End the Banksters’ Get Out of Jail Free Card

If you want a lifetime guaranteed get out of jail free card, all you need to do is break the law while working for a giant transnational corporation.

Case in point: the Justice Department’s latest “crackdown” on the big banks. Today, the DOJ announced that it was fining a group of the world’s five biggest banks a total $5.7 billion after they all plead guilty to a series of rate-fixing scandals. JPMorgan Chase will have to pay $550 million, while Citigroup will have to pay $925 million.

Barclays, meanwhile, will pay $650 million, RBS will fork over $395 million, and UBS will pay around $545 million. The Federal Reserve is also fining these banks an additional $1.6 billion.

Speaking in Washington, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that the fines show that the Justice Department intends to "vigorously fight" those "who tilt the economic scales in their favor." Those are strong words, but ultimately they’re just that -- words.

While $550 million sounds like a lot of money to someone like your or me, for a massive bank like JPMorgan Chase that rakes in as much as $22 billion a year in profits, it’s chump change. It’s just the cost of doing business. And that’s precisely the problem.

At one point and time in this country corporations that committed a crime that harmed the public had to pay a big price for their actions. We actually used to have something called the “corporate death penalty.” If a corporation did something blatantly against the public interest, like gambling away people’s life savings or polluting local water supplies, the government would revoke its charter - the thing that gave it a right to exist as a private, for-profit business.

Banks were shut down in Ohio, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania for behaving in ways that were “financially sound.” Oil corporations, match manufacturers, whiskey trusts, and sugar corporations were given the axe in Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska and New York. By the 1870s, nineteen states had amended their state constitutions to give lawmakers the power to “execute” corporations that violate the public’s safety and trust.

The longstanding practice of giving businesses the corporate death penalty only really stopped when President Warren G. Harding was elected president in 1921 with the promise of putting “less government in business and more business in government.” In other words, "deregulate and privatize."

If the government were really serious about cracking down on financial crime, it would consider bringing back the corporate death penalty for big banks that consistently break the law. But, in all likelihood, it won’t.

And that’s because our entire value system has changed - mostly since the Reagan Revolution - so that if you commit a crime as an employee of a corporation in a way that benefits that corporation, you won't even be investigated, much less prosecuted. Yet it was actual human people in the five big banks that the Justice Department fined today who made the conscious decisions to break the law -- the banks admitted as much by making a guilty plea.

And yet, nobody, I repeat nobody, is going to jail for what everyone, including the Attorney General -- the top law enforcement officer in the country -- acknowledges is a huge crime. The irony, of course, is that if this were the other way around and a bank employee was found embezzling millions of dollars from his employer, he would go to prison, no questions asked.

And if you or me tried stealing from a bank or any other corporation, be it embezzlement or even simple shoplifting? Forget about it. We’d spend years in jail.

In other words, if you commit a crime that HELPS corporations, nothing will happen to you. But if you commit a crime that HURTS a corporation, there'll be hell to pay. Just look at what happened to tech activist Aaron Swartz before he so sadly took his own life.

All Swartz did was download a few articles off a private internet database - an action that could have hurt a corporation - and the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts slapped him with charges that could have resulted in 35 years in prison!

This is a culture-wide problem. It’s why Lindsey Lohan, for example, goes to jail for stealing a necklace while Jamie Dimon gets to stay in charge of the biggest bank in the country even though he oversaw a multi-billion dollar theft from millions of average Americans.

Americans are starting to figure out that we now have separate and different rules for criminal behavior that helps versus crimes that hurt corporations, and that’s just wrong. For our democracy to function, our criminal justice system must punish all people who break the law in serious ways, instead of imprisoning shoplifters and pot smokers, while letting criminals in banks get off scott free.


patrick H.T. paine's picture
patrick H.T. paine 8 years 1 week ago

But the value system HASN'T changed, it was slightly hindered by the "depression" and the WAR, but began reasserting itself immediately after......using the available loopholes. Reagan simply represented a demarcation point where "corporations" could become international having used up the advantages of being the only intact manufacturing economy in the world after the war.....now they could exploit the entire world in the same manner with which they played off various states for tax breaks and concessions within the U.S. ( as they are still doing.)

You can and will continue repeating yourself because you "love your job", but that won't solve the problem.

Now the concept of the "corporate death penalty" expanded to include its enablers?

liz banker 8 years 1 week ago

The president has been and continues to be, disingenuous. The president needs to apologize and stop projecting his motives as to be that of others, namely of Senator Warren ("she's like any other politician...").

