Gordon Campbell on the (missing) US links to the Panama Papers, and Merle Haggard

Belatedly, US complicity in the global tax avoidance systems is now trickling out into daylight. To some, one of the suspicious aspects of the scandal to date has been how few firms and individuals from the US have featured in the document dump from the Mossack Fonseca law firm. The Guardian did nothing to dispel the potential for paranoia about a Cold War agenda by making the scandal initially seem to be about Vladimir Putin and his cronies. Former British diplomat Craig Murray has come out strongly against the selective nature of the coverage to date.

Calls have been made to release all of the Panama Papers documents – right now – assuming a suitable place is found to store what is said to be 2 terabytes of data, or 11.5 million documents. (The entire Snowden trove by comparison amounted to only 60 gigabytes. Years later, we’re still getting news stories based on Snowden’s mine of information. The same will presumably apply in this case.) The Panama Papers BTW, are not the biggest haul of data in history ; as Slate has reported, a Chinese hack into the US Defence department in 2007, is believed to have yielded 50 terrabtyes, including detailed plans of advanced US weaponry such as the F-35 warplane.

Back to that American connection though, to the Mossack Fonseca papers. Here’s the Japan Times on the subject:

…the United States ranks third in the world in financial secrecy, behind Switzerland and Hong Kong but ahead of notorious tax havens such as the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg. Under a 2010 law, passed after it was learned that the Swiss bank UBS helped thousands of Americans evade U.S. taxes, the United States demands that banks and other financial institutions disclose information on Americans abroad to make sure they pay their U.S. taxes.

But the U.S. doesn’t automatically return the favour. More than 90 countries have signed on to a 2014 information-sharing agreement set up by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but the U.S. is among the few that haven’t joined. American banks don’t even collect the kind of information foreign countries would need to identify tax dodgers.

So….although the US is (a) functioning at state level as a major tax haven and (b) dragging its feet federally, on global moves to minimise tax avoidance, only a few US firms and individuals are cropping up in the Mossack Fonseca coverage. Is this a conspiracy – or is it in reality, a reflection of Mossack Fonseca’s roster of clients? The McClatchy newspaper chain is the only major US news organisation associated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) who acted as brokers on the Panama Papers release. Here’s part of McClatchy’s coverage:

The passports of at least 200 Americans show up in this week’s massive leak of secret data on secretive offshore shell companies.

Given the high-profile nature of some of the foreign names in the leaks – close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin were seen moving more than $2 billion through shell companies – many of the Americans may seem like small fish. In four separate cases, the law firm Mossack Fonseca helped register offshore companies for Americans who are now either accused or convicted by federal prosecutors of serious financial crimes, including securities fraud and running a Ponzi scheme.

Small fish then, so far. John Cassidy in the New Yorker tackles the same issue. He too, points to the prominent US role in global tax avoidance. Among Cassidy’s observations is this possible explanation:

Eoin Higgins, a writer from Massachusetts, suggested another possible factor as well: the diplomatic relationship between Washington and Panama. In many cases, the entire point of setting up a shell company is to hide things. But, in 2010, the United States and Panama signed a trade-promotion agreement that, among other things, obliged Panama to provide to the U.S. authorities, on request, “information regarding the ownership of companies, partnerships, trusts, foundations, and other persons, including . . . . ownership information on all such persons in an ownership chain.” Higgins pointed out, “If Panama had ever been an attractive destination for American offshore storage of funds, this agreement shut the door on that possibility.”

In other words, the Mossack Fonseca papers are only one window on a global system whereby the wealthy avoid paying their just share of taxes. New Zealand of course, has bought into that system boots and all, and the Key government denials that we are a tax haven are indeed ‘rubbish’as the ICIJ told RNZ this morning.

For the best part of ten years, Key has enthusiastically promoted New Zealand as a tax shelter, without shame. The dream of making us the Switzerland of the South Seas though…has just gotten a lot more difficult to realise.

The TPP charade continues

If it is blasé about tax avoidance, the Key government simply cannot be bothered going through the motions of democratic process on, you know, major trade deals that aim to bind us in perpetuity. The time allocated for parliamentary submission (and report back) on the Trans Pacific Partnership is being significantly reduced.

