Archive for July, 2008

Darker Side of Shock

Monday, July 28th, 2008

McMafia, Misha Glenny, 2008

This well researched look at global criminal empires highlights the darker side of the Chicago School’s Shock Doctrine. When the Chicago boys set out to massively transfer the worlds wealth into the hands of a few oligarchs, they simultaneously undermined state apparatus of regulation and control and brought about the most massive increase in organized crime in human history. The increase was not only in scale but in violence and capability as former secret police and world class martial arts athletes found themselves in need of new employment. The pinnacle of this worldwide movement was reached under Yeltsin who moved control of vast reserves of oil and natural gas to his handful of oligarchs. Realizing they needed protection that the state could no longer provide, the oligarchs turned to private organized criminal elements, who for 10% of the profits, were very effective at protecting the fortunes of the new Billionaires. Overnight, criminal organization found themselves rolling in wealth undreamed of by earlier criminal elements. Enter the Billionaire godfathers. Clearly this great wealth could not be left lying around the highly unstable financial institutions of the shocked states and Reagan and Thatcher come to their rescue deregulating the world’s financial institutions allowing movement and laundering of mind boggling Billions through places as diverse as Switzerland, Dubai, Tel Aviv, and tiny South Pacific Islands. Now needing to be able to travel anywhere in the world, Russian mobsters rushed to become Israeli citizens so they could get widely accepted Israeli passports. Even non Jewish Russians joined the rush to get a passport. So gratful were the Russian mob bosses to Israel, they jointly agreed not to engage in criminal behavior inside Israel as long as Israel continued to launder their Billions.

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We start our tour in the Balkans where the mobs were cooperating fully through multiple wars and ethnic strife, even smuggling goods and people directly through the front lines of the wars. Moving to the Crimean Sea, he notes that the breakup of the Soviet Union and loss of control is now endangering the Sturgeon as Moscow’s new Billionaires gorge on caviar. A tiny sliver of Moldova, Transnistria split into an independent criminally dominated country. The Russian fourteenth army and its vast arsenal were located in this area and chose to stay in the new state providing arms and force to ensure the independence of the new state. Putin has called Transnistria the black hole and it is one of the biggest arms sources in the world. Most people have left the tiny country which boasts a world class soccer team than performs at home before 4,000 fans.

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In India we discover that Bombay (Mumbai) is the organized crime capital which has assumed control over Bollywood. The mob bosses used to live in Dubai where they can be protected from the police and rival gangs, but a recent crackdown has sent them to Pakistan where the ISS Pakistani intelligence provides them shelter and training. From Pakistan they are free to launch attacks into India.


In Japan we learn the integral roll of the yakuza in Japanese society. They were centrally involved with the Zaibatsu and the big banks in the 80s real estate bubble but received primarily blamed when the bubble burst. The yakuza’s biggest problem today is aging and the inability to recruit young Japanese men to join them. They are forced to subcontract much of their dirty work to the Chinese tongs or Korean gangsters.
China is feared throughout Asia. Its primary current contribution to global crime is their ability to copy and reproduce virtually anything up to and including ersatz Mercedes automobiles.

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South Africa leads organized crime in the continent. In Latin America Columbia is still a big supplier of cocaine to the world, shipping via Mexico into North America, and via Brazil into Europe. Brazil is particularly attractive because of its trained chemists and local access to virtually any chemical needed in production.
The US war on drugs has done more to perpetuate the global market for narcotics than any program in history. The only thing holding back growth of heroin and cocaine whose prices are dropping is the ready availability of synthetic drugs like ecstasy and methamphetamine (the drug of choice in Asia). Instead of regulating and taxing narcotics, governments are spending vast revenue in the hopeless effort to reduce of eliminate it. Any seizure or arrest leads to the immediate filling of the vacuum by new criminals and new shipments of the drug.
The trend toward globalization and domination by multinational corporations has blurred the distinctions between the legal and illegal. Is it any more legal for corporations to move money offshore to avoid taxation than for mobs to launder their money? Does the scramble to protect property rights give the rights to multinational corporations to patent plants and herbal cures that have been known to places like China and India for thousands of years? Does a patent give the right to a corporation to deny medication to those who can’t afford it?

Somehow the author is able to interview many of these underworld leaders and he seldom misses the local brothels.

Siege of Sarajevo

Monday, July 21st, 2008

The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway, 2008

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A novel of the time of siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1996. The city of Sarajevo was proud host to the winter Olympics of 1984. Within a few years, Yugoslavia was torn apart by multiple wars, one part of which was the terrible siege of Sarajevo. Galloway points out that two Serbian war criminals responsible for much of the human carnage are still at large.

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The novel is built around a real world tragedy when a shell killed 22 people waiting in line to buy bread. Four characters feature: The cellist was principle cellist at the destroyed Sarajevo Opera House. He resolves to play Albinoni’s Adagio for 22 consecutive days at the site of the killing.

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Arrow is a university sharpshooter recruited by the military commander, a friend of her now dead father, as a sniper. She agrees on condition that she work alone and chooses her own targets. She proves a natural, working purely from instinct. The commander asks her to break her rules and try to protect the Cellist.

