Fact-checking Trump’s State of the Union

“The president exaggerates his accomplishments in his address to Congress.”

Summary:

President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address was filled with several repeat claims about the economy, tax cuts and immigration that we’ve fact-checked before, as well as new false and misleading statements on auto plants, judicial appointments and development aid.

  • Trump claimed credit for 2.4 million new jobs “since the election,” when more than a half a million of those jobs were created under then-President Obama.
  • He claimed that wages are “finally” going up, when they’ve been on a generally upward trend since the 1990s.
  • Trump boasted that the African American unemployment rate was the “lowest rate ever recorded” and that Hispanic unemployment was at the “lowest levels in history.” True, but both rates have been in steady decline for about seven years. And the recent Hispanic rate matches the record low in October 2006.
  • Trump falsely said car companies have not built or expanded plants in the U.S. “for decades.” Two new assembly plants were announced and others expanded in the last nine years.
  • The president said he had appointed “more circuit court judges than any new administration” in history. True, but appointments by Presidents Nixon and Kennedy had a greater impact since there were far fewer appellate court seats back then.
  • Trump said the U.S. does “more than any other country … to help the needy, the struggling, and the underprivileged all over the world.” In raw dollars of development aid, it’s true. But as a proportion of gross national income, the U.S. ranked 22nd in 2016.
  • The president wrongly said that the U.S. is “an exporter of energy to the world.” The Energy Information Administration estimates the U.S. won’t be a net exporter of energy until 2026.
  • Trump again wrongly said that “we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history.” There have been larger cuts as a percentage of gross domestic product and in inflation-adjusted dollars
  • The president said the new tax law gives “tremendous relief for the middle class.” The middle quintile in terms of income gets an average tax cut of $930 in 2018, but the top quintile gets a little more than 65 percent of the tax cut benefits.
  • Trump said cutting the corporate tax rate will “increase average family income by more than $4,000.” This is a rosy, long-term estimate from White House economic advisers based on questionable assumptions.
  • Trump wrongly said the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program “hands out green cards without any regard for skill … or the safety of the American people.” There are both education or work experience requirements, and a background check for all who are selected.
  • Trump said that “America has also finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals.” But the trade deficit that he promised to reduce has grown larger during his presidency.
  • Trump said the U.S. is “restoring our … standing abroad.” But a recent Gallup Poll found “approval of U.S. leadership across 134 countries and areas stands at a new low.”

For a comprehensive analysis, read the whole article.

Media commentators tossing aside all semblance of restraint

Whether it’s wishing President Trump “death or mobbing an innocent restaurateur, his fiercest critics eagerly bathe themselves in muck all in the name of ‘resisting.'”

The clearest example of Trump’s ability to turn his critics into self-identifying deranged persons lacking any clear sense of perspective appears in the world of political punditry, where so many ostensibly keen and evenhanded analysts have outed themselves as aggressively ignorant historical illiterates.

On Monday, for example, CNN and ABC News contributor Ana Navarro responded to news that Andrew McCabe had stepped down as FBI deputy director by comparing the ordeal to the Holocaust.

According to Navarro, the loss of one more FBI chief is somehow as bad as “the systematic roundup and extermination of six million Jews,” no less.

Unfortunately, Navarro’s brand of silliness isn’t even all that unique in the current media landscape. She’s far from being alone in responding to the rise of Trumpism by tossing aside all semblance of restraint.

Face it:

Trump is a lot of things. He is rash, impetuous, impulsive and generally unfit for the job. His tenure in the White House, and the general deterioration of national politics on his watch, will have real, lasting consequences, few of which are likely to be good.

He is not, however, just like Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or any of the other 20th-century dictators who are directly responsible for the wholesale slaughter of millions of human beings.

The Iranian people want their country to be great again

A fuller picture is slowly emerging of what is really behind the nationwide uprising currently racking Iran. And, contrary to the reports in the American press, it’s not all about economic woes.

There is, of course, no getting away from the economic misery the Iranian people are suffering: “an unemployment rate around forty percent; the bankruptcy of innumerable funds, including Iran’s equivalent of Social Security; the bankruptcy of numerous factories; and of course the bankruptcy of many banks.”

