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Cease Fire!

On the last day of his grueling Congressional campaign, impassioned, his voice raising, his arms flailing, a chief supporter dancing around him, the candidate’s final plea was not to claim victory, to denounce his opponent, to advance an agenda, to call for a march but to say over and over “Cease fire!”

Cease fire? Surely in the annals of political combat Jamaal Bowman had issued one of the most subdued rallying cries to supporters, merely a pause in the furious Israeli attack on beleaguered Gaza. But it was in keeping with his campaign.  Given conditions and the forces arrayed against him, that was all he could ask for. Even so, he lost the Democratic primary election and his seat in the U. S. Congress.

His delivery had been more strident than his message. Dogged and determined, he never stood a chance and in frustration occasionally resorted to name calling and obscenities. He was also faulted for not reaching out to the sizable Jewish community in his Congressional district in which there were sure to be some division on Gaza. The Jewish voter cannot be stereotyped. He had no stronger supporter than U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who might complain that a backroom deal thwarted his own aspiration for the U.S. Presidency. “Israel had the right to defend itself against the terrorist attack,” he said. “But it does not have the right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people.”

In response Marshall Whittman replied with some satisfaction:” The outcome of the race once again shows that the pro-Israel position is good policy and good politics.” He’s the spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and its candidate, centrist George Latimer, handily won. The main reason, as in most political contests in the U.S. today, Is money. AIPAC has lots of it and spent 14 million on Latimer with other Jewish groups adding another four million, making it one of the most expensive primary elections in U.S. history. Bowman had a mere1.75 million. 

Flushed with success, AIPAC says it will unseat other office holders too supportive of Palestinians. That pledge must be taken seriously since political candidates are currently allowed to spend as much money as they please or their donors will give them, suggesting that today’s American democracy is not quite what it purports to be. Money rules. In the Bowman case Israeli power overcame the Black Power that had raised Borman to political prominence. Bowman is black, Latimer white, but race didn’t figure prominently in the campaign where the chief issue was Israel.

A bone of contention was Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu, who is responsible for Israeli policy toward Gaza.  He has been invited to address both houses of the U.S. Congress later in July where he is expected to be enthusiastically received. That’s a terrible mistake, says a group of American and Israeli leaders, including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. They write in the New York Times that Netanyahu doesn’t speak for Israel or its citizens. He has no plan to end the war and avoids negotiations. His appearance at the U.S. Capitol will only embolden him and his supporters.

In the background to the Bowman campaign was an outbreak of vigorous pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Turning violent at times, it seemed to many a revival of antisemitism maybe embedded in the American character. But first things first. What enraged Americans were the photos of dead and dying Palestinians, many of them children, under Israel’s incessant, indiscriminate bombing. If that stopped, so no doubt would most manifestations of antisemitism.

Bowman’s defeat is also considered a setback for the so-called Squad. a group to the far left of the Democratic Party and considered a nuisance by centrists. But why should an aversion to war be considered far left or far right for that matter? The centrists seem to be too content with the warring status quo from which many profit. They seem all too complacent about conflicts in the Middle East so destructive of its people. That’s why we need, whatever his faults, a Bowman.

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Behold the Houthis

The Houthis are little known and less liked, but they can hardly be ignored. Fighting their way to the top of the fractious tribes in Yemen, they withstood the onslaught of larger neighboring Saudi Arabia, backed by the U.S., in a decade long, pitiless war that led to a humanitarian catastrophe in  Yemen. Today as the largest power and effective government in Yemen, they are calling the shots in the latest war roiling the region.

And shots they are. They vow to continue shelling any ships carrying supplies to Israel on the Red Sea until there’s a ceasefire in the Israel–Hamas war. So far they have struck some fifty ships making the attempt, sinking one but to date without casualties. Most shipping now avoids the Red Sea route and takes a longer one at greater expense. Some stores and factories receiving the costlier goods have closed down, but in general buyers are coping. The question is how will they fare if the blockade continues, pushing up already mounting global inflation.

The U.S. navy has come to an attempted rescue. American destroyers in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are shooting back at the Houthis on the shore. They in turn face incoming drones and missiles that seem to be in everlasting supply with the determined and battle-hardened Houthis who are using them. So far none has been able to hit a U.S. ship, but luck can run out. “People don’t understand how serious it is and how dangerous it is for the ships,” a destroyer commander told a visiting Associated Press reporter. Some military observers say the navy hasn’t seen anything like it since World War Two. Chalk that up to the Houthis.

It’s unusual, perhaps verging on the unique, for a warring party to say it’s not fighting for more land, riches or revenge but for peace – a ceasefire. But it’s a rallying cry that resonates with the Arab world and beyond. Gaza has experienced a frightful pummeling.  The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor estimates that Israel has dropped 70 thousand tons of bombs on Gaza or more than the combined total of bombs that struck London, Hamburg and Dresden in World War Two. Gaza indeed has the obliterated look of post-war Dresden. More than 37 thousand people, almost all civilians of whom half are women and children, have been killed.

For all the firing back and forth, it would seem the various participants don’t want to get any closer to the Second World War. They go only so far and no farther. Saudi Arabia, in particular, is in search of a truce. It has been unable, despite considerable U.S. help, to subdue its combative neighbor.  It was especially alarmed by the Houthi demolition of Aramco energy facilities, causing the temporary shutdown of the country’s oil production. Coming to terms with the Houthis also means easing tensions with its regional antagonist Iran, currently supporting Yemen. That also means ignoring U.S. efforts to stall negotiations with the Houthis. Saudi Arabia is a critical component in maintaining an uneasy equipoise among volatile neighbors

The same cannot be said for the U.S. As the life support for Israel, it chooses not to demand a ceasefire. So the bloodletting continues unabated. The tendency today is to dismiss Houthis as thugs or terrorists when, if anything, they have proved their mettle in the conflict-ridden region. In effect, the U.S. has ceded the moral and political high ground to a ragged band of tribal warriors who seek peace while the U.S. continues to pursue war to what end? Nothing good that one can see.

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Mexican Elections: The Drug Cartels Win

In the recent Mexican national elections Claudia Sheinbaum became the first woman to win the Presidency, a notable achievement. Otherwise, there was little to celebrate. It was a clear drug cartel victory employing their usual campaign tactics – threats, disappearances, kidnappings and the murder at last count of some forty candidates who had dared criticize ever so slightly cartel activities. Not to mention all those who chose not to participate for fearing a similar fate.

The living: President elected Claudia Sheinbaum

The mayor of the small coastal town Zipolite had been fatally shot in broad daylight in front of the municipal building. It was unreported, but the townspeople got the message. When Al Jazeera correspondent Belen Fernandez phoned a friend to see who would replace the mayor, he replied: “No one wants the job.”  She writes: “Multiply the case of Zipolite across the entire expanse of Mexico, and you get an idea of just how free the election was.”

President elect Sheinbaum is well aware of this and will proceed cautiously in office as she has as mayor of Mexico City. No serious talk about crime while she attended to other civic affairs. She is close to the President she succeeded, Lopez Obrador, who boasted of his policy of “Hugs, not Bullets,” meaning useful social programs, especially for the young, and not undue harshness toward the cartels. They happily responded not with hugs but with ever more bullets.

Women in politics are not immune to this violence. Shortly after Sheinbaum was elected, Yolanda Sanchez, mayor of the town of Cortija, was shot to death along with her bodyguard. As usual there have been no arrests. It’s estimated that ninety percent of all murders in Mexico are unsolved. Sanchez had been receiving death threats since taking office and a year ago she was confronted by a group of armed men who insisted that she put town security in the hands of state police officers in the pay of the cartels. Apparently, she did not comply.

The Deceased: Mayor Yolanda Sanchez

Running for mayor of Celaya, Bertha Gisela Gaytan said if elected, she would seek to control the ever mounting violence. Not a chance. On the first day of her campaign a hit squad lay in wait and opened fire at point-blank range, then sped off on motorcycles never to be apprehended. She was left lying on the street, blood flowing from her head as seen online.

With top officials under their control, the cartels are focusing on smaller targets around the country. Towns that have escaped visits are now getting regular calls to be of assistance by helping with drug routes, supplying recruits or providing local businesses for extortion. Taco producers are now a prime target, leading to a sixty per cent increase in the price of that favorite Mexican food.

The cartels are obviously not waging a class war for the poor who are all the more easily robbed. No bodyguards to get in the way. They also don’t discriminate politically in their victims. Liberal or conservative, left or right, are all suitable targets. In the city of Maravatio,  two mayoral candidates of opposing parties were killed almost at the same time. You are a cartel backed candidate or you ‘re in trouble.

Cartels look contemptuously northward at Washington. All this talk about human rights all over the globe but not next door in Mexico, leading to suspicions that the U.S. or an element of it may not be so keen on drug eradication after all, given the immense riches involved. Drugs slip across the open border so easily in great lethal quantities. American media continue to regard Mexico as just another standard nation with a nagging crime problem when in fact the criminals run the nation – a true narco state. Please don’t wake up, plead the cartels. We’ve never had it so good.

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SAVING U.S. FOREIGN POLICY

In the aftermath of World War Two, George Kennan enunciated his containment policy toward the Soviet Union that set the course of U.S. foreign policy for the Cold War ahead. Now Jeffrey Sachs, a leading U.S. economist, offers his appraisal of U.S. foreign policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He believes it’s a record of broken promises and missed opportunities that has led to the current impasse of two heavily armed nuclear powers on the razor edge of a conflict that can threaten the globe, a crisis unnecessarily contrived. It did not have to be.

In a two and a half hour interview with Tucker Carlson, Sachs makes clear his close observation of the Russian rival. He recalls the day he was face to face with newly elected Russian President Boris Yeltsin who informed him that the Soviet Union was no more. Imploringly, Yeltsin said Russia now wanted to be a normal nation, a dramatic climb down from imperial pretensions. As a young economist sent to help post-communist Russia, Sachs wondered who could ask for anything more? He pitched in with some well intended, if controversial policy recommendations that were soon overtaken by Americans with a far different approach.

Once Russian President Gorbachev permitted the reunification of the two Germanys that characterized the Cold War, U.S. leaders pledged that the NATO alliance would not move one inch eastward toward Moscow. The confrontation was over. Yet within a few short years, the Clinton Administration announced that three East European nations formerly under Soviet control would join NATO. More were added in the years ahead much to Russian consternation, a promise of geopolitical implication rather casually broken. How did that happen?

By human agency, says Sachs, and a very peculiar kind of humanity. A small group of political zealots called neoconservatives decided their time had come. They had dreamed of the U.S exercising global hegemony. With the collapse of the Soviet Union it could now be achieved. Who could say no to the one remaining super power? Starting with the Clinton administration, they seized control of U.S. foreign policy under a series of inexperienced, rather ineffectual U.S. Presidents who weren’t sure what they wanted while the neocons had no doubts.  There followed numerous wars that had no clear purpose other than to display American might. None were won while one was clearly lost to Afghanistan’s Taliban.

The neocons reached their apogee of success in the current Biden administration. Nothing would demonstrate U.S. hegemony more than undermining or even causing the collapse of Russia. Ukraine would lead the way. Sachs notes the U.S. Government said Russia, “unprovoked,” started the war in Ukraine. No, says Sachs. The U.S. started the war in 2014 by provoking Russia. It engineered a coup in Ukraine that replaced a leader favorable to Russia with one obedient to the West. On top of that the U.S said Ukraine would join NATO, which Sachs says is akin to putting foreign forces in Mexico. With that threat Russian troops invaded Ukraine. It was, he says, a defensive act, not an offensive.

Since then, the two sides have not spoken. President Biden has not made a single call to Russian President Putin which could bring an end to the conflict and start negotiations. Diplomacy, says Sachs, is dead. The U.S. has got in the habit of using the military to solve its problems abroad.  Why not? As the sole super power we can do as we please. Lesser powers cannot and must make some accommodation with an enemy. Thus we engage in one war after another despite the dubious outcomes. “We’re the country of perpetual war.”

We must learn to talk again, says Sachs, not just to our enemies but even to ourselves. The U. S. Government doesn’t talk to the American people, just provides meaningless announcements disguising the truth. He recalls how he was put off the air by saying the U.S. had destroyed the Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. That was the truth, but he had contradicted the U.S. that the Russians had destroyed their own pipeline.

George Kennan had advised a certain realism about our policies toward Russia, not to demand too much while upholding our own values. He warned that expanding NATO was a tragic mistake, but his words had no resonance in the neocon hubris making policy. Whether Sach’s words will have the same impact as Kennan’s at an equally perilous time remains to be seen, but they have a similar eloquence and persuasion. 

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The Enemy Within

These days it can be dangerous to cross the U.S.-Mexican border as the drug cartels make their presence known by their customary violence in a region that was once considered relatively safe. An open border lures them in. What’s to lose and plenty to gain from drug sales and migrant needs with human casualties a by-product.  Recently, three surfers – two Australians, one American – were shot on a beach south of San Diego. Their bodies were found at the bottom of a well. At the eastern end of the border, south of Brownsville, Texas, two Americans were killed in a crossfire, two others kidnapped until released by the Gulf cartel which apologized for the mistake. Harming Americans is bad for business.

This represents a significant, unfortunate change. While reporting on drug cartel activity, I never ran into any hostility in Mexican border towns or objections to the information I was gathering. A year ago I crossed the foot bridge from El Paso, Texas, to Juarez, once known as the murder capital of the world, where I was greeted by a security guard – no doubt a cartel appointee – who was amiable and helpful as I interviewed a group of Venezuelans awaiting a signal from a drug cartel to cross to the U.S. With the increase in violence can Juarez reclaim its exceptional title?

The drug cartels are doing their best. More than ever, thanks to a U.S open border, they are swamping their northern neighbor with illicit drugs and unknown migrants, many of whom are in their employ. It’s truly an anomalous situation, perhaps near unique in human history.  It’s not the country receiving the immigrants that decides who will enter but the country – Mexico – sending them. The drug cartels, who hardly constitute a normal country, now control the total 2000-mile border, an organizational feat. Nobody crosses without paying them a hefty fee of well over ten thousand dollars for which they are given suitable equipment for the trip and a guide to show them the way.  If they fail to pay, they cross at their own risk which is considerable. U.S. Border Patrol reports seeing bullet ridden bodies in the Rio Grande that were not shot from the U.S. side.

Once they have crossed there’s no stopping them. They move according to plan. Some fan out to various cities where they help direct the drug trade, subversion within by pill. Others join the illegal marijuana farms proliferating throughout the American west – small chunks of violent -prone Mexico transferred to the U.S. to the dismay and terror of Americans living near them. If anyone gets too close to a farm, a guard emerges with a gun. More than drug profits are involved. Some ambitious cartel leaders say they envision reclaiming land lost to the U.S. in the 1840’s war. The marijuana farms are a start.

The U.S. media takes little interest in this. It’s almost as if the cartels have become an acceptable part of the American landscape, unwelcome but tolerated. It’s significant that no cartel leader has been singled out for denunciation as is usually the case with a genuine enemy. The one drug boss who has been apprehended and locked up, El Chapo Guzman, is almost a mythical figure, not to be taken too seriously. The rest are hard to hate because they are faceless. No evil Putin here. Relax.

 

Current U.S. border law enforcement is no match for the drug cartels. It’s undermanned and cannot take serious action against the well armed cartels who are in the habit of randomly shooting across the border or tossing small children over the border fence. Is any other border in the world so casually defended? There’s occasional reckless talk of bombing cartel labs or even invading Mexico, a tall order considering Mexico is three times the size of equally mountainous Afghanistan with which U.S. forces couldn’t cope in a guerrilla war.

Given the insatiable U.S. demand, the drugs can only be stopped by sealing the border which requires manpower. A thirty foot high steel fence is helpful, but as we’ve seen, skilled invaders can go under, over and through it. Manpower is readily available. There are over 35 thousand U.S. troops still stationed in Germany, an artifact of the Cold War. Not even a fire-breathing Stalin, arisen from the grave, would be tempted to invade today, much less a more restrained and non-expansionist Putin. So the troops in Germany could be transferred to where they are needed – defending the U.S against its principal enemy right on the border.

 When a nation’s border is effectively violated, it ceases to exist. We have the familiar example of Rome where the barbarians, as they were perceived, poured across with heavy weapons and ended the empire. Today’s drug cartels are armed with pills, contemporary killers in the case of fentanyl. Disarm them by cutting off the pills at the border, where almost all of them arrive. Their profits slashed, the cartels will weaken and then Mexicans, including the outstanding brave journalists among them, will take matters into their own hands and reclaim their country from the drug lords who have wasted it.

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The Forbidden Writer

Alexander Dugin must be one of the most dangerous writers in the world. Why would U.S. publishers combine to prevent his philosophical books appearing in any American bookstore? No Amazon overnight delivery. No delivery at all. Instead his words can be found only in books critical of him by authors clearly chosen for that purpose. Typical is “The American Empire Should Be Destroyed” by James D. Heiser.

Those inflammatory words were written by Dugin, but don’t really illustrate his more reflective, less impassioned philosophy. He is at pains to explore the contrasting Western and Russian cultures and why they are at odds today. Inevitably, they blend into today’s politics, aggravated by war. The fact that he is held in high regard by Putin may explain some of the animosity.

But does it explain the censorship?  There’s nothing like knowing the mind of the enemy so as to form at least a useful strategy. For example, The Communist Manifesto, definitely subversive, is readily available at Amazon. It has helped us understand some of our great antagonists – Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin among many others. Without it they might have been a blank given mindlessly to violence. Why not give the same attention to Putin, whose favorite philosopher has also written a manifesto, somewhat garbled in this Heiser book. Why not read it in his own words?

