Friday, August 05, 2005

While I was away, a regular reader sent me an item from the July 28 issue of the Tucson Citizen. According to the article, Police Commander Jesus Zamora of San Luis Colorado, a Mexican town just across the border from San Luis, Arizona, will "work with a local gang" in exchange for an "end to what they [the gang] say is police harassment." There are so many things wrong with this that it's tough to know where to start.

According to the Arizona cops, the gang (which goes un-named in the article) is responsible for smuggling drugs and illegal border crossers and committing at least two homicides. Police Commander Zamora's deal is nothing more than a declaration of unconditional surrender. Coming on the heels of the chaos in Nuevo Laredo, this item rates as small potatoes. But it underscores Mexico's freefall into anarchy. Last week the NY TIMES ran a very long and well-researched story on corruption south of the border that claimed the heart of the rot starts right in Vicente Fox's office. It's no surprise then that Commander Zamora, manning a lawless border outpost threw up his hands and basically said, "Whatever."

The concept of coming to some kind of detente between a criminal organization and legitimate authority is a seductive one that pops up regularly and flames out in a death spiral every time it's been tried. It doesn't work. It has never worked. It will never work. We need only to look at the track record of these misguided attempts.

Let's start with the LCN during WWII. After the NORMANDIE was torched in NEW YORK harbor, the US NAVY and the FBI made a deal with mob boss LUCKY LUCIANO. Because the Cosa Nostra controlled the docks, Lucky would make sure the troop ships and cargo heading for Europe would get loaded on time and only a tolerable level of theft would be allowed to happen. In exchange, Lucky would be released from prison at the end of the war and deported to Sicily. Bad deal.

The LCN didn't suddenly become Mother Teresa. The deal gave the LCN total control of the docks and the longshoreman's union and made a lot of wise guys wealthy beyond their dreams. The deal legitimized the LCN in the eyes of a lot of people who should have known better.

With Lucky free to operate in Sicily, he traveled to Cuba with Meyer Lansky and established cordial relations with corrupt president Fulgencio Bautista. The math is simple. LCN + corrupt Bautista = Fidel Castro. Gee, all the government wanted was to make sure the beans and bullets got to the Western front. What we got was the Russian missile crisis and 50 years of the lights going off every night at 8:00 PM in Cuba. Plus the gulags for AIDS patients and firing squads for "counter-revolutionaries."

In post-war Sicily, Mafiosi no longer worked in the shadows as they had to when Mussolini was in power. They ran for office and became mayors, governors and national representatives. LCN controlled everything, legitimate and otherwise.

Fast forward to the Neopolitan Camora in the 1970s. The big money-maker for the Camora wasn't dope. It was cigarettes. In Italy, cigarettes are a state-owned monopoly. That means the government imports and produces all the smokes. There are no private sector cigarette companies. Which means no competition and therefore, the government sets the price.

At a time when smokes sold for 40 cents a pack in the US, Italian smokers paid over a dollar for the same pack with the government tax stamp on the bottom. The Camora saw this as a golden business opportunity. They bought up entire cargo ships of US smokes and parked them 20 miles off the coast of Naples. Every afternoon at 3:00 PM, squadrons of 35-ft power boats would depart from Naples harbor and lash up next to the mother ship to load up on roughly a ton of smokes per trip.

The boats would offload at a thousand little places on the coast. The smokes were ultimately sold on street corners by little old ladies and young kids. The illegal trade cost the government millions of dollars a year in tax revenue. The Finanza (Italian customs dept.) started cracking down on the fast boats. When the Camora felt the heat, they started killing cops and launched a wave of armed robberies, hijackings, assaults and tourist attacks.

To make a very long story short, the Camora made a deal with the cops. Let us run the cigarette business unmolested and we'll stop killing cops, robbing tourists and hijacking cargo trucks. The cops said okay.

When the Corsicans, French and Sicilians found out that the Camora was running in and out of Naples without so much as a raised eyebrow, they started piggybacking heroin, hashish and weed on the cigarette shipments. Naples became a main port of entry for every illegal substance known to dope fiend. The expected spike in murder, overdoses and fat dirty bank accounts ensued. Bad deal.

In the US, we have the examples of the Gangster Disciples. That social experiment, funded with taxpayer dollars, let the Detroit gangs "police" themselves. The end result was a trip to Lybia, a pact with Qadaffi, a rocket launcher, El Rukn assassination squads, more dope on the streets and more dead bodies in alleys. Bad deal.

To a lesser extent, we had the same situation with Project Get Going here in LA. A lot of you old timers remember that one and I'll leave you all to flesh out the details in the comments section.

The historical precedents to what Commander Zamora is doing in San Luis Colorado are clear. You don't legitimize criminal orgs by making deals with them. It's bad policy that will always burn society. Deals with individuals is another story that can bear untainted fruit. But that's a whole other discussion.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Before I left for the ultra-montane serenity of the Grand Tetons, I was thinking of asking a guest blogger to carry on. When I got back, I realized you all kept the chatter going at a high pitch. Awesome! I didn't realize so many wise-guys checked in. I got huge laughs from the sniping and I didn't even mind the un-PC jokes. But then again, I've got a thick skin. I did a quick tabulation and it seems like every ethnic and racial group got its turn in the barrel. So I guess that makes it fair.

For those who wondered where I went, the answer is Wyoming. We kayaked, hiked, camped out, got rained on, sunburned, hailed on in Yellowstone, bitten by a zillion bugs, went into lakes cold enough to stop your heart, drifted down the Snake River, and had close encounters with moose, elk, marmots, bison, bald eagles, otters, ospreys, grouse and hawks. And no, we didn't witness or hear about any float-bys.

The biggest crime story in the papers the week we were there involved a streaker at the Jackson Hole demolition derby. Like Mutton Bustin' and greased pig wrestling, streaking the demo derby is some kind of annual tradition. Hey, it's Wyoming. And July is the only month when they don't get snow. This year, there was "huge" controversy when one of the streakers grabbed a fire extinguisher off the firetruck that was hosing down the dirt between demo heats. A Teton County deputy sheriff and a security guard tried to wrangle the naked guy. When it looked like nude boy was getting ready to spray the cop, the copper tased him with 50,000 volts. The crowd went nuts, booed the cop and threw beer cups and trash into the arena.

The streaker was arrested and released and could face a $750 fine for indecent exposure. A lawyer in the crowd volunteered to defend the guy for free. Chances are, that'll be the biggest crime story of the year. Nothing much happens in Wyoming compared to LA. The entire state has less than 500,000 residents. And at last count, there were 1,500 inmates behind bars in the entire prison system, and that includes juvi, half way houses, honor ranches etc. Barely enough to qualify as a decent sized single neighborhood in LA.

Vice President Dick Cheney flew into town the day after we landed. He's a resident and avid fly fisherman. A fishing guide told me that local anglers get bent out of shape when the Veep goes fishing. When he's on the river, Blackhawk choppers do security sweeps and that scares the crap out of the trout, ruining everybody's fishing.

With so much land and so few people, you'd think real estate would be a buyer's market. Think again. Raw land in "desirable" locations can go for a million per acre. A modest house in downtown Jackson will run you half a million to $600,000. Right on the corner of Cache and Broadway in Jackson, Sotheby's has a real estate office where you can look at ranch property on the Snake River that goes from 5 to 10 million dollars. Kinda makes Highland Park look like a bargain.

Gotta go. There's 143 emails I need to read and a pile of mail that needs sorting.