Monday, October 29, 2012

Flight Chaos Arrives

No need to go on and on about this. You're watching and reading the news:

Number of flight cancellations today, via -- 7,328

Tomorrow (so far) -- 2,791 (that will at least double by tomorrow


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Flight Cancellations Mounting

Flight cancellations for tomorrow (so far): 5,848, according to

That's roughly a quarter of the total number of flights.


Stormfront: Here We Go Again


The New York City transit system, with subway stations vulnerable to flooding, is being shut down tonight. Oh, what an adventure Monday morning is going to be in the world's greatest city.

Evacuations are spreading in coastal areas, including the New Jersey barrier islands, which have not experienced a really major coastal storm -- of the sort that can significantly alter geography -- since the 1960s, before those shore towns were so massively developed on fragile barrier islands.

Atlantic City (yes, it's on a barrier island) is emptying out. Atlantic City has been significantly developed since the last two decades of the 19th Century. Check out the amount of development that has occurred since the 1960s on the other barrier islands that form the Jersey Shore from Cape May northward.

So here we go again. A crisis, and a long time coping with and reacting to a crisis. And then we'll resume life just as before.

Why can't we respond to this one, after we've responded on the most basic levels of safety, by asking some questions?

--Isn't it time to cut the nonsense and insist that everybody admit that climate change is for real and we need to accept the reality while trying to undo some of the damage -- or at least not continue letting it get worse?  Why aren't we looking those congressional climate-change deniers right in the eye and saying, "You know what? You're an idiot."

--Why can't we develop emergency plans that go beyond dispatching motorboats with first-responders to rescue those foolish or unfortunate enough to be stranded by a storm everybody sees coming?

--Why don't we move immediately to define and address discrepancies and deficiencies in the satellite networks we depend on for weather forecasting? Why haven't we demanded to know, for example, why there was so little warning to the public when the threat from Hurricane Irene in August 2011 abruptly changed from wind in Atlantic City to flooding in, say, Binghamton?

--There's probably nothing we can do to undo the insanity of having allowed massive development in flood zones, especially on the New Jersey barrier islands. But why do we think that flood insurance should protect this folly? (And on the Jersey shore, we're talking mainly about expensive beachfront homes in literally exclusive shore towns that do everything they can to keep out the public, and are the first to wail for help when their beaches wash away and their homes get damaged.) And why do politicians in New Jersey, in particular, resist any and all discussions about seashore development, the environment and the subsidizing of exclusice communities built for the one-percent on the fundamental assurance that they'll be looked after?

--What about all of those power lines that come down every time it rains and the wind blows, or when it snows and ice forms? In much of the country, in suburbs that have been developed since the 60s, the electricity grid is safely tucked underground. (It's complicated, with ramifications and staggering expenses. Then again, so was the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.)

But New Jersey and the near New York State suburbs were substantially developed over a century ago, and are saddled with aging infrastructure. Power lines exposed to the weather, creaky phone lines that require constant patching even in normal times, emergency plans that are based on air raid response protocols from World War Two. I used to live in Glen Ridge, a pleasant New Jersey town with gas street-lamps that dated to the 1920s. But the phone lines also come from that era, literally a time when Thomas Edison was still running his company 15 miles away. Every time it rained hard, the phones went out. (At least the gas lamps stayed on.)

After Hurricane Irene in August 2011, while the hurricand dramatists were still lovingly rerunning videos of themselves on the strand with wind-touseled hair, the actual issue -- the one we hadn't fully seen coming -- was heavy rains and flooding.

In Atlantic City, which is situated on a barrier island a lot more substantial that, say, Long Beach Island a bit farther north, bays and ocean met each other during the last huge coastal story in 1962. That was a storm surge of 8 1/2 feet. The current predicted surge level is 10 feet.