In an interview with Tucker Carlson, Professor Dugin explains some of the basic differences between the West and Russia. Foremost is the Western obsession, as he would call it, with individualism at the expense of the collectivism in which people are embodied. Unrestrained individualism liberates itself from one impediment after another until today it even threatens to discard humanity, anything that gets in the way of self. He favours a rising Eurasian society governed by traditional values in which individualism has a place but not a supreme one.

He’s not talking about communism which he opposed at cost in Soviet times. But as Heiser quotes him, he seeks” a golden mean between the hyper-individualism of the bourgeois West and the hyper-collectivism of the socialist east.” He seems to say, without my having read him thanks to censorship, that all ideologies have something to teach us and must take their place in a more uplifting, unifying whole which he calls Eurasianism.  

In the meantime the West has been ascendant since the collapse of the Soviet Union. With this new found power Dugin says it’s trying to erase all national distinctions and impose a similar government from above on a global basis. Heiser and other critics whom he quotes more often he does Dugin call this “paranoid. But Dugin writes that U.S behavior is “an organic part of another civilization alien to Russia. This is well understood in the West where the preference is to see not a prosperous and safe Russia, but a weakened Russia submerged in the abyss of chaos and corruption.” Hence his attack on its center, the American empire.

These days people pay a price for views out of the ordinary. Dugin’s daughter Darya was killed in a bomb blast in her car that perhaps was intended for her father. Reconciliation of cultures still seems a long way off.

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NAOMI AND THE BEAST

Naomi Wolf was the toast of New York City – a popular feminist writer of several best sellers, a sure star of any social occasion, a trusted adviser to Democratic Presidential campaigns. As she notes in her gracefully written, tell-it-all new book, “Facing the Beast,” I was privileged to be part of the cultural scene made up of influencers on the progressive left, film premiers and art openings, book parties and galas. All of these events reassured us that we were at the center of the universe and that our world view was the right one and indeed the only one.”

Then suddenly, startlingly, she was out, glitter and all. Phone calls unanswered, shunned by friends, rejected by publishers, denounced by alleged experts, deplatformed from Twitter, Facebook, You-Tube.” It was if a hex had been cast over me and over the entire culture in which I had, till so  recently, felt so at home.”

What had she done to deserve this? Simply by being herself. She had applied her investigative skills to examining the new miraculous vaccines combating the spreading Covid disease. She had found they were not so miraculous, in fact rather dubious and incidentally causing considerable injury to many human bodies. The reaction was instantaneous outrage. Who did she think she was challenging the considered opinion of the nation’s elite? She must suffer the consequences and was pummeled with all the money and power at their disposal. Overnight she says she was thrust into a “new social and even legal category, that of second-class citizen, anti- vaxxer, dissident, weirdo, conspiracy theorist and though I remained a classic liberal, Trumper.” The idea was to keep her quiet.

It didn’t work, though this kind of assault usually does. In desperation she turned to a onetime enemy – conservatives who were happy to help and provided her the opportunity to speak and write. She was also introduced to a different world of less privileged and more practical folks. She says she hadn’t even been aware of their existence. “They come from all walks of life, and they pay little or no attention to status or class markers. Politics don’t unite these people. What unites them in my view is the excellence of their characters.”

Faced with many threats on her life because of her altered views, she acquired the services of a veteran U.S army intelligence officer who taught her, among other things, how to shoot despite her aversion to guns. Among this training they also got married, arousing suspicions of the hapless lady succumbing a dark force. But it was a homegrown marriage nurtured by chicken soup.

Along with other vaccine dissidents, Wolf got to examine  some of the 450 thousand pages of Pfizer pharmaceutical documents that the company wanted to keep secret for seventy-five years but was forced to disclose on court order. They confirmed all her fears of overrated, underperforming vaccines. She also became increasingly aware of the forces behind them:  “a class of global elite policy makers, nonprofit leaders and bureaucrats who are able to engage in cruel and oppressive policy making precisely because they are no longer part of the communities whose lives are affected by what they have done.”’

She was particularly disappointed with the prestigious college she had attended, Yale, which had forced students to vaccinate, wear stifling masks and stay apart. “The campus felt like a matrix of fears,” she recalls on a visit there. Generous sums of money from the U.S, Government and big tech sustained the fear, including a study to overcome “vaccine hesitancy.”  She concludes: “Basically, Yale is a sponge for vaccine money.”

A little research indicated yet another level of responsibility for the noxious vaccines: a contributing Chinese communist company. What better way to cripple the world’s other super power, she writes. It’s a crucial connection. That was the aim of global communism, which was averted with much struggle just as today’s global threat – the “Beast” – must be countered. You can expect Naomi Wolf to be in the lead.

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TRUMP AND ANDREW JACKSON

Donald Trump is a hero for millions of Americans as well as an enemy for millions of others. But who is a hero for Trump? It would seem to be Andrew Jackson as he has suggested: sturdy frontiersman, victorious general and seventh President of the U.S.

And a President like none before him and not many since. He put a personal stamp on the office that had been occupied with some restraint by its first occupants. From George Washington to John Quincy Adams, a genuine elite had governed.  That was the problem, said elite-defying Jackson. It’s time for the people to speak and rule, he insisted, and he led the movement to accomplish it.

“King Andrew!” cried his incredulous critics, and it’s true he parlayed the only U.S. military victory in the doleful 1812 U.S. war with Britain into a run for the U.S. Presidency. But in his majestic “History of the American People,” Paul Johnson writes that while Jackson was something of a military autocrat, he differed from the caudillos of Latin America or Bonaparte Europe in being a genuine democrat. “He was the first major figure in American politics to believe passionately and wholly in the popular will, and it is no accident that he created the great Democratic Party which is still with us.”

Trump might take issue with this accomplishment, but he, too, claims to have given voice to a portion of the population that had been underrepresented and indeed disparaged much like the alleged “riffraff” of Jackson’s day. Yet elections didn’t always go the way of either leader. Jackson’s outrage over his defeat in the 1824 presidential election is uncannily similar to Trump’s in 2020. Jackson won the popular vote, but since it was still a minority, the issue was decided in the House of Representatives where a backroom deal gave the Presidency to John Quincy Adams.

Like Trump today, Jackson carried his rage into the 1828 election. Writes Johnson: “Those who believe that present day American politics are becoming a dirty game cannot have read the history of the 1828 election.” Amid a mountain of pamphleteering Jackson forces spread the word that Adams, while U.S. ambassador to Russia, had procured a young American girl for the lustful czar. Adam’s campaign replied that Jackson’s mother was a foreign prostitute who had several illegitimate children of whom Jackson was one. A private detective claimed he had evidence Jackson and his wife Rachel had been living in adultery because of a false marriage, a slander that led to a fatal heart attack for Rachel and a permanently embittered Jackson. 

Like Trump, even as President Jackson found it hard to keep sex out of politics. He ordered his minister of war, Tom Eaton, to marry Peggy with whom he was living. Eaton complied, but other cabinet members and their wives weren’t satisfied and continued to complain about free living Peggy. Normal business came to a standstill until a frustrated Jackson presided over a lengthy debate about Peggy’s love life. 

In the meantime he was forced to assemble a small group of advisers called a kitchen cabinet to handle his more serious agenda: abolishing the national bank which he thought was the center of elite control over the U.S. economy, and suppressing the first stirrings of southern secession over slavery. “To the union,” he toasted southern leaders. “It must and shall be preserved.”

Trump is accused of inciting his supporters to scramble into the U.S. Capitol in protest of the 2020 election, defying police and causing damage. Jackson did the opposite. On Inaugural day he urged a large crowd of followers to join him in the White House. They happily obliged, destroying furniture and everything else in their way as they cheerfully drank to the new Jacksonian era. The President managed to escape out a window.

Some Jackson measures are not available to Trump. Quick to anger, Jackson fought several duels, which left two bullets in his body, adding to the constant pain from other afflictions. Trump must be content with flinging mere barbs at opponents, which can be deadly in their own way. By making a strong personality central to the Presidency, Jackson was the first to face an assassin who took personal offense and luckily misfired. Such has been the challenge to all subsequent Presidents, and one can only imagine the target provocative Trump presents.

Trump is spared two issues that compromised Jackson. He was in the forefront of those who expelled native Americans from their homeland as settlers expanded westward. This aggression, writes Jackson biographer Robert Remini, combined “inefficiency, confusion, stupidity and criminal disregard of the rights of human beings.” A man of his time and place, Jackson owned slaves and traded them. It’s worth noting that his arch enemy, ex- President John Quincy Adams, spent his last years in the U.S. Congress inveighing against slavery, suggesting that an elite of this kind has a role even in a burgeoning democracy.

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The Somalian lesson

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has been harshly criticized for seeming to elevate her homeland Somalia over the U.S. in a recent speech she made in her Congressional district. If so, she is not the first politician to tout the glories of a country abroad, but she happened to pick one that demonstrates all the ambiguities of current U.S. foreign policy. Touching that third rail can hurt.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was emphatic. “She should be expelled from Congress, deprived of U. S. citizenship and deported back to Somalia. “ The object of his ire? U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a member of the controversial progressive “squad” in the House of Representatives who added to her controversy by apparently having more praise for her homeland Somalia than for the U.S. in a recent speech to her constituents. Others echoed the DeSantis outrage.

However her words are interpreted, they are not really out of line with American tradition. What country has not at one time or another been grandly touted as an example for America? There’s revolutionary France, mistreated Ireland, besieged Britain, even – let’s face it – communist Russia. All had their adherents, but Congresswoman Omar took a step too far and trod on a most questionable aspect of current U.S. foreign policy – whether we’re doing good of doing bad in our many military interventions in various parts of the world, specifically Africa.

After the 9/11 attack, the gloves as they say were off. The U.S would not just seek revenge but suppress terror and restore democracy around the world, a tall order. An early target was Somalia on the horn of Africa. Its dire poverty called for aid, its terrorist component for bombs. It got both in plentiful supply.  But it turned out bombs were not enough. So the U.S. backed an invasion of Somalia by neighboring Ethiopia which destroyed one violent Islamist group only to give rise to another, Al-Shabaad, that continues to make trouble today. Some five hundred U.S. troops are on hand and Somalia continues to be bombed.

Celebrating a Somalian festival

It is this that angers Congresswoman Omar and may explain any disappointment she expressed with the U.S. in her speech. She complains that the recurring air strikes simply increase support for the terrorists. “It is critical that we realize that we are not going to simply drone the Al-Shabaad problem to death.” She insists that reparation payments should be made to the families of civilians killed in the bombing. More generally, she notes: “Too often U.S policy makes plans for influencing or changing regimes without considering the likelihood of success or the humanitarian consequences.”

Others agree. The U.S. military interventions tend to be too long with rarely an acceptable outcome. There’s the example of the twenty- year Afghan war which ended in a U.S. defeat by the Taliban. Recently, The Intercept got hold of a 2007 U.S Government analysis of the Somalian war that showed there was no clear U.S. goal or coordination among various agencies with an over emphasis on military measures. “This could almost have been written yesterday,” says Elizabeth Shackelford, who served with the U.S State Department in Somalia. Lessons not learned.

One glaring contradiction stands out. While the U.S. purports to be bombing terrorists in Somalia, it may be letting them in across its open southern border. Why kill people over there when you’re welcoming them over here? Belatedly, the U.S. needs to get its Somalia policies together or better yet let Somalia handle its own affairs without intrusive, unsuccessful intervention.

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Saving a Mexican journalist

It took him fifteen years, but Emilio Gutierrez Soto was finally granted asylum in the U.S. He needed it. Like other Mexican journalists, he was a special target of the drug cartels who murder a number of newspeople each year for just doing their job. Outside of war zones, more journalists are killed in Mexico than anywhere else on earth. 

Gutierrez Soto reported the every day news in Ascension, a small town in northern Mexico. Inevitably, that included crime which is ever day thanks to the drug cartels. On one occasion he noted that the criminals were outfitted in military uniform. That angered the military since it suggested military and criminals were one and the same, which is the case in Mexico. He was told he was in trouble.

Not heeding the warning, he continued to report and even filed a complaint with the police he had offended. Then  early one morning he and his young son Oscar were awakened by a loud thud on the door. In came a group of heavily armed soldiers who ordered the pair to lie on the floor while they searched the house. “It was a night of terror,” he recalls. 

He wrote up the event for the local newspaper but soon after fled with Oscar to the U.S., applying for asylum at a border  crossing in New Mexico. There began another unexpected ordeal. To attain asylum in the U.S. can be a long drawn out process, and most applications are rejected, though these days asylum seekers can secretly cross an overwhelmed border with the help of a cartel “coyote.” For the next several years, father and son were put on hold, awaiting a decision while living and working on a farm.  Would they be granted asylum or deported back to Mexico? It was a close call.

In 2017 Robert Hough, a federal immigration judge ruled that their story was filled with “inconsistencies, implausibilities and uncorroborated assertions.” He almost seemed to be confirming the cartel’s objection to journalism, though not – to be sure – its ominous warning. With a reputation for rejecting almost all asylum applications, he said the pair could avoid harm by relocating somewhere else in Mexico, apparently ignorant of the fact that the cartels control the whole country. No place would be safe for them.

Put under arrest, they were almost deported, but an appeal panel reversed Hough’s decision, concluding that their fears of persecution on returning were justified. Yes, there is a tight drug cartel control of Mexico. This month Gutierrez Soto was officially granted asylum.

Emilio Gutierrez Soto, Lawyer Beckett and Oscar after asylum announcement.

The National Press Club and others who helped him are pleased with the outcome. But their work is far from over. With an open border at their disposal the cartels are stronger than ever, pushing more drugs and people across for immense profits. Given the hazards of reporting in Mexico, more U.S. press coverage is needed, but is strangely lacking. We probably know more about Yemen and Somalia, with which, it is true, we are at war, than about neighboring Mexico. It’s routinely described in conventional terms when, in fact, it is a narco state, a criminal enterprise, that murders its reporters, some of whom, like Gutierrez Soto, we manage to save.

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The Neocon Era

Hard as it is to construct a consistent U.S. foreign policy, considering all the pressures involved, Victoria Nuland managed to achieve it. As a solid member of the so-called neoconservatives whose husband Robert is a chief theorist, she had a clear plan and followed it to the letter. From her perch at the top of the State Department, she backed U.S. expansion into the Middle East, partly for the benefit of Israel, with the ultimate target Russia.

With the controversial wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria behind her she chose Ukraine as her first stop on the way to Russia. She aimed to replace a pro-Russian regime with a pro-American one. Her on-the-spot planning was meticulous down to the last Ukrainian to occupy a new office. “I think Yats is the guy,” she told the compliant U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in a telephone conversation later exposed by the Russians. She was referring to Akseney Yatsenyuk, who indeed became the prime minister after the successful coup. She contemptuously dismissed the doubts of the European Union.

It was a dramatic turnabout. A large country bordering Rusia was now pro-American much to Moscow’s distress. And there was still more. Testifying later before the U.S. Congress, Nuland somewhat reluctantly admitted that Ukraine has a number of biological weapons labs which should be kept out of the hands of the Russians. Their presence indicated a depth of U.S. involvement in the country beyond what was generally realized. The U.S. stake in Ukraine was serious.

With that in mind Nuland and her allies forged ahead, threatening to link Ukraine to NATO in violation of an earlier U.S. pledge not to expand the alliance toward Russia. For Putin a red line had been crossed, and he invaded, starting a war that is still with us. But the neocon goal has not been met. The Russian regime has not been replaced like the Ukrainian. Contrary to expectations, Russia has emerged from the conflict with a stronger military and economy and a ruler more secure than ever. Someone had to take the fall for this, and apparently it was Nuland.

Neocon policy had demonstrated the ample military power of the U.S., but it did not come to a successful conclusion. It will be up to Trump, presuming he’s elected, to fashion a new policy based on his plans for improved relations with Russia and less military action. But his first term leaves some doubt since he appointed two neocons to top positions who promptly turned on him. What has he learned in the meantime? As for departing Nuland, she will be out of sight but probably not out of mind. We will continue to hear from the woman who left an indelible mark on U.S. foreign policy.

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Drugs and Bananas

Things are seldom what they seem in the tumultuous illegal drug world. There’s so much money that nothing stays fixed that long. Take Honduras, a small nation nestled among other small nations in Central America on a direct route for drugs coming from South America to Mexico and then to the final destination: bountiful, drug-consuming America. This requires frequent readjustment for the riches therein.

So America probably shouldn’t have been surprised when one of its favored anti-drug warriors turned out to be the opposite. Even U. S. Presidents Obama and Trump feted Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez with millions in aid as he pledged to use an “iron fist” against the drug traffickers. “The party is over for criminals,” he announced.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández

Behind the scenes, he was doing something else – helping those same criminals to thrive. Famed drug lord El Chapo, who is now serving a life sentence in the U. S. for his criminal activities, was looking for a drug route through Honduras to expand the reach of his Mexican Sinaloa cartel. Ok, said Hernandez. A million will do it. El Chapo complied and handed a briefcase with a million dollars to the President’s brother. Said a pleased Hernandez: “You can stuff the drugs up the noses of the gringos.” 

Hernandez applied the usual trappings of repression to his country. The media were paid or threatened to be silent as he went about his work. Extradited to the U.S. two years ago, he is now on trial in New York City with the prospect of an El Chapo style conviction.

But Honduras is known for more than drugs. It was the first “Banana Republic,” no offense intended. Keeping a close eye on the nations to its south, the U.S. made many forays into Honduras, but the most successful was privately conducted by Sam Zemurray, who had bananas on his mind and in his vision for Honduras. He cajoled a compliant government into letting him acquire a few thousand acres to grow his favorite crop, and the rest was history: banana sales around the world led to fabulous riches for the fruit companies who added railroads and banks to the landscape. The local population was less richly rewarded.

Keeping Honduras on the map, bananas gave way to guns. Concerned by communist penetration of Central America during the Cold War, the U.S decided to conduct military operations on? – you guessed it – a banana plantation in Honduras. The target was the Soviet-aided Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Writes David Vine in his book Base Nation, “Honduras was like a stationary, unsinkable aircraft carrier strategically anchored at the center of the war-torn region.” Stationed there were U.S.-backed Contras to overthrow the Sandinistas, resulting in a major scandal of the Reagan administration when it was disclosed that proceeds from U.S. arms sales to Iran were diverted to the Contras against a congressional prohibition.

Harvesting bananas in Honduras, 1952 (Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The Cold War is over, but Honduras is still busy with another war against drug traffickers. No rest for the geopolitically useful. The outcome awaits the future. But the present is not so bad. The Honduran economy is growing, and a government crackdown seems to be curbing crime, including the fearsome homicide rate. Honduras has not turned into a drug republic. Long live the Banana Republic.

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Who is Putin?

The media is outraged that Tucker Carlson interviewed the enemy Putin and asked softball questions. None of the rough and tumble – “You said that.” ”No, I didn’t.” – that characterizes a real interview. But that was not the point. Carlson wanted the Russian leader to explain himself in ways that would be useful to an American and indeed global audience. With considerable candor that is what he did in over two hours. The gist of it? A plea for better relations with the U.S. Not exactly the voice of an enemy.

He had every reason to be triumphant. He was on the verge of victory in the war with Ukraine despite all the dire predictions of defeat in the American media. Though Russia had been slapped with myriad sanctions, its economy and its military had been strengthened during the war, and it possesses the world’s most advanced nuclear arsenal.

Tucker Carlson interviewing Putin

Putin noted the many Russian grievances against the U.S., above all, ever advancing NATO. The U.S. had pledged not to move the alliance one inch east toward Russia in return for Gorbachev’s allowing the reunification of Germany and thereby ending the Cold War (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” said Reagan). Yet year by year, President by President, NATO absorbed the East European nations formerly ruled by the Soviet Union until it reached the Russian border and then decided to include neighboring Ukraine. A red line had been crossed, and Russia invaded, as it said, to protect itself.

Did this make you bitter? asked Carlson. No, said Putin. It’s just the fact. Nor did he display any bitterness in the course of the interview toward any U.S, policy maker. He noted he had friendly relations with President George Bush, even though he expanded NATO. Intent on post-communist Russia joining the company of civilized nations, he asked President Clinton if it could become a member of NATO. The President thought that was a good idea but after consulting his staff changed his mind.

That’s the problem of dealing with the U.S., said Putin. There are so many levels of government – perhaps in contrast to his own autocratic rule – that it’s hard to know whom to talk to. Indeed, as a former intelligence officer, he should know to be aware of an American deep state where a small group of zealots known as neocons has been plotting his eventual overthrow.

The mindset of the elite, rather than particular personalities, is the key to behavior, said Putin. When Carlson asked him why he didn’t make a fuss in the press when it was disclosed that the U.S. had sabotaged the Nord Stream pipeline bringing natural gas from Russia to Germany, he replied there was no point. The press is in the hands of the western elite which would have ignored or downplayed the story.

Much of the western media, ever mindful of Hitler and Munich – one piece of history they have learned – say Putin’s next target is Poland with which he has had some difficulties. They cite his leadership in a growing bloc of nations called BRCCS that are forming an economic and political alliance in opposition to what they see as U.S. global hegemony. But Putin insisted with some emotion that Russia belongs to the West. It’s now the strongest economy in Europe with no desire of conquering it as in Stalinist times. Russia is big enough – the world’s largest nation. Who needs anything more?

Putin has not mollified his critics by his treatment of his main adversary in Russia, Alexai Navalny, who recently died in prison in the Arctic. He is now waging a determined, destructive war in Ukraine. But some perspective is in order. In the early 1930’s Stalin, driven by communism, starved millions in Ukraine to death as part of his rural collectivist program. The media that now condemns Putin went along with Soviet propaganda and denied there was a famine. Had Stalin been in charge the Ukraine war would have been over in a few weeks and the devastated country would resemble a larger version of today’s Gaza.

Unlike Stalin, Putin is impelled by no murderous ideology. He’s strictly a nationalist, Russia first, last and always. While autocratic he’s not dogmatic and therefore open to negotiation, minus the thought of conquering him or Russia.

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Taylor of Troy

Is this the face that launched a thousand ships

And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

Such were the immortal words of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe as he recalled the epic Trojan war from the mist of fact and fantasy. It was a case of human beauty exerting its power for a doubtful end. Is there an equivalent beauty today that might launch ships in an opposite direction toward peace? An obvious contender is at hand: Taylor Swift, songwriter, singer, dancer, with a flair for improvisation and a following of 272 million combining concerts with social media. A recent NBC poll shows that she has a more favorable rating than just about anybody else in the public eye including all the current U.S. Presidential candidates.

For that reason she is currently embroiled in politics, especially among these less popular Presidential candidates. Since she tilts liberal, Democrats are urging her to come out in support of President Biden, while fearful Republicans are trying to prevent that from happening. Her impact is weighty indeed. Time reports that the tumult of 72,000 fans at a sold-out show in Seattle registered the equivalent of a 2.3 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. The economic impact is similar. Spending associated with her recent U.S. tour approximates five billion dollars. According to one admirer, “If Taylor Swift were an economy, she’d be bigger than fifty countries.” Seeing the gold that glitters in Taylor, the president of Chile, the mayor of Budapest and the Canadian prime minister have all invited her tour to their countries.

So far, despite the prompting, Taylor has not yet commented on the election. Hurry up, says Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsome, who would like be President someday himself. Your contribution would be “profoundly powerful.”  But she has hesitated, no launching of ships or making waves.  There’s no hurry at all, say wary Republicans who note that she posted a message on Instagram urging fans to register to vote on a particular website. They did, increasing registration by 35% over last year.

Taylor Swift at the 2019 American Music Awards

On Fox TV Jesse Watters said Taylor has been used in a Pentagon psyop to steer information in the right direction. “We are going to shake it off,” replied the Pentagon, referring to the popular Taylor song “Shake it off.” Sean Hannity of Fox takes comfort in the fact that she has criticized the business practices of far-left financier George Soros. Not to worry, advises close Trump ally Stephen Miller. The vast Taylor fandom is not “organic,” meaning it has been contrived by outsiders and not by the singer alone who is no superwoman.  

But as they say, image is reality and what an image. Is it ready for an antiwar campaign? So far Taylor has had nothing to say about the current incredibly destructive Israeli-Gaza war, but what if she used her immense soft power to urge a permanent ceasefire and her followers went along? The world would have to listen, politicians in particular. Songs of love betrayed by cruelty can shift to songs of humanity betrayed by war with the singer still conveying the simple joys and sorrows of everyday life, her soulfulness of song. Let all future wars beware her voice. Helen of Troy becomes Taylor of Nashville, the woman who launched a thousand ships of peace.

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The Rule of the Drug Cartels

The Mexican drug cartels can read the signs. Come on in. The weather is fine. They oblige and are now rapidly adding to the forces already here across an open border which is controlled by the cartels. It’s almost as if it’s their border, all 2,000 miles of it. Undermanned with no responding strategy, U.S guards hardly get in the way. Drugs and people flow freely in.

The last time I looked illegal migrants in El paso and across the river in Juarez were almost all vigorous males, not the least hesitant about entering the U.S. Robust and amiable, they patiently awaited the cartel command as to when and where to cross. They obviously don’t qualify for asylum and aren’t looking for jobs. These are assured on the vast drug cartel distribution network spanning the U. S. or among the tens of thousands of illegal armed marijuana farms proliferating in the American west – slices of Mexico recovered from what was lost to the U.S. in the 1840s war The cartels have their own notion of empire.

Almost all U.S. attention is focused on the hordes of illegal migrants now entering the country. While they are difficult and overwhelming some cites, they are rarely killing people. Drugs are, especially deadly fentanyl, which is combined with more everyday drugs, an unsuspected killer. This is tolerated because of the polarization in the U.S. between those who take the drugs and those who promote them, wealthy, well placed individuals and organizations who enjoy the profits and are indifferent to the victims. Perhaps this is the greatest inequality of all.

Much encouraged, the drug cartels are moving south as well as north. Ecuador is their present destination for a southern takeover. They demonstrate this by breaking into a tv studio in the port city of Guayaquil, brandishing their guns, threatening the staff and announcing who is boss in Ecuador until they are hauled off by late arriving police. Riots in prisons with kidnapping of guards have further signaled the arrival of the cartels – vast drug traffic along with a surge in murders and other violence to keep people in line.

Screen grab of live video of gunmen taking over television studio in Guayaquil (TC Television network)

And this in Ecuador of all places, one of the most peaceful countries in Latin America. If only it were not next to Colombia, a top producer of cocaine. Colombia had the traffic all to itself until a U.S. sponsored crackdown put it out of business. Then, as author Eduardo Gamarra explains, it’s a balloon effect. Squeeze in one place, the bulge appears elsewhere. Ecuador is now living with this deplorable bulge.

President of Ecuador Daniel Noboa (Fernando Sandoval / Asamblea Nacional, 23 November, 2023)

Newly elected Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa has promised to react with an “iron fist” by imposing a state of emergency and using the military to bring the cartels under control. In this he is following the example of the Central American nation, El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele has adopted harsh security measures and jailed close to 100,000 people to restore peace. Also under cartel control is Honduras, which like Mexico, is a virtual narco state. The cartels are the state. Other Latin American nations face a similar threat. The iron fist reaction is not kind to customary civil liberties, but the people are desperate for relief from this especially violent rule.

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The Carlson Conundrum

The usual choice for a Vice President is a conventional politician sufficiently obscure not to overshadow the Presidential candidate. All the more surprising, then, that a hugely popular and highly controversial TV commentator, Tucker Carlson, is under serious consideration for the running mate of former President Trump who has a commanding lead in the polls. Does this make sense?

Not to the many critics of Trump who view Carlson as almost as objectionable. Here are two combative, combustible personalities with no respect for convention or normal rules of order, double trouble for the electoral system. But that’s just the point, insists Revolver News, which has close ties to Trump. Carlson reinforces Trump’s populist instincts and as Vice President would assure his legacy after his final four years in office. The conventional politician, shifting with the wind to suit his ambition, could not be counted on.

Tucker Carlson

That legacy doesn’t appeal to critics, even frightens them as an antidemocratic trend to something much worse. Words like fascism arise. Scare words, scoff Trump or Carlson who say they want to revive an imperiled democracy. At issue, in particular, is the formulation of U.S. foreign policy dominated by the neocons since the turning point of 9/11. Going their own way under both Democratic and Republican administrations, they have promoted a series of wars and other military interventions that have turned out badly and made a mess of the Middle East and surrounding areas. Israel would supposedly benefit, though it is now in greater danger than ever and the Arab world is enflamed.

This war making is an example of the Deep State in action that escapes the notice of the public. Timely intervention is needed. In fact, a Carlson on hand could prevent such a lapse as the neocon-driven assassination of top Iranian general Soleimani. Aside from the fact that assassination is a cowardly form of warfare that seldom achieves what it intends, Soleimani was just the kind of adroit international operator with whom a Trump could do business.

Critics pounce on Trump’s seeming indifference to overseas conflicts and his talk of scuttling NATO, which was set up to deter an aggressive Stalin who no longer exists. Isolationism, they claim. But the military doesn’t have to be called on to solve everything. There are other ways to deal with competitive or adversarial nations. The U.S. can try its hand once again at diplomacy and skillful use of its prestige and economic maneuver to accomplish its ends. In his own way ambitious, anti-West President Xi of China is doing exactly that. His moves across the global chessboard may be challenging and unsettling, but they avoid the catastrophe of war.

Standing in the way of the development of a coherent foreign policy is the enormous roadblock of money. Lavishly pouring out of various lobbies, its many millions promote policies that can be irrelevant or injurious to the body politic, a society of greater economic inequality than ever before. The top one percent thrives at the expense of the remaining ninety-nine per cent. Reform is stymied because the politicians in charge are beholden to this money to win elections and keep their jobs.

That being the case, let’s speculate. It would be truly democratic as well as populist to submit any proposed war or serious military intervention to the vote of the entire American public, a national referendum. The outcome from a commonsensible population would be far better than the money-driven policies of a compromised leadership. Probably all the recent useless wars, including the one fizzling to an inglorious end in Ukraine today, would have been voted down. It’s not exactly what the Founding Fathers, far-seeing as they were, had in mind. But who could have predicted this tyranny of money?

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The Dresden Model

Israeli generals say they are doing no more in Gaza than U.S. bombers did to German cities like Dresden in World War II. But that was not the finest hour of the allies. With the war almost over three waves of British and U.S. bombers obliterated one of the most esteemed ancient cites in Europe that had little, if anything, to do with the Nazi war effort and had no military value whatsoever. It was an act of vengeance mindless of humanity.

So, Israelis are saying perhaps more than they intend. Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, U.S. military historian Robert Pape says the Israeli assault on Gaza is “one of the most heavy bombing campaigns in history, a massive collective punishment against civilians.” In densely packed Gaza, 17,000 people, including large numbers of children, have been killed to date with more to come since there’s no letup in the bombing. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says it will continue until all Hamas is destroyed, a formidable task that may be limited by the extent of Israeli casualties of which we are unaware so far.

In a hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis veteran British surgeon Tom Potokar is doing his best to cope with the unending stream of wounded and dying, half of them children, that are brought to his care. Having worked in conflicts in Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen, he says this is the worst yet. So many casualties in so short a time.

Dr. Tom Potokar (The International Committee of the Red Cross)

The Independent reports that he is presently treating a burns patient whose wounds are septic since the dressing had not been changed for days. On the next bed lies a three-year old boy whose legs had been amputated the night before after an air strike. An eight-year-old boy’s brain is exposed since bombing damaged his skull. An eye has been removed from a teenage girl because every bone in her face has been smashed. Another badly burned child is screaming for his mother he doesn’t know is dead. There are not enough pain killers to relieve his suffering.

Israel is completely dependent on weaponry from the U.S. to continue the war. These include precision guided small diameter 250lb bombs and earth-shaking 2000lb bombs that seem to turn the ground liquid as they flatten everything below. It’s said the U.S. could stop the war on a dime if it cut off the weapon supply. But the Biden Administration has backed the Israelis to the hilt while urging more caution in bombing. One angry phone call from U.S. President Ronald Reagan halted Israel’s 1982 assault on Lebanon.

Palestinian children wounded in Israeli strikes at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. (Ali Mahmoud/The AP)

The present conflict has given rise to unusual antisemitism around the world, including American college campuses. It has been denounced and college presidents have been rebuked or removed for apparent nonchalance about it. But the best way to stop antisemitism is to stop the slaughter in Gaza.

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The Price of War

It’s estimated that half a million Iraqi children died from starvation and disease as a result of U.S. sanctions after the ‘91 Gulf War. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, then in office, was asked if that price was worth it to try to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. She replied famously or infamously, yes, it was worth the price. Children are expendable for the loftier aim – however misguided – of war.

The same question might be put to supporters of the current war in Gaza where the deaths of Gazans are at 15,000 and counting as Israeli forces move south after destroying the north. To what purpose? Partly revenge after the brutal October seven attack by Hamas, but also, as declared by many, to create a greater Israel with the expulsion of Palestinians. Out of sight, out of mind.

Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, October 31, 2023.
(Anas al-Shareef | Reuters)

But not really. After the days of carnage so visible on tv the regional Arab world will be united in horror. The division between Arab countries hostile to Israel and those willing to reach an accommodation will be sealed, not to mention the Gazan refugees burning for revenge. As for the rest of the world, the attitude of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is indicative. He resists U.S. efforts to make him less supportive of Hamas and less critical of Israel. He could well set an example Inasmuch as Hamas is a rallying cry as well as an armed marauder. One way or another it’s going to be around postwar.

Israel itself is hardly united on this war if unanimously appalled by Hamas. With his reputation as a peacemaker, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told CNN that it was current prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who initially built up Hamas as a foil to the Palestinian Authority, thereby dividing his enemies. Today he faces a monster of his own creation. Let the more pacific minded Israelis prevail.

In the fever of war its outcome is largely ignored. The conclusion of World War II is still being reexamined up to the present day. Understandably, Americans were filled with hatred of Nazis even to the point of letting their prisoners of war starve to death after they had surrendered. But then, quite suddenly, the U.S was confronted with an equal, if not more formidable foe in Stalinist Russia, which seized eastern Europe and was ready to move on the West. The Germans were quickly revived as allies in the struggle ahead. Why had we been so solicitous of the Stalinists in the war?

Ehud Barak at Pentagon (photo by Robert D. Ward)

Conservatives want to conserve family, tradition, pride of nation. But what about conserving lives on whom all these other values depend? First things first: lives. Conservative commentators on tv, clamoring for scalps, should be required to take a course in military history – say reading Julius Caesar who won wars with calculation not hate – before lecturing us on the air.

If the Gaza war is allowed to continue, the price will not be worth it. Sorry, Madam Albright.

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Gaza Under Siege

How does such a small stretch of land like Gaza – 25 miles long, six miles wide – have such a giant set of problems? It’s unfortunately situated between Israel and the Mediterranean and therefore in the center of the everlasting Israeli-Arab conflict. It’s currently experiencing the worst bloodbath yet as Israeli bombs have so far killed over 13,000 people, including 6,000 children. It’s not just local since neighboring states and groups are poised for possible intervention, and even distant powers – the U.S. Russia, China – are keeping a wary, nervous eye on unfolding events.

The Palestinians were the first to strike. At dawn on October 7 2,000 militants from Hamas, which nominally governs Gaza, broke through Israeli border defenses and proceeded to attack three military installations, burning tanks and other vehicles, killing and capturing soldiers whom they dragged away as hostages along with many civilians whose presence in Gaza is unknown.

