By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
This piece originally appeared at Truthout.
The Freeh report makes clear that there was a concerted attempt to cover-up the acts of a serial predator, Jerry Sandusky, while willfully disregarding the welfare of the children he abused. Given the reporting of the last year, much of this is not news, though the report makes clear the nature and depth of the cover-up, while providing some important new details. While the Freeh report reveals that the cover-up at the top of the Penn State administration “was an active agreement to conceal,” it raises further questions about how the justice system works in this country when it comes to prosecuting the rich and powerful who sink more and more into a bottomless pit of corruption and moral irresponsibility. At his press conference, Louis J. Freeh, when asked if criminal charges should be brought against a number of people, including former President Spanier, replied that “it’s up to others to decide whether that’s criminal.” While Freeh’s reply suggests he is acting cautiously given that some of the people who hired him may be indicted, he unknowingly touches on another related and important issue. That is, justice in America works primarily for the rich and powerful and against the poor and marginalized. And that Freeh’s response or equivocation reveals what is well known—the rich and powerful rarely get prosecuted for their crimes or what The Economist has called “the rotten heart of finance.” Just ask the CEOs who run Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, GlaxoSmithKline, and so it goes.
Let’s be clear, what is on trial here is not simply those who colluded to protect the reputation of a storied football program and the reputation of Penn State University, but a society governed by radicalized market-driven values, a survival of the “fittest” (or most ruthless) ethic and an unregulated drive for profit-making regardless of the human and social costs. This is an ethic that now renders many children and young people as disposable, refusing to acknowledge its responsibility to future generations while creating the social, economic and political conditions in which the pain and suffering of young people simply disappears. As a number of recent banking scandals reveal, big money and the institutions it creates now engage unapologetically in massive criminal behavior and corruption, but the individuals who head these corporations extending from JPMorgan Chase Bank to Barclays are rarely prosecuted.
The message is clear. Once again, crime pays for the rich and powerful. We can only understand what happened to the young victims at Penn State if we also acknowledge what recently was revealed about the criminal actions against children exhibited by GlaxoSmithKline. In this instance, Glaxo illegally marketed Paxil to children, gave kickbacks to doctors and made false claims about the drug even though one major clinical trial found “that teens who took the drug for depression were more likely to attempt suicide than those receiving placebo pills.” Penn State and Glaxo are symptomatic of a much larger shift in the culture and the relations of power that shape it.
Rather than representing a society’s dreams and hope for the future, young people, especially poor white and minority children, have become commodities to be mined for profit and/or pleasure and disposable after they have served those purposes in the age of casino capitalism and big money. It is crucial that the American public combine the kind of institutional abuse we see at Penn State, GlaxoSmithKline and Barclays with the values and relations of power that are responsible for a society in which 53 percent of college graduates are jobless, social provisions for young people are being slashed, corporations get tax deductions while state governments eliminate vital public services and students assume a massive debt because it is easier for the federal government to fund wars and invest in prisons rather than in public and higher education.
Connect these dots and Penn State becomes only one shameful and corrupt marker in a much larger scandal that reveals an ongoing and aggressive war on youth. Everywhere we look, young people are under siege. Twenty percent of young people live in poverty and over 42 percent live in low-income homes. Young people now find themselves in debt, jobless, incarcerated or unemployed. Stories about young people being denied the right to vote, being abused in juvenile detention centers, taking on jobs that pay the minimum wage or worse living at home with their parents while unemployed and facing a bleak future rarely seem to arouse the concerns of the American public or its governing politicians. All the while, the ruling corporate and financial elite use their power to punish those marginalized by class, race and ethnicity - slashing social benefits, increasing tuition, refusing to abolish punitive bankruptcy laws, denigrating young people as lazy and refusing overall to invest in their future. The Penn State scandal has to be understood within a broader political, economic, and cultural landscape. Not only is it symptomatic of a growing culture of cruelty, hyper-masculinity, big money, big sports empires, corporate power, academic illiteracy, and the unchecked power of the privileged elite, but also as part of a larger war on youth, public values, and the democratic mission of the university and any other non-commodified public sphere.
Until we understand how the larger culture of political, institutional and economic corruption abuses young people, rewards the rich and destroys democracy, Penn State will become a side show that will simply distract from the real issue of what constitutes child abuse in America. The scandal of Penn State has become the scandal of America.
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