Rather than these repetitive scenes of hurricane-wind drama queens like New Jersey governor Chris "Thar She Blows" Christie slipping on his official windbreaker and bellowing that citizens need to run away from the threat (which they do need to do, obviously) -- wouldn't it be nice if, after this one blows over, we had a cogent, grown-up civic conversation about perhaps launching a major infrastructure initiative, throughout Old America, to protect our electricity supply against wind and rain and ice, elements that have been with us for a very long time?

Wouldn't it be nice if politicians like Christie started addressing issues like unwise seashore development on vulnerable barrier islands, and how we need to rethink coastal ecology?

Wouldn't it be nice if electricity companies, which are enormously profitable corporations, were required -- by government -- to start accounting for their inability to better ensure the delivery of the power supply? 

These are questions just for starters. Because in weather events of a profound nature, it appears that this is the new normal.

[UPDATE: By mid-afternoon today, long before the storm was due to arrive, some New Jersey seashore towns were flooding, even though it wasn't raining. The reason, obviously, is that a massive storm approaching from the south is pushing around vast volumes of sea water, a storm surge that raises levels in the back bays. This is the classic example of the vulnerability of a barrier island.]


Friday, October 26, 2012

Frankenstorm and the Boy Who Cried Wolf

[UPDATED Oct. 27]

It's interesting to watch other people's weather when you live in a place like southern Arizona, where the only real changes in weather are from "nice and warm" to "nice and really, really hot."

So here we go once again with all this media carrying-on about the apparently approaching East Coast Storm of a Lifetime, or Frankenstorm, or whatever the TV dramatists are calling it now.

Remember the Boy Who Cried Wolf.  That's kind of what happened on the Northeast Seaboard in 2011. The lesson is apt, because this storm is looking like the real thing, and people who shrug it off may have some 'splaining to do.

Remember August 2011, when a good chunk of the coastal areas of New York City and the New Jersey coast were ordered evacuated by the imperious New York mayor, Michael "Hurricane Mike" Bloomberg and the combative New Jersey governor, Chris "Thar She Blows!" Christie? Turned out that except for flooding in upstate Pennsylvania and New York State, there was no emergency of a degree sufficient to get as excited as these two did. It just rained.

This one could peter out too, though as I said, it sure looks real from here in the Sonoran desert.

You never know, given the degree to which the media will turn on the hysteria pipes at the least excuse. You know it's coming at you full blast when some TV reporter informs you that the supermarkets are running out of toilet paper. (Why can't people take some clues from the prudent Mormons, and maintain well-stocked off-the-grid home supply caches in case of the Second Coming or whatever it is they're preparing for?)

As of now, "Thar She Blows" Christie, who ordered New Jersey's coastal areas to evacuate as Hurricane Irene hysteria mounted in 2011, is playing it less dramatic. "I encourage all families to stay informed, get ready, and reach out to those you know who may be isolated, or in need of extra assistance," Christie tweeted today.

[UPDATE: Christie today ordered the Jersey Shore barrier islands evacuated. Most of New Jersey's seashore communities aere on those narrow, storm-vulnerable barrier islands just off the coast. And those islands haven't been tested in a major direct-hit hurricane/severe winter-like storm since the 1960s, way before most of them became extremely developed.]

This is going to be interesting.

Meanwhile, if you're planning to fly anywhere near the Northeast early next week, I have some advice:


The air travel system -- which the airlines have been allowed to shrink to the point where there is absolutely no slack to handle disruptions -- is likely to descend into chaos.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Big Questions Still Unanswered in Border Patrol Fatal Shooting of Rock-Thrower on Mexico Side

The twice-weekly Nogales International is doing a singularly excellent job covering the aftermath of a shooting by a Border Patrol agent of a 16-year-old who was in a small group throwing rocks at U.S. agents who responded to a smuggling attempt from the Mexican side. Here's a link to the current story.

Reporters for the paper obtained the reports from the scene not of the Border Patrol, but of two local police officers who responded to the disturbance last week.

