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.

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.

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.

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.