"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Two Tiered System Of Justice’

Rise Up Or Die

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Oldspeak: “A handful of corporate oligarchs around the globe have everything—wealth, power and privilege—and the rest of us struggle as part of a vast underclass, increasingly impoverished and ruthlessly repressed. There is one set of laws and regulations for us; there is another set of laws and regulations for a power elite that functions as a global mafia…. We stand helpless before the corporate onslaught. There is no way to vote against corporate power. Citizens have no way to bring about the prosecution of Wall Street bankers and financiers for fraud, military and intelligence officials for torture and war crimes, or security and surveillance officers for human rights abuses. The Federal Reserve is reduced to printing money for banks and financiers and lending it to them at almost zero percent interest; corporate officers then lend it to us at usurious rates as high as 30 percent. I do not know what to call this system. It is certainly not capitalism. Extortion might be a better word. The fossil fuel industry, meanwhile, relentlessly trashes the ecosystem for profit. The melting of 40 percent of the summer Arctic sea ice is, to corporations, a business opportunity. Companies rush to the Arctic and extract the last vestiges of oil, natural gas, minerals and fish stocks, indifferent to the death pangs of the planet. The same corporate forces that give us endless soap operas that pass for news, from the latest court proceedings surrounding O.J. Simpson to the tawdry details of the Jodi Arias murder trial, also give us atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide that surpass 400 parts per million. They entrance us with their electronic hallucinations as we waiver, as paralyzed with fear…There is nothing in 5,000 years of economic history to justify the belief that human societies should structure their behavior around the demands of the marketplace. This is an absurd, utopian ideology. The airy promises of the market economy have, by now, all been exposed as lies. The ability of corporations to migrate overseas has decimated our manufacturing base. It has driven down wages, impoverishing our working class and ravaging our middle class. It has forced huge segments of the population—including those burdened by student loans—into decades of debt peonage. It has also opened the way to massive tax shelters that allow companies such as General Electric to pay no income tax. Corporations employ virtual slave labor in Bangladesh and China, making obscene profits. As corporations suck the last resources from communities and the natural world, they leave behind, as Joe Sacco and I saw in the sacrifice zones we wrote about, horrific human suffering and dead landscapes. The greater the destruction, the greater the apparatus crushes dissent... Rebel. Even if you fail, even if we all fail, we will have asserted against the corporate forces of exploitation and death our ultimate dignity as human beings. We will have defended what is sacred. Rebellion means steadfast defiance. It means resisting just as have Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, just as has Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radical journalist whom Cornel West, James Cone and I visited in prison last week in Frackville, Pa. It means refusing to succumb to fear. It means refusing to surrender, even if you find yourself, like Manning and Abu-Jamal, caged like an animal. It means saying no. To remain safe, to remain “innocent” in the eyes of the law in this moment in history is to be complicit in a monstrous evil.” –Chris Hedges

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

Joe Sacco and I spent two years reporting from the poorest pockets of the United States for our book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” We went into our nation’s impoverished “sacrifice zones”—the first areas forced to kneel before the dictates of the marketplace—to show what happens when unfettered corporate capitalism and ceaseless economic expansion no longer have external impediments. We wanted to illustrate what unrestrained corporate exploitation does to families, communities and the natural world. We wanted to challenge the reigning ideology of globalization and laissez-faire capitalism to illustrate what life becomes when human beings and the ecosystem are ruthlessly turned into commodities to exploit until exhaustion or collapse. And we wanted to expose as impotent the formal liberal and governmental institutions that once made reform possible, institutions no longer equipped with enough authority to check the assault of corporate power.

What has taken place in these sacrifice zones—in postindustrial cities such as Camden, N.J., and Detroit, in coalfields of southern West Virginia where mining companies blast off mountaintops, in Indian reservations where the demented project of limitless economic expansion and exploitation worked some of its earliest evil, and in produce fields where laborers often endure conditions that replicate slavery—is now happening to much of the rest of the country. These sacrifice zones succumbed first. You and I are next.

Corporations write our legislation. They control our systems of information. They manage the political theater of electoral politics and impose our educational curriculum. They have turned the judiciary into one of their wholly owned subsidiaries. They have decimated labor unions and other independent mass organizations, as well as having bought off the Democratic Party, which once defended the rights of workers. With the evisceration of piecemeal and incremental reform—the primary role of liberal, democratic institutions—we are left defenseless against corporate power.

