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Dec 13 2012

They don’t even bother to pretend anymore

Glenn Greenwald points out that the soft-glove treatment given by the government to mega-bank HSBC for its crimes illustrates how the US has now gone to a system where a small class of individuals and corporations have been openly given immunity from prosecution for even major crimes, while at the same time ordinary people are cracked down hard for even minor ones.

As he concludes

Having different “justice systems” for citizens based on their status, wealth, power and prestige is exactly what the US founders argued most strenuously had to be avoided (even as they themselves maintained exactly such a system). But here we have in undeniable clarity not merely proof of exactly how this system functions, but also the rotted and fundamentally corrupt precept on which it’s based: that some actors are simply too important and too powerful to punish criminally. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz warned in 2010, exempting the largest banks from criminal prosecution has meant that lawlessness and “venality” is now “at a higher level” in the US even than that which prevailed in the pervasively corrupt and lawless privatizing era in Russia.

Having the US government act specially to protect the most powerful factions, particularly banks, was a major impetus that sent people into the streets protesting both as part of the early Tea Party movement as well as the Occupy movement. As well as it should: it is truly difficult to imagine corruption and lawlessness more extreme than having the government explicitly place the most powerful factions above the rule of law even as it continues to subject everyone else to disgracefully harsh “justice”. If this HSBC gift makes more manifest this radical corruption, then it will at least have achieved some good.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    Reginald Selkirk

    Corporations are people, my friend. So let’s send a couple of corporations to the slammer.

  2. 2
    Jockaira

    Corporations are not people, they are legal fictions. You cannot send a legal fiction to prison, but you can restrict or prohibit its activity. The US government can certainly allow HSBC to continue its operations under restriction while at the same time prosecuting the executives and assistants who conspired to subvert banking regulations and national interests.
    .
    As for harm to banking corporations so restricted, it should be pointed out that any organisation too dependent upon certain persons within is basically a weak organisation meant eventually to suffer greatly when key executives die or move on to other jobs. If well-organised, the corporation would continue efficiently with new personnel promoted from within or hired from without.
    .
    It is against public interest to allow banking officials off the hook, in essence thumbing their noses at the law, while others less fortunate in their lives are are punished severely for the same basic activities. This can only instill great disrespect for the law and weaken society in general. Most especially, the custodians of our money, those who make decisions affecting the public weal, should in all circumstances be above reproach in all areas of their conduct and morality.

  3. 3
    khms

    Without knowing much about the specific case in the OP, one thing I’ve learned over here in the EU from various prosecutions of high-level managers is that usually, it’s pretty hard to prove significant culpability. Therefore there is a certain resistance to even trying – the relevant public officials don’t like to b shown powerless.

    However, even though progress is far too slow, one conclusion to the bank-saving is that that kind of situation needs to be avoided, and the way to avid it is increased banking regulation and specifically control of the major banks – those banks that would need saving if shit happens.

    From the point of view of one of the masses who might first lose their money, and then be taxed for the save, I’d say that if this works as envisioned, it would be the more important result. If I can get protection from a few people crashing the economy, I’m willing to overlook them getting away with lining their pockets. Not happy about it, mind you.

    To put it into US 2nd amendment language, if I can get a working bulletproof vest, I’m more likely to let people get away with unrestricted firearms. Not happy, mind you.

  4. 4
    Francisco Bacopa

    If corporations are people, we should bring back the Athenian law of the Ostrakon. This law allowed the people to exile any citizen who had so much wealth and power that he was a threat to democracy. The citizen would be given enough money out of his own estate to live abroad in reasonable comfort, and his property would be placed under control of an appointed manager. After the exile was complete, the property would be returned.

    If corporations are people, it should be possible to exile them. Around these parts, most people would pick BP.

  5. 5
    billyeager

    A rather pertinent observation was made recently regarding the, seemingly, ‘huge’ fines being meted out to these multi-national gambling addicts banks, is that, if the profit from the scam ‘operation’ exceeds the penalty imposed (if they get caught and penalised, that is), it is not viewed as a penalty by the bank, it is simply viewed as the cost of doing business.

    Hardly punitive, hardly a deterrent.

  6. 6
    gridironmonger

    The best one line I’ve heard about this case was something along the lines of:

    What this case shows is that if you are going to engage in money laundering for a drug cartel, make sure you do so as an employee of a bank, and you’ll be fine.

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