It’s an obvious fact that the country’s “currency is in spectacular free fall. By new year’s day (late March), the rial will likely be worth one one-thousandth what it was under the shah,” and even so, “workers at some big factories haven’t been paid for six months, and some of them are on strike.”

But the insurrection that has swept the country in the past month — and which continues to flare up daily — is not merely a call for economic improvement. The Iranian people are suffering from a vast breakdown of the entire system, and they detest the clerics who run it. The other day, more than 25 cities were shut down by pollution. There is a nationwide water crisis, threatening agriculture and sanitation.

The clerical ruling class is blamed for these many failures, and the “Islamic Revolution” has long since lost its mass appeal. Attendance at mosques is way down, and most of the attendees are there because they are ordered there.

The insurrection is thus not merely the product of economic misery, as so many analysts would have it. The human symbol of the revolution, after all, is Vida Movahed, a woman holding her hijab on a stick, her hair flowing over her shoulders. She isn’t asking for a salary increase or for her bank to function properly. She’s calling for the end of the Islamic Republic.

There are Twitter videos showing other women sans veils directly challenging security forces in the name of their movement, “White Wednesdays.”

The mood of the Iranian people couldn’t be more explicit. They want an end to theocratic rule. The shouted chants are not about the economy, but rather “down with Khamenei” and “we do not want to be ruled by mullahs.”

Trump has built an obstruction of justice case against himself

From The Atlantic:

President Trump’s own actions, as reported on Thursday night, have strengthened the case for obstruction of justice against him, despite the significant legal obstacles to pursuing such a case against a sitting president.

Trump ordered his White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential obstruction of justice by the president, The New York Times reported. Trump relented only when McGahn threatened to resign, an echo of the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre, in which President Nixon’s top Justice Department officials resigned rather than carry out his order to fire the special counsel investigating the Watergate break-in.

Obstruction of justice is a crime that depends on a person’s state of mind, and so is difficult for prosecutors to prove. The law on whether a sitting president can be prosecuted, as opposed to impeached and removed from office by Congress, is unsettled. But legal experts say that Trump’s pattern of behavior has made the case against him much stronger, because that pattern shows Trump repeatedly attempting to undercut the investigations into Russian interference and obstruction, and then in some cases misleading the public about it. That Trump was unsuccessful in firing Mueller is irrelevant — obstruction is a crime whether or not the attempt succeeds.

Continue reading …

“The fact that it would be legal for Trump to demand that Mueller be fired, or that it is legal for the president to dismiss an FBI director, would not necessarily stifle an obstruction case. There could still be obstruction if the president were using his official powers for a corrupt purpose …”

Drinking your immune system to death

Apparently, binge drinking can damage more than just your judgment.

A study, conducted in 2014, found that in addition to the potential for “alcoholism, long-term heart disease, and generally all-around poor decision making,” binge drinking “can apparently also kill your immune system.”

The study, led by Loyola University Chicago’s Dr. Majid Afshar, focused on the effect to the immune system of drinking four or five shots of hard liquor in just a few hours.

“When dealing with the effects of alcohol, [people] don’t consider the binge pattern. Having four to five drinks in a matter of a few hours is considered normal,” Afshar adds, “but we showed that just one episode of a binge like this causes disruptions in the immune system, and can potentially play a role in the way people respond to illness.”

Company uses Trump’s tax cuts to fire 5,500 workers

Talk about a bolt from the blue.

“While many companies are using President Trump’s tax cuts to give workers bonuses or raise wages, the maker of Kleenex and Huggies,” is instead cutting “between 5,000 and 5,500 jobs, or roughly 12 or 13% of the company’s employees.”

“The company said it plans to use savings from the Republican tax plan to fund the cuts,” and — oh yes — “to allocate capital to shareholders.”

New fossil find points to much earlier human migration out of Africa

It turns out humans may have migrated out of Africa a lot longer ago than anyone thought, if the discovery of the “oldest fossil of a modern human outside Africa” is anything to go by.

