Saturday, January 9, 2016

Blue Faces

"Over-homogenized accounts risk being misleading. With CJ reform, makes something fragile and local appear more stable and global." - John Pfaff (twitter)

"We all came on the boat looking for hope / And all you can say is that you're looking for dope"Kendrick Lamar,  Compton, "Untitled 2" (listen)

For much of this first week Election Year 2016, "black market" films captured Entertainment market share. First, a story about irregular, x-border USA combat operations contra Mexican "black markets". Second, political economics of "black markets" - speech, guns - in Ronald Reagan Era Los Angeles. "Sicario" appeared #1 movie at iTunes. "Straight Outta Compton" #2. Sean Penn's badly-scripted Hollywood Chapo opera hit the top of Twitter Saturday night.

During daytime, primetime TV, Chicago's POTUS personally put "guns in America" on TV. Twice. First, Tuesday at the White House. Chicago Sun Times produced among the more devastating presidential portraits I can think of. Kennedy bearing the weight of the Cuban Missile Crisis comes to mind. Both cast a) the omnipotent image of the office and b) the impotence of the actor in stark relief. Second, Chicago POTUS sat with Anderson Cooper at libertarian-leaning George Mason University in Virgina Thursday, January 7, 2016 (White House PR). Just south of America's Mason-Dixon line.

I can't establish a biological connection between influential abolitionist George Mason and astro-geographer Charles Mason. But the Masons were contemporaries in English-American Virginia. George Mason was a neighbor to George Washington, and drafted much of the Declaration of Independence. He refused the Constitution given its tolerance of America's "black market" slave trade. Charles Mason was born a subject of the Queen in London and gave his name to the line that separates Maryland from Pennsylvania and Delaware. In this geopolitical history, I perceive clues about the enduring relevance of North-South American trade - and "black markets" - to contemporary American security and justice.

Cities w markers are exhibit among the most concentrated killing nationally 2014. Baltimore exhibited record-breaking homicide rates in 2015. Details of I-95 HIDTA drug war corridor, Density of American Homicide.

On Christmas Eve 2015, VICE News' Daniel Hernandez reported of the high-intensity military operations displacing Sinaloense in the mountains off the Gulf of California. Yesterday, January 8, Mexican marine forces captured Sinaloa's Joaquin Guzman.  For the third time. Previously, 2014 Mazatlan. Before, 1993 at Mexico's Central American frontier with Guatemala (source). The latest Hollywood plot twist has the villain undone by corazon for an actress from the silver screen. Frankly, it is hard to believe. From the role of an audience member, this scenario was, basically, not thinkable in advance. Given the presence of actors and actresses, how can it not appear mostly fictional?

Welcome to 2016: the virtual reality art-life imitation game. Who is the enemy in the looking glass? "The man inside the mirror doesn't stare back" (Thornton, 2013). The enemy is us.

Far from the kinetic operations, the drug war budget goes down the rabbit hole or Sinaloa tunnel. Chiseled in the budget for decades:
The FY 1999 budget for the Department of Defense (DoD) would increase by a net of $35.1 million from the FY 1998 enacted level. The total FY 1999 DoD drug budget includes an increase of $75.4 million to support counterdrug activities in the Andean region ($60.8 million), operations in the Caribbean ($8.5 million), training of Mexican counterdrug forces ($4.0 million), and a transfer of funds for reconnaissance missions ($2.1 million). The request also includes an additional $15 million for the National Guard.
Those words prefaced the 1999 Clinton drug war budget. Then drug tsar - Barry McCaffery - signed that document. McCaffrey's primary biographical qualifications for controlling American drugs appear education in war, national security and Vietnamese language. McCaffery gained executive experience commanding the 24th Mechanized's (motto: "first to fight") 1991 blitzkrieg against Iraq's Republican Guard, an American assault that included the use of armored bulldozers to literally bury alive political opponents. Here is a contemporaneous report from Newsday, syndicated in the Seattle Times:
In the first two days of ground fighting in Operation Desert Storm last February, three brigades of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Division used the grisly innovation to destroy more than 70 miles of Iraqi trenches and bunkers being defended by more than 8,000 Iraqi soldiers, according to division estimates.
About 2,000 soldiers surrendered. But Iraqi dead and wounded, as well as defiant soldiers still firing their weapons, were buried beneath tons of sand, according to participants in the carefully planned and rehearsed assault.
"Once we went through there, other than the ones who surrendered, there wasn't anybody left," said Capt. Bennie Williams, who was awarded the Silver Star for his role.
Sources: Seattle Times (1991), New York Times (1991), Guardian (2003)

After Iraq - but before ascending to White House drug tsar - McCaffrey commanded USA's SouthComm from Panama, a country the United States invaded in 1989 to capture its narcopolitica president, Manuel Noriega. USA courts sentenced Noriega to 40 years to be served 25 miles outside Miami. Prior to his arrival, Noriega's federal prison was the site of construction projects to separate him from the general population. Released 2007 for good behavior, Noriega was then extradited to France for money laundering charges. French courts approved his extradition back to Panama 2011 to face murder and kidnapping. By contrast, Noriega's neighbor, Escobar, declined USA justice in 1993, shooting it out with Delta Force-trained and supervised Colombian armed forces in Medellin. It's a 70 minute flight from Medellin to the Panama Canal - the New World's commercial corridor linking Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

