Increasingly violent drug cartels have been blamed for 3,000 murders in Mexico in the past eighteen months, according to a story in the Washington Post. But as the death toll rises, media coverage decreases. That's because cartel gunmen target journalists in addition to one another -- more than 30 journalists have been killed in the past six years in Mexico and scores more have been subject to intimidation -- kidnapping, office bombings, and so on. It all adds up to make Mexico the second most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist, according to the Post. First, of course, is Iraq. (The Post story has all sorts of good details and quotes from the reporters and editors on the ground -- worth a read.)

Mexico has gotten bad quickly. In 2005, I created two tables that illustrated how much worse Iraq was for journalists than all other countries around the world. Before the invasion of Iraq, the countries that routinely saw the most press deaths were Russia, Algeria, and Columbia -- they each had three or four a year for ten years running. Starting in 2003, Iraq saw 56 journalists killed in a three year span. Mexico wasn't even on the list.

But we could have predicted this. In a 2006 photo essay called "Born Into Cellblocks," Mother Jones sent a photographer into a Mexican prison to photograph the children who live there with their mothers. Chuck Bowden wrote the accompanying text, in which he explored the drug violence that was even then consuming Mexican towns near the American border. He also mentioned the growing violence against journalists. Snippets are below, the whole thing is here.

Bullets killed the police chief last summer, just a few hours after he took office. This brought in the Mexican army. The ongoing slaughter of many cops and citizens caused the U.S. government to shut down its consulate for a spell last August. This winter the local paper was visited by some strange men, presumably working for the cartels, and they fired dozens of rounds and tossed in a grenade. One reporter took five bullets. The editor promptly announced a new policy: His paper, one of the few Mexican publications on the line actually printing news about the drug cartels, would no longer report on the cartels...
Beneath this gore, women and children muddle on, some in Mexican jails. Incarceration, like law, is a bit different in Mexico. Conjugal visits are permitted; small children younger than six can be locked up with their moms; and men and women peddle goods and themselves within the walls in order to survive. Mexican prisons often do not provide grub. I've stood in line with family members who toted a week's supply of food on visiting day, seen women reel out of cells in disarray after their weekly intercourse sessions with their men. Drugs are commonplace inside the walls, as are gangs. Money can buy anything. For years the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has complained about the posh quarters given to major drug players and how they continue to do business without interference while theoretically being under lock and key.

Update: Journalists of any stripe -- not just those that cover the drug cartels -- are vulnerable in Mexico. After Lydia Cacho exposed a powerful hotel owner as the orchestrator of a child pornography and prostitution ring, she was arrested and almost killed by local police. Mother Jones interviewed Cacho in May.

A Virtual Tour of the Baghdad Embassy

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Tom Engelhardt has come across what might be the first public glimpse of the $1.3-billion U.S. embassy under construction in Baghdad. At 104 acres, and with 1,000 staffers, it's going to be America's biggest embassy anywhere. It might as well have a giant "kick me" sign on its front gates—hence the 15-foot-thick walls and who knows how many Marines and Blackwater guys on duty. Visualizing the fortress-like enclosure has been a bit tough. Until now, thanks to some 3-D renderings Engelhardt found on its architects' website. It almost looks like the next backdrop for Grand Theft Auto, but with tennis courts, a pool, and housing for 380 families. That family housing stat is a new detail. Somehow I doubt that the balmy weather and outdoor pool will convince many embassy dwellers to bring along the kids.

A new Rasmussen poll shows that if Barack Obama were to face Mitt Romney in the general election, he would trounce him by 12 percentage points. Fred Thompson fared slightly better against the black Harvard man, losing by just 7 percentage points. Another Rasmussen poll indicated that John Edwards could route Republicans on a scale resembling the 65-13 Oklahoma-University of Texas game of 2003. (Oddly, Rasmussen hasn't run the Clinton matchups, but other polls have predicted Hillary faring poorly in the general election.) I cautioned in a previous post against counting on a Democratic victory, but now I'm wondering, why even bother to hold a general election, when polls show that Americans believe Dems are better suited to lead even on issues that Republicans have historically owned, such as national security (46 percent trust Democrats more) and taxes (the Democrats lead 47 to 42 percent)? Democrats enjoy double-digit advantages on ethics and government corruption and the war in Iraq as well as on their traditional issues, including education, social security, immigration, and health care.

Our buddy Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has a suggestion for Paul Wolfowitz's next job: Mayor of Baghdad. You broke it, you buy run it, Paul.

Ron Paul is Still Throwing Elbows

Libertarian, internet sensation, and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul takes on Rudy Giuliani, explains why he's the only real Republican in the race, and comments on the importance of the internet for candidates like him who "can't raise $100 million."

I think the campaign needs characters like Paul and Mike Gravel. There will be months and months of dissection of the frontrunners and eventual nominees (some might argue there already has been). If we didn't have other people to focus on in these early months, we'd all be so burned out by the primaries that we wouldn't have any energy or attention span left for the general election. Besides, Paul is a smart, likable guy who I only disagree with 60 or 70 percent of the time. Better than most in his party!

Illegal Immigration - Terrorism Nexus Debunked

The anti-immigration forces have long pushed the myth that cracking down on illegal immigration is necessary to stop terrorism from seeping into the United States.

