Saturday, February 28, 2009

Will Obama Change the Rules Bush Left Behind?

The Bush Administration made a mockery of humanitarianism.  The U.S. is now seen as a country that tortures and expels people.  Obama has made his statement about torture.  Will he make an effort to control the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)?  In the past few years, ICE has turned into something like the wild bunch gang...  entering houses without warrants, deporting nursing mothers, not letting detainees contact family after they are arrested. 

see dreamacttexas post "Sacrifice and Immigration," September 9, 2007

Haitians Look for Shift in Immigration Policy
Published: February 27, 2009

MIAMI — Vialine Jean Paul has noticed a change when she drops her 7-year-old daughter off at school each morning in recent weeks. Her daughter, Angela, is not sure that her mother will be back to pick her up.

“She tells me, ‘Mommy, good luck,’ ” Mrs. Jean Paul said, choking back tears. “She asks me, ‘Mommy, if you go to Haiti, what will happen to me?’ ”

Though Angela does not know it, the hopes of tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants and their relatives have become fixed on her mother’s fate. Mrs. Jean Paul is one of more than 30,000 Haitian citizens who have been ordered deported from the United States. Her case could be an early test of whether the Obama administration will break with the strict immigration enforcement policies of the Bush administration.

After an estimated 1,000 people were killed in mudslides in Haiti last year, the government asked the United States to grant temporary protected status to Haitian immigrants — relief that was extended when Honduras and El Salvador were hit by similar disasters. The designation is intended for countries in such dire trouble that receiving deportees would undermine their stability.

Deportations of Haitians were temporarily suspended last September, while the Bush administration considered the request. In December, the request was denied and the deportations resumed.

Lawyers say hundreds of people were detained, pushing detention centers across Florida beyond capacity. Hundreds of other immigrants were forced to wear electronic monitoring devices.  

When a Joke is not a Joke

Sigmund Freud

A few days ago, a well liked relative of mine received a text message while we were having a conversation.  She showed it to me while she was laughing.  I couldn't believe what I read.  It was a nasty joke about the Obamas and a Coon dog.  She said it came from a white friend of hers who often sent nasty jokes about Mexicans too.  I asked her if she every sent any nasty white jokes back, but she said she didn't know any.  She didn't think the jokes were racist...they were just jokes.  

I guess Dean Grose, the mayor of Los Alamitos, California felt the same way when he sent an email about a watermelon patch at the White House.  He must have not known that elected officials aren't supposed to do that.  

How many thousands of these jokes going around these days in text messages and emails?  There were just as many when Bush was president, but these were because of his incompetence.  Seems like a big difference this time.  These jokes are not about incompetence, they refer to a brutal history and ideology that apparently many people still believe in.  What a shame.

Just in case you hadn't heard about Freud's theory about jokes.  He thought that people often used jokes to say what they were really thinking - a nice way to conceal an insult.

Published: February 27, 2009

Hitler found quite a bit to admire about this country during its apartheid period. Writing in the early 1930s, he attributed white domination of North America to the fact that the “Germanic” peoples here had resisted intermarriage with — and held themselves apart from — “inferior” peoples, including the Negroes, whom he described as “half-apes.”

He was not alone in these sentiments. The effort to dehumanize black people by characterizing them as apes is central to our national history. Thomas Jefferson made the connection in his notorious book “Notes on the State of Virginia,” in which he asserted fantastically that male orangutans were sexually drawn to Negro women.  more

See dreamacttexas post:  Race and the U.S.: New Attorney General Tells It Like It Is, February 26, 2009


Top Officials Expand The Dialogue on Race
Month's Celebrations Evoke a Mix of Views
By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 28, 2009; Page A01

When the country's racial chasms seemed to threaten President Obama's election, his team had to tread carefully. A month into his administration, the tone has changed. Top officials are engaging the subject of race more freely, with a boldness and confidence they once shunned.

With the federal government's annual African American History Month celebrations as a backdrop, the attorney general, the first lady and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency spoke more frankly about race recently than any of Obama's surrogates did during the hard-fought campaign. more

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Race in the U.S.: New Attorney General Tells It Like It Is

What Holder says is true. We need to face it.

Mexico: State of the Country

It is ironic that considering until recently the U.S. approved torture, that the State Department would criticize other countries... 

Either way.  As the report shows.  Mexico is in trouble.

From 2008 US Department of State Human Rights Report:

"World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators and other indices reflected that corruption remained a problem at all levels of government, as some public officials continued to perpetrate bureaucratic abuses and some criminal acts with impunity."

2008 Human Rights Report_ Mexico

Obesity at 18 increases risk of early death by 1/3


Obese teenagers carry same risk as smoking 10 cigarettes a day

Chance of early death from preventable diseases high for overweight adolescents

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Wednesday, 25 February 2009
London Independent

Overweight teenagers run the same risk of an early death as people who smoke regularly – and the risk increases substantially with very fat adolescents.

Teenagers who are clinically obese have the same risk of premature death as someone who smokes more than 10 cigarettes a day. An investigation of 45,000 men whose health was monitored for 38 years has found that being overweight at the age of 18 is equivalent to being a regular smoker in terms of the overall risk of dying relatively early in life from preventable diseases.

Men who both smoked and were overweight as teenagers were likely to die even earlier than those who fell into just one or other of the risk groups. But the study did not find any evidence to suggest that smoking and obesity combined to produce even greater risks when found together.

Martin Neovius of the Karolinksa Institute in Stockholm, who carried out the study published in the British Medical Journal, said: "It shows the importance of measures to reduce obesity in adolescents. A lot of people are dying from preventable deaths.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gov. Perry's Plan to Save the Border

Perry is said to have stated that he didn't care who went to protect the border, police or soldiers, as long as there were boots at the border... His people thought up a plan to save us from the violence of the cartels - and gave it a "great" name: "Operation Border Star Contingency Plan."

