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The Divide
Cover of The Divide
The Divide
American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
Borrow Borrow
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST, NPR, AND KIRKUS REVIEWS
    A scathing portrait of an urgent new American crisis


    Over the last two decades, America has been falling deeper and deeper into a statistical mystery:

    Poverty goes up. Crime goes down. The prison population doubles.
    Fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world's wealth. The rich get massively richer. No one goes to jail.

    In search of a solution, journalist Matt Taibbi discovered the Divide, the seam in American life where our two most troubling trends—growing wealth inequality and mass incarceration—come together, driven by a dramatic shift in American citizenship: Our basic rights are now determined by our wealth or poverty. The Divide is what allows massively destructive fraud by the hyperwealthy to go unpunished, while turning poverty itself into a crime—but it's impossible to see until you look at these two alarming trends side by side.

    In The Divide, Matt Taibbi takes readers on a galvanizing journey through both sides of our new system of justice—the fun-house-mirror worlds of the untouchably wealthy and the criminalized poor. He uncovers the startling looting that preceded the financial collapse; a wild conspiracy of billionaire hedge fund managers to destroy a company through dirty tricks; and the story of a whistleblower who gets in the way of the largest banks in America, only to find herself in the crosshairs. On the other side of the Divide, Taibbi takes us to the front lines of the immigrant dragnet; into the newly punitive welfare system which treats its beneficiaries as thieves; and deep inside the stop-and-frisk world, where standing in front of your own home has become an arrestable offense. As he narrates these incredible stories, he draws out and analyzes their common source: a perverse new standard of justice, based on a radical, disturbing new vision of civil rights.

    Through astonishing—and enraging—accounts of the high-stakes capers of the wealthy and nightmare stories of regular people caught in the Divide's punishing logic, Taibbi lays bare one of the greatest challenges we face in contemporary American life: surviving a system that devours the lives of the poor, turns a blind eye to the destructive crimes of the wealthy, and implicates us all.
    Praise for The Divide

    "Ambitious . . . deeply reported, highly compelling . . . impossible to put down."—The New York Times Book Review

    "These are the stories that will keep you up at night. . . . The Divide is not just a report from the new America; it is advocacy journalism at its finest."—Los Angeles Times

    "Taibbi is a relentless investigative reporter. He takes readers inside not only investment banks, hedge funds and the blood sport of short-sellers, but into the lives of the needy, minorities, street drifters and illegal immigrants. . . . The Divide is an important book. Its documentation is powerful and shocking."—The Washington Post

    "Captivating . . . The Divide enshrines its author's position as one of the most important voices in contemporary American journalism."The Independent (UK)

    "Taibbi [is] perhaps the greatest reporter on Wall Street's crimes in the modern era."Salon
    From the Hardcover edition.
  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST, NPR, AND KIRKUS REVIEWS
    A scathing portrait of an urgent new American crisis


    Over the last two decades, America has been falling deeper and deeper into a statistical mystery:

    Poverty goes up. Crime goes down. The prison population doubles.
    Fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world's wealth. The rich get massively richer. No one goes to jail.

    In search of a solution, journalist Matt Taibbi discovered the Divide, the seam in American life where our two most troubling trends—growing wealth inequality and mass incarceration—come together, driven by a dramatic shift in American citizenship: Our basic rights are now determined by our wealth or poverty. The Divide is what allows massively destructive fraud by the hyperwealthy to go unpunished, while turning poverty itself into a crime—but it's impossible to see until you look at these two alarming trends side by side.

    In The Divide, Matt Taibbi takes readers on a galvanizing journey through both sides of our new system of justice—the fun-house-mirror worlds of the untouchably wealthy and the criminalized poor. He uncovers the startling looting that preceded the financial collapse; a wild conspiracy of billionaire hedge fund managers to destroy a company through dirty tricks; and the story of a whistleblower who gets in the way of the largest banks in America, only to find herself in the crosshairs. On the other side of the Divide, Taibbi takes us to the front lines of the immigrant dragnet; into the newly punitive welfare system which treats its beneficiaries as thieves; and deep inside the stop-and-frisk world, where standing in front of your own home has become an arrestable offense. As he narrates these incredible stories, he draws out and analyzes their common source: a perverse new standard of justice, based on a radical, disturbing new vision of civil rights.

