The murder of six men outside a pizza parlor in Duisberg, Germany last week has focused new attention on the globalization of the Italian mafia. Authorities claim that the shooting was linked to a feud between rival families of the 'Ndrangheta, a Calabrian crime syndicate that has in recent years eclipsed the better-known Sicilian Cosa Nostra. The 'Ndrangheta's presence in Germany has been well documented for some time now. Mafia groups own a significant amount of property in Germany for money-laundering purposes. As one of Europe's leading cocaine importers, the group also has ties in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Balkans, Eastern Europe and South America, according to a report by the Italian premier's office. However, this is the first crime of such magnitude to be committed outside of Italy, and many Germans are worried that the violence may continue. These fears seemed justified on Friday, when a statue of two clenched fists—a mafia symbol for revenge—was placed at the crime scene.
Meanwhile, the half-million Italians who live in Germany, particularly those involved involved in the restaurant business are concerned about the stigma of mafia involvement. Dubious German media reports have stated that around 30 percent of German pizza restaurants are mafia controlled. (The number is closer to 3 percent, restaurateurs say.) Seventeen Duisberg restaurant owners have issued an anti-mafia statement in order to reassure customers, but the 'Ndrangheta has certainly not helped their fellow Italians with blunt statements such as this one:
The Germans must realize that where there is pizza, there's the Mafia."
Fox News sent the police sirens after FP in this substantial segment from The Fox Report with Shepard Smith. Check out the interview with Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance and author of "Think Again: Drugs" in our current issue.
In the piece, Nadelmann argues that the so-called "war on drugs" has been a costly failure that has only bolstered the fortunes of drug lords and created narcostates like Afghanistan. Legalization just might be the answer, he says, and it's more politically realistic than you might think. But Fox is having none of it:
Don't worry, Ethan. We're good for the bail money.
No, that's not the number that's been slaughtered in Darfur, nor the number killed in Iraq. It's a statistic from the good ol' U.S. of A. Take a look at Bob Herbert's column in Tuesday's New York Times (emphasis added):
Murder, that darkest of American pastimes, celebrated in film and song and fostered by the firearms industry and its apologists, continues unabated.
It has been almost six years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the nation’s consciousness of terror was yanked to new heights. In those six years, nearly 100,000 people — an incredible number — have been murdered in the United States.
No heightening of consciousness has accompanied this slaughter, which had nothing to do with terrorism. The news media and most politicians have hardly bothered to notice.
At the same time that we’re diligently confiscating water and toothpaste from air travelers, we’re handing over guns and bullets by the trainload to yahoos bent on blowing others into eternity in armed robberies, drug-dealing, gang violence, domestic assaults and other criminal acts.
On Monday, dozens of university and law enforcement officials gathered in Richmond, Virginia to discuss how to shore up campus safety in light of the recent massacre at Virginia Tech. A group called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus lobbied to turn over a state law that allows colleges to ban the carrying of firearms on campuses. Will more guns really help?
The many Internet scams that fool people never cease to amaze me. Consider the case reported by the Telegraph on Monday:
An Australian sheep farmer who sought love over the internet was instead kidnapped and held hostage for 12 days after his African "bride" turned out to be a group of machete-wielding gangsters.
The man, Des Gregor, flew to Mali to meet and marry his online lover "Natascha" (and accept his dowry of gold bars worth $85,000), only to be kidnapped by a group of men who demanded a £42,000 ransom from his family. Eventually, Australian police working with Malian forces foiled the scam. But it wasn't actually the first time Gregor got caught up in this type of scam. Three years ago, he traveled to Russia to meet a different online lover. Nobody really knows what happened there, except that he didn't return with a bride as intended.
A while ago, NBC's Dateline aired a show called "To Catch an I.D. Thief," in which the show tracked people around the United States as they fell for online "lovers" who easily manipulated them into helping out with various criminal schemes. The trail ultimately led to Benin (which borders Nigeria, land of many an e-mail fraud), though Dateline never really got to the bottom of the conspiracy. But what was particularly striking was the ease with which Internet lovers can convince their targets to do some remarkably stupid things. As Des Gregor now warns, before divulging your bank account details or catching a plane across the world to meet up with your online lover, "Make sure you check everything out 100 percent." Sounds like good advice.
Need any more proof that markets are value-neutral?
