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04/20/2019

For the week 4/15-4/19

[Posted 11:30 PM ET, Friday]

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

Edition 1,045

Well that was a week of contrasts. 

Saturday we were still tied up with the immigration crisis and President Trump’s threats to dump thousands of illegals in sanctuary cities and states. 

Sunday it was all about Tiger Woods and The Masters. Very uplifting.

Monday we all watched in horror as the Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames, some of us shedding a tear or two.

But from Tuesday on, it was about the impending release of the Mueller report on Thursday morning.

I cover Tiger and Notre Dame down below, but for the last few weeks, since Attorney General William Barr released his four-page summary of the Mueller report, Barr and the president have had the opportunity to shape the narrative, long before the actual report was released.

And Barr held a press conference an hour-and-a-half before the report was dropped, another opportunity to shape things, but the bottom line was there was no collusion, no obstruction.

As Barr put it Thursday morning, among special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings was that nobody in the United States knowingly helped Russia interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign and that “is something that all Americans can and should be grateful to have confirmed.”

So no collusion.   And Barr said that Mueller didn’t conclude there was obstruction of justice based on the evidence.

And so the report was released at 11:00 a.m., and there was a lot of stuff there.  448 pages of stuff.  Part (Section) I on collusion, or lack thereof; Part II on the case for obstruction, for which Mueller laid out the evidence, should Congress want to pursue it, but he was under the longstanding Department of Justice guidelines that prohibit indicting a sitting president.

So it was a huge win for President Trump, and an equally big one for Vladimir Putin.

Even Attorney General Barr was adamant that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, but as I note down below, with no collusion / no obstruction, the Kremlin feels like it was cleared too, even though its fingerprints are all over it. 

And Russia has a man in the Oval Office who refuses to acknowledge the extent of Russian meddling; who when asked immediately says well, maybe, but it was also China, Iran, North Korea, the Bahamas, Fiji.....

I’m sorry, sports fans.  I will never forget President Trump’s performance in Helsinki. No American should.

But for now this story will continue to unfold.  After all, those redactions were there for a reason, and the Southern District of New York is still doing its thing, though here are a few other conclusions.

The Democrats would be very foolish to pursue impeachment. Listen to your elders, Representatives Omar, AOC and Talib.  It’s a total fools’ errand.  There is oversight, appropriate; and there is overreach, a loser in 2020.

But at some point Robert Mueller will testify, and I’m telling you, Mueller and/or some of his investigators will eventually find their way on “60 Minutes,” which could be interesting.

Otherwise, we also know another thing.  Voters don’t care.  The base isn’t moving, either side.  The battle, such as in 2018, is over suburban women.  It was a loser for Republicans in the mid-terms.

President Trump should drop it....and move on.  I detail below how this coming Friday could be a huge, positive, day for him in terms of the economy.  That’s his hole card.  Just shut up on the other stuff.

And as for the retribution part of this story, just as I did from day one, I waited for the Mueller report, and now I’m waiting for the IG report from Michael Horowitz.  The truth is coming out.  It always does in the end.

Trump World / The Report

You can’t sum this report up in two days, and it will take time to do so appropriately.

The inquiry laid bare what the special counsel and U.S. intelligence agencies have described as a Russian campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord in the United States, denigrate 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Trump, the Kremlin’s preferred candidate.  Russia has denied election interference.

But Attorney General Barr repeatedly underlined that the Mueller probe didn’t establish that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia, though Mr. Mueller’s report offers the most comprehensive accounting yet of Moscow’s expansive operations to interfere in the election.

“The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” the introduction of the report states.

But, “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.

“The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But on the issue of ‘obstruction’....

Mueller: “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

Barr said in the news conference prior to release of the report that Mueller had detailed “10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.”

Mueller: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.”

The first 200 pages of Mueller’s report are dedicated to narrating the Kremlin’s well-funded, yearslong effort to target the U.S. electorate with an array of digital weapons and make contacts with the Trump campaign.  It recounts how the troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency, for example, successfully organized dozens of political rallies in the U.S. that sometimes drew hundreds of attendees, and how it managed to use or recruit numerous U.S. citizens who apparently had no idea they were interacting with Russian operatives.

But the report, while detailing a series of contacts between Trump campaign officials, including Don Jr., and the Kremlin, didn’t establish that a conspiracy existed between the two sides to work together to interfere in the election.

Portions of the first section are heavily redacted, those dealing with the use of social media, which is part of an ongoing investigation.

But Mueller noted Congress has the power to address whether Trump violated the law, and Democrats quickly vowed to steam ahead with their investigations, though there was a split between leadership and many of the progressives on pursuing impeachment; the old hands, a la Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, recognizing this was a lost political cause, with a Senate that is hardly about to follow the House’s lead if it were to pass Articles of Impeachment, while the progressives argue they have a constitutional duty to take it on.

Hoyer told CNN: “Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point.  Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American public will make a judgment.”

The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), said Democrats had misconstrued a section of the report about obstruction of justice to suit their anti-Trump agenda.

“There seems to be some confusion...This isn’t a matter of legal interpretation; it’s reading comprehension.  The report doesn’t say Congress should investigate obstruction now.  It says Congress can make laws about obstruction under Article I powers,” Collins said.

But one paragraph in the report appears to be at the heart of whether Mueller intended Congress to pursue further action against Trump, who could not be charged by the special counsel under a long-standing Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president.

“The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” Mueller said in his report.

Democrats will point to Mueller’s report that noted “numerous links” between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign and said the president’s team “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,” referring to hacked Democratic emails.

But Mueller concluded there was not enough evidence to establish that Trump’s campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow.

After the release of the report, Trump told a crowd of well-wishers in Florida: “Game over folks, now it’s back to work.”

So Friday morning, he was back to work...on Twitter:

“Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue. Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes,’ when the notes never existed until needed.  Because I never....

“....agreed to testify, it was not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the ‘Report’ about me, some of which are total bullshit & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad).  This was an Illegally Started Hoax that never should have happened, a...

“...big, fat, waste of time, energy and money - $30,000,000 to be exact.  It is now finally time to turn the tables and bring justice to some very sick and dangerous people who have committed very serious crimes, perhaps even Spying or Treason. This should never happen again!”

Following Attorney General Will Barr’s announcement Thursday on the “bottom line” that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government hackers, President Trump tweeted a “Game of Thrones”-inspired photo of himself with text that read, “No Collusion.  No obstruction.  For the haters and the radical left Democrats – GAME OVER.”

Trump tweet: “ ‘Donald Trump was being framed, he fought back. That is not Obstruction.’ @JesseBWatters I had the right to end the whole Witch Hunt if I wanted.  I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted.  I chose not to. I had the RIGHT to use Executive Privilege. I didn’t!”

Jonathan Turley, George Washington Law School professor, however, said there’s more to the report than possible collusion.

“There’s a difference between being exonerated and being vindicated and to some degree, the president was vindicated by not being tied to any crime, it doesn’t mean he was exonerated from blame in terms of his conduct,” he said.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said the report “outlines disturbing evidence” that President Trump engaged in misconduct and notes that it’s up to Congress to hold the president accountable.

Republican Rep. Peter King told WCBS-AM in New York that the results of the investigation, labeled a “total victory” by the president’s legal team, “totally exonerates” Trump.

“The Russians attempted a number of times to interfere with the campaign and nobody with the president, in any way cooperated with them – there’s no cooperation, no collusion,” said King.

The Kremlin said on Friday that Special Counsel Mueller’s report did not contain any evidence the Russian state had meddled in the 2016 presidential election.  Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow regretted the Mueller report was having an impact on its relations with Washington.

“In general, the report still does not include any reasonable evidence at all that Russia allegedly interfered in the U.S. election.  We, as before, do not accept such allegations,” Peskov said.  “We regret that a document of this quality is having a direct impact on the development of bilateral Russian-U.S. relations that are already not in the best condition.”

You can stop laughing.

Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman / New York Times

“As President Trump met with advisers in the Oval Office in May 2017 to discuss replacements for the FBI director he had just fired, Attorney General Jeff Sessions slipped out of the room to take a call.

“When he came back, he gave Mr. Trump bad news: Robert S. Mueller III had just been appointed as a special counsel to take over the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and any actions by the president to impede it.

“Mr. Trump slumped in his chair. ‘Oh, my God,’ he said.  ‘This is terrible.  This is the end of my presidency.  I’m fucked.’

“It has not been the end of his presidency, but it has come to consume it.  Although the resulting two-year investigation ended without charges against Mr. Trump, Mr. Mueller’s report painted a damning portrait of a White House dominated by a president desperate to thwart the inquiry only to be restrained by aides equally desperate to thwart his orders.

“The White House that emerges from more than 400 pages of Mr. Mueller’s report is a hotbed of conflict infused by a culture of dishonesty – defined by a president who lies to the public and his own staff, then tries to get his aides to lie for him.  Mr. Trump repeatedly threatened to fire lieutenants who did not carry out his wishes while they repeatedly threatened to resign rather than cross lines of proprietary or law.

“At one juncture after another, Mr. Trump made his troubles worse, giving in to anger and grievance and lashing out in ways that turned advisers into witnesses against him.  He was saved from an accusation of obstruction of justice, the report makes clear, in part because aides saw danger and stopped him from following his own instincts.  Based on contemporaneous notes, emails, texts and FBI interviews, the report draws out scene after scene of a White House on the edge.

“At one point, Reince Priebus, then the White House chief of staff, said the president’s attacks on his own attorney general meant that he had ‘D.O.J. by the throat.’  At another, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, complained to Mr. Priebus that the president was trying to get him to ‘do crazy shit.’  Mr. Trump was equally unhappy with Mr.McGahn, calling him a ‘lying bastard.’”

And on and on....

The other side....

Kimberley A. Strassel / Wall Street Journal

“By the fall of 2017, it was clear that special counsel Robert Mueller, as a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was too conflicted to take a detached look at a Russia-collusion story that had become more about FBI malfeasance than about Donald Trump. The evidence of that bias now stares at us through 448 pages of his report.

“President Trump has every right to feel liberated. What the report shows is that he endured a special-counsel probe that was relentlessly, at times farcically, obsessed with taking him out. What stands out is just how diligently and creatively the special counsel’s legal minds worked to implicate someone in Trump World on something Russia – or obstruction-of-justice-related.  And how – even with all its overweening power and aggressive tactics – it still struck out.

“Volume I of the Mueller report, which deals with collusion, spends tens of thousands of words describing trivial interactions between Trump officials and various Russians.  While it doubtless wasn’t Mr. Mueller’s intention, the sheer quantity and banality of details highlights the degree to which these contacts were random, haphazard and peripheral. By the end of Volume I, the notion that the Trump campaign engaged in some grand plot with Russia is a joke.

“Yet jump to the section where the Mueller team lists its ‘prosecution and declination’ decisions with regards the Russia question.  And try not to picture Mueller ‘pit bull’ prosecutor Andrew Weissman collapsed under mountains of federal statutes after his two-year hunt to find one that applied.

“Mr. Mueller’s team mulled bringing charges ‘for the crime of conspiracy – either under statutes that have their own conspiracy language,’ or ‘under the general conspiracy statute.’  It debated going after them for the ‘defraud clause,’ which ‘criminalizes participating in an agreement to obstruct a lawful function of the U.S. government.’  It considered the crime of acting as an ‘agent of a foreign government’ – helpfully noting that this crime does not require ‘willfulness.’...

“Mueller’s team even considered charging Trump associates who participated with campaign-finance violations for the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Was that meeting ‘a conspiracy to violate the foreign contributions ban’?  Was it ‘the solicitation of an illegal foreign source contribution’?  Was it the receipt of ‘an express or implied promise to make a [foreign source] contribution’?... The Mueller team even credited Democrats’ talking point that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had committed perjury during his confirmation hearings – and devoted a section in the report to it.

“As for obstruction – Volume II – Attorney General Bill Barr noted Thursday that he disagreed with ‘some of the special counsel’s legal theories.’  Maybe he had in mind Mr. Mueller’s proposition that he was entitled to pursue obstruction questions, even though that was not part of his initial mandate from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.  Or maybe it was Mr. Mueller’s long description of what a prosecution of the sitting president might look like – even though he acknowledged its legal impossibility.  Or it could be Mr. Mueller’s theory that while ‘fairness’ dictates that someone accused of crimes get a ‘speedy and public trial’ to ‘clear his name,’ Mr. Trump deserves no such courtesy with regard to the 200 pages of accusations Mr. Mueller lodges against him.

“That was Mr. Mueller’s James Comey moment.  Remember the July 2016 press conference in which the FBI director berated Hillary Clinton even as he didn’t bring charges?  It was a firing offense.  Here’s Mr. Mueller engaging in the same practice – only on a more inappropriate scale.  At least this time the attorney general tried to clean up the mess by declaring he would not bring obstruction charges.  Mr. Barr noted Thursday that we do not engage in grand-jury proceedings and probes with the purpose of generating innuendo.

“Mr. Mueller may not care.  His report suggests the actual goal of the obstruction volume is impeachment: ‘We concluded that Congress has the authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority.’

“Note as well what isn’t in the report.  It makes only passing, bland references to the genesis of so many of the accusations Mr. Mueller probed: the infamous dossier produced by opposition-research firm Fusion GPS and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign....

“The report instead mostly reads as a lengthy defense of the FBI – of its shaky claims about how its investigation began, of its far-fetched theories, of its procedures, even of its leadership.  One of the more telling sections concerns Mr. Comey’s firing.  Mr. Mueller’s team finds it generally beyond the realm of possibility that the FBI director was canned for incompetence or insubordination.  It treats everything the FBI or Mr. Comey did as legitimate, even as it treats everything the president did as suspect.

“Mr. Mueller is an institutionalist, and many on his team were the same Justice Department attorneys who first fanned the partisan collusion claims.  He was the wrong man to provide an honest assessment of the 2016 collusion dirty trick. And we’ve got a report to prove it.”

David Brooks / New York Times

“The Mueller report is like a legal version of a thriller movie in which three malevolent forces are attacking a city all at once.  Everybody’s wondering if the three attackers are working together. The report concludes that they weren’t, but that doesn’t make the situation any less scary or the threat any less real.

“The first force is Donald Trump, who represents a threat to the American system of governance.  Centuries ago our founders created a system of laws and not men.  In our system of government there are procedures in place, based on certain values – impartiality, respect for institutions, the idea that a public office is a public trust, not a private bauble.

“When Trump appears in the Mueller report, he is often running roughshod over these systems and violating these values.  He asks his lawyer to hamper an investigation.  He asks his FBI director to take the heat off his allies.  He tries to get the relevant investigators fired.  I don’t know if his actions meet the legal standard of obstruction of justice, but they certainly meet the common-sense standard of interference with justice.

“The second force is Russia.  If Trump is a threat to the institutional infrastructure, the Russians are a threat to our informational infrastructure. We knew this already, but it was still startling to see the fact declared so bluntly – that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election ‘in sweeping and systematic fashion.’

“It may not be bombing buildings or shooting at people, but if a foreign government is attacking the factual record on which democracy runs, it is still a sort of warfare. The Russians are trying to undermine the information we use to converse, and the trust that makes conversation possible.

“The third force is Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.  They are a threat to our deliberative infrastructure.  Any organization needs to be able to hold private conversations in order to deliberate. Whether it is State Department cables or Democratic National Committee emails, WikiLeaks has violated privacy and made it harder for institutions to function.  We’re now in a situation in which some of the worst people on earth get to determine what gets published.

“The Mueller report indicates that Trump was not colluding with Russia.  But it also shows that working relationships were beginning to be built, through networkers like Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Roger Stone.  More important, it shows that many of the Trumpists, the Russians and the WikiLeaks crowd all understood that they were somehow adjacent actors in the same project.

“I would say that’s the report’s central importance. We are being threatened in a very distinct way.  The infrastructure of the society is under threat – the procedures that shape government, the credibility of information, the privacy rules that make deliberation possible.  And though the Chinese government does not play a big role here, it represents a similar sort of threat – to our intellectual infrastructure, the intellectual property rights that organize innovation.

“It is as if somebody is inserting acids into a body that eats away at the ligaments and the tendons....

“The system more or less held this time. But that’s just because people around Trump often refused to do what he told them to do.  And we happened to have Robert Mueller, who seems to be a fair referee....

“Trump doesn’t seem to have any notion of loyalty to an office.  All power in his eye is personal power, and the government is there to serve his Sun God self.  He’ll continue to trample the proper systems of government.

“It’s easy to recognize when you are attacked head-on. But the U.S. is being attacked from below, at the level of the foundation we take for granted.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Robert Mueller is certainly thorough. The special counsel makes clear across the 448 pages of his report that he and his band of prosecutors left no entrail unexamined in their two-year dissection of President Trump.  Those who demanded this may not like the conclusions, but they can’t say Mr. Mueller didn’t hunt down every potential crime.

“The report exposes some Trumpian excesses and lies, but it also shows that, on the most important issue and the charge that started it all, Mr. Trump has been telling the truth.  He and his campaign did not conspire or coordinate with Russians to steal the 2016 election.  Try as he did to find a crime regarding Russia or obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller found nothing to prosecute.

“The details validate the four-page public summary of the report’s conclusions that Attorney General William Barr released last month.  The AG issued the full report with limited redactions related to grand-jury testimony and intelligence sources and methods.  Democrats will claim secrets are hidden in the redactions, but Mr. Barr says he’ll let senior members of Congress see most of those too.  Claims of a coverup are spin for the anti-Trump media.

“Mr. Mueller devotes some 200 pages to the Russia tale, and the news is how little is new beyond what we already know from leaks and court filings....

“There’s no evidence that any of this influenced the election result, but it should concern Americans about Vladimir Putin’s bad intentions for 2020. Anyone who still calls Julian Assange a hero after reading the report is guilty of willful ignorance.

“Yet the report is definitive in concluding that ‘the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.’....