The Department of Justice seizure of two months of records of phone calls to and from editors and reporters at The Associated Press is the latest in a series of dramatic assaults against our civil liberties. The DOJ move is part of an effort to hunt down the government official or officials who leaked information to the AP about the foiling of a plot to blow up a passenger jet. Information concerning phones of Associated Press bureaus in New York, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn., as well as the home and mobile phones of editors and reporters, was secretly confiscated. This, along with measures such as the use of the Espionage Act against whistle-blowers, will put a deep freeze on all independent investigations into abuses of government and corporate power.

Seizing the AP phone logs is part of the corporate state’s broader efforts to silence all voices that defy the official narrative, the state’s Newspeak, and hide from public view the inner workings, lies and crimes of empire. The person or persons who provided the classified information to the AP will, if arrested, mostly likely be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. That law was never intended when it was instituted in 1917 to silence whistle-blowers. And from 1917 until Barack Obama took office in 2009 it was employed against whistle-blowers only three times, the first time against Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The Espionage Act has been used six times by the Obama administration against government whistle-blowers, including Thomas Drake.

The government’s fierce persecution of the press—an attack pressed by many of the governmental agencies that are arrayed against WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and activists such as Jeremy Hammond—dovetails with the government’s use of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force to carry out the assassination of U.S. citizens; of the FISA Amendments Act, which retroactively makes legal what under our Constitution was once illegal—the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of tens of millions of U.S. citizens; and of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which permits the government to have the military seize U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them in indefinite detention. These measures, taken together, mean there are almost no civil liberties left.

A handful of corporate oligarchs around the globe have everything—wealth, power and privilege—and the rest of us struggle as part of a vast underclass, increasingly impoverished and ruthlessly repressed. There is one set of laws and regulations for us; there is another set of laws and regulations for a power elite that functions as a global mafia.

We stand helpless before the corporate onslaught. There is no way to vote against corporate power. Citizens have no way to bring about the prosecution of Wall Street bankers and financiers for fraud, military and intelligence officials for torture and war crimes, or security and surveillance officers for human rights abuses. The Federal Reserve is reduced to printing money for banks and financiers and lending it to them at almost zero percent interest; corporate officers then lend it to us at usurious rates as high as 30 percent. I do not know what to call this system. It is certainly not capitalism. Extortion might be a better word. The fossil fuel industry, meanwhile, relentlessly trashes the ecosystem for profit. The melting of 40 percent of the summer Arctic sea ice is, to corporations, a business opportunity. Companies rush to the Arctic and extract the last vestiges of oil, natural gas, minerals and fish stocks, indifferent to the death pangs of the planet. The same corporate forces that give us endless soap operas that pass for news, from the latest court proceedings surrounding O.J. Simpson to the tawdry details of the Jodi Arias murder trial, also give us atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide that surpass 400 parts per million. They entrance us with their electronic hallucinations as we waiver, as paralyzed with fear as Odysseus’ sailors, between Scylla and Charybdis.

There is nothing in 5,000 years of economic history to justify the belief that human societies should structure their behavior around the demands of the marketplace. This is an absurd, utopian ideology. The airy promises of the market economy have, by now, all been exposed as lies. The ability of corporations to migrate overseas has decimated our manufacturing base. It has driven down wages, impoverishing our working class and ravaging our middle class. It has forced huge segments of the population—including those burdened by student loans—into decades of debt peonage. It has also opened the way to massive tax shelters that allow companies such as General Electric to pay no income tax. Corporations employ virtual slave labor in Bangladesh and China, making obscene profits. As corporations suck the last resources from communities and the natural world, they leave behind, as Joe Sacco and I saw in the sacrifice zones we wrote about, horrific human suffering and dead landscapes. The greater the destruction, the greater the apparatus crushes dissent.

More than 100 million Americans—one-third of the population—live in poverty or a category called “near poverty.” Yet the stories of the poor and the near poor, the hardships they endure, are rarely told by a media that is owned by a handful of corporations—Viacom, General Electric, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Clear Channel and Disney. The suffering of the underclass, like the crimes of the power elite, has been rendered invisible.

In the Lakota Indian reservation at Pine Ridge, S.D., in the United States’ second poorest county, the average life expectancy for a male is 48. This is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti. About 60 percent of the Pine Ridge dwellings, many of which are sod huts, lack electricity, running water, adequate insulation or sewage systems. In the old coal camps of southern West Virginia, amid poisoned air, soil and water, cancer is an epidemic. There are few jobs. And the Appalachian Mountains, which provide the headwaters for much of the Eastern Seaboard, are dotted with enormous impoundment ponds filled with heavy metals and toxic sludge. In order to breathe, children go to school in southern West Virginia clutching inhalers. Residents trapped in the internal colonies of our blighted cities endure levels of poverty and violence, as well as mass incarceration, that leave them psychologically and emotionally shattered. And the nation’s agricultural workers, denied legal protection, are often forced to labor in conditions of unpaid bondage. This is the terrible algebra of corporate domination. This is where we are all headed. And in this accelerated race to the bottom we will end up as serfs or slaves.

