In a recent episode of her Youtube podcast, Princess of Pot, Jodie Emery, commented on the disturbing Get Out of Jail Free Card that mega-bank, HSBC, recently waived in the face of the US Department of Justice.
The essentials of the story are as follows: HSBC is an enormous global bank that was recently caught red-handed laundering gargantuan sums of money for some of the most violent and murderous international drug cartels and criminal organizations on the planet, people so totally evil, jokes former New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, “They make the guys on Wall-Street look good.”
Though it wouldn’t be difficult to identify and arrest the responsible individuals within the HSBC organization, the US Department of Justice has decided instead to let the criminals walk on the grounds that pursuing such prosecutions would lead to HSBC losing its banking license, which in turn would destabilize the global economy.
Now keep in mind a normal, you or me-type person could face life imprisonment for a fraction of this misconduct. But in this case, our Federal Department of Justice has calculated that the well-being of an abstract, imaginary entity (a corporation) is more valuable than basic human equality under the law.
And something’s different, more deeply disturbing about this particular disregard for basic fairness in our society. This is not your run-of-the-mill corporate corruption.
From Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone:
That nobody from the bank went to jail or paid a dollar in individual fines is nothing new in this era of financial crisis. What is different about this settlement is that the Justice Department, for the first time, admitted why it decided to go soft on this particular kind of criminal. It was worried that anything more than a wrist slap for HSBC might undermine the world economy. “Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer at a press conference to announce the settlement, “HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.
If you listen carefully to Breur’s admission, you will find more than just a cynical, “oh well,” shoulder shrugging deferment to tough realities. What you should hear is a cry for help from a federal government drained of resource, drained of financial solvency, drained of resolve, and utterly, frightfully beholden to Wall Street oligarchy.
Ever heard the saying, don’t piss on my shoe and tell me it’s raining? Well— here’s an idea, HSBC’s licensure (and the resultant health and stability of the global economy) should be CONTINGENT UPON the thorough, legal prosecution of responsible individual parties within the HSBC organization. Please re-read the sentence in bold until you understand exactly what I’m saying here. It’s important.
Something every law student learns at some point in time—in a society governed by Rule of Law, our laws are derived from precedent. But, as I learned in the first day of my own business law class— law is not an exact science. Circumstances change, evolve, and, as my professor said “Sometimes we just make it up.” And that’s fine and necessary, but it also entails a great deal of moral responsibility, courage, and vigilance against abuse and corruption.
Right now, the law is being “made up” by the powerful and the elite. This HSBC case is testing not only our will to be a free people, but it’s also testing our creative passion. Here’s what I mean—imagine for a moment that the US Department of Justice had pockets as deep and lawyers as bright as that of the world’s biggest, richest super-banks (like HSBC). A sharp, well-funded, and non-intimidated DOJ legal team would have little trouble finding creative legal solutions that would properly re-balance the public good (economic and otherwise), with the need to maintain equality and Rule of Law by holding ALL criminals accountable for their crimes. Again, HSBC’s licensure (and the resultant health and stability of the global economy) should be CONTINGENT UPON the thorough, legal prosecution of responsible individual parties within the HSBC organization.
As Mr. Taibbi from Rolling Stone noted, what makes this particular episode of corruption different is that the Justice Department is actually crying for help. They’re telling us, the people, (possibly at great personal risk) that we are being fucked by an elite that thinks they can do whatever they want.
This elite is curious now and they’re watching us very closely. They want to see if we’re cynical and passive enough to give up the Rule of Law for their benefit.
Our own government has told us, their hands are tied. Our own Department of Justice WILL NOT take action to preserve the Rule of Law. Is there not something fucked up about that?
Do something about this please. I’ll be calling my congressional reps, telling them very simply— HSBC’s licensure (and the resultant health and stability of the global economy) should be CONTINGENT UPON the thorough, legal prosecution of responsible individual parties within the HSBC organization.
And, that’s a very sensible, rational, even conservative call to action.
And maybe my proposal is too much of a compromise. Rather than sacrifice our society’s basic sense of justice and equality, maybe it would be best to just let HSBC lose its license and accept the consequences. Why not? To be perfectly honest with you, the whole idea that HSBC losing its banking license would cause global economic catastrophe. Well, frankly, I think it’s bullshit. I don’t think it would happen. I think the vacuum would be filled promptly by the free market and that HSBC would leave behind a powerful legacy— that no organization, no matter how big, is immune from the Rule of Law. It would be good.
I don’t have all the answers, obviously. It’s time to get creative. If you have any other action items for this issue, please share them.