Just substitute “authorization to go to war in Iraq” with “authorization to fast track the Transpacific Trade Agreement” and you will see the future, now, as outlined in the recent 15-page summary entitled Broken Promises that Senator Warren presented and argued on the Senate floor the other day:


When presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ran in 2008 she refused and did not immediately apologize for her war vote and it was only after some time, that Hillary Clinton admitted to the vote as being wrong in judgment. In her recent book, Hard Choices, she again says the vote was wrong but if you parse out her acknowledgment from the book, she still does not express that error of judgment with much, if any, passion or of deepest sincerity, but instead, includes the rest of Congress in her error of judgment. In other words, Hillary Clinton would have done the same but perhaps, at least, with a sketchy exit after toppling various dictators that don’t bend to the will of Western hegemony (ousting of a dictator in Libya comes to mind…).

If you parse Hillary Clinton’s recent comments about the trade authorization, she parrots some of Senator's Warren concerns regarding the TPP but it stops there and goes no further (just more proof that she’s going by political script and less by her own convictions). Have you ever heard Hillary in any public appearance, in written articles, at Congressional hearings say.... I would have urged my daughter Chelsea back then to have also volunteered in the front lines of Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else globally because I believe our nation's security and economy are truly at risk, and I wouldn't want to appear like a hypocrite and acknoweldge, though, only in my private thinking, that serving our country is mostly for the working poor and middle class in this country.

It is safe to conclude, the authorization for the trade, going war, etc., reflect modern historical facts: the wealthy and the well-connected from both parties don't have to put their sons and daughter on the front lines; the wealthy and connected are least likely to be negatively impacted by outsourcing, trade, currency cheating, LIBOR rigging, etc. Therefore, they (Congress, one percenters, one-tenth of one percenters) can vote with little or no conscience and allow financial gains instead (extraction of resources to keep industrial societies a few steps ahead of third-world countries), to guide their policy perceptive.

Cheerful Clips's picture
Cheerful Clips 8 years 1 week ago

May 20
There are so many "crimes" that human being people can accomplish that harm and injure Corporations that the Cops and DAs will go after. CHICKEN & PIG photography. It is unlawful to take a photograph of a factory farm. A woman recorded video clips of Horses being abused at a Corporation in Weld County, Colorado. She she was tried / convicted / jailed cuz the WELD DA said she failed to immediately file a complaint of Animal Abuse against the Corporation and turn over the video clips as evidence. Her delay was deemed to be Animal Abuse. The Corporation activity of abusing Hoses had no legal consequences. In the view of the law, you need not "shoplift" to harm and injure a Corporatopion. There are 1000s of activities a human being may achieve with respect to a Corporation that are unlawful. The truth of the matter is that all our long efforts to improve can be undone in an afternoon. The Auto Works Union improved stuff for over 80 years. The State of Michagan reversed all those improvements in one afternoon. The guys that run stuff get their way. They have an A-Team / Republicans and a B-Team / Demcrates. The guys that run stuff have got all the voters in America covered. Sure the human being people can improve stuff, but the improvements will be reversed in an afternoon at the whim of the guys that run stuff.

agelbert's picture
agelbert 8 years 1 week ago

We have problems that go way beyond the mens rea criminal negligence of the criminal justice system.

"in many ways the West already observes truly 'free markets,' or economic anarchy where giant corporations are free to do anything they wish, including wage massive, global wars in pursuit of their interests. The constrictive laws and regulations many well-intentioned free-market advocates abhor, have been imposed by these unhindered, anarchical corporations, not by a 'socialist government.' What these advocates perceive as a 'socialist government' is in fact an interface created and controlled by unhindered, unregulated, unaccountable corporate-financier interests." -- Charles Hugh Smith

"The rich executed a coup d’état that transformed the three branches of the U.S. government and nearly all institutions, including the mass media, into wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state." -- Chris Hedges

"The core responsibility assigned to governments in democracies is the public welfare, protecting the human birthright to basic needs: clean air, water, land, and a place to live, under equitable rules of access to all common property resources. It is astonishing to discover that major political efforts in democracies can be turned to undermining the core purpose of government, destroying the factual basis for fair and effective protection of essential common property resources of all to feed the financial interests of a few. These efforts, limiting scientific research on environment, denying the validity of settled facts and natural laws, are a shameful dance, far below acceptable or reputable political behavior. It can be treated not as a reasoned alternative, but scorned for what it is – simple thievery." —George M. Woodwell, Woods Hole Research Center founder

 "We do not need a 'new' business model for energy because we never had one. What we need, if we wish to avoid extinction, is to plug the environmental and equity costs of energy production and use into our planning and thinking. " -- A.G. Gelbert

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -- Aldous Huxley

"We can’t have a healthy business on a sick planet."-- Ashley Orgain, manager of mission advocacy and outreach for Seventh Generation, Burlington, Vermont

And spare the the idea that voting will help. The FIRST THING the psychopaths in charge did when they executed the coup is ENSURE WHO COUNTED the votes.

