Has It Become Impossible to Prosecute White-Collar Crime? – Bloomberg

Financial crimes might be too complicated to take to trial.

The mistrial [in the Dewey & LeBoeuf case], after four months in court and 22 days of deliberations, hints at a much deeper problem: Perhaps most financial crime has reached a level of such complexity that it’s beyond the reach of the law.

Since the financial crisis sent the economy into a spiral, leading to millions of lost jobs and foreclosed homes, there have been public cries to see bankers responsible for the frauds underpinning the crisis put in jail. This would have fit with the pattern of how things have gone since the beginning of time: Booms and bubbles led to market collapses and crises, followed by the tightening of regulations and criminal prosecutions. In the case of 2008, however, the crackdown never really came.

Source: Has It Become Impossible to Prosecute White-Collar Crime? – Bloomberg

How the war on drugs creates violence – The Washington Post

Unenforceable drug laws foster a culture of lawlessness that drives up homicides.

To argue for legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of other drugs does not, at first blush, appear to put one on the side of the angels, especially given the accelerating heroin epidemic. But legalization and decriminalization are what we need if we want to make headway against mass incarceration, high homicide rates in urban black communities and poor educational outcomes in urban schools. If we view drug use as a public health problem, not a crime, we can fight drugs without producing the other sorts of social damage we see all around us.

Source: How the war on drugs creates violence – The Washington Post

Why We Can’t Grasp the Scale of Climate Change, Population Growth, or Societal Tipping Points

You don’t see it coming. You probably couldn’t if you tried. The effects of large changes in scale are frequently beyond our powers…

Both $1 million and $1 billion sound like “a lot,” so it’s not immediately clear how such changes in wealth might also change what a builder sees as a “big enough” house. Even those who understand the true scale of the chasm between those numbers intellectually don’t always “get it” viscerally. It feels like the difference between a million and a billion is closer to a factor of three than a factor of 1,000. That’s because our brain naturally works using something like a logarithmic scale, so that it can condense information like vast ranges in loudness and brightness efficiently.

Predicting the qualitative effects of quantitative changes takes more than mere genius. It takes a willingness to accept the unacceptable

Scientists often have to come up with stories to translate what they see with their instruments and equations into something they—and we—can understand.

The physicist Bartlett, concerned with resource exhaustion, came up with a story of bacteria living in a Coke bottle. Imagine putting two bacteria in a soda bottle at 11 a.m. Assume the population doubles once every minute, and that by noon, the bottle is full. What time would it be before the bacteria-land politicians noticed that the population was running out of space? The answer is 11:59. After all, at 11:59, the bottle is still half empty! And what if the enterprising bacteria decide to drill for bottles offshore, and bring back three whole new empty bottles! How much time does that give the bacteria? Two more minutes.

Stories like these have more than mere narrative power. Following the strategy of the bacteria, perhaps social media can be used as a kind of quorum sensing, crowd-sourcing perception.

Source: Why We Can’t Grasp the Scale of Climate Change, Population Growth, or Societal Tipping Points

The Assassination Complex

The whistleblower who leaked the drone papers believes the public is entitled to know how people are placed on kill lists and assassinated on orders from the president.

Drones are a tool, not a policy. The policy is assassination.

While many of the documents provided to The Intercept contain explicit internal recommendations for improving unconventional U.S. warfare, the source said that what’s implicit is even more significant. The mentality reflected in the documents on the assassination programs is: “This process can work. We can work out the kinks. We can excuse the mistakes. And eventually we will get it down to the point where we don’t have to continuously come back … and explain why a bunch of innocent people got killed.”

The architects of what amounts to a global assassination campaign do not appear concerned with either its enduring impact or its moral implications.

The costs to intelligence gathering when suspected terrorists are killed rather than captured are outlined in the slides pertaining to Yemen and Somalia, which are part of a 2013 study conducted by a Pentagon entity, the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Task Force.

Intelligence community documents obtained by The Intercept, detailing the purpose and achievements of the Haymaker campaign, indicate that the American forces involved in the operations had, at least on paper, all of the components they needed to succeed. … Despite all these advantages, the military’s own analysis demonstrates that the Haymaker campaign was in many respects a failure. The vast majority of those killed in airstrikes were not the direct targets. Nor did the campaign succeed in significantly degrading al Qaeda’s operations in the region.

With JSOC and the CIA running a new drone war in Iraq and Syria, much of Haymaker’s strategic legacy lives on. Such campaigns, with their tenuous strategic impacts and significant death tolls, should serve as a reminder of the dangers fallible lethal systems pose

The Obama administration has portrayed drones as an effective and efficient weapon in the ongoing war with al Qaeda and other radical groups. Yet classified Pentagon documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the U.S. military has faced “critical shortfalls” in the technology and intelligence it uses to find and kill suspected terrorists in Yemen and Somalia.

One of the most glaring problems identified in the ISR study was the U.S. military’s inability to carry out full-time surveillance of its targets in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Behind this problem lies the “tyranny of distance” — a reference to the great lengths that aircraft must fly to their targets from the main U.S. air base in Djibouti, the small East African nation that borders Somalia and sits just across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen.


The documents state bluntly that SIGINT is an inferior form of intelligence. Yet signals accounted for more than half the intelligence collected on targets, with much of it coming from foreign partners. The rest originated with human intelligence, primarily obtained by the CIA.

The U.S. military has, since 9/11, engaged in a largely covert effort to extend its footprint across [Africa] with a network of mostly small and mostly low-profile camps. Some serve as staging areas for quick-reaction forces or bare-boned outposts where special ops teams can advise local proxies; some can accommodate large cargo planes, others only small surveillance aircraft. … These facilities allow U.S. forces to surveil and operate on larger and larger swaths of the continent — and, increasingly, to strike targets with drones and manned aircraft.

Source: The Assassination Complex

How to Protect Your Personal Data—and Humanity—From the Government – The Atlantic

As government agencies and tech companies develop more and more intrusive means of watching and influencing people, how can we live free lives?

Masking one’s insides behind one’s outsides—once the essential task of human social life—was becoming a strenuous, suspect undertaking; why not, like my teenage acquaintance, just quit the fight? Surveillance and data mining presuppose that there exists in us a hidden self that can be reached through probing and analyses that are best practiced on the unaware, but what if we wore our whole beings on our sleeves? Perhaps the rush toward self-disclosure precipitated by social media was a preemptive defense against intruders: What’s freely given can’t be stolen.

But I am too old for this embrace of nakedness. I still believe in the boundaries of my own skull and feel uneasy when they are crossed. … There are so many ghosts in our machines—their locations so hidden, their methods so ingenious, their motives so inscrutable—that not to feel haunted is not to be awake. That’s why paranoia, even in its extreme forms, no longer seems to me so much a disorder as a mode of cognition with an impressive track record of prescience.

Source: How to Protect Your Personal Data—and Humanity—From the Government – The Atlantic

The world economy: Dominant and dangerous | The Economist

As America’s economic supremacy fades, the primacy of the dollar looks unsustainable

Ih hegemons are good for anything, it is for conferring stability on the systems they dominate. … The widening gap between America’s economic and financial power creates problems for other countries, in the dollar zone and beyond. That is because the costs of dollar dominance are starting to outweigh the benefits.

In 2008-09 the Fed reluctantly came to the rescue, acting as a lender of last resort by offering $1 trillion of dollar liquidity to foreign banks and central banks. The sums involved in a future crisis would be far higher. The offshore dollar world is almost twice as large as it was in 2007. By the 2020s it could be as big as America’s banking industry.

If foreigners continue to accumulate reserves, they will dominate the Treasury market by the 2030s. To satisfy growing foreign demand for safe dollar-denominated assets, America’s government could issue more Treasuries—adding to its debts. Or it could leave foreigners to buy up other securities—but that might lead to asset bubbles, just as in the mortgage boom of the 2000s.

There are things America can do to shoulder more responsibility—for instance, by setting up bigger emergency-swaplines with more central banks. More likely is a splintering of the system, as other countries choose to insulate themselves from Fed decisions by embracing capital controls. The dollar has no peers. But the system that it anchors is cracking.

Source: The world economy: Dominant and dangerous | The Economist