Archive for September 2004
Federal investigators from the DoJ to the US Attorney for DC have been gradually piecing together the picture of Riggs Bank’s money laundering for the likes of Augustus Pinochet and the Saudi Embassy. Last month that investigation got a big boost with the discovery of a box containing tape recordings of Riggs board meetings.
Federal regulators and prosecutors are listening to tape recordings of more than 150 Riggs Bank board meetings as they investigate what role top executives, including former chairman Joe L. Allbritton, played in more than a decade of violations of anti-money-laundering laws at the company, according to five sources familiar with the tapes.
Despite earlier requests from regulators and Senate investigators for documents related to the violations, the bank did not discover the more than 125 tapes until recently, the sources said. The tapes are of board meetings at the bank and its holding company beginning at least as far back as 1989 and ending some time last year, according to the sources, who spoke on condition that their names not be used because of ongoing civil and criminal investigations.
On the tapes, Allbritton, who left Riggs’s holding company board in May but remains its largest shareholder, makes what one source said were “derisive” remarks about federal bank regulators who were pushing the bank to correct years-long violations of money-laundering laws. Neither transcripts nor copies of the tapes were made available.
Under Allbritton, Riggs Bank was up to its eyeballs in laundering millions and millions of dollars in money stolen by Pinochet from Chile’s Treasury, and millions more in bribes to Equatorial Guinea’s president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, from major US oil companies. Even worse, they helped the Saudis hide millions more that might have gone to fund terrorist organizations in the Middle East.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, bank regulators and the FBI began a detailed probe of Riggs Bank’s long-standing relationship with officials at the Saudi Embassy. That evolved into multiple federal investigations, including one by the Justice Department, of the bank’s relationship with other foreign customers, including inquiries into deposits by major U.S. oil companies into accounts controlled by Equatorial Guinea’s president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
In May bank regulators at the Treasury Department fined Riggs $25 million for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, which has been in effect since the 1970s but was strengthened in the fall of 2001 to bolster efforts to interrupt financing of terrorist operations.
Earlier this summer, the Senate subcommittee held a hearing on Riggs that publicized for the first time what investigators called evidence that the bank helped Pinochet hide millions of dollars from international prosecutors over the past decade. Prosecutors in Spain and Chile have sought information about that money as possible restitution for families of thousands of victims Pinochet is alleged to have tortured and killed while president of Chile.
The Bush Admin’s lax attitude toward the enforcement of banking regulations apparently gave Riggs the idea that they could ignore them with impunity–after all, there were $$tens of millions$$ in fees on the line. But to their credit it must be said that for one of the few times in the last four years, the BA didn’t interfere with or attempt to quash an investigation into Saudi finances (Pinochet they don’t care about one way or the other).
The tapes make this case that rare instance when collusion to break the law can be proved to have come from the very top levels of a major corporation–scapegoats don’t cut it when you’ve got the BoD on tape, and therefore on the record, approving illegal actions by the CEO. Eventually, the tapes–or at least transcripts of them–will be released, and personally, I can’t wait.
In a brazen bid to take control of Maryland’s election process–a move that has sinister overtones to say the least–Publican Gov Bob Erlich wants Maryland’s feisty, independent Elections Administrator fired and replaced by an appointee of his own. The grounds for her dismissal? She’s ‘crabby’ to him.
ACCORDING TO state law, Maryland State Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone can be removed from her job only for “incompetence, misconduct or other good cause.” The law, passed in 1998, is intended to insulate the administrator, and the management of elections, from the bump and grind of partisan politics. But now Ms. Lamone, who has managed elections in the state since 1997, is the target of what by all appearances is a putsch by the Republican-led State Board of Elections. Board members are appointed by the governor, and Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wants Ms. Lamone out.
Despite taking the nearly Kafkaesque step of having Ms. Lamone investigated by a veteran agent of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which usually confines itself to probing abuses by prison employees, the elections board hasn’t found much to accuse her of. There are no criminal allegations; her main sin, it seems, is that she has been crabby at times in her relations with the board. On one occasion, according to the board’s complaint, Ms. Lamone was guilty of a scheduling conflict, choosing to testify before Congress rather than appear before the board. Compounding the damage, she testily informed the board that she “alone” will determine how to do her job. On another occasion, it took her six weeks to promulgate written guidelines for local election officials on how to deal with voters who refused to use the state’s electronic voting machines. Most damning, apparently, was that Ms. Lamone complained to a job applicant that the governor was “out to get” her. So she’s crabby, and she tells the truth.