These are the murder capitals of the world, outside war zones (details). According the UN, American murder is rarely successfully prosecuted via law. The EU successfully prosecutes homicide ~4x the American rate (pinned tweet).
Under McCaffrey's command, and parallel Clinton's Plan Colombia, "irregular" military operations across Latin America picked up pace with little oversight from USA embassy civilians "in country". The Washington Post in 1998 (link):
The Pentagon has offered conflicting figures on the number of missions carried out. According to Defense Department documents, U.S. troops were involved in 10 training exercises in fiscal 1996 involving 114 U.S. troops and 651 Colombian troops. But according to the Special Operations Command of the Southern Command, there were 28 deployments in 1996. The Defense Department documents said only three JCET exercises took place in 1997 involving 143 troops, while the U.S. Southern Command lists 29 involving 319 troops. 
With the benefit of hindsight - and the perspective of an opioid epidemic - we can observe the effects of these operations in the DEA's 2014 Threat Assessment:

DEA 2014 Threat Assessment, page 9 (pdf), geopolitical graph labels do not appear in original.

From 1999, in inflation adjusted terms, the 2016 ONDCP budget of $27.6 billion is up 35% and promises more of the same to "fight" drugs. 
The FY 2016 President’s Budget includes $27.6 billion to support the National Drug Control Strategy, an increase of $1.2 billion (4.7%) above FY 2015 funding.
Under the hood, per USA Northern Command testimony to Congress on March 12, 2015 (pdf), Mexican military spending with USA exhibits 100x growth:
It started with 27 rail cars full of ammunition rolling down the tracks into Mexico.That load of 30 million bullets was soon followed by fleets of Black Hawk helicopters and thousands of Humvees: in all more than $1 billion of American military equipment sold to Mexico within the past two years. (Washington Post June 2015 - link)
It's unclear to me that the dynamic is towards more North-South American security. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry murdered in Arizona 2010. Terry's shooter acquired his weapon via USA ATF program to allow illegal export of assault weapons to Mexican cartels. That's pretty much where the plan stopped. The program took its name from a popular Hollywood blockbuster, "Fast and Furious". That's never a good sign. POTUS exercised executive privilege to conceal from Congress emails belonging to Attorney General Holder relevant to the campaign (Washington Times 2014). Holder was held in contempt of Congress in the House (CNN 2012), At the border zone, Mexican marine helicopters shot at USA Border Patrol agents outside Tucson (2014). Smugglers shot down a USA Border Patrol helicopter in Laredo Texas (June 2015). The Daily Show presented the farce: "donde etsa los weapons automaticos"; Sicario the tragedy: 
  • Kate Macy: What is our mission?
  • Matt: To dramatically over react.

The 2015 trial for Brian Terry's "killers" ended in conviction - quotes because it's unclear that the actual trigger-puller was apprehended. At the behest of the prosecution, the US District Court suppressed evidence linking the shooters' AK-variant assault rifles to "Fast and Furious" (AZ Central). Not because its not true. It is. Nobody disputes the fact. But, presumably, because the story is basically too absurd to be believed.

Hypothetically, The Unthinkable protected us during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Where The Unthinkable risked planetary-scale extinction.  Election Year 2016, The Unthinkable is matter of course. Candidate Trump's spokespeople speculate about offensive uses for thermonuclear weapons (source) - speculation offered in defense of their Candidate's not knowing what, precisely, meant the phrase "nuclear triad". Concurrently, the mayor of Chicago - a Sinaloa city - and Democratic money man Rahm Emanuel - returns from Cuba 12/28.  Mexican marines capture Chicago Public Enemy #1 1/8 in Sinaloa. Sean Penn, meanwhile, having (apparently) tipped-off American justice drops Rolling Stone interview 1/9. Penn, Guzman name check "amigo" Trump. Chicago's POTUS makes a State of the Union address Tuesday against the background of geopolitcally-exceptional levels of American violence (UNODCP). And what appears an authentic trend of 1:1 homicide by personal firearm in USA "black market" violence. Chicago. Baltimore, Maryland on the Mason-Dixon.

That's a mouthful.

Art-life looking glass imitation game. This week. Week 1, Election Year 2016. 11x 2016 Grammy-nominated Kendrick Lamar debuted "Untitled 2" on Jimmy Fallon (watch); this week, he appeared on Chicago-icon Kanye West's brief snippet for "No More Parties in LA" (listen). No. No more parties in LA. Lamar's Chicago bloodline feels relevant this week - like a Chiraq/Lysistrata (411BC) subplot of epic, Dionysian political satire. Per Rolling Stone:
[Lamar's] dad, Kenny Duckworth, was reportedly running with a South Side street gang called the Gangster Disciples, so his mom, Paula Oliver, issued an ultimatum. "She said, 'I can't fuck with you if you ain't trying to better yourself,' " Lamar recounts. "'We can't be in the streets forever.' " They stuffed their clothes into two black garbage bags and boarded a train to California with $500. (citation)
Note that - in the original 411BC - Lysistrata is not feminist theatre. It's comedy premised on the implied joke that "powerless women can bring peace". Hilarious? Get it? Me neither. WBEZ's interview with DePaul theatre prof on Lysistrata merits your time.  