The 1% are suicidal psychopaths who would rather reign in profit over polluted planet hell than biosphere math heaven.

IF they do not extract their insane, ignorant, arrogant and stupid heads from their collective pampered descending colons and submit to doing the biosphere math 24/7, we will go extinct, PERIOD.

The 1%'s Responsibility to Shoulder 80% of the COST of a 100% Renewable Energy World


agelbert's picture
agelbert 8 years 1 week ago

Star Date 344,757.093821 (late naked ape tool makers date 2066): Gardener Commander Zarkploof Report 747:

The last of the naked ape tool makers ceased biochemical activity in the most recent revolution of the blue planet around it's sun. It fell in a nuclear waste pool while being chased at night by a pack of large canines. The canines left at dawn.

The ape swam, then crawled, out but lapsed into unconsciousness from treading water for so long. It was then bitten by several large rodents and bled to death while trying to fend them off. The rodents, the canines and a nearby ant colony disposed of the remains. All of those creatures subsequently died of radionuclide poisoning. The radionuclide pollution is extensive. We have sent probes to aid existing species in maintaining some vitality. We are doing this in order to provide the biochemical substrate for reseeding efforts so we won't have to start from microscopic autotrophs in rebuilding the biological energy absorption pyramid.

It is estimated that 245,000 local years will be required for the nuclear contaminants (Mostly the one the naked apes called Plutonium but there are several others) to cease degrading the biosphere with harmful mutations.

Our DNA bank has 157% of the species populating the planetary biosphere prior to the naked ape polluting millennium that destroyed the naked apes. NOTE: We will file a detailed report on the extinct species such as the giant reptiles and mammals in regard to the reseeding timeline.

For the next 100,000 years we will seed various fungi to absorb radionuclides for the purpose of collecting them and depositing them in the local sun. Perhaps, because of this activity, the time for active reseeding can take place somewhat earlier than 245,000 years. But we must bear in mind what happened on the Zeta 382, which required an increase in wait time, instead of a decrease.

As was the case at Zeta 382, there are chemicals the naked killer apes produced in their ignorance that, though not radioactive, are deleterious to life and even more difficult to eliminate than the radioactive elements. The glyphosate poison is one of many that are ubiquitous in this thoroughly degraded biosphere. So caution is advised.

As to the naked killer ape tool makers, we recommend the DNA of this species be modified to prevent self awareness.

It seems that self awareness, though it does help them develop primitive cause and effect horizon logic, does not aid them in avoiding the manufacture of tools which they then use to wantonly exploit the biosphere that they require for life.

These beings always seem to fail through the "fool with a tool" axiom of degenerate self aware species development postulated by the philosopher Glado the Putzenko in his "Beings that Don't Understand Being" treatise. They cannot seem to grasp the idea that defecating where one obtains nourishment is suicidal when the product of defecation is an industrial pollutant.

This planet is a very depressing and sad place to visit at the moment. Speaking for myself and all of the crew, I request home leave equivalent to 20 local planet years on our home planets.

One of the factors creating stress in our crew is the fact that the naked killer ape tool makers looked so much like us.


Gardener Commander Zarkploof


RFord's picture
RFord 8 years 1 week ago

I would like to see news people ask presidential candidates if they think those who commit banking crimes should serve jail time. It would be fun to see some of them implode when they can't say "yes" because they are afraid of getting their campaign donations cut off. I just hope there's a news person with the guts to ask the question.

ezwriter's picture
ezwriter 8 years 1 week ago

How is it possible Thom that you don't know or care that the Fed. Bank is a private corporation? And if you do know, that you don't impart that fact to your readers? What right does the Fed. Bank have to fine any banks for any indiscretions, when they themselves have been printing money out of thin air for decades? Don't you think these facts are worth mentioning?

