Intl. Notebook Jan 10 2016
BUNGLE IN THE JUNGLE
Drug lord’s ego leads to capture, but bigger issues remain.


Last night Rolling Stone, one of the U.S.’s top investigative magazines, published a pulp-worthy article on its website about Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo. The magazine sent actor Sean Penn to the jungles of Mexico to interview Guzmán, a meeting that came about at the drug kingpin’s behest because he was interested in making a movie about his life. Long story short—Guzmán ended up being captured Friday in Sinaloa, Mexico after a gun battle with police, and his ongoing contact with Hollywood figures was the primary factor that led authorities to him.

Guzmán has been imprisoned before, so nothing new there. He escaped both times. He may well escape again. His most recent breakout is detailed in the Rolling Stone article—he disappeared through a hole in his shower (see below), dropped into a mile-long tunnel, and rode away on a specially designed motorcycle on rails that had been modified to runin a low-oxygen environment. All this took at least $1 million to achieve. According to Penn and Rolling Stone, Mexican engineers were flown to Germany for specialized training in tunnel building.

The article is worth a read. Penn describes being waved through police checkpoints to Guzmán’s jungle lair, and when that fact is measured against his capture, it suggests a factionalized Mexican state, with the president and certain other top authorities conducting an anti-drug crusade even as military figures, federal officers, and local cops often work for the drug lords. But Mexico is not uniquely corrupt, and that is something that must be emphasized. The wealthy north is also in the drug trade.

Consider—the British bank HSBC knowingly laundered hundreds of millions of dollars of Guzmán’s drug profits. Yes, they knew about it. The bank was caught, and its heads talked about a “failure of standards,” but all the bankers skated from justice for this terrible crime thanks to their connections in the political world. Is this any different from Joaquín Guzmán motorcycling to freedom through a tunnel? We don’t think so. This is something that global authorities desperately want to keep the general public from understanding—the drug trade is an integral part of capitalism, not some dark subset of it.

Not convinced? The U.S. bank Wachovia laundered drug cartel money and deliberately failed to apply anti-laundering measures to $378.4 billion that passed through the institution. That amount of money is equal to one-third of Mexico's gross national product. The result? Fines of about $160 million—less than 2% of the yearly profits—and no jail for anyone in the executive suite. The list goes on. Liberty Reserve, Bank of America, Western Union, and J.P. Morgan all have drug ties. There are doubtless more we don't yet know about.

Articles in The Wall Street Journal and other establishment papers try to paint the banks as victims. Yet in the end, there are always executives who know exactly what’s happening—just like the cops that waved Sean Penn through those Mexican checkpoints. Besides, since when do victims get to charge millions in fees for their crimes? In the same way U.S. slavery was enabled by banks in New York City and Boston, which even accepted slaves as collateral, the southern drug trade cannot exist without the money laundering operations of the northern banks. And the amounts of money involved don’t just influence markets—it shapes them. Roberto Saviano, possibly the world’s foremost expert on the global drug trade, and author of the blockbuster exposé Zero Zero Zero, says, “It’s not the world of cocaine that must orbit around the markets, but the markets that must rotate around cocaine.” 

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Swindles & Scams Jan 30 2014
TOO BIG TO GIVE A DAMN
Everything being said by people who hate Bank of America was proved true by our recent experience.


At Pulp Intl. we have an entire category labeled “swindles and scams,” and we think this qualifies. It all started when a cash card we rely upon stopped working a few days before Christmas. Terrible timing, of course. Gifts to buy, revelry to enjoy. But the screen of the cash machine read in glowing green letters: Transaction not possible. An immediate call to Bank of America revealed that they had cancelled the card. Why? Because a new one had been sent. But that made no sense—nothing had arrived in the mail. We asked, baffled, “So you cancelled the card without permission, even though it hasn’t expired and a new one hasn’t been activated?”

The associate, who called himself Elton, said, “The old card is expired.”

