Why Do We Let Psychopaths In Suits Get Away With Murder?
In America if you kill your spouse you'll end up in prison - but - if you kill millions of people, you can laugh at the law & buy a new yacht
Alfred Ruf poisoned his wife as part of a scheme to get rich off her life insurance. So did Dr. Gregory “Brent” Dennis, who was looking at a $2 million payout. Joshua Hunsucker poisoned his wife for a mere $250K in life insurance money, $80,000 of which he used to buy a boat. David L. Pettis poisoned his wife for $150,000.
I don’t know the names of the men who poisoned and killed my father and my brother Stan, who died last Thursday, but I know where they worked and why they did it: just like Ruf, Dennis, Hunsucker and Pettis, they intentionally and knowingly took actions they knew would result in death when they sold asbestos to my dad’s employer and got my brother addicted to tobacco.
The asbestos industry knew as early as the 1890s, and got definite confirmation in the 1940s that their product caused mesothelioma, a particularly brutal lung cancer that killed my father. Even today, their executives are trying to avoid responsibility for it: Johnson & Johnson is playing bankruptcy games to avoid paying for cancers caused by their asbestos-laced talcum powder, and not a single executive is even slightly worried about going to jail for all these dead people.
Same deal with the tobacco industry whose top CEOs lied to the faces of members of Congress in 1994 at the same time their industry has been killing over 400,000 Americans a year every year of my lifetime.
Like those four wife-killers, they all did it for the money. A hell of a lot more money than Ruf, Dennis, Hunsucker and Pettis could ever imagine.
Ruf, Dennis, Hunsucker and Pettis are all in prison. The decision-makers who today are still promoting tobacco and using bankruptcy laws to avoid paying for asbestos deaths are enjoying the pandemic from their mansions and yachts.
And this only scratches the surface. In just the past weeks, hundreds of Americans have been killed and thousands rendered homeless by climate change-driven weather that men in the fossil fuel industry knew fifty years ago would happen as the result of their selling their products. For money.
And then there is the American “health insurance” industry, unlike any other in the world, that kills thousands of Americans every year by destroying their lives with debt (over $1 trillion right now) or avoiding services to them whenever the company can weasel out of a payment.
Ever since our nation’s founding, capitalism in America has been played in ways that protect stone cold killers. Psychopaths in suits. But it’s gotten particularly bad since Big Tobacco was outed in the 1990s.
There was a time when we used to prosecute them.
In the 1980s, Reagan deregulated the Savings & Loan industry; predictably, within a few years, a handful of executives had made themselves multimillionaires while hundreds of thousands of families across America were wiped out. The Justice Department stepped in and prosecuted 1100 banksters, 839 were convicted, and over a hundred went to prison.
When the so-called “Dot-com Bubble” burst around the turn of the century, dozens of bigshot executives from Enron, WorldCom, Qwest and Tyco, among others, were prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned. We were still occasionally sending executives to prison as late as 2005.
After Glass-Steagal was repealed in 1999, banksters spent the next decade lying to investors around the world about the value of their “Collateralized Debt Obligations” and other recently legalized “exotic” financial instruments that were packed full of “liar loans” and bad mortgages.
That led straight to the Bush Crash of 2008, when guys like Steve Mnuchin (who threw over 30,000 California families out of their homes) got fabulously richer. America bailed out the Wall Street banksters to the tune of over a trillion dollars.
But only one guy went to jail for the thousands of lies, frauds and outright crimes that occurred during the Bush years and led to the Bush Crash. He was a mid-level banker born in Egypt (who grew up in Michigan), has brown skin, and his name was Kareem Serageldin.
The judge in his case said right out loud that Serageldin’s role in hiding a mere $37 million of the $2.1 billion in bad mortgages his employer, Credit Suisse, had concealed from other banks and regulators was “a small piece of an overall evil climate within the bank and with many other banks.”
But Bush talked to his Justice Department and federal prosecutors and California Attorney General Harris decided to give Mnuchin and the other banksters a pass. Dozens of banks and hundreds of banksters had done far worse than Serageldin, but none were even indicted. Serageldin spent almost 3 years in a federal prison hell hole.
When Ralph Nader revealed in 1966 that automakers were knowingly selling defective cars and trucks but that fixing them would have cut profits more than paying out death benefits to settle lawsuits, America was outraged and Congress acted, creating the NTSB and establishing federal regulations.
The following decades saw hundreds of white collar criminals imprisoned across dozens of industries: between 1995 and 1997 alone white collar crime was 17.6 percent of federal prosecutions. But by 2012 it was down to 9.4 percent and, while the numbers are difficult to know for sure because of Trump administration obstruction and incompetence, appear to have significantly collapsed from there since.
