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Too Big to Jail

Corporate America just received the confirmation that they’ve been waiting for.

The attorney general of the United States has now admitted that the biggest American financial corporations have created such a labyrinth of their structures and practices that the Justice Department has given up trying to police them in matters of corruption or criminal malfeasance, saying that bringing down any of these mega-banks or businesses could cause crash the economy.

In 2008, the Justice Department announced a shift in policy, deciding to be cooperative with the big banks, and to encourage self-policing and self-reporting by the corporations, rather than vigorously prosecuting lawbreaking. After all, according to a DOJ directive of August of that year, “federal prosecutors and corporate leaders typically share common goals.”

As Elizabeth Warren pointed out this week in a Senate hearing with Treasury department officials, even though HSBC bank has admitted laundering over 800 million dollars for drug cartels, not one of their bankers has even been charged, let alone convicted for the crime; “If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you go to jail. If you’re caught repeatedly, you can go to jail for life. Incidentally, if you launder nearly a billion dollars in drug money, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night.”

And it’s not just banks. Corporate America has successfully engineered a coup d’etat under our noses without firing a shot. They have paid Congress and the Executive branch to enable this unprecedented power grab through tax laws, finance policy and the gutting of traditional concerns for the welfare of the common citizen. They have enjoyed the collusion of the courts, culminating in the Supreme Court’s preposterous Citizens United ruling that corporations are “people” in the “original intent” of the Constitution. NOW, even the regulators have come out and admitted that they are no longer really in the game.

Consider a few examples just in the state of Vermont: after repeatedly lying to legislators and the public, Entergy of Louisiana sued the state of Vermont in order to abrogate and nullify legitimate state law, destabilizing and overriding state sovereignty. ATT and its white-shinned lawyers have made a mockery of town government with their dog-and-pony show in Newfane. They made no bones about the fact that they had to please only the Public Service Board — town ordinances or sentiments be damned — in deciding where to place a controversial cell tower. The giant multinational Iberola contradicts stated policy of the governor regarding town plans and explores wind generation sites in Windham in spite of legal, supposedly binding preemptive work by the town to prevent such development. The governor has been cowed by Monsanto’s threat of lawsuit to the extent that he wants to veto a bill simply calling for the labeling of what is in the food we eat.

In the face of a large and growing movement to prevent tar sands oil from being pumped through Vermont, officials with the company that owns the pipeline tell us that only market demands will be considered when deciding whether to reverse flow and start pumping the climate killing oil.

On a national scale the outrages are that much larger and egregious. Facebook made$1.1 billion  in profit last year, but instead of paying taxes, it will enjoy a $429-million  “refund”. They are just the latest to join the ranks of corporate-welfare profiteers swilling at the government trough.

What is a common citizen to do? If we took to the streets by the millions and threatened the government with a general strike, they would start to change things immediately. While more and more of us are getting exercised about these abuses and this power grab, our numbers are not yet sufficient for success on the streets. Too many of us still believe that we are part of the economy and therefore need to support the money masters who dictate how it will operate. Too many of us don’t yet see that this economy uses us only as pawns, slaves and debt-ridden consumer/serfs.We buy their nonsense about the national debt and how we can’t ring any money out of those who have it. We allow them to (literally) steal hundreds of billions of dollars from our nation’s wealth while we ordinary citizens face the specter of drastic cuts in health care for the poor and in our hard-earned retirement benefits to cover the losses.

Individually, we can take some small steps in the right direction, starting with every interaction that we have with a corporation or any of its representatives. We should start by assuming that we are being lied to every time we are told anything by these entities, whether it concerns our credit card, our phone bill, the appliance we just purchased or our money which is being held hostage by the rules of our bank. We can protest and challenge their procedures and demand that they offer proof of every claim they make.

And we can take action individually. If a bank has rules that prevent adequate and timely access to our money, we can change banks. If our food stores don’t let us know what’s in the food the sell, we can make and apply our own labels to the products to let them know that we’ll make an informed decision about buying GMO food. If a corporation acts like an avaricious bully, we can refuse to do business with it.

But what of the courts? What of the two-tiered justice system, where the 90% face ever heavier penalties and jail sentences, while the the 1% skate free and ignore the law? Surprisingly, this is one area where we have tremendous power which can be summed up in two words: jury nullification.

If it wishes, a jury has the right to declare a defendant not guilty even if they believe him/her to be guilty. Regardless of a judge`s consternation or admonishment, this is a power that can be exercised without fear of retribution or legal sanction. If the courts will no longer prosecute the big money heavies, then why shouldn’t we see to it that we all get to operate at the same level? Certainly, no jurors would declare a person innocent whom they believe to be a danger to society, but how many times have jurors heard stories of mitigating circumstances, unfortunate turns of events, drug or alcohol-induced instances of bad judgement that might merit giving the defendant a second chance?

If we listen to the judges and prosecutors, we will hear that no one is above the law. But we know that to be a lie. Instead of just going along, issuing a guilty verdict and hoping for the best in a hapless defendant’s future, we can simply say not guilty, and give him/her a second chance instead of being dragged into the depths of the penal system from which so many can never extricate themselves.

There are many ways to fight an unjust and corrupt system. The first step is to recognize that we have lost our Republic.

Now we must act to take it back.

Dan DeWalt is an activist and journalist based in New Fane, VT.

This article originally appeared on This Can’t be Happening!

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