Israelis were astounded. How did ragged militants from Gaza pull this off? In fact, it had been planned for a long time in Gaza’s frustration at an Israeli blockade that has caused severe shortage of basic necessities, resulting in what is called, an “open-air prison.” Israel replied in kind, massively bombing northern Gaza, ordering Palestinians to move south and threatening to destroy Hamas to the last man.

Leading the Israeli assault is Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who has built a career on reviling Arabs and leads a Likud Party that supports their removal from Israel altogether. He also backs the angry, armed settlers who continue to help themselves to Palestinian land on the West Bank. The war came to his political rescue since he faces severe charges of corruption like taking bribes from a Hollywood producer involved in sending U.S. nuclear secrets to Israel.

The bombing he ordered has been intense. There seems to be little left standing in northern Gaza as the war now moves south. Israelis have in particular targeted hospitals which they claim provide cover for Hamas command posts. With tanks and troops, they invaded Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa, and found an opening in the ground that may lead to a network of tunnels beneath, though it has yet to be proved. There’s a question as to whether Israel would risk entering the well-fortified tunnels where battle hardened Hamas has an advantage.

A child runs in front of damaged buildings after airstrikes by Israel hit buildings in Gaza City.
ALI JADALLAH/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

The toll on children’s lives is staggering. In such a concentrated population every wayward bomb makes its mark, and there is no end to the strikes. A New York Times reporter on the scene describes desperate parents in search of missing children, children crying for parents they no longer see. Four-year-old Ahmad Shabat lies in a hospital bed with both legs amputated. Unaware, he keeps wanting to walk and asks for his mother and father who were killed along with several other family members by the same Israeli bomb. Doctors, overwhelmed with patients and lack of medicine, try to comfort him. A Red Cross worker at a Gaza shelter says children stay awake all night pleading “Please protect me. Please hide me. I don’t want to die.”

Netanyahu says Israelis don’t mean to kill civilians. That’s a casualty of war. But some stalwarts among his followers say killing children is permissible since they won’t be able to grow up to be terrorists.

Photos of this violence over the internet have led to pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the world and to a global spike in antisemitism. Neighboring Arab states and groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon are under pressure to intervene. Even great powers like the U.S., Russia and China have some involvement and could be drawn into this local maelstrom of destruction if it continues.

Wounded Palestinians wait for treatment at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City following the al-Ahli Arab Hospital explosion.(ABED KHALED/AP)

What to do? There’s a simple overarching answer. Give the Palestinians what they have been promised over and over but then denied – a state of their own. This would not only end the turmoil between Israel and Palestine but also much reduce the terrorist attacks that are justified by unwavering U.S. support of Israeli policies. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes that first of all Netanyahu must be removed given that he is the worst leader in Israeli history, maybe in all Jewish history. Then Israel must establish a center-left, center-right national unity government that can cope with the war and hopefully spell finish to a conflict that has plagued the country and the region for over seventy years.  

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An Israeli Major for Palestine

One night on patrol Major Nir Avishai Cohen saw two figures approaching the other side of the fence surrounding Gaza. The order was clear: shoot anyone attempting to climb the fence on the assumption he was a terrorist. A sniper fired. Two fell. One was killed, the other wounded. In terror, the surviving seventeen year old boy explained that he and a friend were going to look for work in Israel since none was available in destitute Gaza. That turned out to be the case.

This and similar incidents started Cohen thinking about the job he was assigned to do; namely, patrol in the occupied Palestinian territories. Why were they occupied and what sense did that make? He concluded that he was there largely to protect the Israeli settlers who thought they were Biblically entitled to the land where Palestinians live. Aside from injustice, this left Israel less secure where no border in fact exists and terrorists, if they choose, can easily cross. He writes in his book, Love Israel, Support Palestine, the settlers of Messianic bent are the main barrier to a peace treaty with the Palestinians.

Selfie of Nir Avishai Cohen posted on Facebook, October 9, 2023

Understandably, Cohen has been vilified with ample curses and death threats. In the military he’s tolerated as a skilled machine gunner who expresses his views as well as he shoots. He’s particularly concerned to reach a wider public, especially the young who have experienced only a hard right government for most of their lives. He says that as a man of the left, he wants to wake up Israeli’s rather somnolent left.

It would have been hard to predict this stance when as a small-town farm boy, he delighted in picking mangos. But there was also the lure of military life, and he prepared himself with long grueling runs. The enemy? Nowhere to be seen. He never visited the Arabs a mere twenty minutes away. “Giant invisible walls were built and nurtured between the Jews and the Arab settlements.”

Today, he writes, the Israeli government is stalling on a solution. But the status quo is not sustainable as the present disastrous war clearly shows. “There are two populations – Jewish and Arab -who Ivie in the same territory but have two different legal systems. The Jewish population is subject to Israeli law while the Arab population is subject to martial law.” This isn’t democracy, he writes, but apartheid.

Damage following an Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal aera in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. Photo by Naaman Omar\ apaimages

Cohen has tried his hand at politics with minimal success. His dream is the creation of a Jewish-Arab political party. A tentative move in that direction is a group he joined called “Breaking Silence,” which consists of former military men anxious to tell what they have learned about Palestinians in their service. The group has run up against what Cohen calls “a well-oiled incitement machine with a lot of money and media know-how that acted and continued to act against anyone who dares to go against Israel’s presence in the territories.” But they figure their service counts in their favor. Since they have risked their lives in defense of their country, they can hardly be accused of not loving it. So please listen to us.

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Here Comes the Roman Empire

Among the amusing videos offered by Tik-Tok is one that is definitely out of character: the Roman Empire. What’s it doing in this lighthearted crowd? Puzzled women are asking men how often they think about the long-gone empire because apparently they do. The answers are startling – maybe once a month, said some. Once a week, replied others, .and more than a few admitted they thought about it every day. That’s a lot of Rome.

The Last Senate of Julius Caesar by Raffaele Giannetti

They didn’t explain their reasons, but we can surmise. Rome stood for strength, cohesion and a near unbeatable army. Today in the U.S. that’s lacking. Since the turn of the century, we have engaged in a number of wars without winning any of them. Rome sets a better example. Let’s think about it.

More American macho, scoff women who note their gender had a much subordinate role in the vaunted empire. But there were significant exceptions, especially in times of crisis. Honoria, sister of Emperor Valentinian, was infuriated at being sent into exile for an indiscrete love affair.  In retaliation she sent a message offering herself to Attila,  indomitable leader of the invading Huns. With the promise of a top-level bride to be, he demanded half the empire and almost got it until he was defeated in the famous battle of Chalons

Still, empire was mainly a man’s business, and manliness was expected and prized. A Roman was tested by adversity which was never lacking in an empire under continual threat by outside forces accurately described as barbarians. Character and courage were the traits needed to make their mark and promote the interests of Rome. When these lapsed in later years, the empire was destined to fall, according to many historians. Herein lie character lessons for an inquiring man today.

Yet there was more. The great 18th century British historian Edward Gibbon wrote in the opening pages of his multi-volume “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “If a man were called to fix the period of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would without hesitation name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian (AD 96) to the accession of Commodus (AD 180). The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors whose character and authority commanded involuntary respect.”

The Romans fought hard to gain their empire and governed well to maintain it. Harsh when necessary to keep control, they left localities alone to govern themselves with their own values and gods. It was an instruction in self-government that assured an era of peace that the region had not known before or has known since.

Barbarian sack of Rome

This was exemplified by Julius Caesar who in his famed memoirs showed that aside from personal glory, he fought not to destroy neighboring Gaul but to bring it into the Roman Empire. No visionary or ideologue while a great general, he respected and didn’t hate the enemy he fought and was always negotiating while fighting. Come let’s all be Romans together, he said, and Gaul agreed.

This empire had a long run as empires go but eventually succumbed to barbarian pressures with emperors and armies that could no longer cope. But if we’re going to think about Rome, why not think big? What if it had managed to stave off the invaders and continued to exist through subsequent centuries? There would be no dark ages since arts and letters continued to flourish under Roman rule. No need for a Renaissance to revive them. Brilliant, creative European nations would develop under a watchful Rome able to prevent them from trying to destroy one another, culminating in two apocalyptic world wars whose savagery would have appalled even the barbarians who sacked Rome, while admiring it. Rome is gone, but understandably and thankfully, not its memory. See Tik-Tok

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Good-bye Cartels

Two years ago, I was driving through the Mohave desert in southern California when I came upon an assortment of white canopied structures as far as the eye could see. What were they doing in this arid zone? They were illegally growing marijuana under the watchful eye and stern control of Mexican drug cartels – a patch of violent-prone Mexico transferred to the U.S. Don’t get too close, residents warned, or they will come out with guns and threaten you. As in Mexico, shootouts occur among rivals and dead bodies are a familiar sight. These alien occupants steal water from people in a parched land, destroy wildlife with overuse of pesticides and undercut legal American growers by avoiding taxes and burdensome regulations. A cartel paradise courtesy of the U.S.

Illegal marijuana farms in the Mojave Desert

But fortunately, not to last. On a recent trip back to the desert, these marijuana farms had altogether disappeared, not one to be seen wherever I looked. It seemed like magic but was the result of hard tedious work. People were fed up with the costly, dangerous cartel intrusion and officials of sprawling San Bernardino County acted accordingly. Sheriff Shannon Discus organized a task force with heavy machinery to smash green houses, machetes to cut plants and guns for protection that steadily eliminated one farm after another. By now some thousands have been destroyed containing over a million plants. The desert is back to normal.

And what a desert! Its austere serene beauty is fit for more than marijuana. How about tourism instead? A manager of a popular inn located in the pleasant town of Twenty-nine Palms says she can live in a bubble now undisturbed by outside commotion. Just add a fancy restaurant to traditional digs and here come the guests. A staffer at the same inn says life may be easier now for a close friend who made the mistake of leasing some land at $2,000 a month to friendly Mexicans who turned out to be cartel toughs, a familiar transaction in these parts where land is cheap. At the first sign of inquiring police they fled with all the equipment they could take ahead of demolition.

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office raids on illegal cannabis farms

On my first trip I visited a dot of a desert town called Landers where a post office marks the center. There two apparently anxious women were discussing in hushed voices the latest doings of the local cartels. As elsewhere homeowners were possibly outnumbered and definitely outgunned by the intruding Mexicans who treated them, well, like Mexicans. So what if they were Americans. The land actually belonged to Mexico before it was appropriated by the U.S. in the 1840’s war with Mexico. Some cartel leaders want it back. The marijuana invasion is a start.

Today the once near deserted post office is bustling with activity. The farms are gone, says a relaxed resident who notes that the remains of one can be found down a dirt road at the foot of a nearby mountain. There I observed the hulk of a greenhouse that had seen better days of a prospering cartel. Elsewhere remains of farms consisted of heaps of ruble. Demolition had been thorough, making the emphatic point that the illicit growers should not think of returning.

While a cloud has lifted for the people of the Mohave desert, the drug cartels have suffered a genuine setback. This at a time when they are making aggressive advances on the border with drugs and migrants. They are virtually unstoppable. San Bernardino shows they can be stopped and furnishes an example. The outraged people of the county made their concerns clear to county officials. If nothing was done, they could take the law into their own hands. Indeed that’s a western tradition. Law enforcement got the message and went to work. There is much more work to be done as cartel farms continue to spread in California, Oregon and elsewhere.

Appalled by cartel violence, some hawkish Republicans talk of bombing drug labs in Mexico and other kinds of military action. It makes more sense to clean up the U.S. first, from eliminating all the marijuana farms to disrupting cross country drug and human traffic to closing the now open border. Hit the cartels where it hurts in the pocketbook. Their existence depends on U.S sales. Cut them, and the cartels may be weakened to the point that besieged Mexicans can finally rebel the way San Bernardino did.

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Freud Today – Does He Still Matter?

Freud is food for indigestion. Indigestion! What a mistake. That’s not what I meant to say, which was “food for thought.” Are you sure about that? asks Freud. In fact, you have committed a Freudian slip, whereby you unintentionally reveal your true thoughts through a slip of the tongue. And you are not alone. Everyone does this sooner or later. It can’t be helped. In his Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud catalogues the instances. It makes amusing if discomfiting reading – the stumbles of the mind.

Sigmund Freud c. 1935

Not even the Washington elite are immune from such stumbles. At a lavish dinner party, Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush, started to talk about a recent encounter with her boss. “As I was telling my husb…as I was telling the President.” The slip, suggestive of an affection beyond the political, was the talk of the cocktail circuit for many days.

Yet speaking of Freud in terms of indigestion is not wide of the mark. That’s how many people feel when they first read him. His unsparing search of the unconscious turns up many items you would just as soon not know about. That’s his method. By removing the repressions that conceal your thoughts and desires, he lets you live more comfortably with yourself, no longer burdened with memories of past abuse, particularly from childhood. Freudian psychoanalysis is liberating, not only for the individual but also for society. After the trauma of the First World War, people were ready for the emotional release that Freud offered. His theories caught on in America more than anywhere else.

In fact, he didn’t much care for America – too egalitarian. He had a lofty view of his own role as leading humanity to the promised land of psychoanalysis much as Moses led the Jewish people from Egypt to Canaan. In fact, defying tradition, he identified Moses not as Jewish but as a gentile Egyptian, which was one iconoclastic act too many for his once adoring public. Enough of his theories of psychosexual development. They didn’t pan out and were scientifically invalid. He was overly concerned with self, said critics, especially the sexual self. And psychoanalysis didn’t seem to be of more help to the mentally disturbed than other kinds of treatment. Freudianism was a fad. Its time was up.

Moses by Michelangelo

Yet Freud persevered. He was aways open to change and refinement of theory. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he acknowledged that pleasure or happiness is not necessarily the main goal in life as he had once thought. He struggled to describe what he termed the death instinct in human beings, made all too vivid by the carnage of the First World War. He abhorred the resulting communism and was imperiled by Nazism.

There is something inherently aggressive in human life, he decided, regardless of circumstance or system. Love is not a solution since love for one group implies enmity toward another. Reality is a permanent “struggle between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction as it works itself out in the human species.” Freud says he is no prophet and cannot offer the consolation that everyone demands from the “wildest revolutionaries no less passionately than the most virtuous believers.” It’s not the stuff of lullaby. The warring instincts are within us all and we must choose. It’s not easy, but then neither is life. Civilization and its Discontents is Freud’s last disturbing word. With that he is finished …oops, a slip… he is forever.

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The Woman Who Said No

By now it’s conceded that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a mistake or much worse. It was based on the fear that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction he was prepared to use and ties to al-Qaida, the terrorist group responsible for the 9-11 attack. He didn’t. The war was meant to lead to a democratic Iraq and a more peaceful Middle East. It didn’t. Instead, a devastating, prolonged conflict took 4,600 American lives and as many as half a million Iraqi ones. It set the stage for other equally dubious invasions that roiled the Middle East and North Africa, creating more than a million refugees. Today the fighting still continues for reasons that remain unclear.

In his new book, “War Made Invisible,” political analyst Norman Soloman recalls the enthusiasm with which Americans, the media in particular, greeted the war. Cheerleading doesn’t quite convey the coverage. It was a kind of exaltation, the lone superpower bringing justice to the world. Setting an example, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called the war “one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.” Iraq must be bombed, he said, “over and over and over again.  Blow up a different power station in Iraq every week so no one will know when the lights will go off or who’s in charge.” For this inspired commentary Friedman was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Amid the clamor for battle, writes Solomon, there was one sober voice. Ashleigh Banfield was an up-and-coming TV star who reported from war zones in a casual, winning manner. TV producers and critics were delighted by a captivating blond so comfortable in front of a camera. Said MSNBC President Eric Sorenson: “She’s the age of the audience we want and she’s a great communicator in the authoritative energetic way this generation wants.”

Ashleigh Banfield

But in contrast to the producers back home, Banfield actually experienced the war and decided it should be made more visible. A few weeks into what seemed to be an overwhelming victory, she gave a speech noting some of the grim realities of war.  “What didn’t you see? You didn’t see where those bullets landed. You didn’t see what happened when the mortar landed. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war. It was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn’t journalism.”

Attuned to invisibility, TV management was aghast. What was this outrageous blond up to? NBC stalwarts said she didn’t speak for the network and must choose her words more carefully. Not that she was given the chance. Later she described how she was treated for many months after her unacceptable speech. She had no work or office or equipment. A kind of solitary prisoner, Soviet style, she begged to be let out of her contract. But NBC President Neal Shapiro wouldn’t hear of it for fear she would take her brand to another network and make a success of it. “Maybe that’s why he chose to keep me in a warehouse,” she concludes. When she finally left, she went on to other TV journalism while NBC continued to report its invisible war.

Today the mainstream media has found another war to act in unison on – Ukraine. But it doesn’t enjoy the monopoly it once had. Dissent is easily available on the internet, and significant public figures like Donald Trump and Robert F. Kenedy Jr., have expressed their opposition to the war. Maybe Ashleigh Banfield set an example.

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Drug Cartel Ties to Washington

Hunter Biden’s wandering laptop seems to have an inexhaustible supply of information, much of it damaging to the user and his father President Joe. The latest revelations published by The London Daily Mail indicate prolonged business dealings with prominent super rich Mexican businessmen, notably billionaires Carlos Slim and Miguel Aleman Velasco, who made many visits to the Vice President’s office in 2014.  Hunter was continually excited by the prospect of investing with these heavies in Mexico and Latin America, not that it always worked out, leading to his heartfelt complaint: why are you so silent after all I’ve done?

On one occasion Joe flew with Hunter on Air Force 2 (at taxpayers’ expense) to meet Aleman’s son to consummate a deal considered “flippin’ gigantic.” Relations were congenial, if not in fact cozy, with rest and fun on Caribbean beaches and ample time to discuss such things as the flow of Mexican drugs to the U.S.

