Thursday, February 27, 2014

420 Legalization: A Perspective

You can find many reasons to support marijuana legalization; the medical applications are quite provocative.  As long as alcohol is legal, I cannot find a single rational reason to not support legalization even for the most conservative thinking of people.  It simply makes no sense.  In a booze legal world, criminalizing and not legalizing marijuana is irrational.

For me, the kicker is violence in Mexico - in particular violence against innocent people, poor people, Brown people, journalists, and activists.  In simple terms, this blog advocates for some form of marijuana legalization on both sides of the border as a way of reducing violence in Mexico and keeping it from spilling over further into the US.  The sub-texts of this blog is the crucification of people under globalization and the question of femicide in the Americas.*

I started this blog in May 2012; I left some of that earlier voice below.  When I wrote it then I was certain that whenever published I'd find new stories of mass graves.   The old links are included with the new.

Blood and Death

We have a generation of individuals that are willing to take some body's life for 50 dollars...100 dollars.
        Former undercover DEA agent, Celerino Castillo III, 2012

Last week - in early May 2012 - I read an article about on how Mexican authorities had found 15 dismembered bodies in Jalisco.  I debated whether or not the subject was 'timely'.  Then Sunday - again in early May 2012 - I read of an even larger discovery involving 49 torsos in Nuevo Leon.

More is a new story from February 6 in Michoacan, another with 64 people found in Jalisco from December, yet another involving 17 people in Jalisco from February 22, and yet new story I found with 500 sets of remain scattered across 11 municipalities in Coahuila.  I truly believe some people probably could care less about these deaths.  I care.

Either way Americans eventually are going to figure out this issue is an American issue. The two of the three biggest graves above are close to the US border.  Furthermore, to quote 'Senor X', a Chicago drug trafficker, regarding the Sinaloa organization's influence in Chicago, "It's very strong and it's getting worse.  There's people in Chicago who have a relationship with gang members.  The cartel is, the cartels are, have direct contact now with the gang members...  The cartels, for example, Sinaloa cartel recruit the gang members and now they have direct contact with the gang members in the United States.  And the worst part of it is that they're armed.  It's only a, it's a time bomb."

The body count of the Mexican drug war now exceeds the Human Rights Watch estimate of more than 60,000 people since late 2006. I've seen more recently the figure of 80,000. Some place the death toll far higher at 150,000. Wikipedia indicates 90,000 to 106,000 deaths and 1.6 million people displaced from 2005 to 2012.  Not to forget: 26,000 disappeared.

As you likely know, many, many violent act sit on sites such as Liveleak.  Some have the death edited out.  Some do not.  I've watch one.  I felt it was necessarily to complete this blog with authenticity.**

The Life of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz

This struggle is not only for my daughter.

Let's not allow one more young woman to be killed in this city.

        Ortiz, 2010 (referring to Juarez)

However, with the death of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, much is different.  First, it's on Youtube.  Second, she did not die in a field on her knees giving up names and addresses after having gotten caught up in the game.  She died an activist demanding the truth and justice for her own blood and daughter Rubi Marisol Frayre.  When I watched her get shot in Plaza Hidalgo in Chihuahua city, I felt an immediate clarification in my thinking about marijuana in America - and probably drugs more generally.  In my opinion, people who care about human rights, Christian values, human values, reducing violence, and a 100 other issues have an obligation to re-evaluate marijuana legalization very seriously.***

Ortiz had a deep insight into the nature of modern protest.  My understanding is that in one protest she walked from Juarez to Mexico City partially naked.  In protesting naked, I believe she communicated at least two deep truths to us.  First, average people will ultimately have to face the darkness of our times with the truth and the truth alone; the street is devolving into madness; and, as I've argued, the modern administrative state is failing.  Second, the murderousness of her daughter's death exhibited a vulgarity that nakedness in one way or another helps to communicate.

