Reckoning in Tijuana

Mexico is not at war, but its people can hardly tell the difference. Cartel violence is an equivalent, racking up one of the world’s highest homicide rates and killing more journalists than any other place on earth, nine last year and more the fifty since 2018. So far this year, three have been killed for their courage to report the doings of the drug cartels which virtually control Mexico and brook no opposition. The penalty is invariably death.

The question is how the journalists manage to carry on, but they know their work is vital since no other country. including the U.S., takes much interest in what they face. Mexico’s overwhelming violence is studiously ignored while media and government attention is focused on the possibility of violence half a globe away in Ukraine. It’s a close ally, we’re told. But what is neighboring Mexico?

Three years ago, Mexican President Lopez Obrador held a press conference in Tijuana, especially susceptible to violence. Reporter Lourdes Maldonado Lopez told him, “I fear for my life “, referring to a dispute she had with a former employer, the boss of a media outlet and a top regional politician – read drug cartel. The president said he would investigate. That didn’t prevent her from being shot to death in her car in Tijuana in January.

Lourdes Maldonado Lopez. Photo by: BBC News

On learning of this, the president said – not very accurately – he hadn’t been aware of any likely violence. But then his policy has been one of forbearance toward the cartels. He says he looks forward to an era of good feelings: “we must purify public life so that materialism doesn’t dominate us, so that ambition, ego and hate are set aside.” But are the cartels listening?

To pacify whatever critics may exist across the border, Mexico has established a protection program for endangered journalists, including a panic button for emergencies. None of this helped Lopez in her hour of need, but then was it meant to? The cartels decide who lives or dies in Mexico.

Earlier in January, photo newsman Margarito Martinez, who covered crime in Tijuana, was shot and killed after numerous threats on his life, and reporter Jose Luis Gamboa, who connected local authorities with organized crime, was stabbed and left dying on a street in Veracruz state. The killers are hardly ever caught, much less put on trial. After all, they’re working for the state – the drug cartels.

We can imagine the uproar if this many journalists were killed in the U.S. Yet Mexico is right next door. Perhaps the same attitude prevails as it does on the border. Drugs are allowed to pour across, in particular fentanyl which can kill by overdose or by any dose since it’s regularly laced to other drugs that can be swallowed unaware.

Someone is benefiting from this extraordinary pillage. Along with drugs, many billions in drug money spread around the U.S. If those who profit care little for the American lives lost to drugs – 100 thousand a year – why should they care about Mexicans? American eyes, currently fixated on distant Ukraine, should turn south, and focus on the genuine U.S. enemy, the drug cartels.

Putin in Cuba

In the midst of the controversy over Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to put troops in Cuba. Put them where? Close to the U.S. coastline? What is he thinking, or does he recall such an effort in the not too distant past – the Cuba missile crisis of 1962 in the middle of the Cold War, an event that brought the two powers – the U.S. and the Soviet Union – the closest they ever came to a direct clash, even possibly a nuclear exchange.

What a fearful memory, surely best forgotten. That Putin would raise it suggests the seriousness of the occasion, at least for the Russian ruler. He considers Ukraine the equivalent of Cuba, a neighbor that cannot be conceded to the enemy. That was also the opinion of President John Kennedy, who was alarmed and frustrated by the takeover of Cuba by the communist Fidel Castro, clearly and dangerously allied to Moscow.

Kennedy’s first response was a dismal failure. He backed an invasion of anti-Castro rebels that foundered at the Bay of Pigs, largely because a doubtful President failed to provide air cover. That emboldened Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, a reckless and ardent communist who had participated in Josef Stalin’s mass murders and then turned on the dictator after his death. Sensing an opportunity, Khrushchev began to place nuclear missiles in Cuba to prevent another U. S. attempt on his communist ally. Khrushchev still dreamed of world revolution.

Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy. Photo by: AFP.com

The U.S. was aghast at his move. By this time, Kennedy had learned from experience. He consulted all the members of the foreign policy establishment, a group of experienced and scholarly advisers that doesn’t exist today. Opinion varied in terms of what action to take, but there was no flighty talk of using nukes or demonizing Khrushchev. In fact, subsequent records reveal that both sides had a clear picture of the other, which helped in the ultimate resolution.

Kennedy and Khrushchev stayed in contact and arranged a compromise. Khrushchev would remove the Cuban missiles in return for the U.S. taking similar missiles out of Turkey. The crisis was over and in fact nothing like it occurred again up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. At first Kennedy tried to portray the agreement as a Cold War victory for the U.S. and kept the Turkish part secret. But when that was revealed, the importance of the compromise was understood. It has gone down in history as an example of successful statecraft.

