Cartel Land

Cartel Land is a documentary on Netfflix right now. If you’re looking for something to enthrall you and put things in perspective, watch it.

Watching this last night was not just a good break from working, but a good break from the political rhetoric of this election. When I finished the movie I was more intent on taking my life’s work seriously, less likely to judge the political decisions of others, and more determined to help people heal rather than gaining the power to lead them.

The movie starts out at a large-scale meth cooking operation in Mexico. One of the men working, his face half covered, tells the camera, “We know these drugs will go on to cause people harm. I’m not proud of that. But we came from poverty- what other option did we have? If we grew up like you, we’d have good, honest jobs too. But it is what it is. As long as God allows us to keep making the drugs, we will.”

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The Meth Cooks

The viewers next gets a taste of the power of the Mexican drug cartel, the organizations controlling the flow of drugs. We see the scene of a funeral, where a dozen people had been brutally murdered, most of them children. They had been workers on a lime farm, and because the farm owner could not pay his taxes to the cartel, his workers had been murdered. The cartel had total dominance of the region. There was no police or government stopping them.

We’re also introduced to an American vigilante- a volunteer militia at the Mexican-American border. After turning a difficult life around, he had a difficult time finding work, having to compete with illegal immigrants who didn’t pay taxes and took lower wages. He thought this was unfair, and came to the border to join the militia. Upon arriving, he realized that his job was really to stand up to the cartel, who controlled not only the drug trade but also the human trafficking across the border. He lives in a town where a call to 911 brings a response in 90 minutes. “If I don’t do something about it, then who will?” he pleads. The media’s portrayal of him as a racist or a radical did not sit with him. “Come out here and see what it’s like. If you were out here, what would you do?”

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American vigilante at work

Then were introduced the main character of the film, José Manuel Mireles. A thousand miles south of the border, the cartel were equally dominant. When members of his family were killed, he decided he’d had enough. A council of the town’s elders gathered and decided that they would take arms up against the cartel.

The townspeople killed or chased off all the cartel from their town. Then they set up defenses, moved to the next town, and did they same thing. Gaining recruits with each victory, this movement was gaining massive momentum. Soon this militia, known as the Autodefensas, had taken control of half of the state and become national icons.

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Juan Manuel Mireles recruiting in a new town

One of the most powerful scenes happens early in the film, when the Autodefensas enter  a new town and introduce themselves. There they are met by a company of the Mexican army, who do not approve of this unlicenses, illegal fighting force. The army commander tells them to disarm. A verbal confrontation ensues. The townspeople ring the church bell, and a mob surrounds the situation. Armed with clubs and machetes, the citizens defend the Autodefensas and force the soldiers to return the weapons.

Later in the film, the Autodefensas hear from the president of the country himself. He swears that the government will protect the people, and that anyone wanting to do the same must work with the government. The autodefensas are forced to choose between disarming, or joining forces with the government.

Many Autodefensas leaders do not trust their government, who had failed to stop the terror of the cartel, and had apparently not yet detained a single Knights Templar leader. Like the vigilantes on the American border, they do not believe that their government is truly looking out for them.

You get to witness a righteous effort turn into a complex political mess. As the Autodefensas gained power, they began to attract the same type of villains into their ranks as the cartel had. They began raiding houses and pillaging what they liked. Soon the were scaring the common people, themselves starting to look like the cartel they’d been fighting. It becomes difficult to understand the relationships between the cartel, the Autodefensas, and the Mexican government.

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Not sure who these guys are fighting for, actually

I’m not going to give away the whole movie to you. There’s an amazing plot.

I finished the movie with a greater awareness of my political ignorance. Who am  I to talk about politics like the ones at the Mexican border, living my life up here in Portland? I’ve never had to compete with an illegal immigrant for money. I’ve never seen members of my community murdered in public. My life here has been relatively peaceful. Everybody has motivations for behaving the way they do, and if my knowledge and experience were traded with somebody else’s I would probably feel the same way as them.

I also reaffirmed my lack of interest in politics, when defined as the struggle for power. This movie shows what happens when raw power if pursued for a just cause. Using dark means for an end clearly is not a sustainable solution to the darkness. If laws are changed or force is used, but people are not changed from the inside, the same patterns are repeated through a different means.

I’m reminded of Obama, who passed much legislation, without convincing his enemies of citizens of much, and who will now apparently have most of his work completely dismantled. To the extent that he’s passed laws to try and help the people, rather than teaching the people to help themselves, some of his actions have lacked the foundations necessary for lasting change.

Therefore, in order to create lasting change, I see value in helping individuals change on the inside- in helping to change their self-drawn conclusions. Rather than create a law to govern a person, I see value in helping a person understand and govern themselves. I see value in teaching people about their own power and helping them help themselves. This too can be done on a large scale, through media.

I believe that our thought leaders, artists of all kind, are the ones who lead human progress. Politicians are just managers by default, and only move society forward when they find ways to inspire.

A leader who says. “give me the power first, and then I will help” is doomed to fail. These people end up forever stuck in the fight for power, with their ideals held in the future, justifying any present behavior.

The autodefenses helped created lasting change when they came into towns and said, “we highly encourage you to form a council. Unless you are informed and united, any idiot can rule you.” As soon as they said, “let us rule for you,” they had become the problem.

We must see through the eyes of our enemy, and understand how they came to be the way they are.  How many times must people become the tyrants they sought to overthrown?

When we connect with people and show them how to support themselves, there is no need to rule them. People seem to need rulers when they become desperate and dangerous. Ultimately, people become dangerous because they are hungry- hungry for food, hungry for understanding, hungry for love- and willing to do whatever it takes to try and satisfy their hunger.

