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Edward Snowden and the Meaning of the Espionage Act

June 25, 2013

Edward Snowden and the Meaning of the Espionage Act Post 9-11

 

June 25, 2013

R. Tamara de Silva

 

The point of demarcation between speech, whistleblowing and espionage has in some instances the aspects of a razor's edge.  Edward Snowden's criminal complaint under the Espionage Act was unsealed last Friday.  The Espionage Act has only been used three times since it became law during WWI.  In just five years, President Obama has used it eight additional times to prosecute whistleblowers under an elastic and theoretically boundless definition of what constitutes national security.  Since 2009, the Espionage Act has been used against whistleblowers more than in all other Presidential administrations in the past 90 years combined.   Whether one thinks Edward Snowden is a traitor for exposing a clandestine wiretap dragnet of Americans and foreigners, or a patriot for exposing a truth that may not otherwise ever become known to his countrymen, is largely beside the point.  Snowden's case reveals a lot more as we approach another Independence Day about how one day has changed our system of government.   The arguments advanced to suggest that the NSA's powers are checked by two other branches of government, are largely specious.  What Snowden's case reveals is the extent to which Americans gave the Executive Branch a blank check after September 11, 2001 and what that actually means for every American hereafter.

In the Inferno, when Dante begins his entrance into the gates of hell, guided by no one less than the great Virgil, he comes across a bleak warning, lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate or, "abandon all hope ye who enter here."  After 9-11, contrapasso to the United States Constitution, as if capitulating to the admonishment that greeted Dante, Americans abandoned a measure of hope in America's core values and founding principles.   A bi-partisan Congress signed the Patriot Act-in the absence of any public outcry, and almost no media attention or intellectual grasp of what it would actually mean. 

Civil libertarians are criticized as if denouncing the Patriot Act or any infringement upon the Constitution is a naive demand for ideological purity.  However, this criticism demonstrates a stunning unfamiliarity with the legal, historical and normative meaning of what constitutes America.  It is only after all a common desire to live under a system of laws with checks and balances that drew every single wave of immigrants to our shores-especially, the very first ones.  They knew what it was like to live with tyranny, and the unchecked power of a few men.  They were traitors to the Crown, fanatics and ideologues-in sum they were the quintessential Americans.   It was a desire to live under the rule of law as opposed to the rule of men or a monarch or autocrat that is profoundly American.

After September 11, 2001, for the first time, America, the place that had seemed the birthplace of sedition, would begin to transform itself away from its grand republican historical experiment towards more tried historical clichés we have seen made manifest in other places.  Even as the United States Supreme Court reminded President George W. Bush's administration in Hamdi v Rumsfeld, that even in national security matters, we remain heirs to the Magna Carta, " heirs to a tradition given voice over 800 years ago," and that invoking national security did not give the Executive a blank check-the bulwarks against any real check on the Executive Branch in matters stated to be of national security,( also as so happens almost exclusively also defined by the Executive), were gone.  The Magna Carta is important because the barons that would bind their king, a thing never before done insisted that their king's power and that of any subsequent executive would be confined to the rule of the law.  It is upon this one idea above all others upon which America was founded -that we are a country ruled by law as opposed to the historical alternative we had determined to get away from- rule of men, unanswerable to law and capable of wielding power -unchecked and therefore in application, absolute.  We have striven to come a long way backwards in time.

What Edward Snowden revealed is a secret monitoring of all cell-phone calls and Internet usage of American citizens.  This is permissible under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which justifies the NSA's roving dragnet of wiretaps on all Americans and even before 2008, warrantless wiretaps from cell phone and Internet service providers.   The NSA monitors which numbers call which other numbers-information termed metadata.  What is unclear is whether there are any limits on the use of the metadata gathered in the roving wiretaps.  For example, even though we are told the information gathered is merely the numbers dialed between phones, now at least three former NSA whistle-blowers, including Thomas Drake and William Binney have pointed out that it is possible to access the content of the communications without a warrant depending upon the hunch of an analyst with sufficient security clearance.   No one outside the NSA knows how long this information is stored or whether it can be used across agencies.  For instance, can your statements in a phone call made to a relative be used against you years from now in an IRS audit or a criminal investigation?  Does your use of a phone constitute an endless autobiographical deposition where you are committing yourself to statements that any agency of the government can subsequently use against you, perhaps merely to prove you were lying?  Could these ever be played to a jury to show bias or contradiction?  Can this information be used in civil litigation?  Can it be hacked or sold?   How do you know?  And to the extent this is not a rhetorical question- where are the boundaries, if any, to an individual's zone of privacy?

 

Lower High Ground

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."  Friedrich Nietzsche

 

More importantly, what happened to national higher ground, based on principles of freedom and human dignity we believe worthy of exporting to the rest of the world?  After the Patriot Act and 9-11, we decided that the same practices we condemned the Japanese for engaging in as torture in WWII, such as waterboarding were not even all that unpleasant.  We went so far as to write legal memoranda justifying various methods of torture including, as then President George W. Bush's Justice Department lawyer John Yoo reasoned, the crushing of a child's testicles in front of his father-all became legally justified.  It is not surprising that the modern day Torquemada, John Yoo along with Dick Cheney call for the immediate imprisonment of Edward Snowden considering that Yoo wrote legal memoranda justifying various torture methods that could have just as easily been the playbooks used by Saddam Hussein's finest interrogation experts in the infamous White Lion-what is more surprising is his professorship at University of Berkeley's School of Law.   It was not always so.

Conservatives were once opposed to torture on principal.  President Ronald Reagan aggressively prosecuted torture, getting the United States to sign the United Nations Convention on Torture in 1984-a measure he championed stating,

 

"The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called "universal jurisdiction." Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution."

 

What is significant in the treaty banning torture that President Reagan signed is its broad definition of torture and its categorical repudiation of it:

Article 1's definition as ""any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession"

Article 2:

"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

 

 

President Reagan was right albeit diametrically opposed with the near unanimity of current conservative thought on the matter.  After our country stooped to torture practices we once criticized in rogue nations and despotic regimes, both a 6,000 page Senate Intelligence Report and 600 page non-partisan report of the Constitution Project yielded the conclusion that while the United States of America had engaged in torture, post 9-11, these torture practices never yielded any information that could not have been obtained without torture.[[1]]

What Snowden's case and his flight to escape a fate similar to Bradley Mannings means, is that at it core, until the Patriot Act, the United States was ruled from inception by laws, with checks and balances.  Post 9-11 we have given the Executive Branch and the past two administrations free rein in regards to justifying our country's use of torture, indefinite detention, warrantless wiretaps, the usurpation of judicial due process by the invention of something Attorney General Eric Holder calls, "Executive due process," the use of drones to kill Americans and noncombatants everywhere, at the sole discretion of the President-in short the unquestioned elimination of the Fourth Amendment and much of due process of law as long as they said it had something to do with national security or fighting terrorists. 

Many liberals and Bush era civil libertarians are suddenly at ease with the decade long holding of uncharged, cleared prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the enaction of a permanent suspension of habeas corpus through indefinite detention and the invention of whatever "executive due process" is because they like President Obama and just did not like George W. Bush.   As if somehow every President that gets elected will also be someone they equally like and therefore trust, presumably making parts of the Bill of Rights superfluous for Americans from now on.  This is the same non-thinking thinking that dim witted masses have historically always displayed whether buying tulips, attending rallies for Mussolini, unquestioningly goose-stepping to their political party, or buying at the top of every financial bubble - a singular confirmation bias enjoyed by crowds everywhere at every age that only looks as incredulously stupid as it is in historical hindsight.

After the Patriot Act, America gave the Executive Branch a blank check.   In doing so, we have set the stage for every prospective President to rule in a manner not only never intended by the founding values of this country-but in accord with less a country of laws, than a country of men.  In this context the collection and unknown use of metadata and surveillance of Internet activity should not be all that surprising. 

The surreal irony of the United States seeking the return of a dissident from Russia or China aside-Edward Snowden's case, like that of several whistleblowers before him, speaks to how a great free nation now values the transparency of its government but perhaps as equally also, dissent.  Were Snowden to return to the United States, he would meet the fate of Bradley Manning.  Fear of being treated like Manning may make his entreaties for asylum from cruel and unusual punishment far more credible not only with Hong Kong but Ecuador and Iceland.

 

The Espionage Act

After entering WWI, Congress enacted the Espionage Act of 1917.  Parts of that statute took aim at expression, dissent and freedom of the Press under the First Amendment stating in pertinent part that it would constitute to the crime of espionage to,

 

(a) willfully to 'make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to inter- fere' with the military success of the United States or 'to promote the success of its enemies'; (b) willfully to 'cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mu- tiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States'; or (c) will- fully to 'obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States.' [[2]]

 

President Woodrow Wilson's proposed version of the statute would have further suppressed press expression by defining espionage even more vaguely as, "to publish any infor- mation that the President, in his judgment, declared to be 'of such character that it is or might be useful to the enemy.'"[[3]]  Fortunately, due to the objections of many lawmakers, including Senator Henry Cabot Lodge who described the language as granting government officials the ability to censor "legitimate public criticism," President Wilson's press censorship provisions did not get included in the Espionage Act. 

What Congress realized in refusing to pass President's Wilson's language that would have made freedom of the Press dependent upon the will of the White House, was exactly what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart understood as the purpose of the free press-"The primary purpose of the constitutional guarantee of a free press was . . . to create a fourth institution outside the Government as an additional check on the three official branches."[[4]]  A free people are presumed capable of making better decisions when having more facts rather than merely being told what to think by assimilating a controlled message.   In other words, we are country designed to have get our information from the reporters and newspapers, not a monolithic pr firm or political campaign.

The purpose of a free Press is to provide an outside check and balance on the government so that information does not get released to the American people merely through a state sanctioned media.  Americans are only able to vote based upon information they gather and they cannot be wholly reliant on an American equivalent of the state run Pravda.  In a free country, in accordance with America's founding values, the exchange of information and free discourse must be protected- a free Press, and even more an open Internet and social media, become invaluable guardians of freedom.

Since 2009, we are using the Espionage Act to seemingly selectively prosecute what classified information can be leaked-depending upon who is doing the leaking.  For example, last August 2012, the Justice Department indicted a former State Department contractor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim for leaking classified information about North Korea's nuclear intentions to Fox News correspondent, James Rosen.   The Justice Department had subpoenaed Associated Press emails and made it clear that it would prosecute the press for reporting classified information.

Kim's criminal defense lawyer, Abbe Lowell pointed out to the District Court that the White House had leaked much more sensitive but equally classified information to journalist Bob Woodward to write his book, the Obama Wars.  No one in the Executive Branch would be prosecuted by the Executive Branch's Justice Department for leaking classified information-fitting the letter of criminality dictated within the Espionage Act.  Of course not.  Why Mr. Lowell argued, was Kim being prosecuted for doing less? Unfortunately, selective prosecution is not a defense but Mr. Lowell's point is unimpeachable.

The Espionage Act (18 U.S.C. §793 (d)-(f)) is a statutory bar against the willful dissemination of classified national security information-which is defined in the statute as,

any document, writing, code book,

signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint,

plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the

national defense, or information relating to the national defense

which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used

to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any

foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or

causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted or attempts to

communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated,

delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to

receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it

on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled

to receive it; or

What is significant about §793 (d) of the Espionage Act is that however broadly information is defined as classified (keep in mind more and more information is increasingly, even by government accounts, over-classified at the cost of billions of dollars per year-often to keep information getting from one government agency to another), whether it is legally obtained or not, it becomes a crime to disclose the information to "any person not entitled to receive it."[[5]]  By many accounts, a great deal of what the government classifies as top-secret, need not be classified as such.[[6]] 

This broad provision of the Espionage Act makes it possible for the government to prosecute Wikileaks, Glenn Greenwald, who interviewed Edward Snowden, and newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post, which have often reported on information given by NSA whistleblowers because they report the information to an audience that is "not entitled to receive it."  Technically, newspapers violate the letter of this law in telling the stories of NSA whistleblowers, but would you really want to see the Press silenced?  Would you be better off, not knowing that torture was practiced, that there were secret prisons called black sites, the real status of foreign wars, Internet surveillance or warrantless roving wiretapping?  Would it be better not to reveal faulty intelligence and engage in another Iraq War...to many who deny that the Iraq War was a failure, the answer is simpler and such question unnecessary.

The current administration's liberal employment of the Espionage Act contradicts the spirit of another important law, the federal Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989.   This Act protects federal whistleblowers who work for the government and report agency misconduct by prohibiting a federal agency from taking retaliatory action against the whistleblower.   As a candidate-elect, President Obama had admired the Whistleblower Protection Act stating on his transition website:

 

Protect Whistleblowers:  Often the best source of information about waste, fraud and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out.  Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayers dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled...We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance.[[7]]

He would soon alter his stance on whistleblowers and leakers.  His first prosecution was that of senior NSA official, Air Force officer and whistleblower Thomas Drake, who was charged with violation of the Espionage Act in 2010 for leaking information about the NSA's illegal warrantless surveillance of Americans. "I was faced with a crisis of conscience...What do I do -- remain silent, and complicit, or go to the press?"[[8]]

Drake's prosecution was less than successful and its exposure of the illegal practices likely resulted in the NSA subsequently going to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or FISA court to get warrants-something that would not have occurred otherwise.

 

FISA-No Check or Balance

FISA courts are not a substitute for actual checks and balances because a FISA court is not a regular court.  Unlike in a regular court, FISA courts are secret, their proceedings are secret and they only hear from one side-the government.  Typically, an FBI agent swears in an affidavit the reasons why a warrant is needed in a particular instance.  Unlike in any other court of law, one of the eleven District Court Judges sitting in a FISA court has no basis in fact to deny the request.  Only one side is represented and there is no factual discovery that takes place-there is no questioning of the veracity or completeness of the information upon which the agent makes the request, no subsequent scrutiny, hence there is no reason to ever deny a request.  No countervailing evidence is ever presented-no evidence need be presented at all other than the word of the affiant.  A judge has no basis to deny a request much less assimilate enough information to form the foundation of an opinion.  Sure enough, the FISA courts have never once actually denied a request for a warrant but asked for clarification-leading to an approval rate of 99.7%.  This is not exactly a robust check upon the Executive by the Judiciary; even though these are real Article III District Court Judges-it is simply not judicial oversight as in any other Article III court. 

