Fact check: Donald Trump’s State of the Union address analyzed

Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech continued Trump’s tradtion of telling tall tales. Let’s separate Trump’s fake news from the facts.

Tax cuts

We enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history. Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses.

A typical family of four making $75,000 will see their tax bill reduced by $2,000 – slashing their tax bill in half.

This April will be the last time you ever file under the old broken system – and millions of Americans will have more take-home pay starting next month.

The tax cut signed into law last month is not the largest in American history, but the eighth largest, at about 0.9% of the gross domestic product. In 1981, Ronald Reagan signed the largest cut, at 2.89% of GDP.

The $1.1tn tax cut will mean lower taxes for every income bracket in 2019, but it is misleading to suggest that those cuts will last for everyone.

Over time the cuts disproportionately save money for the wealthiest. Some of the tax cuts phase out in 2025, meaning that by 2027 Americans earning less than $75,000 will see tax increases. More than 75% of the savings will go to people who earn more than $200,000, according to Moody’s, or about 5% of taxpayers.

The top 1% of earners will save hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, through the cuts, according to the Tax Policy Center. The president’s family could save as much as $11m, according to an analysis by the New York Times. The tax plan also eliminated the estate tax, which only affected a few thousand families with extraordinary wealth.

The stock market

Small business confidence is at an all-time high. The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8tn in value. That is great news for Americans’ 401k, retirement, pension, and college savings accounts.

It’s true that the stock market is booming: the Dow Jones surpassed a record 26,000 points and saw its fastest-ever 1,000-point gain during the last year.

The stock market is not the economy, however, and does not reflect marginal wage gains and growing inequality. A Federal Reserve report published last year, for instance, found that the wealthiest 1% of American families controlled 38.6% of the country’s wealth in 2016.

Coal, energy and cars

We have ended the war on American energy – and we have ended the war on clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world.

Thanks to a natural gas boom over the last 15 years, the US has become a global energy power. This success of natural gas – cheaper, more accessible and cleaner than coal – has marginalized the coal industry, limiting Trump’s efforts to save the industry.

Coal jobs and production declined for decades, collapsing 33% from 2011 to 2016, according to studies by Columbia University and the Department of Energy, due to competition from natural gas, automation and a shift away from coal in Asia.

Trump has tried to resurrect coal’s fading fortunes. He rescinded a rule that tried to keep coal mining waste out of waterways; ordered a revocation of Obama’s Clean Power Plan; and lifted a ban on mining leases on federal land. In 2017, coal exports increased compared to 2016, according to the Energy Information Association. Still, there has only been about 1% growth in coal jobs over the last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The phrase “clean coal,” coined by the coal industry, is itself controversial. The term applies not to any coal itself but power plants that remove heavy metal pollutants in the burning process and bury carbon emissions in the earth. Even such “clean” coal-fired plants still emit large levels of pollutants.

Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States – something we have not seen for decades. Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan; Toyota and Mazda are opening up a plant in Alabama. Soon, plants will be opening up all over the country. This is all news Americans are unaccustomed to hearing – for many years, companies and jobs were only leaving us.

Chrysler is not moving any plant from Mexico; it is keeping the Mexican factory and investing in a Michigan one. Toyota-Mazda have planned for a $1.6bn factory in Alabama, to open in several years. Several of the plans Trump is touting have been in development for several years and the US has steadily increased jobs since 2010, according to the same Bureau of Labor Statistics figures the president earlier cited.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

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‘Up Is Down’: Trump’s Unreality Show Echoes His Business Past

 President Trump on Air Force One after a trip to Philadelphia on Thursday. As a businessman and candidate, he often made fantastical or false claims, and in his first days as president he has issued a series of untruths. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump on Air Force One after a trip to Philadelphia on Thursday. As a businessman and candidate, he often made fantastical or false claims, and in his first days as president he has issued a series of untruths. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

As a businessman, Donald J. Trump was a serial fabulist whose biggest-best boasts about everything he touched routinely crumbled under the slightest scrutiny. As a candidate, Mr. Trump was a magical realist who made fantastical claims punctuated by his favorite verbal tic: “Believe me.”

