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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.