Take a look at the share price of China Public Security Technology (CPST), which jumped over 20 percent following Sunday's article in the New York Times. In the article, the Times called out the Florida-based company for providing technology that will help the Chinese government monitor its citizens even closer than before:
Starting this month in a port neighborhood and then spreading across Shenzhen, a city of 12.4 million people, residency cards fitted with powerful computer chips programmed by the same company will be issued to most citizens.
Data on the chip will include not just the citizen’s name and address but also work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status and landlord’s phone number. Even personal reproductive history will be included, for enforcement of China’s controversial “one child” policy. Plans are being studied to add credit histories, subway travel payments and small purchases charged to the card.
It's not something I'd want to be associated with, but investors who bought shares in CPST today are just behaving rationally. After all, electronic surveillance is a growth market—and nowhere more so than in China.
Rupert Murdoch's purchase of Dow Jones and the jewel in its crown, the Wall Street Journal, isn't even a week old. And yet, is it me, or is Rupert already bringing a little bit of tabloid magic to Liberty Street? There's a memo to Lindsay Lohan about her drinking in today's WSJ op-ed section. Money quote:
Ms. Lohan needs to grow up, realize her talents and find ways to fill her time that aren't self-destructive. Coming to see herself as an adult, accepting responsibility, and developing pride in her skills are difficult but time-tested therapeutic techniques.
Editor's note: Heavy traffic has put Passport out of business for most of today. Please bear with us as we fix this problem. And do check out the latest articles on ForeignPolicy.com, which runs on a different server.
Regular readers of FP will no doubt remember a story we published last year in our November/December 2006 issue with the headline, "The Merchant of Death." The profile was of the world's most notorious arms smuggler, Viktor Bout, a 40-year-old Russian national with several passports and several dozen aircraft who's made a fortune by transporting illicit and licit goods all around the world. That article was written by Douglas Farah, a terror finance consultant and former West Africa bureau chief for the Washington Post, and Stephen Braun, a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.
The FP piece was but a teaser for their newly-released book, also called Merchant of Death. Farah and Braun's 308-page book goes into more detail about the rise of Bout's network in the 1990s, using old Soviet airplanes leftover from the Cold War. They detail how Bout was able to deliver weapons to everyone from FARC in Colombia to child soldiers in Sierra Leone to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even the U.S. government has unwittingly received supplies transported by Bout. Consider this book full of details that we wanted to print in FP, but didn't have the space for.
If you're in DC, you can hear Farah and Braun speak at Politics & Prose bookstore on Thursday, Aug. 2 at 7pm, or you can check out their website to see where else you can learn more.
Mikhail Gutseriyev, head of Russneft (not to be confused with state-controlled competitor Rosneft), looks like the latest victim of the Kremlin's aggressive energy-sector policies. He has announced that he is stepping down as head of the Russian oil giant, citing "unprecedented prosecution" from multiple arms of the Russian state—tax authorities, the prosecutor general's office, and the interior ministry.
Russneft will most likely be sold to the investment group headed by Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum billionaire and a close friend of the Kremlin. And in case there were any questions about Mr. Deripaska's loyalties to the state, the BBC reports that he has previously indicated his willingness to sell his aluminum assets to the state if asked.
But Gutseriyev didn't go down without a fight. When murmurs started last week about a possible sale—conveniently after a Moscow court reaffirmed a $134 million tax evasion claim against the company—Gutseriyev told Russian news agency Interfax that "he wasn't going anywhere." But his gumption apparently failed him.
All this sound a bit familiar? Nearly four years ago, Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovksy was sentenced to nine years in jail for fraud, embezzlement, and tax evasion. Rosneft later acquired most of Yukos's assets. And ironically enough, the Russian government's current gripe with Russneft is over the company's purchase of certain assets from Yukos, reportedly without the approval of authorities, before that company went bankrupt last August.
So will Gutseriyev be sharing a jail cell with Khodorkovksy in Siberia? Not likely. "This seems like a negotiation on a sale, not expropriation," explained Denis Maslov of the Eurasia Group. That's how they do things in Russia these days.
In March, Mexican police raided a luxurious mansion in Mexico City, finding $207 million in cash stashed in steel cabinets and hidden inside false walls. The house belonged to suspected drug kingpin Zhenli Ye Gon. During the raid, police arrested Ye Gon's wife and six relatives.
