Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Clemency for Wall Street Criminals, Prison for the Powerless

A little help from a passive victim: Why did he hold still?

"Who the hell are these people?"

"I don't know. I used to say they were the same ones we've always had to deal with. Same ones my granddaddy had to deal with. Back then they was russlin' cattle. Now they're running dope. I ain't sure we've seen these people before. Their kind. I don't know what to do about 'em even. If you killed 'em all they'd have to build an annex on to hell."

Sheriff Bell, from Cormac McCarthy's novel No Country for Old Men

Johnny Gaskins of Raleigh, North Carolina faces a 30-year prison term -- an effective life sentence --  for the supposed crime of depositing $450,000 in his own bank account. The corporate leaders of Wachovia Bank, a criminal syndicate once headquartered in the same state, won't face prosecution despite admissions that the laundered hundreds of billions of dollars on behalf of Mexican narcotics cartels. 

Wachovia was deemed "too big to fail," and thus too important to prosecute. In our system, mercy is reserved exclusively for the powerful and corrupt, and Johnny Gaskins -- a criminal defense attorney -- was neither. 

Gaskins had earned his money legitimately. As a dutiful tax victim, he reported his income to the criminal predators running the IRS. His purported offense was to make numerous deposits in amounts just under the $10,000 threshold at which banks are required to report to the IRS under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970.

Punishment without a crime: Gaskins.
Displaying the proprietary blend of depraved creativity and utter dishonesty that typify their caste, federal prosecutors insisted that these innocuous acts constituted the alleged crime of "money structuring." 

Dr. William Anderson, an economics professor at Maryland's Frostburg State University, notes that "money structuring" was defined as "an `ancillary crime' to give prosecutors leverage in cases where people had amassed huge amounts of cash via drug sales or other illegal activities and were trying to avoid detection as well as avoid paying taxes on their money."

In Gaskins's case, there was no predicate offense. The money was honestly earned and duly reported. Yet according to Pecksniffian federal prosecutor Randall Galyon, "The point of the law is to make sure we don't have people trying to fool the bank. The fact that he was trying is against the law." 

Gaskins was trying to "fool" the bank about conduct that was not innately criminal.  His violations of technical statutes constituted an offense of a severity comparable to ripping the tag from a mattress.

Yet the sacred majesty of the law requires that Gaskins suffer exemplary, conspicuous punishment. 

As Dr. Anderson observes, there was an unambiguous element of payback behind this vindictive prosecution: "Gaskins had success representing people accused of crimes, and the police and prosecutors paid him back with what can only be a trumped-up charge. Remember, Gaskins was convicted of depositing money in a bank. He did not evade taxes, he did not gain his cash through illegal means, he just put the money in the bank."

For reasons unstated yet deafening in their obviousness, the same corps of federal prosecutors who went after Gaskins hammer and tongs last year displayed little of the same zeal in pursuing Wachovia Bank on charges that involve both deliberate fraud and financial collaboration with Mexican narco-criminal syndicates. 

Wachovia's corporate headquarters are in Charlotte, North Carolina -- just a three-hour drive from Raleigh. Perhaps the heroes who brought Johnny Gaskins to book were simply too exhausted from that herculean task to grapple with Wachovia, which was absorbed by Wells Fargo in a federally engineered takeover. The details are predictably opaque, but Wells Fargo -- which initially resisted string-laden TARP subsidies -- was given $25 billion by the Feds after it bought out Wachovia, which was collapsing under the accumulated weight of its rotten debts

Although it proudly called itself "the nation's fourth-largest bank," Wachovia was actually a federally chartered criminal enterprise. 

Granted, this can accurately be said of the entire fractional-reserve banking system. Wachovia distinguished itself by becoming a full-service institution to swindlers and criminals of many kinds. 

In February 2008 it was revealed that Wachovia's corporate leadership "solicited business from companies it knew had been accused of telemarketing crimes," reported the New York Times. "Internal Wachovia e-mail messages, for example, show that high-ranking employees ... frequently warned colleagues about telemarketing frauds routed through its accounts." 

Wachovia had been given specific warnings from investigators and from other banks regarding the scams, yet "it continued to provide banking services to multiple companies that helped steal as much as $400 million from unsuspecting victims." 

A federal lawsuit against Wachovia accused the bank of accepting "fraudulent, unsigned checks that withdrew funds from the accounts of victims, often elderly," continues the Times. "Wachovia forwarded those checks to other banks that were unaware of the frauds, which in turn sent money to the swindlers." 

One Wachovia executive warned in 2005 that one account being used by swindlers had received 4,500 complaints in the space of two months. "There is more," she wrote, "but nothing more that I want to put in a note." 

Despite that warning and others, Wachovia continued to process the fraudulent transactions "partly because the bank charged fraud artists a large fee every time a victim spotted a bogus transaction and demanded their money back," the Times points out. "One company alone paid Wachovia about $1.5 million over 11 months...." 

"We are making a ton of money from them," admitted Wachovia executive Linda Pera in 2005, referring to a company later accused of stealing $142 million through fraud. 

Rather than doing what it could to stop the swindle, Wachovia profited from it as long as it could. The bank's role in that scam -- as well as mortgage fraud, embezzlement, and other crimes -- was known by federal regulators and prosecutors no later than February 2008. Nobody at Wachovia faced criminal prosecution. Instead, the bank was permitted to buy its way out of trouble through a $144 million settlement -- and taxpayers were forced to make good on that amount, and much more, a few months later in the federally subsidized merger with Wells Fargo. 

