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13 Dec

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

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Trump’s week to forget a sign of things to come

Implicated by his own justice department in a felony, Donald Trump has seen the stock market plunge as the tide begins to turn against him, writes Elizabeth Drew

Though he rarely admits even the slightest discontent with the job he schemed for in unprecedented ways and somewhat accidentally fell into (thanks to the vagaries of the Electoral College), Donald Trump’s presidency hasn’t been what Americans would call a bowl of cherries.

Yet no other week of his presidency so far has been filled with such problems and so many dark omens for him.

Last Friday, Trump was implicated by his own justice department in a felony, on the basis of sentencing recommendations for his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, by special counsel Robert Mueller and for his former long-time lawyer and consigliere, Michael Cohen, by the US Attorney’s Office for the southern district of New York.

The clear implications in both reports were that Trump himself would eventually be the target of serious charges. Moreover, it’s widely believed that some members of his family might well be charged.

Two days earlier, Trump had to sit alongside three past presidents through the funeral of George HW Bush. With the 41st president of the US lauded as almost his exact opposite in style and manner, Trump looked throughout as if he wished he were anywhere else.

Meanwhile, the stock market’s entire gains for the year were wiped out as Trump’s supposed trade truce with China fell apart.

It also became clear just how badly Trump has lost control of Congress. The Democrats’ gain in the House of Representatives continued to rise (the latest number is a stunning 40 seats), as closely fought, undecided races in last month’s midterm election continued to fall the party’s way.

And some Republican senators are finally breaking ranks with Trump over the role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (a pet of both Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner) in the grisly murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Unlike Trump, the senators refused to subordinate the moral and real-world implications of permitting a foreign government to murder a US-based journalist to the president’s exaggerated claims about the Kingdom’s future arms purchases and its supposed strategic role in curbing Iran’s regional ambitions.

Then came the court filings by Mueller and the attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York , which revealed what many had long suspected, though the reality of it still came as a shock: Trump and his family had used, or tried to use, his presidential candidacy, and then his presidency, to enhance their own wealth.

At long last, we learned what embarrassing information Russian President Vladimir Putin had on Trump, after Cohen told prosecutors that Trump had long sought to build a grand, highly lucrative hotel in Moscow, permission for which had to come from the Kremlin. (Russia also stood to gain significant revenue from the project.)

Cohen told a US congressional committee that Trump’s efforts to secure the hotel deal had ended at the beginning of 2016. He later admitted that the talks had continued until June of that year, after Trump, who had repeatedly stated since entering the race in June 2015 that he had no business with Russia, had sewn up the Republican nomination……………As Cohen learned the hard way, working for Trump is not easy, which is why so few — aside from his daughter and son-in-law — have lasted long in his White House.

For Trump, loyalty is a one-way street, flowing only to him. Indeed, capping off the week, Trump was confronted with the need to find a replacement for his chief of staff, John Kelly, who the president announced would be leaving at the end of the year (the two are barely on speaking terms).

Trump’s ever-stranger behaviour of late — including more frequent and more hysterical tweets — has been widely attributed to his growing realisation of what the Democrats’ takeover of the House of Representatives means for his presidency.

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Le Monde diplomatique

The anger of the ‘gilets jaunes’

France’s unfair taxes drove protest movement

It was government policies that put the tax debate centre stage; as the poorer saw one law for the rich, their sense of injustice grew. Now Emmanuel Macron has had to concede that people’s anger is legitimate, and promise a minimum wage rise and some tax reforms. Will that be enough?

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Paying the Tax’, Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

USC Fisher Museum of Art

The range of slogans in the protests against November’s petrol price increases — ‘Stop the taxes!’, ‘Macron’s a pickpocket!’, ‘Working is becoming a luxury’, ‘Right and left = taxes’, ‘Stop the racket, the revolt of a powerful people may end in revolution’ — suggests both the possible emergence of a political movement and the anger directed at taxation, the very foundation of the social state.

Throughout the 20th century there was minimal working-class engagement with the issue of tax. When progressive income tax was introduced after the first world war, the main opposition came from the liberal professions, the self-employed and farmers, who formed tax payers’ associations (1). Thereafter, except during the Popular Front (1936-8), the theme of unfair taxation had only a marginal place in the labour movement compared to key issues such as wage demands and defending jobs. Even regressive, indirect taxes on consumption such as value added tax (VAT) have rarely had the power to mobilise unions and parties on the left.

The working class are now the group most likely to criticise the taxation level, even though they benefit most from the tax-based redistribution system

But in the past few years challenges to the taxation system have gained such momentum that tax has become a central issue in the anti-austerity struggle. In Portugal, in May 2010, tens of thousands of people demonstrated against tax rises and spending cuts. Two years later there were big demonstrations in Spain against austerity, privatisations and higher VAT (on school supplies, for instance, it increased from 4% to 21%). In Greece, public and private sector employees took to the streets in protest at lower salaries and unfair taxes. And in 2013, French food plant workers facing redundancy joined forces with the ‘Bonnets rouges’ (‘red caps’) movement launched by farmers and small business owners to defeat an eco-tax on heavy goods vehicles.

