– Adele M. Stan, columnist with The American Prospect and winner of the 2017 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s two grand jury indictments are served and a third indictment has already netted a guilty plea and “cooperation”
Mueller’s First Indictments Stirs Fear in White House
Interview with Adele M Stan, columnist with The American Prospect and winner of the 2017 Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism, conducted by Scott Harris
The first indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into allegations that the Trump presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government were announced on the morning of Oct. 30. Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort and his former business partner Rick Gates were indicted on 12 counts, including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, operating as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal and making false and misleading statements. Prosecutors say Manafort laundered more than $18 million from overseas accounts. Manafort and Gates, who entered not guilty pleas, posted $10 million and $5 million bonds respectively and were placed under house arrest.
Possibly more significant is the revelation that former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos had pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. There’s speculation that Papadopoulos, who had been cooperating with investigators since his secret July arrest, could have been wearing a wire to record conversations with Trump insiders.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Adele M. Stan, a columnist with The American Prospect, who examines the importance of the Mueller indictments and the likely political response in the Republican-controlled Congress.
ADELE M. STAN: The situation with this guy (George) Papadopoulos, who I think is a new name to most of us, is really intriguing because this is a low-level guy who was on Trump’s foreign policy advisory team but who seems to have little foreign policy except for having been part of a model U.N. program in college. But he’s offering to set up meetings for the campaign, and while he was on the campaign with Russians who are ostensibly close to Putin, at one point even saying he’s going to get a meeting with Putin himself on behalf of the Trump campaign.
It turns out that the FBI did interview him back in January, and Papadopoulos apparently lied to the FBI. So he winds up getting arrested, but they keep his indictment under seal until now. So there’s a scuttlebutt that they kept him working for the government as an informant in the months intervening. And if that’s the case, who knows what Mueller has right now if this guy wore a wire or he had face-to-face meetings with people from the campaign staff that he had worked with and got admissions from them or whatever, so it’s kind of impossible to know exactly where this investigation is right now, but by the hysteria that we see on Twitter coming from the president himself, one might think that the president’s a little nervous.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I wanted to ask you about something that has been roiling around for quite some time and that is, since Donald Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, there’s a been lot of speculation that if Trump insiders are indicted and face prison time, that Donald Trump will offer pardons to those folks, which certainly could unravel a trial and the case against Trump and his campaign. There’s other speculation that state charges, which are not susceptible to presidential pardons at the federal level, might take the place of the leverage over some of those who are indicted in the near time.
ADELE M. STAN: Right.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What’s your feeling about this power the president has to pardon and how it may affect this case?
ADELE M. STAN: It is, troubling, right, especially given this particular president. And not that I would want to see the power of the pardon removed from the presidency. I’m not saying that. But in the hands of this particular president under these particular circumstances, it is troubling. It doesn’t necessarily upend the case per se, Scott, because the pardon is a pardon of a sentence, right? It’s not a pardon from the crime. And that’s what we saw with Arpaio – that, okay, so doesn’t go to prison. But he’s still convicted. So you can wind up with is an exposure of what happened, but then nobody goes to jail for it, or nobody goes to federal prison.
In terms of the issue that you wisely bring up about what states can prosecute and which are immune – which the president cannot pardon –somebody convicted on state charges. That is really particularly interesting in this case of the Trump-Russia collusion. So it’s unlikely that a state can nail a campaign for colluding with a foreign power, that would be for the most part, federal charges. But they can be charged for financial crimes. So yes, you’re quite right, that is one way that this could go.
I mean, the Republicans are just not standing up to any of this. It doesn’t seem like any of the Democrats who are vying, positioning themselves for a 2020 presidential are really going hard after the Republicans either.
BETWEEN THE LINES: In terms of where this investigation may go eventually, if Robert Mueller puts together a case that really implicates Donald Trump directly, but doesn’t charge him with a crime, it really falls to Congress – the House and the Senate both – to engage in impeachment proceedings. It seems like the Republican-controlled House and Senate aren’t going to even go there. What’s your speculation if Donald Trump is indeed implicated? What do you think the response of the Republican Congress is going to be?