It seems pretty obvious that’s what’s behind this nonsense is yet another attempt to put the election into partisan hands in an effort to ensure a Bush win by hook or by crook, like the bogus redistricting in Colorado and Texas and the (maybe) aborted voter disenfranchisement in Florida and other states. The Pubs are lining up their ducks, using any means necessary to get the power to make the election go their way.
The signs are mounting that the Cult of Personality is working its magic, justifying any action that sanctifies Our Leader’s continued imperium, seeing as how he’s The Only Man in the Whole World Who Can Save Us. It’s looks like this election will be stolen in pieces by a combination of local actions rather than, like last time, a single illegal election that is then confirmed by the SCOTUS.
Is it time yet to call in the UN election monitors?
Mark Fiore: Freedom is on the march and bin Laden’s job has never been easier.
There is an excellent letter in today’s Washington Post describing the striking similarities between the scene in Athens 2500 years ago as it was losing its greatness during the Peloponnesian War and the scene in the US today:
The following applies just as well to the Bush administration as it did to Greece when Thucydides wrote it 2,500 years ago. The passage was quoted by Thomas Cahill in his book published last year, “Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter”:
“Practically the whole of the Hellenic world was convulsed . . . To fit in with the change of events, words too had to change their usual meaning. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man. . . . Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect. . . . Society was divided into camps in which no man trusted his fellow.”
PATRICIA H. VANDERSLICE
Cobb Island, Md.
The assault on John Edwards for the dastardly crime of being a trial lawyer that MoJo predicted is getting geared up. Corporations are pouring money into Republican Party coffers and right-wing advocacy groups, furious that one of ‘Them’ is on the Democratic ticket. Just how mad are they? This mad:
WASHINGTON — The billionaire chairman of an insurance company describes members of the group as “terrorists.” To the head of a national wholesalers group, they seem like “predators.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is co-sponsoring a $10-million advertising campaign to “educate voters about the devastating impact” these people are having on the American way of life.
The target of these attacks is not Al Qaeda or some new pestilence sweeping the nation. It’s trial lawyers.
These days, the people who bring personal injury lawsuits against corporations, insurers and healthcare providers have replaced “union bosses” as the group that corporate America identifies as its key public enemy. And this year, more than ever before, the war of words between corporate leaders and trial lawyers echoes in the battle for the White House.
President Bush has long campaigned against what he calls “frivolous and junk lawsuits,” and he hopes to make “tort reform” a centerpiece of a second term in office. Many business leaders hope he gets a chance.
“We cannot ignore what may prove to be a make-or-break election for legal reform at the national level,” said Thomas J. Donohue, the chamber’s president, shunning the business lobby’s traditional neutrality in presidential races. “When voters go to the polls, they need to know lawsuit abuse destroys jobs, drives doctors out of business and forces companies into bankruptcy.”
Everything Donahue just said is factually untrue–a lie–but it’s the myth we believe thanks to years of the Mighty Wurlitzer hammering away at terms like ‘frivolous lawsuits’ in their capacity as corporate surrogates. Look behind the frivolous reporting, and lawsuits that make it to trial are rarely if ever ‘frivolous’, nor is the amount of damages awarded or paid out ‘extreme’ except in a few high-profile cases.
The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for State Courts track civil trials and verdicts in the nation’s 75 largest counties. In April, the bureau reported that in the last decade, the number of cases had gone down, not up.
The number of general civil cases disposed of by trial in the nation’s largest counties declined from 22,451 in 1992 to 11,908 in 2001, it reported — a 47% decline. The plaintiffs won about half the time, and the overall median award was $37,000 in 2001, down from $65,000 in 1992.
These cases included automobile accidents, medical malpractice and product-liability claims. About one-third of the cases involve contract claims, which typically involve one business suing another.
The medical malpractice claims resulted in larger verdicts; 27% won a verdict, but the median amount in 2001 was $431,000, up from $253,000 in 1992.
These data include only trials and verdicts; most civil suits are dismissed or result in settlements, and no figures are available on those outcomes. Nonetheless, government statistics do not show a sharp rise in big-money verdicts.
Those are facts, but they aren’t facts you’re liable to read in the entertainment-oriented corporate press. They make it sound as if filing lawsuits is a license to steal money from hardworking small businesses to load up the pockets of smarmy ambulance-chasers whose only talent is making something out of nothing. The truth is considerably different.
[T]rial lawyers find it laughable to hear stories that they get rich filing “frivolous” lawsuits.
Unlike corporate lawyers, who are paid handsomely by the hour to protect their clients, those who sue on behalf of plaintiffs usually get paid only if they win a verdict or a settlement.
