The NRA playbook, Obama’s pot dilemma, and HSBC’s money laundering

By Steven Brill
December 18, 2012

1. Getting the NRA’s massacre playbook:

In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre, we’ve been reading a lot about school lockdowns and other emergency drills. Here’s an idea for some original reporting about a different kind of emergency drill: Reporters ought to get sources inside the National Rifle Association, or people who deal with the organization, to reveal the playbook the NRA must have developed by now to make sure the group can swing into action whenever there’s an outbreak of mass gun carnage.

Is there an email or phone list in place so that the first crisis team conference call can be convened quickly? Who’s on it in addition to NRA staff? Gun company executives? Lobbyists? Pollsters? PR people?

Is there a set script for the initial comment (such as “Now is not the time to talk politics”) followed by a sequenced set of later responses? How does the response evolve from the first days into the first week and then the second? Who is designated to make decisions about when to start responding to press inquiries and whether to do the Sunday talk shows, who should be the spokespeople and what the talking points should be?

Are staffers on standby to connect “grassroots” gun rights adherents with the media – and is there a list of them for all 50 states so that the response can be local no matter where the next slaughter is?

Who is assigned to do the research to make the case that new gun laws wouldn’t have made a difference in this case, or that if more people were armed the bad guy never could have gotten away with it? Are there templated responses at the ready for shopping mall killings versus school killings?

Who is assigned to warn politicians who get overcome in a moment of weakness and stray from the NRA line in public statements by allowing that maybe the country needs to “have a discussion” about doing something about assault weapons and the capacity of gun magazines? Do the weak-kneed get warned immediately, or is the strategy to wait until the crisis passes?

The best way into this story is to get enough sources to frame a narrative of who at the NRA and among its allies did what in the hours and days immediately after the Newtown shooting. Failing that, I bet the modus operandi could be figured out by looking at the rhetoric and strategy deployed following the last several gun tragedies to see how it matches this one. There are enough incidents to review that a pattern will almost certainly become obvious, as Dave Weigel suggested in Slate on Monday.

2. The marijuana dilemma:

I’m frustrated by the absence so far of a really good report about the legal deliberations inside the Obama administration over what to do about the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington state. Lots of stories have reported around the edges, but I haven’t seen one that has gotten inside the Obama Justice Department and White House to shine light on what has to be one of the most interesting, and no doubt unwelcome, quandaries the administration faces. President Obama may have told Barbara Walters in an interview last week that he has “bigger fish to fry” than to worry about pot smokers, but the issue isn’t that simple.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law. So how can an administration that would instinctively be against state initiatives that contradict other federal laws – suppose Texas passed a law nullifying parts of the Clean Water Act? — justify standing down and not moving in court to reaffirm that federal drug laws preempt state law? That’s exactly what the Obama Administration did when it didn’t like the Arizona legislature’s immigration statute, and in that case the statute went further than federal law rather than contradicting it.

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.

PHOTO: National Rifle Association (NRA) items are displayed at the NRA booth on the grounds of the Iowa straw poll in Ames, Iowa August 13, 2011. REUTERS/Daniel Acker

5 comments

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At this point in the history of the U.S. its evident people still do not understand the issues we face.
With the Newtown issue the only thing that should have been done since the 70′s is teach our educators how to use a stun gun and place security at every school in the nation. The decitions made to this point have cost us dearly and will continue untill all weapons aew wiped off the face of the earth. Can these people preform that act?

Posted by tigertra456 | Report as abusive

I disagree with tigertra456, teachers carrying weapons of any type and armed security in every school is overkill. Connecticut isn’t the West Bank and few school districts in the US justify such measures. How about pointing the finger at the right place: Dick’s Sporting Goods, Wal-Mart, Cabela’s, and other retailers who profit from sales of assualt rifles like the AR-15? Look up a photo of it, there’s absolutely no need for anyone in America – outside of the police and armed forces – to own such a weapon.

Posted by Nullcorp | Report as abusive

Throw Marijuana Legalization in to the cliff talks. I’m sure there are few people who would rather cut Social Security COLA than cut a huge chunk out of the DEA budget.

Posted by anarcurt | Report as abusive

Everyone claims to want a conversation about guns. Really I thought we wanted a conversation about the recent school tragedies. So which do we want to have a conversation on??

Posted by littlebigman | Report as abusive

The testing for drugs on the job or elsewhere should really be the testing for illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and alcohol, to be consistent. This society uses medications and some of us can’t live without them. Sometimes those drugs are helpful and even prescription drugs can be for misdiagnosed conditions or even mis-prescribed for the right condition. There are many options.

This society could easily find itself in a position where a majority of people are using drugs of some kind and could be considered disabled. Very few may actually be considered “clean” enough to work if people wanted to be very critical.

If the author wants to ask some “who is doing what” questions, why not ask how the American Psychiatric Association devised it’s manual of psychiatric ailments? I recall reading a blistering account years ago of the way the list of clinical illnesses or treatable conditions was compiled and it was largely a matter of voting by the membership with a sizable amount of filling in of the blanks by the chairman of the committee. He had some favorite conditions he thought just shouldn’t be omitted from the list. If the conditions are a bit open to debate, even more so are the way the treatments are delivered to school kids and people who seek treatment. Being Gay was considered a form of psychopathic illness for decades even tough Sigmund Freud didn’t think there was anything “psychotic” about homosexuals. The American Psychiatric Association had a bias and worked on that bias. Russian psychiatrists, during the time of the USSR, sometimes thought “dissidents” were psychotic. The Chinese would shoot people who dealt with or smoked marijuana. People can be induced to plea “bipolarity” like Jesse Jackson’s son recently was to cover issues that could ruin his career. Mental “health” is not that cut and dried and it is something that can be made worse by inappropriate or unnecessary treatment. Americans and others seem to think mental health is something that can be nailed down like carpeting or floorboards. The mind isn’t that neat or given to easy answers.

The quality of treatment depends on the quality of the psychiatrist or psychologist and the funding available from the patient and his/her insurance. Money opens doors to better quality and far more attention from the industry. That can be a good thing or a fraud designed to part a fool from his money, depending on the practitioner. Psychiatric health is a big business in this country and the medications are major moneymakers that are advertised to the practitioners. It is not a system that one should put uncritical confidence in. It is as prone to abuse as any other aspect of medical care or any other goods or services and the patients attitude may have as much to do with whether a treatment is effective as the medicine or the counseling.

BTW – Grass is my medication of choice now. I had a treatment for depression recently that had me so worked up I couldn’t sleep for seven days straight. I got off that medication and another I had been taking for almost 13 years and I feel fine. I smoke grass on an off when I can get some. I hardly ever drink, and drink only decaffeinated coffee. I now don’t use the grass to relax as often but I don’t like to do creative drawing as much as I used to while I was stoned.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive