Sunday, October 9, 2016

Maintain Justice

What crimes do we justify?

Which do we condemn?

I’d been thinking about this before the release Friday night of a tape in which candidate Donald Trump boasted of sexual assault.

Wondering if “law and order” would be a focus on this evening’s presidential debate.

I doubt it will come up, but by many indicators crime rates have fallen sharply in the past few decades, while incarceration rates have been near an all-time high.

Prosecution of white collar crime is at a twenty year low, while incarceration for misdemeanors and other petty crimes is higher than anyplace on the planet.

It’s not that financial transgressions are less common that they were before. By any account, white collar crime is epidemic.

But complicated financial systems, loosely regulated corporate structures, shrinking budgets for investigation, unfilled judicial posts and more have made it far less common for such crimes to be brought to trial.

In towns and cities across America, poor people can be jailed for failure to pay a simple traffic fine.

Juvenile shoplifters can find themselves doing time if their parents don’t have means to hire legal counsel.
Growing Incarceration Contributed Little to Drop in Crime

Migrant children are held for months in detention centers without legal recourse.

People struggling with mental illness are locked in solitary confinement for something as vague as disturbing the peace.

But steal billions of retirement dollars from public pensions and there’s no chance at all you’ll ever see a prison cell.

Cheat employees and contractors of millions and smile. While employers steal an estimated $20 billion a year, very few are ever prosecuted and current penalties involve paying back just a fraction of what’s owed. 

In 2014, journalist Matt Taibbi wrote a scathing analysis called The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.  It’s worth quoting at length, but here’s just a sampling: 
It’s become a cliché by now, but since 2008, no high-ranking executive from any financial institution has gone to jail, not one, for any of the systemic crimes that wiped out 40 percent of the world’s wealth.
Our prison population, in fact, is now the biggest in the history of human civilization. There are more people in the United States either on parole or in jail today (around 6 million total) than there ever were at any time in Stalin’s gulags. For what it’s worth, there are also more black men in jail right now than there were in slavery at its peak. See if this syllogism works, then. Poverty goes up; Crime goes down; Prison population doubles.
When the state brings a fraud case against a welfare mom, it brings it with disgust, with rage, because in addition to committing the legal crime, she’s committed the political crime of being needy and an eyesore. Banks commit the legal crime of fraud wholesale; they do so out in the open, have entire departments committed to it, and have employees who’ve spent years literally doing nothing but commit, over and over again, the same legal crime that some welfare mothers go to jail for doing once. . .  
Senators Patty Murray (a Democrat from Washington) and Sherrod Brown (a Democrat from Ohio), together with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (a Democrat from Connecticut) have introduced federal legislation that would make it easier for employees to recover stolen wages. Their bill would provide for triple reimbursement as well as penalties and potential criminal charges for repeated offenses or deliberate falsification of records.

That legislation is not likely to pass anytime soon.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (a Democrat from Massachusetts) has been tireless in efforts to shame Congress into addressing white collar crime. Her report “Rigged Justice” describes the way corporate criminals “game the system, cheat families, rip off taxpayers, and even take actions that result in the death of innocent victims - all with no serious consequences."

I would happily vote for a candidate willing to address the depths of current injustice, but from what I can tell, there’s no one on my own ballot – from top to bottom – who has expressed any interest in white collar crime.

Except to engage in it.

Candidate Donald Trump was recently called out by the New York Times for a 1995 tax filing that claimed a $916 million loss. According to Business Insider, “That’s 1.9% of all the net operating losses claimed by individual income taxpayers in the US in 1995.”

Add in “a property-tax rebate on his Trump Tower penthouse through a program that is supposed to be available only to people who earn less than $500,000 a year.”

Then consider the practice of having bills paid to the Trump Foundation, rather than Trump corporations, and using that money for non-charitable purposes.  

Last week New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman instructed the foundation that its fundraising was in violation of the law and must stop immediately. The foundation has fifteen days to provide the financial audit reports it should, by law, have provided every year since 2008. Noncompliance, according to James G. Sheehan, the head of the charities bureau in the office of Attorney General, will be considered “a continuing fraud upon the people of New York.”

