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Sunday, December 14, 2014
Obstacles to accountability exist at every stage of seeking justice.
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As passions and protests flared on the streets of New York City following a Staten Island grand jury’s decision Wednesday not to indict the white NYC police officer whose chokehold and rough arrest killed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, a key question emerges: why is the justice system so biased against holding abusive officers accountable?
The answer is both simple and complex. On the simple side, the system is substantially rigged in favor of letting officers off the hook for using excessive force in the line of duty—especially if they say they needed to protect themselves. On the complex side are how the various stages of the process tilt toward covering up what abusive police have done, as well as biases built into the legal system that shield police from prosecution.
The evidence presented to the Staten Island grand jury has not yet been released. It soon may be, but what is so disturbing is that the incident was caught on video , allowing the public to watch a police squad act with impunity as they arrested Garner for the minor crime of selling cigarettes.
Let’s walk though 10 ways the system is predisposed to let NYPD Officer Daniel Panteleo off the hook, just as Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson police officer who shot and killed another unarmed black man, Michael Brown, last week escaped charges by a local grand jury.
1. There is a double standard for charging citizens and police. Everybody knows that police are authorized to use force in ways civilians are not. But if a civilian shoots a person outside his car window—as was the case in Ferguson—you can bet that shooter would be arrested, charged and have to defend his actions in court, David Rudovsky, a civil rights attorney and author on police misconduct told  Vox.com. But that is not the case when cops are the shooters, he said, because “police are investigating their own.”
2. This inherent conflict of interest is all over the Garner case. If you watch the July 20 video by Tiasha Allen posted  on the New York Times website, you see Garner after he is placed on the sidewalk, face-down, hands tied behind his back. A dozen NYPD officers mill around and act as if nothing is unusual or wrong. Forget that this video shows a dying man’s final hour, and that the NYC medical examiner concluded  the chokehold and leaving him on the sidewalk face-down killed him. Look at the cops: this team of officers would include many likely witnesses called before the Staten Island grand jury. “It’s often the police department that is charged with investigating a particular incident, deciding who’s telling the truth, who used force first, and so on and so forth,” Rudovsky said, explaining the first of many conflicts of interest.
3. Then comes the legal framework that protects cops.This is how the law is layered to protect rogue cops. It starts at the very top, as the Nation pointed out , because the standard in a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that tried to restrict when cops could use deadly force has been twisted by police to defend each other. The court held that deadly force can be used when a police officer “has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.” In 1989, the Court tried to be more specific by saying there had to be an immediate threat to their safety or to others. “But in actual courtroom practice, ‘objective reasonableness’ [standard] has become nearly impossible to tell apart from the subjective snap judgments of panic-fueled police officers,” the Nation said, explaining the loophole. “American courts universally defer to the law enforcement officer’s own personal assessment of the threat at the time.”
4. Recent Supreme Court decisions only make this worse. Recent rulings by the Roberts Court has tilted the balance further in favor of rogue cops. In one case where cops shot and killed a speeding driver and a passenger, they held that was not “excessive force” that would have violated the victims' constitutional rights. In another case, they sided with a prosecutor who withheld evidence and kept the wrong man on death row for 14 years.
These were just some examples of recent cases cited by Erwin Chemerinsky , dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine, in a New York Times commentary. “How many more deaths and how many more riots will it take before the Supreme Court changes course?” he concluded, linking these cases to the Ferguson grand jury.
5. Rogue cops are more common than you think. If you look at the video  of Eric Garner’s arrest and death on July 17, what you see are cops who consider their actions routine. If you look at the Twitter feed  for the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, you will see a long line of misdeeds, some stupid and some savage. Police drive drunk and hit firetrucks and other cars; cops arrest teenage girls and force them to have sex; cops falsify search warrant requests. And many of these officers are not going to face criminal charges.
6. Cops cover up other cops' misdeeds, including killings. The week, the Wall Street Journal had an investigative report  that documented how hundreds of police killings are not reported to federal law enforcement agencies. This blue wall of impunity keeps a lid on police misconduct and prevents elected politicians from seeing the extent of the nationwide problem of excessive and abusive policing. It’s a complete double standard, Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia University, told the Journal. “When cops are killed, there is a very careful account and there’s a national database,” he said. “Why not the other side of the ledger?”
7. Then comes the grand jury process, with its biases.There’s the frequent lack of independent witnesses, and a wall of silence from officers who “don’t want to be a rat,” AtlantaBlackStar.com reported , quoting Tim Lynch of the National Police Misconduct Newsfeed Daily Recap. Prosecutors are reluctant to go after cops, because they need to work with the same departments for their other cases. And local jurors are reluctant to indict local officers from the departments they might be forced to call if they are in a jam.
8. The result is police indictments are very rare. It would be incorrect to say that rogue police officers never get indicted. But as the investigative website fivethirtyeight.com reported, “Allegations of police misconduct rarely result in charges.” Between 2005 and 2011, there were 664 gun-related officer arrests, but only 31 were for murder and nonnegligent manslaughter when a cop was on duty. That’s about four a year. In contrast, in 2010, about a quarter of the 6,613 misconduct complaints were for excessive force. The overall pattern here confirms that cops largely evade accountablity for abusive actions.
9. Ocasionally, a cop will face murder charges. It can happen, as was the case in the central Virginia town of Culpepper, where an officer lost it  when he confronted a driver in a school parking lot, got into an argument, and shot and killed the woman, saying she closed her car window on his arm and started to drive away. In that case, the officer’s mother, who worked at the police department, tried to destroy evidence. A special grand jury met for a month before deciding to press charges. He was suspended, charged with murder, and jailed while awaiting trial. But this case is an exception, according to the statistics and analysis  on fivethirtyeight.com.
10. The Eric Garner case is not closed, but the odds are long. On Wednesday, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand asked  the Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation into Garner’s death, saying the grand jury decision not to indict the NYPD officer who killed him was “shocking.” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced later in the day that the Department would do so, just as it has in Ferguson.
But with the entire incident filmed on video, allowing anyone to see what happened between the NYPD and Garner on July 17, it is impossible not to conclude that the justice system is institutionally biased in favor of abusive policing and officers using excessive and sometimes lethal force. Whether or not Garner’s killer will face any individual responsibility remains an open question. But as the public watches what unfolds in coming days in the case, you can be sure there will be little attention focused on reversing the institutional biases that protect rogue cops.
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First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Socialist
Because I was not a Socialist
Then the came for the Trade Unionist, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Trade Unionist
Because I was not a Trade Unionist
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Jew
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me
-- Pastor Martin Niemoller
First, they’ve come for the people of color.
America’s police forces increasingly serve as a a private corporate army, beyond the reach of the law.
But our nation is distracted by race. And millions of white Americans are under the illusion that what was done to Michael Brown and Eric Garner can’t happen to them.
These un-prosecuted killings of African-American men go way beyond racial prejudice.
They are the calling card of an Orwellian state: America’s founders established grand juries to protect citizens from frivolous prosecution. But today’s corporate state has twisted the system to protect killer police from public scrutiny, putting them above the law.
The ultimate message is clear: Police can kill American citizens without cause and face no public trial. (Steven Rosenfeld lays out the details at Alternet )
The current focus is on skin color. Thankfully, Americans throughout the US have risen up in protest, demanding social justice and an end to racism.
But the larger issue is a police apparatus now inflicting random terror in service of a corporate state that has mutated far beyond public control.
We are still being assaulted by a cynical 40-year drug war used to disenfranchise and violate the basic rights of millions of Americans with no real recourse.
In the name of that drug war, and the one on terror, police randomly confiscate (steal) billions in cash from citizens of all races, in direct violation of the Bill of Rights and any sense of a real legal system. Police departments use these officially sanctioned armed robberies to help fund heavy war-time weaponry also coming to them as “surplus” from the federal military.
Citizens of color, the young, the poor and the elderly are being systematically stripped of the right to vote by a modern electronic Jim Crow. The dominance of a corporate one-party system is furthered by the use of privately-owed, easily-rigged electronic voting machines.
The NSA and other official agencies are spying on us without restraint.
Our ability to communicate through an open, neutral internet is also under attack. Meanwhile, a San Diego rapper with no record of violence has been charged with multiple “crimes” based on his lyrics. As anger with America’s billionaire elite spreads, we can certainly expect the counter-attacks on open speech to escalate.
That the victims of these latest police killings are most often men of color is tragic. It also gives the corporate media the perfect distraction behind which to hide the root problem.
Throughout our history, race has been the reliably lethal facade for all sorts of political repression. It’s the hate-filled poison perfectly designed to divide and distract us.
