Thousands of Russia-linked Facebook adverts aimed at influencing 2016 presidential election released by Congress

FLS/ BLOGGER: Somehow I do not think we find this information surprising!

 

Democrats pushed for release of all ads tied to Russia

Congress has released all of the more than 3,000 Facebook ads purchased by Russian-linked agents ahead of the 2016 presidential contest, seeking to illuminate a massive election disruption effort.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee moved to release the full stash of posts paid for by the Internet Research Agency, which is described by intelligence agencies as a Kremlin-linked troll farm, saying the American people deserved to understand the extent of Russian meddling.

“There’s no question that Russia sought to weaponise social media platforms to drive a wedge between Americans, and in an attempt to sway the 2016 election”, California Democrat Adam Schiff said in a statement.

“The only way we can begin to inoculate ourselves against a future attack is to see first-hand the types of messages, themes and imagery the Russians used to divide us”, he added.

They offered a fuller picture of tactics already detailed in congressional hearings and in an indictment of alleged Internet Research Agency personnel from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian election meddling and potential links to the Trump campaign.

Seeking to inflame social tensions, advertisements took provocative stances on issues like immigration and gun control – often releasing content that took both multiple sides of the same issue.

Russian-backed posts praising Donald Trump and assailing his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton proliferated, bearing out what Mr Mueller’s indictment and intelligence agencies call Russia’s clear preference for Mr Trump. Other posts favoured Ms Clinton’s Democratic rival Bernie Sanders.

The posts also harnessed Facebook’s tools for targeting specific voter demographics. A page sponsored by an apocryphal “Army of Jesus” group that likened Ms Clinton to Satan was geared towards people whose interests included “stop illegal immigration” and a range of Fox News personalities.

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Zuckerberg on countering Russian election interference efforts: ‘This is an arms race’

 

With a Facebook advertising budget of about $100,000, Russian-tied actors were able to amplify the reach of their content so that it appeared before well over 100 million Americans.

Amid a backlash over its role as a conduit for disinformation, Facebook pledged to begin releasing more information about political advertising and has unveiled a feature letting users see if they interacted with Russian-generated content.

Mr Mueller’s inquiry has attracted the unflagging wrath of the president, who regularly denounces the investigation as a meritless “witch hunt” manufactured by partisan law enforcement officials.

This Is Your Banking System on Trump

 

 

 

 

 

Any questions?

Getty Images

This story first appeared on TomDispatch.com.

Warning: What you are about to read is not about Russia, the 2016 election, or the latest person to depart from the White House in a storm of tweets. It’s the Beltway story hiding in plain sight with trillions of dollars in play and an economy to commandeer.

While we’ve been bombarded with a litany of scandals from the Oval Office and the Trump family, there’s a crucial institution in Washington that few in the media seem to be paying attention to, even as President Trump quietly makes it his own. More obscure than the chambers of the Supreme Court, it’s a place where he has already made substantial changes. I’m talking about the Federal Reserve.

As the central bank of the United States, the “Fed” sets the financial tone for the global economy by manipulating interest rate levels. This affects everyone, yet very few grasp the scope of its influence.

During times of relative economic calm, the Fed is regularly forgotten. But what history shows us is that having leaders who are primed to neglect Wall Street’s misdoings often sets the scene for economic dangers to come. That’s why nominees to the Fed are so crucial.

We have entered a landmark moment: No president since Woodrow Wilson (during whose administration the Federal Reserve was established) will have appointed as many board members to the Fed as Donald Trump. His fingerprints will, in other words, not just be on Supreme Court decisions, but no less significantly Fed policymaking for years to come—even though, like that court, it occupies a mandated position of political independence.

The president’s latest two nominees to the Fed’s Board of Governors exemplify this. He has nominated Richard Clarida—a former Treasury official from the days of President George W. Bush who later became a strategic adviser to investment goliath Pimco—to the Fed’s second most important slot, while giving the nod to Michelle Bowman, a Kansas bank commissioner, to represent community banks on the same board.

Like many other entities in Washington, the Board of Governors has been operating with less than a full staff. If Clarida is approved, he will join Trump-appointed Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and incoming New York Federal Reserve Bank head John C. Williams—the New York Fed generally exists in a mind meld with Wall Street—as part of the most powerful trio at that institution.

Williams served as president of the San Francisco Fed. Under his watch, the third largest US bank, Wells Fargo, created about 3.5 million fake accounts, gave its CEO a whopping raise, and copped to a $1 billion fine for bilking customers on auto and mortgage insurance contracts.

Not surprisingly, Wall Street has embraced Trump’s new Fed line-up because its members are so favorably disposed to loosening restrictions on financial institutions of every sort. Initially, the financial markets reflected concern that Powell might turn out to be a hawk on interest rates, meaning he’d raise them too quickly, but he’s proved to be anything but.

As Trump stacks the deck in his favor, count on an economic impact that will be felt for years to come and could leave the world devastated. But rest assured, if the Fed can help Trump keep the stock market buoyant for a while by letting money stay cheap for Wall Street speculation, and the dollar competitive for a trade war, it will.

 

At a time when inequality, economic hardship, and household and personal debtlevels are escalating while wages are not, why should any of this matter to the rest of us? The answer is simple enough: because the Fed sets interest rates and therefore the cost of money. This, in turn, indirectly affects the value of the dollar, which means everything you buy.

Since the financial crisis of a decade ago, the Fed has kept the cost of borrowing for banks at near zero. This allowed banks to borrow money to buy their own stock (as did many corporations) to inflate their own value but not, of course, the value of their service to Main Street.

When money is cheap because interest rates are low or near zero, the beneficiaries are those with the most direct access to it. Which means that the biggest banks, members of the Fed since its inception, get the largest chunks of fabricated money and pay the least interest on it.

Although Trump chastised the Fed during his campaign for its cheap-money policies, he’s evidently changed his mind (how Trumpian of him). That’s because he knows that the cheaper money is, the easier it is for major companies to borrow. Easy money means easy speculation for Wall Street and its main corporate clients, and sooner or later, that will be a threat to the rest of us.

The era of trade wars, soaring stock markets, and Trump gaffes may feel like it’s gone on forever. But don’t forget that there was a moment not so long ago when the same banking policies still reigning caused turmoil, ripping through the country and devouring the finances of so many. It’s worth recalling what happened during the Great Meltdown of 2008, when unrestrained megabanks ravaged the economy before being bailed out. In the midst of the current market ecstasy, it’s an easy past to ignore. That’s why Trump’s takeover of the Fed and its impact on the financial system matters so much.

Let’s recall that, on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers crashed. Lehman, like my former employer Goldman Sachs, had been around more than 150 years. Its collapse was a key catalyst in a spiral of disaster that nearly decimated the world financial system. It wasn’t the bankruptcy that did it, however, but the massive amount of money the surviving banks had already lent Lehman so it could buy the toxic assets they created.

Around the same time, Merrill Lynch, a competitor of Lehman’s, was sold to Bank of America for $50 billion and American International Group (AIG) received $182 billionin government assistance. JPMorgan Chase had already bought Bear Stearns, which had crashed six months earlier, utilizing a $29 billion government and Federal Reserve security blanket in the process.

