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Question for liberals and progressives, and possibly some conservatives - Input Junkie
January 4th, 2015
08:37 pm

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Question for liberals and progressives, and possibly some conservatives
American banks are closing the accounts of small businesses near the Mexican border from fear of laws against money laundering.

As a libertarian, my opinion is easy to come to-- laws controlling drugs and forbidding immigration are bad and this problem wouldn't exist if it weren't for those laws. This might even be evidence that they're bad laws.

However, if you believe that the government should regulate business to prevent public harm, is this over the line? Would you change the laws about money laundering, and if so, how? Is this an example of people having to make sacrifices for the public good?

If you're a libertarian or have libertarian-flavored politics and would like to explain in more detail about why those are bad laws, go for it, but I'm definitely interested in hearing from people with other political orientations.

Meanwhile, I'm working on a theory about laws against remote harms are a problem.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1059640.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:marycatelli
Date:January 4th, 2015 02:28 pm (UTC)
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Talk about the unequal protection of the law.
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From:elenbarathi
Date:January 4th, 2015 02:48 pm (UTC)
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Hmm... well, I'm definitely not a libertarian; nor a 'liberal' (what does that even mean any more?) - these days I seem to travel most with the progressives, but we part company on certain issues where I'm more of a conservative. So I say, a plague on ALL yer parties; in forty years of political activism, I have yet to see a 'side' I could call my side.

Yes, the drug laws are bad. The drug laws are fucking unConstitutional, and have been from the first: it was Prohibition that spawned organized crime, and the so-called War On Drugs is what sustains it. Our government has no right to tell people what they may or may not do with their own bodies. Our government has no right to tell people they may not grow certain plants of the earth on their own land. Marijuana is an herb, not a drug, and as an herb - a totally non-toxic herb - it ought to be governed under the same laws that govern the growing and selling of lavender or echinacea.

I do favor government regulations on commerce, however; particularly international commerce, because - as we've learned so well from China - other countries don't necessarily have such stringent standards of quality control, let alone fair treatment of workers. We do NOT need poison-sprayed pot grown by child slaves coming into this country.

Do we need the child slaves themselves coming into this country? All those people - a lot of them teenagers, or even younger - who try desperately to get across the border, because life as an illegal migrant worker on wages no American would accept is infinitely better than life in the favelas. It's the companies who pay less than any American would accept who are at the root of the problem; it's on their backs that the crack-down has to come. The same, I might add, as all those "American" companies out-sourcing jobs to foreign sweatshops.

As for the banks, they have way too much power, and have been bailed out by the taxpayers way too many times already. Why the hell don't we have State Banks?
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From:nancylebov
Date:January 4th, 2015 03:22 pm (UTC)
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What's unconstitutional about the war on drugs? Does your argument about marijuana also apply to opium poppies? Coca?

People who migrate to the US would be harder to mistreat if they were permitted to be in the country.

In this case, the banks have too little power to protect themselves against money laundering laws. I agree that banks have too much ability to get away with fraud.

The general problem is that if you want to prevent behavior which a lot of people engage in, you need a *lot* of surveillance and punishment.

You might be interested in Two Cheers for Anarchism, a discussion of the value of informal organization.
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From:whswhs
Date:January 4th, 2015 04:05 pm (UTC)
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Technically, the war on drugs is "unconstitutional" in the sense that it goes against the original division of labor, under which the federal government had only specific delegated powers, and the state government held the "police power"—a general power to regulate public safety, health, and morals. State laws against drugs would not be "unconstitutional" in that sense.

Of course, the scope of what is constitutionally legitimate was immeasurably broadened by the New Deal interpretation of the interstate commerce clause, under which, in the famous example, a farmer who grows corn and feeds it to his own hogs is engaged in interstate commerce because he might otherwise have bought corn from a grower in another state. That's such an expansive interpretation that it's hard to see that any economic activity is exempt from federal regulation. Randy Barnett addresses it in the second article of his proposed "Bill of Federalism":

The power of Congress to make all laws which are necessary and proper to regulate commerce among the several states, or with foreign nations, shall not be construed to include the power to regulate or prohibit any activity that is confined within a single state regardless of its effects outside the state, whether it employs instrumentalities therefrom, or whether its regulation or prohibition is part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme; but Congress shall have power to regulate harmful emissions between one state and another, and to define and provide for punishment of offenses constituting acts of war or violent insurrection against the United States.
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From:wild_irises
Date:January 4th, 2015 04:50 pm (UTC)
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I completely identify as progressive, except that I prefer "radical."

I am skeptical of any sentence that starts "The banks have too little power ..."

