But that was not true during the Bush years. Many of the insiders in the Bush administration committed international war crimes and caused the deaths of over one million Iraqis. Will they ever be charged, tried, brought before the law? And many of the wealthiest people in this country, along with our political leaders in Washington D.C., have committed financial crimes, robbing the poorest, the weakest, those who have no safety net, yet the criminals have not yet been charged or apprehended. And so far, it looks like they're going to get away with it.
If we are not a nation of laws, if we do not arrest, try, and imprison these people, then we are just a failed police state in which the laws are used to punish poor people while the rich get away with murder.
THREE-STRIKES HABITUAL OFFENDER POOR PEOPLE'S LAWS
Back in the 1990s the right-wingers once again diverted the public from their real problems (frozen wages, foreign trade laws giving other countries rights to dump products in the U.S., the beginning of the massive inequality in wealth in the U.S.) by saturating the airwaves and newspapers with lurid stories of crime, preferably of the type involving dismembering or mutilation and lots of blood. These crimes were the focus of so much media attention that many isolated and fearful suburbanites began telling the tale of the Serial Killer Next-Door. No one could be trusted. Everyone was a suspect. Particularly the kids. And anyone who wasn't white.
Politicians always love to see the public obsessing about street crimes, because it usually means nobody is paying attention to the politicians as they take bribes and spend their days sitting on their corrupt asses and doing nothing for the public. So the politicians fed into the media-crime-wave stories by introducing one new bill, new law after the other, with lots of press conferences, each new law more ridiculous and punitive than the last.
Many states adopted what are commonly referred to as "Three Strikes" laws. Others call them "habitual offender laws" and call the people to whom those laws are applied "prior and persistent offenders." The laws are ridiculous and if our courts weren't packed with right-wing hacks, they would have all been overturned. Here's the idea. Let's say the law provides that if somebody robs a business, takes money or property, they may be sentenced to 1-5 years in prison. The Three-Strikes Laws provide that if somebody has been convicted of a felony at least two times before the current charges, and the defendant is found guilty on the current charge of robbery, then the judge should sentence the defendant to life in prison without the possibility of parole, even though the law says that for a robbery, he should only get 1-5 years. And there is usually no requirement that the crime involve violence. Just taking money, or products, qualifies for life imprison.
Among the problems with this ridiculous law is that you have kids in this country who get off on the wrong foot, with little education, no family support. And they can easily rob a gas station or pizza parlor, or be with somebody who does, 3 times before they are even 21 years old. That's because they're kind of stupid. But it doesn't really mean they are hopeless. It's just that they are young and stupid, and have no direction. But even if there was no violence associated with these robberies, some kid can get life in prison.
Remember Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon yelling "At-ti-ca, At-ti-ca," while the crowd cheered. He was referencing extreme police brutality in a riot in Attica. Nothing has really changed in the past 40 years except that the building and operations of prisons has become big business. They still are mostly designed to hold and punish poor people. Our society is more unforgiving and punitive when it comes to crimes committed by the poor, but the wealthy and powerful are rarely held accountable for their crimes against society.
Someone should go through the dockets and see how many Wall Street Criminals have been given life imprison for being repeat offenders. Or any rich person, for that matter, any politician, anyone who wears nice shoes or maybe a suit to work, anybody who owns a home, anybody with a college education. I don't think there are any.
Instead of calling them Three Strikes Laws, they should call them Poor People's Laws, because they're only applied to poor people who commit street-level crimes. The public doesn't want to know this, but most murderers are one-time killers only. They do it once, never again. So the Three Strikes Laws are generally used against poor, uneducated, unemployed, usually not too smart low-level non-violent thiefs who, if somebody would just give them a chance, would probably never commit another crime, but they've got nothing else going on. Throw-aways. High-school drop-outs often from alcoholic or violent and abusive homes. Out on the streets, on their own, drifting into petty crimes.