The Chinese-Mexican pharmaceutical bigwig was accused of illegally importing enough chemicals to manufacture nearly 37 metric tons of methamphetamine with a street value of over $700 million. But Ye Gon didn't stick around to find out what the consequences might be, and he went into hiding.
Later, Ye Gon held a secret news conference in which he constructed a defense of thrilling grandiosity. The money was foisted on him by an associate of Mexican President Felipe Calderon under threat of blackmail, he claimed, to fund "terrorist activities" in case Calderon fell to his challenger in the presidential election.
On Monday, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officers finally arrested Ye Gon in Silver Spring, Maryland. Agents dragged him away from a meal of codfish and baby carrots—humble fare for a man who once boasted his own fleet of luxury cars and mistresses across the globe.
Of course, in the event that said codfish came from Ye Gon's home country of China, his timely arrest may have spared him an even worse fate.
Trash—a munnezza, as they call it in southern Italy—is invading the streets of Naples. And though the city council just removed an impressive 4,000 tons of it, the International Herald Tribune reported recently that "egg shells, fermenting teddy bears, garlic, hair that looks human, boxes for blood pressure medicine, [and] scuzzy wine bottles" are still a common picture around town. A few enraged Neapolitans have protested by setting the trash on fire, and black-dressed elderly Italian women are blocking the railways in order to get the attention of public authorities.
Foreigners are amazed. Italians are ashamed.
It's gotten so bad that on Monday, the U.S. embassy urged tourists to stay away from Naples and its nasty smells. And Brussels is threatening EU penalties against Italy for allowing a health and environmental hazard to fester.
This is hardly the first time Naples has nearly drowned in its own refuse. In fact, it happens every summer. But why? Here are two clues:
Surely Passport readers can put two and two together here. I bet you thought that Tony Soprano's job in the waste-disposal business was a cover, right? We Italians know that garbage is the game, baby.
These days, Washington is looking more and more like Rome. Unfortunately, the similarity is not in sunny alleys, cobblestone streets, angel-hair pasta, or renaissance stone angels pouring water from fruit baskets. It's about politics.
The scandal over the firings of U.S. attorneys brought to light a practice that has long been at the heart of Italian political cuisine: "Generously sprinkle every government agency with loyal cronies."
And Vice President Dick Cheney's claim that he is immune from executive orders echoes former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's refusal to appear in court in a process against him because, as prime minister, he had much more compelling things to do.
President Bush's recent decision to commute Scooter Libby's sentence—which lawyers say will have deep implications for the U.S. legal system—is a classic of Italian politics 101: "screw the system, save your men!"
And yet, the Bush team still looks like a bunch of amateurs compared to its Italian counterparts. The latest? An Italian newspaper recently reported that the Italian secret services had been illegally monitoring left-leaning generals, judges, and journalists in order to discredit prominent critics of the former right-of-center government. Hopefully, the CIA has been the subject of too much bad press of late to take inspiration from this.
The campaign to impose Western values on the Middle East is finally gaining some traction in war-ravaged Afghanistan: The Council of Ministers in Kabul has just taken the first step toward banning smoking in public places.
The Afghans may taking the cue from the British government, which outlawed smoking in public places starting this week, or New York, where citizens had to stub out their cigarettes four years ago. Regardless, we can all breathe a little easier knowing that the Afghan government will be putting to good use the €200 million that the European Commission just pledged to beef up Afghanistan's justice system.
Never mind that 92% of the world's heroin comes from Afghan poppies, or the fact that Afghan kids are hooked on opium; I'm thankful that the Afghan government is finally taking on the gravest threats to its people.
If you want to understand Afghanistan's opium problem, put yourself in the shoes of an Afghan farmer. Your country's in turmoil, you're largely disconnected from the rest of the population, and you have few options to earn a living. There's no irrigation infrastructure, and poppies are the only plants tough enough to withstand the environmental conditions. You could plant wheat, but why bother? Poppies will earn you eight times as much money.
So the extent to which Afghanistan has become ground zero for opium, as the latest United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime 2007 World Drug Report makes plain, should be no surprise. Around 92 percent of the world's heroin comes from Afghan poppies, and—thanks to the 49 percent increase in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2006—global opium production reached a record high of 6,610 metric tons last year. Opium production and trade accounts for at least a third of all economic activity in Afghanistan.
