Thursday, May 14, 2015

For all the politicians' talk about "Main Street"...

In this morning's New York Times there is an article that strikes me as summing up all that is wrong in our priorities...when people ask (usually rhetorically) how we got where we are as a country, what happened to the way things used to be, why there are so many people protesting in the streets or using welfare or homeless or or or...this is the answer to why. The headline and first two sentences pretty well sum it up, followed by this paragraph buried in the middle.

Five Big Banks Expected to Plead Guilty to Felony Charges, but Punishments May Be Tempered
"For most people, pleading guilty to a felony means they will very likely land in prison, lose their job and forfeit their right to vote. But when five of the world’s biggest banks plead guilty to an array of antitrust and fraud charges as soon as next week, life will go on, probably without much of a hiccup."

(yes, this is true. In fact, it is so true that we have the largest prison population in the world, both per capita and in real numbers. In the last 35 years, we have built 22 prisons for every university. Families are torn apart and lives ruined by massive sentences for even small infractions that have been deemed felonies, and this happens at a much higher rate among ethnic minorities than among whites. It creates a cycle of poverty and prison that is difficult to escape from, especially as the stigma of having a family member in prison generally means that families get little or no support. It is not a stretch to suggest that the continued systemic racism in this country, the poverty rates that lead to crime, and the current protests and "riots" are all related to this reality.)
"Behind the scenes in Washington, the banks’ lawyers are also seeking assurances from federal regulators — including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Labor Department — that the banks will not be barred from certain business practices after the guilty pleas, the people said. While the S.E.C.’s five commissioners have not yet voted on the requests for waivers, which would allow the banks to conduct business as usual despite being felons, the people briefed on the matter expected a majority of commissioners to grant them."
Umm...okay. So let's get this straight. Corporations are people, but they will be allowed to continue doing the very things of which they have been convicted. These companies are, according to the article, too important to be punished.

Meanwhile, black men fill our prisons. Not important, apparently. Never mind their importance to their families, to their communities, to the future of this diverse country. Never mind that small things that are counted as felonies get people put into prisons where, upon their release, all they have learned is anger and resentment and skills for bigger crimes, should they want to put that resentment into action. Never mind that we simultaneously perpetuate the myth of the absentee father in the black community, even while putting millions of people in jail. They are not important enough, not central to their community, not crucial for the economy.

The article calls this prosecution and conviction "an exercise in stagecraft." How many families, and communities, wish that their loved ones and breadwinners--often stopped on spurious reasons--could experience the courts as an exercise in stagecraft? (I can hear the protests now: "but how will we deter others from committing crimes????")

Of course, they'd have to make it to court, which is a fairly unlikely outcome. But still.

Imagine if we treated our people like our corporations.

Or imagine if we actually treated corporations--made up of people--the way we treat other people. Without regard for their importance to the community, without regard for their past or potential, without regard for their context or humanity, we will criminalize their very existence, create minimum sentencing laws that ensure the cycle of poverty for another generation, and then demonize them for being in debt, uneducated, and prone to violence. We would insist we're not corporationist, some of our best friends are corporations, it's just that they should have known better, shouldn't have closed the door, shouldn't have opened the door, shouldn't have let the light in one letter of their sign go out, shouldn't have been in that neighborhood. Since they didn't manage that, they deserve what they get, both them and their family/community be damned. After all, we need to deter people from doing what they did.

Next time someone asks what happened to the America they remember, this is what we should show them. We chose corporations over people. We decided to use the adjective "our" to mean banks, not children. We bought into the lie that big businesses are the core of our country's success, rather than that our people are at the center of American identity and prosperity.

We chose this. And, as every parent is constantly trying to teach their children: choices have consequences.
Unfortunately, the consequences fall primarily on them, meaning we will go on choosing it until the day someone wakes up and realizes that they are US.

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