The one saving grace of the NSA going to FISA court under the administration of President Obama, is that it is going to a court of law-under President Bush's push for an Executive power expansive enough to grant warrantless wiretaps for all long as it chose-it did not bother.

Another check and balance said to be in place upon the Executive is Congressional oversight in the form of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  This is even less oversight than the FISA court.  On March 12, 2013, when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to give sworn testimony, the following exchange occurred:

 

 Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.): "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"

 

James Clapper: "No, sir."

 

 

If the Director of Intelligence can lie, and perjure himself before Congress with absolute impunity-the same body that is supposed to exert some oversight over his operations, this is less a check and balance of one branch of government over another but something out of the court in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.  No one would think Mr. Clapper to have ever lied to Congress were it not for an Edward Snowden or Thomas Drake or William Binney.  Not only is there no accountability-there is no actual oversight.  The Senate takes the word of Mr. Clapper, who can and did misrepresent the truth because it cannot independently verify or form a factual basis upon which to conduct oversight in any other manner.  The only thing missing is were a Senator in seeming homage to the Queen in Alice in Wonderland to demand a sentence first and a verdict later.

There is too steep a political risk for either political party to appear weak on terrorism however statistically small the risk of an actual terrorist event occurring is in America.[[9]]   Both political parties have embraced the creation of a private and public national security surveillance leviathan where only a few elected officials know the workings of the national security state but thousands of private contractors and their employees have top-secret security clearances.   Unfortunately, Congress is not incentivized beyond hyper-political blame avoidance and the appearance of continually appearing tougher than the other party on national security to think of the long term interests of America's civil liberty or the Constitution.  

For defense contractors, like Booz Allen Hamilton, and its parent company, the behemoth private equity fund, Carlyle Group, there are hundreds of billions of reasons each year, in the form of massive government contracts, to have the American people terrified into accepting more surveillance, more cyberwarfare contracts and escalating security threat inflation, which will pay for it all at the public trough.  There is a revolving door between the NSA and Booz Allen Hamilton.  Mike McConnell left Booz Allen to become President Bush's second Director of Intelligence-also serving under President Obama.  He returned to Booz Allen to a renew his employment there for $4.1 million a year.  Mr. Clapper came from Booz Allen and would likely return there after defending the government's operations made through his former and future employer.

Oversight of the Executive branch in any matter deemed to involve classified information and national security is effectively nil.  To the extent that there are checks and balances on the Executive at all-they lack independence and robustness.  There is no real oversight.  The value of whistleblowers has never been greater.  

Remember on this Fourth of July that when we call ourselves Americans, it is really the Constitution and its values that have bound all who came to America's shores, to partake of the great republican experiment we call America.  You cannot tune out the revelation of completely clandestine surveillance activity, renditions or permanent suspensions of civil liberties on the basis that its political unless it is really America and not politics that you do not care about.@

R. Tamara de Silva  



[2] Espionage Act of June 15, 1917, ch. 30, 40 Stat. 219

[3] 65 CONG. REC. 1695 (1917)

 

[4] N.Y. Times Co. v. United States 403 U.S. 713, 728 (1971)

[7] Office of the President-Elect, Ethics Agenda, http://change.gov/agenda/ethics_agenda/

 

The President as Executioner

March 6, 2013

The President As Executioner; the Unconstitutionality of Targeted Killings of Americans on American Soil

By R. Tamara de Silva

March 6, 2013

 

       In the 2004 decision of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court of the United States reminded President George W. Bush's administration that, "we are heirs to a tradition given voice over 800 years ago" by the signing of the Magna Carta and the idea insisted upon by the barons to their king, that his power and that of any subsequent executive would be confined to the rule of the law.  America was founded on this one idea above any other-that we are a country ruled by law as opposed to the historical alternative we had determined to get away from-the rule of men, unanswerable to law and capable of wielding power that would never be unchecked and therefore in its application, absolute.  So it was that American began-in a deeply held commitment to avoid tyranny.  A fair part of this stubborn legacy was set aside yesterday by Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter, which was released in answer to Senator Rand Paul's questions about the Administration's nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan.[1]  Mr. Holder's letter dated March 4, 2005 stated that while very unlikely, the President, after conferring with him, could kill an American citizen by drone even within the United States if he thought he must.  

       Mr. Holder's letter clarifies the White House's position on the extra-judicial killing of Americans contained in what has come to be called, the Drone Memo.   I have written more extensively about what the Drone Memo means here.  The import of the Drone Memo is that a high ranking official of the Executive Branch can now kill an American if he deems that American a "continuing threat to the country."  No actual evidence prior to killing is deemed necessary by the Drone Memo.  In fact, there need not be an imminent threat to the United States nor even, "clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future."[2]

       What Mr. Holder's letter states is that it is within the sole power of the President to kill Americans on American soil, without providing them a trial, a jury, any due process, notice, or their death justified by the existence of any concrete and articulated standard.  

       This is unconstitutional for many reasons, foremost among which is that the Fourth and Fifth Amendments exist... the seeming unwillingness of Congress to exercise its Constitutionally mandated duty to serve as check on the Executive and prevent Executive overreach, especially when it comes to matters as monumental as taking American lives, is another matter entirely.  The Drone Memo makes it clear that the Executive Branch does not need to have clear evidence of an imminent threat or any evidence of imminent harm to make a targeted killing of an American-this plainly violates the Fourth Amendment's guarantee of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.  The Fifth Amendment grants upon all Americans the right not to be deprived of life or liberty without due process of law.  No notice of warning is given to an American before they can be killed according to the Drone Memo-again violating the Fifth Amendment's due process clause. 

       Article I, Section 9, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution also prohibits the federal government from passing bills of attainder-this is alternately termed the Bill of Attainder clause.  This was put into the Constitution to prevent the federal government, as had been the practice in common law, from passing a law or act stating that a certain person would be executed because they were deemed by their government to have committed treason.  The founding fathers wanted to ensure that in America, there would never be the equivalent of the English Law of Treason whereby the state or a tyrannous legislature would dispose of a dissenter or critic by declaring them an enemy of the sovereign-without trial or hearing.   There are only two civil liberties that are protected in the Constitution against infringement by the federal government and the state governments, liberty against ex post facto laws and bills of attainder. 

       The United States Supreme Court has viewed the Bill of Attainder clause as an important separation of powers issue-one that prohibits legislative acts that affect the life or property of an American and call for punishment without a judicial trial.[3] James Madison in Federalist No. 44 wrote that, "Bills of attainder, ex post facto laws and laws impairing the obligation of contracts, are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation."

 

Concocting Executive due process

       Attorney General Eric Holder had set the stage for making an end run around the Constitution last year when he invented, absent even the most gossamer thread of Constitutional authority, something called "Executive Due Process."  On March 5, 2012, he delivered a speech at Northwestern University Law School where he declared that the Constitution's guarantee of due process does not necessarily mean judicial due process (actually it does)-that it now can mean something called Executive due process.  Mr. Holder said that for a President to now deprive an American of life or liberty, that American did not first have to be provided with due process of law, the President just had to check with his Attorney General first.  That checking, according to Mr. Holder, constitutes due process.   

       Unchecked power allows for abuse and in its worst iteration, tyranny.  Getting away from unchecked Executive power was to a large extent, the impetus behind the American experiment. Mr. Holder would have the few bulwarks against pernicious law enforcement and illegal prosecution like trial by law, a jury, the right to counsel, the right to confront witnesses against you all supplanted by two men conferring about another, with no check on whether either of them could be in error or have any reason to be less than objective in deciding whether an American will be killed.  Mr. Holder's reassurances about the use of targeted killings through Executive due process are well intentioned and reassuring but they are not checks and balances against the potential misuse of an extraordinarily terrifying power. 

       Under the Constitution, no authority has ever been given to the Executive Branch to kill an American without due process of law, unchecked, unquestioned and unanswerable to any other branch of government.   Our system of government was intended to be established so that we would never find ourselves having to rely on the good nature of one or two men.  We are heirs to the Magna Carta because we instituted a government of checks and balances designed to guard against overreach by any one branch of government and to preserve the rule of law-not blind faith in a handful of men.  Our system of government was established on far more substantial foundations.  The ability to authorize targeted killings unchecked by any independent overseer, invites an abuse that is counter to our way of government-it is quintessentially, un-American.

 

Authorization for Use of Military Force

       What is the source of the President's newly stated authority to kill Americans? Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Terrorists ("AUMF") in the wake of 9-11.  The AUMF has been invoked as the source of authority for the President to use targeted killings in other nations.  Pursuant to the AUMF, the President is authorized to use "all necessary and proper force" against those "he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."[4]  What is unclear is how this act provides the President authority to kill Americans suspected of terrorism who have nothing to do with 9-11--a premise of the act itself that circumscribes its application?

       This becomes a critical question because the government's definition of "associated forces" has never been defined.   What is worse, we invite the very possibility for abuse, which the Constitution's Bill of Attainder clause was designed to prevent--a shifting definition of terrorism.   This does not seem an impossible scenario if you consider a study funded by the Department of Homeland Security entitled, "Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970-2008," which found that terrorists were people, "reverent of individual liberty...suspicious of centralized federal authority or anti-government."[5]  This definition would include so many engaging people I know and respect specifically for their outspoken views on politics and their government.

 

Commander-in-Chief

       Article II Section II of the Constitution names the President as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.  This section vests the Office of the President with powers over the military that are to be shared with Congress-the degree of sharing has historically varied with Congress latterly taking a turn for the lackadaisical.  In the case of Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, civil rights groups including the ACLU, filed suit against the government for the killings of United States citizens Al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan and the 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi who were killed under President Obama's program of targeted killings in Yemen.[6]  In their briefings, the government stated that its authority to kill Americans abroad stemmed from the AUMF and more broadly, the President's war powers under Article II Section II.

       In their analysis, the government pointed out that the Supreme Court has permitted the use of lethal force in domestic law enforcement settings where a suspect poses a serious threat of physical injury to police officers.   The problems with using the law enforcement model for killings by drone in Yemen are numerous but I do not have to cover them because in the Drone Memo released on February 5, 2013, the Department of Justice stated that it found the President able to kill Americans even if there was no imminent threat of harm posed to the United States or evidence of a prospective harm.

       Why not simply send the Judiciary packing now?  Admittedly their inscrutability, when at times so much seems to rest on them-is likely irksome.  According to Mr. Holder that other branch does not have a say in the matter of targeted killings anyhow.  But before you toss your copy of the Constitution with the debris of the spring's cleaning, take heart-  I doubt these newfound and self-granted extra-Constitutional powers will survive judicial review.  And last I checked, no executive order had been directed at Marbury v. Madison.

       The Supreme Court made it clear to the Bush administration in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that the War on Terror did not give the Executive Branch a blank check to violate the separation of powers doctrine or due process, "We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens."[7]   It is simply not as simple as Mr. Holder's letter or memo would suggest.@

R. Tamara de Silva

March 6, 2013



[3] See Fletcher v. Peck (1810), United States v. Brown (1965) and Marbury v. Madison (1803)

[4] Authorization for Use of Military Force, Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001) (codified at 50 U.S.C. § 1541 note (2006))

[5] http://start.umd.edu/start/publications/research_briefs/LaFree_Bersani_HotSpotsOfUSTerrorism.pdf

[6] http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/tk_complaint_to_file.pdf

[7] Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 5

UPDATE:

Senator Rand Paul holds a filibuster against John Brennan on Senate floor.  While he will not ultimately prevail, he remains committed to principle that the Constitution prohibits the President from assassinating Americans on American soil without any due process of law.

Sen. Paul speaking on Senate floor


What the Department of Justice's Drone Memo Means

February 7, 2013

 

What the Drone Memo Means

By R. Tamara de Silva

February 7, 2013

 

[W]e are heirs to a tradition given voice 800 years ago by Magna Carta, which, on the barons' insistence, confined executive power by "the law of the land."  Justice Souter and Justice Ginsburg, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld 542 U.S. 507 (2004)

 

       On February 5, 2013, a Department of Justice memo ("Drone Memo") was released to NBC justifying the President's killing of Americans by lethal force, such as by drones.[1]  The targeted killing of Americans as justified in this memo gives the Executive Branch a power over American lives that is at once unprecedented and terrifying in scope.   The idea of a government unilaterally assassinating its citizenry is fundamentally at war with America's Constitutional legacy, which was established with separate and equal branches of power specifically to limit the possibility of an abuse of government power or outright tyranny.  The issues presented in the memo have Constitutional implications that cease due process rights based upon what may be unsubstantiated accusations and go against traditions of justice dating back to the Magna Carta.  Americans need to understand what is at stake.  The Drone Memo justifies the assassination of Americans by the Executive Branch based on the equating of terror (a term and concept that is not defined in the memo) with war and making Americans into enemy combatants without any due process of legal proceedings for actions and associations that are similarly ill-defined.  This memo does outline an enlargement of Executive power over due process that is without historical precedent in American history.  It bears note, that the Drone Memo asserts for the first time in American history, the power of a President to assassinate Americans, unchecked and unanswerable to anyone, including the Judiciary and the Legislature.

       The legitimacy of a government that would kill its citizenry has been portrayed and accepted by many Americans as merely a political issue the idea being-if our guy is doing it, we must stand by him because after all he's not the other party's guy.  After all, the same people who once complained bitterly about renditions and enhanced interrogation techniques have no objection to mass killings by unmaned drones-with civilian and child casualties in the hundreds.  But this is not a political issue and looking at it in simplistic tribal terms will prevent the public from understanding its import to them.  It may be an unwritten rule to fall in line behind your party's line, but this is one instance worthy of exception.  According to a senior legal official in President George W. Bush's administration, no other President of any political stripe has ever before authorized the targeted killing of Americans.[2]  The import of this memo, on the heels of the Patriot Act, and the NDAA's striving for a permanent suspension of habeas corpus, among other recent laws, is nothing less than the crossing of a legal Rubicon that would now permanently allow for the suspension of the due process of law.  At a minimum, this memo strips Americans of the protections of Fifth Amendment and in so doing, alters what it means to be an American.  This administration's authorization to use deadly force upon Americans without any legal safeguard of due process has a legal and moral significance that is difficult to comprehend or quite honestly, believe.