Last March, federal prosecutors offered an even more generous deal to the Wachovia cabal in the form of a"deferred prosecution agreement" regarding charges of laundering an estimated $300 billion for Mexican narcotics syndicates. In lieu of prosecution, Wachovia agreed to the criminal forfeiture of $110 million and a $50,000,000 fine; it also promised to "demonstrate its future good conduct and compliance in all material aspects with the Bank Secrecy Act...."

The Bank Secrecy Act, recall, is the same law Johnny Gaskins "violated" by making small bank deposits of his own honestly-earned, fully reported money. Gaskins wasn't offered a deal in which he would "forfeit" an amount equivalent to pennies on the dollar and be spared additional punishment in exchange for the promise of future "good conduct."

According to the stipulations in the federal "Factual Statement" Wachovia endorsed last March, a Miami branch maintained "correspondent bank accounts" for Mexican currency exchange houses (casas de cambio, or CDCs).

"On numerous occasions, monies were deposited into a CDC by a drug trafficking organization," recounts the "Factual Statement." "Using false identities, the CDC then wired that money through its Wachovia correspondent bank accounts for the purchase of airplanes for drug trafficking organizations." 

Among the offenses to which Wachovia stipulated are "Structured Wire Transactions" intended to launder drug proceeds. Once again, Gaskins was convicted of "money structuring" despite the fact that there was no underlying criminal act. Wachovia, on the other hand, was deliberately washing drug proceeds and facilitating the purchase of aircraft that were used to smuggle at least 22 tons of cocaine.

In 2006, Martin Woods, a Wachovia compliance officer in London, became suspicious when his branch started to receive a large quantity of traveler's checks issued by Mexican CDCs. The checks -- written for large denominations -- were sequentially numbered and improperly endorsed.

Recognizing this as evidence of money laundering, Woods reported his findings to Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency. A year later, Mexican investigators traced those checks to a CDC used by the Sinaloa Cartel. 

Martin's reward for breaking the case, observed the March 9, 2009 issue of Barron's, was to be bullied and demoted by his superiors at Wachovia, who also threw out his reports of similar suspicious activities in eastern Europe. As was the case with the telemarketing fraud, the dirty dealings Martin had uncovered were much too profitable to stop -- and in this case, they were being overseen by people who make Anton Chigurh look like Mr. Rogers.

In September 2007, a U.S. registered Gulfstream II jet carrying 3.3 tons of cocaine crashed in the Yucatan Peninsula. The plane was one of several purchased through a Mexican CDC with "correspondent accounts" held by Wachovia. This particular private jet -- tail number N987SA -- was also an important link between the CIA-abetted international narcotics trade and the CIA's global torture network.

Multi- use asset: A CIA "torture taxi" takes flight...

Until a few weeks before the crash, the plane's registered owner was a Florida-based pilot (and alleged CIA asset) named Greg Smith, who was reportedly involved in a series of federal operations targeting Columbian drug networks from1997-2000

Only those so ingenuous as to make Candide look worldly would be surprised to learn that the same individual, and the same aircraft, were involved in smuggling drugs into the United States, or that the CIA found even more repellent uses for the same vehicle.

Mr. "Smith" was the Gulfstream's owner of record between 2003 and 2005, when the plane was used by the CIA for at least three trips between the east coast of the U.S. and the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

The same plane was part of the CIA's fleet of "torture taxis" used to ferry detainees to foreign dungeons, reported The Independent of London last January

"In 2004, another torture taxi crashed in a field in Nicaragua with a ton of cocaine aboard," the Independent recalls. "It had been identified by Britain and the European Parliament's temporary committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners as a frequent visitor in 2004 and 2005 to British, Cypriot, Czech, German, Greek, Hungarian, Spanish and other European cities with its cargo of captives for secret imprisonment and torture in Iraq, Jordan and Azerbaijan."

.... wreckage of the same plane, and its cargo of cocaine.
The gentle treatment given to Wachovia testifies of its value as a pass-through to fund criminal syndicates used by the CIA to conduct the business of perpetual war -- whether it's designated the "war on drugs" or the "war on terror."

To cite Bastiat's invaluable formula yet again, both of those "wars" are exercises in creating the poison and the antidote in the same laboratory. 

The "war on drugs" -- which is an exercise in corrupt, murderous foolishness greater, by several orders of magnitude, than Prohibition -- will not end as long as it is profitable to the criminal elite in Washington, their allies in the banking industry, and their largely interchangeable and thoroughly disposable minions in the underworld. 
As Hugh O'Shaughnessy of The Independent puts it, decriminalization of drug use would impoverish "the traffickers, large and small, and those who have been making good money building and running the new prisons that help to bankrupt governments -- in the US in particular, where drug offenders -- principally small retailers and seldom the rich and important wholesalers -- have helped to push the prison population to 1,600,000." 

That population will soon include Johnnie Gaskins, a principled but powerless man who committed no crime. The majesty of the law requires nothing less. None of the criminals in Wachovia's corporate leadership will be joining him behind bars, of course, since clemency is a gift the Regime bestows exclusively on its valued accomplices in official crime.

(Note: This essay was originally published under a different title.)

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Maywood, RIP: When Police Kill A City

Brent Talmo once lost a job he really enjoyed, but he was eventually able to find a position in the same field, with better pay and greater responsibilities.

