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March 17, 2014

Comments

And, no, I don't have a statistical cite for that. It's just a law of rhetoric.

That the planet Pluto could have been treated as well when they were disqualifying it as a planet on account of its insufficient girth. Hey, I'm Pluto and I'm big, too!

Count, I think the standard currently is "it has to be bigger than the Earth's moon in order to count as a planet." Mercury is (barely); Pluto isn't.

It's a very self-centered standard, obviously. After all, why not use the biggest moon in the system? answer: Because then Mercury wouldn't quality -- and no standard gets accepted which would disquality any of the planets known to the ancients. (Oh.)

"What's interesting to me in this line of argument is that even a guy like Charles Murray is reluctantly obliged to notice that when white folks are placed in social and economic conditions similar to those of the "urban blacks", lo and behold they demonstrate the same social dysfunction."

Russell, I am not by any means "informed" when it comes to criminology. I just chose that handle because I started commenting here on a topic where I am relatively informed).

And, again, I am definitely not proposing an anthropological cause for minority criminal behavior. So you and Murray could be correct.

What I see is a strong correlation between urban and crime, but there are other variables at play. So we have a regression equation with all variables contributing to unknown extents; urban, economic status, social status, education, race/ethnicity, single parent, and who knows what else.

Some where in the equation one or more of the variables is significant in its difference from other industrialized societies.

Urban is one that seems obvious to me. In Europe urban environments are populated by well educated middle class to upper class working folks, whereas in the US, the same tend to work in urban environments, but live in suburban. I have to stop here because I could ramble on at book length and get no where. Indeed, books have been written on the topic.

One thing I do know is that in small town US, violent crime (the kind that gets you locked up) is much less and I am pretty sure that this is because everyone knows everyone else AND everyone feels a part of the community. It is much more difficult, psychology, to kill or otherwise criminally violate those who you know well, those you identify with even if there is economic disparity. Yet urban minorities regularly murder and violate the people on the next block over. So there goes my theory, out the window. Something is different about US. What I don't know. I'll shut up now and just follow a long for a while.

I'm not sure that small town crime crime is deterred much by people knowing each other. I have more the impression that small town crime is caused by people knowing each other.


But, regardless, my concern about crime isn't the mugging, rape, burglary, etc sort of crime. My concern is the sociopathy that seems to affect people who have power. (Or maybe sociopaths are better at getting power? I'm not sure of the cause/effect). The classic example is the economic collapse we went through which was caused on large part by nefarious behavior from people who got no consequences themselves and didn't give a shit about consequences to others. But wait, their schemes weren't illegal! Is that because the sociopaths write the laws an legalize their theft, con games, and vandalism?

I'm saying that the oil spills and fracking messes are more significant to me than graffiti. I'm saying that the foreclosures and cascade of economic dislocations seem to me to be the result of a far worse con than what any ordinary fraudster could come up with. And the looting of our treasury by companies that profited from our adventure in Iraq--why didn't anyone from Halliburton go to jail?

The gun fans of America are all "I've got to have a gun to defend myself." Defend themselves from who? Unless they are planning to shoot the Koch brothers, they are aiming at the wrong threat.

We have tons of people in jail and the illusion of a high crime rate for the same reason that there is a popular myth about high taxes being caused by people being lazy and spending their Food Stamps on salmon.

.

How many billions do we spend annually to stomp out the addictive personality disorder of about 1/2 million people?

Here, I think, we see the core of the Drug War part of the prison issue. We don't deal generally with addictive personality disorder. Instead, we deal with the disorder in the case of some of the ways it manifests (e.g. gambling addiction). And in other cases we just criminalize the way it manifests.

Is there really much of a difference, in terms of its ability to harm those around the addict, between being hooked on a drug and being hooked on, say, gambling or alcohol? And we know, and have demonstrated conclusively, that criminalization does nothing to eliminate the problem. All it does is 1) provide large profits from anyone willing to break the law to be a supplier, 2) create more crime, but having addicts forced to commit them in order to fund their habit -- which is more expensive due to 1), and 3) prevent effective restrictions on supplying the addictive behavior of minors. #3 being why it is easier for a high school student to buy marijuana than to buy beer.

We have tried the "legistlating morality" approach. Never works. Pretty clearly time to make a serious attempt at the "public health" approach. (Not really seeing us going for the libertarian "let them deal with it on their own" approach any time soon.)

bobbyp:

1. Drug dealers are nasty people, and should be dealt with aggressively. Agree.
2. Many people who buy drugs are relatively well off, and drug addiction does not necessarily lead to total social impairment. Agree.
3. Approaching the problem more along the lines of public heath would be a good public policy. Automatically jailing addicts doesn't help anyone. Agree.
4. ????????????
5. Therefore it is complicated.

Please provide more in the way of an explanation of step 4.

Step 4: Buying drugs and supporting nasty people is a bad idea, just as buying ivory and supporting elephant poachers is a bad idea. In order to deter people from supporting this miserable business, some degree of criminal responsibility is appropriate.

And you're right. I agree with Kleiman.

Something is different about US.

I'd say a lot is different about the US. I think one of the main drivers is how much trust we put into the system (of course, the libertarian says we trust the system too much :P). And perversely, we also trust the system too little.

An example of too much: I recently served on a drug crime jury. The general feeling was (a) LEOs tell the truth ('why would he lie?' I heard so many times). (b) basic paperwork was just a hassle (there were 'problems' with the officers testimony and the prosecution was basically: yeah, nobody has time for all that stuff). and (c) if the mexican guy was accused of a drug crime, he's probably guilty (related: http://www.popehat.com/2013/02/25/naming-and-shaming-federal-prosecutor-edition-assistant-united-states-attorney-sam-l-ponder/).

Due process is what dragged people to the courthouse and inconvenienced them, not a fundamental right that we all have a duty to participate in.

On the other side of the coin, we trust the system too little. We hear cases where people get off with a slap on the wrist (like the affluenza case) and it makes us angry, and we pass laws like 3 strikes, and mandatory minimums, and sentencing enhancements.

But people don't get off easy because the laws are too harsh. They get off easy because they are connected, and prosecutors (and juries, and judges) have massive leeway in what to charge and convict people with. If they have a good defense team, all those sentencing enhancements go away. They won't be charged with crimes that come with mandatory minimums, they will be charged with related crimes.

It means people who commit basically the same crime can face sentences with dramatically different amount of jail time.

And the poor, and poorly represented, get screwed.

Every place I have lived the Fed Pen was considered a much better place to be than the state pen. I suppose some are bad but most of the people I know who have been in both certainly would rather do fed time. Those I have visited are clearly better places to be.

This is in keeping with my (admittedly quite limited) familiarity with corrections outside of the military system, which I know first-hand (and which is generally more preferable to be in than the civie federal system, for pretty much the same reasons the federal is preferable to the states). So not really adding anything here other than setting my concurring anecdata down next to Marty's.

I'm not sure that small town crime crime is deterred much by people knowing each other. I have more the impression that small town crime is caused by people knowing each other.

But, regardless, my concern about crime isn't the mugging, rape, burglary, etc sort of crime. My concern is the sociopathy that seems to affect people who have power.

Having lived and worked in both large and small towns, as well as relatively high crime areas and low crime areas, I'm going to say small towns are generally safer, in my experience. And while I've been fortunate enough to not be the victim of violent crime, I have friends and family that have been.

Not criticizing your second concern, nor trying to argue that violent street crime is a huge problem in the US. It's not, overall.

But it is in some areas, and those areas have people that are rightfully concerned about being mugged, murdered, and raped. I would be careful about belittling those concerns.

wj:

Agree with you overall, but this always makes me wince:

#3 being why it is easier for a high school student to buy marijuana than to buy beer.

That's not quite representative of the truth:

http://www.politifact.com/rhode-island/statements/2013/feb/16/edith-ajello/rhode-island-state-rep-edith-ajello-says-studies-i/

But the real point is that the massive cost (human and economic) of the drug war has really done very little to make drugs hard to get.

I mean, I live in CA and see people smoking weed all the time. Last time I was in SF I saw someone smoking crack (or maybe meth, I dunno) on the sidewalk in the middle of the day.

The Drug war, like Prohibition, has failed. We need a new approach. I say we follow Portugal's example (in this way).

Step 4: Buying drugs and supporting nasty people is a bad idea, just as buying ivory and supporting elephant poachers is a bad idea.

I have no big beef against your position, I just think you (and Kleiman) err too far on the punitive side.

Also the analogy with the ivory poaching is a poor one. The ivory market is one characterized by limited supply and high demand. Without state intervention the supply would be totally consumed, much as we consume other limited natural resources. In the heroin market the supply constriction is totally artificial, a creation of law.

They are thus in no way analogous.

A more fitting analogy is alcohol. We ran the bootleggers out of business with legalization. I hear they were pretty nasty, too. Some of them moved on to drug dealing.

Now who could have foreseen that?

As an aside on the drugs issue, it might be useful to distinguish between (for example) marijuana vs opiates.

IMVHO no good thing whatsoever comes from marijuana being against the law. Same for entheogenic plants. I can see making it against the law to operate cars or heavy equipment while using, other than that I see no point in laws against.

Opiates and drugs with very high risk of addiction, and drugs that are actually physically harmful to users (for example, bagging glue) are a different story.

A more fitting analogy is alcohol. We ran the bootleggers out of business with legalization. I hear they were pretty nasty, too. Some of them moved on to drug dealing.

