Why Didn’t Eric Holder Go After the Bankers? | The New Yorker

In the years following the financial crisis many have wondered (with varying degrees of incredulity) why no senior banking executives were criminally prosecuted.

Instead, as John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker, there’s been a succession of monster settlements between financial institutions and the US Justice Dept.

“We seem to have stumbled into a new form of corporate regulation,” I noted at the time of the JPMorgan settlement [November 2013], “in which nobody in the executive suite is held personally accountable for wrongdoing lower down the ranks, but the corporation and its stockholders are periodically socked with huge fines for past abuses.”

To the extent explanations for the failure to prosecute have been offered, they usually come down to two things.

First, although foolishness and cupidity were ubiquitous in the years leading up to the crisis, proving intent to defraud can be a tricky business as the Justice Dept discovered in its attempt to prosecute two Bear Stearns bankers in 2009.

Second, there’s the “we might end up destroying a systemically important bank” excuse. In other words, the Justice Dept version of “too big to fail”. Continue reading

Sound So Loud It Circled the Earth Four Times | Nautilus

In general, sounds are caused not by the end of the world but by fluctuations in air pressure. A barometer at the Batavia gasworks 100 miles away from Krakatoa registered the ensuing spike in pressure at over 2.5 inches of mercury. That converts to over 172 decibels of sound pressure, an unimaginably loud noise. To put that in context, if you were operating a jackhammer you’d be subject to about 100 decibels. The human threshold for pain is near 130 decibels, and if you had the misfortune of standing next to a jet engine, you’d experience a 150 decibel sound. A 10 decibel increase is perceived by people as sounding roughly twice as loud. The Krakatoa explosion registered 172 decibels at 100 miles from the source. This is so astonishingly loud, that it’s inching up against the limits of what we mean by “sound.”

via The Sound So Loud That It Circled the Earth Four Times – Nautilus

The curse of interventionism?

The early months of 2003 always struck me as the apogée of geopolitical incoherence. Here’s today’s headlines from Antiwar.com:

Antiwar 27.09.14

Then there’s this remarkable photograph (courtesy The Christian Science Monitor).

Shiite Fighters (Alaa Al-Marjani - Reuters)

The shot (Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters) shows “Shiite fighters, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State, take part in field training in the desert region between Kerbala and Najaf, south of Baghdad.”

The only possible good news is that Russia and the Ukrainian crisis have (presumably temporarily) been shunted to the inside pages.

National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014

Even the authors of the Parliamentary Library Bills Digests report on the NSLA Bill aren’t comfortable.

The lack of independent scrutiny and time for Members and Senators to consider the complexities of the Bill is concerning. It is particularly so in light of Recommendation 41 in the 2013 PJCIS Report. The PJCIS recommended that amendments implementing its recommended changes to AIC legislation be released as an Exposure Draft for public consultation as well as being subject to Parliamentary committee scrutiny and targeted consultation with the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS).

They’re not alone. Here’s the bottom line from the Law Council of Australia:

These concerns have led the Law Council to recommend that the NSLA Bill not be passed in its current form and that the PJCIS should request the next appointed Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) to consider the operation, effectiveness and implications of existing legislation with a view to addressing the issues which are raised by the Bill. While the previous INSLM has considered a few of the relevant issues (as noted below), most have not been subject to the INSLM’s consideration.  If this recommendation is not adopted, then the Law Council urges the PJCIS to carefully consider the following recommendations for changes to the Bill that are discussed in detail in this submission.

They, like most others concerned with this bill, are particularly unhappy with Section 35P which creates new offences related to the unauthorised disclosure of information relating to a Secret Intelligence Operation (SIO). It devotes almost five pages to its flaws and dangers Continue reading

Lavrov and Zarif

The general perception in the west is that Russia and Iran lack subtlety and our broader understanding of the world. That they’re driven by aggression, or ancient angers, ideology or religion.

Coming to the realisation that this view is simply wrong has for me been a progressive journey over the last few decades. What I have to guard against now is falling into a sort of mirror image perception where their qualities are unduly lionised and ours dismissed. Given the frequent incoherence of western policies and pronouncements in recent years, guarding against that danger has from time to time been a near full-time job.

What prompted these brief reflections was the coincidence of two recent interviews, one with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the other with the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, both appearing on the same day.

Question: Will Russia and European countries be able to restore mutual trust in the foreseeable future?

Sergey Lavrov: Obviously, relations between Russia and the European Union are under severe strain. The destructive line our European partners have taken on the Ukrainian crisis – applying double standards to the situation in Ukraine, unjustifiably blaming the Ukrainian tragedy on us, attempting to exert pressure through sanctions – seriously undermines confidence in Europe.

However, I am convinced that our relations have not yet reached the point of no return. We hope that the safety net that has been created over the years will prove strong enough and will enable us not only to return to the status quo that existed before the conflict, but to move forward. To this end, it is necessary to abandon the faulty logic of sanctions and threats and begin a constructive and pragmatic search for solutions to the problems that have piled up. It is important that common sense and an awareness of the dead-end nature of the policy pursued with regard to our country prevail over hawkish sentiments.

We have consistently argued that there is no reasonable alternative to continued mutually beneficial and equitable cooperation between Russia and the EU, because there is too much that binds us geographically, economically, historically and in human terms.

Continue reading

Economic Advantages of an Independent Scotland

Would they agree on the right things? A generous welfare state and economic success aren’t incompatible for small nations — there are several examples of this just across the North Sea from Scotland. But since a stretch of tough economic times in the early 1990s, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland have combined their generosity with remarkable efficiency and economic savvy (Norway, with its vast oil riches, hasn’t had to make quite as many hard choices). They and other successful small states tend to balance their budgets, export more than they import, and invest heavily and smartly in infrastructure and R&D. As Skilling tells it, they have designed their economies to be globally competitive.“

Being a small country offers a lot of in-principle upside, brings with it significant risks, and is what you make it — but it’s only for serious countries,” Skilling replied when I emailed him about Scotland.

So is Scotland serious? Skilling thinks it is, but the leaders of the “Yes” movement don’t seem to be quite there yet.

via The Economic Advantages of an Independent Scotland – Harvard Business Review.

Update (13.09.14):

I just read The Economist article linked to in this piece. It’s blackly negative about the prospects for an independent Scotland but if you do get to it, make sure you also read the comments thread. It’s far, far more interesting.