Thursday, January 17, 2013

HSBC money laundering charges

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HSBC Laundering Charges
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HSBC Laundering Charges - Matt Taibbi
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Just think about that. These banks were "too big to fail" in 2008, so we rescued them from their own terrible decisions.

We didn't, really, bail out the stockholders, but we bailed out the corporations. And maybe you - like the Republicans on the Supreme Court - consider corporations to be "people." (But these people are too big to be punished for their crimes? How does that work? Do I just need to gain some weight or something?)

For the rest of us, we recognize that corporations aren't people, but that they're run by people. And those are the people we bailed out from the consequences of their own bad decisions. (It's socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor and middle class.)

Now, sure, our entire economy was in danger of collapse. Certainly, our entire banking industry was collapsing, and I'm never in favor of cutting off my nose to spite my face. That "bailout" wasn't fair, but it was necessary. I understand that.

I have a harder time understanding why none of those bankers went to jail. For the most part, they weren't even inconvenienced. They still got their multimillion dollar bonuses, if not quite as much as they'd received while they were creating the disaster. (And then they whined because people said mean things about them or - even worse - wanted them to pay a little bit more in taxes.)

But OK, maybe they hadn't done anything that was, technically, against the law. Maybe it was immoral and unethical and stupid, but if it wasn't actually illegal, there's no crime. And even before Citizens United, these people had bought a lot of politicians, so the laws have generally been written as they preferred.

But what about now? Well, these banks are even bigger than they were in 2008, because they merged with weaker banks then (sometimes at the urging of the Federal Reserve or Treasury officials, because we couldn't afford any more Lehman Brothers-style bankruptcies just then).

But does that mean that the people who run these banks are above the law? Well, yes. Yes, it does, apparently. Whatever they did to collapse our economy, whether that was technically illegal or not, money laundering is illegal. And this wasn't a minor matter, not by anyone's standards. They were helping the worst criminals on the planet - terrorists, dictatorial regimes, drug lords, etc.

The corporation itself was fined one month's pay. If a corporation is supposed to be a "person," I'd say it got off remarkably easy, wouldn't you?

And what about the real people who actually committed these crimes (or covered them up, or otherwise let them continue)? For the most part, nothing. No penalty. Certainly no jail-time. They're above the law. After all, these aren't people like you and me. No, these are important people. We certainly wouldn't want to inconvenience people like that, would we?

But, OK, executives' multimillion dollar bonuses were "partially deferred." Ouch! That's got to hurt, don't you think? Thanks to these crimes, they only got part of their usual bonus - and the rest of it was, well, not cancelled or anything (and God forbid that they have to pay back any bonus money from the many years they were committing these crimes), but it was, apparently,... postponed.

Wow! That's really tough, don't you think? You can be thrown in jail for smoking a joint, but if you conspire with drug lords and terrorists, you just have part of your multimillion dollar bonus delayed a bit.

But here's something I don't understand (not that I understand any of this). If we're saying we can't penalize serious criminal activity, because otherwise HSBC might lose its banking license - and they're too big to risk that - aren't we saying that they can do anything they want? Basically, we've told them that there's nothing they can do to lose their license. So how do you regulate people like that?

How do you regulate a bank when you've already told the people running it that they're above the law? Why would they pay any attention to the U.S. government at all? Sure, the corporation was ordered to pay a pittance of a fine, less than a month's income, but that's because they were caught. Criminals don't always get caught, not even most of the time, so why would they even stop money laundering, let alone worry about any other criminal activity?

If this went on for a decade or so, as apparently it did, and the fine was only four-week's worth of income - and only "partially deferring bonuses" for the executives (not implying that they all knew about it, necessarily, because I doubt that) - why worry about it? As a cost of doing business, that doesn't seem like much at all.

And what about all of the criminal banking behavior we haven't caught? Why would other bankers worry about illegal activity? Unless, maybe, they might not be big enough? Well, a few mergers will take care of that. After all, here in America, we no longer worry about monopolies either, do we?

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