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Posts published in “Year: 2012”

Legal troubles? Go work for a big bank

carlson
NW Reading

"Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen," sang Woody Guthrie - but you're a lot less likely to serve time in the Crossbar Hotel if you use the latter.

That was the angry point of Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley's letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder about the Department of Justice's ongoing refusal to go after even the most brazen bad guys in the financial section. And leading to the sad but logical conclusion that "jail time is served by over 96% of persons that plead or are found guilty of drug trafficking, 80% of those that plead or are found guilty of money laundering, and 63% of those caught in possession of drugs. As the deferred prosecution agreement appears now to be the corporate equivalent of acknowledging guilt, the best way for a guilty party to avoid jail time may be to ensure that the party is or is employed by a globally significant bank."

How that can be called justice is hard to imagine.

From his letter:

On Tuesday, the Justice Department entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with HSBC related to more than $800 million in illicit narcotics proceeds that drug traffickers laundered through the bank’s Mexican and American affiliates, as well as over $600 million in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Burma. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer highlighted just how brazen the violations were, with traffickers depositing “hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller window.” Sanctions violations were equally deliberate, with the bank intentionally stripping information from transactions to avoid detection. Yet despite these clear and blatant violations, the Department of Justice refused to bring criminal charges against the bank, relevant employees, or senior management.

Indeed, Mr. Breuer stated yesterday that in deciding not to prosecute, the Department considered the “collateral consequences” of its decision on the financial system. Mr. Breuer stated “If you prosecute one of the largest banks in the world, do you risk that people will lose jobs, other financial institutions and other parties will leave the bank, and there will be some kind of event in the world economy?” The HSBC decision comes on the back of deferred prosecution agreements with Standard Charter Bank and ING Group related to similar charges.

I do not take a position on the merits of this or any other individual case, but I am deeply concerned that four years after the financial crisis, the Department appears to have firmly set the precedent that no bank, bank employee, or bank executive can be prosecuted even for serious criminal actions if that bank is a large, systemically important financial institution. This “too big to jail” approach to law enforcement, which deeply offends the public’s sense of justice, effectively vitiates the law as written by Congress. Had Congress wished to declare that violations of money laundering, terrorist financing, fraud, and a number of other illicit financial actions would only constitute civil violations, it could have done so. It did not.

Instead, Congress placed these financial crimes squarely in the federal criminal code precisely because the consequences are so severe. Drug trafficking between the U.S. and Mexico continues to wreak extraordinary violence across North America, leading to 15,000 deaths in Mexico in 2010 alone and continued gang violence and deaths in the U.S. Drug cartels are also increasingly connected to terrorism. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 39 percent of State Department-designated foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) have “confirmed links” to the drug trade, as of November 2011. The consequences to U.S. national security for violations involving terrorism financing and Iran sanctions violations are obvious and severe. Congress deemed criminal law the appropriate tool for punishing and deterring actions that have such serious and damaging public consequences. (more…)

Pressure on coal

Coal transport is becoming a front burner issue in Oregon, but it already has made the leap in Washington. A port in Whatcom County, in the Bellingham area, is considering handling large-scale coal shipments to China, and protests have grown quickly, and grown large.

A hearing last night at Seattle drew about 2,300, most of the apparently in opposition.

Pushing past the solidly green political climate of the Cascades-west is going to be tough for the coal industry, which is why it has been hiring professional help. The green-oriented Sightline Daily has outlined some of the professional contours in a notable piece out Thursday.

Some of them, the article notes, are organizations with long histories of pro-green activities. An example: "A Portland-based economic consulting firm, ECONorthwest has a long history of work supporting conservation, so many were surprised to learn the firm took money from Ambre Energy to produce an economic impact analysis. ECONorthwest’s analysis has become a key piece of support for the Morrow Pacific Project, a complicated scheme to move as much as 8 million tons of coal annually in barges on the Columbia River for onward shipment to coal plants in Asia."

