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10/19/2019

For the week 10/14-10/18

[Posted 9:30 PM ET, Friday]

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Edition 1,070

*The following is particularly long because I have a ton of opinion pieces for the archives for what was an incredibly important six days in our nation’s history.

---

What a week.  Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was on the talk shows confirming the United States was withdrawing its 1,000 troops from Syria after Turkey had launched its invasion across the border days earlier.

Days later, as Liz Sly of the Washington Post put it, “The blow to America’s standing in the Middle East was sudden and unexpectedly swift.  Within the space of a few hours, advances by Turkish troops in Syria this week had compelled the U.S. military’s Syrian Kurdish allies to switch sides, unraveled years of U.S. Syria policy and recalibrated the balance of power in the Middle East.

“As Russian and Syrian troops roll into vacated towns and U.S. bases, the winners are counting the spoils.

“The withdrawal delivered a huge victory to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who won back control of an area roughly amounting to a third of the country almost overnight.  It affirmed Moscow as the arbiter of Syria’s fate and the rising power in the Middle East.  It sent another signal to Iran that Washington has no appetite for the kind of confrontation that its rhetoric suggests and that Iran’s expanded influence in Syria is now likely to go unchallenged.”

And then on Thursday, the U.S. caved to all of Turkey’s demands.  The two sides reached an agreement for a five-day cease-fire in Syria that cemented Turkey’s gains across a wide swath of Syrian territory, displacing hundreds of thousands of Syria’s Kurds and forcing the Kurdish militia to withdraw, while requiring the U.S. to drop any new sanctions on Ankara.

The agreement was brokered by Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  Under the terms, Kurdish forces, which were allied with the U.S. in the battle against Islamic State, have to withdraw from a roughly 20-mie deep zone along the northern border with Turkey.  The U.S. was accepting this 20-mile buffer zone, a second abandonment of the Kurrds.

There was no talk of the role Russia and the Assad regime will play in the process.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, emphasized that the agreement was only a “pause” in the Turkish incursion into Syria, and that the Turkish military effort would end only after the Kurds had fully withdrawn and their military positions within the border zone were dismantled.

“We got what we wanted,” Cavusoglu said.

Vice President Pence, playing the role of stooge, gave a pathetic performance in announcing the deal in Ankara.

Then, before the press pool when he arrived in Dallas, Texas, Thursday afternoon for a rally later that evening, Trump said of the cease-fire:

“Millions and millions of lives would have been lost” had it not been agreed to.

“An incredible outcome...something they’ve been trying to get for 10 years...ISIS fighters will be under strict control...Everything we ever could have dreamed of.”

“I want to thank the Kurds...they are incredibly happy.”

“Wouldn’t have been done without unconventional tough love approach.”

“Great day for the United States, for Turkey...great day for the Kurds.  Great day for civilization!”

“Sanctions won’t be necessary...Erdogan is a helluva leader...he’s a strong man, a tough man...great friend!”

“Turkey won’t have to kill millions of people.”

“Tried for 15 years to get this (up from 10 in a matter of minutes).”

“Everybody is happy...there is no fighting.”

Earlier, prior to the cease-fire agreement, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) tweeted some of the following:

“I hope President Trump is right in his belief that Turkey’s invasion of Syria is of no concern to us, abandoning the Kurds won’t come back to haunt us, ISIS won’t reemerge, and Iran will not fill the vacuum created by this decision.

“However, I firmly believe that if President Trump continues to make such statements this will be a disaster worse than President Obama’s decision to leave Iraq.

“I worry we will not have allies in the future against radical Islam, ISIS will reemerge, & Iran’s rise in Syria will become a nightmare for Israel.  I fear this is a complete and utter national security disaster in the making and I hope President Trump will adjust his thinking.”

And:

“Mr. President, forget about what I’m saying about Syria.  Listen to your own national security team who are telling you the consequences of your decision and the impact it will have on our nation.

“President Trump is being told EXACTLY what President Obama was told before he withdrew from Iraq.  He appears to be hell-bent on making the same mistakes in Syria as President Obama made in Iraq.

“The worst thing any Commander in Chief can do is to give land back to the enemy that was taken through blood and sacrifice.  I fear those are the consequences of the actions being taken right now.”

And earlier, President Trump:

“After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria.  Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land.  I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria and Assad to protect the land of our enemy?  Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.  I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

“Some people want the United States to protect the 7,000 mile away Border of Syria, presided over by Bashar al-Assad, our enemy.  At the same time, Syria and whoever they choose to help, wants naturally to protect the Kurds,” he wrote minutes later.

“I would much rather focus on our Southern Border which abuts and is part of the United States of America.  And by the way, numbers are way down and the WALL is being built!”

Later Thursday at his Dallas rally, Trump said, “Sometimes you let ‘em fight.  We’re going to keep ISIS nice and all locked up.”

“President Obama lost a million people in the area (up 500,000 from the figure Trump had always used before).”

Just  one question for the president.  How do you keep ISIS all locked up when we’ve withdrawn our troops? 

So today, Turkey launched air strikes shattering the cease-fire after just hours, killing five civilians, according to the head of the respected Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the British-based monitor that has been the eyes and ears over the entire Syrian conflict.  Artillery attacks were also continuing on the border town of Ras al-Ain.

As of Friday afternoon, more than 500 people have been killed on the two sides, including 100 civilians, while around 300,000 have been displaced, according to the Observatory.

Amnesty International today accused Ankara’s forces of “serious violations and war crimes, summary killings and unlawful attacks” in the operation launched October 9.

Kumi Naidoo, the organization’s secretary general, said Turkish forces and their allies had “displayed an utterly callous disregard for civilian lives.”

From a worker with the Kurdish Red Crescent, who said he removed bodies from the wreckage of a Turkish air strike near a school in Salhiye October 12:

“I couldn’t tell if they were boys or girls because their corpses were black. They looked like charcoal,” the rescue worker told Amnesty International.

Amnesty also appeared to confirm reports that a Kurdish female politician Hevrin Khalaf and her bodyguard were summarily executed by members of the Syrian National Army, a Turkish-funded and –trained group.  At least two more executions of Kurdish fighters were confirmed, while Turkey’s Syrian allies had kidnapped two employees of a local medical organization, Amnesty said. [Agence France Presse]

Sen. Mitt Romney (R, Utah) harshly criticized Trump’s deal with Turkey in a speech on the Senate floor.

“The announcement today is being portrayed as a victory.  It is far from a victory.  Serious questions remain about how the decision was reached precipitously to withdraw from Syria and why that decision was reached.

“Given the initial details of the cease-fire agreement, the administration must also explain what America’s future role will be in the region.  What happens now to the Kurds and why Turkey will face no apparent consequences” for the incursion into Syria, which has displaced up to 200,000 civilians and left hundreds dead.

“I hope the agreement is honored, but at the heart of this matter is a central question of why these terms and assurances were not negotiated before the president consented to withdraw our troops,” Romney said.

“The cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally adding insult to dishonor, the administration speaks cavalierly, even flippantly, even as our ally has suffered death and casualty. Their homes have been burned and their families have been torn apart,” he said, referring to Trump’s earlier criticism of the Kurdish YPG fighters who controlled the territory in northern Syria as “worse than ISIS.”

“What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.”

What is clear is that President Trump doesn’t care about human rights, America’s historical interests and values.  And in his words it is also clear that the United States military has become a mercenary force.  All Trump cares about is what the U.S. is paid, as he proudly now says is the case with the troops being deployed in Saudi Arabia.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got it right when she asked Trump, since he talks about honoring a campaign pledge to bring the troops home, why did we just move 2,000 to Saudi Arabia?

I am sick of all the false choices, the false narratives Trump, and Pence, keep trotting out.  The president talks about “millions of lives saved,” and how he will not deploy “hundreds of thousands of troops.”  Total lies!  A mere 1,000 troops were doing the job in Syria, spectacularly well.

William H. McRaven / New York Times

[Retired Navy admiral, former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, and the man who oversaw the operation to take out Osama bin Laden.]

Oct. 17, 2019

“Last week I attended two memorable events that reminded me why we care so very much about this nation and also why our future may be in peril.

“The first was a change of command ceremony for a storied Army unit in which one general officer passed authority to another. The second event was an annual gala for the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) Society that recognizes past and present members of the intelligence and Special Operations community for their heroism and sacrifice to the nation.  What struck me was the stark contrast between the words and deeds heralded at those events – and the words and deeds emanating from the White House.

“On the parade field at Fort Bragg, N.C., where tens of thousands of soldiers have marched either preparing to go to war or returning from it, the two generals, highly decorated, impeccably dressed, clear-eyed and strong of character, were humbled by the moment.

“They understood the awesome responsibility that the nation had placed on their shoulders.  They understood that they had an obligation to serve their soldiers and their soldiers’ families.  They believed in the American values for which they had been fighting for the past three decades.  They had faith that these values were worth sacrificing everything for – including, if necessary, their lives.

“Having served with both officers for the past 20 years, the genuineness of their humility, their uncompromising integrity, their willingness to sacrifice all for a worthy cause, and the pride they had in their soldiers, personified all that is good and decent and honorable about the American military.

“Later that week, at the O.S.S. Society dinner, there were films and testimonials to the valor of the men and women who had fought in Europe and the Pacific during World War II.  We also celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, recognizing those brave Americans and their allies who sacrificed so much to fight Nazism and fascism.  We were reminded that the Greatest Generation went to war because it believed that we were the good guys – that wherever there was oppression, tyranny or despotism, America would be there.  We would be there because freedom mattered.  We would be there because the world needed us and if not us, then who?

“Also that evening we recognized the incredible sacrifice of a new generation of Americans: an Army Special Forces warrant officer who had been wounded three times, the most recent injury costing him his left leg above the knee.  He was still in uniform and still serving.  There was an intelligence officer, who embodied the remarkable traits of those men and women who had served in the O.S.S.   And a retired Marine general, whose 40 years of service demonstrated all that was honorable about the Corps and public service.

“But the most poignant recognition that evening was for a young female sailor who had been killed in Syria serving alongside our allies in the fight against ISIS.  Her husband, a former Army Green Beret, accepted the award on her behalf.  Like so many that came before her, she had answered the nation’s call and willingly put her life in harm’s way.

“For everyone who ever served in uniform, or in the intelligence community, for those diplomats who voice the nation’s principles, for the first responders, for the tellers of truth and the millions of American citizens who were raised believing in American values – you would have seen your reflection in the faces of those we honored last week.

“But, beneath the outward sense of hope and duty that I witnessed at these two events, there was an underlying current of frustration, humiliation, anger and fear that echoed across the sidelines.  The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within.

“These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press.  They  have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own.  They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield.  As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, ‘I don’t like the Democrats, but  Trump is destroying the Republic!’

“Those words echoed with me throughout the week.  It is easy to destroy an organization if you have no appreciation for what makes that organization great.  We are not the most powerful nation in the world because of our aircraft carriers, our economy, or our seat at the United Nations Security Council.  We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys.  We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.

“But, if we don’t care about our values, if we don’t care about duty and honor, if we don’t help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice – what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states?

“If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us?  If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military?  And if they don’t join, who will protect us?  If we are not the champions of the good and the right, then who will follow us?  And if no one follows us – where will the world end up?

“President Trump seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness.  He is wrong.  These are the virtues that have sustained this nation for the past 243 years.  If we hope to continue to lead the world and inspire a new generation of young men and women to our cause, then we must embrace these values now more than ever.

“And if this president doesn’t understand their importance, if this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office – Republican, Democrat or independent – the sooner, the better.  The fate of our Republic depends upon it.”

From multiple reports, America’s fighting men and women are furious, especially those who served with the Kurds in northern Syria, some reacting on social media and in interviews despite Defense Department restrictions on them expressing political opinions.

The generals can’t let this continue until next November.  This is the “first-ever moment” I’ve been cryptically referring to the past few weeks.

Tonight, President Trump tweeted more lies:

“Just spoke to President @RTErdogan of Turkey.  He told me there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated.  He very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work.  Likewise, the Kurds want it, and the ultimate solution, to happen. Too bad there wasn’t....

“....this thinking years ago.  Instead, it was always held together with very weak bandaids, & in an artificial manner.  There is good will on both sides & a really good chance for success.  The U.S. has secured the Oil, & the ISIS Fighters are double secured by Kurds & Turkey...”

No they aren’t.

Trump World...abandoning the Kurds...further opinion....

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“What a fiasco.  Foreign-policy blunders often take months or years to reveal their damaging consequences, but the harm from President Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria is playing out almost in real time.

“Critics said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would invade northern Syria despite Mr. Trump’s public warnings, and the Turkish strongman did.  Critics said our Kurdish allies would strike a deal with Syria’s Bashar Assad to defend themselves, and the Kurds have.  Critics said Islamic State prisoners held by the Kurds would be released and scatter to wage jihad again, and they are.

“The mess compounded Monday when Mr. Trump authorized sanctions against several Turkish officials and agencies who are ‘contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria.’  The sanctions include financial measures and barring entry to the U.S.  Mr. Trump also said he’s ending trade talks with Turkey and raising steel tariffs to 50%.

“Mr. Trump now finds himself back in an economic and diplomatic brawl with Turkey that he said he wanted to avoid.  Wouldn’t it have been easier simply to tell Mr. Erdogan, on that famous phone call two Sundays ago, that the U.S. wouldn’t tolerate a Turkish invasion against the Kurds and would use air power to stop it?  Mr. Erdogan would have had to back down and continue negotiating a Syrian safe zone with the Kurds and the U.S.

“Mr. Trump is also making matters worse with his unserious justifications.  ‘After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria.  Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land,’ he tweeted Monday.  ‘Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.  I hope they do great, we are 7,000 miles away!’

“We suppose the Napoleon line was a joke, but the world is laughing at an American President.  Mr. Trump was able to project an image of strength in his early days as he prosecuted the war against ISIS and used forces to impose a cost on Mr. Assad for using chemical weapons.  But that image has faded as he has indulged his inner Rand Paul and claims at every opportunity that the main goal of his foreign policy is to put an end to ‘endless wars.’....

“By now it’s not unreasonable to conclude that Mr. Trump’s foreign policy can be distilled into two tactics – sanctions and tariffs.....

“Mr. Trump won’t like to hear it, but the Syrian mess is hurting him at home, too; Republicans who have stood by him through the Russia fight and more are questioning his judgment as Commander in Chief in an increasingly dangerous world.  With impeachment looming, he can’t afford to alienate more friends.”

David Gardner / Financial Times

“Barely a week after Donald Trump upended U.S. Syria policy by withdrawing American troops from the Turkish border and then from the north-east of the country, the never-ending Syrian war has changed shape yet again – offering unexpected gifts to the West’s enemies.

“The tyranny of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad and its Russian patrons can claim victory.  Iran, which provided an array of Shia militias to save the Assads from a Sunni rebellion that started in 2011, can celebrate the removal of a U.S. obstacle to the corridor of power it has carved from the Caspian to the Mediterranean. The jihadi blackshirts of ISIS, routed from their ephemeral caliphate, may rebound from defeat.  Not bad for a week’s work, even for the Trump White House.

“Veterans of the Levant are comparing this to Ronald Reagan’s retreat from Beirut in October 1983 at the height of Lebanon’s civil war, after the Iran-backed Hezbollah – a lead actor in Syria today – truck-bombed U.S. marines, killing 241 (as well as 55 French paratroopers).  The comparison is unfair.  That was the worst American death toll since the 1968 Viet Cong-led Tet offensive in Vietnam.

“The current debacle was detonated by nothing more than a phone call between Mr. Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, in which this U.S. president, with his almost preternatural ability to make any foreign policy problem worse, casually greenlighted a Turkish invasion of northern Syria.

“That meant the U.S. abandoning the Syrian Kurdish forces it used as the spearhead to defeat ISIS – a bloody five-year campaign in which 11,000 Kurds died.

“Mr. Trump, facing re-election next year and firing up his xenophobic base, may be almost right that America’s ‘endless wars’ in the Middle East are a waste of blood, albeit mostly other people’s. The U.S. lost the ability to shape regional events in the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which tipped the balance of power towards Iran by installing the Iraqi Shia majority in power.

“But the defeat of ISIS could be accounted a rare U.S. success because of mainly Kurdish fighters on the ground, backed by American warplanes.  As they long feared, the Kurds have been betrayed....

“After last week’s invasion by Turkey, sanctioned by the U.S. president, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-run group of about 50,000 fighters, was pushed into the arms of Assad – a regime that had once deprived Kurds of basic rights such as citizenship.  Vladimir Putin’s Russia held the shotgun at this marriage.

“ ‘We know we would have to make painful compromises with Moscow and Bashar al-Assad if we go down the road of working with them.  But if we have to choose between compromise and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people,’ said Mazloum Abdi, the SDF commander-in-chief.

“This is not just the end of Rojava, the name the Kurds gave to their self-governing entity in northern Syria.

“Unexpectedly, Assad regime forces have been invited in to retake a north-east region that has been almost wholly outside their control for more than seven years.  It amounts to more than a quarter of the country, holding Syria’s oil and gas resources and its breadbasket.   Mr. Assad will no doubt savor that he owes this windfall to Mr. Erdogan – who has been fighting to topple him since Syria’s war began.

“Russia and Iran, who form a tripod of power with Turkey in Syria, are obvious net victors.  Ankara, facing U.S. sanctions for the invasion as Mr. Trump tries to deflect bipartisan outrage in Washington at his incompetence, already needed Moscow’s imprimatur on his two existing enclaves in north-west Syria.  As Russian-backed Assad forces surge into north-east Syria, Mr. Erdogan is more beholden to Mr. Putin than ever.

“Russia and Iran, and their Syrian client, have just had a huge win.  Mr. Trump’s U.S. is floundering.  President Erdogan’s goal of creating a Turkish-controlled Syrian Arab buffer in Kurdish north-east Syria looks dangerously ambitious as Russia and Iran flood into the vacuum left by the U.S. and the betrayed Syrian Kurds defect.”

Editorial / USA TODAY

“Some of President Donald Trump’s erratic, impulsive and ill-informed pronouncements turn out to be of little lasting consequence, like passing gusts of wind.  But his abupt decision to pull back U.S. troops serving in northern Syria was the policy equivalent of pouring gasoline on smoldering embers.

“In just 10 days, it has already produced virtually all of the tragic and dire consequences that critics predicted:

“By yielding to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s invasion threats on Oct. 6 and withdrawing U.S. troops from the Syrian border, Trump surrendered a powerful U.S. self-defense leverage – the ability to call in devastating air power if even a few Americans on the ground were threatened.  For Erdogan, this was a green light to move into northern Syria.

“The American president following up by ordering a near total retreat of U.S. forces from Syria, about 1,000 troops.  He abandoned – many would say betrayed – Syrian-Kurdish allies who had fought and died alongside Americans in a successful, years-long campaign to destroy the Islamic State caliphate.

“The resulting chaos threatens to reverse victory against an ISIS network that inspired mass shootings in Orlando and San Bernardino, and launched attacks in Europe.  Hundreds of ISIS prisoners have escaped detention camps, and thousands more operate in Syrian-based sleeper cells the U.S.-led coalition had worked to suppress.

“A humanitarian crisis is unfolding.  More than 100,000 civilians have been displaced by the Turkish invasion.  Hospitals are shuttering.  Water is running short.  And Turkish irregular forces manned by jihadi extremists are engaging in such atrocities as summary executions of Kurdish prisoners.

“The abandoned Kurds have turned for protection to Syrian President Bashar Assad – a brutal dictator whose removal from office has been a goal of U.S. foreign policy.  Assad now can reestablish control over areas of Syria that Kurdish-led forces, with America’s help, had carved out as free, self-governing zones.

“Assad’s chief sponsor, Russia, will enjoy expanded influence in the Middle East.  Russian troops are already patrolling areas evacuated by the United States.

“Iran, Syria’s other leading patron and a key U.S. foe, also wins.  The Trump administration’s goal has been to constrain Tehran’s aggressive foreign policy.  But the vacuum created by Trump’s withdrawal could allow overland supply routes for Iranian militia in Syria and Tehran-supported Hezbollah fighters threatening Israel.

“On Wednesday, Trump defended his actions in Syria as ‘strategically brilliant.’  He said he was acting to end America’s endless wars.

“Actually, the opposite might come to pass.  After lengthy and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon had finally developed a cutting-edge strategy in Syria that employed small numbers of U.S. special forces in close coordination with Syrian-Kurdish and Arab allies to defeat a common enemy – ISIS in this instance. In the process, the United States suffered very few casualties.

“That strategy, however, depends first and foremost on trust, that allies fighting on the ground know that America has their backs.

“Trump has stripped that trust away in a matter of days.  The next time America’s homeland is threatened, the United States might have to do its own fighting with tens of thousands of its young men and women deployed overseas to war.”

Jonathan Spyer / Wall Street Journal

“By giving Turkey a green light to invade northern Syria, the U.S. upended the balance of power in the Middle East with a single stroke.  Russia is the biggest winner.

“The Turkish attack, launched in conjunction with Sunni Arab Islamist groups in Syria’s north, had the predictable effect of causing Washington’s erstwhile Kurdish allies to request Bashar Assad’s assistance.  Some 150,000 Kurdish civilians had already fled their homes to escape the advance of the Turkish military and its Islamist proxies.

“Mr. Assad had already deployed his forces in Tal Tamr, Manbij, Tabqa and Kobani – towns formerly under the exclusive control of Kurdish forces.  Details have begun to leak from the proposed deal cementing the surrender of the Syrian Kurds to Mr. Assad.  The Turkish offensive continues but has made little progress.  The U.S. is still extricating its forces and moving them to the safety of Iraqi Kurdistan.

