13 December 2007

Our Criminals (2)

December 10: Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel arrive
at court today. Black was sentenced . . . to six and a half
years in an American prison for abusing shareholders'
trust through a sophisticated plot to embezzle $6.1m
from his Hollinger media empire.
Photograph © Tannen Maury/EPA.

2002: Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling testifying before
the Senate. Photograph © Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images.

It is curious how news items converge sometimes. Let's start with npr. Yesterday its business report Marketplace treated listeners to the truly astounding complaints of David Frum about how hard we Americans are on white collar criminals! You know who he is talking about ~ the sorts of folks who engage in fraud, insider trading, embezzlement, price-fixing and other sorts of high-level theft and lying. You can find his commentary here. Frum, of course, is a right-winger and one would think he'd be 'tough on crime,' especially property crimes that occur in the citadels of free enterprise and interfere in basic ways with the operation of markets.

2004: Martha Stewart leaves a New York courtroom after a
meeting with a probation officer. Stewart was convicted of
conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of justice
in connection with sales of stocks in biotechnology firm ImClone.
Photograph © Justin Lane/EPA.

2002: Alfred Taubman (centre), the former chairman of Sotheby's
auction house, leaves a New York court after being convicted for
taking part in a price-fixing scheme Photograph © Robert Mecea/AP.

That leads to a second theme from the news this week. I agree with Frum that the U.S. is an obscenely punitive polity. But I am afraid that the burden of that pattern falls most heavily on populations other than rich, white corporate crooks. I have posted before here and here on the systematic discrepancies in sentencing in the U.S. and I am fairly confident that Frum has not a bit of symapthy for the primarily minority and poor folks who find themselves on the short end of those discrepancies. At least I didn't notice him applauding wildly this week when the Supreme Court ruled that judges ought to take our draconian sentencing guideleines as merely advisory. After all, part of what was at stake in the Court decision was the disporportionate sentences regularly given to drug offenders who happened to be poor and black. I guess the point is that if we are worried about draconian sentences I think there are better ways to demonstrate one's concern than by advocating soft sentences for those who defraud or embezzle or otherwise steal amounts in the millions - to say nothing, of course, about Frum's old cronies at BushCo who have plausibly broken domestic and international law on a regular basis.

2004: Bernie Ebbers, the former Worldcom boss, currently
being held at a correctional facility in Oakdale, Louisiana.
Photograph © Stephen Chernin/Getty Images.

2005: The former CEO of Tyco, Dennis Kozlowski, at Manhattan
Criminal Court; he was later convicted of relieving the industrial
products and services company of hundreds of millions of dollars
in cash and loans and currently resides in New York's mid-state
correctional facility. Photograph © Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

That brings me to a third curious convergence, this one conssists of a couple of rogues galleries [1] [2] in The Guardian this week from which I've lifted all the mug shots and captions in this post. Conrad Black, Jeffrey Skilling, Martha Stewart, Alfred Taubman, Bernie Ebbers, Dennis Kozlowski and their ilk - the sorts of folks whose plight our bleeding heart conservative David Frum (and his ilk) laments - may not be selling crack on the street corner. But they would be a considerably lesser menace to society if they were. A good second best is to send them to prison for a very, very long time.

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Anonymous Dawei from Beijing said...

David Frum is one scumbag that really gets under my skin. This guy is almost a parody of a conservative. On every issue he takes the most absurd and extreme stance. Why this idiot gets any airtime or print space is beyond me. Anyway, his idiotic assertion that white collar criminals get too hard a treatment is just obscene. Not only did old and sick people die as a result of Enron's twisted games in California to artificially drive up prices, at least 20,000 people lost their life savings investing in Enron, while Wall Street investors were out billions. These type of crimes, in our global, market oriented economy, could result in an epic catastrophe, and particularly in the energy sector. These assholes should get the book thrown at them, but I think, in some cases, like Skilling, the death penalty should be an option. Why not? We execute people for a lot less.

P.S. Doesn't it upset anybody that Kenneth Lay's wife is still out there spending her husband's ill-gotten fortune? The courts should have seized every penny the Lay and Skilling family had and distributed that money amongst the 20,000 Enron employees.

14 December, 2007 18:42  

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