Sure, he had been a troubled employee, prone to "bizarre behavior" and casual abuse of those described as his customers, but he was fortunate enough to find a new employer willing to overlook his mistakes.

Now that employer, the Maywood, California Police Department, is being liquidated. In fact, the entire municipal government of Maywood, a Los Angeles suburb of roughly 40,000 people, is being dissolved on account of bankruptcy. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will provide law enforcement coverage to Maywood, and a rump city council will coordinate delivery of services provided by neighboring Bell. 

In Maywood, as case elsewhere, the economic crash has choked off the tax revenue on which the municipal government subsists. The town is currently facing a $450,000 deficit. But what finally broke the city, reports the Los Angeles Times, was the decision by the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority to terminate "general liability and workers' compensation coverage because the city posed too high a risk."

More specifically, the city was un-insurable because of "a large number of claims filed against the police." This is because the department (which also afflicted the neighboring city of Cudhay) had become the police equivalent of The Island of Misfit Toys -- a sanctuary city for criminals in state-issued costumes.

Ironically, Officer Talmo -- whose career usefully illustrates how difficult it is to be rid of an abusive cop -- was actually one of the less egregious examples among those given refuge by the Maywood PD. 

As an LA County Sheriff's Deputy assigned to the jail, Talmo was a bully given to amusing himself at the expense of others -- and abusing fellow employees who rebuked his misbehavior.

An April 1, 2007 Times report summarizes:

"Talmo poured dirt into the gas tank of a county vehicle; placed a dead gopher in a prisoner's pocket as an apparent prank, then lied about it and tried to get another deputy to lie on his behalf; tipped over the bed of a sleeping prisoner, causing him to fall face first onto the floor and bloodying his nose; and telephoned a fellow jail guard and referred to him as a snitch and used a racial slur." (To be specific, Talmo called his associate a "f*****g n****r.") "When Talmo was fired, then-Sheriff Sherman Block publicly singled him out as `the primary culprit' in a campaign of harassment aimed at prisoners," concludes the Times.

Talmo was fired by the Sheriff's Office in 1986. He appealed to the Civil Service Commission, and three years later a hearing officer  recommended that Talmo be re-instated, with his punishment reduced to a 90-day suspension. The full commission accepted the hearing officer's factual findings, but upheld Talmo's termination. In 1991, after a five-year-legal battle, a three-judge panel from the LA Superior Court upheld the decision.

One would expect that decision to make it impossible for Talmo to find employment as a police officer. One would be wrong: Talmo immediately found a job -- complete with badge, gun, and costume -- with the Los Angeles Housing Authority Police. 

In fact, Talmo and his partner received a commendation in 1992 for "bravery and heroism above and beyond the normal demands of duty." While the cops were dining at a Denny's restaurant, a car smashed through one of the walls. Several customers were trapped under the debris. Talmo and his partner pulled the victims from the rubble and attended to their wounds.

Their actions were commendable, of course -- but it's not as if they had risked life and limb by rescuing a child from a burning high-rise or used their bodies to shield terrified pedestrians from gunfire. Any reasonably able-bodied person is expected to render aid to the wounded in situations like this. Actions of that sort are best described as basic courtesy.

Yet according to their superiors, the actions of Talmo and his partner displayed courage "above and beyond the normal demands of duty." Apparently, the "normal demands of duty" would have been satisfied had the officers simply finished their meal and left it to others to care for the victims.
 It's likely that Talmo's commendation -- an award every bit as legitimate as the prizes handed out in the Dodo's Caucus Race from Alice in Wonderland -- helped him secure a position with the Maywood PD in 1998. Of course, he would have been welcome there even if he had left his last job by fleeing the jurisdiction to avoid criminal prosecution. 

Not surprisingly, Talmo found himself named as a defendant in one of the plentiful civil rights lawsuits filed against the Maywood police and city government. 

"The Maywood Police Department has the reputation for being an `agency of last resort' for those who seek employment as a peace officer," explained a March 2009 report compiled by the California Attorney General's Office. "Review of the Maywood Police Department's hiring practices over the past ten years validates this perception." 

The April 2007 investigative report by the Los Angeles Times found that at least one-third of Maywood's officers "had either left other police jobs under a cloud or had brushes with the law while working for Maywood." The department was a full-spectrum kakistocracy: In February 2008, the city council selected as Police Chief an individual named Al Hutchings, who had been convicted of theft and forced to resign from the LAPD. (The man Hutchings replaced had been convicted of domestic abuse while serving as Police Chief.)

As the gathered scum of California's law enforcement culture, the Maywood Police Department met Augustine's precise definition of a government entity: It was a criminal band that achieved legitimacy not by renouncing aggression, but rather by attaining impunity. The department suppurated corruption like a freshly ruptured pustule.

When abuses or criminal conduct could no longer be concealed or explained away, the officer would be permitted to resign instead of being fired. This enhanced the officer's "chances of securing employment as a peace officer elsewhere," noted the report. And he could be quickly replaced by another "troubled" police officer eager to put his past behind him by enlisting in Maywood's merry band of armed plunderers.
Beginning in 1999 -- shortly after Talmo joined the force -- and ending in 2007, the Maywood police carried out a vehicle towing and impoundment racket that soaked up huge amounts of money for the city's parasite class. Supposedly begun for the purpose of removing unlicensed drivers from the streets, this was actually a criminal enterprise involving bribes, kickbacks, and other corrupt emoluments. 