ADELE M. STAN: Well I think there’s a lot of variables, Scott, and one is how close to implication or how implicated is Mike Pence? And I think that will be a factor. Now, Vice President Mike Pence was the (chair of the transition), he was warned about retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn lobbying on behalf of the government of Turkey. So Pence is not pure in any of this, although he presents himself as an (unintelligible). If there’s anything that implicates him in a way that would be damaging to him, I don’t think we’ll see articles of impeachment ever come out of the House of Representatives. I do think there’s a slim chance they could come out of the House of Representatives and that’s the body from which they have to emanate for that to happen if they think Pence has gotten off, that he’s not implicated.
Because here’s the thing. You know who owns the Congress. I know you know this and I know your listeners know this – the Koch brothers own the Congress. And Mike Pence owes his career to the Koch brothers and they’re very, very keen on him. So I really think there’s a chance that Donald Trump really doesn’t even want this tax reform bill because if it goes through, he’s in much greater risk of articles of impeachment being drawn up against him because he is only president so long as the Koch brothers say he is, because of the power they hold in the House of Representatives.
Visit Adele M. Stan’s articles for the American Prospect magazine at prospect.org/authors/adele-m-stan.
Trickle Down Hoax Central to GOP Tax Reform Plan
Interview with Matthew Gardner, senior fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, conducted by Scott Harris
The Republican-controlled U.S. House and Senate narrowly approved a joint budget resolution on Oct. 26, an important step on the way toward the party’s goal of approving major tax reform legislation by the end of the year. While the budget resolution doesn’t have the force of law, it allows Republicans to propose a tax bill that needs only 50 votes in the Senate, bypassing the threat of a Democratic filibuster that requires 60 votes for passage.
Although all the details of the GOP tax reform proposal have not yet been announced, drafts of the bill specify tax cuts that cost $1.5 trillion over the next decade, where 80 percent of tax relief will benefit the top one percent wealthiest Americans. The plan calls for slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent and repealing the inheritance tax on multimillion-dollar estates. Under the proposal, the number of tax brackets would decrease from seven to three or four, the standard deduction would be doubled and the child tax credit would be increased. While President Trump and Republicans say their goals is to boost the economy and provide middle-class tax relief, the elimination of local and state tax deductions and other changes to the tax code could actually increase taxes on millions of working families.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Matthew Gardner, senior fellow with the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, who assesses the winners and losers in the Republican tax reform plan, and the real world track record which proves that trickle-down economics is a lie.
MATTHEW GARDNER: The plan we’re looking at right now, as following a long tradition of Republican tax cut plans, is very specific on the details of which tax rates will be cut and which taxes will be repealed. The estate tax, gone. The corporate alternative minimum tax, which is designed to make sure that all corporations pay at least something, gone. The basic corporate income tax rate would be sharply reduced from 35 percent to 20 percent.
On the personal income tax side, the top rate would go down from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. There would be a special new tax break for what’s called pass-through businesses. These are often described as, by the advocates, as small businesses but really are just generally very big businesses that happen to use a different set of rules for paying income tax. Instead of paying taxes as entities, they pass through the tax on their profits to the owners of the business, who pay on the individual side. And the plan here is to drop the pass-through business tax rate to 25 percent instead of the 39.6 percent top rate that currently have.
So, they’re leading with sharp reductions in almost all the taxes that upper-income Americans pay on the individual side. The big part is how they’re going to pay for it. It’s generally recognized that tax reform has two components in a deficit-challenged environment. One is, what are you going to do with the rates? And the other is what are you going to do to the base? The most straightforward diagnosis of what ought to be done is to close loopholes. You hear that language spoken by both sides all the time.
On the corporate side in particular, we know that maybe half of corporate profits are now being subjected to tax because of various loopholes. And so closing them seems like an important second component of this plan. Sadly, the outline we’ve been looking at most recently is pretty vague on many of the details of which loopholes would be closed. There’s language about Indian wasteful tax subsidies, but very little specific language on which ones will go away.