Alcohol is different. It has a longstanding cultural and religious significance for many people. It's easy to make at home, and people have done so for millenia. In small doses, it has health benefits for adults. Obviously, there are many people who become addicted to alcohol and shouldn't use it, but prohibiting its use for everyone was a public policy bound to fail.

IMVHO no good thing whatsoever comes from marijuana being against the law.

Agreed.

Whatever the historical pattern, at this point an enormous number of people are capable of growing marijuana for personal use. And an increasing number of them are doing so. Which means that that distinction is fading.

Likewise, there seem to be health benefits, in some cases, to using it. (Personally, I'm extremely allergic. But that's just me.) So that distinction is also doubtful.

In short, at this point we could expect prohibiting its use to everyone to fail, just as prohibition did with alcohol. Even if we didn't already know from experience that it has failed. Massively.

And what that suggests is that not only will prohibition fail for substances with a long history of use. It will fail to keep other substances from becoming widely used. There may be a way of keeping people from doing something "for their own good"> But a simple legal prohibition, even backed up with a lot of propaganda, isn't it.

My earlier comment might be appropriate now. If I could grow coca and make tea with it, would that be okay? It would probably be difficult for me to grow enough coca to refine it and produce a significant quantity of powder cocaine, I'm guessing (if I could grow it at all). What could I do with poppies?

Much of the hard stuff is hard stuff because it's refined. Some stuff isn't natural at all - like meth, ecstasy, and PCP. Ecstacy isn't quite in the same category as the other two for ruining people's lives or turning them into lunatics, though.

Make stuff legal in it's natural form, if it has one. See what that does to the illegal trade in the refined forms.

Conversely, have you ever heard of wax?

It's essentially a high-potency marijuana extract. I don't remember where I saw a TV program about it, but there was a contest in Colorado, I think, to see who could make the most intense version of it. Smoke a bit too much and you might end up high for a couple of days or end up in the emergency room, um, freaked out, let's say.

Make stuff legal in it's natural form, if it has one. See what that does to the illegal trade in the refined forms.

That makes sense to me. I don't really see the point of banning the personal use of plants, especially if you grow them yourself.

If I could grow coca and make tea with it, would that be okay?

My opinion would be yes, that should be OK. Same with poppies.

And per sapient's point, both are plants with many centuries of common use as basic folk medicines. As is marijuana.

Alcohol is different.

I do not find this persuasive. As a society we absorb billions of dollars per year of damage from alcohol. I have the dead brain cells to prove it. We accept it as a matter of course.

But a few hundred dirty addicted slobs shooting up in a park is enough to bring down a good program (Switzerland 'failure')?

Seriously?

Perhaps the better analogy is the growing painkiller market and its associated large and growing problems:

1. Sold by criminals? Check.
2. Highly addictive? Check.
3. Death by overdose? Check.

But no. Providing low cost heroin to a few thousand folks under sanitary conditions free of social stigma would be a calamity.

Better to criminalize it and spend billions in a futile effort to "stamp it out", enrich the criminal class, corrode the integrity of our criminal justice system, and fill our deplorable prisons.

In a few decades we can wax eloquent about the cultural attributes of hydrocodone.

Although you observe that, it turns out that most of the stuff that happened on Wall Street was not illegal.

There was the widespread use of misrepresented documents, foregeries, and perjuries during foreclosure processes. Widespread enough that I suspect a prosecutor could make a strong case that this was institutional rather than the entire department 'going rogue' (assuming that they couldn't have found email trails- had they looked), and pursued the higher-ups. But certainly, a large number of underlings committed a large number of actual crimes, with basically zero prosecutions.
Or there was the libor scandal. Or the municipal bond auction rigging. I think any of these qualify for criminal prosecution, iirc the statues covering this sort of thing are very broad (since they can't describe ahead of time every variety of fraud).

Although you observe that, it turns out that most of the stuff that happened on Wall Street was not illegal.

Many of the mortgage loans originated during the housing boom were illegal and/or criminal in a wide variety of ways. This criminal activity was condoned all the way up the chain to the Wall Street investment banks could package them up and sell them and securities and make a variety of bets as to their financial worth.

See here, for example.

I'm not sure that the term "epithet" really fits calling the Democratic party the "Democrat" party. If I were to call you a "Democrat", would you feel insulted? Think I'd sworn at you?

The difference between nouns and adjectives, important it is. Learn it you should. Disappointed, your elementary school teacher is.

So what it comes down to is this, Brett: everything that government does is done by making a criminal of anybody who refuses to obey. And if your position is that this is evil, then what you appear to be saying is that you want no government whatsoever -- that is, absolute anarchy.

And Brett prepares for phase two of Operation BaitNSwitch, wherein he describes the limited government that consists of the stuff he wants done and how it is the minimum reasonable government. Proofs from phase one (eg that the existence of any law is equivalent to tyranny) *are not available for use* in phase two.

I hate government, but am resigned to tolerating it where it's necessary.

And we're off. Only laws which Brett deems 'necessary' pass the filter of 'necessary evil' which liberals are mysteriously unable to see. Because we cannot see through Brett's skull to the Secret "Necessary Evil" Consitutional Amendment contained within.

Our judicial system is warped, as is our whole federal system, by the need to staff it with people who will read a limited government constitution to authorize the Leviathan. Fundamentally, we can't have honest government, because our current government is based on lying.

I see no evidence whatsoever that the federal- let alone state- judicial systems have a problem that originates in Constitutional interpretation (since they spend very little time on matters of Constutional interpretation). Ive go a picture in my head of a DA putting on his tie, preparing for work, and suddenly freezing in place- how can he prosecute this assault case knowing that Kelo was wrongly decided? And we all know it was, because Brett thinks so and we all secretly agree with Brett & therefore when we dispute with Brett over 'necessary evil' or Constitutional interpretation, we are lying.

btw, that picture in my head? It's a cartoon.

I did not intend to belittle concerns about street crime. I'm sorry that my comment came off that way--I can see how it did. So rephrase: while I share concerns about street crime, I think that overall the sociopath of powerful people does more harm to more people and therefore is of more concern to me,


BTW I live in a small town and it is safe in terms of random street crime. Crime here is either drug-related (drunk driving), poverty-related (failure to pay drunk driving fines or something like that) or personal (murder). But rapes and muggings are very unusual. Even robberies tend to between acquaintances--that's how the robber finds out what to take and when to get it.

Carleton, they tried to prosecute bankers and it didn't work. They got off. Everyone loves to speak in general terms about fraud this, misrepresentation that. It takes more to prove a criminal case against a single individual in a court. The laws allowed a lot of really ridiculous business practices to happen. That's what the late '90's and the early '2000's was all about. It sucks, but trying to put a case together against real people involves finding evidence. You can find all kinds of people who want to pontificate about it, including Jed Rakoff, to whom the letter by Marty Robins that I linked to was responding. The letter reminds us that Rakoff himself sits on the court where one of the most important of these cases was tried (and failed). Rakoff responded to the letter (same link) complaining that the prosecutors didn't do a good enough job.

Okay, so federal prosecutors are putzes, and if only we had superman federal prosecutor, all the bad bankers would be in jail.

But then bobbyp presents his case, linking to someone who really knows his stuff! (From the article: "Since this was a widespread practice and not the work of a few rogue agents, presumably office managers told these agents to get mortgages and that proper documentation did not matter." Wow! Case closed!) He wants to prosecute the mortgage agents (you know, the guys who make $50,000 a year processing mortgages). Yeah, just like Abu Ghraib, spend a zillion dollars of taxpayer money putting more middle class slobs out of work.

Of course, the mortgage crisis should have been criminal. But guess why it wasn't? It was, for the most part, legal. Why? Because despite the valor of the American people in a lot of ways, they are easily duped by "free market" b.s., and hate "big government" which provides adequate regulation.

In short, the financial crisis was a result of the libertarian love affair: let bankers be bankers.

Laura:

I appreciate the clarification. I also see what you are saying about small town crime, it matches my experience as well.

And, again, I agree the criminally powerful are a major problem in this society.

I imagine our solutions to the problem differ, but that's for another thread.

HSH:

I like your idea, I would probably carry it further longterm, but a step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction.

And nothing in drug policy can be done quickly. Sapient's raised some concerns about what happens with harder drugs. It's not unreasonable (even if I disagree), and that's why I'd favor progressive decriminalization and legalization.

It allows for testing the waters, building support, and informing the next policy step.

He wants to prosecute the mortgage agents

That "he" is Dean Baker relying on Bill Black who was a regulator who took on the miscreants in the S&L scandal. Are you trying to tell me he "doesn't know his stuff"?

As for the "poor schlubs": They broke the law. It is not inconceivable that somebody either told to do so, or put a lot of pressure on them.

Carleton, they tried to prosecute bankers and it didn't work. They got off.

The question being asked is whether many more prosecutions could've been attempted, with more vigorous investigation.
Certainly, there were a large number of criminal acts: forgeries, perjuries, etc. Were these done by underlings in response to pressure or direction from above?
Likewise the Libor manipulation. Likewise the muni bond auction fixing.
So we let the underlings off because they're just underlings, and then we let the bosses off because we can't prove anything because the underlings aren't lining up to testify voluntarily (and incriminate themselves in the process), and we don't seem particularly eager to dig out incriminating emails etc. Even when we've got hard evidence of eg muni bond auction manipulation, no one seems to be interested in the *trivial* dot-connecting from "manipulating the rates" to "manipulating the rates for fraudulent purposes."