The AG report found "a glaring lack of documentation as to [the] rationale for impounding the vehicles that they seized"; it also concluded that the Maywood Police "routinely towed and impounded vehicles in situations that were not warranted" under existing laws and precedents. 

A Maywood PD defector told the AG's investigators that it was well-established practice to conduct traffic stops without reasonable suspicion in order to satisfy the demands of police officials who were "pushing tows"; officers were expected to "get at least two tows per shift." Checkpoints were set up and used to confiscate vehicles or, when possible, to shake down motorists for what amounted to protection money. 

Most of Maywood's population is Latino. In 2005, the city council declared Maywood a "sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants. 

 Although rooted in identity politics, this decision had the effect of expanding the municipal revenue pool, since "undocumented persons" -- or "Mos," derived from "Mojado" -- were preferred targets for vehicle confiscation and other forms of highway robbery. But no motorist was safe in Maywood, particularly those with out-of-state license plates.

The AG report describes an August 2005 case in which a police officer confiscated a vehicle with Oregon license plates. The police officer cited the driver for failing to present a California license, confiscating the man's valid Oregon license as he wrote the citation. 

The cop summoned a partner in crime to tow the vehicle away, where it was impounded for 30 days. The driver was able to get the spurious citation dismissed, but only after paying $1,500 in ransom to retrieve his stolen car. 

Multiply that example by a several thousand, and you begin to get a picture of what went on in Maywood between 1999 and 2007. 

Given the ever-escalating corruption and violence of the state's armed enforcement caste, there are few more dangerous places to be than behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Many of the cases of criminal police violence described in the AG report grew out of traffic stops conducted in the service of the towing and confiscation racket.

In March 2006, police stopped a driver for trivial infractions (a cracked windshield and a missing front license plate). Without "legal cause or justification, the man was pulled out of the vehicle and handcuffed," narrates the report. "When he was placed in the [police] vehicle, the officers" -- note carefully that it took two tax-devouring heroes to perform this service -- "intentionally pushed his head into the door a couple of times. Without probable cause the officers proceeded to search the vehicle and seized two cell phones, approximately $200 and other miscellaneous items." The car was stolen by the cops and the victim was arrested on a spurious charge of driving without a license. 

About a week later, the victim and his mother went to the police department in an attempt to recover the stolen car. They were unceremoniously ejected from the building. Mistakenly thinking they had left some important documents behind, the mother went back to retrieve them. 

When the car's owner found the papers, he went back into the police station to get his mother. Without warning or cause, he was assaulted by a Maywood cop who shot him with a Taser. While recovering from that attack, the victim "was physically assaulted by a Maywood police officer and taunted with a police dog by another officer," the report continues. "He was arrested for making a terrorist threat and resisting arrest. A charge of resisting and obstructing an officer was subsequently added."

After being kidnapped and falsely imprisoned at the County Jail, the victim was brought before a judge who ordered his release. Rather than being allowed to leave the courtroom, however, he was dragged back to a holding cell, and then escorted out a side entrance. 

When the door opened the man was confronted by the same uniformed thug who had assaulted him with a Taser the previous day. The thug then arrested him a second time on the same charges. This time, the victim was held in jail for five days. Eventually, after the victim dealt with the impound fees and related expenses, all of the charges against him, except the one involving the windshield and front license plate, were dismissed. 

Maywood cops, like too many others in that profession, were eager to deploy their portable electro-shock torture devices whenever a pretext could be found. In June 2006, two young men were waylaid by two of Maywood's, ahem, "Finest," who handcuffed them and then shot one of them in the groin with a Taser. Neither was arrested or charged with a crime. The following month, "several Maywood police officers, without legal cause or justification, used a Taser on an individual and kicked and punched [his] face, head, and body while he was handcuffed." 

The victim, in keeping with standard procedure, was charged with "battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, and obstructing or delaying a police officer." The victim, a college student with limited means, pleaded no contest "in order to get the matter behind him."

In September of that same year, a thugswarm from the Maywood PD "Tased, assaulted and beat a father and son in front of their home." The victims were collateral damage from a separate assault being carried out by the thugswarm across the street. The son, sickened by what he saw, demanded a badge number; as he wrote the number down, one officer attacked him, and the rest of his valiant buddies joined in. Once the kid was handcuffed, he was repeatedly attacked with a Taser.

"At one point," the report observes, "the father exited the home and yelled, `What are you doing to my son?' The father was then attacked and assaulted by several officers. Both men were taken to the hospital for medical treatment. They were charged with battery on a police officer and "resisting and obstructing an officer." Once those cover charges served their purpose -- namely, insulating the assailants from accountability -- they were dismissed. 

Victims of police abuse in Maywood were required to go to police headquarters to obtain official complaint forms. As the March 2006 case described above demonstrates, the police department was a hazardous place to visit unless you were part of the Brotherhood. If they were fortunate, citizens who attempted to file a protest would escape the building after suffering nothing worse than contemptuous verbal abuse from the sergeant in charge of dealing with complaints. 

Eventually federal civil rights lawsuits began to pile up, as did the costs of settling them. The Maywood Police Department literally killed the city government it supposedly served.

When channels of official redress are closed, and physical resistance is impossible or profoundly unwise, what recourse is open to people terrorized by predators in uniform? Maywood's financial collapse suggests one ironically positive aspect of the ongoing depression: It is possible for a police state bubble to collapse, if only in a geographically limited sense. 