It is true that Mexico is in bad shape. We (as Americans) will continue to help its demise with all the illegal drugs we buy. Remember, they come from the cartels that are steadily blowing up Mexico.

Oh, one more thing.  Who thinks up these ridiculous names?

Recent border violence tests spillover plan
February 21, 2009 - 11:15 PM
Jeremy Roebuck

As protests and gunfire erupted last week across Reynosa, Hidalgo County authorities stood prepared at the international bridges, ready for any possibility.

With mobile command units connected to statewide intelligence centers and dozens of officers armed to confront potential threats, law enforcement officials responded to Tuesday's violence like they never have before.

The incident prompted state officials to enact for the first time a border-wide emergency plan developed to address threats from Mexico's ongoing war against its entrenched drug cartels.

Dubbed the "Operation Border Star Contingency Plan," Gov. Rick Perry's office drafted the policy with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies last year to prepare for the possibility of violence spilling over into the United States.

"The most significant threat Texas faces is spillover violence from Mexico's drug cartels," Perry's homeland security director, Steve McCraw, told state senators at a hearing Wednesday. "You can never be too prepared."  more

ICE Raid in Washington State - While Napolitano Speaks in Washington D.C.

Janet Napolitano, new director of DHS says she did not know about the raid in advance. It is not surprising... since ICE seems to have a mind of its own.  See "Napolitano orders review of WA Raid" -- Seattle Times, February 25, 2009

There was a hearing today of the House Committee on Homeland Security.  A few hours before the hearing, 9 people were detained by ICE in Houston.  See Houston Chronicle article "Immigration Agents arrest 9 at Ship Channel,"  February 25, 2009*
2 25 09

just in case you can't get the link to the Houston Chronicle article on the Ship Channel raid:

"Immigration officials arrested nine suspected illegal immigrants on Wednesday at a sweep at the Greens Port Terminal, a cargo loading and unloading facility on the Houston Ship Channel.

Yolanda Choates, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the joint operation with local authorities also led to the arrest of a U.S. citizen with four outstanding criminal warrants.

Choates said she was unsure which company or companies employed the nine illegal immigration suspects found during the morning raid."
Houston Chronicle, February 25, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama's Speech to Congress - February 24

Empathy for Gaza

link to image

There is a billboard on Houston's Southwest Freeway that says only 3 words accompanied by a photo of a small child.  It says "Pray for Gaza."

see Washington Post article,  "Whose Israel Should it Be?" February 24, 2009
The Daily Cougar
University of Houston
Gaza in need of humanitarian aid

Lihue Rearte
Published: Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reuters estimated Jan. 17 that there have been 5,300 Palestinian casualties, including 1,300 deaths, in comparison to 500 Israeli casualties, including 13 deaths.

Students around the world and across the U.S. are standing in solidarity with Gaza to support the Palestinian victims of violence.

“Their demands are reasonable and very, and I should emphasize, very humble,” pre-med junior Bissan Rafe Qasawari said. “What has been done to Gaza is a violation of human rights and basic integrity measures.”

Recent sit-ins and occupations in New York, organized by student groups such as Take Back NYU! and Students for a Democratic Society, demand their universities give scholarships to Palestinian students.

The student protesters also request the institutions donate “excess supplies and materials” to help restore the education in Gaza. Included in the list of recipients are institutions such as the Islamic University of Gaza, one of the targets of Israeli air raids in December.

As a symbol of solidarity with the people of Gaza, events and protests were held in Europe last month. Students from 16 different universities across the U.K. occupied facilities, condemning “atrocities perpetrated by Israel in the Gaza Strip” and asking their universities to end their investments in “companies complicit in human rights abuses,” according to the Associated Press.

“The Palestinian people are viewed as stateless citizens. They have less rights in other countries, which makes it very hard to cope with life anywhere,” Qasawari said.

Similar actions against injustice took place in front of the M.D. Anderson Library. The UH Muslim Student Association and the Houston Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine gathered Monday to raise awareness of the massive numbers of civilian deaths. They plan to gather again from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today

“We are here to honor the people that were killed in Gaza,” chemistry graduate student Kellie Abou-awad said. “Any time something like this happens, people need to know what’s going on.”

We should all stand with those whose schools have been completely destroyed and whose friends and professors have been murdered. Why aren’t we demanding our University for scholarships and more aid to the Palestinians?

The least we could do is raise awareness by protesting against U.S. companies that manufacture weapons and profit from it. This is not the kind of help people in Israel or Afghanistan need. The situation in Gaza is a humanitarian crisis that needs peaceful investing initiatives.

Our tuition, the money that all of us pay to fund our “public” universities, could partially be provided by the billions of dollars that the U.S. government gives to the Israeli violence in the Middle East.

In an effort to end an arms embargo on Israel, the human rights group Amnesty International demands the UN to stop this “aid” from abroad. Also, Amnesty researchers found proof of Israeli munitions, which were made by Americans.

“To a large extent, Israel’s military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the U.S.A. and paid for with U.S. taxpayers’ money,” Malcolm Smart, Amnesty’s Middle East director, said in a report.

In addition, the U.S. is to provide $30 billion in military aid to Israel under a 10-year agreement that runs until 2017, Amnesty said.

Perhaps this is a good time to ask ourselves if the University of Houston is, like many others, investing in corporations who could potentially profit from the war.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is an ongoing war dominated by military atrocities. Hundreds of militants and civilians are being murdered and the numbers keep increasing. Surely we can and should do something to ease their suffering.

Diabetes Epidemic: You Could Be Next

From Vegetarian Diet and Diabetes:  "Studies show that vegetarian diet which emphasis on low fat, high carbohydrate and high fibre foods has a beneficial effect on carbohydrate metabolism, lowering blood sugar levels. Therefore can substantially lower risk of type II diabetes and other health problems like obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and some forms of cancer than non-vegetarians."