Rebel. Even if you fail, even if we all fail, we will have asserted against the corporate forces of exploitation and death our ultimate dignity as human beings. We will have defended what is sacred. Rebellion means steadfast defiance. It means resisting just as have Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, just as has Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radical journalist whom Cornel West, James Cone and I visited in prison last week in Frackville, Pa. It means refusing to succumb to fear. It means refusing to surrender, even if you find yourself, like Manning and Abu-Jamal, caged like an animal. It means saying no. To remain safe, to remain “innocent” in the eyes of the law in this moment in history is to be complicit in a monstrous evil. In his poem of resistance, “If We Must Die,” Claude McKay knew that the odds were stacked against African-Americans who resisted white supremacy. But he also knew that resistance to tyranny saves our souls. McKay wrote:

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

It is time to build radical mass movements that defy all formal centers of power and make concessions to none. It is time to employ the harsh language of open rebellion and class warfare. It is time to march to the beat of our own drum. The law historically has been a very imperfect tool for justice, as African-Americans know, but now it is exclusively the handmaiden of our corporate oppressors; now it is a mechanism of injustice. It was our corporate overlords who launched this war. Not us. Revolt will see us branded as criminals. Revolt will push us into the shadows. And yet, if we do not revolt we can no longer use the word “hope.”

Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” grasps the dark soul of global capitalism. We are all aboard the doomed ship Pequod, a name connected to an Indian tribe eradicated by genocide, and Ahab is in charge. “All my means are sane,” Ahab says, “my motive and my object mad.” We are sailing on a maniacal voyage of self-destruction, and no one in a position of authority, even if he or she sees what lies ahead, is willing or able to stop it. Those on the Pequod who had a conscience, including Starbuck, did not have the courage to defy Ahab. The ship and its crew were doomed by habit, cowardice and hubris. Melville’s warning must become ours. Rise up or die.

 

Advertisements

Overcriminalization Begets Stop & Frisk-Gate: New York’s Police Union Worked With the NYPD To Illegally Set Arrest And Summons Quotas

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm

https://electedface.com/images/Artical_Images/6%20stop%20and%20frisk.jpgOldspeak: “Behold! The fruits of Prison Industrial Complex Overcriminalization! Specific targeting of communities of color for “Law Enforcement”, like suspicion-less stop and frisks, bogus arrests and baseless summonses to meet “performance goals”.  All while the police union denies it’s even happening. At a time when crime in NYC is at record lows, police are still being pressured to make more arrests and issue more summonses, mostly to people who’ve done nothing wrong.   Not meeting “activity goals” = bad cop. This opens them up to various forms of retaliation and punishment. Why?  The Prison Industrial Complex needs fuel to keep stay in business, grow larger and larger with profits. That fuel must be extracted at all costs.  Poor people of color are its fuel.  It is why more black men are in prison now, than were slaves in 1865. It’s why black and brown people are overrepresented in the U.S. prison system.  It’s why brown people are being stopped, seized, detained and deported at historic rates. It is why America accounts for 5% of world population, but close to 25% of the worlds prison population and imprisons more people than any nation on earth. Law enforcement and mass incarceration is big business in America. And rank and file officers sadly are stuck in the middle.  Being encouraged by superiors to make bogus stops, arrests and summons at the end of their shifts to collect overtime, thus engaging in fraud to meet “activity goals” and make more money. Being forced to act unlawfully and untruthfully to keep ‘the numbers game’ going.  You can bet that this practice is not particular to New York. This revelation should provide powerful grounds for stopping NYPD’s racist and illegal Stop and Frisk policy.”

Related Stories:

AUDIO: New York’s Police Union Worked With the NYPD to Set Arrest and Summons Quotas.

Stopped-and-Frisked: ‘For Being a Fucking Mutt’ [VIDEO]

The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy

By Ross Tuttle @ The Nation:

Audio obtained by The Nation confirms an instance of New York City’s police union cooperating with the NYPD in setting arrest quotas for the department’s officers. According to some officers and critics of quotas, the practice has played a direct role in increasing the number of stop-and-frisk encounters since Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to office. Patrolmen who spoke to The Nation explained that the pressure from superiors to meet quota goals has caused some officers to seek out or even manufacture arrests to avoid department retaliation.

