Jimmy Montague's blog

Drug War Dummies

In states along the Mexican border, American journalists are going crazy with fear of the drug war that rages in Mexico and, increasingly, in the United States. Today's editorial in the Tucson Citizen tells the story:

"Whether shot, beheaded, mutilated or bombed, at least 2,680 Mexicans have been slain by drug cartels this year. Citizens, law enforcement and government officials are deeply alarmed - and that's just on our side of the border. In Mexico, they're terrified.

"It's our issue, too," the writer claims, "because Mexico is our next-door neighbor and because we cannot allow its democratic form of government to be destroyed.

The writer goes on to rave about murders, beheadings, kidnappings, corruption, police murdered, hand grenades, rocket launchers, "powerful automatic weapons," and narcoterrorism generally. The writer bewails the fact that the violence is spilling over onto our side of the border and finally concludes: "Our government must do everything possible to help beat back the drug cartels - for both nations' sake."

It's all a load of manure. The Tucson writer is informed by and repeats lies about drugs, the drug market, and the drug war that have become boringly familiar to all of us who, at one time or another, were into the counterculture and the drug scene. Those lies are so boring, in fact, that I won't bother to refute them here. Instead I will only say that if you believe in capitalism and the free market and the Bill of Rights but yet support the drug war and believe our Uncle Sam can actually win it, you should go and see a psychiatrist because you have problems that logic will only aggravate. Maybe the shrink will give you some (ahem!) drugs (ahem!) that will relieve your symptoms or at least render you harmless.

Perhaps the most stupid lie in that Tucson editorial is the line about saving democratic government in Mexico. Never in all of history has Mexico been a democracy. Mexico has always been governed by the richest of its elites, who -- ever since Pancho Villa scared the dog shit out of them for 13 years (1910-23) -- act through the president of Mexico in ways that usually -- but not always -- show citizens the semblance of a democracy. For nearly the whole of the 20th century, the Mexican government held an election every six years in which Mexicans got to vote for candidates who all belonged to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

That started to change in Y2K, when Vincente Fox became the first Mexican president elected from an opposition party since 1920. The current president of Mexico is Felipe Calderon. Calderon, even though he belongs to an opposition party (National Action Party, or PAN), seems a throwback to high-handed presidents "elected" by the PRI. Calderon's election in 2006 was widely regarded as fraudulent. The whiff of corruption follows Calderon wherever he goes. His government is challenged even now by opposition groups that periodically send hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to thwart one or another of his antidemocratic initiatives. Under Calderon, Mexico was all but ungovernable even before he became an ardent participant in Uncle Sam's insanely murderous and corrupt drug war.

If governments by Calderon and his ilk are governments we must save, I wonder why we didn't save the government of Mikhail Gorbachev. In Gorby's old Soviet Union, you know, citizens every few years got to vote on a slate of candidates who all belonged to the Communist Party. Speaking strictly of democratic elections, the former Soviet Union ran a system exactly like the system that the PRI ran in Mexico. Americans who claim that Mexico was a democracy must therefore allow that the former Soviet Union was a democracy. Americans who oppose George W. Bush on the grounds that he was never elected should for exactly the same reason oppose Felipe Calderon.

All of those who fear what's happening in Mexico should take note of what's happening in Colombia these days. In Medellin, Colombia -- once the cocaine capitol of the world and home to Pablo Escobar -- where in bygone days five or six hundred people were shot and killed on the streets every month, the shooting has stopped. Just last night I watched The Travel Channel's galloping hedonist, Anthony Bourdain, chomp chorizo in streetside restaurants where five years ago he'd have been shot to death inside of five minutes. How is Bourdain able to do that today?

Those who can add two and two know the answer is simple: Bourdain can do an unescorted gourmand's tour of Medellin these days because Medellin is no longer a hub of cocaine transportation. Those who made cocaine shipping their business have moved their operation to Mexico, where people now undergo torments exactly like the torments that formerly plagued the people of Colombia. And if by some miracle the crooks are driven out of Mexico, they'll simply go somewhere else. Who knows? They may even go back to Colombia now that the heat is off down there. . . .

So why should Americans save the corrupt and wildly unpopular government of Mexico? Why should we bleed more blood and spend more treasure to fight the so-called War on Drugs, which, as I've already pointed out, is both insane and unwinnable? We had better instead do all we can to end the prohibition of drugs in America. Spend all the money in the world to pay for all the cops and guns and prisons you can buy, you couldn't do nearly as much to end drug crime as that one, simple, inexpensive piece of legislation would do.

Remember Those Who Won Labor Day for You.

