Wednesday, February 16, 2011

They Get Away With It

Once upon a time, in an era that was a little more innocent than our own. F. Scott Fitzgerald supposedly said to Ernest Hemingway, "The rich are different than you and me." To this Papa replied, "Yes, they have more money."

If you read the tabloids every day, you see sob stories of rich and famous people getting divorced or arrested or being forced into rehab. You read about their miserable lives and think to yourself, "See, just goes to show you: money doesn't buy happiness." So you might be forgiven if you think that Ernest Hemingway was right.

But the rich really are different than you and me. They live by a different set of rules. The laws that apply to regular people don't apply to them. If you think that being rich means you can get away with things others can't -- you're right.

The recent financial crises just illustrates this beautifully. The always brilliant Matt Taibbi has a new article called Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail? Taibbi meticulously breaks down why so many of the people who blew up the economy two years ago, forcing lots of people to lose their jobs and homes, haven't been prosecuted, haven't gone to jail. He reveals the truly incestuous, disgusting relationship between the financial industry and the government agencies that are supposed to regulate them. Obviously the government doesn't regulate the financial industry at all. The relationship is totally hte inverse with the financial industry totally neutering the government. As Taibbi points out, the worst penalties these malefactors of great wealth ever get are pathetic little fines, almost always paid out by the companies and not borne personally by the perpetrators. None of these guys are ever sent to jail, forced to share a cell with a six foot five, 300 pound, heavily tattooed biker gang rapist. If they did, as one of the people quoted in this article points out, these financial shenanigans would cease immediately.

One of the most truly loathsome financial criminals that Taibbi writes about is Merrill Lynch CEO John Mack. And guess what? Mack, who the article points out is probably guilty of massive insider trading, is a big time political donor. Right now Mack and other such reptiles are shopping around for a Republican candidate who they think can defeat President Obama in 2012. Oh, they're having such a hard time of it, they can't find a candidate they really love who is "electable." Apparently he and others like him think that Obama is too tough on the financial industry (never mind that Obama, like all politicians, is completely beholden to the industry) and is looking for a potential occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who will be an even bigger kiss-ass financial criminals. 
And you thought that you had problems in life.

Of course the only financial criminal currently rotting in jail is our own Bernie Madoff. And why? Because he had the audacity not only to steal money from people but to do it from other rich people. Obviously he had to be punished harshly for that. But ripping off millions and millions of ordinary people? The people who did that got off scott-free. And even Madoff isn't suffering too much. He was recently allowed to give an interview to The New York Times and is even given access to email in the pokey. So I guess life in prison isn't all that bad for him. If it were up to me, Madoff and all of these other scumbags would be in cells with the aforementioned rapists -- or sitting in 23-hour-a-day lock down in a Supermax.

Of course, injustice isn't always a matter of money. It's also racial. The vast majority of people busted for pot possession in NYC are black and Hispanic. But who actually uses the most pot in NYC? White people! 

Taibbi ends his brilliant article with the following depressing true observation:

"The mental stumbling block, for most Americans, is that financial crimes don't feel real; you don't see the culprits waving guns in liquor stores or dragging coeds into bushes. But these frauds are worse than common robberies. They're crimes of intellectual choice, made by people who are already rich and who have every conceivable social advantage, acting on a simple, cynical calculation: Let's steal whatever we can, then dare the victims to find the juice to reclaim their money through a captive bureaucracy. They're attacking the very definition of property — which, after all, depends in part on a legal system that defends everyone's claims of ownership equally. When that definition becomes tenuous or conditional — when the state simply gives up on the notion of justice — this whole American Dream thing recedes even further from reality."

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