Corrente

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Could somebody tell Matt Taibbi to stop being a dick?

Great analysis. But ya know what?

I could really, really do without the metaphor of "when your wife does it with your 300-pound plumber in the kids' playroom."

Who was your prof in journalism school, Matt? Andrew Dice Clay?

NOTE That said, Taibbi's brilliantly framed the banksters' business models in terms of named cons:

CON #1 THE SWOOP AND SQUAT

What is less understood is that the bailout of AIG counter-parties like Goldman and Société Générale, a French bank, actually began before the collapse of AIG, before the Federal Reserve paid them so much as a dollar. Nor is it understood that these counterparties actually accelerated the wreck of AIG in what was, ironically, something very like the old insurance scam known as "Swoop and Squat," in which a target car is trapped between two perpetrator vehicles and wrecked, with the mark in the game being the target's insurance company — in this case, the government.

CON #2 THE DOLLAR STORE

In the usual "DollarStore" or "Big Store" scam — popularized in movies like The Sting — a huge cast of con artists is hired to create a whole fake environment into which the unsuspecting mark walks and gets robbed over and over again. A warehouse is converted into a makeshift casino or off-track betting parlor, the fool walks in with money, leaves without it. ...

"You're borrowing at zero, putting it out there at two or three percent, with hundreds of billions of dollars — man, you can make a lot of money that way," says the manager of one prominent hedge fund. "It's free money." Which goes a long way to explaining Goldman's enormous profits last year. But all that free money was amplified by another scam:

CON #3 THE PIG IN THE POKE

At one point or another, pretty much everyone who takes drugs has been burned by this one, also known as the "Rocks in the Box" scam or, in its more elaborate variations, the "Jamaican Switch." Someone sells you what looks like an eightball of coke in a baggie, you get home and, you dumbass, it's baby powder.

CON #4 THE RUMANIAN BOX

One of the great innovations of Victor Lustig, the legendary Depression-era con man who wrote the famous "Ten Commandments for Con Men," was a thing called the "Rumanian Box." This was a little machine that a mark would put a blank piece of paper into, only to see real currency come out the other side. The brilliant Lustig sold this Rumanian Box over and over again for vast sums — but he's been outdone by the modern barons of Wall Street, who managed to get themselves a real Rumanian Box.

In March of last year, the Fed sharply expanded a radical new program called quantitative easing, which effectively operated as a real-live Rumanian Box. The government put stacks of paper in one side, and out came $1.2 trillion "real" dollars.

The government used some of that freshly printed money to prop itself up by purchasing Treasury bonds — a desperation move, since Washington's demand for cash was so great post-Clusterfuck '08 that even the Chinese couldn't buy U.S. debt fast enough to keep America afloat. But the Fed used most of the new cash to buy mortgage-backed securities in an effort to spur home lending — instantly creating a massive market for major banks.

And what did the banks do with the proceeds? Among other things, they bought Treasury bonds, essentially lending the money back to the government, at interest. The money that came out of the magic Rumanian Box went from the government back to the government, with Wall Street stepping into the circle just long enough to get paid. And once quantitative easing ends, as it is scheduled to do in March, the flow of money for home loans will once again grind to a halt. The Mortgage Bankers Association expects the number of new residential mortgages to plunge by 40 percent this year.

CON #5 THE BIG MITT

All of that Rumanian box paper was made even more valuable by running it through the next stage of the grift. Michael Masters, one of the country's leading experts on commodities trading, compares this part of the scam to the poker game in the Bill Murray comedy Stripes. "It's like that scene where John Candy leans over to the guy who's new at poker and says, 'Let me see your cards,' then starts giving him advice," Masters says. "He looks at the hand, and the guy has bad cards, and he's like, 'Bluff me, come on! If it were me, I'd bet everything!' That's what it's like. It's like they're looking at your cards as they give you advice." ...

One of the best examples of the banks blatantly gambling, and winning, on government moves was the Public-Private Investment Program, or PPIP. In this bizarre scheme cooked up by goofball-geek Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the government loaned money to hedge funds and other private investors to buy up the absolutely most toxic horseshit on the market — the same kind of high-risk, high-yield mortgages that were most responsible for triggering the financial chain reaction in the fall of 2008. These satanic deals were the basic currency of the bubble: Jobless dope fiends bought houses with no money down, and the big banks wrapped those mortgages into securities and then sold them off to pensions and other suckers as investment-grade deals. The whole point of the PPIP was to get private investors to relieve the banks of these dangerous assets before they hurt any more innocent bystanders.

