Tuesday, August 2, 2011

#50: Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids and the Long Con that is Breaking America by Matt Taibbi

New York, Spiegel and Grau 2010: 252 pages

I went to the library yesterday after Wormer (here played by President Obama) dropped the proverbial big one. For once, I agree with Krugman: that wasn't a compromise, it was a capitulation. Here are a few quotes from this book that pretty much explains everything:

1.The Democrats' response to Wall Street excess was similar to their attitude to the Iraq War--they were against it in theory, but in practice, they weren't going to do much about it. (245) Ohhhh, Democrats. Lovable, fuzzy centrists that they have become. Many of us have been saying since 2007 that "we are tired of fighting the good fight." Maybe it is because our party leaders don't want to fight anymore.

2. Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas: "With the right hand begging for bailout money, the left is hiding it offshore." This after Goldman Sachs paid $14 million in taxes in 2008 on a reported profit of $2 billion, a nice 7% rate. (224) That was 1/3 CEO Lloyd Blankfein's salary of $42.9 million

3. This from a January 1973 NY Times: "It's very rare that you can be as unqualifiedly bullish as you can now." The stock market was over 1000 on the day that phrase was published and by 1974 it was at 571, a loss of 46%. Who said that? Alan Greenpsan. (46) BTW, my high school government teacher described Greenspan as the most powerful person in the country; little did I or maybe even Mr. Hibbs know how right he was.

Matt Taibbi is a writer for Rolling Stone; normally that would discount him from getting anything good from me. But, he writes about politics and the giant screw job that was the TARP bailout and does it well. In fact, this book is the kind of thing that I wish to write. Witty, profane, logical, entertaining; in 2008, he writes "I found my attention dominated not by interjections into the commodities market but by a seemingly endless series of made up controversies." (127) While he mocks Palin and McCain and Obama and Clinton, he is smart enough to pick up that Palin is quite the symbolic speaker. Taibbi's ability to not only call someone a douchebag but also point out what they do well is what separates good political writing from screed writers such as Palast.

Taibbi makes the point that the US political system is high theater, boiled down to what he calls "T-Shirt politics" for the left and right. You know, pithy things that would fit on a t-shirt. But that is not why I picked up this book. I picked it up because chapter one of the text is titles "The Grifter Archipelago; or, Why the Tea Party does not matter." (3)

After the President fell on his sword again over the weekend, I was shocked to see this, even in a book a year old. The interesting thing is that Taibbi may be right. It is not the Tea Party that is the enemy of Progressives in this country, but corporate power. How many former Goldman Sachs CEOs are working in the Obama Administration? Taibbi's writing and reporting on Goldman and the TARP bailout were ahead of the media curve. This is not all that hard to do, especially if you work at CNBC or Fox. The one fault I have with this book is that Taibbi does not know what to do about his anger, or the anger that his book creates. In a sense, none of us do. Therein lies the problem in American Politics; want more than a soundbite? You won't get it. Read this book and get pissed, or get more ammunition for 2012 if you are already mad.

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