[Released September 8]
So often we only hear bad news from the national media, and the good news we do hear is either downplayed, obscured, or put in a less positive context. That has been particularly true since the media seized on COVID-19, the economic effect of the response to it, and this summer’s urban rioting as the “news” they needed to hurt President Trump politically.
Last week was no different. On Friday [September 4] we got the jobs report for August. Now, here are the facts: in August the US economy added 1.4 million jobs. Even more impressive is the fact that our economy has added 10.6 million jobs over the last four months. That’s roughly half the jobs the shutdown caused in March and April and brings our unemployment rate down to 8.4 percent from April’s high of 14.7 percent. I remember warnings to Congress from Treasury Secretary Mnuchin that we should expect unemployment in excess of 20 percent. And initial Unemployment Insurance claims from laid off workers continue to fall. This jobs recovery is the fastest in U.S. history. That’s all pretty good news, but you’d never know it from the national media’s coverage.
Another piece of good news is the revenue coming into state and local governments. Back in spring the “experts” issued dire warnings for the tax receipts for these governments. In fact, from the end of March to the end of June, state and local tax receipts have fallen $13 billion, not good but not nearly as bad as was predicted. On the other hand, the COVID-19 federal government outlays all told increased federal aid to state and local governments by $192 billion, which means state and local governments have a net increase of $179 billion in revenue. The states have only spent 24 percent of all the money sent to them by Congress, so they have plenty yet to spend.
You don’t hear anything about this from the media either because they support Speaker Pelosi’s demand for an additional $1 trillion to bail out state and local governments which have totally mismanaged their operations both during and before the pandemic, especially with regard the employee pension obligations. Alabama has done a far better job managing its finances and is projected to end this fiscal year on September 30 in the black. We have not only handled the response to COVID-19 responsibly so that our economy is better off than the nation as a whole, which brings in more state revenue, but we are also more careful with state spending. Why should we bail out those states and cities which have mismanaged themselves, locked down too hard and too long, and have been flirting with fiscal disaster for years?
On the health care front, the seven-day average of new cases is down 37 percent from the peak this summer. A total of 88 million tests have been completed in just seven months, far more than any other country in the world. There has been a huge turnaround on the number of N-95 respirators that were in such short supply earlier in the year: 99 million have now been delivered for first responders and health care workers. That’s on top of 15 million face shields and 83 million gloves. There are over 270 clinical trials underway for therapies to treat the disease, and three strong vaccine candidates are in Phase Three trials, leading public health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci to predict an effective vaccine by the first quarter of next year.
But the news media, to the extent they’re covering the disease, have told you little of this because it just doesn’t fit their narrative. To be sure, we still have new cases and new deaths from the disease every day, and even one is too many. We need the vaccine to return to a new and more open normal, but to create a vaccine for a new, previously unknown coronavirus in a year or less is unheard of. And yet President Trump’s Project Warp Speed is doing just that.
On the international front, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have reached a peace agreement, marking a seismic shift toward peace and away from Iran in the Middle East. Kosovo and Serbia have also recently agreed to normalize relations after 12 years of bickering since Kosovo declared independence, removing another possible flashpoint from the perennially troubled Balkans. President Trump and his Administration played the decisive role in both these developments, bringing old adversaries together with real, positive results.
Like you, I want this COVID-19 pandemic to be over, for the limitations on our movement to end, for all children to be back in school in person, and for all college football teams to be playing a full season. But progress has truly been made and is ongoing, and we should note that progress as significant. I know it’s hard to celebrate in the middle of it all, as deaths mount and riots continue in some of our large cities. So, let’s just all say a prayer of thanks for the recent good news and a prayer that things continue to improve for us all.
A new Middle East?
[Released September 14]
Last week, when I wrote about some good news, I mentioned the recent peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates negotiated by the Trump Administration. Just days after I wrote those words another Middle Eastern nation, Bahrain, reached a peace agreement with Israel, again negotiated by the Trump Administration. What do these and other recent developments say about the Middle East?
First, let’s go back eleven years to the beginning of the Obama Administration. President Obama gave a speech in Cairo calling for a “New Beginning” in the Middle East and undertook major efforts to reach out to the Arab world, including Iran, our major adversary in the region. But, the “New Beginning” was ultimately a series of terrible mistakes.
Over the Obama Administration’s tenure, the U.S. relationship with Israel, normally very good, grew sour as Obama pressured the Israelis over settlements in Palestinian claimed areas and issues in Gaza. He angered Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Persian Gulf, which normally lean to the U.S., by naively agreeing to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action allowing Iran to develop nuclear capability limited, for a time, to “peaceful” use only. Obama backed protesters’ demands for the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a staunch U.S. partner, which facilitated the end of Mubarak’s pro-U.S. government only to be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist group. When the Egyptian military overthrew the Brotherhood and one of the generals, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, became President, Obama withheld promised military assistance and then insisted they pay cash, which only worsened a strained relationship with a key regional ally.
Obama told Syria that using chemical weapons against its people was a “red line” which would trigger a U.S. military response but then backed off the threat when they did. He prematurely drew down the U.S. military presence in Iraq only to go back in as ISIS arose and took half the country. Afghanistan was at best a stalemate. And, in Libya, he used the U.S. military to attack Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime, which was toppled, and Ghaddafi was killed; Libya plunged into an ongoing brutal civil war that led to the murder of American diplomatic personnel in Benghazi.
I personally witnessed the difficulties Obama’s policies caused when I traveled to the Middle East with other members of the House Armed Services Committee in the summer of 2014. We met with King Abdullah of Jordan, President al-Sisi, and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. We talked with other Middle Eastern leaders as well and received in country briefings from our diplomatic staff in each country. We were careful not to undermine U.S. policies in these meetings, but it was clear those policies constituted a terrible blunder.
In the summer of 2016, I participated in an intensive policy conference on the Middle East in London and was convinced the next president needed a better set of policies which would restore good relations with our normal allies, defeat ISIS, and push back on Iran. Most of the experts at the conference assumed that president would be Hilary Clinton. They were wrong.
What President Trump has done is reverse Obama’s failed policies in the Middle East. His first trip abroad was to Saudi Arabia to meet with our Gulf allies and repair those broken relationships. He pulled the U.S. out of the ill-advised Iran deal and took out their point man in sponsoring terrorism around the region this past January. He has healed our relationship with Israel and moved our embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. I was in Jerusalem last summer, met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and saw the improvement firsthand. Our renewed good relationships with Muslim allies and Trump’s Israel peace initiative paved the way for the agreements with UAE and Bahrain.
And let’s not forget that ISIS as a country dominating caliphate was defeated on Trump’s watch, allowing us to reduce our troop presence in Iran to just 3,000 this fall. And his initiative with the Taliban in Afghanistan is bringing the prospects for real peace closer than they have been in decades. Our troop presence there will drop this fall by half to just 4,500.
In short, the Trump Administration’s reversal of Obama’s policies in the Middle East have resulted in much better relations with our allies and friends there, growing peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the defeat of ISIS, reduced troop numbers, and a much weakened Iran. The Middle East is no longer Arabs versus Israel as it had been for so long, but is now the U.S., our Arab allies, and Israel versus Iran and its terrorist groups. It’s a big move towards peace and away from terrorism and war. The Trump policies made the way for the beginning of a new Middle East.
[Released September 8]