On the individual side, there’s a little more specificity. We know that the intention is to get rid of most itemized deductions while preserving only two: the charitable deduction and the mortgage interest deduction. Bad news is, the very limited amount of loophole closing we’re talking about is nowhere enough by anyone’s accounting to pay for the rate reductions. And the result is that we’re looking at a multi-trillion dollar tax cut as it’s currently configured, over the next ten years.
BETWEEN THE LINES: And Matthew, the rationale for Republicans for many decades now for cutting taxes for the wealthiest people in the United States is so-called “trickle-down” theory, where, if you give tax breaks to the wealthiest folks, the theory goes, you’re going to create jobs and wealth and expansion that will benefit everybody in the middle and the bottom. But we have a record of these previous tax cuts, and it turns out from a lot of documentation and studies I’ve read, that you can expand on here – “trickle-down” is a hoax.
MATTHEW GARDNER: The harsh reality is that while this story has been told for – sometimes very eloquently for 30 years, now – we can look back to President Reagan’s tax cuts in 1981, there’s never been a documented case in which it actually worked. The problem is that every time we’ve enacted tax cuts in the last 30 years that have been based on this premise, we’ve had to back pedal as a nation. We’ve had to undo them. Sometimes, as in the case of the Bush tax cuts of 2001, it’s taken a decade of pitched battle for Congress to realize in a bipartisan way that they really had just dug the hole too deep.
In other cases, as was true in 1981, although people don’t want to seem to remember it too much, it took about a year for Congress to realize that they’d overstepped their bounds and to start undoing the Reagan tax cuts. But in every case, whether it’s these examples at the national level or more recently the Kansas tax cuts, which a lot of people have talked about in the last few years – they end up not working. These tax cuts end up primarily costing a lot of money, bestowing huge tax benefits on the owners of businesses and their shareholders on the best-off Americans and providing little or nothing in terms of demonstrable job growth, income growth or even direct tax cuts for the rest of us.
For more information, visit The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy at itep.org.
The Answer to Haiti’s Deforestation Problem is a National Forestry Corps
Interview with Yanique Joseph, New Haven-based director of the Haiti Renaissance Institute, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Hurricane Maria’s destructive winds denuded much of the island of Puerto Rico’s trees and lush tropical forests. While they will grow back, the current situation has triggered floods, landslides, loss of fertile topsoil, increased temperatures and other problems.
The loss of trees and vegetation have been concerns in Haiti for decades, both from natural disasters fueled by climate change, and from Haitians chopping down trees to make charcoal for fuel. Because the entire nation is almost treeless, from the air it’s easy to see the boundary between Haiti and the Dominican Republic on their shared island of Hispaniola, where protected trees on the Dominican side stand in stark contrast to Haiti’s barren landscape.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Haitian-American Yanique Joseph, the New Haven-based director of the Haiti Renaissance Institute. The Institute is a project of Green Cities Green Villages, which is a sustainable development and renewable energy incubator founded by Joseph in 2001. Since 2010, she’s worked with grassroots groups in Haiti, including the Association of Peasants of Fondwa and local development committees, to advocate for the establishment of a Haitian National Forestry Corps.
YANIQUE JOSEPH: The National Forestry Corps in Haiti is desperately needed, because, as you know, deforestation is massive in Haiti. Whenever there are floods, there are landslides; a lot of people die and a National Forestry Corps would help with flood management, and it would also help to keep people from uprooting trees before they reach maturity. It takes about ten years for a tree to reach maturity; that’s a very long time in a country where people are impoverished. Also, a National Forestry Corps would help to reforest marginal areas, areas that are hard to reach like mountains in Haiti. A National Forestry Corps would also create permanent jobs in forestry and flood management for Haitians.