I repeat: fraud statues are very broad (as the judge noted). And while not every prosecution can be expected to end in a conviction, this doesn't mean either 1)all of them would fail or 2)there isn't a general disinclination to pursue banksters among the DAs of the country due to their class, wealth, and political connections.

It sucks, but trying to put a case together against real people involves finding evidence.

Thanks for the law lesson. But you missed a step- it involes *looking for* evidence. Not just sitting at your desk saying "well I dont see enough in the newspaper to get a conviction, so let's go bust some poors who can't afford lawyers."
Seriously, if we went after drug dealers or mafiosi with this level of zeal we would have anarchy. *Those* criminals get investigators and prosecutors *trying* to convict them, *trying* to put cases together. Sometimes with *too much* zeal.

You can find all kinds of people who want to pontificate about it...

Im not a prosector, so Im limited in my scope of actions here. I think you're aware of this point.

Okay, so federal prosecutors are putzes, and if only we had superman federal prosecutor, all the bad bankers would be in jail.

If only there were a difference between "better" and "perfect" we would be saved from this marauding strawman.

Yeah, just like Abu Ghraib, spend a zillion dollars of taxpayer money putting more middle class slobs out of work.

Are you seriously suggesting that prosecuting the Soldiers who were derelict in their duty (and worse) at Abu Ghraib was a waste of time and taxpayers' funds? Really? Look, there should have been a lot more heads rolling for that, particularly higher up the chain of command, but there is no damned way any of those "middle class slobs" should have gotten anything but prosecution. Nor was it a waste of time or money to do so. Prosecutions from Abu Ghraib had direct, positive impact on good order and discipline in the DoD correctional community that were still being felt when I worked in that arena most of a decade later. Higher-level prosecutions are certainly better for justice, but for the pragmatic end of reducing future incidents, low-level prosecutions have a noticeable impact - as does their absence. Both are necessary.

The question being asked is whether many more prosecutions could've been attempted, with more vigorous investigation.

You'll recall, perhaps, that when Obama was elected, he had huge problems staffing the executive branch, including the justice department. In fact, hiring people is still a bit of a problem for him. Yes, of course, the three lawyers there could perhaps have put on a full court press against a few lower level mortgage bankers to make a show trial for the sake of bobbyp and Dean Baker's political sensibilities. In fact, those three lawyers could also have prosecuted the previous administration for torture, black sites, illegal wars, etc. And don't forget about the BP disaster. But no, the feckless Obama administration chose to get the economy moving with a stimulus package, an auto industry initiative, and landmark healthcare reform. OMG, and this thread is all about too many people in prison! Because we all agree that prison is the thing that works!

It's all about hating: just put those lower level mortgage brokers in jail! They broke the law, dammit!

No, I'm seriously suggesting that the fact that they were the ONLY people who got prosecuted suggests that something is seriously wrong since it was obvious to everyone that the higher levels of government were perfectly happy with torture and abuse. Those soldiers deserved punishment, but they didn't deserve to be a show trial and scapegoats, allowing the more serious perpetrators to get off scott free.

And, no, in the mortgage crisis, a mass prosecution of mortgage brokers would be a ridiculous and unjust response to what was obviously a problem at a much higher level - a problem that was created and perpetrated by the voters, allowing this crap to happen without regulation.


Sorry, forgot to mention that my 7:37 pm comment was a response to the ever self-righteous Nombrilisme Vide.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Given a choice between incomplete justice that prevents or limits future evils, and a total absence of justice that brings about no noticeable diminution of further malfeasance, I'll take the former, thank you. Part of the culture of impunity in the financial sector is a sense that there are no consequences for low-level actors who are carrying water for the masterminds. It's a lot damned harder for widespread wrongdoing to occur when there are less grunts willing to do the dirty work.

Sorry, forgot to mention that my 7:47 pm comment was a response to the ever self-righteous sapient.

I'll take the former, thank you.

I would suggest that you make a citizen's arrest then.

I would suggest that you make a citizen's arrest then.

What's your address? :)

What's your address? :)

Ha ha. What's my crime? Speaking the truth to my comrades?

the three lawyers there could perhaps have put on a full court press against a few lower level mortgage bankers to make a show trial for the sake of bobbyp and Dean Baker's political sensibilities.

Seriously, and I say this will tremendous respect for bobbyp - f*ck the political sensibilities of bobbyp and Dean Baker. Their sensibilities aren't the point.

The mortgage industry was thoroughly and systemically fraudulent, from top to bottom, at the end of the aughts. And by fraudulent, I mean people were freaking ruined.

Bugger all has been done about it, to this day.

That sucks. It sucks, and there is nothing to be said to mitigate that, or to excuse the feds or anyone else for their utter failure to safeguard the interests of the public.

It was a complete and thorough failure.

Next topic, please.

That sucks. It sucks, and there is nothing to be said to mitigate that, or to excuse the feds or anyone else for their utter failure to safeguard the interests of the public.

