Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, January 2, 2014 5:30 pm

Stuff I missed while having a life over the holidays, Too Big to Jail edition

It’s official: Big banks are now Too Big to Jail and therefore will never be held accountable, nor their executives jailed, under the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act:

(Assistant Attorney General Lanny) Breuer this week signed off on a settlement deal with the British banking giant HSBC that is the ultimate insult to every ordinary person who’s ever had his life altered by a narcotics charge. Despite the fact that HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels (among others) and violating a host of important banking laws (from the Bank Secrecy Act to the Trading With the Enemy Act), Breuer and his Justice Department elected not to pursue criminal prosecutions of the bank, opting instead for a “record” financial settlement of $1.9 billion, which as one analyst noted is about five weeks of income for the bank.

The banks’ laundering transactions were so brazen that the NSA probably could have spotted them from space. Breuer admitted that drug dealers would sometimes come to HSBC’s Mexican branches and “deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller windows.” …

Though this was not stated explicitly, the government’s rationale in not pursuing criminal prosecutions against the bank was apparently rooted in concerns that putting executives from a “systemically important institution” in jail for drug laundering would threaten the stability of the financial system. The New York Times put it this way:

Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the reasoning here is beyond flawed. When you decide not to prosecute bankers for billion-dollar crimes connected to drug-dealing and terrorism (some of HSBC’s Saudi and Bangladeshi clients had terrorist ties, according to a Senate investigation), it doesn’t protect the banking system, it does exactly the opposite. It terrifies investors and depositors everywhere, leaving them with the clear impression that even the most “reputable” banks may in fact be captured institutions whose senior executives are in the employ of (this can’t be repeated often enough) murderers and terrorists. Even more shocking, the Justice Department’s response to learning about all of this was to do exactly the same thing that the HSBC executives did in the first place to get themselves in trouble – they took money to look the other way.

And not only did they sell out to drug dealers, they sold out cheap. You’ll hear bragging this week by the Obama administration that they wrested a record penalty from HSBC, but it’s a joke. Some of the penalties involved will literally make you laugh out loud. This is from Breuer’s announcement:

As a result of the government’s investigation, HSBC has . . . “clawed back” deferred compensation bonuses given to some of its most senior U.S. anti-money laundering and compliance officers, and agreed to partially defer bonus compensation for its most senior officials during the five-year period of the deferred prosecution agreement.

Wow. So the executives who spent a decade laundering billions of dollars will have to partially defer their bonuses during the five-year deferred prosecution agreement? Are you [bleeping] kidding me? That’s the punishment? The government’s negotiators couldn’t hold firm on forcing HSBC officials to completely wait to receive their ill-gotten bonuses? They had to settle on making them “partially” wait? Every honest prosecutor in America has to be puking his guts out at such bargaining tactics. What was the Justice Department’s opening offer – asking executives to restrict their Caribbean vacation time to nine weeks a year?

So you might ask, what’s the appropriate financial penalty for a bank in HSBC’s position? Exactly how much money should one extract from a firm that has been shamelessly profiting from business with criminals for years and years? Remember, we’re talking about a company that has admitted to a smorgasbord of serious banking crimes. If you’re the prosecutor, you’ve got this bank by the balls. So how much money should you take?

How about all of it? How about every last dollar the bank has made since it started its illegal activity? How about you dive into every bank account of every single executive involved in this mess and take every last bonus dollar they’ve ever earned? Then take their houses, their cars, the paintings they bought at Sotheby’s auctions, the clothes in their closets, the loose change in the jars on their kitchen counters, every last freaking thing. Take it all and don’t think twice. And then throw them in jail.

Sound harsh? It does, doesn’t it? The only problem is, that’s exactly what the government does just about every day to ordinary people involved in ordinary drug cases.

It’s worth remembering, particularly for those of us who grew up along with Wachovia Bank here in North Carolina, that that bank, now part of Wells Fargo, settled with the Feds in 2010 for $110 million in forfeiture and a $50 million fine for laundering $378.4 billion — an amount equivalent to a third of Mexico’s GDP at the time. Then as now, no bank executives were charged; indeed, the bank hung its senior anti-money-laundering officer, Martin Woods, out to dry.

