Fancy a long term career in growing, selling or trafficking illegal substances? Well, you came at the wrong time.
Matt Taibbi is an American Journalist most known for his coverage on the 2008 Financial Crash and Police Brutality, both subjects he has written books about. He’s covered various presidential and midterm elections and has met a variety of characters along his journey through America- activists, politicians, lobbyists, bankers, victims of all crimes illegal and legal.
But probably the most interesting person that Matt has ever met was a Marijuana-Legalisation activist who he would befriend and would later reveal his double life; being the kingpin in a national drug trafficking operation.
The stories he would tell lead to the creation of this book; The Business Secrets of Drug Dealing- The Adventures of The Unidentified Black Male. The latter of whom, as the name suggests, remains anonymous. This of course is to protect his life and the lives of the people he cares about. But it’s also about protecting his assets. Namely the huge amount of money stored away from his former life as a drug dealer, what he refers to as his “pension”.
The author deliberately remains vague about the exact amount in his wealth, but at the height of the dealers career he was making about $70,000-$80,000 a month- so it’s safe to say his pension would be worth at least ten million dollars. All of it collected through a career spanning twenty years.
Matt is a first time fiction (albeit partly) writer and while many would struggle to grasp such a hard worldview in an even harsher world, Matt’s quality of writing seems effortless. The book is a page turner. The voice of the first person retrospective narrator (Huey Carmichael, the character based off of the anonymous source) remains consistent and true throughout. Huey is cold, calculative and conspicuous- a true American Entrepreneur.
There are no rules to being a drug dealer. No classes you can go to learn and very few legitimate dealers will take you under their wing without the intention of eventually fucking you over. Hell, most dealers are like cops- they learn what to do from TV. In this line of work, you have to learn on the job. And while a mistake at a KFC or a Star Bucks will cost a minute of embarrassment or a scolding from your boss- this job may result in prison time or even death.
So Huey Carmichael sets out to make a set of rules and conventions to abide by in this line of work. A few of them would seem pretty common sense, such as “Always do Deals in the Daytime” because dodgy shit is afoot in the night and “Never Trade Minutes for Years” which essentially means to never risk momentary relief for a high cost to your future, an example would be never try and out run the police in your car cause that’ll only add to your prison sentence.
There’s others that seem arbitrary at first, like his rule “Always Have a Job” because at first it seems like a waste of time. But having a job- particularly a shitty minimum wage job- prevents you from getting lazy, from getting cocky, makes you punctual and ensures that you both look inconspicuous and will keep a cool head when the shit hits the fan.
But there are some grim realities in these rules. Such as “Embrace Racial Profiling” because as Huey remarks; this is America. If a Black man is driving anywhere outside of Chicago, he’s going to get pulled over. That can be both a huge problem for transporting drugs, but it can also be a huge advantage. The police may pull over the black man, but it wouldn’t even occur to them to search the white man driving behind him.
The method for transporting drugs on the road is this; you need four cars. The first car will be empty, but the driver will be a black or Latino man, preferably someone who looks quite thuggish and has a criminal record down to his arm. He acts as a decoy- he’s the car that the police will want to pull over. The car behind him will be the one with the real load, driven typically by a white person who has a clean record. The third car will mainly be concerned with driving close behind the second car, so that the cops can’t get in behind them. The fourth car is just there to keep a lookout.
He does something similar on the Canadian border. There’s a large Indian population along border towns and cities so what Huey does is he gets an Indian guy from work, this complete bumbling idiot, to travel back and forth between the border smuggling drugs in the boot. The border guards wouldn’t raise an eyebrow to an Indian guy travelling back and forth, but with a black guy? They’d definitely have a problem there.
Race plays a huge role in Huey’s life, like many Americans. America has never really had a good track record with race relations. Unlike most other minorities, black people never came to America voluntarily. Most of them are the descendants of West African slaves transported across the Atlantic.
Most immigrants faced hardship, for white minorities such as the Irish or Italians that hardship would eventually fade away as they got representation in business, public service and politics- eventually being seen as just as white as the people descended from Anglo Saxons.