She was a warrior.   Such people will go into history among the mothers of global renewal.   As with woman globally, women in the Americas - especially women of indigenous descent - carry an enormous burden on behalf of our societies.  My belief is that this debt will not go unpaid.

If I offend the family of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz in recalling her story or activists south of the border in any way, I apologize.  I do not mean to politicize her death.  I believe it was political before I learned of it.  I speak from the heart and this was my experience when I saw what happened.

Pathological Killings

They would show a new recruit how to kill.

They would give them a machete.  If not, they'd give them a sledge hammer and they'd tell them to kill the people they had tied up.
        Wenceslao Tovar, sicario in Tamauliplas, 2012

Killing has become a practical and commonplace exercise in parts of Mexico.  Killing is something that distributors practice and refine.   It is not a crime of impulse, revenge, or war.  Killing has become an exercise of business and has for some I suspect become an addiction.  For some not all, killing has become pathological in Mexico.  It is in the nature of pathology that you cannot confront it with ordinary incremental measures that address symptoms.  You must go to the root and remove what created the pathology - namely demand.  You could try to stop distributors at the physical level such as with a drug war but is impossible in practical terms and ridiculous in moral terms.

Ending the Mexican Drug War

In drug trafficking, as long as there is demand, there will be a supply.  It's like energy.  You can't create or destroy it.  It only transforms.

        Javier Valdez, journalist and co-founder of Riodoce, 2014****

See, if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel.  That's literally true.
        Milton Friedman, Nobel economist, 1991*****

Regarding the practical, unless people lose interest in drugs - which will take at least two centuries - you will never stop the drug trade; it is a fool's errand.  The distributors have won and have done so decisively.  They will continue to win.  The drug trade is effectively a protected industry with highly inelastic demand; it doesn't require sophisticated technology as with Apple and IBM or deep physical capitalization as with Exxon and BP.  And the drug trade is illegal so you don't have to report the income.

The money, the soldiers, and the arms required to fight it out are phenomenal.  The entire Mexican military budget for 2014 is possibly $12B and in 2012 was $7B.  The Columbian and Mexican institutions of drug distribution make $18B to $39B from American consumers each year.  You do the math.

People in the drug trade will always win as long as drugs are illegal because people in the so-called straight world (i.e. the non-black market realm) will always ultimately condone the the drug trade so they can dip into the drug world for cash.  (Both presidents Bush, 41, and Clinton have likely done just that.  I am referring to the Iran-Contra Affair and the Mena Cover-up where each president in one way or another dip into the drug world for cash to fund personal or political endeavors.)

Even if no one in the straight world condoned the drug trade, the drug consumer would still always keep distributors awash in money and arms.  Demand will always keep the distributors ahead of the regulators.******  Even if you somehow by a miracle beat the the distributors in one generation, you have no assurance that the same saga will not re-emerge in the next generation or in a neighboring country.  When Nixon declared the American War on Drugs in 1971 perhaps we did not have all this experience.  But we have it now.

Ending the drug war in Mexico or here in the states is simple; we just have to let go of it.  To paraphrase Will Rogers, if you're in a hole, stop digging...


* I neither support nor abhor globalization.  It has begun.  It's on us to understand it and direct it as gracefully as possible.  Globalization presents opportunities and risks that deserve attention.

** Viewing them is at some level a form of participation.  Growing up I remember knowing about the Faces of Death series.  I never watched.   Killing has become a part of the music and consciousness of Mexico and the US.  For instance, Breaking Bad - among the greatest American TV shows - showcased a narcocorrido in 2009 called Negro Y Azul: The Ballad of Heisenberg by Los Quates deSinaloa.  These are all scary trends.

*** I had earlier named this blog "Legalization and the Life of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz". I changed it out of respect.

**** I love this quote. It harkens back to conversations I had at policy school regarding immigration. A few of my friends and I agreed on how American policy-makers simply do not understand the biological and economic drivers of immigration between Mexico and the US. Despite the periodic slowdowns as during the Great Recession, nothing will stop immigration between these countries. No wall is big enough. No penalty stiff enough.

