alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.

DC Report

Mike Pence told a whopper about Trump's economy -- which was plummeting before the pandemic

There's fresh evidence that the robust economy Donald Trump inherited from Barack Obama was faltering before the pandemic.

State personal consumption spending growth slowed sharply in 2019 compared to the year before, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Thursday morning. The growth rate plummeted by a fifth.

Personal expenditures grew in 2019 but by only 3.9%, down from 4.9% in the previous year.

Counting on Trump to sign a new relief package would be like trusting that he actually knows how to improve the economy for all Americans, not just the already rich.

This official data comes just hours after Mike Pence told a whopper about American incomes during the vice presidential debate Wednesday night, a lie that escaped the notice of our major news organizations. That's because no official announced the numbers and mainstream journalists rely way too much on what officials tell them instead of doing their own analyses of official government data.

Pence said, "the average household income for a family of four increased by $4,000 following President Trump's tax cuts."

Incomes Down, Not Up

In fact, the average income for the bottom 50% of income taxpaying households in 2018 averaged $300 less than in 2016, Obama's last year in office, as DCReport showed more than a month ago from the Trump administration's own official data. Please note this is not the poorest third of Americans but the poorest third of people who made enough to pay income taxes.

Less income under Trump wasn't limited to the poorest third of taxpayers.

Consider the 9% of taxpayers making $75,000 to $100,000. Their average income in 2018 was $128 lower than in 2016 after adjusting for inflation, my analysis of IRS Table1.4 shows.

Total income reported by all Americans did grow, but the benefits were highly concentrated near the top of the national income ladder.

In real terms income reported on tax returns increased by almost $1 trillion over those two years. On the surface that's good. But only those in the top 7%, those making more than $200,000 and up, saw their share of the national income pie grow. Every group making less had to get by on less.

Almost half of the trillion-dollar gain flowed to the 1%, those making $500,000 and up. But even among the one=ercenters the gains were not widely shared.

Just one in 285 taxpayers makes $1 million or more. This very rich and very tiny group took in three of every four dollars of increased income flowing to the one-percenters. Under Trumpian policies, it's good to be rich and very bad to be poor or middle class. But Lying Mike Pence bore false witness by telling you all people are doing well

Useful Maps

When it comes to increased spending in 2019 you can learn how your state did by looking over this useful series of graphic maps at this government website. The first map shows how much the rate of spending declined in 2019 compared to 2018. The data excludes money that state residents spend overseas.

The economic weakness under Trump, pre-pandemic, wasn't limited to the incomes of the vast majority or to spending by everyone. Job growth under Trump, pre-pandemic, ran about 3% below the rate of Obama after the Great Recession ended and job growth resumed in early 2010.

Candidate Trump promised to grow the economy by at least 4% annually and insisted that he could achieve as much as 6% growth in Gross Domestic Product, which measures our country's total economic output. Those of us who study these matters found Trump's claim either laughable or a lie. Time proved we were right as Trump underperformed the average of the previous 70 years.

In 2017, still basking in the glow of the Obama economy, our inflation-adjusted or real Gross Domestic Product grew 2.3% compared to 2016. Growth reached almost 3% in 2018 as the Trump/Radical Republican tax giveaway to big corporations gave a brief kick to economic growth. In 2019, however, GDP growth slid to under 2.2%

And Thursday morning brought the latest job loss numbers. Last week 840,000 Americans filed initial claims for unemployment benefits. There were also 464,000 claims for pandemic unemployment aid.

In all, 25 million Americans are without work right now and many more will join them soon because Trump decreed Tuesday afternoon that he would not sign any new coronavirus relief bill until after the election and then only if he wins. The stock market instantly sank, prompting Trump to do a partial flip-flop. But counting on Trump to sign a new relief package would be like trusting that he actually knows how to improve the economy for all Americans, not just the already rich.

Will Republican cultists die for their dear leader?

Donald Trump is covering up just how he and 18 White House aides and supporters got the coronavirus. That's the latest proof that he doesn't care about you or anyone else.

Instead of shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, spraying lead bullets out of a gun, Trump sprayed the deadly coronavirus with every word coming out of his unmasked mouth.

Among those whose lives are now at risk – the seven children of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who sat mask-less in the Rose Garden on Sept. 26 when Trump announced their mother was his Supreme Court nominee. As an exercise in atrocious judgment bringing children to a crowded event during a pandemic and not masking them should be enough to establish that Barrett is unfit to sit on any bench.

Then there's the infected Kellyanne Conway, who said that she quit the White House to be with her troubled teenage daughter.