Yet even jaded connoisseurs of Oval Office dissembling were astonished over the last week by the torrent of bogus claims that gushed from President Trump during his first days in office.

“We’ve never seen anything this bizarre in our lifetimes, where up is down and down is up and everything is in question and nothing is real,” said Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity and the author of “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity,” a book about presidential deception.

It was not just Mr. Trump’s debunked claim about how many people attended his inauguration, or his insistence (contradicted by his own Twitter posts) that he had not feuded with the intelligence community, or his audacious and evidence-free claim that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote only because millions of people voted for her illegally.

Nearly 30 years ago, in his best-selling book “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump memorably extolled the advantages of “truthful hyperbole,” which he described as “an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.” It is one thing when the hyperbole comes from a reality TV star exaggerating his ratings to a roomful of television critics. The stakes are infinitely higher when it comes from the leader of the free world, and this reality is provoking alarm from many across the political spectrum.

Steve Schmidt, who helped manage Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said in an interview that Mr. Trump’s cascade of falsehoods was “a direct assault on the very idea of representative democracy” in the United States. Mr. Schmidt said that when he heard Mr. Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway defend the Trump administration’s “alternative facts” on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, he thought of George Orwell’s “1984,” in which the Ministry of Truth is emblazoned with three slogans: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

Deception, dissembling, exaggeration — what Fortune magazine called his “astonishing ability to prevaricate” — has deep roots in Mr. Trump’s business career. In innumerable interviews over the years, Mr. Trump glibly inflated everything from the size of his speaking fees to the cost of his golf club memberships to the number of units he had sold in new Trump buildings. In project after project, he faced allegations of broken promises, deceit or outright fraud, from Trump University students who said they had been defrauded, to Trump condominium buyers who said they had been fleeced, to small-time contractors who said Mr. Trump had fabricated complaints about their work to avoid paying them.

In the early 1980s, a New York City housing court judge ruled that Mr. Trump had filed a “spurious” lawsuit to harass a tenant into vacating a Trump building. In the early 1990s, a federal judge ruled that despite Mr. Trump’s denials, there was “strong evidence” he and his subordinates had conspired to hire undocumented workers and deprive them of employment benefits. In the case of Trump University, Mr. Trump repeatedly claimed that he had “handpicked” each of the instructors who were hired to teach students the secrets of his real estate investing strategies. Yet during a deposition, Mr. Trump struggled to identify a single instructor, even after he was shown their photographs.

The price Mr. Trump paid for this record of prevarication was modest and manageable. His lawyers quietly settled cases when necessary, almost always after binding plaintiffs to secrecy. Some major banks and law firms quietly pulled back from doing or seeking business with the Trump Organization. Skeptical judges turned away his libel suit against a journalist who wrote a book calling into question the amount of his wealth. But usually, by the time the truth caught up, Mr. Trump had moved on to the next big thing.

Once he stepped into the political arena, however, fact-checking operations began cataloging his false statements in ways he never experienced during his years as a real estate developer and reality television star. PolitiFact, for example, has scrutinized 356 specific claims by Mr. Trump and found that more than two-thirds of the claims were “mostly false,” “false” or, in 62 cases, “Pants on Fire” false.

Read more from the New York Times article.

Fact-checking the inaugural speech: the economy, crime, and hiring American

 Donald Trump waves after his inaugural address. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AP

Donald Trump waves after his inaugural address. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AP

In his first presidential speech, Donald Trump painted a bleak picture on issues ranging from education to the military. Alan Yuhas sorts fact from fiction.

“For too long a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government … Washington flourished but the people did not share in its wealth.”

This is technically true – the Washington DC area has seen more than a decade of growth – but more complicated as a rhetorical attack on Washington as a symbol of “the establishment”.

The chasm of American inequality has a long history with origins spread around the country. Since 2000, the wealthiest 10% Americans have “reaped” the vast majority of the economy’s rewards. Many of those richest Americans are concentrated on the coasts, but most Americans, regardless of their geography or politics, only saw their income increase in 2015, after years of stagnation. That said, the middle class has been diminishing for years, according to a 2015 Pew study, as the population has shifted more into two other categories: upper income and lower.