Free market thinkers always talk about 'free trade' and the free movement of capital but they almost universally fail to regard the free movement of labor in discussions of globalization. I do not support global consolidations such as with the so-called North American Union but culturally the US and MX are intertwined as no other nations in the Western hemisphere.

***** Great related quote from US District Judge James C. Paine in 1991: "Alcohol didn't cause the high crime rates of the '20s and '30s. Prohibition did. And drugs do not cause today's alarming crime rates but drug prohibition does." "Trying to wage war on 23 million Americans who are obviously very committed to certain recreational activities is not going to be any more successful than Prohibition was."

****** Even if a single distributor in MX falter under some sort of failure of leadership, which people are saying might happen because of the recent arrest of Joaquin 'Chapo' Guzman, the power of drug distributors - even on a downward trajectory - will continue for at least decade or two.  And I don't buy even that argument.

To quote David Shirk of the Justice in Mexico Project, "As long as these other structures remain in place, all things being equal, Sinaloa will be able to continue to operate if not as normal, at least as the most powerful criminal organization in Mexico.”  After the Colombian National Police killed Pablo Escobar, his organization fell apart but the drug trade in Colombia moved forward.  In fact, Mexican distributors are in a perfect situation to continue to rise in power as an intra-competitive oligarchy.

Friday, February 21, 2014

House of Cards [s2, eps 4, 5, 6]

SPOILER ALERT. The first entry reviews episodes 1 to 3. The next entry reviews 4 to 6; the next entry reviews for 7 to 9; the next covers 10 to 12. The final review is here.

You can put wings on a pig, but you don't make it an eagle.
        Clinton, 1996

Chapter 17 - 'Private Megan Hennessey.' / 'I'm not Frank Underwood.'

That was a crazy episode. Much of it was unexpected. The themes of rape as well as a woman's reproductive system have obviously become critical to this season. On the one hand, I'm glad Claire is sticking it to McGinnis rather strangling the victim in her memories - to use her language. And yet you get the clear sense that she's using the whole situation and twisting the truth in just the right fashion to open up a new venue for her to operate; admittedly Ashleigh Banfield (as herself) prompts the issue. However, when Claire tells tells Megan Hennessey that she and the VP will protect her, I sensed that promise would go unfulfilled.

I very much liked it when Sharpe told the legislators sniffing around for pork that she expected their votes and that they should be looking for handouts. You get the sense that although she can throw Havemeyer under the bus, she is actually not a person without character altogether. I suspect that will be her downfall. She is too authentic - too focused on real solutions.

Both the fake (or electronic) cigarettes and the real ones were great. The fake ones say we move and adjust with the times. The real one say we can still get dirty.

Chapter 18 - (no title)

We're officially deep into season 2. This episode laid the groundwork for future episodes rather than followed through on its own ideas. Not surprisingly it was also perhaps the first episode this season that relied more on symbolism than words.

I still don't know what to make of the first scene - the gasper scene with Xander Feng. (Gasper is a new word I learned this week.) What was the point of the two Anglo prostitutes - male and female? I rarely come up with nothing. Rarely. Cliches abound - billionaire does what he wants to who he wants and has graduated from ordinary sexual desires to unusual ones. But none of that really serves what I think are the existing images and ideas on the show. I just don't get it. And I'm not alone in that regard.*

When Frank looks into the camera early in the very first re-enactors scene, you can sense he thinks the whole re-enacting thing is absurd - like he's saying 'what are these idiots doing?'** What's interesting is that he eventually buys into it - so much as to take up a new scene creation hobby in later episodes. I like that transition - when he meets his ancestor Augustus and starts to take an interest. He responds to the earnestness and authenticity.

What's most interesting is when he buries his ring - without looking at the fourth wall. He is either putting something behind him or asking for help from his ancestors. His mistake is having a meeting with Feng at the burial site.

