Oregonian video screenshot

In the week that the US Senate is set to formally declare Donald Trump above the law, a couple of reminders that people who make the grievous mistake of not having the right connections will get every bit as much justice as the rich and powerful can pile on them. In Portland, Oregon, a nice woman who worked for U.S. Bank got shitcanned after giving $20 to a bank customer who was being screwed over by the bank's delays in processing a check he deposited just before Christmas, and a Pennsylvania woman being treated for two advanced types of cancer has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for stealing $109.63 in groceries a bit over a year ago. And somewhere in the cosmos, Anatole France may be rolling his eyes that his 1894 line about the law's "majestic equality" in forbidding both the rich and the poor "to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread" is still so very apt.

First up, there's Ashley Menser, 36, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, who's set to go to prison for stealing just under $110 in groceries from a Weis Markets grocery store in September 2018. Nobody denies she did it, and her own attorney notes that the sentence is in line with other sentences for the third-degree felony she pleaded to, for other people with similar records -- a string of minor drug and property crimes. But the thing is, Menser also has advanced uterine and cervical cancer, both diagnosed shortly after her arrest. Her lawyer, Scot Feeman, asked the judge to let Menser serve her sentence under house arrest, so she could go for treatment at the Penn State Cancer Institute, located close by Hershey, Pa. As it turned out, she was sentenced on January 22, the same day she had a later appointment to schedule a last-chance treatment, a hysterectomy.

Nothing doing, said Judge Samuel Kline, who noted the prison system has medical care, too, and this lady had a record, after all. Feeman had asked for leniency, given both Menser's medical issues and the fact that despite a history of opioid use, she's been drug-free for some time. In addition Feeman says,

she had also been on powerful psychiatric medication to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, partly brought on by the death of her child.

"With the psychiatric medicine, she has trouble discerning what's real and what's not," Mr. Feeman said. He said Ms. Menser was distraught after the sentencing, and that he intends to ask the judge to reconsider.

"She is in a lot of pain, and very ill," he said, "and she's very concerned about her health prospects going forward."

Menser's case has attracted the attention of Pennsylvania's Democratic lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, who's also calling the sentence overly harsh, and says when he first heard about the case in a local paper, "I could scarcely believe what I was reading [...] This is just insane." Fetterman offered to pay the grocery chain $120 in restitution from his own pocket, but that appears not to have gone anywhere.

Fortunately, after the sentencing on January 22, the court very generously urged Menser be sent away to prison ASAP so she could start getting the prison healthcare she needs, so we bet she feels like a real lucky ducky now.

In our other feel-bad story today, The New York Times's Nicholas Kristof brings us the tale of Marc Eugenio, who tried to deposit a $1,080 paycheck into his account shortly before Christmas. The bank put a hold on the money, because reasons, and Eugenio was unable to get anyone in the branch office to help him. He had this silly notion he could use his paycheck to get his 9-year-old daughter gifts.

Instead, he made matters worse for himself by believing a bank employee who said, on Christmas Eve, that the money would soon be available, then letting his truck run out of gas and hoping he could use his ATM card at a gas station. He called U.S. Bank's customer service line and spoke to

Emily James, a senior officer at a call center in Portland. She spent an hour on the phone with Eugenio, trying to get some money released so he could at least get home. She soon realized that he had been misled, and that money wouldn't reach his account any time soon. Feeling bad for a customer stuck on Christmas Eve, James offered to drive over from her call center and personally hand him $20.

He said absolutely not, she said her break was coming up anyway, and a supervisor allowed her to drive out to the gas station to help a dude in need.

So of course U.S. Bank fired her for breaking a rule against call center staff meeting customers in real life, because safety. The bank also fired the manager for letting James go to help, because rules are rules. And while U.S Bank CEO Andrew Cecere wouldn't return Kristof's calls, a spokesperson said an "investigation" actually found James had "misled" the manager and -- despite a bunch of commendations for good customer service -- had actually had many "discipline issues," you see. Kristof didn't believe that for some reason!

Fortunately, James was able to get media -- and social media -- attention, from the Portland Oregonian, and she soon heard from employers who didn't quite offer her a job, but were interested. Then, not long after Kristof published his piece, he got a call from Cecere, who told him,

"This is not who we are," he said. He added that companies sometimes make mistakes, and that he accepted ownership of what went wrong. He also telephoned Emily James and expressed concern for her and for her supervisor, Abigail Gilbert. "I will fix this," he told me.

As of right now, we still haven't seen any word on whether James and the manager have their money back, so we'll close with Kristof's observation that shit like this explains why "Free Enterprise" gets a lousy rap.

When young Americans say in polls that they react more positively to "socialism" than to "capitalism," it's because of the hypocrisy of institutions like U.S. Bank.

But doesn't he know that socialism BAD, and millions dead, and VENEZUELA?! We must love the banks or die! Maybe all we need is the current system, and one major-paper reporter assigned to each poor person.

[NYT / Lebanon Daily News / NYT]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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