May 06, 2016

May 6, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Panama Papers: More to Come


The journalists behind the Panama Papers exposé of offshore tax havens are slated to release a massive, searchable archive of their leaked documents next week.

Will prominent Americans be named this time around?

Probably not.

That is likely the case even though “the database will likely be the largest ever release of secret offshore companies and the people behind them,” said the Washington, DC-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, coordinating the leak, in a statement.

The data dump is sure to be a big news event. At least for a day or two. But one can argue that, despite the Sturm Und Drang, the Panama Papers – which illustrated how Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca helped wealthy individuals, companies and other groups set up offshore bank accounts, often with the express purpose of avoiding taxes – have also been underwhelming.

Revelations from the first batch of stories based on the leaks last month caused the prime minister of Iceland to resign, led to official inquiries and generally shamed rich folks who don’t like tax collectors.

Take Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The oligarch-cum-leader sought to avoid paying taxes as his cash-strapped country was desperately financing a bloody war it was losing against Russian-backed separatists in its eastern provinces. Disgraceful, said some, even though Poroshenko is still in charge despite condemnation from inside and outside the country.

Reports that followed the Panama Papers also show, for instance, that the US is among the biggest tax havens in the world. It’s easier to set up a shell company in Delaware and Nevada than in the Cayman Islands, the Washington Post reported, because the US has not signed onto international agreements that mandate the disclosure of company owners' identities.

So much for revelatory.

It’s not clear if the Panama Papers prove that anyone did anything illegal, either. President Barack Obama notably lamented how the papers showed little illicit activity but underscored how existing laws were “poorly designed” even as he unveiled a new push Thursday to make it more difficult for people to shelter their money in the US.

Still, financiers have drawn a conclusion from the Panama Papers that’s likely different than what Obama had in mind. If so many rich people hide money offshore, by all means, change the laws, they argue, by reducing taxes and removing other hurdles from keeping that money onshore.

Regardless, the dump next week probably won’t answer a vexing question that has dogged the Panama Papers stories from the start: the conspicuous absence of high-profile Americans in the leaks.

That absence has led Russian President Vladimir Putin to say the papers were an American smear campaign – Putin’s circle unsurprisingly squirrelled away billions in offshore accounts, according to the papers – and led more sober observers like media writer Michael Wolff to question if transparency advocates would be so happy about the leaks if the US National Security Agency was behind them.

The Panama Papers certainly got people talking. We’ll see next week if they can do more than that.

WANT TO KNOW

North Korea's Coronation


Weddings, funerals and all other events have been put on hold in the North Korean capital as the government prepares for the first Worker’s Party meeting in 36 years, intended to cement leader Kim Jong Un's power.

The ruling party’s congress is set to declare Kim the supreme leader of North Korea – in a coronation of sorts for the man that has been playing chicken with the West for four years.

Details of the event remain secretive but most are watching for Kim to lay out his plans for economic development and the country's nuclear program. More key will be signs of a loosening of the communist country’s ties to China.

Beijing has long been a benefactor of Kim Jong Un and his father Kim Jong-il, but the relationship has been strained as the country has increased its militarism and challenged the West by conducting tests for nuclear weapons and missile technology.

Brazil's 'Tormentor-in-Chief'


A Brazilian Supreme Court Justice has given embattled President Dilma Rousseff a bit of reprieve this week by temporarily suspending the speaker of the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, Eduardo Cunha.

Cunha used his position as house speaker “to intimidate and embarrass legislators, lawyers and defendants” during an investigation, argued the prosecution.

It's not the first time Cunha, dubbed “Rousseff's nemesis and tormentor-in-chief” by BBC News last year, has come under fire. He has already been accused of money laundering under Operation Carwash's investigation into corruption at the state-owned oil company Petrobras.   

The decision to suspend Cunha comes at an interesting time. Only a few weeks ago, Cunha led the house voting session to proceed with impeachment against Rousseff.

Next week, Brazil's Senate will decide whether to temporarily remove Rousseff from office.

Cunha made note of the lightning pace of the case against him, saying that, “It would be good to adopt the same speed against all investigated, which does not seem to occur.”

Turkey's Palace Coup


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's campaign for more executive power has claimed another victim – and this time it's a big one.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced Thursday he would step down, a move that might allow Erdogan to push Turkey toward a presidential system.

After meeting with Erdogan yesterday, Davutoglu announced that there would be a special party congress for the ruling AKP on May 22.

“I am not planning to become a candidate in the upcoming elections,” he added, ending his 20-month tenure as prime minister.

The move doesn't come entirely as a surprise. Analysts have noted that Davutoglu has not been “deferential enough” to the strong-willed Erdogan and has resisted some of the president's attempts to shift executive power from the prime minister's office to the presidency.

As prime minister, Davutoglu was supposedly in charge of Turkey, but it's unclear if there will be any practical consequences for the Turkish government after he leaves. As the opposition notes, it's Erdogan who has really been in charge since assuming office.  

DISCOVERIES

The Diabetes Doll


Like roughly 10 percent of the US population, American Girl dolls can now come with Type 1 diabetes – and they are flying out the door.

In order to spread awareness of the disease and help educate young girls and their friends about the genetic illness, American Girl doll producers are selling a 10-piece diabetes kit for the cult toys.

The set is not only popular, it is frequently sold out.

The designer of the kit, Matt Wahmhoff, who suffers from Type 1 diabetes, said his childhood difficulties inspired him to create the toy.

The company is famous for promoting inclusivity with dolls of Hispanic, African-American, Jewish and Native American histories as well as well as a Truly Me line where girls can customize dolls to have skin, hair and eyes in their own color. Other accessories such as wheelchairs, hearing aids and eyeglasses are also available.

In January, the brand debuted bald dolls for children with alopecia and others on crutches.

jbhatti
Fri, 05/06/2016 – 06:12