I get that there are good reasons (though not, in my personal opinion, a clearly convincing case) to keep, say, marijuana illegal for recreational use. But even if all laws banning marijuana use in the U.S. were scrapped today, the damage, though enormous in some individual cases, would be nowhere near the damage that is being done, right now, by decisions like this, to confidence in the U.S. finance system and, even more importantly, to the rule of law. Lanny Breuer ought to be named somewhere as an unindicted co-conspirator, at the least, and so should his boss, Attorney General Eric Holder. If Congress wants to impeach someone — and the GOP House, at least, certainly does — it could start with Holder without a peep of complaint from me as long as the charges pertained to his overwhelming failure to even try to rein in the banks during his term.

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Friday, November 8, 2013 7:11 pm

So the GOP has decided it can win the 2014 midterms by impeaching Eric Holder over “Fast & Furious.” Really.

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 7:11 pm
Tags: , ,

I agree with Steve M. at No More Mr. Nice Blog: This ought to be really entertaining:

Please do this. Please do this. John Boehner, please add this to your list of things you allow the teabagger crazies to do so they won’t be mean to you. Heritage Action? Please bankroll a large number of House and Senate candidates who vow to make this their #1 priority (after repealing Obamacare, of course).

There’s a simple reason that people who watch TV channels other than Fox News haven’t become outraged at what happened in Fast and Furious. No, they don’t think it was a good idea. No, they’re not callous about the deaths of law enforcement personnel.

The reason non-Fox-obsessed Americans have shrugged this off is that we do all sorts of things in this country to fight crime, some of them reckless and foolhardy and ill-conceived. We do stop-and-frisks and high-speed chases and SWAT raids on homes that aren’t always the intended targets. We form drug squads that sometimes get bad guys off the streets and sometimes turn cops into dealers’ accomplices. Some people get hurt who shouldn’t, and some even die; some guilty people emerge unscathed.

But we tend to define the misdeeds as crimes only when we think there was actual malice. Impeaching Holder over Fast and Furious would be, for most people, an attempt to criminalize misjudgments. People who aren’t knee-jerk wingnuts don’t want to do that.

I know: Much of the right believes that Fast and Furious was a massive conspiracy to drum up support for gun control. Yes, House Republicans, please try to sell that line to the American public. The murders of twenty schoolchildren in Connecticut didn’t lead to new gun legislation at the federal level; how the hell was this supposed to accomplish that goal?

The right’s Fast and Furious obsession exposes two aspects of wingnut insanity: conspiracy-mindedness (Obama and Holder got law enforcement personnel killed as part of a devious scheme to take away citizens’ guns!) as well as delusions of grandeur (only outrage at Fast and Furious on the part of true conservative patriots prevented this massive gun grab!).

Please try to sell that narrative to the American public next year, right-wingers. While most Americans continue to struggle in a sluggish economy, please spend weeks if not months with Eric Holder in the dock. Oh, sure, you’ll motivate your own voter base — but that will just mean that gunnier-than-thou candidates will win GOP primaries and, in some cases, lose general elections. Meanwhile, the rest of the country will see what the Republican Party’s true priorities are.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Holder has been a generally awful attorney general. But he has mainly been awful because he has been a do-nothing (those huge numbers of convicted banksters not withstanding — wait, what?), and he has been a do-nothing because that’s what his boss has wanted him to be. Blaming Holder like that is to make the same mistake as blaming James Watt, back in the day, for what were really Ronald W. Reagan’s extract-it-all-the-environment-be-damned policies. Fast & Furious was a bonehead play, but it was 1) a bonehead play that originated during the Bush administration, and 2) although a mistake, was in no way intended to lead to confiscating the guns of law-abiding Americans, for crying out loud.

If the right wing really wants to make this their 2014 centerpiece, I predict that it will make ignoring Katrina and shutting down the government look like electrifying works of staggering genius.

