The cartel boss' marijuana business has, well, gone north in recent years.
Josh HarkinsonJan. 12, 2016 7:00 AM
By some estimates, the just-nabbed billionaire drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a.k.a. El Chapo, supplies more than half the cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana that comes into the United States. But not all of those drugs were created equal in his eyes. While pot undoubtedly helped El Chapo get his start, it's no longer the key to his dominion.
Mexico now supplies only about one-third of America's pot, down from two-thirds as recently as 2008.
Guzmán, who was arrested by the Mexican police on Friday, grew up in the 1960s in Sinaloa, the remote, rugged, West Coast state still known as Mexico's marijuana heartland. As a boy, he earned money working in marijuana fields before a friend's father—one of the first Sinaloan farmers to traffic pot in bulk—brought him into what later became the Sinaloa Cartel. And although pot was the cartel's bread and butter for years, El Chapo's syndicate long ago branched into other drugs.
It was a prescient move. Since 2011, competition from high-quality pot grown legally and quasi-legally north of the border has cut the wholesale price for Sinaloan marijuana by 70 percent. Mexico now supplies only about one-third of America's pot, down from two-thirds as recently as 2008. "It's a big difference," a Sinaloan farmer told NPR. "If the US continues to legalize pot, they will run us into the ground."
Like any good businessman, El Chapo understood the importance of a diverse portfolio. In the late 1970s, Mexican traffickers began moving cocaine for producers in Colombia and Central America, first by air and boat to Central America and Mexico, and then by land into the United States. Sinaloa now controls an estimated 35 percent of Colombian cocaine shipments.
Unique among Mexican cartels, Sinaloa is both horizontally and vertically integrated. It produces its own marijuana and heroin, and starting in the 1990s it expanded into methamphetamine. After regulations made it more difficult to manufacture large quantities of meth in the United States, Sinaloa ordered precursor chemicals by the boatload from India and China to supply its own Mexican superlabs.
Even the heroin that isn't grown by the Sinaloa Cartel is likely being smuggled by it. The orange areas in this map show the cartel's sphere of influence in the United States:
The cartel's evolution shows how the legalization of pot has taken business away from criminal syndicates. But it also suggests that the cartels will continue to thrive amid the prohibition of other popular drugs. "It's a reality that drugs destroy," Guzmán told actor Sean Penn shortly before his capture. "Unfortunately, as I said, where I grew up, there was no other way and there still isn't a way to survive, no way to work in our economy to be able to make a living."
It's well known that America's wealthiest have been getting richer at the expense of the middle class. But the trend looks even starker when you look at the racial aspects. According to a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, the combined wealth of those on the Forbes 400 list of America's richest dwarfs that of the nation's entire black or Latino populations.
The report found that the 100 richest US citizens control about as much wealth as all of the nation's 42 million African Americans. The total wealth of the nation's 55 million Latinos stacks up to that of the 186 richest Americans.
The average white family today has net assets of $141,900, compared with just $11,000 for black families.
This can be explained in part by the rapid erosion of the black and Latino middle classes. African Americans' net worth relative to whites has fallen by more than half since 2000: The average white family today has net assets of $141,900, compared with just $11,000 for black families—about the same paltry sum as back in 1985. Latinos have seen similar declines in net worth relative to whites.
There are many reasons for this slide: Black and Latino families were disproportionately exposed to risky subprime mortgages, had smaller amounts of inherited wealth, and were more susceptible to job and wage cuts during the Great Recession. And because these families are less likely than white families to own homes and stocks, they haven't benefited as much from the subsequent recovery.
America's stark inequality problem is evident in the Forbes 400 itself. Blacks and Latinos make up a combined 29 percent of the population but account for less than 2 percent of the Forbes list. Oprah Winfrey and the tech investor Robert Smith are the sole African Americans on the list, and just five on the list have Latino backgrounds. (They are Miami condo king Jorge Perez, billboard billionaire Arturo Moreno, and three heirs of the late Colombian beer magnate Julio Mario Santo Domingo, a major owner of the SABMiller empire.)
