The Twenty-First Century Executive Branch Is a Criminogenic Environment

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Mr Pin smiled humourlessly. “You’ve got stuff on us but, well, between you and me,” he leaned closer, “some of the things we’ve done might be considered, well, tantamount to crimes–“

“All them –ing murders, for a start,” said Mr Tulip, nodding.

“Which, since we are criminals, could be called typical behaviour. Whereas,” Pin went on, “you’re a respectable citizen. Doesn’t look good, respectable citizens getting involved in this sort of thing. People talk.” –Terry Pratchett, The Truth

* * *

A brief tour of the collective post-verdict liberalgasm is not notable for tristesse — “Donald Trump needs YOUR HELP to get vengeance on the evil RULE OF LAW,” “Convicted Felon Rambles Through Greatest Hits of Grievances, Falsehoods, and Legal Nonsense” — but one continuing theme does emerge: That the verdict of the jury (upon whom be peace) in Judge Merchan and District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s courtroom is a victory for “the rule of law.” Now, to be fair, Bragg and his merry men did manage to convict a billionaire Presidential candidate of paying off a mistress with with, like, Windows 3.0 accounting software and paper checks (and a theory of the case that should stimulate every record-keeping business entity in New York to do some due diligence on their own internal accounting and any potential frauds MR SUBLIMINAL Or move to Florida). But if we dolly back for a bigger picture even just a little bit, we can see that “rule of law” liberal triumphalism is thoroughly misplaced, and that as we approach the quarter-century mark, the executive branch has been a thoroughly bipartisan criminogenic environment since at least the early 2000s.

What do mean by a criminogenic environment? From my Oxford English Dictionary:


adjective. e20.
[ORIGIN: from crimin(al adjective + -o- + -genic.]
Causing crime or criminal behaviour.

US Legal expands on the OED, adding social determinants:

Criminogenic means tending to cause crime or criminality….

A person may become criminogenic because of criminogenic environment. A criminogenic environment is as an environment that contributes to the formation of predatory criminal morals, thinking, and behavior. Actors in such an environment not only do not guard against or thwart criminal activity but are rewarded for it.

In this post, I will expand the scope of “crime or criminal behaviour” (a) to include predicates that, in a dull normal and not a President, would be worth bringing criminal charges, and (b) to include evident violations of international law, whether prosecuted or not (so, below, “QED” means “worth prosecuting,” though I’d add that the criminality is glaringly obvious except to those whose salaries depends obfuscation.

A usage comes example from Bill Black, who wrote at NC of the Great Crash: “Our financial policies have been so criminogenic for decades that we are suffering recurrent, intensifying financial crises.”[1] Black wrote of accounting control fraud. In this post I will write of torture and warrantless surveillance (Bush), and drone strikes and secret law (Obama). I freely admit I don’t have a master theory of criminality here, but I hope that the accumulation of the colossally grotesque events that follow will persuade you that criminogenic is indeed an accurate characterization of the executive branch in “our democracy.”

A word on Biden, whose offenses as a genocidaire are so obvious as to need no discussion. Taleb remarked, comparing the “innocent” Biden to the convicted Trump:

Oh, I almost forgot about Special Council Robert Hur:

Dang, what has Hur on about? I forget. Biden left some classified material in his sock drawer? Or was it the unsecured server in his bathroom? Did he sneak some documents out of the National Archives in his pants? Whatever. Onward to the non-trivial historical figures and their long-forgotten and now normalized acts of torture, spying, murder, and Star Chamber antics under secret law.

The Crimes of George Bush

Interesting to see that Jonathan Turley was on the case in 2008:

What are the offenses of Bush Administration officials that you think need to be redressed or punished?

“The two most obvious crimes in this administration are the torture program and the unlawful surveillance program. Despite the effort to pretend that there is some ambiguity or uncertainty on these crimes, the law is quite clear.

“Waterboarding is not some new concept in the law. This torture technique goes back to the Spanish Inquisition and probably earlier. Courts in the United States, England and other countries have long held that waterboarding is not only a crime but a war crime. We prosecuted Japanese officers for this war crime in World War II. The English sentenced people to death for this form of torture.

“This could prove a bit of a problem when Bush, Cheney, and others travel after leaving office. While they would no doubt object to the comparison, there is a similarity with General Augusto Pinochet who was constantly faced with the threat of arrest during international travel. Home countries are generally given the first opportunity to prosecute for such crimes. When they fail to do so, international efforts often follow.”

What is the crime involved in the surveillance program?

“The law is equally clear. It is a felony to engage in warrantless surveillance of this kind. Congress has enacted two statutes that provide the sole means by which the government can obtain the necessary approval for electronic surveillance: Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (“Title III”), 18 U.S.C. § 2510 et seq., and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, 50 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq. Together, Title III and FISA supply “the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.” 18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(f) (emphasis added). One federal court in Detroit has already declared the program to be unlawful and we challenged the law in the Al-Timimi case.”

(If, when the Democrats took control of the House and Senate in 2006, Pelosi had impeached Bush for these crimes, we would be living in a very different timeline.) Let’s look at torture first, and then warrantless surveillance. (Since I had been a political blogger several years at this point — the first story I ever blogged about in near-real time was the ever-shifting rationale for Saddam Hussein’s WMDs — I remember these crimes, and the political battles surrounding them, vividly.)