They might want to tell the Department of Homeland Security about their game plan. According to a new study that analyzed millions of records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, only 0.0015 percent of cases filed in immigration courts by the Department of Homeland Security have had anything to do with terrorism. Only 0.014 percent pertained to national security.

The rest were mundane immigration cases. According to the study, 85 percent of the charges involved infractions such as not having a valid immigrant visa, overstaying a student visa, or entering the United States without an inspection.

So the Department of Homeland Security's immigration department is protecting our country from over-ambitious graduate students instead of terrorists. Unless there really aren't any terrorists trying to sneak in across the southwestern desert, in which case someone might want to fact-check Michelle Malkin.

Former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card was lustily booed as he was awarded an honorary degree during the graduate school commencement at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. We're not talking scattered boos from a radical students' group. This was a huge percentage of the commencement's attendees, including professors. Take a look.

The boo birds weren't angry with Card's pathetic involvement in the NSA wiretapping scandal that was recently revealed in former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's testimony before Congress. (Card joined Alberto Gonzales on the rush to John Ashcroft's hospital bed, where they hoped to convince a barely conscious man to authorize a constitutionally questionable domestic spying program.)

No, they were angry with Card over the big issue of the day -- the Iraq War. After all, it was Card who in August 2002 set up the White House Iraq Group, a group of foreign policy experts and political messaging gurus whose job it was to sell the Iraq War to the public. Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, and chief Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson were part of WHIG, as were Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley.

Of course, every member of that group either has or will go on to earn honorary degrees and make tons of money as a lobbyist, consultant, or think tank wonk. Screwing up can be big business in Washington -- the only people who will let you know how badly you blew it, apparently, are college students.

God Bless America And You Stay In Your Seat

Before September 11, 2001, the song "God Bless America" was played in Yankee Stadium only on holidays. But since mid-October of 2001, it has been played before the bottom of the seventh inning at every game. It seems like that would be punishment enough, but George Steinbrenner has taken the punishment a step further: While the song is being played, fans are not allowed to leave their seats.

"Not allowed" means that off-duty uniformed police officers, ushers, security personnel, and aisle chains are used to restrict the movement of patrons. One end of each chain is held by someone to prevent the chaining system from being a fire hazard.

A spokesman for the Yankees said that the system was put in place after hundreds of fans complained that other fans showed a lack of respect for "God Bless America" by not observing silence while it was played. The spokesman also said that no one has complained about the system. The Mets do not restrict movement during the playing of patriotic songs. However, several other teams do, but with personnel only, not chains.

The New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has stated that since Yankee Stadium is private property, the restriction practice is not illegal. However, if someone is arrested for disobeying the rule, the ACLU would consider stepping in.

Meltdown in the Texas House

"Good thing we've still got politics in Texas--finest form of free entertainment ever invented," the late Molly Ivins once wrote. Where's Molly when we need her? I smile wondering what she'd make of the latest dustup in the Texas House, where politics has never ceased to be a full-contact sport. Although the last physical scuffle in the U.S. Congress dates (I think) to 1902, when South Carolinian Senator John McLaurin punched a colleague in the jaw, the most recent one in Texas dates to Saturday, when booing and hissing Texas congressmen launched an insurrection against House Speaker Tom Craddick that ended with Craddick bolting from the chamber and Democrats, who stormed the speaker's podium, being restrained by the House sergeants-at-arms. Call in ESPN and set up the bleachers!

Craddick's iron-fisted rule over his fellow Republicans has made him increasingly unpopular among moderates in his party, who complain that his insistence on party discipline has put them at odds with the interests of their districts. As I reported in October, close followers of Texas politics have predicted that Craddick's strategy could backfire. Houston Republican Martha Wong appeared particularly vulnerable at the time, having kowtowed to Craddick on abortion and environmental issues. In November, her socially moderate constituents ousted her.

Wong's unsuccessful reelection slogan was "Be Right, Vote Wong." Add an "R" in there, and it could also be a perfect slogan for Craddick.

Ohio Execution by Lethal Injection Takes 2 Hours

Lethal injection has gotten a lot of well-deserved scrutiny for being kind of cruel and unusual. The three-drug cocktail that is almost universally used in the United States is usually administered by a guard or other non-medical prison official, leading to a high number of mistakes, and the drugs are rumored to cause excruciating pain that often goes undetected. Governors across the country are halting executions in their state until the matter is investigated further. For example, former governor Jeb Bush put a moratorium on executions in Florida after it took a man named Angel Nieves Diaz 34 minutes to die, during which time reporters saw Diaz in obvious pain. Diaz's body had 12 inch burns on its arms after the ordeal.

Yesterday's execution of Christopher Newton in Ohio should add momentum to the fight against lethal injection. Newton took two hours to die. He had to be stuck at least 10 times with needles to insert the shunts where the chemicals are injected. An ACLU lawyer said that Newton had been effectively tortured to death.

This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Lethal injection was invented by an Oklahoma state legislator who wanted to see executions become more humane. But not only is there evidence that death by lethal injection is horribly grotesque, executions have actually become more common because the public has become more comfortable with lethal injection that it ever was with the electric chair (whose head fires -- executions where a prisoner's head would catch fire -- unmistakably illustrated the method's problems). That Oklahoma legislator is now a priest, and he preaches for the end of the death penalty. His remarkable story, and lots of info on the problems with lethal injection, can be found in this 2005 Mother Jones feature, "A Guilty Man."