Crime And Punishment II

As if we needed added confirmation of the concerns raised in yesterday’s post, a very thoughtful opinion piece from the New York Times set out the reasons why “going back to normal” (a hope shared by Representative Cummings in the Michael Cohen hearing) isn’t what we should want.

At the end of his eloquent remarks concluding a hearing where the president was accused of multiple crimes by his former attorney, Representative Elijah Cummings, the Oversight Committee chairman, pined for a return to a pre-Trump America. “We have got to get back to normal,” he said.

But Normal America produced Donald Trump, fueled his cult of personality and created the conditions for him to rise to the height of political power. If anything, Michael Cohen’s testimony was a devastating indictment of decisions that Normal America made over the past few decades that produced President Trump in 2016.

The essay challenges readers to consider the implications of facts that are currently known:  Paul Manafort, a man guilty of tax evasion and bank fraud, was tapped to lead a presidential campaign.  Michael Cohen, who committed tax fraud and bank fraud became deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, a post he held until June 2018.

The author attributes that situation–the elevation of out-and-out crooks to positions of authority and prestige–to the stunning decline in prosecutions of white-collar crimes.

Then there’s the president himself, Exhibit A of what happens when a country spends decades treating crimes by the poor as felonies and crimes by the powerful as misdemeanors.

At the start of Mr. Trump’s career, he and his father were charged with discriminating against African-Americans in their apartment rentals. Father and son settled with the government and admitted no wrongdoing.

Later in life, Mr. Trump’s casino was charged with money launderingand got off with a fine. Just after Mr. Trump was elected, his cardboard castle of a university that bore his name settled a class-action lawsuit brought by from former students.

It took a shoe-leather investigation by The Washington Post to prompt authorities to assess that the Trump Foundation, founded in 1987, was being used as the family A.T.M. The New York State attorney general charged the foundation with “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.” Imagine if the foundation had been scrutinized years before Mr. Trump ran for president.

According to the author, more than 60 percent of federal criminal prosecutions last year were in cases related to immigration. But while the feds were pursuing crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, there were fewer resources available to investigate and prosecute other types of crimes, and the number of such prosecutions is accordingly, as he writes, “way down.”

When the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division gets stuck with the same number of special agents it had 50 years ago, lots of tax cheating is going to go undetected and unpunished.

No equal justice indeed. As the author says, “Normal America” gave white-collar criminals parking tickets, and sent SWAT teams after drug dealers. If that was America’s “normal,” we  certainly shouldn’t return to it. It was that “normal” that allowed a racist con man and cheat  (with absolutely no compensating qualities) to aspire to–and win–the Presidency.

We have to do better.


  1. A country and society that has risen and evolved out of the idea that some are superior to others and that competition is the path to economic security is a country and society destined to endless inequality and divisive insecurity. While we cannot go backward to a dreamed of better time, any move forward under these same ideas will take us to the same place.

  2. Last night’s news that Manafort was given a prison sentence that was a fraction of even the minimum for his crimes was stunning. The judge’s claim that he felt the recommended sentencing was too harsh for the crimes seemed like a crime itself. How in the world could a judge give a man like Manafort such a paltry prison term?

    Manafort and criminals like him were given a green light to go ahead and keep commiting crimes against our country while enriching themselves by multiple millions, with no worries about being caught or paying much of a price if they do get caught.

    That judge should be charged with a crime!

  3. Judge Ellis was blatantly biased on the side of the defense in the Manafort trial; I can’t help but wonder if it was within his legal purview to state prior to sentencing that Manafort “Otherwise led a blameless life.” which was a lie. Was he legally allowed to make that statement or his statements that the trial was not about any Russian issue and that the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation was “excessive”? Justice had at least one eye open during this particular situation; we can hope that next week will this one criminal’s sentence result in more realistic levels…and that it will be consecutive to this current “slap on the wrist”. Manafort’s attorney’s dog whistles from the courthouse steps were I’m sure received by their intended target…Trump…an open request for a pardon.

