2ndlook

The War on Drugs – A 2ndlook

Posted in Business, China, Current Affairs, European History, India, Media, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on June 9, 2011
On one side the government promotes drug use - and on the other wages a 'war' on drugs. Click for larger image.

On one side the government promotes drug use - and on the other wages a 'war' on drugs. Click for larger image.

The drug surge

With 2 crore (20 million) drug users in the USA, prisons overflowing with more than 20 lakh (2 million) prisoners, the American policy establishment is stuck for answers.

In the past 40 years, the U.S. government has spent over $2.5 trillion dollars fighting the War on Drugs. Despite the ad campaigns, increased incarceration rates and a crackdown on smuggling, the number of illicit drug users in America has risen over the years and now sits at 19.9 million Americans. (via The War on Drugs).

In modern times

The 2 crore (20 million) figure is more than 16% of the working-age, labour population of the USA – which stands at 16 crores (160 million). The use of opium, heroin, morphine by armies created a core group of addicts, from where opium addiction increased. Used extensively during the Civil War, by 1900, the US had more than a 10 lakh (1 million addicts) – compared to nearly 2 crore (20 million) narcotic-users now.

The current wave of drug usage possibly started after the Vietnam War. It is estimated that as many as 40% of US soldiers, in Vietnam, were heroin users.

Although the U.S. government has battled drugs for decades — President Eisenhower assembled a 5-member Cabinet committee to “stamp out narcotic addiction” in 1954 — the term “War on Drugs” was not widely used until President Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1973 to announce “an all-out global war on the drug menace.” (via The War on Drugs).

Earlier, in the 19th century, the Opium trade with China siphoned out vast amounts of silver, under the logic of ‘free trade’, giving rise to some of the biggest Western fortunes (of the Roosevelts, for instance). Or the remarkable story of David Sassoon.

Indian labourers processing opium for the British Raj. (Image source - Wellcome Library; Image courtesy - bbc.co.uk). Click for a larger image.

Indian labourers processing opium for the British Raj. (Image source - Wellcome Library; Image courtesy - bbc.co.uk). Click for a larger image.

The Sassoon opium saga

A Jewish trader, David Sassoon originally Daud ibn Sassoon, was born in Baghdad 1792 and died in Pune, 1864. The Jewish synagogue in Pune, Lal Deval, was set by up the Sassoon family; the Sassoon Library in Mumbai also, and above all the huge Sassoon Docks, from which their ships carried China’s destruction – opium from India.

Son of Sheikh Saleh ben Sassoon (1750–1830), David Sassoon came to Mumbai in 1832, after his father’s death in Bushehr, in modern Iran. His father, a rich Jew, well connected to the Ottomans rulers, chose Sassoon as the family name. This choice was possibly linked to the Persian royal origin, Sassan, grandfather of Ardashir-I, founder of the Persian-Zoroastrian Sassanian dynasty. Interestingly, Sason in Hebrew means joy, similar to the ancient Sumerian word for opium, hul gil.

David shifted from Baghdad-to-Persia-to-Bombay, after the Sassoon family fell out of favour with some powerful business interests in Baghdad. Meanwhile, the British branch of Sassoons cultivated the rising power – British royalty. Ferdinand Sassoon, Arthur and Philip Sassoon, hosted Prince Edwards, the future king and also Queen Victoria. Reuben Sassoon (1835-1905), part of the British branch of Sassoons, was especially close to the future king of England, Edward – to become ‘perhaps the Prince of Wales’s closest friend’. Not only British royalty, even big-name families in the USA, like

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fortune was inherited from his maternal grandfather Warren Delano. In 1830 he was a senior partner of Russell & Company whose merchant fleet carried Sassoon’s opium to China.

Vietnam War created heroin addicts. (Book extract from - Drugs and society  By Glen R. Hanson, Peter J. Venturelli, Annette E. Fleckenstein; page 256). Click to go to source.

