Saturday, March 09, 2019

Rich white guy gets away with crimes

It’s difficult, nearly impossible, actually, to look at the 47-month prison sentence given to convicted felon Paul Manafort as anything other than yet another example of a rich, white man in the USA’s elites getting a virtual free pass while people who are poor or not white get harsh treatment. That’s the way criminal justice system works—or, rather, doesn’t—in the USA: Rich white men almost never pay for their crimes. But, would rational people still feel his sentence was unjust if poor people and people of colour were treated fairly?

The headline story is that Manafort was sentenced to a mere 47 months for his serious crimes, despite the sentencing guidelines calling for 20 years. Why so lenient? Well, for one thing, the judge, a Reagan appointee, seemed to resent Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s bringing charges against Manafort when Mueller is charged specifically with investigating crimes related to the Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. The judge seemed unaware that Mueller was also charged with investigating other crimes uncovered in the course of his investigation, and, of course, it would be highly unusual as well as improper for a prosecutor to ignore crimes he discovered.

The judge also seemed to identify with Manafort, who is a white man of a similar age and class. The judge declared that even though Manafort had hidden $55 million in secret offshore accounts to avoid paying $6 million in taxes, despite the fact he’d defrauded three banks out of $25 million, that he lied constantly, that while awaiting sentence for his crimes he committed more felonies, that even though he showed absolutely no remorse for his crimes, all of that didn’t matter because, the judge declared, Manafort “has lived an otherwise blameless life,” an absurd, bizarre, and offensive nonsense that the Associated Press’ Jacquelyn Martin pointed out was absolutely not true.

But the judge wasn’t the only one looking at the case through delusions. The Unindicted Co-Conspirator in the White House Tweeted (of course!) about it claiming the judge had “stated loudly and for the world to hear that there was NO COLLUSION with Russia.” That is bullshit. What the judge ACTUALLY said was that Manafort was “…not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government to influence the election,” because he wasn’t—everyone knew that, apart from the current occupant of the White House, apparently. That, or he’s lying—he lies most of the time, so it’s impossible to know when he’s lying or just stupid.

Part of what made the 47-month sentence so outrageous, apart from the judge’s bizarre remarks, was how pathetically lenient it was compared to crimes committed by people of colour and poor people. There's an ever-increasing list of comparisons between the rich white dude’s slap on the wrist and the unfair and unequal “justice” faced by poor people and people of colour.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is now running for president, compared Manafort’s slap on the wrist with the case of Fate Winslow, who helped to sell $20 worth of marijuana and got LIFE in prison. Many others, including Judd Legum, compared it to the case of Crystal Mason, who didn’t know she wasn’t eligible to vote in her state because she’d had a conviction, so she voted, was caught, showed extreme remorse for her action, but was sentenced to five years in prison, anyway.

On the other hand, the white elites thought the sentence was too harsh. It wasn’t only the con-man and crook in the White House who, thought so. His “lawyer”, Rudy Giuliani, declared of Manafort, "He’s not a terrorist. He’s not an organized criminal. He’s a white collar criminal.” Emphasis on white, obviously. Maybe he and is boss both have dementia?

The question then becomes, if poor people and people of colour we treated less harshly by the USA’s criminal “justice” system, would people feel as outraged by Manafort’s extremely light sentence? Would it still seem like a slap on the wrist? I don’t think it would. It’s impossible to know for sure, of course, because the system is so utterly unfair and unjust, however, it’s clear that the reaction is mainly because it’s so light compared to the extremely harsh sentences handed down to poor people and people of colour who committed far less serious crimes. It is about the unjust disproportionality more than anything.

To be sure, the USA’s Right thinks that the only reason people are outraged at the obscenely lenient sentence handed down is because Manafort is connected to the current occupant of the White House, despite the fact that these particular charges had nothing to do with that. It is, however, typical of Rightwing thinking, that everyone else operates from the same base emotions that they do, rather than the reality, which is that mainstream Americans can see how utterly unjust the light treatment of “white collar” crime is.

The way this story ends is obvious. Manafort will get a presidential pardon, and the only question is, how soon? Had Manafort been given a 20-year sentence, a pardon would have been fast because the Conman in Chief would have called that sentence “very, very unfair”. 47-months may seem harder to excuse, but if his sentencing next week adds the maximum 10 years (which is possible but possibly unlikely), the Conman in Chief will call that “very, very unfair”. A real president would have Manfort serve at least part of his sentence, since he did, indeed, commit crimes, but this guy is illegitimate and not sensible in any way. He may very well pardon Manafort at any moment, even before sentencing, just as he did with that racist convicted ex-sheriff.

The pardon is inevitable because Manafort refused to cooperate with the Mueller investigation. The current occupant of the White House has made it abundantly clear that he’ll pardon those who don’t “squeal” on him. Of course, dangling the prospect of a pardon is prosecutable as witness tampering and obstruction of justice, and it’s definitely grounds for impeachment.

But none of that will matter to the man who has spent his life lying, cheating, and conning people with impunity. He believes that as a rich white man who is part of powerful elites, he’s untouchable. Based on the evidence, and the joke sentence given Manafort, it’s hard to argue with his assessment. And, odds are that he’ll get away with his crimes of witness tampering and obstruction of justice, too.

Maybe some day the USA really will have “equal justice under law”. Maybe. But even with massive election defeats for the current regime, their enablers, and all the powerful elites, it would take decades to fix this mess. This particular case really did little more than show us all how profoundly unjust the USA’s “justice” system really is.

1 comment:

rogerogreen said...

Actually, Rudy, I think Manafort IS a terrorist, consorting with the enemy.