“I immediately got behind cover, and remained in the area during the gunfire,” one wrote, referring to the gunshots fired across the fence, evidently from a hill, by the U.S. agents. The police officers names are Garcia and Zuniga.

According to the Nogales newspaper, "When the firing stopped, Garcia walked into the open and met with Zuniga and several Border Patrol agents, who told him that a male suspect had been throwing rocks at the agents from Mexico. 'The male subject had been shot by one of the U.S. Border Patrol agents,' Garcia wrote.'I saw that around the immediate area of the scene where the units were stopped at, there were many medium sized rocks scattered on the street and sidewalk,' he wrote."

Good reporting. But I have mentioned previously that reporters and editors across the board these days -- whether in local or national news organizations -- seem to need some drilling in using words precisely. Note the paraphrased word "suspect" in the excerpt above -- when the actual police report refers to the dead youth more neutrally as "subject."  And incidentally, it does not appear that the rock-throwing youth, who was shot at least six times, was one of the two smugglers who agents said tried get over the fence with a backpack of marijuana.

The most serious unanswered (and as far as I can see unasked) question is this: When they saw that rocks were being tossed from the Mexican side, why didn't the Border Patrol agents simply retreat to a place where the rocks couldn't reach them? After all, they do not seem to have been pinned down, and the Mexican rock-throwers were unable to advance over the border.

Among the other questions that remain unanswered:

--How many shots were fired? Mexican reports say that besides the bullet-riddled youth, a nearby building was also riddled with bullets.

--How far away were the Mexican assailants when they tossed rocks across the fence?

--Where specifically were the Border Patrol agents?

The Nogales paper reported that a surveillance video was routinely made of the incident. The video  will answer at least some of the questions.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Brazil Appeals Court Affirms Criminal Convictions of American Pilots in 2006 Mid-Air Collision That Killed 154 Over Amazon

[UPDATED Oct. 16]

Confusion never ends in the long saga of the attempt by certain elements in Brazil to exact revenge on the two American pilots involved in the 2006 mid-air collision over the Amazon that killed 154.

A regional federal court in Brasilia tonight affirmed the criminal convictions, but said that the original trial-court sentence of community service given to the pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan  Paladino, no longer stands. Instead, the court ordered that the pilots serve time in "open regime" on the highly controversial conviction  of over three years, rather than the four years of community service.

It wasn't immediately clear whether an "open regime" sentence requires a prison term. The new sentence is defined by the court as being "not convertible to community service," however.

[UPDATE OCT. 16 -- The AP is reporting today that the ruling actually is a victory of some kind for the pilots:

"On Monday, judges at a regional federal court in Brasilia ruled that the men do not need to perform community service. They also shortened their sentence to three years and one month — but ruled the men could serve their sentence in an "open" regime, meaning under Brazilian law they need not step foot in prison, just occasionally check in with Brazilian authorities. The ruling can be appealed and prosecutors had earlier indicated that was likely if this ruling did not go their way."]

The pilots lawyer said he would "study the sentence," and possibly appeal. Prosecutors, who I think are responding in part to media pressure from an angry group that represents a small number of the victims' families and has been relentless in villifying the Americans, also will appeal, seeking stiffer sentences.

Thanks as usual to Richard Pedicini, who took the all-night bus from Sao Paulo to Brasilia to cover the appeal verdict. Richard has been an invaluable and indefatigable reporter in Brazil since I first started writing about this strange case, shortly after I was among the seven people who survived the collision between a Brazilian GOL 737 airliner, which went down with all aboard in the central Amazon, and Legacy 600 business jet that somehow managed an emergency landing in the jungle.

The planes had collided at 37,000 feet on Sept. 19, 2006, after a series of errors by Brazilian air traffic control out them on a head-on path. A Brazilian investigation asserted that the American pilots were at fault for various reasons, primarily the fact that the Legacy's transponder was not functioning when the planes collided.  The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which did its own investigation because an American-made plane was involved (the Boeing), found otherwise, stating that the primary cause of the accident was likely systemic and operational fauilts by Brazil's long-troubled, military-run air traffic control.