“This non-collusion is the backdrop for the other half of Mr. Mueller’s report, which concerns whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice by interfering in the Russia probe as President. The special counsel devotes another 182 pages to rehearsing every detail of Mr. Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as FBI director, his well-publicized comments (thanks to Mr. Comey’s leaks) to Mr. Comey in private, and his raging about the Mueller probe.

“Mr. Mueller makes no ‘prosecutorial judgment’ about obstruction, though he conspicuously says that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’

“This is Mr. Mueller’s cheapest shot because the standard for a special prosecutor is not exoneration, whether or not Mr. Trump claims it. The standard is whether there is sufficient evidence to charge a crime.  Mr. Mueller concedes he lacks enough evidence to know what Mr. Trump’s motives were in firing Mr. Comey or asking him to go easy on Mr. Flynn, so he should have left it there....

“Mr. Mueller essentially reveals a President behaving in predictable Trumpian fashion at being investigated for a crime he didn’t believe he committed – and which even Mr. Mueller now concedes he didn’t commit.  There was no underlying crime, and the investigation continued with full White House cooperation.  Mr. Mueller knows about these Trumpian eruptions because the White House turned over mountains of documents and allowed him to interview anyone he wanted except the President.

“Nothing in the end was obstructed.  The FBI probe continued after Mr. Comey was fired, and Mr. Mueller wasn’t interfered with.  Mr. Mueller prosecuted those he could find enough evidence to try to turn for state’s evidence, but there was no coverup because there was no collusion with Russia to cover up.

“None of this will placate Mr. Trump’s adversaries who will take Mr. Mueller’s Hamlet act on obstruction and perhaps try to turn it into an impeachable offense.  Democrats have the constitutional power to try, and the media will be their handmaiden.  But if even Robert Mueller and his relentless prosecutors couldn’t prove their case, we doubt the American public will look well on the effort.”

David Ignatius / Washington Post

“The message: Even under intense stress, the American system hasn’t buckled.  A prosecutor appointed and overseen by Trump’s Justice Department is still capable of discovering the facts about this president.  The FBI and intelligence agencies weathered a Mueller-documented campaign of presidential intimidation. The fact that a coolheaded Mueller didn’t call for legal prosecution, when half the country was calling for Trump’s scalp, in some ways affirms the integrity of the system.

“Mueller, in effect, left the final judgments to Congress and the American public. His signature line on obstruction is ambiguous: ‘While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’  I’m inclined to agree with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the matter is now best left to the voters in November 2020.  Mueller has given the Democrats a rich menu.

“Mueller’s report is a win for the slow tortoise of the truth.  Trump has been tweeting for many months about the ‘hoax’ of the investigation, and Attorney General William P. Barr continued his pro-Trump spin campaign 90 minutes before the report’s release.  But now we have the facts....

“(The) facts will be there for future historians – and for the millions around the world who have worried (or celebrated) that our system is cracking.  We’re still here, Vladimir Putin.

“The loss of U.S. moral authority in the world since Trump took office has done incalculable damage to the country. If the United States were a business, you would say its most valuable asset – a reputation built over two centuries as a nation based on moral values – has been squandered by Trump for short-term gain.  If he were the chief executive of a public company, he would have been removed by shareholders long ago for breach of his fiduciary duty.

‘Watching Trump, the world has wondered whether the United States has lost its bearings.  A prominent Asia analyst said to me two weeks ago in Cairo: ‘America is lost.’  A European intelligence official said longtime allies were nearing the point of losing trust in the United States’ reliability.  Even Putin, the Russian president, has joined in the schadenfreude, saying the United States is wracked by political crisis.

“America’s friends are right to be worried by this president. But they should take some reassurance from Thursday’s Mueller report, with all its weird half-steps and unmade judgments.  It affirmed that the fundamentals of accountability are still intact despite Trump’s best efforts to rig the system.”

Tonight, Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said he was “sickened” by President Trump and other members of his team after reviewing the Mueller report.

“I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President,” Romney tweeted.

“I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia – including information that had been illegally obtained, that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement; and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interests in Ukraine,” he added, referring to Paul Manafort.

Romney called it “good news” that Mueller didn’t find evidence of collusion or a crime, which he said would have “taken us through a wrenching process with the potential for a constitutional crisis.”

And he chided President Trump for not living up to the country’s founding ideals.

“Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders,” he said.

Trumpets....

--Senior adviser Ivanka Trump said her father asked her if she was interested in taking the job of World Bank chief but she passed on it.

In an Associated Press interview, President Trump’s daughter said she was happy with her current role in the administration.

She spoke during a trip to Africa to promote a global women’s initiative.

The president recently told The Atlantic: “I even thought of Ivanka for the World Bank.  She would’ve been great at that because she’s very good with numbers.”

Ivanka worked on the selection process for the new head, David Malpass.

--I thought Herman Cain would have withdrawn his name from consideration for a seat on the Federal Reserve board by now, but he said this week he has no intention of doing so, despite apparently lacking enough Senate support to be confirmed if President Trump nominates him.

White House officials have taken a noncommittal tone about his prospects.

--Trump tweets:

“The forgotten voters of the 2016 Election are now doing great. The Steel Industry is rebuilding and expanding at a pace that it hasn’t seen in decades.  Our Country has one of the best Economies in many years, perhaps ever.  Unemployment numbers best in 51 years.  Wow!”

“If the Fed had done its job properly, which it has not, the Stock Market would have been up 5000 to 10,000 additional points, and GDP would have been well over 4% instead of 3%...with almost no inflation. Quantitative tightening was a killer, should have done the exact opposite!”

“I believe it will be Crazy Bernie Sanders vs. Sleepy Joe Biden as the two finalists to run against maybe the best Economy in the history of our Country (and MANY other great things)! I look forward to facing whoever it may be.  May God Rest Their Soul!”

“Bernie Sanders and wife should pay the Pre-Trump Taxes on their almost $600,000 in income. He is always complaining about these big TAX CUTS, except when it benefits him.  They made a fortune off of Trump, but so did everyone else – and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing!”

“Many Trump Fans & Signs were outside of the @FoxNews Studio last night in the now thriving (Thank you, President Trump) Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for the interview with Crazy Bernie Sanders.  Big complaints about not being let in-stuffed with Bernie supporters. What’s with @FoxNews?”

“What do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!), but if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name.  No product has suffered like this one.  But again, what the hell do I know?”

Trump once owned Trump Airlines (aka Trump Shuttle), which lasted just a few years, never making a penny.

“The New York Times Sanctuary Cities/Immigration story today was knowingly wrong on almost every fact.  They never call to check for truth. Their sources often don’t even exist, a fraud.  They will lie & cheat anyway possible to make me look bad.  In 6 years they will be gone....

“....When I won the Election in 2016, the @nytimes had to beg their fleeing subscribers for forgiveness in that they covered the Election (and me) so badly.  They didn’t have a clue, it was pathetic.  They even apologized to me.  But now they are even worse, really corrupt reporting!”

“Spoke to @TigerWoods to congratulate him on the great victory he had in yesterday’s @TheMasters, & to inform him that because of his incredible Success & Comeback in Sports (Golf) and, more importantly, LIFE, I will be presenting him with the PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM!”

“Heading to the Great State of Minnesota!”

Great looking women there...oops, sorry, that’s me. Not President Trump.

Wall Street and Trade            

Back on March 14, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer for first-quarter growth was a measly 0.4%, but after a series of stronger than expected economic reports since then, including on retail sales and trade this week, that 0.4% has moved all the way up to 2.8%, with the first formal look at Q1 coming next Friday.  This is going to be a big day for the markets, and for the Trump administration.

This week, while the March reading on industrial production was a disappointing -0.1%, below forecasts (industrial production being the output of factories, mines and utilities), the figure on March retail sales, 1.6%, was well above expectations, including ex-autos, 1.2%, and the trade data was good.

Today’s report on March housing starts wasn’t good, 1.139 million on an annualized basis, far short of the 1.23m consensus, the lowest since March 2017, but this was outweighed by the news on the retail and trade front.  [And jobless claims remain at a 50-year low.]

So we’ll see what happens next week, when we receive more housing data, but the biggie is Friday.

Some of the Federal Reserve’s governors spoke this week, with Fed Chicago leader Charles Evans saying that while he still expects the Fed to raise rates amid a hopeful economic outlook, the door is open to rate cuts as well.

Right now, Fed policy, with a short-term rate target set at between 2.25% and 2.50%, is at “about neutral” in terms of its effect on the economy, and “that’s a good place to be” because it gives the central bank options in an uncertain time, Evans said.

As for inflation, which remains below the central bank’s 2% target, if it is “running too low, (this would be) justification for deciding our setting for monetary policy is actually restrictive and we need to make an adjustment downwards in the funds rate.  If we were facing 1.5% core inflation” that could make the case to lower short-term rates, Mr. Evans said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, prior to a speech in New York.

Today, there are no inflation pressures, with the Fed’s preferred barometer, the personal-consumption-expenditures index up 1.8%, ex-food and energy.

Meanwhile, Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan said, “I’m getting more confident about solid growth this year,” while describing the current level of the funds rate as “appropriate” and “mildly accommodative.”

On the China trade front, it was a quiet week, with no real developments.  Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said that both sides were working on enforcement mechanisms as they attempt to finalize a deal in the coming weeks.

But as Bloomberg News put it, while the U.S. wants to make sure China faces consequences if it doesn’t live up to its promises, “Trump may also be giving China a new cudgel to use on American companies and striking another blow to the international rule of law.”

Mnuchin talks of “a two-way agreement in enforcement,” but the comments, and commitments, are raising eyebrows from legal scholars to the business community and Congress.

Bloomberg: “If the U.S. allows China reciprocal enforcement powers, it would make China ‘judge, jury and executioner as to whether we have honored our obligations,’ said Daniel Price, who served as a senior economic adviser to President George W. Bush and is now at Rock Creek Global Advisors in Washington.  “I don’t think the U.S. business community is sufficiently alert to the risk of constantly being exposed to unilateral enforcement action by China.’

“The Trump administration wants to have a mechanism that would allow it to quickly punish any foot-dragging by Chinese officials by imposing tariffs or other sanctions without having to go through the World Trade Organization or other adjudicators that they argue have been ineffective in the past.  But any reciprocal deal would give Chinese leaders another way to quickly apply their own pressure on American companies.”

This would be particularly worrisome if both sides agree to forego their right to challenge any enforcement action by the other at the WTO.

Separately, on a different trade issue....

Mike Bird / Wall Street Journal

“Much of the American interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal bridging economies in the Americas and Asia-Pacific regions, dried up after the U.S. backed out in 2017. Now the bloc is about to become a headache for it.

“The 11-member deal, renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, started at the end of 2018.

“It already seems to be having an impact.   At a sluggish moment for overall global trade, the General Department of Vietnam Customs announced Thursday that exports to Japan and Canada rose by 11.2% and 36.7% in the first two months of the year, respectively, compared with a year earlier.

“Left on the outside of the deal, U.S. agricultural exporters may soon feel the pinch. In January and February, Japanese beef imports rose 25% compared with the same months last year, driven by a 51% surge in frozen beef imports.  The particular beneficiaries are Canada and New Zealand, which saw 345% and 133% growth in total beef exports respectively.

“The sharp rise means that Japan’s frozen beef safeguard, a measure designed to automatically raise taxes on imported beef if volumes surpass certain levels, is on the edge of being triggered, raising the tariff on imports from the U.S. from 38.5% to 50% for a year.  Yet CPTPP members will be unaffected and their tariffs will remain at 26.6%, placing the burden on the U.S. practically alone and hitting American agricultural competitiveness hard.

“Beef is the most obvious  point of conflict between the pact’s liberalizations and U.S. export policy, but it is unlikely to be the last.  As fast-growing markets in Asia expand and the region’s advanced economies forge closer links, U.S. exporters increasingly will be left out of the party.”

As I said from day one, we were idiots for pulling out of the TPP.

Europe and Asia

There was a bit of economic data from the eurozone, with the release today of the flash composite readings for April for the EA19, courtesy of IHS Markit.

The composite PMI was 51.3 vs. 51.6 in March (50 being the dividing line between growth and contraction), a 3-month low, with the manufacturing reading at 47.8 vs. 47.5 last month, and the services PMI at 52.5, down from 53.3.

The flash readings also break out Germany and France.

Germany’s manufacturing PMI for April was 44.5 vs. 44.1, with services at 55.6 vs. 55.4.

France had a flash reading for April on manufacturing of 49.6 vs. last month’s 49.7, with service sector activity at 50.5, a 5-month high.

Chris Williamson, IHS Markit:

“The eurozone economy started the second quarter on a disappointing footing, with the flash PMI falling to one of the lowest levels seen since 2014.  The data add to worries that the economy has failed to rebound with any conviction from one-off factors that dampened activity late last year, and continues to show only very modest growth in the face of headwinds from slower global demand growth and subdued economic sentiment.

“The surveys indicate that quarterly eurozone GDP growth has slowed to just under 0.2%. A similar 0.2% rate of expansion is being signaled for Germany but France stagnated and the rest of the region has moved closer to stalling.

“Manufacturing remained the key area of concern, with output continuing to contract at one of the fastest rates seen over the past six years.  Forward-looking indicators showed some signs of improvement but remain deeply in negative territory to suggest the factory malaise has further to run.

“The slowdown also showed further signs of engulfing the service sector, where growth cooled again to one of the weakest rates seen since 2016.  Some encouragement can be gleaned from an improvement in employment growth, although even here the pace of hiring is among the lowest seen for two-and-a-half years.

“The persistence of the business survey weakness raises questions over the economy’s ability to grow by more than 1% in 2019.”

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi this week did say that many of the global factors weighing on eurozone growth appear to be waning, keeping alive expectations for a recovery in the second half of the year.  But he also warned that factors that undermine confidence, including the risk of a hard Brexit and a global trade war, continue to “loom large,” putting growth at risk.

Separately, a reading on March inflation for the euro area from Eurostat has it at 1.4%, down from 1.5% in February.

Germany 1.4%, France 1.3%, Italy 1.1%, Netherlands 2.9%.

Brexit: Guess what?  We all got a break this week, with the British parliament, and government, on Easter recess.  Prime Minister Theresa May had said she wanted MPs to use the time to reflect on the next direction for the Brexit discussion.  Reminder, the UK now has a deadline of Oct. 31, but just about a month if it wants to avoid going through the process of European Parliament elections, May 23-26.

Meanwhile, Mrs. May’s Conservative Party continues to lose in the polls.  A survey from Opinium, published in the Observer newspaper, showed the Conservatives at 29 percent, down 6 points from March 28 and 7 points behind Labour.  An analysis of polls since the original intended March 29 exit date, published in the Sunday Telegraph, showed the Conservatives would lose 59 seats if an election were held today.

One polling expert told Reuters that “Much of this drop reflects disappointment among Leave voters – around a half of whom would prefer ‘no deal’ – at the government’s failure to deliver Brexit.”

The Sunday Telegraph analysis showed that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party would win the most seats but still fall short of an outright majority in the 650-seat parliament.

Eurobits...

--Greek bond yields hit the lowest level in nearly 14 years, highlighting a comeback for the country that not too long ago threatened to take down the eurozone.

The benchmark 10-year yield fell to 3.27 percent, its lowest since September 2005. Eight years ago, the 10-year yield climbed above 40 percent.  [The 10-year closed the week at 3.29%.]

Greece has been successfully tapping the international fixed income market this spring, selling its first 10-year bond in nine years.

Today, Greece has entered a “period of economic growth that puts it among the top performers in the eurozone,” an IMF report in March said, with the fund projecting GDP growth of 2.4 percent for 2019.

Turning to Asia, lots of key data for China, including a reading on first-quarter GDP, 6.4%, a tick above the consensus of 6.3%, and the same as the fourth quarter. 

Perhaps more importantly, industrial production rose 8.5% in March, much better than forecast, with retail sales up 8.7%, and fixed-asset investment (airports, roads, rails) up 6.3%.

Immediately, everyone was concluding that Beijing’s stimulus measures were offsetting the negative effects of the trade war.

Auto output in March was down 2.6%, but this was an improvement on the 5.3% decline, year-over-year, for January and February.

Steel output was up 10% in March, and cement production rose 22%, reflecting strong demand spurred on by China’s infrastructure spending spree.

The government is forecasting GDP growth of 6%-6.5% for all of 2019.  But today, a top decision-making body of the Communist Party, a politburo meeting chaired by President Xi, said that while the first-quarter growth number was promising, the economy still faces “downward pressure.”

“The external economic environment is generally tightening and the domestic economy is under downward pressure,” Xinhua reported tonight.

So China will continue with appropriate stimulus measures, including more tax and fee cuts.

But it also wants to prevent speculation in the property market, as new-home prices for March rose 0.6% over February, with the 70-city index up 10.6% year-on-year.  Beijing has been urging banks to ramp up lending and lower interest rates to support the market and economic activity, but there can be a fine line in the housing sector.

[All of the above data came from the National Bureau of Statistics.]

In Japan, a flash reading on manufacturing for April came in at 49.5, the third month below 50, contraction.  The export component of the PMI was just 47.1, the worst since July 2016.

Core inflation (ex-fresh food) rose an annualized 0.8% in March, with core-core (ex-food and energy) up only 0.4%, remaining woefully shy of the Bank of Japan’s 2% target.

The Japanese market is closed from April 27 through May 6, six trading sessions, which encompasses “Golden Week” and the accession of the new emperor, Crown Prince Naruhito on May 1.  Some analysts are concerned about such a long break; as in Tokyo’s market could be closed during a tumultuous event.  Not saying there is going to be one, but ya never know.

Street Bytes

--Stocks finished mixed for the holiday-shortened week, with the Dow Jones tacking on 0.6% to 26559, less than 300 points from its all-time high, while the S&P 500 registered a fractional, 2-point, loss to 2905, and Nasdaq rose 0.2% to 7998, the latter two also within a day’s rally of their highs.

Earnings started flowing in and are generally better than expected, though a low bar had been set.

