By Matt Taibbi / TK News
There were significant shifts in the news this week, as eight decades of U.S.-Saudi cooperation were imperiled by a dispute over production cuts by the OPEC+ coalition. We could have started talking about that on America This Week, but had cause to start with seemingly less important topics. To listen to the full show, click here. Some excerpts:
On Kanye West reportedly being cut off as a banking client by JP Morgan Chase:
Walter Kirn: The first story that caught my interest was this feint by PayPal, in which they announced a new policy that it would allow them to fine you or grant themselves $2,500 from your account if you were caught spreading “misinformation.” They quickly reversed to that. It was a little bit like a flasher in the park, quickly opening his raincoat to show you the ugliness, then closing it again and saying he didn’t mean to.
Then there was Kanye West, who had a very garrulous week. He was on Tucker Carlson. He was on Twitter. He was making a lot of noise. And one of his remarks apparently caused JP Morgan Chase to close his account. And that’s a hell of a big account. Then, you know, you had Alex Jones fined a billion dollars for his Sandy Hook defamation. You also had a story the Wall Street Journal reported about the ongoing orgy of insider trading on the part of our government officials. None of them are being de banked, and none of them are having their E*TRADE accounts closed, it seems. So, this financial censorship, or the financial engineering of social thought and direction, seem to be a meta-story for the week.
Matt Taibbi: My knowledge level about Kanye West is zero. He was married to a Kardashian or something?
Walter Kirn: He was married, he’s had a famous divorce.
Matt Taibbi: But then he gets de-banked by JP Morgan Chase. And that was the moment where I started paying attention, because I covered this subject. Chase has an extraordinary history of not getting rid of real problem clients. In fact, they were criminally charged and fined nearly half a billion dollars, if I remember correctly [editor’s note: they were actually fined $1.7 billion by the Justice Department and $461 million by FinCEN] for not getting rid of Bernie Madoff as a client when they knew he was a problem. The funniest part of that story was that when Chase figured out that there was something wrong there, they didn’t notify the world. They didn’t release him as a client. They just withdrew their own investments in Bernie and BLM Enterprises, which was Bernie Madoff’s fund. There’s social conscience for you!
Matt Taibbi: Chase has a history beyond Madoff, for violation of anti-money laundering rules, which means they were not properly vetting where their depository money came from, which is the problem across the industry. They also have a history of race based discrimination. They had to pay a pretty significant fine a couple of years ago for mortgage discrimination, where they were accused of charging blacks and Hispanics more for mortgages than white clients. And then they turn around and they’re claiming to be shocked, shocked, by the behavior of Kanye West, to the point where they’re going to take away his banking services. That’s troubling to me for a couple of reasons. One, because you wonder, are my services in the hands of some bureaucrat at a bank, who’s judging what I do in my private life? It’s also just so hypocritical.
Walter Kirn: Well, hypocrisy is the method now, not the exception, it seems to me. This whole de-banking thing, in my recent memory started with the Canadian trucker protest, when Canada started separating various supporters of that protest from their accounts. The MyPillow guy account was closed for his Trump support and his “election denial.” Now we have Kanye West, whose greatest sin seems to be that he’s becoming an overt and evangelizing Christian, besides being a Trump supporter. He made a couple of antisemitic remarks which were pretty much nothing on what Louis Farrakhan has built a career saying. I recommend that Kanye find out where Farrakhan banks and move his accounts there. The idea of banks as moral enforcers is kind of a new one.
It’s a historical novelty. They have traditionally been the places where all money mixes, whether it came from war, drugs, plastics manufacturers or whatever. They’ve been fairly agnostic about that, and they’ve reserved the right to be. But now there are crusaders. I don’t know that that was as disturbing to the normal person as the PayPal business. Suddenly if you’re an American right now and you use Venmo, which is a PayPal property, or PayPal, you have your bank account linked to that app, to that service. And the thought that they could easily reach in — even if they decided at the last minute to not do that, I think was a wake up call. I’m not saying we’re all Kanye now, but they’ve flexed their power.
It seems that all these trends in financial censorship exist at a macro and micro level at once. Yesterday I started losing followers on Twitter by the hundreds, as did many people who use the service.
Walter Kirn: In that small way, we were alerted that the algorithms are in control and in a larger way, we’re seeing that the financial flow is also at the direction of moral judges, during the inquisition, as it were. So we entered a new age last week, of frank social engineering.
Matt Taibbi: It makes them somehow even less attractive as characters. Did you like the book American Psycho?
Walter Kirn: I loved the book American Psycho.
