FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
April 30, 2014
U.S. Library of Congress

Federal prosecutors are preparing to file criminal charges against at least two of the world's largest banks, The New York Times reports, tackling the "public outcry over the perception that Wall Street giants are 'too big to jail.'" That perception is due largely to the fact that five years after the global economy collapsed under the weight of shady mortgage and lending practices at the world's biggest banks, no top bank or banker has been charged with a crime.

So who are the feds going after? Switzerland's Credit Suisse and France's BNP Paribas, according to The Times' sources. Now, both banks operate in the U.S., and neither's hands are clean in the housing bust, but that's not what the Justice Department and bank regulators are going after them for. The case against Credit Suisse reportedly hinges on its selling tax shelters to Americans, and BNP is accused of conducting business with U.S.-blacklisted countries like Sudan and Iran. Criminal investigations are underway for U.S. banks, but at a less-advanced stage, The Times reports.

If you were inclined toward cynicism, you might suggest that unlike foreign banks, Wall Street giants tend to donate liberally to U.S. politicians in both parties — and they're potential (high-paying) future employers for government bank regulators. But it's probably more likely in this case that prosecutors will have an easier time making the case that Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas actually broke the law.

What Wall Street banks did to the economy and hundred of thousands of unlucky homebuyers may be "criminal" in the figurative sense — as in, "casting Keanu Reeves in that role is criminal" — but proving that bankers committed actual legal crimes is tricky. There's the law, and this other problem: If banks are convicted of a crime, bank regulators may have to pull their charters, which "amounts to a death sentence for a bank," former U.S. prosecutor Daniel Levy tells The Times. A guilty plea by BNP would be the biggest from a bank since junk-bond pioneer Drexel Burnham Lambert in 1989. Peter Weber

11:00 a.m. ET

For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is about to start regulating electronic cigarettes, cigars, hookahs, and pipe tobacco just as it does tobacco products. The Obama administration announced the new rules Thursday, which will take effect in 90 days and prohibit teens under the age of 18 from purchasing e-cigarettes. Those purchasing the products will have to show photo identification, and both free samples and sales of the products in vending machines accessible to minors will no longer be allowed.

The rule change will also require manufacturers whose products hit the market after Feb. 15, 2007, to provide the FDA with a list of product ingredients and get approval from the agency for continued sales. Health warnings will now be required on packaging and in advertisements.

Prior to these regulations, the $3-billion e-cigarette industry faced little to no federal oversight or consumer protections. Becca Stanek

11:00 a.m. ET
Matt Cowan/Getty Images for Stagecoach

Most Americans would prefer a more restrained foreign policy and greater attention to solving issues here at home, say new poll results from Pew Research Center.


(Pew Research Center)

Some 57 percent prefer having the U.S. "deal with its own problems" while letting other countries deal with theirs, while only 37 percent disagree, saying America should help other nations solve their problems. Broken down along party lines, Democrats were almost evenly split on this question, while nearly two thirds of Republicans favored dealing with our own problems over trying to help abroad.

Partisan differences emerge on defense spending, too. While Republicans prefer a less activist foreign policy, they want higher defense spending. And though Democrats are more comfortable with intervention, they want to do it on the cheap. Bonnie Kristian

10:54 a.m. ET

There's a massive wildfire burning in Canada right now. In the oil town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, a blaze spanning at least 10,000 hectares is raging and has been amplified by the hot, dry conditions in the area. The flames have destroyed more than 1,600 structures, forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 residents, and could "threaten the entire community," according to the CBC.

It can be hard to understand what a wildfire this huge looks like, but Canada's National Post newspaper dedicated its front page to this harrowing photograph:

Because weather conditions are still so unfavorable, the intense heat has interrupted air operations intended to fight the blaze. The CBC reports that more than 150 firefighters have been working the disaster, with many more planned to arrive from other provinces to join the battle. Kimberly Alters

10:28 a.m. ET
Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images

Bill Clinton handily won West Virginia when he ran for president in 1992 and 1996. Hillary Clinton was the state's overwhelming favorite in its 2008 Democratic primary, beating Barack Obama by a whopping 41 percent.

But in 2016, West Virginia doesn't like the Clintons anymore. Bill was booed during a recent campaign stop, and if current polling results hold, Hillary stands to lose the state's May 10 primary to Bernie Sanders.

West Virginians' newfound animosity for the Clintons significantly stems from Hillary's March promise to "put coal miners out of work" if elected president, which predictably did not sit will with the state's many coal miners. She has since backtracked, apologizing for the comment this week. Bonnie Kristian

10:14 a.m. ET
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) is certain America can do much better than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. In a scathing Twitter rant Wednesday night — coupled with an open letter posted on Facebook — Sasse suggested that instead of settling for one of "two terrible choices," America should consider drafting a third-party candidate.

Sasse, one of the few leading Republicans who has openly said he will not support Trump even if he is the GOP nominee, proceeded to offer reason after reason why neither Trump nor Clinton were fit for the Oval Office:

Sasse's solution? "An honest leader who will focus on 70 percent solutions for the next four years," he wrote. "You know... an adult?" Becca Stanek

10:09 a.m. ET
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump has all but locked up the Republican nomination for president of the United States — a plan that has apparently been a long, long time in the making. Rediscovered by The Daily Beast, Trump once wrote a defense of "a Trump candidacy" for a 2000 issue of Gear, in which he slams pundits for bemoaning "celebrity culture" and explains the advantages to sending a "billionaire to the White House."

It is spookily prescient:

America deserves a government that welcomes the kind of original thinking that has made our country great … A straight-talking citizen politician — like me — can have a huge impact. The whinnying culture critics and media hacks [who] bemoan the rise of celebrity culture and warn about the decline of traditional political values. They're on somebody's payroll. As a true conservative, I believe that a citizen politician, with the support of other private citizens, is smart enough and gifted enough to lead this great country and give it new spirit. If things go well, I'll have a chance to demonstrate that fact. [Donald Trump, via The Daily Beast]

Read the entire eerie article over at The Daily Beast. Jeva Lange

9:11 a.m. ET
Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images

MSNBC's Chris Matthews was certainly enjoying Donald Trump's victory speech in Indiana on Tuesday — but in the creepiest way possible. Caught unwittingly on a hot mic, Matthews can be heard ogling at Melania Trump as Brian Williams wraps up his commentary.

"Look how she walks. Did you see her walk? That's a runway walk," Matthews is heard effusing as Melania follows her husband onto the stage. "My God, is that good."

Williams — apparently scrambling— then cuts to a commercial break:

A spokesperson for Melania Trump released a statement to Variety later saying that "it is unfortunate to see the continuous inaccuracies and misrepresentations made by the media of Mrs. Trump as anything less than the independently successful woman that she is." Jeva Lange

See More Speed Reads