The descendants of Asian, Hispanic, Latino or Middle Eastern immigrants do face hardship still. But in America, nobody really gets as much shit as black people. Most African Americans live in poverty that was created by the state. Before the Civil Rights Movement took into effect, White lawmakers and industrialists and architects designed a system known as red lining. Which essentially worked to move the black population into poorer neighbourhoods. So when the time comes to when they legally have equal rights, financially they don’t.
They’re too poor to move to another neighbourhood, the education system is fucked so most kids don’t learn shit and it doesn’t help that most of these kids aren’t brought up well. Now just to clarify, shitty parenting and upbringings aren’t a black problem- it’s a poor problem. The same shit happens right here in Ireland, with about 95% of the population being as white as sin.
I’ve talked about my previous observations on the blog, about how parenting is all about balance. You can’t be too loose otherwise you’ll spoil your kids, but you can’t be too strict otherwise that’ll damage your kids mental health. You can’t show too much affection otherwise your smothering your kids, but at the same time you can’t not show affection otherwise your kids may turn out into sociopaths.
Where class comes into this is quite obvious. A working class family may raise a complete bitch or bastard who will undoubtedly get someone pregnant or get themselves pregnant at an early age. Obviously they’re stupid assholes who haven’t the first clue how to parent so inevitably that kid will grow up to be an even worse fuck up than them. Thus the cycle continues.
If they were well educated they’d know how to use protection, or get an abortion, or have enough sense to put the kid in foster care. But often times they’re not smart. If a person doesn’t have the suitable requirements garnered in childhood; such as discipline, safety, kindness, happiness, affection, common sense- they’re essentially fucked. It takes a special type of person to grow up in a shitty environment but end up as a decent or well adjusted person- and they’re as rare as a diamond in a mountain of shit.
As Aristotle says; “Poverty is the parent of Crime and Revolution” the former is what plagues the black community in America. Most gun violence affecting the community is gang related, but the community often doesn’t report such crimes due to the fear of the police. It doesn’t help that the drug war was started purely to oppress the Black community alongside other minorities, but Police Brutality is an epidemic that has plagued the community for decades. Its occurrence is dependent on a variety of circumstances.
Firstly, the quality of character of police officers. Some of them have poor judgement or are prone to anger and violence making them unfit to serve. Secondly, it’s the training. Cops in America carry guns with live ammo, often times they shoot first and question later- because that’s the way they were taught. Thirdly, there’s an incentive to arrest as many people as possible. With for profit prisons being the norm in America, convicts are in demand.
So cops will go into poor black neighbourhoods looking for people to arrest- people who fit this vague profile. Finally, police often deal with the worst of humanity. When a cop is stationed in a large white area, they’ll grow to hate white people. When a cop is stationed in a large latino area, they’ll grow to hate latinos. When a Cop is stationed in a large black area, they’ll grow to hate black people.
It’s tribalism, human psychology at it’s most infantile form.
The epidemic is made even worse by the fact that a good portion of the time the cop guilty of police brutality will get off Scot free or with a slap on the wrist. There is no real accountability, why? Because sending a cop to prison is a death sentence, and other cops can’t abide by that. So they’ll protect their own up until they cross a line- like killing another cop or selling drugs. Something other cops cannot abide by, that’s the only time they’ll taste jail.
Now you may disagree with my world view and Huey’s, but you must admit that it’s pretty fucked up that a good portion of the country will refuse to call the police because they’re afraid of their own live being at risk.
Race affects a good portion of Huey’s business, particularly when he’s buying and selling weed. In the book and in the Joe Rogan podcast promoting the series, Matt Taibbi discusses something known as the “hood tax” or the “hood price” which basically means that drug dealers will charge more to deal with black people than they would with white people. Huey could buy a few pounds of weed for about $1,500 but he knew white guys buying the same stuff for $800.
The reason this occurs is because when you’re dealing with black people in America, you’re mostly selling to drug dealers in the hood or regular citizens in that area. There’s a chance that you’ll get robbed, that they’ll get picked up by the police, that you’ll need to get some lawyers- it just costs more to deal with black people. It’s fucked up, but you know what’s the worst part about it? Even Huey does it.
The series itself is only eighteen to nineteen chapters long and follows three main plot-lines. The first of course being Huey’s origin story and how he became a drug dealer- even serving a year in prison (for reckless driving, not drug trafficking) all building up and intertwining with the two other main plots.
