Things That Matter

The U.S. Offers To Lift Crippling Sanctions Against Venezuela In New Plan, But There’s A Major Catch

The coronavirus isn’t stopping the United States from continuing its maximum pressure campaign on Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela. 

For well over a year, Venezuela has suffered from a massive political crisis. President Nicolas Maduro clings to power as a growing number of foreign countries (including the U.S.) recognize his main competitor, Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself interim-President.

But as the country struggles to confront a growing Coronavirus pandemic, the international community is imploring the Trump administration to ease sanctions of the struggling nation. Many are concerned over its spread amid a collapsing health care system and a deep economic crisis, aggravated by U.S. sanctions and low oil prices.

The Trump administration is prepared to lift crippling sanctions on Venezuela in support of a new proposal to form a transitional government.

Credit: Kenneth Rapoza / Getty

However, getting both Maduro and Guaidó to buy into the plan – let alone millions of Venezuelans – will be an immense challenge. Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó would both have to step aside in favor of a five-person governing council, according to U.S. officials familiar with the plan.

Under the “democratic transition framework”, all political prisoners would be released, and all foreign – mostly Cuban – forces would leave. A five-member council would be selected, with two members chosen by the opposition, two by Maduro’s Socialist party, and the fifth member picked by the other four.

“The hope is that this set-up promotes the selection of people who are very broadly respected and known as people who can work with the other side,” the US special representative for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, told the Associated Press.

The U.S. has long pushed for regime change in Venezuela and this could be a major step towards achieving this policy.

“The United States has long been committed to finding a solution to the manmade crisis in Venezuela,” the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said.

“The urgency for this has become all the more serious in light of the Maduro regime’s failure to adequately prepare for and address the global Covid-19 pandemic. This framework demonstrates our commitment to helping Venezuela fully recover and ensures that the voice of the Venezuelan people is respected and included.”

The plan would mean the end of the Maduro regime and the likely withdrawal of his largest competitor.

Credit: Elizabeth Melimopoulos / Getty

Since early 2019, Venezuela has been in the throes of a political crisis with two clashing sides vowing to take back control of the country. Millions of people have poured into the streets in support of one side or the other – often resulting in violent flare ups that have left thousands dead.

But could the promise of zero sanctions against a struggling economy be enough to make the plan work?

Credit: @carmses_in / Twitter

The US and EU would then lift sanctions on the current leadership. Broader sanctions on the country’s oil business would be lifted after all foreign forces had left the country. All sanctions would be lifted after free elections, to be held within six to 12 months.

“The basic outline is simple: We call for a transitional government that would govern for nine to 12 months and hold free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections,” U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told reporters Tuesday. “The United States will recognize the result of a free and fair election no matter which party wins.”

The proposal comes five days after the U.S. indicted Maduro and top members of his government and army for drug trafficking and money laundering.

The Department of Justice indicted Maduro and many of his right-hand men on a range of charges, all but guaranteeing they will not be part of any potential democratic transition in Venezuela down the line.

The indictment for crimes ranging from drug trafficking to corruption to narcoterrorism puts the spotlight on the horrendous acts Maduro and his associates have allegedly perpetrated.

In addition to giving the U.S. additional leverage over Maduro, the indictment also acts as an incentive for the 14 individuals charged along with him — and others close to him — to cooperate with U.S. authorities.

The plan has his critics on both sides of the aisle.

Skeptics of the plan said it provided few incentives for the incumbent officials to give up power, days after they were charged with serious offences and multimillion-dollar rewards put on their heads.

The ultimate focus must be on alleviating the suffering of the Venezuelan people, and though it will not be eased by these recent actions alone, the only way forward is to address the root causes of the crisis, starting with Maduro.

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Donald Trump Refused To Condemn His White Supremacists Pals And In fact, Told Them To ‘Stand By’

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Donald Trump Refused To Condemn His White Supremacists Pals And In fact, Told Them To ‘Stand By’

Spencer Platt / Getty

Last night’s first presidential debate of the 2020 election gave us about as much optimism and assurance of safety as his past four years in office. Particularly because when it came to the moments when our current president was given a chance by moderator Chris Wallace to condemn white supremacists and “militia” groups while also demanding that they stand down as opposed to inciting violence, he refused.

Even if you’ve yet to watch Tuesday night’s debates, you’ve undoubtedly heard that throughout the night Donald Trump acted like a child who had never once been taught by a teacher to wait his turn to speak. Or, to simply answer a question. Shockingly, Trump stuck to this approach in one of the most critical aspects of the debates that could have gained him followers or at least assuaged Americans and their fears about his leadership and morality.

When it came to the moment when he was asked to condemn white nationalists and militia groups Trump pussyfooted around then gave a pretty damning response.

During last night’s debate when asked to denounce those groups, Trump gave non-committal answers.

When asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace asked if he was willing and ready to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and tell them to stand down during the current and ongoing demonstrations taking place across the country, Trump told one group to “stand back and stand by.”