       Never before have an American president and his Attorney General openly stated that the Executive Branch can bypass Due Process of law to kill an American-if they (solely at their discretion), think they have a good enough reason because they have invented something called, "Executive Due Process."  It is the Executive Branch, boldly asserting an absolute power to suspend a significant portion of the Bill or Rights, unchecked by any other branch of government and unfettered in the scope or protocols used in the exercise of this new power.

       It is not as I write this that I do not understand first principles.  A nation must exist before it can provide its citizens any rights, liberties or anything.  A nation must also be allowed broad latitude to protect its citizens.  Security was a large part of the bargain described by Hobbes for leaving a state of nature and war to enter into a social contract.  It is the function of the Executive Branch to protect the security of Americans.  Terrorism remains a tremendous threat and after two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be naïve to think that the sentiments behind terror groups like Al-Qaeda have diminished because of our war on terror-there is evidence to suggest the opposite case. 

       As the late Allan Bloom often remarked, the first principle of any nation state was no different from that of any individual's-it is and must always be, self-preservation.  With this understood, most Americans have accepted an implicit tradeoff and the loss of some civil liberties and privacy for the sake of national security.   However, what the Drone Memo does is give away two entire Amendments and the bedrock of the freedoms that are uniquely American.  It is as if Americans have become so cowered of terrorists after 9/11 that we would as a country surrender the soul of America and its most deeply held values for the promise of a hope of a bit more security.  

        But in giving absolute authority to kill an American to any one man, President, CIA director or intelligence officer, unfettered by the United States Constitution's prohibition of such, we are making America into a country of rule by the men who would wield this power-no longer is it a country of rule by law.  We cannot just rest on knowing we are protected by a Bill of Rights- we now have to hope for the good characters of those we elect because we have surrendered the laws that would have kept their power over our freedom in check.   In America, the protections of the Bill of Rights were never to be handed over to an elected official with whom we were told to just "trust" them.  This is not America- nor is it consistent with the historical point of the American experiment in the first place.

       In fact, the United States Supreme Court in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld ruled that we are not required to "just trust" the government in matters of indefinite detention either.  The Court in Hamdi reiterated the principle that the Executive Branch cannot detain an American citizen without some form of due process.[3]   Hamdi was a United States citizen arrested in Afghanistan and taken into the custody of a military prison in Virginia.  From there he filed a petition for habeas corpus that ended up in the Court, which ruled that Mr. Hamdi did have a right as an American to be heard before an impartial judge.  President George W. Bush's administration had argued that Mr. Hamdi had no rights as an enemy combatant and that it could dispense with Hamdi as they saw fit.

       Ironically, it is the decision in Hamdi on which much of the Drone Memo relies.  This is a spectacle of legal gymnastics whose logic is ephemeral.  The Obama Administration's lawyers try to make the case that Hamdi is distinguishable because he was detained-that it was feasible to detain him.  The Drone Memo asserts a right to kill an American if he cannot feasibly be detained, because he cannot feasibly be detained.  They are wrong.  If the Supreme Court believes an American has the right to appear before an impartial fact-finder before being deprived of his liberty, then that American should at least have that right before being deprived of his life. 

       The Fifth Amendment guarantees on all Americans the right to due process of law before the taking of life or liberty.  The taking of an American's life by the government legally, as common-sensically, demands a higher level of due process than being imprisoned or detained--not less. Does the separation of powers doctrine require federal courts to defer to Executive Branch determinations that an American citizen is an "enemy combatant"?   Not according to the Court in Hamdi,

 

Finally, even if history had spared us the cautionary example of the internments in World War II, even if there had been no Korematsu,  there would be a compelling reason to read §4001(a) to demand manifest authority to detain before detention is authorized. The defining character of American constitutional government is its constant tension between security and liberty, serving both by partial helpings of each. In a government of separated powers, deciding finally on what is a reasonable degree of guaranteed liberty whether in peace or war (or some condition in between) is not well entrusted to the Executive Branch of Government, whose particular responsibility is to maintain security. For reasons of inescapable human nature, the branch of the Government asked to counter a serious threat is not the branch on which to rest the Nation's entire reliance in striking the balance between the will to win and the cost in liberty on the way to victory; the responsibility for security will naturally amplify the claim that security legitimately raises. A reasonable balance is more likely to be reached on the judgment of a different branch, just as Madison said in remarking that "the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other-that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights." Hence the need for an assessment by Congress before citizens are subject to lockup, and likewise the need for a clearly expressed congressional resolution of the competing claims.[4]

 

 

       Societies have normative values and also ones that are pre-textual--designed to mask far baser values.  Historically, one nation that has effectively used the pretext of danger to the state to imprison all who would criticize it is the Soviet Union.  All societies have normative values and at times some of them are pretextual-designed to mask much baser values.  Security was a value with which the Soviet system used to hide the interests of its leaders from Nikita Khrushchev to Vladimir Putin.  A pretextual interest in security is used to control not only an entire population but also its public opinion.  Vladimir Putin has his own record of repressive psychiatry and the imprisonment of anyone whose only crime appears to be the insult of his vanity.

       America was established to guard against the assertion of pretextual values on the people by any one branch of government.  The American system of government has several ingenuous structural safeguards such as having three branches of government where each is in theory at least powerful enough to keep the other in check.  In writing down what rights a people had and suggesting the existence of many others, unenumerated like the right to privacy or to travel-America's founders established a system of rule by law and not men.  If for example a tyrant came into power, his power would be curtailed at the boundaries of the rights retained by the people, subject of course to Constitutional amendment, within the Constitution and specifically, the Bill of Rights.  In theory, as long as you could freely associate and assemble and speak, and your life and liberty were still protected by due process of law, there would be very real checks on the harm to be caused by any one elected official with pretextual values.  It is specifically because of our legal system and Constitution that we have, within our own borders, enjoyed being the freest people in the world.  The greatness of America and its attraction to so many immigrants has in large part always been its core values, tracing back to the Magna Carta, of human dignity, freedom of expression and individual liberty.

       America was the birthplace of sedition.  Born out of the fury and ideals of those who were then considered religious kooks, fanatics, terrorists and worse.  Not surprisingly, we became a nation, the envy of the world, where unlike everywhere else, you could say anything and not be locked up as a political prisoner because you have annoyed someone in elected office.  The First Amendment protects your speech and the Fifth Amendment guarantees that your life and liberty cannot be dispensed with just on the whim of someone in power.

       Due process of law is the most American of all civil liberties-it is nothing less in the American law to civil liberty than everything.  It is only because of the Fifth Amendment that you have a presumption of innocence.  Governments mean well and are filled with honorable prosecutors who care deeply about civil liberties.  However, they also make mistakes.  We have jailed people for decades only to find them exonerated by DNA evidence-we have even made erroneous executions.  If the justice system, with all the protections of due process intact can make mistakes, what can one man or two do without any check on their judgment and without affording the alleged target, any due process or notice whatsoever?  Is it possible that the Executive Branch can err in declaring someone an enemy combatant?  Why are its determinations unchecked by any other branch of government, as the Drone Memo would have them be?  Is this not in itself for such an enormous power claimed, so obviously at odds with the principle of a separation of powers? 

       Targeted killings of non-Americans have proven themselves to hit wide of their marks.  CIA Director, John O. Brennan once stated that there were no civilian casualties in drone strikes and then admitted that there were casualties but then stated that they were "exceedingly rare."  Many independent sources confirm over 3,000 militants and civilians have been killed by drones. Drone strikes have killed over 176 children in one country alone and unless this was the Administration's intention, how can it be argued that drone strikes do not make mistakes?  

       The Drone Memo also uses terms like "associated forces" and "imminent threat" that are nowhere defined and capable of shifting interpretation depending on who is using them and to fit what purpose.   What constitutes being an associated force?  Is intention required, or mens rea required or is this a crime that can be stumbled into?  For example, if an American is a social acquaintance of someone who looks at a website that is later considered to offer, "material support" (again a term undefined) by expressing opinions, does that American become an associated force of the offending American?  Are his family also in danger?  If they can be killed without any due process, these questions will never be answered.

       What about the shifting definitions of terrorism?  Is it that difficult to envision the power to kill Americans without due process being abused?  If you think so, then you may not be aware of whom the Department of Homeland Security considers a likely terrorist.

       In a study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism entitled, "Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970-2008," which was funded by the Department of Homeland Security, terrorists are likely people, "reverent of individual liberty...suspicious of centralized federal authority or anti-government," including people who are extremely liberal or extremely conservative.  What about people who belong to the NRA or are against gun control-at what point do their convictions constitute a resistance that is deemed intolerable to their government?[5] 

       The Drone Memo asserts that questions about definitions like enemy combatants and imminent harm are the exclusive province of the Executive Branch, that they are not legal matters and hence not subject to judicial review of the courts.  The Supreme Court made it abundantly clear in Hamdi that the Executive Branch, despite the exigencies of the War on Terror, did not have a blank supra-Constitutional check, nor did get to violate the separation of powers,

 

In sum, while the full protections that accompany challenges to detentions in other settings may prove unworkable and inappropriate in the enemy-combatant setting, the threats to military operations posed by a basic system of independent review are not so weighty as to trump a citizen's core rights to challenge meaningfully the Government's case and to be heard by an impartial adjudicator.

    In so holding, we necessarily reject the Government's assertion that separation of powers principles mandate a heavily circumscribed role for the courts in such circumstances. Indeed, the position that the courts must forgo any examination of the individual case and focus exclusively on the legality of the broader detention scheme cannot be mandated by any reasonable view of separation of powers, as this approach serves only to condense power into a single branch of government. We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens. Youngstown Sheet & Tube. Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with other nations or with enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake.....

    Because we conclude that due process demands some system for a citizen detainee to refute his classification, the proposed "some evidence" standard is inadequate. Any process in which the Executive's factual assertions go wholly unchallenged or are simply presumed correct without any opportunity for the alleged combatant to demonstrate otherwise falls constitutionally short.....[6] 

 

       The targeted killing of Americans poses an unprecedented threat to due process.   Fortunately, I am convinced the arguments advanced in the Drone Memo would not pass Constitutional muster with the same Supreme Court that ruled in Hamdi.  But it has to get there and if it does not, Congress and the American people must act.  Congress should clarify what this memo means and identify the protocols in which it will be used with enough specificity so that the awesome power it assumes is not abused-and it is at least checked. The argument advanced in the Drone Memo is that the government should be taken at its word that it will be rigorous about identifying terror targets, which are American.  This is not a legally sufficient basis for eliminating due process for American citizens because the Executive Branch is not unbiased and as such it cannot be expected to be an impartial check on itself.  We were established as a nation of laws and not of men.  There is ample historical precedent against trusting any one branch of government or ruler with absolute power to take the lives of its citizenry-by the way, America was established in part to avoid the type of government in which such a power would be exerted unchecked upon its citizenry- remember?@

R. Tamara de Silva

February 7, 2013



[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/world/middleeast/07yemen.html?hp&_r=0

[3] Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 521

[4] Id., Justice Souter and Justice Ginsberg opinion

[5] http://start.umd.edu/start/publications/research_briefs/LaFree_Bersani_HotSpotsOfUSTerrorism.pdf

[6] Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 52-

A Tale of Two Classes of Defendant and Lanny Breuer

January 28, 2013

A Tale of Two Classes of Defendant and Lanny Breuer

By R Tamara de Silva

January 28, 2013

 

"swaying power such as has never in the world's history been trusted in the hands of mere private citizens,...after having created a system of quiet but irresistible corruption-will ultimately succeed in directing government itself.  Under the American form of society, there is now no authority capable of effective resistance." 

Henry Adams writing about the corruption of the Erie Railroad for the Westminster Review in 1870, he described corporate influence growing to the point of being uncheckable with political parties that would sacrifice principle for accommodation.

 

       Last week, the Head of the Department of Justice's Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer, announced his resignation.  His resignation is remarkable only in so far that it draws attention to the enormity of what he would not do.  Under Breuer's watch, leaving aside some high profile and related insider trading prosecutions, not one senior Wall Street executive was prosecuted or even charged (by some accounts- not even investigated) with anything having to do with the worst financial crisis in American history-a crisis that resulted in a bailout of Wall Street banks and the financial sector at a cost to American taxpayers of between $43.32-$59.75 billion.[1]  A day before Lanny Breuer's resignation, PBS' Frontline aired an investigation about the failure of the Justice Department to prosecute a single senior banker involved in the mortgage crisis called, "The Untouchables."  During this same time that the Department of Justice refused to go after a single head of a Wall Street firm, they took a particularly hard line on a torture whistleblower (not the torturers), and many financial criminals responsible for not the billions caused by elite Wall Street firms but between thousands to hundreds of thousands like elderly couples for possible pension fraud, an appraiser in Florida, individuals who committed bank fraud by lying on mortgage applications and other criminals like pot smokers and Aaron Swartz.  It is not that I condone wrong-doing, only a record of selective prosecution on steroids.  Lanny Breuer's Justice Department exposed its full fury to the chubs of the criminal justice systems while systematically saving the titans and whales.

 

Prosecutorial Discretion and Sympathy for the Titan

       One of the reasons, Lanny Breuer gave for the non-prosecution of a senior Wall Street executive is sympathy for employees and shareholders.  In his interview with Martin Smith of Frontline, Mr. Breuer repeated a specific if selective, empathy, wholly at odds with the charge he had been given by Senator Kaufman to investigate and hold to account all those responsible for the financial crisis.[2]   This selective empathy is also wholly at odds with the unbiased way in which most of us naively think justice is administered and prosecutions are sought.  By the way, after this interview aired, Martin Smith states that he was called by the Justice Department and told that they would never cooperate with PBS again.[3] 

       In September of last year, Mr. Breuer admitted his particular empathy towards the plight of the largest of Wall Street banks when he addressed the New York Bar Association and said,

In my conference room, over the years, I have heard sober predictions that a company or bank might fail if we indict, that innocent employees could lose their jobs, that entire industries may be affected, and even that global markets will feel the effects.  Sometimes - though, let me stress, not always - these presentations are compelling.  In reaching every charging decision, we must take into account the effect of an indictment on innocent employees and shareholders, just as we must take into account the nature of the crimes committed and the pervasiveness of the misconduct.  I personally feel that it's my duty to consider whether individual employees with no responsibility for, or knowledge of, misconduct committed by others in the same company are going to lose their livelihood if we indict the corporation.  In large multi-national companies, the jobs of tens of thousands of employees can be at stake.  And, in some cases, the health of an industry or the markets are a real factor.  Those are the kinds of considerations in white collar crime cases that literally keep me up at night, and which must play a role in responsible enforcement. 

When the only tool we had to use in cases of corporate misconduct was a criminal indictment, prosecutors sometimes had to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.[4]

 

 

       It is odd that this same Justice Department did not take sympathy into account in demanding that Aaron Swartz serve 35 years or for that matter, the plight of all smaller defendants.  The omnibus catchall Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA") could make criminals of many of us because it seeks to criminalize the use of a computer without authorization but no where defines what "authorization" means. 

       When the government freezes a defendant's assets or seizes property even before a filing of charges making it impossible for them to pay for a decent lawyer (assuming they can even afford one), does it really care how the defendant (before being proven guilty) manages to eat or live in the interim of years it can take from investigation to sentencing? 

       Where was the sympathy for Senator Ted Stevens?  Was it anything but a sheer lack of empathy that led to the career-ending prosecution of a six term Senator and the deliberate withholding of exculpatory evidence in his case?  What about the many cases where defendants are exonerated by physical evidence that the prosecution possessed but did not reveal at the time?  Where is the sympathy for the years or decades of a life that are lost because exculpatory evidence is not released or DNA evidence kits are not processed?  Or is the empathy that Lanny Breuer refers to, as selectively held as its application under Lanny Breuer's tenor suggests?

 

Conflicts of Money

       Money influences prosecutions.  Consider the tale of two men performing the identical act in the criminal law Jon Corzine and Russell Wasenfdorf, Sr.  Corzine was one of President Obama's elite bundlers in 2011 and 2012.  He campaigned heavily for the President as governor of New Jersey, and held private fundraisers for President Obama in his home even after MF Global went bankrupt and $1.6 billion of customer funds went missing in October 2011.  The Justice Department announced that they would not prosecute him.

       It was discovered in June 2012 that Peregrine Financial Group CEO, Russell Wasendorf Sr., like Corzine at MF Global, had tapped into customer segregated funds to the tune of $215 million.  Russell Wasendorf Sr was arrested and criminally charged later same that month.   Same act-missing customer funds that were by law not to touched-but a far disparate prosecution.[5] 

       Under Lanny Breuer, the Justice Department announced it would not go after Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs' employees were the second largest single contributor to President Obama in 2008 contributing $1,013,091.[6] Goldman Sachs is also one of the largest clients of Mr. Eric Holder's lawyer firm Covington & Burling.

       Speaking of Covington & Burling, Lanny Breuer worked at Covington along with Attorney General Eric Holder.  Their firm's largest clients were many of the Wall Street banks that were involved in the securitization of mortgage debt that contributed to the financial crisis.

       According to Reuters, Attorney General Holder and Lanny Breuer were expected to recuse themselves (a functional impossibility) under federal conflict of interest laws from Department of Justice decisions related to many of Wall Street's largest banks.  Of course they have not admitted to doing so in any instance of which I am aware.[7] 

 

Abacus and Such

       Goldman's Abacus scheme would fit into the most selective definitions of fraud. Goldman invented Abacus, according to an SEC civil complaint and an investor, to fail so that one of its largest hedge fund clients, Paulson & Co, could short it.[8]  In the meantime, Goldman sold Abacus bonds to many other investors all the while allowing Goldman to take in large investment banking fees from the sale and from the purchase. The problem is, the investors were not aware that Goldman's largest hedge fund client along with Goldman Sachs was betting against them and that as such Goldman Sachs may have a conflict of interest in designing what went into Abacus.  Goldman claimed that somewhere within all the disclosure statements was a reference to all this.   The Department of Justice announced it would not seek any criminal fraud charges against Goldman.  Goldman Sachs settled the civil suit for $550 million, which is not a lot for a company that earns billions of dollars per quarter.

       On November 28, 2011, Judge Jed S. Rakoff rejected what would have been the sixth civil settlement agreement between Citigroup Global Markets Inc. and the SEC since 2003 for $285 million.  Citigroup had sold $1 billion in mortgage-bonds through a vehicle called Class V Funding III, without disclosing that it was betting against $500 million of those assets-in essence offering something to its customers and not disclosing that it would be betting against its customers.  The Department of Justice was not about to seek criminal fraud charges against Citigroup either.

       Civil settlements between the SEC and other parties are alternatively called consent decrees and they are a far cry from criminal prosecution. Nor do they deter misconduct because no admission of wrong-doing is required and the fines are pin money to the banks. 

       It is in the public's interest to prevent fraud upon the market and to prevent the type of financial engineering solely for the sake of fees that can lead to catastrophic losses ultimately borne by society as a whole.  The type of hyperleveraged machinations, not understood by the banks themselves that wind up privatizing profit and publicizing loss. The problem with selective prosecution of financial crime or any crime, is that it undermines the very idea of justice, whose force and majesty lie in its fair and unbiased application.  When the Executive branch's justice department seeks fines from banks which fees are so small as to be written off as a rational and good cost of doing business, while simultaneously pursuing prosecutions against smaller parties and the comparatively disenfranchised, it is no longer dealing out justice.  It is selectively doling out punishments to those not in its favor.@

R. Tamara de Silva



The First Amendment of Brandon J. Raub

August 22, 2012

The First Amendment of Brandon Raub

By R Tamara de Silva

August 22, 2012

 

       The point of demarcation between political expression and dangerous dissent is being discerned in much the same manner the Romans augured the future by looking at the entrails of birds.  Enter social media, which has been flexing its muscles on the topic even managing to draw the somnolent Media to bring national attention to the odd arrest and detention of a 26 year old former combat Marine, Brandon J. Raub.  Brandon, who had served his country in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2005-2011, was taken from his home by this same government in the form of the FBI, Secret Service and police agents for what looks to the outside world as his expression of his First Amendment right to criticize his government and his President. Is he the first known victim of the National Defense Authorization Act or Virginia's involuntary commitment statute? 

       One of my favorite people at the University of Chicago was the late Allan Bloom.  He once suggested that the First Amendment was a grand waste- no longer needed in America.  He said this because he observed that most people simply have nothing to say.  Most people may have opinions about many things but they are merely repeating what someone told them seeming to be incapable of forming a worthwhile thought on their own.  He was right in that as he went on to say, peoples' opinions are about as distinct and undifferentiated as the individual Kleenex are in a tissue box. 

       Social media bears this ought.  Except Brandon Raub was not using his Facebook account to post the perfunctory braggadocio or a travel itinerary.  Or the equally common antipode of the plea of a starving third world child- a picture of a full plate of food with an introduction about how good it is.  Brandon's posts were not so excruciatingly dull, as to be entirely devoted to self aggrandizement or the scatological- but they have all the marks of seditiousness in a Soviet Russia or Hussein's Iraq.  But in America, Brandon, like many Americans was expressing his discontent at the state of his country and its government.  Like many other of his countrymen, intellectually engaged in matters of governance, Brandon Raub used Facebook for what is inarguably its highest use-a gargantuan virtual public square.   Used this way, Facebook is not an ode to the elevation of the miniscule and mundane but a truly interesting and potentially important phenomenon.  Important because it is perhaps also a guardian of liberty in every way the Fourth Estate has been. 

       Opinions expressed in a public square can be diverse and some may even be out there.  However, were the American Revolutionaries alive today and speaking of sedition as they did then, they would not be called Patriots as history has called them-they would today be called terrorists.    This country was the birthplace of sedition and the refuge of many people the Crown considered way too "out there"-a remote place across a vast ocean fitting for the lunatic fringe. 

       The concerns of many about young Brandon are that free speech must be protected especially when what rights we were given by the Constitution have come under an onslaught of multiple new assaults like the monitoring of online computer searches, indefinite detention, indefinite detention without any due process of law [Mr. Eric Holder's invention of something called "Executive due process," which provides for a kind of due process and judgment but with no lawyer, no court of law and no trial] regular warrantless taping and tapping of all cellphone calls, the tracking and sale of customer information via credit card use, and the Department of Homeland Security's tracking of social media and all use of the internet,  tracking of all online activity, tracking of all financial transactions, the National Defense Authorization Act ("NDAA"), etc.-with all this, the willingness to still speak at all is a singularly brave but crucial act.  The law has not kept up with technology and most people are unaware of what their rights are in its wake.  The First Amendment safeguards that one act, speech, which may be one of the few gossamer threads that yet binds together our fragile and aging civil liberties. 

       Admittedly, some of Raub's postings were outside of mainstream thought in that he cited conspiracy theories related to 9/11 being an inside job and appeared to post a threat when he wrote that he would, "Sharpen up my axe; I'm here to sever heads"-repeating the words of a song called, "Bring Me Down."[1] 

       Were his posting lyrics to this song tantamount to a national security threat?  After the Colorado shootings and the shootings at Virginia Tech, many would argue it makes sense to preemptively lock people up for communications that are even ambiguously threatening.   The problem with this line of thought is that it is a slippery slope and it vests a dangerous amount of discretion in the hands of the government that can easily be abused.   It is also profoundly un-American. 

       When faced with any crisis or a 24 hour news-media human interest story, we seem to think it best to make more laws and invest the government with even more authority to "fix it" -never fully understanding that powers so eagerly bestowed can be abused and turned against their bestower.  As Benjamin Franklin famously wrote and anyone with even a cursory reading of history will understand, "those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty not safety."

       One nation that has effectively used the pretext of danger to the state to imprison all who would criticize it is the Soviet Union.  All societies have normative values and at times some of them are pretextual-designed to mask much baser values.  Security is a value of the Soviet system used to hide the interests of its leaders from Nikita Krushchev to Vladimir Putin, to control the population and public opinion.  Putin's record of repressive psychiatry and the imprisonment of anyone who would insult his distastefully enormous opinion of himself belies any claim that he has divested himself fully of Khrushchev's repressive regime.  Police psychiatry allows for the routine imprisonment of dissidents in mental health institutions effectively silencing all dissidents and protestors from Garry Kasparov and Andrei Sakharov to current human rights lawyers.   Before we magnanimously proffer up parts of the First Amendment on the altar of security, we should imagine living in any one of the many parts of the world where the expression of dissent is met with death, a Soviet labor camp or more typically imprisonment in an asylum.  America must never strive to be a Soviet Union.

       There is little evidence if any, to suggest that Brandon Raub is being detained or was taken into custody for violation of the NDAA.   By all appearances Brandon Raub was involuntarily taken into custody and detained under Virginia's civil commitment law.[2]  Most states have some variant of this law by which on the word of someone in the mental health profession, or a doctor, a nurse or even a social worker, a person can be locked up if they are deemed either a threat to themselves or others.  The standard of proof the person wishing to have someone else locked up under must meet is the presence of "clear and convincing evidence" at an hearing before a magistrate at which the accused is not provided an opportunity to have an independent mental health expert rebut or evaluate the evidence offered.  

       The problems with this are numerous.  Judges and lawyers are ill equipped to evaluate mental illness.   The concept of mental illness itself is a bit like ether, "[M]ental disorder is such a vacuous phrase that the law should consider dispensing with it as an independent criterion for intervention and instead simply identify as precisely as possible the types of mental dysfunction it wants to treat specially."[3]  Social workers and mental health professionals may have no basis by which to discern the difference between sincere political protest and the condition of "dangerousness to society."   Unfortunately for those involuntarily committed by other people, the clear and convincing standard is not difficult to overcome because it is not objective when applied to cases of civil commitment. 

       The Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders ("DSM") is used to categorize mental disorders but its categorizations are constantly being revised and subject to debate within the mental health field.   The authors of the DSM themselves warn against using the DSM for legal proceedings because of the danger that the diagnostic descriptions contained within it will be misunderstood and misused.   Of course, I do not mean to presume that the social worker or health care person calling for involuntary commitment has read the DSM.

       The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution prohibit the government from taking from taking away a person's "life, liberty or property" without due process of law.   Civil commitment hearings perform an end run around due process-taking away liberty without the protections given to a criminal defendant.

       This all begs the question what was it about Brandon Raub's Facebook posts that the FBI and Secret Service considered a threat?   Several of Brandon's posts expressed concern about an elite ruling class, the Federal Reserve, and the enormity of the Federal government.  He must be insane for being critical of the government in the following post written on his Facebook wall on November 11, 2011,

The Truth 
by Brandon J Raub on Friday, November 11, 2011 at 10:00 am

America has lost itself. We have lost who we truly are. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave.

This is the land of Thomas Jefferson.

This is the land of Benjamin Franklin.

This is the land of Fredrick Douglas.

This is the land of Smedley Butler.

This is the land John F. Kennedy.

This is the land of Martin Luther King.

This is the land where the cowboy wins. This is the land where you can start from the bottom and get to the top. This is the land where regardless of you race and ethnicity you can succeed and build a better life for you and your family. This is the land where every race coexists peacefully. This is the land where justice wins. This is the land where liberty dwells. This is the land where freedom reigns. This is the land where we help the poor, and people help each other. This is land where people beat racism.

The Federal Reserve is wrong. They have designed a system based off of greed and fear. They designed a system to crush the middle class between taxes and inflation. This is wrong, and it is unjust. It is wrong.

We have allowed ourselves to be deceived and seduced by the powers of the printing press. It is not a good system. It discourages saving: the foundation for all stable economic activity. The Federal Reserve is artificially manipulating interest rates and creating phony economic data.

This thing has deceived our entire nation.

They created it in 1913. They also created the income tax in 1913. They encouraged the growth of debt so they can tax you on it. There is interest on the debt. Your government is in bed with these people. They want to enslave you to the government so that they can control every aspect of your lives. It is an empire based on lies. They operate of greed and fear.

There is a better way. It's called freedom. Freedom is called a lot of things. But there is a true meaning. It means very simply that you have the right to do whatever you want as long as you are not infringing on the freedoms of other people.

I firmly believe that God set America apart from the other nations of the world. He saved a place where people could come to to escape bad systems of goverment. This system we have created works. It really works.

There is evil going on all around the world. The United States was meant to lead the charge against injustice, but through our example not our force. People do not respond to having liberty and freedom forced on them.

Men and Women follow courage. They follow leadership, and courage. Our example has paved the way for people all around the world to change their forms of government.