In the wake of Lehman’s bankruptcy, $16 trillion in bailouts and other subsidies from the Federal Reserve and Congress were offered mostly to Wall Street’s biggest banks. That flow of money allowed them to return from the edge of financial disaster. It also fueled the stock and bond markets, as untethered from economic realities as the hot air balloon in The Wizard of Oz.

After nearly tripling since the post-financial crisis spring of 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose magically again last year by nearly percent. Why? Because despite all of his swamp-draining campaign talk, Trump embraced the exact same bank-coddling behavior as his predecessor. He advocated the Fed’s cheap-money policy and hired Steve Mnuchin, an ex-Goldman Sachs partner and Wall Street’s special friend, as Treasury secretary. He doubled down on rewarding malfeasance and fraud by promoting the deregulation of the banks, as if Wall Street’s greed and high appetite for risk had vanished. 

 

A quarter of the way into 2018, shadows of 2008 are already emerging. Only two months ago, the Dow logged its worst single-day point decline in history before bouncing back with vigor. In the meantime, the country whose banks caused the last crisis faces record consumer and corporate debt levels and a vulnerable geopolitical landscape.

True, the unemployment rate is significantly lower than it was at the height of the financial crisis, but for Main Street, growth hasn’t been quite so apparent. About one in five American jobs still pays a median income below the federal poverty line. Median household income is only up 5.3 percent since 2008 and remains well below where it was in 1998, if you adjust for inflation. Workforce participation remains nearly as low as it’s ever been. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent of American earners saw their median income rise by leaps and bounds since the Fed started manufacturing money—to more than 40 times that of the bottom 90 percent.

Just as before the crisis, there’s a scary level of confidence among politicians and regulators that neither the economy nor the banking sector could possibly go bust. Even the new Federal Reserve chair views bailouts as a relic of a bygone time. As Ben Bernanke said at his confirmation hearing, “Generally speaking I think the financial system is quite strong.” When asked if there are any US banks that are still too big to fail, he responded, “I would say no to that.”

That’s a pretty decisive statement, and not strikingly different from one outgoing Fed Chair Janet Yellen made last year. By extension, it means that Trump’s new chairman supports laxer structures for the big banks and more cheap money, if needed, to help them. So watch out.

When a crisis hits, liquidity dies, and banks close their doors to the public. Ultimately, the same formula for crisis will surely send Wall Street executives crawling back to the government for aid and then Donald Trump will find out what financial negligence truly is.

 

As signs of crisis emerge, few in Washington have delved into how we can ensure that a systemic crash does not happen again. That’s why I’ll never forget the strange message I got one day. It was in the middle of May 2015, about a year after my book, All the Presidents’ Bankers, had been published, when I received an email from the Federal Reserve. Every year, the Fed, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank hold an annual conference where the most elite central bankers from around the globe assemble. To my shock, since I hadn’t exactly written in a kindly fashion about the Fed, I was being invited to speak at the opening session about why Wall Street wasn’t helping Main Street.

Two months later, I found myself sitting in front of a room filled with central bankers from around the world, listening to Fed Chair Janet Yellen proclaim that the worst of the crisis and its causes were behind us. In response, the first thing I asked that distinguished crowd was this: “Do you want to know why big Wall Street banks aren’t helping Main Street as much as they could?” The room was silent. I paused before answering, “Because you never required them to.”

I added, “The biggest six US banks have been rewarded with an endless supply of cheap money in bailouts and loans for their dangerous behavior. They have been given open access to these funds with no major consequences, and no rules on how they should utilize the Fed’s largess to them to help the real economy. Why should you expect their benevolence?”

After I returned home, I became obsessed with uncovering just how the bailouts and loans of that moment were only the tip of an iceberg, the sort of berg that had once taken down the Titanic—how that cheap money fabricated for Wall Street had been no isolated American incident.

What my research for my new book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, revealed was how central bankers and massive financial institutions have worked together to manipulate global markets for the past decade. Major central banks gave themselves a blank check with which to resurrect problematic banks; purchase government, mortgage, and corporate bonds; and in some cases—as in Japan and Switzerland—stocks, too. They have not had to explain to the public where those funds were going or why. Instead, their policies have inflated asset bubbles, while coddling private banks and corporations under the guise of helping the real economy.

The zero-interest-rate and bond-buying central bank policies prevailing in the US, Europe, and Japan have been part of a coordinated effort that has plastered over potential financial instability in the largest countries and in private banks. It has, in turn, created asset bubbles that could explode into an even greater crisis the next time around.

So, today, we stand near—how near we don’t yet know—the edge of a dangerous financial precipice. The risks posed by the largest of the private banks still exist, only now they’re even bigger than they were in 2007-2008 and operating in an arena of even more debt. In Donald Trump’s America, what this means is that the same dangerous policies are still being promoted today. The difference now is that the president is appointing members to the Fed who will only increase the danger of those risks for years to come.

A crash could prove to be President Trump’s worst legacy. Not only is he—and the Fed he’s helping to create—not paying attention to the alarm bells (ignored by the last iteration of the Fed as well), but he’s ensured that none of his appointees will either. After campaigning hard against the ills of global finance in the 2016 election campaign and promising a modern era Glass-Steagall Act to separate bank deposits from the more speculative activities on Wall Street, Trump’s policy reversals and appointees leave our economy more exposed than ever. 

When politicians and regulators are asleep at the wheel, it’s the rest of us who will suffer sooner or later. Because of the collusion that’s gone on and continues to go on among the world’s main central banks, that problem is now an international one.

Nomi Prins’ latest book is Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World.

Craig Wilson contributed research for this article. 

Bolton says U.S. to follow ‘Libya model’ on North Korea Not exactly the best message to send to Kim Jong Un.

Screenshot, Face the Nation
SCREENSHOT, FACE THE NATION

 

John Bolton said Sunday that the United States will follow the “Libya model” as it prepares for talks on denuclearizing North Korea.

That will probably be less than reassuring to Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un, who likely is only too aware that Washington launched a military operation that led to the overthrow of the North African nation’s president, Moammar Gadhafi, in 2011.

“I think we’re looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004,” Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, said on CBS’s Face the Nation program.

“We’re also looking at what North Korea itself has committed to previously and most importantly, I think, going back over a quarter of a century to the 1992 joint North-South denuclearization agreement where North Korea committed to give up nuclear weapons and committed to give up uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing,” Bolton said.

He made similar comments on Fox News Sunday.

Watch:

Bolton was referring to Gadhafi’s promise in 2003 to give in to Western demands and abandon his pursuit of nuclear weapons.

What he failed to mention was that Gadhafi’s concessions did not prevent the United States and NATO from invading the country in 2011, ultimately resulting in the leader’s death at the hands of NATO-backed rebels.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is likely keenly aware of the meaning behind such comparisons. That may be why Kim told South Korean president Moon Jae-in during their meeting earlier this weekend that he would abandon the country’s nuclear aspirations if the United States promised not to invade the country, as The New York Times reported on Sunday.