Matt Taibbi: Loved the book. And the movie was great too. I loved it. The root satirical observation which is that how they are in public might as well match up with a hidden life of just rampant, blood-soaked murder and mass disposal of corpses. There was no difference. The narration didn’t change. He didn’t go from worrying about whether he had the right business card in the office to suddenly shifting into stealth mode now, as I chainsaw hookers in my apartment. It was the same person in both places. That portrait, of the finance person who was obsessed with how many crunches they could do, and who had the better haircut and how much money they had, the fact that this person was privately a monster made sense, but now they’re going to compound it. It’s worse if they’re privately imagining themselves to be saints. That is more horrifying than the chainsaws-and-Phil Collins thing.
Walter Kirn: Their statue down on Wall Street is of a rampant snorting bull, right? Now it will be shifted to, I don’t know, some sort of risen apostle, or saint, or there’ll be an anti-racist slogan or something.
Matt Taibbi: “Do better.”
On the Saudi-U.S. dispute:
Walter Kirn: I’d like to shift from that story of money flow to a story of oil flow. They’re sort of in the same ballpark. This ultimatum that Biden gave to Saudi Arabia, which Saudi Arabia publicly ignored was a real eye-opener, too.
I don’t know what makes Saudi Arabia cheeky enough to make this move against us. Traditionally what we offered them in return for their oil was security. Weapons. Maybe they don’t need them now, or maybe we’ve given them all to Ukraine, so there’s nothing to give them. I have no idea. But they seem to be willing to go their own way in more than just oil terms, but perhaps security terms. And now we want something from them, and they don’t wanna give it to us. If this were a Scorsese movie we would expect this plot turn, where the gangsters of the world don’t like being disrespected.
Matt Taibbi: If this is a Scorsese movie, it’s the scene in Goodfellas where Robert De Niro finds out that Joe Pesci’s been whacked. He’s on the phone. It’s Saudi Arabia on the phone telling us, “Yeah. He didn’t make it. There was nothing anybody could do about it.”
Matt Taibbi: The impotence of our response to the Saudis is almost scarier than anything else. Are we at a stage of American history where we can’t bigfoot Saudi Arabia? For all of our other qualities in America, the one thing I always thought we could depend on was that we were the biggest dog in the room, that we could push people around. Now I’m not so sure that we can even do that.
Walter Kirn: Speaking of the Scorsese filter on American history, Trump was the ultimate boss for America. He was the frankly Scorsese-an character who said, “We’re the big dogs. Let’s act like the big dogs. Let’s use our sticks. Let’s speak loudly and carry a big stick.” He sort of walked around America like some kind of casino boss and was rather shameless about announcing that Gang America rules the streets and is going to do whatever it takes to make sure it continues to do that. Now we had a spasm of altruism and goodness that’s rejected the notion of America as a stick-wielding gangster. What has replaced it is America as a petulant, pseudo-virtuous, teen moralist.
It’s hard to think that we’re capitulating in this matter because we’re afraid or shy. It’s because we probably can’t do anything about it. We seem to have lost some essential leverage in the world, and it’s unclear how and when that happened.
On the upcoming midterms:
Walter Kirn: We saw on the part of the Democrats a new line that spread across candidates a few days ago, that if the Republicans win, it will be in their interest to sabotage the economy, so as to be appealing in the 2024 presidential election. My response on Twitter about sabotaging the economy is that “You can’t sabotage wreckage.”
The idea that things are terrible, but please re-elect us because the other side has an interest in making things even more terrible, is an innovation in political rhetoric.
The election in general is starting to scare me. It seems to represent some boundary between the current fucked-up-ness and a future state of turbo-fucked-up-ness, because whoever wins or however big they win, it’s clear that such is the bad faith of our political actors that actual sabotage and blaming and irresponsibility may be what lies ahead. Neither side is talking about how after the election, we may have to come together. They’re talking about it as though it represents some cliff after which anything is possible.
Matt Taibbi: From a literary point of view, it could be interesting, if after the election we went full Game of Thrones, and the White House becomes a place where there are heads of Republicans mounted on each one of the gate-ends and it’s covered in spray paint. There could be a stage of American history that’s complete carnage and horror movie imagery. We could be headed towards something like that. The pretense of civility is beginning to… Oh, that’s from American Psycho! The mask of sanity is beginning to slip. Maybe it’ll slip all the way off after the election.
Walter Kirn: We keep talking about after the election, but what comes after the election? The beginning of another damn election, right? Once the votes are counted, seven months after the election, or however long it takes this time, the presidential election will begin in earnest. It may even begin in earnest before the counts are completed. We’re in a permanent state of electoral warfare in this country now. Two year elections have the status of four year elections. Four year elections have the status of the fall of empire. I actually would like October to go for about seven months, because I’m not expecting much closure in November. I’m expecting the dawn of a new, total tribal struggle.
Again, to listen to the whole episode, click here: