12 August 2014

Matt Taibbi: Griftopia (audiobook)

Free audiobook.  Where have these been all my life.

I am not much for listening to audiobooks. Alas, the droning of a human voice tends to make me fall asleep, a feature of my being that I have often put to good use with headphones on international flights.

But after the first ten minutes I was hooked on this one. Taibbi's verbal fireworks and colorful images kept me interested, and gave me a wonderful alternative to watching the latest professional wrestling antics and extended infomercials on financial television today.  Without headphones.  Old habits die hard.

Taibbi takes an icepick to the façade of American politics, and the vagaries of its financiers. And like another polemicist Hitchens, is able to wield his words with great effect and to delight of his readers. Alas, sometimes he forgets to save the sword for injustice, and on occasion becomes the kind of condescending, major league ***** he generally derides, about spiritual matters and the preferences and sincere beliefs of others of which he has little or no understanding, like a little boy who is restless in his seat and doesn't matter who knows about it.

Or the raw American tourist who travels abroad for the first time, and makes fun of the way in which the people dress, talk, and their unfamiliar local customs. The difference is between that of a wit and a boor, and that is a line that is easily crossed, as in telling some genuinely funny stories about human foibles, and then going for the big finish by throwing your shit-encrusted boots up on the dining room table for a laugh. But at least he is still resisting the elitist and all-judging allure of the neo-cons, which Hitchens was unable to do towards the latter part of his career. The show must go on.


"The important thing to remember about the Alan Greenspan era is that despite all the numbers and the inside-baseball jargon about rates and loans and forecasts, his is not a story about economics. The Greenspan era instead is a crime story. Like drug dealing and gambling and Ponzi schemes, bubbles of the sort he oversaw are rigged games with preordained losers and inherently corrupting psychological consequences. You play, you get beat, in more ways than one.

Greenspan staked the scam, printing trillions upon trillions of dollars to goad Americans into playing a series of games they were doomed from the start to lose to the dealer. In the end the printed wealth all disappeared and only the debts remained. He probably did this just because he wanted to see his face on magazine covers and be popular at certain Upper East Side cocktail parties. His private hang-ups in this way shaped the entire scam of modern American politics: a pure free market for the suckers, golden parachutes for the Atlases...

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 setback, 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. The grifter class depends on these two positions getting confused in the minds of everybody else. They want the average American to believe that what government is to him, it is also to JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs.

The fact that an unapologetic fat cat like Kudlow—one who talks and acts and dresses like a fat cat—can, when convenient, throw on the mantle of a populist revolt and get away with it reassures us that for all the talk about pitchforks and revolutions and fighting back, the Tea Party movement remains in thrall to the authority of the rich and powerful. Which renders the so-called movement completely meaningless...

The new America, instead, is fast becoming a vast ghetto in which all of us, conservatives and progressives, are being bled dry by a relatively tiny oligarchy of extremely clever financial criminals and their castrato henchmen in government, whose job is to be good actors on TV and put on a good show...Our leaders know we’re turning into a giant ghetto and they are taking every last hubcap they can get their hands on before the rest of us wake up and realize what’s happened.”