“The cleaving of the country into two completely different states – one a small archipelago of hyperacquisitive untouchables , the other a vast ghetto of expendables with only theoretical rights – has been in the works a long time.”
Matt Taibbi is widely acknowledged as a real journalist, which is a significant compliment given the soft, conformist, stick-to-the-script ass-kissing that attempts to pass for journalism in the mainstream today.
He just tells it like it is. If its disturbing, he’ll say so. If it’s corrupt, he’ll let you know.
And in his latest book The Divide, he digs deep into how corrupt the criminal justice system is in the land of the free.
Chronicling many disturbing stories that unfolded leading up to the financial crisis of 2008, Taibbi provides an inside look at what really is the pinnacle of crony capitalism and straight-up, unapologetic, and deliberate corporate greed run amok.
The plot unfolds like an awkward horror film, and, of course, there is no happy ending, no justice, no jail time for those playing games with the global economy.
In fact, those who caused the financial crisis were often those who benefited most from the massive bailout that took place in the aftermath.
This is one side of what Taibbi terms “The Divide”: The rich and powerful.
Those on the bright side of The Divide don’t have to face up to the consequences of their actions, and in many instances, their wealth and power actually increase as they become more willing to participate in criminal activity.
On the other side (you guessed it) lie the powerless, the “ordinary” folk, the average American citizen. And they get the book thrown at them at every opportunity.
That, in a nutshell, is the thesis of The Divide: While the poor and powerless face unprecedented levels of supervision and incarceration, those in power are virtually immune from punishment, even for crimes which impact the lives of millions.
Pleas for leniency tend to go unnoticed on the dark side of The Divide, and heinous offenses like possession of small quantities of marijuana and “obstructing pedestrian traffic” are enough to get you tossed into the insanity that is the lower court system, and possibly into a jail cell.
“Obsessed with success and wealth and despising failure and poverty, our society is systematically dividing the population into winners and losers, using institutions like the courts to speed the process.
Winners get rich and get off. Loser go broke and go to jail.
It isn’t just that some clever crook on Wall Street can steal a billion dollars and never see the inside of a courtroom; it’s that, plus the fact that some black teenager a few miles away can go to jail just for standing on a street corner, that makes the whole picture complete.”
The “winners” are able to get away with such defenses as “I can’t be prosecuted because my reputation will be tarnished” or “I am a good person, and I didn’t mean to do any harm,” while the “losers,” well, can’t.
With liberty and justice for some, as Glenn Greenwald would put it.
While big business and large financial institutions in the United States are subjected to less regulation and less stringent supervision every year, the average citizen is facing the full force of a police state, being overwhelmed by absurd stop-and-frisk laws and, for those on welfare, constant violation of their privacy by government officials.
What we’re experiencing is a “government-sponsored sorting of the entire population into arrestable and nonarrestable classes.”
Those responsible for the financial crisis in 2008 which affected millions? Nonarrestable.
Those who have a joint in their pocket and decide walk down the street? Arrestable.
In The Divide, Taibbi delves into the personal stories of a few individuals who have been caught up in this increasingly corrupt system. Tales of “volume policing,” body-snatching, and blatant abuse of rights abound, many times with zero justification.
This is, of course, the opposite of how the cats on Wall Street are policed.
But hey, it sure is easier to target the poor teenager hanging out on his front porch than the wealthy investment banker on the tenth floor of his lavish apartment building, even if the latter is the one committing real crimes.
This is The Divide, and the gap between the two-tiers is ever-widening.
The United States consists of only around 5% of the world’s population, but it harbors around 20-25% of the world’s prisoners, a significant percentage of whom are drug offenders (48.7% of inmates in federal prisons, as of November 2014, were there for drug charges, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ statistics).
As the powerful become more immune to investigation and punishment, the public is punished evermore harshly.
The guy on the corner smoking a joint is thrown in jail, while HSBC gets away with laundering billions of dollars from drug cartels, only having to pay a relatively meager fine.
It’s only fraud when a single mother lies on her welfare application, not when it is committed within the confines of Wall Street.
It’s only drug dealing when it is done by a guy on the street corner. But when banks assist in laundering drug money? Eh, no big deal.
“The new truth is a sci-fi movie, a dystopia. And in this sci-fi world the issues aren’t justice and injustice, but biology and mortality.
We have a giant, meat-grinding bureaucracy that literally alters the physical makeup of its citizens, systematically grinding down the losers into a smaller, meeker, lower race of animal while aggrandizing the winners, making them bigger than life, impervious, super-people…
Just as corporations are brainless machines for making profits, this sweepingly complex system of public-private bureaucracies that constitutes our modern politics is just a giant, brainless machine for creating social inequity.”
It sounds bleak because it is.
Want to do something about it?
“…if you want to change even the smallest law, in your home state or in Washington, you need an army of thousands of lobbyists to get it done.”
This is the world we live in.
Unfairness is indeed always a part of life. But equality under the law is supposed to be the great equalizer.
Well, that’s still true in theory, but the reality, as Taibbi lays out in The Divide, is far different.
It’s hard to be optimistic. Behind closed doors crimes are being committed on a scope and scale that would be cause for a country-wide riot if they were exposed, yet these individuals and groups and corporations go unpunished, as long as they have a high-powered lawyer and a fat pocketbook.
It would be easy to make sense of the justice system if leniency was a principle applied equally to all. Yes, everyone makes mistakes, and some people get unlucky and end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But leniency is being applied selectively to white-collar criminals who have a lot to lose, and who would actually be deterred from committing crimes if they knew they would face jail time.
“The street criminal is hated, despised. It’s understood that sending him anywhere but to jail is grounds for public outrage. You’ll never see a local prosecutor call a press conference and pat himself on the back for letting a car thief or a mugger of old ladies off with a fine.
Any local DA who made a deal like that for any reason, even a good one, would generally have enough sense to stay indoors and cancel the presser.
But that’s not what we’re seeing with these white-collar cases. The government has not only made soft-touch, no-jail deals with criminal offenders repeatedly, but its officers have then tried to argue with straight faces that they’re good deals. There’s no attempt to explain or apologize for an enforcement failure.”
And that’s the system we live in. There are two classes of criminals: Real criminals, and businessmen who are just overly-aggressive, and who merely bend the rules. No big deal.
There’s not even a vain attempt to hide this Divide from the people. Everyone knows about it, but the overwhelming attitude is apathetic. That’s just the way it is, I often hear.
And it’s hard to disagree with the apathy.
Taibbi makes it clear that something must be done, but story after story, headline after headline, makes me less convinced that anything can in fact be done, outside of widespread, systemic changes that turns the current status quo on its head.
The Divide is a difficult read, not because of the style or structure, but because of the content.
If you enjoy getting pissed off at the current notion of “justice” in the United States, and if you like getting bludgeoned with stories of the unapologetic theft and corruption that takes place behind the closed doors of some of the world’s gigantic financial institutions, The Divide is a great place to start.