Trump’s alternative reality

President Trump “goes there, on just about every topic imaginable,” as NBC’s Brian Williams put it, during a pair of Q&As, two hours apart yesterday — one in the Cabinet Room and one with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Rose Garden.

Why it matters: It’s almost impossible for the media to cover these press conferences — or for Republicans to discern what he wants and how he plans to get it — because Trump spreads fake news while calling real news fake. This isn’t new. And, yes, 35% of voters don’t seem to care. But that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

A look at Trump’s alternative reality:

Trump says he and McConnell are “closer than ever before.” Both men and their staffs have been trashing each other in public and private for months.
Trump says other presidents “didn’t make calls” to families of soldiers killed in duty. They did.
Trump says Obamacare is “dead.” His repeated efforts to repeal it failed.
Trump says it’s been established that “no collusion” took place with the Russians. Bob Mueller is interrogating the president’s associates and advisers on this very point in real time.
Trump says he’s on a historic pace of accomplishment. He’s not.
Trump says he “already” has “the votes right now” for a bipartisan health care fix. He doesn’t.

Sound smart: The damnedest thing is not a single bullet point I just wrote is disputable — while every one of those things the president said was.

Yesterday’s keepers:

On GOP senators: “I’m not going to blame myself, I’ll be honest. They are not getting the job done.”
“Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone. It’s no longer — you shouldn’t even mention. It’s gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore.”
On Steve Bannon’s war on McConnell and the Republican establishment: “Steve is … a friend of mine … I can understand where Steve Bannon is coming from. … I know how he feels. … There are some Republicans, frankly, that should be ashamed of themselves.”
On whether he’s considering firing Mueller: “No, not at all.”
“Oh, I hope Hillary runs. Is she going to run? I hope. Hillary, please run again.”

P.S. Bannon tells me by email: “McConnell and the GOP Establishment have sown the wind — now be prepared the reap the whirlwind.”

President Trump continues to publicly belittle big media organizations as “fake news,” but in Washington, his administration’s moves are a boon to big media companies. Telecom and technology companies are being deregulated while smaller media companies worry about their ability to survive.

Why it matters: On the campaign trail, populist Candidate Trump vowed to “break up the new media conglomerate oligopolies” and to shut down the biggest media deal of the year. But President Trump’s administration has actually encouraged consolidation as part of its deregulatory blitz.

Consider:

The number of announced media deals rose under the new administration, per PwC, with both the first and second quarter eclipsing the final year of the Obama administration in deal volume — as well as much of 2015.

While analysts say changes in viewing habits are driving consolidation in the media industry, they also say that’s being helped along by the administration’s deregulatory stance.

Google and Facebook are growing bigger than ever: Trump told Axios earlier this year that Facebook’s dominance didn’t concern him, because the platform enables him to communicate directly with the American people.

From regulators to Republican lawmakers, there has been little appetite to take on the companies beyond mandating more transparency for political ads — something that’s grounded in national security concerns, not antitrust doctrine.

Who’s benefited?

The telecom companies. Ajit Pai’s FCC is well on its way to repealing net neutrality regulations and given the green light to arrangements that give free data to customers who use certain applications or services. And Republican lawmakers voted to repeal privacy regulations for the companies.
Broadcasters — particularly the Trump-friendly Sinclair. The FCC removed a key regulatory hurdle for local news consolidation, clearing the way for Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune’s stations.
Google and Facebook. The titans of the internet are taking tons of flak on Capitol Hill over the role they may have played in Russian election meddling. But President Trump has been quiet about it and hasn’t acknowledged that there was Russian election meddling in the first place. Meanwhile, his antitrust regulators don’t seem interested in pursuing the companies despite pressure from the left.

Yes, but: The good fortunes of a select few big media companies shouldn’t obscure the fact that Trump is using his office to carry out grudges against individuals reporters and outlets for reporting things he doesn’t like.

Just last week he said — twice! — that licenses for NBC stations should be challenged and potentially revoked. His media regulator, Pai, was silent — despite earlier this year declaring himself a defender of the free press in response to questions about the president’s attacks.

The portion of Americans who think things are going well in the U.S. dropped from 53% in August to 46% in mid-October, according to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS between October 12-15.