PS - I just glanced at an article on The Wire saying the deep web and China are boring subjects. I don't know what the actual fuck they are talking about. Technology and China will likely define so much between now and the dawn of the 23rd century. Americans are deeply ignorant of understanding the Chinese personality and the greater policy aims of China. The subject couldn't be more interesting or important.

PPS - 'It's far easier for you to destroy me than the other way around.' I feel like that's something I'd say but people in general don't talk that way. Seth Grayson will prove fascinating I suspect.

Chapter 19 - 'So you're saving yourself.'

Lucas Goodwin just got served. That was sad. To see honest, good people fail to understand the rules and potentialities of the powerful is truly sad. Rules of the game. 'It's not what you know; it's what you can prove.'

So Raymond Tusk does have balls. Finally the private sector character shows a hint of realism when he shuts the power off.

Is it Kevin Spacey or Frank Underwood that can't handle a baseball for shit? I think it's Frank but I'm not sure. I believe it's in the BBQ joint where he appears ridiculous as he flails the ball to Tusk.

One of the most depressingly sobering and scary scenes in nearly the whole series is when FBI agent Green shows up and successfully threatens the shit out of ex-reporter Janine Skorsky. What a total bummer. It made me want to re-evaluate the federal government overreach stories such as the 2013 IRS scandal, TSA abuse, and border patrol abuse. It's so depressing to see how much this show lines up with reality. On a related note, Doug Stamper clearly has access to Skorsky's phone - hint NSA, hint FBI. (The fact that people like Stamper exist is amazing and troubling.)

Here is my question: would a reporter (Hammerschmidt) really have the balls to ask a sitting VP if he killed someone? I would. But would a mildly successful reporter really do that. I doubt it. (In watching this scene I was brought back to the first scene of the entire series when he suffocates that dog.)

My favorite part of the whole episode was when the bodyguard Meechum seems to take offense at the familiarity that exists between Frank and Freddy - the BBQ owner. I definitely want to know more about Mecchum's opinion of the world he helps to protect. My guess is he will look the other way at some rather serious stuff later this season.

The theme of control and woman continues with Doug and Rachel. I accidentally found out something about how that unfolds. I hope she does what I think she does. Last scene: Rachel asks Doug 'are you hungry?' Last frame: Doug looks at Rachel and realizes that most intimate and meaningful relationship he has with any woman on Earth is with a woman he professionally coerces.


* Furthermore, I like the actor playing Feng as an actor - as an artist producing emotion and drama. He is excellent. But the notion that he exhibits anything close to a mainland Chinese persona seems totally unbelievable. I can't imagine it is a function of his talent. It seems like a failure in direction - not an enormous failure just a loss some realism that Americans would benefit from. I'm not saying that there is a single, monochromatic mainlaid Chinese persona but just as Americans have a certain vibe and focus so do the Chinese - so do New Yorkers, so do people from Beijing, Hong Kong, etc. Feng seems like just another American on the show.

** Personally, I think it's kinda cool - embracing history, honoring one's ancestors, learning, spending time outside - all wonderful. I'm not sure I would get involved because it seems to place an emphasis on the war and not slavery which is equally deserving of understanding.

Monday, February 17, 2014

House of Cards [s2, eps 1, 2, 3]

SPOILER ALERT. The first entry reviews episodes 1 to 3. The next entry reviews 4 to 6; the next entry reviews for 7 to 9; the next covers 10 to 12. The final review is here.

Last season I was amazed at how effectively symbolic and intelligently insightful House of Cards was. Not since Eyes Wide Shut have I seen a piece of entertainment so aggressively indict an entire class of people. In Chapter 3, Clair Underwood is running in the cemetery (near 12:00); and a woman says to her "You shouldn't run here, it's disgraceful. Have you no respect?". I knew then I wanted to write about this show in context of Washington DC behavior. That moment sums up a good portion of the shows' ethos with both ideas and symbols in mind. It's the third most symbolically charged moment across both seasons.

