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For the week 11/11-11/15
[Posted 11:00 PM ET, Friday]
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Edition 1,074....the Impeachment Hearings...
I am biting my tongue big time tonight. I have been very careful, as I’ve been with every major topic around the world, for nearly 21 years in writing this column. You should know by now I’m the “wait 24 hours” guy. I don’t make snap pronouncements or judgments. I’m the guy who very proudly did NOT trumpet one conspiracy theory or bogus claim that many were sending me during the 2016 campaign, forwarded off social media, hoping I’d use my platform to parrot it. Not once! Those who sent such garbage to me got stone-cold silence. I don’t suffer fools gladly.
I watched every minute of the impeachment hearings Wednesday and Friday, and I have refused to give you my personal feelings on the issue of impeachment and Donald Trump this entire time because I’m waiting for the evidence, which in this case means another week and the testimony of the likes of Gordon Sondland and Fiona Hill, let alone any releases from the envoy David Holmes, who confirmed the Sondland-Trump conversation this afternoon.
I did like both Ambassadors Bill Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch a lot. To me they are the best of America and we should be proud of them. I think back to a time when I had passed all my tests and sailed through my interview in a Philadelphia hotel room with a kindly CIA case officer back in 1985, but then when I got a call to go to Langley for what could have been an offer, I got cold feet. So I admire those who sacrifice for their country.
But by now you know I have trouble stomaching a man who has done nothing but attempt to divide America since he took the oath of office.
Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed stable genius, should be leading in the polls by 15 points. He should be on his way to a second-term landslide, a la Nixon in 1972 and Reagan in ’84. The economy is solid (though hardly the 4% he promised), which is the No. 1 issue for Americans during relative peacetime, but instead, the man who lost the House in 2018 and desperately needs the support of suburban women in 2020 to secure the election against a truly pathetic Democratic field (assuming Michael Bloomberg doesn’t catch fire in the spring), decides to play the role of Village Idiot during this morning’s hearing and slams a career professional, a woman, Ambassador Yovanovich, for zero reason.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.
“...They call it ‘serving at the pleasure of the President.’ The U.S. now has a very strong and powerful foreign policy, much different than proceeding administrations. It is called, quite simply, America First! With all of that, however, I have done FAR more for Ukraine than O.”
My immediate reaction, with a pit in my stomach, was, ‘You (fool).’
And in the hours since, including while I was watching Martha MacCallum’s show on “Fox,” we had the likes of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, a man I totally admire and would gladly have as my president, toeing the Party line in making inane comments such as “Republicans weren’t allowed to ask questions.”
They were! I don’t have to prove my Republican Party bona fides. But Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who I otherwise can’t stand, did a masterful job this week. And, yes, Republicans were allowed to ask questions. There isn’t one Republican who did a good job on that committee. Not one, because they were so scared of the president, which is so freakin’ weak. [And boy have I been biting my tongue on Rep. Jim Jordan, for the better part of a year. #Buckeyes]
This fear that Donald Trump will destroy you if you are critical is shades of an era like under Nicolae Ceausescu. [That wasn’t a Merry Christmas in 1989 as it turned out for him and the Missus.]
I’ve listened to the loyalists today, like Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson, and now I have on Sean Hannity, though with the sound down because I need to wrap this column up. Rush, who I have long liked, has made a clown of himself recently, especially today. He can survive on his own, but the evening anchors at Fox know they can’t.
I just have to add it is beyond pathetic what has happened to former Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the very definition of a total ‘tool.’ And just now I turned on the sound for Mark Levin, who said we’re “witnessing tyranny,” referring to how the Democrats are conducting the hearings. Oh please. Don’t fall for this crap, people.
Meanwhile, Russia and Vlad the Impaler are delighted. Yes, I agree with Speaker Nancy Pelosi on one issue. ‘All roads do lead to Putin.’ I have questioned our president on everything Russia since Helsinki, in particular, and Americans should be very afraid at what has transpired in all their interactions. I also love how Tucker Carlson likes to say, as he did again this week, “Why don’t Americans lighten up a little bit about Russia.”
Because some of us, Tucker, do understand that what Russia does in Europe can have a major impact on our country, even if we aren’t directly threatened (though of course we are...remember, Tucker, that ten Russian nuclear-armed submarines left Murmansk a few weeks ago, as I wrote, to test our defenses).
This site is “StocskandNews” for a reason. Major geopolitical events have a direct impact on global markets and, sometimes, the financial well-being of Americans.
Next week I’ll come down on how I feel on the issue of impeachment, though without hearing from Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton directly, even a flustered Gordon Sondland may not move the needle when it comes to the electorate.
I’ll tell you what did move the needle this week, however. It might be only one percent of the undecided female vote, but the president’s disparagement of Marie Yovanovich cost him.
And as I’ve also been warning, for weeks now, we are nearing a first-ever moment in our nation’s history....this coming week may be key for the generals...and the president. The former shouldn’t stomach a rogue leader. Watch the actions of Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham for clues.
Opinion....all sides, but mainly pro-Trump for balance....
Rudy Giuliani / Wall Street Journal
“If your only sources of news the past two months have been CNN and MSNBC, you probably think President Trump has committed some heinous act that is deserving of being drawn, quartered and carted out of the White House.
“That’s a false narrative built on selectively leaked testimony from Rep. Adam Schiff’s closed-door Intelligence Committee hearings. The manner in which he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are conducting this impeachment investigation is unprecedented, constitutionally questionable, and an affront to American fair play.
“The conversation my client, President Donald J. Trump, had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25 was innocent. During a congratulatory call, the newly elected Mr. Zelensky brought up the need to ‘drain the swamp’ in his country. Rooting out corruption was one of Mr. Zelensky’s campaign pledges, and Mr. Trump asked him to investigate allegations of corruption at the highest levels of both governments. It was a matter of serious mutual concern.
“In particular, Messrs. Zelensky and Trump discussed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. A Ukrainian court ruled in December last year that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko illegally interfered in the 2016 election by releasing documents related to Paul Manafort. A January 2017 report from Politico implied that the officials released the information to hurt the Trump campaign. The site reported that a Democratic National Committee contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, dug for dirt on Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine. This past May, Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., told the Hill’s John Solomon that Ms. Chalupa came to the embassy looking for damaging information on Mr. Manafort. Ms. Chalupa has denied conducting opposition research with Ukrainian officials for the DNC but told Politico that she provided what information she found on Mr. Manafort to ‘a lot of journalists.’ Needless to say, the matter could still use investigating.
“Mr. Trump also briefly brought up his concerns regarding former Vice President Joe Biden’s conduct toward Ukraine while his son, Hunter Biden, worked for the Ukrainian company Burisma. Andriy Derkach, a member of Ukraine’s Parliament, told the press in early October that he had reviewed documents showing that Burisma transferred $900,000 to Rosemont Seneca Partners, a lobbying firm owned by Hunter Biden, and that the money was for lobbying Joe Biden. In my view, the former vice president should be investigated for bribery, and at the very least both Bidens’ behavior deserves serious scrutiny.
“For Messrs. Trump and Zelensky to discuss these issues was not only proper but an exercise of Mr. Trump’s responsibility as U.S. president as expressed in Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution: ‘to take care that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed.’
“Moreover, Mr. Trump requested that Ukraine root out corruption: he didnt’ demand it. His words were cordial, agreeable and free of any element of threat or coercion. Mr. Trump offered nothing in return to Ukraine for cleaning up corruption. If you doubt me, read the transcript. Allegations of Burisma-Biden corruption weren’t even a major part of the conversation. The focus was on Ukrainian corruption broadly speaking and out of a five-page transcript Mr. Trump spent only six lines on Joe Biden.
“Moreover, Mr. Zelensky has made clear he felt the call was a perfectly normal, friendly and appropriate conversation, one in which he felt no pressure of any kind.
“In an ideal America, politicians would be held to the same standard regardless of party, and this inquiry would be over. But the left’s inability to accept the results of the 2016 election and fear of Mr. Trump’s policy agenda have driven the Democrats into a frenzy. Call it Trump derangement syndrome or a corrupt double standard, but there can be little doubt that Mr. Biden would not be pursued so aggressively were he in Mr. Trump’s place. The dominance of the left-leaning media is one of the main reasons that Capitol Hill Democrats can get away with acting this way.
“If the American people are allowed to see the facts of the matter, the truth will prevail. But if the allegations against Joe and Hunter Biden aren’t fully investigated, we won’t have equal justice under the law. Politicians of both parties should insist on fairness. That necessarily includes defending the right of political opponents to have their way before the American people – even President Trump.”
Andrew McCarthy / New York Post
“Wednesday’s first impeachment hearings showed Democrats have shifted the focus to bribery. There is a strategy here.
“Most of the debate over President Trump’s dealings with the Ukrainian government have centered on whether his pressure on President Volodymyr Zelensky for an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden was an abuse of power rising to high crimes and misdemeanors.
“But the Constitution’s standard for impeachment is broader. The Framers made the sanction of impeachment and removal from power available not just for high crimes and misdemeanors, but also for bribery and treason.
“That is, if bribery can be proved, it is theoretically not necessary to establish high crimes and misdemeanors.
“The latter is a complicated issue. There is an abstract definition of high crimes and misdemeanors, best articulated by Alexander Hamilton in ‘The Federalist papers.’ It doesn’t necessarily call for a criminal offense; rather, such offenses are ‘political’ in nature, involving an egregious abuse of the trust reposed in holders of high office.
“There is profound debate, though, over whether particular abusive conduct rises to this level. As a practical matter, it often comes down to what might persuade a two-thirds supermajority of the Senate. That is why impeachment proceedings are so rare.
“By contrast, bribery is cleaner as a proof proposition. It is a federal felony with settled, well-understood offense elements. And, contrary to popular belief, proving guilt doesn’t require showing an actual, completed bribe. What’s necessary is to establish that, with corrupt intent, a public official demanded ‘anything of value’ in exchange for the performance of an official act.
“That, then, is the Democrats’ theory. They want to frame the focus of the negotiations narrowly: The official acts by the president sought by Ukraine were the delivery of nearly $400 million in congressionally authorized defense aid and a White House visit for the newly elected Zelensky; the thing of value demanded by Trump was a Ukrainian investigation of Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden, whom the president feared as his most likely 2020 Democratic opponent.
“This came into sharp relief in the first day’s testimony. Former Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, for example, testified in response to Democratic counsel’s question that it was ‘crazy’ to make aid conditional on assistance in American domestic politics – as if the matter were that simple....
“For now, though, there is already plenty of ammunition to fight the bribery theory.
“Most significantly, all negotiations between sovereign nations involve mutual exchange – that is not corruption or bribery, it is foreign relations.
“And this negotiation, like most, was more complex and multifaceted than Democrats portray it....
“The battle lines are drawn around the issues of whether the president had corrupt intent and risked the security of an important ally solely to better his political prospects. But the Democrats’ approach indicates that the issue behind the battle lines will be: Was there a bribe?”
Hugh Hewitt / Washington Post
“On Tuesday, the Federalist ran an article by Jim Hanson titled ‘Alex Vindman Is Living, Breathing Proof That The Deep State Exists, And It Is Corrupt.’
“The Federalist is a much-needed addition to the ranks of Beltway-based media organizations, and Jim Hanson is one of its reliable essayists. But it is crucial for conservatives to avoid the unforced errors Hanson makes in this piece.
“First, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is a patriot, and while I believe he is very wrong about his understanding of how national security policy is made by the president in a ‘unitary executive’ constitutional order, he is entitled to his opinion and to air it publicly, if in doing so he does not violate orders. Argue with his reasoning, not his person.
“More important, there is not now, nor has there ever been a ‘deep state’ in the United States. Deep states exist in history in the fascist and communist regimes of the 20th century and continue today in North Korea, China, Cuba and Venezuela. Menacing security agencies exist in Russia and other states, including within the governments of some countries we call ‘allies,’ such as Turkey.
“Wherever politics is controlled by secret police and a secret security apparatus, there is a deep state. The rule of law is the only answer to the deep state, the writ of habeas corpus, the right to a speedy trial, the right to confront accusers – these are all bulwarks od due process, and we have them all in the United States as a matter of course. It is crucial for Republicans generally and conservative supporters of President Trump specifically to stay away from exaggeration during the impeachment process.
“It also distracts from the need to drive home the more important point that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) is denying the president and his colleagues in the minority due process as impeachment hearings opened Wednesday. Schiff has so far refused to allow the House Republicans to call the witnesses they want – especially Hunter Biden and the unnamed White House whistleblower.
“The Senate Republicans, I have argued, should refuse any article of impeachment birthed by this deeply broken ‘process.’ But neither the president nor the country is helped by hyperbole.”
Editorial / Wall Street Journal
“The impeachment case – after the failure of non-collusion with Russia and the non-obstruction of Robert Mueller – now broil’s down to President Trump’s dealings over a few weeks this summer with new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Readers who want to save time should read Mr. Schiff’s opening statement Wednesday because it offers the most damning interpretation of events.
“Mr. Schiff’s claim is that Mr. Trump sought to ‘condition, coerce, extort or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his re-election campaign.’ He did this by having his Administration threaten to withhold U.S. military aid and deny an Oval Office meeting until Mr. Zelensky publicly announced a corruption probe. That sums up the case.
“We are not defending Mr. Trump’s phone call with Mr. Zelensky or any plan to deny military aid. Sending his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to lobby Ukrainian officials outside formal U.S. diplomatic channels was dumb, ran counter to Mr. Trump’s own policy, and was ultimately self-destructive....
“In the end the aid was delivered and Mr. Zelensky never began a corruption investigation. Like much else in this Administration, Mr. Trump’s worst impulses were blocked.
“Mr. Schiff says this is still an impeachable ‘abuse of power’ because criminals can be prosecuted if their attempts fail. But there is no underlying crime here. Democrats have given up calling it a ‘quid pro quo,’ which must not have played well in polling. Instead they are using ‘extortion’ and ‘bribery’ to suggest a crime without citing any specific statute....
“American Presidents have long asked foreign leaders for actions or policy cooperation that serve a President’s personal political interest. Recall when President Obama was caught in 2012 on a hot mic telling then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to ask Vladimir Putin to give him diplomatic ‘space’ until after Mr. Obama’s re-election when he would have more room to maneuver on the issue of missile defenses. He was under fire from Republicans for being soft on Russia, so that surely was a request in Mr. Obama’s personal political interest....
“In a healthier political culture, Democrats would be using the Ukraine episode as an argument against Mr. Trump’s re-election. How can you trust his foreign-policy judgment in a second term when he won’t have the check of another re-election?
“Instead Democrats have pulled out the constitutional bazooka of impeachment. They are doing so in partisan fashion, contrary to their earlier pledges, and in a political rush to beat the 2020 political calendar. On the evidence and the process to date, they are turning impeachment into a routine political weapon, and future Presidents of both parties will regret it.”
David Ignatius / Washington Post
“As the House opens public impeachment hearings into the Ukraine scandal, the bottom-line question is dead simple: Did President Trump, for political reasons, manipulate military aid to an ally in a war that has cost 13,000 lives? [Ed. Amb. Taylor and others have said the toll is 14,000.]
“When you think about the Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines of this nasty proxy battle against Russia, the debate becomes more visceral and perhaps less confusing. As Ukrainians were struggling with near-daily shellfire, Trump appeared to treat military aid appropriated by Congress as a personal political tool.
“What’s outrageous about the Ukraine story isn’t that it’s a unique example of Trump’s fecklessness in foreign policy, but that it’s so typical. In dealing with Ukraine, Trump has behaved the same erratic, unreliable way he has with the Syrian Kurds, and the South Koreans, and America’s NATO partners in Europe.
“Trump’s Ukraine machinations have yielded something like what we’ve seen in these other theaters: the diminution of U.S. power and a corresponding increase in Russia’s military and diplomatic leverage.
“Even Republican senators seemed to understand that when Trump abandoned the Syrian Kurds to attack from Turkey, he opened a power vacuum that was filled by Russia. The United States has slowed this capitulation by keeping about 600 troops in northeastern Syria. But Russia still has the leverage....
“Meanwhile (in Ukraine), a low-level conflict continues. Here are some details from recent OSCE cease-fire monitoring reports: On Oct. 5, a man and a woman died after a grenade exploded in their apartment in Kurakhove; on Oct. 24, a man was injured by shrapnel near Luhansk; on Nov. 1, a man was injured by shelling in Spartak.
“As you watch the impeachment hearings, remember this basic fact: While Trump was playing politics on Ukraine, people who depended on U.S. military aid were getting killed and wounded.”
--Roger Stone was found guilty Friday of lying to Congress and witness tampering, making him the latest member of the president’s circle to be convicted on federal charges.
Stone was found guilty on all charges: five counts of false statements, one count of witness tampering and one count of obstruction of a congressional proceeding. In a trial lasting just over a week, prosecutors made the case that he engaged in an effort to mislead Congress about his efforts to make contact with the organization WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign.
Stone faces as much as 20 years in prison, though he will serve far less.
Trump tweeted: “So they now convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come. Didn’t they lie?”
“Roger Stone had no intention of being truthful with the (House) committee...he is just making stuff up,” prosecutor Jonathan Kravis had told jurors, saying Stone did so to help President Trump.
--The Wall Street Journal, in an exclusive tonight, is reporting that “Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating whether Rudy Giuliani stood to personally profit from a Ukrainian natural-gas business pushed by two associates who also aided his efforts there to launch investigations that could benefit President Trump, people familiar with the matter said.
“Mr. Giuliani’s associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, pitched their new company, and plans for a Poland-to-Ukraine pipeline carrying U.S. natural gas, in meetings with Ukrainian officials and energy executives this year, saying the project had the support of the Trump administration, according to people briefed on the meetings. In many of the same meetings, the two men also pushed for assistance on investigations into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and alleged interference by Ukraine in the 2016 U.S. election, some of the people said....
“In an interview Friday, Mr. Giuliani vehemently denied any involvement in the energy company or the pipeline pitch. ‘I have no personal interest in any business in Ukraine, including that business,’ Mr. Giuliani said, adding that he had no indication if prosecutors were looking into the matter. ‘If they really want to know if I’m a partner, why don’t they ask me?’”
--Donald Trump Jr. wrote a new book, “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us,” wherein he describes visiting Arlington National Cemetery in 2017 on the eve of his father’s inauguration.
“As we drove past the rows of white grave markers, in the gravity of the moment, I had a deep sense of the importance of the presidency and a love of our country.
“In that moment, I also thought of all the attacks we’d already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed – voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were ‘profiting off of the office.’”
Don Jr. later adds: “Frankly, it was a big sacrifice, costing us millions and millions of dollars annually. Of course, we didn’t get any credit whatsoever from the mainstream media, which now does not surprise me at all.”
Ask the relatives of those buried in Section 60 what they think of Don Jr.’s musings.
Wall Street and the China Trade War
It was another week of records on Wall Street, investors continuing to hope a phase one / trade deal with China is imminent, as White House economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, the ‘happy shill,’ said for the 98th time on Thursday that Washington and Beijing were “getting close,” though all Kudlow is doing is echoing his boss, President Trump, who once or twice a week says the same thing, but then another week passes and no deal.
The economic news on the week was decidedly mixed. The inflation numbers remained tame, with consumer prices in October up 0.4%, 0.2% ex-food and energy, 1.8% year-on-year, 2.3% on core; and producer prices for the month up 0.4%, 0.3% on core, 1.1% year-on-year, 1.6% ex-the stuff we use.
Friday, we had a key reading on retail sales for October, up 0.3%, basically in line, 0.2% ex-autos, while industrial production in the month was -0.8%, far worse than forecast.
But the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer for fourth quarter growth is down to 0.3%, after 2.0% and 1.9% annualized growth in the second and third quarters.
Now we are about a third of the way through all the relevant data in Q4, and no one is saying we will end up 0.3% for the current quarter, but it is kind of disturbing, though it can be partially explained in the diverse earnings reports of two key companies this week; Walmart and Cisco Systems.
As Jim Cramer so appropriately pointed out on CNBC the other day following Walmart’s release, which came a day after Cisco’s, it’s the clearest example of the huge dichotomy between the consumer and business sectors. The consumer, witness Walmart’s success (described below) is healthy, and it should be a very solid Christmas holiday shopping season.
But business sentiment has been waning, and thus capital spending, and we see that in a telecom networking giant’s results such as Cisco’s. For CEOs it’s all about the uncertainty on issues such as China trade, the direction of Hong Kong, Brexit, developments in Washington, you name it.
This week Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell went to Congress to give his semiannual testimony to the Joint Economic Committee and Powell told lawmakers that the central bank saw little need to cut interest rates further after making three reductions between July and October.
“We see the current stance of monetary policy as likely to remain appropriate as long as incoming information about the economy remains broadly consistent with our outlook of moderate economic growth, a strong labor market” and stable inflation, said Powell.
“Of course, if developments emerge that cause a material reassessment of our outlook, we would respond accordingly,” headed.