Former VP Joe and son Hunter Biden with Carlos Slim in 2015

President Joe and Hunter would probably indignantly deny this. The meetings were all about business. But business is not conducted in a vacuum in Mexico. Everything revolves around the drug trade of which wealthy businessmen form a part, like it or not. Along with all other Mexicans they belong to the cartels from whom they take their instructions and make a lot of money. They will not do so if they go astray, and their lives will be forfeited as well. The cartels react briskly to signs of disaffection. Consider the Mexican homicide rate and the bodies hanging along the highways.

So, the Bidens may as well shake hands with the cartels. They have put their stamp of approval – their brand – on the true enemies of the U.S., which will be used to their advantage. The cartel chiefs are reassured. Nothing to worry about from the U.S. So, it’s business as usual with the satisfaction of paying off top officials. Not that this is apparent to the American media which continues to describe the cartels as separate from the government with no-up-to-date analysis of the actual workings of the government – who’s in charge? who does what to whom? We know more about Syria or Somalia, where we are actively intervening, than about next-door Mexico, which we leave alone.

Why this reluctance to face the reality of the cartels? Qui bono? Mexican drug sales in the U.S. may amount to as much as 100 billion dollars a year. No one knows for sure. While most is laundered back to Mexico – easily done – enough remains in the U.S. to fill obliging pockets. It can be said that the Bidens’ dealings are done openly compared to far greater behind-the-scenes operations.

These carry grave risks, the cartels are poisoning more Americans than ever with their drugs, especially lethal fentanyl. They are also spreading what can only be called armed camps by the tens of thousands around the U.S. These are illegal marijuana farms complete with an armed guard or two to keep neighbors at a distance. Put them all together and if properly coordinated, they constitute a veritable army. Colonel Douglas MacGregor told Tucker Carlson that we will eventually be fighting them here in the U.S. May the best man win.

But have no fear. The drug cartels have made it known they favor peace. Notes Mexican President Lopez Obrador, as he anticipates the upcoming talks on the Ukraine war in Saudi Arabia: “We don’t want the Russia-Ukraine war to continue. It’s very irrational. The only thing that benefits from it is the war industry.” Mexico will stick to its kind of war.

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The Fate of Journalists in Mexico

On a sunny afternoon in seaside Acapulco, Journalist Nelson Matu was getting out of his car in a shopping center parking lot. Gunmen – we don’t know how many – quickly moved in to pay their respects to journalism in Mexico. They fired, killing him, and fled never to be apprehended. They never are. Killing offending journalists is a licensed activity, as it were, among the drug cartels that rule Mexico.  The death of journalists is collateral damage. Matu had been a longtime irritant, covering violence for fifteen years and directing a group of journalists similarly inclined. He had survived two previous assassination attempts. The third succeeded. The cartels are persistent. This is why Acapulco, once the famed playground of the rich and famous, is now shunned. The U.S. State Department warns not to go there.

The body of another journalist, Luis Martin Sanchez, was found in a village north of Acapulco in the violence-ridden state of Guerrero. There were signs of possible torture and two messages on cardboard attached to his chest explaining their action, a typical cartel ploy. Sanchez had been a correspondent for La Jornada, a newspaper in Mexico City that had already lost two other newsmen to cartel violence. Sanchez’ death brings to seven the number of journalists murdered so far this year. It’s estimated that over 150 have been killed since 2000. The figure is imprecise because some just disappear and never turn up. It’s reasonable to fear the worst.

Missing persons bulletin for Luis Martin Sanchez Iniguez issued by the Mexican state of Nayarit Attorney General’s Office

It doesn’t take much to arouse the cartels. Israel Vasquez usually wrote about neighborly goings on. He wasn’t on the violence beat. But one day he got involved in a story about a group of dismembered bodies discovered in a church in the town of Salamanca. As he was preparing a broadcast for Facebook on the subject, two men on a motorcycle pulled up and shot and killed him. No stone can be overturned in the cartel view.

If Mexican journalists are fair game, their American colleagues are not a target. Few go to Mexico, but those who do are treated with care. The cartels know that while Americans are indifferent to the slaughter of Mexicans, they’re outraged if an American is harmed. The media follows suit. That means bad publicity for the drug business. A day of reckoning can be put off. Meanwhile, the cartels are making much progress in the U.S. The latest round of immigrants are mostly robust young men who obviously don’t need asylum in the U.S. Indeed, we may need asylum from them since many will doubtless link up with the vast drug distribution network stretching from coast to coast. When I was recently on the border, they seemed anxious to get on with their journey and not at all apprehensive.

Israel Vazquez Rangel

One destination might be the many thousands of drug cartel marijuana farms springing up in the American west. Though clearly illegal and undercutting legal American growers, they seem strangely tolerated. They are virtual armed camps since if anyone gets too close, out comes a threatening armed guard. Invasion, anyone? People in the area are terrified and local law enforcement can’t cope. The cartel farms are better armed. Surely, this is a national problem, but where are the feds? Could the FBI set aside its current preoccupation with classified documents to get involved? Unlike Mexican journalists, U.S reporters don’t have to worry about being killed if they come to take a look. This is America. So what’s keeping them?

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Can We Be Stoics Today?

In the early years of the first century of our era a popular playwright and politician named Seneca lectured and wrote about a philosophy called stoicism. Here in one of his many letters to a young friend he sums it up: “The only safe harbor in this life’s tossing, troubled sea is to refuse to be bothered about what the future will bring, squaring the breast to take without skulking or flinching whatever fortune hurls at us.”

The Death of Seneca, Luca Giordano (1632-1706)

This outlook is not only life fulfilling, he assured readers and listeners, but the road to happiness. He wrote at a time of political upheaval as Rome changed uneasily from republic to empire at the cost of many lives and social disorder. Thus, he chose as an example of stoicism the champion of the republic Marcus Cato who, confronted with two warring parties for control of the empire, stood his ground against both and fought to the last at the cost of his life. Content with empire, Seneca nevertheless paid tribute to the man who more than any other symbolized the esteemed republic.

On the Grecian sides there was famed philosopher Socrates, who spent his life under various wars and was eventually sentenced to death for poisoning the young with his opinions. He was appropriately executed by poison. Seneca writes that this brutal end had “so little effect this on Socrates’ spirit that it did not even affect the expression on his face. To the very last no one ever saw Socrates in any particular mood of gaiety or depression. Through all the ups and downs of fortune his was a level temperament.” If this was the behavior of a man in extreme stress, stoicism can support those in far less trouble.

Seneca’s stoicism was sorely tested by his times. A popular figure in Rome, he aroused the envy of the violent emperor Caligula, who sentenced him to death, then had second thoughts. The following emperor, the more subdued Claudius, considered execution but decided on an eight-year exile to the island of Corsica, where Seneca wrote some of his plays depicting the horrors of excess passion. Then suddenly came a change in fortune. Agrippina, the ambitious mother of the newly installed emperor, sixteen-year-old Nero, chose Seneca to be his tutor. In that post he failed to tame unruly Nero, who eventually killed his mother along with innumerable others. At the same time, aided by a military commander, Burrus, Seneca skillfully captained the ship of state through perilous times, enacting various legal and fiscal reforms. The later great emperor Trajan commented that Seneca’s five years in charge were among the finest in Roman history.

This abruptly changed when Nero went on a murderous rampage after learning of a plot to overthrow him in which Seneca was involved. Massive executions followed with Seneca drawing the blood from his veins to end his life. Some of the plotters had wanted to elevate him to emperor with the overthrow of hated Nero. Considering the centrality of Rome, that could have effected a change in world history – a dedicated stoic in command of events.

Nero and Seneca, Eduardo Barrón (1904)

Today’s passions are also intense, though hardly matching the lethality of ancient Rome, at least not yet. One full scale war is under way between Russia and Ukraine, amply supplied by the U.S. Others are threatened, with smaller wars taking place in Syria, Somalia and elsewhere. Stoicism would suggest damping down the passions that lead to these wars as well as staying in self-control as they continue. Stoics are not pacifists, but they want to act rationally, not emotionally. Passions undo us, says Seneca. A good life can be maintained by not giving into emotion. Stoicism to the rescue.

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Was Stalin Mentally Ill?

Soviet ruler Josef Stalin caused the death of some twenty million innocent people in his storied career. Some had challenged him, others had offended him and still more just simply existed. That was reason enough. He had the power, and he enjoyed using it and frankly, took pleasure in killing. He never showed any regret for his atrocities while he held sway over a good chunk of mother earth and its people. What can we say? Was he mentally ill, a category to which we assign today many malefactors?

Let’s say the great dictator assembled a group of psychiatrists to tell him what was wrong. They dutifully examined his words and deeds and came to the unanimous conclusion that he was mentally ill. Unfortunately, the psychiatrists got the remedy, not Stalin. They couldn’t even make it to a labor camp in Siberia. They couldn’t even escape the room. “I may be mentally ill,” said Stalin as he quickly disposed of them, “but you’re dead and I’m alive.” And ready to go on to greater glory and renown as arguably the most effective ruler of the 20th century.

That’s psychiatry Stalin-style. But what does it say about our world today? Is mental illness congruent with remarkable statesmanship and the ruthlessness that accompanies it? If so, we may have to reconsider the casual way we equate mental illness with crime. It can be inaccurate and misleading. Crime speaks for itself. Today’s drug cartels gained control of Mexico some years ago, yet they are as violent as ever, displaying their joy in killing fellow Mexicans and maybe planning the same fate for Americans. The only cure is getting them somehow out of the picture.

Mercy and compassion alone will not do. As long as it’s not punished, crime will spread. What happened in Mexico is a wake-up call for the U.S. Over and over mental illness is cited as the cause for the rapidly increasing crime in the inner cities where drug cartels prey on local gangs. But does sympathy for the addicted also explain the inattention of the media and the U. S. Government to the drug trade? Do they think it’s a system that needs counseling, not suppression? The same goes for violent local criminals. In a typical case Kemal Rideout casually slashed a woman to the bone on the New York City subway for no apparent reason. When he was caught about to leave town, his lawyer claimed – what else? – he was mentally ill and could not help himself. This had worked four times before when he had committed violent crimes and avoided prison. Why not try again? Others look to his example.

Oddly, while the U.S. is increasingly lenient with drug cartels and inner-city criminals, it’s issuing more threats than ever against foreign powers, large and small, with economic sanctions and military action. It’s now engaged in a proxy war with Russia that doesn’t have a clear purpose and is not going very well. It may be time to look back at an earlier great power, the Roman Republic-Empire, which had a run of close to ten centuries – impressive; we’re just getting started – that historians say became so enfeebled at home it could no longer hold off the barbarian forces that finally took it over. Could a plague of mental illness spell the end of the U.S.?

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Evolution Wins along with War

The courtroom combat was a clear mismatch. The most celebrated defense attorney in the U.S., Clarence Darrow, was pitted against the boisterous spokesman of populism, William Jennings Bryan. It was, said many, a contest of wit against half-wit over the credibility of evolution. This famous encounter In the Dayton, Tennessee, trial of 1925 is described, blow by legal blow, in a recently published book, “Trial of the Century,” by Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett, who while sympathetic to the lost cause of Bryan, makes it clear that the good guy won: “Darrow’s brilliant and devastating cross-examination of Bryan turned the tide in education. It spelled the beginning of the end of the kind of religious intrusion our Constitution forbids. The wonders and benefits of science were untethered. Generations of Americans became Darrow’s beneficiaries.”

Known derisively as the “Monkey trial,” the event was more spectacle than substance. People flocked to it to see the grandiloquent orator Bryan in action, even if content was not always up to delivery. Twice nominated for the U.S. Presidency by the Democratic Party, he lost both elections to Republicans but remained a key figure in American politics as the tireless spokesman for the underprivileged and overlooked people of the farm and prairie states. As such, he is given much credit for the expansion of democracy in his era.

Clarence Darrow (left) and William Jennings Bryan (right) during the Scopes Trial in 1925. 1925. Brown Brothers, Sterling, PA.

But reasoned debate was not his strong point. Knowing this, Darrow called him as a witness for his defense of John Scopes, a local schoolteacher who had been arrested for teaching evolution in violation of state law for which he could even go to prison. Evolution, insisted believers, contradicted the Biblical account of Creation. The trial judge and the community were sympathetic to the prosecution, but they had not counted on Darrow who in cross-examination mercilessly challenged Bryan’s literal interpretation of the Bible. Did he really believe that the Old Testament Prophet Jonah was swallowed by a whale and then disgorged still alive three days later? Sweating and fanning himself in the summer heat, Bryan gave an evasive answer, disappointing his followers to the delight of his opponents.

Illustration from page 88 of The World’s Most Famous Court Trial. 1925. Unknown engraver.

Darrow lost the battle. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100 with no jail time. But Darrow won the war in that his courtroom performance largely discredited fundamentalist doubts about evolution. Yet there was more to Bryan than evolution. With his rousing oratory in a time of no radio or tv, he became the leading opponent of U.S. involvement in the stupendous carnage of World War One. As U.S. Secretary of State, he pressed President Woodrow Wilson to mediate the conflict. When Wilson chose war instead, he resigned his office. Assured that a majority of Americans shared his view, he proposed a national referendum on the issue. But the peace inclined populace was overruled by a war demanding elite, not for the first or the last time. A growing consensus a century later suggests that U.S. entrance into the war prolonged its savagery, led to a vindictive post war settlement and the emergence of the poisonous ideologies of communism and Nazism. If so, Bryan was as right about war as he was wrong about evolution. For which should he be remembered?

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The Last Supper and a Touch of Venice

As you pass along a main street in the border town of Douglas, you see a sign in a window: “The Last Supper.” You assume it’s telling you that this is the last time you will eat in Douglas or maybe that it’s the last time you will want to eat in Douglas. But neither is the case. It refers to the Biblical Last Supper when Christ and the twelve apostles dined together. Behind the window is an array of paintings and sculptures – 2,500 altogether – that depict that last gathering before the next day’s crucifixion and the birth of Christianity. The event is portrayed in astonishing variety by artists, plain and grand, from all over the world.

What is all this doing in dusty, sleepy Douglas? It was a momentary impulse, says collector Eric Braverman: “My gift to Douglas and the border, which get a bad rap.” True enough since so much attention is focused on drugs and immigration. This is a diversion and then some. Get your mind on the eternal. It was also an impulse – an epiphany – that started the collection in the first place. As a youngster, Braverman saw a life-like model of the Last Supper and couldn’t get it out of his mind – for decades as it turned out. Today he gets daily offers to add to his collection. There seems to be an inexhaustible supply.

Eric Braverman and several items of his vast collection

He’s not religious but there’s nothing unseemly or satirical about any of the works on hand. They are all properly devout in their own special ways. There’s a hint of motivation. Jewish himself, Braverman notes with a touch of pride that the figures in the depictions are Jewish about to abet the astounding creation of Christianity here on display in Douglas.

This is one of two main attractions in the town, a reason to make a perfectly safe trip there. Right across the street is the Gadsden Hotel, which looks as if it belongs In Venice. Within is an Italian marble staircase fit for a king or at least for famed guerrilla fighter Pancho Villa, who is said to have ridden his horse part way up. On either side are soaring marble columns reaching a ceiling of spectacular stained glass depicting desert scenes beyond. No one has to go to Europe to experience Old World Beauty.

Marble stairway where Pancho Villa rode part way up on his horse

What is it doing in Douglas? It was built in 1907 during the copper mining boom that brought wealth, fame and some notoriety to the town. Who says we can’t be as good as the snooty Europeans? The Gadsden Hotel will show them, and indeed it does. A series of managements has been struggling to be worthy of the beautiful building they occupy. Gadsden remains an awkward standout in a town of many empty buildings with little sign of renewal. A former Gadsden owner, Anel Lopez, says that can soon change. Out-of-state investors are showing an interest in the area and buying property. Now Parks and Recreation Manager, she and others are fashioning a tourist route that links Douglas with other nearby towns of western vintage and color that can spark a revival. There will be more to Douglas than even Gadsden and The Last Supper.

School children performing the Wizard of Oz in lobby of Gadsden hotel
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Strategy of the Drug Cartels

The police, adequately suited up and armed, were ready. So were the media staked out by the Father Rahm church in El Paso where a massive influx of migrants was expected in a much-anticipated border crisis. This would be the result of a law expiring – Title 42 – that denied entry of immigrants on grounds of disease. But nothing happened. The invaders failed to appear. I drove several miles to the east of El Paso where I’d seen a number of migrants and police the day before. Now I didn’t see anyone. The police around town were relaxed and joking. Just an average day, they said.

Migrants in El Paso waiting to be processed

Had the cartels lost their punch? That didn’t seem likely. Here’s a conspiracy theory: President Biden made a call to his favorite drug cartel boss. How about doing me a favor. Call off your boys for a few days. It’ll make me look good. No open border. The boss complied and may ask for a favor in return.

Now for the facts. The Mexican drug cartels which basically control the entire 2000-mile border don’t care for dramatics, only for business which has never been better. They’re making tons of money from charging migrants to cross the border. If they don’t pay, they don’t cross. This comes on top of enormous earnings from drug sales to Americans already on the other side. Americans and Mexicans are both cash cows. Why jeopardize a good thing by making an unnecessary splash. So there will be no flood of migrants, just the usual trickle and occasional stream. The cartels are nothing if not strategists. In this respect they have no match on the other side.

Routinely, migrants gather at Father Rahm’s church awaiting their processing and dispersal to various parts of the country. In contrast to past migrations, there are hardly and women or children, just vigorous young males who don’t look as if they need asylum. They say they want work and indeed could make up for job shortages in some areas of the economy. They could also add to the cartel drug distribution network around the U.S. A group of three acted rather mysteriously. They seemed to head back toward Mexico. Homesick already? As they approached the border, they ducked into a building controlled by the U.S Border Patrol. I tried to follow but was stopped. Have to get permission higher up. Border Czar Kamala Harris? Were they informants of some kind or specially privileged? Surely not cartel members. You never know in this murky drug business.

Other migrants await their turn on the other side of the Rio Grande, now a muddy stream easy to cross. A much-traveled foot bridge leads to Juarez, known as the murder capital of the world when I was there a few years ago. Now it is several rungs down on the homicidal ladder and its downtown is as active and vibrant as that of El Paso, though a photographer tells me there have been some shootouts at a popular night spot. An expatriate familiar with border life says Americans are pretty safe In Juarez. The cartels are tolerant. If, say, a boisterous American gets carried away at a local bar and starts railing against the drug cartels, he will be gently escorted out and put to bed. Anything violent would be bad for business. Murdering an offending Mexicans is another matter, unreported.

Migrants in Juarez awaiting cartel orders to cross the Rio Grande

About fifty migrants are waiting in makeshift tents close to the footbridge in Juarez. Once again, they are almost all youngish men, this time from Venezuela. They are cheerful and approachable and could use a little money. They know they must await the command of the cartel to cross and hope it will be sooner rather than later. The cartel in turn conquers by dividing. The aim is to send a group over at a certain point to draw the attention of the Border Patrol. Thus diverted, they leave an opening for drugs to be sent across. Not a moment is wasted. It’s strategy.

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Another Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., wants to be U.S. President. Aside from his famous family name, his career has been that of an environmentalist. If there were an Environmental President, he would be favored, a shoo-in. He has targeted polluters far and wide, on land and sea, saving rivers, parks, whales and drinking water with a blizzard of lawsuits, books and speeches. He spent a month in a Puerto Rican jail while protesting U.S. Naval weapons testing on the island of Vieques that killed protected species and hurt the local economy.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (photo by Gage Skidmore)

Fair enough, but does that qualify him for the give and take, the rough and tumble of politics? Protected species don’t vote. What a question! Politics is bred into the Kennedys. There’s no avoiding it. In many respects RFK, Jr., fits nicely into current Democratic Party politics. He’s alarmed by climate change. He wants fossil fuels replaced by renewable energy though natural gas can do for the interim. He opposes finding more oil by fracking. As an environmentalist, he is particularly concerned with the effects of pollution on the less privileged. He says that “polluters always choose the easy target of poverty.” He found that most hazardous waste dumps are in black communities with the largest in the south side of Chicago.

But on two major issues RFK stands athwart the current Democratic party. While President Biden urges on the Ukraine war to weaken Russia, RFK says as President he will end the war with a compromise acceptable to both sides. U.S. policy is too militarized in too many parts of the world, he says. Diplomacy and statecraft are needed to contend with today’s challenges. “We will bring the troops home. We will start the process of unwinding empire. We will stop racking up unpayable debt to fight one war after another. The military will return to its proper role of defending our country.”

United States Attorney General Robert Kennedy

In his book “The Real Anthony Fauci,” Kennedy attacks an icon of the Democrats who he claims has misled and impaired the health of Americans from his prominent U.S. Gov’t. perch. In collusion with the pharmaceutical companies he is supposed to regulate Fauci has imposed lockdowns for Covid that have proved more deadly than the disease and disparaged inexpensive treatment for Covid in favor of a highly profitable and dubious vaccine. With an annual five billion dollar budget Fauci can reward those who agree with him and punish those who do not. Kennedy’s passionately written, exhaustively documented book has been met with outrage by defenders of Fauci who dismiss the author as a conspiratorial anti-vaxxer.

President John F. Kennedy (photo by Cecil Stoughton, White House)

If RFK, Jr., should come closer to the Presidency or achieve it, he will have to come to terms with the assassination of the two Kennedys before him. Unlike the assassination of three previous U.S. Presidents whose killers and motives were not in doubt, the death of John Kennedy remains as contentious today as ever. Thousands of books and articles have charged one or another group with responsibility for the assassination, dismissing the conventional view of a lone gunman. About to emerge as the Democratic nominee in 1968 with a clear shot at the Presidency, Bobby knew he would finally have access to White House papers shedding light on the matter. It was not to be.

In turn, RFK, Jr., would face the same challenge – elements of a Deep State determined that he fail in his quest and not carry on any Kennedy agenda of transparency. This country owes the Kennedys – two leaders cut down in the prime of life and power to the detriment of the country they served. It’s not just a Kennedy who is being tested in the coming months. It’s also the country.

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The U.S. – Warrior Nation

The U. S. has not been a particularly peaceful country. Aside from a devastating Civil War, it has been caught up In a number of others that almost always ended in victories with mission accomplished: freedom from British rule, westward and then overseas expansion at the expense of Mexico and Spain, overcoming German militarism in the First World War and Nazism in the Second, containing Stalinist Russian aggression in the Cold War leading to the regime’s ultimate collapse with only the Vietnam War a serious loss. It was always clear why we were fighting and what constituted victory.

Charlamagne

Not so since 9/11. The U.S has been involved in one war after another, more than any other nation during this period with unclear goals and dismal outcomes. Some 900,000 people have been killed with immense damage to the Middle East and North Africa and 38 million refugees clamoring for admission to a weakened Europe. With the current prolonged war in Ukraine there’s no end in sight.  It’s time for an overdue review of these conflicts.

Every country – monarchist, autocratic, totalitarian, democratic – relies on a chosen few, a clique – to guide it through a crisis, e.g., war. That’s the way the world works at least since the Roman Republic tried two-man rule. The leader of the group in charge may be good – Augustus, Charlemagne, Bismarck, Lincoln – or not so good, even terrible – Nero, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin. In that case it’s up to the aggrieved country to remove him, which is not always easily done. There was no attempt to remove Stalin since he had killed almost everybody around him.

Emperor Nero

On a less draconian level, the so-called neoconservatives have dominated U.S foreign policy since 9/11. Capable, well organized with an instinct for the jugular, they have a special aim in view – the pre-eminence, not to say supremacy of the U.S. in world affairs. That requires a lot of military activity. Hence, the series of wars. But is that really in the U.S interest?  The U.S. was once considered a republic that would be true unto itself whatever the rest of the world may be doing – attentive to world affairs but not always  militarily involved in them.

The post- 9/11 wars got off to a bad start with the 2003 invasion of Iraq based completely on fabrications. Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein was said to have weapons of mass destruction and a role in the 9/ll attack neither of which was true. But in the resulting debacle no one was called to account. In fact, the neocons went on to promote and extend other wars – Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia – backed by kindred spirits in the media. Because of close ties to Israel, neocons are accused of wanting to destroy its enemies. But how does Israel or anybody benefit from a region in chaos?

It’s time for a replacement. There are competent strategists throughout the U.S. with no ax to grind who are currently walled out of influence by ideology. Let’s break down the barrier and let them in.

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Drug Cartels in the U.S.

She hardly looks like a drug trafficker, but looks, as they say, can be deceiving. Joanne Marian Segovia, 64, a glamorous grandmotherly drug dealer, was recently arrested at her home in a gated community in San Jose, California. She had received some sixty shipments of illegal drugs, including lethal Fentanyl, from Hong Kong, Hungary, India and elsewhere that she in turn conveyed to cartel members for delivery and sale across the U.S. She got away with this for some years because she had been a police union director supposedly fighting the drugs she was profiting from. This is the nightmare of law enforcement – one pf their own gone bad.

Her neighbors were stunned. How could this friendly grandmother, always talking affectionately about her grandchildren, be so criminally involved? “She was the kind of person who would have chocolate cookies ready for the kids,” a close neighbor of Segovia told the New York Post. In fact, one of the drug packages she received was labeled “Chocolate Sweets.” The cartels are adept at finding the perfect cover. The DEA does its best to uncover such a ruse, but its annual budget is three billion dollars  compared to the near two hundred billion dollars spent so far on the war in Ukraine with a far distant border.

Across the continent in Providence, Rhode Island, Rafael Jimenez-Martinez was the center of drug distribution in the Northeast – plenty of Fentanyl and white powder cocaine for endless demand. Though he had been twice deported and served a five-year sentence for his activities, he was well supplied with drugs from California (Segovia, maybe? and seemed unstoppable. But he was not part of the Mexican setup where family loyalty served to protect members. He was working with dealers from the Dominican Republic, say investigators, and they want to turn a fast back as quickly as possible. Jimenez-Martinez was their man. No one was faster at picking up drugs, delivering and selling them. An also vulnerable to alert law enforcement.

He had taken other steps to avoid detection like dipping his fingertips in acid to burn off his fingerprints and assuming various aliases like Carlos, Ismael and Junior. He changed license plates according to where he was driving. But he was caught on wiretap complaining to cartel members about money. In June he was given a fifteen-year prison sentence. It was noted in court that he had delivered enough Fentanyl to wipe out the entire population of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. 

In contrast to the rest of the media the Louisville Courier Journal provides serious coverage of the drug cartels in both Mexico and the U.S. Jimenez-Martinez is typical. But much more attention, not to say action is needed. The current open border allows drugs and unknown people to pour into the country and also agents of the cartels who add to their extensive and underestimated network in the U.S. It is fast becoming a solid component of the country much to its detriment.

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A Mother’s Plea on Drugs

The common number for annual fentanyl deaths in the U.S. Is 100,000 – an impressive figure but still an abstraction that may not sink in. At a recent U.S. Congressional hearing, Rebecca Kiessling of Rochester Hills, Michigan, put flesh on these numbers by describing how her two sons Caleb, 20, and Kyler, 18, died of fentanyl that had been laced into the painkiller Percocet. They like many others, didn’t realize they were killing themselves. There was no warning of the mixture from the drug dealer.

Kiessling complained that the criminal received only an eight to fifteen year prison sentence for ending the lives of her sons. When is this crisis going to be taken seriously? she asked. The dead bodies from fentanyl are piling up in funeral homes. “If Chinese troops lined up along our border with weapons aimed at our people, you damn well would do something about it. A Chinese balloon comes across our country, no one dies but everyone is freaked out. This is war. Act on it.”

Members of congress who listened appeared concerned, but action is unlikely. The problem has been around for many years with little being done. The wealthy donors who keep the politicians in office don’t seem interested, and some may have connections to the enormously lucrative drug trade. The media displays the same indifference at a time when newspapers are in serious financial trouble. The Mexican drug cartels are on hand to provide relief for one and all.  At an Arizona state senate hearing, an investigator for the Harris/Thaler law firm offered 120 documents to show that forty public officials in Arizona had been bribed by the powerful Sinaloa cartel in Mexico anxious to keep the U.S. border open for its drugs. Republicans and Democrats alike expressed disbelief and outrage. Sinaloa didn’t comment.

The aftermath of Kiessling’s testimony was not encouraging. Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene said that the two boys might still be alive if President Bader had secured the border and stopped the flow of drug into the U.S. In turn, the President denied that he was responsible for the deaths. “That fentanyl they took came during the last (Trump) administration,” he said with something of a chuckle. “How dare you!” replied Kiessling. “Almost every Democrat on the committee offered their condolences You don’t even do that. You have to mock my pain.”  

The emotional exchange points up the severity of the problem. The genuine solution is for Americans to forgo their drugs, which would also eliminate the drug cartels. They sell almost entirely to the U .S. which alone keeps them in business. Without drugs their other crimes – extorting migrants to the U.S, sex trafficking, kidnapping – would hardly suffice. And their reach is increasing. They control with armed guards many thousands of illegal marijuana farms in California, Oregon and Wisconsin that undercut legitimate American growers and add to their astonishing profits. We don’t know how much they’re involved in local elections and government, but there are signs pointing to it. You took half of Mexico in the 1840’s war, they might say. Now we are taking it back in our own way.

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Living Down Below

While some builders are bringing earth skyward, others are digging below, crafting homes and even hotels partially or altogether beneath the earth. They take all kinds of shapes depending on the land that encloses them. Empty space can often suffice – an abandoned mine, quarry or even a missile site. Otherwise, excavation is needed to secure a home in a mountain or valley or even desert.

Who is that who seems to be coming mysteriously out of a hill? It’s no ghost but a human being who chooses to live where he can  hardly be seen unless he wants to appear. That’s the advantage of living below – quiet and privacy. It’s not altogether for the fainted hearted, anyone who may fear being buried alive. It takes a certain type of adventurous mortal. Roughly speaking, we know of a million underground homes, but there could be many more. We just can’t see them all.

There are distinct advantages to living underground. While excavation adds to the cost of a home, it’s matched by savings in energy – heating and cooling.  Built of durable concrete, the home below is especially desirable in areas of extreme temperatures. The insulation of the earth helps keep living conditions comfortable. Depending on how far down the structure goes, windows may not be available for sunlight, but bright lights can substitute. The location also provides protection from the hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes that periodically ravage the homes above. It’s called living with the earth instead of in opposition to it.

Not content with that, ambitious builders are contemplating entire cities beneath the earth. The plans are there. They await the execution. Meanwhile, an imposing 337-room hotel, the Intercontinental Shanghai Wonderland, more appropriately known as the Deep Pit Hotel, has been constructed in an abandoned quarry near Shanghai, China. The top of eighteen floors is on a level with the earth, the lowest two are under water. Guests have a unique view of what transpires underground. This takes some getting used to, admits an hotel manager. It’s topsy-turvy with water and sewage having to go up instead of down.

DCIM\100MEDIA\DJI_0355.JPG

Life below is not without problems. Doris James Mizbejabber has lived in a partially underground home for eighteen years near the Arkansas state capitol Little Rock. It’s been delightful, she says, but over time repairs due to location are needed. A wet spot appeared in the ceiling, and then more, forming stalactites from above – picturesque but daunting. Walls and ceilings have also suffered cracks. A variety of insects – spiders, centipedes, termites – decided to make a home there as well. The family thought it was time to sell, but the value of the house had declined. Where would they go? Why to another underground home, to be sure, but a bit more up to date.  There’s nothing like mother earth.

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Parks In the Sky

One day Italian architect  Stefano Boeri was walking around fabulously wealthy Dubai and grew tired of all the glass walled buildings that distinguish the city. Too sterile to look at, he thought, and too wasteful of the energy needed to keep them livable. There must be something better, and he decided to work on it.

The result is a pair of buildings that are the talk and pride of Milan, Italy. In this heavily industrialized city they are an offering to the gods of change, beauty and energy conservation.  All 800 units in the 27-story buildings have balconies with two trees, an array of plants with birds nesting in them, all living comfortably with human occupants. It seems to be a park heading skyward that almost makes the apartments disappear, a striking contrast to the routine of the typically makeshift city.

Architect Boeri says his plan has been realized. Nature can be enjoyed in the midst of the city hubbub. Trees can help absorb pollutants, he says, and contribute to global cooling. “Bringing more trees into the city means fighting the enemy on the spot.” With renewable energy solar panels and a flittered water system sustain plant life. Once every three months three flying gardeners repel from the roof down to every apartment to prune and water the vegetation.

That sight itself is worth the price of the rent, which varies considerably from the affluent top occupants to the more affordable units down below. Boeri says he wants renters of all levels of income to have nature in their lives. A full survey of their adjustment to this new existence has yet to be made. Higher upper Simona Pozzi says how much she enjoys watching her plants change with the seasons. Instead of going out to a park she comes home to one.

Boeri has been encouraged to build even taller sky soaring parks elsewhere, and admirers are duplicating his efforts in various parts of the world. China, However, offers a note of caution. An elevated park in the city of Chengdu has lost most of its occupants because of mosquitoes swarming in and plants enveloping balconies that leave no room for humans. Maintenance is obviously lacking. Some diehards grumble that trees belong on the ground not in the air, but that increasingly is where they are to largely dazzling effect.

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The Challenge of the Drug Cartels

At their meeting in Mexico City, Mexican President Lopez Obrador thanked U.S. President Biden for not adding to the border wall between the two countries. In turn, Biden asked Lopez Obrador for help in stopping the poisonous fentanyl that is crossing the border from Mexico. Therein lies a contradiction. The enormous flow of fentanyl and other illegal drugs into the U.S. cannot be stopped without serious impediments of which the wall is one.

For this the drug cartels who basically run Mexico are also grateful. Who could ask for more? In control of the 2000 mile long border, they outnumber and outmaneuver the American guards on the other side. Strategically minded, they order a group of migrants across at one point, thus tying up some of the U.S. border Patrol. That leave a gap elsewhere for drugs to cross. They have little to fear.as they go about their business. While the Border Patrol agents are armed, they can only return fire. In the open across the Rio Grande, cartel chiefs clad in black direct operations free of concern. The invasion, as it were, is cost free.

The new 3.2 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill just approved by the U.S. Congress provides no funds for border protection. At the same time, the U.S is lavishing one hundred billion dollars on the proxy war against Russia in Ukraine, a fraction of which would secure the U.S. border. Russians are not threatening the U.S. Mexican gangster are. They have links to the big city gangs now embroiled in crime as they compete for drug profits. The cartels have a well-organized cross-country operation that undoubtedly includes their many thousands of illegal marijuana farms sprouting up in California, Oregon, Wisconsin and no doubt elsewhere. Politically minded cartel bosses talk about reclaiming the southwest that was lost to Americans in the 1840s’ war. Talk about reparations! 

President Biden has made a nod toward remedy. He has started to rebuild a section of the wall near Yuma, Arizona, and has transferred some 200 air marshals to the border to assist in handling migrants, arousing some concern that a terrorist attack might occur in their absence. The only genuine solution is a border sealed by U.S troops who could confront the cartels and if necessary, pursue them beyond the border. This is war and should be conducted as such.