Healthcare stocks had a rough go of it until late Thursday on the growing fear, whether warranted or not, over the seemingly inexorable move toward a policy of Medicare for all.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo.  2.46%  2-yr. 2.38%  10-yr. 2.56%  30-yr. 2.96%

Basically unchanged across the curve this week.

--The Energy Information Administration on Wednesday said U.S. crude-oil inventories declined by 1.4 million barrels last week, ending a three-week streak of bearish increases, while U.S. production slipped from last week’s record 12.2 million barrels a day to 12.1 million.  Earlier, industry group American Petroleum Institute said its inventory report showed a 3.1 million barrel decline.

But the market is also wondering what the Trump administration is going to do with the waivers it granted eight nations who buy Iranian crude oil, including China, Japan and India, allowing them to continue buying Iran’s oil.  Now that the U.S. has designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, analysts are speculating whether President Trump will suddenly yank all waivers, which would drive prices higher.  A decision is expected around May 1.

Crude oil rose to $64.00 on the week, up a seventh consecutive week.

Separately, California’s average gasoline price jumped to $4.00, owing to tight stocks due to unplanned and planned maintenance.  This is the highest in the state since July 2014.

--Bank of America topped first-quarter earnings forecasts as a strong performance by its retail bank and tight cost controls helped it offset the impact of weak capital markets and investment banking results.

Total revenue was flat with the year before at $23bn, in line with Wall Street’s forecast, but net income rose 6 percent to $7.3bn.

“Economic growth and consumer activity in the U.S. continue to be solid, businesses of every size are borrowing and driving the economy, and asset quality is strong,” said chief executive Brian Moynihan, noting that “it was a challenging capital markets environment.”

--Morgan Stanley said its first-quarter profit fell 9% from a year ago, to $2.4 billion, on revenue of $10.3 billion that was also lower than a year ago, but the figures were above analysts’ estimates.

But Morgan Stanley was hit by the same trading slump early in the year that hurt other Wall Street firms, with revenue from MS’s stock-trading desk down 21%, while merger fees fell 29% with fewer previously announced deals being completed in the quarter.  Overall investment-banking revenue fell 24%.

Revenue in Morgan Stanley’s key wealth-management business was flat from a year ago.

--Citigroup Inc. said its first-quarter profit rose 2% from a year ago, boosted by growth in U.S. consumer banking and solid trading performance with rivals.  Citi posted a profit of $4.7 billion, better than expectations.

But revenue was down 2% from a year ago to $18.6 billion, in line with analysts’ estimates.

First-quarter trading revenue declined 5%, but this was better than their competitors.

Investment-banking revenue rose 20% from a year ago, thanks to a 76% surge in mergers-and-acquisitions advisory revenue.

--Goldman Sachs Group Inc. reported quarterly profits that beat expectations on Monday, but the bank’s total revenue fell 13% in the first quarter and missed analysts’ estimates, with three of its four main businesses recording a drop in revenue.

Total institutional client services, the unit that houses the bank’s trading business, recorded the biggest drop as market volatility coupled with the longest U.S. government shutdown hurt equity and bond trading revenue.

Trading revenue fell 18% to $3.61 billion, while equity trading declined 24%, and fixed income, currency and commodities trading were down 11%.

Investment banking revenue was flat.             

CEO David Solomon said: “We’re looking to build value over the next three to five years, not over the next couple of quarters.’

But without the retail businesses and lending books competitors’ Citigroup and JPMorgan have, Goldman is still forced to rely on its traders and investment bankers for results.

--Shares in Bank of New York Mellon Corp. plummeted 10% Wednesday after the custody bank reported earnings and revenue that fell short of the Street’s expectations.  The results underscore how sensitive financial firms are to interests rates and the yield curve; in this case the decline on the long end, such as in the 10-year Treasury after the Federal Reserve indicated it would leave rates unchanged for some time.

Last month, the 10-year yield fell below that of three-month Treasurys for the first time since 2007 – an inverted yield curve that normally indicates recession is lurking, though there are no signs one is imminent.

So a flattening yield curve squeezes banks’ net interest margins, as the banks also face increasing competition for deposits.  In BNY Mellon’s case, customers moved money out of the bank and into interest-bearing deposits with a higher yield, while at the same time, a custody bank like BNY doesn’t have big lending businesses, so revenue from that side was shrinking at a time their interest margins were narrowing.

*So do you see a pattern in all the above results from the nation’s big banks?  No revenue growth.

--JPMorgan Chase & Co. put two women with decades of experience at the bank at the top of the list to one day succeed Jamie Dimon as CEO. 

Marianne Lake, who has served as chief financial officer since 2012, will leave the role to become head of the bank’s consumer-lending business, including its credit-card operations as well as auto lending and mortgages.  And Jennifer Piepszak, who was running the credit-card business, will take over as finance chief, the changes taking effect May 1.

Ms. Lake has long been viewed as the prime contender to succeed Dimon, but some analysts thought she needed experience running one of the bank’s major businesses, while Ms. Piepszak’s move to CFO gives her broad influence over JPM’s many businesses.

Mr. Dimon, 63, is in no hurry to retire. Asked in February when he planned to step down, he said: “Five years.  Maybe four now.”

--Netflix signed up more new paying subscribers than expected during the first quarter, attracting 9.6 million new accounts during the period – the highest addition in the company’s history.

Earnings of 76 cents per share easily beat guidance of 56 cents, with revenue coming in at $4.52 billion, better than forecast.  The figures were significantly higher than a year ago; earnings of 64 cents on revenue of $3.70 billion.

The record 9.6 million new paying subscribers was up nearly 16% from 8.3 million in the year-ago period.

Netflix now has 148.9 million subscribers worldwide, though the company predicted just 5 million new paid subscribers for the second quarter, which spooked the Street some.  Netflix also forecast earnings below last year’s level.

The company wrote in a note to shareholders, “We see some modest short-term churn effect as members consent to the price change,” Netflix having hiked prices at the start of the quarter; the most popular plan rising to $12.99 a month from $10.99.

CEO Reed Hastings said he wasn’t worried about Disney’s planned streaming service, Disney+, which Disney expects to reach 60 million to 90 million subscribers.  “Great competition makes you better,” Hastings said.

Separately, Netflix will invest up to $100 million to expand its presence in New York City with a new production hub in Brooklyn and corporate office in Manhattan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday.

Netflix will add about 130 employees to an existing facility in Manhattan, and it will build a production hub in Brooklyn with six new sound stages within five years.

--IBM Corp. reported a third consecutive quarter of declining revenue, further clouding CEO Ginni Rometty’s yearslong quest to revitalize the computing giant.

Rometty has been at the helm since 2012, with IBM pouring resources into cloud-computing and new technologies such as artificial intelligence, in an attempt to shift away from traditional growth engines like equipment sales and services, which have seen tepid growth.

But IBM said its cloud business grew by 10% in the past 12 months, which doesn’t sound that great, and several of the lines of business, including cloud and information-technology-support services, declined.

In a call with analysts, CFO James Kavanaugh blamed the most-recent revenue decline in part on clients in the Asia-Pacific region delaying buying decisions.  Kavanaugh conceded IBM’s cloud services weren’t keeping pace with competitors such as Microsoft and Amazon, but IBM is still targeting midteen growth for the segment, which would allow it to take market share in that arena.

Rometty is aiming to bolster IBM’s hybrid-cloud strategy through IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat Inc., an open-source software and services company that helps businesses streamline their computing strategies as they grow.

Since Rometty took over, revenue has fallen nearly every quarter until the fourth quarter of 2017 and the first two of 2018, but has been declining again  beginning in Q3.

Net income fell 5.2% to $1.59 billion.

The shares fell 3% on the news.

--Johnson & Johnson ramped up its full year guidance after it posted better-than-expected results for the first quarter, helped by rising sales of pharmaceutical products.

The company, whose brands include Listerine and Band-Aid, reported sales of $20.02 billion, little changed year-on-year but ahead of the consensus estimate of $19.55bn.

Consumer sales were down 2.4%, and medical device sales were off 4.6% (though excluding the impact of acquisitions and divestitures grew 4.3%), but pharmaceutical sales were 4.1% higher.

--As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Justice Department antitrust enforcement staff have told T-Mobile US Inc. and Sprint Corp. that their planned merger is unlikely to be approved as currently structured, casting doubt on the fate of the $26 billion deal.

The nation’s third- and fourth-biggest carriers by subscribers are facing challenges on several fronts, but the most immediate hurdle is from the Justice Department’s belief the deal would present an unacceptable threat to competition.

Back in 2011, the Obama administration blocked AT&T’s bid for T-Mobile, saying the market was too concentrated.

T-Mobile and Sprint made their case to the Trump administration last year, saying that without a merger they risked falling behind Verizon and AT&T as the industry upgrades to 5G networks.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere, when asked to respond to the Journal’s story, said, “The premise of this story, as summarized in the first paragraph, is simply untrue.  Out of respect for the process, we have no further comment.”

--Apple and Qualcomm agreed to settle their yearslong court battle over the division of billions of dollars of smartphone profits and how much consumers pay for their phones.

The companies, Apple the maker of iPhones and Qualcomm the largest provider of mobile chips, said they had agreed to dismiss all litigation between them worldwide.  They added that they had reached a six-year agreement for Apple to pay unspecified royalties on Qualcomm’s patents.

In addition, Apple and Qualcomm have a multiyear agreement for Qualcomm to supply chips to Apple, while Apple will make an undisclosed one-time payment to Qualcomm.

At the heart of the disputes was a disagreement over how Qualcomm charges royalties on patents that it holds on mobile chips.  Qualcomm had pioneered a type of cellular communications in the 1990s that later became a mainstay of mobile devices, which allowed it to charge royalties on nearly every smartphone sold – even if the phone did not actually use Qualcomm chips.  Apple eventually objected to that arrangement.

Qualcomm’s shares, which have been hurt by the dispute with Apple, jumped over 20 percent on word of the settlement.

Apple is acknowledging it was able to live with Qualcomm’s business model – assuming the price of Qualcomm’s royalties is more to Apple’s liking.

--J.B. Hunt Transportation Services Inc., one of the nation’s largest trucking and logistics companies and a freight-industry bellwether, reported profits that fell shy of expectations, with revenue, while up 7.3%, also short.

But the company said it did not see a snapback in customer demand in March, after all the weather disruptions, and the company is waiting for customer demand to accelerate before making a trend call for the second quarter and the rest of the year.

--CSX Corp. reported higher revenue in its latest quarter, up 5% to $3.01 billion, while for the full year the railroad operator reiterated its outlook of low-single-digit percent revenue growth.

Merchandise revenue, the company’s largest segment and which includes shipments of items like chemicals, agricultural products and minerals, rose 6% from a year earlier, while agricultural and food products revenue increased 12%, driven by growth in the domestic and export grain markets and a stronger ethanol market.  Forest products revenue increased 11%.

--PepsiCo Inc.’s revenue rose in the latest quarter, boosted by the company’s Frito-Lay division in North America, but foreign-currency effects weighed on international operations.

The maker of Pepsi beverages, Quaker oatmeal and Tropicana orange juice said revenue rose 2.6% to $12.88 billion, ahead of expectations.

Sales in the North America Frito-Lay division rose 5.5%, while revenue rose 2.2% in the company’s North America beverages division.

First-quarter profit of $1.41 billion beat the Street.  PepsiCo also affirmed its guidance for the full year, with organic revenue growth of 4%.

--Pinterest Inc., the online scrapbook company, set its valuation at $12.7 billion, above expectations and a sign of strength for the tech IPO market after Lyft Inc.’s struggles.  Pinterest commenced trading on Thursday and promptly soared 28%.

Lyft sought a valuation of about $24.3 billion in its IPO, higher than the $15 billion valuation it attained in its latest private fundraising round in 2018, while Pinterest’s initial target range had set it on course to be valued near its last private fundraising valuation of $12.3 billion in 2017.

Pinterest is also the most high-profile listing of a U.S. social media company since Snap Inc. in 2017, a stock which is down more than 30 percent below its IPO price.

[Another IPO, Zoom Video Communication, rocketed 72% in its debut Thursday.]

--United Continental Holdings Inc. reported a doubling of its first-quarter profit that outstripped expectations, helping lift the airline’s shares in after-hours trading.  United said it expects to increase its flight capacity by 4% to 5% this year, down from previously planned growth of as much as 6%.

For the first quarter, United reported a 6.2% increase in total revenue to $9.6 billion.  Revenue per seat mile (‘unit revenue’) rose 1.1% from a year earlier.

United, the No. 2 U.S. carrier by traffic, reiterated guidance for adjusted earnings and unit-revenue growth of 0.5% to 2.5% in the second quarter.

United has 14 of the Boeing 737 MAX jets, with the airline saying it would keep the jets out of its schedule into early July, while Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have cut the plane from schedules into August, the two having 34 and 22 737 MAX aircraft, respectively, in their fleets, though Southwest has 41 MAX jets pending delivery for 2019, while American has 16 and United 14.

United had previously said the grounding of the aircraft wouldn’t have much of an immediate operational or financial impact, but that the effect could grow if the MAX remains out of service into summer.

--India’s embattled Jet Airways halted all flight operations indefinitely on Wednesday after its lenders rejected its plea for emergency funds, potentially bringing the curtains down on what was once India’s largest private airline.

The carrier, with $1.2 billion of bank debt, has been teetering for weeks after failing to receive a stop-gap loan from its lenders, as part of a rescue deal agreed to in March.

At its peak, Jet operated over 120 planes and well over 600 daily flights.  The airline has roughly 16,000 employees, and in recent weeks has been forced to cancel hundreds of flights and to halt all flights out of India.

Intense competition from low-cost carriers, like IndiGo and SpiceJet Ltd., together with higher oil prices and hefty fuel taxes piled pressure on the airline in recent months.

--Delta is rolling out new seats for its 62 Airbus A320 jets; seats that tilt back less than they currently do, in an effort to create more personal space for passengers.

Great!  Wish this had been done 30 years ago.  I never tilt my seat back, out of respect for the person behind me, but especially on international flights, I hated how the assholes in front of me would recline their seats all the way back and not have any recourse.

--The Martha Stewart empire of home furnishings and other branded products has been sold to Marquee Brands for $215 million, or $140 million less than what its current owner Sequential Brands Group paid for it in 2015, as first reported by the New York Post.

--Volkswagen announced plans to build a fully electric sports utility vehicle for China from 2021, directly taking on Tesla’s Model X as the German carmaker ramps up production of zero emission vehicles.

--According to a new study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, 32% of restaurant foods labeled gluten-free contain gluten.

The worst offenders were pizza and pasta, with gluten found in 53.2% of pizza samples and 50.8% of the pasta tested.

Restaurants identified as fast-casual (no table service, higher quality food than traditional fast-food eateries) and casual (with table service) had lower detection rates than fast-food places.

--McDonald’s is streamlining its menu by revamping its Quarter Pounder and abandoning its craft burgers.

Over the past few months, the company has introduced new versions of its classic Quarter Pounder to its national menu, but as one restaurant analyst put it, restaurants that focus on reducing the number of products to improve speed of service and order accuracy tend to have more success.

--When Tiger Woods was at the bottom, having crashed and burned, amid the torrent of damaging revelations, the likes of AT&T, Accenture, PepsiCo’s Gatorade and Procter & Gamble’s Gillette all dropped him, with others declining to renew deals.

But Nike stood by Tiger and while Nike dropped its golf equipment business, no doubt its apparel side will be benefiting from Tiger’s resurgence, the amazing comeback capped off by his spectacular win at The Masters on Sunday.

But will Woods now receive a slew of new endorsements?  One would think so.

--A record 17.4 million people tuned in Sunday night for the beginning of the end of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” according to Nielsen and the network.

The show, in its eighth and final season, is the most popular show in HBO’s history, having topped “The Sopranos.”  The above figure doesn’t include numbers from digital video recorders and on-demand, as well as catch-up viewing.  The last season of “Game of Thrones” averaged 32.8 million viewers across all platforms.

Foreign Affairs

Syria: I’ve been talking about the following issue for months, and now everyone is recognizing it’s a crisis, with NBC also having a report on the topic this evening.

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“With Islamic State’s physical caliphate destroyed, the West faces an urgent challenge: what to do with foreign fighters and their families.  Mishandling the problem could create decades of security threats in the U.S. and Europe, and several American allies are bungling this test.

“Some 40,000 foreigners traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS in recent years.  While more recruits came from the Middle East and North Africa, some 5,000 left Europe to join the caliphate. A 2018 report from the George Washington University Program on Extremism estimated that about 300 were American.

“Today the Syrian Democratic Forces have detained about 1,000 foreign fighters, though the number is expected to rise.  Western European countries didn’t produce as many fighters as, say, Tunisia, but a substantial number of Europeans remain in custody.  Our sources say the U.S. isn’t aware of any Americans currently held by the SDF.

“Thousands of foreign fighters died on the battlefield, but now the fate of the survivors looms large.   Veteran terrorists have returned home in the past with deadly consequences.  Several perpetrators of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130, gained experience in Syria.

“In February President Trump tweeted that the U.S. ‘is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back’ their ISIS fighters and prosecute them at home.  Indonesia, Morocco, Russia, and Sudan started the process months ago, but Western European governments are resisting....

“Countries that criticized the U.S. over Guantanamo Bay now are turning a blind eye to the detention of their citizens elsewhere....

“Some European countries worry their justice systems won’t be up to the task of managing returnees.  Courts in the UK have struggled to win convictions in terror cases, while other European countries could hand down dangerously short sentences.  But this is a case for toughening antiterrorism laws, not ignoring the problem.  If a country is concerned about ISIS members radicalizing other prisoners, it can isolate them.

“The SDF has treated detainees humanely, but it can’t hold them forever. The group eventually will have no choice but to let the prisoners go – making a manageable security threat much worse.  These battle-hardened fighters are especially dangerous given their practical knowledge and the respect they could command among would-be jihadists.

“Many released fighters would slip into Iraq, blend in with sympathetic Sunni populations, and prepare for an ISIS revival.  Others could exploit security vacuums in Libya or Somalia... Perhaps the greatest risk is that some will return to the West undetected alongside refugees.  Countries hesitant to take back their citizens now should realize they might return anyway – clandestinely....

“When Mr. Trump announced plans for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Syria in December, allies criticized the move as endangering the West’s security.  They were right, and Mr. Trump partly reversed the decision.  Now the roles have flipped, with some prioritizing domestic politics over international security.  If Mr. Trump changed course, they can too.”

Israel: Israel’s president on Wednesday nominated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to head the next government, after he won the backing of a majority of members of parliament following the April 9 election. 

“At a time of great turmoil in our region, we have managed not only to maintain the state’s security and stability, we have even managed to turn Israel into a rising world power,” Netanyahu said at the nomination ceremony after President Reuven Rivlin gave him the mandate to form a new government.  Netanyahu has 28 days, with a two-week extension if needed, to complete the task, and if he succeeds, as is likely, in July he becomes Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Netanyahu has said he intends to build a coalition with five far-right, right-wing and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would give the government, led by his Likud party, 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

Among the most pressing issues is the U.S. peace plan, which it is said will be unveiled once the new Israeli government is in place, according to President Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner this week.  The plan, Kushner said, will require compromise by all parties, but a right-wing coalition in Israel would no doubt object to any proposed territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

And there is the issue of the prime minister and his pending indictments for corruption. Netanyahu said in a Facebook posting on Tuesday: “I am not afraid of threats and I am not deterred by the media.  The public has given me its full confidence, clearly and unequivocally, and I will continue to do everything in order to serve you, the citizens of Israel.”

Egypt: Parliament on Tuesday approved amendments to the constitution that could keep President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in power until 2030, though they still have to be endorsed in a referendum to take effect.  The changes would extend Sisi’s current term to six years from four and then allow him to run again for a third term, which would last six years.

The amendments would also increase the role of the military in political life and increase the president’s power over the judiciary, critics of the changes say.

The 596-member parliament, dominated by Sisi supporters, voted 531 to 22 in favor of the amendments.  No date for the referendum has been set.

Sisi has been accused by rights groups of excessive abuse of power and a relentless crackdown on freedoms.

Libya: Egypt’s President Sisi met on Sunday in Cairo with Khalifa Haftar, the commander of eastern-based Libyan forces, who is under international pressure to halt an advance on the capital Tripoli.  Egypt has close ties with Haftar, though Egypt and the UAE publicly support UN-led peace efforts in Libya, while being seen as Haftar’s closest allies.

Haftar’s campaign has disrupted efforts by the UN to bring rival eastern and western administrations to the negotiating table to end the turmoil.

The fighting thus far has killed well over 100, with at least 14,000 displaced.

Editorial / Washington Post

“After years of turmoil in Libya, United Nations envoys believed they were on the verge of striking a deal this month that would have brought the country’s factions together at a conference to agree on a unified government and a plan for elections.  Then Khalifa Haftar, a 75-year-old warlord who aspires to become Libya’s next dictator, launched an offensive against the capital, Tripoli, that ruptured the peace process and may lead to another devastating Arab civil war.

“What prompted Mr. Haftar to conclude he should seek military victory rather than compromise?  In the past few days, the answer has gradually become clear: His offensive has been egged on and materially supported by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.  These Arab governments and Russia have deliberately sabotaged an international effort that had the support of the European Union, the African Union and the United States, in addition to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

“Mr. Haftar has had backing from these outside powers, as well as from France, for years, even as he consolidated control over eastern Libya and established a rival regime to the UN-backed government in Tripoli.  But days before launching his latest offensive, the self-styled general visited Saudi Arabia, where he was promised millions of dollars in aid to pay for the operation, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.  The money, meant to pay off tribal leaders and recruit new fighters, represents another reckless gamble by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has already launched a disastrous intervention in Yemen as well as failed attempts to subjugate the Lebanese and Qatari governments.

“On Sunday, Mr. Haftar got an explicit endorsement from Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, whom he met in Cairo.  Mr. Sisi had returned only days earlier from visiting President Trump at the White House, but he showed no hesitation in contradicting U.S. demands that Mr. Haftar end his attack.

“For now, the attempt to install Mr. Haftar in Tripoli doesn’t look likely to succeed.  The offensive has had the effect of rallying otherwise fractious Libyan forces; hardened militia men from other cities have poured into the area to stop the invasion....

“The most likely result of the fighting is more needless suffering for Libyans, thousands of whom have already been displaced by the fighting.  The flow of refugees across the Mediterranean to Europe could increase, and the Islamic State, which the United States spent years working to defeat in Libya, could revive.  All this thanks to the meddling of Arab governments that the Trump administration portrays as its close allies and cooperative partners in the region.

“Mr. Trump often complains of U.S. clients who accept Washington’s aid and protection, only to take advantage of its fecklessness.  Should he care to look, he could find an excellent example of that unfolding in Libya.”

And this development today. The White House said that President Trump talked to Gen. Haftar on Monday and discussed “ongoing counterrorism efforts and the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya.” The statement said Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.”

This is nuts.  The United States is/was supporting the UN-sponsored peace efforts backed by the EU. And why are we learning of the call today....days after the fact?!  Because it’s Good  Friday, a normally slow news day dominated this year by the Mueller Report and the president’s response to same.

Yemen: President Trump issued the second veto of his presidency Tuesday, stopping a congressional resolution that would have sought to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

“This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Trump wrote to the Senate Thursday.

Trump added that the resolution is “unnecessary” in part because there are no United States military personnel in Yemen “commanding, participating in, or accompanying military forces of the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis in hostilities in or affecting Yemen.”

Supporters of the War Powers Resolution argued the U.S. shouldn’t be involved in the war without explicit permission from Congress.  Opponents argued the U.S. does not have “boots on the ground” and is offering noncombat technical assistance to Saudi Arabia, an ally.

The bill passed the House 247-175, with sixteen Republicans voting yes with Democrats.  In the Senate the vote was 54 to 46, with seven Republicans voting with Democrats.

Afghanistan: An important meeting between the Taliban and senior Afghan officials was canceled Thursday in a blow to efforts to reach a negotiated settlement of the 18-year Afghan war.

Two days of talks were slated to take place in Qatar, which was to have been the first time since the latest peace effort resumed in earnest that Taliban and officials of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government were to be in the same room.

The issue is over representation, with the Taliban issuing a list of acceptable attendees that differed from a list of 249 politicians, officials, former anti-Soviet rebel leaders and others announced by Kabul earlier this week.

Attempts to rescue the talks failed.  The Taliban previously announced it was gearing up for the spring ‘fighting season.’

North Korea: Kim Jong Un has expressed his deep disappointment with what the North claims was an inflexible, “gangster-like” demand by the U.S. in Hanoi.  And the North Koreans are particularly frustrated with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton.  Kwon Jong Gun, a member of the North’s foreign ministry, was quoted by the state news agency as saying Thursday:

“The Hanoi summit gives us a lesson that whenever Pompeo pokes his nose in, the talks go wrong without any results even from the point close to success.  I wish our dialogue counterpart would not be Pompeo but (some) other person who is more careful and mature in communicating with us.”

The intent clearly is to warn President Trump that the much-vaunted “freeze” is in jeopardy, and the verbal attack on Pompeo is meant to encourage Trump to ignore his hardline advisers and cut a deal with his “friend” Kim Jong Un.

Earlier, in an address to the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim gave the U.S. until the end of the year to come up with a more mutually acceptable negotiation strategy.  As in, Pyongyang wants the sanctions lifted.  But Kim had hinted he would maintain his self-imposed moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches and he has stood by that for now.

So Kim returned to military optics for the first time in five months, paying a visit Tuesday to an Air Force base to inspect fighter combat readiness and then followed that up the next day by supervising the test of what the North’s official media described as a new type of “tactical guided weapon,” though no photos or video were released.  The Pentagon said that while there had been a test, it was “not a ballistic missile.”  Kim appeared to be careful not to step over the line by conducting a nuclear or long-range ballistic missile test.

There are reports Kim is preparing to hold his first summit with Russian President Putin next week in Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East.

Putin could offer economic aid for Pyongyang if he chooses to play a bigger role.  Putin no doubt wants to drive a wedge between Kim and President Trump.

As for South Korea, Kim and senior North Korean officials have been critical of the South and efforts by President Moon Jae-in to play the role of middleman, saying he has hewed too closely to the American side and has dragged his feet on inter-Korean projects that could provide the North with a boost, such as on its infrastructure.

Moon wants to proceed with the projects, but Washington insists that South Korea stick to the sanctions.

Back to Secretary Pompeo, he told reporters today in Washington, “Nothing has changed.  We’ll continue to work to negotiate; still in charge of the team.  President Trump’s obviously in charge of the overall effort, but it’ll be my team.”  Pursuing denuclearization remains the goal, while the United States continues to enforce all sanctions on Pyongyang, Pompeo added.

China: Terry Gou, founder and chairman of Foxconn, will make a run for Taiwan’s presidency in 2020, challenging the incumbent Tsai Ing-wen.

Gou, Taiwan’s richest man with a net worth of $7.6 billion, said on Wednesday that he would take part in the opposition Kuomintang’s (KMT) party primaries for the race.

“I am willing to [join others] in taking part in the party’s primary, and do not want to be selected to run under any special arrangement,” Guo said after a meeting with the KMT on Wednesday.

“If I win [the primary], I will represent the party to run for president, and if I lose, I will give my full support to the winner during his campaign.”

Guo said that regardless of whether he remained an entrepreneur, he strongly believed Taiwan needed to maintain “peace, stability, the economy and the future.”  [South China Morning Post]

Deng Yuwen / South China Morning Post

“(It’s) clear Beijing has no intention of forcing unification at this stage.  Perhaps it has been holding back from any tough talk because it does not want the Tsai administration or the DPP [Ed. the current ruling party] to seize on it to boost their election chances.

“Did the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] crossover [entering of Taiwan’s airspace on March 31] indicate a change of mind?  It is unlikely, as of now.  Beijing may in fact encourage more such crossovers, in an effort to normalize them to force a new status quo on Taiwan, but it would carefully control the pace of change so things do not get out of control.

“Most likely, China will choose to put pressure on Taiwan using a combination of methods to promote unification step by step.  It may launch more preferential policies and try to initiate discussion on a ‘one country, two systems’ framework with Taiwan’s ruling and opposition parties.  But it is unlikely to resort to threatening the use of force for now, not out of any goodwill, but simply due to several practical constraints.

“One is that Xi’s military reform is not yet complete, and the People’s Liberation Army’s combat power needs to be further strengthened to ensure it has any hope of withstanding a U.S. military intervention.

“Second, the Chinese economy is struggling in the midst of a trade war with the U.S.  Strengthening the economy is a key priority of the Chinese government.

“Third, Xi’s work to consolidate his power base is not yet complete.  Before these goals are reached, Xi’s government would not rashly try to unify Taiwan, unless there is a sudden change in the external environment.

“There are different views on when China would try to unify Taiwan.  One popular theory is it would try to do so by 2021, the year the Chinese Communist Party marks the 100th anniversary of its founding by becoming a well-off society....

“As things stand...unification with Taiwan (soon) is extremely unlikely, given the lack of effort by Beijing to mobilize public opinion and ratchet up pressure on Taiwan.  But the government also won’t delay the settlement of the Taiwan issue indefinitely.  Once Xi believes the conditions mentioned above have been met, he will move to unify Taiwan, by force if necessary....

‘(If Xi) wants to leave a legacy that surpasses Mao Zedong’s, as many believe he does, unification is a must.  No other accomplishment will be enough to secure him that legacy.”

David Ignatius / Washington Post

“In the rebalancing of Sino-American relations that’s underway, the usual roles are reversed: China’s normally deft President Xi Jinping appears to have badly overreached in seeking advantage.  And President Trump, who often seems tone-deaf on foreign policy, is riding a bipartisan consensus that it’s time to push back against Beijing.

“The two nations will probably make a trade deal soon, patching together a working relationship that has been frayed by about a year of tariffs and economic brinkmanship. Experts predict an agreement that will boost U.S. exports to China, improve market access for American firms and reduce the power of Chinese state-owned enterprises – and offer some modest new legal protections for U.S. companies whose commercial secrets have been plundered by Beijing for a half-century.  But as Xi jockeyed for position against the United States, many U.S. experts argue that he misplayed his hand.  After decades of what was known as China’s ‘hide and bide’ strategy of cautious cooperation, the Chinese leader moved to directly challenge U.S. primacy in technology. This eventually triggered a sharp, bipartisan U.S. response, which Trump has harvested.

“ ‘In an incredibly divided Washington, one of the only areas of agreement is that China policy needs to be less accommodating and more resolute toward Beijing,’ says Kurt Campbell, who oversaw East Asia and Pacific policy during the Obama administration.  He credits Trump for recognizing Xi’s weakness: ‘China is not yet ready to take on the U.S., and Trump recognizes this.’....

“There’s blowback in the trade negotiations, too.  Lorand Laskai of the Council on Foreign Relations noted last year that the Trump administration mentioned ‘Made in China 2025’ more than 100 times in its Section 301 trade complaint against Beijing.  A newly wary China has stopped referring to the Thousand Talents Plan or mentioning award recipients, according to reports by Bloomberg News and Nature, respectively.

“The Trump administration still doesn’t have a consistent, comprehensive strategy for dealing with China.  Among other things, it lacks a coherent regional economic framework, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that Trump scuttled.  But now is the right time to confront China’s bad behavior, before Beijing gets any stronger, and while Trump has the political wind at his back.”

Ukraine: According to the Kremlin’s closest ally in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk, a prominent figure in Ukraine’s Russia-leaning opposition, Ukraine’s new president could regain control over the separatist-controlled east of his country within months and get cheap gas and major investment from Russia if he does a deal with Moscow.

In an interview before the presidential runoff on Sunday, which polls show novice Volodymr Zelenskiy should easily win, over President Petro Poroshenko, Medvedchuk said the Kremlin was keen to know more about Zelensky, a 41-year-old Russian-speaking TV comedian who has zero political experience, to understand if he is someone it could do a deal with.

A Ukrainian citizen, Medvedchuk does not represent Russia, but his words carry weight due to his close friendship with Vladimir Putin, Medvedchuk often used as a go-between between the two nations.  Medvedchuk said the Russian leader is godfather to his daughter, and that he held talks in Moscow with Putin as recently as two weeks ago.

The Kremlin has not said if Medvedchuk is acting on its behalf, but this is all part of a grand plot; Russia, perhaps, cutting some kind of  energy deal to win some relief from sanctions imposed by the European Union over its 2014 annexation of Crimea and its backing for the pro-Russian Donbass uprising.

Putin might be willing to release 24 captured Ukrainian sailors as a goodwill gesture, Medvedchuk said, which you can wager is something Putin will indeed do, but this is insulting.  They never should have been taken prisoner in the first place!

As for Zelensky, no one has a clue how he will rule and if he is already in the Kremlin’s pocket, despite outward appearances to the contrary.    

Venezuela: Another week...and another week with President Nicolas Maduro in power.  The Trump administration’s tough talk has meant nothing but more misery for the people and a still-growing refugee crisis for Venezuela’s neighbors.

Elliott Abrams, the administration’s special envoy for Venezuela, said in a meeting with reporters the other day, that “It’s open for debate,” on the issue of why the military hasn’t abandoned Maduro.  “I’ll give you part of the answer, and it’s the Cubans.”

The administration believes there are at least 20,000 Cuban military and intelligence agents embedded in the Venezuelan armed forces.  “They are the enforcers.  They are the people who are watching generals and colonels like hawks,” Abrams said.  “They are the people who are substantially in charge of incarceration and punishment” of Venezuelans seen as disloyal.”

The presence of tens of thousands of Cubans in Venezuela is not in dispute, though Cuba says most are doctors and teachers, while some U.S. analysts say the number of security officials is far lower than the administration claims.

Random Musings

--Presidential tracking polls...

Gallup: 45% approval of Trump’s job performance, 51% disapproval; 89% Republicans, 39% Independents (April 12).
Rasmussen: 49% approval, 51% disapproval (April 19).

A new Reuters/Ipsos national poll conducted after the release of the Mueller report, had President Trump’s approval rating falling to 37%, down from 40% in a similar poll conducted on April 15 and matching the lowest level of the year.  That is also down from 43% in a poll conducted shortly after Attorney General Barr circulated a summary of the report in March.

In this new survey, 40% said they thought Trump should be impeached, while 42% said he should not.

--Joe Biden is entering the race for the Democratic nomination for president this coming week, much to President Trump’s delight.

--George Will / Washington Post...on the 2020 vote:

“The Financial Times notes that, in 2018, exit polls showed that a plurality of voters – 41 percent – ranked health care as their foremost concern.  That was the year when it became obligatory for all candidates to promise that health insurance shall not be denied because of a person’s preexisting health problems.  But Trump (‘Nobody knew health care could be so complicated’) evidently is going to seek reelection saying: ‘Trust me, there will be ‘a really great’ Republican health-care plan – after the election, and after my administration has convinced a court to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act (including guaranteed coverage for those with preexisting conditions), which now enjoys the support of a narrow majority.

“Voters might wonder why the coming health plan’s greatness will not be unveiled as an election asset.  And voters might remember that in 1968 President Richard M. Nixon said: Trust me, I have a plan to end the Vietnam War.  When, seven years later, in April 1975, the last helicopter lifted off the roof of the besieged U.S. Embassy in Saigon, more than 21,000 Americans had died in combat since Nixon’s inauguration – approximately 37 percent of those killed in the war since the early 1960s.

“The eventual Democratic nominee is probably among the many who are already running.  So the party, with the mosaic of factions to placate (affluent progressives, faculty club socialists, suburban women, African Americans, Hispanics, climate worriers, identity-politics warriors, etc.) and its aversion to winner-take-all primaries, should remember 1972 or 1984.  Its nominees, George McGovern and Walter Mondale, won 25 percent and 38 percent, respectively, of the nominating electorate’s votes.  In the two general elections, they combined to lose 98 states.”

--Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld announced he was seeking the Republican nomination against President Trump in 2020.

