Five Best Thursday Columns

On increasing drug violence, millionaires on food stamps, and exiting Afghanistan

This article is from the archive of our partner .

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."

Fareed Zakaria on Pakistan's Islamist-Infiltrated Military  Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria clarifies that success in Afghanistan will ultimately be determined by the Pakistani army and how this army resolves its "deep internal crisis of identity." Despite "traditionally [being] seen as a secular and disciplined organization...the evidence is now overwhelming that [Pakistan's military] has been infiltrated at all levels by violent Islamists, including Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathizers." It's also clear that the military now considers the United States its "principle national security threat." If Pakistan moves abandons its longheld rivalry with India for the United States, "not only is the Afghan war lost, but Pakistan itself is also lost," Zakaria writes, insisting that Pakistan needs to ask itself whether it "really thinks its best path forward is as an adversary of the United States...or does it want to crush the jihadist movements that are destroying the country, join the global economy, reform its society and become a real democracy?" He adds, "having disbursed $20 billion in aid to Pakistan in the past decade--most of it to the military--[the United States] needs to ask some questions of its own."
The New York Times Editors on Obama's Afghanistan Exit Strategy  The New York Times editors argue, in response to President Obama's recent announcement that the U.S. military will be fully removed from Afghanistan by 2014, that "he will need to do a lot more to explain why it is in this country's strategic interest to stick things out for another three-plus years. And why is drawdown plan has a credible chance of leaving behind an Afghanistan that won't implode as soon as American troops are gone." They also think that "Americans need to hear exactly how close Pakistan is to the edge. If Afghanistan implodes, it could quickly become the base for Al Qaeda and other extremists for whom the real prize is Pakistan and its 90 or so nuclear weapons. This is no dominoes fantasy," they write. They note that the President's "speech was short on specifics," forcing them to question whether his plan is credible. "The country needs to hear more from him, and a lot more frequently, about this war and his plans for getting out."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.