Book Review: The Divide by Matt Taibbi

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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.

Taibbi on Democracy Now!

 

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.

 Matt Taibbi: America has a ‘profound hatred of the weak and the poor’

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…

R.I.P. Michael C. Ruppert

 

I woke up this morning to some pretty sad news. The ex LAPD officer who blew the lid off the CIA’s trafficking and proliferation of crack in the ghettos of 1980’s Los Angeles killed himself Sunday night. Apparently everyone (I am sure there are some skeptics) seem to believe that this is a legitimate suicide and he basically left clues that he was going to do it at the end of his radio program “The Lifeboat Hour” Sunday. If you didn’t know who Mr. Ruppert was there are plenty of books and documentaries featuring him and about him out there. Many believed he was a conspiracy theorist and rode him off immediately. One thing you cannot deny is how brilliant and brave his confrontation with then CIA Director John Deutch was. see below:

Michael Ruppert is the real live version of the character you see in a movies with their wall covered in sticky notes forming some type of web or algorithm, chain-smoking, and obsessing over how the world really works. There is documented evidence he predicted the financial crisis long before it happened. He knew things about the covert operations of the United States long before the press released them. There was a constant attempt to discredit him as a “conspiracy theorist” and a “cook” that most of his work was done underground. To Ruppert conspiracy theories were a science sometimes you do get things wrong but that doesn’t invalidate your whole theory, you continue to research and hypothesize until you get the facts. I don’t think that was the hard part, I think the hard part was getting the people to believe and understand the things he did get right. I followed him on Facebook and Twitter and he has recently been passionate about the dangers of climate change and how the destruction of our environment is going to shift society in ways it does not understand yet. He believed strongly in living off the land and encouraged people to learn as much about back to basics humanity as possible. He seemed like a caring man not and angry man. Despite the multiple attempts on his life over the years by the CIA and other police and intelligence operatives he continued to do what he does. I guess you can only take so much though…I hope he is happier now. We know way more about the real world we live in, not the illusionary world we think we live in, because of Mr. Ruppert and he gets no credit for it. I give him credit though. Thanks Mr. Ruppert.

Below are two other documentaries that were made about him:

 

Collapse Full Movie

Apocalypse Man series from VICE

 

Review: SZA – Z

A known entity to me, due to her previous releases and to her affiliation with Top Dawg Entertainment, the (eh….hipster, or whatever) R&B artist has come into her own with this quality release.

The album features production from the likes of Emile, DJ Dahi, Toro y Moi (who’s doing his thing on the production tip, on the low), Felix Snow, xxyyxx, and Mac Miller (under the pseudonym, Larry Fisherman).  There is even a full production credit for Marvin Gaye – more on this later.

(A quick word on Mac Miller:  You can say whatever you’d like about his (improving) rap skill, but the kid has a tremendous ear and talent for making beats.  He could stop rapping, and just make beats for artists – he’s getting that good.)

Let’s get to the one negative first.  The album reads in a mostly narrow tone/range.  This isn’t directly bad, but for an EP, which is supposed to let people know who you are, and what you could be, I would have liked a little more range into both ends of the R&B spectrum, more classic and somewhat more experimental – perhaps a track each.  This is very, very tick-tacky, so we will press on to the many positives.

And, wow, there are many positives.  Let’s begin with her powerful voice – the strongest feature on the album (and a sign of long-term success – the sound is built around her dynamic voice, and not the inverse).  Her power is in the versatility in which it can be used, how it can lean in and out of the track, and layered throughout.  Yet, the sounds wrap around her voice, and it become hard to untangle the two entities – where does she begin and the music end, and vice versa.  She’s really tuned into her overall feel.  The EP feels like full piece of work, not lacking in anything, save the ‘X’ mark I noted in the previous paragraph.

The production on the entire album is outstanding, and notable for staying in key, sonically in theme and tone.  High quality connections are made in each track.  There are a few standouts, including “Childs Play” (featuring Chance the Rapper), “Julia”, “Sweet November”, and “Babylon” (featuring Kendrick Lamar).  “Babylon” is probably the strongest track on the album, and not just because of Kendrick’s (as usual) strong verse.  It’s the track that best combines her amazing vocals, with elements of the atmospheric feel and the trap sounds permeating the current times.  “Sweet November” is particularly interesting because it includes a heavy sample of “Mandota”, a demo track from Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On.

I’d say the album is a resounding success for SZA, and for Top Dawg’s move into something not completely expected out of the camp, even one known for smarter sensibilities.

Favorite tracks: “Babylon”

Not Favorite tracks: none.

K.

Book Review: Gravesend by William Boyle

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Sometimes I guess I am a little slow. because I just sat down to start writing this review of Gravesend and realized how many different ways the title works in respect to this novel. The most direct way the title works is the story is set in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn. I have never heard of Gravesend in Brooklyn and since the name sounds so ominous (especially for a place where people live) I decided to do some quick google research. Immediately when I reading about Gravesend and looking at pictures I though of the old heavily Jewish and Italian Brooklyn neighborhoods of the 1940’s and 1950’s with Gambino types and such. This era of Brooklyn and the 90’s hip hop era of Brooklyn were the eras in which I wished I lived in Brooklyn as a kid growing up in the bible belt.

Then you have the actual story, where you are brought into the lives of a few different families who are tied together from growing up in the neighborhood. One of the best parts about the book is how well-developed the characters are, Especially the two main characters Conway and Alessandra. Conway is a troubled man almost 30 becoming a 24 hour a day drinker working a dead-end job at Rite Aid. Conway , despite his desire, hasn’t escaped the neighborhood physically or mentally, and his life seems to be stunted by the death of his gay brother Duncan. Duncan was killed by running into traffic while trying to evade a  particularly aggressive homophobic bullying session by some kids lead by the neighborhood’s idol tough guy Ray Boy. Ray Boy is no longer the suave tough playboy he once was after doing a long stint in prison for the sort of “murder” of Duncan. Conway has been in his own prison of grief and alcoholism waiting for the day to execute his revenge on Ray Boy who he blames for needlessly ruining his family. Conway is taken aback by Ray Boys dramatic shift in personality but also at Ray Boy’s desire to die at the hands of Conway because he cannot forgive himself for what happened. The other main character is Alessandra who has just returned to Gravesend after a weak career as an actress in LA. Now that Alessandra is back in the neighborhood she has worked so hard to escape, she doesn’t really know what to do and is spending this time revisiting her old stomping grounds. Unfortunately it doesn’t take her long at all to get sucked back into the rut she was in before she left with the same people, places, and drama.

Gravesend is not just a neighborhood in this story but to me it is a metaphor for what is happening to the people’s lives (which you will have to read to get that good information) wether it be some of these characters literally being sent to their graves or just being emotionally buried under the weight of this part of New York City. The book is dark but its beautiful and its written in such an accessible way that you sometimes don’t even realize how fucked up the shit that is happening to these people really is. I loved this story and I will just chock this one up as another win for Broken River Books who consistently put out great noir crime fiction novels. They have released  11 or 12 books this year, 10 of which I own, 6 of which I have read and enjoyed very much. My instinct is to just devour all of their books at once but I have tried to pace myself…I look forward to reading more from WIlliam Boyle as well. Just go ahead and buy Gravesend, read it, and then pick up the rest of Broken River Books catalog. You wont be disappointed.