Powell also said lawmakers needed to be ready for fiscal policy to support the economy in a downturn, as the Fed through its monetary policy has less of an ability to do so now.
But in terms of fiscal policy, Powell warned that the long-term path of rising budget deficits and a higher debt load are unsustainable, which could “restrain fiscal policy makers’ willingness or ability to support economic activity during a downturn.”
So speaking of the budget deficit, lost in the mountain of news on other fronts this week was the Treasury Department’s release of the October shortfall, $134.5 billion, more than expected and a 34% increase from October 2018’s $100.5 billion. October is the first month of fiscal 2020.
As Church Lady would have said, “Well isn’t that spe-cial.” Especially disturbing, if you care about such things, which clearly President Trump doesn’t. Receipts, by the way, were down 2.8%.
So off we go to a $1 trillion deficit in 2020.
Separately, this week in New York, President Trump renewed his assault against the Fed, saying it was hurting the United States by not copying other central banks in deploying negative interest rates.
“We are actively competing with nations who openly cut interest rates, so now many are actually getting paid when they pay off their loan, known as negative interest,” Trump said.
“Give me some of that money. I want some of that money.” Some in the audience laughed. So for the record I’ll insert a ‘Ha ha.’
Turning to the China Trade War...we continue to be led to believe that a phase one deal is imminent and no doubt it will be a very skinny one, with the odds of a Phase Two, far more concrete deal involving the truly weighty topics probably off the table for 2020 due to our presidential election.
It’s also difficult to gauge just what is holding up a skinny deal that Trump can parrot as a tremendous victory, when this week China was said to be balking at putting a specific number on its commitment to purchase U.S. farm products, such as soybeans and pork. To Beijing, putting a number on purchases would perhaps make the deal look more favorable to the U.S. than to China. But as one Chinese official said, “We can always stop the purchases if things get worse again,” per the Wall Street Journal.
It didn’t help matters when President Trump, addressing the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday, said the United States will increase tariffs on Chinese goods if the first step of a broader trade agreement isn’t reached.
“If we don’t make a deal, we’re going to substantially raise those tariffs. They’re going to be raised very substantially. And that’s going to be true for other countries that mistreat us too.”
But China is “dying” to make a trade deal with the U.S., Trump said, adding that he’d sign it only if it’s good for American companies and workers. Still, he said, “we’re close – a significant Phase 1 deal could happen, could happen soon.”
Then of course Trump had to tell his audience, again, “Nobody’s cheated better than China. The theft of American jobs and American wealth is over.”
Meanwhile, down in Brazil at a meeting of the BRICS nations, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Chinese President Xi praised their strong bilateral relations (after the two had had a rocky start). The two leaders signaled a desire to expand two-way trade, the two countries then announcing a list of agreements, including an expansion of agricultural trade.
What’s significant here is that as you are well aware, Brazil has become a leading exporter of soybeans to China, to the detriment of America’s farmers.
Finally, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that there had been a breakthrough in talks with the administration on the trade pact with Mexico and Canada, and that she wanted to pass the deal by the end of the year.
“We are moving positively in terms of the U.S., Mexico, Canada agreement. Again, it all comes down to...enforcement,” she told reporters.
Europe and Asia
In the eurozone, GDP was up 0.2% in the third quarter of 2019, compared with the previous quarter, according to a flash estimate published by Eurostat. In the second quarter, GDP also grew 02.% in the euro area (EA19) Compared with the same quarter a year ago, Q3 growth rose 1.2%.
September industrial production in the EA19 rose 0.1%, the second straight month, but was down 1.7% year-on-year, per Eurostat.
October inflation in the euro area was just 0.7% annualized, down from 0.8% in September. A year ago inflation in the EA19 was 2.3%. [Eurostat]
Separately, third-quarter GDP in Germany rose just 0.1% over the second quarter, 0.3% annualized. The German government is pegging GDP at just 0.5% for all of 2019.
In the UK, third-quarter GDP was up just 1.0% over a year ago, down from Q2’s pace of 1.3% and the slowest in almost a decade, per the Office of National Statistics.
Brexit: With the Dec. 12 election just four weeks away, the major polls from the Sunday Times, Mail, and Independent newspapers have Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives at between 37% and 41%, with Labour at 26% to 29%, and the Liberal Democrats 16% to 17%.
But the kingmaker could yet be Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which early in the week announced that it will not stand candidates in the 317 seats won by the Conservatives at the 2017 general election.
Farage said standing candidates across the country could increase the chances of another EU referendum taking place, but he said his party would stand against all other parties – and focus on taking seats from Labour.
Commons has 650 seats and Farage had initially threatened to stand more than 600 which would have seriously dented the hopes of the Conservatives and a potential exit from the EU.
So Boris Johnson welcomed Farage’s gesture, calling it “a recognition that there’s only one way to get Brexit done, and that’s to vote for the Conservatives.”
Farage cited a pledge by Johnson not to extend the transition period that would follow the UK’s departure from the EU beyond the current December 2020 date. Farage also said he was encouraged by recent commitments from Mr. Johnson to seek further divergence from EU rules in a post-Brexit trade deal.
But Thursday, Farage said Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party was using an array of “disgraceful” tactics to try to prevent his candidates from standing in the election in the seats they apparently agreed to were OK.
“What is going on right now is nothing sort of disgraceful. There is a full scale attempt going on out there as I speak to stop men and women freely putting themselves up before the UK electorate. You would have thought this was Venezuela,” Farage said. Brexit Party candidates “are coming under relentless phone calls, emails and abuse and being told them must stand down. That is happening in 21st Century Britain.”
Anti-Brexit parties Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats have agreed not to stand against each other in 60 seats across England and Wales.
One sidebar on Brexit. According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Britain missed its chance to host the first European factory for the electric car maker. The company had earlier said it chose a location near Berlin for a new design center and plant to make batteries, powertrains and vehicles, offering a major boost to the German capital; the move creating an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 jobs in production alone, with potentially thousands more in related areas.
Musk told industry website Auto Express, “Brexit (uncertainty) made it too risky to put a Gigafactory in the UK.
Spain: The big winner in Spain’s latest parliamentary election last weekend was Spain’s far-right Vox party, which more than doubled its number of lawmakers in the country’s fourth national election in four years, a projected 52 seats, up from the 24 seats with which it debuted in parliament in April.
The Socialists of acting Prime Minster Pedro Sanchez, who had gambled that a repeat parliamentary election would strengthen his hand, finished first with 120, but down from 123 last vote. So we’re headed to another stalemate, with the conservative People’s Party (PP) placing second with 89 seats, and Vox third, but the two will not have enough for a majority in the 350-seat parliament, nor will the Socialists and any potential partners...at least as of today.
Turning to Asia...we had a lot of important data this week on China’s economy. Industrial production in October rose 4.7%, vs. 5.8% in September, though above August’s 17-year low of 4.4% growth year-over-year. Fixed-asset investments in the first ten months of 2019 came in at up just 5.2%, the lowest since Nov. 1999.
Retail sales rose 7.2% in October, vs. 7.8% in September. Steel and cement output fell.
Producer prices in October fell 1.6% year-on-year, the most in more than three years, vs. -1.2% in September. Consumer prices, though, rose 3.8% annualized, the highest in eight years, owing to a doubling in pork prices. Core CPI rose 1.5%.
Taken as a whole, all the above is about an ongoing slowdown in China. According to state media on Thursday, Premier Li Keqiang said the country will further prioritize stabilizing growth.
In Japan, third-quarter GDP came in at a far less-than-expected 0.2% annualized rate and nowhere near Q2’s 1.8% pace, per the Cabinet Office. The ongoing troubles in the export sector are a major hindrance.
--Stocks rose anew, the three major indices closing at record highs again on Friday; the Dow Jones up 1.2% to 28004, the S&P 500 0.9% to 3120, and Nasdaq 0.8% to 8540, the seventh straight up week for the tech-heavy index (sorry, I hate to use that decades-old cliché, but as Tony Soprano used to say, “Whaddya gonna do.”)
As noted above, stocks rose on hopes for a U.S.-China trade deal, which you can say every week, because that is how the administration manipulates the market. At this point, with the S&P having a trailing P/E of 24.23, and a forward P/E of nearly 19, stocks are essentially overvalued. I nailed 2018 and the small losses the Big Three suffered. I then called for double-digit gains in 2019. I’m just saying now, lighten up. If I deem it appropriate I’ll issue an outright ‘Sell.’ I’ve done it before, correctly, and won’t hesitate to do so again.
--U.S. Treasury Yields
6-mo. 1.57% 2-yr. 1.61% 10-yr. 1.83% 30-yr. 2.30%
--For all the talk of the Trump administration’s largesse for farmers dealing with the consequences of the trade war, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City reported on Thursday that farm finances nonetheless deteriorated across a swath of agricultural states during the summer and early fall.
Farm income fell in the third quarter from a year ago in each of the seven rural states covered by the Kansas City Fed.
Bankers contacted by the Fed said the drop in farm income was sharper than they expected going into the summer.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which covers five Midwestern states, also reported Thursday that farm credit conditions “slid yet again” in the third quarter.
The American Farm Bureau Federation indicated that U.S. farm bankruptcies in the 12 months through September rose 24% from the same year-ago period to the highest since 2011. This report also highlighted farmers’ and ranchers’ growing dependence on government financial help.
Almost 40% of projected farm profit this year will come from trade aid, disaster assistance, federal subsidies and insurance payments, according to the Farm Bureau, based on Department of Agriculture forecasts.
--Walt Disney Co. launched its flagship streaming service this week and the day after the company said it had signed up 10 million users to Disney+. Disney has been offering subscriptions for several months before Tuesday’s launch, including some at a significant discount.
Investors have been thrilled with the start, as Disney shares closed at an all-time high Wednesday, $148.72, and are now up 35% on the year, though they closed the week at $144.50.
But while hitting the 10 million mark after 24 hours seems pretty awesome, it’s not clear what the revenue is from these customers, as one of the company’s most popular subscription promotions priced it out at less than $4 a month for a three-year deal. Plus certain Verizon customers are being offered a free year of service.
--Boeing Co. said it has lost orders for about 200 of its 737 MAX jets this year, mostly from customers swapping out for other models. Boeing said it still has outstanding orders for 4,525 MAX jets.
While swapping aircraft orders isn’t unusual, given the MAX backlog the topic is under intense investor scrutiny.
The news comes as Boeing shares surged early in the week on the news it was hoping to secure regulatory approval to hand over some MAX jets next month, though new pilot training will delay the return of the aircraft to passenger service until late in the first quarter at best; American and Southwest among those now targeting March.
