FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Tue, 24 May 2016 16:23:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.1 Did Trump Praise Kim Jong Un? http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/did-trump-praise-kim-jong-un/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/did-trump-praise-kim-jong-un/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 14:36:05 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=108574 Hillary Clinton distorts the facts when she accuses Donald Trump of “heaping praise” on North Korea strongman Kim Jong Un. Trump has called Kim a “maniac” and a “madman” who is “sick enough to use” nuclear weapons.

The Clinton campaign said she was referring to Trump’s comments at a rally in January in Iowa, where Trump said Kim deserved “credit” for how he took over the country at such a young age. But in that speech Trump also called Kim a “maniac” with nuclear weapons who needs to be taken seriously because of the ruthless way he killed his rivals to retain power.

Clinton, who was secretary of state from January 2009 to February 2013, made her remarks on NBC’s “Meet the Press” while talking about Trump’s statements on foreign affairs.

Clinton, May 22: What he is advocating — look what he’s done this past week. You know, attacking our closest ally, England. Heaping praise on a dangerous dictator in North Korea.

Trump has gotten into a verbal spat with two of England’s leaders, British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, over Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” But did Trump praise Kim Jong Un?  

We could not find any instance of the likely Republican presidential nominee praising Kim last week. The only instance we could find of Trump even talking about Kim last week was in a Reuters interview on May 17. In that interview, Trump said he would have “no problem speaking to [Kim]” as president of the United States. But Trump didn’t praise Kim.

Josh Schwerin, a Clinton campaign spokesman, referred us to a Jan. 9 Business Insider article that carried the headline “TRUMP: You’ve got to give that ‘maniac’ in North Korea some credit.”

In a Jan. 9 speech in Iowa, Trump said that “you have to give him credit” for the way Kim took control of the country after his father died. But Trump used Kim’s rise to power as a cautionary tale for the U.S. “The Republican presidential front-runner said Kim’s willingness to push aside generals and ‘wipe out’ his uncle demonstrated why the US needs to treat North Korea’s nuclear arsenal as a serious threat,” Business Insider wrote.

Here are Trump’s remarks in context:

Trump, Jan. 9: If you look at North Korea – this guy, he’s like a maniac, OK? And you have to give him credit. How many young guys — he was like 26 or 25 when his father died — take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden — you know, it’s pretty amazing when you think of it. How does he do that? Even though it is a culture and it’s a cultural thing, he goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss. It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one. I mean, this guy doesn’t play games. And we can’t play games with him. Because he really does have missiles. And he really does have nukes.

Kim became “supreme leader” of North Korea in December 2011 two weeks after his father’s death. At the time, the New York Times noted that Kim was only in his 20s and “untested, making him more vulnerable to challenges.” Since then, there have been reports from South Korea that Kim ordered his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, and his uncle’s deputies executed. The Times reported that Kim’s uncle was executed for “stealing state funds and plotting to overthrow his nephew.”

Trump’s comments on Kim at the Iowa rally came at a time when there were news reports of North Korea conducting a hydrogen bomb test. Three days before the rally, Trump on “Fox and Friends” called Kim a “madman” when asked about those reports of a nuclear test. “You have this madman over there who probably would use it and nobody talks to him, other than, of course, Dennis Rodman talked to him. That’s about it,” Trump said. “But nobody is talking to him whatsoever and nobody is discussing it with China.”

Trump went on to say that he would work with China to “close down” North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. “He’s getting too close to doing something,” Trump said of Kim. “Right now he’s probably got the weapons but he doesn’t have the transportation system. Once he has the transportation system, he’s sick enough to use it.”

We understand that, taken out of context, Trump’s words about giving Kim “credit” may seem to some as praise for Kim. But in context of what Trump said in the Jan. 9 speech and what he said three days before that speech, it’s clear that Trump sees Kim as a dangerous leader.


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Twisting Toomey’s Tax Record http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/twisting-toomeys-tax-record/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/twisting-toomeys-tax-record/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 22:01:02 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=108525 An ad from a Democratic super PAC misleadingly claims Republican Sen. Pat Toomey supported a “$1,300 tax hike for working families.” He did not.

The claim hinges on a Democratic committee staff analysis of Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2013 budget plan — which Toomey supported. That analysis made assumptions about tax deductions that could “potentially” be eliminated, but such measures were never actually spelled out in the Ryan plan.

The attack ad comes from Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC devoted to electing Democrats to the U.S. Senate. Toomey, who represents Pennsylvania, is facing Democratic challenger Katie McGinty in a race the Cook Political Report rates as a tossup.

The ad portrays Toomey as a Wall Street insider and says that when he came to the Senate he supported “huge tax breaks for millionaires but higher taxes on working families.” Graphics in the ad are more specific, claiming that he supported a plan that would result in a “$286,000 tax break for millionaires” and a “$1,300 tax hike for working families.”

Small print in the ad notes that this refers to Toomey’s vote in support of Ryan’s 2013 budget plan, “The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal,” which failed to advance after a vote of 41-58. Ryan’s plan called for consolidating tax brackets from the current seven rates — ranging from 10 percent to 39.6 percent — into just two, 10 percent and 25 percent. Those rate cuts would have resulted in tax cuts at every income level, according to a Tax Policy Center analysis. And they would have reduced revenue by more than $4.6 trillion over 10 years.

Ryan vowed to make the plan revenue neutral by eliminating unidentified tax deductions and closing unspecified tax loopholes. He never spelled out which ones. Ryan, who was then the chair of the House Budget Committee, left the revenue-raising details to the House Ways and Means Committee, which is the tax-writing panel.

The Democratic staff on the Senate’s Joint Economic Committee made projections about the impact of Ryan’s plan based on deductions that could “potentially” have been eliminated if the plan were approved.

Joint Economic Committee Democratic staff report, June 20, 2012: To pay for the tax cuts, the JEC report finds, Ryan would potentially have to eliminate tax expenditures that deliver significant tax benefits to middle-class workers. These include tax deductions for mortgage interest, state and local taxes, and charitable contributions as well as the tax exclusions for employer-sponsored health insurance benefits and contributions to 401(k) plans.

Specifically, the staff for committee chairman Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania concluded that if tax deductions for mortgage interest, state and local taxes, and charitable contributions, as well as the tax exclusions for employer-sponsored health insurance benefits and contributions to 401(k) plans, were eliminated, “the typical household making more than $1 million will see their taxes fall by more than $286,000 under Ryan’s budget.” At the same time, “a household making between $50,000 and $100,000 would face a tax increase of at least $1,358,” the report said.

That’s the basis for the ad’s claim. But note the use of the word “potentially” in the report.

