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

Posts Tagged ‘Unequal Law Enforcement’

Another Government Is Necessary: The People Can Rule Better Than the Elites

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Oldspeak: “Transformation requires a combination of education about solutions, resistance to stop policies or projects that are causing harm, and working together to create solutions to our urgent crises.  One of the greatest obstacles to change in the United States is the Democratic Party. While it is true that the Wall Street agenda of the Republican Party is dangerous, the Democratic Party is even more dangerous because it can act on the same agenda without much more than a whimper by many of those who would protest if the Republicans did the same thing. Fortunately, more people are opening their eyes to the duopoly… This is the US managed democracy: a system that only allows the election of corporate duopoly candidates backed by great wealth. The current system is designed to exclude third-party candidates and low-income and minority voters. And the system is designed to hinder building the grassroots movement that is necessary for social transformation. The urgency of our current crises demands that we break from the current structure and create something new based on principles such as community, cooperation, participation and sustainability. Most people recognize what must be done, and many communities are already taking action.” –Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese.  Vesting power in corporate sponsored politicians will inexorably lead to government for the corporations, by the corporations.  One can see this in any number of obvious examples. Multi-trillion dollar bailouts for corporations who repeatedly engage in criminal business practices that crashed the global economy, while the people who need bailouts most are saddled with debt, austerity measures, & poverty-stricken existence. Unwavering commitment by corporocrats to continue investing resources in earth and life killing dirty energy sources. Unequal enforcement of the law, based on caste, where high caste citizens generally avoid punishment, for heinous offenses like laundering drug money for terrorists any falsely foreclosing on people’s homes while middle and low-caste citizens are incarcerated at historic rates for non-crimes like walking between subway cars, and bidding on land T Unprecedented prosecution of patriotic and law-abiding  Americans; government whistleblowers who’ve tried to expose fraud, waste and illegality.  Etc, etc, etc, ad infinitum. This state of affairs cannot continue. Government for the people and by the people needs to be restored. Democracy’s gone, oligarchical collectivism reigns.”

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese @ Truthout:
More people are taking action in their communities to meet their basic needs because of government corruption at all levels that protects the status quo when urgent change is needed. People are moving on many fronts to challenge the system and create the world they want to see.On Earth Day, another step was taken to challenge elite rule. A new alternative government was announced. It is an extension of the Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala Green Party campaign for president and vice president. The Green Shadow Cabinet currently consists of more than 80 activists, scientists, lawyers, advocates, economists, health professionals, labor leaders and artists who are independent of the corporate duopoly and are actively working on solutions to the crises we face. These top-level people in their fields have taken on this responsibility as volunteers. (Full disclosure: Margaret Flowers serves as secretary of health and Kevin Zeese as attorney general, and both serve on the administrative committee of the Shadow Cabinet.) The cabinet comes at a time when people are increasingly ready to leave the corrupt two-party system. With President Obama supporting cuts to Social Security and Medicare, drone-bombing countries with which we are not at war, and appointing Wall Street and other big business interests to his cabinet, many voters are searching for somewhere to go. Even the former head of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean, is talking about leaving the Democrats.

The cabinet will serve as an independent voice in US politics, putting the needs of people and protection of the planet ahead of profits for big corporations. Members of the cabinet will demonstrate what an alternative government could look like. However, creating an alternative form of governance will depend in large part on what people do at the local level.

Another World Is Possible; Another Government Is Necessary

Shadow cabinets have existed in other countries throughout history. They are usually created by opposition parties as a way to show what they stand for as they work toward regaining power. This Shadow Cabinet is different in a few aspects.

First, the Green Shadow Cabinet is a response to the corruption and dysfunction of the current economic and political systems. There are real solutions to the crises we face and majorities of the public support these solutions, but both parties in government are not considering them and are, in fact, doing the opposite.

The people could rule better than the elites, and that is why it is time for the people to take matters into our own hands. As cabinet member Christopher Cox explained on the day of the announcement, “There is no time for slow incremental change.” Cox also affirmed that “We have the possibility of addressing these issues at the level of humanity.” The Cabinet is not waiting, but is taking action now to encourage people to build a government that is really of, by and for the people.

And second, because political debate in the United States is limited to what the two corporate parties allow, the Cabinet will bring attention to real solutions to our crises that are not being discussed. At present, there is no discussion of full employment, even though that is a critical ingredient to creating an economy that works for everyone. There is no discussion of ending the carbon-nuclear–based energy economy, despite the crisis of climate change, the risks of carbon-nuclear energies to air, water, and life, and the obvious end of the cheap oil and gas era.

One of the goals of the Shadow Cabinet is to inject these issues into the US political dialogue. For example, here are excerpts of statements some cabinet members released on the day the Cabinet was announced:

  • Two members of the economic team wrote statements. Richard Wolff, who chairs the Council of Economic Advisers, calls for tax fairness with progressive taxation, more higher income tax brackets and increased corporate taxes consistent with the successful policies used when the United States built a powerful post-World War II-economy. Labor economist Jack Rasmus points to the failure of fiscal policy and will be urging a makeover of the Federal Reserve into a transparent and democratic agency that responds to the needs of the economy, not to the banks.
  • Leah Bolger, defense secretary, urges a truly defensive military and calls for an end to the Afghanistan War, a 50 percent cut in Pentagon spending, cessation of the drone program and operating within the rule of law. David Swanson, secretary of peace, highlights the militarization of US foreign policy, which sells record numbers of weapons and spends nearly as much as the whole world combined on war. Noting he has no counterpart in the current government, he urges the United States to work for peace every day and asserts that investing war dollars in job creation at home will do more for the economy than spending $1 trillion on war and war preparation.
  • David Cobb, chair of the commission on corporations and democracy, begins by acknowledging that corporations have become the most dominant institution in America who rule over us “as masters once ruled slaves and as Kings ruled their subjects.” The solution to corporate power? “We must educate, agitate and organize. In other words, we must change the culture of this country.”
  • Roshan Bliss, the assistant secretary for higher education, says “Education is a human right, a public good, and a critical infrastructure without which no society can prosper.” As a student, he sees how outdated, underfunded and increasingly controlled by unaccountable private interest groups higher education has become. His top two priorities: empower students to be all they can become and equip schools to uplift society and be integrated in their communities.
  • Steve Chrismer, secretary of transportation, notes that when he went to Texas to join the Tar Sands Blockade, he thought about how few jobs were created by the pipeline compared to how many jobs would be created by a new mass transit and rail system. He believes we need to recreate the transportation system and build infrastructure that will serve the nation for generations, rather than pipelines that hasten our destruction.
  • Mark Dunlea, secretary of agriculture, calls for a new food system that is sustainable, affordable and not based on pesticides or other chemicals, but produces healthy foods and fair profits for farmers. The current food czar is a former Monsanto executive whose policies favor corporatization of farming, subsidies that result in overuse of water, widespread use of chemicals and allowing genetically modified foods. Dunlea’s views are echoed by Maureen Cruise, assistant secretary of health for community wellbeing, who promotes urban farming to bring food to the people who live in food deserts.

We published statements, too. Margaret coordinates the health council and advocates for Medicare-for-all as part of the solution to the health crisis in the United States. Kris Alman and Patch Adams join her in calling for breaking free of corporate medicine, and Adams urges communities to act now to build community-based health centers, calling for “revolutionizing health care delivery by replacing greed and competition with generosity, compassion and interdependence.”

Kevin, who coordinates the justice council, emphasizes the need for rule of law, which includes holding corporations accountable for both environmental damage and for collapsing the economy; rule of law also means ending the torture of confinement without charges at Guantanamo. Cliff Thornton, administrator of drug policy, calls for the end of the war on drugs and highlights the problems of mass incarceration, crime, violence and urban neglect, all made worse by the drug war. Their immediate task is putting forward policies to respect the will of voters in Colorado and Washington who voted to legalize marijuana, as well as of those in the 16 states and Washington, DC that allow medical use of marijuana.

