A Money Laundering Route

The route drug money travels in order to gain legitimacy is long and complex. A short BBC video illustrates it based on a 2017 case which convicted several people in a $250 million international money laundering operation, one where the architect of the scheme is still at large however. The cash originated from drug sales in Britain. A Moroccan money launderer picked it up and made contact with a money mule in Paris. The cash was then transported in the mule’s ambulance trucks and given to a money counter who neatly sorted it into piles of $1000. It was then picked up by middle aged women who drove to Antwerp in Belgium with the money. In Antwerp a black market gold dealer exchanged the money for gold, and apparently bought it back even giving fake receipts so all would look legitimate when taken out of the country. But that is not yet the end, then someone took a flight from Belgium to Amsterdam, and with almost clean money they flew to Dubai, to the gold market there, one of renown throughout the world. They bought gold which could then be sold and the cash deposited in regular bank accounts. All that making the cash’s origins untraceable to the drug dealers in Britain!  The effort, the hours, the people and no doubt the lives it took to piece this puzzle together begs our respect. The route laundering money from US drug sales must indeed be no less circuitous. The UN estimates that yearly $800 billion to $2 trillion are laundered. Maybe we’re outside this vast illicit matrix but knowing more about how money laundering works is nevertheless important.

Piketty Redux: Property and Social Justice

Readers of these pieces will be familiar with Thomas Piketty the French economist who a few years ago wrote Capital in the Twenty First Century and whose impact is reflected in our emphasis upon inequality. He has now written a kind of sequel Capital and Ideology which some say will do for politics what the Capital book did for economics. The 1200 page book which was just published in France will be available in English next March but Piketty has already given interviews and spoken of his new ideas. He says he wanted to redress what he perceived as a weakness in Capital where he only dealt with the West. In this one he deals with the whole world.  In the first part of the book he makes clear how the idea of property including slave ownership had political and ideological ramifications. The second part addresses recipes for how he sees the problems that lay behind the inequalities we have today. Some are quite radical, he asks for example that we give up on the idea of property as being essentially sacred, an idea upon which capitalism and modern economies are built. He also suggests that wealth could be borrowed, in other words we could own it temporarily for certain periods of time. He also suggests that all young people be given an inheritance before they start their adult life not after, in certain ways hoping to level the playing field. One headline I saw said Piketty wanted to do away with billionaires leading me to believe that in today’s US some of these ideas are already talked about. Whether they’re radical or not, whether they can actually be implemented or not may not be the crux of this book’s importance. It may be that like the other one it forces us to grapple with issues crucial to social justice.

A Belief in Government

For decades now, mainly since Ronald Reagan declared that government was the problem, trust in government and public institutions has declined.  Currently 21% of Republicans or Republican leaning independents feel they can trust the government while 14% of Democrats do.  And sadly in a partisan era more Democrats than Republicans trusted government during the Obama administration. The labels attached to each party’s underlying philosophy, for example that Democrats see government as an answer to social problems, obviously contribute to the partisanship behind trust in government. That’s why what’s going on in California is certainly worth notice. The state government is using its power to compensate, make up for, offset or contradict the laws and actions of the current administration. We’ve heard about the law making Uber and Lyft drivers employees instead of contractors, and also of a statewide rent control law meant to protect tenants against the kind of rent increases that could render them homeless. There is also a law not yet signed by the governor making medical abortions (that is the 2 pills combo) available to those who want or need it on all state universities. Chris Lehane, a former political advisor to Bill Clinton, calls this a renaissance in the belief in government. The administration is of course trying to challenge California’s resistance. But the trend may well go beyond their failure or victor, the idea that government can pass constructive laws to better the lives of its citizens may be positioned to make a comeback, suggesting we revisit the idea that government is the problem as well as the role of government in general.

Climate Change: Moral Failing

As part of their Polluters Project, The Guardian published a list of 20 of the world’s largest companies responsible for a third of all carbon emissions. Some are state owned, some are investor owned, and almost all are familiar names. Perhaps you’ve heard of the list, even so it’s too important not to reiterate.  In order of how much carbon dioxide they have contributed since 1965:

Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Gasprom, Exxon Mobil, National Iranian Oil Co, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Coal India, Pemex, Petroleos de Venezuela, PetroChina, Peabody Energy, ConocoPhillips, Abu Dhabi National Oil Co, Kuwait Petroleum Corp, Iraq National Oil Co, Total SA, Sonatrach, BHP Billiton, Petrobras

A leading climate change scientist, Michael Mann, succinctly puts the problem this way, “The great tragedy of the climate crisis is that seven and half billion people must pay the price-so that a couple of dozens polluting interests can continue to make record profits. It is a great moral failing of our political system that we have allowed this to happen.”  Moral failing is so apt. Some are calling on politicians at a climate change conference in Chile in December to take urgent measures to rein in polluters. It’s far from certain they will act, or will act in a meaningful way. Meanwhile the list is a reminder that climate change is a moral imperative we must each live with. If we drive and car pollution is a big culprit, it may be difficult to avoid these companies, still by being vigilant and holding the issue in our awareness, we may collectively continue to be the catalysts for needed action.