Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Immunity of the Rich and Powerful

Money and power bring privileges of many kinds. Not just command over goods and services, labor and other resources, but also social deference and very often immunity to legal penalties. As they say, there is one law for the rich and another for the poor.

Let’s look at a few examples. Fraud is a good place to start.

Rewarding business acumen

Before going into politics in 2010, Rick Scott was CEO of the Hospital Corporation of America. In this capacity, he masterminded schemes to defraud Medicare of an estimated $7 billion. Without admitting guilt, he settled all claims against him by coughing up $1.7 billion, leaving him completely in the clear with over $5 billion in loot stashed safely away.

The voters of Florida rewarded Scott for his business acumen by electing him governor. He now has the power to decide whether to pardon any of the relatively small-time thieves languishing in the state’s jails. Under Florida’s Grand Theft Statute, unarmed robbery of just $301 (under one 20-millionth part of what Scott stole) is a felony punishable by five years in prison.

For years the big U.S. banks have expedited, with full cooperation from the courts, innumerable fraudulent home foreclosures based on fabricated documents. The Obama administration does not intend to launch criminal investigations. That would be “backward-looking”. In fact, it would now be difficult to bring criminal charges because Congress has retroactively legalised many of the deceptive practices used. Negotiations are underway to set up a national compensation fund to avert legal actions at minimum cost.

Hit and run

This case also happens to involve a banker. I take it from Glenn Greenwald’s excellent book With Liberty and Justice for Some (Henry Holt & Co., 2011), pp. 101-103.

In July 2010, hedge fund manager Martin Erzinger was driving in Colorado when he swerved, hit a bicyclist from behind and sped away. The victim received serious injuries to the brain, spine and knee. Later Erzinger phoned to arrange repairs for his car, but did nothing for the bicyclist.

Hit and run is a felony in Colorado, but the district attorney charged Erzinger with a mere misdemeanor, which carries no jail time. He explained that he didn’t want to disrupt the banker’s professional work – namely, “overseeing over $1 billion in assets for ultra high net worth individuals” (Worth magazine).

Rape: a bipartisan pursuit

In a just published memoir (Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath) Mimi Alford recounts how as a 19-year-old intern she was invited by JFK on a personal tour of the White House, during which he fucked her under circumstances that at least bordered on rape (though she does not call it that).

There is also considerable testimony of Bill Clinton committing rapes at various stages of his political career. The best supported accusation seems to be that of Juanita Broaddrick, a volunteer in Clinton’s campaign for governor when he was attorney general of Arkansas in 1978. Her account is corroborated by Norma Kelsey, a fellow volunteer who treated her swollen lip – a result, we are told, of Clinton’s bites. Broaddrick adds that Hillary not only knew about the rape, but intimidated her into keeping silent.

Many have alleged that the Clintons had close ties with organized crime in Arkansas. See, for instance: and

As for rape, it appears to be a bipartisan pursuit. The actress Selene Walter has stated that Ronald Reagan raped her in 1952.

Conspiracy of silence

In spring 1994 Yorkshire Television sent a team of investigators to Nebraska. The result was a documentary entitled Conspiracy of Silence, which was scheduled to be shown on BBC and in the U.S. on the Discovery Channel (it was announced in TV Guide Magazine). However, high-level pressure on the television producers culminated in “unknown persons” purchasing all rights to the program and ordering all copies destroyed. Somehow one copy survived, and the documentary can be viewed on YouTube (

What were the revelations that the powers that be were so determined to suppress?

According to the documentary and other sources (such as John W. DeCamp, The Franklin Cover-up, 2nd ed., AWT Inc., 2011), in the 1980s Lawrence King and other Republican Party officials had kidnapped teenage boys and girls, some aged 15 or younger, or else bought them from orphanages – in particular, Boys Town, the brainchild of a Catholic priest. They were allegedly pressed into sexual service at private parties attended by prominent businessmen, government bureaucrats, senators, congressmen and even (some say) President George H.W. Bush himself.

According to Conspiracy of Silence, when lawyers started collecting testimony from victims, they were persuaded to hand all their evidence over to the FBI. But the FBI did not pursue the case against the alleged perpetrators. Instead, they turned it into a case against the victims, who were browbeat into withdrawing their accusations and remaining silent. Otherwise they would be charged with perjury and end up in jail themselves.

Some victims stuck to their stories and were indeed jailed. According to the site, in 1991 Alisha Owen, then 21, was convicted of perjury and sentenced to a prison term of 9—15 years after describing past abuse at the hands of prominent local figures (including a District Court judge) as well as her experience as a drug courier for local businessmen. She spent two years in solitary confinement.

Two interpretations

Due caution obliges me to emphasize that there are two very different interpretations of these allegations. One interpretation is that Alisha and the other youngsters really were victimized, and then victimized again for speaking up. The other, official interpretation is that the whole story is “a carefully crafted hoax” aimed at maligning prominent, upstanding and respectable citizens. It is up to each of us to decide which interpretation we find the more plausible.