An atmosphere of intense anti-American emotionalism followed the crash in Brazil, where the media helped fan the flames and passed along false rumors, among them that the American pilots were flying aerial maneuvers at the time of the accident. In fact, the plane was flying straight and routinely, at its assigned altitude, when the crash occurred.

Ten months after the Amazon disaster, following a long air-travel upheaval throughout the country caused by Brazilian air-traffic controllers protesting that they should not be blamed for the disaster, there was another horrific aviation accident when a jet crashed at the airport in Sao Paulo, killing 199 people.

By the way, the report today in Newsday, the newspaper in Long Island where ExcelAire, the company that had just bought the Legacy, is based, does a competent job of covering the incremental news in this, but precision in nuances is sometimes a problem.

Today, for example, the Newsday report states that the American pilots were convicted of negligence "for not verifying that anti-collision equipment and a transponder that would have alerted controllers to their location were functioning in the Embraer Legacy 600 ..." (Italics mine).

This is a quibble, but the words in italics are debatable assertion, given that all evidence shows that Brazilian air traffic controllers were demonstrably not paying attention to the Legacy as it crossed the portion of the Amazon where radar and radio communications are notoriously spotty. Yes, a functioning transponder would have corresponded with Brazilian radar, and more importantly, the anti-collision alert that works with the transponder would have been the last chance to avoid the collision. But to assert that a functioning transponder would have alerted controllers is to stipulate that the controllers were alert.

Which they demonstrably were not.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

More Questions on Border Patrol Shooting of Mexican Rock-Thrower


From today's Los Angeles Times, the only daily American news organization that seems to be interested in doing reporting on the latest incident where U.S. Border Patrol agents fired fatal gunshots at rock-throwing Mexicans on the other side of the border:

"Sonora state police released a statement saying they found Elena Rodriguez's body, "with various gunshot wounds on different parts of the body," shortly after 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, lying next to the curb on Calle Internacional, a street that runs along the border fence. The body was found four blocks from the border crossing in downtown Nogales, at a spot where there is roughly a 10-foot vertical drop from the base of the fence to the street below."

And the latest questions would be:

--Where specifically was the body found, and how far from the fence? The report cited above is somewhat unclear.

--Where was the Border Patrol agent who fired those shots positioned, specifically?

--Did other Border Patrol agents fire into, or at, the crowd across the border?

The other questions, of course, are as outlined here in recent days: 

--Why didn't the Border Patrol agents simply retreat from the physical threat posed by the rock-throwers, rather than firing into the group across the border? The agents weren't "pinned down." Presumably, they could have moved to a position on the U.S. side beyond the ability of the assailants to throw a rock that could hit them. 

--How many shots were fired by the Border Patrol? Mexican authorities now say the dead teenager's body had seven bullet wounds, and that more than a dozen bullets also hit a medical building on the Mexican side of the border. According to The Nogales International, a twice-weekly paper in Nogales, Ariz., that has been aggressively covering the story, the Nogales, Sonora, mayor said that the 16-year-old was killed in a "hail of bullets."

--What is the specific operative law or regulation that the Border Patrol is citing to justify these incidents of firing across the border at rock-throwers?

--What is the identity of the agent who fired the fatal shots? What is the current status of that agent?

UPDATE Oct. 15 -- The Nogales International, a twice weekly newspaper in Nogales, Ariz., has been singularly covering this story as it should be covered. From today's report, this information on the physical site of the incident: (italics mine)

"The physical location of the shooting has raised questions as well. The area from where the agent reportedly fired is on a hill, approximately 10-15 feet above Calle Internacional in Nogales, Sonora, where [the teenager] was found dead. The border fence rises another 25 feet, creating a challenging angle for a rock-thrower trying to throw over the barrier and hit an agent. However, a well-aimed toss could breach the fence through one of the 4-inch gaps in the bollard-style structure."

