Then again, how can an administration propelled to re-election in large part by a liberal base interfere in the liberalization of laws banning a product that some see as no more dangerous than alcohol, while needlessly ensnaring millions in a clogged criminal justice system?

Who in the Obama Administration is playing which parts in the debate? Are any decisions being floated among various groups, such as law enforcement types or criminal justice reformers? Is anything being poll-tested?

Then there’s the private-sector part of the story. Most large employers test new hires for evidence of illegal drug use and sometimes even test current employees at set intervals. The ostensible purpose is to screen for lawbreakers and, in some situations, for people whose drug use could affect job safety. (In fact, anyone with a federal contract is required to do drug screening.) But suppose you’re a private employer in Colorado or Washington state and the work your employees do is not the kind where marijuana use, even while not on the job, might affect workplace safety (assuming use of marijuana while not on the job could ever affect workplace safety). In other words, you run a newspaper or accounting firm, not a dynamite factory. With marijuana use now legal in those two states, if you insist on testing your workers for marijuana, can’t you now be sued for an invasion of privacy?

3. Are HSBC’s money-laundering executives too big to fail?

The implication—and in some cases, even the stated explanation—for why HSBC Bank was allowed earlier this month to settle its massive money-laundering case for a monetary penalty has been, as this New York Times report put it, that “criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system.” According to the Times, “Behind the scenes, authorities debated for months the advantages and perils of a criminal indictment against HSBC.”

However, in this and other stories, the focus has been on why the bank wasn’t indicted? Who cares about indicting a corporation? Is the corporate seal going to do time? Why weren’t executives who were responsible for the money laundering indicted? For prosecutors to have had a case worth a $1.92 billion settlement, they had to have had specific evidence, which means specific people knowingly committing criminal acts. So, why no criminal indictments? Could these allegedly criminal executives be so important to a stable “global financial system” that they’re untouchable? That would certainly add a new dimension to the notion of too big to fail.

Reporters needs to ask the prosecutors about that.

 

More in Behind the News

Big kingdom, small window

Read More »

Steven Brill , the author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight To Fix America’s Schools, has written for magazines including New York, The New Yorker, Time, Harper's, and The New York Times Magazine. He founded and ran Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, ten regional legal newspapers, and Brill's Content magazine. He also teaches journalism at Yale, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative.