Too Big To Jail

What’s worse than unjust and ineffective laws like the failed War on Drugs and the failed sanctions on Iran?

Unjust and ineffective laws that apply to ordinary folks, but not to banksters:

When the Justice Department announced its record $1.9 billion settlement against British bank HSBC last week, prosecutors called it a powerful blow to a dysfunctional institution accused of laundering money for Iran, Libya and Mexico’s murderous drug cartels.

But to some former federal prosecutors, it was only the latest case of the government stopping short of bringing criminal money laundering charges against a big bank or its executives, at least in part on the rationale that such prosecutions could be devastating enough to cause such banks to fail.

They say it sounds a lot like the “too big to fail” meme that kept big but sickly banks alive on the support of taxpayer-funded bailouts. In these cases, they call it, “Too big to jail.”

This stings. It should sting anyone who cares about the idea of equality in front of the law, anyone who cares about the basic rule of law, anyone who doesn’t want to see their society devolve into a festering pool of feudalism.

According to the most recent data, there were 197,050 sentenced prisoners under federal jurisdiction of which 94,600 were serving time for drug offenses.There were 1,362,028 sentenced prisoners under state jurisdiction of which 237,000 were serving time for drug offenses. That’s over 300,000 individuals serving time currently for drugs offenses, in addition to over one million currently on probation. Now I don’t agree with the War on Drugs at all. But big banks are deemed too “systemically important” to be held to the same standard as the huge and disproportionately black population of low-level drug users.

BlackPrisoners

If the Drug War laws don’t apply to the big banks — if Wall Street bankers who have broken the law can’t go to prison too — then how is incarcerating low-level drug users really much different to chattel slavery?

And not only do private prison companies pocket massive profits from the taxpayers’ purse for running the prisons, but prisoners are a pool of ultra-cheap indentured labour.

As Todd Curl notes:

Prisons in the United States used to be institutions of actual reform and rehabilitation. Men who entered a prison, would often learn a trade and have a usable skill to earn a legitimate living upon release. The recidivism rates have sharply increased as job and education programs within prisons–especially private prisons–have steadily declined. This is not to say that skills are not acquired in these private prisons, quite the contrary. In many of these private prisons, inmates are contracted as telemarketers, among other things, for many large corporations. These prisoners can earn as much as 75 cents an hour for their job–sometimes under 40 cents. What’s the payoff one might ask? For one, corporations get very cheap—third world cheap—labor that cannot unionize, cannot call in sick and cannot complain without fear of time added to their sentence or retaliation from guards who overworked and underpaid themselves, and risk losing their livelihood if an “uppity” prisoner refuses their indentured corporate servitude.

The War on Drugs is descending from tragedy into farce. Poor black drug users are fair game for the slave labour business. Rich Wall Street bankers who launder drug money? Nope.

In May I asked:

Have the 2008 bailouts cemented a new feudal aristocracy of bankers, financiers and too-big-to-fail zombies, alongside a serf class that exists to fund the excesses of the financial and corporate elite?

Only time will tell.

Time is telling.

Once a certain segment of society becomes protected from criminal liability, that society has travelled a long way down the road to feudalism, to a caste system, to serfdom.

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The Failed War on Drugs

Provided by onlinecriminaljusticedegree.com

The Economics of Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is the story of Walter White, a cash-strapped, suburban 50-year old high school chemistry teacher, who following a life-changing cancer diagnosis hooks up with his drug-dealing former student, Jesse Pinkman, to cook and sell crystal methamphetamine. Immediately thrown in at the deep end, White undergoes a vast personality change; from mild-mannered Father into the lying, murderous gangland drug lord Heisenberg;  first cooking methamphetamine wearing an apron in a winnebago, then working in a high-tech underground laboratory for the Chilean gangland kingpin Gustavo Fring — who White eventually kills — and finally amassing a multi-hundred-million-dollar pile of cash.

