Review

Taibbi has delivered once again with in-depth investigative reporting, clear explanations of complicated issues, and well directed anger. You might think that The Divide covers the same ground as Greenwald’s book And Justice for Some, but there are significant differences. First, Taibbi’s book contains a good deal of new research, whereas Greenwald’s book was more of a survey of the biggest unprosecuted crimes of the financial and political elite. Second, Taibbi devotes much more of his book to the draconian punishments and daily humiliations inflicted on the poor by federal, state, and local “law enforcement” agencies.

Despite the brilliant writing, I found this to be a very difficult book to read. I had to put it down and walk away several times because I was literally shaking with rage. Rage at the treatment of ordinary people (especially black and brown people), and rage at the many ways that the “justice system” is designed to give legal immunity to the financial elites.

For most of us “ordinary people” - those of us who are not poor and are not black and do not live in an inner city - the daily abuses are invisible. Taibbi has done a great service by telling the stories of those who are harassed on a daily basis by the police: people who literally have to worry everyday when they go to work or go home that they will be arbitrarily stopped and arrested, sometimes for nothing, other times for something that most of us would never consider a crime (standing on a sidewalk, for example).

And at the other end of the spectrum, Taibbi once again, as he did in Griftopia, breaks down the very complicated and unpunished frauds committed by the financial elite. For example, the $5-7 billion theft from Lehman creditors by Barclay’s in collusion with nine nominally Lehman employees who had been bribed by Barclay’s (to the tune of an average of $37 million each). Or the multi-year effort by several hedge funds to destroy a financial holding company because, well, short-selling is profitable.

The federal government, under Obama and Holder, have given up on even the idea of holding the financial elite criminally liable for financial felonies such as fraud and forgery, choosing instead to negotiate settlements with the companies that the criminals work for - settlements that do not involve and admission of wrongdoing, and which inflict no pain whatsoever on the actual perpetrators of the crimes. Taibbi explains in some detail the evolution of this approach to “enforcement”, with more nuance and detail than I’ve seen elsewhere.

In all, this is a must-read. It is doubtful that there is anything we can do about this situation. But rage is good. So are pitchforks.

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Metadata Info

  • Title: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
  • Author: Matt Taibbi
  • Published: 2014
  • ISBN: 0804128057
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 4.0 stars