The Ryan plan didn’t actually call for across-the-board elimination of tax deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions. As we said, the Ryan plan was silent on the specifics of which tax preferences would be eliminated or reduced in order to meet the goal of making his plan revenue neutral. (The Tax Policy Center’s Howard Glickman was critical of Ryan for “leaving the dirty work” of how to pay for his proposed tax rate cuts to the House Ways and Means Committee.)

Roberton Williams, the Sol Price fellow at the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told us we’d have to know exactly which tax preferences would be changed, and how, before making a reliable prediction about how it would affect taxes at various income levels.

Few elected officials from either side of the aisle have supported across-the-board elimination of home mortgage or charitable deductions, as the Joint Economic Committee’s Democratic staff suggested could “potentially” happen.

And if those deductions were reduced, it is possible to structure the changes such that middle-income earners are not affected. For example, legislators could limit the value of itemized deductions to a certain percentage of adjusted gross income, even if one pays a higher tax rate. Obama, for example, has for years suggested limiting the value of itemized deductions to 28 percent. It is also possible to limit the total amount of itemized deductions to a specific dollar amount.

In 2014, Ryan said he would limit the home mortgage tax deduction to “middle income people” and would oppose eliminating deductions for contributions to charity for any income level.

And in his own 2013 budget plan, Toomey was clear that he advocates a tax plan that cuts rates and “maintains progressivity” by protecting middle-income earners from changes to the tax deductions.

Toomey FY 2013 Budget Resolution: The revenue lost from lower marginal rates will be offset by eliminating or reducing various tax expenditures in a manner that maintains progressivity. Tax preferences directed toward lower- and middle-income families, such as the child tax credit and earned income tax credit, will remain unchanged. However, many tax preferences are disproportionately utilized by upper-income taxpayers. Scaling back the use of these provisions will provide the revenue necessary to pay for the reduction of marginal tax rates.

With the revenue loss associated with tax expenditures exceeding $1 trillion per year, there are many technical ways to limit the value of deductions and tax expenditures and thereby offset the cost of lowering marginal rates. One method put forward by Harvard economics professor Martin Feldstein and the president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Maya MacGuineas, is to limit the value of tax expenditures to a certain percentage of adjusted gross income. Another option could involve limiting the total amount of itemized deductions to a specified dollar amount.

Toomey stopped short of endorsing either of those alternatives, and merely posed them as options. But the point is that it is possible to protect middle-income earners from changes to tax preferences.

No matter how tax preferences are handled, the Ryan plan would certainly result in higher-income earners seeing the most tax benefit, Williams of the Tax Policy Center told us. The rate cuts are simply too large for upper-income earners not to reap the biggest benefits. It almost certainly wouldn’t work out to an average tax cut of $286,000 for millionaires — as the ad states —  but the tax cut would be substantial, Williams said, and disproportionate compared with those making lower incomes.

But that doesn’t mean middle-income earners would necessarily pay $1,300 more, as the ad states. And an attack based on that assumption is even more baseless given that Toomey has proposed a tax plan that calls for protecting middle-income earners from changes to tax deductions.


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Trump ‘Wants to Abolish VA’? http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/trumps-plans-for-the-va/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/trumps-plans-for-the-va/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 20:18:21 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=108316 Hillary Clinton claimed that she “read” that Donald Trump “said he wants to … abolish the VA.” That’s the opposite of what Trump has said.

Clinton got her information from a Wall Street Journal article that said Trump’s campaign co-chair and chief policy adviser indicated that “the presumptive GOP presidential nominee would likely push VA health care toward privatization and might move for it to become more of an insurance provider like Medicare rather than an integrated hospital system.”

Does that mean that Trump wants to end the program that provides health care to nearly 9 million U.S. veterans?

The article quoted the same policy adviser as saying that “there are a lot of VA facilities that are being run very well” and that Trump doesn’t “want to take away the veterans hospitals and the things that are working well.”

Plus, in late October, during a campaign rally in Norfolk, Virginia, Trump told a crowd of supporters that he wanted to “transform” and “modernize” the Department of Veterans Affairs to “make it great again.” Contrary to what Clinton claimed, Trump told his audience, “I don’t want to get rid of it.”

Clinton talked about Trump wanting to “abolish the VA” during a May 16 campaign rally in Kentucky. She said she read, but didn’t verify, that that was Trump’s intention.

Clinton, May 16: He has all of this loose cannon kind of talk about foreign policy and national security. He also … I read this. I really shouldn’t say it. I should verify it, but I read it. He has said he wants to, you know, abolish the VA. Now, we can improve the VA and I will be sure to improve the VA. I will have somebody reporting to me every week in the Oval Office about what improvements we’re making in the VA. But abolishing the VA? Privatizing the VA?

Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin told us that Clinton’s claim was based on a May 12 Wall Street Journal article that said that Trump would “likely push VA health care toward privatization” and “might move” to make the system more like Medicare.

Wall Street Journal, May 12: Donald Trump says the Department of Veterans Affairs’ health-care system is badly broken, and this week his campaign released some guidelines that would steer changes he would implement if he wins the presidency.

While short on details, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee would likely push VA health care toward privatization and might move for it to become more of an insurance provider like Medicare rather than an integrated hospital system, said Sam Clovis, Mr. Trump’s chief policy adviser, in an interview.

“We want quality care top to bottom,” Mr. Clovis said in an interview. “If that means we have some form of privatization or some form of Medicare, we don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Mr. Clovis, who is also Mr. Trump’s national campaign co-chair, said the candidate’s priority would be to give veterans timely health care close to home.

That could mean restructuring the system in a way to more resemble an insurance provider along the lines of the popular Tricare system used by 9.6 million members of the Department of Defense, where civilian facilities routinely augment department-run hospitals.

“We’ll certainly look at that model, we want to make it as comprehensive as possible,” said Mr. Clovis when asked about Tricare. “The VA’s a broken system now. We can’t continue down that road.”

Clinton also wants to improve the VA, but she opposes efforts to privatize its health care system, according to her campaign website.

In August, when then Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson suggested eliminating the VA health system and giving veterans health savings accounts to purchase private insurance, the heads of eight veterans organizations wrote him an open letter telling him that his proposal “would inevitably endanger the health and well-being of millions of wounded, injured and ill veterans, an outcome that we cannot allow to occur.”

It’s not clear exactly what Trump would do to change the VA, but he hasn’t suggested it be completely eliminated.

The Journal reported that Clovis said the Trump campaign would be fine with privatizing the VA health system, which could mean giving veterans vouchers to purchase private health insurance. Another option the paper said Clovis discussed was making the VA health system more like the Medicare program for seniors or the TRICARE program for military service members and personnel.

