AP Fact Check: Trump Wrong on Black Homeownership, Trade, Wages

In his rally Friday night, President Donald Trump falsely stated that black homeownership has hit a record high under his stewardship and made the dubious claim that he set Canada’s prime minister straight on the state of trade between the two countries.

Trump spoke in Pensacola, Florida, across the state line from Alabama. Trump looked back on his months in office and overstated his achievements during more than an hour of boasting.

A look at some of his statements:

Black homeownership

TRUMP, surveying the crowd: “Look at these guys, ‘blacks for Trump.’ I love you. I love you. By the way, now that you bring it up, black homeownership just hit the highest level it has ever been in the history of our country. Congratulations.”

THE FACTS: Not true or even close.

The U.S. Census finds that the black homeownership rate peaked during 2004, when 49.7 percent of black households owned homes (the rate for all races that year reached 69.2 percent, also a modern record). The black homeownership rate stayed in similar territory until the recession, when it dropped to the mid-40s.

This year: 42.7 percent in the first quarter, 42.3 percent in the second and 42 percent in the third. That’s an uptick from last year but far from a record. Quarterly rates this year for the total U.S. population: 63.6 percent, 63.7 percent and 63.9 percent.

​Signed legislation

TRUMP: “Working with Republicans in Congress we’ve already signed 88 pieces of legislation. We get no credit. They always say, well, President Trump really needs this tax bill because he hasn’t passed any legislation. Well, so far in 10 months we’ve passed more during this period of time than any other president in the history of our country and the second — let’s call runner up — is Harry Truman, was second.”

THE FACTS: Trump’s first-year legislative record pales next to that of a variety of presidents (Franklin Roosevelt, with his New Deal, signed 14 historic laws in his first 100 days). The tax package Trump may soon sign would mark his first major legislative achievement after months of false starts and frustrations on health care and more. His promised infrastructure initiative got sidelined but appears in the offing.

Trump signed a law strengthening accountability at the Veterans Affairs Department, used executive orders to roll back Obama-era regulations and policies and, perhaps most significantly, won confirmation of a conservative Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch. But legislatively, his record is thin, despite having Republican majorities in Congress.

All presidents sign plenty of bills that have little consequence; most don’t make so much of it. Among Trump’s routine signings: naming a Veterans Affairs health clinic in Butler County, Pennsylvania, after Bataan Death March survivor Abie Abraham, appointing a regent at the Smithsonian Institution, naming a federal building and courthouse in Nashville, Tennessee, after late Sen. Fred Thompson.

​Trudeau and trade

TRUMP on a conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about trade: “He said, ‘I’m telling you that Canada has a deficit with the United States.’ I told my people, in front of a lot of people, I said, go out and check — and he was right. Except he forgot two categories — lumber, timber and energy. Other than that, he was right. When you add them altogether we actually have a $17 billion deficit with Canada, right? So, he forgot a couple of categories that he didn’t want to mention.”

THE FACTS: Trump’s accounting is puzzling and at odds with U.S. trade statistics.

Trudeau is right that the U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada, according to those numbers.

“Exports were $320.1 billion; imports were $307.6 billion,” says the U.S. trade representative’s office. “The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016.”

The U.S. ran a $12.1 billion deficit with Canada in trade on goods. That was offset by a $24.6 billion surplus in trade of services.

Trump may have been ignoring services — half of the equation on trade — but if so his numbers still don’t match his government’s.

​Critics in Washington

TRUMP on his critics in Washington: “They will lie and leak and smear because they don’t want to accept the results of an election where we won by a landslide.”

THE FACTS: His win was far from a landslide.

His winning margin in the Electoral College is far closer to the narrowest win in history than to the widest.

The final Electoral College margin was Trump 306, Hillary Clinton 232, for a winning percentage of just less than 57 percent. That ranks the 2016 election as the 13th closest of the 58 presidential elections in U.S. history, according to a tally by Claremont McKenna College political scientist John Pitney. Barack Obama won both of his presidential elections with bigger Electoral College margins: 61 percent in 2008 and 62 percent in 2012. Trump’s margin was narrower than all but two of the last 10 presidential elections, those of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

As well, he lost the popular vote to Clinton.

Wealth creation

TRUMP: “Since the election, we have created more than $5 trillion in new economic wealth just in the stock market alone. We’re not including real estate and other values, $5 trillion.”

