Tag Archives: government

Inequality Faultlines


I recently finished The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi.  Instead of paraphrasing Taibbi’s words, I’ve decided to post a number of what I consider the most pertinent quotes from this extremely important book.

“We [Americans] have a profound hatred of the weak and the poor, and a corresponding groveling terror before the rich and successful, and we’re building a bureaucracy to match those feelings.” (p.xx)

“…the rule of law has slowly been replaced by giant idiosyncratic bureaucracies that are designed to criminalize failure, poverty, and weakness on the one hand, and to immunize strength, wealth, and success on the other.” (p. xxii)

“So the only time RICO was used to fight mortgage fraud was when the criminal was a black gang member and the victims were banks. (Ironically, nobody thought to wonder how it was possible for a Lincoln Park gang member to buy 222 houses with no money down.  Heading into that particular rabbit hole would have led to the larger crime, but nobody did.)  (p. 44)

“In 2011…New York City police stopped and searched a record 684,724 people.  Out of those 88 percent were black or Hispanic.  The ostensible justification for the program is looking for guns, but they find guns in less than 0.02 percent of stops.  More often, they make people empty their pockets and find nothing at all.”  (p. 57)

“…the very lowest kind of offender in the illegal drug business, the retail consumer at the very bottom of the drug food chain, had received a far stiffer sentence [jail for smoking half a joint] than officials of HSBC [an international bank where no one went to jail] who were hundreds of thousands of dollars deep into the illegal drug business, not for any excusable reason but just to seek profits to pile on top of profits.”  (p.63)

“There are two important concepts here that work hand in hand.  One, there’s the idea that failure to follow a police order, no matter how stupid or unreasonable, is cause for an arrest or a summons.  The second idea is that the prosecutor can essentially turn any misdemeanor case against almost anyone into a de facto conviction, simply by filing charges and following through long enough with pretrail pressure to wrest a plea out of the accused.”  (p.130)

“Ultimately this all comes down to discretion.  If they want, the police can arrest you for just about anything.” (p. 132)

“Here it’s the same thing.  Police make bad arrests, a settlement comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket, but the officer himself never even hears about it.  He doesn’t have to pay a dime.  And life goes on as before…You can’t secure an officer’s dismissal, can’t get a policy change, and can’t get anyone brought up on charges.”  (pp. 134-135)

“This small Georgia city [Gainesville] is ground zero for enforcement of a ferocious federal immigration rule called 287 (g) that essentially deputizes any and all state and local law enforcement officials to arrest undocumented aliens on behalf of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).”  (p. 200)

“In recent years, the residents of the ballooning Latino neighborhoods growing up somewhere on the other side of the tracks of your town–the places where factory workers and housecleaners and similar manual laborers live–awake in the mornings to find police checkpoints strategically placed on the major thoroughfares to and from the white-people sides of town.”  (p.201)

“ICE even has a UPS-style tracking system that allows immigrant families to punch in a number and see where their deported relative is in his or her serpentine journey through the detention system.  In the real justice system, you get habeas corpus; in the shadow system, you get a tracking number to see where your familial ‘package’ is.”  (p. 202)

“So the undocumented alien who kills a room full of Rotarians with an ax has a right to counsel, a phone call, and protection against improper searches.  The alien caught crossing the street on his way to work has no rights at all.” (p. 203)

“Over and over again, we hear that if you owe money in a certain way, or if you receive a certain kind of public assistance, you forfeit this or that line item in the Bill of Rights.  If you’re a person of means, you get full service for all ten amendments, and even a few that aren’t listed.  But if you owe, if you rent, you get a slightly thinner, more tubercular version of the Fourth Amendment, the First Amendment, the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, and so on.”  (p. 319)

“For instance, while the San Diego District Attorney’s Office spent more than a decade sifting through thousands of dresser drawers and bringing felony cases all the way to court for frauds as small as four hundred dollars, executives in the same general area of Southern California, at companies like Countrywide and Long Beach Mortgage, were pioneering the brilliant mass fraud scheme that involved the sales of toxic mortgage-backed securities… Twenty-six billion dollars of fraud: no felony cases.  But when the stakes are in the hundreds of dollars, we kick in 26,000 doors a years, in just one county.”  (p. 323)