    So far; no one has hinted at filing RICO charges against any of Trump or the many members of his Racketeering and Corrupt Organization’s activities currently running this country. There is no equal justice at any level of our judicial system unless you have the millions to pay for that “justice”.

  4. I can’t say that I didn’t expect last night’s sentencing to go as it did, but it was disappointing. I think all that’s needed is one more person to confirm the facts of the cigar bar meeting and Mr. Manafort might be indicted yet again on conspiracy charges. IMHO what he did was treason, but I doubt he would be charged with that. He has, after all, led such a “blameless life.”

    On the bright side (?), if anyone doubted the truth of yesterday’s blog, they must be thoroughly convinced by now.

  5. I was wondering about Manfort for years, when i ran across a story about him lobbying for a russian backed presidental canidate for Ukraine. heres a russian running for pres in another country, and manafort was hired,to get him in. who in the U.S. had these ties,and why? oleg deripreska(billionaire),putins buddy,all had money on this. when the russian pres of Ukraine,(no im not going to butcher names here) was caught pilfering the tresury of Ukraine,all hell broke loose in the streets. here is a country trying to find its way into the EU, and nato, and time after time, its been a mess. after the present president was poisoned by putins buddies,and crimea was invaded, and a whole lot of other issue,malaysia flight shot down, and untold murders and death, we see now where manafort sits. the tragedy in Ukraine never made a dent,in his sentence,if anything, its allowed congress to pass a deal with deripreska, to sell aluminum to the u.s. because we have tarrifs on other closer nations,where in hell do we get these ideal bastards to just pass laws, benefiting the rich,to go on about as nothing has happened? the voter,who never has time to read,and be part of thier democracy. and were talking today about why its all happening…sick….

  6. Theresa,

    Once again, you succinctly hit it out of the park with your comments.


  7. Extraordinary post, Sheila. Perhaps Congressman Cummings might have hoped he meant: “back to a new normal.” The work place, made famous by Starbuck’s closing to put all associates through equity training, is leading a new national discussion confronting in part ‘polite white supremacy’. The internal culture at Starbucks and other discerning places of work are far better for it and so therefore, so will WE. Trump’s politics of contempt appeals to his base that lowers the bar from polite to blatant. I am optimistic WE are far better than Trump World. Support the candidate who leads to a new normal.

  8. I do enjoy the Manafort judge’s logic though – “other than his decades of crimes, he led a blameless life”. I think that probably applies to every criminal ever in every situation ever.

    This “white collar crimes don’t matter” attitude is sadly everywhere. How many times has Wells Fargo or Goldman Sachs or…basically name any bank… run a scam that netted them hundreds of millions of dollars? Their punishment – a few million dollars of fines (maybe) and a stern talking to. They don’t even have to admit fault and they still profit 95 million after their 5 million fine.

    Cocaine gets you probation. Crack puts in you jail for life.

    Did you vote while on probation? Welp, 5 years in jail and you better be sorry.
    Run decades of scams and potentially commit treason? 4 1/2 years with credit for time served and the judge will tell you you’re the best and give you a gentle hug to comfort you.

    Heck, if you’re reckless/uncouth/criminal enough you can even be president.

  9. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had this comment: “Paul Manafort getting such little jail time for such serious crimes lays out for the world how it’s almost impossible for rich people to go to jail for the same amount of time as someone who is lower income.

    In our current broken system, “justice” isn’t blind. It’s bought.”

    Elizabeth Warren: “Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, commits bank and tax fraud and gets 47 months. A homeless man, Fate Winslow, helped sell $20 of pot and got life in prison. The words above the Supreme Court say “Equal Justice Under Law”—when will we start acting like it?”

    New York public defender Rebecca J Kavanagh. “While Paul Manafort just received a less than 4 year prison sentence for massive financial fraud, I have a client serving 3 and a half to 7 years in prison for stealing laundry detergent from a drug store,” she said.