But the Journal also said that Clovis declined to provide specifics, and the paper quoted the policy adviser saying that Trump doesn’t “want to take away the veterans hospitals and the things that are working well.”

We also read “The Goals Of Donald J. Trump’s Veterans Plan,” which his campaign posted online after the rally in Norfolk last year. It doesn’t say Trump wants to abolish the VA.

“The guiding principle of the Trump plan is ensuring veterans have convenient access to the best quality care,” the plan reads.

“To further this principle, the Trump plan will decrease wait times, improve healthcare outcomes, and facilitate a seamless transition from service into civilian life.”

The plan includes three key initiatives:

1. Ensure our veterans get the care they need wherever and whenever they need it. No more long drives. No more waiting for backlogs. No more excessive red tape. Just the care and support they earned with their service to our country.

2. Support the whole veteran, not just their physical health care, but also by addressing their invisible wounds, investing in our service members’ post-active duty success, transforming the VA to meet the needs of 21st century service members, and better meeting the needs of our female veterans.

3. Make the VA great again by firing the corrupt and incompetent VA executives who let our veterans down, by modernizing the VA, and by empowering the doctors and nurses to ensure our veterans receive the best care available in a timely manner.

One of the biggest changes that plan would make to the current VA health care system is allowing veterans to get care at any non-VA medical center that accepts Medicare.

“Under a Trump Administration, all veterans eligible for VA health care can bring their veteran’s ID card to any doctor or care facility that accepts Medicare to get the care they need immediately,” the plan states.

“The power to choose will stop the wait time backlogs and force the VA to improve and compete if the department wants to keep receiving veterans’ healthcare dollars,” the plan says.

Trump’s published proposal would seemingly go further than the Non-VA Medical Care Program, which allows eligible veterans to access care outside of the Veterans Health Administration under certain circumstances, such as when VA medical centers cannot provide services. The program requires pre-approval for veterans to receive care at a non-VA facility in non-emergency situations.

That proposal would also go further than the Veterans Choice Act, which, in 2014, created a temporary program, separate from the Non-VA Medical Care Program, that allows eligible veterans to receive health care at a non-VA facility if they would have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment at a VA medical center, or if they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA hospital.

Although a big part of the plan that Trump unveiled last year involves expanding veterans’ access to health care outside of the VA, he has said that he thinks that the health system is still necessary.

“The VA health care system is a total disaster, nothing short of a disaster,” Trump said in his speech in Norfolk. “Some candidates want to get rid of it. But the veterans need the VA to be there for them and their families. I don’t want to get rid of it. I want to supplement it.”

The plan posted on the Trump campaign’s website makes the same point.

So, does Trump want to “abolish the VA,” as Clinton said?

We don’t know for certain how Trump plans to transform the system. At this point, all we have to go on is what Trump has said he would do, and what his policy adviser says he might do. But neither man said that Trump wants to “abolish the VA.”


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Rep. Jones Didn’t ‘Empower Obama’ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/rep-jones-didnt-empower-obama/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/rep-jones-didnt-empower-obama/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 18:47:12 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=108395 A primary challenger to Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina falsely claims Jones “caved to Obama” and “empowered Obama to cut a deal with Iran.”

Actually, all Jones did was co-author a letter in 2012 beseeching the president to conduct “robust, sustained diplomacy” with Iran as an alternative to war.

And far from “caving,” Jones voted against Obama’s Iran nuclear deal in 2015, stating that “it does not provide for adequate inspections and verification.”

The misleading attack ad is the work of GOP hopeful Taylor Griffin, a former aide to the late Sen. Jesse Helms. Griffin is challenging Jones for a second time in the June 7 congressional primary, after falling 6 percentage points short of defeating Jones in 2014. The district is solidly Republican, and the primary winner will most likely be elected in November. Jones is seeking his 11th term.

In the ad, Griffin denounces Obama for avoiding the use of the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” then says Jones “is taking the president’s way.” On screen the ad shows an image of Obama next to an image of Jones.

Griffin goes on to say, “Congressman Jones empowered Obama to cut a deal with Iran.”

That’s false; Obama did not need any new power to negotiate a deal with Iran. Congress had already granted the president broad power to lift sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program when it imposed them years earlier.

Jones Urges Diplomacy

Griffin would have been correct to say Jones urged Obama to negotiate a nuclear deal rather than go to war.

The letter shown in the ad was authored by Jones and Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Eventually it was signed by 37 House members.

Dated March 2, 2012, the letter began, “As tension with Iran continues to escalate, we urge your Administration to utilize all available tools of diplomacy to resolve the crisis over Iran’’s nuclear program and prevent another costly war in the Middle East.”

The letter warned that a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities would lead to a wider conflict, and concluded: “[W]e believe that robust, sustained diplomacy is the best option to resolve our serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, and to prevent a costly war.”

Though not mentioned in the ad itself, the Griffin campaign also points to Jones’ cosponsorship of a Democratic bill in 2012 that would have directed the president to appoint a high-level envoy to Iran. But that didn’t “empower” Obama either; it died without getting out of committee.

Jones Opposes the Deal

Conspicuously absent from the ad is any mention of Jones’ opposition to the Iran nuclear deal itself. On Sept. 11, 2015, Jones joined other House Republicans in casting a vote against a measure stating simply that “Congress does favor” the deal. That measure failed 162 to 269.

Moments later, Jones voted in favor of a measure that would have suspended the president’s existing authority under previous law to grant Iran relief from sanctions. That passed the House 247 to 186, but Senate Democrats were able to block a similar measure from being taken up by the Senate.

Unlike some of his colleagues who voiced disapproval of the deal before it was even made public, Jones engaged in what he called a “careful review” before announcing his opposition.

On his House website, Jones explained his votes this way: “In my judgment, President Obama’s deal falls short because it does not provide for adequate inspections and verification. As a result, the American people will never be able to trust that Iran isn’t cheating their way to a nuclear bomb.”

ISIS vs. Iran

We also note that the ad is misleading in the way it jumbles and confuses the issues of Islamic State terrorism and Iran’s nuclear capability. The first part of the ad is devoted to images of what appear to be Islamic State fighters marching and carrying the Islamic State flag while Griffin says “they’ve declared war on America.”

Then Griffin pivots to the Iran deal. But the fact is, Iran’s Shia regime is an enemy of the Sunni Islamic State insurgency.