The audio could be included as evidence in the landmark federal class action lawsuit Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al., which opened yesterday in US District Court for New York’s Southern District and which was brought forward by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The audio, recorded in 2009 by officer Adhyl Polanco, is part of a series of recordings originally released to the media that year, and a selection first aired on WABC-TV in 2010. But WABC-TV used only a small portion of the recordings, and did not air the union representative’s explosive admission.

“I spoke to the CO [commanding officer] for about an hour-and-a-half,” the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association delegate says in the audio recording, captured at a Bronx precinct roll call meeting. “twenty-and-one. Twenty-and-one is what the union is backing up…. They spoke to the [Union] trustees. And that’s what they want, they want 20-and-1.”

“Twenty-and-one means twenty summonses and one arrest a month,” says a veteran NYPD officer who listened to the recording, and who spoke to The Nation on the condition of anonymity. Summonses can range from parking violations, to moving violations, to criminal court summonses for infractions such as open container or public urination.

“It’s a quota, and they [the Union] agreed to it,” says the officer. “It’s crazy.”

“Many officers feel pressure to meet their numbers to get the rewards that their commanding officer is giving out,” says John Eterno, a former police captain and co-author of The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation. But if an officer’s union delegate is also pushing the numbers, “this puts inordinate pressure on officers, getting it from the top down and getting it from the union.”

The plaintiffs in the Floyd case allege that the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy results in unconstitutional stops based on racial-profiling. The department’s emphasis on bringing in arrest and summons numbers has caused officers to carry out suspicion-less stops in communities of color.

As Polanco explained in court today, his superiors would often push him to carry out this specific number of summons and arrest stops per month:  “20-and-1, they were very clear, it’s non-negotiable, you’re gonna do it, or you’re gonna become a Pizza Hut delivery man.”

“There’s always been some pressure to get arrests and summonses,” says Eterno. “But now it’s become the overwhelming management style of the department. It has become a numbers game. They have lost the ability to see that communities are dissatisfied with this type of policing, especially minority communities. They are the ones being overly burdened for doing the same sorts of things that kids in middle-class neighborhoods are doing—only they’re getting records because officers have to make these arrests.”

When asked for comment, Al O’Leary, a spokesperson for the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, said: “The PBA has been consistently and firmly opposed to quotas for police activities including arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisks. These are all effective tools for maintaining order when they are left to the discretion of individual police officers but become problematic when officers are forced to meet quotas. This union has sought and obtained changes to state law making quotas for all police activities illegal. We have sued and forced an individual commanding officer to stop the use of illegal quotas and will continue to be vigilant and vocal in our opposition to police activity quotas.”

* * *

Physical evidence has periodically surfaced of the existence of numerical arrest targets for NYPD officers, though arrest and summons quotas for police have been illegal in New York State since 2010. Precinct commanders defend their right to set productivity goals for their staff—but what the department defines as productivity goals can have the force of quotas when officers are subject to retaliation for not meeting them.

Cops who have spoken to The Nation say that retaliation can take many forms, including denied overtime; change of squads and days off that can disrupt family obligations like taking children to school or daycare; transfers to boroughs far from home in order to increase their commute and the amount they’ll have to pay in tolls; and low evaluation scores.

Officers even reported being forced to carry out unwarranted stops to fulfill the summons and arrest numbers. In a second recording obtained by The Nation, a captain addressing a roll call in the same Bronx precinct illustrated how such retaliation plays out.

“When the chief came in…[he] said: ‘you know what, you really can’t reduce crime much more, the guys are doing a great job,’” the captain can be heard saying in the rough audio. “[He] said that we can…get some of our people who aren’t chipping in to go to some locations [where we are] having problems, and give them [the area’s residents] the business…”

The recording continues: “That’s all we’re asking you to do, that’s all, that’s all. And if we do that, everyone chips in, it’s fine. It’s really nonnegotiable. ’Cause if you don’t do it now, I’m gonna have you work with the boss to make sure it happens.”

“If you don’t meet the quota, they will find [activity] for you,” another veteran officer explained to The Nation. “The sergeant will put you in his car and drive you around until whatever he sees he will stop and tell you to make an arrest or write a summons, even if you didn’t observe what he said it was.”

