In this book, "The Divide," the intrepid reporter, Matt Taibi, raises a series of provocative questions, the answers to which, for those of us who are paying attention, tend to get to the bottom of what is ailing our country, and gets there very quickly indeed. Theses questions are densely pack in two broad-based criminal vignettes that cut across class, race and local New York City ethnicities.
The first series of questions he ask seem rhetorical, but are anything but rhetorical: He asks for instance: What kind of society would elect a slate of leaders who would allow to go unaddressed, in a single decade; an increase in the poverty rate by 50%, a decrease in the crime rate by 40% while the prison population doubles?
He asks further why do we now, in 2014, have more black men in US prisons than we had as slaves during the height of the American slave trade? There are at least enough counterintuitive contradictions in just this one small set of circular sociological questions to keep Sociologists up late at night for several years and allow them to write several books trying to untangle and explain why such contradictions could or even should exist in a modern self-conscious society.
But then he goes on ... At the same time that the society in question allows those glaring contradictions to exist, how could it then also allow its hyper-rich to increase their wealth by 400% while allowing the wealth of the backbone of that very same society, the white middle-class, to decline in this same period by 40%?
Taibi knows exactly what kind of elected officials and in what kind of country this only could be allowed to happen, and in this book he shows us so, not just as a purely didactic exercise, but based on cold hard-nosed facts and examples, the unalloyed truth of what country it is and how "said country" allows such contradictions to co-exist.
In this book the two tales of New York City is just the first of many cautionary tales about how our country has finally evolved into its racially bifurcated deterministic and seemingly terminal endpoints: a Potemkin village where on "front street" we praise ourselves for being free, fair, just and equal. Yet on the "back streets," invariably always meaning the none white areas, none of our nation's "lying" founding myths, apply.
Based on insane and embarrassing racism that has long been out of control; and on equally insane and embarrassing discrepancies in wealth, also long out of control, this book gets to the very bottom of the "Tale of two New York Cities." At that unmistakable bottom, all of the questions raised above are answered definitively. But there is a subtext to the book left as an exercise for the reader, and in my final comments, I want to unpack the contents of this most important subtext, one that at least in my estimation drives the American ethos more than our lying founding myths ever did.
The first tale is about what is happening to "crime policing" at the lower end of the crime scale, that is to say, in mostly black and other minority communities. The second tale is how those who exploded the world economy, in the greatest bank robbery in world history, got away clean without spending even one day in jail, and how they operated in the dark to engineer the worse crime in world history. At end of this review, I will try to contextualize in a brief summary that provides a larger historical and sociological framework within an intersecting psychological grid that also helps further explain the tale of two cities embedded within Mr. Taibi's two main examples.
Case #1: The demarcation of, and the "de-weeding" of, America's Lilly-white Flower Garden from its darker inner cities: An extra-constitutional vacuuming-up of the poor behind the screen of poorly-paid white police power, conducted in the darkness of night.
Mr. Taibi tells us that on any given night in NYC, in minority districts only, "police spotters" radio-in to nearby patrol cars any gatherings of one or more minority men or women so that a pre-positioned paddy wagon can then swoop-down and indiscriminately arrest them all as a group on suspicions of a whole suite of "near-crimes" that do not apply to the white parts of the city.
This list includes, in part, jaywalking, littering, "suspicion of jumping turnstiles," suspicion of "peeing on the sidewalks," suspicion of sleeping on a subway car, smoking a joint after work, drinking beer in a car or on the subway, paying for sex, riding a bike on the sidewalks, suspicion of buying or selling marijuana, suspicion of either soliciting or selling sex, selling toys on the street without a license, occupying two seats on a subway, suspicion of being a prostitute or wearing hot pants on the streets at night, carrying an open container of alcohol on the streets, disorderly conduct, refusing a lawful order to disperse, obstructing government administration, loitering, and my favorite, "obstructing pedestrian traffic" (which is to say, being black on any given night).