Weld said on Monday that “it is time to return to the principles of Lincoln – equality, dignity and opportunity for all.’  He said, in his words, ‘There is no greater cause on earth than to preserve what truly makes America great.  I am ready to lead that fight.’

Weld, the Libertarian vice presidential nominee in 2016, served two terms as a largely-successful Massachusetts governor in the 1990s.

Weld’s move makes Trump the first incumbent president since George H.W. Bush in 1992 to face a notable primary challenge.

It seems clear Weld’s strategy, however quixotic, is to make some real noise in the New Hampshire primary, those Republican voters being quite familiar with him.

So, just musing, if the president is acting irrationally around that time, and, let’s say, North Korea is a problem and Trump is going nuts with tweets, and Weld takes 30% of the primary vote, maybe he forces Trump to react, irrationally, further, and people begin to wonder.

--From the Star-Ledger: “The mother of a New Jersey man who died of a rare ‘brain-eating amoeba’ after visiting a Texas surf resort has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the water park.

“Health officials say testing found evidence of the rare but deadly amoeba at one of the four attractions at the BSR Cable Park and Surf Resort in Waco.  Fabrizio S. was 29 when he died on Sept. 21 from an infection, which can happen when contaminated water enters the body through the nose....

“The New Jersey Department of Health said the man had visited the park on Sept. 8. Symptoms generally start about five days after infection, with death occurring about five days later, according to the CDC.”

Only four of the 143 people known to have been infected in the U.S. between 1962 and 2017 have survived.

“The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District said that even though the amoeba wasn’t detected at the establishment’s Surf Resort, Lazy River or Royal Flush, the water at those attractions was very cloudy, had organisms that indicated the presence of feces, had low chlorine levels and conditions favorable to Naegleria fowleri growth.”

I bring up this story because this winter, a lot of commercials aired in my area for some water parks connected to ski areas in the nearby Pocono Mountains and they looked like the worst possible places to have a good time, let alone you just know the conditions are unhealthy.  I would never take my family to one of these places. 

--Talk about worrisome...you have this from Tzvi Joffre of The Jerusalem Post:

“Scientists reported that worryingly high amounts of microplastic particles are raining down on a remote area in France’s Pyrenees Mountains, according to National Geographic.

“The study is the first of its kind ever conducted.  Only two other studies have looked at microplastics in the air, since most scientific and media attention has been on microplastics in oceans and waterways.

“Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic waste which can be smaller than 25 microns in size.  In comparison, a human hair is about 60 to 70 microns in diameter.

“ ‘If you go outside with a UV light, set at a wavelength of 400 nanometers, and shine it sideways you’ll see all kinds of plastic particles in the air fluoresce,’ said Deonie Allen, a researcher at EcoLab in the School of Agricultural and Life Sciences in Toulouse, France.  ‘It’s almost worse indoors.  It’s all a bit terrifying.’

“Allen’s team collected microplastics for five months at a meteorological station about 4,500 feet above sea level.

“After studying wind patterns to find the source of the microplastics, the team did not succeed in finding an obvious source for the plastics within 60 miles of the sparsely populated region.  Steve Allen, co-author of the study, said that it is still unknown how far microplastics can travel.

“About 420 million tons of plastics were made in 2015.  Plastic waste degrades over time to microplastic particles or even smaller nanoparticles.

“The health effects of microplastic exposure are unknown, Stephanie Wright, a researcher at the Centre for Environment and Health at King’s College London in the United Kingdom, told National Geographic.

“ ‘We’ve only recently recognized human exposure to microplastics through the air,’ Wright said.

“All that is known is that microplastics smaller than 25 microns can enter the human body through the nose and mouth and those smaller than five microns can end up in lung tissue.  ‘Other types of small particles do have health impacts,’ Wright pointed out.

“Microplastics can accumulate heavy metals like mercury and persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including brominated flame retardants and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  These materials have known health impacts, Wright said.

“ ‘We don’t have this sort of material in nature,’ Deonie Allen said, according to NPR.”

And then there are nanoplastics, which are as widespread as microplastics, but the technology to detect them doesn’t exist yet.

--Thomas L. Friedman / New York Times

“Although my day job is writing the foreign affairs column for The New York Times – more Persian Gulf than fairway golf – thinking about golf and playing as often as I can is my all-consuming hobby.  So like millions of others, I was awed by Tiger Woods’ comeback for the ages by his winning the Masters at 43 years old.  What can be learned from it?....

“The biggest takeaway for me is the reminder of the truism that golf is the sport most like life, because it is played on an uneven surface.  Good and bad bounces are built into the game, and so much of success in golf is about how you react to those good and bad bounces.  Do you quit?  Do you throw your club?  Do you cheat?  Do you whine?  Do you blame your caddie?

“Or do you say what the great golfers say when a bounce turns against them or their ball ends in a divot in the middle of the fairway and only a great shot will get them back into the hole?  They all say to their caddie the same two words: ‘Watch this.’  And then they pull off a remarkable shot that winds through the trees, over the hill and past the sand trap, avoids the pond on the left and lands right in the middle of the putting green – which is exactly the shot Tiger hit on the 11th hole out of the trees at Augusta National on Sunday.

“To do that under pressure is stunning, but it is not just luck or even pure physical attributes.  It is about practice – hours and hours and hours.  Gary Player liked to say, ‘The more I practice the luckier I get.’  And that is where, for me, the meaning of Tiger’s comeback begins: his willingness to commit to endless hours of physical rehabilitation and then endless hours of practice.  How many of us have that iron will?  But the physical part is the least of it....

“For the better part of a decade, he could not win a major until his back was healed and he got the monkey of his own misdeeds off his back – by becoming a good father and a better person to his fans and his fellow golfers.  You could see him looking everyone in the eye in the last couple of years, and it finally unlocked his fan base.  It gave them permission to root for him again, full-throated, despite all the ways he’d disappointed them.  And that clearly unlocked his mind, and I am sure his body too, so he could swing freely again.

“And that leads to another way that golf is so much like life. Each and every round is a journey, and, like all of life’s journeys, it’s never a straight line.  It’s always full of crazy bounces, self-inflicted mistakes and unexpected detours, and therefore always a journey of discovery about yourself and your playing partners. And, if you love the game, it’s an everlasting journey in search of self-improvement – always trying to get your geography, geometry, physics and psychology in perfect alignment.

“And when you see it done at the highest level, on the toughest terrain, under the most intense spotlight by someone who had it, lost it and then got it back, you can only say: ‘What a privilege!  I saw Tiger make his comeback and win the Masters at age 43. What a crazy, wonderful, amazing journey!”

--The Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral....

What a depressing scene this was Monday afternoon as all of us watched, helpless.  It also seemed like it took forever before we saw the first fire response, but it seems the initial location of the blaze was misidentified and precious minutes were lost.

But hundreds of French firefighters then fought heroically to save the two towers, and many of the treasures and historic artifacts were saved, including a centuries-old crown of thorns made from reeds and gold and said to be worn by Jesus before his crucifixion, and the tunic believed to have been worn by Saint Louis, a 13th century king of France. At one point hundreds of firefighters, policemen and municipal workers formed a human chain to remove the treasures.

In the end the “worst had been avoided” with the preservation of the cathedrals’ main structure, as President Macron said.

There was no initial indication from officials that this was anything more than an accident, and on Thursday Paris police announced they believe it was an electrical short circuit that most likely caused the fire.

Among the finest examples of European Gothic architecture, Note-Dame is visited by more than 13 million people a year, and is the most-visited monument in Paris.

It was at Notre-Dame that King Henry VI of England was crowned “King of France” in 1431, that Napoleon was made emperor in 1804, and Pope Pius X beatified Joan of Arc in 1909.  Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterand were mourned there.

And the cathedral is known for the legend of the hunchback of Notre Dame, the fictional bell-ringer immortalized by Victor Hugo in his 1831 novel, which later was adapted into multiple films.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that France intends to rebuild the cathedral entirely within five years, saying the French people would pull together to repair their national symbol.  [Experts believe it will easily be 10+ years.]

“We will rebuild Notre-Dame even more beautifully and I want it to be completed in five years, we can do it,” Macron said.  “It is up to us to convert this disaster into an opportunity to come together, having deeply reflected on what we have been and what we have to be and become better than we are.  It is up to us to find the thread of our national project.”

“This is not a time for politics,” Macron added.

Some 24 hours after the fire started, more than 750 million euros ($845 million) had been pledged, with France’s billionaires stepping up...three billionaire families that own France’s giant luxury goods empires: Kering, LVMH and L’Oreal, kicking in 500 million euros alone.

France announced it will hold an international competition to design a replacement for the towering spire, the first step in the long path to rebuild the cathedral.  French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the competition will address the question of whether the spire should be rebuilt at all or identically to the one destroyed on Monday, which was an add-on back in the 19th century.

France has a history of updating its historic buildings with modern flourishes, such as American I.M. Pei’s design of the glass pyramids in the courtyard of the Louvre that opened in 1989.

Kathleen Parker / Washington Post

“At least he recognized the urgency.

“As the world gasped in horror on Monday at the sight of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral burning in a cataclysmic moment, the president of the United States imparted these words of wisdom: ‘Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out.  Must act quickly!”

“Well, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Could we possibly be more banal?

“Ever too soon to the tweet, President Trump didn’t think before typing – or worse, he did.  Mightn’t a clever president – or one of his staffers – suffer through a brief Goggle search before launching?  Or, better, skip the Quick-Fix-It blurb and say something normal?  How about: ‘America’s heart breaks for Notre Dame.’  Instead, the French civil defense agency tweeted back that ‘water-bombing’ the 850-year-old cathedral could ‘lead to the collapse of the entire structure.’....

“Meanwhile, the rest of the world watched in silence, muted by the horror of the unthinkable – the disintegration of one of the world’s greatest monuments.  The fire consumed much of the roof’s wooden latticework, which was called ‘the forest’ because it took some 52 acres’ worth of oak trees to build it.  Begun in 1163 during the reign of King Louis VII, the cathedral took nearly 200 years to construct.  It only took 12 hours of blistering flames to reduce its core to ashes.

“The weight of the symbolism – layers upon layers – is almost too much to bear.  Millions of words, by now, have been spilled as writers and mourners seek the right ones to express the enormity of this loss, not just to Paris, the French and Catholics, but also to humankind.  The destruction of so much history and beauty is overwhelmingly sad....

“It wasn’t just Notre Dame – ‘Our Lady’ – that was being destroyed. To my mind, I was witnessing the immolation of Western civilization. The words that kept repeating themselves as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing were simpler: This is so wrong.

“Notre Dame isn’t supposed to burn.  It is immortal in the hearts and minds of men and women who have lived and died for generations in its shadow.  Airplanes aren’t supposed to crash into buildings, either.  One couldn’t help connecting the burning of Notre Dame to the destruction of the World Trade Center.  Even though very different – one a monument to money and the other to God – both instances felt wrong in the way of civilization unraveling....

“Fire, alternately nature’s most ruthless element and also a most efficient purgatory, released its fury upon one of humanity’s greatest monuments to the holy trinity – God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and Earth; Jesus Christ, His only son; and the Holy Ghost, forever and ever.  The layers upon layers of symbolism in the devastation of art, beauty, faith, history and our ultimate vulnerability are almost too much to bear.

“Which reminds us that when the twin towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, the man who would become president of the United States 15 years later boasted that one of his buildings had become the tallest in Lower Manhattan.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Even as parts of the venerable church collapsed, a miracle emerged: It appears no lives were lost though the cathedral had been a hive of activity for Holy Week worshippers, workmen and tourists.  Yet the loss to Western civilization is incalculable.  Countless artifacts, including some of Europe’s rarest stained glass from the famed rose windows, have been lost.  So has a tactile connection to the faith and artistry of the countless anonymous workmen who built and improved it over the centuries.

“The loss will be felt most keenly by the French.  The importance of Notre Dame as a religious, cultural and political monument in France’s life is hard to appreciate if you aren’t French.  An analogy for Americans would be to imagine the Metropolitan Museum of Art, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Capitol in Washington burned at the same time.  President Emmanuel Macron described the sadness at seeing ‘a part of us’ burn.

“It’s a part of all of us.  One need only witness the throngs of visitors around Notre Dame each day from Africa, South America and Asia alongside North Americans and Europeans to see how its cultural significance spread far beyond the Western civilization that created it.  It has stood for nearly 900 years as a globally recognizable monument to the faith practiced within it.

“The French have endured as a nation for longer than Notre Dame occupied its site in the middle of Paris, and they have survived far deadlier tragedies.  The damage to their greatest national monument is a disaster, but expect French pride and elan to restore what they can of their historic but living legacy.”

Editorial / Washington Post

“The cathedral’s magnetic effect was a concentrated version of Paris’ own.  A quarter of a century ago, Russians, allowed for the first time to travel abroad following the Soviet Union’s collapse, flocked to apply for passports and visas, usually with just one destination in mind.  When they reached the French capital, many made a beeline to Notre Dame, there to have their breath taken away.  Walking in its exterior and interior shadows, some said, was like inhabiting a dream come true.

“We can hope for a miracle of reconstruction, but for now that living dream, shared by so many for so long, lives mainly in memory.  Notre Dame, suffused with history, gave the impression of man-made permanence.  Kings and queens were crowned and married there....It was neither as old as the pyramids, nor as mysterious as Stonehenge, but every bit as enduring and indelible.  Or so we thought.

“The world weeps for Notre Dame, and for Paris....

“Many were in silent tears; many others embraced strangers.  But in general, thousands gathered because they realized they could do nothing else but catch a final glimpse of the place they had known and loved, a place that Macron immediately promised to rebuild but that can never quite be the same again.”

Rich Lowry / New York Post

“ ‘I believe that this church offers the carefully discerning such cause for admiration,’ the 14th-century French philosopher Jean de Jandun wrote of Notre Dame, ‘that its inspection can scarcely sate the soul.’

“A cultural calamity played out on live TV when the cathedral that has been a focal point of Christendom for so long was gutted by a raging fire, destroying a significant part of an inheritance built up over hundreds of years in a few hours.

“Notre Dame stands for so many qualities that we now lack – patience and staying power, the cultivation of beauty, a deep religious faith, a cultural confidence and ambition that could create a timeless monument of our civilization – that the collapse of its spire was almost too much to bear.

“The great novelist Victor Hugo, who did so much to revive interest in the cathedral when it was in disrepair in the 19th century, wrote of how ‘every surface, every stone of this venerable pile, is a page of the history, not only of the country, but of science and art.’

“It was the work of generations, completed over the course of 300 years, in a triumph over considerable architectural and logistical challenges.

“It arose at the original site of a pagan temple.  Thousands of tons of stone had to be transported from outside Paris for it, one ox cart or barge at a time. To achieve its soaring height and hold up its ceiling and walls, it relied on the innovative use of the rib vault and flying buttress.

“France built 80 cathedrals and 500 large churches across this period, but there was only one Notre Dame of Paris, a Gothic jewel whose towers, prior to the advent of the Eiffel Tower, were the tallest structure in Paris.

“It is – or, one hates to think, was – adorned by what are significant cultural artifacts in their own right.

“The statuary meant to illustrate the story of the Bible and to awe worshippers who couldn’t read.

“The stained-glass windows that took considerable ingenuity to embed in stone walls and are themselves artistic marvels.

“The organ with more than 8,000 pipes.  The bells, with their own names, including the largest, the masterpiece Emmanuel, dating back to the 15th century and recast in 1681.

“Not to mention the relics that mean so much to the Catholic faithful.

“It has been the site of countless processions and services to petition and thank God on behalf of the French nation.

“It was where illustrious marriages occurred, where Napoleon crowned himself emperor, where Charles de Gaulle attended a Mass to celebrate the liberation of Paris in 1944, rifle fire echoing outside.

“It survived the rampages of iconoclastic Huguenots in the 16th century, the depredations of radicals during the French Revolution in the 18th century...and incidental damage during two world wars in the 20th century.

“All the while, it accumulated layers of history and meaning.

“Its great advocate Hugo wrote of how ‘the greatest productions of architecture are not so much the work of individuals as of a community; are rather the offspring of a nation’s labor than the out-come of individual genius; the deposit of a whole people; the heaped-up treasure of centuries; the residuum left by the successive evaporations of human society; in a word, a species of formations.’

“He added: ‘Each wave of time leaves its coating of alluvium, each race deposits its layers on the monuments, each individual contributes his stone to it.’

“Notre Dame has been thoughtfully restored and preserved over the years, to our credit.  But it’s difficult not to discern a distressing message in the wanton destruction that ravaged the iconic cathedral – what prior generations so carefully and faithfully built, we are losing.”

Finally, in one of my many trips to Paris, back on May 2, 2011, I wrote in my Bar Chat column:

“As I learned again on Sunday in Paris, life is funny.  In the morning I walked to Notre Dame Cathedral, about 30 minutes from my hotel, and it was perfect spring weather.  I’m Catholic, though not a good one these days, but was determined to attend Mass and attempt to atone for my estimated 6,987 sins...and that’s just from 2007-2011.

“While I was aware this Sunday was the Beatification of Pope John Paul II, I naively didn’t realize it would be celebrated in such high fashion here. I will not comment on JP II and the process, just understand that when you walked into Notre Dame there was a great banner and picture of him over the altar.

“I’ve been to Notre Dame a number of times but can’t remember attending Mass before and let’s just say the organ music is spectacularly beautiful...also haunting.  In other words, way cool.  I kept glancing up to see if I could spot the Hunchback, but he was well hidden it seems.”

God help the people of France rebuild this masterpiece of faith.

---

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

God bless America.

---

Gold $1277
Oil $64.00

Returns for the week 4/15-4/19

Dow Jones  +0.6%  [26559]
S&P 500  -0.00%  [2905]
S&P MidCap N/A
Russell 2000 N/A
Nasdaq  +0.2%  [7998]

Returns for the period 1/1/19-4/19/19

Dow Jones  +13.9%
S&P 500  +15.9%
S&P MidCap  +17.5%
Russell 2000  +16.1%
Nasdaq  +20.5%

Bulls 54.8
Bears
19.2

Have a great week.  Happy Easter and Passover!

