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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.

Ollie North, Flawed Hero of a Secret War

Emerging on tv, a figure of the past, Oliver North offers some proposals on the conduct of the war in Ukraine. Given the clandestine nature of much of the U.S. effort, he is worth listening to since he was a leading director of covert activities in the last years of the Cold War – almost too many to count that finally collapsed of their own weight, leading to Iran-Contra, the chief scandal of the Reagan administration. 

It began as a herculean effort to combine four secret projects, any one of which would be a full time job: blocking aggressive Soviet moves in the Middle East and aiding the Contra rebels against the Soviet supported Sandinista regime In Nicaragua; rescuing some fifty American hostages seized in the Islamic takeover of Iran in 1979, while at the same time attempting an opening to Iran with the aim of dividing our enemies instead of pushing them together, as the U.S. is doing at present. By any measure it was a superhuman effort, and to be sure, Ollie North was only human.

He enlisted in it with gusto. A proud marine colonel with a record of heroism under fire in Vietnam, he had no qualms about what he was doing and was joined by other equally enthusiastic members of the Reagan Administration. But not all forces were cooperating. The President was intent on bringing the hostages home and conveyed that feeling to North without going into detail.  North acquired the services of a go-between, Manucher Ghobifar, full of promise and duplicity. Sell the Iranians the arms they need, he proposed, and they in turn will release the hostages. President Reagan had opposed trading arms for hostages but changed his mind with circumstances. Practicality prevailed over consistency. One of the hostages, a CIA chief in the region, had been brutally tortured and died, not before revealing the names of a number of CIA agents.

The weapons were sent by way of Israel, which then considered Iran less of a danger than Iraq, the reverse of today. But the hostages didn’t appear with the Iranians complaining that some of the weapons were flawed. While making plenty of money from the transactions, Ghobifar reassured North. Don’t worry, be patient, just depend on me. He claimed he spoke for the top leadership of Iran, which remained resolutely hostile to the U.S., regardless of weapons, While North waited, interminably, he thought some of the money from Iran could be put to good use aiding the Contras in their struggle against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. The fear was that a communist Nicaragua could become another Cuba, where the nuclear missile crisis of 1963 had been a global scare.

But the U.S. Congress had ruled against any more aid to the Contras. A leak of all this maneuvering was inevitable and occurred to the outrage of Congress and media. How much longer would we have to deal with this communist menace? Not very long at all. Within a couple of years Reagan would meet with Gorbachev and the Soviet Union would collapse with a finality. Exposed and his plans no longer of use, Ollie had turned from hero to anti-hero. Such are the consequences of at least this covert action. The U. S. is now involved in some of the must clandestine activities in its history in Ukraine.  Are they altogether workable or could they go the way of Iran-Contra?