Sometimes these are legitimate stops, but other times, they’re bogus: “The sergeant told me to write two minorities for blocking pedestrian traffic,” the anonymous officer said, “but they were not blocking pedestrian traffic.”

The pressure for numbers, say cops, is unrelenting, and it’s leading to high anxiety and low morale. And that the union, an organization that is supposed to have officers’ interests at heart, is involved in the setting of quotas is mystifying, says one cop.

It’s all the more problematic given the union’s very vocal and public stance against quotas, such as in their ad campaign, “Don’t Blame The Cop,” which tries to engender sympathy for the officers who are pressured to write tickets and arrest motorists. “Blame NYPD management,” it says.

This development also signals to officers that there is one fewer place they can go to register their concern about departmental policy and practice. “I feel foolish for having gone to my [union] delegate with my complaints,” says one officer who has been unsettled by the continued pressure to meet quotas.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Adhyl Polanco, the officer who recorded the audio and first brought it to the attention of the press, has since had charges brought against him by the department for writing false reports—the same false reports he pointed out to the department’s Internal Affairs office as evidence of the quota system. Polanco maintains these and other charges against him and other officers who have spoken out are evidence that the department is retaliating against him and others for blowing the whistle.

The NYPD has just surpassed 5 million stop-and-frisks during the Bloomberg era. Most stops have been of people of color, and the overwhelming majority were found innocent of any wrongdoing, according to the department’s own statistics. And though the number of stops may have gone down recently—as pressure on the department and increased awareness of the policy has officers and supervisors thinking twice about how they employ the practice—the existence of quotas ensures that New Yorkers will continue to be harassed unnecessarily by the NYPD.

“The way I think about it,” says a patrolman, “is, say a fireman is told by a supervisor, we need you to put out fifteen fires this month. And if you don’t put out fifteen fires you’re gonna get penalized for it. So if he doesn’t find fifteen fires to put out, is that his fault? It’s not. But the fireman might even go out there and start setting fires, causing fires, just so he’s not penalized or looks bad…. And that’s kind of what the police officers are doing.”

What are the plaintiffs in the Floyd v. City of New York case fighting against? Watch the exclusive video of a stop-and-frisk encounter gone wrong.

Editor’s note: This piece has been edited since publication to reflect the response of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. Voices in the above video have been altered to protect the identities of the officers interviewed.

You Can Go To Jail For Walking Between Subway Cars. No Jail For HSBC After Laundering 800 Million For Drug Cartels & Al-Qaeda

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2012 at 4:13 pm

https://i2.wp.com/i.ytimg.com/vi/B7EGhw1-Q54/0.jpgOldspeak: “The banking corporation HSBC has escaped indictment for laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and groups linked to al-Qaeda. Despite evidence of wrongdoing, the U.S. Department of Justice has allowed the bank to avoid prosecution and pay a $1.9 billion fine. No top HSBC officials will face charges, either.” –Amy GoodmanWhen your most elite, most powerful members of the society adopt a strategy of plundering, then they will develop a morality that doesn’t simply permit plundering, but valorizes it. And when that happens, the moral structures of the society will inevitably deteriorate. In the upper classes that leads to polite looting. In the under classes that leads to street looting. –William K. Black  This is the nature of Inverted Totalitarian Kleptocracy. Blatant, rampant and repeated, spectacular violations of the law by those in the “inner party” go unpunished.  Brutal, unyielding, heavy handed, clinical enforcement of the law for those in the “outer party” and “proles” for the most ridiculously dubious “laws”.  HSBC joins an impressive list, Bank Of America, Citigroup, Wachovia, Wells Fargo, all found to be laundering money for illegal foreign organizations. Why is HSBC laundering money for known affiliates of terrorists? How is this organization not guilty of “material support for terrorism”, for which untold Muslims and anti-government activists are disappeared regularly? And no one goes to jail. As long as corporations fiance elected officials, write regulations and the legislation that establishes regulations, madness like this will continue. And get worse.

By Matt Taibbi @ Rolling Stone:

If you’ve ever been arrested on a drug charge, if you’ve ever spent even a day in jail for having a stem of marijuana in your pocket or “drug paraphernalia” in your gym bag, Assistant Attorney General and longtime Bill Clinton pal Lanny Breuer has a message for you: Bite me.

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.”

This bears repeating: in order to more efficiently move as much illegal money as possible into the “legitimate” banking institution HSBC, drug dealers specifically designed boxes to fit through the bank’s teller windows. Tony Montana’s henchmen marching dufflebags of cash into the fictional “American City Bank” in Miami was actually more subtle than what the cartels were doing when they washed their cash through one of Britain’s most storied financial institutions.