Friday, July 6, 2012 9:15 pm

Our current national politics in a nutshell

I’ve got tons of homework to do  in a houseful of boxes, so take it away, Charlie Pierce:

It was about midway through the completely predictable impeachment of Bill Clinton when I decided that the most fundamentally obsolete question that could be asked concerning anything in American politics any more was, “They really couldn’t do that, could they?” This has held me in good stead ever since, especially while observing the behavior of conservative lawmakers. I watched the entire country turn against them in public revulsion during the prolonged Terri Schiavo fiasco and knew good and well that they were going to chase that “issue” right over the cliff. So, as this whole pursuit of Eric Holder has gathered speed, I had no doubt in my mind at all that, sooner or later, he was going to be the first cabinet official ever held in contempt of Congress, and that it didn’t matter that the cheapjack grifter Darrell Issa already has said he doesn’t think that any crimes were committed, or that the White House was in any way involved, or that Fortune magazine pretty much blew up the raison d’etre for the whole business over the weekend. I just assumed, based on long experience, that, once they opened the ball on Eric Holder, they weren’t going to stop until they got at least a piece of what they wanted. This isn’t because they’re reckless partisans. It’s because they’re f—ing vandals who have the votes. …

Out in front of the capitol, assistant Democratic leader Jim Clyburn had just finished saying, “This is not about oversight. This is about overkill. This is about this committee honoring its precedent of what happens no matter which Republican is chairing it. This is Dan Burton, who was going after Ron Brown because of stuff he made up. Now it’s Chairman Issa, going after Attorney General Holder over stuff he made up.”

You will note that Clyburn didn’t cite Bill Clinton, Burton’s major target back in the day, but the late Ron Brown, another African-American cabinet member. Clyburn’s meaning could not have been clearer.

Because Barack Obama got elected president, see, so we live in a postracial society and nothing is about race anymore.

Here at this end of the I-85/95 corridor, I had hoped Pat McCrory might be different. But his determination to continue working for a politically connected law firm — not as a lawyer, mind — for what seems like an awful lot of money for a nonlawyer job and without telling us what he’s doing for that money, stinks to high heaven. And the more I hear of him, the less likely I think he is to even try to stand up to the sociopaths in the legislature who couldn’t be bothered to compensate the people we illegally castrated not so horribly long ago (and that, of course, was not about race, either), let alone push policies that really will enhance the general welfare. Even if he isn’t a fundamentalist whackjob — and I realize this may come as a shock to some folks from outside North Carolina, but not all Republicans here are — he probably is going to support the decades-old campaign by the GOP to transfer and concentrate wealth upward. That’s brought us double-digit unemployment nationally, even more so here in the Old North State, and that shit has to stop.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010 6:37 am

Criminal cover-up

Former federal prosecutor bmaz rounds up some of the documented misconduct in the Deepwater Horizon case:

The failed blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had a hydraulic leak and a dead battery in one of its control pods, and testing in the hours before an April 20 explosion revealed that pressure in the well was dangerously out of whack.

While some data were being transmitted to shore for safekeeping right up until the April 20 blast, officials from Transocean, the rig owner, told Congress that the last seven hours of its data are missing and that all written logs were lost in the explosion.

Heavy drilling fluid was unconscionably replaced with lighter seawater against industry standards just prior to the blowout. Over heated objections by experts on the scene, BP management supervisors overruled drillers, and insisted on displacing the mud with seawater

The broken blow out preventer had not been inspected in over five years.

BP was in a severe economic and time crunch to finish the job quickly and were over six weeks behind schedule.

Immediately leading up to the explosion, BP used procedures that violated their own drill plan; and in spite of indications of a “very large abnormality,” kept testing until they got something they could disingenuously claim fulfilled the test.

BP management supervisors refused to run the comprehensive cement bond log test, a definitive test of the integrity of a well’s cement mandated by Federal Regulations if there are concerns with the results of negative and positive pressure tests like were clearly present.

The BP management official on Deepwater Horizon making the unconscionable decisions, over the vehement objections of seasoned drilling experts, Robert Kaluzza has refused to testify by invoking his 5th Amendment criminal right against self incrimination.