Not addressed in that last assertion is, again, why the agents could not simply have retreated to a spot beyond the ability of any "well-aimed toss" that somehow breaches the fence through four-inch gaps in the posts to physically reach them -- given that the rock-throwers were confined to the other side of the border.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Border Patrol's Deadly Response to Rock-Throwing from Mexican Side

The Los Angeles Times, unlike the timid local daily papers in Arizona, is following up on the disturbing story of Border Patrol agents riddling a teenager's body with bullets, when that teenager was in a group of rock-tossing Mexicans on the other side of the international border at Nogales.

From today's Los Angeles Times report (Emphasis mine): "Under agency guidelines, repelling rock attacks with bullets can be regarded as a justifiable use of force in part because rocks have inflicted serious injuries on agents. But critics have grown increasingly vocal at the frequency of such incidents and what they call a lack of transparency in follow-up investigations. Wednesday's confrontation was the third incident since September; at least 15 civilians have died in agent-involved confrontations since 2010."

Not addressed yet, and it won't be addressed cogently unless the national media pay attention to this dismaying story that the local daily media are evidently afraid to touch: Why couldn't Border Patrol agents simply have retreated to a spot where the rocks could not reach them, given that the assailants were unable to advance (being on the Mexico side of the border)?

--Also, how many shots did the Border Patrol fire? The dead youth's body was hit with eight gunshots, Mexican authorities said, while at least a dozen more bullets hit a medical building nearby on the Mexican side.

--Also, what was the specific threat that the Border Patrol agents say they responded to? Again, throwing rocks at someone is a crime -- a local crime. Firing wildly across an international border is an international incident, whatever the other questions of manslaughter and inadequate training.

--Also, see the Los Angeles Tiomes story linked to above, which refers to the dead 16-year-old as the "suspected smuggler." There is no attribution for that, and no indication from the reporting that the dead youth was in fact a "suspected smuggler" (though he may have been, of course). In which casse, the crime location was on the Mexican side of the border, Mexican law enforcement was the legal authority, and the question still remains about the use of deadly force, which seems to have included a hail of bullets.  However, from the facts as they have currently been presented, it appears that the 16-year-old was part of a small group of people who tossed rocks at the agents across the border fence. -- in response to what would have been the Border Patrol agents' legitimate attempts to capture on this side, or repel, the actual smugglers who tossed a bundle of what seems to have been marijuana across the fence.

Again, why couldn't the agents have simply retreated from the rocks? Who gave the order to fire?

Less sloppy reporting is required here, on a sensitive topic.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Does the Border Patrol Require Better Supervision?

[Border fence between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico.]

The latest fiasco from the Border Patrol, the powerful federal police bureaucracy that has militarized the border region, especially in southern Arizona:

A Border Patrol agent in Nogales, Arizona, fired shots across the border into Nogales, Mexico on Wednesday night, killing a 16-year-old boy who was part of a crowd throwing rocks after Border Patrol agents disrupted smugglers who had tossed a bundle of drugs across the wall.

The Tucson and Phoenix media have the story of course, mostly based on a press release from the Border Patrol. But, per usual, they have not asked basic questions about a very troubling incident involving the Border Patrol:

1. If the Border Patrol agent felt threatened by rock-throwers who were on the other side of the international border, why did he not simply retreat away from the fence? This, after all, was a situation where it would seem that a retreat from the flying rocks, to a position where the rocks simply could not  reach, would have resolved the threat -- given that the assailants were blocked from advancing by a fortified border fence that kept them in Mexico.

2. How many shots were fired by the Border Patrol? (A Mexican newspaper report says the dead teenager had eight bullet wounds, which would fit the description of the phrase "body riddled with bullets." Other reports say that more than a dozen bullets struck a nearby building on the Mexican side).  Did more than one agent fire a gun at the crowd across the international border? How many agents fired?