And what about the 11-month-old baby of Kayleigh McEnany, Trump's press secretary? McEnany has tested positive after again and again showing her fealty to the imaged great leader by going mask-less. Does anyone doubt that if McEnany were a poor black or brown woman—or a Jew or Muslim in a Bible Belt county—that child protective services would be investigating whether to remove the infant Blake for her own safety?

Accepting sickness

This is what happens when a cult arises. The leader is special and believers most demonstrate without even being asked that the messages the leader conveys have been internalized. And if he uses tricks and deceits to fool the public you must go along to remain in his good graces even if it exposes you and your newborn to sickness, lifelong health problems and even death.

The reason, rationality and civil debate envisioned by our Founders and Framers have no place in Trump's anti-democratic cult. All that matters is loyalty to the leader, a loyalty that runs only one way.

As for lies, it's hard to top what Trump tweeted Monday before his skillfully timed departure from Walter Reed hospital, a staged event that consumed the entire evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS and NBC.

Irresponsible

"Don't be afraid of COVID," Trump tweeted before the brilliantly staged pageantry began in what may go down as his single most irresponsible advice during the pandemic that has claimed more American lives in well under a year than combat in World War I, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

That tweet, the flags and dramatic lighting at the White House as the sun set while Trump, his face and hair professionally pampered, posed triumphantly were all part of a propaganda pageant slicker than any event staged by Il Duce, Adolf or Trump's personal heroes, Putin and Kim.

When it comes to using images to kill rationality and stir cultish emotions, Trump has outdone even Leni Riefenstahl. Hitler, incidentally, at least had the smidgen of decency to not expose his beloved propaganda filmmaker to the risk of death by virus, as Trump did his photographer and videographer, among others, at the White House Monday evening.

Coverup

The Trump virus spreading coverup can be seen in the highly restricted contract tracing being undertaken by the White House medical staff. Trump has coronavirus tracers looking only for who was within death shot of his breath, but only since Thursday, Oct. 1.

That's after the Tuesday night debate in Cleveland where Trump and his family arrived late, were not tested and sat mask-less. Did they do it because they knew or had reason to suspect that at least one of them was infected? We don't know because the Trumps aren't talking about it. Eventually, we will find out.

We do know that, so far, Joe Biden and his family have tested negative. Trump's reckless disregard in exposing Biden to the virus is morally indefensible and verges on the criminal.

And what about Trump's rally in Duluth on Wednesday where he pumped up a crowd of mask-less fans?

Minnesota Public Health Department officials are telling the 3,000 attendees to self-quarantine if they were near the president. State Sen. Paul Gazelka, the majority leader, State Rep. Kurt Daudt, the House minority leader, are in quarantine. The My Pillow guy, who spoke at the rally, said he was never close to Trump that night.

Careless Trump believers

Three Minnesota Congressmen, Republicans all, flew back to Washington with Trump on Air Force One and then returned to the Gopher state on Delta Airlines in apparent violation of its rules for those exposed to the coronavirus. This is how disregard for the sanctity of human life spreads like waves from a rock dropped in a pond or, worse, that sinks after skipping across the surface like a candidate touching down for campaign rallies.

Oops, not rallies. Trump says his gatherings of fans are better described as protests against mask-wearing.

But he is using his departure from the hospital, no doubt against medical advice, in a crass appeal to raise money while discouraging people from following the well-established science of how to stop spreading the virus, knowledge that dates to the mid-)19th Century.

Trump Money Plea

That letter is the drugs talking. The powerful steroids Trump was given can make you rage with emotions and feel invincible for a time. I know because it happened to me a dozen years ago, a terrible side effect that afflicts some people given steroids for sound medical reasons.

Trump draws crowds because the majority of Americans have real economic grievances, as I've written about for decades including these recent DCReport pieces. Indeed, Trump ran for office using many of the phrases he heard me say on television about how Washington policies hurt 90% of Americans.

While he pledged in his inaugural address that "the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer" his actions documented by DCReport show that he never gave them a thought.

Household staff at risk

Trump also pledged that "at the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens" and "this American carnage stops right here and stops right now."

Trump doesn't care about the health of the nearly 100 White House household staff, many of them men and women of color, who served loyally one president and his family after another. He doesn't care about the Secret Service agents he made ride in an SUV so he could wave at his fans outside the hospital. When each Secret Service agent pledged to forfeit their own life it was to defend a president under assault, not preening for the television cameras. They are to him what you are, not a human being but an object to be used, abused and then conveniently cast aside or literally buried.