THE PURPOSE OF HAVING CRIMINAL LAWS
What is the purpose of having criminal laws? The government identifies certain conduct which is considered not just harmful to the immediate victim, but harmful to society as a whole because it is a threat to and disruptive of the entire community. If Tom slaps Mary in the face, but Mary really isn't hurt, Mary nonetheless can sue Tom in civil courts and seek to recover damages for battery. If Tom smacks Mary in the head with a steel pipe, and Mary is seriously injured, the government (the District Attorney) may step in and "sue" Tom by charging him with a criminal law violation, and seek to put Tom in prison. So we have two sets of laws: civil laws for individuals to use to recover when they have personally been injured; and criminal laws which the government uses to punish people, or fine or imprison them, for their conduct. Often the same act will give rise to both a civil law claim for the victim and a criminal law claim that can be brought by the district attorney.
But why do we have criminal laws? Theoretically Mary could sue Tom for money damages regardless of how serious her injuries were. So why involve the government? Why have jails and prisons?
There are different theories about why we have criminal laws, prosecutions, fines, and sometimes imprisonment enforced by the state. Here are a few of the reasons:
1. To punish the wrongdoer. Simple and clear.
2. To protect the members of society from the dangerous person. Under this theory, Tom might go around hitting other people in the head with a pipe, so the government will arrest him and, if he is convicted, put him in prison so he cannot hurt other people.
3. Deterrance. If Tom is in prison, he will be personally deterred from doing this to anyone else. By putting him in prison, it also sends a message to other people in society that they should not engage in this type of behavior, or they too will end up in prison.
4. Reinforcing social mores. Societies have general attitudes and beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong. If citizens look around and see that nobody else is following the law, or people like Tom do whatever they want and there are no consequences, it has the corrosive effect of wearing down all of society's written and unwritten understandings and agreements about how we should behave towards each other.
5. Revenge. For the injured individual and for society as a whole. Sometimes people just want to get even, and putting the offender in prison is a form of revenge.
WALL STREET, FINANCIAL CRIMINALS
How does all of this apply to the financial criminals? There is a small group of people who have looted our country. They have defrauded many of our citizens, they have bribed our politicians, they have looted businesses and state and business and private pensions, stolen our savings accounts and the funding to buy desks for our children's schools. If it wasn't nailed down, they stole it. Mostly they hauled it out of the country in their private planes, and they have hidden the money in private banks and private equity funds. The country is broke, but these few people are now the wealthiest people in the world. They took my money and I want it back.
Each one of their transactions can be charged in a separate complaint as a separate felony, and two convictions obtained before bringing the last set. Then go for the three-stikes, and put them in prison for the rest of their lives. And of course take back all the money. If they won't tell us where the money is, then go find it. It won't be that hard to get somebody in their organization to flip and tell us where they put the money.
You can leave your expensive suits at home, boys. You won't need them where you're going.
Just think about it: they're probably all Republicans, probably all love the idea of Three-Strikes Laws being used against 17-year-old high school drop-outs, probably loved all those Republican Law & Order candidates. Payback's a bitch.
Then go after the politicians. Make them pay back every penny they took from the Financial Cartels into a public fund to use for public purposes. For the worst of them, charge them, try them, throw them in prison too.
This is a rather mild suggestion compared to what Bill Maher discussed on his show on Friday night. He mentioned that China executes the corporate heads who harm the public by, for example, mixing poison in their foodstuff to increase their profits. Maher thinks we should just pick two men from Wall Street, kill them, cut their balls off and stuff them in their mouths, hang their bodies outside the New York Stock Exchange for everyone to see. That would serve all of the important reasons we have criminal laws: (1) Punishment; (2) Protect society (they won't be stealing my money ever again); (3) Deterrance; (4) Reinforcing social mores (there would be dancing in the streets); and (5) Revenge. Yes, I think that would be enough revenge.
But I don't believe in the death penalty. So I offer this humble alternative. Indict the top 25 insiders of each Wall Street institution and any part of the Financial Cartel. Take back the money they stole from us. Send them to prison for life.
I'll send them a postcard with a picture of Attica on the front, and this message: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.