Force is not the way because liberty is a powerful concept. The idea that men can govern themselves is the basis for every just form of government.

We can govern ourselves. We do not need to be governed by men who want to install a one world banking system. These men have machine hearts. Machine and unnatural hearts.

They have blocked out the possibility of a better world. They fear human progress. They have monopolies on everything.

This life can be free and beautiful. There are enough resources on this earth to support the world's population. There are enough resources on this earth to feed everyone. There is enough land for everyone to own their own land and farm, and produce their own energy.

These people have been hiding technology. There are ways to create power easily. There is technology that can provide free cheap power for everyone. There are farming techniques that can feed the entire world.

The Bill of Rights is being systematically dismantled. Men have spilled their blood for those rights.

Your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, and Americas best young men and women are losing their limbs. They are losing their lives. They are losing the hearts. They do not know why they are fighting. They are killing. And they do not know why.

They have done some extraordinary acts. Their deeds go before them. But these wars are lies. They are lies. They deceived our entire nation with terrorism. They have gotten us to hand them our rights. Our Rights! Men died for those rights!

September Eleventh was an inside job. They blew up a third building in broad daylight. Building 7.

Your leaders betrayed you.

You elected an aristocracy. They are beholden to special interests. They were brainwashed through the Council on Foreign Relations. Your leaders are planning to merge the United States into a one world banking system. They want to put computer chips in you.

These men have evil hearts. They have tricked you into supporting corporate fascism. We gave them the keys to our country. We were not vigilant with our republic.

There is hope. BUT WE MUST TAKE OUR REPUBLIC BACK.[4]

 

 

       President Andrew Jackson was also critical of the central bank and would most certainly be detained as a lunatic or worse were he alive today by both political parties and the pundit class,   

"Gentlemen, I have had men watching you for a long time and I am convinced that you have used the funds of the bank to speculate in the breadstuffs of the country. When you won, you divided the profits amongst you, and when you lost, you charged it to the bank. You tell me that if I take the deposits from the bank and annul its charter, I shall ruin ten thousand families. That may be true, gentlemen, but that is your sin! Should I let you go on, you will ruin fifty thousand families, and that would be my sin! You are a den of vipers and thieves."

 

 

       The Department of Homeland Security would consider Brandon a potential terrorist as they would also consider most of the people that express views critical of the government as potential terrorists.   According to a study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism entitled, "Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970-2008," funded by the Department of Homeland Security, terrorists are likely people, "reverent of individual liberty...suspicious of centralized federal authority or anti-government," including people who are extremely conservative or extremely liberal.[5] 

       Do not depend on some judge or lawyer to protect your First Amendment rights.  Too often I have observed judges and lawyers slavishly reciting precedence and statute with the Constitution being but a tertiary concern.  Law review articles about involuntary civil commitment regurgitate a parade of judicial affronts on due process.   Given this way or reasoning, which is the absence of reasoning but mere recitation of the past as authority binding on the future, un-Constitutional decisions have a theoretically infinite half-life.  We need to pay attention to Brandon Raub's fate just as much as John Bradford observed the fate of fellow going to the scaffold from the Tower of London and remarked, "there but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford."  The scaffold is still there and the tower remains claiming many inhabitants who thought they would certainly never reside there.@

R. Tamara de Silva

Chicago, Illinois

August 22, 2012

 

R. Tamara de Silva is a securities lawyer and independent trader

 


[1] http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/08/former-marine-detained-after-alleged-facebook-threats/

[2] http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+37.2-814

[3] Christopher Slogogin, Rethinking Legally Relevant Mental Disorder, 29 OHIO N.U.L. REV. 497, 498 (2003).

[5] http://start.umd.edu/start/publications/research_briefs/LaFree_Bersani_HotSpotsOfUSTerrorism.pdf

Oligarchy and Its Discontents-What Money Buys

August 20, 2012

Oligarchy and Its Discontents-What Money Buys

By R Tamara de Silva

August 20, 2012

 

            "The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The      pessimist fears it is true."

                                                J. Robert Oppenheimer

 

 

       Last week it was announced that the United States Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission would not seek any criminal charges against Goldman Sachs or for that matter the executives of MF Global including its CEO, former United States Senator Jon Corzine.  This likely surprised many people who still read the news, but actually infuriated no more than three people among them... and they were probably on the verge of becoming unhinged anyway.  Most people realize that while economists look for optimized states whose existence is perfectly beyond dispute within their own models...optimized models of the actual economy and democracy for that matter, exist only in the Great Books... and many other books.  In point of fact, the discontents of oligarchy are numerous.  While economists may not spend much time successfully modeling the real world-perhaps in part because there are no repercussions for their being in error, catastrophic events happen in the real world and are not modeled or anticipated by any economist.   Recent events like the decision to give Jon Corzine and MF Global a pass are legitimate examples of the role of money in politics and in the law. 

       Henry Adams sort of foresaw the events of last week.  Henry Adams had a privileged perch from which to view the dilemmas of American democracy as he was the great grandson of the second American President John Adams and grandson of our sixth President, John Quincy Adams.  There are certain scathing critiques of politics that have always attracted me to Henry Adams-in the same way I was drawn as child to the diatribes of Cato the Elder.  For example, he regularly wrote about the mortal danger to American democracy manifested by the role of money, especially corporate influence and how its tendency to corrupt the political system, would be the country's ultimate undoing.  In writing about the corruption of the Erie Railroad for the Westminster Review in 1870, he described corporate influence growing to the point of being unchecked,

 

          "swaying power such as has never in the world's history been trusted in the hands of mere private citizens,...after having created a system of quiet but irresistible corruption-will ultimately succeed in directing government itself. Under the American form of society, there is now no authority capable of effective resistance."

 

       He was also disturbed by the party system of politics in America and saw it to be willing to sacrifice principle for accommodation.   This theme comes out in his book, Democracy.  In Democracy the idealistic and hyper-principled heroine, Madeleine Lee is courted by the far more practical and ambitious Senator Silas P. Ratcliffe.  Madeleine decides not to marry Ratcliffe though it seems that he gets the better of her in almost all their arguments about politics.  Ratcliffe has aspirations to the White House and argues that moral authority comes from his political party the party with which he will on principle never disagree, "that great results can only be accomplished by great parties, I have uniformly yielded my own personal opinions where they have failed to obtain general assent."  

       Many of the books exchanges between Madeleine and Ratcliffe find Madeleine losing the argument.  She prefers to remain single and reject Ratcliffe and Washington at the end of the novel as she is determined to return to her philanthropic works saying, "The bitterest part of this horrid story...is that nine out of ten of our countrymen would say I had made a mistake."  And they still would.   I confess I see myself in Madeleine but one who must stay, without leaving, just out of an insatiable curiosity to observe all that will happen.

 

Citizens United v. FEC and the Judiciary

       Money has always played a role in politics.  Any discussion of the role of money in politics, judicial elections or law enforcement in 2012 has to consider the United States Supreme Court's January 2010 decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission in which the Court ruled that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.  Citizens United allows corporations and unions to spend money to support or denounce candidates in elections through ads.  This is a titan of a case, perhaps unrivalled in its potential to alter the face of representative government in the United States because of the way that most people who vote decide on a candidate-they watch or listen to broadcast media advertisements.   However, Citizens United did not alter much of the McCain-Feingold campaign law, which still regulates corporate donations to political parties and candidates.  Nor does the case affect political action committees or PACs, which can contribute directly to candidates.

       Perhaps the greatest impact of the Citizens United decision will be in the election of state judges.  Judicial independence at one time meant independence from the Crown.  Since then the term judicial independence has come to mean the expectation (however well grounded or not) that when dealing with the justice system, a person can expect a member of the judiciary free from the appearance of personal, monetary or political bias in the outcome of the case.  This mirrors the all important principle stated in Article 40 of the Magna Carta, "To no one will we sell, to one will we refuse or delay right of justice."    

       More money spent on judicial elections, it is feared, will give rise to the impression that justice is for sale very much reminiscent of John Grisham's book, "The Appeal," wherein a billionaire CEO buys himself a state supreme court justice who rules in favor of his company on an appeal.  Grisham's book is eerily like the true story of Supreme Court of West Virginia Justice Brent Benjamin who ruled in favor of the $3,000,000 campaign donor, Don Blankenship, the CEO of A.T. Massey Coal in a case involving a $50,000,000 verdict.  The United States Supreme Court ruled that Justice Benjamin ought to have recused himself in the case Caperton v. Massey.

       There is however one place where Citizens United may have a salutary effect on the judicial system.  In Chicago's Cook County, Illinois the slating of judges is militantly political and based not on merit per se but on a candidate's payment of $25,000 to one of the members of the Judicial Slating Committee of the Cook County Democratic Party.  Judges that are slated, almost invariably win.  Citizens United cannot but have a salutary effect here because it is difficult to imagine a worse system for picking judges anywhere.

 

The Imperial Presidency and Money

       James Madison was a staunch advocate for the separation of powers between all three branches of government.  The authors of a recent book, "The Executive Unbound: After the Madisonian Republic," by sitting Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner and an Adrian Vermeule from Harvard Law argue that the separation of powers is a relic of the past and largely beside the point.  Without getting into questions of judicial activism and the phenomenon of hyper-opinionated sitting justices, they are actually right from an anthropological perspective.   They are right in so far that the Executive Branch has become, with the passage of the Administrative Procedure Act and sweeping acts of legislation such as Dodd-Frank and now the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the most powerful branch of government.  The Executive has created so many branches, departments and agencies under its purview, most with rule-making ability-that its power has become tantamount to that of an imperial monarchy.

       However, Justice Posner because he seems only to view the world through the lense of a relentlessly pragmatic cost-benefit, economic analysis, draws at times predictable but disturbingly simplistic conclusions.   In their book, Justice Posner and Dr. Vermeule acknowledge the relative impotence of the other branches to keep up with or check the Executive and go on to assert that this does not much matter because Presidents are checked by elections, "liberal legalism's essential failing is that it overestimates the need for the separation of powers and even the rule of law."  

       In other words, just because Presidents are above the law, it does not matter because they will be checked by the rule of politics-they will be voted out.  This is startling simplistic and weak logic because it assumes an efficient marketplace, with equal participants and perfectly symmetrical information.  It also allows for the interpretation of the Constitution based upon a pragmatic economic analysis completely at  war with the absolute first principles and "inalienable rights" held sacred by the Founding Fathers and all the state legislators that ratified the Constitution. 

            This is also where money comes in.

       In his run for President in 2008, President Obama spend over $730 million and is expected by Reuters to raise $1 billion for 2012.  Spending for the 2012 election for all parties and candidates could, according to one estimate, top $9.8 billion in large part because of spending by super PACs.   Yet almost 25% of super PAC money comes from just five donors, Harold Simmons (pro-Romney) , Sheldon Adelson (pro-Romney), Peter Theil (pro-Ron Paul), Bob Perry (pro-Romney now) and Jeffrey Katzenberg (pro-Obama).[1]

       If money affects voting and elections, then according to Posner's logic, the people who will actually exercise the rule of politics and check the Executive Branch are to be these handful of businessmen and others like them.   According to the Center for Responsive Data, 3.7% of the contributors to super PACs account for 80% of the money raised-46 donors have given in excess of $67,000,000.[2]

 

Money and Prosecutions

       In the case of MF Global and Jon Corzine, Jon Corzine has been one of President Obama's elite bundlers in 2011 and 2012.  He campaigned heavily for President Obama when he was governor of New Jersey and has held private fundraisers for President Obama in his home even after MF Global went bankrupt and $1.6 billion of customer funds went missing in October 2011.  It was announced last week that he is unlikely to face any criminal charges.

       Contrast this to the Department of Justice's handling of the same violation of the Federal rule requiring the segregation of customer funds in the matter of Peregrine Financial Group.  $215 million of customer funds were discovered to be missing from customer segregated accounts in July 2012 at Peregrine Financial Group.  Russell Wasendorf Sr was arrested and criminally charged later that month.   Same act-missing customer funds-but far disparate prosecution. 

       Remember that in the futures industry, the key difference between futures commissions merchants ("FCMs") like Peregrine and MF Global and securities brokerages is that FCMs, unlike securities brokers, are required by law to keep their customer funds segregated from the FCM's own funds.   It is in this way that FCMs have been able, with comparatively few exceptions, to ensure that customer deposits are completely protected from all losses an FCM may incur due to its own proprietary trading.   Before MF Global, the requirement that FCMs segregate customer funds completely from their own funds largely prevented FCM customers from losing money due to an FCM bankruptcy

       In my first article on MF Global, I suggested that the $1.2 billion missing from customer segregated funds may have been incurred due to over-leveraged positions in European sovereign debt that coincidentally took a dramatic turn for the worse (as they did in fact as yield curves doubled rapidly in some issues) during the last weeks of October, and that funds were transferred to cover margin in customer funds held in European debt.   There is a scenario that nothing illegal would have occurred because CFTC Rule 1.25 had been amended to permit the investment of customer segregated funds in foreign sovereign debt.  Keep in mind that this rule was amended by Jon Corzine's lobbying of Commodity Futures Trading Commission ("CFTC") Chairman Gary Gensler, who is a friend and colleague of Jon Corzine.

        An alternate illegal scenario is that MF Global may have engaged in some late stage embezzlement of customer funds that were supposed to be segregated from MF Global's accounts and never commingled with any other funds.[3] One way this may have occurred is if the funds were transferred out of customer segregated funds for a legal purpose but without the customers' meaningful consent or, more likely, with an intent to deceive the customer.  

       If MF Global transferred customer funds out of segregated accounts as a loan to MF Global to cover margin calls in existing positions in sovereign debt, (perfectly legal)[4], it may however, be fraud and intent to deceive on its part if MF Global knew it could not repay the money.  This fraud may have occurred if MF Global knew (and it would be interesting to argue how it did not) that it sought to legally borrow from customer funds, knowing that it was de facto insolvent and could not replace the money.   

       During Senate and House hearings on MF Global, Terrance Duffy, the CEO of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange contradicted Corzine's testimony and stated that the CME's investigation of the MF Global matter revealed the existence of emails between MF Global's assistant treasurer and Jon Corzine.  These emails where contrary to what Corzine told Congress and suggested that Corzine had in fact authorized the transfer of customer funds out of customer accounts-the funds that went missing.   We also know that while Jon Corzine claimed he knew nothing about the financials at MF Global, he was peddling them to Interactive Brokers as he was trying to broker a last minute sale of MF Global to Interactive Brokers--in other words, he had to have been extremely familiar with MF Global's financials during the exact time period he claims to Congress to know nothing of what was happening.