Trump’s approval rating is 37% now, the same as it was in late September (Gallup reports it was 37% between September 25-October 1). His disapproval rating is 57% now. 32% approve of the way Trump is dealing with Republicans in Congress.

The assertion Trump made in the Rose Garden yesterday claiming that “President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls” to the families of fallen soldiers was quickly refuted. Challenged in real time by NBC’s Peter Alexander on how he could say Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers, Trump backtracked.

ABC’s Jon Karl, on “World News Tonight,” had rebuttals from aides to the last three presidents, shooting down Trump’s false claims: “A spokesperson… said that President Obama engaged the families of the fallen and wounded warriors throughout his presidency through calls, letters, visits to Section 60 at Arlington, visits to Walter Reed, visits to Dover, and regular meetings with Gold Star families at the White House and across the country.”

How it started: Asked during his press conference why he hadn’t spoken about the Green Berets killed in Niger 12 days earlier, Trump said: “I’ve written [the families] personal letters. They’ve been sent, or they’re going out tonight, but they were written during the weekend. I will, at some point during the period of time, call the parents and the families… if you look at President Obama and other Presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls.”

Trump backtracking in response to Alexander’s rebuttal: “I don’t know if [Obama] did. … I was told that he didn’t often. And a lot of Presidents don’t; they write letters… I do a combination of both… [S]ome Presidents didn’t do anything.”

Rebuttals from Clinton and Bush aides on ABC’s “World News Tonight”:

“An aide to President Clinton said that President Clinton did place calls to the fallen.”
“A spokesperson for George W. Bush said President Bush wrote all the families of the fallen, and called or met privately with hundreds, if not thousands.”

Teens overwhelmingly prefer Snapchat to any other social media platform, according to Piper Jaffray’s 34th semi-annual Teens research survey. Forty-seven percent of teens indicated that Snapchat is their favorite social platform, while only 24% of teens indicated Instagram was their favorite platform.
Data: Piper Jaffray, The Taking Stock With Teens survey; Note: Survey of 6,100 teens with an average age of 16 years; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Why it matters: Investors were initially bearish on Snapchat after Instagram launched a rival “Stories” feature, which put a dent in Snap’s user growth. But now Snapchat is proving that its focus on engagement over scale can lead to more opportunities for advertisers. A recent analysis by MarketingLand shows that advertisers have more opportunities to reach 13- to 17-year-olds with ads on Snapchat than they do on rival properties, like Facebook or Instagram.

One philosophical thing: Snapchat is focused on connecting people with their top 5-8 closest connections. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told Axios’ Mike Allen last week that their strategy is the exact opposite. Facebook connects people to their “weak ties,” or people they aren’t close to, Sandberg said.

Trump said “that he will declare a national emergency next week to address the opioid epidemic and declined to express confidence in Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), his nominee for drug czar, in the wake of revelations [joint WashPost/’60 Minutes’] that the lawmaker helped steer legislation making it harder to act against giant drug companies,” reports the Post lead story.

Why it matters: The report “detailed how a targeted lobbying effort helped weaken the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to go after drug distributors, even as opioid-related deaths continue to rise.”

More from WaPo’s report:

“The president … said he had not yet spoken with Marino about the … report, but if he determines that Marino’s work was detrimental to the administration’s goal of combating opioid addiction, ‘I will make a change.'”
“Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who is running for the Senate in a state that has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, is … fielding attacks for being a lead sponsor of Marino’s bill.”

Stat du jour: “The CBS Evening News” said nearly 13 million people saw the “60 Minutes” segment. Trump has been a longtime “60 Minutes” watcher, and he said yesterday that he “saw the report.”

President Trump “goes there, on just about every topic imaginable,” as NBC’s Brian Williams put it, during a pair of Q&As, two hours apart yesterday — one in the Cabinet Room and one with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Rose Garden.

Why it matters: It’s almost impossible for the media to cover these press conferences — or for Republicans to discern what he wants and how he plans to get it — because Trump spreads fake news while calling real news fake. This isn’t new. And, yes, 35% of voters don’t seem to care. But that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

A look at Trump’s alternative reality:

Trump says he and McConnell are “closer than ever before.” Both men and their staffs have been trashing each other in public and private for months.
Trump says other presidents “didn’t make calls” to families of soldiers killed in duty. They did.
Trump says Obamacare is “dead.” His repeated efforts to repeal it failed.
Trump says it’s been established that “no collusion” took place with the Russians. Bob Mueller is interrogating the president’s associates and advisers on this very point in real time.
Trump says he’s on a historic pace of accomplishment. He’s not.
Trump says he “already” has “the votes right now” for a bipartisan health care fix. He doesn’t.