I am also skeptical that this is actually why the banks are closing these accounts. I suspect that the banks are trying to call attention to money laundering laws so they can keep them from being passed, because the banks like their money-laundering profits. In other words, it's a 21st-century style lobbying tactic (consider passing a law we don't like and we'll hurt you financially).
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From:elenbarathi
Date:January 4th, 2015 07:25 pm (UTC)
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Where do you see anything in the U.S. Constitution that gives our government - either State or Federal - any hint of a mandate to tell citizens what they may do with or to their own bodies?

If "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are inalienable rights, then the government is trampling on them EVERY time it tries to tell us what we must or may not eat, drink, smoke or otherwise ingest; whom we may marry or have sex with; whether we may or must become or remain pregnant; what medical treatment we may or must have. Our government was specifically constituted to be "of, by, and for the people" - that means it belongs to us; we do not belong to it. Our bodies are our own property, not the property of the State.

Coca is a plant. Opium is a plant. Yes indeed, I say that the government has no right to restrict people growing whatever natural plants they want on their own land.

I don't think coca actually grows very well in the North American climate zones. Even if it can be grown here, how big is the market for coca leaves? Cocaine is not a plant; it's a drug made from a plant, and thus properly subject to regulations on its manufacture and marketing.

It's perfectly legal to grow Papaver somniferum in your garden, or to grow it as a commercial crop for the seeds. Opium, however, is a drug, not a plant, and it takes a very large quantity of poppies to make a significant amount of it.

Note also that both cocaine and opium are toxic: it is possible, and in fact not difficult, for a person to lethally overdose on either of them. (The same is even more true of alcohol, of course.) It is not true of cannabis products - not even of wax, which I would categorize as a 'drug', not an 'herb', and regulate accordingly.
"The most authenticated record of someone dying from marijuana use, by the way? A man who became so incredibly high on hashish he passed out -- and then died after hitting his head on a hard floor."

(If you take a Vicodin and then fall down the stairs, hit your head, and die of traumatic brain injury, was it Vicodin that killed you? Suppose you pass out from low blood sugar and fall: will the 'cause of death' on your death certificate say Diabetes?)

In any case: the government has no right to prevent adults from taking whatever mind-altering drugs they want to take - even drugs as horrific as krokodil if that's their choice - although it certainly DOES have the right to regulate the manufacture and sale of drugs. Cocaine, opium and hashish are all drugs, so ought to be regulated. Coca, poppies and pot are all herbs - natural, unprepared plants - so ought not to be regulated.

Commercial growing? That's another matter. I live in the Lavender Capital of America, and the lavender farmers here are subject to regulations about water usage and so on. One huge benefit of altering the Federal cannabis laws will be shutting down all the illegal grow operations in protected wilderness areas and making commercial growers adhere to the same environmental standards all the other farmers have to adhere to.

Edited at 2015-01-04 09:12 pm (UTC)
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From:whswhs
Date:January 4th, 2015 03:58 pm (UTC)
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For whatever you think it's worth, your arguments about drugs are almost exactly the same as the libertarian arguments about drugs that I first encountered back around 1970 and thought were obviously right.
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From:elenbarathi
Date:January 4th, 2015 09:11 pm (UTC)
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Oh, I know - that's about when I first encountered them too, only they were not categorized as "libertarian" back then. I don't actually care what brand-label is on any particular idea or set of ideas at any particular time - the whole 'branding' thing makes it impossible to talk about ideas qua ideas, without getting entangled with ideological Team Loyalty.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:January 4th, 2015 03:07 pm (UTC)
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A thought from the libertarian side: Going by the article, this grows out as much from the requirement that banks police their customers as from immigration and drug laws. When banks are held responsible for their customers' actions, they have to take anticipatory actions, and these are bound to fall most heavily on marginalized people.
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From:whswhs
Date:January 4th, 2015 03:55 pm (UTC)
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I think what I would say is that money laundering ought not to be a crime, regardless of whether the money was obtained illegally, and regardless of whether the laws that were broken to obtain it are legitimate (I definitely don't count drug prohibition as legitimate). The essence of money laundering seems to be carrying on financial transactions in such a way as not to create evidence of one's crimes. Prohibiting money laundering thus amounts to requiring people to carry on their financial transactions in such a way as to create evidence against themselves. That seems to go directly against the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits compelling people to be witnesses against themselves, and less directly against the privacy aspect of the Ninth Amendment.

Beyond that, the application of the money laundering regulations seems to be inherently unfair. It involves either picking out arbitrary categories of (mostly small) businesses that are preemptively denied access to banks on the mere suspicion that some of them are covering up criminal financial activities; or comprehensively hindering small businesses from carrying on financial activities, while not imposing such burdens on large corporate enterprises. I don't think it's the business of the government to ensure that the economy is dominated by large businesses.
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From:siderea
Date:January 4th, 2015 10:47 pm (UTC)
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Interesting. This all sounds different if you know that the following is also going on:

1) Banks and credit card processors have been engaged, for a bunch of years now, in a program of discrimination against parties engaged in sex work, even where perfectly legal. This is the tip of an iceberg that is not otherwise in the media.