“No, it’s cancelled. You cancelled it. But it isn’t expired. It was supposed to run until December 31.”

“No, the card is only active until December 2013. That means it can be cancelled anytime during the month.”

“I have the card right here. It says it’s active until the last day of December.”

“No, it doesn’t say that.”

“Yes, it does.”

“It does not.” (See below)

 
Now, we had to wonder, do they not know what their own cards say? But of course they know. It’s just that Elton’s default move when told the bank had made a mistake was to lie, just like his superiors lie to investors, and the top executives lie to the entire world. When in doubt, just lie. But to make matters worse, he crossed the line from merely lying to blaming the customer. That’s the strategy they tried with the mortgage crisis, so perhaps it’s in the corporate bylaws somewhere. Maybe BofA should simply change its call center greeting to, “Thank you for calling Bank of America. We can’t help you, and it’s your fault.”
 
During the nine calls made to Bank of America, we were told variously that the social security number we gave them was not on file thus we had no account there; a new cash card had been sent; a new cash card had not been sent; and that two cash cards were already open on the account. In a truly bizarre turn, during one encounter we answered the three security questions we’d selected for account verification, but Elton (again) decided that, though we had fulfilled our security requirements, that wasn’t enough and he asked us a fourth question we got wrong. He demanded to know at which branch we’d opened the account, which was something we couldn’t remember after having lived in three countries and five cities since then. So then what was the point of the pre-selected security questions? Apparently nothing—the bank can simply quiz callers until they get something wrong. Their ace-in-the-hole is probably to ask the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.
 
But maybe Bank of America is simply too busy to actually help customers. After all, in 2013 alone it lost a $2.43 billion lawsuit for hiding income, a $39 million gender bias lawsuit, had to pay a $404 million settlement related to mortgage fraud, a $165 million settlement over defrauding unions, and that isn’t even a full list. Based on available evidenceBank of America is an extraordinarily corrupt institution that absolutely sucks all the way down to the little slot in its cash machines. The eventual resolution of our particular fiasco was this: a new card arrived after two weeks (no faster unless we wanted to pay out of pocket for express mail). Now that it’s here, we’re going to empty the account and Bank of America will be out of our lives forever.

There is one positive to all this: having been treated as if we don’t exist by the bank, we at least have the option of telling tens of thousands of Pulp Intl. visitors what happened. Does it matter in the end? Doubtful. Does the bank care? Certainly not. But at least we can add another anecdote to the growing tome of horror stories about Bank of America. And sharing our story here feels better than merely passing bad word of mouth to a few buddies at the bar. So thanks for listening. Now we can get back to your regularly scheduled pulp with all that off our minds.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 28
1910—First Seaplane Takes Flight
Frenchman Henri Fabre, who had studied airplane and propeller designs and had also patented a system of flotation devices, accomplishes the first take-off from water at Martinque, France, in a plane he called Le Canard, or "the duck."
1953—Jim Thorpe Dies
American athlete Jim Thorpe, who was one of the most prolific sportsmen ever and won Olympic gold medals in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon, played American football at the collegiate and professional levels, and also played professional baseball and basketball, dies of a heart attack.
March 27
1958—Khrushchev Becomes Premier
Nikita Khrushchev becomes premier of the Soviet Union. During his time in power he is responsible for the partial de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union, and presides over the rise of the early Soviet space program, but his many policy failures lead to him being deposed in October 1964. After his removal he is pensioned off and lives quietly the rest of his life, eventually dying of heart disease in 1971.
March 26
1997—Heaven's Gate Cult Members Found Dead
In San Diego, thirty-nine members of a cult called Heaven's Gate are found dead after committing suicide in the belief that a UFO hidden in tail of the Hale-Bopp comet was a signal that it was time to leave Earth for a higher plane of existence. The cult members killed themselves by ingesting pudding and applesauce laced with poison.
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