Ken Suggs, the president-elect of the Assn. of Trial Lawyers of America, is a medical malpractice lawyer in Columbia, S.C. To win a verdict, he needs to convince all 12 jurors that a doctor or a hospital violated professional standards of care.
“Juries don’t like to hand down verdicts against doctors,” he said. “You can file a few frivolous cases, but if you do, you will be broke in a short time.”
If you don’t believe that, try this simple experiment: make up a frivolous lawsuit, then walk into any trial lawyer’s office and present it. You’ll be ushered–politely–out of the office after having been told–equally politely–that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a suit like that past the initial court review.
The reason for the attack on trial lawyers is as simple to explain as it is sinister to contemplate.
John O’Quinn, a veteran trial lawyer from Houston, also sees this as a make-or-break election.
“Corporate America is in charge these days. They control the White House, the Congress and the Supreme Court. But so far, they don’t control the right to trial by a jury. That’s the only place where ordinary citizens can go and have their complaints heard,” Quinn said. “Ordinary people can’t hire lobbyists in Washington, but in the courtroom, they get an equal chance to stand up against a corporation.”
This is just the next act in a play designed to consolidate corporate control of American life, the last bastion of consumer protection since the takeover of the entire US govt by corporate stooges like Bush (oil), Cheney(energy), Elaine Chao (investment banking), Condi Rice (oil), Don Evans (oil and gas), Anne Venneman (corporate lobbyist), Rumsfeld (pharmaceuticals), Spencer Abraham, Denny Hastert, Mitch McConnell, and Tom DeLay (everybody)–the list could go on the length of this page, down unto under-secretaries and under-under-secretaries and on to the secretaries’ secretaries (sorry, ‘assistants’).
The problem for the Bushies, though, is that corporate control of govt decision-making is so pervasive, so complete, so in-your-face that it can’t be hidden any more, and there’s a counter-myth developing.
Most Americans — 80% in one recent poll — say the nation has too many lawsuits and too much litigation. Yet when Time magazine conducted a poll on the selection of Edwards as the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee, his career as a trial lawyer helped him with voters. Among those surveyed, 55% said his work as a trial lawyer showed he was “willing to fight for the average person against the big companies.”
Voters in the same poll were more troubled by Vice President Dick Cheney’s background as the chief executive at Halliburton, the Texas oil-services company and defense contractor that has received billions of dollars in contracts to help rebuild Iraq. About 15% said they viewed him more favorably because of his Halliburton connection, while 51% said they viewed him less favorably for this reason.
“People have conflicting views” on lawyers and lawsuits, said David Winston, a Republican pollster who has conducted focus-group discussions on the issue. “They tend to think lawsuits are detrimental to the country. But they want a lawyer when they have a real need for one.”
We aren’t sure what to think at this point, but we’re beginning to lean away from crony-governing, and that’s bad news for the Pubs and worse news for the corporations; a backlash could be coming that will threaten the control they’ve been taking for granted since Junior’s selection by the SCOTUS if democracy survives the ’04 election (not at all clear at this point).
So Edwards presents an opportunity for corporate America to kill two birds with one stone: working the myth may boost Kerry’s negatives and help ensure the selection of their own private sock-puppet as well as help turn public distaste away from the blatant cronyism in the govt they own and operate and back onto their last remaining enemies. Thay have nothing to lose and everything to gain unless (and this is the interesting part) Edwards takes them head on and uses the attacks to tell the American people what trial lawyers actually do–protect them from corporate greed, thievery, incompetence, and wilful, malicious and illegal anti-consumer and ant-labor practices.
We’re already moving in that direction. All Edwards has to do is keep pushing us that way. It’s a hell of an opening they’re giving him. I hope he exploits it to the max.
And the hits just keep on coming. Literally.
Episode #3: The Civics Lesson
An anonymous commenter posted a story on the first ‘Brownshirts Arise!’ post which referred to an incident in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during Junior’s campaign stop there when two middle-aged civics teachers were arrested for asking police a question:
Police Officer: You can’t protest here. You’ll have to go somewhere else.
McCabe: Where should we go?
Police Officer: You’re under arrest.
That was it, the whole dialogue. The two women were arrested, strip-searched, fingerprinted, and thrown into a holding cell. They face a fine of $100 and/or 90 days in the county correction facility.
So much for free speech in BushAmerica.
McCabe: Let’s talk about freedom. George Bush is going to talk about freedom? Not my freedom. There was no freedom for me yesterday.
Nelson: There was a person arrested falsely yesterday. I was trying to show the students in my classroom that the system really does work, but they showed me it didn’t.