Vietnam War created heroin addicts. (Book extract from - Drugs and society By Glen R. Hanson, Peter J. Venturelli, Annette E. Fleckenstein; page 256). Click to go to source.

British opium trading companies like Jardine Matheson, David Sassoon & Company and sundry traders set up The Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation for facilitating this misery.

Karl Marx’s commentary on the opium trade, written some 150 years ago, makes interesting reading even today. Much loved by the capitalists of his time, Karl Marx analyzed opium trade well.

What’s common in the Golden Crescent & the Golden Triangle

After WWII, traditional opium supplies from (Greater) China, by Government granted opium monopolies of Yugoslavia and Italy, were replaced by Iran, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Mexico. It was the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent which dominated opium supplies from 1960s, after the start of Vietnam War.

For some time during the Vietnam War, the French intelligence also used drug money to funds its own operation. Like its British and American counterparts, French Government identified its intelligence agencies to manage drug trade.

After abolition of the French Indochina opium monopoly in 1950, SDECE imposed centralized, covert controls over the illicit drug traffic that linked the Hmong poppy fields of Laos with the opium dens operating in Saigon. This generated profits that funded French covert operations in their Vietnam war.

With the advent of the Fifth Republic, and through 1962, the SDECE was used as a strategic intelligence service by the prime minister Michel Debre, and was particularly efficient in the struggle against the rebellion in Algeria. (via DGSE – General Directorate for External Security – Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure – French Intelligence Agencies).

Drug flows from these new supply sources coincided with America’s Asian Wars in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Korea, etc. These wars were justified under Eisenhower’s Domino Theory – which made Communism an enemy ‘under-your-bed’. The subject of much research, many Hollywood films and significant evidence confirm that American armed forces and the CIA were behind drugs import into USA. The so-called Phoenix operation was run by CIA with some 200 Green Berets – whose major activity apart from killings, assassinations and torture, was narcotics.

Some 75 years later Jardine Matheson-David Sassoon’s bank for opium, CIA too set up banks in the Bahamas, like the Mercantile Bank and Trust and Castle Bank and Nugan Hand Bank (incorporated in Cayman Islands and operating from Australia) to handle heroin trade out of the Golden triangle.

While the Oil and Terror linkage is much talked about, the role of Saudi Arabian funding much discussed, the global footprint of the drug trade is overlooked. As controls on gold sparked a global crime wave, the war on drugs is sparking another crime wave – a wave of terror. When the West wanted they imposed Opium Trade in the name of open markets. When the West wanted they declared a war on drugs.

Either way, someone else is paying.

The world pays for the US war on drugs!

The world pays for the US war on drugs!

The Indian enigma

Some things strike me as interesting: –

  • All the major drugs in the world came from India – opium is afeem, khus-khus, पोस्त; cannabis is charas, ganja, marijuana, hashish. Heroin is a derivative of opium.
  • The Sanskrit word for opium is अहिफेनः, अहिफेनम् ahi-fenam – which also means venom. The Arabic word afeem, Chinese word ya-pien, come from this. Though modern history believes that Arabs introduced opium to India, it seems improbable.
  • Most of the world’s drug production (based on opium and cannabis) still happens in India and neighbouring countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia. In recent times, Indian gold smuggling was funded by carriage and export of drugs.
  • Why has drugs never become a big problem in India. Even, as Indians are significant producers, Indians themselves are not high on consumption lists – or have significantly profited from it.
  • Unlike in China, or in Medieval Middle East (when drug crazed criminals called hashishis became assassins). Or the West in the last 100 years.
  • Till the 80′s, these substances were available in India, through ‘licensed’ outlets.

Nail them, jail them

The police actions against drug cartels have given little benefit. The heavy-handed legal approach of criminalizing possession of drugs too has yielded no results either.

in the past 40 years, the U.S. government has spent over $2.5 trillion dollars fighting the War on Drugs. Despite the ad campaigns, increased incarceration rates and a crackdown on smuggling, the number of illicit drug users in America has risen over the years and now sits at 19.9 million Americans.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair declare(d) last week that the Mexican government had lost control of its own territory. President Felipe Calderón responded by pointing out that his nation shared a border with “the biggest consumer of drugs in the world and the largest supplier of weapons in the world.” (via The War on Drugs).