“[T]hink of message this sends to Kim Jong-un: US ended up attacking Libya leading to Qaddafi’s slaying!” Shibley Telhami, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland Department, said on Twitter.

Shibley Telhami@ShibleyTelhami

Bolton says on @FaceTheNation “we are looking at the Libya model” for nuclear disarmament for North Korea. Libya had a very rudimentary program (little leverage). More relevant, think of message this sends to Kim Jong-un: US ended up attacking Libya leading to Qaddafi’s slaying!

Other experts agree. Speaking to CNBC last July, Guo Yu, principal Asia analyst at global risk consultancy firm Verisk Maplecroft, said Kim is “watching what’s been happening in the Middle East, and the external military interventions — mostly led by the U.S. — which are interested in regime change and just reinforce the mindset for pursuing independent credible nuclear deterrence.”

Michael Cohen, once at pinnacle of Trump’s world, now poses threat to it

NY TIMES 4/21/18

Untangling the web of Michael Cohen

Here’s a breakdown of the people that President Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen dealt with and the investigations he’s entangled in. 

 April 21 at 3:56 PM 

When Donald Trump won the presidency, his longtime attorney Michael Cohen seemed in position for a coveted spot in the senior ranks of the White House.

At one point, Cohen topped a list of five candidates for White House counsel, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post. He suggested to some Trump allies that he might make a good chief of staff.

But when Trump built his West Wing team, the brash New York lawyer did not make the cut.

Some in Trump’s inner circle worried about blowback from Cohen’s associations and un­or­tho­dox tactics in fixing the New York developer’s problems, Trump associates said.

Among those opposed, the associates said, were Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. For his part, Cohen had warned Trump against giving Ivanka Trump and Kushner White House jobs, saying the president would be hammered by complaints of nepotism, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The rebuff wounded Cohen, according to people familiar with his views, although he continued to publicly express admiration for his longtime boss.

Michael Cohen, a personal attorney to President Trump, leaves federal court in Manhattan on April 16, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

“Here was a guy who dedicated his life to Trump, who was sure he would be a top pick,” said a Trump associate who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe conversations that he witnessed. But, in the end, “He was iced out.”

Now, the bond between the president and his self-proclaimed fixer is under much more punishing pressure: a wide-ranging criminal investigation into Cohen’s business dealings and actions he took to quash negative stories about Trump during the 2016 campaign.

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The outcome — and Cohen’s response to the investigation — could determine the fate of both men, who have relied heavily on each other for years.

Both men have sent public signals in recent days that their relationship remains steady, with Trump describing a federal raid on Cohen’s offices and home as a “disgrace” and calling his attorney to check on him.

But associates of Trump and Cohen say that Cohen, with his deep knowledge of Trump’s personal and financial life, could seek to cut a deal with prosecutors at a moment when Trump’s business dealings are facing scrutiny related to the separate inquiry by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump’s former attorney Jay Goldberg, who has talked about the matter with the president, said that if Cohen faces jail time, he would be under extraordinary pressure from his family “to say what he believes the government wants to hear.”

In tweets Saturday, Trump rejected speculation that Cohen would turn against him. Citing a New York Times report on the issue, the president wrote that he “always liked & respected” Cohen, adding: “Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!”

Cohen declined to comment for this story, as did the White House.

A wannabe tough guy

Cohen hardly seemed headed for life as a tough-talking “fixer” growing up in an upper-middle-class town on Long Island. He attended a yeshiva day school, and then elite Lawrence Woodmere Academy. His father, a physician, was a Polish-born Holocaust survivor; his mother was a nurse. Cohen described himself as an “agnostic Jew.”

As a teenager in the 1980s, he dated Ukrainian emigre Laura Shusterman. Cohen often visited her home in Queens, and he also visited friends in Brooklyn, where Soviet refugees had settled in Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.

“He grew up in a homogenous, wealthy enclave, and he came to a radically different place, Brighton Beach, on the border of Coney Island, which was filled with immigrants and minorities,” said a longtime Cohen friend who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private relationship.

The Soviet emigres were “tough kids,” and there was a “lot of friction between the Italian and Russian gangs,” the friend said. Cohen emulated them. He later learned to speak Russian “like a 4-year-old,” Cohen told The Post in an interview last year.

Laura’s father, Fima Shusterman, pleaded guilty in 1993 to fraud charges. Cohen married Laura the following year. He befriended a number of emigres from Russia and Ukraine. Among them was Russian migrant Felix Sater, who years later would work with both Trump and Cohen on efforts to develop Trump-branded real estate in Russia and elsewhere.

Cohen was drawn to politics, first as a Democrat volunteering for the 1988 presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis and then as a Republican, losing a 2003 bid for city council.

In a candidate questionnaire for the New York race, Cohen touted his appointment by Republican Gov. George E. Pataki to a transit board, “where I serve as a public watchdog against corruption in government.”

As for his other New York City accomplishments, Cohen wrote that, among his achievements, he had “hectored” a local coffee shop into better managing its trash.

Making money was another Cohen goal. His role model was Trump, whose first book, “The Art of the Deal,” had inspired him. “I’ve been admiring Donald Trump since I was in high school,” Cohen told ABC News.

He invested in the taxi business, for a time managing a fleet of 200 cabs with Simon Garber, a Ukrainian immigrant who also operates a fleet of taxis in Moscow. By 2012, when his partnership with Garber ended, Cohen was earning $90,000 a month from taxi medallions, according to a court filing. He told The Post last year that he never invested in Garber’s Russian business.

Before going to work for Trump, he also invested $1.5 million in a Florida casino boat with two Ukrainian emigres, but the project flopped. “We lost the boat into a foreclosure,” Cohen told The Post last year. “And I wasn’t happy.”

His investments in Trump properties proved more secure. Cohen bought his first property in a Trump building — Trump World Tower near the United Nations — in April 2001, paying $1 million for a condominium that sold 16 years later for $5 million. His in-laws had purchased a separate unit. Trump himself signed Cohen’s sales document.

In 2005, Cohen purchased his most expensive Trump property, in Trump Park Avenue, a former hotel that Trump turned into some of Manhattan’s most luxurious apartments. Its owners included Trump’s daughter Ivanka. Cohen paid $5 million for unit 10A. Again, Donald Trump signed the sales document.

Cohen met Trump in the late 1990s at a political fundraiser for a local Republican whom the developer hosted in Trump Tower. Cohen performed some legal work for Trump in the early 2000s, according to a person familiar with their relationship.

It was a real estate brawl that cemented their bond.

In 2006, Cohen took Trump’s side in a dispute at Trump World Tower, where some condominium owners wanted to oust Trump from managing the property, according to people familiar with the dispute. Cohen, as a unit owner, vocally sided with Trump, who prevailed.

“When Michael won that fight, that’s when Trump gained a lot of respect for him,” said Cohen’s lawyer and longtime friend David Schwartz.

That led to an extraordinary leap in Cohen’s career. Trump hired him as special counsel and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, a privately owned family company that had a collection of hotels, condos, casinos and other properties.