In addition to publishing statements, Cabinet members are involved in advocacy and activism. Last weekend, six members participated in the anti-drone protest at the Hancock Air Force base, and a few days earlier, three participated in the protests at the Bush Library. Cheri Honkala is preparing for the May 18-24 Operation Green Jobs March on Washington. And the cabinet includes activists like climate justice’s Tim DeChrisotpher, labor leader Richard Monje, economic democracy advocate Gar Alperovitz and others. Many Cabinet members are working to build the nonviolent, transformative mass movement that is needed to bring real change to the United States.

While the cabinet evolved out of the Stein-Honkala campaign, it is not a project of the Green Party and is not limited to the Green Party. It is open to anyone who is independent of the duopoly and supportive of the Stein-Honkala Green New Deal platform.

In some ways, the cabinet is structured similarly to the current system, with a president, vice president, secretary of state, and heads of various government agencies. This was felt to be important at this stage so that media and the public would recognize that whomever was speaking on a given issue was acting as an alternative to those who currently hold these positions. When someone in power makes a statement or puts forth a policy, the corresponding cabinet member will respond with an alternative view.

However, the cabinet is structured differently from the current system in that it is composed of six branches: Democracy, Ecology, Economy, Foreign Affairs, General Welfare and Justice. Within these branches, in addition to traditional positions, are councils and new positions, so it is larger and less hierarchical than a traditional cabinet. Over time, we anticipate that more new positions will be added, the councils will grow and the structure will evolve.

If the people of the United States put another government in place, the mistakes of the past should not be repeated. It is time to truly create a participatory democratic structure where people have greater control over and benefit from the policies that affect them. An alternative system must be protected from becoming another top-down structure that ignores the voices and desires of the people.

The United States: A Managed Democracy That Protects Plutocrats

It was necessary to create the cabinet to break out of the mirage democracy of managed elections. Although citizens have the right to vote, the choice is restricted to candidates who are selected by large corporations and the wealthy elite. They represent political parties that are dominated by Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and other big business interests. Third-party candidates are at an extreme disadvantage, and our most vulnerable populations are losing the right to vote.

Efforts to build parties and run independent candidates outside of the duopoly encounter major obstacles, especially at the national level. Ballot access laws vary from state to state, and it is not unusual for third parties who have done the work of collecting signatures and registering voters to see the legitimacy of their work challenged by boards of elections, state legislatures and judges from the duopoly. Third-party candidates find themselves spending so much time and energy to gain ballot access that there is little left for campaigning.

Since the United States does not have public funding of public elections, another obstacle is finances. The cost of running a campaign in the United States, especially at the federal level, is prohibitive. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that in 2012, the corporate duopoly presidential candidates spent $2 billion. And that doesn’t count the money spent on their behalf by super PACs, nonprofit political organizations, issue advocacy organizations and “shadow money.” Incumbent senators raised $11 million, nearly ten times what their challengers raised. And in the House, incumbents raised $1.5 million, more than six times what their challengers raised.

A third major obstacle is media and debate access. Media access depends on how much a candidate can spend or whether the media chooses to provide coverage. In general, there is a media blackout of third-party candidates, including in media polls on presidential preference

Third-party candidates are largely excluded from public debates and entirely excluded from the presidential debates. The League of Women Voters officially withdrew from the debates in 1988 because of excessive control of the debate format and lack of transparency by the corporate duopoly. In a strong statement, the LWV president said, “The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

In 1987, the corporate duopoly and their big business funders created a private corporation to sponsor the debates. They gave this debate an official sounding name, the Commission on Presidential Debates, so most people think it is a government commission. Each election, the duopoly negotiates a contract that determines who can participate, who will moderate, who can attend and what questions will be asked. The rules are set up to keep non-duopoly candidates out. And the corporate debate commission ensures that discussion remains within a narrow confine of what corporate interests allow.

In 2012, the Occupy movement and others exposed and protested the sham presidential debates. The Naked Emperor created this animated video to illustrate the political charade that is the presidential debates. People held rallies at each of the debate sites and Green candidates Stein and Honkala were arrested for trying to attend the debate in New York. As a result of these actions, three corporations withdrew from sponsoring the CPD, and independent media outlets and organizations held debates for third-party candidates.

While these were positive steps, the reality is that current restrictions to third party candidates completely prevent the election of a candidate that represents the will of people rather than large corporations. The ability of people to express their will through elections is further impeded by barriers to voting.

In many countries, registration to vote is universal. When citizens reach the legal age, they are automatically registered. In the United States, there are barriers to registration resulting in 70 million eligible voters who are not registered to vote. It is also becoming more common for voters to be erased from registration lists. And voter suppression through disenfranchisement and Election Day shenanigans is common.

The Sentencing Project estimates that 5.85 million Americans have lost the right to vote because of felony convictions. An astonishing number of African-Americans, 1 out of 13, no longer has the right to vote. As we wrote in” A Forest of Poisonous Trees: The US Criminal Injustice System,” the current economic and criminal justice systems result in the incarceration of massive numbers of people, which creates a vicious cycle such that those who are oppressed lose their ability to affect the system.

Over the past three years, more than 250 laws have been passed at the state level to suppress voting. These laws primarily target the elderly, young and minority voters, as documented in this March report by Project Vote. In addition to legal challenges to voting, tactics are used in minority communities to prevent people from voting. These include underequipped polling stations, moving polling stations without notice, and leafleting neighborhoods with misinformation about voting days and voting requirements.

This is the US managed democracy: a system that only allows the election of corporate duopoly candidates backed by great wealth. The current system is designed to exclude third-party candidates and low-income and minority voters. And the system is designed to hinder building the grassroots movement that is necessary for social transformation.

A System That Favors Corporate Profits Over People and the Planet

If there is any question about whether the current political system favors the wealthy, one need only turn to recent events. Last week, in an awesome display of bipartisanship, Congress repealed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge, Act, known as the STOCK Act. This was a bill signed into law last year with great fanfare by President Obama. The law required that members of Congress and certain executive staffers publish their financial investments online in a searchable format. It was touted as an important step towards transparency and the rule of law. Remember that last year was an election year.

This year, it took all of ten seconds for the repeal to pass in the Senate and 14 seconds in the House. The unrecorded unanimous consent vote meant not a single member of Congress expressed dissent. The president quickly and quietly signed the repeal into law.

Now it will be more difficult for the public to know when elected officials are supporting policies that benefit them financially. For instance, when former senator John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State, it was revealed that he had investments in TransCanada, the company that is building the Keystone XL Pipeline. The State Department has authority to approve the pipeline, which is being protested by people in the United States and Canada because of its environmental impact. Indeed, Kerry had to divest nearly 100 stocks in order to avoid the conflicts of interest between his investments and his duties. Of course, the same conflicts of interest existed when he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee.

Another example is the deficit and austerity charade that was exposed last week. A doctoral student, Thomas Herndon, at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst analyzed an economic study published by Reinhart and Rogoff. The results of the Reinhart-Rogoff study were cited widely by politicians and pundits to justify cuts to social and other government programs. Herndon found significant errors in the study that make the findings inaccurate.

Reinhart and Rogoff are linked to the Peter G. Peterson Foundatio,n which has a mission to promote policies that end our legacy social insurances – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The Peterson Foundation has been heavily involved in the federal budget process for most of Obama’s presidency. It provided staff support and funding to the deficit commission appointed by Obama in early 2010 and funded national “town halls” called “America Speaks.”

The chairs of the deficit commission, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, have also played an important role in the ongoing effort to cut social insurances, including leading the new Fix the Debt campaign composed of more than 80 tax-dodging CEOs who are starting with a budget of $60 million to lobby and build public support for their austerity proposals.

Solutions Exist; Transformation Depends on You

The Shadow Cabinet will not change the world; that task is up to all of us. Transformation requires a combination of education about solutions, resistance to stop policies or projects that are causing harm, and working together to create solutions to our urgent crises.

One of the greatest obstacles to change in the United States is the Democratic Party. While it is true that the Wall Street agenda of the Republican Party is dangerous, the Democratic Party is even more dangerous because it can act on the same agenda without much more than a whimper by many of those who would protest if the Republicans did the same thing. Fortunately, more people are opening their eyes to the duopoly.

