THE BLOG
01/22/2013 03:29 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2013

Different Rules for Plutocrats

In feudal societies, the king and his barons lord over the serfs, whom devote their lives to toiling for their masters' gain. The serfs live by one harsh set of rules, and the lords live by another. A serf who steals from a lord would face a serious prison sentence or death, while a lord could simply buy off anyone he needed to convince of his innocence should he ever commit a crime. In that respect, the United States is one of the world's most true-to-life examples of a feudal system.

Twenty-six-year-old Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz faced up to 35 years in federal prison for the "crime" of downloading academic files from the JSTOR database, with the intent of publicizing the research for anyone to have free of charge. In addition to his prison sentence, he faced up to $1 million in fines. This didn't include any money that Swartz, a man of modest means, would have to raise to pay for his legal fees and court costs in a battle of attrition with the federal judicial system. After Swartz' suicide, his dad told the media his son "was killed by the government." The federal prosecutor, Steve Heymann, along with U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, believed in punishing hackers to the fullest extent of the law and still relentlessly pursued despite knowing he was a suicide risk.

Contrast that with JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, who was on the hot seat for gambling with and losing $6 billion in other people's money in a high-risk trading scheme. Or with executives at HSBC, whom were found to have been laundering money for drug cartels and terrorists. Or with executives at UBS Bank, who pled guilty to rigging the LIBOR interest rate, needlessly bleeding millions of debtors dry on hefty student loan interest payments and mortgage payments. Both HSBC and UBS paid fines that amounted to several weeks of income for the banks. Jamie Dimon had his salary cut from $23 million to $11 million. Jail wasn't even considered for these titans of high finance, despite their open complicity in bilking millions of people out of their hard-earned money and aiding criminals.

While federal prosecutors sought to throw the book at a 26-year-old hacker who tried to distribute information for free, federal regulators are sitting on their thumbs when it comes to community drinking water supplies. The Obama EPA recently silenced their own report that detailed how hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, made groundwater supplies in Texas undrinkable once the oil and shale gas companies caught wind of it. After the fossil fuel industry threw enough of a fit, the EPA halted the investigation dead in its tracks.

The scales of Lady Justice have been tilted in favor of the corporate elite for decades now, regardless of which party is in power or the person in the White House. There are reforms ready to ease the harshness of federal prosecution of computer crimes, like Zoe Lofgren's "Aaron's Law." There is already legislation on the books to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act of 1937 that would break up the big banks. Countries like Iceland, Argentina and Germany have already taken criminal action against bankers that ruined economies and upended lives with their destructive greed. But the cold hard fact is that those laws won't be passed, and those bankers won't be arrested until we pressure our elected officials to do so. And if this current crop won't, then let's overrun the congressional midterms in 2014 and refuse to elect anyone running for office unless they vow to do so.

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?