And why? Reportedly, Mark Mitchell the National MP and chair of the select committee hearing the submissions, thinks that people have made up their minds. Heaven forbid! Quel horreur that people should have an opinion of their own, and damn their eyes if it is an opinion different from the one being promoted by government. Lets have a submission process where people simply turn up and shout “huzzah” at every will and whim of their wise governors, preferably while tossing their caps in the air.

What is really irksome about the shortened submission/report back is that it comes at the end of a long line of travesties. Remember the claimed need for secrecy, because supposedly that’s how trade negotiations are done – even though (a) trade negotiators actually know in detail what each other’s positions are and (b) in the case of every delegation, the corporates and friends of government were being extensively briefed throughout the process. Only the general public was being kept in the dark. The “ secrecy” excuse before the deal was done was a sham…and now, the end game is a similar travesty.

Reportedly, the Obama White House is planning on a Congressional vote on the TPP during the “lame duck” session that occurs between the November election and the inauguration of the next President in January. Typical. So…US legislators who won’t be around to administer the TPP and its consequences, will help to vote it into law – while those elected in November to deal with its consequences won’t get to vote on it. When I asked Prime Minister John Key at last Monday’s post Cabinet press conference whether he thought that this situation in any way undermined the mandate for the TPP, he denied that it did. Nothing to see here folks, move on.

Antonin Scalia, adieu.

Liked the news item this week that George Mason University in the US has been forced into a name change for its bid to commemorate the recently deceased US Supreme Court judge, Antonin Scalia. The ‘Antonia Scalia School of Law’ had sounded like such a good idea, until someone noticed the alarming (and some would say, entirely appropriate) acronym: ASSoL.

Merle Haggard, RIP

The great country singer and songwriter died earlier this week, at the age of 79. Haggard was one of the last remaining links to the Okie migration to California, and his upbringing was legendarily difficult ; he’d been in 17 correctional institutions by the age of 21, culminating in a two years, nine month stretch in San Quentin prison. After turning to music as a career, Haggard’s subsequent charity work among disadvantaged children was one sign of the empathy that marks his greatest songs. “Kern River” is a particular favourite, a song I first became aware of it through this version by Dave Alvin:

Alvin later talked eloquently about the song – and its writer – to Rolling Stone magazine back in 2009:

When you say, ‘Who’s the great California songwriter?’ people say, ‘Brian Wilson,’ ” says California guitarist and songwriter Dave Alvin. “And he is, for a particular California. But Merle is the voice of another California.” Alvin singles out “Kern River” — about a girl drowning in the treacherous waters that separated Bakersfield from the Okie settlements — as one of the great evocations of place and class in the Golden State. “It’s amazingly deep and complicated,” he says. “I hear a lot of California in those two and a half minutes….”
One of Haggard’s own favourite interpreters of his music was Iris Dement. He particularly loved her version of “Big City” – on which, he told the writer Nicholas Dawidoff in Dawidoff’s book In The Country of Country, Dement sounded exactly the way that he imagined the song, when he wrote it.

Finally, Haggard was a great singer of his own compositions, too. This is a live version of ‘Kern River.’ It is a stripped back visitation of this utterly eerie and haunting song, and of the region in which Haggard was raised, and which he’d fled through as a young fugitive…It was also where he built a house (on the shores of Lake Shasta) for the second of his five wives, after he’d become successful.

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10 Comments on Gordon Campbell on the (missing) US links to the Panama Papers, and Merle Haggard

  1. I guess the one big question that I suppose has always been hanging over the TPP saga is whether there’s ever been anything anyone could have done to stop this. It’s been clear from the beginning that the Key government (representing well the banking and finance industry) was going to push this through, absent any sense of democracy or loyalty to the country.

    We have always known who owns Key. That’s been obvious since before he was PM; indeed, that’s probably why he is PM. His legacy, his signature act was never going to be changing the flag, it will be pushing through the TPP, his legacy, a stain that will last for decades. The flag was just one of the distractions, the magician’s slight of hand.

    The very nature of treaties meant that the Cabinet could do what it damned well wanted and there was nothing the public could do to stop them, and they knew it. They’re just shoving our noses in it now. The word for this in any other reality would be treason, high treason: the crime of disloyalty to the Crown.

  2. The illegitimate Crown NZ govt is an entity of the bank of England, same banking cabal that Key takes his orders from.
    The same group( who owns the big corporations) behind the TPPA .