NHS resources threatened as diabetes cases soar 70 per cent

British rise in disease linked to obesity and bad diet exceeds Europe and US

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
London Independent
Tuesday, 24 February 2009

A dramatic increase in the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in middle age has been documented by a study exposing the scale of the epidemic that threatens to overwhelm the NHS in the coming decades.

New cases of diabetes in Britain soared by 74 per cent between 1997 and 2003, according to the study, suggesting that poor diet and rising levels of obesity are behind the increase in the hormonal illness, which almost doubles the risk of premature death.

Latest figures suggest that the number of people in Britain developing obesity-related diabetes is rising at a faster rate than in America, where the disease has become one of the biggest killers.

The findings from the study, published last night, support figures published last year suggesting that the number of people newly diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled from 83,000 in 2006 to 167,000 in 2008. There are now more than 2.2 million people in Britain suffering from the type-2 version of the disease, which is related to sedentary lifestyles and the explosive growth in obesity.

An analysis of figures based on new diagnoses of type-1 and type-2 diabetes found that the type-2 version accounts for almost all of the observed increase in diabetes over the past decade. Type-1 disease is commonly diagnosed in childhood, and is caused by the loss of cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, the hormone that controls levels of sugar in the bloodstream. Type 2, or late-onset diabetes is mainly caused by a growing insensitivity to insulin, and is linked to obesity.

Type-2 disease is usually diagnosed in people over the age of 40, although there are increasing reports of it being diagnosed in younger patients.

In the latest study, scientists analysed the records of a representative group of nearly 93,000 people with diabetes. Nearly 50,000 of the patients already had diabetes, and 42,600 were newly diagnosed with it between 1996 and 2005. Over the 10-year period of the study, there was a 69 per cent increase in the number of cases of type-2 diabetes, with a 74 per cent increase between 1997 and 2003, the scientists said.

Elvira Masso Gonzalez of the Spanish Centre for Pharmacoepidemiological Research in Madrid, who led the study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, said that Britain has one of the fastest-growing diabetes epidemics in the world. “Our results suggest that, although the incidence of diabetes remains lower in the UK than in the United States or Canada, it appears to be increasing at a faster pace. I think that the UK is one of the countries where diabetes is increasing faster in comparison to other countries in Europe,” she said.

In 1996, 38 per cent of people newly diagnosed with type-2 diabetes were overweight, and 46 per cent were obese. In 2005, the corresponding figures were 32 per cent and 56 per cent respectively.

Luis Alberto Garcia Rodriguez, one of the co-authors of the Madrid study, said: “Our study confirms that the prevalence and incidence of diabetes have increased in the UK over the past decade. This can be mainly explained by the increase in type-2 diabetes and its probable association with obesity.”

Douglas Smallwood, chief executive of the charity Diabetes UK, said: “This research is a sad indictment of the state of the UK’s health. Sadly, the statistics are not surprising as we know that the soaring rates of type-2 diabetes are strongly linked to the country’s expanding waistline.

“Research shows that losing weight can reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by 58 per cent. It is imperative that we raise awareness of the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet and doing at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day if we want to make any headway in defusing the diabetes time-bomb.”

Long-term complications of diabetes include foot and leg ulcers, stroke, blindness, kidney problems, heart disease and damage to the peripheral blood vessels. The disease is treated by changes to lifestyle, medication to lower sugar levels in the blood, or by insulin injections in extreme cases.
link to Independent article

Monday, February 23, 2009

8pm Central Time, PBS - "A Class Apart"

PBS American Experience is showing a documentary on the Mexican American Civil Rights struggle in Texas.  In Houston, the program will be at 8 pm Central Time on Channel 8 - KUHT.

Most of my younger students don't know anything about this part of Texas history.

PBS looks at Mexican-Americans’ struggle
By DAVID BARRON Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Feb. 22, 2009, 11:41PM

February is Black History Month, and it seems each February offers a supplement to the vast record of civil rights documentaries that reached its peak with Eyes on the Prize, the landmark 14-hour film that traced the movement from the Montgomery bus boycott into the mid-1980s.

By comparison, films about Mexican-Americans and other Latinos who struggled and prevailed against segregation and discrimination are few and far between. That scarcity emphasizes the significance of documentaries such as A Class Apart, which premieres at 8 p.m. Monday on KUHT (Channel 8) as part of PBS’ American Experience series.

Produced by New York filmmakers Carlos Sandoval and Peter Miller, A Class Apart concerns the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Hernandez v. Texas, which established Mexican-Americans as a protected class under the 14th Amendment.

It’s only one hour in a saga that deserves a multi-part vehicle to rival Eyes on the Prize in scope. But, especially for Texans, it is a critical starting point.

“Eyes on the Prize was a huge landmark achievement, the product of a generation of dedicated filmmakers and activists,” Miller said. “We’re fortunate now to be at a moment where PBS is showing more programs about the Latino civil rights struggle. This is one story among many, and it would be nice if someday down the line there could be a series devoted to these stories.”

Hernandez v. Texas stemmed from the case of Pete Hernandez, a farmworker accused of killing a man in a bar fight in the Jackson County town of Edna in 1951. His case drew the attention of a group of San Antonio and Houston attorneys, who saw the case as a vehicle to break down the Jim Crow-style laws and customs that oppressed Mexican-Americans in the same fashion as African-Americans.

The attorneys argued that Hernandez could not receive a fair trial because Jackson County had systematically eliminated Mexican-Americans from juries. The state countered that Mexican-Americans were lumped in with Anglos under the law and thus were not entitled to special treatment under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

The case, the first to be argued by Mexican-American lawyers before the Supreme Court, was heard during the same term as the Brown v. Board of Education case seeking to outlaw segregation in public schools. In a decision that was overshadowed nationwide by the Brown decision a week later, the court ruled that Mexican-Americans were a distinct group entitled to the same constitutional protection as other minority groups.  