“…the poor have always faced the sharp end of the stick.  And the rich have always fought ferociously to protect their privilege, not just in America but everywhere…What’s different now is that these quaint old inequities have become internalized in that ‘second government’–a vast system of increasingly unmanageable bureaucracies, spanning both the public and private sectors.  These inscrutable, irrational structures, crisscrossing back and forth between the worlds of debt and banking and law enforcement, are growing up organically around the pounding twin impulses that drive modern America: burning hatred of all losers and the poor, and breathless, abject worship of the rich, even the talentless and undeserving rich.”  (p. 324)

“…there’s a direct correlation between need and rights.  The more you need, the more you owe, the fewer rights you have.”  (p. 325)

“…our legal system does not make sense.  Our legal system is insane.”  (p. 328)

“Month after month, Riverside County runs the same ad [on welfare fraud] and picks six new names each month to advertise.  Like welfare recipients in general, the guilty are overwhelmingly female, and usually nonwhite. ‘They don’t do this to rapists or murderers,’ says Robb.  ‘Not even to pedophiles.  It’s incredible.’ ”  (p. 349)

“If they turned life in the projects into a police state, they turned life on Wall Street into its opposite.  One lie in San Diego is a crime.  But a million lies?  That’s just good business.”  (p. 352).

“…the bulk of the credit card collection business is conducted without any supporting documentation showing up or being seen by human eyes at any part of the process.  The meat of the business is collecting unopposed default judgments from defendants who either never receive a summons or receive one and never appear in court… once the bank or debt buyer has that default judgment in hand, it can legally do just about anything to the cardholder.  It can put a lien on his property, it can attach her salary, it can even take his car or her office furniture.”  (p. 376)  ” ‘They make more on lawsuits than they make on credit interest,’ says Linda.”  (p. 382)

“Plenty of people–consumers and merchants both–are probably glad that so much credit is available, but they don’t realize that systematic fraud [by banks and debt collectors] is part of what makes it available…Legally, there’s absolutely no difference between a woman on welfare who falsely declares that her boyfriend no longer lives in the home and a bank that uses a robo-signer to cook up a document swearing that he has kept regular records of your credit card account.  But morally and politically, they’re worlds apart.  When the state brings a fraud case against a welfare mom, it brings it with disgust, with rage, because in addition to committing the legal crime, she’s committed the political crime of being needy and an eyesore. ”  (p. 383 – 384)

“Banks commit the legal crime of fraud wholesale; they do so out in the open, have entire departments committed to it, and have employees who’ve spent years literally doing nothing but commit, over and over again, the same legal crime that some welfare mothers go to jail for doing once.  But they’re not charged, because there’s no political crime.  The system is not disgusted by the organized, mechanized search for profit.  It’s more like it’s impressed by it.”  (p. 384)

“[The] Financial Crisis Inquiry Committee was given a budget of $9.8 million… Meanwhile, that same year the federal drug enforcement budget leaped from $13.275 billion to $15.278 billion.  That meant that just the increase [italics added] in the national drug enforcement budget for the year of the biggest financial crisis since the Depression was roughly two hundred times the size of the budget for the sole executive branch effort at formally investigating the causes of financial corruption.”  (p. 407)

“…in this period of extreme crisis, we not only didn’t allocate funds to investigate the [financial] crash, we actively did increase the budget to tackle street crime, incidentally at a time of declining street violence.”  (p. 408)

If you read all these quotes, you should now be furious at a system that ignores wealthy criminals, evens rewards them, while actively harassing and jailing the poor, quite often for simply being poor.  While disgust of the poor certainly plays a role in their harassment, so does a tax policy that favors the rich.  When local governments do not receive enough money from taxes, they have to make up the loss somehow.  What better way than harassing the poor with nuisance arrests?  It’s a giant scam.

To repeat one of Taibbi’s quotes: “…there’s a direct correlation between need and rights.  The more you need, the more you owe, the fewer rights you have.”  (p. 325)