Partly this has been the result of post-1980 Supreme Court decisions making it easier for prosecutors to ignore sentencing guidelines for white collar crimes (unless they’re committed by Brown executives, apparently).
Partly it was every major industry in America taking advantage of the Court’s Citizens United decision to legally purchase and own politicians in both parties, guaranteeing political pressure on prosecutors who might even think about going after corporate criminals.
Partly it was a relentless focus by several administrations on street crime (“superpredators” and “stop and frisk”), pulling resources away from prosecutors’ offices that might have otherwise been directed to the snakes in suits.
And part of it was a massive lobbying campaign by some of America’s most powerful CEOs to insert “mens rea” (Latin for “state of mind”) language into the recent criminal justice reform act, so it would become almost impossible to convict a senior executive of a crime he directed his company to do.
This new law now requires prosecutors to prove that not only did the CEO know that he could cause a particular John Doe in, say, Wheeling, West Virginia to die from the product, but it was his intention to specifically kill that man or someone just like him. In other words, prosecuting CEOs is now all but impossible.
The morbidly rich in America are immune from taxes: most pay less than 3 percent in income taxes. They’re similarly immune from prosecution for very real criminal decisions that destroy the lives of and regularly kill very real human beings.
In America today if you poison and kill your wife to make $150,000 in life insurance money, you’ll probably end up in prison. But if you poison and kill hundreds of thousands of people so you can take home a multi-million-dollar paycheck, you get to buy a new yacht.
This has to end.
My mother died a horrible death in 1984 of non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of 69 due to the poisoning of the water supply in Parkersburg, West Virginia with byproducts from the manufacture of Teflon. By the time I figured out what had happened it was way too late to do anything about it. I currently have a good friend who has just begun his second round of chemo for non-Hodgkins lymphoma due to exposure to Roundup. I don’t know if he has received any compensation. Roundup is still so widely used that we all carry body burdens of it without knowledge of possible long term effects. I worked for Monsanto from 1984 to 1994 and was told that Roundup quickly broke down into harmless products and was not toxic. Profits trump honesty and safety every time.
Thanks again for calling out the oligarchs as our nation's biggest problem.
More and more citizens of the world, especially the Oligarchs, believe in an imaginary social hierarchy that makes them superior to others. This belief has aided in the passing new laws to protect the oligarchs from prosecution.
Also, John Dean referenced, from Twitter, a good article written from a Canadian perspective about the efforts of the oligarchs to destroy USofA and what Canada needs to do to prepare. This article makes some of the same points you have made:
The Extreme Right:
"Some diagnoses of America’s crisis that highlight “toxic polarization” imply the two sides are equally responsible for that crisis. They aren’t. While both wings of U.S. politics have fanned polarization’s flames, blame lies disproportionately on the political right."
"By weaponizing people’s fear and anger, Mr. Trump and a host of acolytes and wannabees such as Fox’s Tucker Carlson and Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene have captured the storied GOP and transformed it into a near-fascist personality cult that’s a perfect instrument for wrecking democracy."
"One of the two American parties is now devoted to victory at any cost."
The similarities with Hitler and Nazi Germany:
"First, in both cases, a charismatic leader was able to unify right-wing extremists around a political program to seize the state. Second, a bald falsehood about how enemies inside the polity had betrayed the country – for the Nazis, the “stab in the back,” and for Trumpists, the Big Lie – was a vital psychological tool for radicalizing and mobilizing followers. Third, conventional conservatives believed they could control and channel the charismatic leader and rising extremism but were ultimately routed by the forces they helped unleash. Fourth, ideological opponents of this rising extremism squabbled among themselves; they didn’t take the threat seriously enough, even though it was growing in plain sight; and they focused on marginal issues that were too often red meat for the extremists. (Today, think toppling statues.)
"To my mind, though, the fifth parallel is the most disconcerting: the propagation of a “hardline security doctrine.” Here I’ve been influenced by the research of Jonathan Leader Maynard, a young English scholar who is emerging as one of the world’s most brilliant thinkers on the links between ideology, extremism and violence. In a forthcoming book, Ideology and Mass Killing, Dr. Leader Maynard argues that extremist right-wing ideologies generally don’t arise from explicit efforts to forge an authoritarian society, but from the radicalization of a society’s existing understandings of how it can stay safe and secure in the face of alleged threats.
"Hardline conceptions of security are “radicalized versions of familiar claims about threat, self-defence, punishment, war, and duty,” he writes. They are the foundation on which regimes organize campaigns of violent persecution and terror. People he calls “hardliners” believe the world contains many “dangerous enemies that frequently operate in and through purported ‘civilian’ groups.” Hardliners increasingly dominate Trumpist circles now."