Boeing continues to produce 42 of its 737 jets a month, storing them at facilities in Washington state and Texas, with an estimated 650 MAX planes parked around the world.
--Walmart reported better-than-expected third quarter U.S. comparable sales on Thursday, as people spent more at its stores and website and the retailer picked up market share in food and other groceries. The world’s largest retailer also raised its annual earnings outlook, sending its shares up more than 3%.
Walmart has now posted a 21-quarter streak of U.S. growth, unmatched by any other retail chain. Sales at U.S. stores open at least a year rose 3.2%, excluding fuel, in the quarter ended Oct. 31. Analysts had forecast growth of 2.9%. Adjusted earnings per share of $1.16 beat expectations of $1.09. Online sales rose 41%, higher than the previous quarter’s increase of 37% and greater than the company’s expectation of 35%.
Total revenue rose 2.5% to $128 billion, slightly below forecasts.
Separately, Walmart announced on Veterans Day it had hired 14,000 military spouses in the last 12 months, further cementing its commitment to service members and their families.
Overall, the company said it has a goal of hiring 250,000 military veterans by the end of 2020. According to the Department of Defense, 77 percent of military spouses want or need work, yet they face barriers to finding and maintaining employment due to the frequent relocation of their active duty spouses. The DoD Military Spouse Employment Partnership also reports that more than 36 percent of military spouses relocated within the last 12 months, which makes it very hard to stay employed.
But good for Walmart.
--Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com reported more than $60 billion in sales Monday on Singles Day, an annual marketing event that is the world’s busiest online shopping day.
But this year the day offered retailers a little relief from otherwise fading demand as Chinese consumers have been tightening their belts over the above-noted slowing economic growth.
Alibaba said sales by merchants on its platforms rose to $38.3 billion, surpassing last year’s total of $30.8 billion, while JD.com reported sales of at least $25 billion.
Alibaba kicked off the event Sunday night with a concert by Taylor Swift at a Shanghai stadium. Gee, do you think Ms. Swift made some renminbi off this one?
Separately, Alibaba announced it was going to raise up to $15 billion via a Hong Kong stock listing this week.
--At an employers’ conference in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Europe to seize control of its data from Silicon Valley giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google, in an intervention that highlights the EU’s growing willingness to challenge the U.S. dominance of the digital economy.
Merkel said the EU should claim “digital sovereignty” by developing its own platform to manage data and reduce its reliance on the U.S.-based services.
“So many companies have just outsourced all their data to U.S. companies,” Ms. Merkel told German business leaders.
Two weeks ago plans were unveiled in Berlin for a European cloud computing initiative, dubbed Gaia-X, which was described as a “competitive, safe and trustworthy data infrastructure for Europe.” 40 companies have signed up thus far, including Deutsche Telekom, SAP and Bosch.
--Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal broke the story that Google was collecting detailed health information on 50 million American patients, sparking a federal inquiry and criticism from patients and lawmakers.
The data on patients of St. Louis-based Ascension had been scattered across 40 data centers, and now Google and the Catholic nonprofit are moving the data onto Google’s cloud-computing system.
At issue for regulators and lawmakers is whether Google and Ascension are adequately protecting patient data with the initiative, code-named “Project Nightingale,” which aims to crunch data to produce better health care.
Ascension hasn’t been notifying patients or doctors, and now it is sharing with Google personal information including names and dates of birth; lab tests; doctor diagnoses; and medication and hospitalization history.
The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services wants to ensure that HIPAA protections are being fully implemented, referring to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which allows hospitals to share data with business partners as long as the information is used “only to help the covered entity carry out its health-care functions.”
Google said in a statement it was adhering to HIPAA regarding the patient data, nor will Google use Ascension’s data to sell ads. [Wall Street Journal]
--The Paris-based International Energy Agency said growth in global oil demand is expected to slow from 2025 as fuel efficiency improves and the use of electric vehicles increases, but consumption is unlikely to peak in the next two decades.
The IEA said in its annual World Energy Outlook for the period to 2040 that demand growth would continue to increase even though there would be a marked slowdown, especially in the 2030s, from a rise of about 1 million barrels per day, to 0.1 million bpd a year during the 2030s, reaching a peak of 106 million bpd in 2040 from the current 97 million in 2018.
Separately, OPEC lowered its oil production growth forecast for non-cartel countries for 2020 on Thursday, citing a downward adjustment to its forecast for the U.S.
While OPEC’s cut in its growth estimate was small, it did cite slowing growth in U.S. output. It added that the risk to oil prices remains “toward the downside, especially with underlying trade-related issues.” OPEC and its allies are due to meet next month in Vienna.
--Office-space startup WeWork lost $1.25 billion in the third quarter as expenses outpaced revenue growth, ahead of a bailout by SoftBank Group Corp. last month.
We Co., as the parent company is officially known, released the loss figure as part of a report to debtholders on Wednesday. Revenue surged 94% in the three months ended Sept. to $934 million vs. a year ago.
But spending has soared, ahead of a hoped for IPO, since abandoned, with the last two months being total chaos for WeWork.
Meanwhile, WeWork is in talks with T-Mobile US Inc. CEO John Legere to take over as the head of its operations. The charismatic Legere has said he would be CEO of the company emerging from the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, once it gets all the proper regulatory approvals, including from 10 state attorneys general, but as he put it the other day, that was a year ago, when the deal first came up.
--Under Armour Inc is under federal investigation for accounting irregularities and former executives are now telling the Wall Street Journal that they were under intense pressure to meet aggressive sales targets, “borrowing business from future quarters to mask slowing demand in 2016 for its athletic apparel.”
“The Baltimore company frequently leaned on retailers to take products early and redirected goods intended for its factory stores to off-price chains to book sales in the final days of a quarter, according to former executives in sales, logistics, merchandising and finance.” [Wall Street Journal]
The pressure increased after the company failed to extend a 26-quarter streak of 20% sales growth. However, end-of-quarter maneuvers are commonplace in retail and a lot of industries, and in some cases permitted under accounting rules.
But what did then-CEO, still chairman Kevin Plank know and when did he know it?
--CBS Corp. said profit fell about 35% in the third quarter as the company continues to ramp up spending on programming and incurs higher costs ahead of its planned merger with Viacom.
The deal, announced in August, is a bet on the combined company being able to compete with Walt Disney Co., Netflix and the others. CBS and Viacom are preparing to consolidate their cable programming and digital operations. The combined company will be called ViacomCBS Inc., with a focus on its streaming services like CBS All Access.
Meanwhile, CBS said its entertainment business, which includes its television network, film unit, streaming services and other assets, generated $2.29 billion in revenue for the third quarter, compared with $2.19 billion last year.
--Cisco Systems Inc. on Wednesday forecast fiscal second-quarter revenue and profit below expectations as increasing global economic uncertainties kept clients away from spending more on its routers and switches. The shares fell 5% in afterhours trading Wednesday after the release.
Investors are also concerned that the company is shifting its focus to cyber security and software, while you have the impact of the U.S.-China trade war; Cisco saying the U.S. tariffs were hurting business in China, with total product orders falling 4% in the first quarter...5% in the Asia Pacific, including China.
Cisco expects revenue in the current quarter to drop by 3% to 5% from a year earlier. Not good.
--Aaron Elstein of Crain’s New York:
“The ground-floor retail space in the Trump Building at 40 Wall Street has been vacant for years, although a sign in the window promises a Dean & DeLuca store is ‘coming soon.’
“Except it’s not.
“Add the struggling foodie mecca to the headaches plaguing the Trump Organization, where business continues to slump as President Donald Trump completes his third year in the White House....
“Trump’s unpopularity is likely one reason revenue at his company has dropped by at least $50 million since he took office. Another factor is one plenty of city landlords have experienced: commercial tenants struggling to adapt to the age of e-commerce.
“That was certainly the case with Dean & DeLuca, which signed a lease in 2015 promising to pay at least $1.4 million in annual rent. But it stopped making payments two years later and in July was sued in federal court for defaulting....
“Trump knows all about this sort of legal brawl. Before entering politics, he often tangled in court with lawyers, real estate brokers, contractors, waiters and bartenders who claimed that he refused to pay them what he owed. Now his company is the one fighting to get paid.”
According to Crain’s analysis, the Trump Organization’s revenue fell by as much as $45 million last year to between $610 million and $650 million. In 2017, the company generated about $655 million, down from $700 million in 2016.
The biggest challenge, Elstein reports, is the slowdown in condo sales. At Trump Park Avenue, a hotel turned into luxury apartments, the company reported zero revenue from selling units last year, down from $16 million in 2017, though this can fluctuate wildly year-to-year.
On the other hand, Trump International Hotel in Washington (now up for sale) generated $41 million in revenue last year, which is helping offset harder times at Trump Tower, where the Trump Organization is headquartered. However, a large retail space there that has been vacant for two years, Niketown, is likely to be occupied soon by Tiffany’s, though this is for less than two years while its flagship store next door completes renovations.
As for his golf courses, the picture may not be as bad as some articles would have you believe. There were modest revenue increases at Trump courses in Bedminster, N.J.; Charlotte, N.C.; Miami; and Washington.
--Finally, the original Marlboro Man, Bob Norris, died this week at his Colorado Springs ranch at the age of 90 – likely because he never actually smoked cigarettes.
Norris was an actor, rancher and dad who played the role of a smoking cowboy on billboards, TV and the pages of magazines for 12 years.
Ad execs first tracked him down after seeing a photo of him in a newspaper, alongside his longtime buddy John Wayne, according to his son, Bobby, who told WKYT in Colorado Springs.
“They walked out of their car, these guys in their pinstripe suits, and they walked up to Dad and they said, ‘How would you like to be in commercials for Marlboro cigarettes?” the son told the station.
“He said, ‘Well, I’m kind of busy right now. Why don’t you come back next week and if you’re serious, we’ll talk.’ They came back the next week.”
But Norris quit the business suddenly when he realized he was setting a bad example for his sons and daughters.
“He always told us kids, ‘I don’t ever want to see you smoking,’ so one of us finally asked, ‘If you don’t want us smoking, why are you doing cigarette commercials,’" Bobby said.
That same day, Norris called up Phillip Morris, which owned the Marlboro brand – and he quit.
Five men who would play the Marlboro Man died later of smoking-related diseases.
I have to admit, growing up I loved the music for the Marlboro commercials, the great Elmer Bernstein’s theme for “The Magnificent Seven,” one of the greatest pieces of Americana ever written.
