Archive for the ‘Law’ Category
No real surprise, I think. It seems like much of the government (including much of Congress) is now corrupt and simply working to line their pockets rather than to serve the public. And no one in power seems interested in doing anything about it—certainly not Obama.
Eric Zuesse reports:
Bloomberg News reported, on April 8th, that a Securities and Exchange Commission prosecuting attorney, James Kidney, said at his recent retirement party on March 27th, that his prosecutions of Goldman Sachs and other mega-banks had been squelched by top people at the agency, because they “were more focused on getting high-paying jobs after their government service than on bringing difficult cases.” He suggested that SEC officials knew that Wall Street would likely hire them after the SEC at much bigger pay than their government remuneration was, so long as the SEC wouldn’t prosecute those megabank executives on any criminal charges for helping to cause the mortgage-backed securities scams and resulting 2008 economic crash.
His ”remarks drew applause from the crowd of about 70 people,” according to the Bloomberg report. This would indicate that other SEC prosecutors feel similarly squelched by their bosses.
Kidney’s speech said that his superiors did not “believe in afflicting the comfortable and powerful.”
Referring to the agency’s public-relations tactic of defending its prosecution-record by use of what he considered to be misleading statistics, Kidney said, “It’s a cancer” at the SEC.
Two recent studies have provided additional depth to Kidney’s assertions, by showing that Obama and his Administration had lied when they promised to prosecute Wall Street executives who had cheated outside investors, and deceived homebuyers, when creating and selling mortgage-backed securities for sale to investors throughout the world.
President Obama personally led in this lying.
On May 20, 2009, at the signing into law of both the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act and the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, Obama said: “This bill nearly doubles the FBI’s mortgage and financial fraud program, allowing it to better target fraud in hard-hit areas. That’s why it provides the resources necessary for other law enforcement and federal agencies, from the Department of Justice to the SEC to the Secret Service, to pursue these criminals, bring them to justice, and protect hardworking Americans affected most by these crimes. It’s also why it expands DOJ’s authority to prosecute fraud that takes place in many of the private institutions not covered under current federal bank fraud criminal statutes — institutions where more than half of all subprime mortgages came from as recently as four years ago.”
Then, in the President’s 24 January 2012 State of the Union Address, he said: “Tonight, I’m asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. (Applause.) This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans. Now, a return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help protect our people and our economy.”
However, two years later, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice issued on 13 March 2014 its “Audit of the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Address Mortgage Fraud,” and reported that Obama’s promises to prosecute turned out to be just a lie. DOJ didn’t even try; and they lied even about their efforts. The IG found: “DOJ did not uniformly ensure that mortgage fraud was prioritized at a level commensurate with its public statements. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Investigative Division ranked mortgage fraud as the lowest criminal threat in its lowest crime category. Additionally, we found mortgage fraud to be a low priority, or not [even] listed as a priority, for the FBI Field Offices we visited.” Not just that, but, “Many Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA) informed us about underreporting and misclassification of mortgage fraud cases.” This was important because, “Capturing such information would allow DOJ to … better evaluate its performance in targeting high-profile offenders.”
Privately, Obama had told Wall Street executives that he would protect them. . .
The US today: Free passes to high officials to commit criminal acts without suffering any consequences
It’s sort of depressing to read, but this column at TomDispatch.com shows how the US is reshaping itself as the oligarchy takes over: High officials no longer have to fear prosecution for the crimes they commit. The article includes specific examples, so it is actually happening.
UPDATE: And note also how the Obama Administration is closing off information about government activities, so along with an oligarchy we’re headed into a secret sort of government. Obama has certainly been a grave disappointment regarding executive power and governmental overreach (and compliance with the law).
And recall this study on how the US was already an oligarchy a dozen years ago.
The military gives lip service to the need to crack down on sexual assault in the military, but its actions show that it simply does not consider a sexual assault to be all that big a deal. Read this story in the Washington Post and you’ll see what I mean.
And you can also see why Sen. Gillibrand very much believes that prosecution of crimes should NOT be done within the chain of command: commanders quite often use their power to protect their friends and officers and ignore or cover up their misdeeds.
The story at the link shows just how deeply the moral rot is embedded in the military command structure. Nothing will be done so long as the military can prevent it. And officers will be protected from accountability.
