Joe Barrera: We Must End the War on Drugs

I have always stayed away from drugs, legal or otherwise, but they are a problem that we can’t ignore anymore. Recent events reveal the futility of drug prohibition. The massacre of the LeBaron fundamentalist Mormons in the Mexican border state of Sonora is a terrible tragedy. The large extended LeBaron families are descended from immigrants who fled to Mexico in the late 19th century to practice freely their religion which allows for polygamy or plural marriage, as the Mormons call it. The tragedy has made obvious the folly of the U.S. War on Drugs. This “war” is driven by the puritanical urge to police human behavior. In the context of religious liberty, which we see as one of our greatest achievements, it’s noteworthy that Mexico is much more tolerant of polygamy as a religious belief than the U.S. where it is outlawed. But we are spiritual descendants of the Puritans and we have a cultural trait that drives us to ban, prohibit, or make illegal anything seen as abhorrent, immoral and dangerous, even if there is insufficient evidence to justify the ban. This is why alcohol was made illegal during Prohibition and why there is now a wave of indignation and a movement to ban vaping. And this is why polygamy is illegal and why recreational drugs are illegal. We may abhor polygamy, but in our righteous wrath at the deaths of American women and children we have forgotten that polygamy was the reason that the American LeBarons chose to flee to Mexico. Our sense of moral superiority is so strong that there have been loud calls for a U.S. military intervention to destroy the drug gangs in Mexico. You may feel that this kind of thing would work both ways. Not so. Many of the dead in the recent El Paso Wal-Mart massacre were Mexican citizens from Ciudad Juarez, accustomed to visit El Paso for shopping. In response the Mexican government politely offered to help U.S. authorities fight the white supremacists who inspired the massacre. But the offer was rejected.

The slaughter of the innocents in Sonora was gruesome but maybe some good can come out of it. Maybe it will make us reevaluate our drug policies, as if the deaths of 150,000 Mexicans (a conservative estimate) since 2006, when the Mexican government at the insistence of the U.S. began its war on the cartels, were not enough to make us forsake our fruitless war on illegal drugs. The war in Mexico now has the character of a full-blown insurgency, with large swaths of the country under the control of the cartels, the often corrupt and ineffectual government having ceded authority to the stronger force. It is not a good thing to have a close neighbor in the throes of horrific violence. The war against the cartels will spread into our country and breed chaos and destruction. The disorder extends to Central America, causing the unending flow of migrants headed for our southern border.

We have not benefited from the huge expenditure of treasure and the spilling of blood. We know from their ubiquitous presence that the War on Drugs has not stopped the flow of cocaine, heroin, meth, marijuana, etc. into the U.S. But it has caused the incarceration of 500,000 Americans, with African Americans ten times more likely to be sent to state and federal prisons than whites. Fully 50% of federal prisoners and 16% of state prisoners are imprisoned on drug charges, at enormous expense to U.S. taxpayers. We incarcerate more women than any other country, meaning that we are in effect waging a war on women. 85% of women in prison are there on drug charges. Our constitutional due process rights and freedom from unlawful search and seizure are routinely violated by federal authorities who confiscate billions in asset forfeitures every year. Many police agencies have become addicted to easy money from asset forfeiture, leading to increased militarization of civilian police, never a good idea in a democracy. The police focus on the drug war and emphasis on tactics more suitable to urban warfare has led to a serious breakdown of communication and trust between law enforcement and local communities. This has made police work a far more dangerous occupation. And there are ripple effects. We have a deadly opioid epidemic in our drug-ridden society, with tens of thousands dead from legal doctor-prescribed pain-killers. But with the increased scrutiny on doctors and opioids, sufferers turn to the old stand-by, heroin, a cheaper alternative, further incentivizing the criminals in Mexico to supply this market. Thousands have died because people can easily overdose on heroin.

Let’s be honest. We have an insatiable appetite for drugs and the addictions they breed. Man-made laws cannot control this. There is a desire to get high, to slip into a drug-induced nirvana, to ease mental and emotional pain, to forget the daily grind of our hectic and often lonely lives. I have never used drugs, but I know drug tragedy from personal experience. My young nephew, a star student at Texas A&M and a proud member of the Corps of Cadets at that prestigious school, died of a heroin overdose. It was a terrible waste of a young life. My sister, his mother, is inconsolable. Sometimes late at night he appears in his ROTC uniform and says, “Please don’t forget me.”

