Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Obama: There aren't two sets of rules, "one for prominent folks and one for ordinary folks".

Barack Obama is saying that he "screwed up" over the nomination of Tom Daschle, who was forced to withdraw his nomination from a cabinet post because of unpaid taxes, but it's the reasoning he gives for why his screw up is unacceptable that I find most interesting.

"I screwed up,'' he said in one interview with NBC. "It's important for this administration to send a message that there aren't two sets of rules you know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.

"I'm frustrated with myself, with our team. ... I'm here on television saying I screwed up."

That's the very reason why people like myself keep harping on that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others must be prosecuted. There aren't two sets of rules, "one for prominent folks and one for ordinary folks".

And it's not as if the US is shy about prosecuting "ordinary folks".

The United States accounts for 5% of the world's population and yet has close to 25% of the world's prisoner population. And the people who insist on the mandatory sentencing which accounts for this figure are the political class of the United States.

Under federal law, "the simple possession of just 5 grams of crack cocaine, the weight of about two sugar packets, subjects a defendant to a mandatory five-year prison term." In Alabama, the average sentence for marijuana possession -- an offense for which most Western countries almost never imprison their citizens -- is 8.4 years. Until recently, the state of Florida "impose[d] mandatory-minimum sentences of 25 years for illegally carrying a pillbox-worth of drugs such as Oxycontin" and still imposes shockingly Draconian mandatory sentences even for marijuana offenses.

Our political class has embraced mandatory minimum sentencing schemes as a way to eliminate mercy and sentencing flexibility for ordinary people who break the law (as opposed to Bush officials who do). The advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums details just some of the grotesque injustices here, including decades of imprisonment for petty drug dealing which even many judges who are forced to impose the sentences find disgraceful. Currently in the U.S., close to 7,000 people are serving sentences of 25 years to life under our merciless "three-strikes-and-out" laws -- which the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional in a 5-4 ruling -- including half for nonviolent offenses and many for petty theft.

So the law, as it's applied to "ordinary folks" is rather draconian in the United States, I would go as far as to say it borders on merciless.

The very fact that Bush and Cheney are on the record admitting to having authorised war crimes, and that there is even a debate over whether or not they should be prosecuted, shows that there are two sets of rules, "one for prominent folks and one for ordinary folks".

No other criminal could confess - nay, boast - of his crimes on national television and expect prosecution not to automatically follow. And yet I have friends who think it would "be too left wing" for Obama to instigate prosecutions against Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Somewhere, deep in our psyche, we accept that there are two sets of rules, "one for prominent folks and one for ordinary folks". But we shouldn't.

And, if Obama means what he says, he's in a unique position to show us that those two sets of rules don't exist. If any group of people deserve prosecution, then war criminals should feature near the top of any rational persons list.

Click title for full article.


Steel Phoenix said...

The state of the legal system is an embarrassment. That we still put people in cages and dungeons for misbehavior is a sign that we have stopped trying and caring.

Kel said...

It's the three strikes and you're out rule which I find most astonishing.