Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and other Democratic leaders are
cruising toward November by exploiting public antipathy toward
so-called corporate miscreants, such as the guys at Enron,
WorldCom and now home-decorating diva Martha Stewart.
I'm no defender of corporate wrongdoing, although I still
can't quite figure out what Stewart did that warrants time
in jail. Lying to investigators about a non-crime apparently
is all it takes to get one locked up these days. Investigators
frequently lie to those they are interrogating, and they are
not punished for that.
Which brings me to the point of this column: the double-standard
often applied to government and business. Business leaders
who abuse their power are treated with no mercy, while government
leaders who do even worse things - the brewing California
prison scandal, which I describe below, is a stellar example
- are given a shrug.
For some reason, Americans - at least those who get energized
by multimillionaire Kerry's quasi-socialist rhetoric - get
hot and bothered about corporate "Benedict Arnolds" who have
the audacity to outsource jobs to willing workers overseas.
They get angry about highly paid corporate executives, even
if those executives are at least partially responsible for
the average American's decently performing stock portfolio.
When a CEO gets caught doing something dastardly, these same
Kerry Americans scream for blood even as the CEOs are hauled
out of their mansions in shackles and chains.
No one is forced to buy anything from a private company in
this country (except for those who do business with the government!),
which is why most companies are always improving the quality
of their offerings and lowering their prices. By contrast,
government takes its money by force, spends it as it sees
fit, usually by lavishing benefits on politically powerful
groups who escape real accountability because of their power.
Have any of you been following the scandal that is finally
enveloping the prison guards' union and the corrupt, abusive,
destructive way the state's prison system has been run? How
many of the Kerry Americans are as mad at the guards' union
as they are at poor Martha?
The California prison system is so corrupt that it is hard
to sort through all the issues. First there is the immense
lobbying by the prison guards, who thanks largely to their
donations to Gov.-reject Gray Davis received 34 percent pay
hikes over four years in the midst of the state budget crisis.
If those outrageous pay hikes weren't enough, the guards
secured from Davis and the Legislature a "3 percent at 50"
retirement plan that allows a guard who has worked for 30
years to retire at age 50 with 90 percent of his final pay.
Furthermore, the former governor fulfilled the guards' main
goal - closing down many of the private prisons that compete
with the union-operated prison monopoly.
Then there is the prison system's chronic overspending of
its budget to the tune of $500 million a year.
Special privileges couldn't have been lavished on a more
unworthy bunch. "After questioning newly appointed prison
officials, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson gave an initial
go-ahead to using the state's inspector general to oversee
investigations of excessive force and other alleged misconduct,"
reported Wednesday's Los Angeles Times.
"The judge said he hoped that the state Department of Corrections
would address the so-called 'code of silence' among guards
and that public confidence could be restored," the article
The judge, by the way, dropped tough measures against the
prison system in favor of additional oversight after officials
vowed to fix things.
When private officials raid private funds, or commit fraud,
or abuse the public, they are led out of their fancy offices
in handcuffs and subjected to intense prosecutions. In the
public sector, the judge orders some additional oversight
and takes the word of the officials. The excessive pay and
benefits are unlikely to be reversed.
A court-appointed special master's report, by the way, documents
serious allegations of criminality and abuse. We're talking
about public-sector guards who refuse to cooperate with investigations
of abusive policies that have led to a prisoner's death. Finally,
thanks to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the prison system is
getting a close look. Finally, we have a governor not beholden
to the guards' union. There will be an investigation and,
no doubt, some changes will be made.
The governor is even getting support from a Legislature that
not so long ago was beholden to the guards' union.
But I can't help but shake my head at the way an agency with
a $5 billion annual budget has behaved for so long with limited
oversight. And even now as the belated oversight is coming,
it's doubtful that public officials will be treated in a similar
way to Martha Stewart.
Don't get me wrong. Martha Stewart shouldn't have lied. But
she never caused anyone any harm. She certainly never ignored
the cries of a sick man as he died, unattended, in his cell
(as is alleged in one prison incident in California). She
certainly never bilked the taxpayers out of any money. Clearly,
the private sector is held to a different standard than the
government sector, yet in the world of Kerry and the Democratic
Party, it is the government sector that is always good and
the private sector that is bad.
What causes this distorted thinking?