It’s striking that many Americans seem unaware of what is happening on the border, and that can be chalked up to an indifferent media. Aside from conservative Fox tv and the New York Post, the rest of the media has little to say about the drug cartel threat to the U.S. or its destruction of Mexico. But why is defense of the U.S. a conservative matter? Our compassion is selective. We’re understandably grieved by the Ukrainians dying in the war, but what about the Mexicans who are murdered on a daily basis? Silence.  There’s no popular outcry for U.S agencies to do their job. Engrossed in propagandizing Americans through Twitter, the FBI doesn’t seem to have time for the cartels. Given the many billions of dollars in drug earnings, suspicions can arise about Washington’s inactivity. Time for Americans to be reassured.

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Happy 319,642 New Year

The planet we live on leads a charmed life. Though faced with innumerable threats to its existence, it has managed to survive a few billions year and so have we humans for more than three hundred thousand years. Yellowstone Park is an example of how we’re helped. It’s an actual still active volcano that refuses to erupt while we enjoy its splendor into the distant future. Nature doesn’t do our bidding, but it’s very cooperative.

Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone National Park

Scientists and skilled every day researchers are trying to determine when the first human being walked the earth. They think they’re getting closer as the elusive date sems to be ever earlier, over three thousand years ago. What’s impressive, astonishing even, is how a particular species managed to survive over this vast period despite natural disasters – frequently occurring earthquakes and fiercely erupting volcanoes – and manmade ones – endless wars and now a nuclear danger. Yet here we are today in a new year with many of us in relative comfort and even happy. There’s a story to be told.

Threats to be sure, continue to exist, many in the most unlikely places. Appearances can be deceiving. Take Yellowstone Park, for example. This 2.2-million-acre wonder, spreading over draws some four million visitors each year to enjoy its splendid scenery of mountains, valleys, geysers and hot pools for an occasional if somewhat risky dip. Yet they may not know it, but they’re standing on a massive super volcano that sits above an enormous reservoir of molten rock that reaches twelve miles into the earth. It also happens to be still active. With some very acute sensitivity visitors might feel the hundreds of small earthquakes that occur each year.

These are precursors of a cataclysmic eruption that will some day occur. But don’t postpone your visit on account of that. The last eruption took place 600,000 year ago and the next may be ten thousand years in the future. Meanwhile just look out for traffic and bison jams on the narrow roads. What could be a distant nightmare is a current paradise for geologist Paul Doss, who says he can observe rocks three billion of years old and new ones being born.
“I’ve never been any place where geology is more evident or prettier.” 

Yellowstone is typical of where we stand in the universe in the opinion of Bill Dyson in his book “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” Tragedy abounds, but we are spared. For instance, we are just the right distance from the nourishing sun. Much closer, earth would have boiled away. Much farther out, it would have frozen. Our moon, larger than those of other planets, provides a steady gravitation that keeps the earth spinning at the right speed and angle necessary for a long and successful life. We’re lucky that 4.4 billion years ago a huge celestial object smashed into earth, carving out a separate moon. Creative destruction, to be sure.

Timing is essential, writes Bryson. Anything can go wrong in billions of years. “It seems evident that if you wish to end up as a moderately advanced, thinking society, you need to be at the right end of a very long chain of outcomes involving reasonable periods of stability with an absence of real cataclysm.”

Privileged as we are, we don’t own the universe or are masters of it. Ultimately, it will decide our fate as we seek to learn more about it. In the meantime we can act appropriately within its bounds with a measure of humility and forbearance. No use tearing up what it has built over the ages. We’re not sure exactly when we arrived here. Any number is arbitrary. But we’ll give it a try. Maybe we’ll hit the jackpot. Happy 319, 642 New Year.

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Do We Deserve Our Buildings?

An aspect of globalism is the uniformity of our cities. They tend to be identical across the globe with skyscrapers the predominate feature. They’re getting taller all the time, but there’s nothing much to look at on the way up. Beauty of designs is conspicuously absent in these serviceable structures of glass and steel. It’s said that taste and even character are shaped by the buildings in which we work and live. So how do we fare in today’s sameness? Very badly, writes Henry Hope Reed in “The Golden City” a book that was published in 1959 and is getting renewed interest today.

He writes: “Where once the street was crowded with sculptural detail, we are offered a wasteland. Where once towers graced the skyline, slabs now obstruct it.” The reason is that  we’ve abandoned the classical ideal of architecture for a modernism without form or feeling. We have liberated ourselves from what makes architecture worthwhile.

Thomas Jefferson, he writes, set the style. Just as he drew on the Roman past for elements of the new politics of America, so he sought out “Roman taste, genius and magnificence” in architecture. He noted: “There is at Nimes in the south of France a building called  the Maison Carree that has pleased universally for near 2000 years.“ It was to be a model for the Virginia capitol and other estimable works over the years. Just as the past proved essential for the new nation’s politics, so did its architecture.

In his book, Reed contrasts many past buildings with those of the present to show how Jefferson’s advice was ignored in slavery to the new.  It’s almost as if beauty is to be ignored for functionality at all costs. Typical is a picture of the great hall of the Cunard building in New York City designed by Benjamin Wistar Morris in 1921, juxtaposed with a view of the main lobby of the secretariat building of the United Nations designed in the late 1940’s by an international board of architects. Intimacy in the one, anonymity in the other. You want to linger in the one as long as you can, leave the other as soon as possible. And international peace has not been assured.

There are some signs of remedy. The original, much admired Penn Station in New York City was torn down in 1964, a victim to the rage of newness, leading to what the New York Post calls “a subterranean horror show” of congestion. Typically, the city wants to replace it with eight new office skyscrapers at a time of record office vacancies. Instead, architects devoted to New York have offered a plan that would revive the spirit of the vanished station in keeping with the needs of today. The new station would once again be above ground and open to the sunlight through three class vaulted ceilings. An adjoining green park would make it easier to wait for trains. Aside from vastly improving transportation, a reborn Penn could give a lift to a city too often laboring under bad news.

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The Gangster State

Who are the most courageous people in the world? There’s a lot of competition, but I would nominate the journalists of Mexico. Those who cover the doings of the drug cartels are watched, warned, threatened and murdered for their efforts.

Sometimes they can be paid to say nothing: “plata o plomo” (money or bullet). Still, they persist, as Katherine Corcoran did in pursuit of the killers of another enterprising journalist, Regina Martinez, as revealed in her book “In the Mouth of the Wolf.” Americans may not have heard of Martinez because their media doesn’t cover the cartels – less about these neighbors than about the “terrorists” in distant Somalia or Yemen.

Corcoran explains that the murdered journalists are rarely high profile and thus can be ignored. “All the victims are local, some as small as bloggers or citizen reporters who posted news stories on Facebook pages. This made them easy to dismiss by both the government and the public.” Yet these locals are doing the job their betters should be doing.

As they say, Corcoran left no stone unturned in her pursuit. Under each one she discovered yet another lie or excuse or crime exposing the gangster state. People were even afraid to talk about Regina Martinez. Some cartel informers might be listening. Regina was startled to learn that her boyfriend had been paid to inform on her. Betrayal is every day. Money talks or rather assures there is no talk.

In the course of her investigation Corcoran learned that people were disappearing in great numbers, never to be seen again – that is, alive. In 2011 nearly two hundred bodies were discovered in makeshift graves in the state of Tamoulipas under the control of the especially violent Zetas cartel. Her own state of Veracruz was not immune. The director of a shelter for the dispossessed warned, “You have to open up the earth in Veracruz and expect a swarm of skeletons.”

As of early 2022 the number of missing had reached 100,000, far more than under the dictatorships of Chile or Argentina or elsewhere in South America. The gangster state had outdone the autocratic states. Families pleaded in vain for the bodies of missing members and risked sharing their fate for speaking out. A father was told he could get his daughter back for a million pesos. He delivered what he could at the appointed spot, but there was no daughter. Don’t worry, said the police who arrested three culprits, one of whom they tortured to death to keep the others from telling what happened.

Regina Martinez, as expected, was busy investigating the mass burials, but eventually Corcoran found the apparent reason for her murder. She had uncovered links between prominent politicians and drug runners. It was not a major surprise, but no one was supposed to know about it. Martinez paid the price. Corcoran called the office of one of the politicians thirteen times over three months with no response. Perhaps it was just as well. In the months leading up to the publication of her book this year seven more journalists were killed. The drug cartels were not slowing down now that they had near total control of the U.S.-Mexican border and were rapidly increasing their thousands of illegal marijuana farms in California and Oregon.

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Marx and Tamerlane, Twin Conquerors

Anxious to establish the identity of his quite new country Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov replaced a statue of communist theorist Karl Marx with a more exalted one of the 14thcentury Mongol conqueror Tamerlane on horseback. It was an appropriate change to avoid a too close connection to the Soviet Union of which Uzbekistan was then a part. But did itconform to reality? Was Tamerlane, man of the sword, a greater conqueror than Marx, man of the word? Which ultimately was the mightier weapon?

No one ever defeated Tamerlane on the battlefield. It couldn’t be done. He was a mister of tactics who outfought and outlasted all his enemies. He was merciless in his victories, making sure those he subdued would never rise again. His calling card, say historians, was a tower of skulls from severed heads that surrounded the massacre of men women and children in the cities he destroyed. He was seldom out of the saddle. That was home. A devout Muslim, he had no hesitation about killing other Muslims. He was indiscriminate in his slaughter.

Marx and Tamerlane on horseback

The glorification of battle was all. He didn’t envision a permanent empire like Rome. His was an empire on the run, bound to dissolve after his death in 1405. But he had one lasting monument, the extraordinarily beautiful Samarkand in Uzbekistan. The riches in the cities he conquered were transferred to Samarkand, along with artists, architects, scholars, astronomers, glass blowers, weaversand all others worth keeping alive. “He threw himself into beautifying his capital with all the furious energy of war,” writes Justin Marozzi in his biography of Tamerlane. That can still be seen today.

No one ever defeated Karl Marx in argument. He wouldn’t allow it. Words were his weapon and he used them as aggressively as possible. He never killed anyone. But his words? Tamerlane is considered responsible for 17 million deaths. Many million more can be attributed to the name of Marx – Marxism – if not to the man who while promoting revolution was vague about the outcome. In revolution he said there’s no such thing as excess. Terror isexpected, as is the culminating rise of aproletarian leader of global proportion. He didn’t live to welcome the Russian Revolutionand the emergence of globalist Stalin, who might quickly have disposed of him as an unnecessary nuisance.

Marx is famed for his books Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto. But he was mainly atireless journalist who was constantly urging on his advocates around the world. It was indeed an empire of letters.  And he had no greater weapon at his disposal than the occasional slogan that sliced through argument as cleanly as Tamerlane severed heads: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The workers have nothing to lose but their chains.They have a world to win. Workers of the world, unite.”

Poor Tamerlane. Today except for Uzbeks, we hardly speak of him, while Marx remains on the tip of tongues, however removed from the master.  That statue of his should be kept in reserve, just in case.

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Life in Uzbekistan

If you want to make your mark in Uzbekistan, your name remembered amid such conquerors as Alexander the Great, Tamerlane or Genghis Khan, just leave your graffiti among the many thousand that already cover the walls of the Topchan hostel in the capital Tashkent. They say thanks in various ways for modest accommodation in a communal setting where you can find trekkers from neighboring mountainous Kyrgyzstan, Russians escaping military mobilization at home and others with no clear purpose other than enjoying themselves. A friendly Russian woman has “amoura” inscribed on her shirt, obviously a true globalist.

Topchan Hostel, Tashkent

For a change in mood, try the Amelia hotel in the medieval city of Bukhara, where alleys meander who knows where? And rugs are on display as far as the eye can see. This hotel does not welcome contributions to its walls. They are already elaborately covered with remarkable, colorful patterns of design that reflect the artistry of the great buildings outside. Inside or out, you are treated to the beauty of Uzbekistan.

Amelia Hotel, Bukhara

It’s a land of striking contrasts. The Soviets did their best to impose their doctrine on elements of Tashkent, the largest city in Central Asia and the fourth largest in the former Soviet Union. But somehow urban planning went awry and nature intervened. Tree-lined streets make it a pleasure to drive and large parks appear surprisingly often in a lovely, livable city. Nothing like spending part of a sunny afternoon with an affable Russian in his favorite beer garden.

Another aspect of life is furnished by the museum of the victims of repression in Tashkent. Photos, documents and personal belongings testify to the brutality that forms so much of the history of Uzbekistan from Tsarist tyranny to Stalin’s murderous purges. Uzbeks have had to live with the worst, perhaps sustained in part by the beauty surrounding them. Despite their trials, a resolute, basically cheerful people has emerged. Hardy males seem much at ease. Women, more subdued, may or may not be covered. Younger ones are more lively and occasionally can be seen in short skirts. Uzbekistan is Islamic, but of a relaxed nature. It’s not Iran. Uzbeks admire the great religious buildings among which they live, but also enjoy them. They’re part of everyday life.

Uzbekistan is authoritarian. One man rule is the norm, as demonstrated by long time ruler Islam Karimov, who enhanced the country while carefully containing it. Serious opposition is not allowed, and Uzbeks are careful about what they say, particularly about their country. Others like Russia and America are fair game. The Ukraine war is the main topic of conversation, inspired in part by the Russians who have come to Uzbekistan to avoid being put into the military. They seem to be influenced more by American media than by Putin’s explanations. One Russian even says he wouldn’t mind if U.S. forces came right up to the Russian border. That’s a stretch. He may not be aware of contemporary America and the role of the neocons in promoting a highly aggressive U.S. foreign policy. Like the Bolsheviks before them whom they admire, they would like to remake Russia in their own image if given the chance. Better keep a close watch on that border.

There’s probably no more fervent foe of Putin in Uzbekistan than Aziza, the doughty proprietor of the Antica B&B in Samarkand, famed for its breakfast delicacies served in a pleasant garden. Mention Russia, and she is aflame. She has decided that no one supportive of Putin will stay at her guest house, which has cost her some business. Russian occupation is down from 80% to 20% since it’s a matter of principle before profit. A featured guest is Pepe Escobar, who writes about efforts to revive the ancient Silk Route connecting the nations of Eurasia. An alert staffer discovered some praise of Putin in one of his pieces. “You’re no longer welcome here,” announced Aziza, as he protested he couldn’t survive without her breakfasts. At the time I left, the issue was unresolved.

Going further, imagine if President Putin, in search of a simple life, should ask for a room at Antica. It would be an epic encounter worthy of history books. Who would win?

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Splendors of Samarkand

No shortage of conquerors in Uzbekistan. I could have used one to help get a visa. Citizens of twenty countries don’t need a visa to enter Uzbekistan, but those of the U.S are excluded. It may be doubly difficult now that the U.S. is backing Ukraine in its war with Russia, which continues to exercise considerable influence in Uzbekistan. But with a visa finally in hand, I was able to experience as much as anyone the wonders of Uzbekistan, in particular the array of monuments in stunning Samarkand.

In 1399 the great conqueror of Eurasia, Timur, or Tamerlane, as he is often called, decided it was time to pause in the fighting and start to build. He went about it in the systematic way he had destroyed his enemies. With plunder he had accumulated from his conquests, he attracted scholars, artists and architects far and wide to fulfill his vision. Foremost was a very large mosque, its elements forming a fine ensemble, that was dedicated to his wife, Bibi Khanym. In 1399 he presented his design to a notable architect and work began. Unfortunately, the architect took a shine to his wife and was thereby executed, stalling progress. But in four years the mosque was completed for Timur to see before his death.

Despite its opulence, the mosque had a hard time surviving over the years and the centuries. It suffered periodic collapse from marauders, earthquakes and sheer negligence. It was used for storage in the 19th century. If only Timur had been around. But then in the 1970s Uzbekistan’s strong man in charge, Islam Karimov, proved his devotion to Timur by rebuilding the mosque to its original design at the same time that he replaced a statue of Karl Marx in Tashkent with one of Timur. Bibi Khanym was to furnish a guide to the Uzbek past and an inspiration for its future.

Karl Marx and Amir Timur monuments

Tourist groups come and go and take pictures, but Bibi Khanym takes time. Its various parts, subtly woven together, can be seen and appreciated from different angles, each offering a surprise. One vantage point is up a flight of forty stairs to the adjoining hotel dining area, where in the late afternoon the setting sun casts a luminous glow on the blue tower, a sight quite like no other that seems to say all is well with the world. A moment to savor.

It may seem shameful that such a scene was provided by one of the most murderous of men, but that’s the complexity of life. Beauty is as beauty does. We take Timur for what he was.

A pleasant tree lined, shop filled walkway leads to other notable monuments in Samarkand, the three majestic madrassas that form the so-called Registan in the center of the city. These are not museum pieces but part of everyday life. Bridal couples can be seen wandering through the complex to assure a happy future as school children play around Bibi Khanym. There’s no sign of debris or dismay. Good cheer is the order of the day. A “Tourist Police” doesn’t seem very busy either helping tourists in trouble or keeping them from making trouble. Timor would no doubt be pleased, and so are we.

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Fentanyl – Dark Side of Technology

NOT Candy, colored Fentanyl pills

Like Covid, Fentanyl is created in a laboratory and is an equal killer of humankind. Both attest to the dark side of technology that leads not to the lengthening of life but the shortening of it. Humans may not be able to prevent Covid, but Fentanyl is largely a matter of choice. Technology is not altogether to blame. It’s only a partial master. Time to confront it. 

Deadly drugs in nature cannot compete with the lab. Humans with a certain cast of mind can take pride in outwitting nature. Until recently, nature provided the popular drugs like heroin and cocaine. Farmers grow and cultivate the plants from which the drugs are painstakingly made – a laborious, expensive process and visible to competitors who enviously eye the goings on. 

The lab makes this all much easier and profitable. Precursor chemicals from China are sent to Mexican labs where they are converted into white powder and pressed into pills, many brightly colored to attract users. No harm in anything looking so innocent. 

But harmful they are. An amount hardly visible to the eye can kill. Even sniffing it can be deadly. Fifty times more potent than heroin, it’s also much smaller than other drugs.  No lugging around bales of marijuana. It’s the number one killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 45. 