Iranian warplanes have conducted strikes in neighboring Iraq against fighters of the Islamic State, which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Iran is also deeply involved in the fighting in Syria. The BBC recently reported that a high-ranking Iranian general “has been co-ordinating the Iraqi government’s operations against Islamic State” in Syria. Earlier, Iranian media reported that hundreds of Iranian “volunteers” had died fighting in Syria against the Islamic State forces.

To be sure, Iran is still officially considered a “state sponsor of terrorism” by the U.S. State Department, mainly because of its arming and training of Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon, and its support for the Assad regime in Syria.

The ad concludes with Griffin saying, “I’ll stand with our friends, and against our enemies. I know the difference.” But this ad should make voters wonder if he knows the difference between ISIS and Iran.


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Video: Trump’s Tax Returns http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/video-trumps-tax-returns/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/video-trumps-tax-returns/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 16:27:31 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=108497 Donald Trump says “there’s nothing to learn” from his income tax returns — a false claim that is the subject of this week’s fact-checking video by CNN’s Jake Tapper.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has declined so far to release his income tax returns because, he says, they are being audited by the IRS. As Tapper says in the video, we cannot verify Trump is being audited, because the IRS neither confirms nor denies the existence of ongoing audits. But Trump’s claim that “there’s nothing to learn” is false.  Experts tell us there’s plenty to learn from presidential candidates’ tax returns, including sources of income, effective tax rates, charitable giving habits and more.

In fact, the Washington Post wrote in a subsequent story published May 20 that Trump had a negative net income in 1978 and 1979 and paid no federal income taxes, according to a 1981 report by New Jersey gambling regulators at a time when Trump was seeking a casino license. The article said Trump used “a tax-code provision popular with developers that allowed him to report negative income.”

Tapper’s video, which is produced weekly in collaboration with FactCheck.org, can be found on CNN’s website. Our article, “Trump’s Tax Returns,” and previous fact-checking videos can be found on our website.

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Groundhog Friday http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/groundhog-friday/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/groundhog-friday/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 13:22:08 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=108205 In an effort to hold politicians accountable, repeatedly, for reiterating the same false claims, over and over again, we launch Groundhog Friday, an occasional wrap-up of recent repeats.

Follow the links to our articles for more information on our debunking of the claims.

Donald Trump on the trade deficit, May 5 rally in West Virginia: “Every single country in the world that does business with us beats us on trade. We’re losing over $500 billion a year, trade deficit with China.”

Groundhog2The U.S. doesn’t get beat by “every single country” on trade: The U.S. had positive trade balances in 2015 with Brazil, Netherlands, Belgium, Singapore, Australia and Argentina, among others. And Trump continues to be wrong about the trade deficit with China: It was $366 billion last year. Trump’s $500 billion figure is actually close to the net trade deficit with all countries, which was $532 billion in 2015.

Trump also made the claim about China in a May 18 interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, saying, “When China is ripping us to — you know, you look at trade deficits of $500 billion a year, who’s negotiating this deal?”

For more: “FactChecking the 11th GOP Debate,” March 4




Trump on tax returns, May 18 interview on Fox News’ “Hannity”: “So for [Hillary Clinton] to be talking about tax returns, where, by the way, you learn nothing.”

There’s plenty to learn from a candidate’s tax return, despite Trump’s repeated claim that there’s nothing to learn from his returns — which he says he won’t release until an audit is complete. Experts told us we can learn details about sources of income, effective tax rates, charitable giving habits, conflicts of interest and how a candidate handles his financial affairs.

For more: “Trump’s Tax Returns,” May 12



Trump on the war in Iraq, May 18 interview: “And, you know, we got into a war in Iraq that I was totally opposed to.”

There’s no record of Trump opposing the war in Iraq before it started on March 19, 2003. Our timeline of his public statements on the war in 2002 and 2003 includes one instance of mild support, in fact. Trump was asked by radio shock jock Howard Stern in September 2002 if he supported going to war with Iraq, and Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so.”

Trump had a financial interest in opposing the war in the weeks leading up to it, but the first definitive instance we could find of Trump opposing it was on Sept. 11, 2003, about six months after the war started.

For more: “Donald Trump and the Iraq War,” Feb. 19



Hillary Clinton on the economy under Democrats, May 11 rally in New Jersey: “I think it’s accurate to say, although the Republicans hate it when I do, the economy does better when we have a Democrat in the White House.”

That’s misleading. A report by two Princeton economists, which looked at economic measures such as gross domestic product, unemployment and inflation over 64 years, found that the economy has performed “much better when a Democrat is president than when a Republican is.” However, they didn’t find that Democratic fiscal policies were behind the difference in economic outcomes. They say in their report, “[O]ur empirical analysis does not attribute any of the partisan growth gap to fiscal or monetary policy.” Instead, they found the difference was mainly due to shocks in oil prices, changes in productivity levels, growth in defense spending, foreign economic growth and differences in consumer expectations.

For more: “Clinton: Economy Better Under Democrats,” Oct. 20, 2015



Clinton on wages, May 16 rally in Kentucky (8:25 mark): “The average American hasn’t gotten a raise since my husband left office.”

The last time we fact-checked Clinton’s version of this claim — “Americans haven’t had a raise in 15 years” — figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed real average weekly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees were 9.2 percent higher than they were 15 years earlier. Little has changed since then. If we measure from January 2001, the month Bill Clinton left office, the increase is 9.3 percent.

For more: “FactChecking the Sixth Democratic Debate,” Feb. 12



Clinton on the auto bailout, May 16 rally (9:25 mark): “I voted to save the auto industry. [Sen. Bernie Sanders] voted not to.”

That distorts the facts. Sanders voted for a Jan. 15, 2009, measure that would have blocked the Treasury Department from gaining access to the second half of a $700 billion Wall Street bailout package, which Sanders opposed. That sum included an additional $4 billion that President Bush had promised to automakers.

In the end, the Obama administration used nearly $80 billion for the auto industry, but it wasn’t clear that would happen at the time of the vote. Sanders had previously voted to advance a $15 billion auto bailout package that died in the Senate.

For more: “FactChecking the Seventh Democratic Debate,” March 7



Bernie Sanders on wealth, May 18 rally in San Jose: “The wealthiest 20 people own more wealth than the bottom half of America — 150 million people. … [T]he wealthiest family in America — the Walton family of Walmart — owns more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of the American people.”

That’s true, according to an analysis from a left-leaning think tank, but Sanders himself has more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. That’s because the analysis found the bottom 40 percent have a combined negative net worth, due a high negative net worth of only the bottom 12 percent, which skews the combined number.

That means any single individual with a positive net worth has more wealth than the bottom 40 percent combined.

For more: “Sanders’ Wealth Inequality Stat,” Jan. 8



Viral Spiral

We also see from time to time the return of old, bogus viral claims that are repackaged and recirculated on social media.