Fraud is also the word used in regard to Trump University. An affidavit filed by a former employee states:
Based upon my personal experience and employment, I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.
The fraud trial in New York is set for November 28. 

In Texas, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott instructed a state regulator to drop investigation into Trump University fraud despite “a solid case”; Abbot received a $35,000 campaign contribution from Trump in his subsequent successful run for governor. 

In Florida, a similar case was dropped after a $25,000 donation from the Trump Foundation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s campaign. Attorneys and papers across the country have asked for investigation into bribery. 

Fraud, bribery, tax evasion: as I said, white collar prosecutions are at an all time low, and an aggressive lawyer can do wonders in discouraging investigation.

Trump’s mentor in law and business was Roy Cohn, chief counsel for Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Until his death from AIDS in 1986, Cohn instructed Trump on the wonders of tax evasion, legal circumvention, aggressive countersuits and well-placed campaign contributions. Just weeks before his death, Cohn was disbarred for  “dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.” 
Cohn’s use of the law to bully opponents has served Trump well in his repeated, well-documented wage theft. He’s withheld payment from contractors and subcontractors, lawyers, architects, employees, even beauty pageant winners. 
Trump’s companies have also been cited for 24 violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act since 2005 for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. That includes 21 citations against the defunct Trump Plaza in Atlantic City and three against the also out-of-business Trump Mortgage LLC in New York. Both cases were resolved by the companies agreeing to pay back wages.
In addition to the lawsuits, the review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens — filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies or his properties claiming they were owed money for their work — since the 1980s. The liens range from a $75,000 claim by a Plainview, N.Y., air conditioning and heating company to a $1 million claim from the president of a New York City real estate banking firm. On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, records released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing. . . .
The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether.  
There’s a great deal of spin in this election season. It sometimes feels hard to find the truth. But the
USA Today Exclusive: Hundreds Allege
Donald Trump doesn't pay his bills
mountain of evidence on Trump’s business dealings goes back decades and includes depositions, legal documents and testimony from many he has harmed.

Trump supporters point to Hillary Clinton’s own baggage. I’m not a Clinton supporter, but the few infractions she’s accused of have yielded little evidence beyond poor judgment (in the case of the supposed email scandal), reasonable attempts to manage difficult diplomatic messaging and the painful fallout of a terrorist attack (Benghazi), and overly-zealous defense of an adulterous husband. 

My point here is not support for Clinton. She has both strengths and flaws. She's been attacked, investigated, vilified more than any person I can think of. 

My point is my own deep grief that so many would support a person who has boastfully defrauded so many.

And my longing for leaders who care - even a little - about the justice God demands. 

I’ve been reading the prophets this fall as antidote to the moral maneuvering endemic to election discourse. 

And I’ve been circling back to Leviticus and Deuteronomy as I listen to religious leaders who dare to tell me who to vote for. 

Here’s what Leviticus 19:13 says:
Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
And Deuteronomy 24:14-16
Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. 
And Amos 5:10-12:
There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth.
You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.  
And Malachi (3:5-6):
 I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty. 
There are many issues weighing in the balance this election.

I’ll be praying for justice in our courts and for wisdom about who might support that.

And I’ll be voting against candidates who aggressively, consistently deprive the poor of justice.

And yes, I know there are many who believe the most important issue in this election is selection of Supreme Court judges who will overturn, or NOT overturn, Roe v. Wade. I’ll be praying and posting about that next week.

This post is part of a continuing series on What's Your Platform 
Beyond the Party Platform July 24, 2016
A Different Way July 31, 2016 
Election Fraud and Rigged Elections, August 10, 2016 
How Long Will the Land Lie Parched? August 21, 2016 
Walls, Welcome, Mercy, Law August 28, 2016
Workers and Their Wages, Sep 3, 2016 
Educating Ourselves On Education, Sep 10, 2016 
Let's Talk, Sep 17, 2016
The Language of the Unheard, Sep 24,2016