Thursday, December 5, 2019
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How the Elite Get Their Own Version of American Justice


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Faced by problematic English rule, the colonists’ first complaint was that “[the king] has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good”; after a bitter war, they founded their nation: “we the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice.”

In an increasingly polarized and partisan political environment, respect for our founding documents and their core value – justice – are one of the few things that remain seemingly untouched. No monarch interferes with justice in our modern nation, for as Theodore Roosevelt put it, “no man is above the law and no man is below it.” For the average American, who witnesses headlines of federal investigations into pharmaceutical companies, billions in fines and intense congressional hearings for technological companies, and special counsels to investigate high-ranking officials, reaching the conclusion of a just society is intuitive. Yet when scrutinized, this shallow perception of justice gives way to embarrassing shortcomings of our justice system when it comes to elites – the new monarchs, a shortcoming that must be fixed by intensive investigations and prosecutions of crimes committed by the elite.

King William County Court House

The King William Courthouse was built in the early 1700s and is considered the oldest American courthouse still in-use today. (Source: Virginia Department of Historic Resources)

Within this new generation of monarchs, the newest sector of the economy – technology – is revolutionizing society, quite literally at gigabyte speed, and leaving justice far behind. In the United States, the home of Silicon Valley, the very birthplace of this technological revolution, Congress has gladly sat on the sideline, cushioned with over $64 million in lobbying from Big Tech in 2018 alone. In the rare instances when public pressure amassed enough a burden to prompt the occasional Congressional hearing – the most recent and famous example being The Guardian’s, New York Times’ and Channel 4’s exposé of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the Facebook data of millions was given, without user consent, to the scandal’s namesake corporation and then used by the Trump campaign in its 2016 presidential efforts –reputable Senators struggled to understand the basic role of advertisements in “how [Facebook] sustain[s] a business model in which users don’t pay for [their] service.” These lacking efforts have often backfired, with Facebook’s stock gaining four percent following this laxed hearing. The Executive Department has further worsened the problem, reversing Obama-era net neutrality policies that helped maintain a fair marketplace. As the Feds – the same agencies that took down the Mafia, thwarted terrorist plots, and fought Soviet espionage efforts – take the backseat, the European Union has been speeding ahead with full force.

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An aerial photo showing Silicon Valley in 1953, decades before a technology boom energized the region’s economy into an unstoppable force. (Source: Steve Jurveston via Flickr)

In Europe, whose industry watchdog is largely considered the most aggressive in the world, probes have been opened or completed into Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Qualcomm, Cisco and many more. Of these, the most brutal probe hit Google’s famed Android operating system business, upon which over 2 billion devices run. Regulators alleged that by forcing device makers to pre-install Google’s suite of apps – which include modern-day essentials like YouTube, Google Maps, Chrome, and Gmail – Google effectively gave its products in these other businesses an unfair advantage and hurt rivals. The penalty for creating an unfair, monopoly-like market and forcing out its rivals? Paying a mere five percent of this transnational’s giant cash pile. The forced reform for remedying such harm? Google may now profit from its monopolies, as it will give the “option” of installing this suite of Google apps at a price to device makers, yet with such strong monopolies, the pre-installation of these apps is not an “option” but a consumer convenience, expectation and thus device-maker requirement. The European Union, in an effort to regulate Google, has only propelled the for-profit’s bottom-line. Now, while Google’s shareholders and executives enjoy their profits, the consumers, healthy marketplace and rivals suffer. With Google Maps pre-installed, consumers had little reason to explore rivals such as Nokia’s HERE, MapQuest and Waze, effectively knocking down their market share while giving an endless sea of consumers, consumer data, market share and advertisement revenue to Google’s navigation service, which has a market share more than six times greater than its nearest competitor. In summary, Google employed illegal and abusive business practices to create a monopoly from which it reaps massive profits; consumers meanwhile are left exposing their lives and personal data to a for-profit big tech company.

Google’s new headquarters in Mountain View. (Source: Robbie Shade via Flickr)

While technology companies are relatively new to the game, pharmaceutical companies are old and experienced players. The epitome of Big Pharma’s questionable marketing practices is Purdue Pharma’s pain-relieving narcotic OxyContin. Numerous studies and the FDA’s medical review officer all suggested that OxyContin was no better than the other painkillers on the market. Despite this overwhelming scientific consensus, OxyContin’s sales grew nearly 23,000% in the first decade because of aggressive marketing, which cost Purdue over $200 million a year. Purdue held national conferences at luxurious resorts in places like Florida and California, where physicians were invited on an all-expenses paid trip and exposed to heavy marketing of OxyContin. Purdue compiled databases of the prescription amounts for each physician in the nation, and sales representatives – who themselves were heavily monetarily incentivized to increase sales no matter what – used this data to strategically target doctors that prescribed the most opioids. Purdue event sent doctors plush toys, musical discs and hats marketing OxyContin. Purdue’s most controversial effort was its message to doctors that the risk of patients who take OxyContin becoming addicted to opioids was less than one percent, when large-scale studies actually find the risk as high as 45%. Studies aside, Purdue even knew about the widespread abuse of its other painkiller, MSContin. Art Van Zee, a physician specializing in pain treatment who was one of the first to alert federal authorities and exposed the above-stated practices in much detail, notes that “by 2004, OxyContin had become the most prevalent prescription opioid abused in the United States. The increasing OxyContin abuse problem was an integral part of the escalating national prescription opioid abuse problem.” That same opioid abuse crisis kills more than 130 Americans every single day and 47,000 every year – that’s more than traffic accidents or guns. It also incurs $504 billion in economic costs. Purdue Pharma, and its majority owner Sackler Family, essentially made billions in profits from OxyContin.

