Nail That Coffin Shut!
by Alexander Cockburn, June 29, 2011
How many nails does it require to whack down forever the coffin lid on European social democracy? Lenin, outraged in 1914 at the sight of Social Democratic parties across Europe rallying behind their national flags and voting war credits to unleash the horrors of the First World War, would have been caustically unsurprised just over a century later at the current spectacle in Athens.
Here, last Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou won a no-confidence vote for what Michael Hudson describes in his article on our CounterPunch.org site last week as a program for national suicide, which can only be thwarted by a national referendum. All 155 deputies of the ruling social democratic PASOK party voted for the government, the 143 MPs from all other parties voted against it. Two independent deputies were absent from the vote.
The confidence vote was to ram through an austerity package, amounting to over €78 billion, against the furious protests and resistance of the Greek people. Around €28 billion of the total is to be raised through spending cuts and increased revenue, while €50 billion will be raised through the privatization of state enterprises.
It really is a bit rich to hear preachments from Germany about the importance of paying debts. 90% of all Germans oppose a bailout for Greece on the grounds of the latter's aversion to paying reparations for its supposed profligacy.
Never has a country flourished more mightily than Germany from flouting reparations and debts.
Albrecht Ritschl, a professor at the London School of Economics, points out in an interview in Der Spiegel that Germany welshed on loans from the US to pay the reparations levied by the Allies after World War One. After World War II, a divided Germany was excused reparations to countries such as Greece which it had invaded. Under a 1953 treaty, the issue of reparations was on the table after reunification in 1990. But Ritschl says: "With the exception of compensation paid out to forced laborers, Germany did not pay any reparations after 1990 — and neither did it pay off the loans and occupation costs it pressed out of the countries it had occupied during World War II. Not to the Greeks, either." Ritschl reckons Germany was "the biggest debt transgressor of the 20th century."
DSK: Is the Fix In?
Let's move now to the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Lenin would have given yet another caustic laugh at the sight of Strauss-Kahn calculating that the post of managing director of the IMF — bludgeon of the major capitalist powers to extort money from the poorer nations — – as a fine qualification to be the presidential candidate of the French social democrats. To assist in this cause, Mark Hosenball revealed recently for Reuters that DSK retained TD International, a Washington DC consulting firm run by former CIA officers and US diplomats, to promote his quest for the IMF post. Lately Strauss-Kahn's legal team has informally sought public relations advice from TD International.
Now for the present status of the case. It's been set up as a battle of moralities, in the simplest terms: the poor immigrant black African, Nafissato Diallo, versus the rich, white Dominique Strauss-Kahn, with the principals and their lawyers going mano a mano in a trial presently scheduled to begin on July 18.
This side of the Atlantic, Americans have been thumping themselves on the back for the supposedly robust ethos of one-law-for-the-rich-and-poor-alike that has seen the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. press charges of rape and kindred sexual offenses against the powerful former managing director of the IMF. A New York judge set stringent and costly conditions of bail for the accused. If convicted he faces a prison term.
Meanwhile some French whine, without any convincing evidence, that DSK is the victim of conspiracy. Others say this is a wake-up call. Emboldened feminists roll out charges that rich French men regularly get away with serious unwanted sexual onslaughts, by dint of money, power, cultural attitudes.
Of course money counts in the justice system, on both sides of the Atlantic. Probably more rich people end up in prison in the US than in France, but most rich crooks don't. They don't even get charged. Ask the bankers, bonds rating agencies and hedge fund operators who bankrupted America with egregious fraud in 2008.
All in all it's still surprising that the alleged assault at a fancy hotel wasn't promptly covered up, as generally happens, whether the perp is French, American, Arab or indeed African. The difference may have been a new police investigator, a new Manhattan DA, a new union rep, video cameras in the hallway, or some variable making it impossible for the hotel to hush it up.
DSK is married to a very rich woman, Anne Sinclair, granddaughter of Paul Rosenberg, Picasso's principal art dealer through the late 1920s and 1930s. Loyal to her man, vocally complaisant about his sexual activities during their marriage, she seems set to spend what it takes.
The accuser, Nafissato Diallo, is poor, and comes from a poor family in Guinea. Her first lawyer — Jeffrey Shapiro, rather mysteriously described in the immediate aftermath of DSK's arrest on charges of a sexual onslaught on the hotel housekeeper, as a "family friend" — is now off the case. So is the well known civil rights lawyer, Norman Siegel. Neither will say why.
As CounterPunch's Pam Martens reported on CounterPunch.or on Monday: "Siegel, a stalwart defender of the First Amendment, was uncharacteristically sparse in his explanation by phone: 'I can only say I am not representing her'."
Enter Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who recently laid out the arguments for a deal with some verve in Newsweek:
“…my sense is that the victim would like a big payday. Why does she want to make a deal now? Why not wait until the conviction, and then sue? [Because] the defendant doesn't have much money.
"All the money is his wife's money. And if you win a suit — let's assume she wins a $10 million judgment against him. She's not going to collect it. He'll go bankrupt. Whereas if she settles the case, the wife pays up.
"So the difference is between getting, say, a million right now from the wife, or $10 million from the husband which the lawyer has to spend the rest of his life chasing."
A reporter from Le Figaro asked Dershowitz "how to seal such an agreement without obstructing justice", and the professor responded:
"This is possible through a parent who does not fall under the jurisdiction of New York. The family members of DSK in Paris, for example, do not. If they try to reach an agreement directly with the New York lawyer, they can be charged with obstruction. But they can negotiate directly with the family of the complainant outside the State of New York or Guinea.
"It is an extremely delicate dance to lead… [the prosecutor] cannot prevent the family from making an agreement. All he can do is threaten to open an investigation for obstruction of justice. He can say: 'If ever I hear of an explicit agreement or implicit exchange of money in order to buy the silence of the victim, you will go to jail.' Then each risk up to five years in prison.
"But it is still difficult for the prosecutor to stop the agreement… [the woman's lawyer] may want to see justice done, but ultimately, money is more important."
Dershowitz argued that when the accuser's lawyer said he was cooperating with the prosecutor, "it was just a message to the defense that said he expected an offer.”
To clarify the issues in Newsweek Dershowitz reached for a helpful parallel:
"The problem is the high-wire dance is going to be very hard to orchestrate here. Because nobody can say: 'I will give you a million dollars, $2 million, $3 million, and you have to not testify.' That's obstruction of justice, that's a crime. So the request essentially has to come from the victim. Did you ever hear of the concept of the Shabbos goy? The Shabbos goy is when an Orthodox Jew wants the light to be on, on a Saturday, and he sees a Gentile. He can't ask the Gentile to turn on the light, because that would be a sin. But he can say to the Gentile, 'Boy, it's really dark here.' And then the Gentile has to come up with the idea, 'Hmmm, it would be nice if I turned on the light.' [The defense lawyer], because he's an Orthodox Jew, understands that he needs a Shabbos goy here. He needs somebody who will understand that he can't ask for something that he wants. And what he wants is for this witness to go away."
(This led the Mostly Kosher website to headline the Dershowitz quote "Worst use of a Jewish metaphor" and to ask plaintively, "Couldn't we find a non Jewish metaphor to suggest doing something illegal?")
So, who has Ms. Diallo now got representing her? None other than Thompson Wigdor, a New York law firm that, in Pam Martens' words, "represents the management of large multinational companies against their employees while simultaneously representing the lone employee fighting for justice against, uh, large multinational companies — a David v. Goliath firm or Goliath v. David firm, depending on the particular day's press release."
Martens emphasizes that these are aggressive, well-credentialed lawyers who have scored big wins. She knows what she's talking about. Before retirement she worked for years on Wall Street and saw close-up how the big firms used legal muscle to crush efforts to bring them to book for sexual discrimination and harassment.
In substantive terms, the prime obstruction to a deal is Cyrus Vance Jr., son of a former secretary of state and most definitely a member of the WASP legal elite. He's a favorite of upper-tier liberals. Endorsing his bid to become DA were such figures as Gloria Steinem, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, Caroline Kennedy and former mayor David Dinkins.
Vance will certainly be reluctant to have his reputation tarnished in a high profile case by rolling over in some deal slathered with Mme Sinclair's cash and clearly designed to outflank the implacable march of justice and the eagerness of progressives to see DSK locked away.
We can assume that the accuser is being buffeted by advocates of possibly opposing strategies. Of course her formal attorney, Kenneth Thompson of Thompson Wigdor, has her ear. According to Martens, "there is no evidence that her colleagues at the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council union are able to stay in touch with her and provide her a support network."
The New York Times has reported that her brothers in Guinea have been unable to reach her on her cellphone. We can assume that the DA's office knows where she is, and is therefore in a position to make her aware of the legal stakes and issues involved.
There is a recent interesting semi-parallel. In February, the US government was able to spring the CIA agent Raymond Davis from a Lahore jail, after he had been charged with shooting to death two young Pakistanis on January 27 who, he claimed, were trying to kill him.
Informed sources in Pakistan told our Shauquat Qadir that a price tag of about $1.5 million per family has been paid, with US citizenship for a dozen or more members of each family, with job guarantees for those of age and education opportunities guaranteed for children — more than they could ever dream of and sufficiently tempting for them to pardon Davis.
Money in sufficient quantity rarely loses its persuasive powers.
Alexander Cockburn can be reached at email@example.com