More of it than ever is crossing a mostly open U.S.- Mexican border. The U.S Border Patrol is woefully undermanned. It’s possible to go seventy miles along the Texas border and not see a single agent. National Guard may be on hand, but they cannot make an arrest and can only shoot if they’re shot at first. They are mainly a welcoming committee for illegal immigrants anxious to surrender. 

One reason the Border Patrol Is absent is that it’s bogged down with all the paperwork involved in the myriad migrants crossing the border. This is the scheme of the ever-inventive drug cartels which control the Mexican side of the border. By tying up the Border Patrol, they can more easily move their drugs across elsewhere. It’s a no-lose situation – profits from people along with drugs. Human trafficking is a growing menace with ugly results. 

Americans take more painkilling pills than any other people on earth. As a result, they are sometimes considered a pampered people who have not endured the privation of wars and conflicts that have engulfed other peoples and are often caused by U.S. attack. Some say dangerous drugs are all too readily available. Who can resist? So let’s cut the supply. Policing has worked fitfully in the past, but forty thousand U.S. troops on the Mexican border could seal it and thus keep out the bulk of the drugs reaching the U.S. 

In his book Fentanyl Inc., Ben Westhoff writes that hard drugs can never be eliminated altogether because one way or another people will have them. The answer is what he calls “harm reduction,” clinics that allow the use of drugs in clean and controlled settings. These have been established in Canada, Spain, Slovenia and elsewhere with a marked decline in deaths from drugs. But does this encourage greater use of drugs knowing they won’t lead to arrest or illness? 

Harm Reduction Clinics

The problem remains, the cures are elusive but must be pursued if a society is to continue to function in a safe and civilized manner.

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Welcome, Fentanyl

Americans are now welcoming all kinds of people across the U.S.-Mexican border without knowing who they really are. The same goes for drugs. Some are worse than others – like fentanyl, which is easily lethal and, accordingly, the drug cartels’ biggest money maker in earnings that reach an estimated sixty billiondollars a year in the U.S.

More than 100,000 Americans die each year from Mexican delivered opioids, most of which are likely to be fentanyl. It’s their fault, we’re told, because they should know what they’re doing. But often they don’t. The drug cartels now conveniently lace other drugs with fentanyl so people can take it unawares. In effect, they are murdered, a crime yet to catch public attention. 

How have the cartels arranged this? The don’t control the U.S. media which has little to say about their activities – an exclamatory mention every now and then.  Their readers and viewers may know more about Yemen and Somalia than about present day Mexico, where the cartels function.

For an example of certifiable ignorance, we hear continually that the Mexican government should crack down on the cartels. The fact is the government is the cartels. It’s a narco state. They’re not going to crack down on themselves. Is this beyond the capacity of the media to discover? Apparently, since the media has not provided a credible analysis of Mexico in recent years. Unlike Yemen and Somalia the subject is taboo. 

Seemingly, someone has something to lose. Unquestionably, drug money is woven into the fabric of American life. The cartels enjoy considerable freedom of movement in the U.S. with networks of distribution extending throughout the country and into the inner cities where local gangs can be employed, often emulating the shootouts in Mexican cities.

Indeed, the cartels have brought Mexican habits to the U.S. Their illegal marijuana farms are proliferating in California, Oregon, Wisconsin and no doubt elsewhere. They are in effect armed camps, not to be approached by Americans at risk of being shot. Local law enforcement can’t cope, and where is the FBI?

Large Ilegal Marijuana Farm

Technological advance is a two-edged sword – great good orgreat evil depending on its use. Fentanyl, as they say, is a good medicine and a bad drug. It can relieve pain from open heart surgery and also create a high like no other for the determined user. In his book Fentanyl Inc., Ben Westhoff describes what he calls “psychonauts” delving into the mind for the ultimate thrill,even approaching death.  Still more man-made chemical drugs are on the way like carfentanil which is a hundred times more potent than fentanyl. The sky is the limit or the casket.

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Assassins, Then and Now

Darya Dugina, a Russian journalist, was recently killed by a bomb placed under her car in Moscow. She was apparently not the intended victim. Her father, Alexander Dugin, was the target because of his writings against Ukraine. A last minute change of cars caused the error. Still, it was unexpected because Dugin is considered a man of letters, not a leading politician who is usually singled out for this kind of attack.

The result?  Certainly a heightening of tensions In this prolonged war. Beyond that who knows? Assassinations through the ages have had unexpected consequences. They have satisfied an impulse for revenge, but the assassin is taking his chance for what follows. They are an uncertain instrument of warfare.

One of the most famous occurred in 45 BC when a group of republican Romans stabbed Julius Caesar to death in the senate because he seemed to be on the verge of one-man rule. This led to fifteen years of civil war with the deaths of most of the assassins and the establishment of Augustus as the first of a series of Roman emperors – the opposite of what the republicans had wanted.

In 1865 Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln because he had led the north against the seceding south. The result was an outraged north imposing an even harsher rule on the defeated south. In 1914 Serbian radical Gavilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro Hungarian throne, precipitating a world war in which Serbia lost over half of its army and a quarter of its population.

In recent times assassinations have become more complicated. It’s not always certain who the assassin is or his motives. Initially, it was clear President John F. Kennedy was shot by a lone assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald withcommunist connections. Subsequent researchled others to find a variety of assassins operating on such concerns as the war in Vietnam and nuclear weapons for Israel. The matter is unresolved.

Assassination has also become much easier. Death by drone is now an everyday affair. For example, President Trump, egged on by his neocon advisers and billionaire donors, approved the drone killing of top Iranian General Soleimani, while White Houseoccupants cheered the outcome in comfort nearly half a globe away.

Israel is by far the leading country in assassinations, according to Israeli author Ronen Bergman in his book “Rise and Kill First.” Trying to make do in a hostile neighborhood, Israel has targeted mainly Arab adversaries and Iranian nuclear scientists with an unexcelledproficiency but at a high moral cost, says Bergman. Peace is no closer in the Middle East. The U.S.  has followed the Israeli example with the Obama administration setting an American record of 353 assassinations. 

Given the state of the world and the nature of humanity, assassins will no doubt continue along with serious qualms about them.

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The Hitler Problem

Adolf Hitler has had a remarkable progeny – countless rulers over the years who bear his name if not altogether his attributes. Any strong man that arises and is particularly offensive is dubbed “another Hitler,” which seems to settle the matter. There’s such an accumulation of Hitler wannabees that the genuine article seems to be lost in the shuffle. Imagine Hitler’s perplexity if he had known he would be treated this way in history – indistinguishable from some lowlife ruler of a dusty, distant country.

It’s true Hitler was a monster. Deniers are fewand it’s against the law in some countries. His Nazi suppression and slaughter of people, Jews in particular, are his trademark. Succeeding generations are not allowed to forget not would they want to. But are all the Hitler imitations equally monstrous – mass killers and anti-Semitic? It doesn’t seem likely. They should be exposed on their own terms for what they are.An apocalypse is not involved.

There are other standards of evil that can be applied. What happened to Stalin, one of the greatest mass killers of all time? No one is called “another Stalin.” Publicity may have been a factor. During World War Two, while Hitler was excoriated for his deeds, Stalin’s were covered up. He became good old “Uncle Joe,” everybody’s favorite granddaddy. The New York Times even won a Pulitzer Prize for reports that omitted his slaughter and starvationof millions of Russians and Ukrainians. Was he too monstrous to be believed with a name that inspires fear even today? We should give him his due. Let’s name the next strongman that disturbs our sleep another Stalin.”

The problem with name calling is that it doesn’tinvolve thought. He’s another Hitler or Stalin or, searching the past, Genghis Khan or Tamerlane. Let’s get rid of him, and that’s that. We don’t inquire as to how he got that way or whatever persons or events may bear some responsibility. To be sure, Hitler and Stalin have provided us with some explanations, but more are needed – to put it mildly. Without them there can be aglorification of such characters. Great evil caninspire its own form of worship. Let’s bring them down to earth.

Russia’s Putin seems a little too earthy to qualify as another Hitler, as he’s frequently called, ironically enough, since he follows Stalin as ruler of Russia. Let’s at least get hisnationality straight. But he bears little resemblance to either of the great tyrants. They would surely be disappointed in him – just another assertive national leader looking out for his country’s interests with no thrusting ideology. There probably won’t be “another Putin.”

Maybe it’s time not to be so concerned with evil, which can be found in all of us, and concentrate on practical solutions for practicalmatters.

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Drug Cartel Invasion

Say you’re hiking in one of seventy-two national forests in twenty-one states. It’s exhilarating, and you venture off the beaten path into the beguiling woods. Suddenly, you come upon a white canopied structure from which an occupant emerges with a gun and orders: “Leave or die.” Startled and a little rattled, you do as you’re told and quickly depart a spot in the U.S. no longer controlled by the U.S.

There are now tens of thousands of such spots in national forests, a U.S. treasure also treasured by the Mexican drug cartels, where they can farm marijuana in considerable isolation. It beats having to lug their product across thepartially guarded border, and unlike legal American growers they don’t have to pay taxes and can sell the marijuana out of state.

They do this with impunity in the national forests and elsewhere in suitable terrain. Local law enforcement is out manned and outgunned.When I was in Twentynine Palms in California’sMohave desert a year ago, the town manager said he was doing his best to cope but was ill equipped for a fight with the all-powerfulcartels, while the outraged manager of a local inn noted how the farms were encroaching on nearby land as if they had nothing to fear. Californians in the area have plenty to fear as violence typical of Mexico is on the increase with dead bodies appearing in the vicinity of the farms. Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall told the Louisville Courier Journal: “We’re a very short time away from seeing heads in the square as they do down In Mexico.

USA Today reports that residents in Mendocinowere offered half a million dollars in cash to lease their property for a year. At year’s end they would get a million more so long as they had kept off their own land and had not interfered with ongoing activity. It was an offer hard to refuse, and it’s not certain how many did, considering the consequences.  

The farms are especially damaging to the environment with lavish use of pesticides that can poison humans and wildlife and wasteful use of water in a drought-stricken area. Theyalso contribute to the wildfires plaguing the state. Equally damaged are workers, mainly illegal migrants brought from the border, wholive in squalid conditions with no running water and scant food. A sixteen- year- old girl was discovered who had no idea where she was or what she was supposed to do other than servicethe workers in a sex trafficking arrangement. According to Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel, “These people are narco-slaves. They are afraid that the cartels will kill them or their families back home. So they don’t talk.”

The U.S. Government has spent $54 billion onaid to Ukraine to weaken the invading Russians who have not invaded the U.S. In fact, it’s said that Russian ruler Putin seeks better relations with the U.S, which could be useful at a time of robust Chinese global expansion. Billions are also spent on other wars, open and secret, that seem light years removed from the national interest.

Yet here we have a well organized and well armed criminal enterprise, posing as a nation, setting up shop in various parts of the U.S. and making no bones about it. Some cartel chiefs even say they would like to recover the half of Mexico lost in the 1840s war to the U.S. The U.S. indifference to a genuine national threat is truly baffling, giving rise to theories about the power of drug money in our society. All the cartel farms could be eliminated at a sliver of the cost of the Ukrainian war. But take comfort.The government has posted signs in the national forests warning visitors not to get too close to the foreign invaders.

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Do Hispanic Lives Matter?

In a startling reversal, Republican Mayra Flores has won a U.S. Congressional seat held mostly by the Democratic Party for over a hundred years. It’s located in the Rio Grande valley in Texas, a border community now flooded with illegal migrants seeking a better life and with drugs wrecking the lives of current Americans.

Mayra Flores

For some it signals a possible sea of change in U.S. politics with the shift of Hispanic Americans from the Democratic Party, where they have been a reliable voting  bloc, to a reinvigorated Republican Party. Rising crime has been a chief factor in the change with Hispanics on the border doubly impacted. They face a deluge of newcomers and also -a mere wade across the Rio Grande – one of the most violent, ruinous regimes on earth, the drug cartels that control the entire border on the Mexican side and indeed all of Mexico. On one side freedom, on the other a particular kind of rapacious tyranny.

It’s intra-ethnic. No identity politics involved. Powerful Hispanics suppress and pillory more vulnerable Hispanics without let-up because there’s no accountability. American sympathy is highly selective. Tears are copiously shed for the suffering in Ukraine, but eyes are dry over the plight of Mexicans. This reflects American media coverage which dwells on any number of far-off wars of no danger to the U.S. while ignoring the genuine danger close at hand. The kind ofmass murders (four or more people killed in an incident) that outrage Americans are every dayoccurrences in Mexico. where more journalists are murdered than anywhere else on earth.

Hispanics may well ask if their lives matter and may indeed vote on the question. There was a time when Americans took the question very seriously indeed. Ina fit of expansion the young U.S Government got into a war with Mexico that seemed to block its way west. It was a nasty 1840s struggle won by the U.S, which hadto decide what to do with its victory. American opinion was divided. Some said leave Mexico alone and get out. A group of wealthy Mexicans begged the invading army to take over their prostrate country, and arch imperialists in Washington shared that view. President James Polk compromised by taking the northern half of Mexico which was later divided into several states,including Texas and California.

But what if the extremists had prevailed and the U.S. had taken charge of Mexico? Many decades of Mexican national history would be missing, but so too would today’s drug cartels under moderate U.S. governance. The cartels wouldn’t be able to exploit a border that doesn’t exist. Racial sensitivities might be ruffled by such a change in U.S. demographics with the accession of Mexico, but peace would prevail, and the Civil War might even have been avoided since Mexico was not suitable for slavery.

Dream on. Utopia does not exist. Yet today the U.S. could do much more to guide Mexico through its timeof trouble. To begin with, seal the border with U.S. troops who could pursue the cartels into Mexico if necessary and weaken them in the process. They are an armed threat currently running thousands of illegal marijuana farms in various parts of the U.S. It’s time to show Hispanic lives both here and in Mexico matter.

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Poetry and War

War is always with us and so are poets who are trying in their various ways to make sense of it. Here are some examples over the centuries:

In the famed Trojan War the Greek leader Achilles is awakened at the sound of battle in Homer’s Iliad translated by Christopher Logue :

Achilles suddenly saw his armour in that instant,

And its ominous radiance flooded his heart.

His shield as round and rich as moons in spring;

His sword’s half parked between sheaves of gray obsidian,

From which a lucid blade stood out, leaf-shaped, adorned

With running spirals, 

And for his head a welded cortex; yes,

Though it is noon, the helmet screams against the light;

Scratches the eye; so violent it can be seen

Across three thousand years.

War is a pleasure for ninth century Arabic poet Al-Mutanabbi:

Tastier than old wine, 

Sweeter than the passing of winecups

Is the play of swords and lances,

The clash of armies at my command.

To face death in Battle is my life

For life is what fulfills the soul.

New England poet Ralph Waldo Emerson is next to a monument to the American revolutionaries who won their freedom fromBritain:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare,

To die, and leave their children free

Bid Time and Nature gently spare

The shaft we raise to them and thee.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats says an Irish airman foresees his death in the first World War:

I know that I shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above;

Those that I fight I do not hate;

Those that I guatd I do not love;

My country is Kilkartan  Cross,

My countrymen Kilkartan’s poor,

No likely end could bring them loss

Or make them happier than before.

No law nor duty bade me fight,

Nor public men nor cheering crowds.

A lonely impulse of delight

Drove to the tumult in the clouds.

I balanced all, brought all to mind.

The years to come seemed waste of breath,

A waste of breath the years behind

In balance with this life, this death.

American poet Wallace Stevens tells of another doomed flyer in World War Two:

This man escaped the dirty fates,

Knowing that he did nobly as he died.

Darkness, nothingness of after- death,

Receive and keep him in the deepnesses of space-

Profundum, physical thunder, dimension in which

We believe without belief, beyond belief.

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Is Mental Illness the Answer?

After the Uvalde shootings that killed nineteen students and twoteachers, there has been no let-up in related massacres around the U.S. So far this year there have been more than 240 mass shootings with 256 killed and 1010 injured. Along with pleas for gun control have come urgent demands for dealing with mental illness held responsible for much of the carnage. How else explain the unceasing violence?

But is that too easy and comforting an explanation? We are told the distraught killer did not really know what he was doing. He was prey to some force beyond his control. Submit him to some mental rehabilitation, and he can recover from his illness and achieve normality.

That assumes he wants to recover and criminality is not his normal being. Take the recent incident in the New York City subway when an aggressive man pulled another passenger’s  hair and shoved her around the car. Senseless it seemed, but not so. The predator appeared to be enjoying himself. Violence maybe his pleasure and his pastime. The fact that not a single male in the car came to the victim’s defense can be partly attributed to cowardice but also to deference to mental illness. The poor fellow didn’t know what he was doing.

If such violence is to be equated with mental illness, what do we do with Russian ruler Josef Stalin, one of the greatest mass murderers of all time who clearly enjoyed killing and liked to observe the executions he ordered? It would have taken a bevy of psychiatrists to treat him, and whatever their conclusions, they would have all been murdered.

Yet he was arguably the most successful ruler of the last century and the most influential. Communism, Stalinist style, continued to spread after his death in 1953 as he had wanted and predicted. His hideously forced industrialization at the cost of several million Russian and Ukrainian lives gave him supreme powerand paved the way to victory in World War Two over the far better army of mass-killing Adolf Hitler. Along the way he outwitted such luminaries as Churchill and Roosevelt. He never met his match. Quite an accomplishment for mental illness.

The great psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud spent an often frustrating lifetime analyzing mental illness. In the end he concluded that psychoanalysis can only go so far. Ultimately,two instincts are permanently lodged in the human being – that of life or creativity and that of death or aggression. In perpetual conflict, the one advances civilization, the other destroys it. The individual chooses which to pursue – a Stalin of destruction or, say, a Gandhi of creativity. Illness plays no part.