The urgency of our current crises demands that we break from the current structure and create something new based on principles such as community, cooperation, participation and sustainability. Most people recognize what must be done, and many communities are already taking action.

The Shadow Cabinet seeks to join and amplify those efforts and encourage more people to come together in their communities to form structures that solve problems through community-led initiatives and pressure on local governments. This can happen at the level of neighborhoods or through coalitions of organizations, or some communities may choose to form local shadow governments.

The people of the United States have the wisdom to do what needs to be done. The answers are part of our DNA. It is time to recognize and manifest our power.

You can listen to our interview about the Announcement of Green Shadow Cabinet with Cheri Honkala, Christopher Cox and Sean Sweeney on Clearing the FOG.

The Struggle To Save Our Planet Heats Up

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Adapting to Climate ChangeOldspeak: “To get to the root of the issue, it becomes necessary to analyze the whole economic system of production and exchange of goods and services—that is, capitalism. Only by doing this can we hope to formulate an effective strategy to combat climate change and thereby recognize that ecological and social justice are inseparably connected to each other, via an organized, grassroots and global challenge to the capitalist social order…

One doesn’t need to be an anti-capitalist to take part in this struggle, but one does need to recognize that unless the pendulum of social power swings back toward the working people in the U.S. and around the world, and that limits and regulations are placed on the activities of corporate power, we have no hope of saving our world. This struggle is not really about technology or which renewable energy models should be deployed or whether this or that politician or this corporation or that CEO is more or less evil than the other. It’s not about things or people at all—it’s about relationships. It’s about democracy, which is itself about social power, and the relationships it presumes.

The power of the oceans, the power of scientific rationality, the power of the tides and hurricane-force winds are self-evidently not enough to persuade capitalists to act. The only force strong enough to do that is the organized force of the people. We must take the place of gravity to pull the pendulum of contending class forces—wrenched rightward by 30 years of neoliberalism—back toward our side.” –Chris Williams.

YES! The root of the issue is capitalism. We have to stop nibbling around the edges. We have to recognize that capitalism in its current globalized and unrestrained form is fundamentally at odds with Democracy, human and natural rights. We have to have an honest critical discussion about global capital and how it’s destroying our planet. We must reassert our sacred commitment, as our ancestors did for millennia, to be custodians of our earth mother, not her rapists. We must recognize that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. The global capitalist enterprise is collapsing and blowing up all around us, one need only look to texas and Bangladesh and the explosion in unemployment and poverty, the collapse of ecosystems, to see what’s happening.  We cannot keep dumping wasteful trillions into failing, obsolete, toxic, fossil and nuclear fuel based infrastructure that is destroying and poisoning our planet. We have to fundamentally rethink how we organize our civilization and economy. The systems we have are not working.

By Chris Williams @ Z Magazine:

Capitalism stands as a death sentinel over planetary life. Recent reports from institutions, such as the World Bank, detail how, as a result of human activity, we are on track for a 4° Celsius increase in average global temperatures. Should this come to pass, the Earth would be hotter than at any time in the last 30 million years; an absolutely devastating prognosis that will wipe out countless species as ecosystems destabilize and climate becomes a vortex of erratic, wild weather events.

Despite this Americans, suffered through an election campaign in which climate change literally wasn’t mentioned—at least until the final weeks, when a hurricane forced the presidential candidates to acknowledge it.

Even as the World Bank published its report—with the conclusion that avoiding a 4° temperature increase was “vital for the health and welfare of communities around the world”—bank officials were nevertheless still handing out loans to construct more than two dozen coal-fired power plants to the tune of $5 billion.

In direct contrast to politicians and the media, fully 80 percent of Americans believe that climate change will be a serious problem for the United States unless the government does something about it—with 57 percent saying the government should do a “great deal” or “quite a bit.”

Even for the 1 in 3 Americans who say they are wary of science and distrust scientists, 61 percent now agree that temperatures have risen over the last 100 years. Commenting on the new poll, Stanford University social psychologist and pollster Jon Crosskick wrote, “They don’t believe what the scientists say, they believe what the thermometers say…. Events are helping these people see what scientists thought they had been seeing all along.”

This background of overwhelming public concern helped situate the national demonstration in Washington, DC on February 17, against the building of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada to Texas. If built, the pipeline will carry 800,000 barrels a day of highly-polluting tar sands oil, effectively dealing a death blow to hopes of preventing rampant climate change. The demonstration added significance as activists attempted to draw a line in the sand and pose the first big litmus test for the second term of Barack Obama.

Given that an overwhelming majority of Americans, and even most people hostile to climate science, are in favor of action, why is it that the overwhelming majority of politicians—who presumably are subject to the same weather as the rest of us—can’t seem to see the need? Why aren’t our elected representatives proposing serious measures to prevent it from getting worse?

How one answers this question is not one of semantics. Rather, it is of decisive importance because it determines how one should fight and with whom one should forge alliances. Unfortunately, it is a question that Bill McKibben, cofounder of 350.org and a key organizer of the February 17 demonstration, has struggled with, but not conclusively resolved. His confusion is evidenced by the title of an article he wrote in January: “Our Protest Must Short-Circuit the Fossil Fuel Interests Blocking Barack Obama”—implying that Obama would do something if he could.

The momentum generated from this demonstration may serve as the launching pad for a sustained campaign that begins to stitch together the myriad forces fighting locally around the country, transforming previously isolated or single-issue initiatives and groups into a broad united front for climate justice that draws in other forces, such as unions.

This was the position of Big Green groups like the Sierra Club. Even as it pledged for the first time to take part in civil disobedience, its executive director, Michael Brune, declared that the new strategy was part of “a larger plan to support the president in realizing his vision and make sure his ambition meets the scale of the challenge.”

The first thing Obama and his new Secretary of State John Kerry could do is say no to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. That would be inordinately easy, as Obama has the final say and doesn’t require Congress’ support to shut it down. After 53 senators from both parties signed a letter urging him to green-light the pipeline, Obama is running out of ways to further delay his decision.

In spite of the rhetoric of his inaugural address, the pivotal question remains: Is Barack Obama—or any Democratic leader, for that matter—really on our side? Is it just a question of persuading a reluctant friend, hamstrung by a right-wing, dysfunctional Congress and stymied by powerful corporate interests, to act by demonstrating outside his house to let him know we’re there for him? Or should we be surrounding his house, knowing full well that he won’t give in to our demands without a social movement that acts independently of his wishes and control.

To understand the reasons for Obama’s “lack of desire” to address climate change—a microcosm of the larger inability of global leaders and institutions to do likewise amid two decades of futile climate negotiations—it’s necessary to go beneath the surface appearance of things; to examine the structure and ideology of the system of capitalism.

Systemic Causes

When their financial system was threatened by the crisis that began in 2008, political leaders didn’t sit around for 20 years arguing that they had to wait until all the facts were in and attempting to reach consensus on a solution. No, in a heartbeat, they threw trillions of dollars at the banks.

But when a far larger crisis, one that threatens the basic stability of the planetary biosphere, unfurls as a result of the same policies of reckless growth, waste and warfare, they spend their time trashing scientists and ignoring the unraveling weather outside their windows. Therefore, to get to the root of the issue, it becomes necessary to analyze the whole economic system of production and exchange of goods and services—that is, capitalism. Only by doing this can we hope to formulate an effective strategy to combat climate change and thereby recognize that ecological and social justice are inseparably connected to each other, via an organized, grassroots and global challenge to the capitalist social order.

One doesn’t need to be an anti-capitalist to take part in this struggle, but one does need to recognize that unless the pendulum of social power swings back toward the working people in the U.S. and around the world, and that limits and regulations are placed on the activities of corporate power, we have no hope of saving our world. This struggle is not really about technology or which renewable energy models should be deployed or whether this or that politician or this corporation or that CEO is more or less evil than the other. It’s not about things or people at all—it’s about relationships. It’s about democracy, which is itself about social power, and the relationships it presumes.

The power of the oceans, the power of scientific rationality, the power of the tides and hurricane-force winds are self-evidently not enough to persuade capitalists to act. The only force strong enough to do that is the organized force of the people. We must take the place of gravity to pull the pendulum of contending class forces—wrenched rightward by 30 years of neoliberalism—back toward our side.

Ultimately, as a socialist, I would argue that we need to live in a world where there are no classes with diametrically opposed interests, in perpetual conflict over social and political power. Only in such a socially just and ecologically sustainable world will there be any long-term hope for humanity to live in peace with itself, other species, and the planet on which we depend. The stepping-stones of the revolutionary road are the acts of struggle needed to create it.

In contrast to his inaugural speech, Obama’s first press conference after re-election gave a more accurate insight into the priorities of his second term. Unlike four out of five Americans who want the government to do something to address climate change, Obama made it clear that this wouldn’t be a priority for his administration: “Understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”

With two mentions of the need for “growth” in a single sentence, Obama faithfully echoed the declaration of the Earth Summit, Rio+20, held in June 2012, where the representatives of 190 countries, while dismally avoiding any commitment to new targets or limits on greenhouse gas emissions, did commit—16 times in all—to “sustained growth,” a phrase taken to be synonymous, rather than in fundamental conflict, with another term: “sustainability.”

The obligation to promote growth underlines why the root of the climate problem is systemic. If capitalism is not growing, it is in crisis. Growth must occur continuously and in all sectors. If the sector in question is highly profitable, it will grow even faster, regardless of any social considerations.

Like, for example, the fossil-fuel sector. Oil production, rather than declining, as is desperately needed to stop climate change, is predicted to increase from the current 93 million barrels per day to 110 million by 2020—with some of the biggest increases worldwide occurring in the U.S. The Holy Grail of all administrations since Richard Nixon —energy independence—is being made possible by the policies of the Obama administration, as the New York Times reported in a special feature: “National oil production, which declined steadily to 4.95 million barrels a day in 2008 from 9.6 million in 1970, has risen over the last four years to nearly 5.7 million barrels a day. The Energy Department projects that daily output could reach nearly 7 million barrels by 2020. Some experts think it could eventually hit 10 million barrels—which would put the United States in the same league as Saudi Arabia.”

As the climate blogger and former Clinton administration official Joseph Romm put it, Obama is “basically pushing a moderate Republican agenda. It’s just that there aren’t any moderate Republicans left, much as we don’t have any ‘below average temperature’ years any more.”

Again, if we examine the roots of the issue, we find that the pathetic response of an administration purporting to be concerned with environmental questions has much less to do with individual personnel than with the dynamics of capitalism.

In 1992, when George H.W. Bush flew to Rio for the first Earth Summit, all things seemed possible. The “evil empire”—as Ronald Reagan liked to call the tyrannical dictatorships of the USSR and Eastern Europe, which operated falsely in the name of socialism—had collapsed under the weight of its own economic, social, and ecological contradictions. Politicians in the West were euphoric. They had seen off what they perceived to be an existential threat to their system.

In today’s world of enforced austerity, it’s difficult to recapture the sense of optimism that pervaded Western ruling class circles in the early 1990s. The atmosphere of triumphalism was so great even Republican presidents like Bush could make promises about protecting the environment. A few years later, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol was written, Western governments were still willing to pledge that they would do the heavy lifting with regard to reducing emissions, while developing countries would be free from such limits.

Hence, the seeming “lack of will” at Rio+20 last year can be much better explained by the onset of a huge structural crisis of capitalism, rather than the “lack of vision” of individual politicians.

Instead of optimism about acting on climate change, the real optimism these days among capitalists is about the profits they can make from the oil and gas bonanza. Oil giant and planet-wrecker par excellence BP is predicting that by 2030, the entire Western Hemisphere will be energy independent, due to the expansion of new techniques for oil and gas exploration, such as fracking in shale deposits and horizontal and deep-water drilling. Fossil fuels are expected to remain at 81 percent of the energy mix in an energy economy that will be 39 percent larger than today.

Naturally, oil executives such as Scott D. Sheffield, chief executive of Texas-based Pioneer Natural Resources—headquartered in an area of the world that received only two inches of rain for the whole of 2011 and spent most of the year with large parts of the state on fire—are nevertheless overjoyed: “To not be concerned with where our oil is going to come from is probably the biggest home run for the country in a hundred years… It sort of reminds me of the industrial revolution in coal, which allowed us to have some of the cheapest energy in the world and drove our economy in the late 1800s and 1900s.”

Depending on who you are, the outlook for natural gas is even rosier. The International Energy Agency recently released a report that asked in its title “Are We Entering a Golden Age of Gas?” The answer was a resounding “yes,” due to the North American shale gas boom and a “strong post-crisis recovery.”

The other side to this “golden age,” as the report makes clear, is that future economic expansion based on natural gas “alone will not put the world on a carbon emissions path consistent with an average global temperature rise of no more than 2° Celsius,” but on a “trajectory consistent with stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at around 650 parts per million CO2 equivalent, suggesting a long-term temperature rise of over 3.5°  Celsius.”

Insane Logic

In the insane capitalist “logic” of the 21st century, short-term profit-taking must be maximized at all costs. In a little-reported phenomenon, the energy companies have figured out that they can find oil in shale deposits previously considered marginal in the same way that they “frack” for natural gas. With the price of oil over $80 a barrel, it’s profitable to seek oil in this way, regardless of the environmental cost.

Hence, not only is there a natural gas boom in the U.S., but there’s also an enormous, though much less publicized, oil boom. In fact, the oil boom from previously untapped shale deposits is so large that its effects can be seen from space. The Bakken Field in North Dakota, all 15,000 square miles of it, is one of the largest contiguous oil fields in the world, with output doubling every 18 months. In Texas, production from the Eagle Field increased 30-fold between 2010 and 2012. The reason that the remote and sparsely populated Bakken Field rivals Chicago in light pollution, making it visible to orbiting satellites, is because the natural gas that comes up with the oil, rather than being collected and sold, is set on fire in a process called “flaring.” This senseless act of vandalism and waste is the result of the fact that companies are in a rush to make money from oil that they can’t be bothered to develop the infrastructure necessary to cope with associated natural gas.

As Stanford University academic Adam Brandt, who analyzes greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, explains: “Companies are in a race with their competitors to develop the resource, which means there is little incentive to delay production to reduce flaring.” In Texas, the natural gas flared in 2012 could have provided electricity to 400,000 homes.

So while one set of capitalists is fracking for natural gas on the East Coast—thanks to political leaders like Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York, who appears to be ready to open up the state to fracking—in other parts of the country, a different set of capitalists is setting fire to the exact same gas because it’s a nuisance that slows down production of the different fossil fuel they’re after.

Nothing could exemplify the utter waste and anarchic insanity of capitalism than this fact. One of the government regulatory bodies supposedly in charge of overseeing the oil corporations, North Dakota’s Industrial Commission, gave their logic for refusing to take action against this senselessness: “If we restricted oil production to reduce flaring, we would reduce the cash flow from oil wells fivefold…. As well as cutting waste, we are mandated to increase production, which we would not be doing.”

As for the third and dirtiest arm of the triumvirate of fossil fuels, the world is predicted to be burning 1.2 billion tons more coal per year in 2017. Coal has actually declined in use in the U.S. due to companies switching electricity production to cheaper natural gas, which has reduced U.S. carbon emissions.

One might think this is a good thing. However, capitalism is a global system, so any coal not sold here finds a market overseas. The Chinese population is literally choking to death on grotesque amounts of air pollution in cities such as Beijing. And who’s to blame? The U.S. government says China is building too many coal plants, but increasing amounts of the coal in Asia is coming from mines in the U.S. According to a report in ClimateWire: “Although Chinese coal is largely sourced from domestic mines, EIA figures show that U.S. coal shipments to China have dramatically risen in recent years, punctuated by a 107 percent jump from 2011 to 2012. Chinese imports of U.S. coal surged from 4 million tons in 2011 to 8.3 million tons last year.”

