Thursday, March 3, 2016

Forgotten but not gone

Our culture's short attention span ...
... and a bent media ...
are troublesome shapers of public attention and concerns.

Hillary's email scandal -- lost in the fog is her mishandling of state secrets.  While others have been prosecuted for such violation of security rules, politicos managed to confuse both the media and Clinton's critics by denying there were any classified messages. There were, but that's not the concern, that's misdirection.  Conversations at the senior diplomatic level are considered state secrets whether or not the documents have been classified.  What she did was against federal regulations and DoS policy.  Perhaps by confusing the difference between classified and state secrets, she gets a pass; not so much as a wrist slap.  So far, at least.

NSA scandal -- lost in the fog is the quasi-legal assault by the intelligence community on us and our private communications, all facilitated by policy and regulation.  It would make their job easier, as the former NSA director has explained, if they had access to everything, but it would be an intrusion across the legal line of privacy for virtually all Americans.  The balancing act is a tough one.  Following a terrorist act, we push for pursuit, for unraveling the scheme, for waterboarding the perpetrators, for drone strikes on their houses.  After things calm down a bit, we start asking ourselves the hard questions about who we are as a nation and about the impact of our laws.  Snowden and others blew the whistle on the NSA, but things haven't changed, really.  What they do is still legal.  So far, at least.

Planned Parenthood scandal --  PPHood got stung badly by undercover videos revealing illegal and unethical practices at clinics.  Presented with statutory rape, clinics advised the assailant and his victim (a 22 year old male and a 13 year old girl) how to avoid parental notification, and similarly for a pimp and underage sex workers (7 different clinics).  Presented with the opportunity to benefit from the collection of fetal organs, senior executives discussed how procedures might be (illegally) modified to protect and extract the organs desired.  The scandal was narrowly defined as the sale of body parts, and critical issues went unaddressed.  PPHood is suing the investigators.  Nothing's changed.  So far, at least.

The 'too big' scandal -- lawmakers and fraud players brought the world economy to the brink of chaos.  Aggressive pursuit of unqualified buyers gave us predatory loans, junk-quality instruments deliberately sold on the market as A+.  The cost to our national economy averaged around $50k per citizen.  The Wall Street corporations responsible paid inconsequential fines... to the government, not to those who were harmed.  Wall Street players took home record bonuses while elsewhere in the world, folks starved as food prices doubled in response to the Great Recession.  

"Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer at a press conference to announce the settlement, "HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized."

A week later, Assistant Attorney General Breuer announced a similar wrist-slap against the Swiss bank UBS, which had just admitted to a key role in perhaps the biggest antitrust/price-fixing case in history.  The LIBOR scandal was a criminal rate rigging play that manipulated hundreds of trillions of dollars for the benefit of the players. 
A reporter pointed out to Breuer that UBS had been found culpable in 2009 in a major tax-evasion case, and asked a sensible question. "This is a bank that has broken the law before," the reporter said. "So why not be tougher?"

"I don't know what tougher means," answered the assistant attorney general.

The DoJ has declined to pursue criminal charges, and nothing's changed.  So far, at least.

A total of 469 seats in the U.S. Congress (34 Senate seats and all 435 House seats) are up for election on November 8. 
We have a chance to move forward, perhaps. Congress is more polarized and less productive than I'd like and has been so for more than a decade. I wonder if we'll see a change this time. 
My mother keeps insisting that I should run for president; apparently she's not impressed either. Her other favorite is her dog.