Gold and drugs .. and India

The world pays for the US war on drugs!

A major effect of US restrictions on gold ownership, sparked a global crime wave – in which drugs played a major part. The opening of the gold trade across the world during 1973-1993 (especially in India) damped down the power of the Indian Underworld. The other leg on which the Indian underworld stands, is drug trade.

Indian belief in gold is not a recent - but a centuries of trust and habit. Cartoon courtesy - indiauploads.wordpresscom. Click for larger image.

Indian belief in gold is not a recent - but a centuries of trust and habit. Cartoon courtesy - indiauploads.wordpresscom. Click for larger image.

The first effect of restrictions on gold imports in India was on prices. Indian gold prices, on an average, were 30%-40% higher than international prices. The other thing that happened was that gold imports went underground. Gold imports (illegal), called smuggling, spawned the biggest criminals that India has seen.

The common threads in this were, of course, America, drugs, underworld, war, corruption, warlords – but what made all this possible was Indian appetite for gold.

All this was made possible by the Indian hawala system of money exchange. Hawala made money transfers safe, instantaneous, at a low-cost. Traditional Indian ships from a thousand ports in Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat sailed with this contraband and brought back gold.

The countries comprising these Golden Triangle /Crescent are India’s neighbours. The Indian underworld transported drugs through India. These drug shipments originated, were acquired, grown and traded from the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle.

The tobacco parallel

The complicity of governments is very similar to tobacco monopolies across the world. Or the modern expansion in prostitution – especially in the West.

Six companies and sundry State monopolies drive global cigarette consumption. These six companies derive more than US$100 billion dollars in revenues, globally. For many years they were advertising industries largest customers.These six companies are headquartered at former European imperial powers (UK, France, Spain), USA and Japan. These six companies work at an arm’s length from the State, giving the State a luxury of ‘plausible deniability’.

After creating appetites and markets for narcotics, the State wants to control the same appetite.

During a 1984 appearance at an Oakland, Calif. school, then-First Lady Nancy Reagan was asked by 10-year-old Angel Wiltz what to do if someone offered her drugs. “Just say no,” replied Reagan. Within a year, 5,000 “Just Say No” clubs had formed around the country, with Soleli Moon Frye, (Punky Brewster) as honorary chairperson. The Los Angeles Police Department’s 1983 Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) school lecture program, grew into a national phenomenon that, by 2003, cost $230 million and involved 50,000 police officers. (via The War on Drugs).

British Cartoon on Opium (Source - Drugs and society  By Glen R. Hanson, Peter J. Venturelli, Annette E. Fleckenstein; Page 253). Click to go to the source book.

British Cartoon on Opium (Source - Drugs and society By Glen R. Hanson, Peter J. Venturelli, Annette E. Fleckenstein; Page 253). Click to go to the source book.

Chinese State Tobacco monopoly

Or how China has replaced Western powers pushing opium in China in the nineteenth century.With a national tobacco monopoly.

Not expected after the opium experience of the Chinese, when Western trading houses, under State protection, using the garb of ‘free trade’, made China into the largest consumer of opium.

The Chinese Govt. has replaced opium with tobacco. In the 19th century, China became the largest grower of opium to stop the drain of wealth from Chinese addiction to opium. The Chinese opium crop of 1906, of more than 35,000 tons, remains the largest ever in recorded history. Compared to that the current crop in Afghanistan has varied between 5000-10000 tons at its peak.

The second secret of the tobacco business is to be dominant in purchasing and cornering tobacco stock. For cornering tobacco stocks, Big Tobacco depends on Central Banks’ support – aka State support. For instance, ITC (and other major global tobacco purchasers) in India has a major presence in Guntur, where Indian tobacco trade is headquartered. ITC’s over-sized chequebook buys it market dominance.