What’s more, he asserted that violence at the protests was not being instigated by conservatives.

“Sure,” Trump responded. “I’m willing to [tell them to stand down] but I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right wing. I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.”

“Say it. Do it. Say it,” Biden urged Trump in response to his non commital answers.

“Who would you like me to condemn?” Trump shot back, turning his attention to Wallace. “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem.”

The Proud Boys are a far-right men-only organization that has been spotted at multiple 2020 Trump campaign rallies wearing black and yellow polo shirt uniforms.

The group promotes and often engages in political violence.

This is why Trump’s non-committal responses like “Sure” to requests from Wallace and Biden to condemn these groups are worrisome. Even more so why, when pressed by Wallace and Biden who pointed out repeatedly that “sure” is not the same as actually doing so was so troubling as well. Moreover, it’s important to note that Trump’s response to “I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing” is another “all lives matter” kind of way to denouncing white supremacist groups.

Of course this is not the first time the president has defended the actions of white supremacists.

In August, Trump refused to condemn the actions of his supporters in Portland, Oregon, and Wisconsin who used pepper spray to attack demonstrators. In the past, Trump has also defended Kyle Rittenhouse, a shooter who attempted homicide in Kenosha, Wisconsin at a BLM protest, saying that he had been “very violently attacked.”

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Pretty Damning: Trump Paid $750 in Federal Income Tax — He Even Wrote-Off That Sad Comb Over

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Pretty Damning: Trump Paid $750 in Federal Income Tax — He Even Wrote-Off That Sad Comb Over

BILL PUGLIANO / GETTY

After four long years, we finally know why Trump didn’t want to release his tax returns: abominably, he thought his terrible haircuts and adult age children were worthy of write-offs. Oh yeah… and the year he was elected he only paid $750.00.

Long before his 2016 presidential election bid, Trump dodged calls to reveal his tax returns. At the time of his bid, however, he refused to take part in a 40-year tradition carried out by presidential nominees to release tax returns to the public. During his initial run, Trump falsely claimed that he was unable to release his returns publicly while they were under audit, and throughout his presidency, he has avoided sharing them despite grand jury subpoenas. Fortunately, thanks to a piece published by The New York Times, they’re finally getting a chance to see the light of day.

On Sunday, The New York Times published the first of several reports examining Trump’s tax information.

In 2016, Trump became the first president since 1976 to not release his tax records. The decision promptly roused dismay and questions about whether the records carried “undisclosed conflicts of interest that may impair his ability to make impartial policy decisions.”

According to NYT’s latest exposé, Trump (a man who has long boasted about his wealth and has also claimed a net worth of billions of which he has also declared to be self-acquired) paid a mere total of $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017.

While the Times report did not cover 2018 and 2019 tax filings, the newspaper looked into 18 years of Trump’s tax returns. They also looked into his business dealings as far back as 2000 and found that in 10 of those years, the president of the United States failed to pay any income taxes “largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.”

The Times also revealed that Trump “racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes” despite millions in income and property. In a statement for the piece, Alan Garten an attorney for the Trump Organization claimed to the Times that “most, if not all, of the facts, appear to be inaccurate.” NoteL the Times underlined that Garten appeared to be “conflating income taxes with other federal taxes.”

According to the article, beginning in 2010, Trump had been given a $72.9 million tax refund from the IRS.

The Times article explains in detail how Trump has managed to handle his business and categorize his wealth. The paper found that most often, Trump claimed his expenses as deductions from his tax bill chalking them up to business expenses. These include nearly $70,000 in hairstyling costs for his time on NBC’s “The Apprentice” over $300,000 for landscaping of the Mar-a-Lago Club and $95,000 written off for hair and makeup done for his daughter Ivanka. That’s right, the president wrote off his own adult children.

Addressing the report, the Times noted that they would not include the actual tax documents in its coverage to avoid outing its sources.

“We are publishing this report because we believe citizens should understand as much as possible about their leaders and representatives — their priorities, their experiences and also their finances,” Times editor Dean Baquet wrote in an editor’s note. “Every president since the mid-1970s has made his tax information public. The tradition ensures that an official with the power to shake markets and change policy does not seek to benefit financially from his actions.”

In response to the reports, Trump called the story “fake news” during a White House press conference on Sunday.

Speaking about the piece, Trump bemoaned that the IRS “does not treat me well.” “It’s totally fake news. Made-up, fake,” he continued. “We went through the same stories, people you could’ve asked me the same questions four years ago. I had to litigate this and talk about it. Totally fake news… Actually, I paid tax, and you’ll see that as soon as my tax returns — it’s under audit,” Trump went onto explain. “They’ve been under audit for a long time. The IRS does not treat me well. … They don’t treat me well; they treat me very badly. You have people in the IRS, they treat me very, very badly…But they’re under audit. And when they’re not, I would be proud to show you, but that’s just fake news.”

It’s important to note that even an audit could not prevent Trump from releasing his tax records to the public.

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