       We still do not know everything that really happened at MF Global because the Department of Justice has not yet decided to grant any immunity to the one person who would be their chief witness in the matter, the Assistant Treasurer.  The Assistant Treasurer is represented by Reid H. Weingarten, who is as luck would have it, is one of United States Attorney General Eric Holder's best friends.   Some could say they agreed to let the clock run out on this one. 

       From a purely economic cost benefit analysis, Jon Corzine's raising in excess of $500,000 for President Obama in 2012 alone was the smartest money he ever spent and appears to have bought him justice in the sense of a reprieve from the CEO of Peregrine's fate.

      What about Mr. Adelson?  The billionaire casino magnate is being investigated for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, money-laundering and bribery.  Perhaps contributing by some accounts close to $100 million towards Mr. Romney's election would ensure a stop to the pesky Federal investigators.  If so, this would be money entirely worth spending.

       This brings us to the last bit of news from last week that Goldman Sachs would not be investigated for criminal wrong-doing in connection with mortgage crisis and certain deals like ABACUS. 

       This Justice Department  and SEC have gotten many investment banks to execute settlement agreements with them including Goldman and Citigroup-essentially selling "get out of jail cards." Are these settlement agreements, as the Judge Rakoff and Bloomberg's Jonathan Weil have asked, merely considered the "cost of doing business" or some part of a transaction tax on offending financial titans?[5]   

       If it were in the public's interest to prevent fraud upon the market, then fines should be significant enough to actually deter illegal conduct.  If not, prosecutions should be endured and convictions gotten.    The historic role of punishment in the criminal justice system has not been just punishment, but deterrence.  Having Citigroup or GS pay $285 million is pin money to banks with quarterly revenue in the billions of dollars-the "cost of doing business" is not a deterrent to anyone but more like the cost of a municipal parking sticker to the average Joe.

       What is problematic about bank settlements is that smaller market participants cannot afford to pay for "get out of jail cards" and because the costs of prosecuting anyone other than an investment bank are less, smaller participants are actually prosecuted and do get jail time.   Peter Boyer and Government Accountability President Peter Schweizer have written about how justice is for sale in Mr. Eric Holder's Department of Justice pointing to the fact that despite President Obama's claims to represent the 99%, Department of Justice "criminal prosecutions are at 20 year lows for corporate securities and bank fraud." [6]  Given the correlation between campaign contributions (admittedly protected speech) and selective prosecutions, the 20 year low in bank fraud prosecutions is unlikely to change  with either political party.

       Consider the money.  Goldman Sachs employees were the second largest single contributor to President Obama in 2008 contributing $1,013,091.[7]   Goldman's employees are the largest single contributor to Mr. Romney in the 2012 election cycle having donated $636,080 by the end of the last quarter.[8]   Goldman Sachs is also one of the largest clients of Mr. Eric Holder's lawyer firm Covington & Burling.

       Money has always played a part in politics and it is rational for everyone with a stake in the political process to participate.  But not all participation is equal-not even close.  The odds of one vote ever making a difference in a Presidential election are between 1 in 10 million and 1 in 100 million-depending upon the state in which you live.  Voting only matters in the aggregate but money seems to matter more in terms of affecting action after election.    Above all, justice must never be for sale because as Cato the Elder and many others have pointed out throughout history the selling of justice, like the selling of indulgences, is an attribute of a decaying and dying political system.

       What is disconcerting is that mere principles, be they the adherence to ideas like freedom and individual liberty or the idea that you are secure in the sanctity of your own home, are always bound to be under-represented in the electoral process and as such destined to play the underdogs.   At one point in Democracy, Madeleine asks the impressive Ratcliffe, "Surely...something can be done to check corruption.  Are we for ever to be at the mercy of thieves and ruffians?  Is respectable government impossible in democracy?"  Ratcliffe's reply is haunting, "No representative government...can long be much better or much worse than the society it represents.  Purify society and you purify the government.  But try to purify the government artificially and you only aggravate failure. @

R. Tamara de Silva

Chicago, Illinois

August 20, 2012

 

R. Tamara de Silva is a securities lawyer and independent trader

 



[4] Remember CFTC Rule 1.25 which had been amended to allow the investment of customer segregated funds in foreign sovereign debt, was amended back after the fall of MF Global to disallow the investment of customer segregated funds in foreign sovereign debt.

[5] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-02/citigroup-finds-obeying-the-law-is-too-darn-hard-jonathan-weil.html


[6]  http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/05/07/justice-for-sale-holder

The Supreme Court's Healthcare Ruling

June 28, 2012
The Supreme Court's Healthcare Ruling and the Making of a New Tax


By R. Tamara de Silva

June 28, 2012

Today a divided Supreme Court held that the individual mandate within the Affordable Care Act ("ACA") is Constitutional (567 U. S. ____ (2012))[1] . The 193 page opinion contains an excellent discourse on the Commerce Clause, state rights, un-enumerated rights and what are supposed to be the limits of the Federal government's power, making the jist of the ruling all the more extraordinary, if not ironic. The decision is remarkable because it is the first time in our history that it has been held that the United States Constitution permits a financial penalty for non-performance of an economic act to be treated as a tax. According to Chief Justice John G. Roberts, "The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably by characterized as a tax...Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness." As of this writing I cannot think of another example where the non-performance of an act results in the levying of a Federal tax. Federal tax is generally levied on such things as income, investment income and the consumption of certain goods like alcohol, gasoline guzzling cars, telephones, duck stamps, et. al.

In writing about President Obama's healthcare law earlier in the year, I pointed out that the Supreme Court would rule upon the Constitutionality of the ACA based upon three criteria, the Commerce Clause, the Taxing Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clauses within the United States Constitution.[2] Like most others, I dismissed the possibility that the Supreme Court would utilize the Taxing Clause to uphold the individual mandate of the ACA because the mandate is a penalty or punishment rather than a tax, and the purpose of taxes has historically always been to raise revenue - not to be punitive. Apparently I was completely in error.

Commerce Clause Preserved

The Supreme Court's decision was always to be of monumental importance to either keeping the Government's powers under the Commerce Clause checked, or allowing them to be let upon the nation, unfettered, limitless and absolute. The Supreme Court correctly stated that were the ACA to be upheld under the Commerce Clause it, "would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority." The Framers knew the difference between regulating commerce and using the power of the Commerce Clause to coerce commerce and every act that may in the aggregate of all people performing it, have any impact on commerce. Had the Supreme Court upheld the ACA under the Commerce Clause, Congress would be able to regulate absolutely everything in America under its ability to regulate commerce.

Chief Justice John Marshall wrote almost two hundred years ago in Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824), that Congress' power under the Commerce Clause is the power, "to prescribe the rule by which commerce is to be governed. This power, like all others vested in Congress, is complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations, other than are prescribed in the Constitution." [3] Congress has long had the power to regulate insurance and as such and to some degree, health insurance. [4] Chief Justice Roberts rejected the Government's argument for the individual mandate based on congressional use of the Commerce Clause because he stated that Congress had a power to regulate commerce not to create it. In all five Justices rejected the argument that the individual mandate of the ACA would pass Constitutional muster under the Commerce Clause, Chief Justice Roberts, Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito.

The ACA was meant to help the over 50 million or so Americans without health-care coverage, and to ensure that those with health insurance coverage do not lose it. Much of the most politically broad based support for healthcare reform is based on legitimate concerns over runaway health-care costs. Many opponents of the ACA, while acknowledging problems with the current health care system have suggested alternatives to a national health care plan but their solutions place them squared against two of the most powerful lobbied interests in Washington, insurance companies and tort lawyers. Advocates for private sector solutions like opening up the health care market to allow individuals to purchase insurance across state lines and to select only the type of coverage they need, argue that these two solutions alone would automatically make health care more affordable to a majority of Americans by driving insurance premiums down. It is difficult to argue that medical tort reform, curtailing frivolous medical malpractice suits, and the curbing of medical drug class action suits (plaintiffs for which are shamelessly solicited on every channel during every day of prime time television) would not help the entire medical industry-though who will take on the tort bar?

Those who do not have health insurance and use the emergency room or public hospitals when sick (what are called "cost-shifters") shift an immense economic cost on those who have health insurance and the insurance industry as a whole. Ironically what today's Supreme Court ruling does not address, because it is not addressed in the ACA, is that fact that the largest cost-shifters, illegal aliens (who account of $8.1 billion in health care costs) and low-income persons (who are already covered by Medicaid, at the cost of $15 billion per annum) will be exempt from the mandated health care regime of ACA. The most important feature in the over 2,700 page ACA is its individual mandate because this was always intended to shift some of the costs of health care to the healthy and the voluntarily uninsured -requiring that these groups, and ironically not the costliest cost-shifters, purchase private insurance.

Mandate as a Tax But Not a Penalty?

The purpose of taxation is to raise revenue. The purpose of penalties is to punish and deter unwanted behavior-sometimes, as in the case of the individual mandate, with the promise of criminal prosecution. The two have historically been distinct though with some overlap. For example, there are legal penalties for speeding (below what rises to the charge of reckless driving), streaking, violating the copyright laws or removing stickers from mattresses. Some of these penalties carry fines but the purpose of these fines is not to raise revenue so much as it is to deter conduct. In essence, no where even in the labyrinth of the IRS Code are streaking or removing mattress labels "taxable events."

Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor agreed with the Government's argument that the individual mandate within the ACA constitutes a tax on people who do not buy health insurance and is permissive under Congress' taxing power. Here is where the logic of Justice Roberts' opinion gets tougher to follow.

How can the individual mandate, which imposes a financial penalty upon anyone who does not purchase health insurance after 2014, and is not exempt from doing so, be called anything other than a penalty? Chief Justice Roberts states that what the mandate is called (Congressional Democrats and the White House have referred to the mandate as a penalty and not a tax-ACA itself refers to the mandate as a penalty) is not determinative of what it is. His opinion states that the individual mandate is distinguishable from a penalty because, "the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance,"-it is a requirement that people who do not purchase insurance pay the IRS a fine. If this seems like a distinction without a discernable difference-you would not be alone in thinking so. Chief Justice Roberts argues that the failure of an individual to purchase health insurance would not, while subjecting that person to an IRS fine, be unlawful. If this is true, I do not advise passing this along as a defense if the fine is not paid...

Congress may have stumbled upon a new way to mandate every type of behavior the Court correctly forewarned against it using the Commerce Clause to mandate, by use of the Taxing Clause. Losing the distinction between penalties and taxes may prove a slippery and dangerous slope-one that institutionally empowers the lawmaker and makes mincemeat of the ability of the hapless individual to any longer avoid doing any number of things-such as not purchasing any number of items that she simply does not want. Thinking through the potential abuses for Court's reasoning in this instance is disturbing. There is more to the Court's opinion deserving of analysis but the use of the Taxing Clause to uphold the ACA's individual mandate, is a legal and historical first.

Ultimately, like so many things that happen in American life and political discourse, the jury of public opinion will come down on the Court's decision as it does on so much else-along deepening political battle lines between current iterations of liberalism and progressivism. Not everything must be about politics but perhaps it must when the country seems deeply divided within itself about the role of its government. Divided between those who want the government merely to assure equal opportunity to all and those who seek a far more idealized realization of fairness, and even a greater equality of outcomes. What we are lacking is a jury fixed merely on preserving the freedoms and institutions of the Constitution.@

R. Tamara de Silva

June 28, 2012
Chicago, Illinois

R. Tamara de Silva is an independent trader and lawyer

Footnotes:
1. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-393c3a2.pdf
2. http://www.timelyobjections.com/2012/03/difficult-legal-issues-in-the-healthcare-case-before-the-supreme-court.html
3. Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803). at pp. 196
4. Think of ERISA, CORBRA, HIPAA, et. al.

Federal Judge in Health Care Case Orders Executive Branch to Explain Speech

April 4, 2012

Federal Judge in Health Care Case Orders Executive Branch to Explain Speech

By R Tamara de Silva
April 4, 2012


It not typical in the course of oral arguments for a Federal Judge to assign the Department of Justice and the Attorney General a homework assignment. Yesterday, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments involving the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA" or "Obamacare") when something extraordinary happened. The Court was hearing oral arguments on an appeal by the Physicians Hospitals of America and Texas Spine & Joint Hospital, Lts, for the dismissal of an action they had filed for declaratory and injunctive relief against Kathleen Sebelius, as Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services to prevent enforcement of Section 6001 of the ACA. During the Appellee's arguments, Judge Jerry Smith, interrupted the Department of Justice's lawyer, Dana Lydia Kaersvang to ask her whether the Department of Justice, an arm of the Executive Branch, agreed with statements made by President Obama that seemed to indicate that the Executive Branch did not believe the Judicial Branch had the power to overturn laws it found violated the Constitution.

"Judge Smith: Does the Department of Justice recognize that federal courts have the authority in appropriate circumstances to strike federal statutes because of one or more constitutional infirmities?
Ms. Kaersvang: Yes, your honor. Of course, there would need to be a severability analysis, but yes.
Judge Smith: I'm referring to statements by the president in the past few days to the effect...that it is somehow inappropriate for what he termed "unelected" judges to strike acts of Congress that have enjoyed -- he was referring, of course, to Obamacare -- what he termed broad consensus in majorities in both houses of Congress.
That has troubled a number of people who have read it as somehow a challenge to the federal courts or to their authority or to the appropriateness of the concept of judicial review. And that's not a small matter. So I want to be sure that you're telling us that the attorney general and the Department of Justice do recognize the authority of the federal courts through unelected judges to strike acts of Congress or portions thereof in appropriate cases.
Ms. Kaersvang: Marbury v. Madison is the law, your honor, but it would not make sense in this circumstance to strike down this statute, because there's no...
Judge Smith: I would like to have from you by noon on Thursday...a letter stating what is the position of the attorney general and the Department of Justice, in regard to the recent statements by the president, stating specifically and in detail in reference to those statements what the authority is of the federal courts in this regard in terms of judicial review. That letter needs to be at least three pages single spaced, no less, and it needs to be specific. It needs to make specific reference to the president's statements and again to the position of the attorney general and the Department of Justice." [1]

On Monday President Obama stated that, "I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress." The President's statement is false in that he discounts over two hundred years of the Federal Court exercising its power of judicial review to do just that.

