Matt Taibbi looks around America and sees a lot to be outraged about. So much that he worries a “fatigue” is setting in, where people feel helpless to do anything about it.
“It blows your mind but you don’t know what to do,” said the Rolling Stone contributing editor in a wide-ranging interview at the Intercontinental Hotel in Miami. “So much of it is happening at once that I think people just don’t know what to do.”
Taibbi, a 43-year-old journalist known best for his no-holds-barred coverage of Wall Street and the financial crisis, was in Miami as a keynote speaker at the 2013 Association of Alternative Newsmedia annual convention.
In a sit-down with the Straight on July 12, Taibbi discussed the dysfunctions of democracies in which elections are up for sale. In addition, he described how the financial system is openly manipulated to favour the super-rich, and highlighted spying programs that violate the rights of millions.
He also commented on the Obama administration's overseas assassination operations, and how the law has been contorted to allow for death squads to operate beyond it.
“When did it become okay for us to go out and just assassinate people?” he asked in reference to U.S. drone strikes. “I remember being 25, 30 years old, and if you had told me back then that the United States was going out and extra-legally assassinating people by the thousand, I think it would have been a national outrage among somebody. Now, it’s out in the open.”
Taibbi said that this level of government audacity is why he has a problem with conspiracy theorists, such as those who argue that the September 11 attacks were an inside job. (He also dismissed suggestions of government foul play in relation to the death of Michael Hastings, a fellow writer for Rolling Stone who covered national security issues before dying in an alleged car accident on June 18, 2013.)
“They are still convinced that conspiracies are these things that take place with the Rothschilds and the Illuminati, and that it’s all taking place behind some closed door somewhere,” Taibbi said. “I’m like, ‘They’re not hiding it. It’s right out in the open.’
“Like the financial conspiracies that are going on,” he explained. “During the bailouts in 2008, a handful of people got together and they redistributed all of these fallen companies. They just sort of handed out who was going to get Washington Mutual [which went to JPMorgan Chase], who was going to get Wachovia [Wells Fargo], and who was going to get Merrill Lynch [Bank of America]. And none of that stuff happened with the permission of the American people. It didn’t have anything to do with the free market. It was a bunch of guys getting together and just deciding how things were going to be. That’s a conspiracy, but they didn’t hide it.”
Taibbi offered a second, more-recent example of corruption that borders on organized conspiracy: the case of HSBC, which, Taibbi said, figures prominently in a book he’s writing. In December 2012, HSBC agreed to pay a record $1.92-billion settlement to U.S. authorities after admitting to laundering huge amounts of money for Latin American drug cartels and violating a number of other laws, including the Trading with the Enemy Act.
“It is an extraordinary case, an extraordinary step in the wrong direction,” Taibbi emphasized. “Here is a company that admitted to laundering over $800 million for the worst and most-violent drug cartels in the world and nobody has gone to jail.
“I keep writing about these crazy conspiracies that are true,” he added. “But not only are people tired of hearing about it, they’re also very in touch with how impotent they are to do anything about it.”
Taibbi spent 10 years living in post-Soviet Russia and, comparing that experience to America today, argued people should appreciate that his country’s infrastructure is still standing, for now. But he didn’t express optimism for the future.
“We are moving in the direction of a formalized system of despotism where people and organizations that have financial power get what they want…and, increasingly, make everybody else pay those costs,” Tabbi said. “We’re going back in time now, to the old way of doing things, where we have one tiny upper class, and then there is the whole segment of everybody else who doesn’t really have any rights. That’s unfortunate.”