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A modest proposal for sentencing Bernard Ebbers

July 14, 2005

AP reports a little happy news as former WorldCom boss Bernard Ebbers was sentenced to 25 years in prison.  Ebbers wept as the sentence was handed down.  He won’t be eligible for parole.  A decision is yet to be made if he can stay out of prison during his inevitable appeal.

One of his Ebbers’ victims was present at the sentencing and said; “The man is 63.  He’s going to die in jail.  How much sterner could you get?”

I have a modest proposal:  Ebbers should share the fate of many of his victims. 

He should be stripped of all personal wealth so he can’t leave any inheritance to his children.  Instead of living in prison and receiving free state medical care for his heart condition, he should have to keep working long after it is physically comfortable for him.  Able to get only low-wage jobs, he should have to choose between health insurance and rent, or a car repair and a car payment.

He should be supervised by the court to prevent any of his wealthy friends from helping him. As his health deteriorates he can put on a humiliating smock and hat every day, and stand on aching legs as he greets customers at some superstore, or prepares hamburgers for thousands of hungry customers who neither know or care who he is. 

Every friday, he can check the schedule on the wall in the breakroom to see when he has to show up for work the following week.  When his health finally gives out, he will be faced with a narrow range of absolutely awful choices.

Cruel?  Sadistic?  Hey, if it was good enough for his victims…

Next up: a review of the other movie I saw last weekend, Enron – the smartest guys in the room.

Categories: business
  1. WeeDram
    July 14, 2005 at 22:39 | #1

    I never want to become just like the man I despise.

  2. July 15, 2005 at 06:29 | #2

    A false analogy, WeeDram, which often restrains punishment unnecessarily. The difference between him and the judge who would deliver the same fate to him, is that he did it to innocent people, and the judge does it to Ebbers.  The judge is not “just like” Ebbers, nor is the legitimizing society behind the judge. 

    Not sure how locking a man in a cage became the only acceptable legal cruelty.

  3. SkewedMule
    July 15, 2005 at 18:45 | #3

    It is my understanding that all the material possessions that B.E. will be allowed to keep will be $50,000 and a “very modest house” in Jackson, MS for his wife. It was not clear that the 50k allowance would be one time or annually. I presume annually. The manse just a few miles down I-55 in Brookhaven will be put in trust and auctioned off with the rest of his wealth.

    I agree with you about jail being overkill. Living poor will be punishment enough. Believe me, $50,000 in Mississippi would be living poor.

  4. WeeDram
    July 15, 2005 at 21:21 | #4

    Not what I meant, and I do not believe that incarceration is the only punishment, far from it.  I simply detected more than “justice” in what you said and how you said it.  Sounds more like revenge to me.  What about a sentence of doing service to the poor, ill, disadvantaged for the rest of his life.

    You spoke of humiliation, not any sort of path that leads to remorse, repentance or restitution.  While his personal humiliation could never make up for what he has done to thousands of people.  But =imposing= humiliation is not justified … the old two wrongs don’t make a right adage.  His humiliation should come from inside himself, which would make it genuine and instructive.

    That’s what I meant.  I find your position to be no different in principal than the “litigious society” that you decry.

  5. July 15, 2005 at 22:13 | #5

    Restitution will be enforced by the court to the extent possible.  And while the idea that vengance is wrong has become something of an unexamined truism, that wasn’t what I meant, either.

    I just can’t imagine a stronger deterrent to other corporate/financial bosses than the prospect of being reduced to the level of their victims.  At least in prison, they’d be somebody.  The threat of being forced to become ordinary would really make them think twice.

    Save us all from a legal system that tries to micromanage the genuineness of repentence.  For full exposition on that, read C.S. Lewis’ That hideous Strength.

  6. July 17, 2005 at 02:33 | #6

    WeeDram, Eebers didn’t rip of thousands of people for revenge, he did it for greed. How does revenge, then, make anyone like Eebers?

    I’m not sure what difference you think there is between justice and revenge. The only one that makes sense to me is that justice is done by a government and revenge is done by an individual, but decrepit was proposing something done by the government.

