Five Best Thursday Columns
On increasing drug violence, millionaires on food stamps, and exiting Afghanistan
Elizabeth Dickinson on the New Mafia: Drug Cartels Drops in the cocaine trade between Mexico and the U.S. "would be excellent news" if it didn't correlate with a rise in drug violence near the border, explains Elizabeth Dickinson at Foreign Policy. Legalizing and regulating the U.S. drug trade is a heavily promoted solution to dissolving Mexico's violent cartels but, Dickinson points out, "the cartels are becoming less like traffickers and more like mafias." Legalizing drugs may not do anything to curb their influence, since, "as they have grown in size and ambition, like so many big multinational corporations, they have diversified. The cartels are now active in all types of illicit markets, not just drugs," and "actual trade, which helps them launder their drug profits," makes them harder to prosecute. A new focus on protecting territory could explain the heightened violence, while the cartels have grown larger than Mexico's police force. Dickinson notes the idea of "creating 'citizen security'--empowering local communities to resist organized crime [by] not only improving policing but also reintroducing the state in other ways, through education, economic opportunity, and a judicial system that investigates and punishes crime," since legalization and sheer military action clearly won't solve the problem.
Phil Bronstein on Jose Antonio Vargas The San Francisco Chronicle's Phil Bronstein reacts to Jose Antonio Vargas' revelation in The New York Times yesterday that he is an illegal immigrant. "I was duped," he writes. "Jose lied to me and everyone else he worked for, and that's not kosher, especially in a profession where facts and, more elusively, the truth are considered valuable commodities." Bronstein details the conversation he had with Vargas just before his secret was revealed to the world and admits his own fears--"Am I a dupe? A felon--at least according to a tough new Alabama law that might find me guilty of 'harboring' Jose when he was in my office the other day (I also bought him coffee)? Or have I unwittingly supported a potentially powerful new movement in the push for immigration reform?" He also observes other reactions to the story, even quoting an Atlantic Wire post, without attribution, about the potential legal consequences of Vargas' outting. Despite feeling "silly" for recommending Vargas for major positions, Bronstein acknowledges that "he's done what he intended: given a surprising, articulate and human face to an important issue for at least some of those millions of people out there floating in terrifying limbo," and argues, "if he can come out, the force of his story--both good reaction and bad--and his project just might lubricate the politically tarred-up wheels of government and help craft sane immigration policy. If it has that effect, we should forgive him his lies."
James Bovard on Food Stamp Problems "Millionaires are now legally entitled to collect food stamps as long as they have little or no monthly income," notes James Bovard at The Wall Street Journal. He writes that the Obama Administration's efforts to "boost food-stamp enrollment" by abolishing "asset tests for most food-stamp recipients...are turning the food-stamp program into a magnet for abuses and absurdities." 18 million more people receive food-stamps than did three years ago, and there aren't nearly enough USDA inspectors to oversee the vendors that accept these stamps, allowing more "retailers [to] traffic illegally in food stamps by redeeming stamps for cash or alcohol or other prohibited items" unpunished. "Lax attitudes toward fraud are spurring swindles across the nation," Bovard declares, pointing to cases of food stamps being sold on Facebook, Craigslist and street corners. "Perhaps the biggest fraud of all is the notion, which the USDA has been touting lately, that the food stamp program is a nutrition program" as those using food-stamps are more likely to be obese. He adds: "The more people who become government dependents, the more likely that democracy will become a conspiracy against self-reliance."