Goldberg, the attorney who was working for Trump at the time, said Cohen stepped into the void left by the 1986 death of Trump’s longtime lawyer Roy Cohn, the former chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy who had told Trump to counterpunch 100 times harder against whoever tried to hit him.

It was a coup for Cohen, Goldberg said, because at the time, “everybody in the world was trying to get Trump as a client.”

In the following decade, Cohen handled all manner of problems for his boss that could not be solved through traditional channels. Cohen, according to a former associate, employed Trump’s tactics of threats and lawsuits, relying on tough-guy language.

Describing his methods to ABC News, he said that “if somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit. If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck, and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.”

Cohen also did side deals with Trump. One involved a mixed martial arts fight company called Affliction Entertainment that planned to host pay-per-view bouts in the United States and a reality television show to be filmed in Russia, home to the most famous fighters in the burgeoning sport. The business faltered after Affliction hosted just a few matches.

Cohen, meanwhile, expanded his real estate investments beyond Trump properties. Learning skills from the boss, he invested in New York City real estate and made substantial profits. Starting in 2011, he bought four New York City buildings and sold them for $32 million. One property, a modest apartment building at 172 Rivington St., cost him $2 million in 2011. Three years later, he sold it for $10 million to a family real estate fund represented by Brooklyn lawyer Herbert Chaves, who did not respond to a request for comment. Cohen used the proceeds in 2015 to purchase an interest in a $58 million, seven-story apartment building on the Upper East Side.

Cohen’s wealth is not publicly disclosed, but he has luxurious tastes. He paid $150,000 for a one-month vacation rental in the Hamptons but later sued the landlord, complaining about the small beds and electrical problems in what he called a “nightmare.” The 2014 suit was settled confidentially.

Part of Cohen’s role at the Trump Organization was negotiating licensing deals, selling Trump’s name to developers interested in building Trump Towers abroad. He was the Trump Organization’s main contact for a project in Batumi, a resort city in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. He also told The Post he once traveled to Kazakhstan to try to land a similar deal there.

Ultimately, neither project was constructed, but Trump did make money from preliminary licensing deals in a development in Georgia.

Some of Cohen’s work on international deals has drawn the attention of special counsel Mueller and congressional committees examining possible collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

In late 2015, as the Trump campaign was ascendant, Cohen received an email from his old Brighton Beach friend Felix Sater. Sater had worked with Trump on a number of real estate ventures, including Trump Soho condominium. Sater in 1998 pleaded guilty to a role in a Mafia-linked stock-fraud case and later served as an FBI informant, a role that led a federal official to certify that he had provided “information crucial to national security.”

Sater wrote to Cohen that he was pursuing a deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. Moreover, Sater wrote, Russian President Vladi­mir Putin could help Trump.

“I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Sater wrote to Cohen, according to an email first reported by the New York Times.

In January 2016, Cohen wrote to Putin’s spokesman seeking help on the Trump Tower project. The email went to a general press email address, and the Moscow project did not go forward.

Cohen told congressional investigators in a statement that “this was solely a real estate deal and nothing more. I was doing my job.”

The Moscow proposal came under scrutiny when Mueller and congressional committees began examining Trump’s Russia contacts. Questions also were raised about Cohen’s role in the “Steele dossier,” a report put together by a former British spy that included the unsubstantiated allegation that Cohen had met with Russians in Prague to discuss the hacking of Democrats’ computers. Cohen has said consistently that no such meeting occurred.

Promoting the boss

Cohen for years had pushed Trump to seek the presidency. In 2011, Cohen created a website, shouldtrumprun.com, and traveled on Trump’s plane to the first-caucus state of Iowa to promote his potential candidacy. Trump decided not to run then, but Cohen kept pushing the idea.

Michael Caputo, a former Trump political adviser, said that Cohen was “an ever-present force” in Trump’s activities, including a prospective run for New York governor, the possible purchase of the Buffalo Bills football team, and a presidential bid.

Cohen also became Trump’s attack dog, particularly with journalists. Most famously, he vowed to a Daily Beast reporter in 2015 to “mess your life up” if a story was published about Ivana Trump’s statement in a deposition that her husband had “raped” her. The story included Cohen’s threats and his incorrect assertion that a person cannot be raped by a spouse. He later apologized, and Ivana Trump, Donald Trump’s first wife, backed down from the allegation.

Cohen’s tough talk and willingness to handle difficult problems for Trump became especially useful as Trump launched his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Cohen said his job was to protect his boss “from all those who seek to malign him.” And as Trump was battling Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for the White House, an issue surfaced that called for Cohen’s tough negotiating skills.

In the campaign’s final weeks, Cohen paid $130,000 to adult-film star Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier.

Cohen has said that the Trump campaign and the Trump Organization were not involved with the payment, which he said he made by drawing money from a home equity credit line secured by his Trump Park Avenue condo.

In the view of several Cohen associates, the Daniels payment was an ill-conceived Cohen effort to curry Trump’s favor at a time when the lawyer’s rivals were shutting him out. The president has said he was unaware of the payment.

Federal investigators are scrutinizing the payment and any involvement Cohen may have had with another Trump accuser, former Playboy model Karen McDougal. She sold the story of her alleged affair with Trump for $150,000 to AMI, the company that publishes the National Enquirer.

AMI did not publish the McDougal story.

After leaving the Trump Organization in early 2017, Cohen became Trump’s personal attorney, and he secured a contract with the New York law office of Squire Patton Boggs, which agreed to pay him $500,000 annually to help the firm land new business, court documents show. The firm ended its association with Cohen this spring, according to filings.

In the past year, Cohen has had just two other legal clients besides the president, his attorney told a federal judge last week: Fox News host Sean Hannity, who said he consulted Cohen on unspecified real estate matters, and Elliott Broidy, a major Trump supporter who served with Cohen as a deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. Broidy used Cohen to arrange a $1.6 million payment to a Playboy playmate with whom Broidy had an affair.

Cohen also had seven unnamed business clients to whom he did not provide legal advice, according to court filings.

Meanwhile, the value of Cohen’s taxi medallions, required to operate cabs in New York City, has plummeted — from the 2014 peak of $1.2 million per medallion to $300,000 today — amid the rise of ride-hailing companies. Cohen owed $56,000 in back taxes for his New York taxi business, records show.

How Cohen will fare under the financial and legal strain of the investigation remains an open question.

“I will always protect our @POTUS,” he tweeted April 8.

The next morning, the FBI raided Cohen’s office and residences.

Cambridge Analytica execs boast of role in getting Donald Trump elected

FROM THE GUARDIAN 3/20/18

Execs from firm at heart of Facebook data breach say they used ‘unattributable and untrackable’ ads, according to undercover expose

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3:41
 Everything you need to know about the Cambridge Analytica exposé – video explainer

Senior executives from the firm at the heart of Facebook’s data breach boasted of playing a key role in bringing Donald Trump to power and said they used “unattributable and untrackable” advertising to support their clients in elections, according to an undercover expose.

In secretly recorded conversations, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix, claimed he had met Trump “many times”, while another senior member of staff said the firm was behind the “defeat crooked Hillary” advertising campaign.