    The Waitangi treaty made with the Queen of England and a handful of (now dead) earlier settlers without a constitution does not allow the Bank of England’s entity ( Crown) the lawful right to govern NZ.
    The TPPA is also not legal or lawful agreement/contract having no consent from the people of NZ (the effected party).
    The public’s unquestioning belief in the authority of this corrupt system keeps it in place.
    The fact and question is how much longer are the many brainwashed “poll dancing” people going to hold themselves (and others) in this, the Bankster’s debt slavery system.

  3. Ichiro indeed the flag was a distraction. An expensive distraction that makes the conditioned masses think that they have a ‘democracy” after the asset sales, privatizations and signing of the TPPA demonstrated beyond a doubt that they do not .

  4. And now slowly people are awakening from their deep myopic state of political indifference and……oh!! we are on the rocks!! who is this idiot at the helm?

  5. In the case of Panama it’s more a matter of Teddy Roosevelt and cronies ‘setting up’ a shell COUNTRY, used ever since for ‘hiding things’. Although ‘setting up’ is altogether too gentle a term for the late rerun of 1836-1848.

  6. Key is the global banking cabal’s cabin boy, he is not at the helm of this attempt at a draconian world govt.

    If people were politically indifferent they would not get as manipulated into voting (to be powerless chattels under maritime law).
    There is deep political ignorance, people being played by ideology, actually voting to be ruled by the corporate candidates.

  7. You are being a bit hard on John Key. Remember, he is only a politician, and politics is the art of the possible.
    The TPPA is the big boys game.
    Mafia like, the little players have have been given an offer that they cant refuse.
    A broken arm, or a broken leg.
    They can either opt out, which would be a disaster, or they can join the ranks, which is an almost equal disaster.
    The big players however have been pragmatic enough however to give the returning politicians a few crumbs, enough to placate the voters at home, and allow the returnees to claim victory.
    We have not heard a lot from the opposing politicians at home because they are smart enough to know that if they were in power, they would be in exactly the same position.

  8. Ichiro,

    You would be hard pressed to suggest that Obama was put into the White House to get TPP through. And John Key was hardly selected by his colleagues as the leader of the National Party with TPP in mind.

    Now I appreciate that many on the left think this is all about neo-liberalism. But this is wrong.

    Free trade has deep antecedents going back centuries, with Adam Smith et. al. It is classic liberalism, in fact one of its foundation stones.

    The post war era started with GATT 1947 as the great trade liberalization pact, specifically to avoid the errors of the 1930’s. Bilateral and multilateral trade agreements have been ubiquitous under GATT ever since.

    For all National Party members and members of parliament, free trade has ever been an article of faith.

    Labour found a ready friend in National when it needed support for the China FTA, given that its coalition partners (NZF and the Greens) were opposed.

    So when National inherited the TPP negotiations from Labour it was and is an national continuation of what National believes. In fact it would be inconceivable for National to have any senior Ministers who were not committed believers in free trade. No-one would even ask them about this, since it would be so self evident.

  9. Alex alas you are beguiled by Wall St’s John Key. Politics(or “the neocon’s Mafia”) is not about the “art of the possible” .
    Politics is currently about deception, using opposition to fool the people into thinking they have a democracy, about creating legislation that facilitates the continued wealth transfers from the people to the big corporations (in various dodgy schemes that never get investigated they are just covered up).
    I have not been harsh to say John Key is not the power behind a global govt, as long as he supports the banking cabal and it’s banks and corporations he is just a bankster muppet .
    The secret to the crumbs given by Rockefellers and Rothschild is they do it to maintain the illusion and control, if people knew the truth of their own power that their very belief and consent is required their system would fall.

  10. Wayne Mapp baloney ! The TPPA is not about free trade, free trade is not about the SDR for govt agencies and NZ acting as administrator of the secret trust (NZ people obligated to meet the undisclosed costs of this administration).
    A disgusting act it was, a demonstration of the total lack of democracy, a rogue corporate govt signing an unlawful agreement.The effected party is the people of NZ -whom had no disclosure .Even the so called opposition on the TPPA were corporate crony lawyers whose smaller sin was to forget to name the people of NZ as the effected party in the delayed faux legal procedures .

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