I'm in no rush. You can watch them with me. Although option3 is a policy project, it is affirmatively not blind to the realities of DC and other policymaking environments. I don't think the behavior of characters on HOC is a perfect illustration of all politicians - just some of them. (You definitely need to know the show to enjoy this blog series.)

Furthermore, the cheap parlor tricks that a politician will often fall for don't work as much on business people because unlike politicians business people do not have an innate need for adoration. The show right now is not revealing that picture. Even Kevin Spacey says the President could only wish to be as ruthlessly efficient as Underwood. I have to agree with other reviews who have said that Frank domineering presence is misplaced but then show would be as much fun.

In the above article, Spacey also notes "our story lines aren't that crazy". Agreed.

[I]f the American people ever find out what we have done, they would chase us down the street and lynch us.
        Bush 41, 1992

Chapter 14 - 'Every kitten becomes a cat.'

Apparently not. Apparently the moment you come into your own as a reporter - the moment when you really are about understand the type of person you're dealing with - you get shoved into an oncoming train. That's DC rules on HOC. Right as I was thinking I might not write about the show, the soon to be appointed VP of the US, Frank Underwood, killed his own ex-lover-protege-reporter-confidante Zoe Barnes - who was IMO the conscience of last season. It took almost a season to kill Peter Russo and less than 50 minutes to kill her. This season is off to the races. (You even see him snuff a candle light right after he kills Zoe. These show writers mean business in season 2.)

The first frame of this season is Frank and Claire running as they were in the closing scene of last season. I felt like they were definitely running from their sins. That symbolism seemed plainly apparent.

Frank's interest in veteran and Congresswoman Jacqueline "Jackie" Sharp is quite interesting. While he relishes in killing and competing, Sharp seems to not want to dwell on the subject when she admits to having killed civilians in the fulfillment of military duty. My hope / guess for this season is that if and when Frank aims to crucify her politically and she'll be able to respond in ways that Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes couldn't. (It's interesting that he hands intelligence he has on Webb and Buchwalter; although the show does indicate it, you wonder if he did get the intelligence via some unusual access to surveillance feeds. Just something that came to mind.)

The pivotal use of symbols in the episode was the idea that slow bled pork tastes better. I can't help but feel Frank understands that making his prey - which is at some level the American people - suffer is his greatest unconscious joy. In closing, he turns to us as though we were hoping for his acknowledgement and plainly says it: "hunt or be hunted". Then, once he has left, the camera pans down and the cufflinks read FU, which in my mind is what politicians are effectively saying to Americans in this day and age: 'fuck you'.

There is also vivid sub-themes dealing with the objectification of woman and the control and manipulation the reproductive process. In fact it's worse that objectification; it's a sort of property-ization of woman. Rachel Posner, Janine Skorsky, and Gillian Cole are all facing deep coercion and are more or less told we own you and we don't give shit about your opinion. Claire literally threatens to kill Gillian's baby - not until another women tells her to where a condom when she sleeps with someone's else husband. That's just episode one.

Chapter 15 - 'All you can offer me is Ethics, which nobody wants.'
Couldn't have said it better. Those are the words of Howard Webb to Wes Buchwalter regarding the potential compromise. The first thing that stood out for me in this episode was the characters' inability to sit and eat. When Sharpe and Havemeyer first sit together for lunch early in the episode they both get up from the table at least once; Frank and Claire do the same thing at his first public appearance as VP. These people can barely sit still long enough to eat - they are not centered or balanced in any sense of the terms - all chaos, all ego, no peace. (I thought it was telling that later Sharpe takes a bite of Havemeyer's dessert. She surely did drink his milkshare by the end of episode.)

The Secret Service's invasive presence in Frank's home was especially gratifying in that Frank has gained more power only to find that the system now owns him further.