But what did the banks do instead, once they got wind of the PPIP? They started buying that worthless crap again, presumably to sell back to the government at inflated prices!

CON #6 THE WIRE

One of the most common practices is a thing called front-running, which is really no different from the old "Wire" con, another scam popularized in The Sting. But instead of intercepting a telegraph wire in order to bet on racetrack results ahead of the crowd, what Wall Street does is make bets ahead of valuable information they obtain in the course of everyday business.

CON #7 THE RELOAD

Not many con men are good enough or brazen enough to con the same victim twice in a row, but the few who try have a name for this excellent sport: reloading. The usual way to reload on a repeat victim (called an "addict" in grifter parlance) is to rope him into trying to get back the money he just lost. This is exactly what started to happen late last year.

It's important to remember that the housing bubble itself was a classic confidence game — the Ponzi scheme. The Ponzi scheme is any scam in which old investors must be continually paid off with money from new investors to keep up what appear to be high rates of investment return. Residential housing was never as valuable as it seemed during the bubble; the soaring home values were instead a reflection of a continual upward rush of new investors in mortgage-backed securities, a rush that finally collapsed in 2008.

But by the end of 2009, the unimaginable was happening: The bubble was re-inflating. A bailout policy that was designed to help us get out from under the bursting of the largest asset bubble in history inadvertently produced exactly the opposite result, as all that government-fueled capital suddenly began flowing into the most dangerous and destructive investments all over again. Wall Street was going for the reload.

It's all great stuff. But somebody really needs to stage an intervention with Matt:

Matt! Stop being a dick!

Matt! Stop being a dick!

Matt! Stop being a dick!

Matt! Stop being a dick!

Matt! Stop being a dick!

Matt! Stop being a dick!

Matt! Stop being a dick!

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Matt! Stop being a dick!

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Comments

Submitted by Lex on

He's good at it and he obviously enjoys it. Any guidance counselor worth her/his salt would say, "You should to something that you're good at and enjoy."

And remember, he really became the writer he is today working with Ames on The eXile. The man spent a decade in post-Soviet Russia and its periphery (the first decade of the post-Soviet era); he's got experiences that very few Americans can understand. He knows what it looks like when the lights go out and Swan Lake is the only thing on TV.

It should also be noted that being a dick was what being with The eXile was about...very smart, witty dicks with a nose for investigative journalism and analysis...but huge dicks. These guys were running features called "Death Porn" and "Whore-r-stories".

More importantly, it works. People read him and listen to him. He's got that voice of generation thing: Tyler Durden meets Hunter S. Thompson. Frankly, i think we need more dicks.

Submitted by lambert on

His CDS has done him great damage in one the constituencies that needs to hear him most: The women who were disenfranchised in the 2008 primaries. Finance is a feminist issue!

I understand about his history and I respect that. Thing is, we can grow [up] beyond our history, yes?

Submitted by Lex on

And i understand the critique of his language. He could have just as easily flipped the sexes in question around in the portion that raises your ire, lambert. Maybe he should have. The effect would remain. Or he could have just used "spouse" and "real estate agent" so as to be non-gender specific.

Still, people respond to him because he's writing from the gut. Maybe he should grow up...maybe. But where has being the grownup gotten anyone in the Great American Debate? Nobody listens to the grownups. They should, but they don't. He's at least getting a grownup message across.

We've all been disenfranchised, and it wasn't just the primaries of 2008 (for the record, i voted "none of the above" in my state's faux primary and not because i wanted to vote Obama, because i couldn't pass up the opportunity to vote my conscience for once). And it isn't going to stop so long as everyone tries to be grown up...if that means never saying offensive things.