Sound smart: The damnedest thing is not a single bullet point I just wrote is disputable — while every one of those things the president said was.

Yesterday’s keepers:

On GOP senators: “I’m not going to blame myself, I’ll be honest. They are not getting the job done.”
“Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone. It’s no longer — you shouldn’t even mention. It’s gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore.”
On Steve Bannon’s war on McConnell and the Republican establishment: “Steve is … a friend of mine … I can understand where Steve Bannon is coming from. … I know how he feels. … There are some Republicans, frankly, that should be ashamed of themselves.”
On whether he’s considering firing Mueller: “No, not at all.”
“Oh, I hope Hillary runs. Is she going to run? I hope. Hillary, please run again.”

P.S. Bannon tells me by email: “McConnell and the GOP Establishment have sown the wind — now be prepared the reap the whirlwind.”
In this photo from Nov. 21, 1951, sixth-grade students crouch under or beside their desks — along with their teacher, Vincent M. Bohan — as they act out a scene from the Federal Civil Defense Administration film “Duck and Cover” at Public School 152 in Queens, New York.
Why it matters: For some baby boomers, North Korea’s nuclear advances and Trump’s response have prompted flashbacks to a time when they were young, and when they prayed each night that they might awaken the next morning, AP pointed out this summer. For their children, the North Korean crisis is a taste of what the Cold War was like.

Save this tape: “North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador warned … that the situation on the Korean peninsula ‘has reached the touch-and-go point and a nuclear war may break out any moment.'” (AP)

N.Y. Times, from Seoul: “The United States military said … that it would practice evacuating noncombatant Americans out of South Korea … It has conducted similar evacuation exercises for decades.”
“But with fears rising in the South that the United States might be preparing for military action against the North, the American military issued a rare news release … stressing that [it] was a ‘routinely scheduled’ drill. The drill, known as Courageous Channel, is scheduled from next Monday through Friday.”

Netflix blew past user growth expectations, reporting Monday that it added 5.3 million new subscribers last quarter, upwards of 1 million more than expected.

Why it matters: Hitting revenue estimates is a big win for Netflix, given that it poured a ton of money into programming investments (more below), as opposed to focusing on profit. It’s also another reminder for Pay-TV providers and TV networks that the traditional cable bundle can’t compete with the power of on-demand.

“It’s increasingly clear that the price/value of the legacy video bundle is unsustainable,” says BTIG’ media analyst Rich Greenfield. “Netflix is growing subscriptions at higher prices, driving more money to spend on content — a virtuous circle.”

Investors are thrilled: Netflix stock reached an all-time high in after-hours trading Monday after the network proved it could continue strong user growth internationally. Its U.S. subscription growth has been slowing in the U.S., but that’s because its user base is pretty saturated in North America.

In total, it added 850,000 new U.S. subscribers and 4.45 million new international subscribers.
Netflix predicts that it will add 6.3 million new subscribers next quarter, which would bring its total to 111.2 million paid subscribers globally.
The company also continued to beat expectations on revenue, although profit came in slightly lower than anticipated.

What’s next? Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos on Monday’s earnings said call the tech giant is inching closer towards producing daily new, original content and will invest a lot more in original films: “We plan on (releasing) about 80 (original films) coming up next year and they range anywhere from the million-dollar Sundance hit, all the way up to something on a much larger scale.”
Data: Kagan, S&P Global Market Intelligence (Netflix, Amazon and Hulu’s programming costs are amortized); Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Netflix spends more on content than nearly every legacy network: Netflix announced its earnings just days after revealing it would raise its subscription fees by $1 to $11 monthly, likely to subsidize increased content costs.

More U.S. households pay for Netflix than Amazon or Hulu. Per Nielsen, 51.2% of U.S. households subscribe to Netflix, which is far more than its subscription rivals. (Amazon Prime is in 28.6% of U.S. households, while Hulu Plus is in 12.7% of U.S. households.)

