Dylan Ratigan is excited. That’s hardly news, but the fact that his book Greedy Bastards came out January 10 and immediately began shooting up the bestseller lists is, as is the populist response to the message laid out in the book’s subtitle: “How We Can Stop Corporate Communists, Banksters, And Other Vampires From Sucking America Dry.”
To put it lightly, Ratigan isn’t one for understatement. The MSNBC talk show host and author doesn’t so much stand as hover; talk as orate; write as spew words on the page. He’s not so much mad as hell as he is convinced that the country, its leaders and its bankers seriously need to STOP RIGHT NOW and face facts. Then they need to re-set and fix this mess we’re in. Ratigan’s passionate about this the way he was insistent last year that we pay attention to agribusiness and how it’ll affect political races, which he was spot-on about.
We read Greedy Bastards, and it’s an inspiring take on how we can get things right again; it’s also a fascinating and well-explained recounting of what led to the 2008 financial crisis and who the real culprits are. Go pick up a copy after you’re done reading what he had to tell us about rogue bankers, pig-headed politicians, food politics and whether or not America can get back on the right track.
Let’s talk about Greedy Bastards. The title obviously is a grabber.
The title was an assignment. The president and CEO of Simon & Schuster called me up and said I want you to write a book called Greedy Bastards. You tell me what it’s about. So I set out like a reporter receiving an assignment to try to define what a greedy bastard was, and then to try to define what you would do to fight greedy bastardism. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but I’m actually pleased with that.
You really spell out what led to the fiscal crisis, and you’re clearly not fond of the way the bankers behaved.
Writing the banking chapter of this book was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life as a professional journalist. My goal was to make it as accessible as possible to as many people as possible while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the actual system that we use in this country. People say dumb it down… Everyone says [the stock market is so complex], well it’s no more complex than the baseball score sheets, and people seem awfully good at keeping track of [things like] fantasy football. So clearly the masses of this country have the potential to consume and analyze all sorts of variant data…. The main mission of this book was to make understanding how the financial system was working and is still working: Remember, the title of the chapter is “The World’s Biggest Ongoing Heist.” They haven’t changed it, and I hope that as more and more people understand it that it will be easier for us to ultimately move to a healthier set of reforms.
You make the bailout that followed the financial crisis sound very troubling. You basically say that it lined the pockets of the bankers and didn’t really help cure any of the economic problems.
It didn’t. The way it’s suppose to work is that the money is suppose to align its interests with the people and the money and the people work together to solve a problem. It’s funny that you have to write a book about it. It’s ridiculous! And yet our financial system does the exact opposite. It seeks to create debt for entrepreneurs and debt for ordinary people and then pass that debt to the US government. And then we deal with the lack of investment and development, which results in no jobs, results in limited innovation, limited development of real innovations in things like health and energy and education. All so that we can preserve a dead business which is these giant banks which are currently funding both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in this country.
So what can we do at this point?
There are three things that I call for in this book. One — I call for the need to get money out of politics with a Constitutional amendment because of the corrupting influence [that] special interests are using on our government. Two – a second Marshall Plan, immediately. There’s no amount of taxing rich people and no amount of austerity for poor people that will solve this problem, and as long as we’re locked in a bogus debate of tax the rich or austerity for the poor, the only people that win are the bankers and the status quo politicians. The third thing is a call to action for everybody in America and really around the world to find each other on a municipal basis and start to [organize], and in the process also seek to model true capitalism through what I call cradles of innovation, where you get investors who work with entrepreneurs to solve a problem.
You don’t spend a lot of time in the book addressing food issues other than food prices and some of the economic effects of the financial crisis on food, but in the past, you’ve talked about agribusiness in the same way you talk about banks—
It’s one of the big six, I mean they really have a foothold in our country.
