Authored by Miki Pannell
The logic is reasonable. In any advanced society, even the most monstrous criminal, whether a child-killer or a mass murderer, should have the right to a fair trial. No matter how bad the crime, the culprit should be afforded a legal defence and a voice within the legal framework. ‘Special interest groups’ use the same rational to legitimize the behaviour of transnational corporations. The reasoning continues that if, for example, a cancer-victim goes on television and explicitly blames a large-scale tobacco manufacturer for their predicament, then the cigarette company should likewise have the right to a public defence. On paper, at least, we have a level playing field where each party, whether guilty or not, gets a right to be heard.
Any fairness, however, finishes there. The entire scheme has a massive flaw. While a fairly large amount of murder cases and serious crimes do end up with criminal convictions, large-scale corporate crime does not.
Ten years after the greatest intentional and criminally-engineered market implosion and subsequent depression, we are hard pushed to find a culprit who served time. Nobody took the rap for the tens of thousands who were systematically fleeced, forced out of their homes and stripped of their employment. Neither in America, nor anywhere around the globe for that matter. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi recently chronicled how an obscure Asian bank named Abacus Federal Savings Bank was scapegoated for being ‘small enough to jail’. The hapless bunch of small fish Chinese Americans bankers were, quite literally, marched off in a chain-gang, to become the only U.S. bank to be prosecuted for selling fraudulent mortgage loans.
But it is not only in Wall Street that corporate fraud and racketeering go almost totally unpunished. Transnational corporations, whose GDPs now allow them to occupy a greater part of the top 100 list of world economies (surpassing many nation states) are likewise above the law.
High-profile handcuffing has been out of fashion since Enron and is as 1980s as Gordon Gekko’s brick-like mobile phone and hair gel. Yet the whole industrial-military, security and intelligence sectors continue to rely on exponential numbers of chumps to make up the criminal numbers. The industry needs a constant stream of dupes to be arrested, processed and ultimately jailed. And if the hotbeds of corporate crime in Wall Street, or the white faces and white-collars of the nice middle class neighbourhoods of town won’t suffice, there’s always fresh fodder available in the immigrant, black and Latin quarters. The War on Drugs or Three Strikes, for instance, never made it to the ‘burbs.
The huge state funding received by the intelligence communities and security services (over 50% of taxes in the U.S.) can only be justified if someone ultimately gets busted, banged up or bombed (the foreign option). The streets need cops on the beat; courtrooms and private prison cells need bums on seats.
Wall Street can thank, among others, arch-villian Timothy Geithner, on whose insistence no wealthy banker ever occupied a witness box. And guess what? Geithner just happens to be the linchpin in the uber-lobby group Council for Foreign Relations. In a parallel period where white execs have evaded jail cells, hundreds (thousands?) of clone-like corporate pressure groups have mushroomed across the world. A coincidence? The CFR masquerades as a non-partisan thinktank promoting liberty. Yep, we’ve heard that tedious old gem dozens of times before… Closer scrutiny of the ‘thinktank’ reveals a vast team of lackeys promoting arms, the securities industries, surveillance, etc. A huge corporate PR machine designed to sway public opinion and guarantee that the billions in state funding never stop lining the pockets of the same group of bad actor billionaires
And it certainly doesn’t end with finance. There are similar large-scale corporate bullying tactics used by pharmaceutical industries, realtors, broadcasters, agro-chemical industries, and so on… The list is almost endless, the budgets are shocking, but the most worrying aspect is that, behind virtually all of it, is an increasingly more powerful and sinister right-wing base, intent on eradicating any opposition or contrarian voices. Now every talk show, public debate, round table or even independent podcasts appear to feature some thinly-veiled neoliberal apologist railing against supposed ‘touchy-feely’ equal rights activists, social justice promoters, lefties, feminists, etc.
The ‘right to self-defence’ is, in fact, a heavy artillery neocon assault. Don’t believe any PR pundit or special interest group who try to convince you that corporations have a legitimate right to a defence. Because there will be no trial. The corporations’ very own defenders have such weight that they guarantee that their bosses will never see the inside of a courtroom.