“Vladimir Putin is now the indispensable strategic arbiter in Syria.  None of the remaining pieces on the broken chessboard can move without Mr. Putin’s hand.  The Assad regime owes its survival to Moscow’s air intervention in September 2015.  This reporter and others who have spent time in Damascus note the impunity with which Russian security and other personnel conduct themselves.  They are effectively beyond the reach of the local authorities....

“As the de facto arbiter, however, Russia now faces a tricky task.  It must stand firm against a too-ambitious Turkish project that could trigger chaos and even an Assad-Turkish war east of the Euphrates.  At the same time, Moscow aims to permit Turkey sufficient gains to speed its drift away from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and toward alignment with Russia.

“To accomplish this, the Russians must first intimidate and then partly accommodate the Turks.  Moscow has managed this delicate maneuver west of the Euphrates over the past two years. It will now try to do so on the east side as the Americans head for the exit....

“Mr. Assad, the Kurds, Turkey and Israel all now depend on Moscow’s approval to advance their interests in Syria.  This outcome has been sealed by this week’s sudden windfall, all without the firing of a single Russian bullet. All roads to Syria now run through Moscow.  Mr. Putin could hardly ask for more.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“That was some vote in the House Wednesday on a resolution opposing President Trump’s withdrawal from northern Syria and noting the mayhem that has resulted.  In an era marked by furious partisanship, the House voted 354 to 60 for the resolution.

“Democrats voted 225-0, which was no big surprise.  But Republicans also voted by more than 2 to 1 in favor of the rebuke, 129-60, and they included Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, whip Steve Scalise and Conference Chair Liz Cheney.  National security experts Mac Thornberry, former Chairman of the Armed Services Committee; top Foreign Affairs Republican Michael McCaul; and rising star and Marine veteran Michael Gallagher also opposed the President. The magnitude of the vote suggests comparable majorities when the bicameral, bipartisan resolution hits the Senate floor.

“The resolution carries no force of law, but Mr. Trump should still take it seriously.  The rebuke sends a message of eroding trust in the President’s foreign-policy judgment that could carry over to other issues.  Republicans may have felt there was safety in numbers since Mr. Trump will find it harder to single out individuals for Twitter targeting.

“The vote also shows that Mr. Trump is wrong in assuming that all Republicans are following him on a path of retreat from global commitments.  Most Republicans still believe in American global leadership and the robust use of military power when warranted.  Mr. Trump has been listening too much to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul if he thinks the GOP is moving toward isolationism.  The Republicans on Capitol Hill we talk to privately are more concerned that Mr. Trump’s policies are moving too close to Barack Obama’s for comfort.

“Mr. Trump essentially validated the House rebuke with remarks at a press conference Wednesday that lashed out at his critics in Congress, attacked the Kurds as not really deserving of U.S. support despite having been our ground allies against Islamic State, and asserting that the U.S. has no great interest in Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish territory.  Yet he has also imposed sanctions on Turkish officials involved in the invasion and has urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop.

“Mr. Erdogan has ignored Mr. Trump’s pleas, which is what happens when foreign leaders sense weakness in an American President.”

David Ignatius / Washington Post

“At a gathering last Saturday night of military and intelligence veterans [Ed. the same one McRaven references], one topic shrouded the room: President Trump’s decision to abandon Kurdish fighters in Syria who had fought and died to help America destroy the Islamic State.

“ ‘It’s a dagger to the heart to walk away from people who shed blood for us,’ one former top CIA official who attended the black-tie dinner told me later. A retired four-star general who was there said the same thing: Trump’s retreat was an ‘unsound, morally indefensible act’ and a ‘disgrace’ to America and the soldiers who serve this country.  This sense of anguish was pervasive among those attending the event, several attendees said.  It was an annual dinner honoring the Office of Strategic Services, the secret World War II commando group that was a forerunner of today’s CIA and Special Operations forces.  The event celebrated the military alliances that have always been at the center of American power.  It was a bitter anniversary this year.

“It’s probably impossible for Americans to fully grasp the sense of betrayal felt by the Syrian Kurds, who suffered 11,000 dead and 24,000 wounded in a war that we asked them to fight.  But perhaps we can understand the shame and outrage of the Special Operations forces who fought alongside them and now see the Kurds cast aside to face their Turkish enemies alone.

“ ‘It will go down in infamy,’ said one Army officer who served in the Syria campaign.  ‘This will go down as a stain on the American reputation for decades.’  Those may sound like extreme sentiments, but they’re widely shared by those who served in the Syria mission.  For these soldiers, abandoning an ally on the battlefield is about the worst thing that can happen....

“What do these American soldiers feel as they watch Trump retreat from the Syrian battlefield and leave their former comrades to die?  They feel sick.”

Editorial / Washington Post

“Mr. Trump likes to preen and posture as a champion of American fighters.  But what more bitter medicine could a commander in chief administer to U.S. troops than ordering them to abandon the comrades who fought alongside them?  He likes to preen, too, as a great enemy of Iran, and even as he runs from Syria he is ordering 1,800 U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to deter Iran.  But that deployment, while proving the utter incoherence of his claim of ‘ending wars in the middle East,’ will have far less effect on Iran than the U.S. pullout from Syria, which opens the door for it to swell its influence there, on Israel’s border.”

Fareed Zakaria / Washington Post

“Trump’s moves in Syria are part of a Middle Eastern policy that, as Martin Indyk explains in Foreign Affairs, is in total disarray.  Indyk, who has held virtually every senior Middle East job in the U.S. government, describes how, in case after case, the Trump administration dispensed with regional experts, reversed long-standing policy and assumed that its knowledge-free approach would yield innovative, new results.  ‘In fact,’ Indyk says, the administration ‘understands so little about how the Middle East actually works that its bungling efforts have been a failure across the board. As so often in the past, the cynical locals are manipulating a clueless outsider, advancing their personal agendas at the naïve Americans’ expense.’

“Indyk continues, ‘Almost three years into his term, Trump has nothing to show for his efforts to counter Iran or promote peace in the Middle East.  Instead, his policies have fueled the conflict between Iran and Israel, alienated the Palestinians, supported an unending war and a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and split the Gulf Cooperation Council, possibly permanently.’....

“The hallmark of Trump’s foreign policy is a disdain for experts and professionals and a lack of interest in history or past policy.  When asked during the campaign to name experts whom he consulted on foreign policy, he replied, ‘My primary consultant is myself.’  The policies we are witnessing from Ukraine to the Middle East are a direct consequence of the triumph of gut over brain, of emotion over intelligence and of personal ambition over national interest. And some of the pushback in recent weeks has been the revolt of experts, finally fed up with the mess.

“Watching the Syria debacle, one cannot help but think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of two rich, arrogant and intellectually uncurious characters in ‘The Great Gatsby.’  ‘They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.’”

---

--The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, told a congressional hearing in his opening statement that he was “disappointed” that President Trump directed him and other diplomats to work with Rudy Giuliani to root out corruption in Ukraine.

“Indeed, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing.  We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between President Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland said.

Sondland was referring to Energy Secretary Rick Perry* and former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who were at the meeting, held three days after Volodymyr Zelensky had been elected president of Ukraine, with others trying to get Trump to extend an invite to the White House.

*Perry announced his resignation this week.

Trump, Sondland said, was reluctant to do so because he “was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those involved to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns.”

When U.S. ambassador Bill Taylor raised the issue of whether the Trump administration was holding up nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to coerce Zelensky to look into the Bidens, Sondland said he would reach out to Trump.

“I asked the President: ‘What do you want from Ukraine?’ The President responded, ‘Nothing.  There is no quid pro quo.’  The President repeated: ‘no quid pro quo’ multiple times,” Sondland said.  “This was a very short call.  And I recall the President was in a bad mood.”

Sondland added the directive to work with Giuliani left a bad impression on him and the others.

“Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine,” he said in his remarks.

But Sondland said he, Sec. Perry and Amb. Volker decided to work with Giuliani.

He said he didn’t grasp “until much later” that part of Giuliani’s agenda was “to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.”

The July 25 phone call Trump then had with Zelensky was the genesis of the impeachment inquiry.

So then Thursday in a surprise appearance in the White House press room, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said there was indeed a quid pro quo involved with Ukraine.

“The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was one thing,” Mulvaney said, referring to the debunked right-wing conspiracy theory claiming anti-Trump Ukrainians interfered in the last election to help Hillary Clinton.

Mulvaney then shrugged when asked whether what he described didn’t in fact amount to the quid pro quo that Trump and his officials had thus far denied took place.

“We do that all the time with foreign policy.  Get over it.  Politics is going to be involved in foreign policy.  Elections have consequences,” Mulvaney said, totally undercutting Trump’s repeated denials of a quid pro quo that linked security aid for Ukraine to Trump’s unsubstantiated theory that a server with missing Democratic emails was being held by a company based in Ukraine.

Mulvaney said at one point of the president, “Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the D.N.C. server?  Absolutely.  No question about that.  But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.”

Earlier, Fiona Hill, the president’s former senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council, testified to a House committee that Mulvaney was one of three Trump loyalists conducting a rogue foreign policy operation in Ukraine.

Ms. Hill told lawmakers that John Bolton, then national security adviser, instructed her in early July to advise the NSC’s chief lawyer about the effort by Mulvaney, Sondland and Rudy Giuliani.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at Hill’s deposition.

During an earlier conversation with Ms. Hill, she quoted Bolton as saying, “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”

--In a meeting on Wednesday that included Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Trump trash talked former Defense Secretary James Mattis, calling him “the world’s most overrated general,” per those in the meeting.

Schumer attempted to read a quote from Mattis, stating: “If we don’t keep the pressure on, then ISIS wil resurge.  It’s absolutely a given that they will come back.”

But Trump reportedly cut Schumer off, asserting Mattis “wasn’t tough enough.”

“I captured ISIS,” Trump touted, adding, “Mattis said it would take 2 years. I captured them in one month.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley clarified: “ISIS is defeated not destroyed.”

In Mattis’ resignation letter in December, he criticized America’s fraying relationship with foreign allies, and its coziness with “countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours,” such as Russia and China.

Back to the tone of the meeting, all you needed to know was that Trump looked at Pelosi, Schumer and Hoyer at the start and said, “I don’t know who called this...I did not call it.”

Meanwhile, Thursday night at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, hosted by the Archdiocese of New York, Gen. Mattis was the keynote speaker.

“I’m honored to be considered (the world’s most overrated general) by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress,” Mattis joked.

“So I guess I’m the Meryl Streep of generals and frankly that sounds pretty good to me.  And you do have to admit between me and Meryl, at least we’ve had some victories.”

Mattis also jabbed at Trump for avoiding the draft in the Vietnam era by presenting a doctor’s finding that bone spurs in his feet barred him from service.

“I earned my spurs on the battlefield... And Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor,” Mattis said.

--Finally, President Trump has decided to host the Group of 7 meeting next June at the Trump National Doral resort near Miami, as announced by Mick Mulvaney in his press conference yesterday, a decision that immediately raised all manner of questions.

Just a freakin’ joke.  But as I noted the first time this potentiality came up, still, no one is bringing up the obvious.  You can NOT have a summit at Doral because it is impossible to enforce a no-fly zone with Miami International Airport essentially on top of it.

If I’m part of a sleeper cell, training commercial pilots, you are licking your chops.  You have about eight months to work your way into a flight schedule.  I mean it’s not like you can shut down Miami International for a few days.

Editorial / New York Post

“President Trump is 100% right to note that Hunter Biden profited massively off his father’s high government position: Even if none of it was ever illegal, it’s still wrong.

“So why can’t the president see the problem with having next June’s G-7 summit at the Trump National in Doral, Florida?

“It doesn’t matter if the resort only charges cost, as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney vowed Thursday – or if it’s ‘by far and away the best physical location.’  It’s still wrong.

“Even if the place is absolutely perfect...it’s still the president’s resort.

“Fine: Trump is rightly proud of what he built in his earlier career. But he has a new job now – and a public trust....

“It’s not the obscure issue of ‘emoluments’...that you have to think about, sir.

“It’s that voters expect and deserve clear signs that their president is working for them – not promoting himself.

“Tell Mulvaney to line up someplace else.”

A place that isn’t spitting distance from a major airport.

--Trump tweets:

“You would think there is NO WAY that any of the Democrat Candidates that we witnessed last night could possibly become President of the United States.  Now you see why they have no choice but to push a totally illegal & absurd Impeachment of one of the most successful Presidents!”

“This (Turkey) deal could NEVER have been made 3 days ago.  There needed to be some ‘tough’ love in order to get it done.  Great for everybody.  Proud of all!

“This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path.  People have been trying to make this ‘Deal’ for many years.  Millions of lives will be saved.  Congratulations to ALL!”

“I am the only person who can fight for the safety of our troops & bring them home from the ridiculous & costly Endless Wars, and be scorned.  Democrats always liked that position, until I took it.  Democrats always liked Walls, until I built them.  Do you see what’s happening here?”

“Nancy Pelosi needs help fast! There is either something wrong with her ‘upstairs,’ or she just plain doesn’t like our great Country. She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch.  Pray for her, she is a very sick person!”

“Somebody please explain to Chris Wallace of Fox, who will never be his father (and my friend), Mike Wallace, that the Phone Conversation I had with the President of Ukraine was a congenial & good one.  It was only Schiff’s made up version of that conversation that was bad!”

Wall Street and the Trade War

The International Monetary Fund dropped its global outlook due to the negative effects of trade tensions, with 2019 cut to 3% from 3.2% expected in its July forecast.

The estimate is the slowest since 2008-2009.  The projection was as high as 3.9% in mid-2018.  The 2020 projection was cut to 3.4% from 3.5% previously.

The IMF says it sees some support due to easier policy stances from many global central banks, while demand could also be boosted by easing in U.S.-China trade tensions and if a no-deal Brexit is averted.

U.S. growth prospects were cut to 2.4% (it was 2.9% last year) from 2.6%, though 2020 was raised to 2.1% from 1.9%.  Euro-area growth was lowered to 1.2% for 2019 from 1.3% and to 1.4% from 1.6% for 2020.

The UK was cut to 1.2% for this year, and left unchanged at 1.4% for 2020.  Germany was cut to 0.5% for 2019 (down from 1.5% in 2018).

China was trimmed to 6.1% this year and to just 5.8% in 2020.  Japan is at 0.9% 2019, 0.5% next year.

As for this week’s economic data in the United States, September retail sales came in down 0.3% when a gain of 0.3% was expected.  However, August was revised upward and I wouldn’t make much of this lone September number.

September housing starts also came in less than forecast, 1.256 million annualized, down 9.4%, though single-family starts were up a little over last month and that’s a positive.

September industrial production was down 0.4%, not good.

The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer for third-quarter growth is just 1.8%.

On the U.S.-China trade front...as I note further below, the economic data in China is not good and whether or not this influences trade talks and China’s willingness to cut a deal favorable to the U.S. remains to be seen.

On Tuesday, Taoran Notes, a social media account affiliated with the official Economic Daily, said China and the U.S. essentially shared the “same position” on the progress of the talks, a trade truce having been reached last week, with negotiators on both sides now working on the language for a “phase one” agreement.

“If the Chinese side has disagreement with [what U.S. President Donald Trump has said], it will make a response immediately,” it said.

“People who are familiar with China’s situation would know that China takes a very cautious approach when it comes to official language used in announcements to the public...but we can confirm that both sides essentially share the same stance.”

The U.S. has been upbeat, saying the two sides had reached a “substantial phase one deal,” but it is going to take weeks to finalize, the goal to have everything ready for a signing between Trump and Xi Jinping when they meet at an economic forum in Chile in November.

But Chinese state media has cautioned against being “overly optimistic” about negotiations.

And I’m not going to waste any time today on the supposed deal, given the lack of details, except to say that the discussed $40-$50 billion in Chinese ag buys from U.S. farmers has to be stacked up against past reality.  Between 2012 and 2017, China’s purchases of U.S. farm goods averaged about $21 billion annually, with the figure plunging to $8.6 billion in 2018 amid the beginning of the trade war.

China is not going to be suddenly buying $40 billion a year.  For starters, with soybeans being a big potential purchase, China isn’t going to want to upset its new supply chain in Brazil, for example.

Where the U.S. could, however, benefit greatly is with pork, as spelled out further below, owing to China’s huge issue with African swine fever.  China has begun buying U.S. pork and the purchases over time could be substantial.  Sources tell me the hogs, though, are not that excited about such a long trip, but I don’t want to be the one to tell them they might already be packaged when they are loaded onto the cargo ship.

As for the discussed removal of business restrictions on foreign banks, brokerages and fund management firms in China, details are non-existent at this point.

A lot of what transpires over the coming weeks will have to do with the geopolitical situation, specifically, in the short term, Hong Kong.  This Sunday’s planned massive demonstration there could be telling.  China is not happy with U.S. congressional action backing the protesters and slamming Beijing.

Trump tweet: “The deal I just made with China is, by far, the greatest and biggest deal ever made for our Great Patriot Farmers in the history of our Country. In fact, there is a question as to whether or not this much product can be produced?  Our farmers will figure it out. Thank you, China!

“...Other aspects of the deal are also great – technology, financial services, 16-20 Billion in Boeing Planes etc., but WOW, the Farmers really hit pay dirt! @Chuck Grassley @joniernst @debfisher @BenSasse Thank you to all Republicans in Congress for your invaluable help!”

Sen. Ben Sasse / Washington Post

“The Chinese Communist Party and the American people are locked in conflict.  We have been for years.  Recently, we have fought with cyberweapons and cyberespionage, but the biggest share of this war has been waged with businesses.  That’s part of the problem. With a population of 1.4 billion, China is a lucrative market.  But getting into that market isn’t cheap.  At best, the price of doing business in China is silence; at worst, it’s reading talking points straight from the Chinese Communist Party. Beijing is not subtle about it. China is making an example out of the NBA.   The Global Times, the government’s propaganda newspaper, warned Western businesses that ‘global brands better stay away from politics.’  In its typical threatening tone, the Communist Party laid it all bare: ‘The biggest lesson which can be drawn from the matter is that entities that value commercial interests must make their members speak cautiously.’

“The message is inescapably clear: If you’re a U.S. company, the only acceptable position is the Chinese Communist Party’s position:

“The kid in Hong Kong they shot at point-blank range?  Don’t mention it.  The Muslims they torture in re-education camps?  Don’t object. The threat to Taiwan?  Tread carefully.  Let’s be clear: The NBA’s surrender is nothing new.  American businesses have been silent for years as C-suite executives chased Chinese markets for higher profits. But, like Sun Tzu’s [Ed. “The Art of War”] enemies, we’ve found ourselves encircled, playing by China’s rules and struggling to keep up.

“Communists aren’t seizing businesses; they’re co-opting them. Just last week, Apple took HKmap.live off its App Store after Beijing complained that Hong Kong protesters were using it to organize. ESPN not only warned its employees to avoid talking about the Hong Kong protests but also described the pro-democracy protests as ‘anti-government.’ Even worse, the network used a propaganda map of China that includes the South China Sea as Chinese territory, despite the fact that U.S. sailors are patrolling there to prevent that annexation. Clothing manufacturers, hotels and airlines have been forced to  adopt the Chinese Communist Party’s official talking points about its supposed ownership of Tibet and Taiwan.

“We’ve lost the opening battles, but we’re not fated to lose the war.

“U.S. businesses must step up to the plate and aggressively confront China’s intimidation campaign. And if they don’t have the courage and integrity to fight back, American consumers should demand that our companies put basic human rights above profit margins. The U.S. government has a role to play, too; Washington needs to stem the rising tide of Chinese intellectual property theft and cyberattacks so that we can empower American businesses to take a tougher stand.  If free and open societies don’t wake up to this geopolitical reality, we’re going to be encircled before there’s time to fight back....

“We ought to have the courage of our convictions and confidence in our own ingenuity.

“After all, that’s what America is all about. Either that, or learn Mandarin.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Mr. Trump deserves credit for challenging China’s abusive practices, but he’d be in a stronger negotiating position had his tariffs not done so much to weaken the U.S. economy.  By withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he reduced U.S. trade leverage with China. By imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on allies, he made it harder to form a coalition of trading partners to confront China as a united front.  By focusing on the economically irrelevant bilateral U.S.-China trade deficit, he distracted from China’s serious trade abuses.

“If Mr. Trump gets a second chance with China in a second term, these are the mistakes to avoid if he wants a better deal.”

Europe and Asia

Just a little data from the eurozone (EA19).

August industrial production was up 0.4% over July, but down 2.8% from a year ago.

EA19 inflation for September came in at 0.8% vs. 1.0% in August, and 2.1% a year ago.

The decline in inflation has been pronounced virtually across the board.

Germany 0.9% (2.2% a year ago)
France 1.1% (2.5%)
Italy 0.2% (1.5%)
Spain 0.2% (2.3%)

The German government lowered its 2020 forecast for economic growth to 1.0% from 1.5% prior, with 2019 still pegged at 0.5%.  Hardly what the EU needs overall.

Brexit: Britain’s exit from the European Union has come down to a vote in the British parliament tomorrow, Saturday, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson scrambles to convince doubters to support his last-minute EU divorce deal in what promises to be a truly historic day for the nation.

Johnson confounded his critics by clinching a deal with the EU after that body had promised it wouldn’t reopen the treaty it had agreed to with former PM Theresa May.

But now Johnson, the face of the Brexit campaign back in 2016, has to get it ratified in a parliament where he has no majority and opponents are plotting how to damage his prospects the most ahead of an imminent election.

Johnson’s Northern Irish allies, the DUP, however, have said they are opposed to the deal and the three main opposition parties have pledged to vote it down.

“We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control – now parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday,” Johnson said ahead of the first Saturday sitting of parliament since the 1982 Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.

If he wins the vote, Johnson will go down in history as the leader who delivered Brexit – for good or bad.  If he fails, well, it’s total humiliation, having staked his career on getting Brexit done after he took over for Mrs. May.

