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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fair warning: This book will make you angry.

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, by Matt Taibbi, is a volume of stories. Like the Vietnamese refugee and rape victim in San Diego who applied for public assistance, only to be visited by a “welfare inspector” who barged into her home and began yelling that he would take her children away if he found she was lying about being destitute and not having a man. All this as he’s rummaging through her belongings. Finally, he holds up a pair of sexy panties on the tip of a pencil, demanding with a triumphant smirk to know why she needs these if she has no boyfriend.

Then there’s Patrick Jewell, rolling a (tobacco) cigarette and smoking it outside a New York City subway station, only to be thrown against a wall by some guy who yelled “What the (expletive) do you think you’re doing here?” and when he tried to escape, having his head slammed against the concrete by a gang of men in black jackets. Jewell thought he was being robbed or kidnapped, but it turned out his assailants were cops: He was thrown into a van and charged with smoking marijuana and resisting arrest.

But it is not simply these stories that will make you angry. No, what will really spike your blood pressure is when Taibbi juxtaposes them with other stories: tales of the bankers, money men — and occasional women — who committed billions of dollars in fraud, laundered money for terrorist organizations and drug cartels, precipitated the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, yet never spent a night in jail.

The author’s thesis: this country has evolved a two-tier justice system under which some of us are considered fair game for policing tactics so aggressive as to be downright fascistic, while others are regarded as “too big to jail” because of the supposed economic repercussions if they were held to answer for their crimes. Indeed, in an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Taibbi spoke of a prosecutor who told him some people are simply not “appropriate” for jail.

“Appropriate.” You might want to let that one stew for a moment.

Taibbi argues that this represents a relatively new perversion of justice.

After all, Ken Lay of Enron infamy was facing a possible life sentence for that swindle when he died in 2006. Bernie Madoff is doing 150 years for his multibillion dollar fraud. But under Attorney General Eric Holder, one does not do time for big-money crime. Instead, it has become commonplace to levy fines — not even against individuals, mind you, but against their corporations — and tout that as victory.

The only thing it is a victory for is the idea that some of us are more equal than others.

Yet, there is no uproar. A nation that proclaims “liberty and justice for all,” and “all men are created equal,” somehow manages to sleep through the betrayal of those supposedly cherished ideals. We are, writes Taibbi, “numb to the idea that rights aren’t absolute but are enjoyed on a kind of sliding scale.” So big money criminals live to scam another day, but the government slams like a truck into the rest of us, those on the bottom end of the wealth gap who are deemed “appropriate” for being thrown to the ground, or having their panties held up on a pencil eraser or otherwise treated with contempt by a system that judges them guilty on sight.

Like Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Taibbi doesn’t so much tell us something we didn’t already know as assemble it in such a way as to let us see what was right in front of us all the time: a system of justice that is separate and unequal and thus, broken. And if, indeed, that realization does make you angry?


(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected])

AFP Photo/Andrew Winning

  • Daniel Jones

    My country, misery; Not like the rich will see.

    Land that has lost its pride; land of the wealth divide.
    Here, all the poor denied, air’ decency.

    • Paul Bass

      Great poem Daniel, keep it up!

  • sigrid28

    I would argue that Matt Taibbi points not to a new form of justice but a throwback to an ancient one, based on the concept of “weregild,” quite pertinently defined in Wikipedia:

    “Weregild (also spelled wergild, wergeld, weregeld, etc.) was a value placed on every human being and every piece of property in the Salic Code. Also known as “man price”. If property was stolen, or someone was injured or killed, the guilty person would have to pay weregild asrestitution to the victim’s family or to the owner of the property.[1][2]The payment of weregild was an important legal mechanism in early Germanic society; the other common form of legal reparation at this time was blood revenge. The payment was typically made to the family or to the clan.

    No distinction was made between murder and manslaughter until these distinctions were instituted by the Holy Roman imperial law in the 12th century.[3]

    Payment of the weregild was gradually replaced with capital punishment, starting around the 9th century, and almost entirely by the 12th century when weregild began to cease as a practice throughout the Holy Roman Empire.[4]”

  • adler56

    We need more Taibbis and Pitts.

