Sunday, February 26, 2012


It was sad, but not surprising, to read an article in the "Voice," an area weekly newspaper, two days after I’d written last week about the surge of opium & heroin production in Afghanistan.  “Epidemic on the rise? --Heroin use a gateway to crime, poor health, even death.”  As it is in Afghanistan, so it is in Southeast Michigan.   The story quotes Macomb Co. District Court Judge Linda Davis—about 300 people under age 25 died in her county in 2011, due to heroin overdose.  And Sheriff Tim Donnellon of St. Clair County points to 11 similar deaths in our county in 2011.  Heroin-related death totals in our backyard are on the rise according to these sources, as heroin production/addiction in war-ravaged Afghanistan continues its upswing.  Blowback from thousands of miles away.
Heroin and opium addicts in the former Soviet Cultural Center in Kabul--Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

 Afghanistan soldier in poppies----Sanjaray in Zhari district early April 26, 2008---REUTERS-Goran Tomasevic

To sum up the situation here the story continues, “St. Clair County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Campau [Public Information Officer] said even though a lot of users have to go out of their community to obtain the substance it is becoming even cheaper—averaging about $10 for a small package—and more accessible in part because of the increased poppy production in Afghanistan being sent to the west.”

 AFGHAN FORCES DESTROYING OPIUM POPPY FIELDS--Nangarhar---April 2007 Photograph Rahmat Gul
First Lt Terence Sawick patrolling in Helmand Province-- Afghanistan---photo-Joël van Houdt for NYT

We spend a million dollars a soldier per year to deploy to Afghanistan.  This is what we get here in return?  Increased heroin addiction.  Young people die, stateside and halfway around the world.  More death due to drugs here at home.  More morbidity in Afghanistan, with drone bomb, and opium addiction, and government corruption, damage to their people, and the ongoing IED roadside bomb and PTSD damage to our troops as they hopelessly try to stamp out opium and Taliban in that foreign land.  When will we ever learn—“nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.” Lk 6:43    Guns, drugs and dirty money are the inevitable the taproots of war’s bad tree.   The fruits are violence, death and destruction.

The Cursing of the Fig Tree---Mark 11:14 

Addendum information to last weeks look at Afghan opium production.

Quotes from articles Past

From Nov. 19, 2004 NYT—“Afghan Poppy Growing Reaches Record Level, U.N. Says”

Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, the source of most of the opium and heroin on Europe's streets, was up sharply this year, reaching the highest levels [4,200 metric tons] in the country's history and in the world, the United Nations announced on Thursday.
…. most of the profits go to a very few traffickers, warlords and militia leaders, rather than the impoverished farmers, who are often heavily in debt to the drug lords, the United Nations report said.
There are signs, too, of a move toward a greater vertical integration of the business and the growing involvement of international organized crime, according to a recent report by Barnett Rubin of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.
His[ Karzai’s]administration has included known drug lords, and many of his provincial governors, police and army chiefs are widely rumored to profit from the trade, diplomats and Afghan officials acknowledge. Commanders of the powerful Northern Alliance, which with American help overthrew the Taliban in 2001, continue to profit from the trade in northeastern Badakhshan Province.
Diplomats say there are even reports linking Mr. Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, an influential figure in the southern city of Kandahar, to the trade.
The government is finally trying to get the word out that poppy cultivation is illegal and that farmers will be penalized. The council of senior clerics recently issued a religious edict forbidding poppy growing.
But international assistance has been inadequate and ill focused, Mr. Rubin says. "U.S. cooperation with warlords and militia leaders tied to trafficking has sent the wrong signal about the U.S. commitment to combating narcotics," he said.

And Present

A January [2012] report by the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime said revenue from opium production in Afghanistan soared by 133 percent last year to about $1.4 billion, or about one-tenth of the country’s GDP, after the crop recovered from a 2010 blight and returned to previous levels.
“Illicit traffic in opiates, including heroin, is a growing problem,” says the document, adding that revenues it generates fuel “corruption, organized crime and in some cases ... terrorist activities and insurgency.”

 This was the plan---From 2-14-10 Huffington Post---Mushtarak  means “together” in Farsi and Pashtu languages
Only as recently as 2010 did coalition forces, bolstered by Obama’s troop surge, try to cauterize what Gen. Stanley McChrystal called the “bleeding ulcer” of Marja — a town just outside the provincial capital where the Taliban presided unmolested over a lucrative opium industry.
Successful as it is, the taking of Marja was accomplished with an immense commitment of men and resources that could not realistically be brought to bear elsewhere in the province. An analogy often invoked across Afghanistan is that of the water-filled bag: squeeze the bottom, the top distends.
Year after year, month after month, Helmand has ranked as the deadliest, most violent province in Afghanistan. Nowhere else comes close.