“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape,” said the executive. “And so this stuff infiltrates the online community, but with no branding, so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”

Caught on camera by an undercover team from Channel 4 News, Nix was also dismissive of Democrats on the House intelligence committee, who had questioned him over Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

Senior managers then appeared to suggest that in their work for US clients, there was planned division of work between official campaigns and unaffiliated “political action groups”.

That could be considered coordination – which is not allowed under US election law. The firm has denied any wrongdoing.

Cambridge Analytica said it had a firewall policy in place, signed by all staff and strictly enforced.

The disclosures are the latest to hit Cambridge Analytica, which has been under mounting pressure since Sunday, when the Observer reported the company had unauthorised access to tens of millions of Facebook profiles – and used them to build a political targeting system.

In Tuesday’s second instalment of an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News in association with the Observer, Nix said he had a close working relationship with Trump and claimed Cambridge Analytica was pivotal to his successful campaign.

“We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign, the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy,” he told reporters who were posing as potential clients from Sri Lanka.

The company’s head of data, Alex Tayler, added: “When you think about the fact that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3m votes but won the electoral college vote that’s down to the data and the research.

“You did your rallies in the right locations, you moved more people out in those key swing states on election day. That’s how he won the election.”

Pinterest

Another executive, Mark Turnbull, managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s political division, was recorded saying: “He won by 40,000 votes in three states. The margins were tiny.”

Turnbull took credit for one of the most well known and controversial campaigns of the last presidential campaign, organised by the political action group Make America Number 1.

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“The brand was ‘Defeat Crooked Hillary’. You’ll remember this of course?” he told the undercover reporter. “The zeros, the OO of crooked were a pair of handcuffs … We made hundreds of different kinds of creative, and we put it online.”

Turnbull said the company sometimes used “proxy organisations”, including charities and activist groups, to help disseminate the messages – and keep the company’s involvement in the background.

When the undercover reporter expressed worries that American authorities might seize on details of a dirty campaign, Nix said the US had no jurisdiction over Cambridge Analytica, even though the company is American and is registered in Delaware.

“I’m absolutely convinced that they have no jurisdiction,” he told the purported client. “So if US authorities came asking for information, they would simply refuse to collaborate. “We’ll say: none of your business.”

Turnbull added. “We don’t talk about our clients.”

Speaking to Channel 4 News before seeing the undercover film, Hillary Clintonsaid: “There was a new kind of campaign that was being run on the other side, that nobody had ever faced before. Because it wasn’t just all about me. It was about how to suppress voters who were inclined to vote for me … when you have a massive propaganda effort to prevent people from thinking straight, because they’re being flooded with false information.”

In the report, Nix also implied that it was possible to mislead authorities by omission, discussing his appearance in front of the House intelligence committee, for its inquiry into possible Russian election meddling.

The Republicans only asked three questions, which took five minutes, he told the reporter. And while the Democrats spent two hours questioning him, he claimed they were so far out of their depths that he didn’t mind responding.

“We have no secrets. They’re politicians, they’re not technical. They don’t understand how it works,” he said, when asked about whether he was forced to testify.

He went on to describe how political candidates are manipulated.

“They don’t understand because the candidate never, is never involved. He’s told what to do by the campaign team.” The reporter asks if that means the candidate is just a puppet, and Nix replies simply: “Always.”

In another exchange, Tayler describes an apparently planned division of spending on the campaign trail, with the candidate organising “positive” messages, with negative attack ads left to the super Pacs, which may engage in unlimited political spending independently of the campaigns.

“As part of it, sometimes you have to separate it from the political campaign itself … campaigns are normally subject to limits about how much money they can raise. Whereas outside groups can raise an unlimited amount.”

“So the campaign will use their finite resources for things like persuasion and mobilisation and then they leave the ‘air war’ they call it, like the negative attack ads to other affiliated groups.”

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13:04
 Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: ‘We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles’ – video

This raises questions over whether Cambridge Analytica blurred the boundaries between official campaign groups, which have spending limits, and unaffiliated political action groups or super Pacs.

The latter can spend as much as they want but must not coordinate with the candidate they support.

The Campaign Legal Center has accused Cambridge Analytica over allegations of illegal coordination of this nature.

It has filed evidence with the FEC alleging that the super Pac Make America Number 1 made illegal contributions to Trump’s campaign, “engaging in unlawful coordinated spending by using the common vendor Cambridge Analytica”.

Cambridge Analytica said it had never claimed to have won the election for Donald Trump.

“This is patently absurd. We are proud of the work we did on that campaign, and have spoken in many public forums about what we consider to be our contribution to the campaign.”

It said there was no evidence of coordination between the Make America Number 1 super Pac and the Trump campaign. The company said it was not under investigation.

It has accused the Channel 4 News undercover investigation of grossly misrepresenting how the company conducts its business.

However, speaking to the BBC on Monday, Nix said he had “huge amounts of regret that we undertook this meeting and spoke with a certain amount of hyperbole”.

On Tuesday the website Politico reported that Trump’s 2020 campaign was moving to distance itself from Cambridge Analytica. A campaign official told Politico it had no existing contracts with the firm and no plans to hire it in the future.

Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization for documents related to Russia – report

investigationhttps://www.theguardian.com/us-news/trump-russia-inquiry

Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization for documents related to Russia – report

Reported order is first time special counsel has asked for documents directly related to Trump’s businesses in course of investigation

Lauren Gambinoand Stephanie Kirchgaessner

FROM THE GUARDIAN

Thu 15 Mar 2018 14.25 EDTLast modified on Thu 15 Mar 2018 15.55 EDT

 

The special counsel, Robert Mueller, has subpoenaed the Trump Organization to turn over documents, including some related to Russia, the New York Times reported on Thursday, in a sign that the investigation is inching closer to the president.

Trump Organization ‘negotiated with sanctioned Russian bank in 2016’

 

Read more

The subpoena was delivered in “recent weeks” and includes an order for the Trump Organization to turn over all documents related to Russia and other topics he is investigating, the Times reported, citing two people briefed on the matter.

It is the first known order directly related to Trump’s sprawling business empire.

Asked by the New York Times last year whether he would consider Mueller examining his and his family’s finances a “red line”, Trump said: “I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t – I don’t – I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows?”

He added: “I don’t make money from Russia. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years.”

On Twitter, Trump has said he has had “nothing to do with Russia – no deals, no loans, no nothing”.

But on Wednesday Democratic lawmakers investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin alleged that the future president’s private company was “actively negotiating” a business deal in Moscow with a sanctioned Russian bank during the 2016 election campaign.

The statement by Democrats on the House intelligence committee, who have had access to internal Trump Organization documents and interviewed key witnesses, raises new questions about the Trump Organization’s financial ties to Russia and its possible willingness to deal with a bank that had been placed under US sanctions.

The Democrats did not indicate the source of their information.

One month before Trump laid down this “red line”, Don McGahn, the White House counsel, reportedly threatened to quit after Trump asked him to have Mueller fired because the president believed he had a number of conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation.

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Meanwhile a new poll from Pew Research Center found 61% of Americans were very or somewhat confident Mueller will conduct a fair investigation.