THE FACTS: According to the Federal Reserve, household wealth has risen by about $5 trillion since the end of last year, but that figure does include home values. Either way, stock ownership is highly concentrated in the United States, so a rising market is mostly benefiting a limited population. Ten percent of Americans owned 84 percent of the value of U.S. stocks in 2016, according to Edward Wolff, an economist at New York University. Median household wealth is still 34 percent below its 2007, prerecession level, Wolff calculates.

Factories coming back

TRUMP: “You know, we have factories pouring back into our country. Did you ever think you would hear that? I used to tell you, that’s going to happen.”

THE FACTS: Factories are not pouring into the country, according to available data. Spending on the construction of factories has dropped 14 percent over the past 12 months. There has been a steady decline in spending on factory construction since the middle of 2015, a trend Trump has yet to reverse despite his claims otherwise.

The existing manufacturing sector, though, has been doing a steady dose of hiring. This appears to reflect the synchronized global growth that has aided a rebound in manufacturing after setbacks in 2016 from a stronger dollar and low energy prices. In November, manufacturing added 31,000 jobs for a gain of 189,000 from a year earlier.

Are wages going up?

TRUMP: “By the way, wages — starting to go up. First time in 20 years — starting to go up. That’s all going to happen.”

THE FACTS: It’s not true that wages haven’t gone up for 20 years.

The latest jobs report shows average hourly earnings up 2.5 percent over the past 12 months, roughly the same pace of growth as the year before, when Barack Obama was president. Wages were rising faster in December 2016, up by 2.9 percent. Average hourly wage figures are volatile but they don’t show an upward trend under Trump.

The last time unemployment was this low — in 2000 — that figure was rising at 4 percent.

Inflation-adjusted median household incomes, meantime, have barely budged for several decades.

Traders Brace for Launch of Bitcoin Futures Market

The newest way to bet on bitcoin, the cyptocurrency that has taken Wall Street by storm with its stratospheric price rise and wild daily gyrations, will arrive Sunday when bitcoin futures start trading.

The launch has given an extra kick to the cyptocurrency’s scorching run this year. It has nearly doubled in price since the start of December, but recent days saw sharp moves in both directions, with bitcoin losing almost a fifth of its value Friday after surging more than 40 percent in the previous 48 hours.

But while some market participants are excited about a regulated way to bet on or hedge against moves in bitcoin, others caution that risks remain for investors and possibly even the clearing organizations underpinning the trades.

The futures are cash-settled contracts based on the auction price of bitcoin in U.S. dollars on the Gemini Exchange, owned and operated by virtual currency entrepreneurs Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.

A regulated bitcoin product

“The pretty sharp rise we have seen in bitcoin in just the last couple of weeks has probably been driven by optimism ahead of the futures launch,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin.

Bitcoin fans appear excited about the prospect of an exchange-listed and regulated product and the ability to bet on its price swings without having to sign up for a digital wallet.

The futures are an alternative to a largely unregulated spot market underpinned by cryptocurrency exchanges that have been plagued by cybersecurity and fraud issues.

“You are going to open up the market to a whole lot of people who aren’t currently in bitcoin,” Frederick said.

Mixed reception in US

The futures launch has so far received a mixed reception from big U.S. banks and brokerages.

Interactive Brokers plans to offer its customers access to the first bitcoin futures when trading goes live, but bars clients from assuming short positions and has margin requirements of at least 50 percent.

Several online brokerages including Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade will not allow the trading of the newly launched futures.

Some of the big U.S. banks including JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, will not immediately clear bitcoin trades for clients, the Financial Times reported on Friday.

North Dakota: The Silicon Valley of Drones

North Dakota’s vast flatlands have long been known for fertile fields of canola seeds, grazing cattle, and oil drilling. But in recent years, those wide open spaces have also become the U.S. proving ground for commercial drone research and testing. VOA’s Lin Yang and Beibei Su recently visited Grand Forks, the Silicon Valley of drones.

Satellite Technology Helps Protect Ocean Wildlife

Scientists around the world are increasingly using satellite technology to study life on earth. Small, inexpensive transponders attached to animals track their movement and interaction with humans, helping scientists and activists protect endangered species. Oceana, an international organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of the world’s oceans, teamed with shark researchers to study the fishing industry’s impact on one shark species. VOA’s George Putic reports.

In Alabama, Democrat Fights History, Math in Senate Race

Renegade Republican Roy Moore may be plagued by scandal, but it will take more than that to convince the voters of 44th Place North to show up for Democrat Doug Jones on Tuesday.