Really unaffiliated

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

STOP THE PRESSES! HOLD THE PHONE! Or, as Wolf Blitzer would say, “We have BREAKING NEWS coming into the Situation Room!” Well, that’s what he tries to say – no matter how it comes out.

Have you heard of the “nones?” No, not “nuns.” NONES! Well, you’re going to get familiar with that label and be seeing and hearing more about that group if you follow elections. It’s the newest identifier word among political wonks and the Nate Silver’s of the world.

“Nones” are officially voters who have no specific religious affiliation. The “nones.” In the 2012 election numbers, “nones” accounted for 17% of the vote. Put in perspective, 17% is larger than Hispanic vote, 18-24 year olds or the hardest core of pro-lifers. Can you say “significant?”

The Pew Research Center says this new classification of voters is “politically important and consequential” and “one of the strongest Democratic constituencies in the population.” In 2012, Pew found about one in five survey respondents called themselves “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” All said they never attend church.

Now that attendance information might be unimportant if you figure there are probably a lot more “unchurched” folks out there who don’t vote. So what? But if 17% of the people who DO vote can be identified, the question for political campaigns is “how do we reach them?” ‘Cause they gotta be reached!

These folks are important. In 2008, for example, numerically they were as reliable a constituency for Barack Obama as white evangelical Protestants were for John McCain. Democrats didn’t identify the “nones” and go after those votes! There was no specific effort to target them. How could there be? And their number grew a full three percentage points from 2008-2012.

The demographics of “nones” make them hard to appeal to. They seem to be liberal on social issues – more likely to support same-sex marriage and legalized abortion. But half surveyed called their political ideology “conservative” and about 40% “moderate.” A real mixed bag. Still, they appear to lean heavily toward Democrats.

It’s not surprising that two-thirds of the “nones” believe churches and other faith-based organizations are too involved in politics while 70% say religious institutions are “too concerned with money and power.”

Remember – it’s the “money and power” factors that make groups like evangelical Christians and Catholics targets of political campaigns because they can plug into nationwide communications networks and fund raising. These “nones” don’t have a system of connection so, again, how do you find them and how do you reach them? (more…)

Native jurisdiction (con’t)

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

As I walked into my publisher’s office for our weekly discussion on issues, political and otherwise, he threw out this opening gambit: “You must still feel guilt from having had Chief Allen call you a racist?

Dan was referring to my column/review of Louise Erdrich’s National Book Award winning novel, The Round House. A richly textured and finely written book, it is full of ambiguity. At one level it is an eloquent plea for tribal courts to have jurisdiction especially in capital cases over non-natives if they commit a major crime on native land.

“As usual, you’re wrong,” I shot back at my good friend who loves to twist one’s tail and succeeds because he outrageously exaggerates where one may be on an issue. “I took no position on the issue but rather pointed out what an important matter it is for tribes and how central it is to understanding the novel’s plot.”

“So, given your raising this controversial topic why not inform your readers why Congress and the Courts have come up with this concept of “quasi-sovereignty” for reservations? Check with some of your lawyer friends,” Dan suggested.

So I did, all of whom benignly indulge my “practicing law without a license.” Ever since learning of the 1902 Winter’s Doctrine, and laws in which Congress reserved rights to tribes, it has intrigued me why tribes have been reluctant to fully exploit the obvious power contained therein.

While Walter Echo-hawk’s book, In the Court of the Conquerors, outlined the ten worst rulings by the Supreme Court denying basic constitutional rights to Native Americans, he failed to point out that there are laws and court rulings, such as the Winter’s Doctrine, which give Native Americans first in time water rights on all bodies of water arising on
or passing through their reservations. Some tribes are starting quantify their claims while others prefer to let things simmer longer as water becomes ever more valuable.

When asked the question as to what they considered the key obstacle standing in the way of tribes attaining the right to enforce their laws on both natives and non-natives, all said the real issue is whether Tribal Courts are truly an independent branch of government.