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) murderersand 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 fucking 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’d be interesting, for instance, to ask the residents of Tenaha, Texas what they think about the HSBC settlement. That’s the town where local police routinely pulled over (mostly black) motorists and, whenever they found cash, offered motorists a choice: They could either allow police to seize the money, or face drug and money laundering charges.

Or we could ask Anthony Smelley, the Indiana resident who won $50,000 in a car accident settlement and was carrying about $17K of that in cash in his car when he got pulled over. Cops searched his car and had drug dogs sniff around: The dogs alerted twice. No drugs were found, but police took the money anyway. Even after Smelley produced documentation proving where he got the money from, Putnam County officials tried to keep the money on the grounds that he could have used the cash to buy drugs in the future.

Seriously, that happened. It happens all the time, and even Lanny Breuer’s own Justice Deparment gets into the act. In 2010 alone, U.S. Attorneys’ offices deposited nearly $1.8 billion into government accounts as a result of forfeiture cases, most of them drug cases. You can see the Justice Department’s own statistics right here:

 Justice Department’s own statistics
Justice Department

If you get pulled over in America with cash and the government even thinks it’s drug money, that cash is going to be buying your local sheriff or police chief a new Ford Expedition tomorrow afternoon.

And that’s just the icing on the cake. The real prize you get for interacting with a law enforcement officer, if you happen to be connected in any way with drugs, is a preposterous, outsized criminal penalty. Right here in New York, one out of every seven cases that ends up in court is a marijuana case.

Just the other day, while Breuer was announcing his slap on the wrist for the world’s most prolific drug-launderers, I was in arraignment court in Brooklyn watching how they deal with actual people. A public defender explained the absurdity of drug arrests in this city. New York actually has fairly liberal laws about pot – police aren’t supposed to bust you if you possess the drug in private. So how do police work around that to make 50,377 pot-related arrests in a single year, just in this city? Tthat was 2010; the 2009 number was 46,492.)

“What they do is, they stop you on the street and tell you to empty your pockets,” the public defender explained. “Then the instant a pipe or a seed is out of the pocket – boom, it’s ‘public use.’ And you get arrested.”

People spend nights in jail, or worse. In New York, even if they let you off with a misdemeanor and time served, you have to pay $200 and have your DNA extracted – a process that you have to pay for (it costs 50 bucks). But even beyond that, you won’t have search very far for stories of draconian, idiotic sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.

Just ask Cameron Douglas, the son of Michael Douglas, who got five years in jail for simple possession. His jailers kept him in solitary for 23 hours a day for 11 months and denied him visits with family and friends. Although your typical non-violent drug inmate isn’t the white child of a celebrity, he’s usually a minority user who gets far stiffer sentences than rich white kids would for committing the same crimes – we all remember the crack-versus-coke controversy in which federal and state sentencing guidelines left (predominantly minority) crack users serving sentences up to 100 times harsher than those meted out to the predominantly white users of powdered coke.

The institutional bias in the crack sentencing guidelines was a racist outrage, but this HSBC settlement blows even that away. By eschewing criminal prosecutions of major drug launderers on the grounds (the patently absurd grounds, incidentally) that their prosecution might imperil the world financial system, the government has now formalized the double standard.

They’re now saying that if you’re not an important cog in the global financial system, you can’t get away with anything, not even simple possession. You will be jailed and whatever cash they find on you they’ll seize on the spot, and convert into new cruisers or toys for your local SWAT team, which will be deployed to kick in the doors of houses where more such inessential economic cogs as you live. If you don’t have a systemically important job, in other words, the government’s position is that your assets may be used to finance your own political disenfranchisement.

On the other hand, if you are an important person, and you work for a big international bank, you won’t be prosecuted even if you launder nine billion dollars. Even if you actively collude with the people at the very top of the international narcotics trade, your punishment will be far smaller than that of the person at the very bottom of the world drug pyramid. You will be treated with more deference and sympathy than a junkie passing out on a subway car in Manhattan (using two seats of a subway car is a common prosecutable offense in this city). An international drug trafficker is a criminal and usually a murderer; the drug addict walking the street is one of his victims. But thanks to Breuer, we’re now in the business, officially, of jailing the victims and enabling the criminals.