3. What specific international and national laws pertain when a U.S. federal law enforcement officer opens fire across an international border, killing a citizen of a foreign country?

I don't expect that the timid daily media in Tucson and Phoenix will do much more to cogently report this developing story, given the prevailing fear of right-wing criticism that drives editorial decisions here. After all, the media must be exhausted from all that pious coverage of the Border Patrol agent who tragically (precise use of the word here) died last week near Bisbee -- after that agent had recklessly opened fire on two other agents, who returned fire in the dead of night in the desolate desert near the border. Initially, the media fully went along with speculation by the usual crowd of Phoenix statehouse loons and national right-wing crazies that that incident involved Mexican bandits, rather than Border Patrol agents who were engaged in that most inexcusable of police misadventures, death of a fellow officer by friendly fire.

This was the latest of four fatal shootings by Border Patrol agents of Mexican nationals at the border since January 2010. Two of the earlier ones also involved Mexican nationals throwing rocks from their side of the border. Here's some background on those.

Throwing rocks at a cop is always stupid and ill-advised.

Throwing rocks at anyone at all is a local crime. Shooting across a border is an international incident. Both should be pursued by the appropriate law-enforcement authorities, and the Department of Homeland security owes us a detailed explanation.

By the way, while the daily media in Arizona predictably fear to venture too far into explaining this story (their standard excuse is "we don't have the staff," which is a way of saying, "we stink because we don't make the effort not to stink"), a twice-a-week paper on the border, The Nogales International, is doing actual reporting. See this initial report in The Nogales International by Cesar Barron and Jonathan Clark. 

It quotes a Border Patrol spokesman: "Preliminary reports indicate that the agents observed the smugglers drop a narcotics load on the U.S. side of the international boundary and flee back to Mexico,” McKenzie said in an emailed statement. “Subjects at the scene then began assaulting the agents with rocks. After verbal commands from agents to cease were ignored, one agent then discharged his service firearm. One of the subjects appeared to have been hit.”

But then it goes further, describing how the rock-throwing incident began after the two alleged smugglers fled back into Mexico:

"At that point, four more males arrived on the Mexican side and began to throw rocks toward the fence in an apparent effort to help the two suspects escape. That's when an agent began firing, the witness told Barron. Some of the bullets reportedly struck the walls of a medical office behind Rodríguez. Luis Contreras Sánchez, the physician who operates the office, was quoted by the newspaper Expreso as saying the building was hit 14 times. Other news outlets put the count between five and “12 or more.”

Contreras Sánchez’s building and the sidewalk where Rodríguez's body was found are located below a point at which the border fence begins rising up a hill, and are approximately 12 feet below the base of the 25-foot fence. The fence is comprised of interconnected steel poles with 4 inches of space between them."

That's called reporting, and we need more of it on the border.


Saturday, October 06, 2012

Update on American Airlines

American Airlines says it is slowly digging out of its current mess with delays and canceled flights, as it has been grounding flights today after determining that more inspections are needed following several incidents of passenger seats coming loose in its Boeing 757 aircrafts, which carry 180 passengers.

The followingi is from the always useful

On Thursday, American's on-time arrival rate was a dismal 63 percent. From Sept. 16 to Sept. 30, only 52 percent of its flights arrived on time. During that time, the airline cancelled 907 flights and experienced 12,531 delays. In contrast, Southwest, Delta, United and US Airways combined for only 435 cancellations during the same period, and averaged a collective on-time performance rating of 87 percent.

September's On-time performance ranking of Major North American Airlines

Alaska Airlines - 89.13%

Delta Air Lines - 88.78%

US Airways - 87.15%

Southwest Airlines - 86.27%

Jetblue- 82.98%

United Airlines - 80.87%

Air Canada - 68.59%

American Airlines - 59.08%



Friday, October 05, 2012

Border Shooting Media Coverage: Operation Fast and Stupid


The knee-jerk proclivity of the media -- local, regional, national -- to buy into pre-existing narrative is on full display this afternoon in southern Arizona, where the story of a Border Patrol agent killed by gunfire early Tuesday morning has gone off-narrative.

