Top positive review
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Whatever your viewpoint, this book likely will change it.
on April 20, 2014
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.