UPDATE: And, of course, the military pretty much resists any change in its culture or organization. Read this depressing story:
This is regarding an issue I blogged earlier.
Megan McCloskey also has an excellent Pacific Standard article on why the military failed so badly.
A video interview with transcript at Democracy Now! Their blurb:
Award-winning journalist Matt Taibbi is out with an explosive new book that asks why the vast majority of white-collar criminals have avoided prison since the financial crisis began, while an unequal justice system imprisons the poor and people of color on a mass scale. In The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, Taibbi explores how the Depression-level income gap between the wealthy and the poor is mirrored by a “justice” gap in who is targeted for prosecution and imprisonment. “It is much more grotesque to consider the non-enforcement of white-collar criminals when you do consider how incredibly aggressive law enforcement is with regard to everybody else,” Taibbi says.
I’m watching The Man with One Red Shoe, an inferior remake of the French The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, and I note that the CIA as a humorous organization falls a bit flat these days. When, for example, a CIA agent yanks every single tooth from a man’s head and it’s the wrong man, that is supposed to be funny. The problem is that we know the CIA has indeed tortured people—and indeed, on more than one occasion has tortured “the wrong man”: totally innocent bystanders detained or kidnapped, tortured, and finally released without so much as a by-your-leave. Moreover, the Senate report states that the CIA lied when it said it observed the torture guidelines (incredible that the US has such things) and the CIA went to great pains to destroy all video records of the interrogations to ensure that no one will ever know what they actually did. Now knowing all that, the tooth-pulling bit in the movie seems uncomfortably close to a harsh interrogation technique to be humorous. For all I know, it was used as a harsh interrogation technique. Certainly it’s harsh. But we will never know because the CIA destroyed the tapes, and they did that because they thought what was on the tapes was much worse than any could imagine. Not funny.
Amy Davidson writes at the New Yorker:
What does it mean to fire a gun “accidentally”? If you point a gun at the door to a tiny cubicle, believing, you say, that a person is behind it, and fire four shots, can you also say, “I didn’t shoot at anyone. I didn’t intend to shoot at someone.… I didn’t shoot or intend to kill anyone”? That is the testimony of Oscar Pistorius, who is on trial for murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. In a remarkable few days of cross-examination, Pistorius, an Olympian and a Paralympic sprinter, has, according to press accounts, placed the blame for his legal predicament on the police, his friends, his father, an ex-girlfriend, his own lawyers, and Steenkamp herself, who was behind the door when he shot. His defense is that he thought she was a burglar. Addressing the judge, he said, “My lady, I wish she had let me know she was there.”
But, then, guns behave strangely in Pistorius’s hands. As he tells it, they have an eerie autonomy. “I didn’t have time to think,” he has said, over and over again—only to pull the trigger, and pull it three more times again—as if the absence of thought attached to that act, the power of the gun, was an absolution. And sometimes, the trigger even pulls itself. Pistorius is being tried for Steenkamp’s murder, and for two other incidents in which he allegedly fired a gun. One was in a restaurant, when he asked to see a friend’s gun and took it from him under the table. While it was in his hands, and no one else’s, a bullet was fired. On the stand, he said that his friend was “stupid” to give him a loaded gun—and that, anyway, he, Oscar Pistorius, didn’t fire it. “I physically didn’t discharge it. It went off when it was in my possession, but I did not have my finger on the trigger,” he said.
“The gun went off by itself?” Gerrie Nel, the prosecutor, asked.
“I know that my finger was not on the trigger,” Pistorius said.
As it happens, this particular gun, a Glock, has a safety feature that keeps it from discharging unless the person who is holding it has his finger fully on a sort of trigger-within-the-trigger and pulls. For the gun to have gone off otherwise would have been a “miracle shot,” as the prosecutor put it. This point is one of several, during three days of testimony so far, in which one wonders why Pistorius doesn’t take at least a degree of responsibility—saying, for example, that he pulled the trigger thinking the gun was empty, to get a feel for it. Instead, he has come across as a man so fixated on justifying himself that he can’t even hear it when he sounds illogical or cruel. After the shooting in the restaurant, he asked his friend to lie about what happened and take the blame. [A complete lack of accepting any responsibility at all for the various bad acts shows a mindset that is part of the problem, I would think. - LG]
In addition to the miracle shot, there was the phantom bullet. . .