In a state where Democrats are used to losing, the malaise is easy to find in this African-American neighborhood in suburban Birmingham, even on the final weekend before Alabama’s high-profile Senate contest.

“A lot of people don’t vote because they think their vote don’t count,” Ebonique Jiles, 27, said after promising a Jones volunteer she would support the Democrat in Tuesday’s election. “I’ll vote regardless of whether he wins or loses.”

Delicate balancing act

With history and math working against them in deep-red Alabama, Democrats are fighting to energize a winning coalition of African-Americans and moderate Republicans — a delicate balancing act on full display Saturday as Jones and his network of volunteers canvassed the state.

Nearly 100 miles south of Birmingham, during an appearance near the staging ground for Selma’s landmark “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in 1965, Jones declared that Alabama has an opportunity to go “forward and not backward.”

“This campaign has the wind at its back because we are bringing people together from all across this state,” Jones said after a meeting at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church. “The other side is trying to divide us more than they bring people together.”

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, one of only two African-Americans in the Senate, was scheduled to appear at Jones’ side later in the day at Alabama State University. And Saturday evening, the Democrat organized two get-out-the-vote concerts expected to draw overwhelmingly white voters, including some open-minded Republicans, in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in more than a quarter century.

​Moore goes silent

Moore had no public events on Saturday, an extraordinary silence three days before the election but in line with a final-weeks strategy that featured very few public events in which he could be forced to address allegations of sexual misconduct. The former state Supreme Court judge got a big boost the night before in nearby Pensacola, Florida, where President Donald Trump encouraged voters to “get out and vote for Roy Moore.”

The 70-year-old Moore is facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, including allegations that he molested two teenage girls and pursued romantic relationships with several others while in his 30s. He has largely denied the allegations.

The explosive charges, which many Washington Republicans describe as credible, are giving Democrats a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pick up a Senate seat in the Deep South, where Republicans significantly outnumber Democrats. Even if Jones wins on Tuesday, many Democrats expect the GOP to re-claim the seat when the term expires at the end of 2020.

Tough math

Beneath Jones’ biracial and bipartisan balancing act is a complex numbers game that has vexed Alabama Democrats for decades.

The party’s core of black voters and white liberals — plus a smidgen of old-guard, more conservative “Southern Democrats” who’ve held on amid the region’s partisan shift — is worth no more than 40 percent in statewide elections. That’s been true in high-turnout elections, with former President Barack Obama twice landing between 38 and 39 percent, and the most recent governor’s race in 2014, when the Democratic nominee pulled 36 percent.

African-Americans make up about 25 percent of eligible voters, though Democratic pollster Zac McCrary said Jones needs black voters to comprise 27 percent or more of those who show up at the polls Tuesday. Jones then needs to win 1 in 3 white voters in the state, which would require capturing about 15 percent of Republicans, McCrary said.

Such dynamics are difficult to overcome, said Democratic strategist Keenan Pontoni, who managed the campaign of Georgia congressional hopeful Jon Ossoff earlier this year. Ossoff aimed for an upset in the 6th Congressional District of Georgia, but ultimately came up short in Atlanta’s Republican-leaning northern suburbs.

“The only way you win in these kinds of districts and states is a coalition that is obviously very hard to put together,” Pontoni said. “You’re going after voters who think and vote very differently.”

​Ground game

Much like Jones, Ossoff used an extensive, data-driven ground game to maximize Democratic support, while using television advertising to strike a moderate, non-partisan tone. Ossoff didn’t have a controversial opponent like Moore, but he ran against Washington dysfunction as a way to reach moderates.

On the ground in Alabama on Saturday, Jones dispatched hundreds of volunteers across the state to knock on doors to identify likely supporters in neighborhoods that featured high concentrations of African-Americans and Republicans who supported Moore’s GOP primary opponent, current Sen. Luther Strange.

Jones volunteer Dana Ellis, a 64-year-old nurse, navigated icy sidewalks in Birmingham’s Kingston neighborhood, which is overwhelmingly African-American, to ensure likely Jones supporters vote Tuesday. Unlike many states, Alabama doesn’t offer early voting.

“Roy Moore will not win if people turn out to vote,” Ellis said.

Many voters on the list provided by the campaign didn’t answer their doors Saturday morning. Those who did suggested they would support Jones, even if they didn’t know him well.