BP officials aboard the rig wanted to skip required pressure tests and tried to impose a drilling plan sent directly from BP’s Houston headquarters that had not been approved, as required, by the federal government’s Minerals Management Service.

bmaz then lays out the elements of the crimes of violating the U.S. Clean Water Act and manslaughter and adds:

It is hard, if not impossible, to find any way that the conduct of both BP and its key decision making officials responsible for the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, and corresponding mass loss of life, do not fit within the ambit of the above crimes. Why has the Obama Administration and its DOJ not acted? Why is there not a dedicated criminal investigation open and securing critical evidence?

As best as can be ascertained, the only real DOJ Main [i.e., Justice Department officials from Washington headquarters — Lex] assets sent to the Gulf scene are Tony West and Ignacia Moreno, the talking heads for the Civil Division and Environmental Divisions respectively, a tasking that screams of a total coddle-the-petroleum-industry-and-manage-the-fallout move, not a get-tough criminal consideration.

The DOJ could also be using the Texas Refinery Fire probation case that BP is still under the court’s jurisdiction for from their 2007 felony conviction as an easy investigatory and prosecutorial tool; but the DOJ will not even address the thought, much less act on it.

Why?

The Obama Administration and its DOJ owes the citizens a better effort than they have mustered to date. It is funny they are out trying to prosecute Guantanamo defense attorneys for doing their jobs and are still hell bent to persecute inconsequential marijuana crimes, but have no burning desire to go hard after BP, the biggest environmental criminal in history. How can that be?

Ooh! Ooh! I know this one!

“Because Guantanamo defense attorneys and inconsequential possessors of marijuana do not make the kind of political contributions on which both major parties depend.”

Impeach the SOB.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 8:09 pm

Look back in anger

Filed under: Deport these treason monkeys!,Evil — Lex @ 8:09 pm
Tags: , ,

President Obama has said he doesn’t want to focus on the past when it comes to prosecuting torturers. But focusing on the past when it comes to Bush-era whistleblowers? Oh, man, he’ll do that all day. Jackass.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 6:10 am

Shorter Kit Bond: “Waaaaaaahhhhh! I’m going home!”

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 6:10 am
Tags: , , ,

The Republicans in the Senate Intelligence Committee having taken to their fainting couches because the attorney general is apparently going to at least pretend to, you know, uphold the law and stuff:

Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said Friday that they will no longer participate in an investigation into the Bush administration’s interrogation policies, arguing that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s decision to reexamine allegations of detainee abuse by the CIA would hobble any inquiry.

The intelligence committee launched a review in March of CIA interrogations of high-value detainees such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who describes himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Senate staffers are poring over hundreds of thousands of classified documents to probe the history and effectiveness of the CIA program, as well as congressional oversight of agency practices.

Last month, Holder appointed a career prosecutor to review allegations of detainee abuse by CIA operatives, but he stressed that neither the review nor any full investigation, should it follow, means that criminal charges are inevitable.

“Had Mr. Holder honored the pledge made by the President to look forward, not backwards, we would still be active participants in the Committee’s review,” the ranking Republican on the intelligence panel, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, said in a statement. “What current or former CIA employee would be willing to gamble his freedom by answering the Committee’s questions? Indeed, forcing these terror fighters to make this choice is neither fair nor just.”

Kit, I’m a lot less worried about current or former CIA employees gambling their freedom by answering Senate questions than I am about their gambling their freedom by, well, torturing people and all. And here’s a clue: You should be, too, nitwit.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 8:53 pm

Investigating torture

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:53 pm
Tags: , , , ,

At long last, Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to appoint a prosecutor to determine whether roughly a dozen previously closed cases in which CIA employees or contractors may have broken the law should be reopened.

That’s the good news. But the Washington Post also says:

[Career Justice Department prosecutor John] Durham’s mandate, the sources added, will be relatively narrow: to look at whether there is enough evidence to launch a full-scale criminal investigation of current and former CIA personnel who may have broken the law in their dealings with detainees.

