Here’s a riddle: Imagine A 19-year-old black guy is standing in front of his apartment complex in Bed Stuy smoking a cigarette talking to a friend. Cops approach him, search him, and discover he has a small amount of marijuana on him (a joints worth). Now imagine an executive who works for one of the largest banks in the world receives a call from a notorious Mexican narcotics dealer with a violent history including rape and murder. It is later discovered through FOI requests that the executive and his institution washed that money for this drug lord so he could continue terrorizing communities and villages where he comes from. Who goes to jail? Of course the black kid right? You knew that. I mean it’s not even a riddle its kind of just a stupid question right? Why is that? Why is it ok that we just assume the young minority kid in Brooklyn goes to jail. Our society has constantly preached an anti-drug message for decades now. You got one kid at the very bottom of the drug totem pole and then you have someone enabling and protecting someone at the very top of that totem pole. Why do the ones at the bottom always pay the worst? It’s because of The Divide. The Divide is a wealth divide and its a cultural divide.
Though his career is still young I feel Matt Taibbi’s book “Griftopia” is his opus. That book is brilliant on so many levels. I have read countless books on the financial crash of 2008 but none of them do a better job of explaining the financial shitstorm of 2008 in a more accessible and entertaining way than Griftopia. With that being said The Divide is a brilliant and important book none the less. The first thing I noticed while reading The Divide is that Taibbi’s signature polemic style isn’t as prevalent in this book. At first I was disappointed but the more I read this book the more infuriated I became, then I realized there really is nothing funny about this shit. I devoured this book pretty quickly but I found myself having to stop because it was literally making me angry and probably increasing my blood pressure a few ticks. There is example after example after example in this book of minorities being harassed on the street by police and thrown into jail and processed through a zombie system that cares nothing for circumstance. There is also in comaparison example after example of bankers breaking the law and thanks to a memo that Eric Holder wrote as a low-level lawyer at the Justice Department during the Clinton Administration allows these Bankers and Banks to get off with what is called “deferred prosecution”. Essentially the company has to pay a fine but no one goes to jail or even admit any wrong doing. The executives get to keep their bonuses and even worse move on to run other companies. I can think of any job other than finance where you can literally destroy a company by looting it through all kinds of illegal activity and not only get to keep you pay and bonus but also get promoted. We live in a society of increasing “haves” and “have-nots” and there is a growing disdain for the “have-nots” even among the “have-nots”.
Matt Taibbi writes like a current age Studs Terkel in this book. He continuously draws straight lines from how the schemes of Wall Street directly affect everyday Americans especially those from poorer areas. In Griftopia, Taibbi drew straight lines from Wall Street to spikes in gas prices, lost pensions, and the destruction of our healthcare system. In The Divide he draws direct lines between “stop and frisk” in NYC to Wall Street and “welfare fraud” in San Diego to the financial fraud of Wall Street. The schemes are essentially the same, but with two very very different systems of consequences. We have become complacent to this system as well. The government prosecutors of are literally scared to go after Wall Street and would rather bring the hammer down harder on a poor kid from Brooklyn. They use a myriad of excuses, but the worst is the argument of “collateral consequences” to the company. The thinking is that if a company is prosecuted it will collapse resulting in ripples throughout the world economy possibly causing recessions, and what of the poor traders who will lose their jobs? The problem with this line of thinking is no one is suggesting the company be dismantled but the bad apples within the company be prosecuted in the same manner say a person who robs a convenience store or steal a car would be prosecuted. That isn’t going to destroy the company. Through a genius campaign of lobbying through politicians and media, Americans literally believe that if we hurt bankers we are hurting ourselves.
I have read people complaining that writers such and Matt Taibbi and Chris Hedges do not offer enough solutions to the problems and their books are all doom and gloom. First of all the solutions are implicit in the problem but also you have to understand the problem to even begin to understand the solutions. I don’t believe most Americans are up for the challenge of educating themselves about high finance and the regulation of high finance. Wall Street is counting on America not being up for that challenge as well. There is a prescient warning at the end of The Divide via the story of a middle age white saxophone player living in Brooklyn. This guy walked his girlfriend to the Subway in Brooklyn and decided to roll a cigarette and was attacked and arrested by undercover NYPD. Despite doing NOTHING but smoking rolled tobacco he was beaten and framed. The cops planted crack on this dude! Even his lawyer father could not get him out of it. This resulted in this innocent man having to plead guilty for a crime he didn’t commit and he now experiences serious PTSD. The point of that story is to warn us that the law is beginning to widen its net. All this time when minorities and poor people are being unfairly accosted and processed through this racist system many of the white and middle class turn their heads because they don’t think it will happen to them. Well just like anything else you can only process the same minorities over and over so many times, so the system will begin to create ways to make more of the untouchables touchable. As The Divide widens, more and more people will learn which side of the divide they are on. Likely you are not on the side that will not prosecuted.
Buy The Divide and read it…