Syria / Turkey: Russia set up a helicopter base in northern Syria, a move designed to increase Moscow’s control over events on the ground. Russia has two permanent military facilities in Syria, an air base in Latakia Province used for air strikes against forces opposing Bashar al-Assad (resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocents) and a naval facility at Tartus on the Mediterranean (Putin’s big prize for all his efforts thus far). The helicopter base suggests Moscow is seeking greater control over events near the Turkish border, where joint patrols are currently being conducted. The Russian defense ministry trumpeted the move this week.
Meanwhile, President Trump met with Turkish President Erdogan in the Oval Office, Trump telling Erdogan as they sat next to each other: “We’ve been friends for a long time, almost from Day 1. We understand each other’s country. We understand where we are coming from. They’re highly respected in their country and in the region,” Trump said of Erdogan and his wife, Emine.
Trump also said, “Turkey is watching the ISIS fighters, (and has) recently captured over 100.”
[A senior State Department official told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday that some 10,000 Islamic State detainees held in prisons in northeastern Syria continue to present a major security risk. “It’s a ticking time bomb to simply have the better part of 10,000 detainees, many of them foreign fighters.”]
Trump bemoaned the widespread criticism from “all the pundits” about his decision to pull U.S. troops from the Syrian border area that protected Kurdish allies from attacks from Turkish forces. The president claimed that public opinion is now on his side in light of a ceasefire agreement.
“Now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Wow, that’s working really well,’” Trump said, another amazing lie from our leader. The president added “the ceasefire is holding very well. We’ve been speaking to the Kurds and they seem very satisfied.”
Over 300,000 were displaced! I’m sure, Mr. President, they’re thrilled!
The president added: “We have our troops out of there. And we’ll be bringing a lot of them back home. But again, we’ll be keeping the oil.”
New York Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and others penned a letter in response to Erdogan’s invite:
“President Erdogan’s decision to invade northern Syria on October 9 has had disastrous consequences for U.S. national security, has led to deep divisions in the NATO alliance, and caused a humanitarian crisis on the ground. Turkish forces have killed civilians and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a critical U.S. partner in the fight against ISIS, and displaced over one hundred thousand people* from their homes in northern Syria.”
*This figure is way low, but bad enough.
The commander of the Kurdish-led SDF, Mazloum Abdi, said in a Twitter post following the Trump-Erdogan meeting that Turkish forces had launched attacks on the Syrian town of Tal Tamar, “causing massive displacement of the residents, in clear violation of the cease-fire agreement.”
The town is outside of the 70-mile stretch in which Vice President Mike Pence negotiated a suspension of hostilities.
Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported: “U.S. military officials watched live drone feeds in October that appeared to show Turkish-backed Arab gunmen targeting civilians during their assault on Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, attacks the Americans reported to their commanders as possible war crimes, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the incidents said.”
Kevin Baron / Defense One
“ ‘I’m a big fan of the president,’ Donald Trump said of his guest Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the autocratic Turkish leader whose military and allies recently chased American troops and partners from northern Syria. Then Erdogan stepped to the microphones at Wednesday’s White House press conference and laid into the United States.
“Standing in the East Room, the Turkish leader dismissed the U.S. approach in Syria, branded U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters as ‘terrorists,’ rapped Congress over proposed sanctions and Armenian genocide measures, and said the Pentagon’s refusal to supply Patriot missile batteries was an ‘injustice’ that forced Turkey into Russia’s arms.
“All these issue can be resolved through dialogue, Erdogan said, painting Turkey’s relations with the U.S. and NATO as better than they actually are, and showing no signs of budging on any of them.
“This was exactly the moment senior Republican and Democratic national security leaders tried to avoid. But it was a moment many U.S. and NATO leaders think was necessary.
“For week, members of Congress from both parties had called on Trump to uninvite the Turkish president, to deny reward to a leader who increasingly has become a pariah of NATO and the democratic community. Instead, Trump invited Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and others to meet Erdogan in the White House. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.Y., turned down the invitation and instead delivered a floor speech noting 10 grievances with Turkey and condemning Trump for staging Erdogan’s visit.
“Menendez and other critics are furious at Trump for pulling U.S. troops from northern Syria last month at Erdogan’s insistence, which they argue ceded a strategic foothold to Russia and Syria, allowed Turkey and Turkish-backed forces to seize Syrian land, and opened U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters to attack. They are angry that Turkey has cozied up toward Moscow, bought the Russian S-400 anti-missile battery, and willfully disqualified themselves from the network of countries that fly the advanced F-35 fighter jet. And, they argue, Erdogan and his regime have strayed into autocracy, with a long list of human rights and political power abuses that could justify ejecting Turkey from NATO and other international institutions.
“Yet other security leaders say the visit may help keep a bad situation from getting worse....
“Trump, long known for praising authoritarian leaders, was no less effusive for Erdogan and his government. ‘Turkey, as everyone knows, is a great NATO ally, and a strategic partner of the United States around the world,’ he said. ‘We’re grateful to President Erdogan and to the citizens of Turkey for their cooperation in the constant struggle against terrorism. He fights it like we do.’
“Yet Turkey and Turkish forces do not fight like U.S. troops, it seems. In the weeks since the incursion began, U.S. intelligence, independent human rights watchers, and journalists have documented potential war crimes, including direct attacks on civilians. Trump’s only nod to these allegations came in his prepared opening remarks: ‘We’ve assured each other that Turkey will continue to uphold what it’s supposed to uphold.’....
“The press was allowed to watch the opening minutes of Erdogan’s Wednesday meeting with Trump and members of Congress. Some lawmakers kept their remarks cordial....
“But then Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, piped up. ‘The Kurds have risked a lot to stand with America to fight against our shared enemies, and there is very real concern that we do not want to see Turkey engaged in offensive action against the Kurds.’ He called that and the S-400 buy issues that are ‘real and significant.’
“Erdogan quickly asked to interject, and Trump permitted him. ‘First and foremost, we have to make a distinction here – the Kurds and the terrorists.’ He detailed Turkey’s own Kurdish population and his work to take in refugees, saying, ‘I assume the ones that you’re referring to as Kurds are either PYD or YPG. These are terrorist organizations and they are the offshoots of the PKK. And I would like to submit to your party some documents, specifically.’
“Erdogan continued to cite Turkey’s refugee assistance efforts for Kurds. Trump did not counter Erdogan’s SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) characterization. A reporter shouted a final question about the S-400, and Trump thanked the press and ended the photo op.
“ ‘I project that we will work something out with Turkey. I think it will work out fine. Okay? Thank you.’”
The meeting between the two leaders ended without a resolution on Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 from Russia, or on other issues.
Iran: The United Nations’ atomic energy agency (IAEA) confirmed on Monday that Iran had carried out its threat to enrich uranium at its underground Fordow nuclear site.
Iran is enriching uranium to a purity above the nuclear accord’s limits, as high as 4.5%, but this remains far below weapons-grade material’s purity of roughly 90%.
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said last weekend that the country has the capacity to enrich uranium up to 60%. Iran has also said its measures are reversible if European signatories to the accord manage to restore its access to foreign trade promised under the nuclear deal but blocked by the reimposition of U.S. sanctions.
Iraq: The death toll in the nationwide protests against the Iraqi government is over 320 as security forces continue to respond to the mostly peaceful demonstrations by firing live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters directly at the bodies of protesters.
Israel: Israel’s targeted killing of a top militant in Gaza, Baha Abu al-Ata and his wife, led to fierce exchanges of fire for three days this week, with the Palestinian death toll at 34, last I saw.
Waves of rocket barrages were fired at Israel, which responded with strikes on what it said were Islamic Jihad militant sites and rocket-launching squads in the Gaza Strip.
But Israel had to admit today it hit a home it thought was empty, and instead killed eight civilians. That’s the kind of mistake that keeps these things going another generation. More martyrs to the cause, Hamas and Islamic Jihad will say in their recruitment efforts.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Islamic Jihad must stop its rocket attacks or “absorb more and more blows.”
Lebanon: Political talks to agree to an urgently needed Lebanese government are still deadlocked, as Hezbollah indicated it would not be forced into concessions. Negotiations between the caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and senior officials from Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Amal failed to yield any breakthrough towards forming a new cabinet.
The commercial banks reopened but then were hit by a strike by bank employees.
China / Hong Kong: Hong Kong confirmed on Friday its economy plunged into its first recession in a decade in the third quarter, the economy shrinking by a seasonally adjusted 3.2% from the previous quarter, in line with preliminary data, according to the government. It was the second consecutive quarter of decline. From a year earlier, the economy contracted 2.9%, the weakest readings since 2008/09.
Tourists are cancelling bookings, retailers are reeling from a sharp drop in sales and the stock market is falling.
And the protests grow increasingly violent. A 70-year-old cleaner was on a lunch break on Wednesday when he was struck by “hard objects hurled by masked rioters.” He died of a head wound. China strongly condemned the incident and called for a thorough investigation. Video showed two groups throwing bricks at each other before the man falls to the ground after being struck.
President Xi, speaking at a summit of BRICS countries in Brazil, issued a strong warning to protesters in Hong Kong.
Xi said that “radical violent activities” in the city had “seriously challenged the [principle of] ‘one country, two systems.’”
Xi said the “most pressing task for Hong Kong is to end violence and chaos and restore order,” while offering his “firm support” towards the Hong Kong police force.
[To repeat, under “one country, two systems,” Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy and people have freedoms not seen in mainland China.]
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, speaking at an event in New York on Thursday, said conflict between the United States and China will be “inevitable” and result in “a catastrophic outcome” that “will be worse than world wars” unless the countries settle their differences.
“We are in a difficult period now. I am confident the leaders on both sides will realize the future of the world depends on the two sides working out solutions and managing the inevitable difficulties.”
“There is no doubt many aspects of the evolution of China are challenging to the U.S.,” the 96-year-old said. “It never happened before that two major countries in different parts of the universe were in similar positions.”
But they must understand that a permanent conflict between them could not be won and would end in “a catastrophic outcome” for Beijing and Washington, he said.
If no resolution was achieved, “it will be worse than the world wars that ruined European civilization,” Kissinger said.
“It’s no longer possible to think that one side can dominate the other,” he said. “They have to get used to the fact that they have that kind of a rivalry.”
Kissinger, the driving force behind the diplomatic breakthrough between the two nations in 1972, culminating in President Nixon’s groundbreaking visit to China, said in his speech this week, “when we started this relationship, it was a strategic one.”