I suggested it would probably do just that, when I posted here a few days ago a suggestion that perhaps reporters on the scene might want to start asking some basic questions about the Border Patrol's initial accounts of the incident.

After days of credulous, half-baked media accounts that struggled to fold this particular tragedy into the "fast and furious" narrative, it now is becoming clear that the fatal shooting of the Border Patrol agent was the result of so-called "friendly fire."  In the dead of night, responding around 2 a.m. to a routine alarm of a tripped body-motion sensor in primitive desert five miles from the border, near Bisbee, agents evidently mistakenly fired shots at each other.  One agent, Nicholas Ivie, was killed and another was hospitalized (and later released) with gunshot wounds. A third was not hurt.

The Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix is now covering the story reasonably accurately, as is the woefully understaffed, dispirited Tucson paper -- now that the F.B.I. has handed out a press release. Here's today's story in the Arizona Republic, with confirmation from the F.B.I. that the shootings were accidental and did not involve hostile fire. But note that the story calls this a "stunning development." Well, maybe it seems "stunning" today -- but only if you had failed to see the obvious from the beginning. The story also inaccurately states that the Border Patrol reported that the agents were on foot. Not so. The initial Border Patrol press releases had them on horseback. No one has addressed that oddity.  Oh, wait: The Los Angeles Times, apparently enamored of that Old West cowboy-in-the-moonlight image, still has them on horseback today!]

The two surviving agents -- whose accounts were conspicuously missing from the initial media reports -- have hired lawyers.

(Watch how fast this story gets downplayed and disappears, now that it's clear the media botched it. Absolutely in character when they're dead wrong, reporters still persist in holding onto a bogus report, with half-assed sourcing that seems to stem from something somebody told a Fox News affiliate in Texas, about two arrests made in Mexico. Maybe the Mess'cins did have something to do with it, they are obviously suggesting. Well, maybe you're just covering your butt, I would say.)

From the first reports of this incident, it was apparent to me -- and should have been clear to any reporter with the most basic news instincts -- that something did not add up in the Border Patrol account. The agency's initial report, well into Tuesday afternoon, asserted that the three agents were on horseback when they either were ambushed around 2 a.m. by, or somehow became involved in a gunfight with, assailants who were presumed to be drug smugglers who had crossed the border from Mexico.

Horseback? In the dead of night? In that rugged, rocky terrain? Even though it was a bright moonlit night, that made absolutely no sense to anyone who knows anything about riding a horse.

Then the Border Patrol changed its story -- and the credulous media waltzed along with the new version, never wondering about the difference from the old.  No, wait: the agents were on foot! But did the media then ask, well, where did this horseback information come from? They did not, not that I could tell.

Did reporters on the scene ask what the two surviving agents, who were obviously witnesses, had told their supervisors about the incident? What had they seen? And what kind of gunshot wounds were found? How many shots were fired, by the presumed assailants and by the agents themselves? The most obvious signal that this story did not add up was the absence of any public accounting by the two surviving witnesses.

But no, the media did not ask those questions (or if it did, the stories in print and on the supremely credulous Tucson television news stations did not reflect it). Instead, the media accounts -- local, regional, national -- all curled up in the cozy narrative formed by the right-wing political hysteria over "Fast and Furious," the botched sting by the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms office out of Phoenix (abetted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix) that inadvertently led to the 2010 murder by a drug smuggler of a Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, who was shot by a gun that was traced back to the Fast and Furious sting.

The usual cheap right-wing opportunists from the statehouse in Phoenix rushed in on Tuesday to politicize this latest shooting, along with a predictable selection of the odious Tea Party rabble-rousers, state and national divisions. 