One attorney said that in his state “and I suspect everywhere else the real issue is the lack of independence from the Tribal Council. Tribal Councils control Tribal Courts so instead of the rule of law you essentially have the rule of the council. If the council doesn’t like the result in a particular court case, the council overrules it or perhaps fires the judge.” (more…)

Interesting times for the Forest Service

peterson
Martin Peterson
From Idaho

I recently moderated a forum for City Club of Boise featuring U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. Tidwell grew up in Boise before his family moved to Spokane, where he graduated from high school. He took classes at both the University of Idaho and WSU and received a degree in range science from WSU.

At a time when federal funding is threatened, forest fires are on the increase, forest restoration needs are growing, and timber harvests on federal lands have declined, it is a challenging time to be the head of the Forest Service.

Idaho has a greater share of its land mass in national forests than any other state. 38% of Idaho is part of the national forest system. Of Idaho’s 20.4 million acres of national forest land, an estimated 15 million acres are overgrown and vulnerable to the risk of wildfires. Last summer’s fires burned 1.7 million acres of forest and rangeland. The Forest Service spends 42% of its budget on firefighting and nearly one-third of its employees are firefighters.

Tidwell says that in recent years the annual acreage burned by wildfires has increased dramatically and has burned in excess of 8 million acres six times since 2004 and could reach 12 to 15 million acres in the near future. In addition, 30,000 homes have been destroyed in the last ten years, including 3,000 this year. Fire seasons are also running 60-70 days longer than before, with the days over when snows came in September and ended the fire season. Causes for this dramatic increase include past forest management practices, insect infestations and climate change.

Tidwell says that the Forest Service in now making forest restoration one of its highest priorities. Forest restoration includes hazardous fuels reduction, protection and restoration of critical habitat, including riparian areas and watersheds. In areas where restoration has taken place, oncoming fires drop from the crowns and become more manageable.

As an example of the benefits of fuel reduction, Tidwell said that this year’s Mustang Complex Fire north of Salmon covered 340,000 acres and that the work done on a logging project in the area helped fire fighters keep the fire from engulfing U.S. 93, the primary highway route in that
part of the state. (more…)

Left, right … or middle

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Whatever happened to the word “moderate?” You hardly here it these days. If you’re talking about someone’s politics, “so-and-so is on the right” or “so-and-so is on the left.” But no moderate. If you’re talking media, there’s “right” and “left” and “conservative” and “liberal.” But no moderate. If it’s congress, members are referred to as “right” and “left” but too seldom “moderate.” The word has almost disappeared.

My Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines moderate as: “avoiding extremes; observing reasonable limits; avoiding extreme political or social matters or behavior; reasonable; one who favors a moderate course.” Still sounds good to me.

I have friends on the right. And friends on the left. Over the years of my journalistic career, some of each have accused me of being a fellow traveler with the other. Right or left. And people I’ve never heard of who respond to these opinion pieces often start out by labeling me one or the other. Right or left. After so many years of this, I’ve learned to immediately discard whatever the response if it starts out “You are obviously a right winger – or left winger……” Or “nut.” Or “crazy.” Or worse.

For reasons I don’t fathom, we seem to have to label everyone. Assign them a space on some imaginary line that runs from right to left, left to right or some other extreme. Or put them in a box with a label on it. We do it with movie stars. George Clooney is obviously on the left while Sylvester Stallone is a “rightie.” We do it with musicians, rock stars, economists, scientists, the homeless and – at times – God. I’ve heard Jesus described both right and left. We do it with churches. Presbyterians, of course, are “always” left – Baptists and fundamentalists are “always” to the right. Whether true or not. (more…)

WA: Some more power-share thoughts

There may be all sorts of fallout from the Washington Senate power-share arrangement.

There will be the overtly political, including re-elect races of Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, the two Democrats who crossed over to help Republicans gain control. (Any thoughts of a recall, though, probably are dismissable; Washington has tough recall laws that require either a legal or major ethical violation for a recall, and this kind of power change certainly doesn't fall into that category.)