Nearly 3 million Afghan farmers are involved in poppy cultivation. But most of them are not employed by organized crime groups and have little if any part in refining the drug. They're just trying to earn a living. Yet crop substitution programs aren't working, mainly because the substitutes can't pay the bills. Until that calculus changes, the "war on drugs" in Afghanistan will probably be doomed to failure.
A cocaine-addled driver led Dutch police on a wild chase through a cornfield in Dussen, Netherlands. According to the AP, he crashed through a fence, knocked over two apple trees and zig-zagged through the field—destroying four police cars in the process—before crashing into a ditch.
When Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, many states were thrown into turmoil. Creating functioning markets and an open political system was a tremendous challenge. Often, powerful new actors leaped into the political vacuum left by the Soviet Union and its pliable allies.
In Bulgaria, it was the wrestlers who took charge. Bulgaria, you see, was famous during the Communist era for its Olympic wrestling team. Subsidized by the state, the wrestlers lived high on the hog. So when Communism fell and the spigots turned off, they turned to racketeering to fund their lavish lifestyles. As journalist Robert Kaplan recounts in Eastward to Tartary, they put the commanding heights of Bulgaria's nascent economy and its embryonic democratic politics into a headlock.
And the wrestlers didn't just restrict their activities to Bulgaria. They organized themselves into complex groups, linked up with Russian mobsters, and dabbled in a wide range of criminal activities across the Balkans. Their shadowy, quasi-legal operations are a classic example of the new kind of trade described in Illicit, the recent book by FP editor Moisés Naím.
The wrestlers have been weakened since the 1990s. Ivailo Kalfin, Bulgaria's foreign minister, says his country recently assured U.S. President George W. Bush that they are now "left in the past." But as today's European Commission report on Bulgaria makes clear, corruption and organized crime are still a huge problem in the country, which joined the EU in January. So although the wrestlers may be gone, their legacy assuredly remains. (I'm going to resist a crack about how this report could put EU enlargement into a "sleeper hold".)
After many, many fits and starts, North Korea reportedly got its $25 million in frozen funds back today. Banco Delta Asia released the money to a undisclosed location, possibly a Russian bank.
The apparent issue holding up the transfer was that the North Koreans didn't want the United States to simply wire them the money; they wanted a private bank to handle the funds in order to confer a sense of legitimacy on the country's accounts. But no bank would take the reputational risk involved in passing along cash that could be tied to drugs or money laundering.
One thing the North Koreans will soon find out, however: Resolution of the $25 million won't end the country's financial isolation. As U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Wall Street Journal recently:
Once one of these -- once you are -- your accounts are called out this way in the international financial system, the international financial system is not readily available.
This is a problem for the international community as well as North Korea, however. Kim Jong Il's regime engages in nasty illegal activities not for the heck of it, but to make up for an estimated $1.7 billion shortfall (pdf) in hard currency. Now that the nuclear deal appears to be going forward, serious effort needs to be made to help the North Koreans understand that there are other ways to make a buck.
After being stopped for drunk-driving ...
After violating her probation on the driving ban ...
After showing up late for her court hearing ...
After obtaining a reduction of her sentence from the original 45 days down to 23 days ...
After managing to get out of prison after only three days for unspecified health reasons ...
After pleading to be allowed to stay at home and listen to the second hearing by phone rather than showing up in court ...
... a screaming and wailing Paris Hilton is back to prison.
And once again she has taught rival heiress Nichole Richie a PR lesson: Now that Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have done it, checking yourself into rehab is old news. If you really want to make headline news, shoot for prison.
The court has reverted to the original sentence, and she's already served three days. So now and for the next 42 days, Paris may get more of a taste of what it's like to be one of the 737 out of every 100,000 U.S. residents that are in jail. (For more on that topic, see "Prison Planet," Roy Walmsley's piece on worldwide prison trends in our May/June issue.)
But in her special unit for celebrities, public officials, police officers, and high-profile inmates, it is doubtful anyone or anything will burst her bubble. She'll be the same old Paris Hilton when she comes out and—with the inevitable book memoirs and exclusive interviews about her dark days in Lynwood Detention Center—even richer than before.