I could have told her that. So could you. We have to quit being this naive, people. Next time you go to a protest, assume you’ll be arrested and bring a toothbrush. As the election gets closer, you might want to prepare for being hosed, beaten with truncheons, maced, tear-gassed, and shot with rubber bullets (which hurt like hell and can do real damage, by the way). See your local 60-yr-old ex-Viet Nam protestor for detailed instructions.
Unfortunately, the link provided by the anonymous poster went to a billboard for the story, not the story itself. Here’s the correct page. Scroll down slightly to the 7th listed webcast: ‘Arrested protestors speak’. And once again, you’ll have to use Internet Exploder to get the video.
Episode #4: ‘Let’s See How Loud You Are When You’re Bald’
I know nothing about this picture–
–except that it was taken during a protest against Bush.
Episiode #5: ‘Watch Your Mouth’
–during a protest in Portland, Oregon, during a Bush visit there. The student being assaulted is Kendra Lloyd-Knox. Here’s part of her story.
At about one or one-thirty in the afternoon, I found myself watching a woman yell and wave her hands in a well-spoken man’s face about five feet from me. She took the man’s sign and said something along the lines of “you should support your President and your country.” Frustrated with her comment, I walked over to the crowd that had gathered around the two of them and siad, “you should support the whole world.” In the heat of the moment, I must have cussed at some point because she told me to “watch your mouth” and forcefully pulled the bandana off my face. I responded that I had a right to free speech. Then she hit me in the jaw.
I’m sorry to have to keep harping on this, but this is the way it started over Viet Nam, and it ended in murders and riots: they murdered us, we protested being murdered, and they rioted. Police clubbed us and set dogs on us and maced us in our own streets, turning peaceful demonstrations into riots and war zones; National Guard units murdered us on our own campuses as we were crossing the Quad for class.
Iraq may not be Viet Nam, but the domestic front is looking more and more like 1964 and ’65 after Tonkin Gulf was used as an excuse to invade Nam and the first of what were to become massive protests were disrupted by right-wing defenders of the war. It got worse–a LOT worse–after Nixon’s election in ’68. As the Second Gulf War drags on and more American soldiers die and the insurgents become organized into a guerilla fighting force–that’s the road we’re on, let’s face facts–and the dying escalates, the fever of denial and kill-the-messenger anger will escalate, too. There’s going to be a lot more of this if Junior is re-elected, and possibly just as much if he isn’t.
The Beast has been aroused from its sleep, and it’s hungry.
The previous two incidents were cribbed from Diana at democracyforcalifornia.com who includes a third. I wrote about this when it happened but it’s worth a second look.
Episode #6: ‘How Dare You Sell Pictures I Don’t Approve Of?’
Last spring, right after the Abu Ghraib story broke (as Kathy at Random Thoughts points out here and here, someone has yet to held accountable for those crimes and it isn’t looking like anyone actually responsible ever will be), a Frisco art gallery owner named Laurie Haigh showed a painting by a local artist based on what happened at Abu Ghraib. This was her payment:
Laurie closed her gallery in the wake of death threats and continued verbal abuse.
“I gave it a week and weighed the options,” Haigh said. “Had I felt that there was enough support, my gallery wouldn’t be closed down right now.” As a single mother of two, she could not risk standing alone against the bullies, nor should she have to, and neither should anyone else in America.
Should Kerry win, the Rightwingers, who defend their agenda at all costs, will only become more desparate, and hence more violent. They are organized, they are vigilant, and they are mean. They’ll stop at nothing to silence opposition. On the other hand, if their corrupt schemes can succeed in preventing John Kerry from winning the Presidential election (and don’t think it can’t happen), they’ll only become emboldened to act more violently. So either way, it doesn’t matter who wins the election, we have a very serious problem on our hands and we have to plan ahead to combat it. Never think the Rightwing attack dogs will continue to limit their predatory behavior to insults and trolling on the Net. They’ve already crossed the line between virtual and real, from verbal abuse to physical violence, and we have to be prepared for them to amp up their attacks.
How can we prepare?
The general consensus on the left seems to be that in order to level the playing field with the biggest, they have to try to become bigger, there has to be mass organization. As a natural born contrarian, I firmly believe the very opposite is true. What we have to do is scale down to human size, we have to act locally, personally, one-on-one as individuals. And by linking together in a network, we can become bigger than the biggest, if need be, but the nucleus of the network must be small, and local….[A]s Thomas Jefferson said: “Democracy is impractical outside of a town.”
And note that, once again, as before, all the victims are women. It’s an ugly pattern. Freeper sludge attacks what it is most afraid of–and believes to be weaker, so uppity women are now at real risk. Be careful.