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Failure This Big Wasn't Born Yesterday

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By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, October 5, 2008

If you're mad as hell about what's happening to our economy and need to stay mad to keep from wailing, read the October selection for the Color of Money Book Club.

Two years ago, Gary Weiss wrote "Wall Street Versus America: The Rampant Greed and Dishonesty That Imperil Your Investments."

The subtitle was changed for the paperback edition last year. Now the book is called "Wall Street Versus America: A Muckraking Look at the Thieves, Fakers, and Charlatans Who Are Ripping You Off" (Portfolio, $14.95).

I like the revision, given current events.

I'll be truthful with you. I've picked this book up a few times since it was first published, wondering whether I should recommend it. But I hesitated. Weiss, a former BusinessWeek investigative reporter, often lapses into market minutiae. So I wasn't sure the average investor would take the time to read his scathing indictment of greed-driven Wall Street.

But now I'm betting you'll find this book quite interesting after the Dow's plunge of 778 points and after watching our elected officials ram through a debt-laden Wall Street bailout bill.

Weiss, who was just signed as a contributing editor for Conde Nast's Portfolio business magazine, said he wrote the book for the average investor.

"Wall Street's yen for your wallet afflicts with equal rapacity Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, Arab and Jew, anti- and pro-abortion, rich and middle class, and even a lot of people who think they're too poor to care," Weiss writes. "It doesn't matter if you view yourself as an investor or not. It doesn't matter whether you love or hate Wall Street or whether you own any stocks or bonds or money market funds. Chances are, Wall Street is a part of your life whether you like it or not, even if you keep your money in a passbook savings account or a tin box in the backyard."

Weiss's prophetic rant against Wall Street is eerie given what we've seen lately. He lambasted brokers who pushed microcap stocks -- low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies -- on novice investors. He railed against the high fees charged by mutual fund companies. He writes with rage about the inadequate oversight of Wall Street.

With every page, I seethed at the case Weiss builds against typical Wall Street practices and the regulators that let them get away with so much. For example, you must read the chapter "Bear in the Woods" on the investment bank Bear Stearns. It's chilling.

"The rest of the world has Mother Teresa; Wall Street has Bear Stearns," Weiss wrote commenting on the company being dubbed in 2005 -- for the second time in three years -- America's most admired securities company.

No longer.


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