Donald Trump's Trillion-Dollar Lie

I come bearing good news. But first, we have to get a little technical. I promise it won't hurt a bit.

Many corporations are "pass-through" entities. Mostly these are partnerships and small businesses, and they aren't taxed on their profits. Instead, the profits are passed through to the business owners, who pay ordinary personal income tax on it. Donald Trump, for example, owns hundreds of separate businesses under the umbrella of the Trump Organization, and most of them are pass-throughs. All the profits go to Trump.

So how should these businesses be handled? In the tax proposal Trump unveiled last year, pass-throughs would be taxed at a low 15 percent rate. This is a huge tax cut for rich business owners—like Donald Trump—since their personal tax rate can be as high as 33 percent. A corporate rate of 15 percent combined with a zero percent personal rate represents a huge tax cut.

But that was then. Earlier this week Trump unveiled a shiny new tax plan. How does it handle pass-throughs? As usual, details are hard to come by in Trumpland, but he told the Tax Foundation that he had decided to eliminate the tax cut. They took him at his word and concluded that his new tax plan would cost $4.4 trillion.

But Trump told the National Federation of Independent Business that he was keeping the tax cut. They also took him at his word and gave him their support. So which is it? Binyamin Appelbaum investigates:

Call it the trillion-dollar lie: Both assertions cannot be true.

....Steven Mnuchin, Mr. Trump’s finance chairman, said Friday that the campaign’s tax plan had not changed at any point on Thursday....“The intent of the plan is that big and small businesses have tax relief,” he said. He declined to comment on the conflicting accounts provided by the two groups.

So what's the good news in all this? Here it is: Appelbaum called it a lie. That may be a bit rude, but it's the most accurate way of characterizing what happened. Trump has been working on this plan for months and clearly has some idea of exactly how he plans to handle pass-through businesses. But he told business owners one thing and a tax scoring group another. What else would you call this?

File this one under "too good to check." Max Ehrenfreund passes along the latest analysis of Paul Ryan's tax proposal from the Tax Policy Center and notes that by 2025 it gets a wee bit lopsided:

This is like a parody of Republican tax proposals. In its first year, the top 1 percent start off getting a mere 76 percent of the benefit. But as Table 5 shows, within ten years they get nearly 100 percent of the benefit. Ryan and the congressional Republicans manage this by giving the poor and middle class nothing and actually taking money away from the upper middle class. The only people who benefit are the rich and the really rich.

As for the really, really rich, the top 0.1 percent get an average tax break of $1.4 million, while the rest of us get about $3 trillion in extra federal debt and no long-term change in economic growth. What a deal.

POSTSCRIPT: I should note that for some reason TPC's numbers don't add up to 100 percent. This might mean there's an error in the table. But even if there is, it's a small one.

Here's an odd thing:

Around Monday or Tuesday of this week, Hillary Clinton's favorables went up about four points and Donald Trump's went down four points. In Clinton's case, maybe her pneumonia generated some sympathy? In Trump's case, it's hard to figure out what might have happened. David Fahrenthold's big story about Trump's charity scams came out around then. The whole "deplorables" thing was getting some attention. And...that's about it. Nothing really comes to mind that might account for a sudden downward spike.

So what's going on? It could be that this is nothing but reversion to the mean after a couple of weeks of Emailgate and Foundationgate taking a toll. That would actually make some sense, since attitudes toward Clinton and Trump have been remarkably stable for the entire past year. In any case, maybe this will help panicky Dems to panic a little less.

I'm heartened to see a few more journalists explicitly acknowledging that Donald Trump lied when he said Hillary Clinton was responsible for starting the birther conspiracy theory. That's the good news. Here's the bad news:

You all know Lesley Stahl's story about a tough news segment she did on Ronald Reagan during the 1984 campaign, don't you? Instead of being mad, the White House press gurus were delighted. "You guys in Televisionland haven't figured it out, have you?" Dick Darman told her. "When the pictures are powerful and emotional, they override if not completely drown out the sound. I mean it, Lesley. Nobody heard you."

I'm afraid we have a similar dynamic working here. The big story should be that Donald Trump pushed the birther lie for years, and when he finally recanted he tossed in another lie about Hillary Clinton starting it. And that's largely how it's being reported. But on TV, Trump's minions are simply shouting over and over that Hillary did too start it. Then a former McClatchy editor who pretty clearly hates Clinton chimes in to say that conservative idée fixe Sid Blumenthal was peddling the birther rumor in 2008. This in turn prompts the Weekly Standard to opine that "it doesn't seem far fetched that the Clinton campaign played a much bigger role in midwifing birtherism than they or the media would like to admit." By tomorrow the entire right-wing fever swamp will be salivating over this.

So this is the new version of the Stahl parable: Words matter, but all that matters is that there are two sides yelling at each other. Casual viewers will come away from this thinking not that Donald Trump is a liar, but just vaguely remembering that there was some kind of controversy about whether Hillary Clinton started the birther rumors. What did they ever find out about that, anyway?

And all the people who hazily think Clinton is corrupt, but can't quite tell you why, will have one more hazy indictment bouncing around their brain. And with that, Trump wins the news cycle again. All it took was six words and an army of supporters willing to defend anything he says no matter how scurrilous. Welcome to 2016.

Friday Cat Blogging - 16 September 2016

In today's news—actually a couple of weeks ago, but who's counting?—a heroic Swiss cat has been credited with guiding a lost and injured Hungarian hiker out of the Alps back to the village of Gimmelwald. We don't get many chances to fight back against the oppressive media narrative of heroic dogs saving babies, running into burning houses, bringing help when Susie falls into a well, etc., so we have to take our chances when they come.

Here on the home front, I have another picture from last week's foray into the great outdoors. You've seen Hilbert in the backyard, so now it's Hopper's turn. She's obviously fixated on something, but there's no telling what. She is positively overwhelmed when she goes outside. So many sounds and sights and, especially, smells! It's a kitty paradise.

Is It Time to Panic Yet?

Uh oh. A couple of days ago Sam Wang said Hillary Clinton still had a 90 percent chance of winning. Today he says it's either 77 percent or 86 percent, depending on whether you're a Bayesian or a Driftian. "For Democrats, it is a good thing that the election is not today," he says ominously.

I still wouldn't panic over this, but your mileage may vary. If you're the panicky sort, now's your chance.

Bernie Sanders Update

Was I too hard on Bernie Sanders yesterday? Maybe! I mentioned that although he hadn't done much for Hillary Clinton, he seemed to have plenty of time to campaign against Debbie Wasserman Schultz in her primary race. However, a reader who lives in her district says Bernie didn't actually do anything:

Sanders was a total no-show, who spent his time between the conventions and now doing nothing as far as anyone can tell.  One visit here might have been enough to swing the election, actually calling around would have helped. So don't give Sanders even the credit of doing more than saying he was endorsing Canova and then checking out.

OK. Maybe Sanders didn't really care all that much about DSW. And anyway, as of today he's finally campaigning for Hillary Clinton. Eric Levitz reports:

At present, the Democratic nominee is struggling to win over the septuagenarian senator’s strongest demographic: Recent polls have shown more than 30 percent of millennial voters defecting to third-party candidates.

In a separate interview on Friday morning, Sanders implored such voters to “think hard” before casting a “protest” ballot. “Think about what the country looks like and think about whether you’re comfortable with four years of a Trump presidency,” Sanders said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “And I would suggest to those people: Let us elect Hillary Clinton as president. And the day after, let us mobilize millions of people around the progressive agenda, which, by the way, as you know, was passed in the Democratic platform.”

“This is what I know. In politics too much we look at personality....Don’t get hung up on Trump’s kids and whatever, the story of the birther issue. Stay focused on the issue of relevance to your life. I think Clinton is far and away the superior candidate.

And Sanders will be campaigning for Clinton this weekend in the uber-swing state of Ohio. I wonder if there's a live feed available? I'll be very interested to hear what he says. Will it basically be a repeat of his stump speech, focusing on TPP and income inequality and so forth, or will he really campaign for Hillary Clinton? If he does, and if he was just waiting for Labor Day to get going, then all is forgiven.

This is interesting. As I mentioned earlier, Donald Trump announced today that he would hold a press event to discuss birtherism. Cable news showed up in force, but instead of getting what they were told, they got this:

  • Trump showed up an hour late, guaranteeing lots of extra coverage.
  • He held the event at his new DC hotel and then spent several minutes telling everyone how great the hotel is. In effect, he conned the press into giving him a free, nationwide commercial for his hotel.
  • Then he spent 20 minutes introducing a bunch of military folks who were endorsing him.
  • Finally, at the very end, he gave a 10-second statement acknowledging for the first time that Barack Obama was born in the United States. Then he walked off without taking any questions.

