Tuesday, September 26, 2006

American Justice?

Anyone doubting that there is a class divide in this country is likely a conservative, since class warfare, like racism, is a myth on the political right. However, for the rest of us, that divide, that gulf, is almost impassably wide and growing every day. Besides the economy, one of the many areas where that divide is most notable is in our judicial system.

First, the news, via RedOrbit.com:

More than 2 1/2 years after pleading guilty for his participation in Enron Corp.'s collapse, financial whiz Andrew Fastow's fate was to be revealed Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt was expected to give Fastow 10 years, which the former chief financial officer previously agreed to. Hoyt can't increase his sentence but could reduce it.

According to Fox "News" this afternoon, Fastow actually received a 6 year sentence, of which he'll serve probably half. Roughly a three-year prison sentence for Andrew Fastow, who's complicity in Enron’s criminal activity led to the following:

Enron, once the nation's seventh-largest company, crumbled into bankruptcy proceedings in December 2001 after years of accounting tricks could no longer hide billions in debt or make failing ventures appear profitable. The collapse wiped out thousands of jobs>, more than $60 billion in market value and more than $2 billion in pension plans.

Now, by comparison, here’s an example of another kind of criminal behavior. I have a friend who had repeated run-ins with the law over his marijuana habits. He like to use it, made money selling it and generally was not very good at not getting caught with it repeatedly. At the end of the day, he was charged with multiple felonies, including intent to distribute; charges which, all told, left an 11-year prison sentence hanging over my friend’s head, of which he was guaranteed to serve at least 6 in a state penitentiary here in Wisconsin.

Fortunately for my friend, Wisconsin has a drug court program that allows those facing prison time over drug offenses to eventually get those charges dismissed. It requires years of community service, counseling, fines and a basic surrender of a large chunk of one’s civil rights to the government, in exchange for the promise of a clean slate at the other end. My friend was fortunate enough to make it through to that clean slate; many don’t.

The point is this:

One of these men ruined thousands of people. He materially damaged their lives, costing them their livelihoods, their retirements and basically burned the corporate safety net many of us rely upon today in the absence of sensible government programs. This man caused untold emotional anguish to these thousands, leaving their futures uncertain at best, all while earning millions in the process. He helped largely destroy the 7th largest company in the United States, costing thousands of investors billions of dollars. At the end of the day, this man’s malfeasance caused economic damage on par with a natural disaster, and he’ll likely serve 3 years in a minimum security prison for his actions.

The other man was smoking weed a few times, once with a whole coffee can of it in the trunk. He claims he only sold it to other adults and committed no violent crimes of any kind in the process. He hurt no one physically or economically, save himself, and really did emotional harm only to those who know and love him. Even he doesn’t know how much money he actually made selling marijuana, but at the time he entered the drug court program he had no job, no car, no house; really, no assets or income of any kind. He was completely destitute. At the end of his day, he spent 3 years in a state drug court program, paying thousands of dollars in fines, surrendering to home searches, random drug tests, curfews, job restrictions and many other limits on his freedom. He lived every day with the threat of at least 6 years in a maximum security prison should he ever slip up even the tiniest bit.

Given all that, I pose the question:

Is this "justice" in any sense of the word?

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