In 2008, America is bankrupt. The banking system itself is on life support. Millions of Americans are losing their homes. Millions more are unemployed or underemployed or for other reasons terrified of losing what little income our perverse economy allots them. The hateful Bush administration clings to the nation's back like a ravenous vulture while it picks our pockets and tears viciously at our Constitution and our precious civil liberties.

Democrats, for their part, just yesterday nominated a pair of fascist lapdogs who would have us believe that the cure for all the ills I've named is war, war, and more war. War on Russia, war on drugs, war on Iran, war on terror, war on everything for the next hundred years or so. Listening to their bellicose noise, thoughtful people can only conclude that the land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land we must flee before we're enslaved.

The idea of enslavement brings to mind the fact that Labor Day is coming once again. On this weekend, Americans who still labor and those who cannot find work will feast together at millions of picnics, barbecues, reunion dinners, and other joyous, commemorative celebrations. Precisely what those celebrations commemorate is the business of this essay.

What follows was written because, in observance of Labor Day 2002, National Public Radio aired a story about folk hero John Henry. I give you this item now because, on Labor Day 2008, American labor and America itself are in much worse shape than they were when this piece was written. While fascist boots stomp American labor into the dirt of poverty and humiliation, today seems a good time to recall once again the true story behind the creation of Labor Day. Here, then, is the item I call:

To Hell with John Henry: Make Mine Mother Jones!

In observance of Labor Day 2002, National Public Radio aired a story about folk hero John Henry. That was a poor choice. I'm here to tell you why.

John Henry was a tunnel driver on a railroad construction gang. He used a 9-pound hammer to drive drill bits into rock. Not everyone can swing a 9-pound hammer, so John Henry's job seemed secure. When the railroad bought a steam drill, John Henry bet his boss that he could work faster than the machine. A contest ensued. John Henry won, but the effort killed him when his heart burst at the finish. Folk ballads boast that John Henry “died with a hammer in his hand.”

Other fables tout fatal exploits of other blue-collar heroes. Casey Jones, for example, was an engineer famous on the railroad because he always arrived on time. Some stories say he was killed in a high-speed wreck as he raced to get back on schedule after leaving the station late. Other stories claim that his brakes failed on a grade. Gravity pulled the train downhill, faster and faster, until it jumped the track. Jones was supposedly “found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle, scalded to death by the steam.”

Folklore is heady stuff. Told in song, delivered in dulcet harmony by a trio like Peter, Paul and Mary or in a deific baritone by such as Johnny Cash, folk tales can swell our hearts and even bring tears. But folk tales are inappropriate for Labor Day, as NPR editors ought to know.

Facts about Labor Day are easy to come by, even from mainstream sources. I filched the following three paragraphs from the website of PBS News Hour:

"The observance of Labor Day began over 100 years ago. Conceived by America's labor unions as a testament to their cause, legislation sanctioning the holiday was shepherded through Congress amid labor unrest and signed by President Grover Cleveland as a reluctant election-year compromise.

"The movement for a national Labor Day had been growing for some time. In 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of the holiday. In 1894, protests against President Cleveland's harsh [strike-breaking] methods made appeasement of workers a top political priority. In the wake of the [Pullman] strike, legislation was rushed through Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland's desk just six days after his troops [broke] the Pullman strike.

"1894 was an election year. President Cleveland seized the chance at conciliation, and Labor Day was born."

There it is. Labor Day is not about a poor slob who worked himself to death to avoid a layoff, nor is it about some hambone who got killed by faulty equipment. Labor Day was not granted us by benevolent government to commemorate victims like John Henry and Casey Jones. Instead Labor Day is a day of rest, wrested by organized labor from corrupt government. Labor Day is an apology for crimes committed by government acting illegally in the service of capital. It is a holiday snatched by workers from the grasping claws of greedy, ruthless industrialists, the likes of whom killed John Henry and Casey Jones and unsung hordes of other hard-working people.

If NPR wants to commemorate Labor Day, NPR should forget John Henry and instead air an item about a hero of the labor movement. Eugene V. Debs comes readily to mind. So do Lucy Parsons, Big Bill Haywood, the Haymarket Martyrs and dozens more.

Defenders of NPR may object that the people I just named were rabid socialists and revolutionaries. It's true. They were. So what? It's also true that they led the labor movement through a period when capital and government acted together without restraint to crush the labor movement and murder or in other ways silence its leaders. The movement persevered and survived because its leaders were as tough and ruthless as its enemies. They weren't saints. They were sinners and sometimes criminals. But they were heroes because they led the fight to end child labor - to win the 8-hour day - to get a minimum wage - to get Social Security - to make the workplace safe. That fight is not history, folks. It continues to this day.

