The revelations from the Panama Papers—leaked documents from a secretive Panamanian law firm that helps political elites hide their money—have been hitting home across the world, exposing the widespread corruption of world leaders and their hangers-on.
It ought to hit here, too, because it reminds us of everything that should give us the heebie-jeebies about Hillary Clinton.
The Panama Papers have simply confirmed everything we already pretty much knew. This is just the way things work in much of the world. Clawing your way into high political office means that you have a lot special of favors to give out, contracts to distribute, land and timber and shipping deals to approve, and so on. So you dole them out to friends, relatives, and backers—and they naturally show their gratitude by kicking some of it back to you. And if you don’t officially get rich—well, mi casa es su casa, what’s a little sharing between friends? This has long been Vladimir Putin’s method. “In 2010, US diplomatic cables suggested Putin held his wealth via proxies. The president formally owned nothing, they added, but was able to draw on the wealth of his friends, who now control practically all of Russia’s oil and gas production and industrial resources.” The Panama Papers shed light on the fortune of Putin’s old friend Sergei Roldugin, who has somehow amassed billions as an obscure classical musician. Putin knows how easy it is for corrupt officials to live like kings without officially owning anything, because that’s the way things worked in the good old days of the Soviet Union.
In most of the world, this is known and more or less accepted as the way things work. But not traditionally in the US and in the developed countries of the West, where our governments have been structured, either from the beginning or over many years of civil service reforms, to prevent corruption and conflicts of interest. So when they are exposed, it’s a major scandal. That’s why they’re pretty much ignoring the Panama Papers in Moscow, but in Iceland, crowds swarmed Raykjavik and forced the resignation of the prime minister.
And that confronts us with a question: do we want Panama here?
Because a couple of other names pop up in the Panama Papers, including those of a few well-known associates of Hillary Clinton: longtime Democratic Party fixers John and Tony Podesta and Clinton sycophant Sydney Blumenthal. And why not? Hillary Clinton has been up to her neck in crony deals from the very beginning. All the way back in 1978, for example, she indulged a sudden mania for trading cattle futures, from which she made just shy of $100,000 in less than a year—a lot more money back then than it is now, and a whole lot for a young couple like the Clintons. She has shown no interest in commodities trading since, which is surprising considering how successful she was at it. But maybe not so surprising when you consider that her trades back then were made under the guidance of an attorney who worked for a large company that just happened to be regulated by her husband. Gee, that almost looks like a bribe.
That’s the kind of thing that’s all over the Panama Papers, and it’s what Hillary Clinton has been doing forever. It’s how the Clintons suddenly made $100 million in the first few years after leaving the White House, with nothing to offer the business world but their political connections. It’s why the Clinton Foundation got massive donations from Russian businessmen with deals that required State Department approval.
The problem is wider than Hillary Clinton, of course. Donald Trump has openly bragged about his role in this system from the other end, as the businessman who buys the influence of politicians. Even Bernie Sanders, who has been making hay from the Panama Papers, advocates a much bigger role for government, particularly in regulating international trade—which is precisely the kind of playground for corruption revealed by the Panama Papers. Only Ted Cruz, despite playing footsie with protectionism during the South Carolina primary, advocates a smaller role for government in picking winners and losers in the economy.
The fact is that the reason official corruption is rampant across much of the world is not just that they have insufficient civil service reforms. It’s because their governments have vast, arbitrary powers. Hillary Clinton is one of the most visible reminders of this kind of wheeling and dealing among the global elites—and she presents us with the prospect of bringing the whole sordid system back from Panama and straight into the Oval Office.
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