Sunday, May 22, 2011

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

A most serious national issue of our time is "...justice for all". Our pledge to the flag claiming that our republic provides "...justice for all" is presently a matter of some question. The question is, who is to be prosecuted and who is not...for serious crimes and minor ones.

A vast difference exists between being accused for possession of marijuana and conspiring to create fraudulent financial instruments which we have labeled "sub-prime" loans then packaging and selling them to unsuspecting investors. One is a much worse crime than the other. There is a good reason the latter is worse...because it affects so many people. This fact is why the US Constitution labels impeachable offenses as "high" crimes and misdemeanors, because the actions of an individual of "high" office, like judges, and other elected officials affect millions of other people. So does the actions of big banks.

We are very successful at prosecuting ordinary crime here in the US...with the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world: 737 persons per 100,000, but white collar crime is not prosecuted so well... or even investigated so well. How many bankers and Wall Street tycoons have been hauled into court over the 2007-2008 sub-prime lending fraud? Was this the perfect crime? We were told the super-banks were "too big to fail". Apparently they were "too big to jail" because they were "too big to prosecute". The Regan era Savings and Loan Scandal resulted in more than 1,000 prosecutions. The 2007 Sub-prime: zero.

Failure to prosecute criminal activity by corporations is a new policy of the Department of Justice since about 2003. It is called "deferred prosecution agreements". The guilty company agrees to "do better", pay a big fine(which has been included in previous plans as a part of doing business), and the criminal charges are dropped or amnesty or immunity are granted. No one has to stand trial or go to jail. The policy is to bolster investor confidence. It's great for business since criminal indictments and trials are potential death sentences for corporations. They can continue on with "business as usual".

Theodore Roosevelt said, "This country has nothing to fear from the crooked man who fails. We put him in jail. It is the crooked man who succeeds who is a threat..."

If we are OK with the idea of crime without punishment, where is our "justice for all"? Should not all Americans be equal before the law? Rich or Poor? Mighty or humble? In November 1956 President Eisenhower said, "...we cannot subscribe to one law for the weak, another law for the strong...there can be only one law..."

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