana (Lafayette).  They did go with a game with American Conference foe Louisville this season, but that’s not much of a risk.  So even the bottom feeders like Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi State can get into a bowl game by only winning a couple of conference games.  The latter two managed to do that this season, and both of them got beat.

That sort of thing cheapens the impact for a team like Northwestern, not one of the “haves” of college football by any means, which has quietly but firmly worked its way through its own conference to the championship game and who, along the way, scheduled a game with #3 Notre Dame in the middle of their conference season.  Northwestern was arguably better than anyone in either the SEC or the ACC except the conference champions but wound up in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, not a bad consolation prize, but if we had a real playoff system, would have likely been one of the teams selected in a broader field based on their accomplishments on the field.

Dump the Playoff

A playoff with four teams chosen by the opinions of a group of elite, wealthy, semi-celebrities who have influence within the circles that are perpetuating the commercialism of college football is not the way to decide a “national championship.”  The process depends on a skewed, biased ranking system and the schedule and posture of some schools gives them an unfair advantage when it comes to the attention necessary to get picked.  While the committee insists it is picking the “best college football teams” at the time the selection is made, regardless of their record, it tends to ignore teams that lost early conference games.  By the time the first rankings came out, Alabama had played three of its four weak sister non-league opponents, one bottom feeder from each division of its own conference and one decent, ranked opponent which was the game that got all the attention.  Clemson is in what is arguably the weakest division of the weakest of the power 5 conferences and had played nobody by the time the rankings came out.

If it’s about who is playing the best football toward the end of the season, as the claim is made, then those teams were all ignored.  Clemson and Alabama ripped through weak non-conference schedules and Clemson plays in the weakest division of the weakest of the power 5 conferences.  Alabama plays in the SEC west, where only an inflated and over-rated LSU really turned out to be genuinely competitive.  On the other hand, the Pac 12 and Big 10 were so evenly matched, that their teams spend the season knocking each other off.  And both of those conferences had one more team ranked in the top 25 all season than the SEC and three more than the ACC.  The best bowl game of the season was a knock down, drag out, scratch to get back in it game played in front of 42,000 rain-soaked fans in San Diego between two teams, Northwestern and Utah, whose regular seasons did not characterize the quality or toughness of the two teams that played yesterday.

The solution to this is simple.  Let the teams play it out on the field.  If you want to use the existing bowl system, so that cities who host games can still get revenue, go ahead.  There are enough of those to make it work.  Drop the conference championship game and push the regular season back to 11 instead of 12.  Conferences with two divisions of at least six teams in a division get both division champions in the playoff (ACC, Pac-12, SEC, Big 10) and the Big 12 gets its champion in.  That’s nine teams.  Each of the other Division 1 conferences gets their champion in, the MWC, the CUSA, the American and the MAC.  That’s 13.  Three other teams are picked at large by their ranking, which would include the independents like Notre Dame and BYU.  One game a week for four weeks and you have a national champion who won on the field.