Speakers at a news conference held by the Utah Opioid Task Force and the state’s Attorney General. (Source: Utah Reps via Flickr)

Meanwhile, they knew the abuse and addiction problems regarding OxyContin, yet actively played them down, effectively causing thousands of drug addicts and American deaths every year. Not only did they feed the illegal narcotics market, they had much more direct contact with the law. Under US Code Title 18, manslaughter is defined as “unlawful killing of a human being without malice.” To be involuntary, manslaughter must be “in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or in the commission in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection, of a lawful act which might produce death.” Purdue’s executives surely did not want to see thousands of Americans die, however it has clearly been shown that their actions caused the unlawful killings of thousands of Americans. Their mislabeling of a public health risk associated with OxyContin is illegal, and thus an unlawful act, and the lawful act of aggressive sales was surely done without “due caution and circumspection,” when the number of tips the Sacklers received regarding OxyContin abuse is considered. The Sacklers and Purdue’s actions thus amount to thousands of counts of manslaughter, which, if prosecuted, could result in a life sentence or even the death penalty. The Justice Department’s punishment for Purdue’s mislabeling and manslaughter? A few small misdemeanor charges and a $600 million fine.

As Big Tech and Big Pharma illustrate, profitable industries wield massive amounts of power inside the United States federal government. The Federal Government, however, has even more power, as it repeatedly violates its own laws and evades international authorities. Most of the US involvement in Southwest Asia and other anti-terror activities have been illegal. The bluntest statement on this issue comes from the late former-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan when asked by the BBC about the legality of the Iraqi War: “[we] have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.” The drone strikes and airstrikes in Syria and surrounding areas have also often been considered illegal, as most of them are not supported by the UN Security Council and most of them are not done out of self-defense. The US intelligence community has secretly waterboarded innocent civilians and the NSA has intercepted internet communications of almost all Americans and foreign nationals; Congress was bluntly lied to about these activities. The International Court of Justice, and obviously the United States Department of Justice, have stood silent on all these issues. Western nations have, if anything, supported and commended these actions. For perspective, Russia’s unlawful aggression in Crimea resulted in widespread condemnation and crippling sanctions that ruined the nation’s economy. This massive inequality in the serving of justice is not exclusive to global affairs.

Figure 1: US Army vehicles on patrol near Mosul, Iraq. Many international experts consider the U.S. invasion of Iraq to be illegal under international law. (Source: Expert Infantry via Flickr)

If an overwhelmed rural doctor accidentally mixes up an artificial insemination, they are consumed by lawsuits, stripped of their ability to ever practice medicine again, and possibly jailed. The Sacklers, meanwhile, caused thousands to die, yet face almost null jailtime and continue to aggressively market OxyContin overseas. If Airbus were to take part in illegal practices hurting Boeing’s market share, the United States would retaliate. Big Tech, meanwhile, can engage in illegal practices that wipe out the competition and be left untouched by American regulators.

Powerful industry giants and powerful national governments – or simply, the powerful – are thus treated differently by our various justice systems. They are, in essence, the “new and improved” monarchs in our seemingly just democracies. Injustice, when disguised, is more potent than exposed injustice, for exposed injustice stirs public anger, distrust, and protest, yet hidden injustice marches through society, slowly and discretely infecting society, and once infected, a society’s chances of survival are slim. It is thus the obligation of those who have diagnosed this plague to try to cure it. A comprehensive cure that actively fights and prevents such an infection must be multi-pronged. First, the few lucky humans whose eyes have been scarred by the sight of the devastating symptoms of this infection must alert authorities. Systems must be implemented to streamline this whistleblowing process and protect society’s informants. After receiving tips, law enforcement and prosecutors must fully investigate this disease’s symptoms, which include corruption, tax evasion, clear conflict-of-interests and other criminal activities. The evil humans who orchestrated these crimes must be charged, convicted, and sentenced to the fullest extent possible under law. While the justice system handles the criminals who cause these symptoms, the educational and rehabilitation institutions of nations must rid the infection’s root cause: moral corruption and greed; these two traits so fundamental to the development of an ideal capitalist society are destined to ruin it. Topping off the ridding of the symptoms and the causes, safeguards and increased managerial and public oversight shall be installed to further prevent the damage and occurrence of rare instances of corruption in such a society. It is easy to dismiss such reform as too aggressive, industry-hurting and simply unreasonable. Surely, with society such thoroughly infected by greed and elite injustice, reform and change will cause temporary disturbances. Yet such statements must be analyzed in the greater context of this problem that is that if left unchecked, the corruption that accompanies this lack of justice for the elite will quite literally obliterate humanity, primarily through the prevention of global warming, or the lack thereof. Furthermore, such change is comprehensive, but it is merely the reformation and crystallization of existing institutions, not the large-scale creation of new government entities. This change is thus an effective way to solve a growing epidemic, without significantly disrupting the orderly operation of people’s daily lives. This change is thus justified. The burden now falls upon humanity to execute this plan and save humans – the same species that won against the Black Death, Tuberculosis, the Spanish Flu and Polio. Save humanity from itself.

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