After reading the entire column, I would say that Pistorius is guilty of deliberate homicide beyond a reasonable doubt, but it doesn’t seem to have been a planned killing, just a spoiled brat’s tantrum of rage. The situation reminded me of this guy, who I would bet will end up with an outlook like that of Pistorius if he doesn’t already have it.
UPDATE: The prosecutor should have pointed out, when Pistorius said that firing the gun through the door was a terrible accident, that it was actually four separate accidents, one right after the other. What are the chances, eh?
Greg Gordon has a very telling article in McClatchy. The first paragraph:
In sworn testimony last year, General Motors’ lead engineer in dealing with a faulty ignition switch repeatedly denied having any knowledge of a part change although he personally signed off on the redesign in 2006, excerpts of his deposition show.
He flat-out told a bald-faced lie.
The US objects, naturally enough. And yet the high civilian death toll and questionable legality of the attacks makes the inquiry perfectly natural. The US generally adopts a one-sided view of things and seems disinclined to approach things with equity—equal treatment—in mind, part of the idea of US exceptionalism, I suppose: “We can do as we want, and we reserve the right to condemn strongly and even punish other nations who do as we do.” What would the US think of some other nation kidnapping a US citizen from within the US, spiriting him out of the country, torturing him for months, and then releasing him in some backwoods spot? Would we think that was okay, particularly if the citizen was innocent of any wrongdoing? The US seems to think it was fine when we did it, but I bet the US would object to being on the receiving end.
For example, the US is (petulantly) refusing to issue a visa to Iran’s Ambassador to the UN, so he will be unable to travel to the UN. (This also shows the lack of wisdom in placing an international body on territory controlled by one government, which can then restrict access as it pleases.) TIME magazine notes:
Under a 1947 treaty establishing the headquarters of the UN in New York, the U.S. is generally required to expeditiously approve visa requests for UN diplomats. But on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said visas can still be denied on “security, terrorism, and foreign policy” grounds.
However, neither Psaki nor Carney would expand on the reasons for denying Aboutalebi’s visa.
It’s very strange that the US refuses to provide a reason for its refusal, but presumably the Ambassador either represents a security threat, or is a terrorist, or it’s a foreign policy reason (though the US is in fact attempting to negotiate an agreement with Iran). But the (unanimous) Congressional vote offers a clue:
Outraged by his involvement in the 1979 hostage-taking of Americans in Tehran, the House unanimously passed the bill Thursday. That followed Senate passage on Monday, which was also unanimous. If signed by President Barack Obama, the bill would bar representatives to the United Nations from entering the U.S., where the U.N. is headquartered, if such persons have engaged in espionage or terrorist activities against the United States.
And the NY Times reports:
The vote sent what sponsors called a blunt rejoinder to the Iranian government for having selected a nominee who played a role, however minor, in the 1979 American hostage crisis in Tehran.
Let’s think about that. In 1953 the US, using the CIA, covertly overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran. The US deliberately destroyed their government and put in place puppets (in effect). The reason: we wanted their oil, and we were willing to destroy their government to get it.
In the light of that, and of the atrocities visited on Iranians by the SAVAK, is it any wonder that the average Iranian had little love for the US. Possibly the US citizenry, if a foreign power overthrew our government and put in place a puppet government to seize our national resources, would have no objection and would welcome the rape of their country. But Iranians apparently didn’t like it, and in 1979 seized the US Embassy and held the occupants hostage for 444 days. None were killed. (8 servicemen died by accident in a rescue attempt; one Iranian was killed.)
So: a reasonable provocation, no deaths, and 33 years later the US bars the Iranian Ambassador because he was one of the students who particpated in that uprising. He was 22 years old at the time. Have you ever heard of college-age youth rising in protest about a cause they see as important? (Cf. Occupy Wall Street.)
A lot has happened since then, and holding the Ambassador responsible for understandable actions more than 30 years ago seems excessive, especially given the US’s own responsibility in creating the situation (by illegally overthrowing a democratically elected government).
You can see how other nations might view the US in a negative light, in part because the US tends to skip over its own faults and its responsibility for bad actions.