Users spend more time on Netflix than its top three streaming rivals combined: Netflix accounts for nearly half of the internet streaming time spent by adults in the U.S., according to Nielsen data.

Netflix – 46%
Youtube – 15%
Hulu – 8%
Amazon – 4%
Other – 28%

President Trump continues to publicly belittle big media organizations as “fake news,” but in Washington, his administration’s moves are a boon to big media companies. Telecom and technology companies are being deregulated while smaller media companies worry about their ability to survive.

Why it matters: On the campaign trail, populist Candidate Trump vowed to “break up the new media conglomerate oligopolies” and to shut down the biggest media deal of the year. But President Trump’s administration has actually encouraged consolidation as part of its deregulatory blitz.

Consider:

The number of announced media deals rose under the new administration, per PwC, with both the first and second quarter eclipsing the final year of the Obama administration in deal volume — as well as much of 2015.

While analysts say changes in viewing habits are driving consolidation in the media industry, they also say that’s being helped along by the administration’s deregulatory stance.

Google and Facebook are growing bigger than ever: Trump told Axios earlier this year that Facebook’s dominance didn’t concern him, because the platform enables him to communicate directly with the American people.

From regulators to Republican lawmakers, there has been little appetite to take on the companies beyond mandating more transparency for political ads — something that’s grounded in national security concerns, not antitrust doctrine.

Who’s benefited?

The telecom companies. Ajit Pai’s FCC is well on its way to repealing net neutrality regulations and given the green light to arrangements that give free data to customers who use certain applications or services. And Republican lawmakers voted to repeal privacy regulations for the companies.
Broadcasters — particularly the Trump-friendly Sinclair. The FCC removed a key regulatory hurdle for local news consolidation, clearing the way for Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune’s stations.
Google and Facebook. The titans of the internet are taking tons of flak on Capitol Hill over the role they may have played in Russian election meddling. But President Trump has been quiet about it and hasn’t acknowledged that there was Russian election meddling in the first place. Meanwhile, his antitrust regulators don’t seem interested in pursuing the companies despite pressure from the left.

Yes, but: The good fortunes of a select few big media companies shouldn’t obscure the fact that Trump is using his office to carry out grudges against individuals reporters and outlets for reporting things he doesn’t like.

Just last week he said — twice! — that licenses for NBC stations should be challenged and potentially revoked. His media regulator, Pai, was silent — despite earlier this year declaring himself a defender of the free press in response to questions about the president’s attacks.

Chinese interests are coming up all over a fight playing out within America’s solar industry about how the Trump administration should address a flood of cheap solar imports, coming mostly from China or Chinese-owned companies.

Why it matters: The dynamic reveals how widespread Chinese interests are in clean energy, and in particular solar manufacturing, a space it has dominated since at least 2010. President Trump has said he wants to reverse decades of open-trade policies to help protect American jobs and manufacturing. It would take huge policy changes and a lot of time to reduce China’s dominance.

Driving the news: The International Trade Commission is considering what type of trade remedy to recommend President Trump employ to address the cheap solar imports. The independent federal agency unanimously voted in September that those imports have economically injured two U.S.-based but foreign-owned solar manufacturers. Trump will ultimately decide whether to impose tariffs or another kind of remedy, and most expect he will given his protectionist bent.

China on one side: One of the companies asking for trade protections, Suniva, is Georgia-based but is majority owned by a Chinese company. The company was trying to manufacture in the United States and recoup costs after filing for bankruptcy earlier this year. That’s what fueled its decision to join the trade case brought by German-owned but Oregon-based SolarWorld Americas.

To make the situation even more complicated, the majority Chinese owner of the company, Shunfeng International Clean Energy Ltd., told the ITC it doesn’t want the remedies, but the company itself is pushing hard for them.

China on the other side: A Chinese trade group, the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products, has issued briefs backing arguments against the trade remedies by the Solar Energy Industries Association, a U.S. trade group. SEIA opposes the two companies’ push because the cheap imports have fueled a boom in most parts of the industry other than manufacturing, including engineering and installation jobs.