Obama’s “sealed” records: Trump has been criticized by some for saying he will not release his tax returns because they are being audited. In response, some of President Obama’s critics are recirculating the bogus claim that Obama’s records, such as his college transcripts, are “sealed.” But most of the 16 claims in the old image are either false or distorted.

For more: “Obama’s ‘Sealed’ Records,” July 31, 2012



— Lori Robertson, Eugene Kiely, Robert Farley and D’Angelo Gore

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Does Obama Want a Higher Pension? http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/does-obama-want-a-higher-pension/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/does-obama-want-a-higher-pension/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 11:59:33 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=108391 Q: Does President Obama want to increase his pension?

A: No. Obama requested an additional $588,000 in FY2017 to cover pensions and other costs for four former presidents plus “new spending for new former President Barack Obama.”


A post on Facebook states that Obama wants a higher pension. Does President Obama want his retirement amount increased?


The rumor that President Obama wants to increase his retirement benefits started in March 2016 when conservative websites carried bogus stories with inaccurate headlines, such as “BREAKING: Obama Just Gave Himself a MASSIVE Pay Raise…FOREVER!” and “Obama demands a higher presidential pension and more benefits!

Another site claimed that “Obama wants to give himself a massive reward & YOU are going to pay for it.”

This led, naturally, to a Facebook image of Obama “demanding a higher pension.”

In all cases, the articles referred to a March 16 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service that carried a more staid headline, “Former Presidents: Pensions, Office Allowances, and Other Federal Benefits.” In that report, the CRS noted that the White House’s fiscal year 2017 budget requested $3,865,000 “for expenditures for former Presidents, an increase of $588,000 (17.9%) from the FY2016 appropriation level.”

CRS, March 16, 2016: The [budget] request includes language stating that the appropriation includes funding for “future former President Barack Obama.” President Obama’s anticipated transition from incumbent to former President is scheduled to occur on January 20, 2017.

But presidential pensions are set by law, the Former Presidents Act, and any changes would require an act of Congress, as also explained in the CRS report. Under the law, former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in calendar year 2016 each received $205,700 — which is “equal to the annual rate of basic pay for the head of an executive department (Executive Level I),” as CRS explains. Nothing in Obama’s request would change the pension formula.

Not all of the $588,000 increase is earmarked to cover the cost of Obama’s retirement. The budget justification document from the General Services Administration said $359,000 would be needed to cover the cost of Obama’s pension, staff, office and other related expenses. The rest — $229,000 — is needed to cover the rising costs of expenses for the current four living former presidents.

The GSA provided this breakdown of the net $588,000 increase:

  • $9,000 increase in pension costs for Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.
  • $9,000 decrease in travel and transportation costs for George H.W. Bush.
  • $359,000 in new spending for “new former President Barack Obama,” including funds for his pension, beginning Jan, 20, 2017, as well as money for his staff, office and other related expenses, beginning on July 21, 2017.
  • $19,000 increase in additional personnel compensation for George H.W. and George W. Bush.
  • $36,000 increase in printing and communication costs for Carter, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush.
  • $163,000 increase in rental payments for Carter, George W. Bush, Clinton and George H.W. Bush.
  • $6,000 increase in equipment purchases for George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
  • $5,000 for increased contractual services for George H.W. Bush, Carter and George W. Bush.

That adds up to a net increase of $588,000. To claim that Obama is seeking “a massive pay raise … forever” or that he is “demanding a higher pension” is nonsense. He is merely carrying out laws passed by Congress to “maintain the dignity” of the office of the president, as CRS described the congressional intent of the Former Presidents Act. That law was enacted in 1959 in large part because of former President Harry Truman’s financial difficulties.

A chart in the CRS report (table 1) shows that taxpayers spent $3.3 million on the former presidents in FY2015, with George W. Bush receiving the most and Carter the least:


Carter’s amount is much lower because his office space costs were the cheapest and, as a one-term president, he did not qualify for federally funded health benefits. Even though George H.W. Bush also served one term, he is eligible for health benefits because of his extensive government service — including as a congressman, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, ambassador to the United Nations and vice president. The total for FY2015 also included $6,000 to Nancy Reagan for communications expenses.

Obama will join that list on Jan. 20, 2017. That’s not quite four months into fiscal year 2017, which begins Oct. 1, 2016, so the $359,000 earmarked for Obama in FY2017 does not cover a full fiscal year and cannot be compared with the amounts above.



BREAKING: Obama Just Gave Himself a MASSIVE Pay Raise…FOREVER!” The Political Insider. Undated, accessed 19 May 2016.

Daniels, Kit. “Obama asks for a pay raise.” Infowars.com. 18 Mar 2016.

Parker, Christy Lee. “Obama wants to give himself a massive reward & YOU are going to pay for it.” 18 Mar 2016.

Ginsberg, Wendy and Daniel J. Richardson. “Former Presidents: Pensions, Office Allowances, and Other Federal Benefits.” Congressional Research Service. 16 Mar 2016.

U.S. General Services Administration. “FY 2017 Congressional Justification.” 9 Feb 2016.

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Bill Clinton’s Economic Exaggerations http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/bill-clintons-economic-exaggerations/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/bill-clintons-economic-exaggerations/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 22:03:28 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=108279 Former President Bill Clinton — who will be called upon to help revitalize the U.S. economy if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency — made two inaccurate economic claims in a recent speech in Kentucky:

  • Clinton claimed that over the last 400 years “it has taken every single country at least 10 years to get over a financial crisis this severe.” But the former president’s office provided data that proved him wrong, showing, for example, that it took Japan four years and Italy six years to recover from the Great Depression.
  • He also told Kentuckians worried about coal jobs that Texas — known for its gas and oil industry — is one of only three states “that get over a third of their electricity from wind.” That’s wrong. Texas gets 10 percent of its electricity from wind.

Hillary Clinton said in a May 15 speech in Kentucky that she will put her husband “in charge of revitalizing the economy ’cause he knows what he’s doing.” As we have written, the U.S. added nearly 21 million jobs during President Clinton’s eight years in office, from January 1993 to January 2001, although he doesn’t deserve all the credit.

Three days before his economic role was announced, Bill Clinton was in Frankfort, Kentucky, where he talked in part about the economy.

‘Every Single Country’?

At the 9:50-minute mark of his speech, Bill Clinton said median family income “after inflation is $4,000 lower than it was the last day I was in office 15 years ago.” He’s close on that; median family income was actually $3,109 less for all families in 2014 than what it was in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (table F-7).

He then went on to explain why the median family income has still not recovered.