(Note: The original version of this essay mistakenly described Brent Talmo as a "plaintiff," rather than a defendant, in a civil rights suit. My thanks to the commenter who caught the error.)

                                                             Video Extra

My apologies for the fact that this video is dominated by the unsightly image of a horse's ass. The equine he's riding is rather pretty, though. 

                                    For those still seeking their daily dose of outrage...

... here ya go. My thanks to the anonymous commenter who tipped me to this story.

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Dum spiro, pugno!

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Police State's "Cardinal Rule": The Mundane Must Submit

British officer: You call yourself a patriot, and a loyal subject to King George?

Hawkeye: I don't call myself "subject" to much of anything.

Hawkeye explains the foundational tenet of the American worldview to a self-important armed government functionary offended by the frontiersman's principled defiance; from the 1992 version of Last of the Mohicans.

Marilyn Levias, a 19-year-old Seattle girl involved in a jaywalking incident during which a police officer assaulted another 17-year-old girl,  displayed "a dangerous refusal to observe a cardinal rule that civilians simply must comply with instructions from police officers," insists Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. 

For this, Miss Levias faces a gross misdemeanor charge of "Obstructing a Police Officer." During the confrontation, Levias's 17-year-old friend, Angel L. Rosenthal, intervened on her behalf and was punched in the face by officer Ian P. Walsh. As is typically the case when a Mundane's face obstructs the trajectory of a police officer's fist, the victim is the one facing criminal charges. 



In announcing the criminal charge against Levias, City Attorney Holmes offered the mildest possible limpwristed swipe at the Seattle Police Department by saying that the incident illustrates the need "for de-escalation training for officers." Holmes also cited an observation by Judge Michael Spearman, auditor for the police department's Office of Professional Responsibility, that "The use of force in a [jaywalking] situation as a best practice is questionable."

Even this timid and tentative criticism was an unbearable affront to the delicate sensibilities of Rich O'Neill, president of Seattle's Armed Tax-Feeders Guild. 

"Force was not used in a jay-walking incident! Force was used because the individuals involved assaulted a uniformed police officer," protested O'Neill.

The "assault" in question occurred when the teenage girls tried to free themselves from Walsh's clutches after he had needlessly laid hands on them. They were uncooperative, not threatening

Yet to O'Neill, who is apparently so Emo that his last name should be Philips, jaywalking occupies the same continuum as violent crime. 

Accordingly, the use of overwhelming force is entirely appropriate: "Officers are trained to enforce the law and not to `de-escalate' (walk away) simply because a violator objects to being stopped. That would simply lead to lawlessness."

Indeed: If we don't permit police officers to slug jaywalking teenage girls in the face, the terrorists will win.

There are evil axioms embedded in the statements of both Holmes and O'Neill. First of all, both assume that there is a dichotomy between police and "civilians" -- which of necessity means that the former should be regarded as military, or at least para-military, in nature. Holmes reinforced that assumption by referring to the Mayor of Seattle as "commander in chief" of the city's police. 

As I've noted elsewhere, the idea that "civilians" are to render instant, unqualified obedience to any armed individual in a government-issued costume is the chief characteristic of the martial law mind-set. 

O'Neill exhibits that mind-set when he complains that "de-escalation" is tantamount to surrender -- or, as he put it, walking away from a confrontation. 

In fact, if the police are to be peace officers, rather than paramilitary enforcers, there are many circumstances in which they should simply walk away. The alternative is ... well, what we're dealing with now: The promiscuous use of physical coercion, including lethal force, as summary punishment for failure to "cooperate" with the police. 

Robert Peel, the British Prime Minister who created the first modern police force in 1829 while serving as British Home Secretary, insisted that "police are the public and the public are the police." The only difference between a police officer and any other "civilian," from Peel's perspective, was that he is "paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen" where protection of life, liberty, and property are concerned. 

Thus if it was proper for Ian Walsh the tax-engorged state functionary to punch a teenage girl in the mouth, it would be just as proper for a hypothetical productive private citizen named Ian Walsh to do exactly the same thing in the same circumstances. 

As any honest person will acknowledge, our alternate-universe Ian Walsh would be facing assault charges, rather than being commended as a stalwart defender of public order.

It was the assumption of police impunity, not the requirement to "de-escalate," that led to Walsh's lawless assault on 17-year-old Angel Rosenthal -- unless we are to assume, as do O'Neill and his ilk, that the individual police officer is the law. 

Once again, according to Peel's "Nine Principles of Policing" those paid to perform the police function must display "absolute impartial service to the law"; in this case, "subordination" is a suitable synonym for "service." 

Likewise, Peel recognized that public support for government-employed "professional" police is inversely proportionate to the tendency of police to employ coercive force, particularly under dubious circumstances. 

Peel was a conservative politician steeped in the assumptions of an imperial monarchy. Yet his "cardinal rule" regarding the relationship between the public and the police would be that the latter must defer to the former, rather than the reverse. 

This is why, in seeking the "voluntary cooperation" of the public, the police were to emphasize "persuasion, advice, and warning," Peel maintained, employing compulsion only when absolutely necessary. Under Peel's standards, that threshold obviously isn't met when a teenage girl jaywalks and then mouths off to a police officer. For those hostage to the martial-law mindset, that threshold is reached whenever a Mundane displays so much as a moment's hesitation in complying with a police officer's directives, whether or not they are rooted in actual legal authority. 