Opinions divided along party lines. Some 46% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents agreed, while for Democrats the figure was 75%.

The study, carried out before Thursday’s announcement of sanctions on Russian intelligence for its interference in the 2016 elections, also found 55% of Americans either not at all or not too confident that the Trump administration will take serious action to prevent Russia from influencing future elections in this country.

Mueller was appointed in May 2017 to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election.

Sign up for Guardian Today US edition: the day’s must-reads sent directly to you

 

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He is also reportedly investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI director James Comey, who has said he refused to give the president his loyalty.

The White House referred all inquiries to the Trump Organization. A lawyer for the Trump Organization did not wish to comment on the record.

At her regular media briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to address reports of the subpoena directly.

“As we’ve maintained all along and as the president has said numerous times, there was no collusion between the campaign and Russia,” Sanders told reporters. “We’re going to continue to fully cooperate out of respect for the special counsel. We’re not going to comment: for any specific questions about the Trump Organization, I’d refer you there.”

Additional reporting by David Smith

Since you’re here …

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Opinion: Reason for hope on guns: NY TIMES/ David Leonhardt

It will be crucial to see if guns can be brought under some control this time. Yes mental health, Yes temporary measures to secure schools (but not guns for teachers or school staff (POLICE), NO to enhanced assault rifles, semi automatics/ AR-15’s etc., for anyone under 21 AND strict limitations on their use/ownership by anyone outside the military except for licensed security personnel and carefully monitored firing ranges (in other words about 5% of their current availability. FLS/ POLITIX

The New York Times
The New York Times

Monday, February 19, 2018

 

David Leonhardt

Op-Ed Columnist

Vermont has some of the weakest gun laws in the country. After the school shooting in Florida last week, Vermont’s governor — Phil Scott, a Republican — initially vowed that those laws would remain the same.
But then he changed his mind.
He changed it just one day after his initial response. Why? In the meantime, an 18-year-old from Poultney, Vt. — a small town in the southwestern part of the state — was arrested for allegedly planning yet another school shooting.
“If we are at a point when we put our kids on a bus and send them to school without being able to guarantee their safety, who are we?” Scott said, according to Seven Days, a Vermont publication. “I need to be open-minded, objective and at least consider anything that will protect our kids.”
The governor’s about-face may be only words, but it’s still encouraging. And encouragement is important. I fully understand the instinct to despair about guns: Kids keep dying, and things never seem to change. But the only way they will change is if people outraged by gun violence resist despair.
“This world-weary prediction of inaction is pernicious,” ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis wrote this weekend, in a perceptive mini-essay on Twitter. “It demoralizes those who are actually motivated to fight against gun violence. And it lets off the hook those who are opposed to reform.”
MacGillis continued: “The NRA’s influence depends heavily on the PERCEPTION of its power. By building up the gun lobby as an indomitable force, pessimistic liberals are playing directly into its hands.”

 

 

Trump called for a government shutdown over immigration, and it makes no sense

Hmmmm…

Republicans want to keep immigration out of this spending fight. Trump just called for a shutdown over it.

Republicans want to keep immigration out of this spending fight. Trump just called for a shutdown over it.

Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

President Donald Trump said he would “love to see a shutdown” if Democrats don’t agree to his demands on immigration reform, in an off-the-cuff comment that not only undermined his entire party’s messaging on government spending, but also seemed to miss the actual goings-on in Congress.

“If we don’t change it, let’s have a shutdown,” Trump said about immigration during a White House meeting on MS-13 gang violence. “We’ll do a shutdown and it’s worth it for our country. I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of.”

Trump went on to say: “If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don’t want safety, and unrelated but still related, they don’t want to take care of our military, then shut it down. We’ll go with another shutdown.”

Trump’s comment has put Republicans on edge, in part because Congress is currently in the midst of negotiating a spending bill before the government shutdown deadline this Thursday. One Republican lawmaker who was in the room, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), urged Trump to walk away from the “shutdown” rhetoric, saying “both sides have learned that a government shutdown is bad.”

But Trump, who has often taken to this kind of tough talk, either doesn’t know where his party stands on the issues, or doesn’t care. Here are a few thoughts on Trump’s latest comments:

1) For months, Congressional Republicans have spent all their energy to try and persuade Democrats to separate government spending and immigration. When most Democrats voted to shut down the government two weeks ago, Republicans’ took to blaming their Democratic colleagues for holding the government “hostage” over the “unrelated issue of illegal immigration.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan said it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said it. But it seems like it’s not only Democrats that Republican leaders need to scold about connecting the policies; their own Republican president is just as happy to tie the two issues.

2) When the three-day government shutdown at the end of January came to an end, McConnell promised Democrats an open immigration debate on the Senate floor that would allow amendments from both sides of the aisle, on the condition that Congress keeps the government open this week. Again, this is part of the Republicans’ efforts to separate spending and immigration negotiations.

In other words, what Trump would “love” to see seems to go against what’s actually going on in Congress.

3) There are also just some mechanical questions about what Trump is proposing here: Does this mean Trump is proposing a government shutdown on March 23 (the date it seems Congress has coalesced around to extend government spending to)? Is he assuming that the immigration bill would be attached to whatever spending bill is proposed at the end of March? If so, what happened to the March 5 “deadline” the Trump administration said they’d fully end DACA by?

4) The Trump administration’s immigration proposal was criticized by both Democrats and Republicans. It calls for a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, $25 billion to fund a southern border wall, substantial curtailing of family immigration, and elimination of the diversity visa lottery program, which some say could gut the legal immigration system. Both Republican leaders in the House and Senate supported the clarity offered by the White House proposal but made no commitments to the actual policy.

5) Meanwhile, debate in Congress over immigration seems to have stalled out in the last two weeks. Already some lawmakers are signaling that they could see Congress punting on DACA for a whole year — an idea, that although still unformed, is unlikely to see the immigration reforms Trump is saying they should “shut down” the government over.

6) At this point, immigration and spending negotiations need to slide toward common ground. But instead, Trump has continued to escalated partisan rancor. During the last shutdown he proposed going “nuclear” and just ending the filibuster to cut Democrats out of negotiations altogether (which also probably wouldn’t work). Now he’s doing it again — right as Congress gears up for an important spending vote and immigration debate.

Fact-checking the 2018 State of the Union address: Disaster

Fact Checker

 on this administration out there that this blog has not said much original because there is not much to add to what the “Non-Fox-News” people are already hearing (approximately 65% of the population which opposes Trump, a record among post World War II presidents).

Note: The tone of the Chief Executive occupying the White house was indeed more professional. But the lies were numerous.

Fact-checking the 2018 State of the Union address

 January 30 at 11:39 PM 

 1:40

Fact-checking the 2018 State of the Union address
 

Here’s are 10 of the president’s most dubious claims during the State of the Union address.

 

President Trump’s State of the Union speech had soaring rhetoric — and many dubious facts and figures. Many of these claims have been fact-checked repeatedly, yet the president persists in using them.

Here is a guide to 18 claims, in the order in which Trump made them. As is our practice with live events, we do not award Pinocchio rankings, which are reserved for complete columns.

“Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone.”

Trump often inflates the number of jobs created under his presidency by counting Election Day, rather than when he took the oath of office. There have been about 1.8 million jobs created since January 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the slowest gain in jobs since 2010, which indicates how well job growth was going before Trump took office.

There were 184,000 manufacturing jobs created in the 11 months since Trump took the oath of office, compared with a loss of 16,000 in 2016, according to the BLS. This is a substantial one-year gain, but it’s still more than 1 million manufacturing jobs below the level at the start of the Great Recession.

“After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages.”

Trump once again takes credit for something that began to happen before his presidency. Wages have been on an upward trend since 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and in fact their growth slowed during the first year of Trump’s presidency.

Looking closely at the data, it’s possible to argue wages were stagnant from 2000 to 2014, but the median salary has been increasing steadily since then and actually declined in the fourth quarter of 2017, from $353 a week to $345 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

 1:36
Fact Check: President Trump’s flip-flop on African-American youth unemployment
 

The president used data he once critiqued to claim success in lowering African-American youth unemployment. 

 

“African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.”

This is a flip-flop by Trump. During the 2016 campaign, Trump used to claim a Four-Pinocchio statistic that 58 percent of African American youths were unemployed. The official Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment rate for black youth at the time was 19.2 percent — about one-third of the rate used by Trump. Now that he’s president, Trump appears all too happy to cite the unemployment rate for African Americans, bragging that it’s the best since the turn of the century.

The African American unemployment rate has been on a relatively steady decline since it hit a peak of 16.8 percent in March, 2010, during the Great Recession. The rate had already fallen to 7.7 percent when Trump took the oath of office — it is now 6.8 percent — so Trump taking credit for this is like a rooster thinking the sun came up because he crowed.

Similarly, Hispanic American unemployment had also been trending lower before Trump’s presidency. It hit a low of 4.8 percent in several months in 2017, as well as in one month in 2006.

“Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low.”

If Trump had given this speech last week, his claim might have been accurate. The number of people who filed unemployment claims hit 216,000 for the week that ended Jan. 13, the lowest level since January 1973. But there are more recent data now for the week that ended Jan. 20. New jobless claims rose to 233,000, the lowest since December. So it’s a six-week low, not a 45-year low.

“The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion in value. That is great news for Americans’ 401(k), retirement, pension and college savings accounts.”

Trump frequently brags about the rising stock market — he’s done it about once every three days as president — even though during the 2016 campaign he had said it was “a big fat bubble” that was about to pop.

Trump is correct that $8 trillion in wealth has been created since the election — or $6.9 trillion since he took the oath of office, according to the Wilshire 5000 Index of stocks. But much of that gain in wealth did not trickle down to most Americans. Only about 50 percent of Americans own stocks directly or through retirement funds, according to a Gallup survey. And most of the value in stocks is held by the top 10 percent.

Moreover, the U.S. rise in 2017 was not unique. When looking at the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, it’s clear U.S. stocks haven’t rallied quite as robustly as their foreign equivalents. So it’s hard for Trump to make the case that his stewardship is making that much of a difference if stocks are doing better in other developed countries.

In fact, Trump even falls short in comparison to Barack Obama’s first year. The S&P 500 gained about 33.3 percent from inauguration through Jan. 29 under Obama, compared with 25.5 percent under Trump.

Data from Yahoo Finance

Bragging about the rise of the stock market could backfire on the president if there is a sudden downturn. Stocks fell more than 1 percent Tuesday, as rising bond yields are becoming competitive with stocks that pay big dividends and traders are looking for less risky places to put their money. According to Trump’s metric, almost $360 billion worth of wealth in the stock market disappeared Tuesday.

 1:00
No, President Trump’s tax cut isn’t the ‘largest ever’
 

The president has a habit of exaggerating; this time his exaggeration is the size of his proposed tax cut. 

 


“Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history.”

Trump repeatedly claims he passed the biggest tax cut in U.S. history, but it’s just not true.  He’s earned Four Pinocchios for this claim before — but repeated it 57 times in his first year as president.

The best way to compare tax cuts (or spending plans) over time is to measure them as a percentage of the national economy. Inflation-adjusted dollars are another option, but a percentage of gross domestic product helps put the impact of the bill into context. Trump’s tax cut, according to Treasury Department data, is nearly 0.9 percent of GDP — compared to 2.89 percent of GDP for Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut. Trump’s tax cut is only the eighth-largest — and is even smaller than two of Barack Obama’s tax cuts.

“Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses.”

Trump is spinning the effects of his tax plan. Most of the benefits in the tax bill flow to corporations and the wealthy, according to numerous independent analysts.

More than three-quarters of the $1.1 trillion in individual tax cuts will go to people who earn more than $200,000 a year in taxable income, who constitute only about 5 percent of all taxpayers, according to a report by Moody’s Investors Service that warned the tax plan will have negative consequences for the fiscal health of federal and local governments.

Many of the tax cuts for individuals expires in 2025 — unless renewed by Congress — while the corporation tax cuts do not expire. The standard deduction was increased, as Trump noted, but personal and dependent exemptions were eliminated, muting the impact of the increase.

“We slashed the business tax rate from 35 percent all the way down to 21 percent, so American companies can compete and win against anyone in the world. These changes alone are estimated to increase average family income by more than $4,000.”

Trump is citing a White House Council of Economic Advisers report that has been widely criticized for the $4,000 estimate, including by the economist whose work is cited in making this forecast. (The economist, Mihir A. Desai, told the New York Timesthat actual income gain would be $800.)

Desai said he did not think the numbers added up. Our friends at FactCheck.org offered a good illustration. With almost 126 million households in the United States, an average of $4,000 per household would mean an income gain of $500 billion. Yet the United States collected just under $300 billion in corporate taxes in fiscal 2017.

The average household would get a tax cut of $1,610 in 2018, an increase of about 2.2 percent in that average household’s income, according to the Tax Policy Center.

“Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker.”

Trump is citing a list maintained by Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group, which says 285 companies have offered bonuses, pay increases or increased 401(k) contributions because of the tax plan. The group says at least 3 million Americans have received tax bonuses, many about $1,000 or $2,000; the list only identifies one company (IAT Insurance Group of North Carolina) as offering $3,000.

With about 126 million full-time workers in the United States, less than 2.5 percent have received these one-time bonuses so far. Many of the companies offering bonuses are in the financial services industry.

“Since we passed tax cuts … Apple has just announced it plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America, and hire another 20,000 workers.”

Trump suggests Apple is investing $350 billion in the United States over five years because of a tax package he signed into law in December.

That’s a stretch.

Apple announced a five-year investment plan in January, which includes $30 billion in capital expenditures and roughly $275 billion in domestic spending. This represents the bulk of its $350 billion investment plan. But the company did not say whether these moves were long in the planning or spurred by the tax changes.

Apple did say it would be making a $38 billion tax payment to repatriate overseas profit under a provision of Trump’s tax law. And like other big U.S. companies, Apple responded to the tax legislation by handing out bonuses to its employees.

