Thursday, November 9, 2017

Crisis: Paradise Papers, Trump in China, Hypocrisy, Year One*2

Sections                                                crisis index

1. Summary
Crisis Files
    A. Selections from November 9, 2017 


This is a Nederlog of Thursday
November 9, 2017.

1. Summary

This is a
crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last four years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since nearly two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and will continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from November 9, 2017
1. Paradise Papers Expose “Cleverest Ways of
     Exploiting” Offshore Tax Havens

2. Energetic Welcome in China for Trump; Trade,
     North Korea Are Top Topics

3. Public Cynicism Enables Costly Political Hypocrisy
4. Year One: It’s Up to Us
5. Trump's Washington, One Year On
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Paradise Papers Expose “Cleverest Ways of Exploiting” Offshore Tax Havens

This article is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:

Examining the Paradise Papers, The Guardian reports seven Republican super-donors mentioned in the papers stored some of their fortunes offshore, beyond the reach of public scrutiny and tax authorities. Together, the billionaires pumped more than $350 million into the 2016 election. Some are well-known backers of conservative causes, like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Charles and David Koch. Another investigation focuses on Democratic donor James Simons, who spent $11 million to back Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Simons is the founder of Renaissance Technologies, the world’s most profitable hedge fund. Leaked records show he kept much of his $8 billion fortune in an offshore private wealth fund in Bermuda in order to avoid “particularly severe” taxes that would be triggered if he tried to bring the funds onshore. We speak with Jon Swaine, senior reporter for The Guardian.

Yes indeed, and there is considerably more in the original than I excerpt.

In fact, I only give two further quotations, and the first is on a major thief from the taxes, Warren Stephens, who works for the right:

JON SWAINE: (..) I think one example from this story that is a particularly interesting case about money in politics today is this guy Warren Stephens. He’s not that well known. He’s not your Kochs, the Adelsons, who are household names perhaps. But he’s very important. He gives a lot of money to Republican candidates.

And what we found is he is the hidden co-owner of a payday lending company that is being sued by the federal government for allegedly exploiting customers, for overcharging them with loans, for deceiving them on how much their loans would cost. And unbeknownst to all of us, he’s been a co-owner of one of these companies while backing Republicans who are seeking to bring down the regulator, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, that is taking this company to court. You know, it’s a clear conflict. And before this leak arrived, we just didn’t know that he was involved in it.

And this is the last quotation, this time on another major thief from the taxes, this time one who works for the corrupt ¨left¨:

JON SWAINE: (..) James Simons took over, as you said, as head of Renaissance Technologies—Robert Mercer took over from James Simons at that hedge fund. James Simons founded it. And what we found in this leak is that since the '70s he's been building a trust fund, a private wealth fund, in Bermuda, which is this tax haven in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s worth at least $8 billion, probably quite a lot more. And it’s been accumulating wealth year after year without facing any U.S. taxes.

And, you know, he is now saying he’s going to use most of it to give to charity, which—fine, but most people, when they give money to charity, they’ve already paid their taxes, right? And so, I think people view this as proof that for the super-rich, for the ultra-wealthy, there’s a kind of completely different set of laws and of practices. that are out of reach for most people.

I say yes indeed to the last statement, and add that there is considerably more in this article, that is recommended.

2. Energetic Welcome in China for Trump; Trade, North Korea Are Top Topics

This article is by Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin on Truthdig and originally on AP. This starts as follows:

Welcomed to China with an outsized dose of pomp and pageantry, President Donald Trump pronounced himself wowed by Beijing’s lavish greeting Wednesday at the start of a two-day visit in which he aims to employ flattery, scolding and cajolery to press the rising Asian power on trade and North Korea. Trump, saddled with consistently low approval ratings at home, is dueling with a newly emboldened Chinese President Xi Jinping, who recently consolidated power. The American president’s every utterance will be studied by allies anxious to see if his inward-looking “America First” mantra could cede power in the region to China.

This is mostly factually correct, though critical readers may have difficulties with ¨America First¨ ¨in the region to China¨ (for that does sound at least a bit nonsensical, if only because the Chinese have atomic weapons and almost four times as many inhabitants as the USA has).

Here is some more:

“I want to just say that President Xi — where we will be tomorrow, China — has been very helpful. We’ll find out how helpful soon,” Trump said Tuesday night in Seoul. “But he really has been very, very helpful. So China is out trying very hard to solve the problem with North Korea.”

The White House is banking on Trump’s personal rapport with Xi to drive the negotiations. Trump has frequently showered praise on Xi, who recently became the nation’s most powerful leader in decades, including with a trip to Trump’s Florida estate for a summit.

In fact, Xi flattered Trump but then that seems to be good policy when faced by a man like Trump.