The dearth of black and Latino billionaires in the United States defies easy explanations, but one big factor may be Silicon Valley. The tech industry has minted more billionaires in recent years than any other sector of the economy. It also has a deeply entrenched diversity problem. According to census data, the proportion of Hispanic tech workers in Silicon Valley actually declined from 5 percent in 2000 to 4 percent in 2010—and the proportion of black techies fell from 3 percent to 2 percent. The Valley has begun to take diversity a little more seriously, but it could be another generation or more before it produces a black Mark Zuckerberg or a Latino Sergey Brin.
"You can only eat so much turkey and watch so much football and stand your in-laws for so long."
Josh HarkinsonNov. 26, 2015 7:00 AM
Over the past five years, Black Friday has migrated steadily into Thanksgiving, with each new year bringing fresh examples of big box stores flinging their doors open on Turkey Day. But this year the trend hit the skids. Though Walmart and the other usual suspects will still open on Thanksgiving Day, many big retailers—Costco, Nordstrom, Marshalls, and Home Depot, for example—are holding the line. Outdoor superstore REI went even further, announcing that it will be closed not only on Thanksgiving, but all the way through Black Friday.
Are consumers finally starting to get fed up with the holiday shopping hype? And what motivates some stores to close on Thanksgiving even as others rake in the cash? To find out, I called up Curt Munk, a veteran advisor for big-box retailers and Chief Strategist for the renowned brand agency FCB Red.
The people who organized the largest-ever Black Friday demonstrations against Walmart last year are leaving their protest signs at home this year. Instead, they're launching a campaign to support 1,000 food drives around the country to help struggling Walmart workers.
Making Change at Walmart's "Give Back Friday" campaign kicked off on Tuesday with the launch of a national TV ad campaign urging people "to help feed underpaid workers" and to "help us tell Walmart that in America no hard-working family should go hungry."
Some Walmart stores have implicitly acknowledged that their "associates" don't make enough money to feed themselves. In 2013, a Walmart store in Ohio held a Thanksgiving food drive "for associates in need"—although well intentioned, the drive became a publicity nightmare for the retail giant after photos of the food collection bin went viral.
Walmart raised its wages this year, but an entry-level associate still makes just $9 an hour—less than $16,000 a year based on Walmart's full-time status of 34 hours a week. (The federal poverty level is $24,250 for a family of four and $11,770 for an individual.) A 2013 report by congressional Democrats found that the company's wages and benefits are sufficiently low that many employees turn to the government for help, costing taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store.
"This holiday season, we have set the goal of feeding 100,000 Walmart workers and families," the union-backed group Making Change at Walmart said in a press release. "It is unconscionable that people working for one of the richest companies in this country should have to starve."
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for the ouster of Drug Enforcement Administration chief Chuck Roseberg after he flatly rejected the idea that smoking marijuana could have medical benefits. "What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal—because it's not," Rosenberg said during a press briefing earlier this month. "We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine—that is a joke."
In response, a Change.org petition with more than 106,000 signatures is calling upon President Barack Obama to "fire Chuck Rosenberg and appoint a new DEA administrator who will respect science, medicine, patients, and voters."
Rosenberg is clearly wrong, yet it's not entirely inaccurate to call medical marijuana a joke—in California at least.
Roseberg need not look far to find reputable studies documenting the medical value of marijuana, even in its whole-plant, smoked form. As Vox's German Lopez points out, a comprehensive review in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that pot can effectively treat chronic pain and muscle spasticity.
Still, it's not entirely inaccurate to call medical marijuana a joke—at least in California, the state with the nation's most lax medical marijuana law. When I visited a "marijuana doctor" in San Francisco a few years ago, it took me less than 15 minutes to get a pot card for—wait for it—"writer's cramp." Meanwhile, my wife waited for days before being denied a pot recommendation from our HMO, Kaiser Permanente, despite suffering from a flare-up of actual arthritis. While she sat at home popping Advils, I headed to the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo, where my card got me into a "patient consumption area" staffed by busty women in tight-fitting nurse outfits and a dispensary worker with a nametag that read, "Dr. Herb Smoker, MD."
But that sort of irony wasn't what Rosenberg was talking about. He seems to believe that because marijuana is popular as a recreational drug, it can't also be real medicine. Clearly, Dr. Herb Smoker isn't the only medical professional who disagrees.