    What makes it revenge? The fact that he implied he would get some satisfaction from it? Don’t you get a feeling of satisfaction from justice? I do. The fact that there was humiliation involved? Who says that justice never involves humiliation? I can think of many cases where humiliation is arguably the best form of justice.

    As to remorse, repentence, and restitution, I think decrepit’s plan is just as likely to lead to those as prison. And those things have nothing to do with justice anyway.

    Finally, justice, no matter how harsh, is not a wrong, so the “two wrongs don’t make a right” adage does not apply.

  7. WeeDram
    July 17, 2005 at 19:15 | #7

    Here are some of the original words:

    “As his health deteriorates he can put on a humiliating smock and hat every day, and stand on aching legs as he greets customers at some superstore, or prepares hamburgers for thousands of hungry customers who neither know or care who he is. “

    I’m sorry I don’t express myself well.  The difference between justice and revenge, as I understand it, is that revenge has no reason, no real relationship to righting a wrong, but to the desire to punish until it’s “enough”, whatever that is.  And, revenge has nothing to do with individuals vs. a group or government.  I don’t think I’m the first one to coin the term “vengeful mob”.  And I don’t think that the =government= of Nazi Germany was truly about justice, even though it imposed vengence on perceived evil persons while claiming legal authority.

    Nothing that DOF suggested, IMO, had any relationship to =righting= a wrong, nor would it lead to any restitution.  This is my interpretation of the words, but I totally accept that DOF did NOT mean revenge, as that is what DOF has said.  So perhaps this is about interpretation.

    Being a greeter at a big box store may be humiliating (which is NOT the same as humility, BTW,) but wouldn’t it be potentially more instructive to be sentenced to serving the very same people he stole from?  I.e., community service to those very individuals?

    Repentence?  Perhaps… who can tell?  My understanding of full repentence is that it always involves direct interaction between the two parties.  Certainly the Christian idea of repentence involves the sinner facing God.  Native sentencing circles (see below) involve the criminal and the victim being face-to-face in an actual circle.

    Full restitution would not be easy, given the magnitude of the fraud.  But if Ebbers does not have enough assets to make full restitution, I doubt that being a greeter at Wal-Mart will make up the difference.  And before you think otherwise, I am NOT suggesting that Ebbers be given unfettered ability to return to the executive world merely under the instruction to return all new earning to a fund for restitution.  I am not sure HOW he would ever be able to earn enough to make full restitution, but then I do not live in the circles of high finance.

    Finally, I believe that better models of justice vis-a-vis sentencing, etc., can be found in examples such as native sentencing circles (as practiced in aboriginal jurisdictions in Canada and perhaps other countries) and the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa.  I am an expert in neither, but what I have read is at the very least interesting.



  8. July 17, 2005 at 19:38 | #8

    It’s quite all right if you want to call it vengance, or call it a canned ham if you like.  Ebbers stood up at the pulpit of his church and proclaimed that above all he hoped the consequences of his innocent mistakes had not damaged his witness for Christ.
    He really just. doesn’t. get it.

    I am happy that he has been sent to prison for the rest of his life.  But guys like him believe they can do no wrong.  Fine.  If they can’t learn morality at least let them learn fear.  And I think there’s nothing they fear so much as being forced to live with real risk, not the abstract financial “risk” (usually with other people’s money) that they’re always yapping about.

  9. olegunny
    March 14, 2007 at 17:50 | #9

    Ebbers should have been allowed to kill himself and if he failed to do so be shot. I would have been only to glad to shoot the piece of vermin. Another thing it is certainly revenge that I want.

  10. son of a former MCI Employee now an employee of Ve
    August 31, 2008 at 03:51 | #10

    I think the 25 year sentence is a little light. Seriously, he should have gotten 50 years and no chance of parole. If it was up to me I’d find, if he has any, sons or daughters and I’d beat them with a bat until they lay on the ground twitching then drag their bodies by rope around their necks behind my car through the streets of DC. Anyways, I hope Ebbers enjoys his butt being violated and I hope he gets shanked.

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