Review: Gomorrha

5 Star, Crime (Organized, Transnational)

GohmorraPoetry, Tragedy, Reality, Manifesto of Sorts, October 28, 2008

Roberto Saviano

This can be a difficult book to read, with its never-ending littany of death, but I found the book–a translated work from the Italian–to be absorbing. It can and should be read with the capstone work by Moises Naim, Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy. Moises' book is a global strategic overview. This book is a tactical and operational microcosm that adds significant weight and dread to our overall understanding.

First off, kudos to the translator, Virginia Jewiss. There are turns of phrase throughout where it is clear that the poetry was in the original and was preserved by the translator, no easy accomplishment. Bravo.

Before setting out some of my notes, I will observe that the book concludes with the observation that it is not criminals, but the concert of criminals and politicians (to which I would add criminal corporations and financial networks) that is consuming the earth.

The last chapter is quite a brilliant conclusion, focusing on the illegal disposal of toxic waste as the ultimate crime against humanity and the Earth. I actually shuddered as I realized what the author was driving at: criminal organizations love the construction business in part because they can dispose of a lot of toxic trash mixed in with sand and cement–this means that you could be living in a building that is itself toxic, and will not know until everyone in the building is diagnosed with cancer.

Some of my notes:

+ Naples has a legal economy of roughly 2.6 billion Euros a year, with 1 billion Euros a year in the illegal economy. Compare this with the FBI and ILLICIT views that illicit is roughly 2 trillion a year against a 7 trillion a year “legal” economy.

+ Tax avoidance is the ultimate discount, and imposed services or and purchase contracts are the modern form of extortion.

+ Quality is NOT sacrificed. The criminals make their money by matching the quality, lowering the price, and demanding distribution.

+ Labels do not protest for three reasons:
– They share the dirt cheap production facilities with the criminals
– The criminals are maintaining the same high quality
– It spreads the “brand” even if half the brand is fake.

+ It's just business. Early on the author observers that Chinese Triads are not a big factor, while Chinese businessman are. He cites one as responding to this question by pulling our Euros, Dollars, and Yuan. “This is my triad.”

+ The Chinese are steadily stealing trade secrets from criminals all over the world. In one instance, they have persuaded a master tailor to allow himself to be video-taped, with a Chinese girl translating his every word into Chinese as he goes step by step.

+ The criminals lend money at 10%, beating the banks.

+ 500% return on investment in the drug business, $1000 invested and then rolled over each time becomes $100 million one year later.

+ Specific clan under discussion invoicing $500,000 Euros a day ONLY for narco-trafficking.

+ 300 killers on payroll, just for this one area.

+ Criminals are master businessmen, and open air drug markets are a model of precision, oversight, quality control, you name it, they do it RIGHT.

+ 179 varieties of ectasy. Drugs are a resource now, not just for getting high but for carrying on while exhausted, for living in a world best summed up by Don Quixote, “they are not asking now why they die, but why they ever lived.”

+ Middle class drugs on fire–instead of pushers, have drug circles (doctors, lawyers, etcetera), more like Tuperware parties.

+ Addicts used to test cuts of the drugs, rigorous focus on ensuring best quality before distribution. If the addict dies on the spot, the cut was not enough.

+ Madrid as entry point for drugs from Colombia and Peru, ETA using drugs in trade for arms including heavy weapons.

+ Garbage trucks one of the most successful mass transit means used for drugs, drugs underneath, lots of garbage on top.

+ Utilization of children at every level including directed murders.

+ Kid killer music in Italy is not rap, but Napolotean love songs and pop

+ When Eastern Europe broke from the Soviet Union, the criminal families were there first, making deals for entire arsenals. They stole NATO trucks to move the weapons without worry of being stopped in Italy.

+ Police do intercept text messages.

+ Women are now handling much of the back office work–financial–while the men spend more time on the street.

+ Humanitarian crises are great opportunities–they sell arms into the conflict, use the cash to buy humanitarian supplies, and then get paid to deliver half what they are paid for, with more arms on top. See Deliver Us from Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict for earlier insights on black markets that spring up from badly managed humanitarian assistance.

+ Foreign enclaves of crime are poisoning the world. The author is shaken to find portions of Scotland now belonging to Italian crime families that manage legal businesses in the open, and global illegal businesses out of Scotland on the side.

+ Hollywood has provided provincial criminals with global inspiration, and helped legitimize their aspirations.

I have been reflecting recently on the failure of the US Government in all its forms–the executive, legislature, and judiciary–and drawing a distinction between secession from the Union, and the alternative, which as best I can tell is a life of crime. The 2008 election is theater–both the political parties are criminal and treasonous, neither of the candidates has been willing or able to discuss the substance of governance, and regardless of which of them out-frauds the other, we all lose. The USA is at a turning point, and I have the very strong feeling that this election, in combination with the Iraq war and the global financial collapse, could actually trigger at least one if not three secessions from the USA, which is no longer a Republic.

The author is a brave man, a poet, a scholar, and a gifted communicator. There are portions of the book where one's eyes glaze over trying to follow the path from one murder to the next, but the overwhelming message of the book for me, at least, is this:

Do we want to become like the kids in Naples, whose only choice is a life of crime with almost certain death; or do we want to take back the power, destroy both the political parties that sold us out to the corporations and the banks, and restore “home rule” including an end to the Federal Reserve, an end to absentee ownership, an end to corporate amnesty, and so on?

What does it mean to be human? I think it means to dare to want it all–a prosperous (ethical) world at peace, applying the Golden Rule, creating infinite wealth, and rapidly moving to a zero waste, zero corruption society. This book is a slap in the face for those who think the world is mostly okay. It's not.

Recommended by Daniel W. (see his summary comment below on upperworld versus underworld crime: The Outfit.

Other depressing books, ending with three hopeful books:
The Bush Tragedy
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It
Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders


The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace

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