In India, such State policy on drugs and crime was a feat by Mughals and the British. Post-independence Indian State has partly patterned itself on Desert Bloc lines. Will it become a drug dealer?

Will the Indian government ‘learn’ from its counterparts?

The puzzle of the missing Buddhist monk

Posted in Film Reviews, politics, Religion by Anuraag Sanghi on January 3, 2010
Will it be Chinese mafia next?

Will it be Chinese mafia next?

Disappearing act

In the last 5 years, the Buddhist monk has made an unnoticed disappearing act from Chinese films. The new idiom in Chinese films is ‘Jackie Chan goes to America’.

Instead of the Buddhist monk, the new element are characters from the Chinese underworld.

Organized crime was rampant in China before the communists took over in 1949, but was largely extinguished in the decades afterward by the totalitarian Maoist state. It has flourished since reforms began in the late 1970s.

Chinese police receive small salaries but enjoy almost unchecked power over the increasingly wealthy communities they oversee. As a result, bribery is common, experts say. Without protection from law enforcement, “criminal organizations would not be able to develop on such a large scale and to such a high level,” says Pu Yongjian, a professor at the business school of Chongqing University. (via Gangster Trials Highlight China’s Crime Battle – WSJ.com).

Insight information

Way back in 1978-79, Trial Run, a novel by Dick Francis was released. Trial Run is not among the best of Dick Francis’ novels – except for one thing. It was the first book (and the only, that I read) which predicted the Russian Mafia. Some 20 years, before the mainstream media came to know about the Russian Mafia. Not one writer on Russia – not John Le Carre, no Len Deighton, nor Martin Cruz Smith (Gorky Park) come close to Dick Francis in this respect.

Characters in Dick Francis novels are credible, his heroes are people you want to meet and count among your friends. His villains are believably evil.

Trial Run by Dick Francis (First book to talk about the Russian Mafia).

Trial Run by Dick Francis (First book to talk about the Russian Mafia).

In 1978, Trial Run seemed more like Cold War propaganda.

This report about crime in China is not at the same level as Trial Run, since 2009 China is far more open and accessible than 1978 Russia was. Reading Russia right in 1978, at the height of the Brezhnev era, was something in a different league altogether. In a league with a solitary membership – and Dick Francis alone carries a membership card of that league.

Coming to China

For unraveling China, I will take the aid of Chinese cinema, to which I am exposed. From distant Indian shores, which has limited exposure to Chinese-Hong Kong movies, three different phases of Chinese films are  apparent.

Till about 2000, Chinese movies usually revolved around a Brave Chinese, his ascetic Buddhist Teacher, who spoke in riddles and feudal warlords (Chinese and /or Japanese). Kung Fu was a major element in these movies.

Brave Chinese aided by Buddhist monks fight warlords

Brave Chinese aided by Buddhist monks fight warlords

A representative of that genre was the classic 36th Chamber of Shaolin, with Chia Hui Liu (Gordon Liu) as San Te.

The most famous (and my favorite) star  was Bruce Lee. His Enter The Dragon interestingly had a villain named Han. Played superbly by Shih Kien (a character actor known for his onscreen villainy, much like India’s Ajit, Prem Chopra, Amrish Puri).

Jackie Chan and Golden Harvest continued with this genre, spoofing it unconvincingly with movies like Drunken Master (about the folk hero, Wong Fei Hung) and Iron Monkey. Then came a new breed.

But before that …

One-and-a-half Chinese is what it takes

Hong Kong film industry does not get much respect because it is 1-and-a-half people. One is the giant Shaw Brothers Studios, based out of Singapore and Hong Kong – run by brothers, Run Me Shaw and Run Run Shaw, a 102 years old man, who last heard, was running the studio through his 73-year-old wife, Mona Fong.