May was forced to delay Britain’s departure date after parliament voted down her deal three separate times by a margin of 58 to 230 votes.

Johnson is casting Saturday’s vote as a choice between getting it done, or crashing out of the EU without a deal, which would result in untold consequences and probably a return to violence in Northern Ireland.

It is expected that the process  on Saturday, with unlimited debate, could result in a long evening.  I have seen stories where debate is limited to 90 minutes, but whenever a vote takes place, afterwards, you then will have all kinds of debate on ‘what happens next?’ should it be voted down.  There are those who also want to make the deal conditional on a second referendum.

The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) has said it would oppose the deal and lobby a faction of around 28 hardline Brexit supporters in Johnson’s Conservative Party to also vote it down.

The DUP believes the deal would have a negative impact on the economy of Northern Ireland and spark further nationalist sentiment, with leader Arlene Foster accusing Johnson of being “quite desperate,” saying her party won’t back a border in the Irish Sea, as the deal now reads.

The biggest single concession made by Johnson was that he had to accept the EU’s demand that there can be no border checks of any kind for customs or regulations on the island of Ireland.

Under the new plan, there will be checks within the UK between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The EU is praising Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar for being the man who made the impossible, possible, by compromising with Johnson.

Varadkar said on Thursday: “What we have is a revised agreement, a new solution, a unique solution which recognizes the unique history of Northern Ireland, different from the backstop, more likely to be used to come into force and could become permanent, but only with the consent of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland.”

Johnson said: “We’ve been at this now, as I say, for three-and-a-half years. It hasn’t always been an easy experience for the UK.  It’s been long, it’s been painful, it’s been divisive.

“And now is the moment for us as a country to come together. Now is the moment for our parliamentarians to come together and get this thing done.”

Without the DUP’s 10 votes, Johnson needs Labour Party rebels to support him.  Most believe the vote will be close but fall short.

So we await history in a matter of hours.

Spain: In an historic ruling with major ramifications, Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition over their role in an independence referendum in 2017.  Three other defendants were found guilty of disobedience and fined, but will not serve prison sentences.

The prosecution had sought up to 25 years in prison for the former vice president of Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras, the highest-ranking pro-independence leader on trial, and he was handed the longest sentence of 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds.  The other sentences ranged from nine years upwards.

The nine were acquitted of a more serious charge of rebellion.

Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the leader’s imprisonment signified the defeat of the independence movement, whose long-running campaign has caused Spain’s most serious political crisis since the death of dictator Francisco Franco four decades ago.

But after the court in Madrid announced the verdicts, protesters marched on Barcelona’s airport, blocked highways and halted traffic at several points in the northwestern region.

According to the latest poll, 48% of Catalans are against secession and 44% in favor.  Separatists are demanding a referendum in 2021.

Spain is also facing a national election on Nov. 10, the country’s fourth in four years, which could influence the independence movement.

Nearly 100 were injured in protests on Wednesday as they’ve continued all week, including today.  But many of the residents and businesses are getting ticked off at the protesters.  Spain’s acting interior minister said today that violent protesters could face up to six years in prison under Spanish law.

Turning to Asia...tons of data from China, including a critical reading on third-quarter GDP, just 6.0% annualized (vs. 6.2% in Q2), the weakest pace since March 1992, when such figures were first reported.  The trade war is killing China.  Many are now forecasting 5.9% in the fourth quarter, with the government having forecast earlier in the year that 2019 growth would come in between 6% and 6.5%.

Separately, we had a slew of figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Retail sales in September were a respectable 7.8% vs. a year ago, while industrial production was up 5.8% in the month.  Fixed asset investments (roads, airports, rails) was up 5.4% for the first nine months.  All three were more or less in line with expectations.

China’s consumer prices rose 3% in September, though ex-food were up just 1.0%.  The thing is food prices, more important here than in the U.S., rose 11% last month vs. a year ago, with pork prices surging 69% owing to the African swine fever outbreak, which has seen pork production plunge 17.2% from a year earlier for the first nine months, with the pig herd declining 28.5% from a year ago.

Producer, or factory gate, prices in China fell 1.2% in September year-over-year.

But earlier in the week we had some telling data on exports for September, courtesy of the Customs administration, down 3.2% vs. a year ago, the biggest monthly decline since February, while China’s imports fell 8.5%.

Imports from the U.S. plummeted 26.4% in the first nine months, while exports to the U.S. were down 10.7%.  For September, exports to the U.S. were down 17.8%, imports down 20.5%. 

Back to the GDP number, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who is supposed to be in charge of the economy, urged local government officials this week to do everything possible to keep economic growth on track, sending a strong signal that Beijing is increasingly concerned about a deeper-than-expected slowdown.

Li told five provincial governors on Monday that local officials must “enhance the sense of urgency and responsibility” to ensure stable economic growth and “must put growth in a more prominent position” on their work agenda, according to a statement on the government’s website.

“The downward pressure on the economy is increasing continuously, and many real economic entities are struggling amid weak domestic demand,” Li said.  He added local authorities must do everything they can to “make sure targets for this year are achieved.”  [South China Morning Post]

In other words, time to cook the books, sports fans!  [Even more than they normally are.]

Street Bytes

--Stocks finished mixed on the week after a big swoon on Friday, 255 points in the Dow Jones, after Reuters and the New York Times reported that a test pilot for Boeing said in text messages in 2016 that the MCAS system in the 737 MAX was making the plane difficult to fly in flight simulators.  Boeing shares fell 6.8% in response.  And shares in fellow Dow component Johnson & Johnson cratered 6.2% today after the company recalled a lot of baby powder because of the risk of asbestos.

Overall, the Dow fell 0.2% this week to 26770, while the S&P 500 gained 0.5% and Nasdaq 0.4%.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 1.62%  2-yr. 1.57%  10-yr. 1.75%  30-yr. 2.24%

--The United Auto Workers struck a tentative labor deal with General Motors Co. on Wednesday, the first step in ending the monthlong strike that has brought a halt to production.

The nationwide strike, the company’s longest since 1970, continued as union leaders decided whether to end the walkout immediately or continue it until the contract is ratified by rank-and-file workers – a process that could take a week or two.

The four-year contract would come amidst an environment where auto-industry sales are expected to decline in the coming years.

GM is coming off one of its most profitable periods, but has been cutting costs and restructuring in preparation for an uncertain future, as well as making big investments in electric and self-driving cars.

The UAW is attempting to save jobs and benefits, even as the production of electric cars requires fewer parts and workers to build.

As part of the proposed deal, GM would commit to investing $7.7 billion in its U.S. factories over the four-year contract, which would preserve or create 9,000 jobs.

In turn, the automaker will move forward with plans to close or sell three now-idled U.S. factories, including the Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant.  GM would also be allowed to continue its operations in Mexico, which the company is insisting on for flexibility.

Additionally, the agreement includes wage increases of 3% in two years, as well as a 4% bonus payment in the other two years.  By 2023, all permanent manufacturing employees will make $32.32 an hour, no matter how many years they’ve worked at GM.  Workers currently make $17 to $29.24 an hour, depending on seniority.  There would be no changes to the existing health-care plan in terms of worker contributions.

As a result of the strike, more than 100 of the automaker’s suppliers have laid off as many as 12,000 of their own workers, according to an industry trade group, as the largest U.S. labor action in a decade ripples through the economy.

The walkout has forced the shutdown of 34 plants across the United States.

So Thursday, the UAW agreed to extend the 32-day walkout amid rumbling from members about a plan that allows GM to close Lordstown and plants in Baltimore and Warren, Mich., which had all been closed earlier this year.

A parts distribution plant in Fontana, Calif., will also close, according to the agreement.

The workers will stay off the job while they digest the full proposal.  GM’s hourly workers may still ratify the plan, but as I said earlier, it will take a while.

--J.P. Morgan Chase posted profit and record revenue in the third quarter that exceeded expectations on the strength of consumer banking operations that helped the bank mitigate the impact of lower interest rates.

The bank said profit rose 8% to $9.1 billion, or $2.68 per share, far exceeding consensus of $2.45.  Revenue also rose a solid 8% to a record $30.1 billion, also beating estimates.  JPM cited growth in home loans, auto and credit cards.  The stock rose 3% in response.

“The consumer remains healthy with growth in wages and spending, combined with strong balance sheets and low unemployment levels,” CEO Jamie Dimon said in the earnings release.

“This is being offset by weakening business sentiment and capital expenditures mostly driven by increasingly complex geopolitical risks, including tensions in global trade.”

On a conference call after the earnings release, Dimon did say, “Of course there’s a recession ahead – what we don’t know is if it’s going to happen soon.”

The Federal Reserve’s shift to lowering interest has squeezed the banking sectors profit margins, and banks like JPM have warned that net interest income would be lower than earlier guidance.

Still, the bank posted $14.4 billion in the third-quarter in this category, exceeding estimates.

Trading revenue was solid, but below the level of the second quarter.

--Goldman Sachs reported profit slumped 26% to $1.88 billion in Q3, below forecasts, with revenue down 6% to $8.32 billion, in line, on lower results in the firm’s investing and lending and investment banking divisions.  Trading revenue slightly exceeded expectations.

CEO David Solomon, who took over in October 2018, has been undergoing an internal review of the bank’s operations that has sparked some high-level departures.  The review is also taking longer than expected as investors look for a resurgence of the old Goldman.  The firm is plowing money into new ventures including retail banking to diversify from its traditional strengths in trading.

--Citigroup reported earnings and revenue that topped forecasts in the quarter, $1.97 on the former (adjusted), $18.6 billion on the latter.

CEO Michael Corbat also touted the strength of the U.S. consumer, noting branded-cards revenue expanded by 11% in North America during the third quarter.

But the company’s lending business posted weaker-than-forecast results, with net interest income at $11.64 billion, less than the Street forecast.

And CFO Mark Mason said business customers have been showing “pause, in terms of whether they actually want to invest in building out facilities or operations, pause in terms of whether they want to consider entering into new markets,” an admission the slowdown is affecting Citi’s business.

CEO Corbat, on a call with analysts, said of the trade war, “If we could start to get some clarity on some of these things, where I think businesses can have some more surety on the future, our trade business would definitely benefit from that.”

--Bank of America Corp. reported third-quarter profit of $5.78 billion, compared with $7.17 billion a year ago, but the bank posted gains in its consumer, wealth and commercial businesses.  Adjusted earnings beat expectations.  Revenue was $22.81 billion, up from $22.72 billion a year ago, which also beat the Street.

--Wells Fargo reported revenue in the quarter of $22 billion, slightly more than a year ago, as the country’s fourth-largest bank is still operating under growth restrictions imposed by its regulators, with per-share earnings of 92 cents lower than the Street’s expectations because of ongoing expenses from its legal woes; Wells reporting a $1.6 billion charge for legal expenses in Q3 related to “one of the largest lingering issues related to sales practices.”

The bank’s new CEO, Charles Scharf, ex- of Bank of New York Mellon, starts next week.

--Morgan Stanley’s third-quarter profit rose 3% to $2.17 billion, or $1.27 a share, both far exceeding estimates, while revenue came in at $10.03 billion.  Accounting for a one-time tax benefit, though, profit was actually down 5% from a year ago.

CEO James Gorman said, “We remain cautious today, as trade talks swirl and interest-rate paths continue to be debated.  But expect us to look beyond the next few months.”

Morgan Stanley’s total assets crossed $900 billion for the first time since 2008, but Gorman complains the bank isn’t allowed to grow at its own pace and remains hamstrung by regulators.

--Johnson & Johnson reported third-quarter results that were ahead of expectations as sales rose across all segments, driven by pharmaceuticals, while the company lifted its full-year guidance ahead of previous projections.

Sales rose 1.9% year-on-year to $20.7 billion, ahead of consensus, with adjusted earnings of $2.12 a share, while analysts were looking for $2.01.

Pharmaceuticals sales rose 6.4%, driven by sales of Stelarza for treating immune-mediated inflammatory diseases and Darzalex, which is used for multiple myeloma, a type of cancer.

Medical device operational sales rose 5.3% to $6.38 billion, driven by electrophysiology products, Acuvue contact lenses and trauma products for orthopedics.

But as for the myriad of suits against the company, J&J is acting like it’s all no big deal.  According to a report, post earnings release, JNJ has offered to pay about $4 billion to settle all lawsuits in the opioid-addiction epidemic.

But now we have the baby powder recall after the company received a test report from the Food and Drug Administration regarding trace amounts of asbestos.  An investigation could take 30 days or more.  For good reason the shares cratered this afternoon.

--In line with the above, three major drug distributors – McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp., and Cardinal Health Inc. – are in talks to pay $18 billion over 18 years to settle sweeping litigation brought by state and local governments blaming them for fueling the opioid crisis, according to reports.  Johnson & Johnson is also involved in the discussions to contribute additional money, over what it has already committed to in a prior settlement with two Ohio counties.

Pressure has been mounting on the pharmaceutical companies to settle the lawsuits and cap the liability.

--United Airlines posted $1 billion in profit for the third quarter, aided by cheaper jet fuel and slightly higher fares.

UAL indicated that demand for leisure and business travel is holding up well despite concern about the slowing global economy, although there are pockets of weakness such as China.

The worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX after two fatal crashes led to thousands of canceled flights and lost revenue for United, but the company did not provide specifics.  The airline has removed the MAX from its schedule until Jan. 6 and dropped nearly 8,300 flights between October and early January.

Some investors are concerned that when the grounded planes return to UAL, Southwest and American, there will be more seats for sale and fares will drop.  United didn’t look into the first quarter of next year, only saying it expected revenue in the current quarter per seat to be flat to up 2%.

Since early last year, United has been growing aggressively in Chicago and Denver, as well as adding flights between hub airports and smaller cities.  Normally, such rapid growth spooks investors, but the results have been positive.

Revenue overall was slightly below expectations, at $11.38 billion, but it’s understandable that this was blamed in part on a drop in travel to Hong Kong, where anti-government protests have scared off tourists and business travelers.

--Details on Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg losing his chairman title last Friday were slow to emerge and some of them came after I posted earlier in the evening.

Boeing announced that company directors decided to separate the two jobs and elected one of their own, David L. Calhoun, to serve as non-executive chairman.

Earlier last Friday, a panel of international aviation regulators issued a report critical of Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration over how the MAX was approved to fly.  The group said Boeing failed to adequately inform the FAA about changes to a key flight-control system (MCAS) implicated in the accidents.

“The MCAS design was based on data, architecture, and assumptions that were reused from a previous aircraft configuration without sufficient detailed aircraft-level evaluation of the appropriateness of such reuse, and without additional safety margins and features,” the report from the Joint Authorities Technical Review said.

Another key finding: Changes to the MCAS during the certification process were not sufficiently updated or reviewed, and any possible impacts the changes would have on flight crews were not identified.  Boeing has been sharply criticized for not including the MCAS information in initial training manuals for the plane.

Christopher Hart, former NTSB chairman and head of the panel issuing the report, said the FAA certification process is in need of significant updates to reflect, among other things, the complex, inter-related systems in airplanes today.

“The good news is there’s more automation.  The bad news is there is more automation,” he said.

Hart added the FAA is having trouble attracting the technology talent needed to evaluate new systems.

The Justice Department and Congress are investigating the company, as Boeing also faces dozens of lawsuits by families of passengers who died in the two crashes.

Muilenburg is scheduled to testify Oct. 29-30 before a House committee looking into the plane’s certification.  Boeing still hasn’t formally submitted its software fix to regulators.

And then this afternoon we received word the company had turned over instant messages from 2016 between two employees who suggested Boeing may have misled the FAA on the MCAS system and the stock tanked, raising all kinds of new issues and questions as to Muilenburg’s status.

--Chinese auto sales fell in September for the 15th month in 16, extending their worst slump in a generation despite government efforts to support the world’s largest car market.

Sales of sedans, SUVs, minivans and multipurpose vehicles dropped 6.6 percent from a year earlier to 1.81 million units, the China Passenger Car Association said in a statement posted on its official WeChat account on Saturday.

The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers forecasts a drop in vehicle deliveries to dealers in 2019, only the second annual decline in three decades.

General Motors said the week before that its third-quarter deliveries of its vehicles in China tumbled 18 percent from the same period in 2018.

--Netflix shares surged 9% initially on news the company’s third-quarter revenue grew 31% to $5.2 billion, essentially in line with expectations, but net income was $665.2 million, well above analyst projections of $471 million.

Netflix shares had fallen 21% from the last earnings report, but the company announced it added 6.77 million paid customers around the globe, topping expectations, while the company projected it would pick up 7.6 million in the last three months of the year.  Analysts on this score expected a forecast of 9.4 million.

For 2019, Netflix expects it will add 26.7 million subscribers (compared with the 28.6 million it added in 2018).

Netflix raised the cost of its subscription plans for U.S. customers, a factor the company cited in its second-quarter subscriber decline.  Netflix’s most popular plan, a standard subscription, went up $2, to $12.99 a month.

Netflix said it has a budget to spend roughly $15 billion in cash this year on content, an amount expected to grow to $35 billion in 2025, according to one research group.  The company’s long-term debt, which is fueling its content spending, has grown to $12.4 billion, compared with $8.3 billion a year ago.

Meanwhile, Netflix is facing increased competition from competitors including Disney and Apple, who are launching their subscription services next month at a fraction of the cost; Disney’s plan starting at $6.99 a month, while Apple TV+, which launches with nine original programs, will cost $4.99 a month.

Netflix believes the company’s portfolio helps set it apart from the competition, including a new series of deals with top Hollywood talent, including a much-anticipated gangster film, “The Irishman,” directed by Martin Scorsese, which premiers in November.

--Huawei said on Wednesday that its sales growth recovered in the most recent quarter, suggesting the Chinese telecom giant is weathering the storm of having the Trump administration attempt to stifle its business around the world.

The U.S. has added Huawei to an export blacklist, restricting its access to key American-origin parts it needs to make its smartphones and telecom gear, which hit sales.  But for the first nine months of the year, Huawei said its smartphone shipments rose 26% to 185 million during the Jan.-Sept. period.

Revenue overall during the first nine months rose 24% to $86.2 billion.

U.S. officials have argued the Chinese government could use the company’s products to gather intelligence, an accusation Huawei has long denied.

But as telecom carriers around the world look to upgrade their networks for 5G, the next generation of wireless technology, Huawei remains a top supplier.

--Uber began handing out pink slips to 350 employees, according to reports, the ride-hailing giant having trimmed more than 1,000 jobs since it laid off 400 from its marketing team in July, followed by 435 engineers in September.

CEO Dara Khosrowshahi called Monday’s cut “the last wave of a process we began months ago,” according to a letter to employees obtained by a tech blog.

Uber has a global workforce of 22,000.

--Sears and Kmart store closings are expected to continue into early 2020, more than 100.  At the time of the company’s bankruptcy filing on Oct. 15, 2018, 142 store closures were announced.  As in a year later, Sear is struggling with many of the same problems it faced before it sought court protection.

Eddie Lampert, former CEO and chairman of Sears Holdings Corp., who bought the 425 best Sears and Kmart stores out of bankruptcy under a newly created company, Transform Holdco LLC, thought the stores were the strongest in the fleet, with about half of them being profitable at the time of the purchase, according to a person familiar with the situation.

But the stores’ performance has been deteriorating rapidly, thus the new closures.

--In an unexpected development, Oracle Corp. co-CEO Mark Hurd has died, age 62.  He had gone on medical leave five weeks ago but the company didn’t provide any details at the time.  The pressure is now on co-CEO Safra Catz to lead the company’s ongoing transition to cloud computing.  Founder Larry Ellison may now take on even more responsibilities once again.

--Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in a rare policy speech on Thursday, asserted a commitment to free expression as consistent with American values.  Zuckerberg said he worries that “increasingly today across the spectrum, it seems like there are more people who prioritize getting the political outcomes that they want over making sure that everyone can be heard.”

“I am here today because I believe we must continue to stand for free expression.”

Zuckerberg’s speech at Georgetown University came amid brewing disagreements about whether Facebook should police and make judgments on whether political ads contain falsehoods, days before executives will appear on Capitol Hill to face lawmakers.

Critics argue the company needs to do more to prevent the spread of misinformation as the 2020 election nears.

Zuckerberg likes to defend Facebook as a defender of free expression, but the company has spent the last two years trying to address public concerns about hate speech and misinformation on its platform.  His speech highlighted that he is concerned the company is taking the effort too far.

Zuckerberg has positioned social media’s rise as a positive, calling it a “Fifth Estate.”

“I actually believe the much bigger story is how much these platforms have decentralized power by putting it directly into people’s hands,” he added.

I want to throw up.

--SpaceX has bet its future on small satellites that could beam the internet down to Earth and now the company has requested permission from an international regulatory group to operate as many as 30,000 satellites at a specific frequency, power level and location in space.  The company had received prior permission from the U.S. government to operate about 12,000 satellites and launched 60 initially in May.

SpaceX says in a statement that it was taking steps to “responsibly scale” the total network capacity and data density to “meet the growth in users’ anticipated needs.”

SpaceX makes money by launching satellites for commercial and government customers and ferrying cargo for NASA to the International Space Station. But CEO Elon Musk has said the company’s launch revenue probably maxes out at about $3 billion a year.

However, the global internet connectivity sector is worth an estimated $1 trillion, and SpaceX has a goal of capturing 3% of that over time, or $30 billion.

Musk wants to use revenue from SpaceX to fund his Mars spaceship known as Starship that would be capable of ferrying up to 100 people to the red planet.

Boy, those 100 better get along.

--E-cigarette behemoth Juul stopped selling all fruity flavored products nationwide on Thursday, amid a burgeoning vaping health crisis that’s claimed dozens of lives and left thousands sickened, the company announced.

“We must reset the vapor category by earning the trust of society and working cooperatively with regulators, policymakers, and stakeholders to combat underage use while providing an alternative to adult smokers,” Juul’s new CEO K.C. Crosthwaite said in a statement.