Torture at Abu Ghraib>

Here, it is sufficient to quote from the report by Antonio Mario Taguba, who was commissioned to look into the allegations of torture at Abu Ghraib[2]after the story broke in 2003[3]:

5. (S) That between October and December 2003, at the Abu Ghraib Confinement Facility (BCCF), numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees. This systemic and illegal abuse of detainees was intentionally perpetrated by several members of the military police guard force (372nd Military Police Company, 320th Military Police Battalion, 800th MP Brigade), in Tier (section) 1-A of the Abu Ghraib Prison (BCCF). The allegations of abuse were substantiated by detailed witness statements (ANNEX 26) and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence. Due to the extremely sensitive nature of these photographs and videos, the ongoing CID investigation, and the potential for the criminal prosecution of several suspects, the photographic evidence is not included in the body of my investigation. The pictures and videos are available from the Criminal Investigative Command and the CTJF-7 prosecution team. In addition to the aforementioned crimes, there were also abuses committed by members of the 325th MI Battalion, 205th MI Brigade, and Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center (JIDC). Specifically, on 24 November 2003, SPC Luciana Spencer, 205th MI Brigade, sought to degrade a detainee by having him strip and returned to cell naked. (ANNEXES 26 and 53)

6. (S) I find that the intentional abuse of detainees by military police personnel included the following acts:

a. (S) Punching, slapping, and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet;

b. (S) Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees;

c. (S) Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing;

d. (S) Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time;

e. (S) Forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear;

f. (S) Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped;

g. (S) Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them;

h. (S) Positioning a naked detainee on a MRE Box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture;

i. (S) Writing “I am a Rapest” (sic) on the leg of a detainee alleged to have forcibly raped a 15-year old fellow detainee, and then photographing him naked;

j. (S) Placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee’s neck and having a female Soldier pose for a picture;

k. (S) A male MP guard having sex with a female detainee;

l. (S) Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to intimidate and frighten detainees, and in at least one case biting and severely injuring a detainee;

m. (S) Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees.

George Bush, as President, is commander in chief of the Army under Article II Section 2, so torture at Abu Ghraib is on his desk[4]. QED.

Felonious Warrantless Surveillance

From Wikipedia:

NSA warrantless surveillance — also commonly referred to as “warrantless-wiretapping” or “-wiretaps” — was the surveillance of persons within the United States, including U.S. citizens, during the collection of notionally foreign intelligence by the National Security Agency (NSA) as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. In late 2001, the NSA was authorized to monitor, without obtaining a FISA warrant, phone calls, Internet activities, text messages and other forms of communication involving any party believed by the NSA to be outside the U.S., even if the other end of the communication lays within the U.S.

From The Week in 2015:

U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of Detroit struck the latest blow last week, declaring Bush’s warrantless surveillance program a flagrant violation of the Constitution. The White House, Taylor said, defiantly bypassed the special national-security court that Congress established for just this sort of operation. By refusing to submit its telephone and e-mail snooping to court and congressional oversight, she said, Bush has deliberately undermined the checks and balances that are the basis of American democracy….

But even in wartime, the law is the law, said law professor Jonathan Turley in the Chicago Tribune. If other courts uphold this decision, the implications are grave, for it would mean the president of the United States has committed a felony—dozens of them, in fact. That’s why congressional Republicans are frantically trying to give Bush’s spying program ex post facto legitimacy, and shield it from further judicial review.

The entire political class reacted with horror to Diggs’ ruling (ellipted in the quote above). But felonies they were, and Bush committed them (mostly erased from search, interestingly, but I blogged about them at the time). Again, the criminality is QED.

Now let us turn to Barack Obama, so different from his predecessor [hollow laughter].

The Crimes of Barack Obama

Obama rationalized and normalized all of Bush’s crimes; “Obama’s new FBI chief approved Bush’s NSA warrantless wiretapping scheme.” (On torture, Obama decided that “it’s important to look forward and not backwards.” The CIA — one would expect no less — had also “tortured some folks” in Iraq; my speculation is that Obama’s refusal to hold them accountable formed the basis of the alliance between Democrats and spookdom that persists to this day, and was so very useful in 2016–2020). From the New York Review of Books:

Gradually, other points of continuity between the national security policies of Bush’s second term and the Obama administration became evident. Obama revived the military commissions charged with conducting trials of detainees. He continued to classify the struggle against al-Qaeda as a war to be fought under military rules. He also increased drone strikes, maintained the NSA’s secret surveillance programs, and prosecuted whistleblowers with greater zeal than any administration in history.

From Just Security:

In fact, many of the arguments [torture advocate John] Yoo made behind closed doors in 2002 continue to appear in the Obama administration’s briefs defending warrantless surveillance under Section 702 of FISA today. And, in at least one key respect, the Obama administration’s arguments are even broader than the ones that Yoo felt he could justify.

In short, it is the Obama administration’s view that Americans forfeit the core protection of the Fourth Amendment whenever their private communications cross an international border. And, in today’s globally connected world, that is happening more and more.

Now let’s turn to the new crimes committed by Obama, both of which have to do with drones.

Double-Tap Drone Strikes

From the Florida Law Review (2017), “Double-Tap Warfare: Should President Obama Be Investigated for War Crimes?“:

Once again, QED.