Here is more on that fact:

“Trump keeps portraying his relationship with Xi as great pals but that’s wildly naive,” said Mike Chinoy, an expert on East Asia policy at the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California. “The Chinese have figured out how to play Trump: flatter him. And there’s nothing the Chinese do better than wow foreign diplomats.”

I think that is very probably correct. There is more in the article.

3. Public Cynicism Enables Costly Political Hypocrisy

This article is by Ralph Nader on Common Dreams and originally on his site. It starts as follows:

The political hypocrisy of crony capitalism –  touting market capitalism while making taxpayers fund corporate welfare – is a rare and unfortunate case of bipartisan consensus. Republicans openly embrace it, but many Democrats also fall prey to government-guaranteed corporate capitalism when they believe it to be politically expedient.

Or more simply (and - it seems - correctly in my view): The very rich have bought both the Republicans and most of the Democrats to do their jobs, which is getting as much as possible for the rich, for them.

Here is one example:

Jeff Bezos recently launched a bidding war pitting cities against one another for Amazon’s second headquarters. Imagine shelling out at least 7 billion taxpayer dollars in return for Amazon’s unenforceable promise of 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in capital investment.

The bidding frenzy with the taxpayers’ money, without a taxpayer referendum, should be an embarrassment to the mayors who are bidding for Amazon’s business.
And this is another example:
A Taiwanese giant, Foxconn, the builder of Apple’s iPhones in China, enjoys a similar advantage. To build a flat-screen plant, by sheer coincidence, in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s district, Ryan’s buddy, Governor Scott Walker, compelled his Republican legislature to cobble together a $3 billion taxpayer-funded package for an unenforceable promise of 13,000 jobs (from an initial 8,000 jobs after more taxpayer cash was assured).
Here is a third example:

Not to be outdone, Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry, is pushing  $3.7 billion in loan guarantees to the failing, long-delayed, red-ink doused Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant in Georgia. Add this sum to the $8.3 billion already extended in taxpayer-guaranteed loans to this “boondoggle” and still the New York Times reports that these guarantees “might fall short of what will be required to complete the costly reactors.”

And here is Ralph Nader´s conclusion:

These corporate interests see American taxpayers as a limitless honey pot for their giant, bungling, conniving businesses. At the same time, Trump’s director of management and budget, Mick Mulvaney, constantly justifies ruthless cuts to important public programs by citing taxpayers’ rights. Apparently, these rights are not applicable to protecting taxpayers from predatory big-business executives hungry for corporate welfare that gets Mulvaney’s regular approval.

Yes indeed, and many of these ¨ruthless cuts¨ are sold to the public in the name of liberty, while in fact the only ones who profit from this liberty are the very rich, who indeed want the liberty to exploit everyone to pay the highest possible profits to the few rich.

This is a recommended article.

4. Year One: It’s Up to Us

This article is by David Cole on The New York Review of Books. It starts as follows:

One year after his highly improbable election, President Donald Trump woke up this morning to news that in elections across the country, candidates standing for liberty, equality, and dignity defeated Republican opponents, as American voters sent a clear message that they are not buying what the president is selling. Trump has shown disregard or outright disdain for constitutional constraints, from the First Amendment to the Emoluments Clause. But Tuesday’s election underscored that in a constitutional democracy, Trump’s ability to do damage can be—and has been—substantially checked, even when his party controls Congress and two-thirds of the state legislatures, and, with his Supreme Court appointment, has a majority on the Court. In ordinary times, Congress and the president check each other, as do the Senate and the House, the Supreme Court and the other branches, and the state and federal governments. One-party control, however, requires that we find checks and balances elsewhere—in civil society. Authoritarians know this, which is why, when they come to power, among their first targets are the press, the academy, and nonprofit advocacy groups and watchdogs.
In fact, Trump is president of the USA for a year now (at least counting back to November 8, 2016) and that has not been lost on quite a number of journalists.

This is one article that was produced to mark this occasion, but I think it is too optimistic. There is another one next that is considerably less optimistic, and European, but which also does not seem serious enough.

Back to the present article:

For one thing, I think the supposed American ¨
constitutional democracy¨ has been steadily diminishing ever since 9/11, and for another thing, ¨[o]ne-party control¨ in a real democracy firstly would not require - it seems to me - that one finds ¨checks and balances¨ (for ¨[o]ne-party control¨, to be sure) ¨elsewhere—in civil society¨, if only because the powers of civil society and a real free press have at least as much diminished in the USA as the powers of the few rich have grown.

Here is more of this optimism:
Since Trump’s election, American civil society has indeed performed its checking function. The mainstream press, buoyed by steep rises in subscription rates, has trained the light of investigative journalism and critical opinion on the administration’s every move and false claim. The academy is a vital source of critical analysis and resistance. And nonprofit groups, new and old, formal and informal, have taken part in defending liberties from President Trump’s onslaught.
I am sorry, but I have been following the crisis now for nine years, and wrote more than 1743 articles on it, according to my crisis index, and this seems far too optimistic to me.