Now, back to the UN Human Rights Council: John Zorocostas reports in McClatchy:
The U.N. Human Rights Council agreed Friday, over the strong objections of the United States, to study whether American drone strikes comply with international law.
The resolution, which was drafted by Pakistan and co-sponsored by Yemen, both countries where the U.S. has undertaken multiple drone strikes, was adopted on a 27-6 vote, with 14 abstentions. The United States, Great Britain and France all voted no, but several NATO allies abstained.
Human rights advocacy groups, led by New York-based Human Rights Watch, mounted a strong campaign to garner support for the the motion.
In a letter circulated to the 47-members of the council on Thursday, the advocacy group argued that while currently only the U.S., Great Britain and Israel use armed drones in operations against alleged terrorists, it cautioned “that other states, and non-state actors, may acquire them in the future.”
Human Rights Watch also said it has “serious concerns that some if not many U.S. drone attacks may violate international law.”
A report published earlier this month, by Ben Emmerson, the U.N. independent expert on the promotion and protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms found that a U.S. drone strike in October 2006 at a religious seminary in Chenagai in the Bajaur tribal region of Pakistan killed up to 80 people instantly, 69 of whom were children.
The report also said that in December, a U.S. drone strike on a convoy of vehicles making their way to a wedding celebration outside the city of Rada in Yemen killed as many as 15, the majority of whom may have been civilians.
The resolution urges that all “states” using drones should ensure that they are complying “with their obligations under international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular, the principles of precaution, distinction and proportionality.” . . .
US drone strikes are killing civilians in countries who, naturally enough, object to a foreign power arbitrarily dealing out death to citizens simply because it has the power. It seems perfectly logical to bring the issue to the Human Rights Commission, and the only reason the US objects is that in this case the US is the transgressor. (If another nation were doing such things to the US or US allies, the US would certainly demand a review and action.)
The utter hypocrisy of US foreign policy is repugnant. And yes, I know that doubtless there are other nations who are worse. That does not lessen, and is not relevant to, the US idea of fairness, justice, and international law, which seems to be mostly “might makes right,” and anything the US does is good. This is a child’s view.
Toward the end of Zorocostas’s report, he notes:
But a large number of U.S. allies abstained rather than oppose the resolution, including Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Romania, Austria, and Montenegro.
Moreover, neutral European Union member Ireland, and neutral Switzerland voted in support of the motion, along with China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia, among others.
The EU does not have a common position on the use of armed drones, but there is growing political opposition to them.
In February, the European Parliament, voted 534 to 49 to declare drone strikes “outside a declared war” to be “a violation of international law and of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of that country.”
The US response seems unreasonable, unfair, and inappropriate. In a word, the US does not play well with others. If the nations were children in a sandbox, the US would definitely be the bully.
I have occasionally remarked that “CIA” stands for “Criminals In Action,” and that certainly seems to be the case in their kidnapping and torture program, which also resulted in some homicides. Ali Watkins, Jonathan Landay, and Marisa Taylor have a report at McClatchy of some sections leaked from the Senate report. Well worth reading. The report begins:
A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.
The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”
The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.
Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:
_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.
_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.
_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.
The 6,300-page report is . . .
Good news—and for them as well, since they will get their full salary while on suspension: an extended paid vacation.
I hope the two engineers will face criminal charges and be required to defend their actions in open court. They deserve severe punishment, as at least 13 families are willing to testify. (Who knows how many others died with the wreck simply deemed “an accident”?)
From the article at the link:
G.M. did not name the engineers. But an investigator briefed on the matter said they were Raymond DeGiorgio, the lead ignition switch engineer for small cars including the Cobalt, and Gary Altman, an engineering manager for the Cobalt. Bloomberg News first identified the engineers.
The Bloomberg News article is worth the click. Offenses included perjury, but that doesn’t seem to be that big a deal anymore (cf. James Clapp).
Stinking mentally ill people don’t deserve treatment, seems to be the US attitude. Of course, some few of the mentally ill are treated outside the correctional system, but for more than 90% the US approach is to put the patient in prison or jail. And people think the US is uncaring!