    Much of the criticism focused on the difference in sentencing received by Manafort and Crystal Mason, a black woman who accidentally committed voter fraud in the 2016 election, having voted when she was not eligible and was given a five-year-jail term, despite expressing full remorse for her actions.
    Of course anyone could see the differences all along in America between the treatment of the “Proles” by the criminal justice vs the well connected and/or the wealthy.

  10. Well, we could say that the sentences being handed out to the well to do are by representatives “of their peers” mimicking the idea of juries. Their are some interesting places that experiment with peers deciding punishment…with very different decisions…

  11. We read and hear about the endemic corruption in Russia. The Russians we are told have Oligarchs, they essentially run the country with Putin’s approval and the rule of law is bent to serve them. It is no different here in the USA. Our Oligarchs have bought and paid for Elected Officials who write the laws and then appoint people to the “Justice” System. It is an interlocking defense meant not to deliver “Justice” but to protect the 1% and the large corporate interests.

    Numerous investigative article have revealed a world wide system of tax evasion, and money laundering. It should be no surprise to any sentient being that our Elected Officials have ignored all this.

    We have this great myth in America, that you can have your day in court and justice is blind.

    All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others, George Orwell.

    For the poor and people of color another Orwell quote is valid:
    “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”
    ― George Orwell, 1984

  12. The new normal and the old normal are much alike. White collar crime in my day was punished more leniently than today, too, but that doesn’t make it right, either then or now, and I applaud the Times writer for suggesting that a return to the old is not necessarily a good thing. Truth is, we can improve on both, having been burned by both the Nixon era and now with the Trump era, and with others in the future given the judge’s lenient decision unless we act.

    I had guessed that the judge would not give Mueller all the time he wanted within the sentencing guidelines and that he would hang a 10 or 12 year term on Manafort. I was wrong. He only hung 47 months with time served on this terminally corrupt dictator-loving fraud, though in the judge’s defense those offenses were not within the purview of the specific charges before his court.

    Aside from the leniency of penalty, I thought the judge’s unnecessary commentary for the record that Manafort except for these crimes had led a “blameless” life was not justified by the record and here observe that the same could be said of serial killers like Hitler, i.e., that between gas chambers and other such offenses he too had led a blameless life. I think, finally, that while a judge has discretion within sentencing guidelines the Congress should take a new look at the guidelines and identify a minimum sentence for specific crimes.

  13. The knuckleheads who voted for this criminal enterprise were like lemmings looking for a cliff to fall over. They gravitated to the loudest voice in the room and swallowed the promises of the combover snake oil salesman…just like in the old movies. And with the major assistance of the equally egregious Fox News ownership and management, a wannabe fascist dictatorship was born.

    What else should we expect when the courts have been so long corrupted by “strong” important people with oodles of money? Haven’t the rich been whining about how their oppressed from investing due to regulations, laws and (gasp) actual morality? Why would they produce a law suit that their employees on SCOTUS bowed to that made their voices louder than anyone else’s?

    Teddy Roosevelt warned America about letting money corrupt our government and courts. Dwight Eisenhower warned about letting the “military-industrial complex” make foreign policy. Both of these Republicans saw, first hand, what greed and immorality can do. Todd keeps invoking Einstein and I keep invoking Marx as the harbinger voices of times to come. Well, here those times are. The light sentencing of the egregious Paul Manafort is yet another brick in the wall of our failing and flailing democracy. When corrupt, lying thugs like this asshole get slaps on the wrist by a white-collar advocate judge, the prophecies of great men come true.

    What do we do now?

  14. Hmmm “a blameless life”….sucking the system for all the money you can get by any means necessarily is the kind of life to admire and hold up???

    Something tells me that from the Duck’s judge appointments we will be getting a lot more of this in the future…for all their lives long.

  15. My fear is the Democrats have seen and will emulate the extremism that got us an entire government of corrupt incompetent predators feeding off the remanins of middle class because extremism gives us not a country for we the people but one of what’s best for me.

    Democrats are offering amazing choice for alternatives but once one team is chosen unity behind it is absolutely necessary despite the 24/7 efforts of the Republican fake news machine to create discord.

