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The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
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135 of 138 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
You could bookend this with Christa Freeland's "Plutocrats." But where that recounts a lot of dry history and statistics interspersed with its revealing interviews, Taibbi isn't afraid to roll up his sleeves and go to the story. This is a book written with a wry sense of the absurd situations it details. Corruption at both the top and the bottom of our society. But to very, very different ends.

Remember: this is the guy that went to the Florida "rocket docket" court, recording how thousands of people were stripped of their homes under the flimsiest pretexts, often with outright fabricated evidence. In "Divide" he goes again where the stories are: to Bed-Sty, the outer NYC boroughs, and the courts. And documents how miserably the system treats the disadvantaged. What you think you know from "Law And Order", believe it: you don't. Kafka himself couldn't improve on some of this. At one point Taibbi refers to all this as a "descent into madness." And after reading it, it's hard to argue with that.

The "Divide" of course is cash. But this is no screed against "the rich." If that's what you think you've not read the book, or completely missed the point. To wit: if you commit a massive, white-collar crime, but you've got enough (i.e. near-infinite) cash, you're now too much trouble and risk to even indict, let alone prosecute. And if -- like me - you've wondered why none of the people who committed these global frauds on a massive scale have ever been prosecuted for any of it, this book gives you a detailed, compelling, and depressing answer.

Taibbi points out most of us will never see any of this. Out of sight, out of mind. The poor are segregated away. And the corrupt wealthy never have to interact with any of the people who are so profoundly impacted by their frauds. These are the guys who ripped off us off, burned down our 401Ks, rigged Libor rates to line their own pockets with our mortgages. And then moved on to other cushy positions, presumably doing much the same.

One review here (by someone who claims to have read all of 3 pages) complains about Taibbi's assertion of "a miserable few hundred bucks" collected by welfare cheats in San Diego. But let's be clear: Taibbi never suggests these people should be let off. But he does spend considerable ink contemplating for example, about the corrupt execs at institutions like HSBC. Execs who brazenly laundered money for the Iranians and the Sinaloa cartel. (They actually opened a special teller window to fit the boxes of cash that were brought in!) About how these guys got off scot-free with a fine paid by HSBC. And never even saw the inside of a courtroom. While people who buy those street dime bags that HSBC so thoughtfully enabled can spend years, or a lifetime, in prison. Lose their kids. Their right to vote. And then even if they do get out can't get a job. "A billion dollars or a billion days." Does that seem like "equal justice for all?" Not to me. Not to Taibbi. And it won't to you after you read this.

Taibbi suggests a larger, deeper, and more sinister subtext. About what we claim to profess as a nation: due process, equal justice, simple fairness. Money and power have always had their sway of course. But the inescapable takeaway from this is that we've simply given up on these ideals; they're now just too much trouble. As a nation we no longer give a damn. That's the real divide. And the real outrage.
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121 of 125 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
In this book, Taibbi further explores themes he touched on in Griftopia, where he discussed in exceptionally fine detail the various cons, swindles, and other criminal activity (to call it what it is, really, since it seems like so many avoid doing that) perpetrated by the American finance sector during the 2008 financial crisis. Although it's not really necessary, I'd read that book before I read this one, because it provides a lot of background, and just because the contents of that book explain that debacle better than anyone else could, or even bothered to.

As opposed to recounting what happened like he did in Griftopia, The Divide explains how the crooks at places like Lehman Brothers got away with what they did, or rather, how they did so in full view of regulators and then dodged prosecution by the Department of Justice. He juxtaposes this with the "other" justice system the opposite end of the wealth spectrum is subject to. Perhaps this isn't a new concept that Taibbi or anyone else just figured out - fans of Chappelle's Show might remember the Law & Order parody where Dave switched the white collar criminal and the drug dealer? - but in any case Taibbi draws this contrast to stark effect. The wealthy are more or less immune to prosecution no matter how egregious their crimes are, especially in the context of their work, due to any combination of the details being too arcane or the government being unable/unwilling to effectively investigate or prosecute. As for the poor, well, poverty is effectively a crime in itself, some people have more rights than others, something that's invisible to many people stuck somewhere between not caring and feeling they deserve it - after all, there must be a good reason all those people are going to prison even though violent crime is actually going down, right? It's easier just to not think about.