Clinton, May 12: Now, why is that? That’s because for 400 years — we actually have good records for 400 years — it has taken every single country at least 10 years to get over a financial crisis this severe.

That’s wrong.

The former president’s office referred us to data from “This Time Is Different,” a 2009 book by Harvard economics professors Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff. That book covered financial crises in 66 countries over eight centuries — “from medieval currency debasements to today’s subprime catastrophe.” Clinton spokesman Angel Urena specifically directed us to figure 14.8, which, Urena said, shows “the average duration in years of Great Depression crises is shown to be at least 10 years.”

Urena is right about the average, but not “every single country” took “at least 10 years,” as Clinton claimed. It took Japan four years, Italy six years, and Germany seven years to recover from the Great Depression, as measured by “the number of years for output per capita to return to its pre-crisis level” in 1929, according to Reinhart and Rogoff. Plus, that particular data set is only for the Great Depression — not from 400 years ago.

Separately, Reinhart and Rogoff authored a 2014 paper in American Economic Review‘s Papers & Proceedings on recoveries from 100 economic crises from 1857 to 2013, again measured by how long it took countries to return to pre-crisis levels of real per capita gross domestic product. “On average it takes about eight years to reach the pre-crisis level of income; the median is about 6.5 years,” Reinhart and Rogoff wrote. In the current crisis, in fact, the U.S. was one of only two countries to beat the average.

“Five to six years after the onset of the current crisis only Germany and the United States (out of 12 systemic crisis cases) have reached their 2007–2008 peaks in per capita income,” they wrote.

As for the former president’s 400-year time frame, Urena cited “Manias, Panics, and Crashes,” which is a history of financial crises dating to the Thirty Years’ War in 1618. Urena did not refer us to any specific data or passages in the book to support Clinton’s claim that “every single country” has taken at least 10 years to recover. We were only told that it supports the former president’s claim that there are “good records for 400 years.” That may be, but the fifth and most recent edition of that book, which was coauthored by Charles P. Kindleberger and Robert Z. Aliber in 2005, said making past comparisons is difficult, because the “data collection is more comprehensive” in recent decades. The book also says the “period of financial distress may last weeks, months, even years, or it may be concentrated into a few days.”

What the former president has done is mix and match economic studies and data to create a talking point about 400 years of financial history that is not supported by the evidence.

Texas Wind Energy

Bill Clinton also made the point that renewable energy can help create new jobs in a coal state like Kentucky. Hillary Clinton has made the same point, although she has been criticized for the way she said it.

At a CNN town hall meeting in March, Hillary Clinton said, “I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?” She since has apologized for saying “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners” out of business, explaining “what I said was totally out of context from what I meant.”

In his speech, Bill Clinton used Texas as an example of how fossil-fuel states can create renewable energy jobs. “There are three states in America that get over a third of their electricity from wind,” he said at the 15:31-minute mark. “One of them is Texas — the oil and natural gas leader of America.”

That’s wrong. Only one state — Iowa — gets about a third of its electricity from wind. The top three states are: Iowa (31.3 percent), South Dakota (25.5 percent), and Kansas (23.9 percent), according the American Wind Energy Association.

It’s true that Texas ranks No. 1 in wind energy capacity, but only about 10 percent of its electricity came from wind in 2015, the American Wind Energy Association says. That 10 percent figure is unchanged from 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration. Wind energy capacity is the maximum amount of electricity that could potentially be produced under certain conditions, not the amount actually produced, as the EIA explains.

What was Clinton talking about?

Urena, the former president’s spokesman, told us “President Clinton was referencing specific times during the year, not average power generation from wind for the entire year.” He cited as an example a Scientific American blog item about “one windy day in December” when a sustained “burst of wind propelled Texas to surpass its all-time record for wind energy production, with wind providing 45 percent of the state’s total electricity needs — or 13.9 gigawatts of electric power — at its peak.”

But that’s not what the former president said. Instead, he left the false impression that Texas gets a third of its electricity from wind.



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Misleading Attack on Strickland http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/misleading-attack-on-strickland/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/misleading-attack-on-strickland/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 18:54:25 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=108243 An ad from a super PAC attacking Democratic Senate candidate Ted Strickland in Ohio misleads on several counts:

  • The ad quotes Strickland out of context, making it seem that he is calling his own record on taxes and jobs “mixed and spotty.” Strickland was referring specifically to his record on guns.
  • The ad falsely claims that Strickland raised taxes by $800 million. Strickland delayed a scheduled tax cut for a year, but his overall record shows net tax cuts.

The ad comes from Fighting for Ohio Fund, which backs Strickland’s Republican opponent, incumbent Sen. Rob Portman. It attacks Strickland on his record as Ohio governor from January 2007 to January 2011.

“Ted Strickland on his record,” the ad’s narrator begins, and then the ad cuts to a clip of Strickland saying, “My record is mixed and spotty. And I can be criticized for that.”

The ad’s narrator then states, “350,000 jobs lost while Strickland was governor. Jobs lost to Kentucky, Indiana, even to Michigan. Plus $800 million in tax increases.”

The ad then replays Strickland saying, “My record is mixed and spotty. And I can be criticized for that” — to which the ad’s narrator quips, “Well, at least he’s got that right.”

Let’s start with the Strickland quote, which is lifted out of context, and has nothing to do with taxes, jobs or even Strickland’s record more generally — as the ad suggests. Rather, it was narrowly referring to his position on gun control.

‘Mixed and Spotty’

The quote in question comes from an editorial board interview at the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Feb. 25. And the context makes clear Strickland was referring only to his position on gun control.

“Has my position changed over time? It has,” Strickland said. “Can people criticize me for that? Absolutely. You’re not going to find me out there saying my records with guns is not a legitimate … It’s one of many issues that people will look at and make a decision about me and about this race and so on and so forth.”

“But my position has changed,” Strickland said. “I do believe that we need comprehensive background checks.”

Strickland’s stance on guns has changed.

Strickland, who in 2010 boasted an A+ rating from the NRA, voted against the 1994 crime bill, which included an assault weapons ban. In 1993, he voted against the Brady Bill, which featured a requirement for background checks for gun purchases from licensed dealers. And in 2003, he voted in favor of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005, which provided some protections for licensed manufacturers, dealers, sellers of firearms or ammunition, and trade associations from civil lawsuits resulting from the misuse of firearms or ammunition.

But Strickland says he changed his stance after the Sandy Hook shooting at an elementary school in 2012.

