Lines in the Sand

Trump declaring victory on election night

Trump declaring victory on election night

Like many of us who supported Hillary Clinton, I am in a bit of shock that our country has chosen to elect a man so totally unqualified—morally, intellectually, and experientially—as Donald Trump. Yet the votes have been cast; and while he lost the popular vote by over a million votes, he won the electoral vote—the only one that counted. Despite early warnings of problems—the ever-growing and large, raucous Trump rallies; Russians all but indicted in hacking many of our national political organizations; the incessant drumbeat of Wikileaks’ releases of meaningless political insider emails; and a cowering FBI Director prematurely revealing the discovery of a “new trove of emails” ten days before the election that turned out to be mostly copies of already analyzed material—most of us were lulled by the pundits and pollsters who showed that Hillary would most certainly win, possibly by a landslide. Even the exit polls, run by the same media and pollsters, all but confirmed the certainty of Hillary’s success.

And then the votes actually started to be counted. The shock to more than half of us hit like a bomb; euphoria to the rest began to set in. Apparently, change, at whatever cost, driven by anger and hatred of those often left out of the political equations of the past, overpowered reason, deliberation and thoughtful governance proposed by Hillary.

What now? Continue reading

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Mein Kampf Revisited

hitlerIn 1925 Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf was first published and outlined in vivid detail Hitler’s philosophies and plans for world denomination. As noted by famed author William L. Shirer in his epoch treatise, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, “The blueprint of the Third Reich and, what is more, of the barbaric New Order which Hitler inflicted on conquered Europe in the triumphant years between 1939 and 1945 is set down in all its appalling crudity at great length and in detail between the covers of this revealing book.” Hitler’s racist views on Jews and non-Aryans, their “treacherous acts” against German society and the need for what became the “final solution” were clearly outlined for all to see, assuming they were able to work their way through this rather ponderous and tedious book. While history and the Allied armies of World War II ultimately rebuked Hitler’s attempts at a new world order under laid by nationalistic and nihilistic racism, unfortunately, we continue to face ongoing assaults on our basic liberties and freedoms both within and outside of our country. Continue reading

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Je Suis Charlie

Je Suis Charlie supporters in Paris following the terrorists attacks on Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hedbo supporters in Paris

Like many of us I was shocked by the horrific killings that took place recently in Paris where more than a dozen staff and editors of the French publication Charlie Hebdo, as well as some innocent bystanders, were viciously and cold-bloodedly gunned down by Islamic terrorists.  In a separate but related incident a policewoman and five other Parisians were killed. Ultimately, the French authorities found and killed the perpetrators of these killings, but not before they had succeeded in bursting the illusionary bubble of security and safety thought to be enjoyed in this modern city and, in fact, in Europe and much of the west. The terrorists, young French citizens apparently trained and supported by Al-Qaida, purportedly acted in revenge for cartoons and articles published in this satirical weekly newspaper seen as insulting to Mohammed and the Islamic faith.

The Western world responded swiftly in showing support and solidarity to what was seen as a vicious attack on freedom of speech and liberty in our modern society—”Je Suis Charlie—I am Charlie,” resounded around the world as thousands took to the streets in protest and support against the terrorists. The intent of the rallies and the protests was to show Islamic extremists/terrorists that we will not be bullied by armed threats, and we will continue to live as free and open societies. To underscore this, the January 15 publication of Charlie Hebdo sold out more than 5 million copies. (Their normal publication rate previously only amounted to about 60,000 copies!) In the end though we are left to reflect on what could cause such a violent and visceral reaction to simple cartoons in an obscure publication. From my own travels I recall an experience that may offer some insight as to what drives these extremists. Continue reading

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A Christmas Wish

Rome's Ancient Colosseum

Rome’s Ancient Colosseum

This past September while standing in a long tourist line to enter Rome’s ancient Colosseum I was mesmerized by a little boy held in his mother’s arms right in front of us.  I had just taken out a banana to maintain my failing strength (tourism is tough!) when I caught sight of the youngster eyeing my banana as I slowly and now very deliberately peeled it with a devilish grin in my own eyes.  The youngster squirmed in his mother’s arms as I teasingly ate the banana while wondering if it would be impolite or taken wrong if I offered the child a bite.  Before I could make up my mind to share (or not) the young mother, alerted to her child’s awakened appetite, cleverly pulled out her own banana to give the child!  As he eagerly grabbed the proffered banana from his mother I mimed my need to have a bite.  He wisely ignored my growing, silent entreaties to share that which I had refused to share only moments before.  We both laughed when he dramatically finished off his snack leaving me looking desperate and famished—a fun moment to pass the time in a long, boring line.  Having broken the ice we introduced ourselves to the young couple. “Where are you from?” we asked.  “Russia,” they replied.  “And you.”  “We’re Americans.”—only a slight hesitation but I could sense for both of us conflicting thoughts, “But you’re the enemy.  You seem so nice.” Continue reading

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Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses…

statue of liberty“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” is part of a poem by Emma Lazarus that is immortalized at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. My grandparents and hundreds of thousands of other immigrants fleeing from the oppressions and trials of their home countries in Europe and elsewhere first saw the Statue of Liberty as they looked for refuge and a new life in the US. In a conversation on immigration I recently asked a young college student if she were familiar with this quotation at the base of the Statue of Liberty. She looked at me blankly unaware or forgetful of what is such a large part of all of our families’ histories. That in fact we are all from a stock of immigrants (native Americans and African Americans excepted). That our strength and vitality as a nation has come from immigrants fleeing oppression going back to the Pilgrims to more recently, Vietnamese and Southeast Asians making their way to our shores. My young friend’s lack of understanding of this basic underpinning of our national heritage unfortunately is not unusual. Witness the recent uproar by public and private citizens with the arrival of more than 62,000 Central American children since October of last year, “illegally” crossing our border with Mexico and seeking asylum status. We fail to understand our history and further lack understanding of the meaning of the word “refugee” and the national and international laws which pertain to refugees here or elsewhere in the world. Continue reading