When he took office, Trump expressed a belief that "we are one nation – and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny."

Trump's lack of regard, lack of decency and rejection of medical science may give us one destiny, but it will be anything but glorious now that coronavirus cases have moved back up to 43,000 a day and rising.

"From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land," Trump proclaimed when he took office. "From this moment on, it's going to be America First."

And it is now first. It's America first in coronavirus deaths, in needless pain, in unnecessary economic suffering. Especially, Trump has made America first in unwanted death.

Will Republican cultists die for their dear leader?

Donald Trump is covering up just how he and 18 White House aides and supporters got the coronavirus, the latest proof that he doesn't care about you or anyone else.

Instead of shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, spraying lead bullets out of a gun, Trump sprayed the deadly coronavirus with every word coming out of his unmasked mouth.

Among those whose lives are now at risk – the seven children of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who sat mask-less in the Rose Garden on Sept. 26 when Trump announced their mother was his Supreme Court nominee. As an exercise in atrocious judgment bringing children to a crowded event during a pandemic and not masking them should be enough to establish that Barrett is unfit to sit on any bench.

Trump doesn't care about the health of the nearly 100 White House household staffers, many men and women of color, who have served loyally one president and his family after another.

Then there's the infected Kellyanne Conway, who said that she quit the White House to be with her troubled teenage daughter.

And what about the 11-month-old baby of Kayleigh McEnany, Trump's press secretary. She has tested positive after again and again showing her fealty to the imaged great leader by going mask-less. Does anyone doubt that if McEnany were a poor black or brown woman—or a Jew or Muslim in a Bible Belt county—that child protective services would be investigating whether to remove the infant Blake for her own safety?

Accepting Sickness

This is what happens when a cult arises. The leader is special and believers most demonstrate without even being asked that the messages the leader conveys have been internalized. And if he uses tricks and deceits to fool the public you must go along to remain in his good graces even if it exposes you and your newborn to sickness, lifelong health problems and even death.

The reason, rationality, and civil debate envisioned by our Founders and Framers have no place in Trump's anti-democratic cult. All that matters is loyalty to the leader, a loyalty that runs only one way.

As for lies, it's hard to top what Trump tweeted Monday before his skillfully timed departure from Walter Reed hospital, a staged event that consumed the entire evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS and NBC.

Irresponsible

"Don't be afraid of COVID," Trump tweeted before the brilliantly staged pageantry began in what may go down as his single most irresponsible advice during the pandemic that has claimed more American lives than combat in World War I, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

That tweet, the flags and dramatic lighting at the White House as the sun set while Trump, his face and hair professionally pampered, posed triumphantly were all part of a propaganda pageant slicker than any event staged by Il Duce, Adolf or Trump's personal heroes, Putin and Kim.

When it comes to using images to kill rationality and stir cultish emotions, Trump has outdone even Leni Riefenstahl. Hitler, incidentally, at least had the smidgen of decency to not expose his beloved propaganda filmmaker to the risk of death by virus, as Trump did his photographer and videographer, among others, at the White House Monday evening.

Coverup

The Trump virus spreading coverup can be seen in the highly restricted contract tracing being undertaken by the White House medical staff. Trump has coronavirus tracers looking only for who was within death shot of his breath, but only since Thursday, Oct. 1.

That's after the Tuesday night debate in Cleveland where Trump and his family arrived late, were not tested, and sat mask-less. Did they do it because they knew or had reason to suspect that at least one of them was infected? We don't know because the Trumps aren't talking about it, but eventually, we will find out.

We do know that, so far, Joe Biden and his family have tested negative. Trump's reckless disregard in exposing Biden to the virus is morally indefensible and verges on the criminal.

And what about Trump's rally in Duluth on Wednesday where he pumped up a crowd of mask-less fans?

Minnesota Public Health Department officials are telling the 3,000 attendees to self-quarantine if they were near the president. State Sen. Paul Gazelka, the majority leader, State Rep. Kurt Daudt, the House minority leader, are in quarantine. The My Pillow guy, who spoke at the rally, said he was never close to Trump that night.

Careless Trump Believers

Three Minnesota Congressmen, Republicans all, flew back to Washington with Trump on Air Force One and then returned to the Gopher state on Delta Airlines in apparent violation of its rules for those exposed to the coronavirus. This is how disregard for the sanctity of human life spreads like waves from a rock dropped in a pond or, worse, that sinks after skipping across the surface like a candidate touching down for campaign rallies.

Oops, not rallies. Trump says his gatherings of fans are better described as protests against mask-wearing.