His campaign website now says he supports “commonsense and effective ideas to reduce gun violence.” He says, for example, that he would have supported the Toomey-Manchin amendment that would have expanded background checks to private sales by unlicensed individuals at gun shows and over the Internet (with some exceptions) — an amendment that was adamantly opposed by the NRA. Strickland’s website also says he supports legislation that would not allow gun manufacturers and dealers to “hide behind a legal shield that gives them protections from liability enjoyed by virtually no other industry.”

In his interview with the editorial board at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Strickland said he gave up his membership in the NRA about five or six years ago.

“My record is mixed and spotty and I can be criticized for that,” he said.

That’s the context of the quote used in the attack ad.

Jen Detwiler of Steiner Public Relations in Columbus, Ohio, which is handling media questions for Fighting for Ohio Fund, told us, “Ted Strickland’s words speak for themselves.”

Detwiler said, “The spot makes no claim that Strickland’s words refer to jobs or tax increases. He spoke those words, jobs were lost to surrounding states, and taxes increased. Those facts are not disputed.”

Those facts about the increased taxes are disputed, as we will explain. And while Strickland did, in fact, utter those words, the ad misleadingly makes it seem like Strickland’s “mixed and spotty” comment refers either to his record in general, or to taxes and jobs, the two issues raised in the ad, and bookmarked by Strickland’s quote.


The ad misfires with its claim about “$800 million in tax increases” under Strickland. That’s based on Strickland postponing for one year the last year of a planned five-year tax decrease in order to balance the state budget. No one paid higher income tax rates during that freeze year; they just didn’t get the scheduled tax cut.

Here’s the brief history: In 2004, then Gov. Bob Taft signed a multiyear plan to reduce business and individual income taxes. The income tax rate cuts were scheduled to be phased in over five years, with income tax rates ending up 21 percent lower than they were in 2004.

The fifth and final year of the phased-in plan called for a 4.2 percent cut in the income tax rate. But Strickland, facing an $851 million budget shortfall, decided in late 2009 to postpone that cut for a year.

Some Strickland opponents — including Republican John Kasich, who went on to defeat Strickland in the 2010 gubernatorial election — said Strickland’s decision amounted to raising taxes. But Ohioans didn’t pay more in 2009 than they did in 2008. In fact, the Toledo Blade noted in an editorial that some paid less.

Toledo Blade editorial, Oct. 5, 2009: The advantage of putting off the final phase of the tax cut is that it will be hardly noticed. Ohioans won’t pay more for 2009 than 2008 because the indexed personal exemption is due to increase from its current $1,500 to $1,550. In some case, taxpayers might actually owe less.

The ad cites an October 2010 fact-checking article by PolitiFact Ohio that rated as “Mostly True” Kasich’s claim that Strickland “raised taxes last year to the tune of $840 million.” It’s true that Ohioans got a planned tax cut taken away from them for a year. But that’s not the same as a tax increase. Besides, the PolitiFact analysis was a one-year snapshot. It did not consider the net impact on income taxes under Strickland’s governorship. The article also noted that there were “no guarantees” the freeze would be lifted and that promised tax cuts would be delivered the following year. But that final income tax rate cut did happen, and went into effect in January 2011, just before Strickland left office.

In all, the 2005 tax plan resulted in a 21 percent income tax rate decrease. But not all of that was during Strickland’s time in office. In the years Strickland was governor, there was a roughly 13 percent reduction in income tax rates for taxpayers at every income level, according to data from the Ohio Department of Taxation. That resulted in a cumulative decrease of nearly $4 billion in individual income taxes paid during Strickland’s time in office.


Finally, the ad claims there were “350,000 jobs lost while Strickland was governor. Jobs lost to Kentucky, Indiana, even to Michigan.” Ohio lost 367,700 jobs between January 2007 and January 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But keep in mind, Strickland’s time in office included the Great Recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. Most economic experts caution not to place too much blame or praise on governors for state jobs statistics, because those statistics are largely driven by national and regional job trends.

Nationally, the U.S. lost 4.8 percent of its jobs between January 2007 and January 2011 — Strickland’s time in office, and Ohio fared worse than that, losing about 6.8 percent of its jobs. Manufacturing jobs were hit particularly hard during the recession, and states with high numbers of manufacturing jobs, like Ohio, generally fared worse in the recession.

As for Ohio’s neighbors mentioned in the ad, Indiana and Kentucky both saw lower rates of job loss than Ohio did during Strickland’s time in office (5.6 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively). But Michigan had a significantly higher rate of job loss, 8.8 percent.


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Trump on Hairspray and Ozone http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/trump-on-hairspray-and-ozone/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/trump-on-hairspray-and-ozone/#comments Tue, 17 May 2016 21:54:27 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=108247 For at least five years, Donald Trump has been making false claims about hairspray and its impact on the ozone layer. Most recently, the likely Republican presidential nominee made comments at a campaign rally in West Virginia:

  • Trump said “hairspray’s not like it used to be” because chemicals in it that affect the ozone layer have been banned. Many countries began phasing out the ozone-depleting substances in hairspray in the late 1980s, but these regulations wouldn’t affect the quality of hairspray.
  • He also said using hairspray in his apartment, “which is all sealed,” would prevent any ozone-depleting substances from escaping into the environment. But these chemicals would still make their way out, multiple experts told us.

Hairspray is made up of chemicals that make hair stiff and a propellant. Hairspray and many other aerosols used chlorofluorocarbons as propellants until many major countries began phasing out these chemicals after the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987. CFCs are potent ozone-depleting substances.

SciCHECKsquare_4-e1430162915812In the place of CFCs, many countries started using hydrochlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons as propellants in aerosols. CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs are all potent greenhouse gases. But HCFCs are about 5 percent to 10 percent as potent at depleting ozone as CFCs, while HFCs are generally not thought of as ozone-depleting substances. Though still used in other forms, HCFCs were phased out of aerosols in the United States in 1994, while HFCs still remain in use.

Trump has made claims about hairspray and the ozone layer at least three times. Back in 2011 in Sydney, he implied the “eight-inch concrete floors” and “eight-inch concrete walls” of Trump Tower would prevent hairspray from “destroying the ozone that’s 400 miles up in the air.” In December 2015, at a campaign rally in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Trump also said he doesn’t “think anything gets out” of his “sealed” apartment when he uses hairspray.

On May 5, 2016, at a campaign rally in Charleston, Trump implied that the regulations on hairspray and coal mining are both unwarranted. At the rally, an official from the West Virginia Coal Association endorsed Trump and presented him with a hard hat. Trump tried on the hat, which prompted him to talk about his hair:

Trump, May 5: Give me a little spray. … You know you’re not allowed to use hairspray anymore because it affects the ozone, you know that, right? I said, you mean to tell me, cause you know hairspray’s not like it used to be, it used to be real good. … Today you put the hairspray on, it’s good for 12 minutes, right. … So if I take hairspray and I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you’re telling me that affects the ozone layer? “Yes.” I say no way folks. No way. No way. That’s like a lot of the rules and regulations you people have in the mines, right, it’s the same kind of stuff.