Here’s the article. And here’s the ugly fact:
Jails and prisons now house 356,268 inmates with severe mental illness — more than 10 times the number in state hospitals, according to a report published Tuesday by the Treatment Advocacy Center.
In 44 states, the largest prison or jail holds more individuals with serious mental illness than the largest psychiatric hospital.
One must fight despair, but the US seems to be circling the drain in many ways. The way the US treats the mentally ill is Dickensian: mid-19th-century England, with debtors’ prisons (which the US is also bringing back in a de facto sort of way). Our treatment of the mentally ill recalls the Bethlem Royal Hospital (“Bedlam”) of that era.
UPDATE: And it’s not exactly surprising that using prisons to treat the mentally ill worsens the mental-health crisis.
Only by sending responsible parties to prison, as well as fining the corporation that failed to supervise them adequately, can the sort of corporate crime like the Ford Pinto (gas tank) and the Chevy Cobalt (ignition switch) be curtailed. Read this post and see whether you agree. Holding accountable the persons responisble just seems basic common sense and decency. You don’t get carte blanche because you’re acting as an employee. The law still applies, and a crime committed in a corporate context should be treated exactly as a crime in the civilian context. Because someone is part of the corporate “person” does not mean they relinquish their own personhood.
If nothing is done about the Border Patrol, then I think it indicates the direction that the US is going. Dara Lind writes at Vox:
The US Border Patrol has a problem. And the face of that problem is Esteban Manzanares.
Manzanares, a Border Patrol agent, was on duty along the Rio Grande in March when he came across a Honduran woman and two girls who had crossed the river illegally. Instead of apprehending them, he sexually assaulted the woman and her 14-year-old daughter, slashed the mother’s wrists, and tried to break the teenager’s neck. Then he abducted the other daughter and tied her up in his home before returning to finish his shift.
By the time the FBI was on his trail, Manzanares had killed himself. But the incident called attention to abuse and violence among Border Patrol agents at the worst possible time for the agency.
A few weeks earlier, the press had gotten hold of the unredacted version of an independent report conducted last year on shooting incidents involving Border Patrol agents. The government had released a censored version last fall, but the leaked, full report showed what the officials who oversee Border Patrol had been trying to hide. There were cases of agents stepping into the path of cars trying to escape custody in order to justify shooting at them, and cases of agents firing across the border at Mexicans who were throwing rocks. [Note the repeated pattern of government agencies trying to conceal their missteps and criminal actions. This is why an independent press is necessary---and where, may I ask, was the Inspector General in all this? - LG]
The resulting outcry in the press forced the Border Patrol to issue a few new directives to its agents. But the policy tweaks couldn’t assuage the worry that has slowly been building among residents of both sides of the border for years. How often do Border Patrol agents escalate situations or initiate violence? And what is the agency doing about it?
More agents, more misconduct
Misconduct among Border Patrol agents, especially on the southwestern border, has become a more pressing concern in the last several years simply because there are so many more agents.
US Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol, was ordered by Congress to put more boots on the ground on the southwest border — both at road crossings to check people entering the country legally (those are called “ports of entry,” and are operated by the agency directly) and along the border between those spots, to catch people entering illegally. The latter is Border Patrol’s job. . .
And, speaking of stupidity, check out the Alabama judge who locked a blogger in jail until he took down some posts from his blog, to which he of course had no access while in jail. When the blogger pointed out that if he was in jail, he could not remove the posts, the judge replied, “That’s your problem.” I would have to classify this judge in the “stupid” camp. Nicole Flatow has the report at ThinkProgress:
“You get down to survival mode.” That was blogger Roger Shuler’s state of mind after being arrested and hauled off to jail for writing about a politically connected Alabama lawyer.
“Once you’re arrested I mean there’s not much you can do,” he told ThinkProgress in a conversation after his release, explaining that he felt powerless to handle the legal defense of his case. “Your hands are tied literally and figuratively and just to try to figure out how to get out was almost impossible … I really was afraid for my life at times.”
Until last week, Shuler was the only known journalist in the Western Hemisphere jailed for doing his job. Shuler, a former sports reporter and university editor who developed the political blog Legal Schnauzer, is known as a controversial figure in his community. He has fielded other allegations of falsehoods and has been embroiled in numerous lawsuits over his blogging. But even his critics conceded that a court order banning him from writing anything about the alleged extramarital affair of a man rumored to be running for Congress was likely unconstitutional, and a First Amendment outrage.