Taibbi's greatest talent as a writer is his ability to convey extremely complicated topics into ordinary language just about anyone can understand, this is one of the main reasons I was a big fan of his over at Rolling Stone. I believe him to be the best reporter out there to cover the seas of mud in the finance sector, and make no mistake, Taibbi is definitely an old-school reporter at heart, digging up mundane data, going through dry, dusty documents nobody seems to care about for our benefit. This book doesn't have Taibbi's usual tone, which at times borders on irreverent/bombastic (I mean that affectionately), but understanding these problems are important if we're ever going to get anything done about it.
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109 of 116 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Once again, Matt Taibbi get it right. If you are at all concerned about the future of real justice replacing our present system of justice in Ameica, you must read this book. Taibbi makes it crystal clear that the "Divide" is real and that if you are an executive of a large corporation, you can get away with huge crimes with no personal penalty but if you are poor or middle class, you can pay a huge price for a minor infraction or some times no infraction other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is truly a major scandal that needs to be rectified. Read this book and let your voice be heard !
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94 of 105 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Taibbi tells about the divide between rich and poor and how politicians foster conditions to maintain and increase the separation. There are more Americans in jail than ever were jailed in Stalin's Russian gulags for instance and the time to correct the situation is running out fast. The poor go to prison and the rich go to the Bahamas.
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114 of 133 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
With `The Divide' Matt Taibbi, an editor of Rolling Stone magazine, returns on the literary scene with his new work after with previous `Griftopia' and `The Great Derangement' he spoke about the America after 9/11 and activities that took place behind-the-scenes of the financial crisis in recent years.

In this last book he touched a theme that is extremely painful because it interferes with the justice and concerns a large number of people - he speaks about today's different ways of crimes persecution depending whether they were committed by poor people, while on the other hand the rich people lightly pull out of all the problems thanks to their money and influence, which it carries.

I read his earlier works and though I generally like the uncompromising style that the author fosters, it must be recognized that it is evident that the author with each new book is becoming more mature, and his stories that get better are deprived of general accusations.

Although it is usually not a subject when reviewing this type of book I cannot avoid to mention the great black-and-white illustrations that can be found on the pages of the book, the work of illustrator Molly Crabapple, depicting various motifs associated with justice.

The book is quite extensive, consisting of nearly 500 pages, but it seems that the author didn't need to prepare a lot to spoke with full inspiration about dissatisfaction today's (ordinary) man feels, while on the other side encounters injustice by looking at how those who have a lot, thanks to system are destined to have even more.

Therefore with full right can be said that this is the best Matt Taibbi's book that besides author fans can be recommended to other readers who have not yet been introduced to the work of this author and want to read a good quality non-fiction work.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle Edition
Taibbi's objective was to show that wealth disparities in America are also creating enormously unequal outcomes in our justice system.

Violent crime in the U.S. peaked in 1991 at 785/100K, then dropped to 425 in 2010 via a long, steady slide. Poverty rates also largely declined in the 1990s, then rose sharply during the 2000s (10% at the start, 15.3% in 2010). In 1991 there were about 1 million Americans in jail, 2.2 million by 2012 (6 million counting those also on parole).

I was particularly interested in Taibbi's coverage of the outcome of financial shenanigans involved leading up to and after the Great Recession. He reports that no high-ranking executive from any financial institution has gone to jail, or even been charged since 2008, and then details the collapse of Lehman Brothers in a chapter titled 'The Greatest Bank Robbery You Never Heard Of.' The 'star' - Dick Fuld, Lehman's CEO at the time, known for being mean, twice placing non-accountants into the CFO position, and running up its balance sheet from $38 billion in 1998 to almost $700 billion in 2007 in a race to surpass Goldman Sachs. Unfortunately, he tried to accomplish this by doubling-down on subprime mortgages in 2007, while Goldman was unloading them as fast as it could.