The sickness is real enough. But the ultimate cancer we face is the rise of an all-powerful corporate state and its iron grip on a violent, unaccountable private army licensed to kill---no matter what the race or cause---while knowing that the once-sacred right to a public trial does not apply to them. Should the attacks on the internet succeed, we’ll also be hearing less and less about them.
Thus we are all in the shoes of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Those who think themselves somehow above it all by virtue of race or class are simply not paying attention.
Unless we rise up to secure social justice and our basic legal rights, we’re all just a single cop away from being as dead as the very latest victim of official violence... at any time, for no reason, with no recourse.
A rising tide lifts all boats. A growing economic pie means bigger slices for everybody. Wealth that flows to the top will always trickle down.
Cheerleaders for wealth's concentration have over the years invoked a variety of images to justify the ever larger fortunes of our society's most fortunate. These images all rest on a single economic assumption: that letting wealth accumulate in the pockets of a few grows an economy's capacity for investment and ultimately, as investments create jobs, leaves everybody better off.
That assumption has dominated mainstream economics for generations. But that's changing. Even mainline economic institutionsare these days challenging the notion that good fortune for the few eventually and automatically translates into better fortune for the many. The latest of these institutions to chime in: the OECD, the official economic think tank for the developed world.
The OECD's just-published contribution comes right on the heels of another new analysis that essentially shreds what little credibility remains from that once dominant "rising tide" case for accepting inequality.
The co-author of this new analysis, former World Bank lead research economist Branko Milanovic, has had quite a year. The sensational international success of French economist Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century may owe more to Milanovic than anyone else other than Piketty himself.
The higher the inequality, the lower the income growth of poorer households.
Last fall, Milanovic published the first widely circulated review — in English — of Piketty's masterwork. His rave write-up ignitedwithin the chattering class a massive pre-publication buzz about the book. Piketty's chronicle about concentrating wealth would go on to sell over 500,000 copies, more in a shorter period than any other economics tome in global publishing history.
Milanovic is currently doing his research work at the City University of New York Graduate center. His new paper, prepared with the World Bank's Roy van der Weide, begins by noting a paradox within the economic literature on the relationship between inequality and economic growth.
Measures of income inequality, the two authors note, address how income levels can vary substantially from one economic class to another. But the measures that researchers have used to gauge whether the benefits from a growing economy do indeed "lift all boats" almost always focus on what's happening to an economy's average income or GDP per capita.
In their new paper, Milanovic and van der Weide set out to "unpack growth," to explore how actual individuals "at different steps of the socio-economic ladder" are faring. The two zero in on state-level inequality in the United States over the half-century between 1960 and 2010.
For each state, the co-authors use micro-census data to highlight the income shares of rich and poor at the beginning of each of that half-century's five decades. How does this initial inequality, they ask, impact how much the incomes of poor, middle class, and rich households grow over the next 10 years?
The answer their research has generated: The higher the state-level inequality at the start of each decade — in effect, the larger the top 1 percent share of each state's income — the lower the income growth of the state's poorer households and the faster the income growth of the richest.
A modest decrease in inequality more than doubles the income growth of a state's poorest 20 percent of households.
The magnitude of this dynamic turns out to be quite striking. A modest decrease in a state's inequality level at the start of a decade more than doubles the income growth of a state's poorest 20 percent of households over the next 10 years.
Milanovic and van der Weide have some thoughts of why higher income inequality so stunts income growth for a state's poorest. They point to the phenomenon they call "social separatism."
In a society where the rich are grabbing incomes "significantly greater than the incomes of the middle classes," the rich have little interest in public services. Their lives revolve around private services, everything from private schools to private country clubs.
These wealthy, note Milanovic and van der Weide, "prefer not to invest in public goods like education, health, and infrastructure." But these public investments — for the poor — make all the difference in the world. Paltry investments in public services translate into paltry, or worse, income growth for the poor.
The political implication? If income inequality speeds the growth of wealthy people's incomes, Milanovic and van der Weide wonder, how can we expect the wealthy to accept public policy changes that reduce inequality?
We can't, of course. Most rich will continue to claim that trickle down works, no matter how empty that claim may be. And the evidence for that emptiness is pouring in from more than academic sources.
We now have, for instance, the live-action contrast of Kansas and California. In Kansas, an exceedingly rich people-friendly governor and legislature two years ago slashed taxes on the state's wealthy, most notably by making business profits tax-free.
