The Orion

Let the Panama Papers be a reminder to pay attention

Photo credit: Dongyoung Won

Photo credit: Dongyoung Won

William Rein and Dongyoung Won

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There are many reasons right now to get involved in politics: whether you’re part of Black Lives Matter and believe we live in a racially contracted state; or you align with feminism and believe we live in a patriarchy; or you side with fringe political groups and believe we live in a police state; or you value privacy and believe we live in a surveillance state.

There is truth to any and all of these. While many movements appear overly subversive or radical they rarely get to that stage without their hands forced by a genuine issue.

It can be worrisome about where to start caring. There are issues on home turf. After Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 109, for example, Chico’s county jails have been flooded with non-violent, non-serious and non-sexual offenders. It’s easy to witness the effects of poor legislation and regulation on every inch of soil that the law touches.

But to hone in on international issues, you can do no better than to pay attention to investigative journalism.

The most recent in a line of whistleblows is the Panama Papers leak, in which 11 million papers (2.6 terabytes of data) were published by various news stations, documenting offshore money-maneuvering from the 1 percent across the United Kingdom, Russia, Pakistan, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, China, Mexico and other countries over the past 40 years.

Among those named are Ian Cameron, father of the United Kingdom’s prime minister David Cameron, Vladimir Putin’s close friend Sergei Roldugin, as well as Iceland’s prime minister’s spouse. While the reports are still being interpreted (after waiting a year in the vaults of a newspaper in Munich), it’s damning to say the least.

Offshore accounting is the go-to method for tax evasion, sanctions avoidance and wealth discretion for the rich and elite. Reports of our presidents, celebrities and anyone with political power not playing by the rules they’re supposed to enforce is disheartening and dynamite for political unrest.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found that some of the money may have been involved in money laundering as well: the key ingredient in wide-scale illegal markets.

Ever since Nixon declared drugs “Public Enemy No. 1” and the September 11th attacks, the countries with the largest national wealth have enacted legislation to increase surveillance of laundering (like the Financial Action Task Force). The Panama Papers might reveal that the wealthiest inhabitants have been able to sidestep these parameters.

The law firm Mossack Fonseca connects this underground network and was raided on April 12 by Panama’s organized crime unit. Through Twitter, the firm has maintained that it was hacked and the information is being “misrepresented.”

The president of Panama, however, said Monday in The New York Times, “don’t blame Panama – tax evasion is a global problem”: a recognition of what the papers truly mean.

In case Panama is too far away to care, there are closer struggles rising that concern similar issues.

Just a month ago, students and faculty at UC Davis, our 100-mile neighbor, organized for the resignation of their chancellor, Linda Katehi, after it was discovered she had taken other for-profit jobs to rack up over $400,000 in addition to her chancellor’s paycheck.

The strike that would have occurred April 13 was prompted by similar perceived disparities in income and poorly-documented assets.

When Snowden leaked some of the NSA’s secret files, some rushed to call him a traitor. This is a poor understanding of his motivations. Since the famous leaks, we’ve become more aware of how much of our domestic lives is really private and protected.

To paraphrase Glenn Greenwald: It is concerning when the government, the “public sector,” acts with complete privacy, and the people, the “private sector,” and their activities become public information.

With the Panama Papers leak, it’s another opportunity to understand how our lives stand in contrast to the supremely wealthy. And it’s a great time to pay attention to the issues of government.

The upcoming national election is the first many Chico State students will have legal status to participate in. Find the issues, do your research, create an informed opinion and maybe you can make a difference.

The 1 percent is counting on you not to.

William Rein can be reached at [email protected] or @toeshd on Twitter.

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Let the Panama Papers be a reminder to pay attention