It’s not clear from Apple’s announcement that it is dialing up U.S. investment levels. The tech giant spent “between $12 billion and $15 billion on projects such as facilities or land globally in the past few years, though it has not said how much of that went to U.S. projects.”

“In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.”

Trump has clearly waged a battle against regulations but many of his claims cannot be verified.

Trump appears to be counting ”regulatory actions” so many of the items being delayed or withdrawn were not regulations yet. According to a Bloomberg News analysis, almost a third of the regulatory reversals actually began under earlier presidents. “Others strain the definition of lessening the burden of regulation or were relatively inconsequential, the kind of actions government implements routinely,” Bloomberg reported.

In fact, it is unclear whether Trump has cut more regulations in his first year than any other president. When the Fact Checker examined this question, experts said that the amount of withdrawn regulations is not necessarily the best metric, because these are rules that never went into effect. Moreover, often it takes another rule to repeal a previous rule. Research by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University shows that regulatory restrictions actually grew during Trump’s first year, but at a much slower pace than other presidents in their first year.

 2:36
Fact-checking the Trump administration’s claims on ‘saving’ coal
 

The Trump administration has made a lot of claims about gains in the coal industry, but virtually none of them are true. 

 

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

There’s no such thing as “clean coal.” Power plants can mitigate some of the effects of burning coal by capturing and burying carbon-dioxide emissions, but that doesn’t cleanse the coal itself. By saying his administration “ended the war on clean coal,” Trump appears to be referencing the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan implemented under President Barack Obama, which had pushed states to favor energy sources that produce fewer carbon emissions than coal.

Trump also says the United States is “now an exporter of energy,” but the United States has long been an energy exporter. Trump pledged during his campaign to turn the country into a net energy exporter, meaning it sells more energy to other countries than it buys from them. But that hasn’t happened and the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates it won’t happen until sometime between 2020 and 2030.

According to the EIA, the United States was expected to become a net exporter of natural gas in 2017, and exports of crude oil and petroleum products more than doubled from 2010 to 2016. It’s important to note that the United States lifted restrictions on exporting crude oil in December 2015, while Obama was in office.

“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.”

Trump’s timeline is mixed up. Fiat Chrysler is investing $1 billion in a factory in Michigan, but that plan was in motion before Trump’s election in 2016, according to Sergio Marchionne, the Fiat Chrysler chief executive. Marchionne specifically credited talks with the United Auto Workers in 2015, not Trump.

“America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year — isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?”

This isn’t the first time Trump has pointed to building and infrastructure projects from earlier in American history. He made similar claims about the Golden Gate bridge and the Hoover Dam in June 2017.

But in all of these cases, Trump is only focusing on the literal construction time — ignoring the bureaucratic negotiations, planning and preparation that took place leading up to construction and are required to make large-scale projects feasible. Moreover, for the Empire State Building, it actually took 13 months to build.

“The third pillar ends the visa lottery — a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of our people.”

Trump is stretching the truth here. The Diversity Visa Lottery Program, more commonly known as the Green Card lottery, isn’t random as Trump suggests.

Individuals apply for the visa system, and must have at least a high school diploma or work in specific industries to be eligible for the program. As the term “lottery” implies, applicants are selected via a randomized computer drawing. The selected applicants undergo a background check, interview and medical tests before entering the country, and some applicants undergo an additional in-depth review if they are considered a security risk. Plus, selected applicants can be deemed ineligible for a number of reasons including adverse medical conditions, criminal behavior, and security or terrorism concerns.

2007 report from the Government Accountability Office did point to substantial fraud risks within the program and proposed using data to mitigate these risks. However, the State Department at the time disagreed with the report’s findings, saying that it already had managed these risks.

“The fourth and final pillar protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration. Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”

“Chain migration” refers to the practice of immigrants bringing other members of their families to the United States. Under U.S. law, there is a preference for relatives already living in the United States, so a U.S. citizen can petition for a green card for spouses, children, parents or siblings. So, for example, a sibling of a U.S. citizen could come to the United States, bringing along spouses and minor children. The rules are stricter for green card holders: they can only petition for a spouse or unmarried children.

The suggestion that either a U.S. citizen or a green card holder could bring in “virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives” is an exaggeration to say the least. There’s often a lengthy wait list. As of November, according to the State Department, nearly 4 million people are waiting to get off the list, including 2.3 million“family fourth” preferences — children of siblings of citizens.

 1:42
Fact Check: Did an alleged terror suspect bring two dozen relatives to U.S.?
 

Three times, the president has told a story that falls upon close inspection.

 

“In recent weeks, two terrorist attacks in New York were made possible by the visa lottery and chain migration. In the age of terrorism, these programs present risks we can no longer afford.”

Trump is referring to Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek immigrant who entered the United States through the diversity visa lottery program, and Akayed Ullah, a Bangladeshi immigrant who entered through an extended relative as part of a program Trump calls “chain migration.”

Saipov drove a rented truck into a crowd of pedestrians and bicyclists in Manhattan in October, killing eight in the deadliest terrorist attack in New York since 9/11. Ullah attempted to bomb a New York City subway station with a crude explosive device, but the device failed and only Ullah was injured.

Trump presents these two cases as evidence that the diversity visa program and chain migration open the door to terrorist attacks. But two immigration cases out of thousands a year is not statistically significant.

Note that Trump steered clear of mentioning a new report from the Homeland Security and Justice departments, which links the same two immigration programs to terrorism cases. That report describes two international terrorism-related cases linked to chain migration, and two other cases tied to the diversity visa program. Again, not a statistically significant number.

It’s a big deal to claim that any policy exposes the country to more terrorist attacks, and it requires more proof than a few anecdotal cases.

“We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling and the underprivileged all over the world.”

In raw dollars, the United States does contribute more development aid. But the United States is also richer, so as a percentage of gross national income, the United States ranks relatively low, according to 2016 figures published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The United States contributed $33.6 billion, followed by Germany with almost $25 billion. But Norway contributed 1.1 percent of GNI, whereas the United States ranked 22nd out of 29 wealthy countries tracked by the organization. That ranking placed it between Slovenia and Portugal.

Oh wow: Court strikes down North Carolina’s GOP-drawn Congressional map as partisan gerrymander

In a massive victory for Democrats, a federal court hearing a challenge to North Carolina’s Republican-drawn congressional map struck it down on Tuesday evening as a partisan gerrymander designed to benefit the GOP in violation of the constitution. The ramifications of this ruling are enormous: If current district lines are replaced with a nonpartisan map, Democrats could gain anywhere from two to five seats, according to an analysis by Stephen Wolf, as shown at the top of this post.

The case could also give further ammunition to plaintiffs seeking to invalidate gerrymandered maps elsewhere on the same grounds. Republicans will inevitably appeal to the Supreme Court, which is adjudicating two other similar cases, so the outcome may yet change. It’s important to note that the Supreme Court has never before sustained a challenge to a map on the basis that it impermissibly benefits one political party over another, but it recently signaled a new openness toward doing so, so there’s a real chance this ruling could stand. And if new lines are put in place for this year’s midterm elections, that would go a long way toward helping Democrats win back the House.

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