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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.

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.

Why War?

As the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, it looked as if a near century of poisonous ideologies had come to an end. The people of the world could breathe easier since no force would be trying to control their lives. International politics would be more a matter of diligent tinkering by leaders of limited ambition sharing a rather similar outlook. They would look out for themselves and their countries without demanding the rest of the world conform to their views – something perhaps like 19th century Europe which managed to avoid a general war or the best years of the Roman Empire when a general peace prevailed. People had finally learned suitable lessons from their violent past.

How wrong we were. It goes to show that much neglected Sigmund Freud was right when he said the violence in man will always out. It can emerge for all kinds of reasons or none at all – a permanent condition in need of constant attention. It’s astounding that relatively minor issues involving the U.S., China, Russia, Iran and many others can be considered worthy of outright war, even a nuclear one. Have people or their leaders taken leave of their senses or are they clinging to atavistic habits dating back to the stone age from which they cannot escape?

The form of government doesn’t seem to matter. Autocratic rule is expected to be cold and calculating. Its interests come first; others are an afterthought. But what about democracies? Since 9/11 the U.S. has engaged in one war after another without declaring war or having a clear goal in mind. It’s as if democratic rule alonejustifies these actions. Who can find fault with democracy?

Under autocratic rule, a strong man’s word, likePutin’s – is law. Other opinions need not be considered. Invade Ukraine, he says. It’s done.No such power exists in democracy. The will of the people prevails but which people under which circumstances? Democracy is open to all with money a factor above all. Use money as freely as words, say various U.S. Supreme Court decisions. That has been done to the damage of democracy. Billionaire currency trader George Soros has used his wealth to undermine a crucial part of U.S. law enforcement. It’s hard to imagine a Putin allowing that along with his suppression of more salutary ventures.

Advocates of an exceptional nation say the U.S. should set an example for the rest of the world. Indeed. One example might be the use of restraint in crises or simulated ones. Skillful negotiation is more to be prized than the blunderbuss of war. Yes, Putin invaded Ukraine, but who has shown more skill In the aftermath –Putin or Biden, who defying all  geopolitical advice against a two-front war, is now facing wars on several fronts with a U.S. record of notbringing a single war to a satisfactory conclusion since 9/11. Democracy can do better than this and has to.

Poland in the Middle – Again

Poland is situated in one of the toughest places on earth – right in the middle of Europe with assertive, even aggressive neighbors on all sides, some of whom may want it to disappear altogether. It did just that for 123 years until, shockingly, it was reborn after World War One thanks to steadfast Polish efforts. It survived the brutal post-World War Two Soviet occupation and even contributed to its collapse. Today it stands free, independent, the largest nation in Eastern Europe with the strongest economy.

And as usual, with problem neighbors. To the east, Russia, which invaded Ukraine, tells Poland to stop supplying U.S. weapons to Ukraine or else. To the west, the European Union, of which Poland is a member, threatens to cut off funds to the country unless it stops backsliding on democracy. Both powers say do as you’re told or suffer the consequences. Poland replies that it has heard all that before. 

Russian leader Putin is no Stalin, who slaughtered more Poles than any other ruler in history. His war aims, he says, are limited: independence of the Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine and no further NATO advance toward Russian borders. But a more prolonged war, he warns, could eventually involve Poland which borders Ukraine, thereby triggering a U.S. military response, and then who knows what? 

Russian rhetoric is in keeping with policy. A top Russian official says Poland has been infected with “Russophobia” by Western “puppeteers.” Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a Putin ally, boasts that he will attack Poland if it keeps giving weapons to Ukraine. “In six seconds, we’ll show you what we’re capable of.” A Russian TV host insists – you guessed it – Poland should disappear. 

Poles reply that if anything, they will increase their aid to Ukraine. They have already accepted half of the five million Ukrainian refugees and many Poles go to the border with offers of food and shelter.

At the same time, they have built a fence along the border with Belarus,  another Putin ally, to keep out refugees from that direction, mostly Muslims as compared to Christians from Ukraine.

Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarity union that triumphed over the Soviet Union, says Russia should be dismembered with its population reduced from 145 million to fifty million. He doesn’t say it should disappear altogether. 

The EU threat to Poland is not a military one. It doesn’t have any troops. Its power is only political but no less formidable for that. Its headquarters in Brussels keeps close tabs on 27 member nations to make sure they adhere to EU norms for European benefit. Violations are not accepted as we see in the case of Poland along with Hungary. The official complaint is that the Law and Justice Party, which has governed Poland since 2015, is compromising democracy by abridging the role of the judiciary among other actions. 

Yet there’s a deeper reason for the rift. Increasingly, Brussels has appeared to be moving in a more global direction as opposed to the populism of Law and Justice, which combines liberal economic policies with traditional social values regarding gender, abortion, and the like. One size does not fit all, say dissenting Poles. who don’t want to leave the EU but change it from within. 

Paradoxically, that may prove more difficult in the long run than militaristic Russia. Once the Ukraine war is over with a substantial Russian win, as seems likely, borders will be clear. Putin doesn’t care what happens on the other side of the Polish border so long as it doesn’t threaten Russia. The Poles can do as they please. But that’s exactly what concerns the EU. Poland must conform to EU guidance if it expects to have EU help and funds. It looks as if Poland will continue to live in a troublesome neighborhood.