Monday, February 23, 2009

Society's Treatment of Bernard Madoff vs. an Average Marijuana Offender

We are a capitalist society, and have been taught since almost infancy that our free enterprise system is the gold standard for any economy. Thus, we grow up idolizing money, all of us taught to hope for a sweet job that pays a ton of money once we enter the real world. We are taught to hold up those who rise up in the world and accumulate the most material wealth as definitive cultural icons (The American Dream). And whether or not you're a newshound like me, you were most likely witness to the seemingly utter contempt of the poor by the conservative right in the presidential election.

Barack Obama's comment to Joe the Plumber about "re-distributing the wealth" raised such a fuss in conservative media outlets that it became a crucial last straw to grasp for conservatives in the home stretch. While the 2008 election slipped through the GOP's hands from the last debate to November 4th, this comment alone caused quite a stir in the mainstream news media for a long time. (We all remember the "How dare Obama suggest we divert an insignificant portion of six-figure income Joe's taxes to give benefits to the poor, those worthless wards of the state?" frenzy the media was in) Essentially, opportunistic capitalists and high-income earners will continue to be endlessly deified by the media; especially from conservatives.

For those of you who haven't been keeping up with the news lately, a New York financier named Bernard Madoff stole $50,000,000,000 from investors via the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. In the wake of the $800 billion stimulus, massive bank bailout at $700 billion, and a measly (ha!) $17 billion bailout of the American automakers, $50 billion kinda sounds like spare change. Newscasters gloss over this item every once in awhile, but they fail to convey how large of a number this is. They haven't even begun to even talk about how hideously evil and greedy it is for ONE dude to bilk investors out of $50 billion dollars($50,000,000,000. Looks like a lot, eh?) so I'm going to do it for them.

A Brief History of Past Corporate Greed
"The people in these companies are the greediest group of fuckers EVER. I know this, because we have a lot of greedy people in this country. And the greediest of the greedy saw what these guys did and went, 'Wow. That's really fuckin' greedy. I wish I thought of it."
-Lewis Black, 2004

Remember the corporate fiascos in the early 2000s? Namely, Enron, Adelphia. Tyco, and MCI/Worldcom? These scandals got all kinds of news coverage, and these guys were harangued for their outrageous greed, along with that greed being the chief cause of financial ruin for tens of thousands of employees and investors. Enron exec Jeffrey Skilling sold $33,000,000 worth of stock through insider trading. Scott Sullivan and David Myers of Worldcom embezzled $3,800,000,000 from the company. In 2004, Dennis Kozlowski was accused of taking $600 million with Tyco's CFO. Because, like Lewis Black said, you gotta buy shit. These acts were treated as ultimately despicable in the media, but these men were largely exonerated in the end, thanks to their access to top-shelf expensive lawyers. the worst punishment any of them received was Ken Lay's unexpected heart attack while he was on vacation, golfing, before he even started to serve his sentence. The worst part? Skilling's $33,000,000 he got so much flak about isn't even a thousandth of what Madoff allegedly stole.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are struggling in a tough job market, a down housing market, mountains of debt, and exorbitant healthcare costs. And that's not to mention those much worse off than we are; the genocide victims in Darfur and Congo, the child soldiers in Rwanda ordered to shoot their own families in order to eat, disaster victims in the Gulf, and the untold millions of destitute Chinese and Taiwanese people. While the wealthy power elite capitalize off of their unfathomable greed, the rest of us languish while elected officials take little to no action. While the media continues to let the outrageously greedy off the hook time and again.

However, our justice system always makes sure to punish offenders of the most insignificant of crimes; cannabis smokers. As mentioned in my first blog entry on this site, we spend $40,000,000,000 per year in the war on drugs, and detaining a marijuana offender costs us about $20,000-$30,000 per year. Such a blemish on one's record can very likely destroy any opportunities of a meaningful career, thus making that person's life that much more difficult in a down economy and in the midst of sky-high unemployment rates. However, in stealing $50,000,000,000, (That's enough to pay off Kentucky's record budget deficit 100x over) all the punishment Bernard Madoff has received thus far is house arrest.

Basically, inhaling smoke from burning a plant is a criminal offense worthy of jail time. However, stealing 277,777 times the amount (yes, that's correct) someone in my field gets paid per year just means you can't go out at night.

what I'm going to attempt to do in this blog is to try and help people fathom how despicably greedy Bernard Madoff really is, because the mainstream media has failed to convey how disgusting of an act he allegedly committed. I'm going to do this by comparing his treatment in society compared to society's treatment of the average marijuana offender.

Society's Perception of the Biggest Ponzi Scheme in History
A Ponzi scheme is essentially a structure that promises high returns to investors. This return comes from other investors, who get their returns from even more investors. Madoff allegedly organized this, possibly with the help of his wife, and his own son was the one to finally blow the whistle to the authorities. In the wake of the discovery, Madoff was put on house arrest, meaning the only punishment he's received so far so stealing the life savings of an untold amount of investors is that he can't leave his house after 8 PM. Another famous name to receive house arrest for horrific crimes was Cambodian Dictator and Khmer Rouge Leader Pol Pot. While executing 2 million people/sentencing political dissenters to forced labor is by far a more despicable act than theft, it should be noted that Pol Pot died of largely natural causes before he even went through a tribunal. This was in 1998, decades after the dissolution of his party.

Madoff's alleged theft on December 10th was brilliantly timed; it came right in the midst of a historic presidential election, pre-Christmas spending frenzies, and Israel's invasion of the Gaza strip. Into the new year, we had Obama's inauguration, erratic weather patterns, and the controversial stimulus bill for the media to worry about. Thus, this despicable act of greed was and has been constantly swept under the table or briefly discussed in between the aforementioned news events. Essentially, the media has failed to put the pressure on Bernard Madoff, or to inform the people of the the full extent of his greed. In the media's light treatment of the former NASDAQ chairman, and through the leniency of his current terms of house arrest, media consumers could eventually come to their own conclusions; one of those possibly being that unhinged, wolfish capitalism and immeasurable greed isn't that big of a crime.