You may recall that Dreamwidth lost access to its credit card processor a while ago, and had trouble finding one that would accept its business, because of fan fiction. Seriously, DW lost its credit card processor because it found out that there was smut on DW and DW wouldn't take it down.

I know a bunch of small business owners in adult industries, and this is a thing that's been going on for a while now. The reaction of most who have been hit has been "why are these financial institutions being so moralistic?" But there's reason to believe the decisions aren't coming from the financial institutions themselves. There is a notorious known instance where the Dept of Homeland Security pressured credit card companies to refuse service on the grounds of national security/terrorism to a video pornographer who made hard-core torture porn; apparently the terrorism angle was bogus, and the whole thing was that DHS wanted to shut him down for moral reasons, but they knew they couldn't beat the free-speech angle, so instead of finding a way to prosecute, they extra-legally made it so he literally couldn't do business on the internet.

And the thing is, most Americans don't care if people who make porn -- especially torture porn -- are driven out of business. But I'll say here what I've been saying all along: those are test cases. They're trying it out on people nobody else will stand up for, to see if it works.

2) People who are "on disability" in the US may not have more than $2,000 to their names at any given moment; apparently part of getting disability payments is agreeing to allow the government to spot-check (all) your bank accounts, which they apparently actually do. The people I know who all most urgently would like ways to launder money are critically poor people with psychiatric disabilities that render them unemployable, who would like to, e.g. save up money for a car, or a new computer, or first-last-dep for a new apartment.

One has a monthly mortgage payment of $2,100 -- since her husband abandoned her with the house, she's been (illegally) renting out rooms to keep a roof over her head -- but she has to have her tenants pay in cash and have someone not her get a bank check to pay the mortgage, because if she puts the mortgage payment in her checking account, and the government checks in on it at the wrong moment, she'll lose the only income she gets (~$700/mo).

This is a class of people which has been growing dramatically for reasons I'm intending to write a huge big post about. Long story short: the more we move to a "knowledge economy" the more people whose psychiatric impairments impact cognitive performance (memory, concentration, reading, math) are literally unemployable. Turns out in our society, which has no use for manual laborers, the consequence for having a disabling psychiatric condition is that you have to agree to live in crushing poverty in exchange for being allowed to live at all -- and the Federal government measures to prevent "money-laundering" are the means by which that deal is enforced.
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From:nancylebov
Date:January 5th, 2015 12:04 pm (UTC)
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Asset limits vary according to state. I agree that they are low enough to contribute to trapping people. (Some states don't have asset limits.) The link recommends a cap of $25,000.

In The Handmaid's Tale part of the initial attack on women was taking away their credit cards and handing over their bank accounts to husbands and male relatives. (This is from memory.)

Ever since I've read the book, I've wondered how hard that would be to do. Not feasible at present, but the banking system is a very handy, centralized tool for oppression.

In this review and its comments of On the Road (summary: awful people, awful idea of ethics, atrocious treatment of women) there's some discussion how easily the two main characters can find work-- they can just leave wherever they are and find a job-- a boring job with low but livable pay-- in a few days. The most plausible explanation I saw was simply that there was a lot more manual labor that needed to be done in those days.

Edited at 2015-01-05 12:05 pm (UTC)
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From:siderea
Date:January 6th, 2015 02:56 am (UTC)
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Asset limits vary according to state.

That article is discussing something else. That's asset limits for assistance to the poor. I'm talking about asset limits for the disabled; SSI is a Federal program, and the rules I'm mentioning I tracked down once upon a time -- because I didn't believe it could possibly be true when my patients told it to me -- on a Federal .gov website.

In The Handmaid's Tale part of the initial attack on women was taking away their credit cards and handing over their bank accounts to husbands and male relatives. (This is from memory.)

I keep thinking about that; I haven't read the book myself, but there's been a lot of discussion about it recently. It's happening. I think we're seeing it really happening, though it is not targeting women per se.
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From:nancylebov
Date:January 6th, 2015 03:07 am (UTC)
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If they're public, where are these discussions of the Handmaid's Tale?
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From:whswhs
Date:January 6th, 2015 06:26 am (UTC)
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Note that that's specifically disabled people who are on SSI. A disabled person whose payments come entirely from regular social security isn't subject to the same rules. I think in practice that means people who entered adulthood already disabled are restricted, but those who became disabled after supporting themselves may not be.
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