The American Guns in Israel

According to Phyllis Bennis, a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C., the U.S. provides the following yearly aid to Israel:

military aid:  $1.8 billion
economic aid:  $1.2 billion
miscellaneous grants, military supplies:  app. $1 billion

The situation is very complicated.  Israel is the U.S. de facto military base in the Middle East.  This is something the U.S. did not have in Southeast Asia during the the Vietnam Conflict.  Obama is back up against a wall in this situation.  According to Bennis, the U.S. has to support whatever Israel does in order to maintain the alliance.

You Tube:  Bennis interview begins after 2 minutes

Amnesty [International] calls on US to suspend arms sales to Israel

Hellfire missiles and white phosphorus artillery shells among weapons used in 'indiscriminate' attacks on civilians, says human rights group

* Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem
*, Monday 23 February 2009 09.14 GMT
London Guardian

Detailed evidence has emerged of Israel's extensive use of US-made weaponry during its war in Gaza last month, including white phosphorus artillery shells, 500lb bombs and Hellfire missiles.

In a report released today, Amnesty International listed the weapons used and called for an immediate arms embargo on Israel and all Palestinian armed groups. It called on the US president, Barack Obama, to suspend military aid to Israel.

The human rights group said those arming both sides in the conflict "will have been well aware of a pattern of repeated misuse of weapons by both parties and must therefore take responsibility for the violations perpetrated".

The US has long been the largest arms supplier to Israel; under a 10-year agreement negotiated by the Bush administration the US will provide $30bn (£21bn) in military aid to Israel.

"As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme director. "To a large extent, Israel's military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with US taxpayers' money."

For their part, Palestinian militants in Gaza were arming themselves with "unsophisticated weapons" including rockets made in Russia, Iran and China and bought from "clandestine sources", it said. About 1,300 Palestinians were killed and more than 4,000 injured during the three-week conflict. On the Israeli side 13 were killed, including three civilians. Amnesty said Israel's armed forces carried out "direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Gaza, and attacks which were disproportionate or indiscriminate".
Amnesty International Report on Military Aid to Israel:

Sunday, February 22, 2009 reports: Israel Bombing in South Lebanon

The Mexican news agency reports that Israel bombed the region of "El Qlaile" in southern Lebanon, in response to rocket fire.

*Represalia por disparos
Israel bombardea el sur del Líbano


Israel bombardeó ayer la región de El Qlailé, en el sur del Líbano, en represalia por disparos de cohetes contra el Estado hebreo desde territorio libanés, reavivando así la tensión en esa zona fronteriza. El gobierno israelí advirtió que consideraría responsables de los ataques a su territorio a Hezbolá como a los dirigentes libaneses.

Aw Shucks, Texas isn't important anymore

Painting, The Battle of the Alamo

From reading the article below, it seems that the WaPo might suggest that dreamacttexas change its name.  Being from Texas has lost its clout now that W. left D.C.  I guess I shouldn't tell people that I'm a 7 generation Texas, it could cause me problems.

On the other hand, dreamacttexas just wants to remind everyone that people in Texas are NOT all the same.  Not everyone is a die-hard xenophobic conservative.  Not everyone hates people of color; thinks all Mexicans are stupid; or that all Black men are criminals; or likes Sarah Palin.  Not everyone is anti-intellectual.  

There are actually many of us who keep up with what is going on outside out kingdom.  There are many of us that realize that there is a big world out there that doesn't give a flip about Texas.

The big boys that the WaPo is talking about may be gone.  But there are plenty of us nice guys still around.

Washington Post
By Bryan Burrough
Death and Texas

Sunday, February 22, 2009; Page B01

In 1845, the second-largest independent country in North America, the Republic of Texas, held its nose, took a deep breath and merged with its upstart eastern neighbor, the United States. (As a Texan myself, I understand the occasional regret that we took y'all's name instead of the other way around.) For the next century, Texas didn't give America much trouble. By and large, it was known for cattle with large horns, men with large hats and its citizenry's penchant for orneriness, braggadocio and shooting one another.

All that began to change in the late 1940s, when America suddenly discovered that an awful lot of Texans had somehow become very, very rich -- and very, very interested in national politics. The East Coast establishment's dismay at this news was captured in a six-part series of front-page stories in this newspaper that began 55 years ago this month. Authored by the Pulitzer Prize-winning White House correspondent Edward T. Folliard, the package promised what an editor's note called a first-ever look at "The Big Dealers, the fabulous money men of Texas who have been pouring part of their millions into American politics. . . . The unique thing about them is public ignorance of their motives, purposes and ideas."

Thus began more than half a century of Texas political power that would see the first Texan, Lyndon B. Johnson, take a seat in the Oval Office; a second, George H.W. Bush, 25 years later; and in short order a third, George W. Bush. Along the way, the Texas "Big Dealers," a class of rightwing oilmen more commonly known as the Big Rich, would thrust upon the nation a series of princelings, beginning with their in-house attorney, John Connally, and leading through men such as Tom DeLay, Dick Armey and Phil Gramm. Never let it be said that The Post doesn't give you plenty of warning...

Monterrey de mis amores

The article below taken from the WSJ provides detailed information about Mexico's (and Monterrey's) current narco probems.  What it doesn't say is that in Mexico, it is common knowledge that the problem goes all the way to the top.

For those who can read Spanish, has published a very informative article about the Monterrey protests:  "El ataque del narcolumpen" February 22, 2009
Wall Street Journal
FEBRUARY 21, 2009

The Perilous State of Mexico
With drug-fueled violence and corruption escalating sharply, many fear drug cartels have grown too powerful for Mexico to control. Why things are getting worse, and what it means for the United States.


Mexican marines stand guard next to about 7 tons of confiscated cocaine on Feb. 16.

Monterrey, Mexico

Detective Ramon Jasso was heading to work in this bustling city a few days ago when an SUV pulled alongside and slowed ominously. Within seconds, gunmen fired 97 bullets at the 37-year-old policeman, killing him instantly.