The icing on the cake was that Madoff's return rate was a steady, suspicious, proportionate increase for years. In fact, one financier had alerted the SEC about the situation years ago, but the SEC took no action. Now, as thousands are smarting from a huge financial loss, Madoff sits comfortably in his Manhattan apartment and peruses the streets of New York City--that is, until 8 PM, of course. To date, that's all that's been done about literally one of the biggest acts of greed in human history. And at the ripe age of 70, and due to his access to top-level lawyers, the trial will be dragged out until his death. As a result, Madoff will most likely die in the midst of wealth and comfort before even serving one day of his sentence. That's the way of the American justice system.

Society's Treatment of an Average Marijuana Offender
Meanwhile, as Bernard Madoff was executing an alleged $50,000,000,000 Ponzi scheme, one man in Salt Lake City faced 55 years in jail for his first marijuana offense.

in 2004, Weldon Angelos sold 8 ounces of marijuana to some undercover police officers in the religious puritan capital of the world (Salt Lake City). He was later sentenced to more than a half-century behind bars. While he was carrying a gun at the time, lawyers for Angelos argued that 55 years without parole was unconstitutional. Angelos has already served five years of his sentence, but won't be a free man until more than four decades have passed.

Taking into account time off for good behavior, the Bureau of Prisons estimates his release date as Nov. 18, 2051, when Angelos will be 72.
-Salt Lake City Tribune, Feb. 22, 2009

By making one mistake, Angelos' life was literally torn to shreds. With no prior felony convictions, Angelos will have spent more than half of his life incarcerated. Angelos is a Hip Hop producer with three children who broke the law (a rather silly and outdated one, I might add), not a rapist, a murderer, or a greedy financier. However, rapists, murderers, and Wall Street string-pullers all seem to get fairer treatment in the press and with the people.

In other words, something's wrong with this system. Why does a man who bilked thousands out of their life savings get a free pass and house arrest, but a guy who sold some harmless plants to some cops get 55 years in jail without parole?

What you can do with $50 billion
I don't feel I've illustrated my point enough, so here are just some of the things $50,000,000,000 can buy. Obviously, that's a whole lot of money, but I'll name some of the big things that come to mind.

MonSanto: Market Cap- $45 Billion
MonSanto is one of the world's largest agriculture and farming corporations. If you have bought milk anytime in your life, you have given MonSanto your money. The recent fuss about suspicious chemicals and synthetics entering the milk supply was MonSanto's doing. MonSanto has also been under fire for their manufacturing of herbicides and pesticides which have been proven to cause cancer in human beings. In short, one could theoretically use $50,000,000,000 to buy MonSanto, shut it down, and indirectly stop the spread of cancer.

California's Budget Deficit- $16 Billion
Kentucky is struggling with a $456 million budget shortfall. Alcohol and tobacco companies were up in arms very recently about some new taxes that went into effect to raise revenue for the state. Programs have been cut across the board, jobs have been moved out of state, and education has been put to the chopping block once again. However, $456 million is chump change when it comes to what Bernard Madoff stole. As I mentioned earlier, $50,000,000,000 is enough money to pay off Kentucky's deficit more than 100 times. But I'm talking about California- at $16 billion, they've got it way worse than we do.

It should also be noted that California's economy is one of the largest in the world. People depend on California for all kinds of things from clean energy research and development to fine wine. Fixing their deficit wouldn't just help California or the United States, but the rest of the world as well.

Sony: Market Cap- $36 billion
Next to AOL/Time Warner and Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp, Sony is one of the world's largest media conglomerates. Buying this corporation would mean ownership of countless movies, rights to some of the biggest record labels (artists, producers, songs) and a plethora of video games, being that Sony made PlayStation. with $50,000,000,000, one could buy this media giant and still have almost enough to bail out California. Speaking of bailouts...

Bailing out the American Auto Industry Three Times Over- $51 Billion
While Congress and Former President Bush allowed $17 billion to save American auto manufacturing jobs, Madoff could almost do this three times over, just with the money he stole. With three times as much money originally allotted, these industries would boom; not onyl would regular joes get to keep their jobs, these companies would expand their workforce and operation, and would tower over Toyota. The money could also be used by these automakers to make more fuel-efficient, desirable automobiles. In short, Madoff's $50 billion (plus one billion more) could make the American car market flourish for years to come.

By now, I hope you have some grasp of just how much money one man stole. If not, think of a heck of a lot of money. Now triple that. Now square it. Now add some zeroes to it. Get the idea?

I mentioned in my case for legalization the benefits of cannabis/hemp manufacturing, food consumption, energy use, and other ways the plant can be versatile for the benefit of mankind. Weldon Angelos sold 8 ounces (a half-pound) to cops, and got thrown in jail for 55 years. Such a lengthy sentence must be reserved only for the most heinous crimes, surely. While $50,000,000,000 can buy media conglomerates, agriculture giants, and bail out states, marijuana has been proven do things like make you sleepy, make you hungry, mellow you out, and enhance sensory awareness. Pretty dangerous, if you ask me.

I don't really know why Madoff hasn't been slain by the masses yet, or why he's under house arrest instead of being tortured in Gunatanamo Bay, or why the investors who were affected haven't had the chance to take at least one swing at Madoff's head with a blunt instrument. I also don't know why a first-time offender got more than a half century in prison for peddling plants. Maybe one of you can answer that for me? I doubt the media or the government will.

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