Scientists were digging in one of a series of prehistoric caves, on the slopes of Mount Carmel on the northern coast of Israel, when they found the fossil of an “upper left jaw, with parts of the nasal cavity and cheekbone still intact.”

The fossil also had intact teeth. “We have the pre-molars, the molars, the canine, and we have the lateral incisor,” says Israel Hershkovitz, a paleoanthropologist at Tel Aviv University who was part of the team that studied the fossil.

A detailed analysis of the jawbone and the teeth confirmed that it indeed belonged to someone of our species, Homo sapiens. And when they dated the fossil, it turned out to be between 177,000 and 194,000 years old, making it the oldest known such fossil outside the African continent.

Earlier evidence had “suggested that Homo sapiens got out of Africa about 120,000 years ago.”

Trump’s friends and advisers are terrified of what he might say to Mueller

Reportedly, some “of President Donald Trump’s closest advisers and allies are pleading with him not to give sworn testimony to special counsel Robert Mueller.”

It’s an ongoing struggle. One that has intensified in recent days as everyone from White House officials, to trusted campaign hands, to friends and confidants on the phone have repeated a variation of the same refrain: Listen to your lawyers. Listen to your lawyers. Oh, dear god, please listen to your lawyers.

Trump actually did that last June, The New York Times reported Thursday evening, when he ordered Mueller fired only to reverse himself after White House counsel Don McGahn said he would quit instead of asking the Justice Department to do that.

“It would be monumentally and historically stupid,” a senior White House official said, regarding the possibility of Trump quickly submitting himself to a no-holds-barred sit-down, under oath, with the special counsel.

Trump ordered Mueller fired, but backed off when White House counsel threatened to ouit

Reportedly, “President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, according to four people told of the matter.” He only eventually backed down because “the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive.”

The West Wing confrontation marks the first time Mr. Trump is known to have tried to fire the special counsel. Mr. Mueller learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials in his inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice.

Amid the first wave of news media reports that Mr. Mueller was examining a possible obstruction case, the president began to argue that Mr. Mueller had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation, two of the people said.

First, he claimed that a dispute years ago over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., had prompted Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director at the time, to resign his membership. The president also said Mr. Mueller could not be impartial because he had most recently worked for the law firm that previously represented the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Finally, the president said, Mr. Mueller had been interviewed to return as the F.B.I. director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May.

Nonetheless, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, would have none of it, “saying he would quit instead,” according to the sources speaking “on the condition of anonymity.”

Why did two-thirds of these weird antelope suddenly drop dead?

In just three short weeks, some two-thirds of all the world’s saiga suddenly dropped dead. The big question is, how come?

The saiga is an endearing antelope, whose bulbous nose gives it the comedic air of a Dr. Seuss character. It typically wanders over large tracts of Central Asian grassland, but every spring, tens of thousands of them gather in the same place to give birth. These calving aggregations should be joyous events, but the gathering in May 2015 became something far more sinister when 200,000 saiga just dropped dead. They did so without warning, over a matter of days, in gathering sites spread across 65,000 square miles—an area the size of Florida. Whatever killed them was thorough and merciless: Across a vast area, every last saiga perished.

Richard Kock, a veterinarian and conservationist from the Royal Veterinary College, saw it all. He and his team were there on a routine monitoring trip to check the health of the population. “Mass mortality events are never nice things and I’ve experienced quite a few,” he says. “But the experience of the saiga was unprecedented, and unworldly. Even after 40 years of work, I just said: I don’t understand.”

The mega-death was all the more tragic because it struck at what should have been a time of celebration. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, poachers had brought the saiga to the edge of extinction, but governments and conservationists rallied to protect the species, and it rebounded. Saigas are good at that. Females can produce their first calf before their first birthday, and in every subsequent breeding season, most produce twins. So they recover quickly from disasters. By 2015, their population had quadrupled since the early 2000s, and it was predicted to do so again in a few years. “Everyone was saying: Oh great, we’ve really got them over,” says Kock. “They were beginning to talk about downgrading them off the endangered list. And then — bang — this happened.”