A US soldier from the 101st Airborne Division destroys opium poppies growing in a field in Khost province, Afghanistan, in 2008.
Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is at record levels, according to a new report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. That's despite more than a decade of American efforts to knock out the Afghan drug trade—at a cost of roughly $7.6 billion.
In his report, John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, informs Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Eric Holder, and USAID administrator Rajiv Shah that the levels of opium poppy production don't exactly square with all the time, money, and effort that have gone into eradicating crop. "The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of [prior US government and coalition] efforts," Sopko writes. "Given the severity of the opium problem and its potential to undermine U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, I strongly suggest that your departments consider the trends in opium cultivation and the effectiveness of past counternarcotics efforts when planning future initiatives."
Afghanistan produces more than 80 percent of the world's illicit opium. SIGAR reports that much of the 494,000 acres of newly arable land in southwest Afghanistan—created by a boom in affordable deep-well technology—"is dedicated to opium cultivation."
In the State Department's and USAID's joint response to the report, Charles Randolph, a program coordinator at the US Embassy in Kabul, agrees with many of Sopko's observations. Randolph concedes that the situation is "disappointing, as was the decline in poppy eradication by provincial authorities this year."
Randolph notes that the opium trade has undermined the government in Kabul and helped the Taliban and otherinsurgents. "The narcotics trade has also been a windfall for the insurgency, which profits from the drug trade at almost every level," he writes.
But, he adds, the United States and its Afghan counterparts have had some success with approaches such as special interdiction units and drug treatment programs. "There is no silver bullet to eliminate drug cultivation or production in Afghanistan or to address the epidemic of substance abuse disorders that plagues too many Afghans," he writes.
The Department of Defense, in its official response to SIGAR, says it does not conduct poppy eradication activities in Afghanistan, and points the finger at Kabul. "The failure to reduce poppy cultivation and increase eradication is due to the lack of Afghan government support for the effort," writes Michael D. Lumpkin, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict. "Poverty, corruption, the terrorism nexus to the narcotics trade, and access to alternative livelihood opportunities that provide an equal or greater profit than poppy cultivation are all contributors to the Afghan drug problem."
"In order to be successful and sustainable, counter-narcotics efforts must finally break out of their insular, silo approach," the pair wrote. "If the drug problem is not taken more seriously by aid, development and security actors, the virus of opium will further reduce the resistance of its host, already suffering from dangerously low immune levels due to fragmentation, conflict, patronage, corruption and impunity."
Thousands march in Mexico City on October 8 to demand that the government find the 43 students who disappeared in Guerrero.
Nearly three weeks have passed since 43 Mexican college students went missing in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero after clashing with local police suspected of having ties to the Guerreros Unidos cartel. A break in the case seemingly came earlier this week when a mass grave with 28 bodies was unearthed, but Mexican authorities later said the students were not among the dead. (That remains unclear.) What exactly is going on?
Let's start from the beginning. Who are these college students?
The students went missing on September 26 after trying to collect money to attend upcoming protests against discriminatory hiring practices for teachers, according to the Guardian. The students were in Iguala, a town about two and a half hours inland from Acapulco. After fundraising and protesting in Iguala, the students apparently tried to hitchhike back to their rural teacher's college in Tixtla, about two hours south of Iguala, but police say the students eventually commandeered three buses from a local terminal.
According to the Guardian, (and an eye witness), local police chased the buses down and apparently opened fire. The buses stopped, the unarmed students got out, and the attacks got worse. Many of the students apparently fled, but roughly 20 of them were taken away in patrol cars. Later, some of the students returned to the scene and were talking to reporters when they were assaulted again by police or other gunmen. Two students reportedly died, and one was left in a vegetative state. "The body of a third student was found dumped nearby later, his face reportedly skinned and his eye gouged out," the Guardian reported.
"Imagine being ruled by sociopathic gangsters," wrote one journalist. "They respond to rowdy students in the only way they understand: with extreme violence designed to cause terror."
The students' school, the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa, is one of more than a dozen around the country that formed after Mexico's revolution with the goal of raising living standards for impoverished Mexicans and teaching poor farmers to read and write, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The schools are typically seen as leftist, and people from this school, in particular, were some of the major players in the run-up to the Tlatelolco Massacre, a violent clash between students and police in Mexico City in 1968 that led to dozens of deaths.
It's unclear whether the students' politics played a role in the attacks. Students from the school reportedly seized and vandalized Iguala's city hall in June 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal, and have clashed with police there before. "They practically destroyed the building," an Iguala city councilman told the Journal. "That's what these boys do. They cause trouble." The Journal added that the attacks could also have come about as the students were commandeering the buses; police could have feared that the students were going to disrupt a political rally organized by the mayor's wife set for the same evening.
But what about the cops who led the assault on the students?
Four days after the attack, the state governmentcharged 22 municipal police officers with murder, according to the Guardian, but many more might have been involved. Corruption among Mexican police is a well-covered issue, but this situation reflects how things have reached a whole new level. Ioan Grillo, a veteran reporter who has covered narco crime in Mexico for more than a decade, wrote in the New York Times that this was something new: "As I inhaled the stench of death on that hill, and saw photos of the mutilated student on the road, I felt as never before that I was covering an act of pure unadulterated evil."
Grillo explained that while the slaughtering of students may "seem inexplicable," the truth is that drug cartels have taken over so completely that they either control government officials or are themselves the government officials. "Being ruled by corrupt and self-interested politicians can be bad," Grillo wrote. "But imagine being ruled by sociopathic gangsters. They respond to rowdy students in the only way they understand: with extreme violence designed to cause terror. They stick the mutilated body of a student on public display in the same way they do rival traffickers."
Which cartel is behind the violence?