    • GreginPottsville

      What we don’t need is more Old Skookers like you Jimmy.

    • Tomron Wallen

      What we need MORE than Taibibis and Pitts, are people who will open their minds to listen and digest what they are saying!

    • joe schmo

      Yah, just like we need more radicals on both sides…. Geez, thanks for Obama and the demise of the ‘good ole’ USA. Just remember you were huge contributors…. And the wealthy you always talk so highly against…. most of them are Liberals. That is the biggest joke of them all. The modern version of the 1% are Liberals….

  • latebloomingrandma

    I’m over halfway through Taibi’s book. He really did a thorough investigative job, especially when sitting down with those on the lower ends of justice system. The one black guy who was in plenty of trouble as a kid was now grown up and seriously trying to turn his life around. Simply by living in his original neighborhood and standing while black in front of his apt. , he was arrested numerous times. It would be funny if not so true and tragic. It’s a wonder he kept his cool. I could see someone like my husband, a hot-headed white guy, as he got rounded up monthly just because he has a shaved head and a mustache and therefore must be guilty of something.
    The book has many stories like this, that put a real crimp in this American exceptionalism thing, The stories surrounding the bankers are rather wonky and sometimes hard to follow, other than the distinctive knowledge that they collectively got away with high tech robbery. Even the old west put bank robbers in jail.
    And to think that their feelings are hurt from the President calling them fat cats. That was just another excuse to continue what they have always done. One can see why they hate Sen. Warren.

    • Allan Richardson

      I hope Hillary offers her the VP spot and she accepts (she is not interested in RUNNING for POTUS, but perhaps if offered number 2 unsolicited she would take it). If not her, perhaps Tammy Duckworth or Bernie Sanders.

      If you give a man a gun, he can rob a bank.
      If you give a man a bank, he can rob the world.

      • dana becker

        No we need Warren in the Senate where she can do some good. VP would not help the American people like a Senator can.

        • joe schmo

          Welp, let’s just hope you loose the Senate. We do not need anymore lunatics like Peloser and Reidtard.

          • idamag

            I knew you were not educated. The word “loose” is the opposite of tight.

          • Allan Richardson

            His signature is an apt description of his attitude.

            Or, maybe another Yiddish word beginning with “schm” would be even better.

          • joe schmo

            What’s this. A little anti-semitic/racist remark? Shame. What is the word you hold most sacred ‘Coexist.’ What a hypocrite. LOL

          • joe schmo

            Get over yourself Idamag. Most likely you are an English professor or older than me. Blame it on my horrible Liberal primary and secondary education:)

          • idamag

            So if you have such a horrible education what makes you think you have anything to add to the discussion?

          • joe schmo

            Because unlike you, from what I can remember, you are blue collar? I have three degrees and they are not in English. It was in a field where a lot of writing was not required.

            Unfortunately, I had to carry that poor education into college. Where many would have given up, I pushed forward and graduated. I suspect you are from an older generation. Specifically one where you were still taught RWA.

            By the way, how often do I misspell words? Not often…. and if that is my only flaw. Oh well…… i’m sure you are the pillar of everything… So petty.

      • idamag

        Fabulous quote! May I have permission to use it?

        • Allan Richardson

          By all means. Make the expression go viral. And I just remembered another one I coined a few years ago, when I read a story about an OWS defendant.

          If you love your freedom, thank a SOLDIER … and also a PROTESTER. Freedom requires BOTH.

          • idamag

            I am a member of the occupy group. We are not radical.

    • ralphkr

      Not just blacks get arrested for standing front of their house, latebloomingrandma. A few a decades ago my son called the police about the unruly drunken teenagers throwing their empties in his front yard. When the police arrived they arrested my son and his visiting neighbor for coming out on the front porch holding beers. My son was (he was shot & killed by a jealous girl 20 some years ago) blond, blue-eyed surfer dude who worked in construction at that time. He spent a few days in jail until his boss bailed him out.

  • Allan Richardson

    I pledge allegiance to the flag … two nations, divided by wealth, with liberty and justice for sale.

    • joe schmo

      I pledge allegiance to the flag…. one nation under Communism, divisible by corruption and poverty for all….. You can take this version of America and stuff it.