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Illegal Immigration–A Global Problem

Surge of undocumented children immigrants overwhelms border facilities

Surge of undocumented children immigrants overwhelms border facilities in Texas

Recent headlines in the U.S. have focused on a major influx of undocumented immigrants crossing our southern border with Mexico, many of them children either traveling alone or with single mothers seeking refuge. According to Homeland Security some 52,000 children have arrived on the U.S.-Mexico border since October of last year, most coming from Central American countries including Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, looking to escape the upsurge in violence and destitution threatening those countries. Some, apparently, are trying to take advantage of special treatment afforded children and families that cross the border illegally which they believe, mistakenly or otherwise, will allow them to stay. The paid “coyotes” smuggling them encourage this misinformation in promoting their services throughout the perilous journey from their home countries to the border. This is only the latest in the influx of undocumented (illegal) immigrants from the south that have looked to the U.S. for shelter from economic and/or violent social oppression in their homelands. While the details may vary, the problem of illegal immigration is not limited solely to the U.S., but is in fact a global problem that requires a far more comprehensive approach than we or any other nation is taking. Continue reading

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Made in the USA – The Prison Industry and Its Profits

4796934The prison population has grown nearly-exponentially in the last few decades, and the US now holds 25% of the world’s prison population, yet has only 5% of the world’s population. The incarceration rate per capita is far higher than any other industrialized nation.  According to the World Prison Population list, the United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, 743 per 100,000 of the national population. The next closest is Rwanda at 595. Why is this?  Is there something about US society that produces such massive numbers of criminals, or is something else going on?  Former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia tried to ask this question, by establishing a commission to recommend changes to the criminal justice system, only to see his efforts blocked in the Senate, despite widespread support from law enforcement groups as well as civil liberties organizations such as the ACLU. Continue reading

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The War on Drugs–Going Forward

This is the last of a multi-part series on illegal drugs and their impact on our society with a special emphasis on the US-Mexico border region, exploring how we got here, what are the economic and social impacts of our policies, and exploring alternatives to our current policies going forward.

Illustration by Victor Juhasz, Rolling Stones Magazine, Dec 2012

Illustration by Victor Juhasz, Rolling Stones Magazine, Dec 2012

This past November much of our attention was riveted on the election of a new President along with the other political contests up for grabs for our national, state, and local representatives.  Almost as a side event was the decision by the electorates of the states of Washington and Colorado to legalize and regulate the use of small amounts of marijuana for personal recreation.  For the first time since the early part of the last century state law made it legal for individuals to use marijuana subject only to the same kind of restrictions and regulations that have been applied to alcohol or tobacco, including taxation, abuse (DUI) and age restrictions for use.  The US Department of Justice officials were quick to point out that federal law still classified marijuana as an illicit narcotic, use or possession of which was subject to federal criminal prosecution.  Is this the tipping point, allowing the personal use/possession of marijuana, or simply an aberration in the decades-long war on drugs where the feds will simply step in and squash any attempts to legalize these drugs?  So far the feds have not really taken any action one way or another but there has been no visible change in the enforcement program, including the prosecution of medical marijuana patients. Continue reading

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War on Drugs–A Hundred Years War

This is the first of a three part series on illegal drugs and their impact on our society with a special emphasize on the US-Mexico border region, exploring how we got here, what are the economic and social impacts of our policies, and exploring alternatives to our current policies going forward.

“The farther you can look backward, the farther you can see forward”…Winston Churchill

Seized marijuana bales in Mexico

It’s said that the best definition of insanity is to repeat something over and over and expect a different result.  The war on drugs and our policies and laws regarding illegal drugs is a good example of this adage.  Since the passage of the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act in 1932 more than eight decades ago, through the administrations of thirteen different Presidents, and the enactment of hundreds of new drug laws and regulations,  we appear no closer to resolving the long standing problems of drug abuse, addiction, related illegal criminal activities and staggering economic costs to our society.  Such criminal activities, often violent and leading to thousands of deaths annually not only here but abroad, have only continued to rise. The drug organizations/cartels behind them have grown stronger and more vicious even to the point today of threatening nation states (Columbia and Mexico) and, potentially, the national security of the United States itself.  Drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines are readily available and prevalent in our high schools and even elementary and junior high schools. This has occurred despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually, passage of ever more onerous drug laws (e.g., “Three Strikes and You’re Out”), and adding thousands to an ever growing army of law enforcement, border security and drug agents.  In order to understand a path forward to resolving this national and international scourge on our society, we need to look at how we got to where we are and what we might do differently than simply repeating the same thing over and over. Continue reading

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War on Drugs–A Threat to National Security?

Mexico's President Calderon speaking last month in DC

 

News from last month’s Cartagena leadership summit attended by President Obama and other hemispheric leaders was almost completely overshadowed by the ensuing Secret Service prostitute scandal.  Unfortunately, almost no news emerged about the substantive content of the talks.  This included a major focus on the “war on drugs” and the need seen by many to reevaluate our strategies for dealing with the drug cartels and subsequent violence associated with them.  In those discussions numerous Latin American leaders spoke frankly that the US- orchestrated war is failing and sweeping changes need to be considered. Continue reading

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