And once the paddy wagon is stuffed full to the gills, it heads to the nearest station house and unceremoniously dumps the contents out like a bag of garbage and heads back to similar districts for another load to repeat the process over-and-over again, night-after-night. This is called extra-Constitutional trolling behind the screen of darkness for the weeds that clutter-up and contaminate the inner city flower gardens of New York City. In 2012, 600,000 summons were issued to minority citizens due to this kind of trumped-up nonsense called "the new inner city policing policy."
This epidemic of false arrests, a kind of "throwing the net out" and then seeing what kind of criminal black fish might be caught, is called "sub-misdemeanor policing." This new automatic "conviction factory," for so-called "quality of life" crimes, has filled the courts and jails of New York City; got Rudy Giuliani reelected, and has rapidly spread across US inner cities. This "justice by insinuation and attrition," has produced one million hours of police overtime alone in one year in New York City. It is the only way to provide a livable wage in that expensive city for lower-class blue collar mostly white policemen.
The way this system of injustice works, would have made Franz Kafka cringe: because the punishment for these "non-crimes" is the arresting process itself. For those caught up in this new kind of Kafkan nightmare, this is no laughing matter. These citizens are left to sort out the mess of intentional police harassment that remains when they are unceremoniously dumped on the court house steps. The mere fact of having been "picked up for a crime" means they lose their jobs, must hire lawyers, arrange for babysitters, may be ejected from their apartments, lose their welfare and medical benefits, have to arrange transportation and find money to arrange bail, lose their voting rights, must show up in court over and over again at the convenience of the prosecuting lawyers until their case is disposed of -- sometimes, if they fail to "plead-out," it could take up to a year.
It does not matter that only a small fraction (less than 5%) of these people are guilty of anything. Once you are caught up in the system you are at its mercy. Charging a person who cannot make bail is the same as a criminal conviction. It forces him to "plea-out" to save himself from the onerousness of the process. It snares those least able to pay into an arbitrary Kafkian process that whether guilty or not (and some 95% that actually go to trial, are found not guilty). Everyone of them, guilty or not, ends up paying a hefty $250 court fee, plus lawyer's fees, and nuisance fines that range from $50 to $250, plus transportation and babysitting costs and untold lost hours away from work and related inconveniences such as being fired from their jobs, acquiring a police record, etc. Plus, once you get a criminal record you are forced to place your DNA on file for the rest of your life.
The main point of this New York City white citizens-sanctioned police practice is not to stop crime but to humiliate, pointlessly consume the time and money of innocent harassed minority citizens, and thereby help defray the cost of NYPD salaries and promotions.
This cruel game has a name. For rather obvious reasons, it is called "policing by criminal insinuation and attrition." Its implicit power is "police harassment and bullying:" For if you ever hope to return to a normal life at any time in the foreseeable future, you must "plead-out" and pay a fine even when you are guilty of absolutely nothing. Otherwise, the legal grinding machine has you by the balls and can jerk you off until it gets tired of doing so. Some of these cases can last up to a year. And if you are destitute as most of these people are, you could end up in jail for at least this amount of time just awaiting a trial date.
During the Communist regimes of the Cold War, there was nothing remotely resembling police tactics so ruthless and callous as what the New York City police do routinely to its inner city non-white residents. And no one in that city seems to give a damn but Matt Taibi.
Case #2: Higher order white collar, "white on white" crime in New York City's white flower Garden
Here is a con game, that Mr. Taibi tells us about. It is played on both sides of the racial track in New York City. However, when it is played on the black side of the track, it is referred to as "grifting," or the "short con." When this same con is played on the white side of the track, it is called "international banking." But no matter what it is called, the aims on either side are exactly the same: to get one's hands on the other guy's money, and when he is not looking, to disappear with his loot like a fart in the wind of the night.