Though Putin has a substantial nuclear arsenal, he will not put missiles in Cuba. He is not an expansionist minded communist but an autocratic national leader looking out for his country’s interests. While Khrushchev approached Cuba offensively, Putin’s tactic is defensive. He wants the U. S. to stop expanding NATO to Ukraine on the Russian border. That’s the message of his threat. 

The U.S. Is not today what it was in Kennedy’s day. Opinions and pressures are all over the place from a number of groups not always linked to the national interest. That’s the accusation against the so-called neocons who seem to have their own view of world revolution. There is similar distrust of the military-industrial complex that profits mightily from wars however misconceived. Whatever the flaws of the people advising Kennedy, their integrity was not challenged.

Since 9/11 something is lacking in U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps it’s a matter of character as well as wisdom. Communism may be gone in America, but other kinds of of ideology prevail distorting policy. A clear view of the world is essential, as George Kennan demonstrated when he charted the U.S. course in the Cold War. But is another Kennan possible today?

Tinkering with Terror

As the Global War of Terror (GWOT) winds down, desultory firing continues on both sides without significant impact. Rockets drop near U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, but no one is hit. In return, the U.S. briefly fires back, as if neither side wants to do too much damage. It might be called tinkering with terror if any in fact still exists.

Colonel Douglas Macgregor. Photo by Wikipedia

It’s time to go, says top U.S. military strategist Colonel Douglas Macgregor. The exit doesn’t have to be as calamitous as the departure from Afghanistan. Have a clear plan, leave at night without telling anybody and don’t worry about being called defeatist. Close to two decades under arms is long enough when the cause is murky and the outcome uncertain. We won’t be missed, says the colonel. Life will carry on as before, the same groups in contention but without our participation.

There’s one grievance that a continued U.S. presence will not alleviate, the rather unheroic assassination by drone of the leading Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Thousands recently gathered in the streets of Baghdad to mark the second anniversary of that event. The neocons had been urging his elimination for many years until President Trump finally gave his approval, doubtless under the pressure of his neocon Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Col. Macgregor, who was a senior adviser to the secretary of defense under Trump, says the President had a lot of good ideas but appointed people of the opposite view to carry them out, a failing he didn’t recognize until late in his administration.

Deputy Director Alan Heil. Photo by Public Diplomacy Council

The U.S. doesn’t have much to show for its prolonged military intervention in the Middle East, a region now in greater turmoil than before with vast numbers of civilian casualties and refugees pouring into Europe. Neocons argue that these wars have destroyed enemies of Israel, but the resulting violence and instability can hardly benefit Israel or any other country in the region. It all began with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 in response to the 9/11 attack. Instead of targeting the actual culprits, the Bush Administration launched its war on terror -” You’re either with us or against us” – that would be boundless and endless.

The American media rallied behind the attack on Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein on the grounds he harbored weapons of mass destruction and was also involved in 9/11, neither of which was true. But in the clamor of the times, dissenters were hard to find. One notably was the U.S. Government radio, the Voice of America. Under the wise guidance of Deputy Director Alan Heil, his editors – I was one – reported both sides of the contentious issue, allowing listeners to make up their own minds instead of telling them what to think. It shows that at its best a government media can serve as a corrective to private news organizations increasingly and powerfully combining in viewpoint and even language.

A Happy New Year for the Drug Cartels

Anxious and depressed, Alexandra Capelouto, 19, a student at Arizona State University, noticed an ad for the opiate oxycontin in social media on the internet. She made the purchase and swallowed the pill, not knowing it was laced with deadly fentanyl. She soon died of suffocation. Her grieving father Matt said “she was a casualty of a war not being fought.The terrorist organization which is responsible for more American deaths than any other is operating unabated just a few miles south of our border.”

Alexandra Capelouto. Photo by: https://druginducedhomicide.org/

The Mexican drug cartels, in fact, are blamed for100 thousand American deaths from overdose in a year’s time – a record probably to be surpassed this year, making it a very Happy New Year for the cartels. if for nobody else. The  2000 mile border is largely open to migrants of all countries and attitudes and to drugs. Fentanyl is the choice and the most dangerous. Yet the current U.S. Government is more preoccupied with the Ukrainian border than its own. Some elements are even urging war with Russia rather than with the immediate threat of the cartels now inside the country.

Seizing the opportunity of a seemingly complacent U.S, the cartels have moved fast. When I was in the Mojave desert of California last July, people talked of a thousand cartel farms in the region. Now the Louisville Courier Journal reports some ten thousand of varying size in Mendocino alone, a county in northern California. Local law enforcement is overwhelmed. Twenty-one police must patrol an area of 3506 square miles. “I’m fighting a dragon with a needle,” Sheriff Matt Kendall told the Courier Journal in its week long investigation, a rarity for a mostly indifferent media.