      • Allan Richardson

        Anyone who seriously thinks ANY American politician, even the most extreme on either side, is either a Communist OR a Nazi, does not know the meaning of either word.

        And anyone who thinks a politician could possibly be a Communist or socialist, AND a Nazi or fascist, AND a Muslim, does not know the meanings of any of those words, or is just throwing mud (or bovine digestive products) a walls to see where it sticks.

        • joe schmo

          Seriously Allen, I have gone down this road with you before. Remember, my parents lived under 3 regimes which they escaped from. I know extremely well what they all incur. I have heard about them all my life and the one we are barrowing into is Communism. Sorry if you don’t believe me, but you people are getting very close to the very thing we used to loathe. So just face that fact. Capitalists are not even close to being socialists. Don’t tell me to do the research when you don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Your the one who needs to look up each one.

          As far as the Muslim’s. Of late I am hearing that your brethren haven’t done jack when it comes to defending Muslim women….and hear I thought you were all the pillars of civil rights. It seems to be the Conservatives who are picking up the slack. I guess when it suits your political agenda then you are all over it, but when it doesn’t your hypocrisy becomes evident.

        • idamag

          You are responding to a person who is not a reader, but a monomaniac whose response to every topic is the same. Oh, he might can pronounce some words or even spell some, but he doesn’t have reading comprehension. He is so rabid, I would suspect he is a member of a supremest group. Extreme left is Communism and extreme right is Fascism. Never the twain shall meet.

  • exdemo55

    Did not pay her “fair share,” obtained PACER fee waivers in at least 50 federal districts 2005-2012

    Elizabeth Warren has built her progressive rock star image and her campaign by attacking the wealthy factory owners and others who supposedly do not pay their “fair share” and take advantage of loopholes to live off of infrastructure paid for by others.

    Yet Warren appears to be one of those people who takes advantage.

    Warren falsely and without any legitimate legal basis claimed to be Cherokee for employment purposes. Warren also chintzed by failing to register for the Massachusetts Bar despite an active practice of law in Cambridge since the mid-1990s, thereby evading Bar registration dues. Howie Carr has a great column today about Warren’s class warfare phoniness.

    Add another example to the long list: Warren obtained fee waivers from at least 50 federal bankruptcy courts so she would not have to pay for access to the federal PACER system, even in years when she had a high 6-figure income and an 8-figure net worth.

    Warren’s High Income and Net Worth

    In 2008, the earliest year for which Warren has released income tax returns, Warren and her husband had a combined income of $831,208, which increased in 2009 to $981,670. Warren’s net worth as of the end of 2011 was as high as $14.5 million.

    In 2010-2011, Warren earned approximately $140,000 from Aspen Publishers for her books about bankruptcy. Warren also has published a variety of commercial books over the years, for which no income data is available, such as the 2004 publication of The Two Income Trap (see Megan McArdle and Todd Zawycki reviews), which incorporated her bankruptcy research and many of her non-commercial articles.

    Warren also worked as a private consultant for which she earned $90,000 on bank antitrust litigation, although it’s not known if she incorporated her banktruptcy docket work because she will not release her report.

    These commercial endeavors are separate from her non-commercial, highly politicized research, such as the review of bankruptcy case dockets which led to a devastating critique of Warren’s work by Rutgers Law Professor Philip Schuchman. These bankruptcy file reviews also contributed to Warren’s non-commercial studies such as the misleading claim that medical expenses account for one-third of all bankruptcies.

    Warren’s bankruptcy docket research has contributed at least indirectly to the vast money-making empire which euphemistically could be called “Elizabeth Warren, Inc.” (not an actual name, but fitting).

    PACER Waivers In At Least 50 Districts

    I say good for Warren, she built that $14.5 million net worth through hard work and persistence.

    But Warren, who berates factory owners, obtained fee waivers for access to the bankruptcy docket maintained by the federal PACER system, for which others have to pay.

    Warren took advantage of a policy at PACER which provides for fee waivers for academic research based on her standing as a law professor.