In the most recent form of this international banking con, a con in which we the dumb American citizen, were the "mark:" Seemingly respectable businessmen, Mr. White international banker, opens up a bank. He acquires the requisite cash in the way of equity loans based on his name, reputation, and whatever other tangible but usually meager assets he may have. Once he gets his foundational loans in hand, the wheels of business really then begin to turn. With absolutely no meaningful oversight, the criminal imagination is his only limit.
He then puts the borrowed money (the mark's money, $87,000 of my IRA, and $300,000 of my own house value, for instance), to work -- that is to say, he puts it out on the streets to make him more money and attract more and more investors. And boy do they come. Investors by the hundreds of thousands begin lining up to buy up the stock in the new international bank. If things go well, as they usually do with white bankers in this part of town, they quickly build up equity and the business continues to flourish; the bank's value increases by leaps and bounds. And the brokers are insulated against failure because they get paid their bonuses up front, No matter what happens from this point on, "they have been paid."
And then inexplicably, greed takes over and in the back rooms in the dark, the bankers and their brilliant lawyers, together with their criminal imaginations, sit down and invent new more exotic ways to separate the dumb investor from his money, but also they research how to further cut corners and leverage the bank's assets in the process of doing so.
The new trick they came up with was to no longer require that true grade-A packaged real estate loans be the primary asset backing up the bank's equity. The newly designed "fake paper assets," were specifically designed to greatly weaken the equity base by using the help of unscrupulous auditors and rating agencies to upgrade worthless real estate loan packages to grade-A status. This single act of multiple crimes greatly exaggerated the worth of the banks assets, while it rendered these as well as its most important intangible assets -- its trust, integrity and equity -- worthless.
Any fool in business knows that this is the case, so it cannot be an accident that when people as high up as President Obama try to make excuses for these crooks, to the effect that they did not know from the "get go" that what they were doing was criminal in at least a half dozen ways, and that with a certainty, they were going to get caught is just political BS. But these arrogant criminal bankers also knew one other thing: that when they did get caught, and they knew this would happen with a certainty, just as Bernard Madoff did, they had an ace in the hole: just like the criminal NYC police in tale #1, they too had enough political clout across the US government that they could bully and blackmail their way back into power without having to spend even a single day in jail. They knew not only that they were too big to fail but also too big to go to jail. Shamefully, as of today, on the Barack Obama watch, exactly zero have gone to jail.
And so it came to pass that one of the greatest bank robberies in the history of mankind occurred and the crooks on the white side of New York City's flower garden did not spend a day in jail. Not only that but they are already back up and running, in businesses that are but staging grounds for more international con games. They are poised to repeat the old "bust-out" con once again.
I say when you see Mr. Obama coming or a Congressman on the Senate or Housing banking Committee coming, to hold on to your wallet because they are as much a part of the con as Robert Redford was in the movie "The Sting." After all, all of the bankers have taken their huge profits out, either by outright thievery (called insider trading), or as brokerage fees on each transaction, the bank sinks and fails as it was intended to. Everyone who has invested in the bank, idiots like "we the people," were there as "marks" designed from the beginning to be "busted-out"
The Context: An Analysis of America's Fault line and its associated Social grid that allows these two Tales to co-exist in a country that claims to be a "fair, free, just, equal, and a "law-and-order" nation
As a reader, you too might be correct if you suspected that the country in question, just might happen to be the same county that has such a tangled number of fault lines, intersecting across its social grid that it leaves elected politicians forever trying new ways to "game" contentious differences. While these politicians are consistently dancing like cats on a hot tin roof, to the tune of their corporate paymasters, these same "bought-and-paid-for" politicians, invariably find the easiest way out of dilemmas such as the policing situations and the international banking con game above.
They find it infinitely easier to demagogue the more emotional subset of "red meat" issues that have little or nothing to do with the contradictions in the statistical list above, or the banking bust-out scam that has been repeated over and over since before the BCCI scandal, but that have everything to do with continuing to stir-up an emotional witches brew across all levels of America's social fault lines and the attendant ills those fault lines represent.