For example, the notorious numb-nuts sheriff of Pinal County, Paul Babeu, had the case cracked in an Ariaonz minute.

"All information is pointing that this is connected to the violent drug cartel smuggling in this high smuggling area," Babeu said in a statement issued by his office and dutifully repeated by some media. He also appeared on a local Fox News affiliate, authoritatively not only blaming the Mexicans for the death, but even speculating about the kinds of illegal weapons involved.

According to the weekly Phoenix New Times, hands-down the best newspaper in Arizona, the Fox Report had this headline: "Sheriff Babeu: Agent shooting suspects likely using military grade weapons." Babeu said, according to the New Times report:  "Whether they're bandits or whether they're actual cartels members, what they have, oftentimes, is they're armed to the teeth, to the same level, if not, greater than local law enforcement. They have, usually, AK-47s, semi-automatic, sometimes fully automatic weapons."

Babeu, you'll recall, is the worthy who not long ago got jammed up after sending his fetching photo and other particulars to a gay hookup Web site -- causing some surprise his extremely conservative constituents in little Pinal County, until that point unaware that he was gay. His former boyfriend also has accused him of threatening him, and there are official investigations into the operation of Babeu's office.

But he sure does know a Mexican hit squad when he imagines one.

In general during the awful media performance on this story, the facts, or the lack of the facts, did not seem to matter. Killed-by-illegals was the knee-jerk narrative, spun by reflexively politicized local sheriffs in the highly militarized border region, supported initially by the Border Patrol who presumably had some deductive information when the witnesses clammed up, bought into readily by lazy media who failed to ask the most simple questions of the authorities when this occurred:

What happened out there? Who shot whom? And who knew what, when? That's police reporting 101.

The acting sheriff of Cochise County, Rod Rothrock, made this statement in a press conference yesterday when it was announced that Agent Ivie had been shot during gunfire exchanged among the three agents, each firing from defensive postures, once Ivie started shooting.

"Had they been encountering drug smugglers or whoever, their actions would have been appropriate. It's just tragic they encountered each other."

Cochise County has an acting sheriff because the well-liked elected sheriff, Larry Dever, a prominent voice in the right-wing drive to thoroughly militarize the border and flood it with armed agents, died Sept. 18 when the vehicle he was driving rolled over on a Forest Service road. Dever was drunk at the time, the medical examiner's office said this week. His blood alcohol content was a staggering (and nearly comatose) .29.


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

That Latest Shooting on the Border

The media have become startlingly lax on police stories, which is essentially what the latest shooting on the Arizona border south of Tucson is: a police story.

Initial reports yesterday from the Border Patrol said that three agents on horseback had been fired on, with one killed, in the dead of night while responding to an alarm from one of the ground-sensors that the high-tech contractors have installed along that rugged and forlorn portion of the border.

Horseback in the middle of the night, in primitive terrain? I was shaking my head over that one when, by mid-afternoon, the Border Patrol story had changed. No, the men were on foot.

Weirdly enough in the southern Arizona area, the Los Angeles Times newspaper usually has the sharpest regional reporting fopr the Tucson area, given the nearly total surrender of the feeble Tucson news media and the inability of the Phoenix daily, which really does try, to overcome the fact that at least half of its readership is made up of delusional people.

Here's the L.A. Times story.

Here are the two major things missing in all of the reporting,  local and national:

1. What do the two surviving agents say about what occurred?

2. What was the nature of the gunfire? Did the agents fire, and if so, how many rounds?

There is a kind of breathless lunge in the news accounts I've read to circle this into the politically charged narrative of the "Fast and Furious" scandal that involved guns being allowed to fall into the hands of Mexican drug gangs as part of a hapless sting operation run out of the Phoenix office of the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agency, abetted by a feckless federal prosecutor's office in the Arizona capital.

That may be the case, but let's make a simple request of the media at this point:

How about you can the speculation for a day or two, do some reporting, and get the facts?