The aim of the cartels is to undercut the legitimate marijuana growers who are subject to taxes and regulations. With this advantage the cartel farms keep to themselves, well protected by guns, fences, security cameras and pit bulls. Signs warn “Keep out.” People do in a climate of fear. Dead bodies have turned up along with unexplained disappearances. Are we becoming Mexico? people ask, noting despondently the excessive trash around the farms, the poaching of water in a time of drought, the chemicals contaminating the soil and killing wildlife.

Marijuana Farms. Photo by Frank Giles

The Epoch Times reports a similar situation in Oregon, where hundreds of workers  are brought north from Mexico to work at the farms in a kind of “narco-slavery.” People living quietly in rural areas are astonished by the sudden onset of noisy  night and day operations with trucks coming in and out, guns firing, music blaring. Still, property prices have skyrocketed. Residents can’t afford to buy, but cartels can. With the legalization of marijuana in much of the U,S., the cartels must grow it here to keep its share of the market. This they do by selling it throughout the country. They are also aware that they thrive best where the state is weakest. That is how they basically took over Mexico, according to a new book by Benjamin West, “The Dope,” a history of Mexican narcotics. The cartels used to have to pay authorities to do business. Now they are the authorities who collect the pay. It may be no coincidence that the farms are sprouting in states like Oregon and California which are in disarray from crime and poor government and thus vulnerable to cartel intrusion. The question is how far will it go?

DeGrazia at Christmas

Born in Arizona in 1909 just before it became an American state, Ettore (Ted) DeGrazia can be said to have grown up with the state. All was new and alluring, Native Americans and Mexicans, a desert landscape of varying moods, the tall tales of an adventurous people – all the subjects of his later paintings.

But not at first. His father, an immigrant from Italy, worked in an underground copper mine, and young DeGrazia joined him at toil there. From sunrise to sunset he saw no light. That he must have, he decided, considering the art that was to come.

DeGrazia Little Madonna photo by degrazia.org

Above ground he attended the University of Arizona, where his first works caught the eye of famed Mexican muralist and devout communist Diego Rivera. Under his influence, DeGrazia created his own political mural, “Power of the Press,” which suggested he was still somewhat underground. In somber dark colors skeletons trampled over happiness, the four horsemen of the apocalypse galloped over snakes slithering through books. It was promptly whitewashed by an indignant university and lost to posterity.

DeGrazia Little Prayer Photo by degrazia.org

But DeGrazia was just getting started. He discovered every day life and how! You name the humdrum subject, he painted it. One day a belligerent man accosted him at a restaurant: “Who do you think you are, saying you can paint on anything?” In  response, DeGrazia took a tortilla out of a basket and painted on it. Missing a rare opportunity, the irate accuser stormed off, leaving behind the tortilla, which now rests at the Gallery in the Sun in Tucson, no doubt the most valued tortilla in existence.

Early on, a desperate DeGrazia put his paintings on sale at a busy intersection in Tucson, even leaving some overnight. The next morning they were still there. “The don’t even steal my paintings,” he complained. That was to change dramatically when he switched his subject matter from Diego and skeletons to winsome, playful, devout little children who seemed to bask in innocence. They were perfect for Christmas cards as UNICEF discovered when it sent out many millions of greetings featuring DeGrazia’s “los Ninos,” a circle of children dancing hand in hand. DeGrazia found his metier along with fame and fortune. But not to critical acclaim. He apparently had committed the offense of being too popular. Who does he think he is? scoffed a lofty art establishment. Bring back Diego who was at least serious. But DeGrazia stuck to his ways and his locale, a cheerful adobe home outside Tucson. He even turned down a show in Cannes, France, as too far removed from his life and work. “I was born in the Southwest and I live it with a passion,” he explained. He was an artist of a particular time and place, and there he stayed and there he will be remembered.

Is Revolution Ahead?

After career criminal Darrell Brooks, a black American, drove his car into a group of white people in Waukesha, Wisconsin, injuring dozens, killing six that we know of, a supporter said it sounds like the revolution has started. What kind of revolution does he have in mind? He doesn’t say, but there was one notoriously based on crime; namely, the Russian Revolution of 1917. Does that serve as a model for Darrell Brooks?

A top leader of the revolutionary Bolsheviks was Josef Stalin, who in his native  Georgia had pursued a career of crime almost without compare m the region. You name it – robbery, arsen, extortion, murder – he did it. Then he transferred those skills to the budding Russian Revolution in the middle of the turmoil of the First World War.

