by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Today we read headline stories like this:
"Years before more than a hundred media outlets around the world released stories Sunday (April 3, 2016) exposing a massive network of global tax evasion detailed in the so-called Panama Papers, U.S. President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed for a Bush administration-negotiated free trade agreement that watchdogs warned would only make the situation worse."
After the free trade agreements passed in Congress, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released the following statement:
"The Free Trade Agreements passed by Congress tonight will make it easier for American companies to sell their products to South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which will create jobs here at home. The Obama Administration is constantly working to deepen our economic engagement throughout the world and these agreements are an example of that commitment.
In opposition to the Panama free trade agreement bill being debated in the Senate, Bernie Sanders said this on October 12, 2011 (Panama comments printed here in full) :
Finally, Mr. President, let's talk about the Panama Free Trade Agreement.
Panama's entire annual economic output is only $26.7 billion a year, or about two-tenths of one percent of the U.S. economy. No-one can legitimately make the claim that approving this free trade agreement will significantly increase American jobs.
Then, why would we be considering a stand-alone free trade agreement with this country?
Well, it turns out that Panama is a world leader when it comes to allowing wealthy Americans and large corporations to evade U.S. taxes by stashing their cash in off-shore tax havens. And, the Panama Free Trade Agreement would make this bad situation much worse.
Each and every year, the wealthy and large corporations evade $100 billion in U.S. taxes through abusive and illegal offshore tax havens in Panama and other countries.
According to Citizens for Tax Justice, "A tax haven . . . has one of three characteristics: It has no income tax or a very low-rate income tax; it has bank secrecy laws; and it has a history of non-cooperation with other countries on exchanging information about tax matters. Panama has all three of those. ... They're probably the worst."
Mr. President, the trade agreement with Panama would effectively bar the U.S. from cracking down on illegal and abusive offshore tax havens in Panama. In fact, combating tax haven abuse in Panama would be a violation of this free trade agreement, exposing the U.S. to fines from international authorities.
In 2008, the Government Accountability Office said that 17 of the 100 largest American companies were operating a total of 42 subsidiaries in Panama. This free trade agreement would make it easier for the wealthy and large corporations to avoid paying U.S. taxes and it must be defeated. At a time when we have a record-breaking $14.7 trillion national debt and an unsustainable federal deficit, the last thing that we should be doing is making it easier for the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations in this country to avoid paying their fair share in taxes by setting-up offshore tax havens in Panama.
Adding insult to injury, Mr. President, the Panama FTA would require the United States to waive Buy America requirements for procurement bids from thousands of foreign firms, including many Chinese firms, incorporated in this major tax haven. That may make sense to China, it does not make sense to me.
Finally, Panama is also listed by the State Department as a major venue for Mexican and Colombian drug cartel money laundering. Should we be rewarding this country with a free trade agreement? I think the answer should be a resounding no.
It is very difficult for average citizens like me to see clearly what our politicians are really up to. This is true in part because we no longer have an independent press challenging our politicians pro-business policies. If "free trade" is good for businesses and the wealthy (the donor class), it's good for corporate media profits and for campaign funding PAC's.
It is this nexus between business, politics and the media that form the self-interested "establishment" in America. It is a ruling elite that competes with itself along party lines without faithfully serving the interests of ordinary citizens. Both the extraordinary outsider presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are driven by this single aspect of our national polity, the establishment elite.
Donald Trump representing opposition to the Republican flavor of the establishment elite. He thrashes about like a wild man trying to cobble together a rage tag constituency of the disillusioned on the right.
Senator Sanders, on the other hand, has always seen through the self-serving positions of the New Democrats (or Third Way Democrats). The centrist moves of the modern Democratic party has always been a slide towards corporate power. It helps Democrats win elections because centrist positions are more lucrative for Democratic campaigns. By not accepting PAC money or wealthy donations, Bernie Sanders has demonstrated just how clearly good politicians can see the true impact of proposed legislation.
In this and many other examples, Bernie Sanders is like a prophet. Not the religious kind, but in the secular sense. He sees where we are headed more clearly than most and then uses that information to try and get us to change course. That is what prophets, and parents and true statesmen do.