The ban on sales will span at least until the Food and Drug Administration completes a safety review of the products, Juul said.

The FDA said it plans to pull all flavored vapes off store shelves so the products can undergo a more rigorous testing process.

Juul said it would continue to “develop scientific evidence to support the use of these flavored products, coupled with strict measures to combat underage use, as we believe these products can play an important role in helping adult smokers move away from combustible cigarettes.”

--Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley blasted LeBron James after the Lakers’ star criticized NBA general manager Daryl Morey for his tweet (“Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong”) supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

“Having just been in Hong Kong – on the streets & with the protesters – this kind of garbage is hard to take,” Hawley tweeted.  “LeBron, are YOU educated on ‘the situation’?  Why don’t you go to Hong Kong?  Why don’t you meet the people there risking their lives for their most basic liberties.”

I spell out the whole mess in my Bar Chat column, but the topic also finds its way into this space because it’s about the NBA’s ‘franchise’ in China and the $billions involved.

James spoke up for the first time on Monday, telling reporters that the controversial tweet from Morey – which was quickly deleted but nonetheless infuriated China’s communist rulers – backing the anti-government protesters was “misinformed.”

“I don’t want to get into a feud with Daryl but I believe he wasn’t educated about the situation at hand and he spoke,” James said.

“So many people could have been harmed, not only financially, but physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Just be careful what we tweet...even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech.  But there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too,” he said.

“I just think that, when you’re misinformed or you’re not educated about something – and I’m just talking about the tweet itself – you never know the ramifications that can happen.  We all see what that did, not only did for our league but for all of us in America, for people in China as well.  Sometimes you have to think through the things that you say that may cause harm not only for yourself but for the majority of people.”

Hawley was furious.  He is one of several senators who recently visited Hong Kong, as the senator has been crafting legislation to come down hard on China.

“This statement (of James’) is unbelievable.  ‘So many people could have been harmed’?  By Daryl Morey daring to express sympathy for democracy?  News flash: people ARE being harmed – shot, beaten, gassed – right now in Hong Kong.  By China.  By the Communist Party the NBA is so eager to appease,” Hawley tweeted.  The senator, 39, is a Yale Law School grad and the youngest member of the Senate.

It didn’t help that James, in trying to backtrack a bit once the social media backlash hit, said, “My team and this league just went through a difficult week.”

Hong Kongers who heard James’ remarks trampled on his jerseys.

--Domino’s Pizza Group announced it is pulling out of four European markets as it continues its search for a new CEO and chairman....Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. 

It’s tough to keep the pizza warm in those climes.  This is also the land of the world’s most expensive beer, but I digress.

--Finally, I’m the ‘wait 24 hours’ guy and didn’t want to comment last time on the sudden departure of Shepard Smith from the Fox News Channel, Smith an outlier on a network dominated by supporters of President Trump, because I didn’t know all the facts.

Smith signed off last Friday, “Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day, that the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will thrive.”

Smith’s departure came one day after Attorney General William Barr met privately with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox News, but Smith’s representatives said you can’t conflate the two events.

That said Trump has blistered Smith and Fox analysts such as Andrew Napolitano that don’t trumpet the Trump line.

Former longtime reporter at Fox, Carl Cameron, said, “The news department (at Fox) has just taken a huge hit with the loss of Shep.  For journalists like Chris Wallace and Bret Baier, it’s going to get even harder.”

Smith, 55, is not retiring, although his agreement with Fox forbids him from working elsewhere “at least in the near future.”

Foreign Affairs

Syria, part II: With the Kurds having allocated resources away from prisons and to their own survival, prisons have been left unattended and ISIS members, including Europeans and other foreigners posing the biggest threats, have walked free, or may be about to.  ISIS propaganda channels are gloating.

As Graeme Wood of The Atlantic wrote: “The forces that defeated ISIS are scampering frantically around the desert, hunted like jackrabbits and desperate for protection, now that America has forsaken them.”

There’s a new Middle Eastern proverb: “Never get into a well with an American rope.”

Wood, on the future of ISIS, assuming the prisons are emptied.

“Many of the foreigners have reportedly been trying to return to their home countries; they came to Syria to live in a caliphate, and with ISIS now reduced to a guerilla force, they might prefer to wait in, say, Brussels for ISIS to rebuild its paradise on earth.  Others will probably stay in Syria and will seek out jihadist groups willing to take them in.  They will be spoiled for choices, particularly if they can make it to northeast Syria, where Turkish-backed rebels and jihadist groups continue to flourish.  The celebration in ISIS’ propaganda does not automatically mean that the group is resurgent.  (A car bomb here and there does not a caliphate make.)  But ISIS is an opportunistic infection, and the chaos of the moment leaves the group with an attractive opportunity....

“The closest thing we have to a strategy document to guide us through this mess is a tweetstorm today from Trump.  ‘Endless wars!’ Trump wrote.  ‘Others may want to come in and fight for’ Turkey or the PKK, but the United States would rather let its erstwhile allies slaughter each other in single combat.  It is difficult to exaggerate how shallow and optimistic this approach is.  The United States will not be present to cut and broker deals with and between these parties, but Russia and Damascus are already there, bidding for influence now that the United States has left the auction.  As American influence zeroes out, we will see what comes next.  Already the Kurds have begun aligning with Damascus and, by extension, with Russia.... America’s foreign policy in the region has long since ceased to be merely a comedy of errors and is veering into tragedy.”

Separately, an extensive New York Times investigation revealed “The Russian Air Force has repeatedly bombed hospitals in Syria in order to crush the last pockets of resistance to President Bashar al-Assad.”

“An analysis of previously unpublished Russian Air Force radio recordings, plane spotter logs and witness accounts allowed  The Times to trace bombings of four hospitals in just 12 hours in May and tie Russian pilots to each one.

“The 12-hour period beginning on May 5 represents a small slice of the air war in Syria, but it is a microcosm of Russia’s four-year military intervention in Syria’s civil war. A new front in the conflict opened this week, when Turkish forces crossed the border as part of a campaign against a Kurdish-led militia....

“Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy group that tracks attacks on medical workers in Syria, has documented at least 583 such attacks since 2011, 266 of them since Russia intervened in September 2015. At least 916 medical workers have been killed since 2011....

“The spotter logs from May 5 and 6 put Russian pilots above each hospital at the time they were struck, and the Air Force audio recordings from that day feature Russia pilots confirming each bombing.  Videos obtained from witnesses and verified by The Times confirmed three of the strikes.”

Intentionally bombing hospitals is a war crime, but until now there has been no proof that would hold up in any war crimes trial.

China / Hong Kong: Politicians were dragged out by security guards for heckling leader Carrie Lam as Hong Kong’s parliament descended into chaos on Thursday.  Wednesday night, prominent human rights activist Jimmy Sham was left bloodied and lying in the street prior to a major rally, the victim of a knife and hammer attack designed to intimidate protesters and incite violence ahead of Sunday’s big march.  From the hospital, Sham, having suffered wounds to the head and legs, urged people not to seek revenge.

Pro-democracy Legislative Council member Claudia Mo said, “This very vicious attack took place practically on the eve of the call for yet another massive protest in Hong Kong on Sunday.

“We can’t help feeling that this entire thing is part of a plan to shed blood on Hong Kong’s peaceful protests.”

The day before, Ms. Lam was forced to cut short her annual policy speech due to heckling and broadcast it instead on video.

Ms. Lam later staged a Facebook Live event to air her policies and answer pre-submitted questions.  After 30 minutes, 5,700 “angry” emojis had been posted compared with 1,300 “likes.”

Meanwhile, in a fiery statement, China’s foreign ministry expressed “strong indignation and resolute opposition” to the U.S. House of Representatives passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Bill, which would assess annually whether the city was sufficiently autonomous from China to justify a special trade status with the United States.

“With regards to the incorrect decision by the U.S., China must take strong countermeasures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty, safety and developmental interests,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuant said.  “If the relevant bill is ultimately passed into law, not only will it harm Chinese interests but it will damage China-U.S. relations and seriously damage the U.S.’ own interests.”

The foreign ministry said that Hong Kong did not face “so-called human rights and democracy issues,” but that some in the U.S. harbored “sinister intentions to destroy Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and to contain China’s development.”

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass, after which it goes to President Trump’s desk.  Will he sign it?

Last Sunday, President Xi Jinping warned that any attempt to divide China will be crushed, as  Beijing faces political challenges in months-long protests in Hong Kong and U.S. criticism over its treatment of Muslim minority groups.

“Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones,” he told Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli in a meeting, according to China’s state CCTV.

“And any external forces backing such attempts dividing China will be deemed by the Chinese people as pipe-dreaming!” he was quoted as saying.

North Korea: Aides to Kim Jong-Un are convinced their leader plans “a great operation” state media said this week after a report included lavish descriptions and images of Kim riding a white horse up North Korea’s most sacred mountain, Mount Paektu, the spiritual homeland of the Kim dynasty.  Kim was accompanied on horseback by his younger sister and other aides.

The official KCNA news agency said: “His march on horseback in Mount Paektu is a great event of weighty importance in the history of the Korean revolution.  Having witnessed the great moments of his thinking atop Mount Paektu, all the officials accompanying him were convinced with overflowing emotion and joy that there will be a great operation to strike the world with wonder again and make a step forward in the Korean revolution.”

Kim has often made trips to the sacred mountain at times of major policy endeavors.  Analysts say the symbolism underscores North Korea standing up to international sanctions and pressure over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.  Some experts believe Kim may be preparing for a space launch, which might be seen as less provocative than testing an ICBM, while showing off the North’s economic and technological power.

Meanwhile, South Korea faced off against North Korea in a 2022 World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang on Tuesday in a stadium with no fans from either country. 

The match ended 0-0, the two countries still technically at war and with current relations at a low ebb.

The Korea Football Association said “It [the match] was like war.”

“North Koreans wouldn’t even make eye contact when I talked to them,” said KFA vice-president Choi Young-il as the team arrived back at Incheon.

The captain of the South Korean squad – Tottenham’s Son Heung-min – was also surprised by the North’s rough tactics.

“The match was very aggressive to a degree that I think it’s a huge achievement just to return safely without being injured,” he said.

“North Korean players were sensitive and aggressive...there was a lot of severe swearing [from them].”  [BBC News]

Russia: Authorities removed three American diplomats from a train heading to an Arctic town near the site of a recent nuclear accident, Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday. 

The removal occurred in the shipyard town of Severodvinsk, according to Interfax. The diplomats were about to take a train to Nenoksa, the village closest to the military testing site where a mysterious explosion in August left seven people dead and caused a spike in radiation levels miles away.

Both cities are closed, requiring foreigners to obtain a special permit from authorities before arriving, which the Americans had done, having properly notified Russian authorities of their travel.

The Russian Foreign Ministry even acknowledged this fact, but the Russians claimed the diplomats had stated their intentions to visit a different city.  “Perhaps they got lost,” a statement read.

Russia continues to say little about the accident.  President Trump suggested the blast involved the testing of a new nuclear-propelled cruise missile.

The government’s lack of a response raised fears this was another Chernobyl.

Mexico: It’s a very murky story, but Mexican officials apparently cut loose the arrested son of notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on Thursday “to protect lives” after cartel gunmen turned the Mexican city where he was collared into an urban warzone, authorities said.

Ovidio Guzman Lopez, who is wanted in the U.S. on drug-trafficking charges, was detained by Mexican National Guard and Army troops, who raided a house in Culiacan where he was staying.

But then as word spread of Lopez’s capture Thursday afternoon, fierce gun battles broke out between cartel gunmen – armed with military-grade weapons – and the outnumbered government force.

Cartel thugs torched cars and buses and blocked roadways in and out of the city.  Understanding they were in a lost cause, the story is officials then released Lopez to try to avoid more violence in the area and preserve the lives of the Mexican personnel.  A lawyer for Lopez gave a television interview after his release, praising the move.  At last word eight were killed, capping a particularly violent week in the country, with death tolls of 13  and 14 in two other incidents.

Random Musings

--Presidential tracking polls....

Gallup:  39% approve of Trump’s job performance, 57% disapprove; 87% of Republicans approve, 34% of independents (Oct. 1-13).
Rasmussen:  47% approve, 52% disapprove.

In a new Quinnipiac University national survey, 41% of registered voters approve of the job President Trump is doing, while 54% disapprove, which compares to 40-54 in an October 8 poll.  [49% approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, 46% disapprove.  But on foreign policy, only 37% approve, 57% disapprove.]

--In a new national Quinnipiac University poll of Democratic voters and independents who lean Democratic, prior to this week’s debate, Elizabeth Warren has surged to 30%, with Joe Biden at 27% and Bernie Sanders a distant third at 11%.  Pete Buttigieg takes 8% and Kamala Harris 4%.  No other candidate tops 2%.

A July 29 poll had Biden at 34%, Sanders 11%, Harris 12%, and Warren 15%.  [Harris peaked at 20% in a July 2 survey.]

In a CBS News Battleground Tracker YouGov poll of early states, again, prior to Tuesday’s debate....

In Iowa: Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden are tied at 22%, Bernie Sanders 21%, and Pete Buttigieg a solid 14%.

In New Hampshire: Warren takes 32%, Biden 24%, and Sanders 17%.

In South Carolina: Biden 43%, Warren 18%, and Sanders 16%.

--Bernie Sanders is picking up the endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Saturday at a really in New York.  Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) also announced her endorsement of Sanders.

--So Tuesday night in Westerville, Ohio, Sen. Elizabeth Warren took fire from 11 other candidates on the debate stage, the first time she has come under sustained attack as Democrats’ struggle to define their own beliefs and select a standard-bearer.

Mayor Pete and Amy Klobuchar took turns criticizing Warren’s Medicare-for-all plan and her approach to populism.

“We’re competing to be president for the day after Trump.  Our country will be horrifyingly polarized, even more than now.  After everything we’ve been through, after everything we are about to go through, this country will be even more divided,” Buttigieg said.  “Why unnecessarily divide this country over health care when there’s a better way to deliver coverage for all?”

Attacks on Joe Biden were minimal, when they should have hammered away at Hunter Biden’s first statement earlier in the day about his work on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was the Obama administration’s point person there.

For his part, Bernie Sanders looked good in his first lengthy performance after suffering a heart attack.  He also sounded good, though he didn’t come close to answering questions about his health.

My take on the debate overall is that Klobuchar was solid, but then I said from day one I liked her...a true moderate who can get the independent vote that will decide things.  She just doesn’t resonate, but Klobuchar needs to keep getting on the debate stage and finish in the middle of the pack in Iowa to stay relevant.  She isn’t hurting her chance at being a Veep selection.

Cory Booker was good, but he’s resonating less than Klobuchar.  His time, if there ever will be one, is in 2024 or 2028.  There is no reason why New Jersey voters, given how the electorate skews heavily Democrat these days, wouldn’t keep re-electing him.

So many of the others need to go away, but bring back Marianne Williamson!

--As for Biden, he has totally botched the Hunter Biden mess.  All he had to do was admit he understood the perception it was unethical for Hunter to take the positions he did, at least that it looked like a conflict of interest, apologize, and say he should have handled it better.  We know  it was not illegal.

But Biden just sloughs it off, totally.

Daniel Henninger / Wall Street Journal

“One watches these Democratic debates with the same core question in mind: Can any of these candidates – Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, Harris or the seven others – take down Donald Trump?  Are any capable of going one-on-one for three months next fall with the greatest mixed-martial-arts fighter in presidential history?

“This week’s debate took place about a year from the main event, so let’s cut to the question of the moment: Is Joe Biden going to make it?  In my opinion, no.  Based on his performance in Westerville, Ohio, Mr. Biden is not going to make it.

“To be clear, the issue here isn’t whether Mr. Biden or any of the others can win the Democratic presidential nomination.  It’s whether that nominee can compete with Donald Trump.  Can he stand on a stage in the presidential debates and not get beaten by the president into something small by comparison?  For all the immeasurable hours spent now on politicking, the presidential debates have become the main event....

“In October 2012, Vice President Biden debated Rep. Paul Ryan, another skilled politician, and Mr. Biden won.  Simply put, the guy who defeated Paul Ryan in 2012 is not the guy who was on that stage in Ohio.

“With Mr. Trump’s decision to pull American troops away from the Syrian Kurds, he opened one of the most significant political vulnerabilities of his presidency.  It was an opportunity for Mr. Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to show some foreign-policy smarts and president-like leadership.  Instead we got this:

“ ‘What I would do is I would be making it real clear to Assad that, in fact, where he’s going to have a problem – because Turkey is the real problem here.  And I would be having a real lockdown conversation with Erdogan and letting him know that he’s going to pay a heavy price for what he has done now.  Pay that price.’

“It fell to Pete Buttigieg, the mayor from South Bend, to produce the night’s most stinging critique of President Trump: ‘What we were doing in Syria was keeping our word.  Part of what makes it possible for the United States to get people to put their lives on the line to back us up is the idea that we will back them up, too.’ That was good.  Joe Biden somehow couldn’t figure out how to say anything like it.

“Then during the health-care segment, Mr. Biden said, ‘The plan we’re hearing discussed is the Biden plan.’  Then he said, ‘The plan is going to cost at least $30 trillion over 10 years,’ with no indication that now he was talking about Elizabeth Warren’s plan, not his.

“Here’s a single Biden sentence from the debate: ‘I would eliminate the capital gains tax – I would raise the capital gains tax to the highest rate, of 39.5%.’  And this: ‘My son made a judgment.  I’m proud of the judgment he made.’

“Mr. Biden’s supporters say he did fine, but fine isn’t going to be good enough.  With apologies, a sports metaphor is apt.  Joe Biden looks like a pro in training camp – running at half speed, joshing with teammates, showing brief flashes of former skills.  Democrats who think Mr. Biden will get better than this training-camp competence are deluding themselves.  Come next year’s October presidential debates, Donald Trump would flatten him.

“Democrats are counting on a buildup of anti-Trump animosity carrying the vote for  them, and it’s not the worst strategy.  But if at crunchtime your candidate looks like a loser, as Michael Dukakis did against George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential debate, well, you are going to lose.  Hunter Biden and Donald Trump aren’t dragging down Mr. Biden.  He is doing it himself.”

--Meanwhile, the woman who won’t go away, Hillary Clinton, alleged today that the Russians were “grooming” a Democrat running in the presidential primary to run as a third-party candidate and champion Moscow’s interests on the campaign trail.  Clinton’s comments were clearly aimed at Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has been accused of cozying up to Russia in the past.

Clinton made the allegation in a podcast with former Obama adviser David Plouffe.  She didn’t mention Gabbard specifically by name, though Plouffe ended the podcast by noting Clinton’s “belief that Tulsi Gabbard is going to be a third-party candidate propped up by Trump and the Russians.”

Gabbard, a Hawaii Army National Guard major who served in Iraq, has denied similar charges of being a Russian sympathizer in the past, though she did meet with Syria’s Assad in 2017.  She has ruled out a third-party bid.

Clinton has previously accused Jill Stein, who ran against her and Trump in 2016, of being a Russian asset.  On this score, a Senate Intelligence Committee report did assert that Russian social media actors interfered in the election in part by including messages supporting Stein, Stein picking up nearly 1.5 million votes.

--We note the passing of veteran Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, 68, after “longstanding health challenges.”

As chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, he had instigated several investigations into the Trump administration.  He also clashed with the administration over healthcare and immigration.

During a hearing earlier this year, Cummings accused the Department of Homeland Security of having an “empathy deficit” over its treatment of children at migrant detention centers.

President Trump then responded with a week-long series of tweets and comments attacking the congressman and labeling his majority-black Baltimore district a “disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess.”

Cummings was elected to the House in 1996, having worked as a Maryland state legislator and lawyer.

He was an honorable man, who could reach across the aisle.  He was passionate, and compassionate.  Elijah Cummings will be missed.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, the second-most senior Democrat on the Oversight panel, will become acting committee chair under House rules until the Democratic caucus elects a successor.

Republican Rep. Mark Meadows (N.C.) tweeted: “There was no stronger advocate and no better friend than Elijah Cummings.  I am heartbroken for his wonderful family and staff – please pray for them.  I will miss him dearly.”

--Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards was pushed to a runoff election by wealthy Republican businessman Eddie Rispone on Saturday, setting up a head-to-head showdown  in a Nov. 16 runoff, where we will no doubt see President Trump stumping for Rispone perhaps two more times with rallies in the state, such as the one he had last Friday in Lake Charles.

--The Japanese government has given a confirmed death toll of 74 from Typhoon Hagibis; the storm the strongest to hit the nation in decades.

--Lastly, some good news.  The world’s first Ebola vaccine was recommended for approval by European drug regulators in a move hailed by the World Health Organization as a “triumph for public health” that would save many lives.  The vaccine was developed by Merck & Co. and is already being used under emergency guidelines to try to protect people against the spread of the deadly Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The shot is also being reviewed under a fast-track system by regulators in the United States.

The Congo Ebola outbreak has killed more than 2,100 since the middle of last year.  Congratulations to Merck, which is working furiously to set up a manufacturing site in Germany to speed production.

---

Pray for the men and women of our armed forces...and all the fallen.

God bless America.

---

Gold $1493...unchanged
Oil $53.70

Returns for the week 10/14-10/18

Dow Jones  -0.2%
S&P 500  +0.5%
S&P MidCap  +1.1%
Russell 2000  +1.6%
Nasdaq  +0.4%

Returns for the period 1/1/19-10/18/19

Dow Jones  +14.8%
S&P 500  +19.1%
S&P MidCap  +16.5%
Russell 2000  +13.9%
Nasdaq  +21.9%

Bulls  47.6
Bears
17.2

Have a great week.