And that’s the bad news. Because we didn’t abuse and torture prisoners, threaten to kill their children and carry out mock executions, in a vacuum. The individuals responsible did what they did because they received direction from the highest levels of government and fraudulent assurances from John Yoo and Henry Bybee that what they were doing didn’t somehow violate U.S. law, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other laws.

(Durham, by the way, is the same guy who’s investigating the disappearance of CIA videotapes of interrogation sessions.)

There was, in other words, a conspiracy that, according to a boatload of information already in the public record, extended all the way up to the President of the United States. And conspiracy to torture is punishable by the same sentence (except for the death penalty in cases in which the victim died) as the crime of torture itself.

Mr. Durham needs to conduct a fair and full investigation, following the evidence where it might lead (including, if need be, the administrations preceding and following George W. Bush’s), letting himself be guided by the fact that no one can be above the law if our country is to survive.

* * *

Relatedly, censored versions have been released of the CIA reports that former Vice President Dick Cheney claimed would prove that torture had been justified because it prevented terrorism. (Those documents are here.) I’ve scanned them, and my immediate reaction is that despite what Cheney claims, they don’t prove anything either way. Oh, they say that the fruits of interrogation in general were certainly helpful, but not all the helpful interrogation involved torture or was in any other way illegal. Perhaps the uncensored versions would shed more light one way or the other. I don’t know.

UPDATE: Although Cheney’s defenders insist the documents imply that torture worked, former Homeland Security adviser Frances Frago Townsend concedes that though that might indeed be the case, the documents — which, remember, Cheney said would prove torture worked — don’t actually say that.

Saturday, July 11, 2009 8:21 pm

Oh, please, oh, please …

I’ll grant right up front that the odds of this happening at all aren’t great and the odds of its happening to the extent that I would like it to are probably nil. But if you’re a law-and-order conservative, this bit of information about Attorney General Eric Holder should warm the cockles of your heart:

Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do. While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter. Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama’s domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. Holder knows all this, and he has been wrestling with the question for months. “I hope that whatever decision I make would not have a negative impact on the president’s agenda,” he says. “But that can’t be a part of my decision.”

Do it, Eric, do it. And that prosecutor needs to follow the trail wherever it leads, to Republicans and Democrats alike, to those who carried out torture and those who ordered it and those who could have intervened but instead stood by and let it happen. Document the crimes. Prosecute the criminals. Atone for this national sin.

One other thought, about the political ramifications: Obama’s biggest political problem so far hasn’t been Republicans, although they certainly have been a problem. It has been the disappointment of his own base, who have felt let down by Obama’s failure to embrace not just their own ambitious agenda but even some issues on which Obama himself campaigned (e.g., open government).

That’s even more the case for the Democratically-controlled Congress, whose low approval ratings are directly attributable to the disappointment of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. (Moving to the left isn’t going to make Congress any more unpopular with Republicans than it already is because that would be pretty much impossible.)

In any event, this isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human rights and the rule of law. It’s about ensuring that we haven’t walked, and will never walk, away from the honorable standards we set at Nuremberg.

It’s about doing the right thing. Politics be damned.

UPDATE: And while you’re at it, Mr. Attorney General …

After a mass killing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war by the forces of an American-backed warlord during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Bush administration officials repeatedly discouraged efforts to investigate the episode, according to government officials and human rights organizations.

American officials had been reluctant to pursue an investigation — sought by officials from the F.B.I., the State Department, the Red Cross and human rights groups — because the warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the payroll of the C.I.A. and his militia worked closely with United States Special Forces in 2001, several officials said. They said the United States also worried about undermining the American-supported government of President Hamid Karzai, in which General Dostum had served as a defense official.

“At the White House, nobody said no to an investigation, but nobody ever said yes, either,” said Pierre Prosper, the former American ambassador for war crimes issues. “The first reaction of everybody there was, ‘Oh, this is a sensitive issue; this is a touchy issue politically.’ ”

Previously.

UPDATE: Here‘s part of the reason why I don’t think much will come of this.

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