Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

150 Years

One hundred and fifty years jail time for Bernard Madoff is a good thing.

To listen to the victims of his swindle, or read their words, is to appreciate the very far-reaching ways in which Madoff’s quiet crime has wreaked havoc on the lives of thousands of families.

Federal District Judge Denny Chin was absolutely right in denouncing Madoff’s crimes as “extraordinarily evil,” and giving him the maximum sentence. Punishment is no substitute for prevention, but the sentence provides a modicum of justice to the victims and will exert some modest deterrent effect against future potential swindlers.

The 150-year sentence is headline grabbing, but what should surprise us is not that Madoff got such a long sentence, but that other corporate criminals escape with light sentences or no criminal prosecution at all.

In August 2006, U.S. Federal District Court Judge Judith Kessler adjudged the leading tobacco companies to have engaged in a 50-year long conspiracy to deceive the public about the health risks of smoking and to addict children to tobacco. Millions in the United States — and many more around the world — have died as a result of this conspiracy. But you won’t find any tobacco executives in jail for this “extraordinary evil.”

Twenty-five years ago, poisonous gas escaped from a factory run by the chemical company Union Carbide in Bhopal, India. Many thousands died, many more were debilitated or badly injured, and the plant site remains polluted. Despite charges of culpable homicide, executives from Union Carbide (now merged into Dow Chemical) were never tried or sent to jail.

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez hit a reef in Prince William Sound Alaska. Eleven million gallons of crude oil spilled onto 1,500 miles of Alaskan shoreline, killing birds and fish. The spill ruined the livelihoods of thousands of Native Americans, fishermen and others. The captain was convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to community service. Exxon pled guilty to misdemeanor violations of federal environmental laws. No executives went to jail.

Victims of horrendous human rights abuses and environmental destruction caused and abetted by oil companies operating in Burma (Unocal/Chevron), Nigeria (Shell and Chevron), Ecuador (Texaco/Chevron) and Indonesia (Exxon), among other places, have — with lawyers and international solidarity campaigns — waged heroic and increasingly successful efforts to obtain monetary compensation for the wrongs they have suffered. But there’s no prospect of CEO and executive perpetrators of those wrongs being criminally prosecuted.

For two decades, the multinational oil companies and the giant coal producers have engaged — and continue to engage — in a prolonged campaign to deny and discredit climate change science. In doing so, they have imperiled the planet and its people. Paul Krugman, properly, calls this treason against the planet. But while execution is the highest penalty for treason against country, treason against the planet won’t even get you the equivalent of a parking ticket.

What to make of the disparity between the appropriate sentencing for Bernard Madoff and the get-out-of-jail free approach for other leading corporate criminals and malefactors? There are a few lessons and conclusions.

First, the Madoff case differs from many of these other examples of corporate wrongdoing in that the individual perpetrator is so closely related to the victims. Although he was handling billions of dollars, Madoff had a skeleton staff, and he had personal connections with many of those he swindled. As a result, the victims and the public’s anger is visceral and very targeted — not directed at an amorphous giant corporation.

Second, Madoff’s victims have power. They have the ability to hire lawyers, and to organize for redress and retribution. Corporate crime victims in poor communities, or in poor countries, generally do not have this kind of power. Nor do those who will fall victim in the future to consequences of actions carried out today.

Third, and relatedly, the penalties for financial crimes are generally much stiffer than for other corporate crimes. The New York Times has an interesting feature comparing Madoff’s sentence to other white-collar, financial criminals, many of them convicted of Enron-era crimes; Madoff’s sentence is much longer, but the others received stiff penalties as well. By contrast, it is very rare to see a felony prosecution for corporate killings.

Finally, and most important, one of the signal powers of corporations is their ability to influence the law and culture so that their most heinous acts are not considered criminal. Knowingly addict millions of children to a deadly habit? Not a crime. Collaborate with military regimes and destroy lives and livelihoods in poor countries? Not a crime. Endanger the planet with greenhouse gas pollution — and then mobilize politically to block emergency efforts to save the earth? Not a crime.

The world is a little bit more just today, after the sentencing of Bernie Madoff. When other corporate culprits are sentenced comparably, the world will be a lot more just.

ROBERT WEISSMAN is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor and director of Essential Action.

 

 

 

More articles by:

ROBERT WEISSMAN is president of Public Citizen.

October 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Middle East, Not Russia, Will Prove Trump’s Downfall
Ipek S. Burnett
The Assault on The New Colossus: Trump’s Threat to Close the U.S.-Mexican Border
Mary Troy Johnston
The War on Terror is the Reign of Terror
Maximilian Werner
The Rhetoric and Reality of Death by Grizzly
David Macaray
Teamsters, Hells Angels, and Self-Determination
Jeffrey Sommers
“No People, Big Problem”: Democracy and Its Discontents In Latvia
Dean Baker
Looking for the Next Crisis: the Not Very Scary World of CLOs
Binoy Kampmark
Leaking for Change: ASIO, Jakarta, and Australia’s Jerusalem Problem
Chris Wright
The Necessity of “Lesser-Evil” Voting
Muhammad Othman
Daunting Challenge for Activists: The Cook Customer “Connection”
Don Fitz
A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say
October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail