December 19, 2012 archive

Dec 19

Lesser Evilism

If you happen to be a terrorist and drug syndicate money laundering operation.

Where is Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy on Big Bank Crimes and Obama?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Matt Stoller, Naked Capitalism

Last week’s big revelation on banking is that it is now official Department of Justice policy under Obama that big banks and their executives are above the law. HSBC was caught laundering money for both terrorists and drug dealers, and DOJ officials told the New York Times that they would not prosecute the bank under money laundering statutes, lest the financial system be destabilized. This was shocking, but consistent with policy made explicit by DOJ’s Head of Criminal Division Lanny Breuer back in September.

One key question is why it is that Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a former prosecutor, is utterly unwilling to do any investigation or oversight into this critical policy question? Leahy runs the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, and it would be impossible to find a more obvious topic for that committee to address. It’s not that there isn’t interest in the Senate. Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, and Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, both blasted Eric Holder for this decision.



Eliot Spitzer is also outraged, and said that Breuer should be “gone tomorrow”. Matt Taibbi penned a diatribe. Rep. Brad Miller called for the big banks to be broken up (which is something Neil Barofsky argued was necessary in order to prosecute these banks in the interview I did with him a fw weeks ago). The rationale from the other side doesn’t hold water. The argument is that a guilty verdict would cause the bank to lose its charter, which means it could not operate in the United States. DOJ officials would not even bring a case under the bank secrecy act, which would carry a much less severe penalty. Even if we accept this rationale, there is still no reason not to prosecute the individuals at HSBC who helped launder this money.

This isn’t just an Obama administration policy, it also belongs to Congress. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, by doing no oversight, has consented to this policy framework. He has to date said nothing about the dramatic policy implied in the HSBC decision. Yet, last May, Leahy gave a pat on the back to FBI Director for doing a better job regarding fraud. The FBI and the Justice Department, he said, “have also worked hand in hand with us to make great strides toward more effective fraud prevention and enforcement.”



So at this point, it’s worthwhile to ask, when the US government has explicitly defied Congress’s will and put big bank executives above the law, where is Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy?

Dec 19

Cartnoon

Originally posted September 23, 2011.

You Ought To Be In Pictures

Dec 19

On This Day In History December 19

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

On this day in 1776, Thomas Paine publishes The American Crisis.

These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

When these phrases appeared in the pages of the Pennsylvania Journal for the first time, General George Washington’s troops were encamped at McKonkey’s Ferry on the Delaware River opposite Trenton, New Jersey. In August, they had suffered humiliating defeats and lost New York City to British troops. Between September and December, 11,000 American volunteers gave up the fight and returned to their families. General Washington could foresee the destiny of a rebellion without an army if the rest of his men returned home when their service contracts expired on December 31. He knew that without an upswing in morale and a significant victory, the American Revolution would come to a swift and humiliating end.

Thomas Paine was similarly astute. His Common Sense was the clarion call that began the revolution. As Washington’s troops retreated from New York through New Jersey, Paine again rose to the challenge of literary warfare. With American Crisis, he delivered the words that would salvage the revolution.

The American Crisis was a series of pamphlets published from 1776 to 1783 during the American Revolution by eighteenth century Enlightenment philosopher and author Thomas Paine. Thirteen numbered pamphlets were published between 1776-1777 with three additional pamphlets released between 1777-1783. The writings were contemporaneous with the early parts of the American Revolution, during the times that colonists needed inspiring.

They were written in a language the common man could manage and are indicative of Paine’s liberal philosophies. Paine signed them with one of his many pseudonyms “Common Sense”. The writings bolstered the morale of the American colonists, appealed to the English people’s consideration of the war with America, clarified the issues at stake in the war and denounced the advocates of a negotiated peace.

Dec 19

To the Phones: No Cuts to Social Security

Cross posted from The Star Hollow Gazette

As you know, if you read this blog, or any of the true left wing sites, like FiredogLake and Corrente, that Pres. Obama has once again gone back on his word that cuts to Social Security were off the table as a bargaining chip for a “Grand Bargain.” He has proposed to use  the chained CPI to calculate cost of living increases in Social Security benefits. Now House Minority Leader Nancy is saying that she could live with tying Social Security to the chained CPI, plus she said Democrats would stick with the president to avoid going over the fiscal cliff.

David Dayen at FDL News summed up Pelosi’s meaning and later White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at the press briefing:

Pelosi tried to emphasize the unformed idea that there would be “protections” for the most vulnerable. For example, the disabled on Supplemental Security Income might not be subject to chained CPI, and there could be a “bump-up” for people aged 80, to compensate for the cumulative effect of the benefit cut. Again, the vulnerable are a massive part of this population (pdf). This is almost the entire income source for almost half of seniors, and for 3/4 of widows or unmarried women. And 15.1% of seniors live in poverty. And if you hold all of them harmless, you erode the actual savings you can derive from this. The three-legged stool of retirement has withered away, especially since the dot-com bust and the Great Recession. This argues strongly for increasing Social Security benefits, not cutting them and not even mitigating cuts.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called this a “technical fix” to better calculate inflation. Bullshit. If this were just a technical fix, you would adjust so that the fix wouldn’t hit beneficiaries in a regressive fashion, with the most pain at the bottom. This plan doesn’t, to any real degree. The goal isn’t to properly measure inflation, it’s to save money for the federal government. It always has been.

Well, it time to make noise and fight back. Atrios has sounded the alert and we should take to the phones:

White House

202-456-1111

Your senators

Your House member.

No cuts to Social Security.

Keep it up everyday, jam the lines until the President and Congress get the message:

No cuts to Social Security.

Dec 19

Muse in the Morning

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Muse in the Morning


Holiday Adornment

Dec 19

Now They Are “Too Big To Jail”

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Last summer it was revealed that one of the world’s largest banks based, HSBC, base in Britain, had been laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and skirting US government bans against financial transactions with Iran and other countries that aid Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. In a stunning move during a hearing before the  Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations chief compliance officer, David Bagley, took the blame and resigned.

Last week the federal government and New York State announced a settlement with HSBC:

In a filing in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, federal prosecutors said the bank had agreed to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement and to forfeit $1.25 billion. The four-count criminal information filed in the court charged HSBC with failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program, to conduct due diligence on its foreign correspondent affiliates, and for violating sanctions and the Trading With the Enemy Act.

“HSBC is being held accountable for stunning failures of oversight – and worse – that led the bank to permit narcotics traffickers and others to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through HSBC subsidiaries, and to facilitate hundreds of millions more in transactions with sanctioned countries,” Lanny A. Breuer, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement. [..]

HSBC, based in Britain, has also agreed to pay the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, one of the bank’s central regulators, an additional $500 million as part of a civil penalty. The Federal Reserve will be paid a $165 million civil penalty. [..]

HSBC also entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Manhattan district attorney’s office. As part of that agreement, HSBC admitted that it violated New York State law.

Just like the mortgage and banking fraud that was uncovered during the financial crisis, there will be no criminal charges. The fines that were levied are tantamount to about five weeks of income for the bank. Contributing editor for the Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi points out the outrageous incongruity of this settlement:

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. [..]

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. [..]

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. [..]

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.

Apparently this settlement has garnered some bipartisan concerns from Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Charles Grassley. In separate statements released from their offices, they criticized the Justice Department for not sending a stronger message to the banking industry. Sen. Grassley said it best:

   The Department has not prosecuted a single employee of HSBC-no executives, no directors, no AML compliance staff members, no one. By allowing these individuals to walk away without any real punishment, the Department is declaring that crime actually does pay. Functionally, HSBC has quite literally purchased a get-out-of-jail-free card for its employees for the price of $1.92 billion dollars.

   There is no doubt that the Department has “missed a rare chance to send an unmistakable signal about the threat posed by financial institutions willing to assist drug lords and terror groups in moving their money.” One international banking expert went as far as to argue that, despite the “astonishing amount of criminal behavior” from HSBC employees, the DPA is no more than a “parking ticket.”

But, as David Dayen at FDL News notes there are crickets from certain key senators:

Matt Stoller makes a very good point here: where is Patrick Leahy on this? He has made no public statement on the HSBC case, despite being the co-author of the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, which was supposed to deliver funds toward prosecuting fraudulent big bank activity (it never actually did). Grassley, a co-author, has spoken out. Why not Leahy?

Matt Taibbi sat down with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez at Democracy Now to discuss the settlement:

Transcript can be read here

Now, not only are the banks “too big to fail“, they are “too big to jail.

 

Dec 19

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