Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Proposed New Constitution Article 12, Ending Class Bias in the Law

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Article 12-Ending Class Bias in the Law

1. All crimes must be punished. No president may pardon or give clemency to any in their own administration, or the administration of other presidents of their party, and all such previous pardons are overturned. The guilty shall never be allowed to profit from their crimes. The guilty must pay back all wealth from their crimes and pay for all damage done to others.”

Class bias, as much as racial bias, does great harm to American society and persons. But unlike racism, class bias is rarely addressed in America. It is far too often invisible or unspoken, an enormous pretense made that classism does not exist or can easily be overcome.

There is an enormous class bias in the legal system. A criminal (even an unarmed one) who steals five hundred dollars from a convenience store is far more harshly punished than a bank president embezzling millions. White collar crime is far less punished than “street crime.” Not only far shorter sentences, but white collar prisons have a notorious reputation for soft treatment, just country clubs with high fences where the well off do their time by working on their tennis game.

Such bias goes all the way to the top. Corrupt presidents have only rarely been punished, and far more often, false charges of corruption are only used as a smear by the opposition. Nixon and Reagan were never punished for their crimes, while dozens of faux scandals were invented to smear Clinton and Obama. One Clinton administration member was actually forced to resign over a single pair of low value football game tickets. Notably, the worst thing each president did, Clinton choosing to not halt genocide in Rwanda and Obama's drone assassination program, were not objected to by most members of either party.

Presidents have also misused their pardon power to prevent officials of their own party and even own administration from being punished. Ford pardoned Nixon, the man who appointed him, in what was widely regarded by most as a corrupt deal that cost Ford the next election. George Bush Sr. pardoned those convicted in the Iran-Contra scandal for lawbreaking that later evidence showed he himself took part in. Clinton pardoned wealthy campaign donors, de facto bribery in every way but name. GW Bush gave leniency to “Scooter” Libby for his part in leaking the name of a CIA agent, when some evidence points to Bush himself leaking the agent’s name. This abuse must be ended. Presidents should always be barred from pardoning their own party and administration members, since it's a clear conflict of interest and a way to protect their own criminal actions and associates.

Wealthy criminals are rarely punished equal to the crimes they commit. Bank presidents and CEOs who embezzle or defraud routinely negotiate deals allowing them to walk away with most of what they have stolen. The list of scandals of the last 30 years is disturbingly long: The Savings and Loan Scandals, BCCI, Worldcom, subprime loans, underwater mortages, Enron, Bernie Madoff's Ponzi schemes, Lehman Brothers, Cendant, MF Global, Fannie Mae, HealthSouth, Tyco, Allen Stanford, Qwest, Arthur Andersen, Bear Stearns, IMClone, and Adelphia.

All the scandals named involved billions of dollars, sometimes tens of billions. Punishment has been limited and rare. Only Madoff received any substantial prison time, and that is because his victims were all wealthy elites like Steven Spielberg. A good illustration of the double standard was Martha Stewart, who got only a few months in a cushy “prison” for insider trading that gained her about $45,000. Her business also did not suffer, nor did most of her customers or the public condemn her the way they would a petty thief, much less one stealing $45,000. By contrast, most ex-convicts guilty of minor “street” crimes have a hard time even finding minimum wage work. Many are barred from some workplaces.

The principle this nation and society should follow is simple: No one should benefit from crime. Any punishment should at least be equal to what was stolen or gained, plus the harm done to victims. Full restitution should be standard practice. That is even more important than prison sentences. The prospect of instant poverty will deter millionaire and billionaire serial criminals. It will also end much of the worship of wealth, the Mammon so common in mainstream America, a sickness that in its most extreme form is no different from admiring gangsters just because they are wealthy.

2. All fees, fines, and taxes must be progressive, based on ability to pay. Regressive taxes, where the wealthy pay a proportionately smaller amount, are expressly forbidden and must be immediately made progressive.”

Social Security is one of the great accomplishments of American society and government. It changed seniors from the poorest age group to the wealthiest. But the way it was enacted and maintained is striking. To keep the wealthy from opposing it, the Social Security tax is among the most regressive in America. Only the first $110,000 is taxed. Someone making $110,000 and Bill Gates, worth over $60 billion, pay the same amount.

Sales tax, compared to taxes on sales of stocks, is regressive as well. The single mother buying groceries to feed her family pays higher taxes on most of her food, up to 10%, than the speculator who pays only 0.0034% when buying stocks. Until transaction taxes and sales tax match, this is a formula for class warfare, wealth redistributed upwards from workers to elites. Ideally, the transaction tax would be between 0.5 and 1%, and so would sales tax. A great intended side benefit would be its reducing speculation in the stock market, one of the biggest reasons for instability in the economy since the start of the century.

Fines for lawbreaking should also be tailored to income and wealth. A fine of $500 devastates someone on minimum wage, and the unemployed have no choice but to serve jail time. But to the wealthy, such a fine is not even pocket change. In essence, many of the poorest go to jail for lack of money, while the wealthy are not deterred from lawbreaking. Were fines made progressive, on a sliding scale as income tax is, the average cost of fines would decline for most.

Far better to make all fines a percentage of combined income and wealth, say 0.5% of one’s annual income from all sources and value of all property and other wealth for a traffic fine, or one year's income and wealth for a fine handed down for a felony conviction. Thus (in addition to prison time) someone making the minimum wage with no other real assets would pay a $10,000 fine for a felony, while someone making $1 million a year with $2 million in property would pay $3 million in fines.

Both suffer the same just and equal fate, being reduced to zero financially for their crime. An added bonus would be that the law now has far more incentive to go after wealthy lawbreakers, when now the reverse is true. Thus all the extremely wealthy lawbreakers in the scandals listed before would have paid billions or tens of billions in fines, exactly what they deserved, not a single penny of profit from their crimes.

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