Reviews

Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy by Moisés Na

Vince Carducci

The book offers several cases where economic necessity has blurred the line between legal and illegal activity in many parts of the world.


Illicit

Publisher: Doubleday
Subtitle: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy
Author: #237;m
Price: $26.00
Display Artist: Moisés Naím
Length: 352
US publication date: 2005-10
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If the Bush Administration's harping on the ever-present threat of global terror hasn't sufficiently stoked your paranoia level, then pick up a copy of Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy by Moisés Naím. According to the author, who is editor of the influential journal Foreign Policy and a former executive director of the World Bank, the postmodern world is plagued by a pandemic of illicit activity. While traffic in contraband has been around for as long as there has been trade, what makes the current situation so pernicious, according to Naím, is its unprecedented scale and interconnectedness. From bootleg DVDs and knockoff purses hawked on the streets of Shanghai and New York City to blood diamonds coming out of Africa to the global trade in armaments, drugs, migrant workers, and human body parts, black marketers are doing a great business, often in cahoots.

Today's illicit activity mirrors the process of globalization. In keeping with the latest international business practices, drug lords outsource product delivery to contractors who may transport cocaine one day then AK-47s or illegal aliens the next. Intellectual-property pirates in China often use the same standardized cargo containers as suppliers to American companies like Wal-Mart knowing full well that less than two percent of the contents are ever checked at their port of entry. They're also into e-commerce big time. Gun runners, counterfeiters, and other gangster types keep in touch by cell phone and email. They use the global electronic transaction system and offshore accounts in financial safe-havens to move money around at lightning speed. And just like today's nimble transnational corporations, they run circles around government bureaucrats and the police who can't keep up because they're too bogged down by regulations and procedures, limited by jurisdictions, constrained by budgets, and otherwise hamstrung. Revenue from illicit activity funds rogue governments and terrorist organizations, Naím further alleges.

According to Naím, one of the major factors in the upsurge of illicit activity over the last decade or so is the breakup of the Soviet Union, which left in its rubble a number of failed states susceptible to cooption by cadres of nasty characters who don't play by conventional rules. Besides providing a secure base of operations, a number of these countries had caches of weapons stockpiled from the Cold War that soon went on sale at bargain-basement prices, plus other resources that could be profitably exploited. Many of the countries embraced the black market as a viable means of economic development even though it entailed a Faustian bargain. The book offers several cases where economic necessity has blurred the line between legal and illegal activity in many parts of the world.

But it isn't all jihadists, brigands, and apparatchiks coming in from the post-glasnost cold; many ostensibly legitimate players in the developed world have also been drawn in. As many countries loosened control over their financial sectors to help facilitate international trade and investment, opportunities arose for currencies to be exchanged and substantial fees to be collected without inconvenient questions being asked. Money laundering is central to illicit trade, but it's extremely difficult to stop, especially when information technology and innovations like financial derivatives keep opening new doors for capital to slip through. With an estimated US$800 billion to US$2 trillion in dirty money in need of laundering each year, there's too much business piling up in the hamper to walk away from the Maytag without doing a few loads. Similarly in a reproach to the Bush Administration's narrative of good vs. evil, Naím's thesis as to what underlies illicit activity in general is purely pragmatic -- it's all about profit not morality. The rewards are simply too great when compared to the risks.

As an international policy wonk, Naím is obliged to do more than present an exposé of the dark side of globalization. It's incumbent upon him to offer a plan of remedial action. But some may find more than a few of his remedies as disagreeable as the ills they are intended to cure.

Naím begins with the premise that although illicit trade is globalized, government authority isn't and won't be for the foreseeable future. In the past, governments have failed because they sought to extend their authority in areas beyond their control, especially in trying to deal with the supply side of the equation in things like the so-called war on drugs. But as long as there's demand and enough of a profit margin, someone will step up to supply whatever's wanted. Where governments should focus their efforts, Naím claims, is improving methods of "identification, surveillance, tracing, and detection" to better monitor the transaction process and regulate demand. Certification techniques like radio frequency identification devices (RFIDs), holographs, digital watermarks, and chemical and biological tags can be embedded into products to verify their authenticity and point of origin. Biometric scans of human irises, DNA-matching, and microchip implants likewise can be used to establish the identity of human beings and follow their whereabouts. The effectiveness of government can also be strengthened by breaking down fiefdoms and allowing freer information sharing between various agencies and authorities.

In exchange for this expansion in the power of Big Brother, Naím puts on offer the enjoyments of a brave new world of decriminalized drugs, freely ripped CDs and movies, and guest-worker moratoriums, which under a calculus that measures harm done to society against cost to regulate don't add up to being worth worrying about. This seems more than a little disingenuous, though, given the controls that would be built into the system under Naím's other proposals.

One thing Naím doesn't question is globalization itself. It's given that transnational capital rules. As he looks to the future, Naím sees a new dialectic of "black holes" and "bright spots," places where illicit networks are in control vs. areas where political order and civil society are such that illicit activity, though admittedly still present, is forced to maintain a lower profile. According to Naím, this dialectic transcends Cold War paradigms of communist East and democratic West, dependency theories of impoverished South and affluent North, and clash-of-cultures notions of jihad vs. McWorld. But surveying where black holes and bright spots tend to be reaffirms the existence of peripheral and core sectors of the global economy, places that tend to be exploited and places that do the exploiting. Indeed, failed states aren't the only legacy of the reported demise of socialism. The biggest casualty may have been the idea, the hope really, that there might be a more humane alternative to the regime of bare-knuckled capital whether of the licit or illicit variety.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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