Do you ever do any homework Thom, or are you just another paid shill? How about running your proposed articles by me, so you can get a real education before you print this crap. The Fed. Bank is a corrupt and fraudulent central banking system that caters only to the ultra wealthy. Do you even care about integrity Thom? How many folks are doing your research for you? I could use a job, how about hiring me for free for a couple of weeks, and give your readers a chance at knowing the whole story? Time to wake up sir.

Willie W's picture
Willie W 8 years 1 week ago

No honor among thieves.

John Pranke's picture
John Pranke 8 years 1 week ago

Seems like the President uses Populist rhetoric when his poll numbers slip, but governs center right on finance and energy. The banks will most likely be allowed to write the fine off as expenses so pe prepared for that 5.8 billion tab.

ddanl's picture
ddanl 8 years 1 week ago

Get Out Of Jail Cards;

1-Wealth, OR, how MUCH are you worth

2-Fame, not always guaranteed (OJ Simpson)

3-Job Title, Mayor Blah is NOT going to Jail...COPs or,

4-Related to a COP, self explanatory

5-Politics, and those associated with Politics, Ambassadors, Lobbyists, any1 with influence

6-if you're a White Man with a Gun

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 1 week ago

Reading Thom’s introductory post, I’m reminded yet again, the regulatory policies on corporations were more enlightened and more robust in the 1870s than they are today. And that’s pretty damn depressing. Now in the 2010’s, corporations are “people” while we are chopped liver. Apparently Warren Harding’s incarnates still occupy the seats of Congress, hellbent on further reducing the USA to a banana republic shithole. Empty suits, all of them.

Kill a bunch of people via negligence… Hey, no big deal, just pay the fine! In the same country where jaywalkers and shopliofters can ger executed on the spot, and smoking a joint can still land you in prison for life. Amazing.

One thing that has to change if we’ve got a prayer of a chance: we all need to wake up to the consequences of congressional seats filled by psychopaths. Too bad psychopathy can’t be recognized as a birth defect so easily as missing limbs or the “wrong” gender. People with no soul and no conscience are incredibly dangerous, especially when they occupy seats of power and influence, as this Amtrak scenario clearly illustrates. But it is only one example of many. If we don’t learn to weed out these subhuman imposters, we will be forever screwed, all the way to extinction.

Before I go, I’d just like to tip my hat to Liz (post #2). You speak for me, sister. I’d love to see a woman president in my lifetime… but not just any woman will do!

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 1 week ago

Reply to #6: Mr. Ford, I too would love it if a news reporter had the balls to ask a candidate for office questions like that. But even if they did, we've no guarantee a correct answer would amount to much more than false pretense, just to placate the public and win votes.

Bernie Sanders' passion and consistency are what make him stand out from the crowd. He's addressing the kinds of issues that really matter to the American people. And he's doing it all the time; not just during election time when he needs our votes.

BERNIE SANDERS FOR PRESIDENT! We need you Bernie, now more than ever.

David32's picture
David32 8 years 1 week ago

Aren't we lucky to be able to open a bank, take money from our customers, invest it, manipulate the interest rate (illegally) to our advantage, get caught and fined doing so and then have our customers pay for our wrongdoing letting the owners off scott free.

When will the press and pundits start making it obvious that fines, taxes and all other costs of doing business are born by the customer, in general this means, you and I. It is high time that we stop blaming the corporation and instead blame its leaders and decision makers (by name) for their misdeeds. Jail time and banishment from the financial community of these individuals would be an added bonus.

As for punishment for the latest bankster crimes instead of fines (essentially punishing the customer/victum) how about forgiving all consumer credit card debt. This would not take additional money out of the customers pocket and would be an enormous kick in the behind to the economy.

Ozark Matt's picture
Ozark Matt 8 years 1 week ago

Public school teachers go to jail for years after the RICO act is hurled at them.

Make 500 billion on fraud, pay 3 or 4 from the profit, nobody is named, shamed, or goes to jail and the companies maintain employee misconduct insurance; that is not punishment and slaps on the wrist are corruption.

One of the banks should have been shut down entirely and one exec should have gone to jail along with all the young cartel guns.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 1 week ago

ezwriter -- You should listen to Thom's show from time to time. He often says the Fed should become part of the Treasury.

Why doesn't anyone think that the Fed did saved us from a great depression in 2008? At least their actions postponed the great depression until 2016. The congress needs to act, not the Fed.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 3 days ago

Reply to #13: Brilliant idea, David! Love it!

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