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff for Dick Cheney, was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for perjury and obstruction of justice in the so-called "CIA Leak" case. Judging by some of the letters of support he received from Washington heavyweights, it's not hard to see why clemency was not in the cards for Scooter.
For instance, here's a howler from Henry Kissinger's letter:
Having served in the White House and under pressure, I have seen how difficult it sometimes is to recall precisely a particular series of events."
And here's one from Paul Wolfowitz:
Despite some of the malicious gossip about him, I know that Mr. Libby is one of the least partisan individuals you will find in Washington. Although he has served in three Republican adminstrations, some of his closest friends were senior officials in the Clinton administration.
The proliferation threat from rogue states and terrorist groups has to concentrate the mind of any senior U.S. official in the national security area. [...] In the face of all these demands, keeping every detail straight is impossible. [...] I have myself been to meetings after which I could not remember what agency or Department most of the people worked for, or even why they were there. If there is anyone who fully understands our "system" for protecting classified information, I have yet to meet him.
The Libby children are not little now. [Name withheld] is entering that time when girls grow and change startlingly quickly [...]
One of my many enduring and endearing memories of Scooter is of his universal love of families. [...] One of our early "undisclosed location" work trips coincided with Halloween, which I am sure you know is the favorite event of most children's lives. The Cheney grandchildren were required to accompany us on this particular trip, yanked out of school and away from their much-awaited night of Trick or Treating. Their disappointment at being trapped in the desolate, nothing-to-do location was heartbreaking, as was our own, missing our small children that night. While I was working up a pretty annoying whine, Scooter flew into action, finding treats, creating costumes and arranged an ad-hoc trick-or-treat and Halloween games for the kids. [...] It took hours of creative effort on his part.
Needless to say, the judge wasn't quite swayed by these heartfelt appeals.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
I've known about the questions regarding the "supernotes"—brilliant forgeries of U.S. $100 bills—for some time, but until Tuesday's McClatchy story, I considered them to be loony conspiracy theories. But now the Swiss federal police have weighed in:
WASHINGTON - Swiss police who closely monitor the circulation of counterfeit currency have challenged the Bush administration's assertions that North Korea is manufacturing fake American $100 bills. [...]
The Swiss federal criminal police, in a report released Monday, expresses serious doubt that North Korea is capable of manufacturing the fake bills, which it said were superior to real ones.
Until Tuesday, this argument had been advanced by a German journalist named Klaus W. Bender, author of Moneymakers: The Secret World of Banknote Printing. Bender accuses the CIA of producing the bills—which is why I looked upon his tale with a jaundiced eye when I first saw it last year. (The McClatchy story doesn't explore the CIA angle, presumably because it would undermine the story's credibility.)
In any case, the Swiss report as relayed by McClatchy may not be loony, but it's no more convincing than Bender. The U.S. government never accused North Korea of pulling off this counterfeiting scheme all by itself, as you can see from this Congressional Research Service report (pdf). Rather, the allegation was that there was a network, as this LA Times article from 2005 explains:
U.S. authorities have unsealed hundreds of pages of documents in support of the cases in recent months, including an indictment that directly accuses North Korea of making the counterfeit bills ... The documents paint a portrait of an extensive criminal network involving North Korean diplomats and officials, Chinese gangsters and other organized crime syndicates, prominent Asian banks, Irish guerrillas and an alleged ex-KGB agent.
Also worth noting, from the CRS report: The Chinese government and South Korean government, too, believe that North Korea is involved in counterfeiting. Are they, along with the Treasury Department, supposed to be in on the CIA plot? And finally, if North Korea can produce and test a nuclear weapon, why shouldn't they be able to make fake $100 bills? It's not exactly rocket science.
It's been a bad press cycle for Wachovia. First, news broke that the North Carolina-based bank was considering pitching in to salvage the U.S.-North Korea nuclear deal by agreeing to be the transit point for a $25 million hot potato—impounded funds that no bank seems to want to take, but that are crucial for the deal's success. Why would Wachovia want to be helpful, when its reputation could be severely damaged by accepting tainted money?
