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Posts Tagged ‘kleptocracy

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster”*…

 

kleptocracy

 

When the U.S.S.R. collapsed, Washington bet on the global spread of democratic capitalist values—and lost…

Much of the rest of the world wanted to shout for joy about the trajectory of history, and how it pointed in the direction of free markets and liberal democracy. [CIA Moscow station chief Richard] Palmer’s account of events in Russia, however, was pure bummer. In the fall of 1999, he testified before a congressional committee to disabuse members of Congress of their optimism and to warn them of what was to come.

American officialdom, Palmer believed, had badly misjudged Russia. Washington had placed its faith in the new regime’s elites; it took them at their word when they professed their commitment to democratic capitalism. But Palmer had seen up close how the world’s growing interconnectedness—and global finance in particular—could be deployed for ill. During the Cold War, the KGB had developed an expert understanding of the banking byways of the West, and spymasters had become adept at dispensing cash to agents abroad. That proficiency facilitated the amassing of new fortunes. In the dying days of the U.S.S.R., Palmer had watched as his old adversaries in Soviet intelligence shoveled billions from the state treasury into private accounts across Europe and the U.S. It was one of history’s greatest heists.

Washington told itself a comforting story that minimized the importance of this outbreak of kleptomania: These were criminal outliers and rogue profiteers rushing to exploit the weakness of the new state. This narrative infuriated Palmer. He wanted to shake Congress into recognizing that the thieves were the very elites who presided over every corner of the system…

The United States, Palmer made clear, had allowed itself to become an accomplice in this plunder. His assessment was unsparing. The West could have turned away this stolen cash; it could have stanched the outflow to shell companies and tax havens. Instead, Western banks waved Russian loot into their vaults. Palmer’s anger was intended to provoke a bout of introspection—and to fuel anxiety about the risk that rising kleptocracy posed to the West itself. After all, the Russians would have a strong interest in protecting their relocated assets. They would want to shield this wealth from moralizing American politicians who might clamor to seize it. Eighteen years before Special Counsel Robert Mueller began his investigation into foreign interference in a U.S. election, Palmer warned Congress about Russian “political donations to U.S. politicians and political parties to obtain influence.” What was at stake could well be systemic contagion: Russian values might infect and then weaken the moral defense systems of American politics and business.

This unillusioned spook was a prophet, and he spoke out at a hinge moment in the history of global corruption…

This was capital flight on an unprecedented scale, and mere prologue to an era of rampant theft. When the Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman studied the problem in 2015, he found that 52 percent of Russia’s wealth resided outside the country.

The collapse of communism in the other post-Soviet states, along with China’s turn toward capitalism, only added to the kleptocratic fortunes that were hustled abroad for secret safekeeping. Officials around the world have always looted their countries’ coffers and accumulated bribes. But the globalization of banking made the export of their ill-gotten money far more convenient than it had been—which, of course, inspired more theft. By one estimate, more than $1 trillion now exits the world’s developing countries each year in the forms of laundered money and evaded taxes.

An amazing amount of the illicit cash is being solicited and handled by Americans– by banks, lawyers, real estate developers actively conspiring with he mobsters. dictators, and oligarchs whose money they are hiding in anonymized investments.

The defining document of our era is the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. The ruling didn’t just legalize anonymous expenditures on political campaigns. It redefined our very idea of what constitutes corruption, limiting it to its most blatant forms: the bribe and the explicit quid pro quo. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion crystallized an ever more prevalent ethos of indifference—the collective shrug in response to tax avoidance by the rich and by large corporations, the yawn that now greets the millions in dark money spent by invisible billionaires to influence elections.

In other words, the United States has legitimized a political economy of shadows, and it has done so right in step with a global boom in people hoping to escape into the shadows.

American collusion with kleptocracy comes at a terrible cost for the rest of the world. All of the stolen money, all of those evaded tax dollars sunk into Central Park penthouses and Nevada shell companies, might otherwise fund health care and infrastructure. (A report from the anti-poverty group One has argued that 3.6 million deaths each year can be attributed to this sort of resource siphoning.) Thievery tramples the possibilities of workable markets and credible democracy. It fuels suspicions that the whole idea of liberal capitalism is a hypocritical sham: While the world is plundered, self-righteous Americans get rich off their complicity with the crooks.

The Founders were concerned that venality would become standard procedure, and it has. Long before suspicion mounted about the loyalties of Donald Trump, large swaths of the American elite—lawyers, lobbyists, real-estate brokers, politicians in state capitals who enabled the creation of shell companies—had already proved themselves to be reliable servants of a rapacious global plutocracy. Richard Palmer was right: The looting elites of the former Soviet Union were far from rogue profiteers. They augured a kleptocratic habit that would soon become widespread. One bitter truth about the Russia scandal is that by the time Vladimir Putin attempted to influence the shape of our country, it was already bending in the direction of his.

Read Franklin Foer’s important report in full at: “Russian-Style Kleptocracy Is Infiltrating America.”

* Friedrich Nietzsche

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As we get down with Diogenes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1866 that Jesse James robbed his first bank, in Liberty, Mo.  James and his crew (a remnant of his Civil War service in the Confederate guerrilla outfit known as Quantrill’s Raiders) are believed to have targeted the bank because it was owned by abolitionist Republican former militia officers.

220px-Jesse_james_portrait source

 

Written by LW

February 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

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