Monday, December 30, 2019

‘Settling’ Criminal Activity Comes in Two Flavors

The first is chocolate and it’s relegated to the poor—if you want to make a racial connection to that, be my guest, the metaphor stands up to scrutiny. The second is (unsurprisingly) vanilla and yes, that is the choice of the rich and predominantly white although legally, wealth can occasionally be colorblind.

Let’s dispose of chocolate first, as it’s far less complicated.

Should those without money find themselves accused, of course the law allows trial by a jury of one’s peers.
In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.”

Ah, indeed it does. But poverty is an unsuccessful litigant. Poverty is badly represented and it’s not poverty’s fault, there are so many poor and so few lawyers to represent them. But poverty is, if nothing else, a survivor. If survival opts to accept the offered five-year sentence rather than risking the threatened twenty years, poverty is likely to accept.

Unsurprisingly and quite tragic to the individual, guilt or innocence is seldom a matter of interest to crowded courts. It’s difficult, time consuming, often fruitless and always expensive to root out a jury of peers from under bridges or deep within crowded slum housing. “We will spare no expense” seldom if ever applies to the poor, not in the times of Charles Dickens and not now.

Vanilla as a settlement flavor has by far the sweeter taste and, as one might expect, costs more. Those who can afford such treats, sleep under no bridges, beg in no streets and steal no loaves of bread. Harvey Weinstein comes to mind…

…(The New York Times, Dec 11, 2019) After two years of legal wrangling, Harvey Weinstein and the board of his bankrupt film studio have reached a tentative $25 million settlement agreement with dozens of his alleged sexual misconduct victims, a deal that would not require the Hollywood producer to admit wrongdoing or pay anything to his accusers himself, according to lawyers involved in the negotiations.

How quaint. How understandable in today’s moral environment. What a slap in the face to all who still maintain we are a nation ruled by law. How utterly disheartening.

Half the $25 mil (if it is agreed) goes to attorneys and not a single cent from Weinstein’s pocket. It absolves him of all further litigation and includes no admission of guilt. How’s that for justice?

But enough of Harvey. He is the symptom and not the disease.

The disease is best illustrated by the scales of justice—that grand image of equality before all men—balanced by crime on one side and money on the other.

The Sackler family, major players and profiteers in the opioid epidemic that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans over the past ten years are currently offering a settlement that absolves them of all criminal prosecution and leaves them $billions in assets.


Wasn’t it Stalin who said “The death of a single person is a tragedy. The death of 100,000 is a news event.”

Who among us can afford two years of legal wrangling, millions in legal costs and additional millions in appeals all the way up the judicial ladder?

Harvey can, as well as the Sacklers, Wells Fargo Bank, Bank of America, Amazon, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson and the list goes on.

Individuals as well as major corporations—entities that constantly ask for our trust—keep separate legal slush funds, as high as $40 billion among some banks in order to fight litigation by their own clients.

Wells Fargo Bank reached a $386 million deal to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by customers who say the bank forced them to buy unnecessary auto insurance, reached a $575 million settlement with all 50 states and the District of Columbia to resolve allegations it had engaged in various abuses of its customers, including opening millions of sham accounts they did not want and sets aside $1.6 billion for new fake account payouts.

Access Google for “total us financial settlements 2018” and you won’t find anything even close to an answer. What I’ve mentioned here is just the tiniest sliver in the ass of prosperity. And that’s not a complaint along the lines of ‘the rich get rich and the poor get poorer’—we’ve had that forever in American society.

The complaint is that small thieves are in prison for life and enormous thieves live out their lives in luxury—all within a nation that purports to believe all men to be created equal in the eyes of the law.

That is simply a bald-faced lie in modern America. It flies in the face of reality. When an entire nation makes the claim of equity and practices inequity on a daily basis, it can no longer call itself a nation under law with a straight face.

The evidence is everywhere. When we struggle to pay our taxes and Amazon pays not a dime, public willingness to be taxed disappears. When banks retain huge funds to litigate financial crimes against their own customers, we can but wonder what’s gone awry. When drug manufacturers profit by killing people and walk free, we lose all faith in humanity.

Does it matter? Of course it matters.

But do we care? I wish I had an answer for that.

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