The One Real Crime
Do you want to know what’s really wrong with this country? Okay, that’s hyperbole. Go into any corner bar or tavern in America and you’ll hear the wise-guy on the end stool using these words to start a monolog (usually after he’s had a few) which inevitably ends incoherently. But two stories in the March 5 edition of the New York Times, when juxtaposed, demonstrate a serious rending of our social fabric, and do point to serious issues in our society.
An article by Campbell Robertson concerns the U.S. Justice Department’s report on Ferguson Missouri’s twisted and broken system of so-called justice. One of the stories related in the report was about a woman who received a parking ticket, the fine for which was $151. This woman had trouble paying the fine (she had suffered from periodic homelessness) and the City kept adding additional fees and penalties for her failure to pay on a timely basis. Seven years after the original infraction, she has spent six days in jail, and made $550 (!) in payments, yet she still owes $541. She may never get out from under this, all stemming from a $151 parking ticket.
Meanwhile, the Times March 5 edition also contains both a news article (by Benjamin Weiser) and an opinion piece (by Bradley M. Campbell, former Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection) concerning the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the State of New Jersey against the Exxon Mobile Corporation. New Jersey had sued Exxon Mobile (one of the most profitable corporations in the world) for $8.9 Billion in damages for polluting environmentally sensitive wetlands areas. The Court hearing the case had already determined that Exxon Mobile was liable for the pollution; the only issue remaining to be decided was the amount of damages, and the State was adamant that its demand for $8.9 Billion was fair and reasonable in light of the significant damage caused. But before the Court could issue its damage award, the State of New Jersey settled the case for pennies on the dollar: $250 Million as opposed to the $8.9 Billion it had sought. Former colleagues of Mr. Campbell’s told him that even though the case had been litigated by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, Governor Chris Christie’s chief counsel pushed the A.G.’s Office aside and negotiated the settlement himself. And one more thing: while Governor Christie was Chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2014, Exxon Mobile contributed $500,000 to that group, with the corporation’s employees giving even more.
The above two stories, when taken together, show a hell of a lot of what’s wrong with modern day America. As my grandfather, the late Sam Engel used to say: “There’s only one real crime in this country: being poor”.