    Copies of letters submitted by Warren in 2006 and 2008 in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, along with corresponding Orders (plus a third Order in Maryland for which no letter was found) were located through the PACER system.

    In her November 22, 2006, letter to the Court, Warren attached a list of 49 federal district courts which previously had granted her waivers from the normal PACER fees:

    • ps0rjl

      Elizabeth Warren may have feet of clay but at least she is fighting for the little guy. I am sure you are a plant by those who would tear down anyone who dares to oppose the fat cats or bring to light their shady dealings. By the way do you also want to go after the Koch brothers whose shady dealings politics and business dealing could fill volumes?

      • exdemo55

        Elizabeth Warren is a fat cat hypocrite fighting for nothing but her own selfish power. She does not live the life she professes to fight for. She wants to give people other peoples money, not hers. The Koch’s are right up front about what they stand for, free market interprise.

        • joe schmo

          I would totally agree. The Liberals are just pawns to these imperialistic fakes.

      • exdemo55

        And you may want to compare how many jobs the Koch’s create and how many Warren provides.

      • joe schmo

        Get a clue. What factories. Haven’t you heard we no longer produce. Everything is outsourced and we are run by a minion of bullies who work at home, make money off of your foolishness, and chase prospective employers overseas or into the poor house because of insane taxes. Like Warren, people like Al Gore, and George Soros are laughing all the way to the bank.

      • idamag

        I remember her fight against usury by the credit card companies. She did a great job there.

  • Bill

    I don’t believe this is anything new, its always been this way, the Golden Rule, the man with the Gold makes the rules!!

  • Sand_Cat

    I do seem to remember reading about his alleged ambition to be a Wall Street lawyer. Well, at least he’s not a war criminal like his predecessors.

  • charles king

    I feel that something is on the horizon for the young Black American male.(Critical Thinking) is needed in America from all five prespectives, Black, Yellow, Brown, Red and White about Where? has their Democracy gone. Who? are the (Greedy Capitalistic Pigs, Plutocracts, Do-Nothingiers Republicans, Democracts and Etcs.). We the People must use our voting powers and remove these foes with MONIES that are tearing our country apart. Thank You are the magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. Mr. C. E. KING

    • joe schmo

      Because you don’t have a clue do you. Your man is tearing this country apart like no other. The more I read the more I see how many many Americans are becoming disenfranchised by our Government, especially the ‘uber’ Liberal one. Because it is a small minion of bullies that are leading the entire Country around by the nose. They prey on the ignorant, naive, and overly intelligent morons for their vote. The Left has always been more radical than the Right. The Right needs to get their head out of their behinds which I am seeing an inkling of them doing. As for the wealthy…. You only have yourselves to blame on that one….

    • idamag

      Sad thing, Charles, because our nation has not made education a priority, people have to recognize the problem before they can make an informed decision by voting.

      • charles king

        From the Black perspective education has always been one of our prioritys but the system has destroyed the public system and replaced it with charter schoolsand stole the MONIES from our public schools. I have been around (4generations) and the Black male and others has been left out of the mix and the only reason I have made it this far, is that I got a good education in Johnstown, Pennsylvania High school. Critical thinking is needed because the young Black has waken-up and I do not think they like Whats? going on. TYhank You are the magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. Mr. C. E. KING

        • idamag

          Great minds think alike. I agree with you 100%. There has been a push to privatize everything – schools, post office, prisons, Medicare, Social Security, everything. That concerns me as there won’t be standardized education for the entire country and our public schools would operate cheaper despite the arguments that it would not. Idaho privatized the prisons and we are still reeling from the outcome of that. Qualified state guards were replaced with entry level people. They started the gladiator club, forcing prisoners to fight until one was knocked out while they made bets. They left the midnight shift unmanned. If we want to really take a close look at privatizing, we need only to look at Iraq and Halliburton and subsidiaries that took over jobs that were once did by the military. Investigations found empty trucks (being paid by the mile) driving back and forth all day to rack up miles. They were charging $6/six pack for Coca Cola that was given to the fighting men free. They were charging $100/load to wash the soldiers’ clothes.A billion dollars disappeared between the U.S.and Iraq. Charges should have been filed and were not.

  • joe schmo