Oweda Clark, who lives just around the corner from 44th Place North, admits it’s hard being a Democrat in Alabama. But she told Ellis that she plans to vote for Jones anyway.

“I don’t like Roy Moore. I don’t like what he stands for,” she said.

Montana Tribe Wary of Monument Offer, Seek Land’s Ownership

Even as it clashes with American Indians over reductions to national monuments in the Southwest, the Trump administration is pursuing creation of a new monument on the border of a Montana reservation where tribal officials remain wary of the idea.

The Blackfeet Indian Tribe has long fought oil and gas drilling and other development within the Badger-Two Medicine area, a mountainous expanse bordering Glacier National Park that’s sacred to the tribe.

Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes told The Associated Press that protection of that 200-square-mile (518-square-kilometer) area is paramount. He sees a “workable solution” in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposal to co-manage the area with the tribe, but stressed that the Blackfeet have never sought a national monument designation for the land.

“We want total return to Blackfeet ownership,” Barnes said Saturday, adding that the idea of a monument “has been proffered and advanced by others.”

Zinke says he’d seek congressional approval for the co-management proposal, part of his recommendation to create national monuments at Badger-Two Medicine and two other sites, a Civil War camp in Kentucky and the Mississippi home of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

Barnes cautioned that the tribe would be unwilling to surrender treaty rights dating to the 1800s that let its members hunt, fish and gather timber from the Badger-Two Medicine.

“The Blackfeet Tribe’s interest has always been protection of the Badger-Two Medicine,” Barnes said in an emailed response to questions from The AP. “We have fought a long time and we see it not being over yet.”

Tribe’s creation story

The Badger Two-Medicine has deep cultural significance for the Blackfeet as the site of the tribe’s creation story and a place where traditional plants are still gathered for medicinal purposes.

During the brutal winter of 1883-84, when hundreds of tribal members starved to death, others journeyed to the Badger-Two Medicine to hunt. They brought back enough food for their families to survive, said John Murray, the tribe’s historic preservation officer.

The land was part of the Blackfeet Reservation until 1896. That’s when the tribe sold it and adjacent property that would later become Glacier National Park to the U.S. government for $1.5 million, a deal some tribal members still dispute as illegitimate.

Badger-Two Medicine is now within the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Zinke’​s home state

Zinke, a former Montana congressman who grew up around Glacier National Park, recently told reporters that said he recognizes the area’s sacred value to the Blackfeet. He described the Badger-Two Medicine as “one of the special places in our country” and deserving of national monument status.

“Here is a virtually untapped area to do it right, to generate income through tourism, a greater understanding of the culture,” Zinke said on a conference call to discuss the administration’s actions on national monuments.

Informal talks on the Badger-Two Medicine are underway between the Blackfeet and Zinke’s office, Barnes said. Still, Barnes said the tribe remains united with a coalition of tribes in American Southwest that have joined with conservationists to fight Trump’s reductions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah.

Barnes said the tribe remains opposed as a “general rule” to a federal monument designation for Badger-Two Medicine. But he added the tribe was working with Zinke in hopes of securing for the Blackfeet a permanent voice in how the land is administered.

Co-management common

The co-management of lands by tribes and government agencies has occurred numerous times elsewhere in the U.S., said Martin Nie, professor of Natural Resource Policy at the University of Montana.

It’s typically a way to balance tribal claims on public lands and resources against the federal government’s oversight responsibilities, Nie said. One of the most high-profile examples is the management of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, where tribes were given greater involvement under a court order.

In the case of the Badger-Two Medicine, co-management would put the Blackfeet on more equal footing with the U.S. Forest Service, Nie said. In the past, the tribe has been forced to react to actions affecting the land, such as government oil and gas leases issued in the Badger-Two Medicine in the 1980s, against the wishes of many tribal members.

Under co-management, the Blackfeet could have a say in such decisions.

However, Nie noted that Trump’s reductions to the two Utah monuments would call into question the permanence of the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law under which presidents designate monuments, if the reductions withstand legal challenges.

Zinke also recommended reductions in Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou monuments and opening other protected land and marine areas to more fishing, logging and other activities.

 

That should give the Blackfeet pause, Nie suggested.

“Why would the Blackfeet be interested in pursuing a national monument,” he asked, “if it can be undone by a successor?”

Argentina Blocks Two Activists From Entry on Eve of WTO Meeting

Argentina blocked two European activists from entering the country on the eve of the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires, the two told a local radio program Saturday.