It was government policies that thrust the tax debate centre stage. With rising mass unemployment and greater international competition, politicians have gradually abandoned intervention on the primary division of revenue between wages and profits. In recent years, the social question — formulated in terms of sharing profits — has been replaced by a tax question, deployed to win working-class support. In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy’s slogan — ‘Work more to earn more’ — and plans to make overtime tax exempt appealed to many working-class voters. In 2012, François Hollande gave his manifesto popular appeal with the promise of a new 75% tax rate on annual income over €1m, though the policy was so poorly conceived that it was thrown out by the Constitutional Council. In 2017, Emmanuel Macron used a promise to abolish residence tax to offset his image as a candidate of the elites, but later announced it would be phased out over three years.

There is a major paradox at the root of this politicisation of tax: the working class are now the group most likely to criticise the taxation level, even though they benefit most from the tax-based redistribution system. The degree of dissatisfaction varies geographically. People furthest from the big cities are most likely to feel unfairly taxed; those in the countryside and outer suburbs are much more critical of the system than Parisians. After several years of policies intended to encourage property ownership, many lower-income households who took on debt to buy their homes are also suffering from property tax rises, which are being used to compensate for reduced central funding for local authorities.

Deteriorating public services

In some areas, the feeling of injustice stems from deteriorating public services and transport, especially rail line closures (2). To people in such situations who mainly travel by car and suffer most from petrol price increases, it feels as if their key institutions — the local manifestation of the social redistribution of tax receipts — are vanishing, from post office to school and railway station.

Luxleaks, Swissleaks, Offshore Leaks, the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, all shed light on the tax evasion schemes of multinationals, politicians and celebrities from the worlds of sport and entertainment

Tax scandals have also fuelled popular distrust of the tax authorities. In 2011, it was revealed that France’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, had concealed almost €100m from the authorities and made cash donations to Sarkozy’s election campaign. That was followed by the case of Jérôme Cahuzac, Hollande’s junior budget minister entrusted with tackling tax fraud, who admitted in 2013 that he had €600,000 in a secret Swiss bank account, despite earlier denials. Then there was a series of leaks: Luxleaks, Swissleaks, Offshore Leaks, the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, all of which shed light on the tax evasion schemes of multinationals, politicians and celebrities from the worlds of sport and entertainment. These revelations exposed the myth of equal treatment for all under the tax system. In reality, there were two systems: in one, ordinary taxpayers were told they had to help to restore public finances; in the other, the powerful flouted the law and faced no consequences. (Bettencourt, who died in 2017, was never charged, and although Cahuzac received a four-year sentence, he stayed out of prison.)

Over time, the working class’s dealings with the authorities have only confirmed the feeling of one law for the rich. The poorest taxpayers often rely on civil servants to clarify their rights (3) and have to cope with the tax system’s complex terminology. Civil service cuts have had an impact on this; between 2005 and 2017 successive governments have got rid of 35,000 jobs across the public finance system, including many frontline staff. In rural areas, tax office opening hours have been cut and the queues in the towns have grown longer; that penalises the least educated taxpayers, who prefer face-to-face contact to online services, especially when they’re seeking discretionary exemptions from residence tax, property tax or television licence fees because they cannot pay. With more unemployment and less job security, such requests increased from 695,000 in 2003 to 1.4 million in 2015. But the prospect of convincing the taxman of the merits of your case varies according to your social class; our survey of people engaged in a tax dispute in 2017 found that 69% of those in higher classes received a favourable decision compared to just 51% among the working class…………..Meanwhile, journalists and politicians have kept their eyes firmly on the gilets jaunes (yellow vests). Even if it’s too soon to say if the movement will last, the gilets jaunes have revealed, among other things, the working class’s long-held feelings of the tax system’s injustice.

(1Nicolas Delalande, Les Batailles de l’impôt: Consentement et résistances de 1789 à nos jours (The battle over taxes: consent and resistance from 1789 to the present), Seuil, Paris, 2011.

(2See Jean-Michel Dumay, ‘La France abandonne ses villes moyennes’ (France is abandoning its medium-sized towns), Le Monde diplomatique, May 2018.

(3Yasmine Siblot, Faire valoir ses droits au quotidien: Les services publics dans les quartiers populaires, Presses de Sciences Po, Paris, 2006.

(4A pact created under the Dutreil law (named after Renaud Dutreil, then secretary of state for small and medium businesses) or the ‘law for economic initiative’ of August 2003.

Alexis Spire is a sociologist at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS). He is the author of Résistances à l’impôt, attachement à l’État: Enquête sur les contribuables français (Resistance to tax, attachment to the state: an inquiry into French taxpayers), Seuil, Paris, 2018. This book was based on a 2017 survey of a sample of 2,700 people and qualitative research into the experience of taxpayers interviewed in tax offices.

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