    Through astonishing—and enraging—accounts of the high-stakes capers of the wealthy and nightmare stories of regular people caught in the Divide's punishing logic, Taibbi lays bare one of the greatest challenges we face in contemporary American life: surviving a system that devours the lives of the poor, turns a blind eye to the destructive crimes of the wealthy, and implicates us all.
    Praise for The Divide

    "Ambitious . . . deeply reported, highly compelling . . . impossible to put down."—The New York Times Book Review

    "These are the stories that will keep you up at night. . . . The Divide is not just a report from the new America; it is advocacy journalism at its finest."—Los Angeles Times

    "Taibbi is a relentless investigative reporter. He takes readers inside not only investment banks, hedge funds and the blood sport of short-sellers, but into the lives of the needy, minorities, street drifters and illegal immigrants. . . . The Divide is an important book. Its documentation is powerful and shocking."—The Washington Post

    "Captivating . . . The Divide enshrines its author's position as one of the most important voices in contemporary American journalism."The Independent (UK)

    "Taibbi [is] perhaps the greatest reporter on Wall Street's crimes in the modern era."Salon
    From the Hardcover edition.
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    • Chapter 1

      Unintended Consequences

      Tuesday, July 9, 2013, a blisteringly hot day in New York City. I'm in a cramped, twelfth-story closet of a courtroom, squeezed onto a wooden bench full of heavily perspiring lawyers and onlookers, watching something truly rare in the annals of modern American criminal justice--the prosecution of a bank.

      The set for this curiosity is the city's 100 Centre Street courthouse, a beat-up old building located far downtown, just a stone's throw from the thicket of gleaming skyscrapers housing the great financial powers of Wall Street.

      It's a pretrial hearing. The defendants--nineteen individuals plus the corporation itself--are here today to argue a motion to dismiss. There's no press here that I can see, despite the historic moment. And it is historic. This case, filed by New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., represents the only prosecution of a bank to take place anywhere in America since the collapse of the world economy in 2008. (In fact, it's the first since the early 1990s.)

      So who's the defendant? Is it Citigroup? Goldman Sachs? Wells Fargo? JPMorgan Chase? Bank of America? After all, these companies had all been involved in countless scandals since the financial crisis of '08, a disaster caused by an epidemic of criminal fraud that wiped out some 40 percent of the world's wealth in less than a year, affecting nearly everyone in the industrialized world. If ever there was a wave of white-collar crime that cried out for a criminal trial, it was this period of fraud from the mid-2000s. And it would make sense that the defendants should come from one of these companies. In the years since the crash, all of them, and a half-dozen more too-big-to-fail megafirms just like them, had already paid hundreds of millions of dollars in civil settlements for virtually every kind of fraud and manipulation known to man.

      Moreover, District Attorney Vance had once seemingly had all these Wall Street firms in his sights. He'd sent subpoenas out to Goldman and other companies the previous year. So surely one of these banks in those big skyscrapers a few blocks south of here must be the one on trial.

      Nope. In the end, the one bank to get thrown on the dock was not a Wall Street firm but one housed in the opposite direction, a little to the north--a tiny family-owned community bank in Chinatown called Abacus Federal Savings Bank.

      As a symbol of the government's ambitions in the area of cleaning up the financial sector, Abacus presents a striking picture. Instead of a fifty-story glass-and-steel monolith, Abacus is housed in a dull gray six-story building wedged between two noodle shops at the southern end of New York's legendary Bowery, once the capital of American poverty.

      This is the bank in court today, dragged to the cross to take the blame for the many sins of the financial sector. It is a grimly comic scene. The judge, the Honorable Renee White, is a legendary city curmudgeon, a wraithlike woman with a long turtlish neck and orange hair who seems unhappy not only to be listening to a motion to dismiss but to be on planet Earth at all.