They recently sold a part of their archived nearly 800 films collections for re-release – to “Celestial Pictures, a pan-Asian company run by William Pfeiffer, an American who has lived in Asia for 20 years.”. Celestial Pictures, a part of Kuala Lumpur-based Astro All Asia Networks Plc, part of Tatparanandam Ananda Krishnan’s Maxis /Astro /MEASAT group, under this purchase will get access to 760 films library of Shaw Brothers archives.

Bruce Lee in 'Enter The Dragon'

Bruce Lee in 'Enter The Dragon'

The remaining half of the Chinese one-and-a-half film industry is Raymond Chow, an ex-assistant to Run Run Shaw. An ex-VOA staffer, Raymond Chow was taken as publicist, at Shaw Brothers.

Shaw and Chow sparred over a re-make of ‘One Armed Swordsman’. The Golden Harvest version was called, “Zatoichi Meets The One-Armed Swordsman”. Raymond Chow has sold his studio to a mainland-based operation, Chengtian Entertainment Group – covering film distribution, production, investment and talent management. The new company has been renamed as Orange Sky Golden Harvest Group.

The second coming

The next phase in the Chinese film industry was the more ‘modern’ themes. The first indication was the un-funny spoofs of Jacky Chan – with more of antics and contortions, than Kung Fu or any of the classical Chinese themes. In one fight sequence, Jackie Chan in The Young Master, exclaims, “You have cut-off Buddha’s head”.

Other films from this genre include The Young Master, Drunken Master, Project A, Police Story, etc. Unremarkable films that received a tepid response. All that these films did was turn off audiences from Kung Fu theme – which in hindsight, seemed to be the objective. And made Jackie Chan into a visible Chinese ‘star’.

With low rentals, these films were run and re-run in India, giving Jackie Chan much-needed visibility.

The Third Wave

The Third Wave of the modern Chinese films are now getting positively ominous. Ranging from Jet Li in Kiss of the Dragon, (Jet Li takes on the French mafia) or Chow Yun-Fat in The Corrupter (exposing police-underworld nexus and corruption in the USA), or Jackie Chan in Rush Hour series or the Chinese Ric Young in The Transporter, Jet Li in Lethal Weapon 4. All have two elements in common.

One is the pervasive Chinese underworld. Across Europe, in the USA. In drugs, fake currency, in smuggling boat people, the Chinese are there – everywhere. Many of these movies have Chinese stars, directed by Chinese directors or even partly funded by Chinese studios .

The second is the absence of the Buddhist monk.

Why worry

This would actually seem like a benign glossing and glamorizing of the Chinese film idiom and look. Harmless entertainment, you may say. This trend is reflected in Korea with a TV series, ‘My Wife Is a Gangster’ with heroine Shu Qi as the gangster. But there is more to this China-gangster- underworld theme.

'Big Ears' Du Yuesheng, Photo: thegeneralissimo.net

'Big Ears' Du Yuesheng, Photo: thegeneralissimo.net

Both Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek were close to the Green Gang. Some China specialists allege that both were, in fact, Green Gang members.

The Kuomintang (supported by Chinese underworld, The Green Gang, The Red Gang and The Blue Gang) was pitted against the Mao Ze Dong’s Communist Party – and both were armed and supported by Western powers. Russia deputed Borodin, who mentored Sun Yat-Sen, Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Ze-Dong in the ways of Communism.

Major opium trading companies like Jardine Matheson, David Sasoon & Company and sundry traders set up The Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation for facilitating this misery. The Chinese Opium problem was finally solved by several draconian measures during Communist rule.

In many respects the prohibition on opium in China had similar results to prohibition on alcohol in the United States. In both countries prohibition encouraged the growth of vast, illicit traffic that provided the economic basis for development of organized crime in major cities and helped define the ways in which criminal organizations interacted with the world of politics. (from The Shanghai Green Gang: politics and organized crime, 1919-1937 By Brian G. Martin, page 44).

Much like zamindars were given ‘franchises’ in India to extort from the peasantry, colonial powers working on ‘concessions’, in China subverted local institutions into channels for funneling drugs into Chinese blood stream.