“There were differences at the beginning of the relationship. Nevertheless, we’ve learned to live with each other for many decades,” he said. [South China Morning Post]
Editorial / Wall Street Journal
“American elites not too long ago spoke admiringly of the efficiency of China’s one-party state. Well, how do you like it now? We’re referring to the escalating protests and violence in Hong Kong, which are the result of an historic miscalculation by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“This week police shot a young Hong Kong protester at close range, while a man arguing with protesters was set on fire. Protests typically limited to the weekend are now disrupting the workweek and commerce that is the lifeblood of that great trading city. Between Nov. 8 and 14, Hong Kong hospitals admitted at least 340 people with protest-related injuries.
“This is what happens when an authoritarian government tries to take away freedoms that Hong Kongers have enjoyed. Mr. Xi now faces the greatest challenge to Communist rule since the democracy uprising of 1989.
“The smart play would be for Mr. Xi to admit his mistake in trying to impose new and repressive laws on the territory and honor China’s promise of autonomy for Hong Kong through 2047. The protests might calm down and world attention move elsewhere.
“But China’s Communists fear that any accommodation to Hong Kong could unleash democratic demands on the Mainland too. So they are reinforcing their attempts at control, which leads to more protests, then more arrests, and the cycle continues. Police now routinely deny permits for protests, leaving few legal means for Hong Kongers to express their anger.
“The Communist Party’s elite met in late October and emerged with a new plan to integrate Hong Kong with the Mainland. It includes calls for Hong Kong to pass national-security legislation, which democracy activists fear would criminalize dissent as treason or sedition. Longer term, the Party wants to change the freedom-loving views of Hong Kong’s young people by imposing ‘patriotic education’ in the schools.
“Beijing’s factotums in Hong Kong may also use the disorder as a pretext to block district council elections scheduled for Nov. 24. The council’s power is mainly symbolic, but voters have broken records in their rush to register, and Beijing fears its candidates are in for a trouncing....
“Hong Kong needs the support of the world, especially the U.S. The House has already passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, and the Senate is expected to pass it as early as Friday. The legislation would require the Secretary of State to certify each year that Hong Kong still merits special treatment under U.S. law. If the answer is no, the President could strip Hong Kong of privileges on trade and customs, aviation and banking cooperation and more.
“The bill would also allow sanctions on Chinese or Hong Kong officials who participate in arbitrary detentions or rendition to China or commit human-rights abuses. Overall, it would raise the price for China’s failure to honor its international agreement under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
“As for the allure of efficient authoritarianism, Hong Kong’s brave stand for freedom is the real example Americans should admire.”
Finally, months ago I mused about a very serious topic, that being how no one talks about China’s nuclear force, as I specifically noted how there isn’t a single expert who can tell you how many nukes they have, primarily because we have no arms agreements with China (as we do with Russia), and because all of China’s activity is below ground.
So I can’t help but note Mark Helprin’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week.
“Doubtless the president would not be delighted by the likening of his administration to a giant fat guy who has never skied, pushing off from the top of a double-black-diamond slope and on his way down taking out flags, trees, and people. And yet somehow amid the chaos and ceaseless acceleration quite a few things have been done right. One of them, invisible to and above the horizons of the lacquered info-babes and mouth-breathing morons who inhabit cable news, is that unlike previous, negligent administrations of both parties, this one has addressed the need to bring China into a nuclear arms-control regime.
“It was unnecessary when China was a neophyte and the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were nuked up with scores of thousands of warheads and delivery vehicles, making nuclear stability a question for the two superpowers alone. Nuclear strategy must account for analogies to the three-body problem in physics – i.e., there is neither predictability nor stability when more than two bodies act on each other. Unless one (like a spacecraft too small to perturb the orbital relationship between two planets, or the early Chinese nuclear capacity, dwarfed by that of the U.S. and the Soviets) is de minimis.
“A perilously neglected problem of the past 20 years or so is that China is no longer so bereft of nuclear weapons as to be dismissible. If the relationship among the now three dominant nuclear powers is not clarified and disciplined, China’s maturing nuclear warfare capabilities will remain both a direct threat to the U.S. and a potent destabilizer of the balance of terror. We know of its rapidly growing families of silo-based, mobile, sea-based, and bomber-deliverable short-, intermediate-, and intercontinental-range delivery systems. We also know that China’s nuclear infrastructure – including production and certain modes of deployment – is housed in an astounding 3,000 miles of elaborate tunnels.
“This means we have little knowledge of what China actually possesses, and because we cannot do without such intelligence, bringing China into a control regime is critical....
“And finally an American administration realizes it.
“That this has struck a nerve in China was perhaps inadvertently revealed by Zhou Bo, a senior colonel of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. In a recent article on these pages, he states that China’s Ministry of National Defense laughed at Chinese inclusion, because ‘either the U.S. and Russia would need to bring their nuclear arsenals down to China’s level, or China would need to increase the size of its arsenal drastically.’ Why would China possibly object? Unless of course more warheads and delivery vehicles than it admits to were to be secreted in the immense tunnel network known as the Great Underground Wall. And were China as innocuous and lightly armed as he claims, what would be the harm of inspections?
“The administration should vigorously pursue this initiative and refuse to let it drop or to treat it as a sacrificial chip in the trade war (it is far more important than that). Success is guaranteed one way or another. Either China will be brought into a system of nuclear stabilization, or it will reveal to the world that it is hiding something very dangerous. No reason exists for anyone other than China – if it is determined upon deception – to oppose such an exercise, but inevitably, in the West, some will.
“Contrary to longstanding positions in regard to American nuclear weapons and arms control in general, they will say that numbers don’t matter. So what if China amasses an overwhelming nuclear force in its tunnels? As long as the U.S. has the minimum required to inflict unacceptable damage on China (or Russia) there is no need to worry about bean counting.
“But we don’t define acceptable damage, they do. Especially because China has (as do Russia and North Korea but not the U.S.) invulnerable mobile missiles, numbers are important not merely psychologically but, in the horrific nuclear calculus, in making a first strike conceivable by assuring the capacity for second, third, or even fourth strikes.
“In simple terms, if I can strike and reduce your nuclear deterrent without hitting your cities, you will have only enough to retaliate against my cities. But if in exchange for that I can reduce your entire country to glass, you will not retaliate. Mere recognition of this puts me in a commanding position without actually resorting to nuclear war. This is only one reason why numbers matter, and the calculus is further complicated by missile defense and the counters to it....
“What are the odds – contrary to common sense and to China’s perceived interests, goals, ambitions, plans, declarations, and recent actions – that, taking into account the almost unimaginable 3,000 miles of tunnels, it has only the relatively small numbers of weapons that Col. Zhou affirms? China should be eager to join the two other leading powers in attempting to control the ever-present nuclear danger, and liberals and arms-control enthusiasts should support and commend any attempt to accomplish this, regardless of which U.S. administration makes the effort.
“Matters such as these may not be shiny and sparkling enough to command much airtime, but keep in mind that ultimately what this is all about – the detonation of masses of nuclear weapons – is brighter than a thousand suns.”
This week, President Xi repeated his call for the country’s military to be combat-ready and adapt to new challenges, Xi telling a Central Military Committee meeting on the People’s Liberation Army’s grass-roots organization that the armed forces needed to adapt to a fast-changing environment. Xi added that because these lower-ranked units formed the basis of the military, they needed to be under the Communist Party’s tight “grips” to ensure their strength and discipline.
“Our commanders and soldiers should be courageous and our troops should be powerful as tigers,” he added. [South China Morning Post]
Of immediate interest, Beijing has been stepping up its military pressure on Taiwan ahead of their critical presidential election in January.
North Korea: On Thursday, Pyongyang said the United States had proposed resuming talks on denuclearization in December, but warned that North Korea was not interested unless Washington was ready to meet its terms. And a top envoy said he believed the proposal was merely “a trick to earn time.”
The North Korean envoy to the talks, Kim Myong-gil, said on Thursday that his counterpart in Washington, Stephen E. Biegun, had sent a proposal to the North through a third party, and in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, Kim expressed strong doubt with Mr. Biegun’s sincerity, asking why the American envoy had sent his proposal through an intermediary rather than contacting him directly.
Kim said “we are ready to meet with the U.S. at any place and any time,” but that North Korea had “no willingness to have such negotiations” if the United States merely planned to stall, as he said Biegun’s team had done in Stockholm. Those talks collapsed.
But the statement by Kim did not specify what the American proposal was suspected to be a distraction from. Earlier, though, the North had accused the United States of using negotiations for “domestic political” purposes, a reference to the Ukraine scandal and the current impeachment hearings.
Kim acknowledged Thursday that in Stockholm, the U.S. had offered incentives such as signing a document declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which was halted in a truce, and exchanging liaison offices in each other’s capitals.
“But he said such incentives of ‘secondary importance’ fell far short of meeting the North’s demand that the United States lift its ‘hostile policy,’ which he said was ‘harmful to our rights to existence and development.’” [Choe Sang-Hun / New York Times]
Separately, North Korea threatened on Wednesday to retaliate if the United States goes ahead with scheduled military drills with South Korea. The statement came even though Washington said last week that the joint aerial exercise planned for next month would be reduced in scope from previous drills.
And tonight, North Korea’s state media stepped up a personal attack on former vice president Joe Biden, misspelling his name, for slandering Kim Jong Un.
But the official KCNA news agency did not say how “Baiden” insulted Kim, though Biden has been critical of President Trump’s policy, saying he was coddling a murderous dictator.
“Such a guy had the temerity to dare slander the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK. It was the last-ditch efforts of the rabid dog expediting his death,” KCNA said. “Rabid dogs like Baiden (sic) can hurt lots of people if they are allowed to run about. They must be beaten to death with a stick, before it is too late.”
Normally, Kim would use an anti-aircraft gun on an ‘enemy’ like “Baiden.”
Russia / Ukraine: Dmitri Trenin / New York Times
“For many in the West, Russia’s return to the world stage over the past few years has come as a surprise, and not an especially pleasant one. After the downfall of the Soviet Union, the country was written off as a regional power, a filling station masquerading as a state.
“Five years later, however, Russia is still resilient, despite the Western sanctions imposed over its actions in Ukraine. It has effectively won, militarily, in Syria: Today it is a power broker in that country; the victory has raised its prestige in the Middle East and provided material support for Moscow’s claims to be a great power again.
“Those who experience this moment with some discomfort should get used to it: Russia is not a superpower, but it is back as an important independent player. And it will be playing in various regions around the world in the years to come.
“To the Russians themselves, this feels natural enough. In the 1990s, when the world saw Russia on its back, Russia’s leaders never looked at the country as finished. Rather, they saw its post-Soviet decline and withdrawal from the world scene as only temporary – something that Russia has experienced before and would eventually overcome. The only question was what form it would take.