The actual geography is uneven: some research shows that the most unequal states in 2010 were California and New York, and that states like North Dakota and Montana saw booms and busts alongside the gas industry.

Trump has a more literal point, too – the average member of Congress is far wealthier than the average American – but the leaders of Washington DC are hardly uniform in their attitude toward inequality. For instance, Trump’s cabinet (if his nominees are all confirmed) is set to be the wealthiest in history and will include a former banker who profited immensely on foreclosing homes during the 2008 financial crisis, a billionaire called a “vulture” investor because of his history of picking apart businesses, and two other advisers, Steven Bannon and Gary Cohn, who are former Goldman Sachs executives.

“Politicians prospered but the jobs left and the factories closed.”

American manufacturing has been in decline for decades for a host of reasons. During the campaign, Trump liked to blame free trade deals such as Nafta, but outsourced jobs are only part of the equation. In 2015, the Congressional Research Service wrote: “Nafta did not cause the huge job losses feared by the critics or the large economic gains predicted by supporters.”

The deal’s net effect “appears to have been relatively modest”, the researchers concluded. Three years earlier, the OECD found that manufacturing jobs fled the US after the deal was signed but also noted the broader shift toward a service economy. Meanwhile, China has become the world’s largest manufacturer by dint of its beneficial trade status, its human and material resources, its lax and dangerous labor laws, and the steroidal advance of automation, which continues to destroy and create jobs in the US as well. Politicians played a part in all of this, but over multiple generations.

“An education system flushed with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”

The US education system, like its economy, is riven by gigantic inequities that vary by state. In 2015-16, public school teachers around the US earned, on average, between $42,025 and $77,957, according to the National Education Association, which would make them squarely in the middle class or on its edges, depending on where they live. Teachers are paid best in New York, Washington DC, and Massachusetts, and paid least in South Dakota, Mississippi, and Idaho.

School districts, on the other hand, differ greatly from each other, and experts have spent decades debating the best ways to shape education. Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has no experience in the public school system and instead has, in her home state of Michigan, campaigned to move students into private charter schools and into voucher programs. Charter schools have spread across Michigan, but the state’s academic performance has slid behind that of other states, and charter schools she has championed are now much derided.

“The crime and the gangs and the drugs.”

Trump is conjuring up a vision of America as a wasteland that does not square with reality. The nationwide crime rate remains low, about half what it was in 1991, despite a 4% increase in violent crime in 2015. That single-year increase was largely due to major increases in a few cities – namely Baltimore, Washington DC and Chicago – even as the US’s largest cities, including New York and Los Angeles, held crime to historic lows. Murders of black men and murders by firearms accounted for most of the increase.

During his campaign, Trump often falsely lumped “gangs” in with undocumented migrants; there is no evidence to suggest that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than US-born citizens, and undocumented migration has not increased for about five years. Trump is correct that the US has a drug problem: a surgeon general’s report last year found that one in seven people in the US will likely develop a substance-abuse problem, and only one in 10 will receive treatment. Trump has talked about wanting to treat addiction as a health problem, but his pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has a record of supporting criminalization in line with the “war on drugs”.

“For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own.”

Trump is right that corporations, foreign and domestic, have profited enormously in the last decade. He is less correct about national security.

The US has budgeted $4.5bn for border security in 2017, an increase from 2016 and in line with Barack Obama’s general expansion of the Border Patrol and homeland security spending.

After the so-called sequestration cuts of 2013, a result of a fight between the White House and Congress over taxes, the Pentagon was forced to reduce its budget by 7.7%. The defense department’s leaders have rejected the idea that the military is “depleted”, however, and the Obama administration has worked to replace aging equipment and develop new weapons.

“And spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.”

A 2013 study estimated that the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost Americans between $4tn and $6tn. Foreign aid, on the other hand, costs on average about $31-$40bn a year, or about 1% of the total US federal budget of $3.5tn. The proposed 2017 budget for foreign aid is $50.1bn.

“We will follow two simple rules – buy American and hire American.”

Trump has yet to follow his own rule: his Mar-a-Lago club in south Florida has continued to hire foreign workers even after he won the White House.

More on this at The Guardian web site.