Mr. Jasso had been warned. The day before, someone called his cellphone and said he would be killed if he didn't immediately release a young man who had been arrested for organizing a violent protest in support of the city's drug gangs. The demonstrators were demanding that the Mexican army withdraw from the drug war. The protests have since spread from Monterrey -- once a model of order and industry -- to five other cities.

Much as Pakistan is fighting for survival against Islamic radicals, Mexico is waging a do-or-die battle with the world's most powerful drug cartels. Last year, some 6,000 people died in drug-related violence here, more than twice the number killed the previous year. The dead included several dozen who were beheaded, a chilling echo of the scare tactics used by Islamic radicals. Mexican drug gangs even have an unofficial religion: They worship La Santa Muerte, a Mexican version of the Grim Reaper.

In growing parts of the country, drug gangs now extort businesses, setting up a parallel tax system that threatens the government monopoly on raising tax money. In Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, handwritten signs pasted on schools warned teachers to hand over their Christmas bonuses or die. A General Motors distributorship at a midsize Mexican city was extorted for months at a time, according to a high-ranking Mexican official. A GM spokeswoman in Mexico had no comment.

"We are at war," says Aldo Fasci, a good-looking lawyer who is the top police official for Nuevo Leon state, where Monterrey is the capital. "The gangs have taken over the border, our highways and our cops. And now, with these protests, they are trying to take over our cities

The parallels between Pakistan and Mexico are strong enough that the U.S. military singled them out recently as the two countries where there is a risk the government could suffer a swift and catastrophic collapse, becoming a failed state.

Pakistan is the greater worry because the risk of collapse is higher and because it has nuclear weapons. But Mexico is also scary: It has 100 million people on the southern doorstep of the U.S., meaning any serious instability would flood the U.S. with refugees. Mexico is also the U.S.'s second biggest trading partner.

Mexico's cartels already have tentacles that stretch across the border. The U.S. Justice Department said recently that Mexican gangs are the "biggest organized crime threat to the United States," operating in at least 230 cities and towns. Crimes connected to Mexican cartels are spreading across the Southwest. Phoenix had more than 370 kidnapping cases last year, turning it into the kidnapping capital of the U.S. Most of the victims were illegal aliens or linked to the drugs trade.

Former U.S. antidrug czar Barry McCaffrey said Mexico risks becoming a "narco-state" within five years if things don't improve. Outgoing CIA director Michael Hayden listed Mexico alongside Iran as a possible top challenge for President Obama. Other analysts say the risk is not that the Mexican state collapses, but rather becomes like Russia, a state heavily influenced by mafias.

Such comparisons are probably a stretch -- for now anyway. Beyond the headline-grabbing violence, Mexico is stable. It has a thriving democracy, the world's 13th-largest economy and a growing middle class. And as many as 90% of those killed are believed to be linked to the trade in some way, say officials.

"We have a serious problem. The drug gangs have penetrated many institutions. But we're not talking about an institutional collapse. That is wrong," says Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora.

Officials in both Washington and Mexico City also say the rising violence has a silver lining: It means that after decades of complicity or ignoring the problem, the Mexican government is finally cracking down on the drug cartels and forcing them to fight back or fight with one another for turf. One telling statistic: In the first three years of President Felipe Calderon's six-year term, Mexico's army has had 153 clashes with drug gangs. In the six years of his predecessor Vicente Fox's term, there were only 16."

If Mexico isn't a failed state, though, it is a country with a weak state -- one the narcos seem to be weakening further.

"The Mexican state is in danger," says Gerardo Priego, a deputy from Mr. Calderon's ruling center-right party, known as the PAN. "We are not yet a failed state, but if we don't take action soon, we will become one very soon."

Mexican academic Edgardo Buscaglia estimates there are 200 counties in Mexico -- some 8% of the total -- where drug gangs wield more influence behind the scenes than the authorities. With fearsome arsenals of rocket-propelled grenades, bazookas and automatic weapons, cartels are often better armed than the police and even the soldiers they fight. The number of weapons confiscated last year from drug gangs in Mexico could arm the entire army of El Salvador, by one estimate. Where do most of the weapons come from? The U.S.

Last year alone, gunmen fired shots and threw a grenade, which didn't explode, at the U.S. consulate in Monterrey. The head of Mexico's federal police was murdered in a hit ordered by one of his own men, whom officials say was working for the drug cartels. Mexico's top antidrug prosecutor was arrested and charged with being on a cartel payroll, along with several other senior officials. One man in Tijuana admitted to dissolving some 300 bodies in vats of acid on behalf of a drug gang.

The publisher of Mexico's most influential newspaper chain moved his family from Monterrey to Texas after he was threatened and gunmen paid a visit to his ranch. Other businessmen from cities across Mexico have done the same.

"I have never seen such a difficult situation" in Mexico, says Alejandro Junco, who publishes Reforma in Mexico City and El Norte in Monterrey. Mr. Junco now commutes every week to Mexico from Texas.

A few weeks ago, a recently retired army general hired to help the resort city of Cancun crack down on drug gangs was tortured and killed. His wrists and ankles were broken during the torture. Federal officials' main suspect: the Cancun police chief, who has been stripped of his duties and put under house arrest during the investigation.

Every day brings a new horror. In Ciudad Juarez on Friday, gunmen killed a police officer and a prison guard, and left a sign on their bodies saying they would kill one officer every two days until the city police chief resigns. He quit late Friday.

Analysts and diplomats worry that drug traffickers may increase their hold on Mexico's political process during midterm congressional elections scheduled for July.

Mauricio Fernandez Garza, the scion of a wealthy Monterrey family, says he was approached by a cartel when he was a gubernatorial candidate in 2003 and told the cartel would foot the bill for the campaign if he promised to "look the other way" on the drugs trade. He says he declined the offer. He lost the election.

Mexico has long been in the crosshairs of the drug war. In the 1980s, the drug of choice for local traffickers was marijuana, and much like today, accusations of high-level Mexican corruption were common. In 1985, DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena was tortured to death by local traffickers, with the aid of a former president's brother-in-law. In 1997, the country's antidrug czar Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo was jailed after it emerged he was in the employ of a powerful trafficker.