After Bear Stearns collapsed (3/08), investigators from the N.Y. Fed (led by Geithner) and the SEC began monitoring its cash-flow. Prior to that, Lehman was sometimes borrowing $100 billion or $200 billion from eg. Fidelity Bank in the overnight market just to stay afloat, then paying off those loans first thing in the morning with matching 'intraday' loans from eg. JPMorgan Chase. When Lehman's borrowing needs increased beyond its available quality corporate loans and commercial mortgage for use as collateral, Lehman began including subprime loans and lying both about the overall quality and quantity. Investigators later concluded that of the $30 billion Lehman claimed as assets in its last days, only $1 - 2 billion was actually available - the rest had been used to help buy more subprime mortgages, and or already pledged at least once for other loans. Another ploy - taking out $50 billion loans at the end of each quarter and claiming that the cash came from revenues. At least two insiders reported financial chicanery - one to the SEC, the other to Lehman's auditor, Ernst & Young. Both were ignored.

Fuld eventually resigned/forced out. Lehman insiders then engineered the sale of Lehman Brothers assets to Barclays Bank with terms highly advantageous to Barclays. Lehman, at the time, had a $45 billion loan from the Fed, secured by $50 billion in credible assets. Between the 9 Lehman negotiators and Barclay's lawyers, Barclay got away with calling this an even swap (normally the $5 billion excess collateral would go to creditors, and paid only $250 million for Lehman. In return the Lehman negotiators got $302.9 million for their services ($112.4 million for the top three); when one was later asked what he did for his $15 million, answered 'I don't know.' Over 76,000 institutions and individuals claimed losses when Lehman closed - these included the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority - $609 million, Long Beach, Ca. - $20 million, a mine-workers' union ($180,000). Barclays eventually was fined $453 million by the Bank of England - not for anything to do with Lehman but for rigging LIBOR rates since at least 2005. Geithner also knew of their LIBOR actions as far back as 2008 but did nothing except send recommendations to the Bank of England on how to curtail Barclay's activities - but nothing to the U.S. Justice Dept.

Unbelievable how Fuld et al got away with it - if you or I tried embezzling a bank for $500 we'd be locked away for years! Losses include its 2/07 capitalization of close to $60 billion, many of its 25,000 employees losing their jobs, and the erosion of close to $10 trillion in global equity markets in 10/2008.

Taibbi has an explanation - Geithner's fear that the economy was too fragile, along with Eric Holder's 'principal of collateral consequences' memo written in 1999 while in the Clinton White house. In that memo he advocates avoiding fallout for officers, directors, employees, and shareholders in financial crimes by pushing for fines and civil sanctions instead. This also supported TARP bailouts, and continues today - eg. Holder's Justice Department has declined to prosecute the Swiss bank UBS for its role in the Libor price-fixing scandal, instead pursuing a civil settlement. When the economy crashed in 2008, the federal government formed the Financial Crisis Inquiry Committee to look into causes and funded their efforts with $9.8 million. That same year the federal drug enforcement budget jumped from $13.3 to $15.3 billion, an approximate increase alone of 200X the amount given to investigate the Great Recession. Taibbi also cites insiders rationalizing the lack of pursuit of big bankers because it is easier - avoid confronting highly-paid defense lawyers and loopholes buried in various laws by bank lobbyists.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Having exposed Wall Street fraud and mischief in his previous work, Matt Taibbi explores why bankers are seemingly exempt from criminal prosecution, even as New York City targets petty crime—much of it manufactured by police in minority neighborhoods—more aggressively than ever. Taibbi also considers the zeal with which government agencies investigate and humiliate welfare recipients and undocumented residents for trying to provide for their families during hard times—times made all the harder because of unprosecuted crimes at the top of the economic food chain.

Everyone knows the rich receive special treatment in this country, especially in court. But Taibbi concludes that the government now offers a sliding scale of civil and criminal protections to U.S. residents. The very rich are virtually beyond accountability, no matter how massive and destructive their crimes may be, but the nation’s most vulnerable residents face unremitting investigation and prosecution by bureaucracies determined to find them guilty of something.

Taibbi also surfaces a new set of targets: Justice Department prosecutors who seek settlements for even the most outrageous white-collar scams. Many of these prosecutors are recruited from law firms whose clients include the largest Wall Street banks. All too often, Taibbi argues, the prosecutors have continued to behave like defense attorneys. When Attorney General Eric Holder was a Clinton administration official, for example, he wrote a memo arguing that prosecutors should consider “collateral consequences” when determining whether to charge corporations or their officers. If a criminal prosecution would unduly harm innocent shareholders and employees, the logic went, it made more sense to settle. But once bankers realized they were beyond criminal prosecution, the incentives to transgress increased dramatically.

