Letter #8: What's In A Narco-State?
DOJ vs. Texas | Starving Afghanistan
Narco-state. This word has been in the news lately, so it makes sense for us to understand the role drugs have played in recent history and why the word is being thrown about all of a sudden. We’re kind of in a hilarious time in world history right now - hypocrisy is so abundant it’s like the air we breathe. We can’t escape it, but we can at least identify it.
Here’s a story about the largest narco-state in world history, both in estimated revenues and international reach. Tied up in this story are the fates of millions of Black American urban workers and Latin American peasants, who were ground up along with their families and communities into the deadly machinery of the drug trade. This narco-state was bigger and more powerful than the Medellin, Cali, Sinaloa, Juarez and Gulf cartels combined. It had the world’s most powerful army, complete with nuclear arsenal, and a madman of a leader willing to at least threaten to use it on his enemies.
This leader-turned-kingpin’s name was Ronald Reagan, and his narco-state is the USA. You can see his legacy everywhere here today. Whether it’s the systemic lack of mental health resources, the millions of incarcerated souls who were indicted for simple possession of narcotics, the lack of union power and representation for the working class, the astronomical rise in wealth inequality both along race and class lines, the thousands of tortured and murdered farmers in Central America, the gang violence that erupted from this bloodletting and created a migrant crisis…
Long story short, Reagan commanded his own “evil empire” that supported bloody right-wing dictatorships by arming, funding and training their mass-murdering, mass-raping armed forces, trafficked and sold cocaine through CIA intermediaries, tried to trade arms for hostages, facilitated the spread of crack cocaine in Black communities already reeling from the effects of deindustrialization and the 1970s oil shocks, and just generally made life a lot worse than it needs to be for millions of Americans all the way to today.
Why did he do it? Something about the Soviets and stopping communism. Same thing they said about Vietnam, right? Fast-forward to 2021, and almost as if on cue, the major American media outlets are “calling out” Syria for doing what basically defined the 1970s and 80s for the United States. We did and sold a ton of drugs, killed a lot of people over it, and now want to pretend to be some kind of moral authority on narco-corruption. Let’s work on not allowing the Sacklers to get away with colluding with the FDA to poison entire regions of our country, before we start pointing fingers.
We’re guessing this is part of a larger foreign policy agenda of bringing the Drug War “point fingers at bad actors, then do lots of drug trafficking and money laundering yourselves” strategy which performed so well in 1980s Latin America, to the Middle East. Using drugs as a pretext for invasion or meddling with the goal of gaining a share of said drug trade is part of the playbook our tax dollars pay for. Assad isn’t on our shit list because dealing drugs is bad; he’s there because Uncle Sam wants in on the action.
Gerrymandering. The US Department of Justice is suing the state of Texas for it. This is the first lawsuit that directly alleges a Republican-led conspiracy to deprive Black and Latino voters of representation in the state. There’s some complexity to this issue, however.
Gerrymandering is used by both parties; there isn’t some magical property about it that makes it only useful to Republicans. Partisan redistricting (the normal, non-catchphrase way to refer to it) has always been allowed, though thankfully some states like Virginia are banning it. Texas is certainly not one of these states.
There’s nothing inherently racist about gerrymandering, however, the DOJ lawsuit specifically claims that Texas deliberately redrew its legislative districts in a way that packs Black and Latino communities into ridiculously-shaped districts, thus splitting these communities among multiple districts in which they don’t have a majority. White Republican-dominated districts, naturally, were left untouched.
A similar dynamic called “prison gerrymandering” also happens a lot, using incarcerated populations to “count” towards meeting certain federally-mandated population minimums for redistricting - allowing rural white communities to reap billions more in federal aid on the backs of people who cannot vote at all. Quite sinister indeed, and one of the numerous ways that institutional racism continues doing damage to democracy.
Ending the practice is as simple as assigning redistricting responsibility to independent, non-partisan commissions staffed by people whose jobs aren’t affected by which party holds office at a given time. Until then, this lawsuit, while feeble, may send a clear message to states contemplating nefarious district-drawing activities that just so happen to preserve white political dynasties by discouraging Black and Latino people from voting. It could also just be theater designed to hide the DOJ’s simultaneous closing of the Emmett Till investigation1 with no charges - admitting an obvious miscarriage of justice that amounts to state collusion with the killers themselves.
Afghanistan is in trouble. Reports are growing, signaling that mass starvation is underway, infant mortality is on the rise, and the nation’s economy is on the brink of collapse. The Taliban, now in charge, is blaming the US for withholding crucial humanitarian aid that had flowed freely into the corrupt US-backed Afghan governments of the past. The US, of course, is using the aid to put political pressure on the Taliban to abide by Western ideas of gender equality. The urgent needs of the Afghan people are basically just a bargaining tool for cynical foreign policy ends. Cool.
The United States (we sound like a broken record here but it has to pointed out every single time) supports governments much more violent and oppressive toward women and minorities. We do not advise taking the demands about women’s rights at face value. Our tax dollars support Saudi Arabia, a country where women can’t drive or or open a bank account without the approval of a male “guardian”. We also support Pakistan, a country in which lynchings for minor crimes like "blasphemy” are on the rise, fueled by hardliners’ disdain for foreigners and feminism.
Again, the United States, which nearly destroyed itself twice - first over the “is slavery bad?” question and then over the “is racial segregation, lynching and white terrorism bad?” question (You could count 2020’s “is murdering Black people okay if you’re police?” question as a third go around the old racial-carnage-carousel of American history, if you like) - just insists on lecturing other nations on how to treat people, and in the process making things harder for the people in these countries we’re supposedly trying to help. Afghan women are not really getting a good deal here, because the Taliban wants international respect and the US wants to prove a point about feminism while a million Afghan children potentially starve to death.
There are no good or bad nations. In all nations, there are good hardworking people, and usually a corrupt, self-interested government running the show. Ours is no exception. Let’s get our house in order before judging the countries we’ve invaded and set back decades by plundering. Afghanistan is the two-time invader-repelling champion - first they beat back the Soviets and then they beat back the Americans. The people deserve some respect, peace and stability regardless of the wokeness level of their government.
So what do you deserve? We think you deserve informative, timely news about things that matter, with editorial decisions framed by someone who isn’t working for a think tank or acting as a mouthpiece for any world power. We also think we deserve your financial support, but these weekly Letters will always be free to read, no matter what.
Articles Worth Reading
LNDN DRGS’ 2015 “Burnout” is a modern classic of sorts. It just has that perfect combination of 1970s-sounding SF electro funk beats and a Bay Area flow that just unfolds on the track, evoking Too Short and Mistah F.A.B.. Later releases haven’t been able to capture the tightly-executed neon perfection of this one-track EP. It’s literally one long-ass song, despite really containing 4 or 5 separate parts. It’s kind of cool because it forces you to listen the whole way through. Pimp shit. Respectfully, of course. (Spotify / Apple)
That’s all for this week, and remember - watch out for Omicron! Your best way of keeping safe is by sitting down in a restaurant, because as we all know, COVID doesn’t spread to/from people who are sitting and eating, only people who are standing and waiting for a table.
We took the time to read the published confessions of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, the murderers of Emmett Till, and came away at least satisfied that Emmett died like a man, defiant until the end. Originally the killers planned to “scare” him by beating him, but Emmett refused to back down or cower in fear, so they killed him. May he rest in peace.