Friday, May 26, 2006


You want to think that there's a sense of balance in the world, some sort of cosmic justice that sets things right. Two stories currently in the news suggest this may be the case, but read between the lines. Will the guilty really be punished?

Let's start with Enron. Like many corporations, it was essentially corrupt from the get-go, formed not to provide a legitimate service but to make huge sums of money. They lobbied congress hard to pass legislation allowing them to sell energy at market prices--meaning whatever they said it was. They could charge any outrageous amount, and did. But the money they were making through these morally bankrupt but technically legal shenanigans was just chump change to these guys, so they started to lie, claiming they were making more than they were. Books were cooked, and when things started to go south, head honcho Ken Lay sold off stock that he knew would soon be worthless and publicly told his employees everything would be alright. But it wasn't alright, his empoyees got screwed over big time, and Lay landed in a heap o' trouble.

Lay and his co-conspirator, Jeff Skilling, were found guilty of fraud and conspiracy yesterday. Lay claimed total innocence and said he ws shocked--shocked!--by what was going on. Even after the verdict, Lay played the piety card, saying, "We believe that God in fact is in control and indeed he does work all things for good for those who love the Lord."

What a douchebag.

Problem is, these guys probably won't spend a day in jail. Despite being found guilty, they are free on bail, and their sentencing isn't even scheduled until September. How much you want to bet they file appeals before then? How much you want to bet they delay the sentencing indefinitely? Lay and Skilling may never be able to find legit work again, so they'll just have to use their vast wealth to lead lives of leisure. Poor bastards.

The Enron case is depressing but abstract. The other story to discuss is horrifyingly direct: U.s. marines apparently murdered women and children in Iraq. There may or may not have been mitigating circumstances--as if killing children is ever justified--but what's scary is, how often does this happen? This time there was an investigation. But what about other times?

The reason I'm asking is, Iraqi citizens have been complaining since the beginning of Mr. Bushie's intervention that innocent citizens have been killed in suspicious circumstances, that alleged military targets are in fact merely houses or restaurants, that the coalition forces are nothing but roving packs of uniformed thugs.

The notion that we should support the troops unconditionally has always struck me as well-intentioned but misguided. I know, I know, what they're going through over ther is something I can't even begin to imagine. In their situation, just getting up in the morning constitutes an act of courage.

But they're human beings, folks. In any cross-section of people, you get good people, crazy loners, back-stabbing weasels, sociopaths. Mostly you get people who are morally neutral. But if you put people like that into extraordinary circumstances--circumstances involving intense heat, absence of loved ones and long periods of extreme boredom mixed with occasional spikes of overwhelming fear and euphoria--then it's hard to stay in the gray zone. If someone tells you to pull a trigger or push a button, you do it, and you don't think about morality anymore.

In this case, the killings in the Iraqi city of Haditha, the facts seem clear: rogue marines just killed people for the hell of it. And yet, even though Iraqi witnesses were claiming that from the beginning, the military's official story initially was very different, claiming at first that a bomb blast had killed them, then later saying they'd been cught in a crossfire. They must have had some suspicion from the beginning, but official lies were more important than these people's lives.

Make no mistake, the guys who pulled the trigger in this case deserve to be prosecuted, and if the current reports are true, deserve their own reserved spot in hell. But the higher-ups who initially cooked up the bullshit cover stories--will anything happen to them? Making excuses for murder may not be as bad as the act, but it is inexcusable. In the wake of Abu Ghraib, it's hard to keep from thinking something else is going on here, that there's something we don't know, can't know, will never know. We may not know, but we'll always suspect.

I don't want to sound like a crazy conspiracy guy, but the thing about America in the Bush era is even the most paranoid fantasies can't match the horror of the truth.