A BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
Law And Order, Enron And America's Working Classes
With my hat off to Scotti, I will add that to go deeper into the realities of law and order in America we have to look at a class of people, close to the majority of the actual adult population, who have no lawyers or no limos and who fill the workforce that does all the work at low or minimum wage and the class who make up the bulk of the population of America's prisons and jails. That done, we can then easily see that the best idea in Scotti's column is a call for a new era of "radical accountability" for America's corporate class of looters and plunderers. In Scotti's words:
you imagine that? Can he be saying let's do to the sticky fingered corporate
class what has been done to America's working class population year after
year. So here we have the most radical of ideas circulating in America
year in Montana a 37-year-old man was convicted of making false claims
about a work related injury. The man had suffered a back injury on the
job and began receiving disability benefits in July, and was given notice
that if and when he returned to work, he should notify the Montana State
Fund, or be subject to prosecution. According to court documents, he later
failed to disclose he was working and earning an income. Records also
say he misrepresented his condition to doctors.
year of so earlier an official from the compensation fund had received
an anonymous phone call, alerting that agency to the fact that the man
was working again. A month later, an investigator videotaped him for more
than an hour as he was building a chimney on a ranch. A review of state
fund records showed no report of that income. Work-comp benefits were
terminated, but not before he had received a total of $1,600 based on
fraudulent claims, according to documents. The court ordered the man to
pay restitution and a state district court judge sentenced him to three
years in the Montana State Prison at Deer Lodge for theft of $1600 dollars.
The man had no prior criminal record.
course by the standards of the Enron debauchery $1600 dollars wouldn't
rate a sentence in a newspaper. Nor would ten times $1600 dollars ($16
thousand) get you a sentence in a newspaper. Nor would one hundred times
$1600 dollars ($160 thousand) even get you a paragraph in a newspaper.
But if you were at Enron and made off with a thousand times $1600 dollars
or more then a million and a half dollars - then you would rate at least
a paragraph in a newspaper. And we will add that if you made off with
a $ million plus, and got caught, at least you wouldn't be worried about
ever going to jail or prison. Nobody who steals a million or more in the
white collar manner ever goes to jail or prison in this country. And that's
an ironclad, indisputable fact.
A few years ago I remember driving out of the Butte (Montana) airport and running into a billboard sponsored by the Montana State Fund, which is the workman's compensation division of the state. The message got my attention - it talked about my money and how "they" are stealing it and workmen’s compensation fraud is against the law, as well as a felony, and so call this number and report the crime and strike a blow for law and order.
Of course this was just a small part of a campaign the workman’s compensation insurance racket spearheaded by the Alliance of American Insurers to reduce rates and limit benefits and eligibility. The heavy artillery of the national attack was the "fact" that the going rate for fraudulent comp claims runs as high as thirty percent. Also included in the message was a public slander - the inference that recipients of worker’s compensation are malingerers, cheats, and even criminals. And with the election of a friendly President, George Bush, the Alliance was able to push even harder - for the cancellation of the soon to be enacted ergonomics standards while reducing OSHA's role to "emphasis on voluntary efforts" in improving workplace safety. The insurers also thought it was time to gut the EPA’s Superfund program by removing any and all liability provisions or at least "limiting liability to appropriate levels." As you can see from the latest headlines the Alliance has a true friend in the White House.
As for the billboard message, it is rooted in corporate - right wing think tank position papers on the excesses of workplace safety and workman's compensation payments. Also automatic in the last Montana decade is the fact that nearly all successful legislation has been written from right-wing foundation papers promoted by then governor Marc Racicot. The subjects range from market based solutions, ending or reducing all corporate taxes, utility deregulation, the restriction and removal on all environmental laws, welfare cuts, privatization of jails, prisons and mental health, private options and parental choice in schools, tax limitations and other reductions in government, freedom for oppressed tobacco firms, as well as deregulation of workplace safety.
