Sunday, March 07, 2004

Martha's Hubris Revealed

I don't like Martha Stewart. I don't know why, exactly. She's just the type of person who rubs me the wrong way. Like one of my sister-in-laws. Too perfect. Willing to spend hours making doilies for the dinner table. Hell, I don't even know what a doily IS, let alone where one should be used, and I surely would never put one on my dinner table. But you know what I mean. How much time should any person spend on flower arrangements, or sculpting the mashed potatoes? I have no time for pursuits like these, and I have no time for people like Martha Stewart. But I always have time to note an injustice, or unfairness, or, most of all, the abuse of power.

Guilty, sayeth the jury. Tina Fay, ultra-liberal doyenne of Saturday Night Live, was absolutely giddy with joy and delight as she reported the verdict, over and over, last night. You can bet that just about anything that makes Tina Fay giddy with joy would rub me the wrong way. But in the Martha Stewart case, I think that it is instructive to examine just exactly what it is that she was convicted of doing.

She was originally accused of securities fraud, based upon the idea that she comitted the criminal act of trading on "inside information." Now, I do not understand why trading stock on a tip should be rendered illegal in the case where the information is accurate but, the law is the law. Yet, those charges were dropped. She was not convicted of the substantive crime of which she was accused. She was convicted of two things. One, she conspired to break the law. Two, she lied to a cop about it.

Our conspiracy laws are a vicious affront to anyone who believes in the ideas upon which our great country was founded. Under the law, a conspiracy exists where two or more people talk about a crime, and one of them commits any substantive act in furtherance of the crime. No crime needs to be committed. By anyone. Let's say that you and a few buddies talk about some chick who walks by. One or more of you mention an act of physical love that he would like to perform with her. Several days later one member of the group meets her, and they enjoy one or more of these acts. The next day, some question arises as to whether or not her consent was actually given. You are now guilty of conspiracy to rape her. Or, more realistically, this same group hears a news item where 50 pounds of dope was discovered on a beach, and some loose talk ensues about how much money could be realized by such a beachcomber, should he decide to sell all or part of the load, rather than turning it in to the police. Later, one of your friends is found in possession of dope that was evidently washed up on a beach. You are guilty of conspiracy to traffic in dope. The only way to get out of a criminal conspiracy is to go to the police the minute you discover that the crime has been committed. Or, of course, you can plead guilty.

In Martha Stewart's case, the count of the indictment accusing her of committing the crime in question was dismissed. Never submitted to the jury. Not enough evidence. Yet, incredibly, Martha was convicted of conspiring to commit the crime that she was not, could not, have been convicted of. Guilty because she talked about it. Never proven to have done it. Just think about that for a minute.

But. It gets worse. She was also convicted of lying about it. Believe it or not, she had the temerity to deny that she committed the crime of which she was not convicted! Dostoyefsky made a career writing about stuff like this. But, aside from this, there is another aspect of this case that offends the sensibilities. Most Americans believe that we have, among other rights, the right to free speech, and the right to not be forced to incriminate oneself. Yet it is against the law to claim to be innocent, if you so claim to a federal agent, without the benefit of counsel. Lying to a federal agent was another count of which Martha was convicted. Believe it or not, that is what Martha is going to jail for doing.

Now, that lets her off the hook a little too easy. She took a full part in this dance. Her arrogance, her hubris, had more to do with this travesty of justice as anything else. She could have admitted to the truth. She could have testified against her co-conspirators. She could have actually put on a (gasp) defense. But she did none of these things. Her defense consisted merely of saying that the government had not proven the charges against her. That's it. Her testimony might have gone a long way towards winning the jury over to her side. At least, that's what the lone juror who was willing to talk to the press (as I write this) said. But this woman is arrogant. To a fault. That's what hubris is. Hubris is what lands a billionaire in Alderson, munching carpet, carving a little calendar into the wall, counting the minutes until she can be a millionaire again. And, oh yeah, hubris is what turned this billionaire into a multi-millionaire. Poor Martha.