Virtually, every line of unskilled labour came to be ruled by native-place barons with gang connections – beggar chiefs, brothel madams, night soil hegemons, wharf contractors, and factory foremen. Immigrants from the villages in search of work quickly discovered that employment opportunities in the city were dependent upon criminal ties. (from Shanghai on Strike: The Politics of Chinese Labor, By Elizabeth J. Perry, page 50).

Wrapper of packet of opium, as sold in licensed opium shops of Singapore. Each packet contains enough opium for about six smokes.  |  Source - THE OPIUM MONOPOLY  By ELLEN N. LA MOTTE; Published January, 1920.  |

Wrapper of packet of opium, as sold in licensed opium shops of Singapore. Each packet contains enough opium for about six smokes. | Source - THE OPIUM MONOPOLY By ELLEN N. LA MOTTE; Published January, 1920. |

The Green Gang (the Qing Bang) was particularly powerful in Shanghai, its leader Du Yuesheng, was a member of the Chinese Triad and a general in the army of Chiang Kai-Shek.

The Red Gang (hong bang) was the other major group that operated in China – sharing the spoils of the opium trade.

To many Chinese, the capture of the opium trade from the ‘foreign devils’ by the native Chinese may have seemed a whole sight better. These ‘gangs’ were patronized by the

poor, underemployed and marginal elements from southeast China found security through membership in secret societies (banghui, huidang) they brought to Shanghai with them. Such associations were organized along lines of regional, ethnic and linguistic identity and were often coterminus with native place bang which recruited and deployed workers. Secret society networks from south were associated with Red Gang (hong men, hong bang) or Triad-type lodges. In Shanghai they would meet with a Northern Green Gang (qing bang) type of secret brotherhood. (from Native place, city, and nation: regional networks and identities in Shanghai … By Bryna Goodman, page 67).

Much before this, in 1853, “the Small Sword Society, (Xiaodaohui), a Triad offshoot, rebelled against the local Qing authorities and seized control of Chinese Shanghai which it held until February 1855.” So, Chinese warlords-underworld-secret societies seamlessly co-exist – and were present at every cusp of upheavals in Chinese society.

What is it this time?

The question

Is this ‘evolution’ of Chinese entertainment-sensibility, an accident or a co-incidence?

More worrying would be, if it were an artificial-synthetic-external influence. As long as Shaw Brothers were looking at the bottom-line, making money, enjoying the glamour and catering to popular Chinese tastes, things were simpler.

Shaw movies usually take anywhere from 35 days to three months to shoot and cost about $300,000. They are never filmed with a sound track. Instead, they are dubbed later in English, Italian, French, Portuguese and Spanish−even in their native tongue, Chinese. Run Run personally looks at all rushes. “Two reels and it’s no good, OUT!” he exclaimed. “We’re here to make money.” (from Time magazine Show Business: The Empire of Run Run Shaw, Monday, Jun. 28, 1976).

But things have changed now. Some indicator of this change can be gauged from a report in The Standard, by Timothy Kwai on Monday, December 21st, 2009.

Golden Harvest was one of the first to move into China’s film sector with the signing of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement in 2005. This allowed Hong Kong-owned film studios to enter the huge mainland market.

China for decades has capped the total number of imported foreign movies to twenty for any year. “Attempts to import more Indian films into China have been repeatedly scuttled by Chinese authorities. After much lobbying, India’s former foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon succeeded, when he was India’s ambassador in Beijing, in getting Chinese approval to import at least four Indian movies per year into China.

Like an earlier post in Quicktake pointed out earlier, the Chinese Communist Government would be afraid of Buddhist monks – and would actually encourage Confucianism. Like the Japanese are trying to revive Shintoism for slightly different reasons. Is this direction a part of that plot – a change in the wind direction?

These gangster films are bad omen. For Chinese – and the rest of us!

All that these films did was turn off audiences from Kung Fu theme – which in hindsight, seemed to be the objective. And made Jackie Chan into a visible Chinese ‘star’.
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