“The Divide” marks a shift in Taibbi’s tone. He drops most of the histrionics and even goes out of his way to be reasonable. He acknowledges that prosecuting financial cases can be expensive and risky, especially when the alleged crimes are complex and the defendants have vast legal resources at their disposal. He also concedes that many disadvantaged neighborhoods may benefit from tough policing. But he maintains that when combined, the two law-enforcement strategies add up to a glaring injustice.

Taibbi’s is an important voice in today’s media ecology, and “The Divide” is his most important book-length contribution to date.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Matt Taibbi's new book The Divide:American Justice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (Random House; Spiegal & Grau, 2014, 448 pages, $27.00) is certain to make you angry, whatever side of the political spectrum you inhabit. The simple thesis of the book is that America's justice system is deeply divided along lines of race, culture, class, and (most of all) wealth into two distinct groups receiving distinctly different treatment at the hands of the police, the courts, and the political system. The genius of the book is how Taibbi hammers home his evidence to build an overwhelming indictment of not only injustice the system, but how much it costs all of us in lost opportunity and wealth. Taibbi builds his case by being a terrific story teller. He takes the reader into the homes, the offices, and courts with riveting interviews and loads of solidly compiled evidence to evoke, at first, some disbelief, but ultimately a deep conviction that something is wrong here, and we need to become outraged enough to do something about it. The reader is left, like Howard Beale in the Paddy Cheyevsky/Sidmey Lumet Film Network, leaning out the window screaming, “I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take any more!”

Taibbi develops his premise by telling, in alternating chapters, stories about the poor, mostly black and Hispanic people, who are systematically treated with disrespect and humiliating injustice by the police, the courts, and the government with examples from the world of banking and high finance in which the institutions are deemed “too big to fail” and neither institutions nor individuals are seriously punished for their frauds (for crimes of fraud they certainly are) because of a doctrine of possible “collateral damage” to the innocent developed by Eric Holder when he served in the Attorney General's office under President Bill Clinton. Don't let Eric Holder's name set your heart a-pounding, though, as both Democrats and Republicans, including each of our last three Presidents, come in for their well-deserved share of the blame for the current shameful situation....Read the rest of this review on my blog and then buy the book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Taibbi’s last book, Griftopia, got to me. Not like it made me mad, but you could tell the seething rage that was behind his words and it was so heavy that it almost detracted from his argument (The argument that you and I all got sold out).

Here, he’s toned it down. In the Divide, Taibbi flips back and forth between the malefactors of great wealth that can wreck a planet and a financial system AND then he looks at the people who suffer great injustice at the hands of the law. It is a class thing, as well as a race thing, and a gender thing. The concept of the two Americas is alive and well, and Taibbi shows it well.

A couple of notes: if you have followed Taibbi’s reporting in the Rolling Stone, some of these stories will feel familiar, but he does a good job rolling what may be disparate reportage into a coherent argument. The second note I am not sure if it says more about me or Taibbi or the system he covers. The sections that relate the great crimes the wealthy perpetuate are engagingly told, but they don’t get my lather up. I did get that lather up when he accounted for individual’s struggles against a racist immigration and justice apparatus. I guess I can relate to those better, since I have been much closer to the bottom in society than I ever will be to the top. I heartily recommend everyone needs to read this book, but they should check with their doctor beforehand.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Every other chapter of this book is from a different narrative. Half the book is sad infuriating stories about poor people being screwed over by the welfare and criminal justice systems. The other half is sad infuriating stories about Wall Street fatcats screwing over their investors on purpose because the investors are "unsophisticated" enough to trust their broker. And the SEC and federal regulators turn a blind eye because, well, the regulators are mostly out to protect the crooks at this point.

So you get two narratives, two sad infuriating stories told over and over without much effort to connect the narratives, to reach across 'The Divide' or propose any sort of remedy to this sad infuriating situation we find ourselves in.

Like all of Matt's books (and I've read them all) this is well-written, breezy reading and will raise your ire on just about every page. But new conclusions? Solutions? Unique insights?

Not here.
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