Brian Trumbore



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Week in Review

04/20/2019

For the week 4/15-4/19

[Posted 11:30 PM ET, Friday]

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

Edition 1,045

Well that was a week of contrasts. 

Saturday we were still tied up with the immigration crisis and President Trump’s threats to dump thousands of illegals in sanctuary cities and states. 

Sunday it was all about Tiger Woods and The Masters. Very uplifting.

Monday we all watched in horror as the Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames, some of us shedding a tear or two.

But from Tuesday on, it was about the impending release of the Mueller report on Thursday morning.

I cover Tiger and Notre Dame down below, but for the last few weeks, since Attorney General William Barr released his four-page summary of the Mueller report, Barr and the president have had the opportunity to shape the narrative, long before the actual report was released.

And Barr held a press conference an hour-and-a-half before the report was dropped, another opportunity to shape things, but the bottom line was there was no collusion, no obstruction.

As Barr put it Thursday morning, among special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings was that nobody in the United States knowingly helped Russia interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign and that “is something that all Americans can and should be grateful to have confirmed.”

So no collusion.   And Barr said that Mueller didn’t conclude there was obstruction of justice based on the evidence.

And so the report was released at 11:00 a.m., and there was a lot of stuff there.  448 pages of stuff.  Part (Section) I on collusion, or lack thereof; Part II on the case for obstruction, for which Mueller laid out the evidence, should Congress want to pursue it, but he was under the longstanding Department of Justice guidelines that prohibit indicting a sitting president.

So it was a huge win for President Trump, and an equally big one for Vladimir Putin.

Even Attorney General Barr was adamant that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, but as I note down below, with no collusion / no obstruction, the Kremlin feels like it was cleared too, even though its fingerprints are all over it. 

And Russia has a man in the Oval Office who refuses to acknowledge the extent of Russian meddling; who when asked immediately says well, maybe, but it was also China, Iran, North Korea, the Bahamas, Fiji.....

I’m sorry, sports fans.  I will never forget President Trump’s performance in Helsinki. No American should.

But for now this story will continue to unfold.  After all, those redactions were there for a reason, and the Southern District of New York is still doing its thing, though here are a few other conclusions.

The Democrats would be very foolish to pursue impeachment. Listen to your elders, Representatives Omar, AOC and Talib.  It’s a total fools’ errand.  There is oversight, appropriate; and there is overreach, a loser in 2020.

But at some point Robert Mueller will testify, and I’m telling you, Mueller and/or some of his investigators will eventually find their way on “60 Minutes,” which could be interesting.

Otherwise, we also know another thing.  Voters don’t care.  The base isn’t moving, either side.  The battle, such as in 2018, is over suburban women.  It was a loser for Republicans in the mid-terms.

President Trump should drop it....and move on.  I detail below how this coming Friday could be a huge, positive, day for him in terms of the economy.  That’s his hole card.  Just shut up on the other stuff.

And as for the retribution part of this story, just as I did from day one, I waited for the Mueller report, and now I’m waiting for the IG report from Michael Horowitz.  The truth is coming out.  It always does in the end.

Trump World / The Report

You can’t sum this report up in two days, and it will take time to do so appropriately.

The inquiry laid bare what the special counsel and U.S. intelligence agencies have described as a Russian campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord in the United States, denigrate 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Trump, the Kremlin’s preferred candidate.  Russia has denied election interference.

But Attorney General Barr repeatedly underlined that the Mueller probe didn’t establish that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia, though Mr. Mueller’s report offers the most comprehensive accounting yet of Moscow’s expansive operations to interfere in the election.

“The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” the introduction of the report states.

But, “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.

“The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But on the issue of ‘obstruction’....

Mueller: “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

Barr said in the news conference prior to release of the report that Mueller had detailed “10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.”

Mueller: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.”

The first 200 pages of Mueller’s report are dedicated to narrating the Kremlin’s well-funded, yearslong effort to target the U.S. electorate with an array of digital weapons and make contacts with the Trump campaign.  It recounts how the troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency, for example, successfully organized dozens of political rallies in the U.S. that sometimes drew hundreds of attendees, and how it managed to use or recruit numerous U.S. citizens who apparently had no idea they were interacting with Russian operatives.

But the report, while detailing a series of contacts between Trump campaign officials, including Don Jr., and the Kremlin, didn’t establish that a conspiracy existed between the two sides to work together to interfere in the election.

Portions of the first section are heavily redacted, those dealing with the use of social media, which is part of an ongoing investigation.

But Mueller noted Congress has the power to address whether Trump violated the law, and Democrats quickly vowed to steam ahead with their investigations, though there was a split between leadership and many of the progressives on pursuing impeachment; the old hands, a la Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, recognizing this was a lost political cause, with a Senate that is hardly about to follow the House’s lead if it were to pass Articles of Impeachment, while the progressives argue they have a constitutional duty to take it on.

Hoyer told CNN: “Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point.  Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American public will make a judgment.”

The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), said Democrats had misconstrued a section of the report about obstruction of justice to suit their anti-Trump agenda.

“There seems to be some confusion...This isn’t a matter of legal interpretation; it’s reading comprehension.  The report doesn’t say Congress should investigate obstruction now.  It says Congress can make laws about obstruction under Article I powers,” Collins said.

But one paragraph in the report appears to be at the heart of whether Mueller intended Congress to pursue further action against Trump, who could not be charged by the special counsel under a long-standing Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president.

“The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” Mueller said in his report.

Democrats will point to Mueller’s report that noted “numerous links” between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign and said the president’s team “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,” referring to hacked Democratic emails.

But Mueller concluded there was not enough evidence to establish that Trump’s campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow.

After the release of the report, Trump told a crowd of well-wishers in Florida: “Game over folks, now it’s back to work.”

So Friday morning, he was back to work...on Twitter:

“Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue. Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes,’ when the notes never existed until needed.  Because I never....

“....agreed to testify, it was not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the ‘Report’ about me, some of which are total bullshit & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad).  This was an Illegally Started Hoax that never should have happened, a...

“...big, fat, waste of time, energy and money - $30,000,000 to be exact.  It is now finally time to turn the tables and bring justice to some very sick and dangerous people who have committed very serious crimes, perhaps even Spying or Treason. This should never happen again!”

Following Attorney General Will Barr’s announcement Thursday on the “bottom line” that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government hackers, President Trump tweeted a “Game of Thrones”-inspired photo of himself with text that read, “No Collusion.  No obstruction.  For the haters and the radical left Democrats – GAME OVER.”

Trump tweet: “ ‘Donald Trump was being framed, he fought back. That is not Obstruction.’ @JesseBWatters I had the right to end the whole Witch Hunt if I wanted.  I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted.  I chose not to. I had the RIGHT to use Executive Privilege. I didn’t!”

Jonathan Turley, George Washington Law School professor, however, said there’s more to the report than possible collusion.

“There’s a difference between being exonerated and being vindicated and to some degree, the president was vindicated by not being tied to any crime, it doesn’t mean he was exonerated from blame in terms of his conduct,” he said.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said the report “outlines disturbing evidence” that President Trump engaged in misconduct and notes that it’s up to Congress to hold the president accountable.

Republican Rep. Peter King told WCBS-AM in New York that the results of the investigation, labeled a “total victory” by the president’s legal team, “totally exonerates” Trump.

“The Russians attempted a number of times to interfere with the campaign and nobody with the president, in any way cooperated with them – there’s no cooperation, no collusion,” said King.

The Kremlin said on Friday that Special Counsel Mueller’s report did not contain any evidence the Russian state had meddled in the 2016 presidential election.  Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow regretted the Mueller report was having an impact on its relations with Washington.

“In general, the report still does not include any reasonable evidence at all that Russia allegedly interfered in the U.S. election.  We, as before, do not accept such allegations,” Peskov said.  “We regret that a document of this quality is having a direct impact on the development of bilateral Russian-U.S. relations that are already not in the best condition.”

You can stop laughing.

Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman / New York Times

“As President Trump met with advisers in the Oval Office in May 2017 to discuss replacements for the FBI director he had just fired, Attorney General Jeff Sessions slipped out of the room to take a call.

“When he came back, he gave Mr. Trump bad news: Robert S. Mueller III had just been appointed as a special counsel to take over the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and any actions by the president to impede it.

“Mr. Trump slumped in his chair. ‘Oh, my God,’ he said.  ‘This is terrible.  This is the end of my presidency.  I’m fucked.’

“It has not been the end of his presidency, but it has come to consume it.  Although the resulting two-year investigation ended without charges against Mr. Trump, Mr. Mueller’s report painted a damning portrait of a White House dominated by a president desperate to thwart the inquiry only to be restrained by aides equally desperate to thwart his orders.

“The White House that emerges from more than 400 pages of Mr. Mueller’s report is a hotbed of conflict infused by a culture of dishonesty – defined by a president who lies to the public and his own staff, then tries to get his aides to lie for him.  Mr. Trump repeatedly threatened to fire lieutenants who did not carry out his wishes while they repeatedly threatened to resign rather than cross lines of proprietary or law.

“At one juncture after another, Mr. Trump made his troubles worse, giving in to anger and grievance and lashing out in ways that turned advisers into witnesses against him.  He was saved from an accusation of obstruction of justice, the report makes clear, in part because aides saw danger and stopped him from following his own instincts.  Based on contemporaneous notes, emails, texts and FBI interviews, the report draws out scene after scene of a White House on the edge.

“At one point, Reince Priebus, then the White House chief of staff, said the president’s attacks on his own attorney general meant that he had ‘D.O.J. by the throat.’  At another, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, complained to Mr. Priebus that the president was trying to get him to ‘do crazy shit.’  Mr. Trump was equally unhappy with Mr.McGahn, calling him a ‘lying bastard.’”

And on and on....

The other side....

Kimberley A. Strassel / Wall Street Journal

“By the fall of 2017, it was clear that special counsel Robert Mueller, as a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was too conflicted to take a detached look at a Russia-collusion story that had become more about FBI malfeasance than about Donald Trump. The evidence of that bias now stares at us through 448 pages of his report.

“President Trump has every right to feel liberated. What the report shows is that he endured a special-counsel probe that was relentlessly, at times farcically, obsessed with taking him out. What stands out is just how diligently and creatively the special counsel’s legal minds worked to implicate someone in Trump World on something Russia – or obstruction-of-justice-related.  And how – even with all its overweening power and aggressive tactics – it still struck out.

“Volume I of the Mueller report, which deals with collusion, spends tens of thousands of words describing trivial interactions between Trump officials and various Russians.  While it doubtless wasn’t Mr. Mueller’s intention, the sheer quantity and banality of details highlights the degree to which these contacts were random, haphazard and peripheral. By the end of Volume I, the notion that the Trump campaign engaged in some grand plot with Russia is a joke.

“Yet jump to the section where the Mueller team lists its ‘prosecution and declination’ decisions with regards the Russia question.  And try not to picture Mueller ‘pit bull’ prosecutor Andrew Weissman collapsed under mountains of federal statutes after his two-year hunt to find one that applied.

“Mr. Mueller’s team mulled bringing charges ‘for the crime of conspiracy – either under statutes that have their own conspiracy language,’ or ‘under the general conspiracy statute.’  It debated going after them for the ‘defraud clause,’ which ‘criminalizes participating in an agreement to obstruct a lawful function of the U.S. government.’  It considered the crime of acting as an ‘agent of a foreign government’ – helpfully noting that this crime does not require ‘willfulness.’...

“Mueller’s team even considered charging Trump associates who participated with campaign-finance violations for the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Was that meeting ‘a conspiracy to violate the foreign contributions ban’?  Was it ‘the solicitation of an illegal foreign source contribution’?  Was it the receipt of ‘an express or implied promise to make a [foreign source] contribution’?... The Mueller team even credited Democrats’ talking point that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had committed perjury during his confirmation hearings – and devoted a section in the report to it.

“As for obstruction – Volume II – Attorney General Bill Barr noted Thursday that he disagreed with ‘some of the special counsel’s legal theories.’  Maybe he had in mind Mr. Mueller’s proposition that he was entitled to pursue obstruction questions, even though that was not part of his initial mandate from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.  Or maybe it was Mr. Mueller’s long description of what a prosecution of the sitting president might look like – even though he acknowledged its legal impossibility.  Or it could be Mr. Mueller’s theory that while ‘fairness’ dictates that someone accused of crimes get a ‘speedy and public trial’ to ‘clear his name,’ Mr. Trump deserves no such courtesy with regard to the 200 pages of accusations Mr. Mueller lodges against him.

“That was Mr. Mueller’s James Comey moment.  Remember the July 2016 press conference in which the FBI director berated Hillary Clinton even as he didn’t bring charges?  It was a firing offense.  Here’s Mr. Mueller engaging in the same practice – only on a more inappropriate scale.  At least this time the attorney general tried to clean up the mess by declaring he would not bring obstruction charges.  Mr. Barr noted Thursday that we do not engage in grand-jury proceedings and probes with the purpose of generating innuendo.

“Mr. Mueller may not care.  His report suggests the actual goal of the obstruction volume is impeachment: ‘We concluded that Congress has the authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority.’

“Note as well what isn’t in the report.  It makes only passing, bland references to the genesis of so many of the accusations Mr. Mueller probed: the infamous dossier produced by opposition-research firm Fusion GPS and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign....

“The report instead mostly reads as a lengthy defense of the FBI – of its shaky claims about how its investigation began, of its far-fetched theories, of its procedures, even of its leadership.  One of the more telling sections concerns Mr. Comey’s firing.  Mr. Mueller’s team finds it generally beyond the realm of possibility that the FBI director was canned for incompetence or insubordination.  It treats everything the FBI or Mr. Comey did as legitimate, even as it treats everything the president did as suspect.

“Mr. Mueller is an institutionalist, and many on his team were the same Justice Department attorneys who first fanned the partisan collusion claims.  He was the wrong man to provide an honest assessment of the 2016 collusion dirty trick. And we’ve got a report to prove it.”

David Brooks / New York Times

“The Mueller report is like a legal version of a thriller movie in which three malevolent forces are attacking a city all at once.  Everybody’s wondering if the three attackers are working together. The report concludes that they weren’t, but that doesn’t make the situation any less scary or the threat any less real.

“The first force is Donald Trump, who represents a threat to the American system of governance.  Centuries ago our founders created a system of laws and not men.  In our system of government there are procedures in place, based on certain values – impartiality, respect for institutions, the idea that a public office is a public trust, not a private bauble.

“When Trump appears in the Mueller report, he is often running roughshod over these systems and violating these values.  He asks his lawyer to hamper an investigation.  He asks his FBI director to take the heat off his allies.  He tries to get the relevant investigators fired.  I don’t know if his actions meet the legal standard of obstruction of justice, but they certainly meet the common-sense standard of interference with justice.

“The second force is Russia.  If Trump is a threat to the institutional infrastructure, the Russians are a threat to our informational infrastructure. We knew this already, but it was still startling to see the fact declared so bluntly – that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election ‘in sweeping and systematic fashion.’

“It may not be bombing buildings or shooting at people, but if a foreign government is attacking the factual record on which democracy runs, it is still a sort of warfare. The Russians are trying to undermine the information we use to converse, and the trust that makes conversation possible.

“The third force is Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.  They are a threat to our deliberative infrastructure.  Any organization needs to be able to hold private conversations in order to deliberate. Whether it is State Department cables or Democratic National Committee emails, WikiLeaks has violated privacy and made it harder for institutions to function.  We’re now in a situation in which some of the worst people on earth get to determine what gets published.

“The Mueller report indicates that Trump was not colluding with Russia.  But it also shows that working relationships were beginning to be built, through networkers like Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Roger Stone.  More important, it shows that many of the Trumpists, the Russians and the WikiLeaks crowd all understood that they were somehow adjacent actors in the same project.

“I would say that’s the report’s central importance. We are being threatened in a very distinct way.  The infrastructure of the society is under threat – the procedures that shape government, the credibility of information, the privacy rules that make deliberation possible.  And though the Chinese government does not play a big role here, it represents a similar sort of threat – to our intellectual infrastructure, the intellectual property rights that organize innovation.

“It is as if somebody is inserting acids into a body that eats away at the ligaments and the tendons....

“The system more or less held this time. But that’s just because people around Trump often refused to do what he told them to do.  And we happened to have Robert Mueller, who seems to be a fair referee....

“Trump doesn’t seem to have any notion of loyalty to an office.  All power in his eye is personal power, and the government is there to serve his Sun God self.  He’ll continue to trample the proper systems of government.

“It’s easy to recognize when you are attacked head-on. But the U.S. is being attacked from below, at the level of the foundation we take for granted.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Robert Mueller is certainly thorough. The special counsel makes clear across the 448 pages of his report that he and his band of prosecutors left no entrail unexamined in their two-year dissection of President Trump.  Those who demanded this may not like the conclusions, but they can’t say Mr. Mueller didn’t hunt down every potential crime.

“The report exposes some Trumpian excesses and lies, but it also shows that, on the most important issue and the charge that started it all, Mr. Trump has been telling the truth.  He and his campaign did not conspire or coordinate with Russians to steal the 2016 election.  Try as he did to find a crime regarding Russia or obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller found nothing to prosecute.

“The details validate the four-page public summary of the report’s conclusions that Attorney General William Barr released last month.  The AG issued the full report with limited redactions related to grand-jury testimony and intelligence sources and methods.  Democrats will claim secrets are hidden in the redactions, but Mr. Barr says he’ll let senior members of Congress see most of those too.  Claims of a coverup are spin for the anti-Trump media.

“Mr. Mueller devotes some 200 pages to the Russia tale, and the news is how little is new beyond what we already know from leaks and court filings....

“There’s no evidence that any of this influenced the election result, but it should concern Americans about Vladimir Putin’s bad intentions for 2020. Anyone who still calls Julian Assange a hero after reading the report is guilty of willful ignorance.

“Yet the report is definitive in concluding that ‘the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.’....

