John Seven: March a first step toward demanding more of leaders

By John Seven
NORTH ADAMS — It's wonderful to see that 1,400 Berkshire residents care enough about the core principles of their country to gather on a cold January day in Pittsfield at the Four Freedoms Coalition Rally Against Bigotry and Prejudice. Taking to the streets is a vastly important action, but more is required of us also.

One of the struggles our country has had — both nationally and locally — is maintaining the integrity of our leaders.

Term limits is a popular expression of this issue. On one hand, I've begun to think they are absolutely necessary in limiting the growth of the governing class, but on the other, they completely ignore the webs of influence and coercion outside the offices of government and within the bank accounts of both groups and individuals. Term limits assumes that lobbyists don't exist, that the game of political influence is played entirely by the actual elected members.

One tool that could help is tracking the interests of our leaders, the president in particular. We've always had the small gesture of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns. Turns out this was just a gentleman's agreement that we all took for granted until one candidate refused to do what all others have.

That's why it's important that we insist that the proposal of Massachusetts state Sen. Mike Barrett has life. Barrett's proposal is that to be on the ballot in our state, candidates will be required to release the last five years of tax returns. This impacts Democratic, Green, Libertarian and other Independent candidates as well as the Republican ones, and would set an example for other states to demand the most base level of integrity be proven in our elections.

The idea is floating around some other states as well — Maryland, New York, California and Maine.

What could tax returns tell us? We have a good case study in our current president-elect, in which his financial dealings and the vast conflicts that extend from them have been the subject of plenty of investigative journalism, most recently in the conservative Wall Street Journal, which published a report mapping out how the president-elect's considerable debt has been bought out by Wall Street banks.

He owes $1.8 billion to more than 150 institutions, including Wells Fargo, JP Morgan, BlackRock, Deutsche Bank and Prudential, banks he will be in charge of regulating. He also owes money to MetLife, which is currently in litigation with the government, a case the president-elect will soon have the power to drop. That is what a president in thrall to Wall Street looks like.

The Russian hack is a diversion to a more important issue — the president-elect's money ties with Russian investors who have saved his business at a time when American banks will no longer lend to him, according to the quarterly publication "The American Interest,"

There's his involvement with Bayrock Group LLC, a Kazakhstan real estate developer and business partner, and his business association with Tevfik Arif, who formerly worked in the Russian Ministry of Commerce and Trade. There's Felix Sater, a Trump negotiator and Russian mobster. There's his business with Icelandic banks well-known for Russian money laundering. There's his business associate Alex Shnaider, well-known as a buddy of the Russian mob. And there is plenty more in the Trump-Russia financial network.

We can march on the streets all we want, but this sort of corruption is only defeatable with our voting.

Some Americans might be comfortable with leaders who are in service to Wall Street banks and financially inseparable from the Russian mob, but many aren't. Accessible tax returns would provide at least some simple guidance to uncovering these complicated conflicts of interest that endanger America.

Call your state senator and urge them to support what Mike Barrett proposes. Really clean the swamp.
Contact John Seven at Follow him on Twitter @damnjohnseven. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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