Drone Strikes on a Teenage U.S. Citizen

Kevin Drum in Mother Jones, “The American Teen Whose Death-by-Drone Obama Won’t Explain“:

The US targeted killing program is shrouded in secrecy, and the president had never before issued a statement like this about people accidentally killed by US drone strikes. (He did not use the word “drone.”) One such death that stands out is that of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old American citizen who was killed in a US drone strike.

Abdulrahman was the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric turned Al Qaeda propagandist. The father was killed in a drone strike that targeted him in Yemen in September 2011. The son was killed weeks later in a separate strike in Yemen. According to his family, the attack was on a restaurant. Attorney General Eric Holder later said that this strike did not “specifically” target the young man.

The US government has never said that Abdulrahman was involved in terrorist activities. In 2012, I asked Obama during a Reddit AMA what he thought about the teen’s death, and the question received hundreds of votes from Redditors, meaning the president and/or his social-media team almost certainly noticed it. Yet Obama didn’t respond.

Now that he’s established the precedent of explaining the killings of US citizens in targeted strikes, Obama and the administration might see fit to say what happened in the case of Abdulrahman. Was his death accidental or is there evidence he was involved with terrorists?

QED once more.

Secret Law

But if you really want to create a criminogenic environement, establish a system of secret law. The dull normals won’t know what to obey and what not to obey! And one of the things that those in the know will know is that they can rewrite the law, in secret, to sanction whatever predicate they want, even retrospectively.

(You could actually see this mentality at work in Merchan’s court, as the Prosecution was allowed to conceal the object offense until the very last moments, denying the Defendant their right to prepare a defense, a violation of the Sixth Amendment[5].) From Human Rights Watch (2013):

Secret legal interpretations by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowed the NSA’s surveillance programs to grow in ways that raise serious concerns about what the government is doing in our name and the extent of violations of American’s privacy and civil liberties….

This is not the first time that abuses of power have occurred when a government program operates in a bubble of secrecy with only limited oversight: similarly, Americans were outraged to learn that memos authored by the OLC during the Bush Administration approved interrogation methods that many [like, any normal human being ffs; lawyers] equate to torture…. Making a concrete commitment to the public’s right to legal interpretations on issues including the intelligence community’s surveillance programs and other controversial policies like targeted killing through the use of drones or other means would make this respect part of the administration’s legacy. While the government has an obligation to protect properly and appropriately classified information, democracy does not thrive when our national security programs and the intelligence community’s actions are shrouded in secrecy. The public must, at the very least, have a shared understanding of the bounds and limits of the laws of our land and be able to have an informed debate about our policies.

From the Federation of American Scientists (2013):

DC District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle yesterday ordered the Obama Administration to release a copy of an unclassified presidential directive, and she said the attempt to withhold it represented an improper exercise of “secret law.”

The Obama White House has a “limitless” view of its authority to withhold presidential communications from the public, she wrote, but that view is wrong.

“The government appears to adopt the cavalier attitude that the President should be permitted to convey orders throughout the Executive Branch without public oversight– to engage in what is in effect governance by ‘secret law’,” Judge Huvelle wrote in her December 17 opinion.

Several significant points emerge from this episode.

First, President Obama’s declared commitment to “creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government” has not been internalized even by the President’s own staff. This latest case of “unbounded” secrecy cannot be blamed on the CIA or an overzealous Justice Department attorney. It is entirely an Obama White House production, based on a White House policy choice.

Second, and relatedly, it has proved to be an error to expect the executive branch to unilaterally impose transparency on itself. To do so is to ignore, or to wish away, the Administration’s own conflicting interests in secrecy and disclosure. Instead, it is the role of the other branches of government to check the executive and to compel appropriate disclosure.

Here is some liberal Democrat bloviation on the danger that the apparatus of secret law they themselves set up could be turned to evil ends if somebody other than a Democrat were elected (Vox; Brennan Center). Naturally, Trump continued Obama’s program of secret law, exactly as Obama continued Bush’s program of warrantless surveillance. From Project on Government Oversight (2017): ”

POGO had requested a listing of [Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)] opinions from January 2014 through March 8, 2017. In response, OLC sent documents listing 24 unclassified opinions. Some of these opinions were public, such as opinions on the Department of Homeland Security’s discretion on enforcement of immigration laws and on the Justice Department’s ability to withhold information from its own Inspector General. Out of those 24, the agency completely redacted the titles of 11 opinions. Even the dates those memos were issued are blacked out.”

Like this:

As Cory Doctorow wrote in 2014, “Lurking inside Obama’s secret drone law: another secret drone law,” secret law can even be recursive (!):

Remember the secret memo explaining the legal justification for assassinating Americans with drones that the ACLU forced the Obama administration to release? Turns out that that memo relies on another secret memo that the Obama administration is also relying on. Obama is a no-fooling Constitutional scholar; you’d think that he’d be wise to the idea that secret law is not law at all.

This kind of thing is all too common, but tremendously problematic. For folks actually trying to understand what the law actually is the fact that people have to play this bizarre game of 20 questions, seeking secret laws and interpretations, only to get breadcrumbs pointing to other secret interpretations of the law is just ridiculous. We’ve complained in the past about the dangers of a secret law, but just the fact that the American public needs to play this stupid game, and the DOJ appears to have broken up the secret interpretations of the law into different sections, making it that much harder to track it all down, raises serious questions about what sort of government we have, and how Americans can be expected to respect, let alone obey, the law when we can’t even be told what it is.