“In the 2000s, Moscow became disillusioned over its desire to become part of the extended Euro-Atlantic community: Its pleas to be treated as an equal by the United States did not impress Washington, and its demands that its national security interests be respected were ignored in the process of NATO enlargement. And so from the early 2010s, the Kremlin started charting a course that was clearly at odds with its earlier policies of Western integration.
“With the Russian military intervention in Ukraine in 2014, the breakout from the post-Cold War, Western-dominated order was complete. The takeover of Crimea and support for separatism in Donbass did not presage a policy of reconquering Eastern Europe, as many in the West feared, but it clearly set Ukraine and other former Soviet republics off limits to any future NATO enlargement. The security buffer was back. If the use of force in Ukraine, from the Kremlin’s standpoint, was essentially defensive, Russia’s intervention in Syria in 2015 was a risky gambit to decide geopolitical outcomes in the Middle East – a famously treacherous area for outsiders vacated by the Soviet Union at the time of the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Since then, the results of the military operation and diplomatic maneuvering have not only confounded early critics but also outdone even President Vladimir Putin’s own expectations.
“Russia’s achievements in the Middle East go way beyond the success in Syria proper. Moscow benefits from flexible semi-alliances with Turkey and Iran, oil price arrangements with Saudi Arabia and newly revived military ties with Egypt. It is again a player of some consequence in Libya, a power to which many Lebanese look to help them hold their country together, and a would-be broker between Iran and the Gulf States – all this while maintaining an intimate relationship with Israel.
“Today, such a degree of involvement with the Middle East obviously stands out in the Russian foreign policy landscape. Tomorrow, this is unlikely to be an exception. Already for some time, Moscow, in parallel with Washington, has been pursuing a political settlement in Afghanistan. This requires maneuvering between Kabul and the Taliban; Pakistan and India; and China and the United States. Last month, Mr. Putin held court for 43 African leaders in Sochi; it was Russia’s first summit with a continent where Moscow advertises itself above all as a security partner....
“Russia is obviously punching above its weight. Its major-power foreign policy is not backed by commensurate economic might. Its former technological prowess has been severely dented. Its ruling elite is too busy chasing money to give enough time to thinking and acting in the national interest. And of course, Russia’s recent foreign policy has had its share of failures and outright blunders....
“Be that as it may, however, Russia is back and here to stay. Others had better accept it and learn to deal with it – without undue expectations, but also without inordinate fear. In the world increasingly dominated by the United States-China rivalry, major independent actors such as Russia could play an important role in averting a costly bipolar confrontation.”
Separately, President Putin said on Thursday that Russia plans to deliver S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to India on schedule, India having agreed to that transaction last year despite U.S. warnings the purchase could trigger sanctions against it.
Yes, that’s President Trump’s “great friend, Modi.” What a farce.
Bolivia: After an historic and chaotic week for the nation of Bolivia, with former President Evo Morales being exiled to Mexico, though hinting he could return, the new interim president, Senate vice-president and conservative Jeanine Anez, 52, pledged to hold new elections as soon as possible and denied a coup had taken place.
Morales fled Bolivia after his 14-year socialist rule ended in violent protests and recriminations. He resigned Sunday on the back of rising pressure over accusations of vote rigging in last month’s election. But he struck a defiant tone from Mexico where he was granted asylum.
“If my people ask, we’re ready to go back. We’ll return sooner or later... to pacify Bolivia,” he said at a news conference in Mexico City.
But Anez faces an immediate challenge in that Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, who hold a majority in parliament and have threatened to hold a rival session to nullify her appointment.
Morales has major support, such as among previously marginalized indigenous groups who have seen their power and affluence rise significantly under his leadership, Morales himself being the country’s first indigenous president.
This turmoil all came about after the Organization of American States (OAS) declared his re-election was manipulated, and the military urged him to quit.
Russia accused the Bolivian opposition of unleashing a wave of violence and said it looked like a government push for dialogue had been swept aside by an orchestrated coup. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also called the action a coup.
But the Bolivian army did not roll in and occupy the presidential palace. And I would just say that with friends like Putin and Maduro, you have all you need to know.
Tonight, Morales said fresh elections could be held without him.
“For the sake of democracy, if they don’t want me to take part, I have no problem not taking part in any new elections.”
There appears to be an agreement between the two major parties to hold a new vote.
--Presidential tracking polls....
Gallup: 41% approve of Trump’s job performance, 57% disapprove; 89% of Republicans approve, 34% independents (Oct. 14-31).
Rasmussen: 50% approve, 49% disapprove.
--South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg continues to surge in Iowa, per a Monmouth University Poll of likely Democratic caucusgoers, Mayor Pete at 22%, with Joe Biden at 19%, Elizabeth Warren 18% and Bernie Sanders 13%.
Back in August, Biden was at 26% and Warren 20%, with Buttigieg at 8%.
Amy Klobuchar polls at 5% in Iowa, with Kamala Harris, Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang at 3% apiece.
The Iowa caucuses are Feb. 3rd.
--Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick has decided to enter the Democratic presidential race, targeting the New Hampshire primary.
Patrick boasts a close relationship with President Obama, and he joins Michael Bloomberg as late entrants into the race.
Bloomberg said he is throwing his hat in the ring because he fears none of the current candidates is in a strong position to beat President Trump; widely viewed as a slap at Joe Biden.
Patrick, who is black, might be jumping into the race because of the failure of Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker to catch fire among African-American voters, a large voting bloc in the Democratic primary race.
--As for Bloomberg, conservative political commentator Michael Goodwin had some of the following thoughts from his perch at the New York Post:
“Count me as delighted (that Bloomberg has seemingly entered the race). While there’s a big mountain to climb for him to win the nomination, it is actually easy to see how he could help save the party from following Sanders or Warren into the political wilderness. That alone would be a major achievement and a service to the nation.
“America succeeds when the two parties must compete for centrist voters, a fact that tends to moderate radical impulses on both sides. Trouble is, the nation is polarized, and Dems are in the process of banishing moderates, with Warren especially vicious in demonizing those who don’t agree with her pitch to break the bank on Medicare for All and other harebrained schemes.
“Like an Occupy Wall Street brat, she welcomed Bloomberg into the race by ridiculing his wealth and calling him greedy. ‘Bloomberg has chosen to protect his wealth over everyone else – and that’s why he’d rather spend enormous amounts of money on a presidential run than pay taxes,’ she wrote in a fundraising pitch.
“That’s the kind of militant class warfare that turns off many in her party. One prominent New York Dem who is supporting Biden said while there were major unknowns about how Bloomberg would perform in retail politicking and debates, the former mayor would be his choice if Biden collapses.
“ ‘Mike’s not warm and cuddly, but I won’t support any of the others,’ he said.
“Another Dem veteran who worked for Bloomberg said it was important to remember that the voters the party needs to win over are in the swing states, not on the coasts. ‘There are large numbers of middle-class voters in the Midwest who are looking for somebody who can beat Trump and speak to the issues they care about,’ he said.
“As examples, he cited Bloomberg’s record of raising student test scores, creating jobs and cutting crime as issues being ignored by the other candidates. At the same time, Bloomberg is left-wing orthodox on abortion, climate change and gun control.
“The easy response to the optimism is to note that there is little outward evidence that Bloomberg will be well-received on the trail. Jewish, divorced and living with a woman not his wife, a Democrat turned Republican turned independent turned Democrat again, he got just 6% support among Dems in a recent poll, with 32% saying they would never support him. Hardly an auspicious start.
“But start is the key word. His willingness to open his mammoth vault gives him the ability to compete in multiple states continually and potentially tap into that yearning for someone new and closer to the center. A no-nonsense mayor, executive and philanthropist, he could honestly describe himself as a liberal with sanity.
“Which is exactly what Democrats need.”
Editorial / Wall Street Journal
“As is his habit, Mr. Trump dismissed Mr. Bloomberg’s chances on Friday, saying ‘there’s nobody I’d rather run against than Little Michael.’ But behind that familiar bluster, Mr. Trump knows (or should know) that he is in real danger of losing re-election.
“Mr. Trump has never expanded his support beyond his base and by conventional measures for an incumbent he is the underdog. His average job approval is under 44% and millions of swing voters want an alternative who looks like a stable, safe choice. They’d also like a Democratic nominee who doesn’t want to hand over another 10% or 20% of the private economy to the federal government.
“Mr. Bloomberg’s views and background are heterodox enough that as President he might even be able to break up some of the calcified status quo. The primaries would test if Mr. Bloomberg could be that candidate, which may be what Mr. Trump really fears.”
--Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has been defending President Trump’s phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart as part of a book tour for her tome, “With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace.”
Haley said she didn’t think the call was an impeachable offense because the “aid flowed.”
In a tense interview with “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie, Haley said: “Here you’ve got a situation where there was no investigation, and the aid flowed as it was supposed to,” she said. “So, when you look at that situation, it’s hard to see where impeachment would qualify.”
Guthrie fought back: “That doesn’t seem like much of a defense of the president. That he might have tried to do those things, but it didn’t work out, so it’s all OK.”
Guthrie added: “You said, ‘Through it all, we were always placing America first,’” reading a sentence from Haley’s resignation letter.
“How is asking a foreign country to investigate your political rival putting America first? Whose interest is that in? Is it in America’s interest or the president’s personal interest?”
Haley replied: “Ukraine has always been an issue with corruption.”
Just an example of what Haley will face on the 2024 campaign trail. I like the former South Carolina governor. I’d have no problem with her as my president. But she is a political animal, and she knows it’s critical to keep the Trump base.
Haley also wants to be right there in case, for some reason, Trump opted to replace Mike Pence with her, which I think would be a great move for the president. At this point, Pence brings zero to the table.
--Long Island Rep. Peter King announced his retirement Monday, the 26-year incumbent serving as a GOP anchor in a district that has become increasingly Democratic, though he rode out the 2018 blue wave by his thinnest margin since his first race in 1992: a little more than six points.
For much of his career, King served as an ambassador for New York interests to an often hostile Republican majority, although recent struggles to renew health benefits for 9/11 first responders and to fund the Gateway Project suggested he had become less effective.
This is going to be an interesting race next year.
Editorial / New York Post
“Sadly, Chuck Schumer probably wasn’t surprised at the flak he took for praising Rep. Peter King after the Long Island Republican announced his retirement.
“New York’s senior senator simply tweeted that King ‘stood head & shoulders above everyone else’ as a ‘principled’ lawmaker who ‘never let others push him away from his principles,’ a man who ‘fiercely loved America, Long Island, and his Irish heritage’ and served them all.
“ ‘I will miss him in Congress,’ Schumer concluded, and ‘value his friendship.’