~O~

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS,  a lecturer in U.S. Southwest history, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

Joe Barrera, Publisher, Literary Journal

Please Join us in Denver (FRI & SAT)

Hello, friends. Once again, we are headed to Denver this upcoming weekend for a couple of Literary Events. We hope to see you there. As always, any questions or comments, please email our Publisher, Joe Barrera at jjbarr46@gmail.com, or our Artist/Editor John Lewis at larevistaalmagre@outlook.com

GI Forum vets book event

Both locations are easily accesible from I-25.

Issue 6: Live Reading

Thank you to all who attended and to those who read. We had a great time, and appreciate our participating contributors; Thomas Mowle, Marshall Griffith, Lucy Bell, Tom Noonan, Bill Stanley, Scott Lewis, and Bill Gessner. Thank you for your words and your shared experience. These contributors and more can be found in Issue 6: VETERANS, Part I.

For stories from the post-launch celebration at Phantom Canyon, contact the Publisher of La Revista Almagre, Joe Barrera. Our next event will be February 15 up in Denver. Please stay in touch for further details…

GI Forum vets book event

Issue 5 Contributors Spend Sunday at Rico’s, Downtown.

Thank you to those who came. A lovely time with wonderful people doing writerly things among an inspiring place. Thank you to Poor Richard’s for their continued support in this ongoing literary project.

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The Lady Llorona can be found in the rocks, the water, a bush…
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Colorado authors… relaxed, confident, exemplars of craft
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Lucy Bell: there from day one

Conversation with Constance Squires

Here at our journal, we’d like to take a minute and say thank you to local hero, Keith Simon, whose tireless work and support for fellow Creatives is truly a gift to Colorado Springs and the Front Range. Keith is the host of the Culture Zone, a weekly radio show where he chats with local makers of art, music, literature, and more.

Culture Zone (Constance Squires)

John Lewis: Why Moby Dick?

Because, not to cheek my reader, it’s Great!

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Melville did perhaps the one thing most harmful to a writer, even more so than failing to achieve publication. His first novel was a huge commercial success, followed by several other successes. This set a high bar, but also the wrong one, which Melville through natural talent and vision, veered away from. It wasn’t the success that troubled him, it was the simplicity of storytelling which provided this success. In the long run, he was bound to follow his artistic sensibilities, which proved incompatible to prosperity.

Along came “Moby Dick” or “The Whale” as it was titled in England. Melville had just passed thirty years of age, and whereas the first several novels were adventurous, lushly exotic, and did not place too great a demand on the reader, Moby Dick fell flat. By tackling such an immensely heady and symbolic work, he broke trust with his readers. Following publication, Moby Dick sold poorly and was largely misunderstood or neglected by readers.

But what a story it turned out to be! Melville died much less a literary figure than he had been in his young adulthood — Moby Dick a failure, waiting full rediscovery in the 1920s, thirty years after the author’s passing.

For me, this is the great American novel. It reads almost biblically, in that the story is long, but broken into 150 mostly short chapters. Each chapter is a self-contained masterpiece, and can be read on its own. Like the bible, one can pick it up, randomly open the book, and enjoy these micro-universes on their own merit, tilling the prose for a chance elevation from the daily routine.

The prose drips with metaphor and symbolism. Each sentence is a miracle of craftsmanship; the cadence and rhythm a near breathless prescription of fluidity. And one can extract deep personal meaning from her reading… declaring, “This! This is what the story is about.”

An old trick is to hotbox characters within a trap setting. An ex-boyfriend and girlfriend get stuck on an elevator. The ship’s councillor and her unwilling patient get stuck on a small spacecraft. A competent but motley whaling crew is buttoned up with an insane, vengeance-minded captain with a partial body!

It’s the captain’s body which is important. Moby Dick is a story about many things; a startling avant-garde depiction of racial harmony, an adventure tale, revenge plot, religious commentary, eco-thriller (after all, it is the pursuit of oil), class screed, or even a story suggestive of homoerotic romance.

I find in it the deepest of spiritual matters; it speaks of blasphemy and illustrates the peril of abandoning free-will. Captain Ahab is a mono-maniac, whose sole purpose is to destroy the thing which destroyed him years ago. Ahab was almost killed by the white whale years prior to the telling of Moby Dick. Unbeknownst to the crew, the chartering company, and family back ashore, Ahab has a secret plan to hunt the beast which took his leg. This is a man who has relinquished the gift of free-will, and if the western religious tradition is to be believed, free-will is given him by God.

