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By Stump Connolly

 

            Now that we’ve put health care to bed – for the time being – we can get back to a more pressing issue facing America: How to build that Mexican Wall.

When last I checked in, President Trump had just sacrificed the careers of 15,000 transgender soldiers to get House Republicans to put a $1.6 billion allocation for the wall in the 2018 federal budget. That will get it started, but it’s hardly enough to put a dent in the landscape.

Cost No Object

The U.S. Mexican border runs 1,954 miles through all manner of mountainous and desert areas. Over the last 20 years, Congress has spent $2.4 billion on fencing, yet only 650 miles have it. The price of doing the rest ranges from $15 billion to $66 billion, but let’s go with the estimate from the Department of Homeland Security: $21.6 billion, or about twice the annual budget for NASA.

The President, of course, disputes it. “I am reading the great border WALL will cost more than the government originally thought, but I have not gotten involved in the design or negotiations yet,” he tweeted last February. “When I do . . . price will come WAY DOWN!”

First Things First

There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since candidate Trump proclaimed his intent to build “an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall“ to staunch the flow of Mexican immigrants. One of his first acts in office was to issue a request for proposals to build “prototype wall structures” that must be 30-feet high and run at least six feet underground to prevent tunneling. Over 460 bidders submitted proposals, not all serious, and Homeland Security will begin building four to eight demonstration walls on a site outside San Diego this fall.

Transparency

There were so many good for a solar wall in the first round, Trump told a crowd in Iowa, we ought to do that because it would really save us a lot on electricity. “Think about it. The higher it goes, the more valuable it is,” he said.  Then three weeks ago, on board Air Force One on his way to Paris for Bastille Day, he started ruminating with Maggie Haberman of The New York Times about another idea he had.

“One of the things with the wall is you need transparency. You have to be able to see through it. In other words, if you can’t see through that wall — so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what’s on the other side of the wall.

“And I’ll give you an example. As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them — they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff. It’s over. As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall. But we have some incredible designs.”

Strongman Wanted

Let me repeat that: “When they throw the large sacks of drugs over . . . they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff.”

Eric Zorn of The Chicago Tribune wasn’t the only reporter who did a double-take when he read that. “The idea of ultra-strong smugglers blindly flinging large bags of illegal drugs over the border and conking people on the head. That’s nutty. Daft. Blithely detached from reality in a way that would be deeply disturbing in a village trustee, let alone the president of the United States,” he wrote.

A Record Toss

But my favorite reaction came from Philip Bump of The Washington Post who set about finding the world record for throwing a 60-pound sack of anything. The American Strongman Contest, he discovered, has a keg tossing event that Haftor Bjornsson, who also plays “The Mountain” on Game of Thrones, won last year with a toss of 24 feet, 6 inches. The keg weighed only 33 pounds, but observers said the keg actually went some 28 feet up in the air. Unfortunately, the minimum wall spec is two feet higher.

In Scotland, Bjornsson also holds the world record in The Highland Games for an event called “weight over bar.” That requires throwing a 56-pound weight from a standing position, and Bjornsson set the record with a toss of 19 feet, 7 inches. Paul Mouser, the lead sponsor of the strongman competition, says he doubts Bjornsson could ever get a 60-pound sack over the wall. For that, you would need a catapult, he says.

Save The Birds

The $1.6 billion that House Republicans inserted into the budget ­­ –– and Senate Democrats are sure to take out–– would cover 74 miles of the Mexican border. Fourteen of those miles are replacement fencing around San Diego for chain link built in the 1990s; 28 miles are levees along the American side of the Rio Grande in South Texas; and 32 miles string along the border just south of Brownsville, Texas.

The Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge outside Brownsville, Texas.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the Republican whip in the Senate, is skeptical the wall will have much effect. “I don’t think we’re just going to be able to solve border security with a physical barrier because people can come under, around it and through it,” he told The New York Times. He is joined in his opposition by most of the Texas Congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats.

One reason is the first three miles to be tackled this November run through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, one of the best bird-watching sites in America and home to two endangered species, the ocelot and jaguarundi wildcats. (Another is that the two counties around Brownsville have 532,000 registered voters, 90 percent of them Hispanic.)

Ohio State Football

So President Trump’s effort to build a wall is beginning to look like an Ohio State football game, three yards and a cloud of dust. But why do we need a wall anyway? Since Donald Trump took office, apprehensions along the southwestern border are down 57 percent.

Our President has done such a good job of scaring the bejeezus out of immigrants nobody wants to come to America anymore.

Who wants to come to a place where you can get hit on the head by a 60-pound bag of dope just walking down the street?


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