People may have heard that the Haitian army was recently reconstituted. We at the Haitian Renaissance Institute think that was a very big mistake. Haiti does not need a Haitian army; what we need is a National Forestry Corps. It can be financed by the Haitian government, by the World Bank and other international institutions. We also believe with the support of the American people and institutions like Yale, a National Forestry Corps is a very doable achievement. The Dominican Republic has had a National Forestry Corps for more than 50 years, and it’s about time that Haiti had one.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Yeah, that would make a big difference. Besides your organization, is anybody else pushing for this? Are you working with other groups in Haiti?
YANIQUE JOSEPH: Well, ironically, there has been talk for the creation of a National Forestry Corps on and off for the last 20 years. Even the former president, Michel Martelly, the entertainer, he spoke of a National Forestry Corps when he first came to power. But nothing has been done about forming a National Forestry Corps, and we – meaning the Haitian Renaissance Institute and the Peasants Association of Fondwa – we were very disappointed and very dismayed to find out that instead of the formation of a National Forestry Corps, the Haitian army – which we do not need – has been reconstituted. And I just want to say also that according to many climate change experts, right now the most readily available alternative for developing countries to address carbon emissions is tropical reforestation, and there’s funding for it.
BETWEEN THE LINES: So is this would be something you think is likely to come to pass in the next few years?
YANIQUE JOSEPH: Yes. It is likely to come to pass, but we will need the support of the American people, of the people of New Haven and Yale and other institutions of higher learning. We’ll be working in Haiti to make it happen.
BETWEEN THE LINES: When I was in Haiti there were people selling tiny little pyramids of charcoal on the street, that was the only way they could make any money, and they were cutting down the trees – the few that were left – to make charcoal. So to reforest seems like a good idea. Even though that would be on a massive scale, are you aware of any small projects locally to do reforestation?
YANIQUE JOSEPH: Yes, there are many reforestation projects in Haiti, but they are scattershot and they are not comprehensive. In order for us to have effective reforestation in Haiti, we need a number of factors. One of them is cooking fuel alternatives. This is why the University of Fondwa and the Haitian Renaissance Initiative, we have partnered to introduce a number of renewable energy alternatives in Haiti. One of them is anaerobic bio-digester technology, which would provide cooking fuel through bio-gas to Haitian households, which would be a way to prevent people cutting down trees to make charcoal. There are also other alternatives, which consist of people and groups making charcoal out of compressed waste paper and waste bio-mass, which is plant waste. They convert it to charcoal briquettes and people are now buying these reconstituted charcoal briquettes as fuel alternatives, but that is not enough.
This week’s summary of under-reported news
Compiled by Bob Nixon
Two months after the Burmese army launched brutal attacks against Rohingya Muslim villages in retaliation for insurgent attacks, the United States is ending its military assistance to Myanmar. Since a wave of attacks against Rohingya villages, over 600,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh, triggering an international humanitarian crisis. (“US Withdraws Assistance from Myanmar Military Amid Rohingya Crisis,” The Guardian, Oct. 24, 2017; “U.S. Declaration of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ in Myanmar on Way,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 24, 2017)
Virginia’s influential African-American vote could swing the state’s razor tight governor’s race between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, and former National Republican Party Committee Chair Republican Ed Gillespie. The Virginia race is seen by many observers as a bellwether on the popularity of Donald Trump’s presidency. (“Eric Holder Group Pumps Big Money Into Close Virginia Governor’s Race,” NBC News, Oct. 26, 2017; “The Obsession With White Voters Could Cost Democrats the Virginia Governor’s Race,” The Nation, Oct. 23, 2017)
In New Orleans criminal court, arrestees in orange jumpsuits wait to be heard by Magistrate Judge John Cantrell. Those appearing in court face charges ranging from drug possession, to domestic violence and car theft. Judge Cantrell has lot of discretion in granting bail, but he rarely releases a prisoner without imposing a $2500 dollar bond. The bail imposed, unaffordable to many poor defendants, forces many to sit in jail for months awaiting trial. (“America Is Waking Up to the Injustice of Cash Bail,” The Nation, Oct. 19, 2017)