Excuse me, but "the feds" R us. The fact is, the American people are unwilling to support enough "big government" to regulate financial industries. They'd much rather trust the "market" (until it goes bust) than to make the system work for ordinary people. It's not "those people". It's the people who elect the folks who trust Alan Greenspan.

Well, perhaps there is an argument to be made that there was no fraud in the whole mortgage mess because everything was disclosed between the relevant parties. Or that the underlying documentation was available for inspection and while I say it looks good to me, I'm not signing anything to that effect so if you want to be sure you better look at the documentation, but do you really want to when there is so much money to be made passing the loans off to the next party? And hey! S&P rated this tranche AAA, why do you want to waste your valuable time examining the underlying loan documentation on 10,000 loans that have already been available to the prior 8 parties in the transaction? Or, yeah all 10,000 loans are subprime, but AAA! Etc.

I find that hard to believe, given how fast things were moving at the time. But who knows. If the contract between Goldman and Investment Fund X states that Goldman will only sell Fund X securities rated AAA by S&P, and Goldman did that even though Goldman's internal analysis rated the same securities as junk, fraud?

As usual, Ugh, not sure what you're going on about.

I'm absolutely sure that there was all kinds of fraud, abuse and bad conduct. I've defrauded my dog many times, telling her that the treat she has is prime rib of beef when, in fact, it's a kibble. Unfortunately, that fraud is legal. Trouble is, she can't have me incarcerated (because isn't that what this thread is all about? Incarcerating more people?). Some fraud is not actionable as a crime. You have to prove stuff that wasn't provable.

Sure, maybe every single federal prosecutor in the country is on the take. (not.) And, maybe, every state prosecutor is as well. (because, remember, banks are regulated by the feds and the states).

If you really believe that all prosecutors in the country are corrupt, then go right ahead. Instead, maybe you could be persuaded that the banks need more regulation, more oversight, more "big government."

We need "big government", not after-the-fact-of-laissez-faire- economics finger-pointing.

So.... you're saying that there was fraud in the mortgage mess but it was legal fraud? Could you give me an example?

No, ugh. I can't give you an example. If you're a prosecutor, you're the one who has to give the example, along with all of the relevant evidence. That's what's missing. We can all yell and scream. I, in fact, will yell and scream. Doesn't amount to much unless you have documents, chain of evidence, and all of that other stuff you learned about in Evidence Class.

Just trying to figure out what you're positing here sapient. If it's legal fraud then it would be of no concern to a prosecutor so there would be no example from one.

You appear to have taken the position that there was little law breaking during the lead up to the mortgage mess and/or what law breaking that did occur is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove.

My comment was an attempt to puzzle out how that might have occurred in the face of some fairly broad fraud statutes when a massive amount of AAA rated securities were going bad in short order.

Excuse me, but "the feds" R us. The fact is, the American people are unwilling to support enough "big government" to regulate financial industries. They'd much rather trust the "market" (until it goes bust) than to make the system work for ordinary people. It's not "those people". It's the people who elect the folks who trust Alan Greenspan.

I'm not sure I believe this. I think that the issue is one most people know little or nothing about. That leaves them susceptible to manipulation by politicians who misrepresent the issue, and it also means they will vote without this issue being a factor at all. But I don't think there is a pro-bankster constituency outside of some members of Congress, the Koch bros and their ilk, and the banksters themselves..

Apologies to Russell:

From the wikki:

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission reported in January 2011 that: "... mortgage fraud... flourished in an environment of collapsing lending standards and lax regulation. The number of suspicious activity reports – reports of possible financial crimes filed by depository banks and their affiliates – related to mortgage fraud grew 20-fold between 1996 and 2005 and then more than doubled again between 2005 and 2009. One study places the losses resulting from fraud on mortgage loans made between 2005 and 2007 at $112 billion.

The Bush administration did nothing about this. Sapient has a point about the Obama administration having other storms to address (applause). Nonetheless, they could have, and chose not to.

But then, perhaps all three (good god, how did they ever get that many?) Justice Department attorneys were too busy deporting people at a record pace.

Far better to chase down folks trying to find a better life than to actually prosecute loan criminals who offered loans on false pretenses.

Signed,

The Committee For Public Safety
aka da' true squad :)

There is plenty of evidence of fraud.

This sort of thing:
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/the-rumored-chase-madoff-settlement-is-another-bad-joke-20131216
The deferred-prosecution deal is a hair short of a guilty plea. The bank has to acknowledge the facts of the government's case and pay penalties, but as has become common in the Too-Big-To-Fail arena, we once again have a situation in which all sides will agree that a serious crime has taken place, but no individual has to pay for that crime.
As University of Michigan law professor David Uhlmann noted in a Times editorial at the end of last week, the use of these deferred prosecution agreements has exploded since the infamous Arthur Andersen case. In that affair, the company collapsed and 28,000 jobs were lost after Arthur Andersen was convicted on a criminal charge related to its role in the Enron scandal. As Uhlmann wrote:
From 2004 through 2012, the Justice Department entered into 242 deferred prosecution and nonprosecution agreements with corporations; there had been just 26 in the preceding 12 years...