Sally Burch, a British activist and journalist for the Latin American Information Agency, said Argentina had already revoked credentials given to her by the WTO to attend the meeting but thought she would be able to enter the country as a tourist.

“They found my name on a list and started asking questions … supposedly I was a false tourist,” Burch said on Radio 10.

“It’s not very democratic of Argentina’s government.”

Petter Titland, spokesman for the Norweigan NGO Attac Norge, said authorities denied him entry without explaining why.

Late last month, Argentina rescinded the credentials of 60 activists who had been accredited by the WTO to attend the meeting because it determined they would be “more disruptive than constructive.”

WTO meetings often attract protests by anti-globalization groups, but they have remained largely peaceful since riots broke out at the 1999 meeting in Seattle.

WTO’s spokesman, Keith Rockwell, reiterated on Saturday that it disagreed with Argentina’s decision to revoke activists’ credentials. “We didn’t have the same perspective but we’re now moving on,” Rockwell told journalists.

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri has promoted business-friendly policies since taking office in December 2015, and Argentina will host global events as chair of the G-20 group of major economies next year.

Trump Speaks at Opening of Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is “moved” by the opening of a civil rights museum in Jackson, Mississippi, where he praised civil rights leaders such as Medgar Evers and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Trump’s presence at the event was controversial among his critics, who say he has fueled the fires of racial tension in the United States. Civil rights icon and congressman John Lewis, who was scheduled to speak at the event, announced on Thursday that he would not attend because the president will be there.

Trump kept his remarks at the event low-key, speaking to an audience that included Evers’ widow, and Ben Carson, Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. To the creators of the museum, Trump said, “We are truly grateful … we admire you.”

Trump took special note of pastors like King, who he said “started the civil rights movement.” Of the civil rights leaders profiled in the museum and their peers, Trump said, “We strive to be worthy of their sacrifice.”

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a supporter of Trump who invited the president, welcomed the president to the podium by saying, “What a wonderful day this is for us all.”  He said this week Trump’s attendance will draw global attention and provide the museums with a key boost.

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum offers a stark look at the often bloody struggle for civil rights in the American South from 1945 through 1976. Exhibits include such weapons of terror and hate as a Ku Klux Klan cross and the gun used to murder Medgar Evers.

There also is a Museum of Mississippi History, which provides a 15,000-year review of the state’s history from prehistoric times to present day. The two distinct museums under a single roof both open Saturday, the day before the 200th anniversary of Mississippi becoming the 20th state.

“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum,” Lewis said in a statement. “President Trump’s disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants, and National Football League players disrespect the efforts of Fannie Lou Hamer … Medgar Evers, Robert Clark, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and countless others who have given their all for Mississippi to be a better place.”

Lewis, who is 77 years old, worked with Martin Luther King, led the civil rights march on Selma, and spoke at the March on Washington in 1963. For the last 21 years, he has represented the state of Georgia in the House of Representatives. He was scheduled to be one of the main speakers Saturday.

The White House said it was “unfortunate” that Lewis would not be at the opening.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said the president “has always condemned racism, violence and bigotry and hatred in all forms. We stand by that.”

The president has come under criticism from some for his reluctance to condemn the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer. He also has been relentless in his criticism of the silent, bent knee protests during the national anthem staged by NFL players in their attempt to bring national focus to the police brutality directed on African American men.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of assassinated Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers, was also one of the featured speakers at the opening event. Evers-Williams has said she would address Trump’s presence, although the president may be gone by the time she speaks.

Derrick Johnson, the NAACP president, told CNN that he will not attend the opening either. Johnson said Trump’s presence at the museum is “an affront to those individuals who fought for voting rights to ensure that people had quality education and access to health care …Those are principles this President does not support.”

The White House said Trump hopes others will be there to acknowledge “the movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds.”

Some African Americans, although opposed to Trump, were going to attend anyway. The Rev. C.J. Rhodes, a prominent clergyman and son of one of the state’s top voting rights lawyers, said he would be there. He said Trump sharing the day is part of Mississippi’s “complicated, complex, conflicted narrative.”

Capitol Hill Comes to Terms With Sexual Harassment Debate

From Hollywood to major media outlets, high-profile men are stepping down or being fired from their jobs for alleged sexual misconduct. The issue is now making headlines at the U.S. Capitol, where a wave of allegations is forcing out U.S. lawmakers from both political parties. VOA’s Congressional reporter Katherine Gypson has the latest from Capitol Hill.