Interestingly, news broke on Friday that, along with seven other banks, Wachovia has been subpoened as part of what Bloomberg News is calling "the widest criminal investigation ever of the municipal bond market." There is no indication that Wachovia has been accused of wrongdoing yet, but according to the story, there may be some smoke there:
Federal investigators are probing whether Wall Street banks and financial advisers conspired to rig the bidding for the investments that local governments buy with some of the $400 billion raised each year by selling municipal bonds. The regulators also sought information on complex derivatives, financial products that derive their value from underlying bonds, an aspect of the investigation highlighted by the California documents.
Wachovia also got some extremely unfavorable coverage in this infuriating New York Times story about how elderly Americans are allegedly being scammed by thieves who purchase information legally from infoUSA, a company that sell consumer data:
As Mr. Guthrie sat home alone — surrounded by his Purple Heart medal, photos of eight children and mementos of a wife who was buried nine years earlier — the telephone rang day and night. After criminals tricked him into revealing his banking information, they went to Wachovia, the nation’s fourth-largest bank, and raided his account, according to banking records. [...]
Although some companies, including Wachovia, have made refunds to victims who have complained, neither that bank nor infoUSA stopped working with criminals even after executives were warned that they were aiding continuing crimes, according to government investigators. Instead, those companies collected millions of dollars in fees from scam artists. (Neither company has been formally accused of wrongdoing by the authorities.)
Much more detail at the link.
Any connections to be made between these stories are left as an exercise to the reader.
One of the essays in FP's 21 Solutions to Save the World package that has attracted the most attention online is Mikko Hyppönen's solution for preventing the growing problem of online banking fraud, specifically the "phishing" technique of luring trusting users to fake bank websites and then stealing their information. Hyppönen proposes to create a special Web domain just for banks, and make securing such a domain so costly and difficult that only genuine banks would be able to obtain one. I asked Hyppönen, who is chief research officer at F-Secure, to respond to critics of his idea. Here is his response.
Hyppönen: We've been pushing for an initiative to get a secure top-level domain (like ".bank" or ".safe") for some time now. We've received lots of questions and just plain criticism over the whole idea—most notably, from Larry Seltzer in his prominent blog.
So let me collect the most typical challenges to the idea, and answer them in turn. (below the jump)
Opium—used for centuries as a painkiller and recreational narcotic in Europe and throughout the world—is now so popular as a village panacea and emotional palliative in Afghanistan that one million Afghans are hooked. Even more disturbing is the fact that, according to the United Nations, some 600,000 of those addicts are under 15. In some areas of the country, giving opium to children is a common method of treating insomnia, bad behavior, and "ADD"-like symptoms. Sometimes, it's way of simply feeding an addiction that began in utero. Al Jazeera sent a reporter to the northeastern province of Badakshan to investigate the phenomenon:
Three-year-old Said is an opium addict. Without it, he becomes restless. His mother Zarbibi shares her child's condition. She herself is a user and has been one for the past four years. Zarbibi routinely blows opium into Said's face to keep him quiet. It is the only way she knows how to free herself so that she can work. She said: 'Whenever I have chores or work at home, I give my son opium so he would stay calm. I also give him opium so he can sleep. When I realised he became an addict, I regretted it.'"
Another woman in the story feeds her daughter opium-laced breastmilk and "blows opium smoke on her child's face to keep her from crying."
There was a time in America when riding a motorcycle meant you generally lived on the fringe of decent, legal society. For the most part, those days are gone. Today, motorcycling is mostly a yuppie activity, embraced by guys like professional golfer Davis Love III, whose chief sponsor is Ralph Loren's Polo.
Not so, however, Down Under. In Australia, outlaw biker culture is thriving. A 2006 report by the Australian Crime Commission estimated that there are 35 outlaw motorcycle gangs currently in Australia, with 3,500 members, or "bikies" as the Aussies call them. And their numbers are growing. Ten gangs opened 26 new chapters last year.
In March, one gang known as the Commancheros fired shots into a club called Mr. Goodbar in a hip suburb of Sydney. Their target was the president of a rival club. Last month, the clubhouse of another Sydney gang known as the Nomads was firebombed in a suspected attack by the Commancheros.
Why should FP readers care? Because, interestingly, Australian police blame globalization and immigration for the rise in biker gang violence. According to Reuters, Australian police superintendent Scott Whyte said that:
Australia's multi-cultural population meant the traditional Anglo-Saxon make-up of biker gangs was changing and different ethnic groups were starting to take over and bring a more violent attitude to the gangs."