This is the disgrace to end all disgraces. It doesn’t even make any sense. There is no reason why the Justice Department couldn’t have snatched up everybody at HSBC involved with the trafficking, prosecuted them criminally, and worked with banking regulators to make sure that the bank survived the transition to new management. As it is, HSBC has had to replace virtually all of its senior management. The guilty parties were apparently not so important to the stability of the world economy that they all had to be left at their desks.

So there is absolutely no reason they couldn’t all face criminal penalties. That they are not being prosecuted is cowardice and pure corruption, nothing else. And by approving this settlement, Breuer removed the government’s moral authority to prosecute anyone for any other drug offense. Not that most people didn’t already know that the drug war is a joke, but this makes it official.

By Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzalez @ Democracy Now:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, let’s go on to HSBC. The banking giant has escaped indictment for laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and groups linked to al-Qaeda. The bank reportedly supplied a billion dollars to a firm whose founder had ties to al-Qaeda and shipped billions in cash from Mexico to the United States despite warnings the money was coming from drug cartels. Earlier this year, a Senate investigation concluded that HSBC provided a, quote, “gateway for terrorists to gain access to U.S. dollars and the U.S. financial system.”

Despite evidence of wrongdoing, the Justice Department has allowed the bank to avoid prosecution and pay a $1.9 billion fine. No top HSBC officials will face charges. While it’s reportedly the largest penalty ever paid by a bank, the deal has come under wide criticism. Officials reportedly agreed to seek the fine over concerns that criminal charges would have hurt the global financial system.

Loretta Lynch is U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

LORETTA LYNCH: We are here today to announce the filing of criminal charges against HSBC Bank, both its U.S. entity, HSBC U.S., and the parent HSBC group, for its sustained and systemic failure to guard against the corruption of our financial system by drug traffickers and other criminals and for evading U.S. sanctions law. HSBC, as you know, is one of the largest financial institutions in the world, with affiliates and personnel spanning the globe. Yet during the relevant time periods, they failed to comply with the legal requirements incumbent on all U.S. financial institutions to have in place compliance mechanisms and safeguards to guard against being used for money laundering.

HSBC has admitted its guilt to the four-count information filed today, which sets forth two violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, a violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, or IEEPA, and violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act. As part of its resolution of these charges, HSBC has agreed to forfeit $1.256 billion, the largest forfeiture amount ever by a financial institution for a compliance failure.

AMY GOODMAN: That was U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.

Meanwhile, HSBC Group Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver said in a statement, quote, “We accept responsibility for our past mistakes. We have said we are profoundly sorry for them.” He added the bank had, quote, “taken extensive and concerted steps to put in place the highest standards for the future.”

News of HSBC’s fine comes as three low-level traders were arrested in London as part of an international investigation into 16 international banks accused of rigging a key global interest rate used in contracts worth trillions of dollars. The London Interbank Offered Rate, known as Libor, is the average interest rate at which banks can borrow from each other. Some analysts say it defines the cost of money. The benchmark rate sets the borrowing costs of everything from mortgages to student loans to credit card accounts.

Well, for more on the latest bank scandals, we’re joined by Matt Taibbi, contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine. His latest book is Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History.

Now, how did Forbes put it, Matt? “What’s a bank got to do to get into some real trouble around here?”

MATT TAIBBI: Exactly, exactly. And what’s amazing about that is that’s Forbes saying that. I mean, universally, the reaction, even in—among the financial press, which is normally very bank-friendly and gives all these guys the benefit of the doubt, the reaction is, is “What do you have to do to get a criminal indictment?” What HSBC has now admitted to is, more or less, the worst behavior that a bank can possibly be guilty of. You know, they violated the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Bank Secrecy Act. And we’re talking about massive amounts of money. It was $9 billion that they failed to supervise properly. These crimes were so obvious that apparently the cartels in Mexico specifically designed boxes to put cash in so that they would fit through the windows of HSBC teller windows. So, it was so out in the open, these crimes, and there’s going to be no criminal prosecution whatsoever, which is incredible.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And emails found where bank officials were instructing officials in Iran and in some other countries at how best to hide their efforts to move money into their system?

MATT TAIBBI: Exactly, yeah, and that’s true at HSBC, and apparently we have a very similar scandal involving another British bank, Standard Chartered, which also paid an enormous fine recently for laundering money for—through Iran. This, again, comes on the heels of the Libor scandal, which has already caught up two major British banks—the Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays. So, you have essentially all of the major British banks now are inveigled in these enormous scandals. We have a couple of arrests, you know, today involving low-level people in the Libor thing, but it doesn’t look like any major players are going to be indicted criminally for any of this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole argument that the bank is too big to indict because of the threat to the world financial system, most people don’t know that HSBC stands for Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. It’s a British bank that goes back to the early days of British colonialism in Asia.