The same think tanks have also created a atmosphere that is predominant not just in Montana, but nation wide. The strategy was simple - zealously promote a dual hatred of government and nature. Out of that hatred would emerge opposition to all public rights and common property that comes from government or public ownership of the land. And as far as the traditional idea of public waters and stream access, the same think tanks have actually filed lawsuits against stream access based on the premise that all waters - creeks, rivers, lakes - are, or will be private property. And whatever recreational land remains, it too shall be privatized. But for the present, the goal of the corporate right in Montana is the imposition of the still elusive sales tax. And on a federal scale the dream remains of a national sales tax, as well as the abolition of corporate taxes, and the privatization of all that Social Security money which spells b-i-g b-u-c-k-s for the Wall Street investment bankers.
And the Montana reactionary belt (like it's cousins in the rest of the United State) pledges 100 percent allegiance to the foreigners of the out of state Heritage Foundation, Heartland Institute, Hudson Institute, Hoover Institute, Cato, American Enterprise Institute, American Land Rights Association, American Legislative Exchange Council, Rocky Mountain Legal Foundation, and on and on. Of course, many of these foundations are also quoted in our newspapers as impartial sources.
But it's not just Montana that suffers. Much of the nation has become an experimental laboratory for the dogmas and whims of wealthy corporate marketplace radicals and well-financed antisocial, anti-community, and anti-place think tanks preaching marketplace fanaticism minus any responsibility to the land or to the people. What we have, and what the future will bring ten fold, are trophy homes, ski lodges, golf courses and absentee land owners surrounded by a ravaged landscape, high housing prices, low wage jobs, trailer courts, Wal-Marts, Big Macs and the like.
THE VICTIMS OF LAW AND ORDER
Now enter the injured Montana worker - and his or her plight will not be found in the newspaper, television news or legislative hearing - and the results of these changes have been disastrous. The claimant is almost always a hard worker who has been injured and who may or may not receive meager benefits after undergoing a discouraging process of eligibility by the fund whose sole criterion is efficiency along with hefty bonuses for the administrators - The CEO of the State Fund is now paid $172,000 a year, big bucks in poor Montana, and has a track record of numerous five digit bonuses. On the other side of those tracks, worker eligibility in Montana has been squeezed to nearly nonexistence for the workplace’s fastest growing problem - musculoskeletal ailments, such news again absent from the newspaper and television screens.
To reinforce the legislative attack on Montana’s working class population, we have the addition of the Bush-Cheney White House. With this corporate sponsored President, who is certainly a virgin in terms of workplace experience, came the assault on the most defenseless of Montana and American workers. By eliminating the federal ergonomic workplace standards, which were no more then safety standards aimed at the growing toll of disabling repetitive-motion injuries such as the more and more familiar carpal tunnel syndrome. Although these injuries and symptoms are common in assembly lines and offices, the group they have had the most effect on are low paid women in nursing homes, motels, and kitchens or those working common no-benefit jobs such as cashiers - jobs that in time bring tendinitis, back strain, and carpal tunnel disorders. "Entry-level jobs" these are, as our present Montana governor, Judy Martz, brightly refers to such work, as if she knew something about it.
And nationwide, as the state legislatures rolled back benefits while shrinking the definition of workplace injuries and nailing up obstacles to collecting for them (as well as discouraging employees with legitimate injuries from filing claims), employers and insurance companies collected billions at the expense of the injured worker while recipients of workers' compensation are now widely viewed as malingerers or cheats. Yet studies, which receive little publicity, have shown that fraudulent workers compensation claims run far less then one percent.
Of course there has been massive fraud in the workman's compensation racket but we have to look in the right direction and for the right people. For while we have been looking at the bottom of the totem pole for wrongdoing, the flag-waving corporate mob at the top has been bagging up the loot and shipping it off to such places as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Which means we have to start looking up to the top of the pole and listening to those such as Ciro Scotti who says members of a criminal enterprise should not get a free pass because they went to Harvard Business School.
So maybe down in Houston, Texas there is an industrious group of public spirited individuals who can look up the last 50 or so cases of workman's compensation fraud and then add up the money fraudulently obtained as well as the court sentences and the fines imposed. You do that and it is an ironclad, indisputable fact that you will start looking at the sticky-fingered Enron mob a little differently.
is the kind of thing we have to do if we want to start thinking about
what "Law and Order" really means in the United States. Hopefully,
Enron will at least teach us that.
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This BuzzFlash Reader Commentary by Jackie Corr, Butte, Montana
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