“Chinese solar panels are absolutely critical to the U.S. market and the overall U.S. solar industry,” said Spencer Griffith, a lawyer at Akin Gump who represents the Chinese group in the case. “U.S. producers of cells and modules cannot come close to satisfying U.S. demand, and the draconian remedies the petitioners propose would cripple the U.S. market and U.S. demand.”

Hypocrisy on both sides:

Mutual support between the U.S. and Chinese trade groups as well as advertising campaigns pushed by U.S. groups led a top executive at Suniva to publicly allege last week that SEIA was doing the bidding of China.
A SEIA spokesman said SEIA has close to a 1,000 member companies and only a dozen or so are China-based companies. “We proudly represent America’s solar industry,” said spokesman Dan Whitten. “The notion that we advocate primarily for Chinese interests is laughable and a stunning allegation from a company that itself is majority-owned by a Chinese company.”

China on yet another side: The Justice Department in 2014 indicted Chinese military hackers for what DOJ said at the time was cyber espionage against U.S. corporations, including SolarWorld, for commercial advantage. A top SolarWorld Americas executive testified about that case earlier this month to the United States Trade Representative. That hearing was part of the Trump administration’s investigation into alleged Chinese violations of intellectual property, so expect this issue to resurface.

Go deeper: Check out Amy’s latest Harder Line column on this topic, and this E&E story for a deep dive into Suniva’s ownership.

The GOP tax plan framework, released last month, almost undoubtedly benefits the wealthy — and that’s largely because of the corporate tax provisions. “It’s not that this tax plan is a huge direct tax cut to rich individuals, it’s that it’s a huge tax cut to businesses, and those businesses are owned by rich individuals,” said Marc Goldwein of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Yes, but: Conservative economists emphasize that while the wealthy may directly benefit the most from corporate tax cuts, workers will ultimately benefit too from higher wages and more jobs. That’s the argument that will really drive the debate when Congress considers the tax plan.
Data: Tax Policy Center; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

What you need to know about the GOP plan: It makes changes to all aspects of the tax code. Here are a few major provisions:

Condenses the individual tax code into three brackets: 12, 25 and 35 percent. (It hasn’t yet defined which incomes qualify for what bracket.) It leaves the potential for a fourth rate on the highest earners.
Reduces the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent.
Allows immediate writing off of capital investments for five years.
Establishes a “pass-through” business rate of 25 percent. Currently, pass-through business income is taxed at filers’ individual rate.

Why the wealthy benefit: Economists generally don’t dispute that in an immediate sense, the GOP tax plan disproportionately benefits the wealthy.

Reducing the pass-through rate is a pretty straightforward benefit to the wealthy. Under the new tax structure, only higher-income people being taxed at the 35 percent rate will benefit from a lower (25 percent) pass-through rate.
Economists disagree about who pays what amount of corporate taxes. But it’s generally accepted that shareholders and capital owners pay more of the corporate tax than workers, so therefore would benefit more from a tax reduction than workers would.
On the other hand, of course the wealthy benefit from tax cuts— they pay much more in taxes than lower income people, who often don’t pay any taxes. “You cannot do individual income tax policy without talking about the affluent because they’re the ones who pay tax,” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum. Wealthier people also own businesses.

A Council of Economic Advisers report released yesterday found that reducing the corporate tax rate to 20 percent would increase average household income by $4,000 a year. (Liberal economists disagreed.)
When corporate rates are lowered, this results in more jobs, higher wages and more benefits, former Senate Finance aide Chris Condeluci told me. “As more people are spending money in the economy, it’s almost like a rising-tides-raises-all-boats,” he said.
However, different income brackets may see results at different times. “The corporate cuts today benefit today’s shareholders, and the effects for workers will take a very long time to show up,” said Adam Looney of the Brookings Institution.
Some say if the plan increases the federal debt, this cancels out benefits to the middle class. “Higher debt depresses wage growth,” Goldwein said.
Economists generally agree that the provision of the plan allowing faster write-offs for capital investments will have a large positive impact on workers.

The politics: It’s going to be hard for Republicans to escape from being accused of cutting taxes for the wealthy, because they are. But conservatives strongly believe this is how to best help the middle class, even if they won’t win the short-term politics of the issue.

Acknowledging this, Holtz-Eakin said, “All you have to do is get 51 votes in the Senate, and then the economy will win the political argument.”

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