This brings us to the international dimension—and the economic and military competition between countries that makes it impossible for effective international agreements on climate change and emissions reduction to be negotiated. If Barack Obama really wanted to do something about reducing energy consumption in America—and killing a lot fewer people around the world—he could start with a massive reduction in military spending. The U.S. military is the single biggest user of energy in the United States, with the Department of Defense responsible for 80 percent of government energy requirements. Just the cost of the war in Iraq would have paid, from now until 2030, for all the investment in renewable energies necessary to stay below 2° Celsius of warming.

These examples illustrate two things. First, we are in a do-or-die battle with the economic system because capitalism is in fundamental conflict with the biosphere. And second, only a committed alliance of social and ecological justice activists that is clear about the nature of the enemy and prepared to confront the political and economic architects of the crisis stands a hope of winning.

This is why fighting the XL pipeline is about much more than stopping a single pipeline or the first test of Obama’s second term. It’s about building a movement for social and ecological justice and making it clear that we are going to organize to prevent any more infrastructure being built that will drive us over the ecological cliff.

As energy analyst Chris Nelder has put it, we face a choice between keeping the old fossil-fuel based infrastructure that is burning up the planet, and adding to it at an annual cost of $1.6 trillion just to keep it running—or transitioning, at much lower economic, let alone environmental, cost, to a new energy paradigm. His figures and argument are worthy of a lengthy quote: “Instead of incremental spending on an effectively dead transportation regime, we should be thinking about one that can survive the challenges ahead, and deliver more economic benefits than costs. We should be setting an ambitious target, like replacing all commercial passenger air flights with high speed rail for trips under 1,000 miles, replacing 90 percent of our city street traffic with light rail, and moving all long-haul freight traffic to rail. Even if the cost of all that rail infrastructure were in the range of $3 trillion, it would be a fantastic investment.

“Against $6 trillion (minimum) in sunk costs and $1.6 trillion per year in maintenance, the $1.2 trillion per year, plus building the high speed rail network at a generous estimate of $1 trillion, looks very reasonable.

“Put another way: Would you rather spend another $32 trillion over the next 20 years just to maintain a outmoded, unscaleable, aged, unhealthy system, plus another $2.8 trillion in lost productivity due to delays and gridlock, only to wind up out of gas? Or would you rather spend $25 trillion to repair our infrastructure, transition transportation to rail, transition the power grid to renewables, upgrade the entire grid, and solve the carbon problem, to have free fuel forever.”

Of course, whether we travel that road or not—and whether we leave a world to our descendants as beautiful as the one we were born into—will depend on our own independent, organized self-activity to wrench control away from a ruling elite that is quite happy to continue making money from a system that must be overturned.

Chris Williams is an environmental activist, professor of physics and chemistry at Pace University, and the author of Ecology and Socialism.

Money-Laundering Banks Still Get a Pass From U.S. Justice System

In Uncategorized on April 1, 2013 at 7:16 pm

https://i2.wp.com/www.cfoinnovation.com/system/files/cfo/money_laundering.jpgOldspeak: “Look North Korea is threatening us! Look! Rush Limbaugh said something about President Obama! Look! A D.A. got shot in Texas. Look! We need gun control now! Meanwhile those fortunate enough to be in America’s 1st tier of justice flout the law,  profit from downturns, war and the illegal drug trade. Their punishment? Earnest protestations and little else from Law Enforcement: “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.” –Attorney General Eric Holder  “Yes, well, that could explain it. When the banks hold a gun to the head of the economy, it is no longer the relationship between regulator and regulated, but a hostage relationship. A relationship made even more complex, no doubt, by the fact that the hostage-taker is also the principal corporate funder of the bosses of the putative hostage negotiators.” –Mike Lofgren This class based application of justice is not sustainable. These banksters who are holding our financial, political and justice systems hostage are subverting liberty and justice for all. They’re subverting democracy, and government by the people. It cannot continue.

By Simon Johnson @ Bloomberg News:

Money laundering by large international banks has reached epidemic proportions, and U.S. authorities are supposedly looking into Citigroup Inc. (C) and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Governor Jerome Powell, on behalf of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, recently testified to Congress on the issue, and he sounded serious. But international criminals and terrorists needn’t worry. This is window dressing: Complicit bankers have nothing to fear from the U.S. justice system.

To be on the safe side, though, miscreants should be sure to use a really large global bank for all their money-laundering needs.

There may be fines, but the largest financial companies are unlikely to face criminal actions or meaningful sanctions. The Department of Justice has decided that these banks are too big to prosecute to the full extent of the law, though why this also gets employees and executives off the hook remains a mystery. And the Federal Reserve refuses to rescind bank licenses, undermining the credibility, legitimacy and stability of the financial system.

To see this perverse incentive program in action, consider the recent case of a big money-laundering bank that violated a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department, openly broke U.S. securities law and stuck its finger in the eye of the Fed. This is what John Peace, the chairman of Standard Chartered Plc (STAN), and his colleagues managed to get away with March 5. The meaningful consequences for him or his company are precisely zero.

Chairman’s Statement

At one level, this is farce. Standard Chartered has long conceded that it broke U.S. money-laundering laws in spectacular and prolonged fashion. In late 2012, it entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department, agreeing to pay a fine that amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist (in any case, such penalties are paid by shareholders, not management).

Then, on a March 5 conference call with investors, Peace denied that his bank and its employees had willfully broken U.S. law with their money-laundering activities. This statement was a clear breach of the deferred prosecution agreement (see paragraph 12 on page 10, where the bank agreed that none of its officers should make “any public statement contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by SCB set forth above or the facts described in the Factual Statement”). Any such statement constitutes a willful and material breach of the agreement.

This is where the theater of the absurd begins. For some reason, it took the bank 11 business days, not the required five, to issue a retraction. No doubt a number of people, in the private and public sectors, were asleep at the switch. (The Justice Department and Standard Chartered rebuffed my requests for details on the timeline.)

The implications of the affair are twofold. First, with his eventual retraction, Peace admitted that he misled investors. It also was an implicit admission that he had failed to issue a timely correction. Waiting 11 days to correct a material factual error is a serious breach of U.S. securities law for any nonfinancial company. Wake me when the Securities and Exchange Commission brings a case against Standard Chartered.

Of course, it’s possible that Peace didn’t deliberately violate the deferred prosecution agreement because he hadn’t read it, or at least not all the way to page 10. Peace is an accomplished professional with a long and distinguished track record. Everyone can have a forgetful moment. That still doesn’t explain why the bank took so long to correct the facts.

Leadership Matters

Tone at the top matters, as reporting around JPMorgan Chase and its relationship with regulators makes clear. Will Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon be more cooperative than he was, for example, in August 2011 when he refused to provide detailed information on the goings-on in his investment bank?

Why hasn’t Standard Chartered’s board, which is made up of talented and experienced individuals, forced out Peace as a result of this bungling? (I called for his resignation on my blog last week.)

The only possible explanation is that the board thinks Peace did nothing wrong. They may even regard U.S. laws as onerous and the Department of Justice as heavy-handed.

They would be entitled to their opinions, of course. But if they would like their bank to do business in the U.S., the rules are (supposedly) the rules. If used appropriately, permission to operate a bank in the U.S. grants the opportunity to earn a great deal of profit.

At a recent congressional hearing, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts asked what it would take for a company to lose its U.S. banking license. Specifically, “How many billions of dollars do you have to launder for drug lords?”

Powell, the Fed governor, replied that pulling a bank’s license may be “appropriate when there’s a criminal conviction.”

I have failed to find any cases of the Fed ordering the termination of banking activities in the U.S. for a foreign bank after a criminal conviction for money laundering. Nor, for that matter, has the Fed taken action to shut down a bank that signed a deferred prosecution agreement, which, in the case of Standard Chartered (STAN), was an acknowledgment of criminal wrongdoing. Nor has it taken action when such an agreement was violated.