“Lefties went nuts, slamming Schumer for saying anything nice about King – whom they vilified as an Islamophobe and a Trump supporter.
“ ‘Chuck Schumer is an existential threat to this country,’ commented one tweeter; ‘this is why he needs to go,’ said another.
“Political strategist Peter Daou even said Schumer’s civility shows why ‘we need a new Democratic Party.’
“This take-no-prisoners mentality (by no means restricted to the left) is both symptom and cause of the nation’s growing political dysfunction.
“In a nation as diverse as this, compromise among elected representatives is the only way government can or should work over the long run. That means bending on ideology and forming relationships, even friendships, across the aisle.
“In his decades in the House, Pete King has been very conservative on some issues, and moderate on others, including gun control.
“Most notably, his fierce advocacy for 9/11 first responders who later developed serious illnesses saw him standing up time and again to fellow Republicans, eventually building a bipartisan consensus that allowed full funding for the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund for decades to come.
“Pete King is no hater, and Chuck Schumer knows it. American politics needs more politicians like them.”
-- “Week in Review” is a running history of our times. I present the following for the archives and future historians.
Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang / New York Times
“During the last Democratic debate, in Ohio, there was a moment that stood out. Elizabeth Warren and I got into a debate over the impact of automation versus trade on the elimination of manufacturing jobs. Joe Biden also chimed in, agreeing that the fourth industrial revolution is costing jobs, so it’s important to deal with the root causes....
“Automation doesn’t just affect millions of factory workers and truck drivers. Bookkeepers, journalists, retail and food service workers, office clerks, call center employees and even teachers also face the threat of being replaced by machines. These are some of the most common jobs in America. According to the Council of Economic Advisers in 2016, 83 percent of jobs paying less than $20 per hour could have substantial parts of their work given over to automation. And advanced degrees won’t protect you from this threat – doctors, accountants, and even lawyers face the same risk.
“Around five million manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2000, with automation being a main factor. Many of those jobs were in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa – states that swung to Donald Trump in 2016....
“We have to stop denying the effects of automation on our people and focus on 21st-century solutions to these problems. Looking at gross domestic product, the stock market and unemployment is a very 20th-century way of measuring the economy. Self-driving trucks will be great for the GDP; they’ll be terrible for millions of truck drivers.
“Our economic numbers need to measure what matters. We know stock market prices don’t mean much to the 78 percent of workers in this country who are living paycheck to paycheck or the 40 percent of workers who are a $400 bill away from financial crisis.
“We need to move to a human-centered capitalism, where the market serves us instead of the other way around. That starts by investing $1,000 per month in every adult so that we can build a trickle-up economy, as I have proposed, with the proper measurements and incentives.
“Human-centered capitalism would ensure that people are more important than money and that markets exist to serve our common goals and values....
“When I first started running for president, I was the only candidate talking about these big solutions for our economic problems. But the Democratic Party is realizing that automation worries many Americans. This vision and message drove the economic portion of the debate on the Democratic stage last time.
“It’s because voters know that the system is rigged against them. Big companies are automating their jobs, sucking value out of our local economies and paying little or nothing in taxes. Our GDP is over $20 trillion, and yet the average American is struggling.
“It’s only getting worse. A millennial has only a 50-50 chance of doing better than their parents. For someone born in the 1940s, the likelihood was 90 percent. The American dream is dying by the numbers.
“We need to talk about the real causes and solutions of these problems instead of blaming the current occupant of the Oval Office.”
--Venice has been dealing with “apocalyptic” floods this week that have caused countless damage to its historic basilica, inundating squares and centuries-old buildings. The mayor took to Twitter and said, “This is the result of climate change.”
City thoroughfares were turned into raging torrents, boats tossed ashore and gondolas smashed against their moorings as the lagoon tide peaked at more than 6 feet, the highest on record since 1966, though rising water levels are becoming a regular threat to the tourist jewel.
“Venice is on its knees,” said Mayor Luigi Brugnaro. “The damage will run into hundreds of millions of euros.”
And on the other side of the world, parts of Australia are being ravaged by the worst bushfires in memory, fueled by a years’ long drought in parts of the area, resulting from warmer sea-surface temperatures affecting rainfall patterns. Plus air temps have warmed, increasing the ferocity of droughts and fires. Officials are also warning the worst of the summer is “still ahead of us.”
But climate change is a huge issue in Australia, with the coal-industry supporting government accepting the need to cut emissions while arguing that stronger environmental action would cripple the economy.
The problem with this is that Australia’s Pacific island neighbors are suffering from warmer temperatures and rising seas.
Separately, the International Energy Agency’s annual report on energy, referred to above, paints a grim picture on global greenhouse-gas pollution, which rose for a second year, ending a lull in emissions and putting the world on track for further increases through 2040 unless governments take action (but as noted in the case of Australia, this can have economic consequences).
Strong economic growth, surging demand for electricity and slower efficiency gains all contributed to a 1.9% increase in carbon dioxide emissions from energy in 2018, the IEA said in its report.
Developing nations have deployed more coal plants even as industrial countries work to phase out the fuel, a legacy that will be felt for years to come since power plants are built to run for decades.
“Global coal demand rose for the second year in a row in 2018. Three quarters of that came in the Asia Pacific region. If global coal policies remain unchanged, then demand will keep expanding for two decades,” the IEA said.
--Drug-resistant “superbugs” infect 2.8 million people and cause more than 35,000 deaths each year, underscoring the enormous public health threat of germs in what one official describes as a ‘post-antibiotic era,’ according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
The CDC said there are nearly twice as many deaths from antibiotic-resistant infections compared to the agency’s 2013 report, which likely underestimated the numbers.
In a letter accompanying the report, CDC Director Robert Redfield urged the public to “stop referring to a coming post-antibiotic era – it’s already here,” with drug-resistant bugs in every U.S. state and around the globe.
“You and I are living in a time when some miracle drugs no longer perform miracles and families are being ripped apart by a microscopic enemy,” Redfield wrote.
--Baltimore hit the 300 mark for homicides for the fifth consecutive year. In 2018, there were 309, or 51 per 100,000 people who live in the city – the highest rate of any American city with more than 500,000 people, according to FBI data.
So Baltimore, with about 610,000-630,000 residents, according to various figures, continues to have more murders than New York City, which had 289 last year, with a population of about 8.6 million.
--Here in the New York media market, there have been a slew of new television spots promoting tourism in the Dominican Republic after all the bad publicity from recent deaths there, due to both crime and potentially tainted alcohol.
As you can imagine the commercials are glowing and well done, with interviews of Americans who have gone there and love it.
But on Tuesday, the body of an American woman was found gagged and bound in the D.R. – and authorities believe the 63-year-old, a teacher on the island, was tortured and murdered during a burglary.
The woman (whose name I don’t need to give) was discovered in the province of Puerto Plata with her hands and feet tied up. Authorities ruled she died of strangulation.
The woman’s cellphone, laptop and television were missing and there were signs her cupboards had been ransacked.
The victim had worked at an elementary school for six years in the D.R., having previously taught in Traverse City, Michigan.
--Finally, something from Canada. As I noted in my Bar Chat column, longtime NHL commentator Don Cherry, who was on “Hockey Night in Canada” for decades, a true institution, was forced to step down after the often controversial commentator criticized immigrants in Canada for not recognizing Remembrance Day, the country’s equivalent to Memorial Day. The remarks started a firestorm in Canada, forcing his resignation.
I won’t repeat the ugly comments, but it is an excuse to educate a few Americans as to the sacrifices our great neighbors to the north have made.
Ten years ago, July 2009, I checked off an item on my bucket list by attending the world famous Calgary Stampede. I had a blast. But one day while I was there I went to a war museum honoring Canada’s participation in various conflicts. From my account of that time:
“I met the coolest people, all Vets, and as I was the first one in was treated like a king. You know how sometimes you just connect with a stranger? That’s the way I felt with Keith and Ernie.
“Canada’s military has been much-maligned over the years and it pisses me off. I bring the topic up from time to time in that other column I write because Americans have zero appreciation for the tremendous sacrifices Canada has borne over the past century.
“One thing this museum did was remind even me of Canada’s role in the Battle of Britain, for example. Heck, the Royal Canadian Air Force was alongside the Royal Air Force in that one. 1733 German planes shot down, 915 RAF and RCAF. Victory to the Good Guys, whereupon Churchill famously said:
Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.
“And did you know that in World War II, over 10,000 Canadian bomber crew members gave their lives? 14,500 in the Canadian Air Force over all. I came upon this little theater in the Air Force section, saw there was a film, was tired (I spent three hours at the museum, it was that good) and I thought, ‘Might as well rest the feet and catch the flick.’
“Holy cow...talk about moving. It was another moment where I was glad I was alone...and had a Kleenex....”
[In total, over 44,000 Canadians lost their lives in World War II.]
So back to one of the men I met when I first walked in, 85-year-old Ernie Bagstad. I wrote the following a week later in this space:
“What a delightful fellow. He showed me around some and then went back to his duties while I walked through the art gallery section. It was then I read a panel on Canadian POWs and the tale of the very same Ernie. Turns out he won 25,000 cigarettes playing cards, a most admirable feat, there being nothing else to play for.
“So I go back to him and say, ‘You won 25,000 cigarettes?’ Ernie grinned broadly and it turns out he was in a prison camp in Germany that had 50,000 Russians, 40,000 Americans, and 400-500 Aussies and Canadians. Gen. Patton liberated them and Ernie got to see the man. But the one thing Ernie vividly remembers is Patton telling the prisoners that the next day they would receive a special treat... ‘White bread with raisins.’
“Ernie also told me that, incredibly, he was touring a winery in Australia with his wife a while back and he kept staring at the proprietor, and then the owner was staring at Ernie, as if they knew each other, and it turns out they were POWs together.”
I just looked it up. Ernie died in October 2011. There’s a terrific obituary for him in the Calgary Herald, easily findable online.
So while we remembered the sacrifices of our own veterans this past Monday, Don Cherry gave me an excuse to remind us all of the sacrifices of our dear neighbors...Long Live Canada!
Pray for the men and women of our armed forces...and all the fallen.
God bless America.
Returns for the week 11/11-11/15
Dow Jones +1.2% [28004}*
S&P 500 +0.9% *
S&P MidCap +0.1%
Russell 2000 -0.2%
Nasdaq +0.8% *
Returns for the period 1/1/19-11/15/19
Dow Jones +20.1%
S&P 500 +24.5%
S&P MidCap +20.3%
Russell 2000 +18.4%
Bulls 57.1 [These are last week’s figures, this week’s N/A]
Thank you for your support.