A key dynamic in the show is White’s relationship with his brother-in-law, DEA agent Hank Schrader. It is Schrader who first introduces White to the idea that selling methamphetamine can pay — boasting of multi-hundred-thousand-dollar drug hauls, and even taking White out on a DEA raid of meth lab, where White first encounters his former student Pinkman. As White’s famously pure blue methamphetamine grows in popularity, Schrader becomes increasingly obsessed with its influx, yet spends the course of almost the entire series unaware that its source is his own brother-in-law.

There is another layer of irony, though. For it is not just that Schrader drew White into the drug trade through informing him of its lucrativeness, and then taking him out on a drug raid. In economic terms, Walter White’s illicit drug empire — and all the killing and carnage that spews from it — is utterly dependent upon the protection of Federal agents like Schrader. Breaking Bad is very much a parable of the failed drug war.

As Milton Friedman famously noted:

If you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That’s literally true.

There is no logical basis for the prohibition of marijuana. Our failure to successfully enforce these laws is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in Colombia. I haven’t even included the harm to young people. It’s absolutely disgraceful to think of picking up a 22-year-old for smoking pot. More disgraceful is the denial of marijuana for medical purposes.

Why are drugs so lucrative? Why are users forced to pay such a premium over the cost of production? Because of drug prohibition. The more Federal money spent on drug prohibition, the more drugs seized, the higher the markup. Could criminal elements charging a one-thousand percent markup compete with a legal and free market? Of course not; nobody would buy drugs from a wild-eyed gun-wielding dealer when a pure product is available openly for a fraction of the cost.

So it is the Federal drug prohibitionists enforcing drug prohibition — both in the universe of Breaking Bad, as well as the real world — who are empowering the drug cartels, and criminal elements like Walter White who simply get around the law. Supply and demand rule this world. If society demands narcotics, they will be supplied; the only question is how.

As Abraham Lincoln noted:

Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and make crime out of things that are not crimes.

The economic costs have been massive:

According to DEA estimates we capture less than 10 percent of all illicit drugs. Does $30 billion a year for a 90% failure rate seem like a good investment? And how much would it cost to stop the other 90%? $100 billion? $500 billion?$1 trillion?

And the resultant swollen prison population is not only a huge cost to the taxpayer, it also takes people out of the economy who could instead be working and producing. 59% of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug chargers, compared to only 2.5% incarcerated for violent crimes.

The war on drugs also stretches scant police resources. 717, 720 Americans were arrested in 1997 for murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault (combined), while 695, 200 were arrested for marijuana offences alone. The time and resources spent on investigating, prosecuting and incarcerating nonviolent drug users is time and resources that has not been spent investigating, prosecuting and incarcerating violent criminals.

Walter White exemplifies the failure of the drug war. Without the folly of prohibitionism White could have profited legally from his obvious talent for supplying a popular recreational pharmaceutical product without having to become part of a vicious and brutal criminal underworld. Under prohibitionism, White was again-and-again forced to either kill or be killed, unleashing his previously-dormant psychopathic potential. The real story of Walter White is that only something as absurd as prohibitionism — and the lucrative criminal underworld that prohibitionism breeds — could provide the catalyst for a mild-mannered chemist to become a wild, murderous psychopath.

President Choomwagon

President Obama’s teenage gang called themselves the Choom Gang, choom being their slang word for marijuana. They developed a marijuana-oriented culture:

As a member of the Choom Gang, Barry Obama was known for starting a few pot-smoking trends. The first was called “TA,” short for “total absorption.” To place this in the physical and political context of another young man who would grow up to be president, TA was the antithesis of Bill Clinton’s claim that as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford he smoked dope but never inhaled.

Along with TA, Barry popularized the concept of “roof hits”: when they were chooming in the car all the windows had to be rolled up so no smoke blew out and went to waste; when the pot was gone, they tilted their heads back and sucked in the last bit of smoke from the ceiling.

When you were with Barry and his pals, if you exhaled precious pakalolo (Hawaiian slang for marijuana, meaning “numbing tobacco”) instead of absorbing it fully into your lungs, you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around.