  16. Somehow, we’ve forgotten that an honest politician (or, perhaps, judge) is one who stays bought.

  17. I always knew that I fell into the perfect job for me right out of college and I did what I had to do to keep it for an entire career. Politicians do the same. What’s different now is that they can do that if the only supporters they reward are corporations and the wealthy and that has to change.

    The majority of us, we the people, can and must stop letting fake news paid for by massive campaign donations inform us at the polls.

  18. When we know the justice system is broken, how then must we behave in our economic climb to individual prosperity?

    When we know that doing good and behaving right automatically makes us inferior to crooks and cheats, how must we behave?

    When the system makes good behavior into foolish behavior, what incentive is there for good behavior?

    When our doubts that the justice system can’t be that bad are erased by actual events, how can we not be certain once and for all that justice in America is dead?

    And if we are young, just beginning our pursuit of the American dream, what reasonable strategy is left for us but to cheat? And cheat. And cheat.

    What fools are we…if we do not cheat? How much of a traitor to our family are we…if we do not cheat?

    Unless America is comfortable being a criminal enterprise from the top to the bottom, this crime syndicate that has become the new America must be taken down.

  19. Theresa Bowers, Nancy, and John Neal: Spot-on and brief. I actually read those. Thanks!

  20. I enjoy the comments about the corrupt enterprise on the right as if it doesn’t apply to the corrupt enterprise on the left.

    What is the difference?

    Seriously, you guys and gals. Barack Obama heading the biggest banking fraud transaction ever witnessed. He put the bankers in charge of prosecuting bankers and guess what happened?

    Nothing. Nothing at all happened.

    Yet, some of you will cast a vote for Joe Biden in 2020 during the primary and wonder why nothing changes.

    Until you accept that your own party is as corrupt as the GOP, nothing will change.

    The last thing this country needs is “incrementalism”. We need wholesale reforms or it will be the Dystopian Wild West like Mad Max in 25 years or sooner. People will get tired of getting screwed and tired of the politicians/judges/lawyers/journalists doing nothing about it.

    It’s coming…

  21. Todd – I’m not sure the article said or implied or that a single comment said or implied this isn’t a problem that has been going on for a very long time.

    I must have missed the “it’s only republicans, democrats are saints” argument you read.

  22. Outstanding as usual, Sheila, bolsted by the fact that yesterday, Paul Manafort got less than 4 years for crimes with advisory sentences ranging from 19 to 25 years. Judgie Wudgie felt sorry for him. Trump feels sorry for him. Most of the rest of us are disgusted.

  23. I fear what “is coming” is violence….the Duck refuses to accept the results of the election…there is a terrorist attack…abortion clinics are surrounded….police shoot one unarmed minority person too many in a big city…pick your scenario…

  24. Todd,

    I can list the sins of democrats over the years from FDR’s Japanese interment to stopping German Jews from seeking asylum. And all the current democrats who take Wall Street Money put themselves in an untenable position, no matter what they say in concurrence with Dirksen’s quote about taking their money and liquor at night and voting against them the next morning.

    But your insistence on putting the two parties on either side of the balance, I find myopic. I am a democrat and resent such a comparison. Your need to constantly make this point puts the current GOP and Trump into a false equivalency and mimics Fox News.

    So to follow your logic – Fox = Todd.

  25. im starting to fear the new judgeships, from kids being appointed lifetime seats,when they havent been weened off of public funds yet. if bitch,i mean mitch,keeps this pace up, we will see nothing but clogged courts,appeals over appeals,and a scotus looking to overlook critcal cases. RGB has guts, she obvoiously will take her job to the grave. such honorable people, should be bought forward for their dedication. if we can vote,we can also have civics in school. i was in catholic school civics were manditory from grade 1. and the nuns didnt cut me any slack.. 5 catagories in civics,and maybe we should require, such a study,as we did math,history,etc. what we see now, is how the people react,when they havent a clue,or what,they are trashing,(our democracy). we are next to seeing some civil unrest,and it could be a plan to capitalize on something.
    the koch bros and their think tanks,spend millions on such issues, maybe they have the final say..

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