The way America history has evolved along racial lines has made it much too easy for politicians to know how to pick the low hanging fruit, stir up the emotional pot, exploit and finesse the nation's fault lines with "red meat" claptrap and thereby never quite get around to addressing any "real issues," least of all the much tougher issues that Mr. Taibi's questions suggest are leading the country right off the deep end of the cliff into a 21st Century dystopian abyss.
Because of the way the nation has been Balkanized into racial, cultural and mean-spirited self-interested economic enclaves, the fault lines and their respective grid layers are so clear and distinct that even an idiot would know how to exploit them to ill-effect and would know how to continue driving us off the proverbial cliff. In fact, our morally-challenged politicians are incentivized to do just that.
But it would take true concerned adult patriots to look those statistics in the second paragraph above clearly in the eye and see that together they suggest that there is something drastically wrong with our country. That only Mr. Taibi has noticed these glaring contradictions, does not say much about our ability as a nation to solve our own most pressing problem: white racism.
This author knows where the skeletons are buried in the American closet, as well as where the sensitivities to each cluster of American values reside, and how heavy an investment in them each self-interested enclave has made. So, for weak-kneed, morally-challenged and lazy-minded politicians -- from our hope-and dream president to our "bought-and-paid-for" politicians -- the jig is up. Mr. Taibi has "peeped at their hole cards" and revealed its outline in its full glory in the context, pretext, and subtext of this book.
At the first level of America's fault line there is of course the perennial issue of race, the most sensitive, most willfully invisible and still the most highly revered of the nation's values and the fault line most heavily invested in by all who would identify themselves as white Americans. Unless the integrity of the racial fault line is maintained in a steady-state America as we know it, has no meaning. Whites actually feel "relatively deprived" psychologically when the social distance between them and blacks shrinks too much. This has never been a secret to black people, we know the reasons for every psychological nuance and move of the white psyche. We have been studying it since before slavery.
America's social grid is delimited by physical space (called racial segregation), by sex (meaning limiting cross-racial-sexual contact), by class (meaning always keeping blacks at the bottom) and loosely by ideology (meaning all "real" white people" are Republicans). The imagery it uses to attest to "space" as "place," is the same that Adolph Hitler used: dehumanization, social ostracism and denial of economic assess to the lower classes and ever more unwarranted entitlements to the higher classes. Like with shrinking social distance, whites actually feel "relatively deprived" too when they perceive that the "space" and "place" parameters have moved too much in the wrong direction.
A the next level is the fault line of gender, the second most important level of America's fault lines. Gender is also delimited by cross-racial sex, same-gender sex, class, politics, economics, ethnicity, and again very loosely by a faux political ideology. Feminist ideology has tried to jump the racial line with great positive effect for white women only, but none for women of color. The best example is the fiction they promote about "women" making only 85% as much as men in the work place. Any fool knows that their notion of "women" means only "white women," otherwise they would surely subtract-out the percentage points by which the white women salaries would be raised if the much more diminished minority women's contribution were not included in the combination called "women."
By my calculation, white women (minus the conflation of minority women) today make exactly the same as white men do. In order for their conflated aggregate of "women" to make salaries equal to white men, would mean that white women alone would have to make 110% of what white men make. Maybe that has been their goal all along?
But this is not the saddest of such gender/race statistics. The one that remains unconscionable is the fact that since 1945, when these statistics were first kept, median black family income was only 54% of that of whites. Today, in 2014, that number has increased only two points to 56% of white family income. So if white women want a cause to champion, they should be trying to help black women, and black families close the income gap instead of crying incessantly about secretly already being even with white men, but pretending using their own hidden equality as a Trojan Horse to clandestinely pass white men salaries by using minority women as their statistical hidden variable.
