Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Crisis: Catalonia, Mueller's Indictments, Trump & Power, "Watergate", VW Tax Haven

Sections                                                crisis index

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


This is a Nederlog of Wednesday
, November 1, 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 1, 2017
1. Spain Charges Catalan Leaders with “Sedition,
     Rebellion & Embezzlement”

2. Panic in Trumpland, but Clinton Camp Should Be
3. The Ominous Sign Trump Will Do Anything to
    Maintain His Grip on Power
4. Why This Is Not Trump’s Watergate
5. A Peek Behind the VW Tax Haven Curtain
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. Spain Charges Catalan Leaders with “Sedition, Rebellion & Embezzlement”

This article is by Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh on Democracy Now!
It starts with the following introduction (and I shortened the title of the article some):

Spanish prosecutors say they will seek charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement against ousted Catalan Cabinet officials. This comes after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced his Cabinet had fired Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and dissolved the region’s Parliament, just after Catalonia’s regional Parliament voted Friday for independence by a margin of 70 votes to 10. On Sunday, tens of thousands of pro-unity demonstrators waved Spanish, Catalan and European Union flags on the streets of Barcelona. We are joined by John Carlin, a journalist and contributor to the Spanish newspaper El País until two weeks ago, when he was fired for writing an article in The Times of London headlined “Catalan independence: arrogance of Madrid explains this chaos.”
This is the introduction of a considerable interview of which I will only quote two bits. Here is the first bit, that gives some more facts:
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Prime Minister Rajoy’s announcement came just after Catalonia’s regional Parliament voted for independence by a margin of 70 votes to 10. The Spanish Senate in Madrid swiftly responded by granting Rajoy unprecedented powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia under Article 155 of the Constitution, which has never before been invoked. Article 155 enabled Rajoy to fire Puigdemont and take control of Catalonia’s civil service, finances, police and media.
And here is John Carlin, who explains some of the background:
JOHN CARLIN: (...) The fundamental problem is that what the Catalans wanted wasn’t—they weren’t clamoring for independence to be given just like that. They wanted a referendum on independence in the same way there was a referendum in Scotland on independence three years ago. They wanted the right to decide. And the Spanish government not only rejected that, they rejected all attempts at dialogue on the matter of giving Catalonia greater autonomous powers, maybe more control over the taxes, the judiciary. And generally, the attitude of Madrid toward the Catalan independence supporters has been one that has been dismissive, not to say rude and lacking in respect. And this attitude, together with the refusal to countenance dialogue, the refusal to countenance a referendum, has increased the pro-independence vote in the last seven years or so from probably around 10, 15 percent to something close to 50 percent.

There is considerably more in the rest of the article, that is recommended.

2. Panic in Trumpland, but Clinton Camp Should Be Wary

This article is by Bill Blum on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

It’s no longer a rumor. The first grand jury indictment
drafted by Justice Department special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has been filed. As expected by many who have followed Mueller’s work since his appointment in May,
Paul Manafort Jr., Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign manager, has been charged with violating federal law. Less anticipated is that one of Manafort’s business partners, Richard W. (Rick) Gates III, also has been indicted.

The 31-page indictment, which CNN first reported on Friday, was unsealed early Monday. Signed by Mueller himself, it charges Manafort and Gates with 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States, money laundering and making false statements, among other offenses, stemming from their work as political consultants on behalf of the former pro-Russian government of Ukraine.

There are many more treatments of the same facts, but I selected the present one because it is fairly factual.

Here is one more bit:

In another development on Monday—and one that, as far as I can discern, few saw coming—Mueller and his team disclosed that George Papadopoulos, a 30-year-old and heretofore obscure former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, had entered a guilty plea in a federal district court in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 5 to a single count of lying to the FBI about his knowledge of, and involvement with, the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.

The charges against Papadopoulos are set forth in a 14-page Statement of Offense, signed by Mueller. In return for the guilty plea, Papadopoulos is reportedly cooperating with Mueller on other aspects of the Russia probe.

The Manafort/Gates indictment is a body blow to the Trump administration. The Papadopoulos guilty plea is a mortal threat—one that could, conceivably, bolster an obstruction of justice charge against the president, leading eventually to a call for impeachment. It is also, as explained below, a potential threat to the Clinton campaign.

Yes, and for more see this article, that is recommended, and also see item 3 and item 4 below.