Jesse Wright, a newlywed 22-year-old EMT from Chattanooga, faces a cluster of spurious criminal charges because he refused to submit to the supposed authority of Officer Jim Daves. At the time, Daves was physically obstructing Wright's efforts to get medical attention for his wife Aline, a cancer survivor who was experiencing a stroke. 

Jesse and Aline are both employed by Chattanooga's Erlanger Medical Center. Aline, who lost her leg to cancer a few years ago, is undergoing chemotherapy, and the possible side effects of her treatment include stroke. Last Wednesday, when Aline's face began to droop and her speech became slurred, Jesse called the Medical Center and informed them of her condition. En route, Jesse treated stop lights as if they were stop signs -- pausing at each and then proceeding through them before they turned green.

Aline Wright in the hospital.
Daves, who was lurking near one stop light, hit his siren and followed Jesse and Aline to the hospital. When they arrived, Jesse grabbed Aline and, carrying her in his arms, tried to get her into the emergency room. His path was suddenly obstructed by Daves, who ignored the obvious fact that Jesse was dealing with a life-and-death emergency. 

For Daves, the really important thing was not to render aid, but rather securing compliance from a Mundane -- even if this meant prolonging the encounter while his stroke-afflicted wife suffered permanent brain damage. Aline's symptoms were visible and unmistakable -- yet Daves was fixated entirely on enforcing the "cardinal rule" of contemporary law enforcement: Make The Mundane Submit.

To his credit, Jesse ignored Daves' self-preoccupied demands and got his wife the treatment she needed. Daves continued to harass Jesse as the newlywed husband and his professional colleagues sought treatment for Aline. In addition to barging in to Aline's hospital room, Daves called Jesse a "sh*thead" and promised that he would "think of something" to justify arresting him. A couple of days later, hospital security -- acting on a spurious, vindictive warrant filed by Daves -- arrested Jesse on several counts, including a felony charge of "evading an officer." 

If Jesse hadn't "evaded" Officer Daves, Aline (whom he had married just days before) might either be dead or so mentally incapacitated that her career options would be limited to employment in a sheltered workshop or a position as a patrol officer for the Chattanooga Police Department.

Because he's been charged with a felony, Jesse has been placed on unpaid leave. By way of contrast, Daves has been put on paid vacation while the police department sorts out the PR mess the officer has made. 

A very similar incident occurred last year when paramedic Maurice White, Jr. was assaulted by State Trooper Daniel Martin in Paden, Oklahoma, a small town 40 miles east of Oklahoma City. 

According to  an AP account, Martin was speeding in his cruiser in a frantic rush to get nowhere in particular, and had his feelings hurt when the ambulance — which was actually providing a useful service by ferrying Stella Davis to the hospital — didn’t pull over for him. He then compounded his useless rage by imagining that the driver flipped him off.

The ambulance driver, intent on getting the elderly patient the care she needed, hadn’t noticed that the trooper had been behind him with lights flashing. When Trooper Martin zoomed by, he made radio contact and snarled that the driver “should consider checking [his] rear view mirrors.”

A little while later, Martin cut off a car driven by a family member of the patient and signaled for the ambulance to pull over. Seeing a woman sitting next to the Trooper, and thinking she might need medical care, White -- who was supervising the driver -- complied — only to find himself under assault and the subject of a spurious arrest on the way to the hospital

When Martin tried to arrest the ambulance driver, Mr. White — a man of amazing patience and dignity — intervened to explain that the ambulance was carrying a patient. This prompted a tantrum from Martin, who assaulted White twice and threatened to arrest both him and the driver. That attempt failed, but not before Martin actually placed a hand on White’s throat to choke him as the patient’s family looked on in stunned, disgusted disbelief.
Later, at the hospital, Martin actually said in the presence of witnesses that he was prepared to pull his gun and use lethal force against White. After all, de-escalating an unnecessary confrontation would be tantamount to surrender, and countenancing defiance by a Mundane would fatally undermine respect for The Law.  

Episodes like this are hardly uncommon. Indeed, it's reasonable to believe that treatment of this kind -- if not necessarily this severity -- is becoming the rule, rather than the exception, during encounters between police and citizens

Where police constitute a threat to life, liberty, and property, ignoring them -- or actively resisting their demands -- is not only legally permissible, but morally imperative. Now that the Brotherhood in Blue is becoming little more than an armed plunderbund (noble and worthy exceptions to that characterization notwithstanding), it's difficult to see how things would be noticeably worse if we simply did away with it outright

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Dum spiro, pugno!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Quantum of Suffering: Economic Hitmen Target Main Street

You should know something about me, and the people I work with. 

We deal with the left and the right, dictators or liberators. If the current president had been more agreeable, I wouldn't be talking to you.

So if you decide not to sign, you'll wake up with your balls in your mouth, and your willing replacement standing over you. 

If you doubt that, then shoot me, take the money, and have a good night's sleep.

Dominic Greene, political acquisitions specialist for the secretive Quantum criminal oligarchy, explains to Gen. Medrano -- the organization's new pet Bolivian dictator -- how the world really works, as seen in the film Quantum of Solace.

If we were to suture a toupee -- preferably in a procedure not involving anesthetic -- to the scalp of Lloyd Blankfein, the Goldman Sachs commissar would strongly resemble Dominic Greene, the reptilian villain of the most recent James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.

Blankfein already resembles Greene in ways that transcend mere aesthetics. The same can be said regarding the fictional Quantum criminal syndicate and the corrupt real-life oligarchy to which Blankfein belongs.