Drawn by the opportunity to supply the U.S. drug market, powerful trafficking groups have emerged on Mexico's Pacific coast, its Gulf coast, in the northern desert state of Chihuahua and in the wild-west state of Sinaloa, home to most of Mexico's original trafficking families. These groups, notorious for their shifting alliances and backstabbing ways, have fought for years for control of trafficking routes. Personal hatreds have marked fights over market share with barbaric violence.

Several new factors in the past few years added to the violence, however. In 2000, Mexicans voted out the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which had ruled for 71 years. The end of a one-party state loosened authoritarian control and broke the old alliances cemented through corruption that kept a check on drug-related violence.

Another factor was 9/11. After the attacks, tighter border security prompted some gangs to sell cocaine in Mexico instead, breaking an unspoken agreement with the government that gangs would be tolerated as long as they didn't sell the drugs in Mexico but passed them on instead to the gringos. Since 2001, local demand for cocaine has grown an estimated 20% per year. The creation of a local market only encouraged infighting over the spoils.

Things started getting really nasty in 2004, when Osiel Cardenas, then leader of the Gulf Cartel, killed Arturo "the Chicken" Guzman, the brother of Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, a leader of the Sinaloa cartel. Mr. Guzman soon tried to take over Nuevo Laredo, the border city controlled by Mr. Cardenas with the help of the Zetas, former elite Mexican soldiers who defected to the drug traffickers, as well as most of the Nuevo Laredo police, who in fact worked for the Zetas. The struggle for Nuevo Laredo culminated in a pitched battle when gunmen used rocket-propelled grenades to attack a safe house belonging to the other cartel. The all-out battle led the U.S. to close its consulate for a week. The violence soon spread as the two groups fought for dominance all over Mexico's northern border.

Monterrey, just a hundred miles to the south, seemed unperturbed. Can-do, confident and modern, Monterrey likes to think of itself as more American than Mexican. It's the home of Mexico's best university, Tecnologico de Monterrey, modeled on MIT, as well as the country's most prosperous suburb, San Pedro Garza Garcia, and local units of 1,500 U.S. companies. Its police are considered among Mexico's best. In the 1990s, the San Diego Padres came to play a few regular season games here and there was heady talk of Monterrey landing a pro baseball team.

As violence engulfed Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey business leaders, police chiefs and government officials were of one mind: It wouldn't happen here. "We have drawn a line in the sand and told the drug lords they cross it at their peril," state governor Natividad Gonzalez said in a 2005 interview.

What the governor apparently didn't know is that, for years, Monterrey's relative calm was due to an unspoken agreement between rival drug lords whose families lived quietly in the wealthy San Pedro enclave, a place where their wealth would not be conspicuous, say local police. But Monterrey was too big a local drug market to ignore for both sides, and soon fighting broke out.

By 2006, the murder rate spiked and cops were getting shot at point-blank on the streets. San Pedro Police Chief Hector Ayala was gunned down. Months later, Marcelo Garza y Garza, the chief of state police investigations, a well-known San Pedro resident and the DEA's main contact in the city, was murdered outside the town's largest Roman Catholic church. U.S. law-enforcement officials believe he was betrayed to the Zetas by a corrupt cop.

Today, the warring gangs still vie for control, though the Zetas have the upper hand. In much of the city, the gang is branching out into new types of criminal enterprise, especially extorting street vendors, nightclubs and other shops that operate on the margin of the law. These places used to be preyed upon by local cops, but no longer. The owner of a billiards hall says the Zetas told him they wanted a cut of the profits every month, a bill he ponies up. They also ordered him to allow someone to sell drugs at the hall, he says. "What can I do," he shrugs.

In the street market along the city's busy Reforma Ave, the Zetas sell pirated CDs, and have their own label: "Los Unicos," or "The Only Ones," with a logo of a black horse surrounded by four Zs. In Spanish, "Zeta" is how you pronounce the letter "Z." One vendor says some Zetas came to the stalls last year and ordered several vendors to start peddling the Zeta label CDs.

Many Monterrey residents are convinced that even a cut from bribes they pay local cops for traffic violations goes to the Zetas through corrupt cops. That kind of extra money to fund the drug gangs only worsens the balance of power between the state and the traffickers. The drugs trade in Mexico generates at least $10 billion in yearly revenues, Mexican officials say. The government's annual budget for federal law enforcement, not including the army: roughly $1.2 billion.

Both the Zetas and the Sinaloa cartels are believed to field as many as 10,000 gunmen each -- the size of a small army. The Zetas, for instance, can find fresh recruits easily in Monterrey's tough barrios, where the unemployment rate is high.

In Monterrey's Independencia neighborhood, one of the city's oldest, it is not the city government that controls the streets but the local pandillas, or gangs. During a recent workday, the streets were filled with young gangsters, sitting around playing marbles, chatting, and looking tough. At the entrance to a local primary school, a group of four men sat and smoked what appeared to be crack cocaine, what locals call "piedra" or rock.

Outsiders are clearly unwelcome. A reporter visiting in an unmarked SUV along with a state policeman wearing civilian clothes was enough to get plenty of hostile stares and a few mouthed expletives. One or two gang members pulled out their cell phones and began placing a call. "They're unsure whether we're cops or another drug gang," said Jorge, the state policeman, who did not want his full name used for fear of retaliation by the drug lords. "Either way, we move on or we're in trouble."

Jorge, clean cut and with an infectious smile, has been a state cop for more than 20 years. He earns 6,000 pesos -- $450 -- a month. It's an old saw in Mexico that police here don't make enough money to either resist being corrupted by the criminals or care enough to risk their lives going after them. In fact, corruption extends throughout the police forces. A senior state official said privately that he doesn't trust a single local police commander.