Enough Secret Law: Newly Released DOJ Drone Killing Justification Memo… Points To Another Secret Drone Memo [Mike Masnick/Techdirt]


Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 70, writes:

Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy

A feeble Executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government.

Torture, warrantless surveillance, war crimes, and secret law are, to be sure, energetic; but it’s hard for me to believe that Madison would characterize them as “good government,” “steady administration”, or “the protection of property.” But the Federalist Paper’s great system of checks and balances seems to have failed in the matter of “protection of the community against foreign attacks,” at least insofar as “protection” is construed by the executive branch. I’m not sure why (though it’s worth noting that two powerful actors in our present state of affairs have status only in our unwritten Constitution: political parties and the intelligence community, so called).

Geopolitical realist John Mearsheimer writes, in the Tragedy of Great Power Politics:

The first assumption is that the international system is anarchic, which does not mean that it is chaotic or riven by disorder. It is easy to draw that conclusion, since realism depicts a world characterized by security competition and war. By itself, however, the realist notion of anarchy has nothing to do with conflict; it is an ordering principle, which says that the system comprises independent states that have no central authority above them. Sovereignty, in other words, inheres in states because there is no higher ruling body in the international system. There is no “government over government.”

It’s possible, I suppose, that the anarchic character of the world in which the Executive “protects” “the community” “against foreign attacks” has led to “bringing the war back home” (it’s very hard to believe, for example, that secret law is not now being written for domestic drone strikes, with “foreign influence” being the predicate). Ironic, of course, since avoiding anarchy — a fancy word for that might be “the rules-based international order” or, in the vulgate, Calvinball — is of such concern to Hamilton. If so, I’m not sure what course of action the nation, as a nation, can pursue. A first step might be to stop lying to ourselves about where the rule of law applies, and where it doesn’t. And to whom.


[1] Law Insider adds a social control aspect:

Criminogenic means those risk factors which include, but are not limited to criminal personality; antisocial peers, attitudes, values, beliefs; impulsivity; substance abuse and family dysfunction that are identified through research as correlating with offending behavior. Effectively addressing these dynamic factors should lead to decreased delinquency risk and offending behaviors.

How odd that the ability to act with impunity because of proximity to power is not added as a factor.

[2] See the BBC and Democracy Now on Israel’s involvement in Iraqi torture, including training US contractors also involved at Ghraib.

[3] Taguba was, of course, defenestrated by 2007. This New Yorker story predates the rot under Hendryk Hertzberg, and is well worth a read to see the reactions of administrative officials, who are amusingly shocked to meet a naif like Taguba.

[4] It has always been my entirely unevidenced contention that Dick “Dark Side” Cheney, who preferred raw intelligence, had torture sessions at Abu Ghraib streamed to his office.

[5] Caveat that I have to read the transcripts when they become available, to have some certainty about what actually went down. But from all the coverage I’ve seen, this is a colorable claim..

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Carolinian

    So it’s like an Agatha Christie plot. Everyone is guilty.

    Perhaps the problem is that Hamilton was wrong and investing vast powers in people who are morally and intellectually unqualified creates disasters. That’s why some would say that subverting the popular will via elections is so dangerous. Taibbi and Kirn take this up in their last talk and they are right. Throwing the scoundrels out periodically is our only safety valve.

    1. Roger

      Hamilton came close to creating a fascist state before he was stopped, only after Jefferson beat the Federalist Party after 36 ballots of the House. Hamilton had no interest in democracy, he preferred an elected for life President and saw “the people” as needing to be lead by people like him who knew better than they did.

      1. Don Midwest

        Fascinating coverage of the 36 ballots and how Jefferson’s revolution of 1800 was essential for enacting the constitution.

        “The American Revolution of 1800: How Jefferson Rescued Democracy from Tyranny and Faction — and What It Means for Today” by Dan Sisson with Thom Hartmann.

        This is a shorter version of the original version published by Sisson in 1974

    2. NYT_Memes

      What mechanism is available to throw out the scoundrels in the CIA and other unelected leaders of the permanent government agencies? Replacing members of Congress is just replacing the jokers who serve the untouchable powers.

    3. Kouros

      The only sure way to throw the scoundrels out is via random selections of representatives. I am sure there are mechanisms to keep the executive in check as well.

  2. carolina concerned

    In the 60s, my father owned a small chevrolet dealership in a small southeastern town. They left the keys to the cars on the sales lot in the ignition of the cars all summer long. In the late 60s, that changed. People the U.S. before the late 60s valued honesty in themselves, generally. Those values have been overcome by the capitalist narrative based on profits and buyer beware, and the loss of faith in our institutions beginning with JFK’s assassination and LBJ’s Vietnam war. This is a great article, but the issue is not just with our “leaders”.
    The controlling issue is what kind of value system do we have. We must be aware that the voters selected these people and their teams. The American balance of powers is a great operationalization of a classic concept. But its foundation is the checks and balances functions performed by the voters as the most powerful component of the formula. That component has been disempowered.

    1. bwilli123

      The Australian equivalent was it being completely (& proudly) normal leaving ones’s back door open all hours, day or night. It slowly changed from the mid-late 70’s, I think as a result of the petty crimes necessary to support illegal drug habits (particularly heroin, post Vietnam) and the loss of full employment.

  3. Michaelmas

    The twenty-first century executive branch is a criminogenic environment?!?

