When the Justice Department announced its record $1.9 billion settlement against British bank HSBC last week, prosecutors called it a powerful blow to a dysfunctional institution accused of laundering money for Iran, Libya and Mexico’s murderous drug cartels.
But to some former federal prosecutors, it was only the latest case of the government stopping short of bringing criminal money laundering charges against a big bank or its executives, at least in part on the rationale that such prosecutions could be devastating enough to cause such banks to fail.
They say it sounds a lot like the “too big to fail” meme that kept big but sickly banks alive on the support of taxpayer-funded bailouts. In these cases, they call it, “Too big to jail.”
This stings. It should sting anyone who cares about the idea of equality in front of the law, anyone who cares about the basic rule of law, anyone who doesn’t want to see their society devolve into a festering pool of feudalism.
According to the most recent data, there were 197,050 sentenced prisoners under federal jurisdiction of which 94,600 were serving time for drug offenses.There were 1,362,028 sentenced prisoners under state jurisdiction of which 237,000 were serving time for drug offenses. That’s over 300,000 individuals serving time currently for drugs offenses, in addition to over one million currently on probation. Now I don’t agree with the War on Drugs at all. But big banks are deemed too “systemically important” to be held to the same standard as the huge and disproportionately black population of low-level drug users.
If the Drug War laws don’t apply to the big banks — if Wall Street bankers who have broken the law can’t go to prison too — then how is incarcerating low-level drug users really much different to chattel slavery?
And not only do private prison companies pocket massive profits from the taxpayers’ purse for running the prisons, but prisoners are a pool of ultra-cheap indentured labour.
Prisons in the United States used to be institutions of actual reform and rehabilitation. Men who entered a prison, would often learn a trade and have a usable skill to earn a legitimate living upon release. The recidivism rates have sharply increased as job and education programs within prisons–especially private prisons–have steadily declined. This is not to say that skills are not acquired in these private prisons, quite the contrary. In many of these private prisons, inmates are contracted as telemarketers, among other things, for many large corporations. These prisoners can earn as much as 75 cents an hour for their job–sometimes under 40 cents. What’s the payoff one might ask? For one, corporations get very cheap—third world cheap—labor that cannot unionize, cannot call in sick and cannot complain without fear of time added to their sentence or retaliation from guards who overworked and underpaid themselves, and risk losing their livelihood if an “uppity” prisoner refuses their indentured corporate servitude.
The War on Drugs is descending from tragedy into farce. Poor black drug users are fair game for the slave labour business. Rich Wall Street bankers who launder drug money? Nope.
In May I asked:
Have the 2008 bailouts cemented a new feudal aristocracy of bankers, financiers and too-big-to-fail zombies, alongside a serf class that exists to fund the excesses of the financial and corporate elite?
Only time will tell.
Time is telling.
Once a certain segment of society becomes protected from criminal liability, that society has travelled a long way down the road to feudalism, to a caste system, to serfdom.