Sign-up for Too MuchIn California, meanwhile, voters at about the same time raised tax rates on taxpayers making over $500,000 by 30 percent.
The story since then: California, notes analyst David Cay Johnston, has grown jobs "at 3.4 times the rate of Kansas." California's weekly wages have also grown more than weekly wages in Kansas.
So maybe we do need a rising tide after all, a rising tide of voter anger at pols who keep winking at inequality.
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On December 11, 2014, the US House passed a bill repealing the Dodd-Frank requirement that risky derivatives be pushed into big-bank subsidiaries, leaving our deposits and pensions exposed to massive derivatives losses. The bill was vigorously challenged by Senator Elizabeth Warren; but the tide turned when Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorganChase, stepped into the ring. Perhaps what prompted his intervention was the unanticipated $40 drop in the price of oil. As financial blogger Michael Snyder points out, that drop could trigger a derivatives payout that could bankrupt the biggest banks. And if the G20's new "bail-in" rules are formalized, depositors and pensioners could be on the hook.
The new bail-in rules were discussed in my last post here. They are edicts of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), an unelected body of central bankers and finance ministers headquartered in the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. Where did the FSB get these sweeping powers, and is its mandate legally enforceable?
Those questions were addressed in an article I wrote in June 2009, two months after the FSB was formed, titled "Big Brother in Basel: BIS Financial Stability Board Undermines National Sovereignty." It linked the strange boot shape of the BIS to a line from Orwell's 1984: "a boot stamping on a human face—forever." The concerns raised there seem to be materializing, so I'm republishing the bulk of that article here. We need to be paying attention, lest the bail-in juggernaut steamroll over us unchallenged.
The Shadowy Financial Stability Board
Alarm bells went off in April 2009, when the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) was linked to the new Financial Stability Board (FSB) signed onto by the G20 leaders in London. The FSB was an expansion of the older Financial Stability Forum (FSF) set up in 1999 to serve in a merely advisory capacity by the G7 (a group of finance ministers formed from the seven major industrialized nations). The chair of the FSF was the General Manager of the BIS. The new FSB was expanded to include all G20members (19 nations plus the EU).
Formally called the "Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors," the G20 was, like the G7, originally set up as a forum merely for cooperation and consultation on matters pertaining to the international financial system. What set off alarms was that the new Financial Stability Board had real teeth, imposing "obligations" and "commitments" on its members; and this feat was pulled off without legislative formalities, skirting the usual exacting requirements for treaties. It was all done in hasty response to an "emergency." Problem-reaction-solution was the slippery slope of coups.
Buried on page 83 of an 89-page Report on Financial Regulatory Reform issued by the US Obama administration was a recommendation that the FSB strengthen and institutionalize its mandate to promote global financial stability. It sounded like a worthy goal, but there was a disturbing lack of detail. What was the FSB's mandate, what were its expanded powers, and who was in charge? An article in The London Guardian addressed those issues in question and answer format:
Who runs the regulator? The Financial Stability Forum is chaired by Mario Draghi, governor of the Bank of Italy. The secretariat is based at the Bank for International Settlements' headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.
Draghi was director general of the Italian treasury from 1991 to 2001, where he was responsible for widespread privatization (sell-off of government holdings to private investors). From 2002 to 2006, he was a partner at Goldman Sachs on Wall Street. He wassucceeded in 2011 by Mark Carney, who also got his start at Goldman Sachs, working there for 13 years before going on to become Governor of the Bank of Canada in 2008 and Governor of the Bank of England in 2012. In 2011 and 2012, Carney attended the annual meetings of the controversial Bilderberg Group.
What will the new regulator do? The regulator will monitor potential risks to the economy . . . It will cooperate with the IMF, the Washington-based body that monitors countries' financial health, lending funds if needed.
The IMF is an international banking organization that is also controversial. Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist for the World Bank, charged it with ensnaring Third World countries in a debt trap from which they could not escape. Debtors unable to pay were bound by "conditionalities" that included a forced sell-off of national assets to private investors in order to service their loans.
What will the regulator oversee? All 'systemically important' financial institutions, instruments and markets.
The term "systemically important" was not defined. Would it include such systemically important institutions as national treasuries, and such systemically important markets as gold, oil and food?