It is not easy to distinguish between truth and falsehood in these matters. As one of the investigators interviewed in Conspiracy of Silence observes, “if you can control the media, the justice department and the police, you can turn truth into falsehood and falsehood into truth.”

We are certainly fortunate to enjoy the “rule of law”, “freedom of information” and so many other civic rights in our “democratic” society.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

How I became homeless: an open letter from Elena Odnovarchenko to President Medvedev

Note. This is an open letter addressed to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by Elena Odnovarchenko, an artist and sculptor who became homeless as a result of the abuses of local government officials. -- Stephen

Dear Mr. President

Since my letter had no effect on you, I decided to appeal to the public. I’d like to remind you about my horrible story, which deserves your attention because it concerns the entire state system of which you are head.

At the beginning of 2011 I should have received an apartment of adequate quality under the federal program for resettlement from run-down accommodation. I remind you that the building containing my old apartment, where my family was living on the basis of a public rental contract, had been declared “unfit for habitation” as early as 2007.

I won’t describe again the awful conditions in the place where we lived. When we realized that we couldn’t stand such conditions any more, we took with us some necessary things and temporarily moved to another region.

In 2010 the local authorities at last started to build a new building in which we could have an apartment. That was a really happy time, which unfortunately didn’t last very long. While I was staying in another town, I kept in touch with the local authorities about the progress of construction. They had always told me that I would have to pay extra in order to get an apartment. I was warned that if I refused I would get a smaller apartment than I was supposed to or even no apartment at all. Anticipating events, I will say that the local authorities carried out their threats. They justified their actions by reference to certain regulations that say that a person must pay extra. But I wasn’t provided with the documents concerned. I had to consider the issue from a legal point of view for myself. And I found out that demands for any extra payment are illegal. That is why I refused to pay extra. In February 2011 I asked your help, hoping that you would sort out this creepy situation.

But what happened next?

The letter that I addressed to you was redirected to the local authorities. Instead of sorting out the "misunderstanding" and giving me an apartment, the local authorities literally started to go crazy. First, they responded by letter, accusing me of not being a good householder. For example, I "did not pay for public utilities” (even though I paid for them in full). In fact, the law allows a person not to pay rent for such a house if he or she is living somewhere else, so I was paying more than legally required. Especially shocking in its cynicism was the accusation that I had violated the rights of my neighbors by not heating the apartment (since I wasn’t living there). It was supposedly disrupting the thermal circuit and damaging the house -- which had been declared unfit for habitation! I was literally accused of not living in my apartment.

Is our country a maximum security prison where everyone must stay within a specified zone???

Then at the beginning of May 2011 I got another letter from local officials, informing me that the new building had not been commissioned. However, people had already been settled in apartments in the new building in April. There was even an official article in the newspaper about it. But I was not notified in any way. Was this letter an attempt to mislead me? It really looks like that because at the end of May, instead of a notification about resettlement, I received a judicial notification that the local authorities had evicted us to “nowhere” (making us homeless) on the basis of "resettlement to other accommodation"! The petition to evict us had already been filed in March and been considered by the court in my absence.

Mr. President, I wrote to you in February and told you that my family has no alternative accommodation. The local authorities received the same letter.

How should we describe the petition of the local authorities to evict us? Banal revenge, or what?

By the way, in Western countries criminal charges are usually brought against people who take others to court on fraudulent grounds. I don’t even mention moral satisfaction. The local authorities are dropping the case against me, three months after I hired a lawyer.

But the greatest shock came when my petition to provide us with the promised apartment was granted by the court. From the court ruling I learned that no apartment had been allocated to us in the new building. I also learned that the old building where I used to live had already been demolished together with my belongings!

Dear Mr. President, put yourself in my place. Can you imagine the shock I felt? All the belongings that we have acquired over the years are now destroyed!

For me as an artist and sculptor, it was a double tragedy. The whole of my life work was lost in a single moment! Even then we did not get an apartment, because there is none. The court even rejected my claim for financial compensation in lieu of an apartment.

Never before in present-day Russia, so far as I know, have the authorities destroyed buildings containing the private belongings of residents without notifying them in advance. It is a violation not only of the human right to sanctity of the home but also of property rights, subverting the constitutional foundations of the state.

I really have no confidence in the objectivity of the investigation being conducted by the local procuracy. They will just treat it as a case of ordinary theft and close their eyes to everything. What is there to talk about when they write as follows? “Allocation of the apartments in the new building was based on family composition and also on the opinions expressed by tenants at meetings and in direct conversation with each tenant.” Not a word about the law! So, it seems, they allocate apartments not in accordance with law but on the basis of "opinions." And this was in an official communication of the procuracy. Can we really expect an objective investigation by such people?

Dear Mr. President, I do not ask you for an apartment or for compensation. Not because I don’t need them, but because it would be too fantastic. As a voter and a citizen, I ask you to bring an action against the local officials concerned. I know that this will happen only if you take a personal interest in the matter. Take note that we have here a singular criminal offence!

Mr. President, I’m sure you realize that my story reveals the attitude of the local authorities not to me personally, but to the authority of the law and to you as the president. You cannot just do nothing!

I’ll be glad to get your response!

Elena Odnovarchenko