They even called their Mystery-Machine-style VW van the Choomwagon:

I don’t have a problem with Obama — or anyone else — smoking dope. As far as I am concerned, consenting adults have the liberty to do whatever they like so long as they don’t hurt others, or take their liberty or property.

I don’t have a problem with Obama — or anyone else — defining themselves by smoking dope.

I have a problem with hypocrisy.

Not only did Obama use marijuana in his youth, he also used cocaine, and reportedly crack. Today around 400,000 Americans are jailed for non-violent drug related offenses. That’s 400,000 outside of the workforce who could be out working and producing, instead of burdening the taxpayer, who pays to create profits for well-connected corporations in the prison-industrial complex.

Put more simply, there are more black people in prison as a result of the drug war today than there were slaves in 1850.

What’s President Obama — as a black man and a drug user — doing about that? There are still thousands of people being arrested for nonviolent drug offenses who are facing life in prison.

President Obama’s signature  policy in this area has been the Fair Sentencing Act which reduced the previous 100:1 sentencing discrepancy between crack (predominantly used by blacks) and powder cocaine to 18:1, as well as eliminating the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. So now the courts will be 18 times tougher on urban blacks using crack than they are on Wall Street traders (etc) using powder cocaine? Am I supposed to think that that is better?

No. He is willing to keep jailing nonviolent citizens who did nothing more than ingest or possess a narcotic, and deny them their liberty. He is willing to enforce racist laws and policies that lock up and criminalise a disproportionately high number of minorities, at a huge cost to the taxpayer. He is willing to deny medical marijuana patients the medicine their doctors have prescribed. He is willing to maintain the drug laws and the drug war, that (lest we forget) are the thing that are empowering and enriching the Mexican drug smuggling cartels and urban criminal gangs, and creating huge violence and thousands of deaths throughout Latin America.

As Milton Friedman wrote:

If you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That’s literally true.

There is no logical basis for the prohibition of marijuana. Our failure to successfully enforce these laws is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in Colombia. I haven’t even included the harm to young people. It’s absolutely disgraceful to think of picking up a 22-year-old for smoking pot. More disgraceful is the denial of marijuana for medical purposes.

But the thing that tears me up most is the rank hypocrisy. President Obama is a hypocrite who won’t even fight to legalise nonviolent behaviour that he himself proudly and overtly practised. If only he hadn’t been so lucky; those unjust drug laws that he won’t fight to repeal would likely have prevented him from ever being President, and he might instead be on probation working at Footlocker.

A President with integrity or compassion would fight tooth and nail to end this. Ron Paul — who has never used illegal recreational drugs — has vowed that as President he will pardon nonviolent drug offenders, give them back their liberty, and the right to keep the fruits of their labour, and save taxpayers a $15 billion-per-year bundle of cash by ending the waste and destruction of the war on drugs. Drug abuse should be treated as a social-medical problem. The war on drugs is an economic drain and a threat to our liberty.

We’re All Nixonians Now

People have got to know whether their President is a crook

Richard M. Nixon

I often wonder who is worse: George W. Bush — the man who turned a projected trillion dollar surplus into the greatest deficits in world history, who bailed out the profligate Wall Street algos and arbitrageurs, who proceeded with two needless, pointless and absurdly costly military occupations (even though he had initially campaigned on the promise of a humble foreign policy), who ignored Michael Scheuer’s warnings about al-Qaeda previous to 9/11, who signed the Constitution-trashing PATRIOT Act  (etc etc ad infinitum) or his successor Barack Obama, the man who retained and expanded the PATRIOT Act powers under the NDAA (2011), who claimed the right to extrajudicially kill American citizens using predator drones, who expanded Bush’s expensive and pointless occupations (all the while having run on a promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and reverse Bush’s civil liberties incursions), who proceeded with Paulson’s Wall Street bailouts, authorised the NSA to record all phone calls and internet activity, and continued the destructive War on Drugs (even though he had in the past been a drug user).