We again see the brutal theme of woman and external control - prompted by General Dalton McGinnis' years back rape of Claire. What is most interesting is her standing policy in the psychological aspect of this experience. If I am not mistaken, she tells Frank that when she relives the memory she strangles the victim "because the alternative is unlivable". I've never been in that situation but I suspect that's not the best perspective. She basically tells Frank to acquiesce to the perpetrator and take the hate that will be there "in the morning" and direct it others - presumably in the larger political competition for power. This is maelstrom of dysfunction.

Dancing on eggshells. Those are the terms the President used with regard to cyber-security and China in the episode. It's quite fitting that that character would use a mixed metaphor, as though the writers wanted to advertise his total weakness as an agent of history in the HOC universe. What's also interesting is that in some sense we do dance around the issue of cyber-security and walk on eggshells when it comes up. It's a pretty serious subject in terms of the real balance-of-power questions we face in century 21. The amount of existing, day-to-day cyber-warfare is amazing. Just a few days ago Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told his people: "Cyber, in my modest opinion, will soon be revealed to be the biggest revolution in warfare, more than gunpowder and the utilization of air power in the last century".

The most critical idea of the episode was Frank's observation that Raymond called the President Garrett, his given name, and not Mr. President. It brings up a lot issues - most of which I ignore for now and deal directly with the true and real nature a President - namely that he is in the end the last iteration of the European monarch, a big subject. In any case, the real people in the real world that are like Raymond Tusk - especially as a semi-unified yet competitive group, whether you call them 'the capitalist elite' or the monied finance / engineering / technical class - assert much more power on society and Presidents than a person like Frank ever will.

What was so interesting about Frank last season was that he was in the political world, having success while almost getting his ass handed to him on ever other episode. IMO the political class serves the economic - not the other way around. I could be wrong or over simplifying. It will be very interesting to see how the Frank and Raymond story unfolds.

Last but not least. We again see the attempt to surveil - use that term loosely here - on the part of Lucas who wants to get into Zoe or Frank phone data. It gets back to the cyber-security question but also the large question of old data in the modern time.

(In the scene where Frank tells Claire to listen to the quiet, I felt the urge to watch the whole season. Thank goodness I have others stuff to do.)

Chapter 16 - 'Es demasiado.'
Too much indeed. Those are the words of Catalina Rodrigues - ex-lover of Havemeyer. Sharpe's newly evolving Underwood-initiated ambitious and political calculus prompted her to throw Havemeyer under the bus; and Rodrigues and her daughter have been pushed into the spotlight in the process.

All this fallout is Sharpe's initiation into real American politics and power, which for the time being is about sacrificing others. She is learning to work around her conscience but she is paying a price. She has incurred a debt of pain. She re-animates, regurgitates, commemorates, and processes that pain through the tattoo outlet. Just as we silo policy issues into new categories periodically, she is siloing the pain of pro-level politics from the emotional into the physical.

The procedural scene involving the arrest of Republican legislatures was one of the most interesting scenes in the whole series. I wonder to what extent it reflects real parliamentary procedure. It has high political theater and quite enjoyable.

The ongoing tech sub-theme became even more rich with the emergence of the deep web specialist. I look forward to seeing how that character unfolds. (If anyone can tell me how Doug Stamper knows that Lucas Goodwin knows the truth about Underwood please tell me.* As I was looking up Doug's name I happened to learn his fate. Interesting.) Lucas for me officially became the conscience of this season. No surprise there.

The most symbolically meaningful scene was with Frank, Claire, and two other legislators drinking wine and talking about Frank's supposed apprehension about seeing blood. Of course the wine is red. I could be accused of over-interpreting but the notion of blood sacrifice - which is not a explicit theme in HOC - seems to come up here and then again when the President speaks of 'the altar of democracy'. It's not quite a mixed metaphor but I think it's a troubling phrase. I could be mistaken but I don't know that we have altars in our political system. If we do, I doubt they are formal. The question is: who or what sacrifice is being offered at this altar?


* I suspected the deep web character was working for Doug but that wasn't clear until episode 4.