To see what the Fed is empowered to do under the International Banking Act, and working with state authorities, look at the case of Daiwa Bank, which received an Order to Terminate United States Banking Activities in 1995. Note to big banks: Don’t allow illegal trading in the U.S. Treasury market; on this, we may still have standards. By the way, in the case of Daiwa, there was no criminal conviction.

Cleaning House

Last summer, when Barclays’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond was less than fully cooperative with the Bank of England in providing details of the Libor scandal, he was gone within 24 hours. Any bank supervisor has the right and the obligation to force out a manager who impedes the proper functioning of the financial system.

The new CEO of Barclays (BARC) is trying to clean house. The obstreperous approach of the previous management set the tone for the entire organization, creating a mess of macroeconomic proportions.

Will any senior executives at Standard Chartered be forced out? Could the bank lose its ability to operate in the U.S.? Based on what we have seen so far, neither seems plausible.

If Standard Chartered violates its cease-and-desist order with the Fed, would it then lose its license? Not according to what Powell said in his congressional testimony. The Fed has no teeth whatsoever, at least when it comes to global megabanks, hence the continuing pattern of defiance from JPMorgan (JPM) and Dimon.

If you or I tried to launder money, even on a small scale, we would probably go to jail. But when the employees of a very big bank do so — on a grand scale and over many years — there are no meaningful consequences.

(Simon Johnson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management as well as a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, is co-author of “White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You.” The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this article: Simon Johnson at .

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net.

 

With Liberty & Justice for 1%: America’s Three-Tiered Justice System

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, June 19, 2012. On March 6, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder indicated that some banks may be too big to prosecute. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst / The New York Times) Oldspeak: “Big shots are above the law, the government now admits, but a three-tiered justice system has Congress churning out new bills to keep the prison industry booming. Our Congress, acting as an agent of Corporate America, is working assiduously to issue ever more novel and oppressive laws so as to keep the machinery of law enforcement operating.”- Mike Lofgren It’s no secret that inequality in the U.S. is at an all time high, surpassing the madness seen during the great depression. The top 1 percent of households by income captured 121 percent of all income gains between 2009 and 2011. This inequality concurrently permeates most every other system in our society. Education, employment, energy, social, environment, food production. And the justice system is no different.  We are living in a time where there are people for which “there is neither law nor redress. Where international treaties may apply, such as the Geneva Convention or treaties against torture, they are assumed not to exist for purposes of official US government conduct.” Where people disappear, indefinitely, based on secret charges made in secret courts. Where where Americans can be targeted for “disposition”, based on the judgment of one man. Where citizens can be constantly watched. All while the rich rape, pillage murder, and control. Above the law, free of empathy or conscience, with no fear of punishment. This status quo cannot continue to be so.

By Mike Lofgren @ Truthout:

Equal Justice under Law,” is the motto inscribed on the frieze of the United States Supreme Court building.

Sticklers for semantics say that the modifiers “equal” and “under law” in the Supreme Court’s motto are redundant, because justice by definition is equal treatment under a system of written and publicly accessible rules. Whether that is the case is precisely what is at issue in America today.

Tier I: The Great and the Good

Events since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 have provided plenty of fodder for the belief that there is one law for the rich and another for the common clay. Practical as opposed to explicit inequality before the law is common in societies all over the world; it usually boils down to how legal procedures are applied as opposed to what the letter of the law is on the statute books. Officials who are pledged to uphold the law will invariably protest that they are neutral and unimpeachable executors of justice and that it is unthinkable to suggest they are administering a rigged system. Honi soit qui mal y pense! (“Shamed be he who thinks evil of it.”) is their usual indignant attitude when the rabble becomes pushy.

It is unclear if there was a rare outbreak of candor among officials in Washington during the past two weeks, or whether they simply calculated that the system has so completely slipped from public control that it doesn’t matter if forbidden truths are spoken. On March 6, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder stated the following: “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.” Yes, well, that could explain it. When the banks hold a gun to the head of the economy, it is no longer the relationship between regulator and regulated, but a hostage relationship. A relationship made even more complex, no doubt, by the fact that the hostage-taker is also the principal corporate funder of the bosses of the putative hostage negotiators.

Apparently none of his senatorial interrogators had the wit to ask the following of the attorney general: Why would criminally prosecuting a handful of senior executives at a financial institution be more economically damaging than levying a civil fine? HSBC’s $1.9-billion settlement with the Justice Department for money-laundering is almost derisory in view of its $21.9 billion in global profits during the past year, but if anyone is going to suffer from that small subtraction from the bank’s revenues, it is likely to be shareholders and depositors who had nothing to do with the crime rather than the management who committed it. And even in an extreme situation, where most or all of a bank’s management were criminally involved, the government could seize the bank and operate it as a conservator in the manner of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Innocent stakeholders would be protected, thus nullifying Holder’s fear-mongering about endangering the world economy.

Thus it requires only a moment’s thought to conclude that it is not the size, complexity or fragility of the financial system that stays the hand of criminal prosecution, but the status of the persons within those institutions. Apparently, robbing a bank is a criminal activity depending which side of the teller’s window you are on and whether you are upper management or a $12-an-hour cashier. The Senate has given no indication of being overly concerned: After a perfunctory hearing, the Banking Committee favorably reported the Wall Street-connected Mary Jo White to the full Senate for confirmation as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The dead giveaway that the fix was in was the fact that committee Republicans, who ordinarily obstruct nominees purely out of habit, did not raise a peep of objection. White, like Holder, is not a fan of prosecuting the executives of big banks.

Tier II: The Great Unwashed

Perhaps the big shots are above the law. This does not mean, however, that the mighty wheel of justice does not turn in this country. Somebody must be getting prosecuted, given that the United States has more incarcerated people in its jurisdiction than any other country, including China, which has four times our population. The incarceration rate is no accident: The vast accretion of harsh punishments for essentially victimless crimes like drug possession, mandatory minimum sentences and “three strikes” provisions in many state laws virtually guarantee the highest rate of imprisonment since the days of Stalin’s gulags.

Our Congress, acting as an agent of Corporate America, is working assiduously to issue ever more novel and oppressive laws so as to keep the machinery of law enforcement operating. Even the right of possession and free use of an article legally obtained by legitimate purchase, a right celebrated by libertarian economists, can be nullified when corporations deem it necessary to extract rents. Pursuant to the Millennium Digital Copyright Act, it is now illegal to alter a cell phone that you bought and paid for if you are dissatisfied with the service provider that the phone manufacturer has an exclusive agreement with. How illegal? – a $500,000 fine and five years in prison (double for repeat offenders). Apparently citizens no longer have a freehold in this country; they are instead serfs dwelling on a feudal demesne at the sufferance of their corporate landlords.

State legislatures have kept up with Congress in this endeavor. One might think the exposure of animal cruelty and unsanitary conditions in the corporatized farming and food processing industries would cause lawmakers to be indignant against the perpetrators and desirous of protecting the safety of the food supply. But no, state legislatures have directed their fury against the citizen-activists who exposed the wrongdoing by levying heavy penalties against surreptitious photographing of the outrages.

With draconian sentences looming over defendants, it is no wonder that most criminal processes end in plea bargains rather than jury trials: Even an accused person believing himself innocent may plead guilty to lesser charges (charges that still land him in prison, albeit for a shorter term) rather than face either bankrupting legal fees or suffer an incompetent appointed counsel and the possibility of a sentence lasting decades.

Incompetent or not, even the constitutional right of counsel is not always provided, as the attorney general himself has admitted. The big banks, with their extensive in-house legal departments and endless reserves of cash, have no such worries. Their attorneys are skillful enough, and have sufficient resources, to file change-of-venue motions so as to escape the wrath either of unfriendly judges or – one of the worst engines of injustice since the Inquisition – demagogic district attorneys itching for higher office and lusting for juries to inflame. As a practical matter, ordinary citizens have no such protection.