But he is using his departure from the hospital, no doubt against medical advice, in a crass appeal to raise money while discouraging people from following the well-established science of how to stop spreading the virus, knowledge that dates to the mid 19th Century.

Trump Money Plea

That letter is the drugs talking. The powerful steroids Trump was given can make you rage with emotions and feel invincible for a time. I know because it happened to me a dozen years ago, a terrible side effect that afflicts some people given steroids for sound medical reasons.

Trump draws crowds because the majority of Americans have real economic grievances, as I've written about for decades including these recent DCReport pieces. Indeed, Trump ran for office using many of the phrases he heard me say on television about how Washington policies hurt 90% of Americans.

While he pledged in his inaugural address that "the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer" his actions documented by DCReport show that he never gave them a thought.

Household Staff At Risk

Trump also pledged that "at the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens" and "this American carnage stops right here and stops right now."

Trump doesn't care about the health of the nearly 100 White House household staff, many men and women of color, who served loyally one president and his family after another. He doesn't care about the Secret Service agents he made ride in an SUV so he could wave at his fans outside the hospital. When each Secret Service agent pledged to forfeit their own life it was to defend a president under assault, not preening for the television cameras. They are to him what you are, not a human being but an object to be used, abused and when conveniently cast aside or literally buried.

When he took office, Trump expressed a belief that "we are one nation – and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny."

Trump's lack of regard, lack of decency, and rejection of medical science may give us one destiny, but it will be anything but glorious now that coronavirus cases have moved back up to 43,000 a day and rising.

"From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land," Trump proclaimed when he took office. "From this moment on, it's going to be America First."

And it is now first. It's America first in coronavirus deaths, in needless pain, in unnecessary economic suffering, and especially Trump has made America first in unwanted death.

Real tax reform never had a chance under Trump and this GOP

In the wake of the New York Times' revelation that Donald Trump paid no federal income taxes in 10 of the previous 15 years, some of his staunch supporters are saying, "Well, wasn't he just doing what our tax laws allow?"

We may never entirely know whether he followed or broke the law because Republicans in Congress have so thoroughly gutted the IRS that the agency seems incapable of catching up with wealthy investors like Trump.

Congress is certainly to blame both for providing a ridiculously lenient tax code for the super-wealthy and for preventing the IRS from enforcing even the existing weak limits in the law on tax avoidance.

One person is primarily responsible for the farce that is Donald Trump's tax dodging, and that is Donald Trump.

But make no mistake, one person is primarily responsible for the farce that is Donald Trump's tax dodging, and that is Donald Trump. For years, he has actively and loudly supported special tax breaks and tax shelters, making him anything but a passive bystander to their creation.

Many tax experts look to the Tax Reform Act of 1986 as a model of loophole-closing, simplifying tax reform (even if it failed to raise needed revenue). But in 1991, Donald Trump testified before a congressional committee that "this tax act was just an absolute catastrophe for the country and for the real estate industry." He called it "the 1986 catastrophe of the Tax Reform Act."

Trump criticized the very notion of simplifying the tax code by eliminating special breaks. "They thought the word tax shelter was a bad thing," he complained of congressional tax writers, "as opposed to saying it's an investment in real estate."

In 1993, Trump and the real estate industry convinced Congress to revive some of those breaks.

So, it is no surprise that when Trump became president and led the first major rewrite of the tax code in decades, the result was the opposite of a simplified tax system free of special breaks and loopholes.

(With one exception—see a related blog post on the one thing in the 2017 tax law that could have limited Trump's tax dodging and how Congress has already reversed it.)

Here are some types of special breaks available to real estate investors, which we explained in an ITEP report that the 2017 tax law did not touch.

First, real estate investors can use losses more easily than other taxpayers to reduce their tax bills.

Trump regularly reports losses that likely exceed any investment of his own money into business ventures. Investors in other types of business are subject to stricter rules barring them from claiming losses that exceed what they really invested—what they have "at risk." But real estate is subject to looser rules to determine what constitutes "at risk" or a "passive loss."

Second, real estate investors can defer reporting capital gains and other income more easily than other taxpayers can.

Usually whenever an investor sells an asset at a profit, it is a capital gain subject to income tax. But real estate investors who can afford sophisticated tax planning can arrange to trade an appreciated property for another property and avoid reporting income to the IRS because, technically, no sale occurred. The Times reported two years ago that Jared Kushner's family uses this tactic and the Trump Organization likely does as well.

These "like-kind" exchanges are just one of the methods that are available to major real estate investors to defer reporting profits. The 2017 tax law eliminated like-kind exchanges—except for real estate.