      Before the hearing began, in fact, she'd barked at a young Chinese woman who'd had the audacity to dip her head near the floor to sneak a drink from a water bottle in her bag, trying to fight off the stultifying heat. "No refreshments!" the judge yelled. "You should have had your lunch before you came to this courtroom!"

      The young woman meekly put her bottle back into a bag. Judge White craned her long neck and glared. A burly bailiff, acting as many bailiffs do--as the physical manifestation of his judge's whimsy--hovered angrily past to make sure the...

    About the Author-
    • Matt Taibbi has been a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and the author of five previous books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Great Derangement and Griftopia. He lives in New Jersey.

    Reviews-
    • Kirkus

      Starred review from March 1, 2014
      Rolling Stone journalist Taibbi (Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America, 2010, etc.) once again rakes from the muck some most malodorous information about inequality in America. Readers with high blood pressure should make sure they've taken their medication before reading this devastating account of the inequality in our justice, immigration and social service systems. Taibbi's chapters are high-definition photographs contrasting the ways we pursue small-time corruption and essentially reward high-level versions of the same thing. Mixing case studies, interviews and anecdotes with comprehensive research on his topics, the author's effort should silence the sort of criticism that says, "Yes, those are horrible incidents and miscarriages of justice, but are they representative?" His answer, "Oh, yes!" Taibbi deals with the frisk-and-stop campaign in New York City, the 2008 financial collapse (he reminds us that no one went to jail for the egregious activities of the investment banks involved), the vast resources we allocate for pursuing, prosecuting and deporting illegal immigrants (mostly for petty behavior that pales in significance to that of the wolves of Wall Street), our horrendous persecution of people on food stamps and other public assistance, and the case of whistle-blower Linda Almonte, a well-paid employee for Chase Bank, which summarily fired her when she pointed out their unethical and illegal practices with their credit card holders. Taibbi does not tiptoe through his text. He believes many of our practices are characteristic of a "dystopia," and he calls Dick Fuld, a major banker, "one of the great assholes of all time" and illegal immigrants, "one of America's last great cash crops." Moreover, he is an equal-opportunity critic: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all wither under the intense sun of Taibbi's relentless scrutiny. Rising from the text is a miasma of corporate and political malfeasance and immorality that mocks the platitudes of democracy.

      COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

    • Library Journal

      September 15, 2013
      "Rolling Stone" contributing editor Taibbi argues that the widening gap between the rich one percent and the rest of us has altered our sense of justice. With a six-city tour.

      Copyright 2013 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

    • The Washington Post "Ambitious . . . deeply reported, highly compelling . . . impossible to put down."--The New York Times Book Review "These are the stories that will keep you up at night. . . . The Divide is not just a report from the new America; it is advocacy journalism at its finest."--Los Angeles Times "[Matt] Taibbi is a relentless investigative reporter. He takes readers inside not only investment banks, hedge funds and the blood sport of short-sellers, but into the lives of the needy, minorities, street drifters and illegal immigrants, to juxtapose justice for the poor and the powerful. . . . The Divide is an important book. Its documentation is powerful and shocking."
    • The Independent (UK) "Captivating . . . The Divide enshrines its author's position as one of the most important voices in contemporary American journalism."
    • Salon "Taibbi [is] perhaps the greatest reporter on Wall Street's crimes in the modern era."
    • The Wall Street Journal "[Taibbi's] warning is all about moral hazard. . . . When swindlers know that their risks will be subsidized . . . they will surely commit more crimes. And when most of the population either does not know or does not care that the lowest socioeconomic classes live in something akin to a police state, we should be greatly concerned for the moral health of our society."
    • Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "Trenchant . . . a scathing, accessible, and often riveting look at the U.S. finance industry and justice system."--Publishers Weekly "Readers with high blood pressure should make sure they've taken their medication before reading this devastating account of inequality in our justice, immigration, and social service systems. Taibbi's chapters are high-definition photographs contrasting the ways we pursue small-time corruption and essentially reward high-level versions of the same thing."
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