    Back in the 1960s, one US president, his brother who held the roles of US attorney general and senator, the primary civil rights leader of the day, Martin Luther King,and dissidents in groups like the Black Panthers, were assassinated by the US deep state, or factions thereof, and the US government in a crimogenic environment now?

    It’s always been, for heaven’s sake.

    1. Eclair

      You got me thinking, Michaelmas, resulting in searches on the internet and the beginnings of a list of ‘assassinations.’
      Medgar Evers, killed 1963
      JFK, killed 1963
      Lee Harvey Oswald, accused killer of JFK, killed 1963
      Malcolm X, killed 65
      Valerie Percy, daughter of soon-to-be US Senator from Illinois, Charles Percy, killed 1966 (unsolved.)
      RFK, killed 68
      MLK, killed 68
      Fred Hampton, head of Black Panthers, killed 1969
      Leon Mercer Jordan, Missouri State Congressional representative, killed 1970
      Alberta Williams King, mother of MLK, killed 1974
      Karen Silkwood, union activist, whistleblower, killed 1974
      Paul Wellstone, US Senator from Minnesota, killed 2002, small plane
      Joshua Dean, whistleblower, killed 2024
      John Barnett, whistleblower, killed 2024

      Then my search widened to broad categories: Civil rights activists, union activists, small plane fatalities, whistleblowers. Conclusions: not healthy to be Black in the US, or involved in labor unions. Of course, the original ‘political’ assassinations involved entire Indigenous nations, so the US has ‘form.’
      And, what’s with the rash of ‘rapper’ killings, beginning in the 2000’s?

  4. flora

    er, um, the 21st Century current environment, aka the current Dem estab environment. (It ain’t the year, it’s the holders of power in the said years.) / heh

    1. Yves Smith

      That is not possible. You posted it where ever it wound up. Our software does not randomly shuffle comments around nor do we have the time, energy, or desire to delete comments where they were actually posted and dump them (with all the relevant author details) in another article. We regularly encounter clearly misplaced comments.

      1. Turtle

        Sorry, Yves, I wasn’t complaining, just describing my experience. I was on June 2nd’s Links page, wrote a reply to Lambert’s reply to my comment there (I hadn’t even visited this current page yet), and at some point it flipped to this page. I can’t guarantee that it wasn’t user error or something with my computer, but I noticed the issue immediately, tried it a second time, and the same thing happened. Unfortunately I can’t recall the exact sequence of actions when it happened.

        I was able to reply to that same comment without issues just now, so perhaps I was just completely out of it yesterday.

      2. Amfortas the Hippie

        ive certainly done it on numerous occasions.
        being none too tech savvy, its easy to get confused with all those tabs open…and then assume malign influence…or some gremlin in the machinery.
        i generally assume i’m at fault.
        tracks with experience.

  5. Lefty Godot

    Wherever power is concentrated greatly, it becomes a target for those with criminal intent. It’s no surprise that the Executive Branch of the US government is a hotbed of crime, since the opportunity for engaging in that is what has attracted many of the players. I’d say it’s not just in the 21st century that this has become a big problem, but at least since World War II ended. And it’s not as if the founders of the country didn’t anticipate this problem–their warnings were numerous about excess concentration of power, excess secrecy, and self-serving justifications based on supposedly patriotic motives.

    What is different now is that the PTB don’t even try to bother coming up with convincing excuses for their criminality, it’s pretty much all 2+2=5 logic all the time. It’s maximum PR in your face and it doesn’t have to make sense. They can treat the voters with contempt because they know that, as Caitlin Johnstone says, voting is a “toy steering wheel” that doesn’t change the direction of the country in any way that is responsive to what people really want.

  6. britzklieg

    Kudos l.s.. Excellent examination of a truth that should be obvious – the criminogenic nature of our government, which is easily expanded to much of its capitalist culture. The conclusion “not sure what course of action the nation, as a nation, can pursue” is perhaps most damning of all. Such perdition creates the despair that undercurrents much of the vox populi.

  7. DavidZ

    The thing about the Trump trial, which I truly believe, is that American law is so byzantine and convoluted that basically every person with any kind of wealth or power has probably committed a lot of technical crimes and they’re thus eternally at the whims of the regime.
    I think that this is probably true, though it over looks the obvious fact that in this case Trump deliberately paid the “hush money” – a private expenditure via his businesses to cut down on his taxes.

    This is illegal and everyone knows it. Lots of businesses and businesspeople do this – and it’s all illegal.

    If he hadn’t been so cheap, he would have paid it personally and it would not be a problem.

    A jury trial where each and everyone agreed on the guilt on all 34 charges – is still quite a statement.

    1. OnceWere

      If that’s the case, then go ahead and convict him of tax evasion. That’s a crime that everyone can understand. Then you can pile on with felony document falsification once you’ve charged and convicted the underlying crime. Do that and there’d be no grounds to call it a political show trial.

    2. Polar Socialist

      American law is so byzantine

      Just sayin’ that Byzantine law was the same as Roman law, just written in Greek. Though, under influence of Greek philosophy, it was interpreted more akin “what’s good for the population” than “how to retain hierarchy of the society”.

      But for most part, Byzantine law formed the basis of judicial systems in most of the Mediterranean, Eastern European and West Asian societies. And it had a strong influence in Western Europe, too. They just preferred the Latin version with it’s emphasis on hierarchy and also trying to claim that Germanic barbarians were the actual continuation of The Rome. It’s takes some serious PR to become a Holy Roman Emperor when there one already, and with the pedigree to prove it, in Byzantine.