There is also this, that indeed is a bit less optimistic:

The courts, however, cannot stand up to President Trump alone, and it would be a great mistake to think they could. In the end, the most important guardian of liberty is an engaged citizenry. Popular opposition to repeal of the Affordable Care Act has repeatedly frustrated Trump’s will.
This is the end of the article, which again seems far too optimistic to me:
In a weak democracy, an authoritarian leader like Trump could do widespread and lasting damage. Such leaders often control the legislature, are immune from court oversight, and suppress civil society institutions. But our constitutional democracy was designed with leaders like Trump in mind (well, maybe not quite like Trump). And our hallowed traditions of judicial independence, civil liberties, and a robust political culture have—thus far, at least—held Trump in check to an important degree. He may be the most dangerous president in memory, but he is also the most thwarted. For those who care about civil liberties and civil rights, we need to keep it that way. The tools are available to do that—it’s up to us to use them.
For one thing, ¨our constitutional democracy was¨ NOT ¨designed with leaders like Trump in mind¨, and for another thing I have not seen much of ¨our hallowed traditions of judicial independence, civil liberties, and a robust political culture¨ since 9/11/2001 (since when the USA has been in constant war).

In brief, I think this article is far too optimistic.

5. Trump's Washington, One Year On

This article is by Christopher Scheuermann on Spiegel International. It starts as follows:
Washington is not a place known for humility or modesty. So really, Donald Trump should fit right in. It's a city of gigantic egos and expense accounts, police escorts and armored limos. Everything is about status and power, even when socializing at night.
This is another article about the fact that Trump is president of the USA for a year now. It is considerably less optimistic than the previous item:
It's been a year since the election that pushed the liberal West into crisis. The White House is now occupied by a man who is constantly triggering a new uproar, a man who is perennially angry, wayward, erratic, a besieged, unstable king, almost Shakespearian. Under Trump, the capital has turned into the set of a reality TV show.
I would say that these events - in fact: the crowning of a madman as president, who follows a neofascistic program, in my view - are quite serious, but this is not as Spiegel sees it.

Them again, Spiegel is not by far as optimistic as the NYRB:
First, Trump gave his family, his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, posts in the administration. Many in the city found that unbearable enough - a real estate clan running the country, the Kardashians of politics. More recently, he threatened North Korea with nuclear war, launched attacks on senators from his own party and voiced understanding for Nazis and racists. His actions haven't just been chaotic, they've been dangerous. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is alleged to have referred to the president as a "fucking moron" after he supposedly suggested a tenfold increase in the country's nuclear arsenal.
Here is more on Trump by Spiegel:
Trump combines business and family like a mafia godfather, just as he has done his whole life. Under his watch, the White House has become a bastion of the patriarchy once again. Old, rich, angry men make up the personnel. Most of those that Trump has invited to serve in his cabinet are political novices like him, alpha males who are used to private jets. In July, Forbes estimated the combined worth of this supposedly populist cabinet to be $4.3 billion.
And this this from part 2 of the article:

Trump has an obsessive relationship with the media. He needs its validation and hardly anything is more important to him than media attention. At the same time, he hates it because in his view, it never treats him fairly. In October, he threatened to withdraw NBC's broadcast license because, he alleged, it reported unfairly.

The consequence is that many Americans have given up believing in facts, and the country has become much more cynical. Sanders' press conference is a perfect example of how difficult it has become to even agree on the basic facts. Is an apple really an apple? Everything is a matter of opinion, of who shouts the loudest.

If you believe that it is a ¨consequence¨ from Trump´s actions that ¨many Americans have given up believing in facts¨ I think you must be rather mad: I have heard that

Everybody knows that truth does NOT exist

for the first time, from an invited speaker who opened the academic year of 1978/1979, in August of 1978, in the ¨University¨ of Amsterdam, and since then have seen all of the Dutch education halved (at least!!) in quality and in intellectual demands, while similar things happened all over the West.

But at Spiegel International these things are completely unknown and unheard of, or so it seems.

Here is the end of this long article:

This president has contributed to making politics more vulgar, has demeaned the office of the president and has seen to it that Washington increasingly operates like a reality TV show. He has bolstered the far-right nutjobs and neo-Nazis, perhaps the most dangerous impact of his presidency. He has opened the door to kleptocracy by bringing a family to the White House that is profiting from the Trump brand.

It has been a terrible year for Washington. The election campaign still hasn't come to an end and the city is trying to eject Trump like a foreign body.

Maybe it just has to be patient. After all, it has managed to overcome everyone else.

Things are horrible on a scene that has never been seen before. What is Spiegel International´s advice? ¨Maybe it [Washington - MM] just has to be patient¨.

I say.

I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 1 1/2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

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