The working theory is that Guerreros Unidos (Warriors United) got the police to attack the students, mounted the attack themselves, or worked directly with police. According to Grillo, Guerreros Unidos is a cartel fighting to control a strategic drug transport area packed with marijuana and opium fields. The cartel operates valuable drug corridors in Guerrero and Morelos, the state immediately to the northeast, according to the Independent.
Guerrero is home to the largest mass grave ever found in Mexico: In 2010, authorities discovered more than 60 people who had been bound and gagged and thrown down a mine shaft.
It's hard to stay on top of the ever-evolving Mexican cartel breakdown, but here's what we know: Guerreros Unidos was formed in 2009 after breaking away from the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO) following Arturo Beltrán Leyva's death. According to InSight Crime, a foundation that studies organized crime in the Americas, Guerreros Unidos is in a bitter turf war with Los Rojos (also an offshoot of the BLO) and the Knights Templar (a separate cartel) for control of the area's drug routes. The BBC has reported that the turf battle has taken a bite out of drug profits, so the cartel also makes money from kidnapping, extortion, and collecting fees.
The cartel's extracurricular activities have put it in the crosshairs of the federal government, which, under President Enrique Peña Nieto, has been trying to look like it's taking on the country's most powerful cartels. The drug wars between the cartels and the Mexican federal government had apparently gotten quieter in recent times because, as the Washington Post notes, "the gore, it seems, was bad for business."
That pressure may have also led one of the leaders of Guerreros Unidos, Benjamín Mondragón Pereda, to kill himself earlier this week after being surrounded by police. Iguala's mayor and police chief, both suspected of working closely with the cartel, are on the run.
What happened with the unearthing of the mass grave?
When word came after the students' disappearance that there was a mass grave found nearby, it seemed reasonable that it was the final resting place for the bodies. But yesterday Mexican authorities announced that none of the 28 bodies belonged to any of the students. As the Post reported after the announcement, the news brought fresh hope for families that the students may still be alive, but "to the rest of Mexico, the news that 28 mutilated, charred corpses correspond to another group of victims is a new stop on a carousel of horrors."
There are at least eight more burial sites in just that area, the Post noted, and it's possible the students are in one or more of them.(The Post notes that authorities haven't said how many dead have been recovered, or who the bodies might be.) In fact, Guerrero is home to the largest mass grave ever found in Mexico: In 2010, authorities discovered more than 60 people who had been bound and gagged, somedismembered and decapitated, and thrown down a mine ventilation shaft.
So what's next?
The disappearance and likely murder of the college students has led to mass protests across the country, with Mexicans once again arguing that the government isn't doing enough to protect them. In Chilpancingo, the state capital of Guerrero, protesters have burned government buildings and demanded the resignation of the state's governor. Meanwhile, the federal government has said it will continue to search for the students and try to identify the bodies found in the additional burial sites.
John Lennon speaks outside of a Manhattan immigration office prior to a deportation hearing.
Today would have been John Lennon's 74th(!) birthday had he not been gunned down on the sidewalk outside of The Dakota in December 1980. Before his death, his political activism and pacifism endeared him to millions, but certainly not to the United States government. Check out this May 1972 FBI memo re: "Security matter dash revolutionary activities" with notes from the deportation hearings the Nixon administration was throwing at him:
As Williams-Yulee notes, this issue is quite common in that there are hundreds of judicial elections each year. In 2011 and 2012 there were high court elections in 35 states that contested 75 open seats, along with an additional 243 intermediate appellate court races in 29 states. These races are becoming increasingly more expensive: During just those two years, state high court, appellate and lower court judicial candidates raised more than $110 million, according to the National Institute On Money In State Politics (state judicial candidates raised just $83 million total in the 1990s). Justice At Stake, a nonpartisan judicial election watchdog group, points out that 20 states have surpassed records for judicial election spending since 2000. Independent spending on judicial elections is also booming, with more than $24 million being spent in the 2011-12 cycle compared to just $2.7 million a decade earlier.
Of the 39 states that hold judicial elections, 30 have some sort of ban, and 22 are blanket bans similar to Florida's.
Retired US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor talked with Mother Jones this summer about problems with money pouring into judicial elections. O'Connor opposes judicial elections in general—she'd prefer judges be appointed after being nominated by a commission and then stand for retention elections—because she says increasing amounts of money in the races skews the information voters see about judges that "often comes from misleading and even nasty campaign ads."
"[Campaign contributions] impact the extent to which citizens believe that judicial decisions are based on the law rather than other factors, such as to whom a judge might feel beholden," O'Connor said. "In my mind, judicial campaign support—whether it involves direct contributions or independent spending—automatically creates an appearance of impropriety when supporters are involved in court cases."
Earl Wilson, 12 years old when he died in 1944, was buried in a cemetery on school grounds marked by random crosses.
In August 2013, in an article titled, "It Was Kind of Like Slavery," Mother Jones recounted the experiences of five former students who had returned to the notorious Florida School for Boys (a.k.a. Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys) to draw attention to the horrors they'd encountered on "the black side" of the once-segregated campus.
State officials shuttered the school in 2011 after more than 100 years of operation, and repeated, sustained allegations of abuse, sexual assault, and even murder. Before Dozier closed, a US Department of Justice investigation found ongoing "systemic, egregious, and dangerous practices" there.
Wilson, who was 12 when he died in 1944, is the first black child identified to date. The school was bad for most boys, but the situation was certainly worse for the black students, who were forced to perform grunt labor, for example, while the white kids were allowed to learn a vocation. According to USF, Wilson was one of nine students housed in a "small confinement cottage" known as the "sweat box." Several days after the boys were moved into the cottage, Wilson was allegedly killed by four of his fellow students.