    3. JonnyJames

      I believed that long before the current freak shows. My grandfather told me: “if you have to hire a lawyer, you already lost”. He also said: “you can’t be a lawyer and an honest man a the same time”

      I also remember seeing And Justice for All with Al Pacino as a child.

    1. Yves Smith

      No, no, no. The Federal government is full of lawyers. I would hazard economics PhDs and international relations advanced degree grads (recall that that was Geithner’s background) are more prevalent than MBAs. You can blame a lot of things on MBAs but not things like devising how to hide torture programs from the public. That is solidly in the legal domain.

      1. bwilli123

        PPE: Philosophy, Politics And Economics: A Booming College Major

        “Philosophy, Politics and Economics might be the hottest undergraduate degree today. From its beginnings in Oxford in the 1920s, PPE has spread to more than 150 universities around the world. What is PPE and why do students today find it so appealing?

        Perhaps the original modernizing impulse of the degree in PPE can still be felt today. It was created in large part to provide future administrators of the British empire with an education somewhat more attuned to the modern world than the previous course of study in classics. Still, as the Labor peer Stewart Wood, who ran seminars in PPE, was quoted as saying in a Guardian piece titled “PPE: The Oxford Degree That Runs Britain,” “It does still feel like a course for people who are going to run the Raj in 1936.”

        In any case, PPE enjoys the status of having graduated alumni who are highly visible in the world of politics. According to an April 2023 article in The Oxford Student, “PPE graduates have gone on to rule countries across the globe: four Pakistani PMs and one President, three PMs of Australia, and leaders of Myanmar, Ghana, Peru, and Thailand have all studied PPE at Oxford.”

        And in Britain alone, “in the 2014 General Election your choice of PM was effectively a PPE graduate from Brasenose, or a PPE graduate from Corpus Christi,” the Student article added.

  8. JBird4049

    >>>But felonies they were, and Bush committed them (mostly erased from search, interestingly, but I blogged about them at the time).

    Let’s not only fail to teach history, let’s erase it as well.

    I think that I will keep my stacks of books. At least, the words in them cannot magically disappear as in the internet and some ebooks.

    Also, if ignorance of the law is no excuse, what does that say about the super secret laws that nobody can know about?

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      i remember arguing with folks back at the time about secret law…being “ordinary americans(right leaning instar), they were just fine with it.
      and i made that same point in my extemporaneous ejaculations….if its secret, how can we not be ignorant of it, ergo its designed to screw us….trap us in some kafkaesque doomloop.
      of course, the latter is what experience with the law has been like for the lower orders for a long, long time(i should know,lol)
      but none of these folks had ever been bothered by the cops(irs, sure…)….ie, they Believed in Law and Order, and reckoned implicitly that it was fair and just…no reason for them to think otherwise.

  9. ciroc

    The story of the rule of law being a fiction and leaders escaping prosecution is neither unique to the United States nor unique to the 21st century. It seems to me that during the Cold War, all kinds of illegal activities, including human rights violations, were more justifiable.

    1. Arkady Bogdanov

      I vehemently agree. People that know me well have all heard me say many times that “The law is bullshit”. Law does not reflect right and wrong, and law is always, ALWAYS selective. As far as I am concerned it should all be scrapped, and if something bad happens, the community meets to discuss the event, the circumstances, and action needed, if any. Nobody should ever have permanent enforcement power, ever. As stated above- literally any and every concentration of power will always be sought after by sociopathy and psychopathy. Good people do not seek power over others- the rightly see such power as immoral and unethical. So in this manner positions of power are always going to be massively and disproportionately filled by the people who will use such positions for self enrichment and the destruction of those they consider enemies.

      1. Amfortas the Hippie

        i agree…
        and i also should mention that i lean towards Bogdanovism,lol.(well done)

  10. spud

    sorry, here is the modern godfather of torture and secret law. to get to bush and obama, as well as biden, first you have to remove the precedents set by this guy, that gives cover to war criminals.

    “But when President Bill Clinton sent the U.N. Convention to Congress for ratification in 1994, he included language (drafted six years earlier by the Reagan administration) that contained diplomatic “reservations.” In effect, these addenda accepted the banning of physical abuse, but exempted psychological torture.

    A year later, when the Clinton administration launched its covert campaign against al-Qaeda, the CIA avoided direct involvement in human rights violations by sending 70 terror suspects to allied nations notorious for physical torture. This practice, called “extraordinary rendition,” had supposedly been banned by the U.N. convention and so a new contradiction between Washington’s human rights principles and its practices was buried like a political land mine ready to detonate with phenomenal force, just 10 years later, in the Abu Ghraib scandal.”

    “In 67 torture scenes during its first five seasons, the show portrayed agent Jack Bauer’s recourse to abuse as timely, effective, and often seductive. By its last broadcast in May 2010, the simple invocation of agent Bauer’s name had become a persuasive argument for torture used by everyone from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to ex-President Bill Clinton.

    While campaigning for his wife Hillary in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, Clinton typically cited “24” as a justification for allowing CIA agents, acting outside the law, to torture in extreme emergencies. “When Bauer goes out there on his own and is prepared to live with the consequences,” Clinton told Meet the Press, “it always seems to work better.””

