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Wake-up call

Insider traitoring


Believe your lying eyes. Just this once. Please?

Our federal legislators, though elected, shouldn’t consider themselves the divine “elect.” Yet it seems they are the truly “elect” above us, the mundane population. 

Either they’re the shrewdest and most intuitively gifted among us, or else it’s strictly coincidental that nearly every sublimely dedicated member of Congress who entered public service a bare-bones middle class idealist somehow serendipitously emerges within a few terms in office, a vastly wealthier apparatchik. 

In the rapacious pursuit of personal gain and privilege, progressives and reactionaries alike bank on their tradition-countenanced upper hands. 

Greed crosses the placenta of kinship. Economic justice is indeed blind. Because its eyes have been poked out.

Insider trading is not an egalitarian prerogative.

The antifraud provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 were designed to prevent abusive access to material nonpublic information for private enrichment. Writing in the Columbia Law School Blue Sky Blog earlier this year, Sarah Williams’ deep dive, “Regulate Congressional Trading Through Registration Under the Security Laws,” comprehensively illustrates the legal, practical and ethical complexities related to insider trading. 

The laws are deliberatively crafted to elude the comprehension of most lay folks. That doesn’t matter. Fast-talking and long-winded legal scholars are among the most in-demand of snake-oil sales associates. 

We can smell the corruption. No need to inquire whether it is codified in the statutes.

Even presidential cabinet members have been implicated in alleged insider trading or other  violations related to personal financial gain achievable by means unavailable to rules-tethered, garden-variety Americans. 

The Stock Act was passed over a decade ago. It forbids congressional employees from using private information derived from their official positions for personal profit. It also requires disclosure of financial transactions including stocks, futures, bonds, commodities and other securities.

And it calls for loss of federal pension for convicted political corruption felons.

Former President Barack Obama stated that there should be one set of rules for everybody, whether corporations, the general citizenry or elected leaders. That was the ostensible point of the Stock Act, which originally called for around 28,000 senior government officials to post their financial information online.

That clause, though laudable, was preposterous. The searchable database would have tantalized and practically solicited blackmailers and other high-tech gangsters. Public sector unions protested and prevailed, so that advertisement for miscreants was dropped from the act.

Despite all the voluminous statutes that proclaim and lay out the mythology of equal opportunity, we experience not a level playing field, but rather a field that has leveled those of us who strive without the concessions and raw entitlements of the powerful.

Those elitists are not scarred by earned ill-repute and their flesh repels the brand of shame.

If most of us put out our garbage a day too early, the penalty is swifter, surer and more draconian than the liability of a prominent agency secretary who ekes out a tepid “my bad” when confronted with a financial disclosure violation during sworn testimony.

Embedded in our statutes is the ubiquitous theme of equal justice, but its contradictions are sanctioned by the arbiters and interpreters of those same laws. 

The U.S. Supreme Court is supreme of height on the go-to totem pole, but not always in depth of incorruptible wisdom. Its most recent rulings are suggestive neither of the dark ages nor the age of enlightenment.

It ruled that presidents are not above the law except when they are. Justice hangs in the balance of whether their actions were official or not. If they were exercising their constitutional authority, they are unaccountable; when they are in John Q. Public mode, they are answerable like the rest of us.

How fatuous is that? 

Every presidential sip of coffee is an assertion of the authority of the executive branch. A president never stops being president, even when wiping, until leaving office. When soldiers are off duty, they are still subjected to codes of conduct. Every calculation and determination related to any aspect of their existence is colored and modified in some way by a president’s unique role.

There’s no separating outward behavior, internal ruminations and direct orders.

Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented from the majority ruling that presidents have immunity when wrapped in officialdom. Sotomayor said that the ruling makes the president a “king above the law” and Jackson called it a “five alarm fire.” 

The logic of the majority is refutable but not entirely unreasonable. They cite the danger of “politically motivated prosecutions” against presidents who might be inhibited from taking decisive actions. We should be honest with ourselves and admit that retaliation has become a bipartisan strategy in the traumatic lurch and mortal combat of power-grabbing.

Apart from the Supreme Court ruling, the fact is that presidents have far too much power anyway. Whether that power is constitutional or not doesn’t matter much, because it is unchecked and taken for granted. Executives orders can be far-reaching, catastrophic and irreversible and their wanton use is a monstrous blight on our system.

The Supreme Court also, in effect, ruled that homeless people are criminals if they are incapable of making themselves invisible. They determined it is not “cruel and unusual punishment” for a town in Oregon to ban their “using a blanket, pillow, or cardboard box for protection from the elements” and jailing them if they persist with their insult to urban aesthetics.

The court also suspended the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to ameliorate the hazardous smog that is drifting across state borders.

In the last week of June, the intellectual giants on the Supreme Court are almost as busy as a classroom teacher on a slow day. But in fairness, there has not been an absolute absence of cogency in their findings, whether or not we agree with them. 

There are controversies over several of their other decisions related to the balance of free speech and public safety on social media, and the overturning of the so-called Chevron doctrine, which titillated conservatives.

But bravo to the court, and everlasting gratitude from civilization itself, for making the Sackler family, the evil geniuses behind the OxyContin scandal, pay more dearly for their sins than exacted by prior cushy arrangement. And kudos as well for ruling that defendants in cases of alleged fraud brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission are entitled to a jury trial in federal court.

Although some cases were decided along predictable ideological lines, others were not and that was encouraging. One related to what may have been a crafty plot to evade a future wealth tax. Another confirmed, lacking the concurrence solely of Justice Clarence Thomas, the constitutionality of banning domestic abusers from owning guns.

The echo from these judgements, and for additional Supreme Court rulings this session, will be heard for a long time. But in these times, when the laws of nature are being second-guessed hardly less than the dictates of the Constitution, who dares speculate the longevity of an echo?

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