So I say to National Public Radio: Stop telling fairy tales! Any observance of Labor Day that lauds John Henry and shuns Joe Hill is no tribute. If it remembers Casey Jones and forgets Mother Jones, it is a travesty. If it appeals to your establishmentarian, white-collar audience, if it wins you praise from them, it is nevertheless crappy, gutless journalism. If it is in fact the best you can do, then you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

Stephen Colbert: "Speak loudly and carry a big schtick."

I watch Stephen Colbert at least three times a week because I'm fascinated with his schtick. But of who or what Colbert may actually be BEHIND the schtick, I don't think anyone can speak and I DO think a great many people are deceived (myself perhaps among them).

Colbert's schtick is liberal pretending conservative, insanity pretending reason, secularity pretending faith, PC pretending machismo, intellect pretending idiocy, a great many things pretending a great many other, and who knows which is real? Does Colbert himself know which is real? And if he knows, why then should he (as I've heard him claim with seeming sincerity) forbid his children to watch the show? When is he serious? About what? I sometimes get a more-than-sneaking suspicion that beneath all pretense Colbert is just another mainstream Democrat, but of course I can't be certain.

Of just one thing about Colbert, I feel sure: He is part of the problem insofar as his schtick belittles and belies every question, every fact, every circumstance he pretends to address. His author interviews are key: Which of those authors was ever permitted to say anything serious about his work? When did that happen? How are we enlightened, how is our understanding of their work deepened if none are allowed to speak past or over Colbert's hot-mouthed inanity? One wonders what terrible event could possibly occur, what could be so dreadful that Colbert would ever speak of it seriously.

If nothing is serious (as he puts on), then everything has equal weight. Liberalism? Conservatism? Communism? Fascism? They're all the same. Vote one way; vote the other; vote for Mickey Mouse or don't vote at all (my personal preference) if it suits you. Up is down, left is right, black is white, parody is reality, sarcastic invective is the sweetest of praise, and what difference does it make, really, if Americans are sheltered by the rule of law as long as one has a Porsche and a mansion at Myrtle Beach?

What, then, will become of America? Nobody will get a clue watching Stephen Colbert.


"It may be thought that I am prejudiced. Perhaps I am. I would be ashamed of myself if I were not."
Mark Twain
The Innocents Abroad

The Turd on Obama's Bumper

Election 2008 is over. Barack Obama lost. John McCain is now the president-elect.

Fascist media until now did their level best to prepare America for what should have been the long-shot, upset victory of the new century -- and the old, for that matter. Voters watched and listened for weeks while news anchors told them that McCain's machismo, savvy and gravitas together were working to dim Obama's flash and dissolve the double-digit lead that pollsters earlier awarded him.

All of it was lies, of course. The overwhelming majority of Americans did not vote this year because they knew that McCain is a doddering, senile, reactionary crank who -- it now appears -- cannot find his own way home (If he doesn't know how many houses he owns, he doesn't know where he lives, does he?) and Obama is nothing but a crocodile grin.

For a while there, it looked as though the farce might actually play in Peoria. Voters nationally are sickened by the elitist, tyrannical Bush administration and the corruption of which it perpetually reeks. Obama was initially popular and he does indeed have a stellar presence. Had he used his assets to push a program of radical systemic reform -- the modern equivalent of Roosevelt's New Deal -- he could have won handily. Instead he put on the old Donkey suit and started sucking up to the consultants who sank Al Gore and John Kerry.

Thus Obama's loss to McCain was an act of political suicide. Obama himself struck the killing blow on Aug. 23, when he fingered Delaware Senator Joseph Biden as his running mate. After keeping the nation in suspense for weeks over who he would choose, Obama finally chose a man who is arguably the worst old-line hack in the Democratic party. At that point, all hope of meaningful reform was dead and, of the millions who would have voted for Obama, many simply walked away.

One of the hot-rodders I used to know impoverished himself building flashy cars. When it came time to buy a house, he could afford only a shack. His new wife, terrified of living in a neighborhood filled with gangs and drug crime, insisted that he should somehow make the place secure. So he spent a lot of money on the strongest, best-looking door in the world he could find. He installed lights and an alarm system and in other ways did his best to make sure nobody could break into his flaky old shack. Surveying the place when he finished, he suddenly started to laugh. When we asked him why, he said: "Looks like somebody bolted a chrome bumper on a turd."

By picking Joe Biden for his running mate, Obama did exactly the opposite.

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