The state's former head of public security resigned amid allegations that he was in league with the Sinaloa cartel. The man who took his place is Mr. Fasci, a former top prosecutor. Mr. Fasci says officials are trying to improve coordination among Mexico's alphabet soup of different law enforcement bodies. In Monterrey's metropolitan area, there are 11 different municipal police forces, a state police, three branches of the federal police, and the army. Statewide, there are 70 different emergency numbers for the police. Making matters worse, narcotics smuggling is a federal crime, so local cops aren't supposed to prosecute it.

Mr. Fasci says the protests are organized by drug gangs, who go to barrios like Independencia and pay $30 to each person to block traffic, hold up signs like "no military repression." Mr. Fasci thinks the gangs are trying to goad the police into a crackdown that would generate antipathy for the authorities and the army. "We're not going to fall for it," he says.

Neither will the Mexican government call off the soldiers. Mexico has no choice but to deploy the army to do what corrupt and inefficient state and local police forces can't, says Mr. Fasci. And the protests are likely a sign the military is having success pressuring the drug gangs, say officials. Meanwhile, Mexico has passed a law that calls for an ambitious reform of all its state and municipal police forces. The problem: It could take 15 years or longer to complete, says Mr. Medina Mora, the attorney general.

The U.S., which is providing Mexico with some $400 million a year for equipment and training to combat drug traffickers, backs Mexico's stand. U.S. law enforcement officials are ecstatic about Mr. Calderon's get-tough approach. A U.S. law enforcement official says the Mexican military is trying to break down powerful drug cartels into smaller and more manageable drug gangs, like "breaking down boulders into pebbles." He adds: "It might be bloody, it might be ugly, but it has to be done."

Demand in the U.S., of course, is the motor for the drugs trade. Three former respected heads of state in Latin America, including Mexico's former president Ernesto Zedillo, issued a joint report recently saying the drug war was too costly for countries like Mexico, and urged the U.S. to explore alternatives like decriminalizing marijuana.

Indeed, Mexican officials long ago gave up on thinking they might one day eliminate the drugs trade altogether. Victory now sounds a lot like what victory in Iraq might be for the U.S.: lower violence just enough so that people won't talk about it anymore.

Jorge Tello, an adviser to President Calderon on the drugs war, defines it like this: "It's like a rat-control problem. The rats are always down there in the sewers, you can't really get rid of them. But what you don't want are rats on people's front doors."

Write to David Luhnow at and José de Cordoba at
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W1
Copyright 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Labels, Stereotypes, and Crime

If the newspaper placed in its top headlines every time a Jew allegedly committed a crime and used "A Jew" first, I wonder how long it would be before people would start hating and fearing all Jews.

When someone kidnaps a child, does the newspaper start with "A Jew kidnaps child"?  Of course not.  But is seems to be acceptable to say "An illegal immigrant kidnaps a child." It is unfortunate that the Houston Chronicle pushed the xenophobic button a little more in today's paper by stating "Illegal Immigrant Kidnaps a Child."  Of course this is a terrible crime.  If guilty, it is necessary the man be incarcerated.  But why start the headline with "illegal immigrant?"  Now, every person who reads that may cringe every time they walk by a male they think is an "illegal immigrant."

just a thought:

"Jew embezzles millions"  (Madoff)

"Texan embezzles millions" (Stanford)

isn't very nice is it?  I can see the Anti- defammation League getting all upset about this, even if Madoff is a crook.  Well, this guy who kidnapped the child may be a criminal, but it is still wrong that the paper published "Illegal Immigrant kidnaps child."

llegal immigrant charged in girl's abduction, Houston Chronicle, February 21, 2009

Fisk on Obama and Netanyahu

Fisk: "Mr Netanyahu, it should be remembered, said the Gaza war ended too soon"

Robert Fisk: Obama was unconvinced by Bibi’s desire for peace

London Independent
Saturday, 21 February 2009
arack Obama, they say, did not get on well with Bibi Netanyahu when he met him in Jerusalem before the American elections.

Mr Obama, who figured out the Middle East pretty quickly, apparently found Bibi arrogant and unconvincing in his professed desire for peace with the Palestinians. What Mr Netanyahu thought of Mr Obama is not known, but he could scarcely have tried to hide his election line: security for Israel, but no Palestinian state.

Much depends, of course, on whether Tzipi Livni will consent to join a Netanyahu government. For if Avigdor Lieberman slips into a ministerial position, Obama is in trouble. Does he congratulate a new Israeli prime minister who has introduced into his government a man who is prepared to demand loyalty signatures from his own country’s Arab minority? How would that go down in the United States, where a similar proposal – for a loyalty pledge by American minorities, for example – would be a scandal?

But those Palestinians who believe that Lieberman should be in a Netanyahu administration – on the grounds that the “true” face of Israel would then be clear to all Americans – are being a little premature. Obama is not going to change the US relationship with Israel. American foreign policy – like that of most states – is based not on justice but on power.

And with America enduring the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Mr Obama is not going to take on the Israelis. Those Arabs who still fondly hope that the new US administration will at last “stand up” to Israel are mistaken. And the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who would like to be the next Democrat president, is certainly not going to anger Israel or its supporters in Washington.

If Mr Netanyahu does form a government, however, it will prove that the slaughter in Gaza did not help Ms Livni’s efforts to form her own cabinet. Ehud Barak and Livni, the authors of the whole bloody offensive (with the active help of Hamas’ own provocations), will simply put Gaza behind them – until Mr Netanyahu decides on a second round of the battle against “world terror”.

Yet it’s interesting to note how easily the connections between Gaza and the Israeli election have faded away. Indeed, when The Economist was surveying the Middle East earlier this month, it suggested that the outrage over the Gaza killings expressed by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to Israel’s President Shimon Peres at Davos was a “temper tantrum” which may have been “a ploy to please voters” before Turkish municipal elections next month. Yet the magazine merely noted that “the unconcluded Gaza war and the [Israeli] elections are intertwined in voters’ minds…”

Mr Netanyahu, it should be remembered, said the Gaza war ended too soon. So are we waiting for Part Two? Or the next round in Israel’s war with the Hizbollah? Israelis must sometimes curse the proportional electoral system that brings them the most ungovernable government coalitions. But the Americans will find it hard to dress up a new Netanyahu government as further “progress” in the Middle East “peace process”.