    ““Extraordinary rendition” is when shady government operatives stuff a bag over your head and fly you off to some foreign country where they can legally torture you. It sounds like something Alex Jones might dream up in a paranoid frenzy, but it’s a well-documented phenomenon under both Bush, Jr. and Obama—and Bill Clinton was the guy who started it all.

    Clinton and Gore signed off on the first rendition back in the ’90s, despite being aware that it breached international law. Until recently, rendered people frequently wound up in the prison cells of places like Mubarak’s Egypt or Gaddafi’s Libya, where they were tortured with electric shocks, rape, beatings, and even crucifixion. It can sometimes go hideously wrong: In 2003, the CIA snatched a terrorist off the streets and beat, tortured, and sodomized him, only to discover they’d accidentally grabbed the wrong man. The victim just happened to share a name with a wanted criminal. His suffering came care of the Clinton/Gore dream team.”

    “In history, it was Democrat Bill Clinton— along with Joe Biden, who was able to pass the ‘Republican’ agenda that included deregulating Wall Street, facilitating the consolidation of media ownership, cutting social welfare programs, militarizing the police, and greatly increasing the scale and scope of the carceral state, after leading Republicans had been unable to. While the CIA was born Republican— Allen Dulles was a committed Republican, it has been liberal Democrats who have been more effective in selling neoliberalism. That neoliberalism is the reigning ideology of power in the U.S. explains the desire its restoration.”

    real history is putting the names to the policies: bill clinton created the federal Gestapo when he crushed the youth rebelling against free trade in 1999

    “bill clinton created the: as “snatch squads,” abducting protesters right off the street, and working in tandem with local law enforcement to corral the anti–corporate globalization protests.”

    “For many, this brutality can conjure up images of foreign dictatorships, hellbent on suppressing any form of dissent. Yet we don’t have to look so far afield. Trump’s cops are a homegrown phenomenon, the culmination of three decades of increasingly militarized police that have made it a point to crack down on leftists — beginning with the global justice movement of the late 1990s.

    A useful starting point is the 1990 creation of the 1033 Program, a Department of Defense initiative that puts surplus military equipment in the hands of state and local police departments — stuff like grenade launchers, assault rifles, bomb-detonating robots, body armor, machine guns, bomb suits, and forced-entry tools.

    Though the program was originally intended to fight a “drug war,” Bill Clinton expanded it in 1997 to allow “all law enforcement agencies to acquire property for . . . purposes that assist in their arrest and apprehension mission.””


    “Regime change polices were set up by bill clinton: This was a unit established by President Bill Clinton, then continued by Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz. Mike Pompeo, the current director of the CIA, has confirmed that this unit exists. This has led to rumours in the press, followed up by President Trump, of a US military option.”

    how bill clinton gutted Habeas Corpus, setting us up for the patriot act, slave labor prisons and the american police state: we do not know how many poor innocent people, mostly of color, were killed by the death penalty, with no hope of ever proving their innocence, thanks bill clinton
    Gutting Habeas Corpus

    The Inside Story of How Bill Clinton Sacrificed Prisoners’ Rights for Political Gain.

    The Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995, or US Senate bills S.390 and S.761,[1][2] were two bills introduced by Senator Joe Biden and Senator Tom Daschle on behalf of the Clinton Administration on February 10, 1995

    President Bill Clinton signs the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act at the White House on April 24, 1996. … This 1996 precursor to the Patriot Act was one of Joe Biden’s most …

  11. funemployed

    It seems to me that whatever leashes the executive had been able to keep on the spooks was fully unleashed by Obama. I don’t think Bush the elder or Bill had the slightest moral qualms with the dirtiest of tricks as long as they could keep their hands clean, but they were powerful people of great political sagacity, so not keen on giving up power of any sort to anyone at any time. They were real players. I don’t think LBJ hated Hoover because of high minded ideals, to use another example.

    Bush the younger, Obama, Trump, and Biden, are, to put it mildly, just not those people. At no point have I ever thought any of them were truly “in charge” of anything really. I also strongly suspect that, sensing on some level their weakness, they were all too eager to invite the foxes into the henhouse of domestic politics in a way that does seem, to me, on some level different. Although maybe all I’m basing it on is the fact that it really just doesn’t seem like the people in charge of the laws are the people making the decisions anymore.

    1. funemployed

      To broaden the point a bit. I think every major institution has been vetting at the lowest levels for quite some time to ensure, basically, that anyone who doesn’t have intense people pleasing impulses never gets a sniff of any important positions.

      So how do you vet those people? Well, you do something lousy, even criminal, and see how they respond. If they show backbone or scruples, they get written off permanently. A few decades of this and you get not only a textbook criminogenic environment, but the slow degredation of the basic competencies of politics and leadership at every level of every institution.

      The CIA and FBI and Executive of the USA of never been moral or trustworthy, but they weren’t always “run” by utter twits.

    2. Kilgore Trout

      JFK was the first and last president to defy “the deep state”/ national intelligence state/surveillance state. That lesson has not been lost on any president since, nor any serious candidate for the office since that time. It’s implicitly understood: “Defy us at your (and your loved ones) peril.”