You talk about if you can take some of the lobbying money away from agribusiness it’d be a lot easier for small farms to make a go of it…
The barrier for most kitchen table issues in this country [is lobbying], whether it’s the atrocious nature of food in poor neighborhoods, or the inability for the small farmer and municipal agriculture to make [progress] or the incarceration of young black men through the prison industrial complex or the fee for service doctors. You know that the AMA lobbies the government, and the government goes with it, to limit the number of available slots for doctors. So we have a doctor shortage so that the AMA can keep doctors salaries up? That’s crazy! We have the same exact thing going on in the food world, where it is obvious that there is a revolution in the world of food sourcing and in the human relationship with food. The American people and the people of the world are coming to the realization that the healthiest food tends to be food that is grown and cultivated near wherever you’re standing. And that while that’s great for people it’s not great for agribusiness. All of these things are threats. The local farming movement is a direct threat to agribusiness, so agribusiness is able to continually fund politicians’ campaigns in order to make it remarkably easy for them to function and remarkably difficult for those who are not them to function.
What do you think would happen if one of the Republican candidates or even President Obama decided to make 2012 a big fight to try to make more of a level playing field between agribusiness and the small farms?
No one would talk about it. No one would care. The media and the Republicans and the Democrats don’t even want to talk about the fact that America needs 30 million jobs. So if we can’t talk about the fact that we have 30 million unemployed people due to the extraction of banking taxes and trade, because they want to talk about who’s gay and all of this nonsense, there’s no way. Price and availability are probably the two biggest influencers in terms of food. And if we make the worst and least nutritious food the cheapest and the most available, what do you think is going to happen?
That salad you’re eating right now probably costs you twice to three times more than a meal at McDonald’s would have cost.
And since when has green salad with carrots and Brussels sprouts become the provenance of the rich? What’s going on around here? I mean really.
There are some real health issues at play here too, right?
Exactly. You have no short-term penalty for a system that is now basically toxifying the people of America with cheap garbage food. The American taxpayer is the one who will ultimately bear the burden for the extraordinary cost of obesity and diabetes that has exploded in this country. While the agribusinesses of the world make a fortune at America’s expense, the American consumer gets more toxic and less healthy, while the American people are forced to pay a bankrupting level for health care costs for what are really lifestyle diseases. It’s one thing if you’re dealing with consequential things that you can’t solve: Aids, cancer, Alzheimer’s. Those are great mysteries for our time that must be resolved. Diabetes, obesity, they’re a lifestyle illness, and diabetes and obesity alone are bankrupting the American health care system. And why are people living that lifestyle? Do you think people want to be diabetic and obese? Ever talk to a classroom full of second graders and say raise your hand if when you grow up you want to be diabetic and obese? It’s an outrage.
Let’s talk about the elections.
Auction 2012 I call it.
You have a handy dandy guide in Greedy Bastards to fixing some of these problems that will probably be ignored.
Unless we can make our voices so loud we cannot be ignored, we will be ignored…. You either become very demoralized or for me, I’ve become inspired, because this has become the best recruiting vehicle for our non-profit to get money out of politics. [Ed: It’s called, fittingly, Get Money Out.]
Get Money Out has attracted some powerful advocates, like Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. How did you come up with the idea for it?
It was a result of the writing of this book and that rant last summer. I was so frustrated and I wanted to try to find a healthy way to channel the rage that was coursing through me at the time, and so we set out and launched the Get Money Out foundation — not knowing what was going to happen, and only to find hundreds of thousands of people streaming in who share that frustration, and millions of dollars. We suddenly have ourselves the largest nonprofit in the country on the issue of money in politics by dollars, numbers and staff. The rate of growth is absolutely stunning.
Occupy Wall Street: what’s the takeaway from your point of view? Some of the messages were aligned with what you talk about…
The occupation is alive and well. The organizations that are part of that institution are alive and well just as the organization of the Tea Party is alive and well. I agree with the principles of the vast majority of the Occupiers I’ve met. America has become a two-class society with a privileged class and everybody else. I agree with many of the Tea Partiers I’ve met who believe the same thing. It’s really just a matter of people finding and meeting and seeing each other so that they can find the few things they can agree to which tend to go toward the need to reform our electoral system.
Do you think America will get back on the right track?
I believe that the fate of America is in the hands of the American people.