Third, real estate investors can more easily avoid reporting debt forgiveness as income.

In general, forgiveness of debt is considered income that is subject to income tax. Without such a rule, the income tax would be very easy to avoid. For example, workers could ask their employers to change their compensation to loans that are later forgiven, so that their compensation would not be subject to income tax.

But major real estate investors can achieve this result because the rules for debt forgiveness are less strict for them. The new Times revelations about Trump touch upon this, explaining that the "I.R.S. considers forgiven debt to be income, but Mr. Trump was able to avoid taxes on much of that money by reducing his ability to declare future business losses."

Fourth, real estate investors benefit from depreciation deductions when the value of their property is climbing.

Owners of assets can claim deductions for depreciation, which is supposed to reflect the fact that assets wear out and lose their value over time. Investors in real estate can depreciate buildings they own even though they sometimes then sell them at a profit, reflecting the fact that their value increased rather than fell.

The benefit of this would be limited to a degree if the rules ensured that profits reflecting amounts already depreciated were taxed at "ordinary" income tax rates rather than a special, low capital gains tax rate, as is the case today.

The Times report does point out that many of Trump's properties would be running at a loss even aside from depreciation deductions. On top of all the tax breaks for wealthy real estate investors, Trump is also just a terrible businessperson who does generate real losses on most ventures he is involved in.

But he also benefits from a tax code that has allowed him to live like a billionaire without paying any taxes in most years and he actively worked, both before and during his presidency, to ensure that the tax code continues to allow this. In hindsight, it obvious the real tax reform never had a chance under this president.

The Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy is a non-profit, non-partisan tax policy organization that conducts rigorous analyses of tax and economic proposals and provides data-driven recommendations on how to shape equitable and sustainable tax systems. Steve Wamhoff is ITEP's director of federal tax policy.

Democrat abruptly bows out of Georgia congressional race against QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene

ATLANTA — Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal abruptly ended his longshot campaign for Congress on Friday against Marjorie Taylor Greene, a move that gave the controversial Republican an even clearer shot at a seat in the U.S. House.Van Ausdal released a statement that cited “personal and family reasons” for quitting the 14th Congressional District race and moving out of the state. The campaign declined to share further details about the sudden announcement, though a spokesman said he and his staffers didn’t receive any threats to drop out.“Although all the details will remain my family’s alone, please ...

Keep reading... Show less

Trump's gaslighting $400 bait-and-switch scheme does nothing for unemployed Americans

Trump and his administration have institutionalized bullshit by disconnecting actions and rhetoric from fact and truth. Their willingness to say anything so long as the results trick the gullible and advance their interests is shocking. Now, congressional inaction on further pandemic economic relief has compounded the Trump con game and opened the door to a cynical political ploy that could bury millions.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Trump: The president 'understands he is not the person he pretends to be'

Dr. Mary Trump’s recent book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, has brought renewed attention to the mental health of the 45th president of the United States at a much-needed time. Much of Dr. Trump’s narrative matches the analysis of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, edited by DCReport contributor Bandy X. Lee, a Yale forensic psychiatrist.

Keep reading... Show less

What in the world is Trump trying to do with TikTok?

The TikTok saga is proving another deep pool for reflection about the appropriate role for government – this time in private business, the seemingly endless political need to build fear of The Other—the Chinese government, and the flip-flopping from our White House.

So, let's see what we can learn from this case that might apply more broadly.

Keep reading... Show less

A psychiatrist dissects Donald Trump: A lonely, terrified boy — afraid of his father and unloved by his mother

Mary Trump’s book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, gives an unprecedented firsthand look at a president through the lens of a mental health expert, echoing the unprecedented first-time-in-history consensus of thousands of mental health experts who came forth with concerns about a U.S. president. Dr. Justin Frank, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in Washington, DC, and former clinical professor at George Washington University Medical Center, was among those voices, publishing his book, Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President, two years earlier. 

Keep reading... Show less

How Trump and the radical Republicans are pushing America's economy over a cliff

Donald Trump & Co. have thrown the already rapidly collapsing America off an economic cliff. Over the next few weeks, they will pound the wreckage, even set it afire, unless they get a lucrative new favor for Corporate America.

Keep reading... Show less

COVID-19 on The Strip: Las Vegas workers are forced to gamble with their lives

As Nevada’s COVID-19 deaths set new records daily throughout July, rumors raged that Gov. Steve Sisolak would soon re-close Las Vegas casinos.

Keep reading... Show less