Some officials have conceded the infeasibility of locking up more and more people, perhaps less because of the ethical issues involved than because of the fiscal drain attendant with incarcerating so many bodies. Traditionally a function of the state, prisons represent a large input of taxpayer dollars whose only output, other than license plates, is a social sense of safety and security (an intangible and hard-to-prove value). But Corporate America has come up with an answer to that as well: the private prison industry. In addition to promising security, the growing private prison lobby can offer a much more tangible benefit to politicians: campaign donations. We can be sure that consultants for this industry will invent more and more ingenious felony statutes for state legislatures to pass into law so as to keep their prisons full and profits flowing, as we have already seen happen in Arizona.

Tier III: The Untouchables

Thus far we have dealt with the law: law that is perhaps hatched with malign intent, corruptly enforced and unequally applied, but at any rate law that exists openly in the US Code or the state statutes. But justice for foreigners and discrete categories of American citizens enters the realm of the Wild West, where there is neither law nor redress. Where international treaties may apply, such as the Geneva Convention or treaties against torture, they are assumed not to exist for purposes of official US government conduct.

Should the plaintiff, a group like Amnesty International, say, argue on behalf of injured parties before a United State court, the plaintiff lacks standing because he is not an injured party. Should the injured party himself seek redress, he lacks standing because of his status at the time of the alleged crime. Should all else fail, and the court needs to avail itself of some excuse not to hear the case, it employs the state secrets privilege, a completely fictitious, made-up doctrine deriving from an incident whereby the executive branch, in asserting that classified information would be revealed, committed perjury. There was no classified information, but the rabbinical automatons of the federal judiciary have pretended for the past 50 years that the government’s having lied about whether a fatal plane crash involved classified information must henceforth and forever be twisted into a reason why the government’s assertions about classified information must always be taken as true, definitive and legally binding.

One suspects a similar morass of dishonesty lies behind the present administration’s policy on the use of drones for the purposes of assassination. For instance, in deciding to carry out assassinations, did President Obama or his predecessor go to the trouble of revoking Executive Order 11905, Executive Order 12036, or Executive Order 12333, all of which prohibit assassinations? Or were they merely reinterpreted to mean that a ban on assassination means “not unless you really want to?” Unquestionably the latter, because someone deemed it useful to keep the old executive orders on the books as sacred artifacts one could point to as examples of how virtuous we are – much in the same manner as the Roman curia, ever rife with corruption and intrigue, is charged with regulating the veneration of holy relics.

As for when the policy is to be implemented, the administration has done its best to keep that secret. It has maintained a close hold on the alleged documents describing the policy in detail, but has purposely leaked a white paper that supposedly summarizes the policy. Here one gets a sense of ad hoc improvisation: Since John Brennan and other administration officials had already publicly stated that drone strikes were only used to disrupt “imminent” threats of attack, the white paper appears to have been engineered ex post facto to prevent the administration from being constrained by Brennan’s words. In the paper itself “imminent” is gradually redefined over the course of several paragraphs so that it no longer means a criminal action is temporally nigh, but rather inheres in the status of the individual so targeted. Thus are certain persons beneath the law: Their status assumes their intended action, so they are fair game for assassination.

The white paper qualifies this startling legal theory (which is rather similar to the Commissar Order, albeit the shooting occurs at greater distance) by helpfully stating that such operations would not be conducted if civilian casualties would be “excessive.” One supposes the definition of the term “excessive” is as elastic as that of “imminent;” in any case unofficial estimates suggest civilian casualties in the thousands, including several hundred children.

One is tempted to conclude that there really is no administration-level drone policy, let alone one constrained by law, except a sham one, which is cobbled together after the fact to construct a plausible justification whenever complaints arise. At the lower level, drone employment is constrained neither by the military code, nor the laws of war nor by any other applicable treaty. It is probably just an intelligence-driven target set applied to a checklist: Does target X-ray fit “terrorist signatures” alpha, bravo, charlie and delta? If the boxes can be checked, the government operative (or contractor) hits the switch.

None of this should be surprising. Since the Moro uprising in the Philippines, American exceptionalism as it operates abroad has been built on hecatombs of corpses. That it doesn’t bother the American public should not be surprising given the human capacity for moral compartmentalization. But lawlessness abroad cannot be walled off from domestic life: impunity for oligarchs, draconian sentences and bulging prisons for those lacking privileged status, and casual death for those beneath the law and even innocent people in the vicinity, are at bottom inevitable and inseparable once the rule of law is compromised. Apocryphal perhaps, but the following exchange describes the present American dilemma:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Mike Lofgren

Mike Lofgren retired on June 17 after 28 years as a Congressional staffer. He served 16 years as a professional staff member on the Republican side of both the House and Senate Budget Committees.

 

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.

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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.

In 2009 Obama Administration Committed To Creating An Unprecedented Level Of Openness In Government. In 2012 Government Censorship & Secrecy Hit All Time High

In Uncategorized on March 15, 2013 at 11:29 am

Oldspeak:“In this weeks edition of “Doublethink Theater” We have a quote from President Obama’s First day in office, January 21, 2009 “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”  Then this from his Memo on Transparency and Open Government: “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government. Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use.” Fast forward to 2013 and a quote from Alexander Abdo, ACLU National Security Project Attorney: “We’ve seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims to protect secret law, the government’s interpretations of laws or its understanding of its own authority. In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration”  And this from Federal Judge Colleen McMahon after ruling against the New York Times and ACLU in its request to see government records providing legal justification for its assassination program: “I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22. I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.” Yes. YET ANOTHER instance of Senator Obama saying and doing one thing & President Obama saying and doing THE EXACT OPPOSITE. After authoring such transparency promoting law as The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act as a Senator, President Obama’s administration has censored & denied more requests for information than ever before, while taking much longer to respond to requests in general. Upholding “secret laws”. Flouting the constitution. Making legally unchallengeable secrecy claims. Prosecuting and jailing more government whistleblowers than any other President in history. While those who’ve engage in the fraud, waste, abuse and malfeasance whistleblowers have reported, continue to do so unmolested with no fear of reprisal;  in fact, in some egregious cases actually being rewarded with promotions.  Given these precedents, you can safely infer that next Administration will be even less transparent in its operations. Less responsive to the people.  America’s Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy, will continue to grow, weakening representative democracy until the country collapses under the weight of rampant greed, criminality and corruption.  All in the name of “National Security”.
“2+2=5”.
“Ignorance Is Strength”.

By Jack Gillum & Ted Bridis @ The Associated Press:

The Obama administration answered more requests from the public to see government records under the Freedom of Information Act last year, but more often than it ever has it cited legal exceptions to censor or withhold the material, according to a new analysis by The Associated Press. It frequently cited the need to protect national security and internal deliberations.

The AP’s analysis showed the government released all or portions of the information that citizens, journalists, businesses and others sought at about the same rate as the previous three years. It turned over all or parts of the records in about 65 percent of all requests. It fully rejected more than one-third of requests, a slight increase over 2011, including cases when it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper.

The AP examined more than 5,600 data elements measuring the administration’s performance on government transparency since Obama’s election.

People submitted more than 590,000 requests for information in fiscal 2012 — an increase of less than 1 percent over the previous year. Including leftover requests from previous years, the government responded to more requests than ever in 2012 — more than 603,000 — a 5 percent increase for the second consecutive year.

When the government withheld or censored records, it cited exceptions built into the law to avoid turning over materials more than 479,000 times, a roughly 22 percent increase over the previous year. In most cases, more than one of the law’s exceptions was cited in each request for information.

The government’s responsiveness under the FOIA is widely viewed as a barometer of the federal offices’ transparency. Under the law, citizens and foreigners can compel the government to turn over copies of federal records for zero or little cost. Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas.

The AP’s review comes at the start of the second term for Obama, who promised during his first week in office that the nation’s signature open-records law would be “administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.” The review examined figures from the largest federal departments and agencies. Sunday was the start of Sunshine Week, when news organizations promote open government and freedom of information.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement that during the past year, the government “processed more requests, decreased the backlog, improved average processing times and disclosed more information pro-actively.” Schultz said the improvements “represent the efforts of agencies across the government to meet the president’s commitment to openness. While there is more work to be done, this past year demonstrates that agencies are responding to the president’s call for greater transparency.”

