Sunday, April 22, 2012

Brother, Can You Spare Some Time?


“Griftopia – a Story of Bankers, Politicians and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History” – by Matt Taibbi, 2011

Taibbi, a regular contributor to Rolling Stone, writes like he’s trying to rip the head off a cash-addled zombie.  Due to his efforts here, the head regularly rolls free, to our delight.  Taibbi, smoking the ashes of Hunter Thompson without inhaling, regularly nails various corporate criminals throughout this book.  ‘Grift’ is Taibbi’s meme, criminality his theme.  The capital markets banking industry is his ripest target, but he’s added the health insurance industry and commodities speculation to his list.  This book includes an expanded version of his famous Rolling Stone takedown of Goldman Sachs – the ‘great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.’  In the paperback version he’s also included two more bonus Rolling Stone articles on the mortgage industry’s paperwork fraud and the Wall Street-induced bankruptcy of Birmingham, AL, an event similar to what happened in Greece

The recent explosion of books on the state of the capitalist economy, especially the FIRE sector, and its government, all lead to one conclusion at the very least. These people operate criminal enterprises, not shoe stores.  Why has no one been jailed?  As Nader pointed out long ago, the government could yank the corporate licenses of these enterprises, as most are based on public charters.  However, Taibbi explains:  The powers-that-be want, “half the country lined up like the Tea Partiers against overweening government power, and the other half, the Huffington Post crowd, railing against corporate excess.  But don’t let the two sides start thinking about the bigger picture and wondering if the real problem might be a combination of the two.” 

Because that explains why charters never get yanked, and no one gets jailed.  It is sort of like the guy in the Porsche who pays his $200 speeding ticket, then heads on down the highway with $100,000 in coke in his trunk. 

I’m going to just quote Taibbi from each chapter to give you a flavor, as he is attempting to combat the ignorance which he feels is at the heart of Wall Street’s ability to skate.  I’d say he is the best liberal/leftist polemicist in the U.S. at this moment.  His pages are a laugh-o-rama – that is if you are not a Wall Street banker or acolyte.  However, he’s also a believer in ‘regulated’ capitalism, so much of this can smack of the outrage of the deceived. 

From the chapter ‘Grifter Archipelago,’ centered on the Tea Party: 
“There are really two Americas, one for the grifter class and one for everybody else.  In everybody-else land, the world of small businesses and wage earning employees, the government is something to be avoided, an overwhelming, all-powerful entity whose attentions usually presage some kind of financial set-back, if not complete ruin.  In the grifter world, however, government is a slavish lapdog that the financial companies that will be the major players in this book use as a tool for making money.”

From the chapter ‘Biggest Asshole in the Universe,’ about Greenspan: 
“Greenspan’s rise is instead a tale of a gerbilish mirror-gazer who flattered and bullshitted his way up the Matterhorn of American power and then, once he got to the top, feverishly jacked himself off to the attentions of Wall Street for twenty consecutive years …”

From the chapter, “Hot Potato,” about the mortgage industry scam: 
“It was a game of hot potato in which money was invented out of thin air in the form of a transparently bogus credit scheme, converted through the magic of modern financial innovation into highly combustible, soon-to-explode securities, and then quickly passed up the chain with lighting speed – from the lender to the securitizer to the major investment banks to AIG, with each party passing it off as quickly as possible, knowing it was too hot to hold.  In the end that potato would come to rest, sizzling away, in the hand of the Federal Reserve Bank.”
That is us, folks.

From the chapter, “Blowout,” on the commodities (primarily oil) speculation bubble of 2008: 
“Both candidates (in 2008) were selling the public a storyline that had nothing to do with the truth.  Gas prices were going up…" because “...Wall Street had opened up a new table in its casino.  The new gaming table was called commodity index investing.” 
It was not about ‘supply and demand” even then and it is still occurring now.  Taibbi points out that unregulated speculation on commodities was made legal in the ‘90s, under Clinton, even for large institutional investors like pension funds. 

From the chapter, “The Outsourced Highway,” on the selling of the public American infrastructure: 
America is quite literally for sale, at rock-bottom prices, and the buyers increasingly are the very people who scored big in the oil bubble … Qatar Investment Authority, the Libyan Investment Authority, Saudi Arabia’s SAMA Foreign Holdings, and the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.” 
Most notable is Richie Daley selling the parking meters of Chicago for 75 years (along with the Chicago Skyway and a series of Chicago parking garages in other deals) to a sovereign wealth fund in Abu Dhabi.  Daley is not some rube from Alabama, but now every two-party politician is a rube.

From the chapter, “Trillion Dollar Band-Aid,” about the passage of ‘Obamacare’: 
“Obamacare had been designed as a coldly cynical political deal:  massive giveaways to Big Pharma in the form of monster subsidies, and an equally lucrative handout to big insurance in the form of an individual mandate granting a few already-wealthy companies 25-30 million new customers who would be forced to buy their products at artificially inflated, federally-protected prices” in exchange for political support from those same companies.
From that same chapter, On Rahm Emanuel:
“The admittedly ingenious plan (was) devised by our freshman president and his indomitable chief of staff – an overconfident and immensely unlikable neo-Svengali named Rahm Emanuel, who resembled Karl Rove, only more driven, with better hair, and without the distantly validating sense of humor …”

From the chapter, “The Great American Bubble Machine,” on Goldman Sachs:
“Blankfein (head of Goldman at the time) stood up in the Senate and actually said, out loud, that he didn’t think his company was obligated to tell his customers that they were being sold a defective product.  ‘I don’t think there is a disclosure requirement,’ Blankfein said, looking incredulous that the question was even being asked.”  
This same shitbag later told a London audience that he was ‘doing God’s work’ by making money. 

So we have a rogues gallery of finance and government chieftains and thieftains – Blankfein, Fuld, Greenspan, Santelli, Paulson, Rubin, Madoff, Summers, Mozilo, Geithner, Thiel, Bernanke, Corazine, Thain, etc. – completely intermixed.  No one goes to jail because they are all on the same side.  Taibbi feels that power has now been put in the hands of a new class of financial parasites. 

Of course, revolutionaries have felt this is true for years, not just since 2008.  But even if Taibbi is correct, then ordinary party politics, ordinary ‘regulatory’ efforts and ordinary ‘good government’ pansy cluelessness is not going to root out this criminal group.  It takes a massive working class movement intent on ripping power from their grasp – whether you thought this happened in 2008 or happened long before that.  And power might mean eliminating the very existence of private criminal entities like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and others.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
April 22, 2012