Ahab, a man of God, has rejected this. He blasphemes his maker by renouncing the most important of all divine bestowals. In his previous encounter with the white whale, Ahab loses his leg. He is made incomplete by the ocean’s carnage. And the ocean is a metaphor so pregnant it will yield itself forever to the service of large literary tales. But, the other physical scar, though often overlooked, is important. Years before the novel takes place, the whale’s daggered tooth cut Ahab along his entire body, producing a scar that twists up his abdomen and chest, and finishes above his face along the eye and forehead. Melville has done us a treat here, symbolically cutting Ahab in half. This is a man who is no longer a man. We all know about the missing leg, the madness in his cabin, the nailing of the doubloon to the mast, but it’s this scar which has rent the captain asunder. In that, he is no longer human according to the author. The looming byproduct is a monster who has forfeited the power of choice. Ahab becomes the supreme animal, transformed into a beast, for he will imperil his crew, his company, to the annihilating goal of vengeance. This is what it looks like for us to surrender the power of choice.

Or so I believe.

I love this story, because at each opportunity to discuss it with a fellow traveler, I find that it means something else entirely. We have the same list of ingredients, the same simple plot — captain leads crew to destruction in pursuit of vengeance — that it continues to astound me, and contemporary audiences, with the diverse fruit of meaningful experience.

John Lewis
Artist/Editor
The Almagre Review

Joe Barrera: The Real Meaning of Cinco de Mayo

Once upon a time there was an emperor who wanted to make his country great again. He thought, “if we conquer more lands we will become even more feared and respected. If we send the army on an extended deployment we will find the military glory we have always wanted.” Thinking like this, the emperor knew that he had to find a country that would be ripe for the taking. Trouble was, all the neighboring empires were too strong to attack. The emperor didn’t like it, but he was compelled to look far away for a weak country to conquer. Try as he might he could not find one. Then he had a stroke of luck, or so he thought. It turned out that there were some wealthy people who had been driven out of their own country by a revolution and were now living in the capital city. They decided that they had the answer to the emperor’s problem.

The exiles went to see the emperor, who at first received them with some skepticism, but then became quickly interested in the scheme they proposed. “The man who is now president in our country,” they said, “is very unpopular and could be easily overthrown by the army of Your Imperial Highness. Not only is he unpopular, he is also a radical socialist who has confiscated our estates and left us destitute. He deludes the masses by pretending to liberate them from the tyranny of the rich.” The emperor heard this and felt a twinge of conscience. He knew that many of his own subjects were chafing under the oppressive social order he was enforcing. But not to worry. He felt very secure in his power. The oily exiles continued with their blandishments. “Your Highness could appoint your nephew, the Archduke Maximilian, to be the king of our country. He is a man who is ready to serve you and is just looking for an endeavor worthy of your greatness. The people will welcome him with open arms. They will throw flowers at your soldiers when they invade our country. The people will embrace your enlightened rule and all the benefits it will bring.”

The emperor believed them. He sent his army with the Archduke at its head across the sea. But the promises of the exiles were a pack of lies. The president was not unpopular. The people did not welcome the foreign soldiers with bouquets of flowers. They resisted the invaders and mounted an insurgency that lasted for years. The president led the guerrilla war and was never caught in spite of many defeats by the superior forces of the empire. Finally, the emperor gave up. He recalled his army and as soon as the soldiers left the Archduke was shot by the insurgents. The emperor who had dreamed of glory was himself soon deposed when another stronger empire invaded his country.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? With a few minor changes this could be the story of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this sense it is a cautionary tale for the United States. But this is the story of Mexico and France, and el Cinco de Mayo. Emperor Napoleon III, nephew of the first Napoleon, had delusions of grandeur. These were shattered at the Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862, when a rag-tag Mexican army defeated the vaunted French. The battle started a war that lasted until the French were driven out Mexico. This flagrant European colonialism–the attempt to make brown-skinned people subject to white-skinned people–has become a lesson that teaches freedom. But we don’t know this. Instead, we have American el Cinco de Mayo, time for parties, time for Latinos and Anglos to get gloriously drunk and make the beer companies rich. If only we knew its original significance. The real meaning of this holiday is that we need to “decolonize” our minds. To “decolonize” means that we throw off the mental shackles of inferiority. For U.S. Chicanos, inferiority is always a problem. This is because we are always fighting inferiority, something that is more real internally than it is real externally. Mexican Americans can look at Black Lives Matter and at the Me Too Movement for inspiration. These are examples of human beings reclaiming their own inherent self-worth.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.