Some of the more interesting effects may be on the Republican side, where the party will be more or less ostensibly in control, but not in any absolute way. Presumably to get Tom and Sheldon ob board, they had to give up overall leadership of the chamber to those two, plus half of the committee chairs.

And today's national Daily Kos report notes, "Republicans and Democrats will each chair one-half of the chamber's committees, including some that will be co-chaired—although it's worth noting that some of the most moderate first-term GOPers, Andy Hill and Steve Litzow, will head two of the most important committees, leapfrogging over much-more-senior conservative members. One other consequence that shouldn't be overlooked: Seeing as how every vote needs to count in order to make the coup work, the Republicans were also forced to accept loose-cannonish (emotionally more so than ideologically) Pam Roach—whom they kicked out of the caucus—back into the fold."

That point about needing every vote is critical. Let one senator on either side go south on you, and it's a tough go. That's one reason coalitions of this sort can be so unstable. - Randy Stapilus

Chaos in the WA Senate?

Senate
The power grab announced. (photo/Secretary of State's office)

 

westcascades

Two years ago, Oregon Democrats and Republicans hit what might have been a tremendous problem. To the 60-seat House chamber, exactly 30 members of each party had been elected. how could control of the chamber be managed?

Carefully, it turned out. There was some chatter about someone in the caucuses splitting off and winning control for the other side, but that didn't happen. Instead, the party leaders worked together and named co-chairs, who cautiously avoided land mines and worked through what became a productive term, in a professional way. It took a long series of compromises, good will and fair bargaining.

What has happened in the Washington Senate is unlikely to lead to so well-regarded an end result.

The November elections left the Washington Senate with a narrow majority, 26 to 23 Republicans, but a majority nonetheless. Preliminary organizational work began, including naming new committee chairs.

Then today, two of those Democrats, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon (who for many years has been a split-off vote among Democrats) said they would join the Republican caucus for organizational purposes, with Tom and Sheldon taking the top two leadership positions, and committee chairs split between the parties. (That latter part sounds more egalitarian than it is; most of the major chairs would be held by Republicans.)

The remaining Democrats have protested, but whether they have any options to stop the coalition is unclear.

Coalitions have run legislative chambers across the country from time to time, over the years. Alaska has had them in the not too distant past; going back a good deal further, so have Oregon and Idaho. they tend not to work very well, and by their nature are unstable.

Because there are questions of loyalty and advantage-taking, the emotional tenor of this session is likely to be strained to say the least. There will be fury in some quarters, and cooperation may be hard to find. The metaphorical long knives will be out, soon.

The challenge Washington will face this term - getting productive work out of its upper legislative chamber - is probably much greater than the challenge Oregon faced the last couple of split-control years.

Health exchanges okayed in OR, WA

It doesn't seem so awfully difficult west of the Cascades.

Federal conditional approval came in today for the Oregon and Washington health insurance exchange proposals. That means some details remain, but the outlines have been approved. Washington and Oregon were two of the first six states to get approval.

From a release description of the Oregon proposal:

Cover Oregon is a central online marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for and compare health coverage options and access financial assistance, starting in October 2013. Coverage for plans purchased through Cover Oregon will be effective January 1, 2014.

Through Cover Oregon, individuals and families will be able to easily compare plans, see quality grades for carriers and plans, and access financial assistance to help pay for premiums. Oregonians can find out if they may qualify for financial help by visiting the calculator on the Cover Oregon website, at http://www.coveroregon.com/calculator.php.

Small businesses will be able to offer more options to their employees through Cover Oregon, and some will qualify for tax credits to help pay to cover their employees.

From here, it really doesn't sound a lot like tyranny. - Randy Stapilus

Leadership ripple effects

idahocolumnn

Representative Lawerence Denney did not lose the Idaho House speakership this week to Scott Bedke over questions of who was more “conservative,” which would have been a pointless argument. Their world view, to judge from their stands on issues, is pretty similar.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that Idaho, and the rules it lives under, won't be affected by the change.