This ghost has never gone away

From Harpers Magazine, February 19, 1868

Photojournalist Anthony Karen has published recent KKK photographs he took for the London Independent.  It makes me wonder if things ever really change.  Click here for link to Anthony Karen's photo essay on the KKK.

Also see dream act texas post "The Reality of the KKK in Virginia," September 16, 2007

America unmasked: The images that reveal the Ku Klux Klan is alive and kicking in 2009
The USA has a new president but an old problem - and nothing typifies it like today’s Ku Klux Klan. The photographer Anthony Karen gained unprecedented access to the ‘Invisible Empire’

Words by Leonard Doyle
London Independent
Saturday, 21 February 2009

These images show members of the Ku Klux Klan as they want to be seen, scary and secretive and waiting in the wings for Barack and his colour-blind vision for America to fail. Anthony Karen, a former Marine and self-taught photojournalist was granted access to the innermost sanctum of the Klan. He doesn’t tell us how he did it but he was considered trustworthy enough to be invited into their homes and allowed to photograph their most secretive ceremonies, such as the infamous cross burnings.

When he talks about the Klan members he has encountered he tends not to dwell on the fate of their victims. Karen’s feat is that he takes us to places few photojournalists have been before, into the belly of the beast. The scenes he presents portray a kinder, gentler Klan. The mute photographs present an organisation that is far less threatening than the hate group of our popular imagination. Consciously or otherwise, his photographs hold our imagination in their grip while doing double duty as propaganda for the extremist right, much as Leni Riefenstahl’s work did for the Nazis.

Waiting for the DREAM Act at Georgetown University

DREAMer Juan Sebastian Gomez' parents left for Colombia over a year ago.  He finished high school and is now attending Georgetown University.  Since the DREAM Act has been stalled for so long, Juan is still in limbo.  He is doing very well at Georgetown.  But the best grades won't protect him until Congress decides to do the right thing and pass the DREAM Act.

see dream act post "Juan Sebastian Gomez' Parents Deported," October 31, 2007

The Outsider

Though he's lived in this country since he was 2, Juan Gomez has no permanent legal right to stay in the United States, let alone a guarantee of a chance to graduate from Georgetown University

By Phuong Ly
Sunday, February 22, 2009; Page W10
Washington Post Magazine

For several minutes, Juan, who'd only seen photographs of the campus before, simply stared. A friend's mother who accompanied him on that late-August day last summer recalls that the brown-haired 19-year-old looked just like any other student in his jeans and polo shirt. But Juan felt as if he had landed in another universe -- a place light years away from the deportation letters, detention center jumpsuits and painful goodbyes of the previous year.

"Wow," he told his friend's mother, bounding up the steps to his new dorm. "This is so beautiful."

Juan was still beaming as he examined the sterile, white-walled space in Copley Hall that he would share with another student. "This room," he said, gazing at the two twin beds, two wooden desks and two dressers squeezed together, "is just great." He meant it. Juan felt lucky to be at Georgetown, even though, in terms of academic accomplishment, he clearly belonged there.

His record is a litany of overachievement: a 1410 out of 1600 on the SAT; high scores on 13 Advanced Placement exams, which earned him close to two years of college credit; and a top-20 class rank at a competitive Miami high school. But Juan doesn't have a clear right to be in the United States, much less at Georgetown. In 1990, when he was 2 years old, his family came to this country from Colombia on a tourist visa and never left. Once they were here, they applied for political asylum and spent almost 17 years building a modest life before their legal status finally caught up with them. In October 2007, after they were repeatedly denied political asylum, Juan's parents and grandmother were deported to Colombia, a country that Juan can't even remember.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Its Time to Bring Geronimo Home

Geronimo’s Heirs Sue Secret Yale Society Over His Skull

New York Times
Published: February 19, 2009

HOUSTON — The descendants of Geronimo have sued Skull and Bones, a secret society at Yale University with ties to the Bush family, charging that its members robbed his grave in 1918 and have kept his skull in a glass case ever since.

Legend has it that Prescott S. Bush stole Geronimo’s skull.

The claim is part of a lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington on Tuesday, the 100th anniversary of Geronimo’s death. The Apache warrior’s heirs are seeking to recover all his remains, wherever they may be, and have them transferred to a new grave at the headwaters of the Gila River in New Mexico, where Geronimo was born and wished to be interred.

“I believe strongly from my heart that his spirit was never released,” Geronimo’s great-grandson Harlyn Geronimo, 61, told reporters Tuesday at the National Press Club.

Geronimo died a prisoner of war at Fort Sill, Okla., in 1909. A longstanding tradition among members of Skull and Bones holds that Prescott S. Bush — father of President George Bush and grandfather of President George W. Bush — broke into the grave with some classmates during World War I and made off with the skull, two bones, a bridle and some stirrups, all of which were put on display at the group’s clubhouse in New Haven, known as the Tomb.

The story gained some validity in 2005, when a historian discovered a letter written in 1918 from one Skull and Bones member to another saying the skull had been taken from a grave at Fort Sill along with several pieces of tack for a horse.

Ramsey Clark, a former United States attorney general who is representing Geronimo’s family, acknowledged he had no hard proof that the story was true. Yet he said he hoped the court would clear up the matter.

Tom Conroy, a spokesman for Yale, declined to comment on the lawsuit but was quick to note that the Tomb was not on university property.

Members of the Skull and Bones, who guard their organization’s secrecy, could not be reached for comment. Though the society is not officially affiliated with the university, many of Yale’s most powerful alumni are members, among them both Bush presidents and Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts. more