“This non-collusion is the backdrop for the other half of Mr. Mueller’s report, which concerns whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice by interfering in the Russia probe as President. The special counsel devotes another 182 pages to rehearsing every detail of Mr. Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as FBI director, his well-publicized comments (thanks to Mr. Comey’s leaks) to Mr. Comey in private, and his raging about the Mueller probe.

“Mr. Mueller makes no ‘prosecutorial judgment’ about obstruction, though he conspicuously says that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’

“This is Mr. Mueller’s cheapest shot because the standard for a special prosecutor is not exoneration, whether or not Mr. Trump claims it. The standard is whether there is sufficient evidence to charge a crime.  Mr. Mueller concedes he lacks enough evidence to know what Mr. Trump’s motives were in firing Mr. Comey or asking him to go easy on Mr. Flynn, so he should have left it there....

“Mr. Mueller essentially reveals a President behaving in predictable Trumpian fashion at being investigated for a crime he didn’t believe he committed – and which even Mr. Mueller now concedes he didn’t commit.  There was no underlying crime, and the investigation continued with full White House cooperation.  Mr. Mueller knows about these Trumpian eruptions because the White House turned over mountains of documents and allowed him to interview anyone he wanted except the President.

“Nothing in the end was obstructed.  The FBI probe continued after Mr. Comey was fired, and Mr. Mueller wasn’t interfered with.  Mr. Mueller prosecuted those he could find enough evidence to try to turn for state’s evidence, but there was no coverup because there was no collusion with Russia to cover up.

“None of this will placate Mr. Trump’s adversaries who will take Mr. Mueller’s Hamlet act on obstruction and perhaps try to turn it into an impeachable offense.  Democrats have the constitutional power to try, and the media will be their handmaiden.  But if even Robert Mueller and his relentless prosecutors couldn’t prove their case, we doubt the American public will look well on the effort.”

David Ignatius / Washington Post

“The message: Even under intense stress, the American system hasn’t buckled.  A prosecutor appointed and overseen by Trump’s Justice Department is still capable of discovering the facts about this president.  The FBI and intelligence agencies weathered a Mueller-documented campaign of presidential intimidation. The fact that a coolheaded Mueller didn’t call for legal prosecution, when half the country was calling for Trump’s scalp, in some ways affirms the integrity of the system.

“Mueller, in effect, left the final judgments to Congress and the American public. His signature line on obstruction is ambiguous: ‘While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’  I’m inclined to agree with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the matter is now best left to the voters in November 2020.  Mueller has given the Democrats a rich menu.

“Mueller’s report is a win for the slow tortoise of the truth.  Trump has been tweeting for many months about the ‘hoax’ of the investigation, and Attorney General William P. Barr continued his pro-Trump spin campaign 90 minutes before the report’s release.  But now we have the facts....

“(The) facts will be there for future historians – and for the millions around the world who have worried (or celebrated) that our system is cracking.  We’re still here, Vladimir Putin.

“The loss of U.S. moral authority in the world since Trump took office has done incalculable damage to the country. If the United States were a business, you would say its most valuable asset – a reputation built over two centuries as a nation based on moral values – has been squandered by Trump for short-term gain.  If he were the chief executive of a public company, he would have been removed by shareholders long ago for breach of his fiduciary duty.

‘Watching Trump, the world has wondered whether the United States has lost its bearings.  A prominent Asia analyst said to me two weeks ago in Cairo: ‘America is lost.’  A European intelligence official said longtime allies were nearing the point of losing trust in the United States’ reliability.  Even Putin, the Russian president, has joined in the schadenfreude, saying the United States is wracked by political crisis.

“America’s friends are right to be worried by this president. But they should take some reassurance from Thursday’s Mueller report, with all its weird half-steps and unmade judgments.  It affirmed that the fundamentals of accountability are still intact despite Trump’s best efforts to rig the system.”

Tonight, Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said he was “sickened” by President Trump and other members of his team after reviewing the Mueller report.

“I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President,” Romney tweeted.

“I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia – including information that had been illegally obtained, that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement; and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interests in Ukraine,” he added, referring to Paul Manafort.

Romney called it “good news” that Mueller didn’t find evidence of collusion or a crime, which he said would have “taken us through a wrenching process with the potential for a constitutional crisis.”

And he chided President Trump for not living up to the country’s founding ideals.

“Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders,” he said.

Trumpets....

--Senior adviser Ivanka Trump said her father asked her if she was interested in taking the job of World Bank chief but she passed on it.

In an Associated Press interview, President Trump’s daughter said she was happy with her current role in the administration.

She spoke during a trip to Africa to promote a global women’s initiative.

The president recently told The Atlantic: “I even thought of Ivanka for the World Bank.  She would’ve been great at that because she’s very good with numbers.”

Ivanka worked on the selection process for the new head, David Malpass.

--I thought Herman Cain would have withdrawn his name from consideration for a seat on the Federal Reserve board by now, but he said this week he has no intention of doing so, despite apparently lacking enough Senate support to be confirmed if President Trump nominates him.

White House officials have taken a noncommittal tone about his prospects.

--Trump tweets:

“The forgotten voters of the 2016 Election are now doing great. The Steel Industry is rebuilding and expanding at a pace that it hasn’t seen in decades.  Our Country has one of the best Economies in many years, perhaps ever.  Unemployment numbers best in 51 years.  Wow!”

“If the Fed had done its job properly, which it has not, the Stock Market would have been up 5000 to 10,000 additional points, and GDP would have been well over 4% instead of 3%...with almost no inflation. Quantitative tightening was a killer, should have done the exact opposite!”

“I believe it will be Crazy Bernie Sanders vs. Sleepy Joe Biden as the two finalists to run against maybe the best Economy in the history of our Country (and MANY other great things)! I look forward to facing whoever it may be.  May God Rest Their Soul!”

“Bernie Sanders and wife should pay the Pre-Trump Taxes on their almost $600,000 in income. He is always complaining about these big TAX CUTS, except when it benefits him.  They made a fortune off of Trump, but so did everyone else – and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing!”

“Many Trump Fans & Signs were outside of the @FoxNews Studio last night in the now thriving (Thank you, President Trump) Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for the interview with Crazy Bernie Sanders.  Big complaints about not being let in-stuffed with Bernie supporters. What’s with @FoxNews?”

“What do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!), but if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name.  No product has suffered like this one.  But again, what the hell do I know?”

Trump once owned Trump Airlines (aka Trump Shuttle), which lasted just a few years, never making a penny.

“The New York Times Sanctuary Cities/Immigration story today was knowingly wrong on almost every fact.  They never call to check for truth. Their sources often don’t even exist, a fraud.  They will lie & cheat anyway possible to make me look bad.  In 6 years they will be gone....

“....When I won the Election in 2016, the @nytimes had to beg their fleeing subscribers for forgiveness in that they covered the Election (and me) so badly.  They didn’t have a clue, it was pathetic.  They even apologized to me.  But now they are even worse, really corrupt reporting!”

“Spoke to @TigerWoods to congratulate him on the great victory he had in yesterday’s @TheMasters, & to inform him that because of his incredible Success & Comeback in Sports (Golf) and, more importantly, LIFE, I will be presenting him with the PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM!”

“Heading to the Great State of Minnesota!”

Great looking women there...oops, sorry, that’s me. Not President Trump.

Wall Street and Trade            

Back on March 14, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer for first-quarter growth was a measly 0.4%, but after a series of stronger than expected economic reports since then, including on retail sales and trade this week, that 0.4% has moved all the way up to 2.8%, with the first formal look at Q1 coming next Friday.  This is going to be a big day for the markets, and for the Trump administration.

This week, while the March reading on industrial production was a disappointing -0.1%, below forecasts (industrial production being the output of factories, mines and utilities), the figure on March retail sales, 1.6%, was well above expectations, including ex-autos, 1.2%, and the trade data was good.

Today’s report on March housing starts wasn’t good, 1.139 million on an annualized basis, far short of the 1.23m consensus, the lowest since March 2017, but this was outweighed by the news on the retail and trade front.  [And jobless claims remain at a 50-year low.]

So we’ll see what happens next week, when we receive more housing data, but the biggie is Friday.

Some of the Federal Reserve’s governors spoke this week, with Fed Chicago leader Charles Evans saying that while he still expects the Fed to raise rates amid a hopeful economic outlook, the door is open to rate cuts as well.

Right now, Fed policy, with a short-term rate target set at between 2.25% and 2.50%, is at “about neutral” in terms of its effect on the economy, and “that’s a good place to be” because it gives the central bank options in an uncertain time, Evans said.

As for inflation, which remains below the central bank’s 2% target, if it is “running too low, (this would be) justification for deciding our setting for monetary policy is actually restrictive and we need to make an adjustment downwards in the funds rate.  If we were facing 1.5% core inflation” that could make the case to lower short-term rates, Mr. Evans said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, prior to a speech in New York.

Today, there are no inflation pressures, with the Fed’s preferred barometer, the personal-consumption-expenditures index up 1.8%, ex-food and energy.

Meanwhile, Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan said, “I’m getting more confident about solid growth this year,” while describing the current level of the funds rate as “appropriate” and “mildly accommodative.”

On the China trade front, it was a quiet week, with no real developments.  Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said that both sides were working on enforcement mechanisms as they attempt to finalize a deal in the coming weeks.

But as Bloomberg News put it, while the U.S. wants to make sure China faces consequences if it doesn’t live up to its promises, “Trump may also be giving China a new cudgel to use on American companies and striking another blow to the international rule of law.”

Mnuchin talks of “a two-way agreement in enforcement,” but the comments, and commitments, are raising eyebrows from legal scholars to the business community and Congress.

Bloomberg: “If the U.S. allows China reciprocal enforcement powers, it would make China ‘judge, jury and executioner as to whether we have honored our obligations,’ said Daniel Price, who served as a senior economic adviser to President George W. Bush and is now at Rock Creek Global Advisors in Washington.  “I don’t think the U.S. business community is sufficiently alert to the risk of constantly being exposed to unilateral enforcement action by China.’

“The Trump administration wants to have a mechanism that would allow it to quickly punish any foot-dragging by Chinese officials by imposing tariffs or other sanctions without having to go through the World Trade Organization or other adjudicators that they argue have been ineffective in the past.  But any reciprocal deal would give Chinese leaders another way to quickly apply their own pressure on American companies.”

This would be particularly worrisome if both sides agree to forego their right to challenge any enforcement action by the other at the WTO.

Separately, on a different trade issue....

Mike Bird / Wall Street Journal

“Much of the American interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal bridging economies in the Americas and Asia-Pacific regions, dried up after the U.S. backed out in 2017. Now the bloc is about to become a headache for it.

“The 11-member deal, renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, started at the end of 2018.

“It already seems to be having an impact.   At a sluggish moment for overall global trade, the General Department of Vietnam Customs announced Thursday that exports to Japan and Canada rose by 11.2% and 36.7% in the first two months of the year, respectively, compared with a year earlier.

“Left on the outside of the deal, U.S. agricultural exporters may soon feel the pinch. In January and February, Japanese beef imports rose 25% compared with the same months last year, driven by a 51% surge in frozen beef imports.  The particular beneficiaries are Canada and New Zealand, which saw 345% and 133% growth in total beef exports respectively.

“The sharp rise means that Japan’s frozen beef safeguard, a measure designed to automatically raise taxes on imported beef if volumes surpass certain levels, is on the edge of being triggered, raising the tariff on imports from the U.S. from 38.5% to 50% for a year.  Yet CPTPP members will be unaffected and their tariffs will remain at 26.6%, placing the burden on the U.S. practically alone and hitting American agricultural competitiveness hard.

“Beef is the most obvious  point of conflict between the pact’s liberalizations and U.S. export policy, but it is unlikely to be the last.  As fast-growing markets in Asia expand and the region’s advanced economies forge closer links, U.S. exporters increasingly will be left out of the party.”

As I said from day one, we were idiots for pulling out of the TPP.

Europe and Asia

There was a bit of economic data from the eurozone, with the release today of the flash composite readings for April for the EA19, courtesy of IHS Markit.

The composite PMI was 51.3 vs. 51.6 in March (50 being the dividing line between growth and contraction), a 3-month low, with the manufacturing reading at 47.8 vs. 47.5 last month, and the services PMI at 52.5, down from 53.3.

The flash readings also break out Germany and France.

Germany’s manufacturing PMI for April was 44.5 vs. 44.1, with services at 55.6 vs. 55.4.

France had a flash reading for April on manufacturing of 49.6 vs. last month’s 49.7, with service sector activity at 50.5, a 5-month high.

Chris Williamson, IHS Markit:

“The eurozone economy started the second quarter on a disappointing footing, with the flash PMI falling to one of the lowest levels seen since 2014.  The data add to worries that the economy has failed to rebound with any conviction from one-off factors that dampened activity late last year, and continues to show only very modest growth in the face of headwinds from slower global demand growth and subdued economic sentiment.

“The surveys indicate that quarterly eurozone GDP growth has slowed to just under 0.2%. A similar 0.2% rate of expansion is being signaled for Germany but France stagnated and the rest of the region has moved closer to stalling.

“Manufacturing remained the key area of concern, with output continuing to contract at one of the fastest rates seen over the past six years.  Forward-looking indicators showed some signs of improvement but remain deeply in negative territory to suggest the factory malaise has further to run.

“The slowdown also showed further signs of engulfing the service sector, where growth cooled again to one of the weakest rates seen since 2016.  Some encouragement can be gleaned from an improvement in employment growth, although even here the pace of hiring is among the lowest seen for two-and-a-half years.

“The persistence of the business survey weakness raises questions over the economy’s ability to grow by more than 1% in 2019.”

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi this week did say that many of the global factors weighing on eurozone growth appear to be waning, keeping alive expectations for a recovery in the second half of the year.  But he also warned that factors that undermine confidence, including the risk of a hard Brexit and a global trade war, continue to “loom large,” putting growth at risk.

Separately, a reading on March inflation for the euro area from Eurostat has it at 1.4%, down from 1.5% in February.

Germany 1.4%, France 1.3%, Italy 1.1%, Netherlands 2.9%.

Brexit: Guess what?  We all got a break this week, with the British parliament, and government, on Easter recess.  Prime Minister Theresa May had said she wanted MPs to use the time to reflect on the next direction for the Brexit discussion.  Reminder, the UK now has a deadline of Oct. 31, but just about a month if it wants to avoid going through the process of European Parliament elections, May 23-26.

Meanwhile, Mrs. May’s Conservative Party continues to lose in the polls.  A survey from Opinium, published in the Observer newspaper, showed the Conservatives at 29 percent, down 6 points from March 28 and 7 points behind Labour.  An analysis of polls since the original intended March 29 exit date, published in the Sunday Telegraph, showed the Conservatives would lose 59 seats if an election were held today.

One polling expert told Reuters that “Much of this drop reflects disappointment among Leave voters – around a half of whom would prefer ‘no deal’ – at the government’s failure to deliver Brexit.”

The Sunday Telegraph analysis showed that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party would win the most seats but still fall short of an outright majority in the 650-seat parliament.

Eurobits...

--Greek bond yields hit the lowest level in nearly 14 years, highlighting a comeback for the country that not too long ago threatened to take down the eurozone.

The benchmark 10-year yield fell to 3.27 percent, its lowest since September 2005. Eight years ago, the 10-year yield climbed above 40 percent.  [The 10-year closed the week at 3.29%.]

Greece has been successfully tapping the international fixed income market this spring, selling its first 10-year bond in nine years.

Today, Greece has entered a “period of economic growth that puts it among the top performers in the eurozone,” an IMF report in March said, with the fund projecting GDP growth of 2.4 percent for 2019.

Turning to Asia, lots of key data for China, including a reading on first-quarter GDP, 6.4%, a tick above the consensus of 6.3%, and the same as the fourth quarter. 

Perhaps more importantly, industrial production rose 8.5% in March, much better than forecast, with retail sales up 8.7%, and fixed-asset investment (airports, roads, rails) up 6.3%.

Immediately, everyone was concluding that Beijing’s stimulus measures were offsetting the negative effects of the trade war.

Auto output in March was down 2.6%, but this was an improvement on the 5.3% decline, year-over-year, for January and February.

Steel output was up 10% in March, and cement production rose 22%, reflecting strong demand spurred on by China’s infrastructure spending spree.

The government is forecasting GDP growth of 6%-6.5% for all of 2019.  But today, a top decision-making body of the Communist Party, a politburo meeting chaired by President Xi, said that while the first-quarter growth number was promising, the economy still faces “downward pressure.”

“The external economic environment is generally tightening and the domestic economy is under downward pressure,” Xinhua reported tonight.

So China will continue with appropriate stimulus measures, including more tax and fee cuts.

But it also wants to prevent speculation in the property market, as new-home prices for March rose 0.6% over February, with the 70-city index up 10.6% year-on-year.  Beijing has been urging banks to ramp up lending and lower interest rates to support the market and economic activity, but there can be a fine line in the housing sector.

[All of the above data came from the National Bureau of Statistics.]

In Japan, a flash reading on manufacturing for April came in at 49.5, the third month below 50, contraction.  The export component of the PMI was just 47.1, the worst since July 2016.

Core inflation (ex-fresh food) rose an annualized 0.8% in March, with core-core (ex-food and energy) up only 0.4%, remaining woefully shy of the Bank of Japan’s 2% target.

The Japanese market is closed from April 27 through May 6, six trading sessions, which encompasses “Golden Week” and the accession of the new emperor, Crown Prince Naruhito on May 1.  Some analysts are concerned about such a long break; as in Tokyo’s market could be closed during a tumultuous event.  Not saying there is going to be one, but ya never know.

Street Bytes

--Stocks finished mixed for the holiday-shortened week, with the Dow Jones tacking on 0.6% to 26559, less than 300 points from its all-time high, while the S&P 500 registered a fractional, 2-point, loss to 2905, and Nasdaq rose 0.2% to 7998, the latter two also within a day’s rally of their highs.

Earnings started flowing in and are generally better than expected, though a low bar had been set.

