If you read the Sunday papers, you’ve heard the buzz phrase now rocking the news cycle: the Panama Papers. This is, as Bernie would say, a yuuuuuge story about global corruption and tax evasion. What this sorry story tells us is that the rigging of economic systems to favor the wealthy over the people is happening throughout the planet. It’s enough to make a progressive populist physically sick.
The short story, in case you missed it: About 2.6 terrabytes of internal documents from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca — more than US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden disseminated— were leaked to the German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The gargantuan release exposed government officials, political leaders, celebrities, and athletes from around the world and detailed how they acquired shell companies that allowed bigwigs to hide their money and business dealings.
From USA Today:
The newspaper, which described in an article how it acquired the trove of documents, said the source of the material wanted no financial compensation. The source asked only for encryption and other security measures: “There are a couple of conditions. My life is in danger. We will only chat over encrypted files. No meetings, ever. The choice of stories is up to you.”
Asked why the source was leaking the documents, the reply was: “I want to make these crimes public.”
The documents provide details on some shocking acts of corruption in Russia, hint at scandalous goings-on in a range of developing nations, and may prompt a political crisis in Iceland.
But they also offer the most granular look ever at a banal reality that’s long been hiding in plain sight. Even as the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nations have engaged in increasingly complex and intensive efforts at international cooperation to smooth the wheels of global commerce, they have willfully chosen to allow the wealthiest members of Western society to shield their financial assets from taxation (and in many cases divorce or bankruptcy settlement) by taking advantage of shell companies and tax havens.
It’s not just the United States that boasts political and economic systems rigged to favor the corporatist, moneyed class over the people, it’s pretty much the whole damn world, covering the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. And this activity is not recent. CNN reports that the 11 million documents investigated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and partner reporters including the BBC, the Guardian, and McClatchy Newspapers, show the alleged coverup network (which reportedly includes cronies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a member of global soccer group FIFA’s ethics committee, and parties indicted for corruption in the US) has been at work for almost 40 years.
One of those named in the leak is Iceland Prime Minister (and chair of his nation’s Progressive Party) Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. He now faces calls to resign and is reluctant to discuss the matter.
Mossack Fonseca, the law firm known for serving as an intermediary for those who want to establish tax havens, has made a statement to ICIJ intimating that its work is simply too complicated for the masses to understand. According to the company, no laws were broken, and that may indeed be true. But just because something is legal does not make it moral.
One thing is for sure: If you’re middle class, a low-wage worker, or flat-out poor, the system is rigged against you — here in the US and worldwide. Wealthy lives matter. We don’t.
Grateful Dread Radio