Browse a few of Taibbi's stories over at Rolling Stone; there's scads of stuff.
I don't quite share his politics, but he's chronicled the whole failure to prosecute thing as well as anyone.

Excuse me, but "the feds" R us. The fact is, the American people are unwilling to support enough "big government" to regulate financial industries...

I don't think this is true.
Government is quite big enough (and has sufficient powers) to regulate; it's just not doing so.

Whether that is will-of-the-people, or simply a result of Wall St campaign finance, I'll leave to others.

Why wouldn't going after low-level mortgage brokers be an effective way to get them to rat on their bosses, and get their bosses to rat on their bosses, and so on, taking it as high as possible. There's no need to actually throw the lower-level people in jail, so long as they're willing to cooperate in helping gather the necessary evidence.

Putting that aside, sapient, are you still of the opinion that there was very little illegal activity in what led to the financial crisis? Or is it just that America is so in love with free markets that not enough people care? Or is it both?

(because isn't that what this thread is all about? Incarcerating more people?)

The right people, perhaps. There's likely fewer of them, but they're more dangerous.

They were built on land obtained by eminent domain, which is to say, the government obtained the land by making a criminal of anybody who refused to sell.

I think this is incorrect, technically. At least here, on the other side of the bond, the use of eminent domain is not a sale. It is a unilateral governmental act. You do not have to sign anything. Even if you are completely non-cooperative and refuse to sign anything, the process will roll and the title to the land is transferred to the government. Only if you decide to refuse to physically move from the plot when you are ordered to do so by the police, you will commit a crime (resistance of lawful authority, a misdemeanour usually resulting in a small fine), but that is completely unconnected to "refusal to sell".

Ok, then, call it "refusal to admit your property has been purchased", rather than refusal to sell. The government still has to make something a crime to build a road, because otherwise people don't move out of those houses it has bought over the objections of the owners.

But the big point is, in a nation where everybody is genuinely guilty of breaking some law, because there are too many obscure laws to avoid breaking one, and a nation where omnipresent digital survailance allows the government to KNOW what laws you might have violated, the government ends up with the power to jail anybody it doesn't like.

A guy makes a movie critical of the President, gets charged with a crime. People object, and it is pointed out that he does seem to be guilty of it. That people who didn't criticize the President didn't get so charged, is just "prosecutorial discretion".

Like David Gregory not getting prosecuted for violating D.C.'s gun laws on public TV, because he did it promoting the government's policies, but somebody who opposes gun control will get nailed to the wall.

That's the terror of too many laws. Sure, maybe the government won't charge you with a crime over that old piano you bought off Craigslist, the one with the genuine ivory keys. But if it finds some reason to dislike you, it COULD. Too many laws hands the government a legitimate excuse to jail it's enemies, proscutorial discretion allows it to leave it's friends untouched as they do the same things.

We have, sadly, allowed our government to take on all the powers it needs to construct a police state. All that is lacking is the dictator to use them.

Or maybe it's not lacking, is what the Right thinks of Obama, and the IRS abuses.

When they decide to raid the whorehouse, they arrest the piano player and the government agent hidden inside of the piano too.


My libertarian solution to get the government out of the prison business altogether, including the practice of contracting with private prison companies, is much like the Libertarian solution to education in this country: Home Imprisonment.

Citizens could voluntarily house a prisoner in their home for the adjudicated sentence, provide three squares a day, and in the states where the death penalty is extant, the homeowner and his or her family could choose (free choice being paramount) the method of execution and, in the case of death by electric chair, they could deduct their electric charges from their state tax bill, all federal taxes having been abolished.

The home owner would also be free to let the prisoner go and any time and suggest he ring the neighbors' doorbell after skulking about in the shrubbery and looking in the windows to scout things out.

OMG, and this thread is all about too many people in prison! Because we all agree that prison is the thing that works!

Thus my point that not only am I concerned that we put too many people in prison for things that shouldn't be crimes, we also fail to punish people (prison or otherwise) who deserve it because of their class and/or political clout. I think those are related issues, because as I said when the higher classes don't have to fear the mechanisms of the justice system they don't have to concern themselves much about making sure it works properly.

It's all about hating: just put those lower level mortgage brokers in jail! They broke the law, dammit!

First, it's very hard to go after the bosses when you won't pursue the underlings.
Second, if we pursue financial fraud vigorously as the criminal offense it is, I suspect it would have a great deterrent effect. The better one's life, the worse being pursued by the criminal justice system is.
Third, I dont think your position makes sense- we *can*, but *shouldnt* go after the low level lawbreaking. But the big bosses didnt break the law because the regs werent in place to control them.
But if the big bosses knew about or directed the low-level lawbreaking, then they are already guilty. Of many, many counts. Plus whatever conspiracy/rico/etc charges could be brought. Plus the fraud charges based on selling financial products based on illegally falsified paperwork.

I would suggest that you make a citizen's arrest then.

Remind me of this next time you suggest a change in government policy. Ill just endlessly say "why are you just talking about this, get on a &$*#ing bus to Washington and get it done or stfu"

the three lawyers there could perhaps have put on a full court press against a few lower level mortgage bankers to make a show trial for the sake of bobbyp and Dean Baker's political sensibilities.

There are state prosecutors as well.
And there are plenty of executive branch staff to do multiple things at once.
And, now I think you've muddied your point even further: nothing illegal was done, but it'd be wrong to prosecute underlings for their crimes, but we don't have the manpower.
So maybe pick a position and defend it rather than throwing mutually incompatible defenses up one after another.
"I didnt eat your sandwich and it was terrible anyway"

If you really believe that all prosecutors in the country are corrupt, then go right ahead.

You endanger the national straw reserves.

Then there is the old collar of obedience idea.
Everyone has to wear one all the time and each day each citizens can distribute a fixed amount of electricity to persons he dislikes or wants to get rid of. Each collar collects the input and at midnight discharges in proportion to the collected spark votes. So, if a person gets hated enough, he or she will get fried or at least seriously inconvenienced. There would have, of course, to be some other factors built in, so one can inconvenience the unpleasant neighbour easily but not POTUS to the same degree. 100 local guys should be sufficient to get rid of one in their midst, for a high public official a higher number would have to apply (up to several ten millions for POTUS) or all offices would have to get new candidates each day. Or we would fill those positions with people from death row in the first place. The only problem I see is that the doomed POTUS could reach for the nuclear football for a first strike. A week to a month after introduction the problem should be solved and the country could get resettled by a less obnoxious breed of man.

Brett,
I think you'll find that most people agree that government power is capable of being abused. Straining to prove that part of your case isn't necessary.
It's the 'therefore we should limit it to what Brett wants' part that ends up being unconvincing. Or even the more general proposition that because government power is capable of being abused, any reduction of that power will make a better world (insofar as this ignores what that power is being used for and how the world will be without the exercise of that power in it's intended manner).

So many times Ive had conversations with libertarians where they point out the abuses of a system and then stand back as if to say "QED". As if the solution to a poorly-run system had to be "get rid of it and anything like it".

Parents have considerable power over their children. This power is sometimes abused to terrible ends.
But those two sentences do not make a convincing argument for limiting parental power to the minimum possible.

"Everyone has to wear one all the time and each day each citizens can distribute a fixed amount of electricity to persons he dislikes or wants to get rid of."

May my collar be solar powered so I can remain off the grid, the grid being so oppressive?

Pity the poor sod, or sodette, with three ex-spouses.

Or that the underlying documentation was available for inspection and while I say it looks good to me, I'm not signing anything to that effect so if you want to be sure you better look at the documentation, but do you really want to when there is so much money to be made passing the loans off to the next party?

Im just about certain that lack of due dilligence is not a defense when we're talking about fraud. A fraud is not decriminialized just by virtue of not being airtight against discovery.
Otherwise eg 419 frauds wouldn't be crimes- anyone with an ounce of sense can tell that they're bogus, but it's still a crime to defraud someone even if it's totally obvious with a little bit of research that you're doing so.
[Example from real estate- typically the seller is responsible for inspecting the property and locating problems, but the seller is *still* on the hook for anything that they *intentionally* failed to disclose. Even if you could've found it by looking carefully. For example, if the seller did a remodel without pulling permits, you could theoretically discover this via a records search- but they are still on the hook legally for failing to disclose.]

If the contract between Goldman and Investment Fund X states that Goldman will only sell Fund X securities rated AAA by S&P, and Goldman did that even though Goldman's internal analysis rated the same securities as junk, fraud?

That, no. Having a private assessment that an asset is worth less than the buyer is willing to pay is fine. Knowing that the paperwork about the assets has been falsified in many cases is definitely fraud. It's the diff between selling a baseball signed by a minor leaguer for 100k versus selling a signed baseball you know to be a forgery.

18 U.S.C. § 1343:
Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. If the violation affects a financial institution, such person shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.
§ 1341 - same thing, except for 'mail' instead of 'wire'.
cite

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Related to that last point, the statue of limitations on criminal fraud is 5 years (10 years when it "affect(s) a financial institution", a term debated in the recent case (United States v. The Bank of New York Mellon) as to whether it applied to fraud perpetrated *by* a financial institution).
cite

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