Although it was hampered with an undercooked script and an editing style that makes the action sequences all but impossible to follow (think of what Michael Bay would do in the editing bay following a two-day Red Bull jag), Quantum of Solace is the only Bond film to feature an entirely believable villain, and a surprisingly credible Evil Plot.

Dominic Greene is a composite of several real-life oligarchs. In addition to his resemblance to Blankfein, Greene -- an ersatz conservationist who plunders countries and overthrows governments behind a facade of environmental philanthropy -- also somewhat resembles Maurice Strong and George Soros.

Quantum itself is a tenebrous, Bilderberg-like Power Elite fraternity seeking control over the global economy. To that end, the group finances terrorism and revolution (which played a significant role in the previous -- and much superior -- Bond film, Casino Royale) with utter indifference to the ideology of its allies. It is the objective -- the consolidation of power -- that matters, rather than the doctrine used to recruit and motivate the cannon fodder.

At least one of the four people responsible for the Quantum of Solace screenplay appears to be at least superficially familiar with the writings of Carroll Quigley and C. Wright Mills.

A steer, not a bull: Gen. Medrano (Joaquin Cosio).

Dominic Greene's little lecture to Quantum's Bolivian rent-a-thug, General Medrano, brings to mind the following observation by Quigley:

"There does exist an international Anglophile network which operates in the way the radical Right believes the Communists act. In fact, this network has no aversion to cooperating with the Communists and frequently does so."

In the film, Greene and Quantum have recruited General Medrano to overthrow the leftist government of Bolivia. All the cabal seeks in return is a large tract of barren desert.

When the CIA starts sniffing around the scheme, Greene buys them off with a side deal: He promises Washington an oil concession if the Company permits the coup to proceed.

By infiltrating a Quantum teleconference, Bond learns of a plot to control "one of the world's most precious resources." In Bolivia he discovers that Greene -- working under the cover of his "Greene Planet" land acquisition corporation -- is planning to monopolize Bolivia's water supply.

Medrano initially balks when told to sign an agreement giving Quantum control over the country's water utility (which would double the price Bolivians were paying for the service), but he grudgingly scribbles his signature when he's reminded how easily he could be replaced.

In addition to the writings of Quigley and Mills, John Perkins' 2005 memoir-expose Confessions of an Economic Hit Man appears to have inspired at least some aspects of the Quantum of Solace storyline.

According to Perkins, the organs of international finance, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, engage in what is essentially a global loan-sharking scheme.
As an economic forecaster covertly recruited by U.S. intelligence in the 1960s, Perkins was dispatched to various countries — including Indonesia and Panama — as an "economic hit man," or EHM. His role was to help induce national leaders to take out huge World Bank loans to fund mammoth infrastructure programs.

Perkins claims that he was was just one EHM among thousands plying the same trade worldwide. If an EHM is successful, writes Perkins, "the [World Bank] loans are so large that the debtor is forced to default on its payments after a few years. When this happens, then like the Mafia we demand our pound of flesh. This often includes one or more of the following: control over United Nations votes, the installation of military bases, or access to precious resources…. Of course, the debtor still owes us money — and another country is added to our global empire."

Vulcan's Forge: Civic symbol of Birmingham, Ala.

Economic Hit Men aren’t the only weapons in the Power Elite's arsenal. Perkins also refers to "Jackals," who are sent to deal with the most refractory foreign leaders by fomenting revolutions, or staging assassinations. 

"When the Jackals fail," Perkins continues, "young Americans are sent in to kill and die."
These depredations aren't confined to the Third World, at least as that designation is conventionally understood. 

During the early years of the 21st Century, just before the Federal Reserve's most recent debt bubble collapsed, the EHMs preyed on municipal and county governments across the United States. 

Among their victims are the residents of Jefferson County, Alabama, which has been bankrupted and ruined as the result of a plot eerily similar in some ways to the one depicted in Quantum of Solace.

In 1996, Birmingham was forced to sign a federal consent decree requiring it to reconstruct its municipal sewer system. The initial estimated cost was roughly $250 million. However, that initial cost estimate was like a tiny grain of sand lodged inside the mantle of an oyster.  The Jefferson County political establishment quickly turned that grain of sand into an immense pearl of civic corruption, inflating the cost of the project to $3 billion. 

Sharp-dressed sellout: Larry Langford, JP Morgan's whore.
When the County Commission sought lenders to refinance its sewer bonds, JP Morgan dispatched a low-grade EHM named Charles E. LeCroy. In 2002, Larry P. Langford, a man with a troubled financial background and a weakness for expensive clothes, was appointed president of the Jefferson County Commission -- and LeCroy had his General Medrano. 

LeCroy compromised Langford with the clinical precision of a practiced seducer. Plying him with expensive clothes, jewelry, and cash payouts, LeCroy induced Langford to sign off on a series of esoteric "synthetic debt swaps" that eventually inflated the county's debt -- for rebuilding a sewer system, remember -- to $5.4 billion. 

The mechanics of these instruments are deliberately convoluted; the agreements were cluttered with recondite language designed to obstruct understanding, and conceal trip-wires and trap-doors. 

"I needed somebody to tell me what all that stuff was," Langford would testify in a June 2008 deposition. "And even when they told me, I still don't understand 99 percent of it."

Seeking an "independent" adviser to vet JP Morgan's proposals, Langford turned to William Blount, who ran the local investment firm of Blount Parrish & Company. It's entirely possible that Langford honestly didn't know -- at first -- that Blount had also been compromised by Quantum -- er, make that JP Morgan. In fact, Blount's $300,000 side-deal with LeCroy was roughly double the size of Langford's price tag. 