3. The Ominous Sign Trump Will Do Anything to Maintain His Grip on Power

This article is by Chauncy DeVega on AlterNet and originally on Salon. It starts with a summary of the events that were summarized in item 2. It continues, after outlining "Trump's Twitter tantrum over the weekend", as follows:

On Sunday he recycled a whole series right-wing talking points and conspiranoid fantasies about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party pursuing a witch hunt against him. He also resurrected the fictitious claim that Hillary Clinton somehow gave away America's nuclear-grade uranium to Russia. In all, he railed against Clinton as though she were the president and he was the disgruntled loser of the 2016 presidential election.

Trump then reached an all-caps Twitter climax with two words: "DO SOMETHING!"

I say. Here is what DeVega makes of this:

As a practical matter, they are an effort to distract the public from Mueller's investigation, and another signal that Trump's intimates more likely than not colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election in his name. Trump's Twitter rants are also an effort to prepare his public and the right-wing propaganda machine for his next move: firing Mueller, issuing blanket pardons to numerous people in and around his 2016 campaign, and declaring that the Russia scandal was a partisan fishing expedition by Democrats who do not want to "Make America Great Again."

Trump's "DO SOMETHING!" is also more sinister than the words of a desperate president (and political party) willing to do anything to stay in power. Trump's words are a command, a plea and a demand to his supporters and other allies.

What is the "something" that Trump wants done?

He is threatening violence and chaos if Mueller is not stopped and, by extension, if the Democratic Party and his other enemies are not reined in. This is not hyperbole. It is a reasonable conclusion based on Trump's past and current behavior.

Possibly so. Here is some more:

Trump's "DO SOMETHING" is also an example of what has been called stochastic terrorism, in which right-wing politicians, their toadies in the media and conservative opinion leaders repeatedly threaten violence against liberals, progressives and Democrats -- and then act shocked when said outcome actually happens.

Psychologist Valerie Tarico explains the elements of stochastic terrorism in more detail:

  1. A public figure with access to the airwaves or pulpit demonizes a person or group of persons.
  2. With repetition, the targeted person or group is gradually dehumanized, depicted as loathsome and dangerous — arousing a combustible combination of fear and moral disgust.
  3. Violent images and metaphors, jokes about violence, analogies to past "purges" against reviled groups, use of righteous religious language — all of these typically stop just short of an explicit call to arms.
  4. When violence erupts, the public figures who have incited the violence condemn it — claiming no one could possibly have foreseen the "tragedy."
In this moment the possibility of violence is very real. Donald Trump is the champion of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and right-wing militias.

Again possibly so. I want to comment on one thing that neither DeVega nor psychologist Valetie Tarico seem to have seen:

The described four-step "elements of stochastic terrorism" seem possible only if large numbers of the public are quite unreasonable, which I specify as stupid and/or ignorant.

And it also seems to me that "the possibility of violence" is not "very real" on "this moment", but we will soon see.

4. Why This Is Not Trump’s Watergate

This article is by Andrew Cohen on The New York Review of Books. It starts as follows, and is in fact also a continuation of the theme that was opened (today, in Nederlog) by item 2:

The thirty-one-page federal indictment of the former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates on charges of money-laundering, conspiracy, bank fraud, and false statements tells us that we have reached the end of the beginning of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump team’s ties to Russia. The unsealing of the charges early Monday morning—fifty-one weeks after Donald Trump was elected president and just a few hours after he again tweeted his disgust with the investigation—means we are leaving the ungainly phase where virtually all of the news we get about the investigation comes to us from unnamed sources, all of whom are trying to spin the story this way and that. We are entering instead the phase where we all will be able to read, see, and hear at least some specific, detailed allegations of criminal misconduct.

Yes indeed: It seems as if - at long last - we will get some facts rather than endless speculations spinned this way and that way.

Next, there is this, which is about a comparison I have meanwhile seen quite a few times:

It’s easy to compare it all to Watergate. An unhinged Republican president. The nefarious men with whom he surrounded himself. The dirty tricks. The undermining of democratic norms. The intrepid group of reporters trying to get to the bottom of it all. A criminal case proceeding even as new scoops emerge and legislators continue to investigate. But our perceptions of the Watergate affair, some forty-five years later, are shaped not by how it began but by how it ended. It is a tidy story and we perceive it today as having an inexorable result: of course, a crooked president had to resign in disgrace. But that’s surely not what our parents and grandparents thought in June 1972, when the “third-rate burglary” occurred, or in January 1973, when the trial of the burglars began. To our predecessors, that time was as foggy and inconclusive as today’s events are.

I think that is true and - considerably more important - so is this:

The House of Representatives in the wake of the 1972 election had fifty more Democrats than Republicans. Following that election, the Senate was controlled by Democrats with a majority of fifty-six to forty-four. Even then, with a Republican in the White House, it took many months for Congress to rouse itself from torpor and begin to investigate the scandal. Today, Republicans control both the House and the Senate, and those numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. Thanks both to partisan gerrymandering and incumbents’ fear of being challenged in a primary by a Trump supporter, there are fewer moderates in both chambers than there were in 1972, fewer legislators in states or districts who feel the pull of bipartisanship. The center did not hold in 2016.

Yes indeed. And here is Cohen's conclusion:

We are not dealing with Watergate redux. This is a situation far more dangerous to the republic.

I think Cohen is correct, and this is a recommended article.

5. A Peek Behind the VW Tax Haven Curtain

This article is by Simon Hage, Martin Hesse and Blaz Zgaga on Spiegel International. It starts as follows:

When Hans Dieter Pötsch was asked in early 2013 about the tax-shelter schemes used by some multinational corporations, his words seemed to reflect genuine indignation. "For Volkswagen, let me be extremely clear, we have never played such games."

At the time, the public was still unaware of the vast diesel emissions deception being perpetrated by the German automobile manufacturer, a scandal which has come to be known as Dieselgate. As such, Pötsch was able to hold forth, without fear of contradiction, on how important "good citizenship" is for the carmaker. The term is used these days to describe enterprises that adhere to the law, pay their taxes and perhaps even demonstrate social responsibility.
In early 2013, though, Pötsch did leave a small detail unmentioned: Since 2012, VW had maintained a holding company and a financing company in Luxembourg, a country known for its business-friendly tax regime. And in the ensuing years, the Wolfsburg-based automobile giant has woven an almost impenetrable web of capital networks and cash flows within Luxembourg worth a total of 17 billion euros.

In fact at least part of the reason why the present article is here is that I started a little bit over 50 years ago to work for a Dutch bank, where I very soon learned that most European banks whose names were then fairly popular in fact did not own themselves but were owned by far more obscure financial firms in Luxembourg.

This came then as a surprise to me, mostly because these facts were (almost) never written about in the ordinary media.

Clearly, the reasons for this fairly obscure being controlled by Luxembourgian holding companies were twofold:

First, it was very good for the profits of the holding companies, and second, these holding companies were, mostly for obscure financial reasons that again depended a lot on the Luxembourgian government, vastly more obscure in their financial reporting than the banks they controlled (for 51% or more).

And I think Volkswagen is now doing the same as most Dutch banks did in the 1960ies (and before): Increase their profits, and make the control of the corporation and its finances far more obscure.

Here is more from the article:

Regarding the motivation driving the shift to the Luxembourg model, the "good citizen" VW says today: "The establishment of holding and financing companies in an attractive regulatory location is done primarily for reasons of finance strategy." Taking steps to avoid the multiple taxation of dividends, the company says, "has nothing to do with a tax-shelter scheme." It makes it sound like the company is trying to protect itself from the perniciousness of German tax law.

I think these two propagandistic pronouncements of Volkswagen should be translated as follows: (i) we want more profits, and (ii) we are sheltering from the German laws, for in Luxembourg this is far more difficult to see or control.

Here is the last bit from the Spiegel International article that I quote:

The structure works as follows: From 2014 to 2016, VW subsidiaries have transferred 5.8 billion euros to Luxembourg. The holding company there, VFL, declared profits over that time period of 3.5 billion euros but paid only 1.7 million euros in taxes - a tax rate of just 0.05 percent.

Subsidiaries such as SEAT and Skoda, of course, pay corporate taxes in the countries where they are based and only transfer their net profits to Luxembourg. As such, VW declares that it is "economically correct" that VFL pays no taxes on the money transfers. Were the profits to be sent to a Germany based holding company, VW would have to pay an additional 5 percent in corporate and other taxes.

And that is how it works. There is more in the article, that is recommended.


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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