Chicago's Gangster Disciples remain relevant. Active in the Heartland opioid "black market". In October 2011, 3 Disciples stole $3M from Chapo couriers hauling cash back to Mexico via tractor trailer on Interstate 65 (source).  
“Most of Chicago’s violent crime comes from gangs trying to maintain control of drug-selling territories...Guzman supplies a majority of the narcotics that fuel this violence.”- Jack Riley head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for a five-state region that includes Illinois and Indiana.
First, $3M sounds like a lot. On revenues of $3B, $3M is a rounding error. Second, Riley's causation is probably correct in a small way- but trivial compared to the dominant driver of war: money. The Narcotics fuel money, trade, and commerce.  The Prohibition - denying property, commerce, and trade rights - fuels violence.  "Guns" don't do it. Men with SUVs, guns, lists, objectives, goals, targets and interests do.

All "sides" have them. The Guns. The Narcos. The Prohibition. The Bad Guys. The Good Guys. The Indians. The Cowboys. The little fictions and stories we make up to cover up the money. Follow the drug money? Where? To Big Pharma? To the mirror? Where does it all go?

Election Year 2016. Little dynamism, deep down. Even the cast of characters is repetitive: the Spanish-speaking Bush, "abuela" Clinton. Witness the same competing claims for morning/mourning in America. "Great again" "Morning in America" for the Reagan / Trump faction; "mourning" for 99% across American borders.  Talking about political economy in terms of "states" is useful. From 411BC to today, much appears "static". 

Austin, #Texas

"Nothing new but a flu of Democrips and Rebloodicans - red state versus a blue state, which one you governin'" ("Hood Politics", 2015). For Lamar, "Ronald Reagan Era" is a blistering, violent "Section 80" place where "the children of Ronald Reagan rake the leaves off your front porch with a machine blow torch" (2011). Some Americans take solace in POTUS' 2015 bravery to "start the conversation" about #gunsinamerica. I wonder in what America they live. Presumably, not the one where the Chicago mayor cover up extrajudicial police execstions in Chicago streets. Not the one where POTUS feebly covers up ATF-administred arms trafficking, and accessory to murder of federal agents. Lamar:
Can't detour when you at war with your city Why run for? Just ride with me, just die with me That gun store, right there When you fight, don't fight fair Cause you'll never win
If the first week of Election Year 2016 is a signal, perhaps a key vista is from Los Angeles looking south* over downtown "Los Ganjales", City of Angeles, and Compton to the southern battlefields of America's longest war. Where "the Chicago way" isn't far behind in the rearview mirror. Where objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Where the war between American North and the American South never ended but, hypothetically, just shifted west. Where battles for Chicago (midwest), Los Angeles (southwest), Mexico City ("south by southwest", #sxsw), and the Gulf of California (Pacific) states exhibit renewed militarization. Among all combatants. 

What else to expect when the world is a battlefield? "Chi-raq" expresses more than mass shooting contained to Southside neighborhoods, terroristic police, and systemic city injustice. It expresses a war in which Illinois State Police stopped reporting murder data in 1994 and accountability blew away in an explosion of NAFTA commerce. Don Winslow writes of the Iraq option for Mexico - a place spun apart by resource competition and corruption (twitter, 2016). A place where 43 high school students disappear. So too Chicago. Boys, girls, lives disappear. #Dunbar #Chiraq #ChicagoIguala #HomanSquare . Hashtags for places where data disappears and history "blacks out". The conjunction expresses Heartland America's capacity and willingness to project power; to shock, to awe; to bury political opponents in deserts far and near.  To maintain supremacy over maritime gulfs. Mexican, Persian, Californian. Maybe Chicago isn't in the rearview at all. But a glimpse of the future. May it not be too late for unthinkable POVs.

Money Trees


*The Hollywood sign does, in fact, face south.

Background: There's No Real Fight Against Drugs

Self consciously:

Follow up: 

LA , Chicago migrations from "the South".

2004 budget shenanigans:

In FY 2004, the National Drug Control Budget was reduced to eliminate agency programs that were unreliably estimated or were thought to be related to consequences of drug use (as opposed to directly related to drug use reduction). Congress made it clear in the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s 2006 Reauthorization Act (P.L. 109469) that the Federal drug control budget should represent the full range of Federal spending, including costs associated with the consequences of drug use, and called on the Administration to restructure the National Drug Control Budget. The President’s Strategy emphasizes specific policy efforts to address the complex consequences of drug use.
Therefore, in order to establish and display an accurate and reliable accounting of Federal resources spent on supporting the Strategy’s goals to reduce drug use and its consequences, the Administration undertook a thorough review of Federal programs that have a drug control nexus. This review used a twotest approach to determine the suitability of including a program in the National Drug Control Budget: first, whether a program has a drugcontrol nexus; second, whether the program has an acceptable budget estimation methodology based on empirical data. 

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