In Quantum of Solace, Bond discovers that Greene and his cohorts had managed to buy off dozens of officials in both the U.S. and British governments with promises of lucrative oil concessions. As Mr. White, a bagman for Quantum who had been introduced in Casino Royale, tells Bond: "The first thing you need to know about us is that we have people everywhere" -- including supposed allies in key positions within U.S. and British intelligence.

As mentioned earlier, Dominic Greene was able to get the CIA to butt out of Bolivia in exchange for a bogus oil deal. It cost LeCroy, JP Morgan's EHM in Birmingham, $3 million to persuade Goldman Sachs to avert its gaze from the opportunities for plunder in Jefferson County.

When queried by a comrade at JP Morgan, LeCroy explained that the money was the price of Goldman "not messing with us. It's a lot of money, but in the end, it's worth it on a billion-dollar deal." 

As the irreplaceable Matt Taibbi pointed out in his definitive journalistic autopsy of Jefferson County, just about everybody in the Banking Cartel sought a piece of the action: Four of the nation's top investment banks, the very cream of American finance, were involved in one way or another with payoffs to Blunt in their scramble to do business with the county. 

In addition to JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns paid Langford's bagman $2.4 million, while Lehman Brothers got off cheap with a $35,000 `arranger's fee.' At least a dozen of the county's contractors were also cashing in, along with many of the county commissioners." 

Dozens of local businessmen and political officials -- including Langford, who was elected Birmingham Mayor in 2007,  and Blount -- have been convicted on charges of bribery and other forms of corruption. LeCroy was eventually convicted and sent to prison for three months -- yes, three months -- for his role in a similar criminal enterprise in Philadelphia.

Some of those responsible for pillaging Jefferson County are behind bars, but nothing they will experience will compare to the suffering they have left in their wake. 

A chilling scene near the end of Quantum of Solace shows Indian peasants looking on in frustration and alarm as their local water pumps suddenly run dry in (temporary) consummation of Greene's plan. More than a few residents of Jefferson County have lived through very similar privations.

County residents now pay an estimated $750 a year for municipal services, more than twice the national average. Sewer costs are now 300 percent higher than they were when the reconstruction project began in 1996. These ruinous increases reflect the fact that those sentenced to live in Jefferson County are being taxed to pay the service on the debts created by JP Morgan's Economic Hit Man and his seraglio of civic servants. 

Birmingham resident Dora Bonner, a woman in her 70s who lives on a Social Security check and shares her home with four grandchildren, was among those forced to choose between paying a $250 water bill or keeping the furnace running in wintertime.  "I couldn't afford the water, so they shut it off," Bonner told Bloomberg News

Jefferson County residents draw nearer to bankruptcy every time they shower or flush the toilet. JP Morgan, the architects of this misery, received $25 billion in TARP bailout money and unspecified tens of billions more from indirect subsidies. Last year it dished out more than $11 billion in management bonuses. 

After the Economic Hit Men have done their work, John Perkins informs us, those who employ them send in first the jackals, then the troops. The destruction of Alabama's most populous county suggests that, at least where domestic operations are concerned, Quantum's real-life counterparts might simply skip the second stage and go directly to martial law. 

First Hit Men, then Jackals, then troops.

Last fall, a "kind of civil legal civil war broke out" in Jefferson County "when three county agencies -- the sheriff's department, an indigent-care hospital and the tax-assessor's office -- sued the county commission to stop ... budget cuts on the grounds that they posed a danger to public safety," reported Bloomberg News last October

Maintaining that budget cuts would make it impossible to provide law enforcement coverage for Jefferson County, Sheriff Mike Hale suggested that it would be necessary to call in the National Guard to serve as a police force. In fact, as AlterNet's Mike Ames observes, martial law is "a logical progression in the ongoing billionaire plunder of America."

In March 2009, following a shooting rampage in which 27-year-old Samson, Alabama resident Michael McClendon murdered ten people before killing himself, troops from Fort Rucker "were brought into Samson and other surrounding areas to patrol the streets," reported Ames. "This was a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, every freedom-loving American's worst nightmare." 

A subsequent investigation by the Army confirmed that it was illegal to dispatch soldiers to patrol the streets and man roadblocks, but no effort was made to identify, let alone punish, those responsible. As Ames points out, the damage done in Alabama by Wall Street's Economic Hit Men was hardly confined to Jefferson County: Pilgrim's Pride, one of the state's largest private employers, was seduced into leveraging itself into bankruptcy. 

"Now you can see why Alabamans are loading up on so many weapons," concludes Ames. For the same reason, it's not surprising that some statewide political campaigns in Alabama this year have an insurrectionary tone -- not that this is necessarily a bad thing, of course. The problem, predictably enough, is that the understandable rage and frustration are likely to be skillfully misdirected in the service of the same people who have all but reduced the state to Third World status. 

Those of us who don't live in Alabama need not feel left out, since -- as Quantum's Mr. White might put it -- Wall Street's taxpayer-subsidized oligarchy has people everywhere. Their fingerprints will most likely be found wherever a municipal or county government is suffocating in debt and wringing whatever revenue it can from tax victims who have nothing left to give.

Yes, I know: Quantum of Solace is a silly movie, full of implausible action gags and dodgy dialogue. And yet....

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Dum spiro, pugno!