MATT TAIBBI: Sure.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And is it too big to be indicted?

MATT TAIBBI: The amazing thing about that rationale is that it’s exactly the opposite of the truth. The message that this sends to everybody, when banks commit crimes and nobody is punished for it, is that you can do it again. You know, if there’s no criminal penalty for committing even the most obvious kinds of crimes, that tells everybody, investors all over the world, that the banking system is inherently unsafe. And so, the message is, this is not a move to preserve the banking system at all. In fact, it’s incredibly destructive. It undermines the entire world confidence in the banking system. It’s an incredible decision that, again, is met with surprise even with—by people in the financial community.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Thomas Curry, head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the lead regulator for HSBC in the U.S., defended the settlement.

THOMAS CURRY: These actions send a strong message to the bank and to the financial services industry to make compliance with the law a priority to safeguard their institutions from being misused in ways that threaten American lives.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Thomas Curry, head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. It seems like a lot of people who are in prison right now—low-level thieves, criminals, drug launderers, people who have been accused of working with al-Qaeda—perhaps could appeal their convictions now and get out of jail.

MATT TAIBBI: Right. Right, yeah, exactly. I was in court yesterday, in criminal court in Brooklyn. I saw somebody come out of—come into court who had just been overnight in jail for walking from one subway car to another in front of a policeman. You can do real time in jail in America for all kinds of ridiculous offenses, for taking up two subway seats in New York City, if you fall asleep in the subway. People go to jail for that all the time in this country, for having a marijuana stem in your pocket. There are 50,000 marijuana possession cases in New York City alone every year. And here we have a bank that laundered $800 million of drug money, and they can’t find a way to put anybody in jail for that. That sends an incredible message not just to the financial sector but to everybody. It’s an obvious, clear double standard, where one set of people gets to break the rules as much as they want and another set of people can’t break any rules at all without going to jail. And I just don’t see how they don’t see this problem.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Matt, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer outlined some of HSBC’s alleged drug cartel ties.

ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL LANNY BREUER: From 2006 to 2010, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, the Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia and other drug traffickers laundered at least $881 million in illegal narcotics trafficking proceeds through HSBC Bank USA. These traffickers didn’t have to try very hard. They would sometimes deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in a single day into a single account, using boxes, as Loretta said, designed to fit the precise dimensions of the tellers’ windows in HSBC’s Mexico branches.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Matt, this is like Monopoly, the board game, all over again, you know? Get out of jail free, you know.

MATT TAIBBI: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Instead of $50, you pay $1.9 billion, but you’re still getting out of jail free.

MATT TAIBBI: And this fits in the—in with the pattern of the entire financial crisis. $1.9 billion sounds like a lot of money, and it definitely is. It’s a record settlement. No bank has ever paid this much money before. But it’s about two months’ worth of profits for HSBC. It’s not going to cripple this bank. It’s not even going to hurt them that badly for this year. It fits in line with the Goldman Sachs settlement in the Abacas case, which was hailed at the time as a record settlement. It was $575 million. But that was about 1/20th of what they got just through the AIG bailout. So, this is not a lot of money for these people. It sounds like a lot of money to the layperson, but for the crimes they committed, getting away with just money—and it’s not even their own money, it’s not their personal money, it’s the shareholders’ money—it’s incredible. It really—it literally is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, the way that big banks these days can borrow money from the U.S. Fed for no interest—

MATT TAIBBI: For free.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: For free.

MATT TAIBBI: Free.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Basically, they can just take money from the government and pay the government back.

AMY GOODMAN: What does the Justice Department, what does the Obama administration, gain by not actually holding HSBC accountable?

MATT TAIBBI: You know, I think—I’ve asked myself that question numerous times. I really believe—and I think a lot of people believe this—that the Obama administration sincerely accepts the rationale that to aggressively prosecute crimes committed by this small group of too-big-to-fail banks would undermine confidence in the global financial system and that they therefore have to give them a pass on all sorts of things, because we are teetering on the edge of a problem, and if any one of them were to fall out, it would cause a domino effect of losses and catastrophes like the Lehman Brothers business. And I think they’re genuinely afraid of that. And so, that’s the only legitimate explanation that you can possibly assign to this situation, because, as we know, Wall Street abandoned the Obama administration this year when it came to funding in the election. They heavily supported Mitt Romney and didn’t give Obama much money at all.