Imagine being in the position to learn about all the once-mysterious inner workings of a tornado as it marches across the landscape destroying homes and killing people. While the findings are terrifying, they’re also fascinating and might help save lives and property from future storms. But just as the terror ends, the brutality begins: Instead of insurance claims being paid to survivors, the survivors are hauled into court and ordered to pay damages to the insurers of life, health, and property. We’d like to think such a thing could never happen, but it already has – and it wasn’t a natural or unstoppable force that caused it.
Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, by Matt Taibbi, is a wild ride through the 2008 economic meltdown that, six years later, still burns like an inextinguishable pile of tires in the hearts and heartlands of billions of people in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Anyone who followed the decades-long debacle of “Screw history! Let’s do it again!” that led up to the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and the Great Recession of 2009 will recognize the names of key players and recall the crimes for which one arrest after another still hasn’t taken place, and as one crime after another is still being committed.
Headlines would have Mr. and Mrs. Main Street Taxpayer believe much of the trouble boiled down to a handful of underhanded corporate underlings, Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, and the secrets revealed by whistleblower Linda Almonte (the mid-level executive at J.P. Morgan Chase who was fired in 2009 for bringing to light and then not cooperating with Chase’s “irregular” credit card debt collection practices). Mr. and Mrs. Main Street Taxpayer were deceived and literally paid the price for others’ deceptions.
In a head-spinning number of cases representing and reflecting thousands of others that can be fact-checked through the public record, Taibbi takes the absurdity of still-unpunished crimes of economic fraud committed en masse and juxtaposes them with an even larger number of working people sent to jail for “obstructing pedestrian traffic” and public assistance recipients being harassed by government entities for owning pretty underwear. This bizarre double standard gains momentum as it moves down through local law enforcement agencies dragging innocent people kicking and screaming through a macabre system of revenue-making under the guise of crime control. So even as U.S. crime rates fell and continue to fall, more prisons are built and filled because those prisons are corporate-owned and privately-run with government aid – and a prison without prisoners isn’t profitable.
In the world Taibbi reveals — the world in which we really live — there are no Republicans and Democrats or liberals and conservatives. There aren’t even any clear-cut lines between good guys and bad guys. There are only those who have-not, those who have some, and those who, despite having so much, insist on getting more by whatever means – legal or not.
Divide details a massive game of Kill-the-Guy-With-the-Ball, played above the heads, jobs, bus stops, and bank accounts of people who have no lobbyist. The players not only don’t care that the field upon which they play is made of everyone else’s backs, they are actually complaining about how lumpy it is. But why are the have-nots on the field in the first place? The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing Main Street to defend Wall Street. Regulations had, at one time, maintained the path from rags to riches, but successful lobbying for corporate loopholes and deregulation have barricaded the way. Taibbi quotes former hedge fund manager, Marc Cohodes: “Joe Sixpack has zero chance to succeed here.”
Taibbi’s account is almost impossible to get through without feeling angry and powerless. Others may find it difficult, yet inspiring. At the very least, Divide is a must-read for every American who has a mortgage, credit card, student loan and/or stands on the sidewalk outside their home.
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