How will it work? The body will establish a supervisory college to monitor each of the largest international financial services firms. . . . It will act as a clearing house for information-sharing and contingency planning for the benefit of its members.
"Information-sharing" can mean illegal collusion. Would the information-sharing here include such things as secret agreements among central banks to buy or sell particular currencies, with the concomitant power to support or collapse targeted local economies?
What will the new regulator do about debt and loans? To prevent another debt bubble, the new body will recommend financial companies maintain provisions against credit losses and may impose constraints on borrowing.
What sort of constraints? The Basel Accords, imposed by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (also housed at the BIS) had not necessarily worked out well. The first Basel Accord, issued in 1998, had been blamed for inducing a recession in Japanfrom which that country had yet to recover; and the Second Basel Accord and its associated mark-to-market rule had been blamed for bringing on the 2008 crisis. (For more on this, see The Public Bank Solution.)
The Amorphous 12 International Standards and Codes
Most troubling, perhaps, was this vague parenthetical reference in a press release issued by the BIS, titled "Financial Stability Forum Re-established as the Financial Stability Board":
As obligations of membership, member countries and territories commit to . . . implement international financial standards (including the 12 key International Standards and Codes) . . . .
This was not just friendly advice from an advisory board. It was a commitment to comply, so you would expect some detailed discussion concerning what those standards entailed. But a search of the major media revealed virtually nothing. The 12 key International Standards and Codes were left undefined and undiscussed. The FSB website listed them, but it was vague. The Standards and Codes covered broad areas that were apparently subject to modification as the overseeing committees saw fit. They included money and financial policy transparency, fiscal policy transparency, data dissemination, insolvency, corporate governance, accounting, auditing, payment and settlement, market integrity, banking supervision, securities regulation, and insurance supervision.
Take "fiscal policy transparency" as an example. The "Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency" was adopted by the IMF Interim Committee in 1998. The "synoptic description" said:
The code contains transparency requirements to provide assurances to the public and to capital markets that a sufficiently complete picture of the structure and finances of government is available so as to allow the soundness of fiscal policy to be reliably assessed.
Members were required to provide a "picture of the structure and finances of government" that was complete enough for an assessment of its "soundness" — but an assessment by whom, and what if a government failed the test? Was an unelected private committee based in the BIS allowed to evaluate the "structure and function" of particular national governments and, if they were determined to have fiscal policies that were not "sound," to impose "conditionalities" and "austerity measures" of the sort that the IMF was notorious for imposing on Third World countries? Suspicious observers wondered if that was how once-mighty nations were to be brought under the heel of Big Brother at last.
For three centuries, private international banking interests have brought governments in line by blocking them from issuing their own currencies and requiring them to borrow banker-issued "banknotes" instead. Political colonialism is now a thing of the past, but under the new FSB guidelines, nations could still be held in feudalistic subservience to foreign masters.
Consider this scenario: the new FSB rules precipitate a massive global depression due to contraction of the money supply. XYZ country wakes up to the fact that all of this is unnecessary – that it could be creating its own money, freeing itself from the debt trap, rather than borrowing from bankers who create money on computer screens and charge interest for the privilege of borrowing it. But this realization comes too late: the boot descends and XYZ is crushed into line. National sovereignty has been abdicated to a private committee, with no say by the voters.
Marilyn Barnewall, dubbed by Forbes Magazine the "dean of American private banking," wrote in an April 2009 article titled "What Happened to American Sovereignty at G-20?":
It seems the world's bankers have executed a bloodless coup and now represent all of the people in the world. . . . President Obama agreed at the G20 meeting in London to create an international board with authority to intervene in U.S. corporations by dictating executive compensation and approving or disapproving business management decisions. Under the new Financial Stability Board, the United States has only one vote. In other words, the group will be largely controlled by European central bankers. My guess is, they will represent themselves, not you and not me and certainly not America.
The Commitments Mandated by the Financial Stability Board Constitute a Commercial Treaty Requiring a Two-thirds Vote of the Senate
Are these commitments legally binding? Adoption of the FSB was never voted on by the public, either individually or through their legislators. The G20 Summit has been called "a New Bretton Woods," referring to agreements entered into in 1944 establishing new rules for international trade. But Bretton Woods was put in place by Congressional Executive Agreement, requiring a majority vote of the legislature; and it more properly should have been done by treaty, requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate, since it was an international agreement binding on the nation.