Tag Archives: organized crime

Afghan Addicts and the Opium Trade

Public domain image of Voice of America interviewing Afghan poppy farmers.

CNN has a disturbing top-of-page article and photo gallery on opium addicts in rural Afghanistan, including quotes from a carpet-weaver who feeds her four-year-old son balls of opium so she can work. According to the article, three generations of addicts have been created by lack of medical care and lack of education about how addictive opium is.

The piece starts in northern Balkh Province, in a town where the nearest detox program for addicts is four and a half hours away and has twenty beds. At the detox program, the clinic director portrays opium use as traditional and common in this part of rural Afghanistan, and addiction just as common.

I would normally take little note of this piece. Its tone of tragedy tourism is so overwrought and affected that it’s hard to sort the third-word tragedies from the Western hysteria. But this happens to come on a morning when I’ve just started reading Gretchen Peters’s 2009 book Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling The Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Read the rest of this post on Techyum.

Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series by David Pietrusza

Near the end, I finally had to abandon this too-long, too-slow, too-discursive “biography” of Jewish gangster Arnold Rothstein, the guy who — as the subtitle (and The Godfather II, and every damn book and article about Rothstein) tells us, fixed the 1919 World Series

Rothstein is a fascinating figure and the times he lived in are amazing, and there are a lot of great anecdotes in this book. But I’m afraid the overall information is too random and all over the place; I have no sense of the bigger picture.

I have read over 100 books on organized crime, so when I read a new one I should have at least a vague sense from the first few chapters where this guy fits into the overall history of organized crime in the US.

I didn’t get that sense, here, and I got the distinct impression that it was because the author doesn’t really know.

In the early parts of this book, there are some great stories and discursive histories of other figures of the time. But it is RARE that I make it 3/4 of the way through a book and then not decide to finish it. There’s too little information about Rothstein, and too many detours along the way. I didn’t even get to his murder, and I’m not sure I care to even look that crap up on Wikipedia, I’m so disgusted by the whole experience.

My next option to learn about Rothstein is The Big Bankroll by Leo Katcher, which is something of a classic, or at least old. But my suspicion is that — as with many of the organized crime figures from early this century — there just isn’t enough info about Rothstein to warrant a full biography. He’s one of those figures who is incredibly important, but nobody’s 100% sure just why he’s important, except maybe the guys sleeping with the fishes.

Or, perhaps, why Rothstein’s important can’t be cooked down into a 3 or 400 page book. Maybe Rothstein’he’s just a force that weaves through the rest of the organized crime histories, especially of Jewish gangsters.

Anyway, a reasonably noble effort, but not much good for me either for entertainment or research.

The Canary Sang But Couldn’t Fly

The full title and subtitle of this book? The Canary Sang But Couldn’t Fly: The Fatal Fall of Abe Reles, the Mobster Who Shattered Murder, Inc.’s Code of Silence. After typing it, I’m ready for a nap.

The title pretty much sums up the wonkish tone of the offering, which is, even so, one of the best organized crime books I’ve ever read. It may be of primary interest to those who are completely obsessed with the Mob, and particularly with the Mob in the 1930s. Regardless, it’s magnificent.

The Canary Sang But Couldn’t Fly concerns the career, and more specifically the death, of Abe Reles, a government witness against Murder, Incorporated. Murder Inc. was “The Syndicate,” the enforcement wing of the national Mafia organization (though most particularly in the New York area). Reles’s death was a critical moment in the history of the mob, since the case was one of the government’s first real attempts to prosecute the Mafia since the Capone days.

The first part of the book, roughly speaking, relates the events in Reles’s life and in his murder. The whole second half is essentially a deconstruction of the investigative process, in which it is painfully obvious to everyone (including to members of Congress) that there was a major cover-up — but no one can figure out quite what happened.

It’s a bit of a police procedural at times; those tend to leave me cold when they’re fiction, but for some reason here it all comes together. I read it thoroughly engrossed.

Unfortunately, the author, who studied Murder, Incorporated for 10 years, passed away as the book was being prepared for publication. So there won’t be any more awesome books coming from him. Major bummer.

This one is serious essential reading for organized crime scholars.

Indian Journalists, Forest Rangers Battle “Sand Mafia”

You heard me. “Sand Mafia.”

Forest rangers in Chandigarh, India were physically attacked this week by sand-mining mobsters for the third time in a year, “expos[ing] the rampant illegal quarrying from the restricted areas in the Chandigarh periphery.”

Chandigarh is a a planned community in the extreme north of India that manages to be the capital of not one but two Indian states (Punjab and Haryana). Says Indian Express:

A team of Forest officials, led by Forest Range Officer Blawinder Singh, intercepted a tractor-trolley laden with sand illegal lifted from the forest area near Chhoti Karoran village, close to Chandigarh, but the driver and his accomplices not only manhandled and attacked the Forest officials but also managed to flee away with the illegal sand in the cover of darkness, the police said here today.

You laugh, Yankee dogs, but the sand mafia is a recurrent and growing problem in northern India. As a planned community, Chandigarh requires sand for construction projects, but the mining of sand is controlled by politically-connected mobsters who flout environmental legislation. Earlier this year, the Times of India reported that its own team of journalists was attacked by gangsters while reporting on the theft of sand from an important environmental site (READ THE REST OF THIS POST ON TECHYUM)

Paramilitary Drug Gang PR Flacks Finally Get Their Public Image Under Control

Public Domain image of Colt AR-15 Tactical Carbine by Stagg1500, via Wikipedia.

Does good press really come from the barrel of an AR-15?

Or is that just Silicon Valley?

In an analysis piece in the Global Post, Mike O’Connor says newspaper editors in Mexico are being forced to run press releases for Los Zetas, the US-trained paramilitary splinter group of the Gulf Cartel that is now vying with other gangs for absolute control of Mexico’s drug smuggling rackets.

Relating the experience of newspaper editor Martha Lopezin Ciudad Victoria, capital of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, O’Connor writes:

It’s the first time such a formal arrangement is known to be at work in Mexico. Journalists at the other three main papers in Ciudad Victoria — the capital of Tamaulipas state, across from Texas in the northeast corner of Mexico — confirmed her account.

In many parts of Mexico, organized crime and drug cartels have been able to terrorize journalists in local or regional news organizations into not running stories the criminals don’t want the public to know about. Reporters who try are threatened or murdered.

So, in much of the country, newspapers, TV and radio stations have just stopped covering stories that even hint about how organized crime is taking over.

The difference in the accounts of Lopez and other Victoria reporters is that newspapers are being coerced through violence not just into publishing positive articles on Los Zetas — but actually using press releases. O’Connor quotes Lopez in saying that they come by email and include PR photos, with thoroughly transparent content…(READ THE REST OF THIS POST ON TECHYUM).