First, a Shelby County judge ruled that Shuler could not continue writing about the alleged affair of Robert Riley, Jr., the son of former Gov. Bob Riley rumored to be running for Congress. Then, when Shuler refused to comply with the order, police came to his home one evening and arrested him for contempt of court. Contempt of court is a punishment for failure to comply with a court order. In many instances such as this one, it is a “civil” offense, meaning it doesn’t carry long-term criminal penalties. But officials use jail as a means of forcing compliance with the order. So Shuler sat in jail until he complied.
Shuler was initially resistant to the order. But even when he wanted to comply, he didn’t know how.
“At my Nov. 14 hearing, the only hearing I had in the case, the court gave me no direction on how I could purge myself of contempt,” Shuler told the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I noted that I had no computer or Web access to take down the posts, even though I knew it was unlawful to be forced into taking them down. The court’s response was more or less that I had to resolve that problem myself. With that kind of response from the court I felt caught between the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place.’” . . .
Right now it sees its mission as assisting the industry it’s supposed to regulate and abandoning the role of protecting investors. Pam Martens writes at Wall Street on Parade:
The fallout from the new book, “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis continues. Yesterday, Jonathon Trugman wrote in the New York Post that “These traders who use the HOV lane to get ahead of investors could not do their trades without the full knowledge and complicity of the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.”
Trubman went on to compare the two best known stock exchanges in the U.S. to houses of ill repute, writing: “What is clearly unfair and unethical — and, frankly, ought to be outlawed — is how the exchanges have essentially taken on the role of running a high-priced, high-frequency brothel…”
While it’s true that the New York Post might possibly overuse sexual analogies (on August 10, 2011 it ran a front page cover comparing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a “hooker’s drawers”), in this instance Trugman is spot on.
Not only are the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq allowing high frequency traders to co-locate their computers next to the main computers of the exchanges to gain a speed advantage over other customers at a monthly cost that only the very rich can afford to pay but they’re now tacking on infrastructure charges that price everyone out of efficient use of the exchanges except the very top tier of trading firms.
Lewis writes in “Flash Boys” that “both Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange announced that they had widened the pipe that carried information between the HFT [high frequency trading] computers and each exchange’s matching engine. The price for the new pipe was $40,000 a month, up from the $25,000 a month the HFT firms had been paying for the old, smaller pipe.”
By late 2011, according to Lewis, “more than two-thirds of Nasdaq’s revenues derived, one way or another, from high-frequency trading firms.”
And we’ll take Trugman’s analogy one step further: . . .
Amy Davidson writes at the New Yorker:
Who gets “emotional” about torture—or, rather, what is the proper emotional response to a history of torture and lies? On Fox News, on Sunday morning, Chris Wallace asked Michael Hayden, the former director of the C.I.A., about a report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sixty-three hundred pages long, that “says the C.I.A. misled the public about the severity and the success of the enhanced interrogation program.” Hayden’s first response was to talk about the feelings of Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the committee, citing an article by David Ignatius: “He said Senator Feinstein wanted a report so scathing that it would ‘ensure that an un-American brutal program of detention and interrogation would never again be considered or permitted.’ ”
Now, that sentence, that motivation for the report, Chris, may show deep emotional feeling on part of the senator. But I don’t think it leads you to an objective report.
“Deep emotional feelings,” on the part of a woman like Feinstein, are apparently dizzying, especially when it comes to things like our integrity as a nation. But are Hayden and his former colleagues at the C.I.A., in touch with their own emotions on this one? The Senate voted on Thursday to submit the report for declassification; this process may take a while, because the White House and the C.I.A. will be involved, and the agency has fought the report. It has made its objections known feelingly, in a rebuttal that is also classified, in testimony, and in leaks to reporters about how the Senate just doesn’t understand what it was like—doesn’t get it, doesn’t care about what bad days its agents had. Not that the C.I.A. wants to tell. When John Brennan, the current head of the C.I.A., realized that the Senate investigators had some of the agency’s notes to itself—the so-called Panetta papers, in which, according to Senator Feinstein, the agency conceded points it is now denying—he had a bit of a fit. Feinstein said that the committee got the Panetta papers from the C.I.A. in a document dump; the agency said that even if it did, the committee ought to have known that those notes were private. It apparently searched the Senate’s computers and tried to get a criminal investigation started. Calling the cops is, admittedly, a common fantasy when an teen-ager realizes that his journal has been read, but it’s a bit unworthy of an intelligence agency when dealing with its congressional overseers.