So far, the reaction of the press corps has been scathing. It was a bait-and-switch. They got played. When will we ever learn? They are pissed.

So is this a turning point? It's one thing to acknowledge Trump is a master of TV, but it's another for him to be so blatant about manipulating the press. After all, there's a point at which reporters stop being amused by the Trump campaign and start resenting it. Maybe we got there today.

UPDATE: Breitbart News rubs it in as only Breitbart can:

Keep in mind that Trump's campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, was the head of Breitbart News until he took a leave to work for Trump. They really seem bound and determined to make sure the mainstream press knows just how badly they've been conned.

The Most Important Word in Washington Today: Lie

I understand why reporters don't like to use the word lie. It's emotionally charged. You have to be absolutely sure that you're referring to something that's flatly, factually wrong, not merely exaggerated or cherry picked. And you have to be sure that the speaker knows he's telling a lie.

Those are the rules. They aren't my rules, but that's neither here nor there. What they mean is that very few statements from politicians qualify as lies.

But this is the very reason that reporters need to start using it in this campaign. Donald Trump has basically hacked the media, using their own customs and traditions against them. He knows he can say anything he wants and will get away with it because reporters are so loath to call anything a lie.

But Donald Trump lies. He says Hillary Clinton started the birther controversy. He says Clinton has no policy on maternity leave or child care. He says we know nothing about Hillary Clinton's religion. He says that crime is at record levels. He says the "true" unemployment rate is 40 percent. He says he saw thousands of Muslims cheering on 9/11. He says he opposed the Iraq War.

These things are plain and simple lies. Sure, it's an emotionally charged word, but that's the very reason reporters need to start using it. Because even by the strict standards of mainstream journalism, this is what Donald Trump traffics in. The public needs to understand that Trump goes far beyond normal political puffery, and the only way to do this is to take a deep breath and tell the truth: Donald Trump lies. Constantly.

Good God. Donald Trump has all of cable news on tenterhooks while he makes them wait for his announcement on birtherism. Amazing.

Anyway, Trump is looking especially orange today, and naturally he starts off with a commercial for his new DC hotel. Then some endorsements from Medal of Honor recipients. I suppose he'll get to birtherism eventually. He's probably working up the energy to surround it with all his usual lies. But really, does it even matter? Josh Marshall thinks not:

Whatever Trump says today hardly matters. Birtherism is a racist smear and a lie. And yet Trump has been repeating it for literally years. As recently as last night. If someone says for years that blacks have smaller brains and are only fit for menial labor or that Jews are parasites and greedy by nature and then finally says "Okay, maybe not, I'm not gonna say that anymore", who cares? If such racist agitation is ever to be forgiven it's only with a true recantation and apology and an explanation of why that person said and did such terrible things for so long.

....Birtherism isn't just not true. It's conscious and deliberate racist agitation. Trump's been doing that for years. He's never explained or recanted or apologized or been held to any account. Whatever he says today we'll be closely watching to see how campaign surrogates, commentators and especially reporters treat what he says.

Yeah, pretty much.

UPDATE: Some guy is now telling us that Trump will take a "holistic" approach to national security. lol. So far seven or eight people have taken the stage to endorse Trump.

UPDATE 2: John Berman on CNN: "You could say that he's leveraging five years of birtherism to sell his hotel." Jake Tapper: It's a "political rickroll." The CNN folks are really upset that they've been conned by Trump again. We were told it was an event to address birtherism, instead he's pulled a bait-and-switch.

UPDATE 3: Trump, finally: "Back in 2008, Hillary Clinton started the birther controversy. I finished it. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period." That's it. What a disgusting human being.

UPDATE 4: Berman says the Hillary Clinton slur is an "untruth." John King: "We got played." Tapper: "Factually false." But they still can't bring themselves to use the word "lie."

UPDATE 5: The CNN crew seems to be genuinely disgusted at themselves for being conned yet again by Trump. Is this real? Will it affect their coverage going forward? Stay tuned!