Brian Trumbore

 



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Week in Review

10/19/2019

For the week 10/14-10/18

[Posted 9:30 PM ET, Friday]

Note: StocksandNews has significant ongoing costs and your support is greatly appreciated.  Please click on the gofundme link, or send a check to PO Box 990, New Providence, NJ 07974.

Edition 1,070

*The following is particularly long because I have a ton of opinion pieces for the archives for what was an incredibly important six days in our nation’s history.

---

What a week.  Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was on the talk shows confirming the United States was withdrawing its 1,000 troops from Syria after Turkey had launched its invasion across the border days earlier.

Days later, as Liz Sly of the Washington Post put it, “The blow to America’s standing in the Middle East was sudden and unexpectedly swift.  Within the space of a few hours, advances by Turkish troops in Syria this week had compelled the U.S. military’s Syrian Kurdish allies to switch sides, unraveled years of U.S. Syria policy and recalibrated the balance of power in the Middle East.

“As Russian and Syrian troops roll into vacated towns and U.S. bases, the winners are counting the spoils.

“The withdrawal delivered a huge victory to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who won back control of an area roughly amounting to a third of the country almost overnight.  It affirmed Moscow as the arbiter of Syria’s fate and the rising power in the Middle East.  It sent another signal to Iran that Washington has no appetite for the kind of confrontation that its rhetoric suggests and that Iran’s expanded influence in Syria is now likely to go unchallenged.”

And then on Thursday, the U.S. caved to all of Turkey’s demands.  The two sides reached an agreement for a five-day cease-fire in Syria that cemented Turkey’s gains across a wide swath of Syrian territory, displacing hundreds of thousands of Syria’s Kurds and forcing the Kurdish militia to withdraw, while requiring the U.S. to drop any new sanctions on Ankara.

The agreement was brokered by Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  Under the terms, Kurdish forces, which were allied with the U.S. in the battle against Islamic State, have to withdraw from a roughly 20-mie deep zone along the northern border with Turkey.  The U.S. was accepting this 20-mile buffer zone, a second abandonment of the Kurrds.

There was no talk of the role Russia and the Assad regime will play in the process.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, emphasized that the agreement was only a “pause” in the Turkish incursion into Syria, and that the Turkish military effort would end only after the Kurds had fully withdrawn and their military positions within the border zone were dismantled.

“We got what we wanted,” Cavusoglu said.

Vice President Pence, playing the role of stooge, gave a pathetic performance in announcing the deal in Ankara.

Then, before the press pool when he arrived in Dallas, Texas, Thursday afternoon for a rally later that evening, Trump said of the cease-fire:

“Millions and millions of lives would have been lost” had it not been agreed to.

“An incredible outcome...something they’ve been trying to get for 10 years...ISIS fighters will be under strict control...Everything we ever could have dreamed of.”

“I want to thank the Kurds...they are incredibly happy.”

“Wouldn’t have been done without unconventional tough love approach.”

“Great day for the United States, for Turkey...great day for the Kurds.  Great day for civilization!”

“Sanctions won’t be necessary...Erdogan is a helluva leader...he’s a strong man, a tough man...great friend!”

“Turkey won’t have to kill millions of people.”

“Tried for 15 years to get this (up from 10 in a matter of minutes).”

“Everybody is happy...there is no fighting.”

Earlier, prior to the cease-fire agreement, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) tweeted some of the following:

“I hope President Trump is right in his belief that Turkey’s invasion of Syria is of no concern to us, abandoning the Kurds won’t come back to haunt us, ISIS won’t reemerge, and Iran will not fill the vacuum created by this decision.

“However, I firmly believe that if President Trump continues to make such statements this will be a disaster worse than President Obama’s decision to leave Iraq.

“I worry we will not have allies in the future against radical Islam, ISIS will reemerge, & Iran’s rise in Syria will become a nightmare for Israel.  I fear this is a complete and utter national security disaster in the making and I hope President Trump will adjust his thinking.”

And:

“Mr. President, forget about what I’m saying about Syria.  Listen to your own national security team who are telling you the consequences of your decision and the impact it will have on our nation.

“President Trump is being told EXACTLY what President Obama was told before he withdrew from Iraq.  He appears to be hell-bent on making the same mistakes in Syria as President Obama made in Iraq.

“The worst thing any Commander in Chief can do is to give land back to the enemy that was taken through blood and sacrifice.  I fear those are the consequences of the actions being taken right now.”

And earlier, President Trump:

“After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria.  Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land.  I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria and Assad to protect the land of our enemy?  Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.  I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

“Some people want the United States to protect the 7,000 mile away Border of Syria, presided over by Bashar al-Assad, our enemy.  At the same time, Syria and whoever they choose to help, wants naturally to protect the Kurds,” he wrote minutes later.

“I would much rather focus on our Southern Border which abuts and is part of the United States of America.  And by the way, numbers are way down and the WALL is being built!”

Later Thursday at his Dallas rally, Trump said, “Sometimes you let ‘em fight.  We’re going to keep ISIS nice and all locked up.”

“President Obama lost a million people in the area (up 500,000 from the figure Trump had always used before).”

Just  one question for the president.  How do you keep ISIS all locked up when we’ve withdrawn our troops? 

So today, Turkey launched air strikes shattering the cease-fire after just hours, killing five civilians, according to the head of the respected Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the British-based monitor that has been the eyes and ears over the entire Syrian conflict.  Artillery attacks were also continuing on the border town of Ras al-Ain.

As of Friday afternoon, more than 500 people have been killed on the two sides, including 100 civilians, while around 300,000 have been displaced, according to the Observatory.

Amnesty International today accused Ankara’s forces of “serious violations and war crimes, summary killings and unlawful attacks” in the operation launched October 9.

Kumi Naidoo, the organization’s secretary general, said Turkish forces and their allies had “displayed an utterly callous disregard for civilian lives.”

From a worker with the Kurdish Red Crescent, who said he removed bodies from the wreckage of a Turkish air strike near a school in Salhiye October 12:

“I couldn’t tell if they were boys or girls because their corpses were black. They looked like charcoal,” the rescue worker told Amnesty International.

Amnesty also appeared to confirm reports that a Kurdish female politician Hevrin Khalaf and her bodyguard were summarily executed by members of the Syrian National Army, a Turkish-funded and –trained group.  At least two more executions of Kurdish fighters were confirmed, while Turkey’s Syrian allies had kidnapped two employees of a local medical organization, Amnesty said. [Agence France Presse]

Sen. Mitt Romney (R, Utah) harshly criticized Trump’s deal with Turkey in a speech on the Senate floor.

“The announcement today is being portrayed as a victory.  It is far from a victory.  Serious questions remain about how the decision was reached precipitously to withdraw from Syria and why that decision was reached.

“Given the initial details of the cease-fire agreement, the administration must also explain what America’s future role will be in the region.  What happens now to the Kurds and why Turkey will face no apparent consequences” for the incursion into Syria, which has displaced up to 200,000 civilians and left hundreds dead.

“I hope the agreement is honored, but at the heart of this matter is a central question of why these terms and assurances were not negotiated before the president consented to withdraw our troops,” Romney said.

“The cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally adding insult to dishonor, the administration speaks cavalierly, even flippantly, even as our ally has suffered death and casualty. Their homes have been burned and their families have been torn apart,” he said, referring to Trump’s earlier criticism of the Kurdish YPG fighters who controlled the territory in northern Syria as “worse than ISIS.”

“What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.”

What is clear is that President Trump doesn’t care about human rights, America’s historical interests and values.  And in his words it is also clear that the United States military has become a mercenary force.  All Trump cares about is what the U.S. is paid, as he proudly now says is the case with the troops being deployed in Saudi Arabia.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got it right when she asked Trump, since he talks about honoring a campaign pledge to bring the troops home, why did we just move 2,000 to Saudi Arabia?

I am sick of all the false choices, the false narratives Trump, and Pence, keep trotting out.  The president talks about “millions of lives saved,” and how he will not deploy “hundreds of thousands of troops.”  Total lies!  A mere 1,000 troops were doing the job in Syria, spectacularly well.

William H. McRaven / New York Times

[Retired Navy admiral, former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, and the man who oversaw the operation to take out Osama bin Laden.]

Oct. 17, 2019

“Last week I attended two memorable events that reminded me why we care so very much about this nation and also why our future may be in peril.

“The first was a change of command ceremony for a storied Army unit in which one general officer passed authority to another. The second event was an annual gala for the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) Society that recognizes past and present members of the intelligence and Special Operations community for their heroism and sacrifice to the nation.  What struck me was the stark contrast between the words and deeds heralded at those events – and the words and deeds emanating from the White House.

“On the parade field at Fort Bragg, N.C., where tens of thousands of soldiers have marched either preparing to go to war or returning from it, the two generals, highly decorated, impeccably dressed, clear-eyed and strong of character, were humbled by the moment.

“They understood the awesome responsibility that the nation had placed on their shoulders.  They understood that they had an obligation to serve their soldiers and their soldiers’ families.  They believed in the American values for which they had been fighting for the past three decades.  They had faith that these values were worth sacrificing everything for – including, if necessary, their lives.

“Having served with both officers for the past 20 years, the genuineness of their humility, their uncompromising integrity, their willingness to sacrifice all for a worthy cause, and the pride they had in their soldiers, personified all that is good and decent and honorable about the American military.

“Later that week, at the O.S.S. Society dinner, there were films and testimonials to the valor of the men and women who had fought in Europe and the Pacific during World War II.  We also celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, recognizing those brave Americans and their allies who sacrificed so much to fight Nazism and fascism.  We were reminded that the Greatest Generation went to war because it believed that we were the good guys – that wherever there was oppression, tyranny or despotism, America would be there.  We would be there because freedom mattered.  We would be there because the world needed us and if not us, then who?

“Also that evening we recognized the incredible sacrifice of a new generation of Americans: an Army Special Forces warrant officer who had been wounded three times, the most recent injury costing him his left leg above the knee.  He was still in uniform and still serving.  There was an intelligence officer, who embodied the remarkable traits of those men and women who had served in the O.S.S.   And a retired Marine general, whose 40 years of service demonstrated all that was honorable about the Corps and public service.

“But the most poignant recognition that evening was for a young female sailor who had been killed in Syria serving alongside our allies in the fight against ISIS.  Her husband, a former Army Green Beret, accepted the award on her behalf.  Like so many that came before her, she had answered the nation’s call and willingly put her life in harm’s way.

“For everyone who ever served in uniform, or in the intelligence community, for those diplomats who voice the nation’s principles, for the first responders, for the tellers of truth and the millions of American citizens who were raised believing in American values – you would have seen your reflection in the faces of those we honored last week.

“But, beneath the outward sense of hope and duty that I witnessed at these two events, there was an underlying current of frustration, humiliation, anger and fear that echoed across the sidelines.  The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within.

“These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press.  They  have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own.  They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield.  As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, ‘I don’t like the Democrats, but  Trump is destroying the Republic!’

“Those words echoed with me throughout the week.  It is easy to destroy an organization if you have no appreciation for what makes that organization great.  We are not the most powerful nation in the world because of our aircraft carriers, our economy, or our seat at the United Nations Security Council.  We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys.  We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.

“But, if we don’t care about our values, if we don’t care about duty and honor, if we don’t help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice – what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states?

“If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us?  If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military?  And if they don’t join, who will protect us?  If we are not the champions of the good and the right, then who will follow us?  And if no one follows us – where will the world end up?

“President Trump seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness.  He is wrong.  These are the virtues that have sustained this nation for the past 243 years.  If we hope to continue to lead the world and inspire a new generation of young men and women to our cause, then we must embrace these values now more than ever.

“And if this president doesn’t understand their importance, if this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office – Republican, Democrat or independent – the sooner, the better.  The fate of our Republic depends upon it.”

From multiple reports, America’s fighting men and women are furious, especially those who served with the Kurds in northern Syria, some reacting on social media and in interviews despite Defense Department restrictions on them expressing political opinions.

The generals can’t let this continue until next November.  This is the “first-ever moment” I’ve been cryptically referring to the past few weeks.

Tonight, President Trump tweeted more lies:

“Just spoke to President @RTErdogan of Turkey.  He told me there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated.  He very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work.  Likewise, the Kurds want it, and the ultimate solution, to happen. Too bad there wasn’t....

“....this thinking years ago.  Instead, it was always held together with very weak bandaids, & in an artificial manner.  There is good will on both sides & a really good chance for success.  The U.S. has secured the Oil, & the ISIS Fighters are double secured by Kurds & Turkey...”

No they aren’t.

Trump World...abandoning the Kurds...further opinion....

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“What a fiasco.  Foreign-policy blunders often take months or years to reveal their damaging consequences, but the harm from President Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria is playing out almost in real time.

“Critics said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would invade northern Syria despite Mr. Trump’s public warnings, and the Turkish strongman did.  Critics said our Kurdish allies would strike a deal with Syria’s Bashar Assad to defend themselves, and the Kurds have.  Critics said Islamic State prisoners held by the Kurds would be released and scatter to wage jihad again, and they are.

“The mess compounded Monday when Mr. Trump authorized sanctions against several Turkish officials and agencies who are ‘contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria.’  The sanctions include financial measures and barring entry to the U.S.  Mr. Trump also said he’s ending trade talks with Turkey and raising steel tariffs to 50%.

“Mr. Trump now finds himself back in an economic and diplomatic brawl with Turkey that he said he wanted to avoid.  Wouldn’t it have been easier simply to tell Mr. Erdogan, on that famous phone call two Sundays ago, that the U.S. wouldn’t tolerate a Turkish invasion against the Kurds and would use air power to stop it?  Mr. Erdogan would have had to back down and continue negotiating a Syrian safe zone with the Kurds and the U.S.

“Mr. Trump is also making matters worse with his unserious justifications.  ‘After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria.  Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land,’ he tweeted Monday.  ‘Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.  I hope they do great, we are 7,000 miles away!’

“We suppose the Napoleon line was a joke, but the world is laughing at an American President.  Mr. Trump was able to project an image of strength in his early days as he prosecuted the war against ISIS and used forces to impose a cost on Mr. Assad for using chemical weapons.  But that image has faded as he has indulged his inner Rand Paul and claims at every opportunity that the main goal of his foreign policy is to put an end to ‘endless wars.’....

“By now it’s not unreasonable to conclude that Mr. Trump’s foreign policy can be distilled into two tactics – sanctions and tariffs.....

“Mr. Trump won’t like to hear it, but the Syrian mess is hurting him at home, too; Republicans who have stood by him through the Russia fight and more are questioning his judgment as Commander in Chief in an increasingly dangerous world.  With impeachment looming, he can’t afford to alienate more friends.”

David Gardner / Financial Times

“Barely a week after Donald Trump upended U.S. Syria policy by withdrawing American troops from the Turkish border and then from the north-east of the country, the never-ending Syrian war has changed shape yet again – offering unexpected gifts to the West’s enemies.

“The tyranny of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad and its Russian patrons can claim victory.  Iran, which provided an array of Shia militias to save the Assads from a Sunni rebellion that started in 2011, can celebrate the removal of a U.S. obstacle to the corridor of power it has carved from the Caspian to the Mediterranean. The jihadi blackshirts of ISIS, routed from their ephemeral caliphate, may rebound from defeat.  Not bad for a week’s work, even for the Trump White House.

“Veterans of the Levant are comparing this to Ronald Reagan’s retreat from Beirut in October 1983 at the height of Lebanon’s civil war, after the Iran-backed Hezbollah – a lead actor in Syria today – truck-bombed U.S. marines, killing 241 (as well as 55 French paratroopers).  The comparison is unfair.  That was the worst American death toll since the 1968 Viet Cong-led Tet offensive in Vietnam.

“The current debacle was detonated by nothing more than a phone call between Mr. Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, in which this U.S. president, with his almost preternatural ability to make any foreign policy problem worse, casually greenlighted a Turkish invasion of northern Syria.

“That meant the U.S. abandoning the Syrian Kurdish forces it used as the spearhead to defeat ISIS – a bloody five-year campaign in which 11,000 Kurds died.

“Mr. Trump, facing re-election next year and firing up his xenophobic base, may be almost right that America’s ‘endless wars’ in the Middle East are a waste of blood, albeit mostly other people’s. The U.S. lost the ability to shape regional events in the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which tipped the balance of power towards Iran by installing the Iraqi Shia majority in power.

“But the defeat of ISIS could be accounted a rare U.S. success because of mainly Kurdish fighters on the ground, backed by American warplanes.  As they long feared, the Kurds have been betrayed....

“After last week’s invasion by Turkey, sanctioned by the U.S. president, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-run group of about 50,000 fighters, was pushed into the arms of Assad – a regime that had once deprived Kurds of basic rights such as citizenship.  Vladimir Putin’s Russia held the shotgun at this marriage.

“ ‘We know we would have to make painful compromises with Moscow and Bashar al-Assad if we go down the road of working with them.  But if we have to choose between compromise and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people,’ said Mazloum Abdi, the SDF commander-in-chief.

“This is not just the end of Rojava, the name the Kurds gave to their self-governing entity in northern Syria.

“Unexpectedly, Assad regime forces have been invited in to retake a north-east region that has been almost wholly outside their control for more than seven years.  It amounts to more than a quarter of the country, holding Syria’s oil and gas resources and its breadbasket.   Mr. Assad will no doubt savor that he owes this windfall to Mr. Erdogan – who has been fighting to topple him since Syria’s war began.

“Russia and Iran, who form a tripod of power with Turkey in Syria, are obvious net victors.  Ankara, facing U.S. sanctions for the invasion as Mr. Trump tries to deflect bipartisan outrage in Washington at his incompetence, already needed Moscow’s imprimatur on his two existing enclaves in north-west Syria.  As Russian-backed Assad forces surge into north-east Syria, Mr. Erdogan is more beholden to Mr. Putin than ever.

“Russia and Iran, and their Syrian client, have just had a huge win.  Mr. Trump’s U.S. is floundering.  President Erdogan’s goal of creating a Turkish-controlled Syrian Arab buffer in Kurdish north-east Syria looks dangerously ambitious as Russia and Iran flood into the vacuum left by the U.S. and the betrayed Syrian Kurds defect.”

Editorial / USA TODAY

“Some of President Donald Trump’s erratic, impulsive and ill-informed pronouncements turn out to be of little lasting consequence, like passing gusts of wind.  But his abupt decision to pull back U.S. troops serving in northern Syria was the policy equivalent of pouring gasoline on smoldering embers.

“In just 10 days, it has already produced virtually all of the tragic and dire consequences that critics predicted:

“By yielding to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s invasion threats on Oct. 6 and withdrawing U.S. troops from the Syrian border, Trump surrendered a powerful U.S. self-defense leverage – the ability to call in devastating air power if even a few Americans on the ground were threatened.  For Erdogan, this was a green light to move into northern Syria.

“The American president following up by ordering a near total retreat of U.S. forces from Syria, about 1,000 troops.  He abandoned – many would say betrayed – Syrian-Kurdish allies who had fought and died alongside Americans in a successful, years-long campaign to destroy the Islamic State caliphate.

“The resulting chaos threatens to reverse victory against an ISIS network that inspired mass shootings in Orlando and San Bernardino, and launched attacks in Europe.  Hundreds of ISIS prisoners have escaped detention camps, and thousands more operate in Syrian-based sleeper cells the U.S.-led coalition had worked to suppress.

“A humanitarian crisis is unfolding.  More than 100,000 civilians have been displaced by the Turkish invasion.  Hospitals are shuttering.  Water is running short.  And Turkish irregular forces manned by jihadi extremists are engaging in such atrocities as summary executions of Kurdish prisoners.

“The abandoned Kurds have turned for protection to Syrian President Bashar Assad – a brutal dictator whose removal from office has been a goal of U.S. foreign policy.  Assad now can reestablish control over areas of Syria that Kurdish-led forces, with America’s help, had carved out as free, self-governing zones.

“Assad’s chief sponsor, Russia, will enjoy expanded influence in the Middle East.  Russian troops are already patrolling areas evacuated by the United States.

“Iran, Syria’s other leading patron and a key U.S. foe, also wins.  The Trump administration’s goal has been to constrain Tehran’s aggressive foreign policy.  But the vacuum created by Trump’s withdrawal could allow overland supply routes for Iranian militia in Syria and Tehran-supported Hezbollah fighters threatening Israel.

“On Wednesday, Trump defended his actions in Syria as ‘strategically brilliant.’  He said he was acting to end America’s endless wars.

“Actually, the opposite might come to pass.  After lengthy and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon had finally developed a cutting-edge strategy in Syria that employed small numbers of U.S. special forces in close coordination with Syrian-Kurdish and Arab allies to defeat a common enemy – ISIS in this instance. In the process, the United States suffered very few casualties.

“That strategy, however, depends first and foremost on trust, that allies fighting on the ground know that America has their backs.

“Trump has stripped that trust away in a matter of days.  The next time America’s homeland is threatened, the United States might have to do its own fighting with tens of thousands of its young men and women deployed overseas to war.”

Jonathan Spyer / Wall Street Journal

“By giving Turkey a green light to invade northern Syria, the U.S. upended the balance of power in the Middle East with a single stroke.  Russia is the biggest winner.

“The Turkish attack, launched in conjunction with Sunni Arab Islamist groups in Syria’s north, had the predictable effect of causing Washington’s erstwhile Kurdish allies to request Bashar Assad’s assistance.  Some 150,000 Kurdish civilians had already fled their homes to escape the advance of the Turkish military and its Islamist proxies.

“Mr. Assad had already deployed his forces in Tal Tamr, Manbij, Tabqa and Kobani – towns formerly under the exclusive control of Kurdish forces.  Details have begun to leak from the proposed deal cementing the surrender of the Syrian Kurds to Mr. Assad.  The Turkish offensive continues but has made little progress.  The U.S. is still extricating its forces and moving them to the safety of Iraqi Kurdistan.

