Curtain Raiser

Fixing Our Moral Compass, Colltalers

Money and war, inevitable twins supporting our deliciously wasteful way of life, were at it again this past week: revelations that HSBC has helped clients evade taxes, and President Obama’s request to Congress to authorize use of military force against ISIL.
Both were big news that may experience limited endurance at the top of the headlines. While the president has been rightfully battered for his request, but will ultimately probably get his wish granted, it’s already hard to find the bank’s name mentioned anywhere.
Congress could exercise an admirable role in restraining the U.S. from getting openly involved in yet another endless war. But we sincerely doubt it. And the irony of having a big bank being caught red handed may be lost only to those living under a rock.
There’s a common link between ISIL, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, their assorted extremist allies and enemies, and the Pentagon hawks: they all have no qualms about sending innocent people to their deaths, and profess a firm belief on the state of permanent war.
Oh, yes, they also have a common defender in a former presidential candidate, who used to rally against just such two instances of ideology running amok, but who since moving in to the White House, has been just a bit short of a full-time military cheerleader.
As for the U.K.-based bank, it’s been accused of money laundry and tax evasion activities since at least 2009, barely a year after the Wall Street-induced global financial crisis, and resulting taxpayer bailout, the TARP program, rescued delinquent institutions.
HSBC wasn’t part of the bailout, but it did funnel over $3 billion from the program through then disgraced AEG. All rescued banks and insurers are doing fine, by the way. Their rescuers, however, i.e., regular stiffs like us and your unemployed spouse, not so much.
President Obama’s supporters would like to point at the requests to use military force against terrorists, of Sept. 2001, and the Iraq War Resolution, roughly a year later, by President George W., as unjustified antecedents contrasting with the latest request. By doing that, however, they’re only emphasizing the similar nature of both administrations, and how that bodes poorly to President Obama.
First, because the president was doing so well, turning his years left in office into an opportunity to take a stand on important issues, such as net neutrality and the Keystone pipeline, among others, even though he hasn’t yet actually exercised his veto power in neither.
Secondly, because by asking for powers to wage war, never mind his proposal’s vague terms about goals and gauging results, he adds his name to a string of presidents who, with the exception of still living one-term Jimmy Carter, have engaged American lives in overseas battles of dubious accomplishments, and almost always unnecessary loss, besides generating even more hatred towards the U.S.
How is the president suppose to sell the American public to yet another open-ended conflict abroad, after his poor job selling his own signature healthcare bill, by now under threat of being unravel by the Supreme Court and/or the insurance industry’s dirty tricks?
Before you hedge your bets, it’s instructive to remind everyone that the debate has already lost its substance – whether we should even get involved in the reengaging of such an ancient, all-out war within Islam-dominated nations – to a more media headline-friendly emphasis on whether the president’s request is er too convoluted and could use some editing, you know, to make it more palatable.
Finally, instead of recognizing that the ‘ideal’ of waging war from the distance, via killer drones, didn’t quite pan out the way it was supposed to, having arguably killed even more innocent civilians that the 2007 Surge, we’re back into familiar territory, the ‘all options are on the table’ scenario, so dear to the defense military complex and the network of murder for hire contractors. What gives?
‘HSBC… admitted to laundering $881 billion that we know of from Mexican and Colombian drug cartels… It paid a fine but no individual was banned from the bank and there was no hearing to consider shutting HSBC’s activities in the U.S…. How many billions of dollars of drug money do you have to launder before someone consider shutting down a bank?’
Senator Elizabeth Warren’s pointed indictment of the U.S. government and how it uses two different weights to judge the same crime – since prisons are stuffed with drug users but not a single bankster accused of profiting from drug money – came during a 2013 Senate Banking Committee on HSBC’s money laundering scandal. As noted, the bank has been there before.
For that it was fined less than half of what it’d profited from the TARP program, a drop in the bucket for a bank that posted in 2013 a pretax profit of $22.6 billion, up nine percent from the $20.7 billion in the year-earlier period, according to public records.
Although government officials knew all along about HSBC’s global and ongoing tax-evasion woes, it’s very likely that little was going to be done about it, until the scandal involving the bank’s Swiss arm finally got leaked to the public, via French newspaper Le Monde.
An International Consortium of Investigative Journalists report documents how HSBC ‘profited from doing business with arms dealers who channeled mortar bombs to child soldiers in Africa, bag men for Third World dictators, traffickers in blood diamonds and other international outlaws.’ (Do yourself a favor and forget about what politically incorrect language is; it hasn’t helped us much anyway.)
What it’s clear is that it involves over 100 thousand clients, $118 billion in assets, and 203 nations around the world- including Brazil, where it’s compounding to already embattled state-run oil giant Petrobras’s own running scandal – and it may also shake HSBC’s cozy relationship with the U.K government. But anyone expecting an eventual breakup of the bank should at least take a seat.
Prepare for a lot of grandstanding, and heartfelt apologies, and promises of fees and penalties, against rhetoric about how banks of such a scope and magnitude simply can’t fail and all that. Just don’t wait for any list of guilty parties involved, or parade of indicted high-ranking bank executives on their way to jail, no matter how Warren and oh-so few others will charge against such immorality.
This could be an honorable action to be expected from the departing president: to ask Congress to make this an example and come down as hard as it hasn’t in seven years on one of the most blatant consequences of the financial crisis: impunity.
And please spare us from the archaic argument that HSBC, being at least on paper a British corporation, is out of reach of U.S. laws. In 2008, when needed it, it didn’t take much for a coalition of rich nations to come together and rescue banks on the brink of collapse, regardless of where they were headquartered. In any event, most of them were indeed American, in case you were wondering.
Instead, we’ll have to regurgitate yet another request to send American troops to an inhospitable region, whose main accomplishment may be to unify centuries-old rivalries against a common enemy. A free blender to whoever correctly guesses who that may be.
Money and war have a way of extrapolating their inevitable functions to become means on themselves. In the hands of corrupt executives and shortsighted officials they can also be lethal to everyone but to the party that has control over them both.
The only way that the remainder 99 percenters have left to crash that party is to use exactly what it lacks: moral compass and the interest of the people. That’s why ISIL can’t win, nor can trillionaires who stand to get away once again this time around. It may seem a contradiction but what’s life and the pursuit of justice if not a never ending quest to restore balance? Have a great week. WC


2 thoughts on “Curtain Raiser

  1. Just add shed a little more light on HSBC and its historical links with drug dealing and drug dealers. Originally known as The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Company Limited, the bank was established in 1865 following the First Opium War. Local merchants saw a need to finance the expanding trade between China and Europe, including the highly profitable market in opium.


    • colltales says:

      Excellent footnote. I also left out the fact that the pool of journalists from all over the globe that put together the investigation was a first; without that, in these depleted print times, its depth and breath would be virtually impossible. Thanks for your input, Bryan.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.