Now, not that there’s anything wrong with wanting a scathing report in torture that will shock the conscience, but it’s probably worth noting that the Ignatius line Hayden cited took a Feinstein quote slightly out of context. (Though the layering of emotionalism is on Hayden.) Ignatius wrote that Feinstein “wanted a report so tough that it would ‘ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted,’ as she put it.” She had actually presented this as the reason to make the report public:
If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.
Emphasis added. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one: whatever her “motivation” was, it didn’t shape the writing of the report, but her feelings about who ought to get to read it. (On Saturday, Trevor Timm, of the Press Freedom Foundation, put out a “general plea” for a leak.)
There are really two issues here.
The NY Times editors have some harsh (and well-deserved) words for Gov. Rick Perry.
Max Ehrenfreund in the Washington Post has a good interview exploring the way the stock market is rigged:
A small group of financial firms are using their technological superiority to skim the top off the market, Michael Lewis claims in his new book “Flash Boys.” There’s an increasingly heated debate over whether the practices, known as high-frequency trading, are harmful or helpful. Lewis, for his part, says the market is “rigged,” and several federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, are now looking into what Charles Schwab recently labeled “a growing cancer.”
Sophisticated and expensive computers allow high-frequency traders to take advantage of minuscule differences in price among the many exchanges where securities are bought and sold. Some firms pay to place their computers on the site of a stock exchange to be sure their access to price data is as fast as possible, a practice known as colocation; others will use technology to obscure their trading intentions for a few crucial thousandths of a second. Lewis’s book tells the story of Brad Katsuyama, a former trader at the Royal Bank of Canada in New York. Katsuyama opened a new stock exchange last year to give investors protection from HFT.
Lewis is not the first to cry foul on these strategies. Eric Scott Hunsader, the founder of Nanex, has made himself immensely unpopular in some circles for his outspoken and persistent criticism of HFT, which he first encountered during the “flash crash” of 2010. Bloomberg called him the “nemesis” and “scourge” of the HFT world.
I asked Hunsader to talk about the book, the new stock exchange, and his long career in financial technology. The conversation focused on the Securities and Exchange Commission ruling in 2007 that allowed what we now know as high-frequency trading. The transcript, edited for length and clarity, is below.
Wonkblog: When I was a kid, I can remember my grandpa showing me how to look up stock prices in the newspaper. And there were exactly three exchanges. Oftentimes the prices were in fractions — one-eighth, three-quarters, and so on. And then, it wasn’t long after that that I was showing him how to look up stock prices online. I’m wondering if you can talk about the transition into electronic trading — and you think that at least initially, it was good for everybody. Is that right? . . .
James Clapper has now admitted that the NSA have searched, with no warrant, the content of Americans’ email and telephone communications. This is a violation of the law, of course. In the NY Times Charlie Savage has a good article on the issue, which concludes:
Last month, the issue also arose at a hearing by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal watchdog group that is examining how the government is using the FISA Amendments Act.
Brad Wiegmann, a deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, testified that searching the database for Americans’ communications without a warrant did not raise Fourth Amendment concerns because the information had been lawfully collected by the government.
Later in the oversight board’s hearing, one of its members, Patricia Wald, a retired appeals court judge, asked why it would not be appropriate to require analysts to get court approval to pull up Americans’ communications.
Robert S. Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, replied that imposing that rule would be an operational burden and would make the surveillance court extremely unhappy because of the frequency with which analysts query the database.
Judge Wald replied, “I suppose the ultimate question for us is whether or not the inconvenience to the agencies, or even the unhappiness of the FISA court, would be the ultimate criteria.”
Robert Litt’s reason, that it’s too much bother to do it legally, will appeal to, say, those who steal large sums of money because it’s too much effort to earn the money legally. But I don’t think that mere convenience trumps legality. Litt does.