Then there is the level of class itself, an artificial level that until the current generation, where race became at least a semi-open issue, was allowed to freely float and roam across the other two deeper levels. After race entered the picture openly, then class became delimited by economics, politics and gender (again as defined only by cross-racial sex). But now, primarily due to the way the American political and economic system has been skewed towards the top, class is now mostly delimited by politics but heavily mediated by economics -- salaried versus investment incomes.
Finally there is the ideological level defined by the two primary political parties. This is the contentious area that cuts across, and is used to inform all the issues as they intersect at sensitive points along the grid. Ideology is the arena at which visible threats get played out like a teenage football game as the game is spread out across the playing field like ripple across a pond. A struggle can be created on the palette of America's fault lines at any point where either a grid or a layer intersects. But again, as noted above, ideology is a false division, because the two parties stand for the same thing: Keeping money in the same white-only hands and maintaining the racist status quo. The only difference is that the white party (the Republican Party) only admits self-hating blacks and other self-hating minorities; the Democrats, on the other hand admits both self-hating minorities and non-self-hating ones too. But it matters little because only white issues are addressed by either party.
Any politician worth his salt knows these fault lines and their related intersecting grid lines (as well as the effects of their propagation) like he knows the back of his hand. And thus he knows exactly how to finesse the issues crossing the various fault lines so that they (the politicians), may never have to be left holding the bag or having to ever address directly Mr Taibi's contradictions implied in the statistics in the second paragraph above.
All the "cheapest" politicians need to know is how to keep stirring up the emotional witches brew in the pot. Then, the idiots within the two parties on opposite sides of the fault lines, will continue to fight each other for the tiny emotional morsels that keep bubbling up in the brew -- as if these emotional issues were the real issues to be fought over and might somehow save America from itself?
Any fool can see that it is this never-ending struggle over idiotic emotional issues (referred to as cultural issues but which are in fact nothing more than second and third order forms of racism) is what defines American politics. It is a sick orgy of ignorance unbefitting an advance self-conscious 21st Century culture, but it is what it is.
Clearly what has handed the steering wheel of the ship of state over to racist demagogues posing as legitimate representatives of "we the people," have been nothing but a collection of demagogic issues all centered on racism against blacks. They are variously packaged and repackaged as "so-called cultural issues" but the truth is transparent: the engine that is driving the nation over the proverbial cliff is racism disguised as "America's cultural issues."
Leading this contentious alternative agenda of "red meat issues" are: reversing "Obama care," reversing Roe V Wade and ending abortions rights, preventing further gay marriages, rolling back affirmative action and forced-bussing, allowing guns to be carried in churches, bars and schools, rooting out welfare cheats, and catching low-level peddlers of drugs (such as hawkers of nickel bags of marijuana and crack cocaine), a Constitutional Amendment to ban flag burning, and sending illegal Mexicans back across our southern borders.
Tabibi reveals that American society is indeed the society that fiddles while Rome burns: America is the nation in question regarding the contradictions in the second paragraph. And he shows how we got to this point by instituting an insidiously subtle new layer of unseen and unacknowledged system of rules of "law and order" that entitles some people on one side of the fault line: the (always white) white collar criminals to escape the much larger crimes that single-handedly exploded the entire world economy; while most of those on the other side of the fault line: the (black) blue collar criminals at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, are entitled to go directly to jail without passing "GO" to collect their $200 welfare check.
Taibi shows us why the old rules of justice no longer work because there are unwritten rules for the poor that rob them of any semblance of justice. While at the same time there are written rules for the rich that, for a fee, are by-passed with a turn of the head and a "wink-and-a-nod."
Since these two unequal systems of justice co-exist side-by-side, and operate out of the same court houses, we all are equally complicit in pretending that they are the same system. Yet we know that our unfair justice system is a "nation-destroying" lie. While the poor are swept up in vacuum cleaner like operations and dumped without charges on the Court House steps and left to plea guilty to any charges the "police-spotters" can conjure up; the rich are shielded by Mr. Obama's excuses: They are either too big to fail, too big to jail but never too big to go straight to hell. Fifty stars!