I don't know what generation you're of, but Matt is from my generation. The way he writes strikes an instinctual chord with me (and it seems a great many others of our generation). I've long said that nobody wants us actually running the show, and maybe this is the proof in the pudding. I referenced Tyler Durden (from the book, not the movie) on purpose. This is the bitter angst and barely suppressed rage of a generation that's seen nothing but bullshit for its entire life. Maybe i didn't notice the misogyny because i'm male, but maybe it's because the misogyny (if it was that) is a lot less important than the fucking over we've all been getting from the very serious "grown ups" in charge of the show.

Pardon the long comment.

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

Is that what you're saying, Lex?

I hope not.

I take what you say about his writing style reaching a certain group of people (and be REAL careful before you start saying your whole generation responds to the same sort of voice) - but shouldn't a writer of his skill be able to do that without misogyny? It's not a question of "growing up", it's a question of basic human decency.

And your male privilege is showing a bit when you say

maybe it's because the misogyny (if it was that) is a lot less important than the fucking over we've all been getting from the very serious "grown ups" in charge of the show

Ah, so once again the wimmenz have to wait until everything else is fixed before we get to be treated like full human beings. A'course.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

Well-said, ALNM.

Meanwhile, if I hear one more "generational warfare" comment I might just hurl my cookies. Taibbi is three years younger than I am. We are in the same generation. Am I supposed to pretend, because of my age or something, that his sexism and CDS doesn't bother me?!

The fact is that there is no excuse for dickishness, and there's certainly no need to defend it. Taibbi's writing is strong enough to resonate without it.

Submitted by lambert on

Oh, really? Whose guts, may I ask? Surely you're confusing authenticity with faux transgression?

"Instinctual chord"? Whose instincts, may I ask?

I really think you're a lot smarter than this, lex. Reifying cultural norms as "natural" is really the oldest trick in the book.

Submitted by gob on

Yeah, the way Taibbi writes strikes an "instinctual chord" with me too, but not the one he intends. Decades and decades of verbal abuse mixed in with the stuff I actually do want to read have left me furious, furious, I tell you, with this culture of misogyny and the fools who lap it up and piss on women for fun and profit.

Lambert, thank you. Keep being a mensch.

quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

I'm serious. It was some throwaway article on the campaign trail in 2008. He obviously thought he was being roll-on-the-floor funny. I don't remember anything about it except his use of one of the world's most horrible crimes. I've never read him again.

He really does need to stop being a jerk.

JG's picture
Submitted by JG on

Taibbi has mellowed out tremendously. Someone who has done things like this can't be expected to ever be cordial. (Warning: you should read the link's url before deciding if you want to follow it.)

Submitted by lambert on

I'm not especially cordial myself (and I have mellowed ;-)

I just don't want him to foul his own nest, which is what he's doing.

leea's picture
Submitted by leea on

and all folks are talking and arguing about is how big a dick he is and if he should or shouldn't be excused for his dickitude because he also sees and properly identified and codified a great wrong that all of us also see.

"Ooooh, the pretty lights."

Ohhhhh, look how ugly and fat."

He follows the MO of the MSM. Throw in some scandal for more attention, for more eyeballs. I wish he would have identified the name of that con. Nah, he would have been giving up his own jig. It works splendidly, though, on even the most astute and politically aware folks.

You know what makes a mark, a 'mark'? She thinks it's all about her, her wants, her feelings, her concerns and fails to see that the folks pulling the strings want her to think that so she won't notice the 300 pound plumber in her kids room stuffing legos (very valuable items to my son) in his tutu.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

The way the corporate media works. We didn't know!

You're right, it's not all about me. What was I thinking when I complained about a writer's misogyny? In fact, I will be sure to take your recommendations seriously and never think for or about myself again. Surely you know best what I should be worrying about, and what should be done about it.

Thank you so much for a very enlightening comment.

Submitted by cg.eye on

(since, obviously, that's the level of rhetorical brio to which we should aspire, leea....)

Why should I accept someone who wants to talk about raping me or my child before he tells me my house is on fire? Newscasters used to have stiff and polite styles because they knew it was a privilege *to be allowed to enter someone's home*. With the giveaway of the public commons represented by monopoly newspapers, auctioned-off airwaves and net non-neutrality, we tend to forget that we, as a public, should be respected by lending our commons out in the first place.

Just because Taibbi acts as if he were raised by Russian pimp wolves doesn't mean he should bite our necks first, before going after the necks of the banksters.