The Judicial Branch's power of judicial review arises out of Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), wherein Chief Justice John Marshall established the United States Supreme Court's power of judicial review. In this case, Justice Marshall pointed out that the Constitution is "the fundamental and paramount law of the nation" and that "an act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void."[2] The Constitution is the nation's highest law and when an act of Congress conflicts with it, that act is to be held invalid.

To be fair, the words of the President, keeping in mind he is the head of the Executive Branch, attacking the power of a co-equal branch of government, in this instance the Judicial Branch, are not unprecedented nor constrained to one political party. President George W. Bush criticized "unelected judges" and their power to go against the will of the people. Both conservatives and liberals reliably point to the hand of judicial activism when things do not go their way. Some so-called Supreme Court experts go so far as to assert that a Supreme Court justice will ever only view any given issue of law through either a Democratic or Republican prism-ruling out any allegiance or oath to the Constitution or the complexity of Constitutional law-of course to many of these experts, there is no complexity to the law or other matters, other than what falls between bold ideological demarcations.

Perhaps the most famous Supreme Court skeptic was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Roosevelt displayed a contempt for the Supreme Court calling it the Court of "Nine Old Men" because in 1937, six of the justices were age 70 or more and the youngest one a mere 61. When the Supreme Court held the Railroad Retirement Act of 1934, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 un-Constitutional, President Roosevelt famously complained that the plainly archaic court had applied "the horse-and-buggy definition of interstate commerce." In order to remedy their apparent senility or his belief that they would only continue to strike down several parts of the New Deal, he came up with a plan in the form of a bill that would require all Supreme Court Justices to retire at 70 or have the President appoint a younger justice to serve alongside them.

Since Roosevelt, Presidential candidates from George Wallace to Newt Gingrich have run on platforms promising to rein in the Judiciary in the way they think appropriate.

Somehow, the Founding Fathers managed a design that would anticipate even the hyper-politicization of the present day. A powerful reason for the Constitution's establishment of three equal and separate branches of government was to ensure that each branch would serve as a check and balance on the others-in theory not permitting one to become too powerful. Unelected judges were intended to be removed from shifting political tides and ensure that political mobs and their demagogues would not overrun the basic protections of freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution. The law of the land would not be held hostage to it's the shifting agendas of political parties or vain ideology. To anyone but an ideologue, the unelected nature of Supreme Court judges and the lifetime tenure of Federal Court judges are not bad things.

Judge Smith's asking the Department of Justice to clarify whether the words of its boss were those of the Attorney General and the posture of the Department of Justice is extraordinary. Many would argue that Congress, politicians of every stripe and Presidents violate a respect and regard for the other branch of the government by routinely criticizing the Judiciary and politicizing everything. All pretense of a kinder gentler discourse on matters of public policy may have gone the way of the Dodo to be replaced by discourse at the lowest common denominator. So perhaps Federal judges should be above the fray and not get sullied by stepping into political brawls. A counter-argument might be that if I make one legal argument to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals during oral arguments and the moment I walk outside the building contradict what I have just said by making another legal argument, the Court of Appeals would have a right to inquire what my position really is. Perhaps because President Obama is essentially a litigant in the appeal and his suggestion of judicial review being unprecedented, radical enough a legal posture, Judge Smith's query of the Department of Justice is reasonable.@
R. Tamara de Silva

April 4, 2012
Chicago, Illinois

R. Tamara de Silva is an independent trader and lawyer

Footnotes:
1. http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/OralArgumentRecordings.aspx?prid=257465
2. 5 U.S. 137 (1803)

Update- Department of Justice Responds to the Court:
April 5, 2012: Attorney General Eric Holder responds to Judge Jerry Smith-the full text of his letter is here: AG letter to 5th Circuit .pdf
Mr. Holder states that his letter should not be taken as a supplemental brief and does not concern the arguments before the Court but points to the presumptive Constitutionality of Federal statutes and quotes two Federal judges who did not find Obamacare to be violative of the Constitution.

Difficult Legal Issues in the Healthcare Case Before the Supreme Court

March 27, 2012
Difficult Legal Issues in the Healthcare Case Before the Supreme Court


By R Tamara de Silva
March 27, 2012

Arguments began yesterday before the United States Supreme Court on the future of President Obama's healthcare bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA" or "Obamacare"). The question of whether President Obama's national health care plan would withstand the Constitutional challenges brought by the Attorneys General in twenty-six states was destined to be determined by the Supreme Court when after August 2011, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a 304 page opinion that the ACA would violate the powers of Congress under the Commerce Clause. After the Eleventh Circuit's ruling there were two conflicting Circuit Court opinions on the law because the Sixth Circuit had upheld the ACA as not violative of the Constitution in June of 2011. The Supreme Court will decide upon the Constitutionality of the ACA based upon three criteria, the Commerce Clause, the Taxing Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clauses within the United States Constitution. None of the arguments are quite as clear cut, however as many people believe.

The Supreme Court's ultimate decision is of monumental importance to either keeping the Government's powers under the Commerce Clause checked, or allowing them to be let upon this nation, unbounded, limitless and absolute. The future of this decision will affect nothing less than whether Congress is ever again, held back from regulating absolutely everything in America under its ability to regulate commerce or what are called its Commerce powers.

In Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), Chief Justice John Marshall established the United States Supreme Court's power of judicial review. In this case, Justice Marshall pointed out words that are still forceful today- that the Constitution was "the fundamental and paramount law of the nation" and that "an act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void."[1] The Constitution is the nation's highest law and when an act of Congress conflicts with it, that act is to be held invalid. The Supreme Court examines President Obama's healthcare law under the authority of this old and venerable case.

Commerce Clause

Chief Justice John Marshall wrote almost two hundred years ago in Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824), that Congress' power under the Commerce Clause is the power, "to prescribe the rule by which commerce is to be governed. This power, like all others vested in Congress, is complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations, other than are prescribed in the Constitution."[2] Congress has long had the power to regulate insurance and as such, health insurance.[3]

Perhaps the most helpful discussion of the Commerce Clause arguments is within the Eleventh Circuit case. In that case, twenty-six states sued the Government for using the Commerce Clause to have Congress require by law that Americans must buy health insurance from "birth to death" from a private company or pay a penalty-in effect legislate that every American buy a product from a private vendor whether they want it or not.

The Government has argued that those who do not have health insurance and use the emergency room or public hospitals when sick (what are called "cost-shifters" in the court opinion) affect interstate commerce and fall within the ambit of the Commerce Clause because they shift an economic cost on those who have health insurance and the insurance industry as a whole.[4]

President Obama's defense before the Eleventh Circuit asserts that by merely breathing, individuals affect interstate commerce, "and therefore Congress may regulate them at every point of their life." This argument would seek to expand Congress' powers under the Commerce Clause beyond current law and give the Federal Government absolute unfettered power to regulate any activity that had but the most tenuous connection to interstate commerce.

There are two questions the Supreme Court must decide: 1) whether the decision not to purchase health insurance is an economic one; and 2) whether not purchasing health insurance is an activity or an inactivity. These questions are important in deciding whether the decision not to purchase health insurance is an economic decision. Some would consider that my decision not to buy health insurance is an act of economic inactivity-not an activity at all. The proponents of the ACA would differ and argue that the decision to not purchase health insurance is an economic decision to self-insure and discount the future risks of ill health. In other words, is an inactivity (not buying insurance) tantamount to an activity (buying health insurance) for purposes of the Commerce Clause? Are the two the same if when measured in the aggregate, they have a substantial enough impact on economic activity? The strongest defense of the ACA would be the argument that for the purposes of the Commerce Clause, there is no distinction between activity and inactivity. The decision not to buy health insurance (an inactivity) is arguably an economic decision for purposes of the Commerce Clause if when you take the aggregate of all people that make this economic decision, there is a substantial effect on inter-state commerce.

However, Eleventh Circuit Justices Joel Dubina and Frank Hull questioned whether the Commerce Clause subjects those outside of the stream of commerce to Congress' authority over commerce. People that do not buy health insurance are, "not making a voluntary decision to enter the stream of commerce, but this choice is being imposed on them by the Federal Government." [5]

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals points out the instances of when Congress has actually mandated personal action on United States citizens solely because they are American are relatively few: serving on juries, registering for the draft, filing tax returns and responding to the census. Before the ACA, Congress has not been able to compel Americans to engage in an activity, even one with substantial economic consequences-for example, no one is required by law to purchase flood insurance even if they live in a flood plain or for that matter stop building homes in flood plains. Congress has not yet required that people abandon New Orleans, nor hurricane prone areas or other geographic areas proven to attract recurring and costly natural disasters.

There is absolutely no precedent for Congress using the Commerce Clause to enforce a purely economic mandate. All previous government mandates of individual behavior that have an economic consequence primarily affect an American's responsibilities as a citizen with the United States. The government's mandate of a draft, filing a tax return and serving on a jury, all affect a citizen's interaction with the government itself and affect how government defends itself and operates. However, mandated health care would affect and mandate that every citizen interact with a private company-a requirement never before asked by the Government under the Commerce Clause.

President Obama's lawyers will make the argument in favor of mandating that an individual purchase a good or service just because the decision not to purchase a good or service, if taken in the aggregate of all person who similarly made this decision, have a substantial impact on interstate commerce. However, the Eleventh Circuit cited Lopez v. United States, which held that the a Congressional finding of the aggregate effect of economic activity was not sufficient to hold legislation a valid exercise of the Commerce Clause, "Simply because Congress may conclude that a particular activity substantially affects interstate commerce does not necessarily make it so."[6]

Proponents of the ACA would point to the very same the Lopez case which hold that Congress can regulate intrastate "economic activity" when that activity, "viewed in the aggregate, substantially affects" commerce between borders.[7]

Were the Supreme Court to find the Administration's arguments persuasive, their reasoning would mean that Congress might use the Commerce Clause to mandate every conceivable economic decision, even decision lacking what the courts have historically required, "a nexus" or connection or a regulated economic activity. Even areas that have historically been under the jurisdiction of the states such as marriage, divorce, child custody, choice of education and all have substantial economic effects in the aggregate and would theoretically be candidates for regulation under the Commerce Clause. Health care has historically been regulated by the states.

If the Government can mandate the purchase of private health insurance, it can mandate every other private purchase. The Eleventh Circuit's opinion points out the Constitutionally untenable nature of the defendants' position,

"In sum, the individual mandate is breathtaking in its expansive scope. It regulates those who have not entered the health care market at all. It regulates those who have entered the health care market, but have not entered the insurance market (and have no intention of doing so). It is overinclusive in when it regulates: it conflates those who presently consume health care with those who will not consume health care for many years into the future. The government's position amounts to an argument that the mere fact of an individual's existence substantially affects interstate commerce, and therefore Congress may regulate them at every point of their life. This theory affords no limiting principles in which to confine Congress's enumerated powers."
[8]


Consider the case of a famous Molotov cocktail in which it was held that Congress' power under the Commerce Clause did not extend to holding the arson of a private residence a Federal crime. In 1998, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a certain Dewey Jones from Detroit decided the best way to dispose of a Molotov cocktail was to throw it into his cousin, James Walker, Jr's house. Predictably, Jones was convicted in U.S. District Court of violating 18 U.S.C. section 844(i), which holds that it is Federal crime to "maliciously damage or destroy, ...by means of fire or an explosive, any building... used in interstate or foreign commerce or in any activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce." Jones' lawyers unsuccessfully argued that section 844(i), when applied to the arson of a private residence, exceeds the authority vested in Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court in a unanimous opinion, delivered by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, agreed. The Court ruled that an owner-occupied private residence not used for any commercial purpose does not qualify as property "used in" commerce or commerce-affecting activity, such that arson of such a dwelling is not subject to federal prosecution under section 844(i). Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the Court that "[w]ere we to adopt the Government's expansive interpretation of section 844(i), hardly a building in the land would fall outside the federal statute's domain." [9]

What is most interesting about the Jones case is that in it the Supreme Court Justices asked the Government's lawyer what if anything he thought would not be included in the Government's suggested reading of the Commerce Clause--he could not seem to come up with limitation.

Taxing Clause

Proponents of the ACA will argue that the Congressional mandate of the ACA was a tax under the Taxing and Spending Clause. The Eleventh Circuit Court declined to see it thus pointing out how many times, Congress describes the mandate not as a tax but as a penalty and in its legislative history makes clear the ACA was intended as a penalty and not exclusively a revenue-raising mechanism. This is arguably the weakest defense of the ACA because only one court has even considered this a valid defense and bipartisan judges who have upheld the Constitutionality of the ACA have not found the Taxing Clause defense of the ACA persuasive.

Necessary and Proper Clause

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the power, "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution" it's other Federal powers. This language is the basis of the Necessary and Proper Clause and in my opinion, perhaps what may constitute the strongest defense of the ACA. One of the reasons being is the Necessary and Proper Clause is simply not perfectly clear what powers are given to the Federal Government and not the states to effectuate Federal laws and the powers of the Legislative and Executive Branches. Also, it is the Commerce Clause that has been invoked far more than the Necessary and Proper Clause, giving all a clearer sense of the latter's meaning.

Looking at original intent for hints on its intended scope is not exactly helpful either as it was the subject of heated debate between Alexander Hamilton, who believed it to authorize many implied and un-enumerated powers and Thomas Jefferson, who believed that necessary meant actually "necessary." The problem with Hamilton's meaning is that it would seem to justify so many recent laws and executive orders many in this country would argue are neither necessary or Constitutional. Necessary is in the eye of the beholder and would be capable of being used indiscriminately. What is more, the Necessary and Proper Clause can be invoked on matters that do not have an economic effect.