Here's one indicator: A legislator suggested to me, post-vote, that the change in speakers might add three weeks to the session.

That wasn't meant as a criticism. Idaho (or any state) is better off with a longer but more thoughtful session than a shorter but less useful or more reckless one. It was Denney's style, in his three terms as speaker, to keep things under wraps, to bottle up or shut down legislation or other actions (such as moving against former Representative Phil Hart, when Hart got into tax trouble). There's some indication, speculation at least, that Bedke's style may be more free-flowing and open. He already has shaken up the committee assignment picture. Of course, there's some uncertainty in what Bedke's ascension may mean too, since the speakership can look a little different from the inside than from the outside.

Again, none of this is ideological, and it could mean both that the House has a more open and responsive feel, which could generate positive headlines, and that it takes up even more controversial legislation than in recent years - which, as legislative observers in Idaho know, would be saying something – and that could cut the other way.

At least a couple of specific decisions, during the just-concluded organizational legislative session, indicate that the House and maybe the Senate too aren't yet done with their ideological journey to the right. (more…)

Moo: Tis the end

carlson
NW Reading

One of the Republican Northwest blogs we check out has been MooCountyNews, based in Tillamook - a politically competitive area. But blogger Jim Welsh seems to have gotten turned off politics after the November election, to judge from his most recent - and last, to judge from the headline - post, "I will write no more forever."

From it:

So where to now for those of us who are conservatives in Liberal America? Well, if you have nothing else to do, you can continue to fight a losing battle skirmishing as you retreat and occasionally getting off a lucky shot and electing a conservative. But let’s face it, the jig is up. With a national debt that will soon be 20 trillion dollars, with tens of thousands of baby boomers coming onto the Social Security rolls each month and also onto Medicare for the next 15 years, and, in Oregon, an Oregon PERS liability that will never be addressed until entire budgets of counties and school districts are consumed by retirement payments, and a national and state economy that will not have the ability to grow due to the above situations, does anyone really think that the decline of America can be reversed?

Getting facts or drinking kool-aid?

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Now that Nate Silver has achieved the title of “Most Accurate Pollster To Ever Poll A Poll,” I’d guess he’s deeply involved in negotiating a new, well-earned deal at The New York Times for considerably higher wages. Wonkish to the top of his little bifocals, he called 49 out of 50 state congressional races and gave the Obama administration reason to sleep well during the late stages of the presidential run.

With campaigning over for awhile, young Nate should be taking time off to peddle his book or teach advanced statistics at Columbia. But, NO, not the Prince of Polls. He’s writing his almost-daily column and still digging around in discarded reams of other people’s polls on the campaign floor. His findings are interesting.

Mitt and many of his former gang are in various stages of seclusion. A few – at the top of what has to be the least informed and least effective presidential campaign staff in history – are speaking out about their hammering. Some are proving conclusively – on Faux News and CNN and in various op-eds- that they were bad at their jobs. Likewise, the GOP is searching blindly to see what it all means. So far, it’s clear they don’t know. All of ‘em should be talking to Silver. He knows exactly.

It’s important to remember Nate doesn’t do polling. He carefully selects data from those who do. Not all of it fits his needs. Sort of like scoring at the Olympics – throw out the top and bottom – take your numbers from the middle. Plus some mumbo-jumbo only Nate understands while adding his own “secret ingredients.” As he has said, “avoid the passion and stick with the numbers.”

While Mitt was contributing almost daily to his own electoral demise, Neal Newhouse and his other polling elves were blindly assisting. They were living in a data “cone of silence” exclusive of outside information. When that happens, and you have even one error, it becomes a part of the base data and is perpetuated in everything that comes after. Simple as that. Like getting ALL your news only from Fox. Or MSNBC. Any one source. (more…)