“Vladimir Putin is now the indispensable strategic arbiter in Syria.  None of the remaining pieces on the broken chessboard can move without Mr. Putin’s hand.  The Assad regime owes its survival to Moscow’s air intervention in September 2015.  This reporter and others who have spent time in Damascus note the impunity with which Russian security and other personnel conduct themselves.  They are effectively beyond the reach of the local authorities....

“As the de facto arbiter, however, Russia now faces a tricky task.  It must stand firm against a too-ambitious Turkish project that could trigger chaos and even an Assad-Turkish war east of the Euphrates.  At the same time, Moscow aims to permit Turkey sufficient gains to speed its drift away from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and toward alignment with Russia.

“To accomplish this, the Russians must first intimidate and then partly accommodate the Turks.  Moscow has managed this delicate maneuver west of the Euphrates over the past two years. It will now try to do so on the east side as the Americans head for the exit....

“Mr. Assad, the Kurds, Turkey and Israel all now depend on Moscow’s approval to advance their interests in Syria.  This outcome has been sealed by this week’s sudden windfall, all without the firing of a single Russian bullet. All roads to Syria now run through Moscow.  Mr. Putin could hardly ask for more.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“That was some vote in the House Wednesday on a resolution opposing President Trump’s withdrawal from northern Syria and noting the mayhem that has resulted.  In an era marked by furious partisanship, the House voted 354 to 60 for the resolution.

“Democrats voted 225-0, which was no big surprise.  But Republicans also voted by more than 2 to 1 in favor of the rebuke, 129-60, and they included Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, whip Steve Scalise and Conference Chair Liz Cheney.  National security experts Mac Thornberry, former Chairman of the Armed Services Committee; top Foreign Affairs Republican Michael McCaul; and rising star and Marine veteran Michael Gallagher also opposed the President. The magnitude of the vote suggests comparable majorities when the bicameral, bipartisan resolution hits the Senate floor.

“The resolution carries no force of law, but Mr. Trump should still take it seriously.  The rebuke sends a message of eroding trust in the President’s foreign-policy judgment that could carry over to other issues.  Republicans may have felt there was safety in numbers since Mr. Trump will find it harder to single out individuals for Twitter targeting.

“The vote also shows that Mr. Trump is wrong in assuming that all Republicans are following him on a path of retreat from global commitments.  Most Republicans still believe in American global leadership and the robust use of military power when warranted.  Mr. Trump has been listening too much to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul if he thinks the GOP is moving toward isolationism.  The Republicans on Capitol Hill we talk to privately are more concerned that Mr. Trump’s policies are moving too close to Barack Obama’s for comfort.

“Mr. Trump essentially validated the House rebuke with remarks at a press conference Wednesday that lashed out at his critics in Congress, attacked the Kurds as not really deserving of U.S. support despite having been our ground allies against Islamic State, and asserting that the U.S. has no great interest in Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish territory.  Yet he has also imposed sanctions on Turkish officials involved in the invasion and has urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop.

“Mr. Erdogan has ignored Mr. Trump’s pleas, which is what happens when foreign leaders sense weakness in an American President.”

David Ignatius / Washington Post

“At a gathering last Saturday night of military and intelligence veterans [Ed. the same one McRaven references], one topic shrouded the room: President Trump’s decision to abandon Kurdish fighters in Syria who had fought and died to help America destroy the Islamic State.

“ ‘It’s a dagger to the heart to walk away from people who shed blood for us,’ one former top CIA official who attended the black-tie dinner told me later. A retired four-star general who was there said the same thing: Trump’s retreat was an ‘unsound, morally indefensible act’ and a ‘disgrace’ to America and the soldiers who serve this country.  This sense of anguish was pervasive among those attending the event, several attendees said.  It was an annual dinner honoring the Office of Strategic Services, the secret World War II commando group that was a forerunner of today’s CIA and Special Operations forces.  The event celebrated the military alliances that have always been at the center of American power.  It was a bitter anniversary this year.

“It’s probably impossible for Americans to fully grasp the sense of betrayal felt by the Syrian Kurds, who suffered 11,000 dead and 24,000 wounded in a war that we asked them to fight.  But perhaps we can understand the shame and outrage of the Special Operations forces who fought alongside them and now see the Kurds cast aside to face their Turkish enemies alone.

“ ‘It will go down in infamy,’ said one Army officer who served in the Syria campaign.  ‘This will go down as a stain on the American reputation for decades.’  Those may sound like extreme sentiments, but they’re widely shared by those who served in the Syria mission.  For these soldiers, abandoning an ally on the battlefield is about the worst thing that can happen....

“What do these American soldiers feel as they watch Trump retreat from the Syrian battlefield and leave their former comrades to die?  They feel sick.”

Editorial / Washington Post

“Mr. Trump likes to preen and posture as a champion of American fighters.  But what more bitter medicine could a commander in chief administer to U.S. troops than ordering them to abandon the comrades who fought alongside them?  He likes to preen, too, as a great enemy of Iran, and even as he runs from Syria he is ordering 1,800 U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to deter Iran.  But that deployment, while proving the utter incoherence of his claim of ‘ending wars in the middle East,’ will have far less effect on Iran than the U.S. pullout from Syria, which opens the door for it to swell its influence there, on Israel’s border.”

Fareed Zakaria / Washington Post

“Trump’s moves in Syria are part of a Middle Eastern policy that, as Martin Indyk explains in Foreign Affairs, is in total disarray.  Indyk, who has held virtually every senior Middle East job in the U.S. government, describes how, in case after case, the Trump administration dispensed with regional experts, reversed long-standing policy and assumed that its knowledge-free approach would yield innovative, new results.  ‘In fact,’ Indyk says, the administration ‘understands so little about how the Middle East actually works that its bungling efforts have been a failure across the board. As so often in the past, the cynical locals are manipulating a clueless outsider, advancing their personal agendas at the naïve Americans’ expense.’

“Indyk continues, ‘Almost three years into his term, Trump has nothing to show for his efforts to counter Iran or promote peace in the Middle East.  Instead, his policies have fueled the conflict between Iran and Israel, alienated the Palestinians, supported an unending war and a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and split the Gulf Cooperation Council, possibly permanently.’....

“The hallmark of Trump’s foreign policy is a disdain for experts and professionals and a lack of interest in history or past policy.  When asked during the campaign to name experts whom he consulted on foreign policy, he replied, ‘My primary consultant is myself.’  The policies we are witnessing from Ukraine to the Middle East are a direct consequence of the triumph of gut over brain, of emotion over intelligence and of personal ambition over national interest. And some of the pushback in recent weeks has been the revolt of experts, finally fed up with the mess.

“Watching the Syria debacle, one cannot help but think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of two rich, arrogant and intellectually uncurious characters in ‘The Great Gatsby.’  ‘They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.’”

---

--The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, told a congressional hearing in his opening statement that he was “disappointed” that President Trump directed him and other diplomats to work with Rudy Giuliani to root out corruption in Ukraine.

“Indeed, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing.  We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between President Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland said.

Sondland was referring to Energy Secretary Rick Perry* and former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who were at the meeting, held three days after Volodymyr Zelensky had been elected president of Ukraine, with others trying to get Trump to extend an invite to the White House.

*Perry announced his resignation this week.

Trump, Sondland said, was reluctant to do so because he “was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those involved to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns.”

When U.S. ambassador Bill Taylor raised the issue of whether the Trump administration was holding up nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to coerce Zelensky to look into the Bidens, Sondland said he would reach out to Trump.

“I asked the President: ‘What do you want from Ukraine?’ The President responded, ‘Nothing.  There is no quid pro quo.’  The President repeated: ‘no quid pro quo’ multiple times,” Sondland said.  “This was a very short call.  And I recall the President was in a bad mood.”

Sondland added the directive to work with Giuliani left a bad impression on him and the others.

“Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine,” he said in his remarks.

But Sondland said he, Sec. Perry and Amb. Volker decided to work with Giuliani.

He said he didn’t grasp “until much later” that part of Giuliani’s agenda was “to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.”

The July 25 phone call Trump then had with Zelensky was the genesis of the impeachment inquiry.

So then Thursday in a surprise appearance in the White House press room, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said there was indeed a quid pro quo involved with Ukraine.

“The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was one thing,” Mulvaney said, referring to the debunked right-wing conspiracy theory claiming anti-Trump Ukrainians interfered in the last election to help Hillary Clinton.

Mulvaney then shrugged when asked whether what he described didn’t in fact amount to the quid pro quo that Trump and his officials had thus far denied took place.

“We do that all the time with foreign policy.  Get over it.  Politics is going to be involved in foreign policy.  Elections have consequences,” Mulvaney said, totally undercutting Trump’s repeated denials of a quid pro quo that linked security aid for Ukraine to Trump’s unsubstantiated theory that a server with missing Democratic emails was being held by a company based in Ukraine.

Mulvaney said at one point of the president, “Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the D.N.C. server?  Absolutely.  No question about that.  But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.”

Earlier, Fiona Hill, the president’s former senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council, testified to a House committee that Mulvaney was one of three Trump loyalists conducting a rogue foreign policy operation in Ukraine.

Ms. Hill told lawmakers that John Bolton, then national security adviser, instructed her in early July to advise the NSC’s chief lawyer about the effort by Mulvaney, Sondland and Rudy Giuliani.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at Hill’s deposition.

During an earlier conversation with Ms. Hill, she quoted Bolton as saying, “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”

--In a meeting on Wednesday that included Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Trump trash talked former Defense Secretary James Mattis, calling him “the world’s most overrated general,” per those in the meeting.

Schumer attempted to read a quote from Mattis, stating: “If we don’t keep the pressure on, then ISIS wil resurge.  It’s absolutely a given that they will come back.”

But Trump reportedly cut Schumer off, asserting Mattis “wasn’t tough enough.”

“I captured ISIS,” Trump touted, adding, “Mattis said it would take 2 years. I captured them in one month.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley clarified: “ISIS is defeated not destroyed.”

In Mattis’ resignation letter in December, he criticized America’s fraying relationship with foreign allies, and its coziness with “countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours,” such as Russia and China.

Back to the tone of the meeting, all you needed to know was that Trump looked at Pelosi, Schumer and Hoyer at the start and said, “I don’t know who called this...I did not call it.”

Meanwhile, Thursday night at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, hosted by the Archdiocese of New York, Gen. Mattis was the keynote speaker.

“I’m honored to be considered (the world’s most overrated general) by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress,” Mattis joked.

“So I guess I’m the Meryl Streep of generals and frankly that sounds pretty good to me.  And you do have to admit between me and Meryl, at least we’ve had some victories.”

Mattis also jabbed at Trump for avoiding the draft in the Vietnam era by presenting a doctor’s finding that bone spurs in his feet barred him from service.

“I earned my spurs on the battlefield... And Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor,” Mattis said.

--Finally, President Trump has decided to host the Group of 7 meeting next June at the Trump National Doral resort near Miami, as announced by Mick Mulvaney in his press conference yesterday, a decision that immediately raised all manner of questions.

Just a freakin’ joke.  But as I noted the first time this potentiality came up, still, no one is bringing up the obvious.  You can NOT have a summit at Doral because it is impossible to enforce a no-fly zone with Miami International Airport essentially on top of it.

If I’m part of a sleeper cell, training commercial pilots, you are licking your chops.  You have about eight months to work your way into a flight schedule.  I mean it’s not like you can shut down Miami International for a few days.

Editorial / New York Post

“President Trump is 100% right to note that Hunter Biden profited massively off his father’s high government position: Even if none of it was ever illegal, it’s still wrong.

“So why can’t the president see the problem with having next June’s G-7 summit at the Trump National in Doral, Florida?

“It doesn’t matter if the resort only charges cost, as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney vowed Thursday – or if it’s ‘by far and away the best physical location.’  It’s still wrong.

“Even if the place is absolutely perfect...it’s still the president’s resort.

“Fine: Trump is rightly proud of what he built in his earlier career. But he has a new job now – and a public trust....

“It’s not the obscure issue of ‘emoluments’...that you have to think about, sir.

“It’s that voters expect and deserve clear signs that their president is working for them – not promoting himself.

“Tell Mulvaney to line up someplace else.”

A place that isn’t spitting distance from a major airport.

--Trump tweets:

“You would think there is NO WAY that any of the Democrat Candidates that we witnessed last night could possibly become President of the United States.  Now you see why they have no choice but to push a totally illegal & absurd Impeachment of one of the most successful Presidents!”

“This (Turkey) deal could NEVER have been made 3 days ago.  There needed to be some ‘tough’ love in order to get it done.  Great for everybody.  Proud of all!

“This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path.  People have been trying to make this ‘Deal’ for many years.  Millions of lives will be saved.  Congratulations to ALL!”

“I am the only person who can fight for the safety of our troops & bring them home from the ridiculous & costly Endless Wars, and be scorned.  Democrats always liked that position, until I took it.  Democrats always liked Walls, until I built them.  Do you see what’s happening here?”

“Nancy Pelosi needs help fast! There is either something wrong with her ‘upstairs,’ or she just plain doesn’t like our great Country. She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch.  Pray for her, she is a very sick person!”

“Somebody please explain to Chris Wallace of Fox, who will never be his father (and my friend), Mike Wallace, that the Phone Conversation I had with the President of Ukraine was a congenial & good one.  It was only Schiff’s made up version of that conversation that was bad!”

Wall Street and the Trade War

The International Monetary Fund dropped its global outlook due to the negative effects of trade tensions, with 2019 cut to 3% from 3.2% expected in its July forecast.

The estimate is the slowest since 2008-2009.  The projection was as high as 3.9% in mid-2018.  The 2020 projection was cut to 3.4% from 3.5% previously.

The IMF says it sees some support due to easier policy stances from many global central banks, while demand could also be boosted by easing in U.S.-China trade tensions and if a no-deal Brexit is averted.

U.S. growth prospects were cut to 2.4% (it was 2.9% last year) from 2.6%, though 2020 was raised to 2.1% from 1.9%.  Euro-area growth was lowered to 1.2% for 2019 from 1.3% and to 1.4% from 1.6% for 2020.

The UK was cut to 1.2% for this year, and left unchanged at 1.4% for 2020.  Germany was cut to 0.5% for 2019 (down from 1.5% in 2018).

China was trimmed to 6.1% this year and to just 5.8% in 2020.  Japan is at 0.9% 2019, 0.5% next year.

As for this week’s economic data in the United States, September retail sales came in down 0.3% when a gain of 0.3% was expected.  However, August was revised upward and I wouldn’t make much of this lone September number.

September housing starts also came in less than forecast, 1.256 million annualized, down 9.4%, though single-family starts were up a little over last month and that’s a positive.

September industrial production was down 0.4%, not good.

The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer for third-quarter growth is just 1.8%.

On the U.S.-China trade front...as I note further below, the economic data in China is not good and whether or not this influences trade talks and China’s willingness to cut a deal favorable to the U.S. remains to be seen.

On Tuesday, Taoran Notes, a social media account affiliated with the official Economic Daily, said China and the U.S. essentially shared the “same position” on the progress of the talks, a trade truce having been reached last week, with negotiators on both sides now working on the language for a “phase one” agreement.

“If the Chinese side has disagreement with [what U.S. President Donald Trump has said], it will make a response immediately,” it said.

“People who are familiar with China’s situation would know that China takes a very cautious approach when it comes to official language used in announcements to the public...but we can confirm that both sides essentially share the same stance.”

The U.S. has been upbeat, saying the two sides had reached a “substantial phase one deal,” but it is going to take weeks to finalize, the goal to have everything ready for a signing between Trump and Xi Jinping when they meet at an economic forum in Chile in November.

But Chinese state media has cautioned against being “overly optimistic” about negotiations.

And I’m not going to waste any time today on the supposed deal, given the lack of details, except to say that the discussed $40-$50 billion in Chinese ag buys from U.S. farmers has to be stacked up against past reality.  Between 2012 and 2017, China’s purchases of U.S. farm goods averaged about $21 billion annually, with the figure plunging to $8.6 billion in 2018 amid the beginning of the trade war.

China is not going to be suddenly buying $40 billion a year.  For starters, with soybeans being a big potential purchase, China isn’t going to want to upset its new supply chain in Brazil, for example.

Where the U.S. could, however, benefit greatly is with pork, as spelled out further below, owing to China’s huge issue with African swine fever.  China has begun buying U.S. pork and the purchases over time could be substantial.  Sources tell me the hogs, though, are not that excited about such a long trip, but I don’t want to be the one to tell them they might already be packaged when they are loaded onto the cargo ship.

As for the discussed removal of business restrictions on foreign banks, brokerages and fund management firms in China, details are non-existent at this point.

A lot of what transpires over the coming weeks will have to do with the geopolitical situation, specifically, in the short term, Hong Kong.  This Sunday’s planned massive demonstration there could be telling.  China is not happy with U.S. congressional action backing the protesters and slamming Beijing.

Trump tweet: “The deal I just made with China is, by far, the greatest and biggest deal ever made for our Great Patriot Farmers in the history of our Country. In fact, there is a question as to whether or not this much product can be produced?  Our farmers will figure it out. Thank you, China!

“...Other aspects of the deal are also great – technology, financial services, 16-20 Billion in Boeing Planes etc., but WOW, the Farmers really hit pay dirt! @Chuck Grassley @joniernst @debfisher @BenSasse Thank you to all Republicans in Congress for your invaluable help!”

Sen. Ben Sasse / Washington Post

“The Chinese Communist Party and the American people are locked in conflict.  We have been for years.  Recently, we have fought with cyberweapons and cyberespionage, but the biggest share of this war has been waged with businesses.  That’s part of the problem. With a population of 1.4 billion, China is a lucrative market.  But getting into that market isn’t cheap.  At best, the price of doing business in China is silence; at worst, it’s reading talking points straight from the Chinese Communist Party. Beijing is not subtle about it. China is making an example out of the NBA.   The Global Times, the government’s propaganda newspaper, warned Western businesses that ‘global brands better stay away from politics.’  In its typical threatening tone, the Communist Party laid it all bare: ‘The biggest lesson which can be drawn from the matter is that entities that value commercial interests must make their members speak cautiously.’

“The message is inescapably clear: If you’re a U.S. company, the only acceptable position is the Chinese Communist Party’s position:

“The kid in Hong Kong they shot at point-blank range?  Don’t mention it.  The Muslims they torture in re-education camps?  Don’t object. The threat to Taiwan?  Tread carefully.  Let’s be clear: The NBA’s surrender is nothing new.  American businesses have been silent for years as C-suite executives chased Chinese markets for higher profits. But, like Sun Tzu’s [Ed. “The Art of War”] enemies, we’ve found ourselves encircled, playing by China’s rules and struggling to keep up.

“Communists aren’t seizing businesses; they’re co-opting them. Just last week, Apple took HKmap.live off its App Store after Beijing complained that Hong Kong protesters were using it to organize. ESPN not only warned its employees to avoid talking about the Hong Kong protests but also described the pro-democracy protests as ‘anti-government.’ Even worse, the network used a propaganda map of China that includes the South China Sea as Chinese territory, despite the fact that U.S. sailors are patrolling there to prevent that annexation. Clothing manufacturers, hotels and airlines have been forced to  adopt the Chinese Communist Party’s official talking points about its supposed ownership of Tibet and Taiwan.

“We’ve lost the opening battles, but we’re not fated to lose the war.

“U.S. businesses must step up to the plate and aggressively confront China’s intimidation campaign. And if they don’t have the courage and integrity to fight back, American consumers should demand that our companies put basic human rights above profit margins. The U.S. government has a role to play, too; Washington needs to stem the rising tide of Chinese intellectual property theft and cyberattacks so that we can empower American businesses to take a tougher stand.  If free and open societies don’t wake up to this geopolitical reality, we’re going to be encircled before there’s time to fight back....

“We ought to have the courage of our convictions and confidence in our own ingenuity.

“After all, that’s what America is all about. Either that, or learn Mandarin.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Mr. Trump deserves credit for challenging China’s abusive practices, but he’d be in a stronger negotiating position had his tariffs not done so much to weaken the U.S. economy.  By withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he reduced U.S. trade leverage with China. By imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on allies, he made it harder to form a coalition of trading partners to confront China as a united front.  By focusing on the economically irrelevant bilateral U.S.-China trade deficit, he distracted from China’s serious trade abuses.

“If Mr. Trump gets a second chance with China in a second term, these are the mistakes to avoid if he wants a better deal.”

Europe and Asia

Just a little data from the eurozone (EA19).

August industrial production was up 0.4% over July, but down 2.8% from a year ago.

EA19 inflation for September came in at 0.8% vs. 1.0% in August, and 2.1% a year ago.

The decline in inflation has been pronounced virtually across the board.

Germany 0.9% (2.2% a year ago)
France 1.1% (2.5%)
Italy 0.2% (1.5%)
Spain 0.2% (2.3%)

The German government lowered its 2020 forecast for economic growth to 1.0% from 1.5% prior, with 2019 still pegged at 0.5%.  Hardly what the EU needs overall.

Brexit: Britain’s exit from the European Union has come down to a vote in the British parliament tomorrow, Saturday, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson scrambles to convince doubters to support his last-minute EU divorce deal in what promises to be a truly historic day for the nation.

Johnson confounded his critics by clinching a deal with the EU after that body had promised it wouldn’t reopen the treaty it had agreed to with former PM Theresa May.

But now Johnson, the face of the Brexit campaign back in 2016, has to get it ratified in a parliament where he has no majority and opponents are plotting how to damage his prospects the most ahead of an imminent election.

Johnson’s Northern Irish allies, the DUP, however, have said they are opposed to the deal and the three main opposition parties have pledged to vote it down.

“We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control – now parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday,” Johnson said ahead of the first Saturday sitting of parliament since the 1982 Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.

If he wins the vote, Johnson will go down in history as the leader who delivered Brexit – for good or bad.  If he fails, well, it’s total humiliation, having staked his career on getting Brexit done after he took over for Mrs. May.