The most famous case fleshing out the meaning of the Necessary and Proper Clause was McCulloch v. Maryland, in which the Supreme Court ruled that,

The Government of the Union, though limited in its powers, is supreme within its sphere of action, and its laws, when made in pursuance of the Constitution, form the supreme law of the land. There is nothing in the Constitution which excludes incidental or implied powers. If the end be legitimate, and within the scope of the Constitution, all the means which are appropriate and plainly adapted to that end, and which are not prohibited, may be employed to carry it into effect pursuant to the Necessary and Proper clause.
[10]

Justice Scalia has suggested in Gonzales v. Raich that the question of whether an intrastate activity has a "substantial effect" on interstate commerce could alternatively be seen as a matter under the Necessary and Proper Clause. [11]

In Raich, the Supreme Court upheld the use of the Controlled Substances Act (a Federal law) to regulate and interfere with the wholly intrastate production of locally grown, medical marijuana as a valid exercise of the Government's powers under the Commerce Clause and the "cumulative effect" of intrastate activity. Intrastate activity could be regulated if it were to touch on a broader Federal regulatory framework affecting interstate commerce. The Supreme Court's decision in Raich may herald a judicial approval in the present healthcare case of the Federal Government's regulation of purely instrastate activity. Justice Scalia in his concurring opinion set the stage for prospectively using the Necessary and Proper Clause to allow the Federal Government to regulate intrastate activity that would affect a larger system of regulation of interstate commerce through the Commerce Clause.[12]


Complexity of Implications

The Constitution creates a limited federal government with powers that are not enumerated belonging to the people and the individual states. Yet every expanded use of the Government power through the mandate of Federal law, for the purposes of this writing, the Commerce Clause, is one less power to be held by the states or retained by the individual in determining how to live.

How to live has been a fundamental question posed by philosophers from the time of Plato and Aristotle and arguably earlier in ancient Buddhist texts. Today concerns about individual liberty are so often dismissed as the political diatribe of the libertarians or Ron Paul supporters. It is as if popular political discourse rendered in simple ideological terms has hijacked the need for meaningful analysis or discourse. What is lost is that every power surrendered to the Federal government through the Commerce Clause is one less that the individual states and the individual may retain in deciding how to live.

One of the grave implications of a Supreme Court decision upholding the ACA would be that if everything that affects interstate commerce (which, by the reasoning of President Obama's lawyers in defending the ACA, is every imaginable activity) then the states and the individual American are merely custodians or temporary repositories of power, powers, affecting every aspect of American life and powers that may be reclaimed by the Federal government at any time.

This would mean that there are few powers left exclusively to the states. The Federal government would discover its political reach, one power at a time.

The Commerce Clause simply states that Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." The Commerce Clause was intended to facilitate interstate commerce by allowing Congress to prevent states from passing discriminatory restrictions on the free-flow of interstate commerce.[13] To allow Congress to regulate all manner of activities far removed from that end, is to turn our system of a government of limited and enumerated powers on its head. Justice Marshall would find the ACA unconstitutional.

However, if the Supreme Court does not strike down the ACA as unconstitutional, and find the ACA to not violate the Commerce Clause, it would seem to be allowing for the very first time, Congress to use the Commerce Claus to mandate an activity on the part of an American and therefore open the flood gates to mandating any private action.@
R. Tamara de Silva

March 27, 2012 Chicago, Illinois

R. Tamara de Silva is an independent trader and lawyer

Footnotes:
1. 11. 5 U.S. 137 (1803)

2. Id. at pp. 196
3. Think of ERISA, CORBRA, HIPAA, et. al.
4. Interestingly, under the ACA, the largest cost-shifters-illegal aliens that account of $8.1 billion in health care costs and low-income persons that will be covered by an expansion of Medicaid (currently costing $15 billion in costs to health care system) will be exempt from the mandated health care regime of ACA. Shifting the purchasing mandate of the ACA to healthy and voluntarily uninsured individuals-requiring that this group and not the costliest cost-shifters purchase private insurance. See pp. 140 of Eleventh Circuit Opinion
5. Eleventh Circuit opinion at pp. 123
6. 514 U.S. at 557 n.2, 115 S. Ct. at 1629 n.2
7. Id. at 561
8. Eleventh Circuit Opinion at pp. 130-131
9. Jones v. United States, 529 U.S. 848 (2000)
10. 17 U.S. 316, 4 Wheat. 316, 4 L. Ed. 579 (1819)
11. "The regulation of an intrastate activity may be essential to a comprehensive regulation of interstate commerce even though the intrastate activity does not itself "substantially affect" interstate commerce. Moreover, as the passage from Lopez quoted above suggests, Congress may regulate even noneconomic local activity if that regulation is a necessary part of a more general regulation of interstate commerce." Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. !, 33-55 (2005) (Justice Scalia concurring)
12. Id.
13. United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995) and see also, United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000)


In Defense of Private Capital and Capitalism

January 14, 2012


In Defense of Private Capital and Capitalism

By R. Tamara de Silva
January 14, 2012


Is Mitt Romney guilty of capitalism? His opponents in the race for presidential nominee of the Republican Party have converged in their rhetoric and ideology with the Democratic Party and President Obama to decry that Romney's actions at Bain Capital and the private equity model in particular, are wrong, so extremely wrong that they make him wholly unworthy of consideration of President of the United States. Whether or not the latter conclusion is true or false, their argument is not evidence of either conclusion. I have read that a majority of Americans tune out politicians unless they stand to benefit from a specific government program or benefit-this would be a rational instance of when to tune them out.[1 ] The Democrats and accusing Republicans are in error about private equity and capitalism. What is worse they are placing populism above this country's core principles.

"If someone who is very wealthy comes in and takes over your company and takes out all the cash and leaves behind the unemployment? I don't think any conservative wants to get caught defending that kind of model." This quotation, which could have been from David Axelrod or President Obama, was actually from Newt Gingrich. In other words, conservatives cannot defend capitalism if it means that people will lose jobs.

Some history is helpful. Job creation and job retention are not the primary motivations for innovation and industry in the United States, they have never been. Job creation gained traction in the public discourse when it used as a justification for the government spending TARP funds-the rationale being that the government's spending would create a soft landing for the economy, lessen the economic impact of the recession and Credit Crisis and create (albeit often temporary and expensive) jobs. Yet it is not job creation that has motivated this country's most celebrated capitalists but profit motive or sometimes the pursuit of excellence expressed as an idea. Henry Ford did not start building his own self-propelled vehicles that ran on gasoline in order to create jobs any more than Steve Jobs began building personal computers to create jobs.

Hard Edges

We may not be in an economic crisis but a period of economic change. Capitalism has hard edges, especially in periods of extremely rapid economic change. Failure and obsolescence are the sina qua non of capitalism. What Mr. Gingrich's statement is missing is the possibility that America and the rest of the developed world are in the midst of period of rapid flux.

Almost without exception, most neo-classical economic theory holds that crises do not persist indefinitely, because economic systems revert to some equilibrium or balance. Perhaps, America and Western Europe as seen by the possible collapse of the European monetary union, may by in as much a period of economic change as it is in crisis. The distinction is important because if we are in a period of rapid economic change, things may not get better exactly as we expect them to-they will change.[ 2 ]

We may be in the midst of another economic revolution akin to that of the Industrial Revolution. Alternatively, we may be seeing disruptive technologies change the world and create economic upheaval (the hard edges) in the form of extreme wealth and extreme poverty as we saw in the close aftermath of the steam engine, the internal combustion engine, the railway and the utilization of electricity.

The world has never been, not at any time since mastery of the seas meant dominance in trade-not even during the silk trade--as interconnected as it is now. Technologies like the Internet and information technology have been both disruptive and creative at once, and at a breathtaking pace. The face of manufacturing, as we have recognized it for most of the twentieth century has itself changed, so has its importance as a percentage and engine of economic growth. It has been replaced by other sectors including and perhaps infamously, the financial services sector described by the term financialization. Just as what happened one hundred years ago, politicians lobbied for groups that were nearing obsolescence, but were unable to stop change itself. We see changes in the countless examples of relatively lower skilled, high paying jobs that have been erased and may never return. In periods of rapid economic change, settled patterns of work are upended. Another factor is the creation of disparate wealth between wealthy superclasses (robber barons) and everyone else, including the newly displaced.

Bain Capital, Private Equity and Venture Capital

It is easiest to extol the virtues of free markets and capitalism when able to toss in Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Thomas Edison or Henry Ford as stunning examples of its success- but to be fair, these people are eight sigma events. Most capitalists are hardly this glamorous, they never make magazine covers, and their stories and personages are decidedly more bland if not just boring-fitting very well into the fat middle of a normal bell curve. Mitt Romney has been roundly accused of being unpardonably bland but this is not an economic transgression. Attacks on his career at Bain Capital are misplaced because both the private and venture capital business models provide extremely important social and economic functions.

Romney and Bain Capital are charged with making too much money, having businesses fail and alternatively, causing some of the most sympathetic people in North America to lose their jobs. The fallacy of these arguments are legion.

Bain Capital is primarily a private equity firm that also has a venture capital arm. Private equity firms invest by buying ownership of companies where they see the potential for a return for themselves, a return they capture by later selling the company at a profit to another party or parties either in the private or public markets (they sometimes retain acquired companies). Private equity investors can be more sophisticated than other corporate governors and in theory be better managers- thereby using their unique vantage point and experience to create wealth for investors.

Venture capitalists take a lot of risk, often investing their own money in start-ups and the new companies of entrepreneurs in the hopes of finding the next Google, or Apple. Both private equity and venture capitalists are rewarded for being able to recognize the best entrepreneurs, the best ideas, and helping to bring them to market by financing them, so that the world profits from the next iPhone, the next life-saving technology or Google.

No one in either industry risks their own or their investors' money expecting to fail. They would not stay in business if they did.

Sometimes, as the bi-partisan critics point out, people in companies acquired by private equity lose their jobs. One of the reasons for this is that private equity turns companies around by making them more efficient. This is often accomplished by getting rid of excess layers of management, unnecessary employees and generally, "bloat." It is important to remember that what is considered "excessive" in layers of management or how "bloated" a company may look-is largely subjective. Profit motive is the engine of capitalism, not job retention.[3 ]

When we introduce terms like "looting" which is a loaded term it is important to keep in mind that this is also a subjective term. Romney's critics are looking at Bain in hindsight...with some not insubstantial measure of bias. Also consider, that the world may be changing at a rapid place and some degree of job displacement may be the norm.

Investing in companies and trying to turn them around is not as easy it is sounds. It also involves an appetite for risk that most people do not have. A majority of businesses fail within two years of sooner after their inception (even if they are not distressed to start before being acquired by a Bain Capital).

Taking risk is nonetheless commendable. Taking huge risks can lead to catastrophic failure or success. I read somewhere that Thomas Edison failed well over 1,000 times before successfully creating the lightbulb. But he made in well in excess of 1,000 attempts and had the stomach to endure that much defeat-this is not common. Facebook, and Google were not guaranteed to successes. There is only one Mark Zuckerberg and only one Steve Jobs. If a high failure rate did not come with taking significant risks, there would be a 100,000 Bill Gates as opposed to just one. Looking at Bain's record, I am reminded of the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule--that 80 percent of the effects are the result of 20 percent of the causes.

Overall, venture capitalists do well and their importance to the economy cannot be disputed. Venture capital is responsible for 12.1 million private sector jobs or about 11% of total private sector jobs that collectively generate $2.9 trillion in revenue.[4 ] Private and venture capital firms are responsible for most jobs in the software, telecom and semiconductor industries.[ 5]

Slavery and Principles in Opposition

The Founders has a very odd notion for their time, the idea that people were born with natural rights-not granted by a monarch or a government but actually born with rights, rights inherent to all individuals. This was a radical idea!

While there is no pure form or capitalism, capitalism is more conducive to individual freedom and human rights than any other system.[6 ] It simply trumps all alternatives. Capitalism promotes the opposite of slavery and is conducive a core principle deeply held by the Founding Fathers - that human beings have human rights. Self-ownership, the opposite of slavery is one of them.

This also comes with the harsh reality that some people will not succeed and must fail in a capitalist system. Because in a larger sense, it really makes no difference whether capitalism works perfectly or not-it is the legally instituted economic system most opposite of slavery.

Candidates for the Presidency, including the incumbent, like all politicians crave power so much that they must feed populist tendencies which, are based on emotion regardless of whether they cannibalize this country's core principles. All of the arguments against Bain Capital are populist ones designed to enrage, and excite anger and envy. They seek to alter the capitalist system by selectively identifying what parts of a free market are acceptable at a moment in time and what are not--and to suggest improper conduct where there is no evidence of any illegality (other than profit) by imposing the same arbitrary values-envy not being a great value by the way.

Some principles have to be above populist tendencies or we will have no principles standing. Steve Jobs and Henry Ford are good examples against these populist arguments-their motivations were never job creation or job retention but their economic enrichment-in pursuing these narrow goals they changed the world. Insisting that job creation or retention trump the motive of wealth creation, is something entirely other than capitalism.

Adam Smith's first great work before The Wealth of Nations was The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which made the case for sympathy as a foundation for human relationships in a civil society. Politics plays a large role in human relationships especially when it is used as lever to ignite class warfare and to institutionalize envy. Populism must never be used as a political campaign, however convenient or effective, because it ultimately enrages and divides a nation at its core, and sometimes these divisions cannot be healed.

Instead of attacking Bain Capital, all the candidates from both parties ought to address what harms capitalism (other than themselves obviously). If it were just Adam Smith's animal spirits competing and the fiercest winning, we would not have government subsidies, tax breaks and bailouts--all selectively doled out for a few-not all. Not even a Fed giving free money to some (a preferred very few)-not all. Or maybe we would because many of those that succeeded the most would always use their resources to create cartels, monopolies and buy political influence. Bribery and policy for vote getting- have no place in a purely capitalist system and their presence has...at least this is my guess-given capitalism a bad name.@
R. Tamara de Silva
Chicago, Illinois
January 14, 2012

R. Tamara de Silva is an independent trader and securities lawyer

Footnotes:
1. Class War? What Americans Really Think About Economic Inequality, Lawrence Jacobs.
2. Of course economists that guess correctly and point out a plausible causal variable will appear brilliant but there again, only in hindsight. We cannot really know if we are in a crisis or in a period of dramatic change but it cannot hurt to be aware of the possibility of the latter.
3. The profit motive cannot be selectively excised from capitalism in favor of job retention, as many of Romney's critics suggest. It was not that long ago that the USSR boasted of full-employment but could never match the sheer volume of innovation produced by its arch rival.
4. http://uvc.org/why-private-capital-backed-companies/#jobGenerators
5. Id.
6. There is no purely capitalist system and may have never been-in the sense of a laissez-faire system because the State is always and in some manner involved.