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“Holder A Fighter Who Would Not Cower”: He Dared Others To Summon The Nerve To Fight Alongside Him

Eric Holder, who resigned Thursday, kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the American public that set the tone for his six turbulent years as the nation’s top law-enforcement officer.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” said Holder in his first public speech after being sworn in.

When the remark drew an uproar from conservatives, Holder shrugged and doubled down. “I wouldn’t walk away from that speech,” Holder told ABC News. “I think we are still a nation that is too afraid to confront racial issues,” rarely engaging “one another across the color line [to] talk about racial issues.”

And true to form, Holder — a tall man who carries himself with the relaxed, quiet confidence of a corporate attorney — seldom backed down from a confrontation, on racial justice or other issues.

He pressed Credit Suisse, and the Swiss bank eventually paid over $2.6 billion to settle claims it was illegally helping wealthy Americans avoid paying taxes. Holder took the lead in pushing banks and other financial companies involved in the mortgage crisis to pay $25 billion to federal and state governments, a record civil settlement.

And Holder famously sparred with members of Congress such as Darrell Issa and Louie Gohmert as the television cameras rolled. In one heated exchange at a Judiciary Committee hearing in 2013, Issa and Holder talked over each other, with the attorney general concluding, “That is inappropriate and is too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It’s unacceptable, and it’s shameful.”

In another back-and-forth, Holder trash-talked Gohmert with lines that could have been taken from a comedy routine. “You don’t want to go there, buddy. You don’t want to go there, OK?”

While the history books will note Holder was the first African-American attorney general, a more relevant biographical fact might be his status as possibly the first attorney general who, as a college student protester, occupied a campus building: In 1969, as a freshman at Columbia University, Holder was part of a group of black students that took over a former naval ROTC office for five days, demanding that it be renamed the Malcolm X Lounge. (In a sign of the times, the university complied.)

Echoes of Holder’s activist history could be heard years later, in the middle of a high-stakes battle with leaders of several Southern states over voter-ID laws and other rules changes that Holder deemed an attack on black voting rights.

“People should understand that there’s steel here, and I am resolved to oppose any attempts to try to roll back the clock,” Holder told CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin in an article for The New Yorker.

Not all of Holder’s crusades have worked out well.

The Supreme Court, despite Holder’s efforts, voted to strike down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and conservative senators blocked Debo Adegbile, Holder’s preferred choice to run the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department.

The attorney general has launched or joined legal battles against restrictions on voting rights in Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina, but it’s unclear whether those efforts will end up back at the same Supreme Court that weakened the original law.

In 2012, House Republicans voted to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress for stonewalling on information requests in the bungled Fast and Furious gun-smuggling operation in which 2,000 weapons went missing. It was the first time in U.S. history that a sitting Cabinet member was given such a severe sanction. (The case will continue after Holder’s resignation, although his successor will inherit the fallout, not Holder personally.)

But history will surely judge Holder a success at broadly expanding access to justice for groups seeking acceptance and fairness. He announced the federal government would no longer defend laws banning same-sex marriage and told state attorneys general they could do the same.

And Holder made good on his initial commitment to change the conversation on race. He traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, and assigned dozens of Justice Department personnel to investigate law enforcement practices after the police killing of Michael Brown triggered street riots.

He has also called for voting rights to be restored to formerly incarcerated Americans, and pressed for a reduction in the prosecution of low-level marijuana users.

For one clue about how history will regard Holder, go back to 2009. In the effort to battle terrorism, Holder called for five accused terrorist’s suspected of participating in the 9/11 attacks to be tried in federal courts in New York — only to see the proposal scuttled after a political uproar.

“We need not cower in the face of this enemy,” Holder told skeptical members of the Senate. They didn’t buy the argument, but it was classic Holder: Once again, the battler leaping into the arena and daring others to summon the nerve to fight alongside him.

 

By: Errol Louis, CNN Opinion, September 26, 2014

September 29, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Eric Holder | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s The People Stupid”: The Way To Stop Corporate Lawbreaking Is To Prosecute The People Who Break The Law

Today General Motors announced that it has fired 15 employees and disciplined five others in the wake of an internal investigation into the company’s handling of defective ignition switches, which lead to at least 13 fatalities.

But who’s legally responsible when a big corporation breaks the law? The government thinks it’s the corporation itself.

Wrong.

“What GM did was break the law … They failed to meet their public safety obligations,” scolded Sec of Transportation Anthony Foxx a few weeks ago after imposing the largest possible penalty on the giant automaker.

Attorney General Eric Holder was even more adamant recently when he announced the guilty plea of giant bank Credit Suisse to criminal charges for aiding rich Americans avoid paying taxes. “This case shows that no financial institution, no matter its size or global reach, is above the law.”

Tough words. But they rest on a bizarre premise. GM didn’t break the law, and Credit Suisse never acted above it. Corporations don’t do things. People do.