May was forced to delay Britain’s departure date after parliament voted down her deal three separate times by a margin of 58 to 230 votes.

Johnson is casting Saturday’s vote as a choice between getting it done, or crashing out of the EU without a deal, which would result in untold consequences and probably a return to violence in Northern Ireland.

It is expected that the process  on Saturday, with unlimited debate, could result in a long evening.  I have seen stories where debate is limited to 90 minutes, but whenever a vote takes place, afterwards, you then will have all kinds of debate on ‘what happens next?’ should it be voted down.  There are those who also want to make the deal conditional on a second referendum.

The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) has said it would oppose the deal and lobby a faction of around 28 hardline Brexit supporters in Johnson’s Conservative Party to also vote it down.

The DUP believes the deal would have a negative impact on the economy of Northern Ireland and spark further nationalist sentiment, with leader Arlene Foster accusing Johnson of being “quite desperate,” saying her party won’t back a border in the Irish Sea, as the deal now reads.

The biggest single concession made by Johnson was that he had to accept the EU’s demand that there can be no border checks of any kind for customs or regulations on the island of Ireland.

Under the new plan, there will be checks within the UK between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The EU is praising Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar for being the man who made the impossible, possible, by compromising with Johnson.

Varadkar said on Thursday: “What we have is a revised agreement, a new solution, a unique solution which recognizes the unique history of Northern Ireland, different from the backstop, more likely to be used to come into force and could become permanent, but only with the consent of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland.”

Johnson said: “We’ve been at this now, as I say, for three-and-a-half years. It hasn’t always been an easy experience for the UK.  It’s been long, it’s been painful, it’s been divisive.

“And now is the moment for us as a country to come together. Now is the moment for our parliamentarians to come together and get this thing done.”

Without the DUP’s 10 votes, Johnson needs Labour Party rebels to support him.  Most believe the vote will be close but fall short.

So we await history in a matter of hours.

Spain: In an historic ruling with major ramifications, Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition over their role in an independence referendum in 2017.  Three other defendants were found guilty of disobedience and fined, but will not serve prison sentences.

The prosecution had sought up to 25 years in prison for the former vice president of Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras, the highest-ranking pro-independence leader on trial, and he was handed the longest sentence of 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds.  The other sentences ranged from nine years upwards.

The nine were acquitted of a more serious charge of rebellion.

Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the leader’s imprisonment signified the defeat of the independence movement, whose long-running campaign has caused Spain’s most serious political crisis since the death of dictator Francisco Franco four decades ago.

But after the court in Madrid announced the verdicts, protesters marched on Barcelona’s airport, blocked highways and halted traffic at several points in the northwestern region.

According to the latest poll, 48% of Catalans are against secession and 44% in favor.  Separatists are demanding a referendum in 2021.

Spain is also facing a national election on Nov. 10, the country’s fourth in four years, which could influence the independence movement.

Nearly 100 were injured in protests on Wednesday as they’ve continued all week, including today.  But many of the residents and businesses are getting ticked off at the protesters.  Spain’s acting interior minister said today that violent protesters could face up to six years in prison under Spanish law.

Turning to Asia...tons of data from China, including a critical reading on third-quarter GDP, just 6.0% annualized (vs. 6.2% in Q2), the weakest pace since March 1992, when such figures were first reported.  The trade war is killing China.  Many are now forecasting 5.9% in the fourth quarter, with the government having forecast earlier in the year that 2019 growth would come in between 6% and 6.5%.

Separately, we had a slew of figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Retail sales in September were a respectable 7.8% vs. a year ago, while industrial production was up 5.8% in the month.  Fixed asset investments (roads, airports, rails) was up 5.4% for the first nine months.  All three were more or less in line with expectations.

China’s consumer prices rose 3% in September, though ex-food were up just 1.0%.  The thing is food prices, more important here than in the U.S., rose 11% last month vs. a year ago, with pork prices surging 69% owing to the African swine fever outbreak, which has seen pork production plunge 17.2% from a year earlier for the first nine months, with the pig herd declining 28.5% from a year ago.

Producer, or factory gate, prices in China fell 1.2% in September year-over-year.

But earlier in the week we had some telling data on exports for September, courtesy of the Customs administration, down 3.2% vs. a year ago, the biggest monthly decline since February, while China’s imports fell 8.5%.

Imports from the U.S. plummeted 26.4% in the first nine months, while exports to the U.S. were down 10.7%.  For September, exports to the U.S. were down 17.8%, imports down 20.5%. 

Back to the GDP number, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who is supposed to be in charge of the economy, urged local government officials this week to do everything possible to keep economic growth on track, sending a strong signal that Beijing is increasingly concerned about a deeper-than-expected slowdown.

Li told five provincial governors on Monday that local officials must “enhance the sense of urgency and responsibility” to ensure stable economic growth and “must put growth in a more prominent position” on their work agenda, according to a statement on the government’s website.

“The downward pressure on the economy is increasing continuously, and many real economic entities are struggling amid weak domestic demand,” Li said.  He added local authorities must do everything they can to “make sure targets for this year are achieved.”  [South China Morning Post]

In other words, time to cook the books, sports fans!  [Even more than they normally are.]

Street Bytes

--Stocks finished mixed on the week after a big swoon on Friday, 255 points in the Dow Jones, after Reuters and the New York Times reported that a test pilot for Boeing said in text messages in 2016 that the MCAS system in the 737 MAX was making the plane difficult to fly in flight simulators.  Boeing shares fell 6.8% in response.  And shares in fellow Dow component Johnson & Johnson cratered 6.2% today after the company recalled a lot of baby powder because of the risk of asbestos.

Overall, the Dow fell 0.2% this week to 26770, while the S&P 500 gained 0.5% and Nasdaq 0.4%.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 1.62%  2-yr. 1.57%  10-yr. 1.75%  30-yr. 2.24%

--The United Auto Workers struck a tentative labor deal with General Motors Co. on Wednesday, the first step in ending the monthlong strike that has brought a halt to production.

The nationwide strike, the company’s longest since 1970, continued as union leaders decided whether to end the walkout immediately or continue it until the contract is ratified by rank-and-file workers – a process that could take a week or two.

The four-year contract would come amidst an environment where auto-industry sales are expected to decline in the coming years.

GM is coming off one of its most profitable periods, but has been cutting costs and restructuring in preparation for an uncertain future, as well as making big investments in electric and self-driving cars.

The UAW is attempting to save jobs and benefits, even as the production of electric cars requires fewer parts and workers to build.

As part of the proposed deal, GM would commit to investing $7.7 billion in its U.S. factories over the four-year contract, which would preserve or create 9,000 jobs.

In turn, the automaker will move forward with plans to close or sell three now-idled U.S. factories, including the Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant.  GM would also be allowed to continue its operations in Mexico, which the company is insisting on for flexibility.

Additionally, the agreement includes wage increases of 3% in two years, as well as a 4% bonus payment in the other two years.  By 2023, all permanent manufacturing employees will make $32.32 an hour, no matter how many years they’ve worked at GM.  Workers currently make $17 to $29.24 an hour, depending on seniority.  There would be no changes to the existing health-care plan in terms of worker contributions.

As a result of the strike, more than 100 of the automaker’s suppliers have laid off as many as 12,000 of their own workers, according to an industry trade group, as the largest U.S. labor action in a decade ripples through the economy.

The walkout has forced the shutdown of 34 plants across the United States.

So Thursday, the UAW agreed to extend the 32-day walkout amid rumbling from members about a plan that allows GM to close Lordstown and plants in Baltimore and Warren, Mich., which had all been closed earlier this year.

A parts distribution plant in Fontana, Calif., will also close, according to the agreement.

The workers will stay off the job while they digest the full proposal.  GM’s hourly workers may still ratify the plan, but as I said earlier, it will take a while.

--J.P. Morgan Chase posted profit and record revenue in the third quarter that exceeded expectations on the strength of consumer banking operations that helped the bank mitigate the impact of lower interest rates.

The bank said profit rose 8% to $9.1 billion, or $2.68 per share, far exceeding consensus of $2.45.  Revenue also rose a solid 8% to a record $30.1 billion, also beating estimates.  JPM cited growth in home loans, auto and credit cards.  The stock rose 3% in response.

“The consumer remains healthy with growth in wages and spending, combined with strong balance sheets and low unemployment levels,” CEO Jamie Dimon said in the earnings release.

“This is being offset by weakening business sentiment and capital expenditures mostly driven by increasingly complex geopolitical risks, including tensions in global trade.”

On a conference call after the earnings release, Dimon did say, “Of course there’s a recession ahead – what we don’t know is if it’s going to happen soon.”

The Federal Reserve’s shift to lowering interest has squeezed the banking sectors profit margins, and banks like JPM have warned that net interest income would be lower than earlier guidance.

Still, the bank posted $14.4 billion in the third-quarter in this category, exceeding estimates.

Trading revenue was solid, but below the level of the second quarter.

--Goldman Sachs reported profit slumped 26% to $1.88 billion in Q3, below forecasts, with revenue down 6% to $8.32 billion, in line, on lower results in the firm’s investing and lending and investment banking divisions.  Trading revenue slightly exceeded expectations.

CEO David Solomon, who took over in October 2018, has been undergoing an internal review of the bank’s operations that has sparked some high-level departures.  The review is also taking longer than expected as investors look for a resurgence of the old Goldman.  The firm is plowing money into new ventures including retail banking to diversify from its traditional strengths in trading.

--Citigroup reported earnings and revenue that topped forecasts in the quarter, $1.97 on the former (adjusted), $18.6 billion on the latter.

CEO Michael Corbat also touted the strength of the U.S. consumer, noting branded-cards revenue expanded by 11% in North America during the third quarter.

But the company’s lending business posted weaker-than-forecast results, with net interest income at $11.64 billion, less than the Street forecast.

And CFO Mark Mason said business customers have been showing “pause, in terms of whether they actually want to invest in building out facilities or operations, pause in terms of whether they want to consider entering into new markets,” an admission the slowdown is affecting Citi’s business.

CEO Corbat, on a call with analysts, said of the trade war, “If we could start to get some clarity on some of these things, where I think businesses can have some more surety on the future, our trade business would definitely benefit from that.”

--Bank of America Corp. reported third-quarter profit of $5.78 billion, compared with $7.17 billion a year ago, but the bank posted gains in its consumer, wealth and commercial businesses.  Adjusted earnings beat expectations.  Revenue was $22.81 billion, up from $22.72 billion a year ago, which also beat the Street.

--Wells Fargo reported revenue in the quarter of $22 billion, slightly more than a year ago, as the country’s fourth-largest bank is still operating under growth restrictions imposed by its regulators, with per-share earnings of 92 cents lower than the Street’s expectations because of ongoing expenses from its legal woes; Wells reporting a $1.6 billion charge for legal expenses in Q3 related to “one of the largest lingering issues related to sales practices.”

The bank’s new CEO, Charles Scharf, ex- of Bank of New York Mellon, starts next week.

--Morgan Stanley’s third-quarter profit rose 3% to $2.17 billion, or $1.27 a share, both far exceeding estimates, while revenue came in at $10.03 billion.  Accounting for a one-time tax benefit, though, profit was actually down 5% from a year ago.

CEO James Gorman said, “We remain cautious today, as trade talks swirl and interest-rate paths continue to be debated.  But expect us to look beyond the next few months.”

Morgan Stanley’s total assets crossed $900 billion for the first time since 2008, but Gorman complains the bank isn’t allowed to grow at its own pace and remains hamstrung by regulators.

--Johnson & Johnson reported third-quarter results that were ahead of expectations as sales rose across all segments, driven by pharmaceuticals, while the company lifted its full-year guidance ahead of previous projections.

Sales rose 1.9% year-on-year to $20.7 billion, ahead of consensus, with adjusted earnings of $2.12 a share, while analysts were looking for $2.01.

Pharmaceuticals sales rose 6.4%, driven by sales of Stelarza for treating immune-mediated inflammatory diseases and Darzalex, which is used for multiple myeloma, a type of cancer.

Medical device operational sales rose 5.3% to $6.38 billion, driven by electrophysiology products, Acuvue contact lenses and trauma products for orthopedics.

But as for the myriad of suits against the company, J&J is acting like it’s all no big deal.  According to a report, post earnings release, JNJ has offered to pay about $4 billion to settle all lawsuits in the opioid-addiction epidemic.

But now we have the baby powder recall after the company received a test report from the Food and Drug Administration regarding trace amounts of asbestos.  An investigation could take 30 days or more.  For good reason the shares cratered this afternoon.

--In line with the above, three major drug distributors – McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp., and Cardinal Health Inc. – are in talks to pay $18 billion over 18 years to settle sweeping litigation brought by state and local governments blaming them for fueling the opioid crisis, according to reports.  Johnson & Johnson is also involved in the discussions to contribute additional money, over what it has already committed to in a prior settlement with two Ohio counties.

Pressure has been mounting on the pharmaceutical companies to settle the lawsuits and cap the liability.

--United Airlines posted $1 billion in profit for the third quarter, aided by cheaper jet fuel and slightly higher fares.

UAL indicated that demand for leisure and business travel is holding up well despite concern about the slowing global economy, although there are pockets of weakness such as China.

The worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX after two fatal crashes led to thousands of canceled flights and lost revenue for United, but the company did not provide specifics.  The airline has removed the MAX from its schedule until Jan. 6 and dropped nearly 8,300 flights between October and early January.

Some investors are concerned that when the grounded planes return to UAL, Southwest and American, there will be more seats for sale and fares will drop.  United didn’t look into the first quarter of next year, only saying it expected revenue in the current quarter per seat to be flat to up 2%.

Since early last year, United has been growing aggressively in Chicago and Denver, as well as adding flights between hub airports and smaller cities.  Normally, such rapid growth spooks investors, but the results have been positive.

Revenue overall was slightly below expectations, at $11.38 billion, but it’s understandable that this was blamed in part on a drop in travel to Hong Kong, where anti-government protests have scared off tourists and business travelers.

--Details on Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg losing his chairman title last Friday were slow to emerge and some of them came after I posted earlier in the evening.

Boeing announced that company directors decided to separate the two jobs and elected one of their own, David L. Calhoun, to serve as non-executive chairman.

Earlier last Friday, a panel of international aviation regulators issued a report critical of Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration over how the MAX was approved to fly.  The group said Boeing failed to adequately inform the FAA about changes to a key flight-control system (MCAS) implicated in the accidents.

“The MCAS design was based on data, architecture, and assumptions that were reused from a previous aircraft configuration without sufficient detailed aircraft-level evaluation of the appropriateness of such reuse, and without additional safety margins and features,” the report from the Joint Authorities Technical Review said.

Another key finding: Changes to the MCAS during the certification process were not sufficiently updated or reviewed, and any possible impacts the changes would have on flight crews were not identified.  Boeing has been sharply criticized for not including the MCAS information in initial training manuals for the plane.

Christopher Hart, former NTSB chairman and head of the panel issuing the report, said the FAA certification process is in need of significant updates to reflect, among other things, the complex, inter-related systems in airplanes today.

“The good news is there’s more automation.  The bad news is there is more automation,” he said.

Hart added the FAA is having trouble attracting the technology talent needed to evaluate new systems.

The Justice Department and Congress are investigating the company, as Boeing also faces dozens of lawsuits by families of passengers who died in the two crashes.

Muilenburg is scheduled to testify Oct. 29-30 before a House committee looking into the plane’s certification.  Boeing still hasn’t formally submitted its software fix to regulators.

And then this afternoon we received word the company had turned over instant messages from 2016 between two employees who suggested Boeing may have misled the FAA on the MCAS system and the stock tanked, raising all kinds of new issues and questions as to Muilenburg’s status.

--Chinese auto sales fell in September for the 15th month in 16, extending their worst slump in a generation despite government efforts to support the world’s largest car market.

Sales of sedans, SUVs, minivans and multipurpose vehicles dropped 6.6 percent from a year earlier to 1.81 million units, the China Passenger Car Association said in a statement posted on its official WeChat account on Saturday.

The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers forecasts a drop in vehicle deliveries to dealers in 2019, only the second annual decline in three decades.

General Motors said the week before that its third-quarter deliveries of its vehicles in China tumbled 18 percent from the same period in 2018.

--Netflix shares surged 9% initially on news the company’s third-quarter revenue grew 31% to $5.2 billion, essentially in line with expectations, but net income was $665.2 million, well above analyst projections of $471 million.

Netflix shares had fallen 21% from the last earnings report, but the company announced it added 6.77 million paid customers around the globe, topping expectations, while the company projected it would pick up 7.6 million in the last three months of the year.  Analysts on this score expected a forecast of 9.4 million.

For 2019, Netflix expects it will add 26.7 million subscribers (compared with the 28.6 million it added in 2018).

Netflix raised the cost of its subscription plans for U.S. customers, a factor the company cited in its second-quarter subscriber decline.  Netflix’s most popular plan, a standard subscription, went up $2, to $12.99 a month.

Netflix said it has a budget to spend roughly $15 billion in cash this year on content, an amount expected to grow to $35 billion in 2025, according to one research group.  The company’s long-term debt, which is fueling its content spending, has grown to $12.4 billion, compared with $8.3 billion a year ago.

Meanwhile, Netflix is facing increased competition from competitors including Disney and Apple, who are launching their subscription services next month at a fraction of the cost; Disney’s plan starting at $6.99 a month, while Apple TV+, which launches with nine original programs, will cost $4.99 a month.

Netflix believes the company’s portfolio helps set it apart from the competition, including a new series of deals with top Hollywood talent, including a much-anticipated gangster film, “The Irishman,” directed by Martin Scorsese, which premiers in November.

--Huawei said on Wednesday that its sales growth recovered in the most recent quarter, suggesting the Chinese telecom giant is weathering the storm of having the Trump administration attempt to stifle its business around the world.

The U.S. has added Huawei to an export blacklist, restricting its access to key American-origin parts it needs to make its smartphones and telecom gear, which hit sales.  But for the first nine months of the year, Huawei said its smartphone shipments rose 26% to 185 million during the Jan.-Sept. period.

Revenue overall during the first nine months rose 24% to $86.2 billion.

U.S. officials have argued the Chinese government could use the company’s products to gather intelligence, an accusation Huawei has long denied.

But as telecom carriers around the world look to upgrade their networks for 5G, the next generation of wireless technology, Huawei remains a top supplier.

--Uber began handing out pink slips to 350 employees, according to reports, the ride-hailing giant having trimmed more than 1,000 jobs since it laid off 400 from its marketing team in July, followed by 435 engineers in September.

CEO Dara Khosrowshahi called Monday’s cut “the last wave of a process we began months ago,” according to a letter to employees obtained by a tech blog.

Uber has a global workforce of 22,000.

--Sears and Kmart store closings are expected to continue into early 2020, more than 100.  At the time of the company’s bankruptcy filing on Oct. 15, 2018, 142 store closures were announced.  As in a year later, Sear is struggling with many of the same problems it faced before it sought court protection.

Eddie Lampert, former CEO and chairman of Sears Holdings Corp., who bought the 425 best Sears and Kmart stores out of bankruptcy under a newly created company, Transform Holdco LLC, thought the stores were the strongest in the fleet, with about half of them being profitable at the time of the purchase, according to a person familiar with the situation.

But the stores’ performance has been deteriorating rapidly, thus the new closures.

--In an unexpected development, Oracle Corp. co-CEO Mark Hurd has died, age 62.  He had gone on medical leave five weeks ago but the company didn’t provide any details at the time.  The pressure is now on co-CEO Safra Catz to lead the company’s ongoing transition to cloud computing.  Founder Larry Ellison may now take on even more responsibilities once again.

--Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in a rare policy speech on Thursday, asserted a commitment to free expression as consistent with American values.  Zuckerberg said he worries that “increasingly today across the spectrum, it seems like there are more people who prioritize getting the political outcomes that they want over making sure that everyone can be heard.”

“I am here today because I believe we must continue to stand for free expression.”

Zuckerberg’s speech at Georgetown University came amid brewing disagreements about whether Facebook should police and make judgments on whether political ads contain falsehoods, days before executives will appear on Capitol Hill to face lawmakers.

Critics argue the company needs to do more to prevent the spread of misinformation as the 2020 election nears.

Zuckerberg likes to defend Facebook as a defender of free expression, but the company has spent the last two years trying to address public concerns about hate speech and misinformation on its platform.  His speech highlighted that he is concerned the company is taking the effort too far.

Zuckerberg has positioned social media’s rise as a positive, calling it a “Fifth Estate.”

“I actually believe the much bigger story is how much these platforms have decentralized power by putting it directly into people’s hands,” he added.

I want to throw up.

--SpaceX has bet its future on small satellites that could beam the internet down to Earth and now the company has requested permission from an international regulatory group to operate as many as 30,000 satellites at a specific frequency, power level and location in space.  The company had received prior permission from the U.S. government to operate about 12,000 satellites and launched 60 initially in May.

SpaceX says in a statement that it was taking steps to “responsibly scale” the total network capacity and data density to “meet the growth in users’ anticipated needs.”

SpaceX makes money by launching satellites for commercial and government customers and ferrying cargo for NASA to the International Space Station. But CEO Elon Musk has said the company’s launch revenue probably maxes out at about $3 billion a year.

However, the global internet connectivity sector is worth an estimated $1 trillion, and SpaceX has a goal of capturing 3% of that over time, or $30 billion.

Musk wants to use revenue from SpaceX to fund his Mars spaceship known as Starship that would be capable of ferrying up to 100 people to the red planet.

Boy, those 100 better get along.

--E-cigarette behemoth Juul stopped selling all fruity flavored products nationwide on Thursday, amid a burgeoning vaping health crisis that’s claimed dozens of lives and left thousands sickened, the company announced.