The words of the preacher hero of Black History month give hope and direction----

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Monday, February 20, 2012


Opium addict on the streets of Kabul--matches, cigarettes, and foil used to inhale opium paste vapors, strewn about---Photo by Larry Towell

Afghanistan suffers first in war, second in escalating opium drug trade, and now in the plague of epidemic opium addiction.  American media reports often depict the Taliban as the purveyors of war related opium profiteering.  History shows that it has been the other side--the U.S. {and before them the British}-- that have used opium as a weapon to achieve profit in the business of war.  [For an extensive interesting timeline featuring the British see from Opium: A History, by Martin Booth]
In 2001, Tony Blair said a significant reason for the West's invasion of Afghanistan was to curtail a flourishing heroin trade, yet opium production between 2001 and 2011 increased from 185 tonnes to 5,800 tonnes, according to UN figures.   From UK’s, 2-17-12 The Telegraph
Astounding but misleading figures.  In fact since the NATO [mostly U.S., and Brits have now left] invasion of Afghanistan, 1 month post the 911 attacks, the average production of opium in Afghanistan has roughly doubled.  Bad enough, though not a thirty-fold increase as reported.  The glitch lies in the 2001 figure which was skewed downward by a July 2000 edict of Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s leader that no opium should be planted or harvested.  [see 9-24-01 UK’s Guardian, “Taliban to lift ban on farmers growing opium if US attacks”
Mullah Omar -- Photo ABC News

This mandate led to the least opium produced there in modern times.  But the reduction was short-lived, some consider that it was just a geopolitical ploy.  It had been preceded by a thriving opium trade that had grown out of Russia’s war in Afghanistan [that left so many of their soldiers drug addicted--most to hashish, then more available].   At that time the Afghan tribal warlords, who’d been our covert allies in the Cold War fight against Russia, stimulated further opium war profits & production during their internecine battle for power, especially after the Soviets withdrew in 1990. 

10th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8, patrol through a poppy field in the Kajaki Dam green zone, Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 19
Now we have entered the scene, been fighting ten years, and opium production continues to soar forever entwined with the spoils of war, and the further decimation of a country.   One line from a worthwhile scholarly study by Chouvy sums it up. Illicit opium production thrives on war economies and poverty.” [read study-- Afghanistan’s Opium Production in Perspective

With huge exports of illegal opium, bumper crops fueled by our prolonged war, comes increased addictive use by Afghans involved or close to its production.  Opium as a medical panacea has been in some use in Afghanistan since at least the B.C. times of Alexander the Great.  But widespread addiction is a modern phenomenon.
Afghans shoot up heroin in Kabul -- Photo by Larry Towell

A United Nations survey begun this month is widely expected to show that at least 1 in 12 people in Afghanistan abuses drugs — double the number in the last survey four years ago.  From NPR story, April 17, 2009.  This program, and its sequel, best typify how a drug trade in a poor war-torn country drags down its inhabitants, and we are now 4 years further into the pit.  Read and listen at

Some more sensational reports have implied that the explosion of opium abuse is encouraged by the Taliban, or due to an innate defect of character in the Afghan peoples.  Afghan infants fed pure opium” CNN, 1-24-11.  “Opium addiction ravages Afghan families--Scourge of remote villages leaves even babies hooked” MSNBC, 8-9-09.   [see links to videos below]  We should remember that opium tincture and paregoric are still given, though not drugs of choice, in the U.S. pharmacopeia for diarrhea, and off-label for colic, and to put baby to sleep.  Yet widespread use by younger and younger children, babies born addicted because of their moms’ and adults’ around them addiction, is certainly a scourge.
The Mullahs and Taliban for their part have maintained that opium production & addiction is amoral, non-Islamic.  However, like many religions, they have often looked the other way for purpose of political & financial gain.  The drugs are taxed by the Taliban, the police and corrupt government officials.  They are not producing or trafficking, but they, along with many others in the national government we support, skim a profit.

Drug addiction and guns addiction and war addiction are history’s three-headed monster, dominating countries and the people within them until they fail, losing their souls to the opioid of power. It can happen in Afghanistan, and it can happen in the USA, and all places in between—to rich and poor alike.  There is an important 1988 PBS documentary on how the paths of former U.S. presidents and bankers and drug runners intersect—Drugs Guns and the CIA.
’ve lost my video copy, and it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere, but the transcript can be accessed at the site immediately below .  Take the time to read.  It gives a perspective on how those in power have often, from Vietnam and contiguous "Golden Triangle'' to Nicaragua to present day Afghanistan, justified the evils of addiction and war, as the means to fight for, and fortify, our freedoms.  The addiction history of Afghanistan war should once again make Gospel clear that freedom, much less salvation, can never be reached by employing evil, in the supposed service of good.

Mainstream media videos

Illumination by Kathy Brahney

Addendum--further background reading--will follow later this week.

Monday, February 13, 2012


From Ande's first valentine to me--1978

Tomorrow we remember how beautiful this love is that many of us have for each other.  In my case, Ande is my blessing before all others.

She’s made of music, and nurse’s hands-on care, with so much mischief and love raising up our children.
Yesterday she played it on the violin, with tears of joy in her recital.  Any instrument will dance with her.  So still do I.

We all lean with trepidation, bordering on complete trust, towards that love which gives the whole self for the good of the beloved.  Greater love than this no one has than to lay down their life for ones they love.  Jesus did so, and promises we can too.    It is not easy.  There is suffering, along with the tears of unbounded joy.  We're called often to love the unlovable, and the beautiful, at once.
Jesus andHis Sacred Heart
St. Valentine was a martyr of the early church.  Not much is known of him, but it appears he was a priest [perhaps married himself] who was caught marrying Christian couples and caring for any believers being persecuted.

Here are some words better than mine---happiness and hope in our valentines.

But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things they know not what,
Love these mix'd souls doth mix again,
And makes both one, each this, and that.

A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size—
All which before was poor and scant—
Redoubles still, and multiplies.

When love with one another so
Interanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
Defects of loneliness controls.
From “Ecstacy” by John Dunne

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.  If only they could see themselves as they really are.  If only we could see each other that way all the time, there would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed….                                      by Thomas Merton
Be not lax in celebrating.

Be not lazy in the festive service of God.

Be ablaze with enthusiasm.

Let us be an alive, burning offering

before the altar of God.

             by  Hildegard of Bingen

And the most wonderful words of all---from inside of Ande's first valentine to Michael--above.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Former President George W Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff inspect a Predator Drone---Photograph by Jim Watson AFP Getty Images

LA Times---“Police employ Predator drone spy planes on home front.”
“The drones belong to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which operates eight Predators on the country's northern and southwestern borders to search for illegal immigrants and smugglers. The previously unreported use of its drones to assist local, state and federal law enforcement has occurred without any public acknowledgment or debate.
Congress first authorized Customs and Border Protection to buy unarmed Predators in 2005. Officials in charge of the fleet cite broad authority to work with police from budget requests to Congress that cite "interior law enforcement support" as part of their mission. [ From 12-10-11 article]”

So there you have it.  The remote control drones of war are amongst us.  And a Federal Aviation Administration bill just has just passed which can greatly expand their use.  Unmanned aircraft can be as small as a hummingbird or have the wingspan of an airliner.  Our air traffic is still planning to move from radar to GPS based, yet we now authorize a timetable for a huge increase of drones, unmanned aerial vehicles [UAV’s], in our friendly skies.

These are as yet unarmed, meant to track and capture smugglers, drug traffickers and other bad guys.  But they were developed for war, and can be easily converted for shoot to kill purposes.  The lines between military and police application can certainly blur.  The State Department now increasingly relies on these unarmed drones to control things in Iraq.  Iraqis are outraged by these spies in their skies, and don’t trust that they won’t be used in the future to assassinate, that our diplomacy won’t again become lethal.  Even though they might not pack a weapon, the fact that these machines may be hovering over us, as well as the Iraqis, is disturbing.

Robotic killing is definitely on a roll.  These Predator, Reaper, [aka MQ1 and MQ9] and other birds of a feather,  have migrated from first use in Iraq & Afghanistan, to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and other places little mentioned, like our own USA.  In today’s 1-5-12 Times Herald appears an AP article noting that, as part of Michigan’s Air National Guard base restructuring, Battle Creek is to receive a unit flying MQ-1 and MQ-9 UAV’s.  Although one would assume the actual fighting will be very remote in our current battle fields, it’s not specified if there will be UAV’s in Battle Creek or not.

We are headed down a slippery flight path.  Fighting wars by remote control joystick brings deep untold sadness into the world.  A new technology arises--killing without remorse, automatic, devoid of recognition of any humanity in the enemy, reduced to a video image hundreds or thousands of miles away from the reality.  Modern warfare is on an accelerated path toward enlisting glorified video game machines to do our fighting, our surveillance, our intelligence.

The missile is aptly named "Hellfire"

The rationale for fighting by remote control is that it saves combatant lives.  It’s the same argument that justified the creation and dropping of the atomic bomb.  How much safer has that nuclear bomb technology made the world?  Millions of combatants & civilians have been killed under its pall.  Squabbling over who gets to have the ultimate killing machine was a driving force for Cold War carnage, led to our invasion of Iraq, and threatens renewed Middle East death totals in possible war with Iran.  Can robotic remote control killing machines do us any better?  Can these high flying avenging angels bring us any closer to the kingdom of God?

Satan's fall from heaven