Steve August 18, 2020

With much of the two-hour evening taken up by an innovative virtual roll call, there was even less material to fact-check than the night before. Four years ago, we had a meaty and lengthy speech by former president Bill Clinton to chew over. This year, Clinton was limited to a five-minute segment. Here’s our brief look at claims that caught our attention during the second night of the Democratic National Convention. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios for a roundup of statements made during convention events.

We are the only major industrial economy to have its unemployment rate triple.”

— Former president Bill Clinton

It’s a startling claim, but Clinton actually is lowballing this statistic on job losses from the coronavirus pandemic. The unemployment rate in the United States quadrupled from January to April — from 3.6 percent in January to 14.7 percent, according to data on the 25 richest members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) assembled in June by Harry J. Holzer of Georgetown University for the Brookings Institution. That’s an increase of more than 300 percent.

Canada, Holzer noted, had an increase of 136 percent, going from 5.5 percent to 13 percent unemployment in the same period. No other industrialized country in the sample had as high an unemployment rate or as steep an increase.

“Based on the numbers in my Brookings piece, Clinton is completely correct,” Holzer said. But at the same time, we have to take Clinton’s statement with a grain of salt.

Holzer’s report noted that the numbers are not necessarily comparable because of “differences in measured unemployment rates reflect differing measurement rules and timing, as well as some real policy differences.” At least 15 countries — including the United States — have limited their unemployment increases by subsidizing firms to keep workers on payrolls. Moreover, “for quirky measurement reasons, at least 3 countries — Canada, Israel and Ireland — report larger increases in Unemployment Insurance receipt but much smaller increases in unemployment than the U.S.”

His study also looked at how the United States compared to its peers in terms of total cases and deaths, as well as new cases and deaths per capita. Only two countries — Singapore and the Czech Republic — had higher numbers of cases per capita than the United States, while only six countries had higher numbers of deaths per capita than the United States.

“What do these numbers imply about the U.S. experience, and the administration’s role, in handling of the crisis to date?” wrote Holzer. “Because it waited a very long time to begin shutting down the economy and imposing emergency measures, U.S. workers ultimately lost very large numbers of jobs by April. … These delays no doubt aggravated the ultimate severity of the crisis, in both economic and health terms.”

“We eliminated the threat of an Iran with a nuclear weapon.”

— Former secretary of state John F. Kerry

Kerry’s assessment is not universally shared. The United States was one of seven countries in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear accord struck by President Barack Obama’s administration in 2015, until Tweety McTreason withdrew in 2018.

Although some parts of the JCPOA sunset over time, gradually allowing Iran to pursue more nuclear energy research, the deal includes this permanent restriction: “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.”

After Trump took office, U.S. officials certified that Iran was technically in compliance with the terms of the deal.

Other international agreements to which Iran has committed itself also prohibit the development of such weapons. Iran also has agreed to let international monitors peer closely into its nuclear activities.

However, critics of the JCPOA have voiced concerns that — despite these strictures — Iran could work toward nuclear weapons capability under the guise of pursuing peaceful goals, such as a nuclear energy program.

Trump has complained that the JCPOA gradually lifts restrictions on the types of nuclear activities and the level of uranium enrichment Iran may conduct. These and other provisions sunset after 10, 15, 20 or 25 years.

The president argues that easing these restrictions over time would open the door to Iran’s attaining nuclear weapons capability, rendering the JCPOA ultimately ineffective. But supporters of the Iran deal dispute that and say the JCPOA at least buys time, subjecting Iran to strong constraints on its nuclear activities for 10 to 25 years.

“He breaks up with our allies and writes love letters to dictators.”

— Kerry

Trump certainly has testy relations with many U.S. allies, but Kerry is making a bit of a leap to say he has written “love letters” to dictators.

Kerry appears to be referring to a 2018 comment from Trump about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un: “We fell in love, okay? No, really, he wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”

That’s certainly an unusual statement, but he’s referring to letters written by Kim. We do not yet know what Trump wrote to Kim.

Former national security adviser John Bolton, in his tell-all memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” described one of Kim’s letters as “pure puffery, written probably by some clerk in North Korea’s agitprop bureau, but Trump loved it.” After another such letter, Trump even mused that he wanted to invite Kim to the White House — what Bolton called a “potential disaster of enormous magnitude.”

Bolton said the White House staff then drafted a letter from Trump back to Kim.

Bolton wrote: “We drafted a letter Trump signed the next day, offering up [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo in Pyongyang. Trump said he didn’t like the idea, which he thought was insulting to Kim: ‘I disagree with you and Pompeo. It’s not fair to Kim Jong Un, and I hope it doesn’t ruin things,’ he said as he wrote in his own hand at the bottom of the letter, ‘I look forward to seeing you soon.’ ”

Bob Woodward’s upcoming book, “Rage,” promises to reveal more when it is published in September. “Woodward obtained 25 personal letters exchanged between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that have not been public before,” the book publisher says. “Kim describes the bond between the two leaders as out of a ‘fantasy film,’ as the two leaders engage in an extraordinary diplomatic minuet.”

Before Trump became president, he certainly wrote fawning letters to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But Kerry is talking about letters written while Trump was president.

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