For a decade GM had been receiving complaints about the ignition switch but chose to do nothing. Who was at fault? Look toward the top. David Friedman, acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says those aware of the problem had ranged from engineers “all the way up through executives.”

Credit Suisse employees followed a carefully-crafted plan, even sending private bankers to visit their American clients on tourist visas to avoid detection. According to the head of New York State’s Department of Financial Services, Credit Suisse’s crime was “decidedly not the result of the conduct of just a few bad apples.”

Yet in neither of these cases have any executives been charged with violating the law. No top guns are going to jail. No one is even being fired.

Instead, the government is imposing corporate fines. The logic is that since the corporation as whole benefited from these illegal acts, the corporation as a whole should pay.

But the logic is flawed. Such fines are often treated by corporations as costs of doing business. GM was fined $35 million. That’s peanuts to a hundred-billion-dollar corporation.

Credit Suisse was fined considerably more — $2.8 billion. But even this amount was shrugged off by financial markets. In fact, the bank’s shares rose the day the plea was announced – the only big financial institution to show gains that day. Its CEO even sounded upbeat: “Our discussions with clients have been very reassuring and we haven’t seen very many issues at all.” (Credit Suisse wasn’t even required to turn over its list of tax-avoiding clients.)

Fines have no deterrent value unless the amount of the penalty multiplied by the risk of being caught is greater than the profits earned by the illegal behavior. In reality, the penalty-risk calculus rarely comes close.

Even when it does, the people hurt aren’t the shareholders who profited years before when the crimes were committed. Most current shareholders weren’t even around then.

Calling a corporation a criminal is even more absurd. Credit Suisse pleaded guilty to criminal conduct. GM may also face a criminal indictment. But what does this mean? A corporation can’t be put behind bars.

To be sure, corporations can effectively be executed. In 2002, the giant accounting firm Arthur Andersen was found guilty of obstructing justice when certain partners destroyed records of the auditing work they did for Enron. As a result, Andersen’s clients abandoned it and the firm collapsed. (Andersen’s conviction was later overturned on appeal).

But here again, the wrong people are harmed. The vast majority of Andersen’s 28,000 employees had nothing to do with the wrongdoing yet they lost their jobs, while most of its senior partners slid easily into other accounting or consulting work.

The truth is, corporations aren’t people — despite what the Supreme Court says. Corporations don’t break laws; specific people do. In the cases of GM and Credit Suisse, the evidence points to executives at or near the top.

Conservatives are fond of talking about personal responsibility. But when it comes to white-collar crime, I haven’t heard them demand that individuals be prosecuted.

Yet the only way to deter giant corporations from harming the public is to go after people who cause the harm.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, June 4, 2014

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Auto Industry, Corporations, Financial Industry | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Cheaters and Their Banks: Taking The Battle To The Banks

The Obama administration is rightly keeping the pressure on tax cheats and the bank executives who help them by stashing their money in secret accounts overseas. Now we would like to see the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department take the battle to the banks themselves. That’s the only way of getting them to drop this lucrative and illegal business.

The Justice Department has charged five bankers with helping wealthy Americans conceal their assets from American authorities. A former employee of Switzerland’s UBS who now works for rival Credit Suisse was arrested in January and accused of helping 100 to 150 Americans hide as much as $500 million from tax authorities.

A few weeks later, three former employees and one current banker at Credit Suisse were indicted for helping 17 Americans conceal assets in accounts at the bank and then helping them move the stash to other banks in Switzerland, Hong Kong and Israel once it was clear American authorities were on the trail of tax evaders at big Swiss banks.

This is a promising route both to recover unpaid taxes and to deter other Americans from trying to evade the I.R.S. this way. So far, however, the banks have faced no charges. The country-hopping by the Credit Suisse account holders in search of a safer hiding place suggests that cross-border tax evasion won’t be shut down until the institutions determine that secret offshore accounts are too risky a business.

The I.R.S.’s strategy gathered momentum when the agency went after UBS, which was caught sending bankers to the United States to offer tax evasion services and settled with the government. The bank paid a $780 million fine and exited the business. It promised to cooperate with the government and later revealed the names of some 5,000 American secret account holders. The case eventually led Switzerland to relax its bank secrecy laws and cooperate with American authorities.

Since then, some 20,000 Americans have disclosed their accounts to the I.R.S., taking advantage of programs that shielded them from prosecution in exchange for paying back taxes, interest and a substantial fine. UBS has since gotten out of the American cross-border banking business, as have Credit Suisse and other big Swiss banks. But there are still banks willing to open secret offshore accounts for wealthy Americans. It will take some more high-profile action against financial institutions to force them out of the racket.

By: The New York Times-Editorial, Opinion Page, March 13, 2011

March 15, 2011 Posted by | Banks, IRS, Justice Department, Offshore Accounts, Tax Evasion | , , , | Leave a comment

   

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