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The first data showing how all Americans are faring under Donald Trump reveal the poor and working classes sinking slightly, the middle class treading water, the upper-middle class growing and the richest, well, luxuriating in rising rivers of greenbacks.

More than half of Americans had to make ends meet in 2018 on less money than in 2016, my analysis of new income and tax data shows.


The nearly 87 million taxpayers making less than $50,000 had to get by in 2018 on $307 less per household than in 2016, the year before Trump took office, I find.

That 57 percent of American households were better off under Obama contradicts Trump's often-repeated claim he created the best economy ever until the pandemic.

Trump policies help the prosperous and rich, including half a million rich people who are not even filing tax returns yet are not being pursued as tax cheats.

The worsened economic situation for more than half of Americans contradicts Trump's frequent claims that he is the champion of the "forgotten man" and his vow that "every decision" on taxes "will be made to benefit American workers and American families."

The figures in this story come from my annual analysis of IRS data known as Table 1.4. The income figures are pre-tax money that must be reported on tax returns. I adjusted the 2016 data to reflect inflation of 4.1 percent between 2016 and 2018 (slightly more than 2 percent a year).

This is the first data on the first full year when Trump was president. It also is the first year of the Radical Republican tax system overhaul, passed in December 2017. The Trump tax law, the most significant tax policy change since 1986, was passed without a single public hearing or a single Democratic vote.

Trump policies overwhelmingly favor the top seven percent of Americans. And, oh, do they benefit!

Prosperous and rich people, the data reveal, include half a million who are not even filing tax returns. Yet they are not being pursued as tax cheats, a separate report shows.

The number of households enjoying incomes of $200,000 or more soared by more than 20 percent. The number of taxpayers making $10 million or more soared 37 percent to a record 22,112 households.

The Trump/Republican tax savings were highly concentrated up the income ladder with hardly any tax savings going to the working poor and only a smidgen to the middle class.

Those making $50,000 to $100,000 for example, paid just three-fourths of 1 percentage point less of their incomes to our federal government. People making $2 million to $2.5 million saw their effective tax rate fall by about three times that much.

Now let's compare two groups, those making $50,000 to $100,000 and those declaring $500,000 to $1 million. The second group averaged nine times as much income as the first group in 2018.

Under the Trump tax law, the first group's annual income taxes declined on average by $143, while the second group's tax reduction averaged $17,800.

Put another way, a group that made nine times as much money enjoyed about 125 times as much in income tax savings.

This disparity helps explain Trump's support among money-conscious high-income Americans. But given the tiny tax benefits for most Americans, along with cuts in government services, it is surprising Trump enjoys significant support among people making less than $200,000.

But realize none of the biggest news organizations do the kind of analysis you are reading, at least not since I left The New York Times a dozen years ago. Instead, the major news organizations quote Trump's claims and others' challenges without citing details.

The figures I cite here understate actual incomes at the top for two reasons. One is that loopholes and Congressional favors allow many rich and superrich Americans to report much less income than they actually enjoy. Often they get to defer for years or decades reporting income earned today.

Second, with Trump's support Congress has cut IRS staffing so deeply that the service cannot even pursue growing armies of rich people who have stopped filing tax returns. The sharp decline in IRS auditing means tax cheating—always a low-risk crime—has become much less risky.

In the three years ending in 2016, the IRS identified 879,415 high-income Americans who did not even bother to file. These tax cheats owed an estimated $45.7 billion in taxes, the treasury inspector general for Tax Administration reported May 29.

Under Trump more than half a million cases of high-income Americans who didn't file a tax return "will likely not be pursued," the inspector general wrote.

One of the Koch brothers was under IRS criminal investigation until Trump assumed office and the agency abruptly dropped the case. DCReport's five-part series last year showed, from a thousand pages of documents, that William Ingraham Koch, who lives one door away from Mar-a-Lago, is collecting more than $100 million a year without paying income taxes.

Trump's tax law will require at least $1.5 trillion in added federal debt because it falls far short of paying for itself through increased economic growth even without the pandemic. Most of the tax savings were showered on rich Americans and the corporations they control. Most of the negative effects will fall on the middle class and poor Americans in the form of Trump's efforts to reduce government services.

The 2017 income tax law caused only a slight decline in the share of adjusted gross income that Americans paid to Uncle Sam, known as the effective tax rate. Adjusted gross income is the last line on the front page of your tax return and is in the measure used in my analysis.

The overall effective tax rate slipped from 14.7 percent under Obama to 14.2 percent under Trump.

In what might seem at first blush a curious development, Americans making more than $10 million received a below-average cut in their effective tax rate. The effective tax rate for these 22,000 households declined by less than half a percent.

The reason for that smaller-than-average decline is that these super-rich Americans depend less on paychecks and much more on capital gains and dividends that have long been taxed at lower rates than paycheck earnings.

The new tax data also show a sharp shift away from income from work and toward income from investments, a trend which bodes poorly for working people but very nicely for those who control businesses, invest in stocks and have other sources of income from capital.

Overall the share of American income from wages and salaries fell significantly, from almost 71 percent in 2016 to less than 68 percent in 2018.

Meanwhile, if you look just at the slice of the American income pie derived from business ownership and investments, it expanded by nearly one-tenth in two years. Income from such investments is highly concentrated among the richest Americans.

There's one more enlightening and perhaps infuriating detail I sussed from the IRS data.

The number of households making $1 million or more but paying no income taxes soared 41 percent under the new Trump tax law. Under Obama, there were just 394 such households. With Trump, this grew to 556 households making on average $3.5 million without contributing one cent to our government.

Again, Trump seems to have forgotten all about the Forgotten Man. But he's busy doing all he can to help the rich, then stick you with their tax bills.

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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

Screenshot from azaudit.org

As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template


In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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Michael Carvajal

Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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