While the US Department of Justice is content to slap miniscule fines on huge Wall Street firms and go after small-time traders, the Icelandic Supreme Court and Reykjavik District Court has sent a total of 26 banking executives to prison. These bankster criminals will be serving up to five years for market manipulation, embezzlement and breach of fiduciary duty.

Meanwhile, criminal banking executives who were instrumental in creating the financial crisis of 2008 continue to ride around in their limousines and private jets, sipping $1000-dollar-a-bottle champagne, while the banks themselves are raking in yearly profits of more over $160 billion. At the same time, bought-and-paid-for federal legislators have refused to pass any regulations to stop them from doing it all over again.

While the US continues to dig out from under that catastrophe, Iceland has recovered quite nicely. How? Simple: instead of forcing the victims to bail out the banks, Iceland simply allowed them to fail. They put currency controls in place, supported those who were screwed over by the financial institutions, and rejected the failed austerity measures imposed on citizens in Europe.

The prosecutions in Iceland have only just gotten started – and the courts will be playing hardball. As Icelandic law now stands, the maximum penalty for financial crimes is six years. However, the country’s Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments supporting extensions of those sentences. Meanwhile, corporate crime in the US continues unabated.

And why is the US not following suit? There are a number of reasons, most of which are familiar to our readers.  Not the least of these is the revolving door. The most infamous example is that of former US Attorney General Eric Holder, who worked for a law firm that frequently represents large banking institutions. After stepping down earlier this year, Holder returned to that same firm.

Of course, he’s not the only one. Members of Congress, as well as their former staffers, frequently go to work for lobbying firms. In fact, there are over 2,000 lobbyists working for the financial industry in Washington DC. Meanwhile, in the Halls of Congress are numerous lawmakers whose sole focus is to serve the interests of Wall Street. These are the ones who have stood in the way of reinstating Glass-Steagall, and attack provisions of  Dodd-Frank.  Congressional members of the “Banking Caucus” include Ed Royce (R-CA),  Shelly Capito (R-WV), Ann Wagner (R-MO), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Steve Stivers (R-OH),  David Scott (D-GA), Sean Duffy (R-WI), Jim Himes (D-CT), and Gregory Meeks (D-NY).

And yes, the banking industry whores come from both sides of the aisle, tragically enough.

The fact is that Iceland has been putting banking criminals in prison, and the US is simply letting them skate while giving the institutions a slap on the wrist. It is a damning indictment of a system that enables wealthy individuals and corporations to simply buy politicians outright, allowing politicians to represent and work for the very same institutions they’re supposed to be regulating.

Under any reasonable, functional system, this would be called a “conflict of interest.” But when it happens inside the Beltway, it’s just business and politics as usual.

Have you had enough, yet?

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.