Several mornings ago, I was listening to National Public Radio’s morning fake news program called, “Morning Edition.” On this particular show, the host, David Greene, was kind of a bystander to a conversation between a weirdly-named rapper named “Killer Mike” and George Clinton, long-time funk legend.
KM and Clinton, it turns out, had something in common: both had run a barbershop, and had used the shop to help launch their careers.
In the conversation, KM asked Clinton how he got his start. Clinton’s response was that one day in the early 1960’s, a group of men came into his barbershop with more than a million dollars in counterfeit cash. Clinton gave them a couple thousand dollars for the fake money and used it to pay other performers to contribute to the album that launched his career.
First of all, how often does that kind of thing happen in typical American barbershops? Kind of a surreal thing, no? What other kinds of criminal endeavors was Clinton involved in? What kind of life was George Clinton leading, that a group of men in possession of more than a million dollars in counterfeit cash thought to bring it into his barbershop?
Clinton laughed about paying his performers in worthless money, and said that he had informed his hired performers of the nature of the cash, so it was, you see, all on the up and up. Clinton mentioned that the performers would have earned something like $200 in real money for their efforts, but he paid them more than $1,000 in fake money. The performers were responsible, you see, for laundering the faked booty they received.
Both Killer Mike and NPR’s Greene treated the story as an amusing anecdote of cleverness and creativity. You know, an artist stumbles onto an unusual circumstance, and figures out an inventive way to use it to finance the project, or the piece of equipment that makes his break, and launches the career that will become legendary.
In reality though, here’s what happened: First, the guys with the bogus money know that Clinton is a shady character who might buy their imitation banknotes. Or, as is most likely, Clinton was involved in the counterfeiting scheme from the beginning, and was planning to use it to finance his career as a musician.
The counterfeiters launder their counterfeit money through Clinton’s barbershop. Then, he pays other musicians — each a criminal himself, complicit in Clinton’s part of the counterfeiting operation — in ersatz currency to play on his album.
Next, the performers take the $1,000 in fake money and use it to buy other things. It should be noted that these musicians/criminals apparently think nothing of giving someone else something of no value — fake money — in exchange for something of real value.
A simple word for this is “theft.”
The counterfeiting operation represented theft pure and simple — a million plus bucks worth of theft… theft from who knows how many small businesses, entrepreneurs, shops, stores, dealerships… all of whom received worthless money in exchange for something of real worth. And all so that George Clinton could finance his first album.
Now, I wonder what NPR would have thought of, say, someone who hypothetically became a Conservative legend after having financed his magazine with counterfeit money. What if NPR found out, for example, that William F. Buckley had used a million counterfeit bucks to launch National Review? Do you think NPR would have thought it was an amusing story of a bunch of clever people finding a clever way to launch their Conservative media empire? Or, do you think rather that NPR might have been in scornful high dudgeon, insisting that the right-winger was really nothing more than a criminal, and a fraud?
Yeah… I’m afraid that last is a lot more likely.