Here are two large facts about the American system of 'justice':
- The U.S. is a mass-incarceration state--the world's biggest jailer. It imprisons more people, in total and per capita, than any other country in the world. With only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. has 25% of the world's prison population. The U.S. has 743 prisoners per 100,000 population, whereas Russia has 568, China 122, and Canada 117.
- Under President Obama, not a single finance executive has been jailed or even prosecuted for the criminal behavior that contributed so much to the Great Recession. According to a report last January from the Government Accounting Office, this disaster cost the U.S. economy more than $22 trillion in lost output and home value. The total pain and damage inflicted by these unprosecuted financial criminals is arguably greater than the total inflicted by our current prisoner population.
What these two facts demonstrate is what Glenn Greenwald called a "segregated, two-track system where high Beltway officials and their corporate enablers arrogate unto themselves the power to decide when they can break the law." They're exempt from "even our criminal laws, while increasingly harsh, merciless, and inflexible punishments are doled out for the poorest and least connected criminals."
Federal sentences for possession of crack cocaine are a good example of harsh punishment for the 'lower' classes. Partly because it was cheaper than the powder form, crack cocaine became epidemic in poor neighborhoods in the mid-80s. Powder cocaine was preferred by more affluent users. Until 2010 holding 5 grams of crack would get you a 5-year minimum sentence, but you had to possess 100 times as much powder cocaine to get the same sentence.
There was no justification for this unequal treatment of poor and upper-class users. As the Drug Policy Alliance states on its website: "Pharmacologically, [crack] is the same drug as cocaine." Nevertheless, instead of changing the 100:1 ratio to 1:1, the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010 changed it to a still arbitrary 18:1.
Congress did not make the FSA retroactive. This ignored the plight of thousands of mostly poor and mostly black prisoners who were sentenced when the absurd 100:1 ratio was still in effect. After three long years, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, held that those who were sentenced prior to the FSA could request sentence reductions.
Incredibly, as reported by Alec Karakatsanis in The Guardian (7/23/13), the Obama administration is trying to get that decision overturned. The black Attorney General of a black President wants to leave in jail thousands of mostly black prisoners sentenced under an unjust law. What this sordid fact implies is that the primary bias in our 'justice' system is class rather than race.
Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase (the world's largest bank), is a shining example of our ruling elite--Glenn Greenwald's "high Beltway officials and their corporate enablers." For a previous column (7/6/12), I googled "JPMorgan Chase crimes" and found a total of $6 billion in [civil-court] settlements for various kinds of bid-rigging, bribery, and fraud. There were no criminal prosecutions of these felonies.
Jamie Dimon and his company are, like the other Wall Street giants, habitual criminals. Yet New York City's billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg recently called Dimon "a very smart, honest, great executive," and Jack Welch, business idol and former CEO of GE, tweeted (5/8/13) that Dimon is a "Great Leader!!".
President Obama is one of Dimon's greatest fans. In February of 2009, right after the financial giants had crashed the economy and had to be bailed out by the American people whom they had victimized, there was a lot of popular anger at the huge bonuses paid to Dimon and other Wall Street CEOs. Obama tried to calm the anger by saying: "I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system."
In May of 2012 Obama had this to say on ABC's The View: "JPMorgan is one of the best-managed banks there is. Jamie Dimon, the head of it, is one of the smartest bankers we got."
In addition to coddling wealthy financial criminals, Obama feels entitled to kill American citizens without a trial. In September of 2011 he personally ordered the assassination of American-born Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Jeremy Scahill tells this story in rich detail in his recent book Dirty Wars.
Awlaki, a 1994 graduate of Colorado State University, moved to Yemen in 2002. There he became a popular preacher who began to turn against the United States for its invasion of Iraq and what he saw as American hostility to Islam in general. The U.S. government alleged that Awlaki actually became an operative of Al Qaeda, but it has never presented evidence for this claim.
On the day Awlaki was killed in a drone attack, Obama said, "This success is a tribute to our intelligence community and to the efforts of Yemen and its security forces who have worked closely with the United States." If Yemen was working closely with the U.S., why didn't the U.S. indict Awlaki, and then have him extradited by the friendly government of Yemen for trial in the U.S.? If extradition failed, the C.I.A./JSOC could easily have snatched him.