You can’t change other people. We can only inspire them by our example. We must be the change we wish to see, now.

Conspiracy Poll Results

Whether or not you believe in any of the popular conspiracy theories, it is useful to know how many people do.

Witnessing a protest downtown Portland recently, I was struck by how many differing beliefs there must have been in the crowd. I saw a friend of mine, an extremely kind person who is passionate about helping people and the environment. I also say a couple guys holding a giant banner that said, “Peace is another word for Death. Give Violence a chance!” Even people marching in the same crowd had hugely varying beliefs and motivations.

I think the same thing when I see the popularity of Donald Trump. The guy makes him self out to be an opponent to “the system”- but what does that mean? To some it means a political system that is proportionately dominated by wealthy people. To others, it means the people in the US government that are responsible for 9/11, or even Lizard People.

Whatever you believe, get informed on what other believe in. You may that what you disagree upon is something different that what is being discussed, and that if you believed what others believed, you might be behaving similarly to them. When you know what beliefs are supporting your differing opinions, you can examine your beliefs together, and help each other find the truth.

My Opinion: If our government wants the unified support of it’s people, it should take intense responsibility for addressing the conspiracies it’s been accused of.

I could see how a reasonable politician wouldn’t want to make time for this discussion, even if they could prove the conspiracies to be false.

It’s also possible that some politicians are more interested in having the freedom to rule than they are in having unified support, so they’d rather leave people disenfranchised and out of their hair.

It’s also possible that the amount of actual corruption, like the power of the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about, or the impending conflicts caused by environmental destruction and resource depletion, is hidden behind the conspiracies- that the people who know something is wrong are thrown off course and no longer able to convince others to demand answers.

Here’s the Article

Conspiracy Theory Poll Results

On our national poll this week we took the opportunity to poll 20 widespread and/or infamous conspiracy theories.  Many of these theories are well known to the public, others perhaps to just the darker corners of the internet.  Here’s what we found:

–          37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax, 51% do not. Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77, and Independents are more split at  41-51. 61% of Romney voters believe global warming is a hoax

–          6% of voters believe Osama bin Laden is still alive

–          21% of voters say a UFO crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 and the US government covered it up. More Romney voters (27%) than Obama voters (16%) believe in a UFO coverup

–          28% of voters believe secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order.  A plurality of Romney voters (38%) believe in the New World Order compared to 35% who don’t

–          28% of voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.  36% of Romney voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, 41% do not

–          20% of voters believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, 51% do not

–          7% of voters think the moon landing was faked

–          13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, including 22% of Romney voters

–          Voters are split 44%-45% on whether Bush intentionally misled about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 72% of Democrats think Bush lied about WMDs, Independents agree 48-45, just 13% of Republicans think so

–          29% of voters believe aliens exist

–          14% of voters say the CIA was instrumental in creating the crack cocaine epidemic in America’s inner cities in the 1980’s

–          9% of voters think the government adds fluoride to our water supply for sinister reasons (not just dental health)

–          4% of voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power

–          51% of voters say a larger conspiracy was at work in the JFK assassination, just 25% say Oswald acted alone

–          14% of voters believe in Bigfoot

–          15% of voters say the government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals (the so-called Tinfoil Hat crowd)

–          5% believe exhaust seen in the sky behind airplanes is actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons

–          15% of voters think the medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry “invent” new diseases to make money

–          Just 5% of voters believe that Paul McCartney actually died in 1966

–          11% of voters believe the US government allowed 9/11 to happen, 78% do not agree

Islamic Terrorism vs American Homicide

I was walking through an airport in Minnesota, when I saw prominent Republican Newt Gingrich on the television. He was speaking at some Republican convention. It was early in the election season, which I didn’t intend to follow closely, but thought I’d take a quick look to get a pulse of what was going on. He said something that stood out to me:


He was making the point that not all Muslims are bad, but that an absurd number of them are.

This is a classic case of making a statistic sound frightening, simple by leaving out a comparison. It turns out, lots of kinds of people are angry and violent, not just Muslims.

Here’s an interesting statistic released a month earlier, which asked Americans questions regarding the election.


That’s 24% of 300 million people- “and that’s just one country”

These statistics are asking different questions, but ones I think are very similar given the context. Politically violent people will want to use the resources available to them- for us, that can be nukes. For people in many other countries with less resources, it’s guerilla warfare or terrorism.

I wonder- what if there is actually a very small correlation between culture and values? Could every culture have their own ‘flavor’ of helpful and harmful people? Maybe all societies have those people who think that their way of living is right, and others are wrong. Maybe every culture also has those people who think:

“People are people.”

Perhaps if we could really take on an impersonal, third person perspective, we would see that the political conflicts of today are very two sided. Unfortunately, if we only get our information from one side, it may appear different.

Here’s a little more comparison to straighten out our understanding of radical Islam- which for a lot of people means the same thing as terrorism.


This graph shows the number of deaths per year, globally, from terrorist attacks.

I don’t know how this study defined terrorism (and the website won’t tell me without a subscription). I’m not sure what percentage of these attacks were done by Muslims, or how many people are murdered in Muslim countries outside of these terrorist attacks. I am not enough of a badass researcher to do a more in depth analysis for you at this time.

I can, however, provide a basic and enlightening comparison for you.


This graph shows how many people are murdered every year in the US alone.

The total number of people killed in terrorist attacks across the world is roughly the same as the number of people murdered every year in the United States.

So the next time you hear a shocking statistic about “them”- whoever they are, take a second to compare that to the statistics on “us”.


“Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbor’s roof when your own doorstep is unclean” -Confucius


“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” -Matthew 7:5