Whatever its ideological motivation, the Revolution would not have succeeded without Stalin’s criminal genius. That in turn took him to the top of Russia’s new communist government from where he compounded his crimes by massacring much of his own population, including fellow revolutionaries. Such is his example.

It may seem ridiculous to connect a minor American career criminal with the mighty ruler of the Soviet Union, but as Stalin well knew, revolutions have to start somewhere. The communists liked to portray the Tsarist regime they overthrew as uncompromisingly tyrannical, but compared to the state they constructed, it was carelessly permissive. Again and again, Stalin escaped serious punishment for major crimes, and his exile in Siberia was almost a holiday, a lapse he corrected with his own horrendous labor camps, the gulag.

Back to our local criminal. Brooks, too, was never seriously punished for his crimes, as he moved from one to the next, perhaps encouraging others to do the same. And he was one of many leniently treated by prosecutors financed by billionaire George Soros, a parallel to the wealthy backers of Bolshevism in Stalin’s time. America today is particularly viulnerable because many feel it must make up for past racial injustice by going easy on black crime today; hence, the lax treatment of  Brooks. But is that any favor to blacks or whites other than laying the groundwork for the hoped for revolution?

There’s no denying the deliberate attack on a group of innocent white people, largely women and children, aggravates already high racial tensions. That is what our would-be revolutionies want. This overlooks the fact that people of all races continue to work peacefully together on a daily basis in contemporary America. A small minority objects to this and always will. Just think if somewhere along the way, Stalin had actually been stopped. No revolution, no communist takeover, and the world might be a better place today.

Defending America

Republican Congressman Mike Turner told TV host Tucker Carlson that the U.S . should come to the aid of Ukraine, which faces a growing military threat from Russia. But why should we support Ukraine over Russia, asked Carlson, given Russia’s far greater importance as a counter weight to a military expansive and somewhat threatening China?

Moreover, he added, the U.S  is currently challenged on the Mexican border where people we don’t know and drugs we know all too well are pouring across in unprecedented numbers. That’s where U.S.troops are needed, not as the Republicans imply, in Ukraine for some vague reason having nothing to do with the national interest. And why should our troops be defending other countries’ borders and not our own?

The U.S. Mexican border has been one of the world’s most contentious. It is long – 2000 miles through occasional difficult terrrain. Its boundary is the Rio Grande, a meandering river that sometimes changes course, leaving Mexicans and Americans on the wrong side. It has never been free of strife of one kind or another from early Indian raids to alternating Mexican and American cross border attacks to the current invasion of drugs and immigrants. In an explosion of manifest destiny in the 1840’s, the U.S. took half of Mexico. That more than sufficed. Ever since, it has been very wary of pushing Mexico too hard.

The result is limited use of the U.S. military. There’s a reluctance to militarize the border with the army invariably complaining that it doesn’t have enough troops to guard the border properly. While unsettling, that has not mattered too much except on some occasions like the arrival of Napoleon the Third to collect debts owed by Mexico. With the U.S. involved in  Civil War, he decided to take over Mexico altogether and installed Austrian Archduke Maximilian as emperor. The U.S. and France almost came to blows, but Napoleon throught Mexico was not worth a war and retreated to deal with European affairs, leaving his well meaning protege to be executed.

Pancho Villa Photo by: www.britannica.com

Subsequent clashes were purely Mexican-American. Political upheaval was frequent in Mexico, and restless Texans were ready to take advantage of it. Amid the fervor of the times, a plan was circulated with the aim of recovering the half of Mexico lost to the U.S. The fiery Pancho Villa put his stamp on the effort by repeatedly conducting raids across the border that took American along with Mexican lives. As the U.S. readied for World War One, President Woodrow Wilson ordered General John Pershing to capture Villa with 20 thousand troops at his disposal  Pershing became a victor in the World War but not in Mexico. The elusive Villa managed to escape, and the Americans came home without their quarry.

General John Pershing. Photo by: www.pbs.org

But the effort was not altogether in vain. It had made a point. The U.S army could cross the border if sufficiently motivated, take the necessary action and than return without staying too long – a limited engagement, not an invasion. There would be no repetition of the U.S.- Mexican war. Americans only had a quarrel with elements of Mexico, and that ended a few years later when Villa was killed by rivals who had nothing to do with the U.S.

In subsequent decades, border disturbances died down only to be revived more recently in another form. Instead of wanting to kill Americans, Mexicans now want to join them. Their plight is their drug cartel controlled country where their lives and livelihood are always in danger. U.S. troops once again on the border could send a clear message to the cartels: there are limits to their poisoning of America and their destruction of Mexico.