We contacted Trump’s campaign for comment, but it hasn’t responded. If someone does get back to us, we will update this report accordingly. In the next sections, we’ll outline how and why many countries agreed to phase out CFCs and replace them with HCFCs and HFCs. We’ll also explain why using hairspray inside wouldn’t prevent ozone-depleting substances from reaching the atmosphere, as Trump claimed.

Countries Agree to Ban CFCs

First developed in the 1930s under the trade name Freon, CFCs were originally assumed to be safe for the environment. For this reason, CFCs made their way into a slew of household items, from the coolants used in refrigerators to Styrofoam to aerosols like hairspray.

But in the 1970s researchers began questioning the safety of these chemicals. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, chemists at the University of California, Irvine at the time, discovered that CFCs were capable of depleting the ozone layer — winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995 for their work.

Then in the 1980s, scientists realized the ice particles in clouds over the Artic and Antarctic sped up the process Molina and Rowland originally discovered. Joseph Farman, a geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey at the time, and researchers at NASA found a hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica that was roughly the size of the United States.

How do CFCs deplete the ozone layer? When a CFC molecule makes it to the stratosphere, solar radiation breaks it down, leaving behind a lone chlorine atom. The chlorine atom (Cl) then reacts with an ozone molecule (O3), leaving behind chlorine oxide (ClO) and oxygen (O2). In fact, Molina discovered that one chlorine atom could start a chain reaction that would lead to the break up of around 100,000 ozone molecules.

First off, a CFC molecule doesn’t have 400 miles to travel to reach the ozone layer, as Trump claimed in 2011. About 90 percent of the ozone layer can be found between 6 to 10 miles above the earth’s surface, with the last 10 percent of the ozone layer extending as far as 30 miles above the surface. The stratosphere spans 5.5 to 30 miles above the earth’s surface.

Second, a depleted ozone layer is no small matter. A weakened ozone layer leads to an increase in ultraviolet radiation, which then brings about higher rates of skin cancer, cataracts and immune system problems in human populations. Increased UV radiation can also disrupt vital processes in plants and marine ecosystems.

The gravity of the issue prompted policymakers globally to sign the Montreal Protocol on Sept. 16, 1987. The agreement took effect on Jan. 1, 1989, and aimed to reduce the production and use of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances. However, the protocol has been amended six times to take into consideration new scientific information and accelerate reductions in CFC and HCFC use. First signed by 46 countries, the protocol now has close to 200 signatories, including the United States.

In 2014, five international entities, including the United Nations Environmental Program and NASA, published a report that found actions “taken under the Montreal Protocol have led to decreases in the atmospheric abundance of controlled ozone-depleting substances (ODSs), and are enabling the return of the ozone layer toward 1980 levels.” In fact, the report states the recovery of the ozone layer is “expected to occur before midcentury in midlatitudes and the Arctic, and somewhat later for the Antarctic ozone hole.”

In short, the propellants used in hairspray and other substances, CFCs in particular, have been banned. But the chemicals that make hair stiff weren’t subject to these regulations. And CFCs were banned for good reason, despite Trump’s implication. Regulations implemented with the Montreal Protocol appear to be reversing the damage done to the ozone layer by CFCs in hairspray and other substances.

HFCs: For Better and For Worse

While hairspray no longer uses CFCs to propel the stiffening agent out of the can, it does use other chemicals as propellants that are potent greenhouse gases — namely HFCs.

In fact, the aforementioned 2014 report also found that “climate benefits of the Montreal Protocol could be significantly offset by projected emissions of HFCs used to replace” ozone-depleting substances.

Today HFC use (in hairspray and otherwise) “makes a small contribution” to greenhouse gas emissions each year, explain the report authors. But emissions from HFCs “are currently growing at a rate of about 7% per year” and increasing demand could result in HFC emissions reaching levels “nearly as high as the peak emission of CFCs” by 2050.

To be clear, CFCs are detrimental to the environment for at least two reasons — they efficiently deplete ozone and they are potent greenhouse gases. That is, they contribute to global warming. HFCs, on the other hand, do not contribute to ozone depletion directly and efficiently like CFCs. But they still negatively impact the climate as greenhouse gases.

Margaret M. Hurwitz, an atmospheric scientist at NASA, and others found that HFCs may indirectly contribute to ozone depletion by modifying atmospheric temperatures and circulation.

Speaking about her Oct. 22, 2015, study published in Geophysical Research Letters, Hurwitz told Phys.org that her results don’t suggest “HFCs are an existential threat to the ozone layer.” Still, “HFCs are, in fact, weak ozone-depleting substances,” she said.

Hurwitz also explained to us by email that “[p]er unit mass, CFC-11 causes about 400 times more depletion of the protective stratospheric ozone than the HFCs, while HCFC-22 causes 8 times more ozone depletion” than HFCs, for example. So the effect of HFCs on the ozone layer is significantly less than that of CFCs, but it’s not zero.

In addition, Steve Montzka, a chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reiterated to us by email, “It was never the stiffening agent in the spray that caused the problem [with the ozone layer], it was the propellant.” We can’t comment on whether “hairspray’s not like it used to be,” as Trump claimed. But we can say changes in hairspray quality wouldn’t be a result of the replacement of CFCs with HFCs due to regulations on the former.

Trump’s Not-So-Sealed Apartment

We also asked Montzka whether using hairspray inside would prevent CFCs or HFCs from having an effect on the ozone layer compared with using it outside, as Trump claimed. “It makes absolutely no difference!” he said. If you spray these chemicals “inside your house or apartment, it will eventually make it outside.”

“These gases cannot and are not confined to the kitchen or bedroom; they mix, diffuse, and are moved out of the local release area to be transported throughout the lower atmosphere (over months) before they are transported upward to the stratosphere,” where the ozone layer is located, David Fahey, a physicist at NOAA, told us in an email.

In sum, the “eight-inch concrete floors” and “eight-inch concrete walls” of Trump Tower wouldn’t prevent the propellants in hairspray from reaching the ozone layer, which is 6 to 30 miles, not 400 miles, above the earth’s surface. This means Trump’s hairspray use over the years has either directly (through CFCs) or indirectly (HFCs) contributed to the depletion of the ozone layer, albeit to a very small extent, despite what he has claimed.

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.


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