The second plot revolves around Huey’s experience working alongside weed farmers in California where legalisation is pretty much in place. All the farmers Huey knows receive a bad crop, the State can’t approve it for sale or public consumption and now he has to move tonnes of weed out of California so that everyone can make ends meet.
California has the best weed in the entire country and if you bought that type of weed outside of the state, there’s a good chance that it’s contaminated.
All the while this intertwines with the third plot line; Huey discovering a mole in his operation and his proceedings of exiting the business, getting out clean. The book also deal with a few sub plots, such as some issues with Huey’s family- particularly his cousin. Alongside his journey to becoming a political activist, which is one of the best subplots I’ve ever read.
So Huey is walking down the street one day in Cincinnati. He’s at the peak of his career, smuggling for the Vietnamese Mob from Canada and selling across the US. While he’s walking along he spots a shop that should be empty, but has now been renovated and has a guy in there. Huey, concerned about everything and everyone in his neighbourhood, ops in to see what fresh fuckery is afoot.
A white nerd greets him and says that the city has opened up this spot to help people of colour enter into politics. They’d be campaigning and raising awareness for LGBTQ rights and specifically, at that time, Gay Marriage. Huey was the only POC to actually join that organisation and was undoubtedly their most effective campaigner.
When enlisting they gave out instructions on how to interact with people, which included revising this strange terminology you’d only ever find in a Gender Studies class. Huey knew straight away that this Academic Drivel wasn’t going to fly in a poor, uneducated and very religious community. He delivers a spectacular critique of academia as well;
“I don’t think knowledge is bad. I just think that the act of acquiring it can have a separating effect. Every level of education you achieve drives you deeper and deeper into an elite group that’s walled itself off like all groups do, with its own language and tribal rituals. The difference with educated people is they think they’re above this, when actually they’re the most tribal of all. It’s fucking sad.”
That’s just…so fucking true.
His tactics were a lot more offensive. He’d intrude upon conversations about Gay people and would say “Why you care though? Why do you care who other people are fucking? You got something wrong with you?” it was pretty damn effective.
His methods being unorthodox and the fact that he was paying the quotas for donations himself (seeing as he didn’t see the point in asking for a poor old lady for money she didn’t have) things deteriorated quickly between him and his boss- especially when he started flaunting his money and fucking the girl the boss fancied.
One day he didn’t show up to work for over a week, upon returning the boss said he has to fire him. Huey said “no you don’t” and then went outside, took a bag of weed out of his car, went back inside and dropped it right in front of him. He was not fired that day.
There’s a lot of great stories like this throughout the book. But upon reading this book you’ll come out with one certain conclusion; America is Fucked.
You have people forced to grow drugs to avoid medical bankruptcy, forced to store drugs to pay off their mortgages, forced to sell drugs just to survive- and for what? For wall street to buy them out the minute it turns legal?
It’s bullshit, it’s heart breaking and morally reprehensible.
So after twenty years working as a drug trafficker/dealer, Huey Carmichael did what most dealers dream of doing; he got out, and just in the nick of time. Product that would require $400 dollars to make and would sell for $800 would now only go for about $200. The Market is Dead. Which leads to Huey’s own conclusion on the business he ran;
“I think we’ll look back at those years, the Obama years ironically, as the last golden age for people like me. When weed was illegal-but-tolerated, it was really just another big American industry, with slightly different risks. Airlines worried about crashes. Car companies worried about recalls. People like me worried about lost packages and maybe a little jail time.”
The only genuine criticism of this series is that it ended so abruptly- I could have used at least twenty or forty chapters. Thankfully subscribers of the digitally published series will receive a news letter featuring short stories from Anonymous talking about his wild adventures and the characters he met along the way.
Fans of Noam Chomsky can rejoice as Matt Taibbi is soon to publish his new book, which is a sequel to Chomsky’s; “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” updated of course for the internet age.
You can become a subscriber today, simply click here. It costs $40 a year; each chapter is published weekly (similar to how Dostoevsky’s work was originally published) please subscribe if you have money to spare- I highly recommend catching up on this series. It’s a true eye opener and undoubtedly one of the most important crime books of this century.