In a year of intense public interest over deadly U.S. drones, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, terror threats and more, the government cited national security to withhold information at least 5,223 times — a jump over 4,243 such cases in 2011 and 3,805 cases in Obama’s first year in office. The secretive CIA last year became even more secretive: Nearly 60 percent of 3,586 requests for files were withheld or censored for that reason last year, compared with 49 percent a year earlier.

Other federal agencies that invoked the national security exception included the Pentagon, Director of National Intelligence, NASA, Office of Management and Budget, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Communications Commission and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs.

U.S. courts are loath to overrule the administration whenever it cites national security. A federal judge, Colleen McMahon of New York, in January ruled against The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union to see records about the government’s legal justification for drone attacks and other methods it has used to kill terrorism suspects overseas, including American citizens. She cited an “Alice in Wonderland” predicament in which she was expected to determine what information should be revealed but unable to challenge the government’s secrecy claim. Part of her ruling was sealed and made available only to the government’s lawyers.

“I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22,” the judge wrote. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”

The AP could not determine whether the administration was abusing the national security exemption or whether the public was asking for more documents about sensitive subjects. Nearly half the Pentagon’s 2,390 denials last year under that clause came from its National Security Agency, which monitors Internet traffic and phone calls worldwide.

“FOIA is an imperfect law, and I don’t think that’s changed over the last four years since Obama took office,” said Alexander Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney for its national security project. “We’ve seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims to protect secret law, the government’s interpretations of laws or its understanding of its own authority. In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration.”

The Obama administration also more frequently invoked the law’s “deliberative process” exception to withhold records describing decision-making behind the scenes. Obama had directed agencies to use it less often, but the number of such cases had surged after his first year in office to more than 71,000. After back-to-back years when figures steadily declined, as agencies followed the president’s instructions, the government cited that reason 66,353 times last year to keep records or parts of records secret.

The Homeland Security Department, which includes offices that deal with immigration files, received more than twice as many requests for records — 190,589 new requests last year — as any other agency, and it answered significantly more requests than it did in 2011. Other agencies, including the State Department, National Transportation Safety Board and Nuclear Regulatory Commission performed worse last year. The State Department, for example, answered only 57 percent of its requests, down from 75 percent a year earlier.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services drove a dramatic increase in the number of times DHS censored immigration records under exceptions to police files containing personal information and law enforcement techniques. The agency invoked those exemptions more than 136,000 times in 2012, compared with more than 75,000 a year earlier. Even though USCIS is not a law-enforcement agency, officials used the exceptions specifically reserved for law enforcement.

Under the law, a citizen can ask the government to reconsider its decision to censor or withhold materials. In the roughly 11,000 such instances last year where that happened, the government prevailed just under half the time. In about 3,400 cases the government turned over at least some additional information. These administrative appeals took about five months each.

The only recourse after such an appeal is an expensive lawsuit or to ask the government’s FOIA mediator, the U.S. Office of Government Information Services, to intervene.

The AP’s analysis also found that the government generally took longer to answer requests. Some agencies, such as the Health and Human Services Department, took less time than the previous year to turn over files. But at the State Department, for example, even urgent requests submitted under a fast-track system covering breaking news or events when a person’s life was at stake took an average two years to wait for files.

Journalists and others who need information quickly to report breaking news fared worse last year. The rate at which the government granted so-called expedited processing, which moves an urgent request to the front of the line for a speedy answer, fell from 24 percent in 2011 to 17 percent last year. The CIA denied every such request last year.

Under increased budget pressure across the government, agencies more often insisted that people pay search and copying fees. It waived costs in 59 percent of requests, generally when the amount was negligible or the release of the information is in the public interest, a decline from 64 percent of cases a year earlier. At the Treasury Department, which faced questions about its role in auto bailouts and stimulus programs during Obama’s first term, only one in five requests were processed at no charge. A year earlier, it granted more than 75 percent of fee waivers. The CIA denied every request last year to waive fees.

The 33 agencies that AP examined were: Agency for International Development, CIA, Agriculture Department, Commerce Department, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Defense Department, Education Department, Energy Department, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Interior Department, Justice Department, Labor Department, State Department, Transportation Department, Treasury Department, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Election Commission, Federal Trade Commission, NASA, National Science Foundation, National Transportation Safety Board, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Securities and Exchange Commission, Small Business Administration, the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Postal Service.

Follow Jack Gillum on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jackgillum

 

 

Police State Overcriminalization Normalized: NYPD Cops Handcuff & Interrogate 7 Year Old Boy For Hours Over Missing $5

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2013 at 12:06 pm

https://i2.wp.com/gothamist.com/assets_c/2013/01/2013_01_cuffbig-thumb-640x693-770789.jpgOldspeak:”In a Police State, over criminalization is a way of life. Children (particularly those of  minority and or low socioeconomic status), like all other citizens, are potentially threatening to the State. They are treated like criminals.  It is acceptable to detain, arrest, handcuff, and interrogate children  for hours in a school and police station. Children are regularly treated this way. This is regarded as normal.”

By Jen Chung @ The Gothamist:

A fight over $5 between Bronx school children escalated to the point where the police were called and a seven-year-old boy was arrested, handcuffed, and kept in custody for 10 hours, according to the child’s family, who is threatening to sue the city for $250 million. When Wilson Reyes’ mother Frances Mendez arrived at the 44th Precinct, she was shocked to see her son handcuffed to the wall. Mendez said, “My son was crying, ‘Mommy, it wasn’t me! Mommy, it wasn’t me!’ I never imagined the cops could do that to a child. We’re traumatized… Imagine how I felt seeing my son in handcuffs! It was horrible. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

According to the Post reporters who spoke to Mendez and took a photograph of her with the boy, the whole mess started when there was a fight over another child’s $5:

The money, which was supposed to be used for a school trip that never happened, had fallen on the ground in front of Wilson and two other boys, and one of them scooped it up. Wilson was falsely accused of taking it, and he scuffled with one of the kids.Officers showed up at PS X114 on Dec. 4 at about 10:20 a.m., and handcuffed and held Wilson in a room there for four hours. They then hauled him off to the 44th Precinct station house for another six hours of interrogation and verbal abuse, according to a $250 million claim against the city and the NYPD.

According to legal documents, another child admitted to stealing the money. But that’s little comfort for Mendez, who says that police refused to let her see her son: “When cops finally allowed the pair to see the boy, they found the panicked kid seated in a shabby chair with his left wrist cuffed to the wall, Mendez said. She quickly snapped a damning photo of the scene. ‘My sister and I started crying when we saw him,’ Mendez said.”

Her lawyer Jack Yanowitz said, “It’s unfathomable, what the police did. The whole thing sounds so stupid. They were interrogating him like he was a hardened criminal.” But the police claim that they were following procedure. NYPD spokeswoman Kim Royster told the Daily News, “The attorney is fabricating the amount of time the child was in custody.” She insists Wilson was only held for four hours and 40 minutes.

Other police sources tell the Post and Daily News that Wilson allegedly punched a child. The News reports:

The cop source close to the incident said the 7-year-old had been bullying the victim for some time, prompting the victim’s mom to call for a meeting with teachers and the suspect’s mom. “This kid is no angel, even though he may look like it,” the source said. “We made the arrest based on the complainant aggressively complaining about what the defendant did to him. This wasn’t something where one kid runs off with another kid’s basketball. This 7-year-old attacked someone and took his money. There’s a little more to this story than it appears.”

Further, the source points out that children seven to 17 can be charged as juveniles. “Everything was done properly,” the unidentified cop told the News, adding that the boy was given pizza during his detention. “He was arrested for a robbery. He was taken to the precinct and put in the juvenile room. His parent was allowed to see him.” Another source argues that “If we didn’t handcuff him and he ran out the front door, then we would have had an escaped prisoner on our hands.”

We’re all sleeping better at night for that! The NYPD has a history of handcuffing unassuming criminal types—like the 7-year-old special ed student, the 12-year-old who doodled on her desk, and the 15-year-old who used her student Metrocard.

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.