Kenan is a family man who ventures out of his apartment every four or five days to get water from the brewery across the river. He risks sniper fire and shells on each trip.

Dragan is 64 and has sent his wife and 19 year old son to Italy to escape the carnage. His apartment has been destroyed and he lives uneasily with his sister and brother-in-law. He works at a bakery and is able to bring bread home from work. We follow the lives of these four characters through the 22 days that the cellist plays his adagio.

The novel is short but very effecting, evoking life and death in this once beautiful city. Another compelling account of this time and role of snipers was the 1998 movie Shot Through the Heart directed by David Attwood. Here two friends and former Olympic competitive sharpshooters, one Serb and one Bosnian discover they must hunt one another down.

By coincidence Radovan Karadzic, one of the two at large war criminals has been arrested today July 22. For 11 years he has been in Serbia, protected by both the the Serbian Orthodox church and the secret police of Serbia. This reminds us of the movie The Statement with Michael Caine and Tilda Swinton where Caine plays a French war criminal protected for years by the Catholic church and powerful politicians in France. Now only Ratko Mladic remains at large.

Catholics of India

Monday, July 14th, 2008

The Konkans, Tony D’Souza, 2008

A brilliant exploration of multiculturalism. The narrator is Francisco, the son of a blond American woman who went to India in the Peace Corps in the mid 1960s and an Indian catholic from the Malabar coast on the Arabian sea whose father saw the white woman as a ticket for his sons to move to America the ersatz Britain. The region is a former Portuguese colony taken over later by the British. Under the Portuguese many residents were forced or converted to Catholicism and assumed Portuguese names.

Francisco’s mother grew up in a dysfunctional American Midwestern family and escaped to college at UW Milwaukee. When she graduated, she joined the Peace Corps where she was trained to teach low caste Indian women to build and use smokeless ovens and reduce the risk of early death due to lung disease and cancer. The Peace Corp sends the recruits to a training camp on a Native American reservation. Unlike most Peace Corp volunteers who hated India, would never live in the villages, or simply went mad, Francisco’s mother loved India. When she was assigned to a village as the lone American, she acquired a bicycle and jumped wholeheartedly into Indian life and her work. She never wanted to leave India. When the Konkan patriarch sees the volunteer, he invites her to his home and recalls his first son from his bank job with orders to court the American. They marry and the patriarch orders his wife to torture the American daughter in law so she will want to return home to American with first son in tow. The plan works and soon the family finds itself in Chicago.


Francisco’s father is obsessed with his ambitions and obligations of the first son of a first son going back generations. He gets a job with a good American company and works his way up although much slower than his white colleagues. He moves to ever larger houses in more prosperous neighborhoods which his wife hates. He takes up golf and tennis and applies for membership in local country clubs. He is always turned down and eventually forms a friendship with and American Jewish man who has married an Irish wife. They share ambition and disappointment.

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Francisco’s mother sponsors two brothers in law for immigration to America. A distant cousin must be smuggled through Canada. One uncle is in love with Francisco’s mother and spends a lot a time with Francisco telling him legends of the Konkan (Indian Portuguese Catholics) people and of his family. As Francisco grows up, he studies the actual history of the Portuguese colonial time and of the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries and of the long Catholic Goa Inquisition which last from the 1500s into the 1800s. He also learns the real history of his father’s family, their wealth accumulated by serving their British masters.

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Francisco’s father is eventually promoted to VP but his job is mostly to fire minority workers in his corporation. The company thinks having a minority Indian do the firing will isolate them from charges of discrimination. Ambition wins over conscience and the father fires his own black protégé.

Dominican Reflections

Monday, July 7th, 2008

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz, 2007

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Novel of a Dominican family living under a multi generation curse. The narrator is a skirt chasing young Dominican who falls in love with Lola the beautiful, smart, athletic popular daughter of the cursed family. Lola worries about her brother Oscar, overweight nerdy guy always falling for girls out of his reach. When the three leave Patterson N.J. for Rutgers University, Lola enlists the narrator to watch out for Oscar and try to teach him about girls and about life. He fails and Oscar tries to kill himself by jumping off the Trenton railroad bridge. He lands on a bush and ends up in the hospital. His mom and Lola decide to take Oscar to the Dominican Republic to try to bring him out of his depression. It works when he falls madly in love with the semi retired prostitute living next door. She is lonely and develops a brother sister relationship with Oscar and they spend a lot of time together. Unfortunately, her part time boy friend is a very jealous police captain whose buddies put Oscar back in the hospital. As soon as he can move, the family returns with Oscar to Patterson.

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The novel traces the origin of the family curse to the grandfather, a doctor with two beautiful daughters that catch the eye of dictator Trujillo who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961 when he was assassinated. The father refuses to bring his oldest daughter to a Trujillo party and is arrested. A third, very black, daughter is born after his arrest. She becomes the only surviving member of the cursed family and is the mother of Lola and Oscar. The novel starts out loaded with Spanish and English Dominican community colloquial expressions and the unfamiliar reader misses a lot. The author also provides long footnotes in the beginning giving a condensed history of the Dominican Republic. It then settles down and becomes quite readable and informative.

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