“We must reset the vapor category by earning the trust of society and working cooperatively with regulators, policymakers, and stakeholders to combat underage use while providing an alternative to adult smokers,” Juul’s new CEO K.C. Crosthwaite said in a statement.

The ban on sales will span at least until the Food and Drug Administration completes a safety review of the products, Juul said.

The FDA said it plans to pull all flavored vapes off store shelves so the products can undergo a more rigorous testing process.

Juul said it would continue to “develop scientific evidence to support the use of these flavored products, coupled with strict measures to combat underage use, as we believe these products can play an important role in helping adult smokers move away from combustible cigarettes.”

--Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley blasted LeBron James after the Lakers’ star criticized NBA general manager Daryl Morey for his tweet (“Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong”) supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

“Having just been in Hong Kong – on the streets & with the protesters – this kind of garbage is hard to take,” Hawley tweeted.  “LeBron, are YOU educated on ‘the situation’?  Why don’t you go to Hong Kong?  Why don’t you meet the people there risking their lives for their most basic liberties.”

I spell out the whole mess in my Bar Chat column, but the topic also finds its way into this space because it’s about the NBA’s ‘franchise’ in China and the $billions involved.

James spoke up for the first time on Monday, telling reporters that the controversial tweet from Morey – which was quickly deleted but nonetheless infuriated China’s communist rulers – backing the anti-government protesters was “misinformed.”

“I don’t want to get into a feud with Daryl but I believe he wasn’t educated about the situation at hand and he spoke,” James said.

“So many people could have been harmed, not only financially, but physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Just be careful what we tweet...even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech.  But there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too,” he said.

“I just think that, when you’re misinformed or you’re not educated about something – and I’m just talking about the tweet itself – you never know the ramifications that can happen.  We all see what that did, not only did for our league but for all of us in America, for people in China as well.  Sometimes you have to think through the things that you say that may cause harm not only for yourself but for the majority of people.”

Hawley was furious.  He is one of several senators who recently visited Hong Kong, as the senator has been crafting legislation to come down hard on China.

“This statement (of James’) is unbelievable.  ‘So many people could have been harmed’?  By Daryl Morey daring to express sympathy for democracy?  News flash: people ARE being harmed – shot, beaten, gassed – right now in Hong Kong.  By China.  By the Communist Party the NBA is so eager to appease,” Hawley tweeted.  The senator, 39, is a Yale Law School grad and the youngest member of the Senate.

It didn’t help that James, in trying to backtrack a bit once the social media backlash hit, said, “My team and this league just went through a difficult week.”

Hong Kongers who heard James’ remarks trampled on his jerseys.

--Domino’s Pizza Group announced it is pulling out of four European markets as it continues its search for a new CEO and chairman....Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. 

It’s tough to keep the pizza warm in those climes.  This is also the land of the world’s most expensive beer, but I digress.

--Finally, I’m the ‘wait 24 hours’ guy and didn’t want to comment last time on the sudden departure of Shepard Smith from the Fox News Channel, Smith an outlier on a network dominated by supporters of President Trump, because I didn’t know all the facts.

Smith signed off last Friday, “Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day, that the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will thrive.”

Smith’s departure came one day after Attorney General William Barr met privately with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox News, but Smith’s representatives said you can’t conflate the two events.

That said Trump has blistered Smith and Fox analysts such as Andrew Napolitano that don’t trumpet the Trump line.

Former longtime reporter at Fox, Carl Cameron, said, “The news department (at Fox) has just taken a huge hit with the loss of Shep.  For journalists like Chris Wallace and Bret Baier, it’s going to get even harder.”

Smith, 55, is not retiring, although his agreement with Fox forbids him from working elsewhere “at least in the near future.”

Foreign Affairs

Syria, part II: With the Kurds having allocated resources away from prisons and to their own survival, prisons have been left unattended and ISIS members, including Europeans and other foreigners posing the biggest threats, have walked free, or may be about to.  ISIS propaganda channels are gloating.

As Graeme Wood of The Atlantic wrote: “The forces that defeated ISIS are scampering frantically around the desert, hunted like jackrabbits and desperate for protection, now that America has forsaken them.”

There’s a new Middle Eastern proverb: “Never get into a well with an American rope.”

Wood, on the future of ISIS, assuming the prisons are emptied.

“Many of the foreigners have reportedly been trying to return to their home countries; they came to Syria to live in a caliphate, and with ISIS now reduced to a guerilla force, they might prefer to wait in, say, Brussels for ISIS to rebuild its paradise on earth.  Others will probably stay in Syria and will seek out jihadist groups willing to take them in.  They will be spoiled for choices, particularly if they can make it to northeast Syria, where Turkish-backed rebels and jihadist groups continue to flourish.  The celebration in ISIS’ propaganda does not automatically mean that the group is resurgent.  (A car bomb here and there does not a caliphate make.)  But ISIS is an opportunistic infection, and the chaos of the moment leaves the group with an attractive opportunity....

“The closest thing we have to a strategy document to guide us through this mess is a tweetstorm today from Trump.  ‘Endless wars!’ Trump wrote.  ‘Others may want to come in and fight for’ Turkey or the PKK, but the United States would rather let its erstwhile allies slaughter each other in single combat.  It is difficult to exaggerate how shallow and optimistic this approach is.  The United States will not be present to cut and broker deals with and between these parties, but Russia and Damascus are already there, bidding for influence now that the United States has left the auction.  As American influence zeroes out, we will see what comes next.  Already the Kurds have begun aligning with Damascus and, by extension, with Russia.... America’s foreign policy in the region has long since ceased to be merely a comedy of errors and is veering into tragedy.”

Separately, an extensive New York Times investigation revealed “The Russian Air Force has repeatedly bombed hospitals in Syria in order to crush the last pockets of resistance to President Bashar al-Assad.”

“An analysis of previously unpublished Russian Air Force radio recordings, plane spotter logs and witness accounts allowed  The Times to trace bombings of four hospitals in just 12 hours in May and tie Russian pilots to each one.

“The 12-hour period beginning on May 5 represents a small slice of the air war in Syria, but it is a microcosm of Russia’s four-year military intervention in Syria’s civil war. A new front in the conflict opened this week, when Turkish forces crossed the border as part of a campaign against a Kurdish-led militia....

“Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy group that tracks attacks on medical workers in Syria, has documented at least 583 such attacks since 2011, 266 of them since Russia intervened in September 2015. At least 916 medical workers have been killed since 2011....

“The spotter logs from May 5 and 6 put Russian pilots above each hospital at the time they were struck, and the Air Force audio recordings from that day feature Russia pilots confirming each bombing.  Videos obtained from witnesses and verified by The Times confirmed three of the strikes.”

Intentionally bombing hospitals is a war crime, but until now there has been no proof that would hold up in any war crimes trial.

China / Hong Kong: Politicians were dragged out by security guards for heckling leader Carrie Lam as Hong Kong’s parliament descended into chaos on Thursday.  Wednesday night, prominent human rights activist Jimmy Sham was left bloodied and lying in the street prior to a major rally, the victim of a knife and hammer attack designed to intimidate protesters and incite violence ahead of Sunday’s big march.  From the hospital, Sham, having suffered wounds to the head and legs, urged people not to seek revenge.

Pro-democracy Legislative Council member Claudia Mo said, “This very vicious attack took place practically on the eve of the call for yet another massive protest in Hong Kong on Sunday.

“We can’t help feeling that this entire thing is part of a plan to shed blood on Hong Kong’s peaceful protests.”

The day before, Ms. Lam was forced to cut short her annual policy speech due to heckling and broadcast it instead on video.

Ms. Lam later staged a Facebook Live event to air her policies and answer pre-submitted questions.  After 30 minutes, 5,700 “angry” emojis had been posted compared with 1,300 “likes.”

Meanwhile, in a fiery statement, China’s foreign ministry expressed “strong indignation and resolute opposition” to the U.S. House of Representatives passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Bill, which would assess annually whether the city was sufficiently autonomous from China to justify a special trade status with the United States.

“With regards to the incorrect decision by the U.S., China must take strong countermeasures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty, safety and developmental interests,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuant said.  “If the relevant bill is ultimately passed into law, not only will it harm Chinese interests but it will damage China-U.S. relations and seriously damage the U.S.’ own interests.”

The foreign ministry said that Hong Kong did not face “so-called human rights and democracy issues,” but that some in the U.S. harbored “sinister intentions to destroy Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and to contain China’s development.”

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass, after which it goes to President Trump’s desk.  Will he sign it?

Last Sunday, President Xi Jinping warned that any attempt to divide China will be crushed, as  Beijing faces political challenges in months-long protests in Hong Kong and U.S. criticism over its treatment of Muslim minority groups.

“Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones,” he told Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli in a meeting, according to China’s state CCTV.

“And any external forces backing such attempts dividing China will be deemed by the Chinese people as pipe-dreaming!” he was quoted as saying.

North Korea: Aides to Kim Jong-Un are convinced their leader plans “a great operation” state media said this week after a report included lavish descriptions and images of Kim riding a white horse up North Korea’s most sacred mountain, Mount Paektu, the spiritual homeland of the Kim dynasty.  Kim was accompanied on horseback by his younger sister and other aides.

The official KCNA news agency said: “His march on horseback in Mount Paektu is a great event of weighty importance in the history of the Korean revolution.  Having witnessed the great moments of his thinking atop Mount Paektu, all the officials accompanying him were convinced with overflowing emotion and joy that there will be a great operation to strike the world with wonder again and make a step forward in the Korean revolution.”

Kim has often made trips to the sacred mountain at times of major policy endeavors.  Analysts say the symbolism underscores North Korea standing up to international sanctions and pressure over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.  Some experts believe Kim may be preparing for a space launch, which might be seen as less provocative than testing an ICBM, while showing off the North’s economic and technological power.

Meanwhile, South Korea faced off against North Korea in a 2022 World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang on Tuesday in a stadium with no fans from either country. 

The match ended 0-0, the two countries still technically at war and with current relations at a low ebb.

The Korea Football Association said “It [the match] was like war.”

“North Koreans wouldn’t even make eye contact when I talked to them,” said KFA vice-president Choi Young-il as the team arrived back at Incheon.

The captain of the South Korean squad – Tottenham’s Son Heung-min – was also surprised by the North’s rough tactics.

“The match was very aggressive to a degree that I think it’s a huge achievement just to return safely without being injured,” he said.

“North Korean players were sensitive and aggressive...there was a lot of severe swearing [from them].”  [BBC News]

Russia: Authorities removed three American diplomats from a train heading to an Arctic town near the site of a recent nuclear accident, Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday. 

The removal occurred in the shipyard town of Severodvinsk, according to Interfax. The diplomats were about to take a train to Nenoksa, the village closest to the military testing site where a mysterious explosion in August left seven people dead and caused a spike in radiation levels miles away.

Both cities are closed, requiring foreigners to obtain a special permit from authorities before arriving, which the Americans had done, having properly notified Russian authorities of their travel.

The Russian Foreign Ministry even acknowledged this fact, but the Russians claimed the diplomats had stated their intentions to visit a different city.  “Perhaps they got lost,” a statement read.

Russia continues to say little about the accident.  President Trump suggested the blast involved the testing of a new nuclear-propelled cruise missile.

The government’s lack of a response raised fears this was another Chernobyl.

Mexico: It’s a very murky story, but Mexican officials apparently cut loose the arrested son of notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on Thursday “to protect lives” after cartel gunmen turned the Mexican city where he was collared into an urban warzone, authorities said.

Ovidio Guzman Lopez, who is wanted in the U.S. on drug-trafficking charges, was detained by Mexican National Guard and Army troops, who raided a house in Culiacan where he was staying.

But then as word spread of Lopez’s capture Thursday afternoon, fierce gun battles broke out between cartel gunmen – armed with military-grade weapons – and the outnumbered government force.

Cartel thugs torched cars and buses and blocked roadways in and out of the city.  Understanding they were in a lost cause, the story is officials then released Lopez to try to avoid more violence in the area and preserve the lives of the Mexican personnel.  A lawyer for Lopez gave a television interview after his release, praising the move.  At last word eight were killed, capping a particularly violent week in the country, with death tolls of 13  and 14 in two other incidents.

Random Musings

--Presidential tracking polls....

Gallup:  39% approve of Trump’s job performance, 57% disapprove; 87% of Republicans approve, 34% of independents (Oct. 1-13).
Rasmussen:  47% approve, 52% disapprove.

In a new Quinnipiac University national survey, 41% of registered voters approve of the job President Trump is doing, while 54% disapprove, which compares to 40-54 in an October 8 poll.  [49% approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, 46% disapprove.  But on foreign policy, only 37% approve, 57% disapprove.]

--In a new national Quinnipiac University poll of Democratic voters and independents who lean Democratic, prior to this week’s debate, Elizabeth Warren has surged to 30%, with Joe Biden at 27% and Bernie Sanders a distant third at 11%.  Pete Buttigieg takes 8% and Kamala Harris 4%.  No other candidate tops 2%.

A July 29 poll had Biden at 34%, Sanders 11%, Harris 12%, and Warren 15%.  [Harris peaked at 20% in a July 2 survey.]

In a CBS News Battleground Tracker YouGov poll of early states, again, prior to Tuesday’s debate....

In Iowa: Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden are tied at 22%, Bernie Sanders 21%, and Pete Buttigieg a solid 14%.

In New Hampshire: Warren takes 32%, Biden 24%, and Sanders 17%.

In South Carolina: Biden 43%, Warren 18%, and Sanders 16%.

--Bernie Sanders is picking up the endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Saturday at a really in New York.  Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) also announced her endorsement of Sanders.

--So Tuesday night in Westerville, Ohio, Sen. Elizabeth Warren took fire from 11 other candidates on the debate stage, the first time she has come under sustained attack as Democrats’ struggle to define their own beliefs and select a standard-bearer.

Mayor Pete and Amy Klobuchar took turns criticizing Warren’s Medicare-for-all plan and her approach to populism.

“We’re competing to be president for the day after Trump.  Our country will be horrifyingly polarized, even more than now.  After everything we’ve been through, after everything we are about to go through, this country will be even more divided,” Buttigieg said.  “Why unnecessarily divide this country over health care when there’s a better way to deliver coverage for all?”

Attacks on Joe Biden were minimal, when they should have hammered away at Hunter Biden’s first statement earlier in the day about his work on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was the Obama administration’s point person there.

For his part, Bernie Sanders looked good in his first lengthy performance after suffering a heart attack.  He also sounded good, though he didn’t come close to answering questions about his health.

My take on the debate overall is that Klobuchar was solid, but then I said from day one I liked her...a true moderate who can get the independent vote that will decide things.  She just doesn’t resonate, but Klobuchar needs to keep getting on the debate stage and finish in the middle of the pack in Iowa to stay relevant.  She isn’t hurting her chance at being a Veep selection.

Cory Booker was good, but he’s resonating less than Klobuchar.  His time, if there ever will be one, is in 2024 or 2028.  There is no reason why New Jersey voters, given how the electorate skews heavily Democrat these days, wouldn’t keep re-electing him.

So many of the others need to go away, but bring back Marianne Williamson!

--As for Biden, he has totally botched the Hunter Biden mess.  All he had to do was admit he understood the perception it was unethical for Hunter to take the positions he did, at least that it looked like a conflict of interest, apologize, and say he should have handled it better.  We know  it was not illegal.

But Biden just sloughs it off, totally.

Daniel Henninger / Wall Street Journal

“One watches these Democratic debates with the same core question in mind: Can any of these candidates – Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, Harris or the seven others – take down Donald Trump?  Are any capable of going one-on-one for three months next fall with the greatest mixed-martial-arts fighter in presidential history?

“This week’s debate took place about a year from the main event, so let’s cut to the question of the moment: Is Joe Biden going to make it?  In my opinion, no.  Based on his performance in Westerville, Ohio, Mr. Biden is not going to make it.

“To be clear, the issue here isn’t whether Mr. Biden or any of the others can win the Democratic presidential nomination.  It’s whether that nominee can compete with Donald Trump.  Can he stand on a stage in the presidential debates and not get beaten by the president into something small by comparison?  For all the immeasurable hours spent now on politicking, the presidential debates have become the main event....

“In October 2012, Vice President Biden debated Rep. Paul Ryan, another skilled politician, and Mr. Biden won.  Simply put, the guy who defeated Paul Ryan in 2012 is not the guy who was on that stage in Ohio.

“With Mr. Trump’s decision to pull American troops away from the Syrian Kurds, he opened one of the most significant political vulnerabilities of his presidency.  It was an opportunity for Mr. Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to show some foreign-policy smarts and president-like leadership.  Instead we got this:

“ ‘What I would do is I would be making it real clear to Assad that, in fact, where he’s going to have a problem – because Turkey is the real problem here.  And I would be having a real lockdown conversation with Erdogan and letting him know that he’s going to pay a heavy price for what he has done now.  Pay that price.’

“It fell to Pete Buttigieg, the mayor from South Bend, to produce the night’s most stinging critique of President Trump: ‘What we were doing in Syria was keeping our word.  Part of what makes it possible for the United States to get people to put their lives on the line to back us up is the idea that we will back them up, too.’ That was good.  Joe Biden somehow couldn’t figure out how to say anything like it.

“Then during the health-care segment, Mr. Biden said, ‘The plan we’re hearing discussed is the Biden plan.’  Then he said, ‘The plan is going to cost at least $30 trillion over 10 years,’ with no indication that now he was talking about Elizabeth Warren’s plan, not his.

“Here’s a single Biden sentence from the debate: ‘I would eliminate the capital gains tax – I would raise the capital gains tax to the highest rate, of 39.5%.’  And this: ‘My son made a judgment.  I’m proud of the judgment he made.’

“Mr. Biden’s supporters say he did fine, but fine isn’t going to be good enough.  With apologies, a sports metaphor is apt.  Joe Biden looks like a pro in training camp – running at half speed, joshing with teammates, showing brief flashes of former skills.  Democrats who think Mr. Biden will get better than this training-camp competence are deluding themselves.  Come next year’s October presidential debates, Donald Trump would flatten him.

“Democrats are counting on a buildup of anti-Trump animosity carrying the vote for  them, and it’s not the worst strategy.  But if at crunchtime your candidate looks like a loser, as Michael Dukakis did against George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential debate, well, you are going to lose.  Hunter Biden and Donald Trump aren’t dragging down Mr. Biden.  He is doing it himself.”

--Meanwhile, the woman who won’t go away, Hillary Clinton, alleged today that the Russians were “grooming” a Democrat running in the presidential primary to run as a third-party candidate and champion Moscow’s interests on the campaign trail.  Clinton’s comments were clearly aimed at Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has been accused of cozying up to Russia in the past.

Clinton made the allegation in a podcast with former Obama adviser David Plouffe.  She didn’t mention Gabbard specifically by name, though Plouffe ended the podcast by noting Clinton’s “belief that Tulsi Gabbard is going to be a third-party candidate propped up by Trump and the Russians.”

Gabbard, a Hawaii Army National Guard major who served in Iraq, has denied similar charges of being a Russian sympathizer in the past, though she did meet with Syria’s Assad in 2017.  She has ruled out a third-party bid.

Clinton has previously accused Jill Stein, who ran against her and Trump in 2016, of being a Russian asset.  On this score, a Senate Intelligence Committee report did assert that Russian social media actors interfered in the election in part by including messages supporting Stein, Stein picking up nearly 1.5 million votes.

--We note the passing of veteran Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, 68, after “longstanding health challenges.”

As chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, he had instigated several investigations into the Trump administration.  He also clashed with the administration over healthcare and immigration.

During a hearing earlier this year, Cummings accused the Department of Homeland Security of having an “empathy deficit” over its treatment of children at migrant detention centers.

President Trump then responded with a week-long series of tweets and comments attacking the congressman and labeling his majority-black Baltimore district a “disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess.”

Cummings was elected to the House in 1996, having worked as a Maryland state legislator and lawyer.

He was an honorable man, who could reach across the aisle.  He was passionate, and compassionate.  Elijah Cummings will be missed.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, the second-most senior Democrat on the Oversight panel, will become acting committee chair under House rules until the Democratic caucus elects a successor.

Republican Rep. Mark Meadows (N.C.) tweeted: “There was no stronger advocate and no better friend than Elijah Cummings.  I am heartbroken for his wonderful family and staff – please pray for them.  I will miss him dearly.”

--Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards was pushed to a runoff election by wealthy Republican businessman Eddie Rispone on Saturday, setting up a head-to-head showdown  in a Nov. 16 runoff, where we will no doubt see President Trump stumping for Rispone perhaps two more times with rallies in the state, such as the one he had last Friday in Lake Charles.

--The Japanese government has given a confirmed death toll of 74 from Typhoon Hagibis; the storm the strongest to hit the nation in decades.

--Lastly, some good news.  The world’s first Ebola vaccine was recommended for approval by European drug regulators in a move hailed by the World Health Organization as a “triumph for public health” that would save many lives.  The vaccine was developed by Merck & Co. and is already being used under emergency guidelines to try to protect people against the spread of the deadly Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The shot is also being reviewed under a fast-track system by regulators in the United States.

The Congo Ebola outbreak has killed more than 2,100 since the middle of last year.  Congratulations to Merck, which is working furiously to set up a manufacturing site in Germany to speed production.

---

Pray for the men and women of our armed forces...and all the fallen.

God bless America.

---

Gold $1493...unchanged
Oil $53.70

Returns for the week 10/14-10/18

Dow Jones  -0.2%
S&P 500  +0.5%
S&P MidCap  +1.1%
Russell 2000  +1.6%
Nasdaq  +0.4%

Returns for the period 1/1/19-10/18/19

Dow Jones  +14.8%
S&P 500  +19.1%
S&P MidCap  +16.5%
Russell 2000  +13.9%
Nasdaq  +21.9%

Bulls  47.6
Bears
17.2

Have a great week.

Brian Trumbore