  12. Blinky

    Its entirely feasible to replace 80-90% of government at Fed, state and muni levels with ERP (enterprise resource planning.) IOW, massive unfeeling software that spans the large fed organization and monitors all the myriad governmental processes and makes adjustments accordingly..
    But the roman problem described above again intrudes (Who will clean up after the Janitors) In this case, who gets to write the rules the software follows. Anti-partisinal Open Source programming to the rescue. But that one change would impoverish a lot of elected officials…

  13. Oh

    The people who play with use the toy steering every 2, 4, and 6 years have no idea that we have a President who is given too much power and is firmly controlled by the CIA et al. We really have a dictatorship in this country while there is so much propaganda about our constitution, laws and freedom. Any kind of revolution or revolt will be met with and defeated with strong force.

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      hence, the withdrawal of Consent….along with a general turning of the back(shunning).
      when i cooked breakfast and lunch in the basement of the democratic building in austin…30+ years ago…i decided right off that id never bend the damned knee.
      they dont “deserve” respect, they must earn it, like everybody else.
      some of my customers(Anne Richards, Bob Bullock) actually liked this about me.
      most of them, otoh, did not,lol.
      of course, back then, democrats still contained vestiges of the old FDR…and it was the occasional GOP a$$hat wandering through who was belligerent and all but demanding of unwarranted respect.
      one of the few tools/tactics left to us…lest we be eaten by sharks, or whatever….is their lack of legitimacy.
      they know they have none, at some level of consciousness…let them know that you know it too, in all your interactions.

      joe biden texts me all the damned time, asking for money(ha!)…and i text right back:”Go F%%%k yourselves….stop the wars, stop being whores for wall street and MIC….Jill Stein2024″.
      if you aint on a list, you aint doin it right.

  14. JonnyJames

    It sure seems to me that not only the financial/banking system is criminogenic, all three branches of govt. are criminogenic: all major institutions of both public and private power are corrupt and criminogenic. That is a tall claim that is both obvious and would require a book-length tome with loads of references.

    I use the term institutional corruption as well. The two terms are related, but, depending on definition, describe slightly different aspects.

    I also learned that term, like others, from prof. Black after the Crash of ’08.

    It seems that foreign policy, war and state-sanctioned mass murder are always crimonogenic, but if the ruling oligarchy uses Orwellian language to redefine what is legal and not, and the institutions of power go along with it, then it’s deemed “legal”. Silly humans make fools of themselves and the emperor has no clothes.

    The US gov says Israel is doing nothing wrong, the US does not violate any legislation prohibiting the export of weapons etc. No crimes here, nothing to see.. the “law” can simply be ignored when not convenient. The perps are above the law, TBFT and all that.

    Meahwhile, Bush Jr. and Tony Blair are lauded as great statesmen, showered with money and respect, while Julian Assange is tortured at max. sec. prison, HMP Belmarsh. The rule of law, how quaint. Prison is only for poor people

  15. David in Friday Harbor

    Good work but this only scratches the surface of the criminogenic environment that has festered and grown in Washington DC since the Bay of Pigs. This criminal cess-pit reached its nadir under Presidents Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama. Wall Street during the GFC of 2008 was the biggest Crime Scene of the 21st Century and nobody went to jail, while just across the Hudson in 2014 the death penalty was summarily meted-out to Eric Garner for selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner.

    The basis for Washington criminality is the notion of elite impunity expressed by Dick Cheney’s “Unitary Executive” and the “Holder Doctrine” of “Too Big to Jail.” American law is neither byzantine nor convoluted. The core value of Inverted Totalitarianism is Elite Impunity under which the law Binds but does not Protect most of us but Protects but does not Bind our self-selected elites. Trump still can’t believe that his mobster Omertà not prosecuting HRC for the server wasn’t honored by Bragg.

    As a retired prosecutor with 32 years of experience, I’ve hated the “selective prosecution” framing — my bigger concern was always with selective non-prosecution of elites, which ultimately led me to the choice to end my career.

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      thanks for inserting Wolin’s Inverted Totalitarianism into this discussion.
      as i alluded to above, the average person’s assumptions about how things work is almost silly.
      its also carefully cultivated, over at least 50 years, to arrive at just that spot.
      “if you havent done wrong, why worry?”
      i carefully reviewed every social studies and history book that was issued to my boys, throughout their isd careers…as well as the teacher copies of the high school version throughout that same time(via Late Wife).
      its really no wonder, at all, that the public is in such a sad state, as regards civics, history, economics, and even politics, itself.
      and thats to say nothing of things like logical or critical thinking.
      about 04, maybe, the school librarian called me to her back door…she had boxes of books that were going to africa, and reckoned i might like some of them…like the collected works of Plato, Aristotle,Jefferson, and on and on and on.
      excuse for the directive from on high was that nobody ever checked them out…so they were just taking up shelf space that would be better filled with Sarah Palin’s latest missive(or whatever,lol)…but it occurred to me then, and i related it to that librarian….they were never checked out, because the kids didnt know anything about them…because such thinkers had so rarely, if ever, been even mentioned in the classrooms, let alone discussed.

      1. David in Friday Harbor

        Don’t get me started on how neolib union-busting and public-asset looting disguised as “No Child Left Behind” and “The Race to the Top” under Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, and Obama’s turd of an Ed Secretary Arne Duncan destroyed civic literacy in this country.

        Then it was a simple matter for Lewis Powell’s Inverted Totalitarian legacy to be voted-in by the very people it was designed to disenfranchise. The profound ignorance of commentators on the Forever Wars, Proxy Wars, genocides, and frequent violations of both national and international law committed in plain sight by the so-called “leaders” of both party factions is dumbfounding to me. Our laws are neither byzantine nor convoluted — but you have to bother to read them.


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