Exclusive Excerpt: America on Sale, From Matt Taibbi’s ‘Griftopia’
Matt Taibbi’s unsparing and authoritative reporting on the financial crisis has produced a series of memorable Rolling Stone features. He showed us how Goldman Sachs, that “great vampire squid,” played a central role in creating not only the housing bubble but four other big speculative booms that filled its coffers while wrecking the American economy. He explained how Wall Street banks cooked up schemes that helped decimate municipal budgets and cost countless jobs, and how Wall Street lobbying led to a financial reform bill that won’t prevent another meltdown. Taibbi builds on that eye-opening work in his new book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America , due out from Spiegel & Grau on November 2. In this exclusive excerpt, he describes how our cash-strapped country is auctioning off its highways, ports and even parking meters at fire sale prices — and finding eager buyers in the unregulated sovereign wealth funds of oil-rich Middle Eastern countries.
Phi Beta Iota: Extracts are provided. This is an important document that confirms the total abdication by Congress and the Executive of their Constitutional duties with respect to the public interest. The USA is owned and operated by Wall Street for its benefit, and We the People have been completely disenfranchised at the same time that the Commonwealth has been looted.
No matter how much Obama talks about his “tough” new financial regulatory reforms or offers rote condemnations of Wall Street greed, few believe there’s been real change. That’s not just because so many have lost their jobs, their savings and their homes. It’s also because so many know that the loftiest perpetrators of this national devastation got get-out-of-jail-free cards, that too-big-to-fail banks have grown bigger and that the rich are still the only Americans getting richer.
This intractable status quo is being rubbed in our faces daily during the pre-election sprint by revelations of the latest banking industry outrage, its disregard for the rule of law as it cut every corner to process an avalanche of foreclosures. Clearly, these financial institutions have learned nothing in the few years since their contempt for fiscal and legal niceties led them to peddle these predatory mortgages (and the reckless financial “products” concocted from them) in the first place. And why should they have learned anything? They’ve often been rewarded, not punished, for bad behavior.
It should pain the White House that its departing economic guru, the Rubin protégé Lawrence Summers, is an even bigger heavy in “Inside Job” than in the hit movie of election season, “The Social Network.” Summers — like the former Goldman Sachs chief executive and Bush Treasury secretary Hank Paulson — is portrayed as just the latest in a procession of policy makers who keep rotating in and out of government and the financial industry, almost always to that industry’s advantage. As the star economist Nouriel Roubini tells the filmmaker, Charles Ferguson, the financial sector on Wall Street has “step by step captured the political system” on “the Democratic and the Republican side” alike. But it would be wrong to single out Summers or any individual official for the Obama administration’s image of being lax in pursuing finance’s bad actors. This tone is set at the top.
Asked in “Inside Job” why there’s been no systematic investigation of the 2008 crash, Roubini answers: “Because then you’d find the culprits.” With the aid of the “Manhattan Madam” (and current stunt New York gubernatorial candidate) Kristin Davis, the film also asks why federal prosecutors who were “perfectly happy to use Eliot Spitzer’s personal vices to force him to resign in 2008” have not used rampant sex-and-drug trade on Wall Street as a tool for flipping witnesses to pursue the culprits behind the financial crimes that devastated the nation.
Even as the G.O.P. benefits from unlimited corporate campaign money, it’s pulling off the remarkable feat of persuading a large swath of anxious voters that it will lead a populist charge against the rulers of our economic pyramid — the banks, energy companies, insurance giants and other special interests underwriting its own candidates. Should those forces prevail, an America that still hasn’t remotely recovered from the worst hard times in 70 years will end up handing over even more power to those who greased the skids.
We can blame much of this turn of events on the deep pockets of oil billionaires like the Koch brothers and on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which freed corporations to try to buy any election they choose. But the Obama White House is hardly innocent. Its failure to hold the bust’s malefactors accountable has helped turn what should have been a clear-cut choice on Nov. 2 into a blurry contest between the party of big corporations and the party of business as usual.
Phi Beta Iota: The Tea Party is an unwitting circus act fully funded and controlled by the New York mandarins. The lack of responsible alternatives on the left or the right, combined with the naivete of the public in thinking that the Tea Party is anything other than a side show, could lead–we never thought we would say this–to a new Administration and Congress even more ineffective than the last two. The further American governance moves from the truth, the deeper our grave.
Charging that the ongoing foreclosure fraud epidemic is the work of precisely the same unrepentant bank officers whose fraudulent mortgage schemes crashed the financial system in the first place, two leading critics of the financial industry are calling on the FDIC to put some of the nation’s biggest banks into receivership — starting with the Bank of America — and make them clean house.
William K. Black, a former regulator and white-collar crime expert who cracked down on massive fraud during the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s, and his fellow economics professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, L. Randall Wray, write in the Huffington Post that it’s time to “foreclose on the foreclosure fraudsters”. They write:
If it wasn’t already blindingly obvious that pervasive fraud was at the heart of the financial crisis and the ensuing foreclosure catastrophe, you would think that the latest news — that banks have routinely been lying their heads off in the rush to kick homeowners off the properties they fraudulently induced them to buy in the first place — would pretty much clinch it.
And yet the mainstream media still by and large hasn’t connected the dots.
What we are seeing all around us are the continued effects of a vast criminal enterprise that has never been brought to account, employing a process that, as University of Texas economist James Galbraith explains, involved the equivalent of counterfeiting, laundering and fencing.
So the person with the right expertise to lead us here is a criminologist — in particular William K. Black, one of the few effective regulators in recent history (during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s), a notorious knocker of heads and currently professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of the book, “The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One”.
I first interviewed Black in April, and recently checked back in and asked him about this ongoing problem of the mainstream media’s inability to properly cover this story. He responded with this breathless and breathtaking list of failings (slightly edited for publication):
NEW YORK (AP, Michelle Conlin) — In an effort to rush through thousands of home foreclosures since 2007, financial institutions and their mortgage servicing departments hired hair stylists, Walmart floor workers and people who had worked on assembly lines and installed them in “foreclosure expert” jobs with no formal training, a Florida lawyer says.
In depositions released Tuesday, many of those workers testified that they barely knew what a mortgage was. Some couldn’t define the word “affidavit.” Others didn’t know what a complaint was, or even what was meant by personal property. Most troubling, several said they knew they were lying when they signed the foreclosure affidavits and that they agreed with the defense lawyers’ accusations about document fraud.
Phi Beta Iota: This just makes us sick–millions of lives–tens of millions of lives–destroyed by criminal misbehavior on the part of banks, and the government was nowhere to be seen–certainly not looking out for the public interest.