The answer, by the way, is Richard Nixon. For almost forty years after that man’s resignation, it is arguable that almost every single administration (with the possible exception of  Carter as well as Reagan’s first year in office) — but especially that of Bush and Obama — has been cut from his cloth. It was Richard Nixon who inaugurated the War on Drugs — that despicable policy that has empowered the drug gangs and obliterated much of Latin America. It was Richard Nixon who so brazenly corrupted the White House and tarnished the office of the Presidency through the Watergate wiretapping scandal.  It was Nixon’s administration that created the culture of government surveillance that led directly to the PATRIOT Act. It was Nixon who internationalised the fiat dollar, so trampling George Washington’s warnings about not entangling alliances, and of course setting the stage for the gradual destruction of American industry that continued apace under NAFTA and into the present day, where America runs the greatest trade deficits in human history. It was Richard Nixon who set the precedent of pointless, stupid, blowback-inducing militarism, by continuing and expanding the Vietnam war. It was Richard Nixon whose administration authorised the use of chemical weapons (or as George W. Bush might have put it, “weapons of mass destruction”) against the Vietcong.

Presidents since have followed — to a greater or lesser extent — in his mould. This is particularly acute this election cycle; you vote for Obama and you get Richard Nixon, or you vote for Romney and you get Richard Nixon. Nixon’s words: “we’re all Keynesians now” have a powerful resonance; not only has every administration since Nixon retained the petrodollar standard and spent like a drunken sailor in pursuit of Keynesian multipliers, but every President since has followed in the Nixonian tradition on civil liberties, on trade, on foreign policy. Henry Kissinger — the true architect of many Nixonian policies, and Obama’s only real competition for most bizarre Nobel Peace Prize recipient — has to some degree counselled each and every President since.

It is hard to overstate the magnitude of Nixon’s actions. The demonetisation of  gold ended a 5,000 year long tradition. It was a moment of conjuring, a moment of trickery; that instead of producing the goods, and giving up her gold hoard to pay for her consumption habits (specifically, her consumption of foreign energy), America would give the finger to the world, and print money to pay her debts, while retaining her (substantial) gold hoard. The obvious result of this policy has been that America now prints more and more money, and produces less and less of her consumption. She has printed so much that $5 trillion floats around Asia, while the American industrial belt rusts. Industrial production in America is where it was ten years ago, yet America’s debt exposure has ballooned.

America has had not one but two Vietnams in the past ten years.

First, Afghanistan, in the pursuit of the elusive Osama bin Laden (or, “in the name of liberating women”, presumably via blowing their legs off in drone strikes), where young Western soldiers continue to die (for what?), even after bin Laden’s supposed death in a Pakistani compound last year.

Then, Iraq, presumably in the interests of preventing Saddam Hussein from using non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction, or liberating more women by blowing their legs off (or as Tom Friedman  put it: “SUCK! ON! THIS!”).

Like Nixon’s Presidency, the Nixonian political system is highly fragile. Debt is fragility, because it enforces the inflexibility of repayment, and the Nixonian political system has created staggering debt, much of it now offshore. The Nixonian economic policy has gutted American industry, leaving America uncompetitive and dependent on foreign productivity and resources. The Nixonian foreign policy has created a world that is deeply antipathetic to America and American interests, which has meant that America has become less and less capable of achieving imperatives via diplomacy.

Future historians may finger George W. Bush as the worst President in history, and the one who broke the American empire. But smarter scholars will pinpoint Nixon. True, the seeds of destruction were sown much earlier with the institution of permanent limited liability corporations. This allowed for the evolution of a permanent corporate aristocracy which eventually bought out the political echelon, and turned the Federal government into an instrument of crony capitalism, military Keynesianism and corporate welfare. Nixonianism has been the corporate aristocracy’s crowning achievement. And to some extent, this period of free lunch economics was a banquet, even for middle class Americans. The masses were kept fat and happy. But now the game is up — like Nixon’s Presidency — its days are numbered.