Australian police are vowing to crackdown on bikies in showdowns reminiscent of 1960s California. Where is Hunter Thompson when we need him?
(Hat tip: Erin Baker)
Bloomberg reported on Friday that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and federal prosecutors are cracking down on insider trading, and making their efforts very public (pour encourager les autres). The reason? A growing trend of mergers and acquisitions is providing ample opportunity for unscrupulous individuals—or, in some cases, married couples—to use information advantages for illegal gains. Just last Tuesday, the SEC took legal action against a Hong Kong couple who had used privileged information to buy $8.2 million in Dow Jones stock before Rupert Murdoch's takeover bid became public. (The couple, accustomed to Hong Kong's "anything goes" attitude toward insider trading, must have been shocked by the lawsuit.)
If the SEC's intention was to send a message, the Chinese government appears to be one of its recipients. China's stock market—which is dominated by state-owned companies—is booming, with the Shanghai Composite Index blasting past the 4,000 benchmark on Friday. But China's top securities regulator expressed concern on Saturday about rampant insider trading, promising to "strengthen supervision" of stock transactions by parties with special knowledge. China's major state newspapers duly blared the warning on their front pages.
Why the big push? Any system in which power is so concentrated is inevitably going to suffer from massive corruption, but the Chinese government nonetheless periodically feels pressure to make fruitless noises about stamping it out for good. In this case, the Chinese government is also greatly concerned that the stock market is overheating, and has been trying to talk it down. Thus, banging the drums—and even making the occasional example—about insider trading is not only good politics, but it's good economics as well.
As noted in this morning's Brief, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe heads to Washington this week to fight for a U.S. aid package and to rebut unsubstantiated charges—apparently deemed credible by no less than former U.S. Vice President Al Gore—that he has had ties to paramilitary death squads.
Back at home, he's got plenty of other worries. Twelve kidnapped Colombian lawmakers recently issued an emotional plea to Uribe to initiate talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The officials, who are being held in the Colombian jungle along with hundreds of other civilian victims, delivered their message by video. It was the first sign they are alive in over a year. Families wept as they watched their loved ones speak directly to the president, urging him to agree to the rebels' conditions for their release. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told the press:
If they [the FARC] want an agreement we are willing to do this even by telephone ... But they insist on the demilitarization of [the towns of] Florida and Pradera, which is the bottle neck in all of this."
President Uribe, whose father was killed by the FARC 20 years ago, is in a tight spot. He has achieved considerable economic and security success with a tough, militaristic approach to the FARC. Now his opponents have put him in a position where he must show his humane side. It's a smart move on their part. The FARC have personalized their message, disguising the fact that it's the cocaine trade—in which Florida and Pradera are key locations—that fuels their struggle, not popular support.
Let's hope Uribe shows equal brains when measuring his response, and doesn't let the fate of 12 government officials outweigh the future of 45 million inhabitants.
Amnesty International has found that Pakistan has more people imprisoned facing execution than any other country in the world. Almost one third of the world's 24,000 death-row prisoners are in Pakistan, often held in extremely tight conditions.
And in fact, over 90 percent of the world's executions take place in just six countries. Out of the 1,591 people executed last year (down from 2,148 in 2005), more than 90 percent were executed in just six countries: China (1,010), Iran (177), Pakistan (82), Iraq (65), Sudan (65), and the United States (53). But these grim execution figures are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to criminal imprisonment numbers around the world.
In the current issue of FP, Roy Walmsley reveals just how alarming the numbers on imprisonment are on our "Prison Planet." He finds that the global prison population is on the rise, with more than 9 million people currently behind bars. And which country incarcerates its citizens more than any other? The United States. Seven hundred and thirty-seven out of every 100,000 Americans are prisoners—and one in every 32 American adults is currently in jail, on probation, or on parole. Russia follows, with 611 out of every 100,000 people imprisoned.
But while the United States locks up people in greater numbers than the rest of the world, its imprisonment conditions could be much worse. In Zambia, the prison occupation rate stands at 331 percent, while in Haiti, almost nine out of every 10 prisoners have not even been convicted of a crime—they are still awaiting trial. In the United States, this figure is "only" around two out of every 10. Out of the OECD countries, only France, where 3.2 out of every 10 prisoners awaits trial, is worse than the United States in processing its prisoners.
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