Healthcare stocks had a rough go of it until late Thursday on the growing fear, whether warranted or not, over the seemingly inexorable move toward a policy of Medicare for all.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo.  2.46%  2-yr. 2.38%  10-yr. 2.56%  30-yr. 2.96%

Basically unchanged across the curve this week.

--The Energy Information Administration on Wednesday said U.S. crude-oil inventories declined by 1.4 million barrels last week, ending a three-week streak of bearish increases, while U.S. production slipped from last week’s record 12.2 million barrels a day to 12.1 million.  Earlier, industry group American Petroleum Institute said its inventory report showed a 3.1 million barrel decline.

But the market is also wondering what the Trump administration is going to do with the waivers it granted eight nations who buy Iranian crude oil, including China, Japan and India, allowing them to continue buying Iran’s oil.  Now that the U.S. has designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, analysts are speculating whether President Trump will suddenly yank all waivers, which would drive prices higher.  A decision is expected around May 1.

Crude oil rose to $64.00 on the week, up a seventh consecutive week.

Separately, California’s average gasoline price jumped to $4.00, owing to tight stocks due to unplanned and planned maintenance.  This is the highest in the state since July 2014.

--Bank of America topped first-quarter earnings forecasts as a strong performance by its retail bank and tight cost controls helped it offset the impact of weak capital markets and investment banking results.

Total revenue was flat with the year before at $23bn, in line with Wall Street’s forecast, but net income rose 6 percent to $7.3bn.

“Economic growth and consumer activity in the U.S. continue to be solid, businesses of every size are borrowing and driving the economy, and asset quality is strong,” said chief executive Brian Moynihan, noting that “it was a challenging capital markets environment.”

--Morgan Stanley said its first-quarter profit fell 9% from a year ago, to $2.4 billion, on revenue of $10.3 billion that was also lower than a year ago, but the figures were above analysts’ estimates.

But Morgan Stanley was hit by the same trading slump early in the year that hurt other Wall Street firms, with revenue from MS’s stock-trading desk down 21%, while merger fees fell 29% with fewer previously announced deals being completed in the quarter.  Overall investment-banking revenue fell 24%.

Revenue in Morgan Stanley’s key wealth-management business was flat from a year ago.

--Citigroup Inc. said its first-quarter profit rose 2% from a year ago, boosted by growth in U.S. consumer banking and solid trading performance with rivals.  Citi posted a profit of $4.7 billion, better than expectations.

But revenue was down 2% from a year ago to $18.6 billion, in line with analysts’ estimates.

First-quarter trading revenue declined 5%, but this was better than their competitors.

Investment-banking revenue rose 20% from a year ago, thanks to a 76% surge in mergers-and-acquisitions advisory revenue.

--Goldman Sachs Group Inc. reported quarterly profits that beat expectations on Monday, but the bank’s total revenue fell 13% in the first quarter and missed analysts’ estimates, with three of its four main businesses recording a drop in revenue.

Total institutional client services, the unit that houses the bank’s trading business, recorded the biggest drop as market volatility coupled with the longest U.S. government shutdown hurt equity and bond trading revenue.

Trading revenue fell 18% to $3.61 billion, while equity trading declined 24%, and fixed income, currency and commodities trading were down 11%.

Investment banking revenue was flat.             

CEO David Solomon said: “We’re looking to build value over the next three to five years, not over the next couple of quarters.’

But without the retail businesses and lending books competitors’ Citigroup and JPMorgan have, Goldman is still forced to rely on its traders and investment bankers for results.

--Shares in Bank of New York Mellon Corp. plummeted 10% Wednesday after the custody bank reported earnings and revenue that fell short of the Street’s expectations.  The results underscore how sensitive financial firms are to interests rates and the yield curve; in this case the decline on the long end, such as in the 10-year Treasury after the Federal Reserve indicated it would leave rates unchanged for some time.

Last month, the 10-year yield fell below that of three-month Treasurys for the first time since 2007 – an inverted yield curve that normally indicates recession is lurking, though there are no signs one is imminent.

So a flattening yield curve squeezes banks’ net interest margins, as the banks also face increasing competition for deposits.  In BNY Mellon’s case, customers moved money out of the bank and into interest-bearing deposits with a higher yield, while at the same time, a custody bank like BNY doesn’t have big lending businesses, so revenue from that side was shrinking at a time their interest margins were narrowing.

*So do you see a pattern in all the above results from the nation’s big banks?  No revenue growth.

--JPMorgan Chase & Co. put two women with decades of experience at the bank at the top of the list to one day succeed Jamie Dimon as CEO. 

Marianne Lake, who has served as chief financial officer since 2012, will leave the role to become head of the bank’s consumer-lending business, including its credit-card operations as well as auto lending and mortgages.  And Jennifer Piepszak, who was running the credit-card business, will take over as finance chief, the changes taking effect May 1.

Ms. Lake has long been viewed as the prime contender to succeed Dimon, but some analysts thought she needed experience running one of the bank’s major businesses, while Ms. Piepszak’s move to CFO gives her broad influence over JPM’s many businesses.

Mr. Dimon, 63, is in no hurry to retire. Asked in February when he planned to step down, he said: “Five years.  Maybe four now.”

--Netflix signed up more new paying subscribers than expected during the first quarter, attracting 9.6 million new accounts during the period – the highest addition in the company’s history.

Earnings of 76 cents per share easily beat guidance of 56 cents, with revenue coming in at $4.52 billion, better than forecast.  The figures were significantly higher than a year ago; earnings of 64 cents on revenue of $3.70 billion.

The record 9.6 million new paying subscribers was up nearly 16% from 8.3 million in the year-ago period.

Netflix now has 148.9 million subscribers worldwide, though the company predicted just 5 million new paid subscribers for the second quarter, which spooked the Street some.  Netflix also forecast earnings below last year’s level.

The company wrote in a note to shareholders, “We see some modest short-term churn effect as members consent to the price change,” Netflix having hiked prices at the start of the quarter; the most popular plan rising to $12.99 a month from $10.99.

CEO Reed Hastings said he wasn’t worried about Disney’s planned streaming service, Disney+, which Disney expects to reach 60 million to 90 million subscribers.  “Great competition makes you better,” Hastings said.

Separately, Netflix will invest up to $100 million to expand its presence in New York City with a new production hub in Brooklyn and corporate office in Manhattan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday.

Netflix will add about 130 employees to an existing facility in Manhattan, and it will build a production hub in Brooklyn with six new sound stages within five years.

--IBM Corp. reported a third consecutive quarter of declining revenue, further clouding CEO Ginni Rometty’s yearslong quest to revitalize the computing giant.

Rometty has been at the helm since 2012, with IBM pouring resources into cloud-computing and new technologies such as artificial intelligence, in an attempt to shift away from traditional growth engines like equipment sales and services, which have seen tepid growth.

But IBM said its cloud business grew by 10% in the past 12 months, which doesn’t sound that great, and several of the lines of business, including cloud and information-technology-support services, declined.

In a call with analysts, CFO James Kavanaugh blamed the most-recent revenue decline in part on clients in the Asia-Pacific region delaying buying decisions.  Kavanaugh conceded IBM’s cloud services weren’t keeping pace with competitors such as Microsoft and Amazon, but IBM is still targeting midteen growth for the segment, which would allow it to take market share in that arena.

Rometty is aiming to bolster IBM’s hybrid-cloud strategy through IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat Inc., an open-source software and services company that helps businesses streamline their computing strategies as they grow.

Since Rometty took over, revenue has fallen nearly every quarter until the fourth quarter of 2017 and the first two of 2018, but has been declining again  beginning in Q3.

Net income fell 5.2% to $1.59 billion.

The shares fell 3% on the news.

--Johnson & Johnson ramped up its full year guidance after it posted better-than-expected results for the first quarter, helped by rising sales of pharmaceutical products.

The company, whose brands include Listerine and Band-Aid, reported sales of $20.02 billion, little changed year-on-year but ahead of the consensus estimate of $19.55bn.

Consumer sales were down 2.4%, and medical device sales were off 4.6% (though excluding the impact of acquisitions and divestitures grew 4.3%), but pharmaceutical sales were 4.1% higher.

--As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Justice Department antitrust enforcement staff have told T-Mobile US Inc. and Sprint Corp. that their planned merger is unlikely to be approved as currently structured, casting doubt on the fate of the $26 billion deal.

The nation’s third- and fourth-biggest carriers by subscribers are facing challenges on several fronts, but the most immediate hurdle is from the Justice Department’s belief the deal would present an unacceptable threat to competition.

Back in 2011, the Obama administration blocked AT&T’s bid for T-Mobile, saying the market was too concentrated.

T-Mobile and Sprint made their case to the Trump administration last year, saying that without a merger they risked falling behind Verizon and AT&T as the industry upgrades to 5G networks.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere, when asked to respond to the Journal’s story, said, “The premise of this story, as summarized in the first paragraph, is simply untrue.  Out of respect for the process, we have no further comment.”

--Apple and Qualcomm agreed to settle their yearslong court battle over the division of billions of dollars of smartphone profits and how much consumers pay for their phones.

The companies, Apple the maker of iPhones and Qualcomm the largest provider of mobile chips, said they had agreed to dismiss all litigation between them worldwide.  They added that they had reached a six-year agreement for Apple to pay unspecified royalties on Qualcomm’s patents.

In addition, Apple and Qualcomm have a multiyear agreement for Qualcomm to supply chips to Apple, while Apple will make an undisclosed one-time payment to Qualcomm.

At the heart of the disputes was a disagreement over how Qualcomm charges royalties on patents that it holds on mobile chips.  Qualcomm had pioneered a type of cellular communications in the 1990s that later became a mainstay of mobile devices, which allowed it to charge royalties on nearly every smartphone sold – even if the phone did not actually use Qualcomm chips.  Apple eventually objected to that arrangement.

Qualcomm’s shares, which have been hurt by the dispute with Apple, jumped over 20 percent on word of the settlement.

Apple is acknowledging it was able to live with Qualcomm’s business model – assuming the price of Qualcomm’s royalties is more to Apple’s liking.

--J.B. Hunt Transportation Services Inc., one of the nation’s largest trucking and logistics companies and a freight-industry bellwether, reported profits that fell shy of expectations, with revenue, while up 7.3%, also short.

But the company said it did not see a snapback in customer demand in March, after all the weather disruptions, and the company is waiting for customer demand to accelerate before making a trend call for the second quarter and the rest of the year.

--CSX Corp. reported higher revenue in its latest quarter, up 5% to $3.01 billion, while for the full year the railroad operator reiterated its outlook of low-single-digit percent revenue growth.

Merchandise revenue, the company’s largest segment and which includes shipments of items like chemicals, agricultural products and minerals, rose 6% from a year earlier, while agricultural and food products revenue increased 12%, driven by growth in the domestic and export grain markets and a stronger ethanol market.  Forest products revenue increased 11%.

--PepsiCo Inc.’s revenue rose in the latest quarter, boosted by the company’s Frito-Lay division in North America, but foreign-currency effects weighed on international operations.

The maker of Pepsi beverages, Quaker oatmeal and Tropicana orange juice said revenue rose 2.6% to $12.88 billion, ahead of expectations.

Sales in the North America Frito-Lay division rose 5.5%, while revenue rose 2.2% in the company’s North America beverages division.

First-quarter profit of $1.41 billion beat the Street.  PepsiCo also affirmed its guidance for the full year, with organic revenue growth of 4%.

--Pinterest Inc., the online scrapbook company, set its valuation at $12.7 billion, above expectations and a sign of strength for the tech IPO market after Lyft Inc.’s struggles.  Pinterest commenced trading on Thursday and promptly soared 28%.

Lyft sought a valuation of about $24.3 billion in its IPO, higher than the $15 billion valuation it attained in its latest private fundraising round in 2018, while Pinterest’s initial target range had set it on course to be valued near its last private fundraising valuation of $12.3 billion in 2017.

Pinterest is also the most high-profile listing of a U.S. social media company since Snap Inc. in 2017, a stock which is down more than 30 percent below its IPO price.

[Another IPO, Zoom Video Communication, rocketed 72% in its debut Thursday.]

--United Continental Holdings Inc. reported a doubling of its first-quarter profit that outstripped expectations, helping lift the airline’s shares in after-hours trading.  United said it expects to increase its flight capacity by 4% to 5% this year, down from previously planned growth of as much as 6%.

For the first quarter, United reported a 6.2% increase in total revenue to $9.6 billion.  Revenue per seat mile (‘unit revenue’) rose 1.1% from a year earlier.

United, the No. 2 U.S. carrier by traffic, reiterated guidance for adjusted earnings and unit-revenue growth of 0.5% to 2.5% in the second quarter.

United has 14 of the Boeing 737 MAX jets, with the airline saying it would keep the jets out of its schedule into early July, while Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have cut the plane from schedules into August, the two having 34 and 22 737 MAX aircraft, respectively, in their fleets, though Southwest has 41 MAX jets pending delivery for 2019, while American has 16 and United 14.

United had previously said the grounding of the aircraft wouldn’t have much of an immediate operational or financial impact, but that the effect could grow if the MAX remains out of service into summer.

--India’s embattled Jet Airways halted all flight operations indefinitely on Wednesday after its lenders rejected its plea for emergency funds, potentially bringing the curtains down on what was once India’s largest private airline.

The carrier, with $1.2 billion of bank debt, has been teetering for weeks after failing to receive a stop-gap loan from its lenders, as part of a rescue deal agreed to in March.

At its peak, Jet operated over 120 planes and well over 600 daily flights.  The airline has roughly 16,000 employees, and in recent weeks has been forced to cancel hundreds of flights and to halt all flights out of India.

Intense competition from low-cost carriers, like IndiGo and SpiceJet Ltd., together with higher oil prices and hefty fuel taxes piled pressure on the airline in recent months.

--Delta is rolling out new seats for its 62 Airbus A320 jets; seats that tilt back less than they currently do, in an effort to create more personal space for passengers.

Great!  Wish this had been done 30 years ago.  I never tilt my seat back, out of respect for the person behind me, but especially on international flights, I hated how the assholes in front of me would recline their seats all the way back and not have any recourse.

--The Martha Stewart empire of home furnishings and other branded products has been sold to Marquee Brands for $215 million, or $140 million less than what its current owner Sequential Brands Group paid for it in 2015, as first reported by the New York Post.

--Volkswagen announced plans to build a fully electric sports utility vehicle for China from 2021, directly taking on Tesla’s Model X as the German carmaker ramps up production of zero emission vehicles.

--According to a new study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, 32% of restaurant foods labeled gluten-free contain gluten.

The worst offenders were pizza and pasta, with gluten found in 53.2% of pizza samples and 50.8% of the pasta tested.

Restaurants identified as fast-casual (no table service, higher quality food than traditional fast-food eateries) and casual (with table service) had lower detection rates than fast-food places.

--McDonald’s is streamlining its menu by revamping its Quarter Pounder and abandoning its craft burgers.

Over the past few months, the company has introduced new versions of its classic Quarter Pounder to its national menu, but as one restaurant analyst put it, restaurants that focus on reducing the number of products to improve speed of service and order accuracy tend to have more success.

--When Tiger Woods was at the bottom, having crashed and burned, amid the torrent of damaging revelations, the likes of AT&T, Accenture, PepsiCo’s Gatorade and Procter & Gamble’s Gillette all dropped him, with others declining to renew deals.

But Nike stood by Tiger and while Nike dropped its golf equipment business, no doubt its apparel side will be benefiting from Tiger’s resurgence, the amazing comeback capped off by his spectacular win at The Masters on Sunday.

But will Woods now receive a slew of new endorsements?  One would think so.

--A record 17.4 million people tuned in Sunday night for the beginning of the end of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” according to Nielsen and the network.

The show, in its eighth and final season, is the most popular show in HBO’s history, having topped “The Sopranos.”  The above figure doesn’t include numbers from digital video recorders and on-demand, as well as catch-up viewing.  The last season of “Game of Thrones” averaged 32.8 million viewers across all platforms.

Foreign Affairs

Syria: I’ve been talking about the following issue for months, and now everyone is recognizing it’s a crisis, with NBC also having a report on the topic this evening.

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“With Islamic State’s physical caliphate destroyed, the West faces an urgent challenge: what to do with foreign fighters and their families.  Mishandling the problem could create decades of security threats in the U.S. and Europe, and several American allies are bungling this test.

“Some 40,000 foreigners traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS in recent years.  While more recruits came from the Middle East and North Africa, some 5,000 left Europe to join the caliphate. A 2018 report from the George Washington University Program on Extremism estimated that about 300 were American.

“Today the Syrian Democratic Forces have detained about 1,000 foreign fighters, though the number is expected to rise.  Western European countries didn’t produce as many fighters as, say, Tunisia, but a substantial number of Europeans remain in custody.  Our sources say the U.S. isn’t aware of any Americans currently held by the SDF.

“Thousands of foreign fighters died on the battlefield, but now the fate of the survivors looms large.   Veteran terrorists have returned home in the past with deadly consequences.  Several perpetrators of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130, gained experience in Syria.

“In February President Trump tweeted that the U.S. ‘is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back’ their ISIS fighters and prosecute them at home.  Indonesia, Morocco, Russia, and Sudan started the process months ago, but Western European governments are resisting....

“Countries that criticized the U.S. over Guantanamo Bay now are turning a blind eye to the detention of their citizens elsewhere....

“Some European countries worry their justice systems won’t be up to the task of managing returnees.  Courts in the UK have struggled to win convictions in terror cases, while other European countries could hand down dangerously short sentences.  But this is a case for toughening antiterrorism laws, not ignoring the problem.  If a country is concerned about ISIS members radicalizing other prisoners, it can isolate them.

“The SDF has treated detainees humanely, but it can’t hold them forever. The group eventually will have no choice but to let the prisoners go – making a manageable security threat much worse.  These battle-hardened fighters are especially dangerous given their practical knowledge and the respect they could command among would-be jihadists.

“Many released fighters would slip into Iraq, blend in with sympathetic Sunni populations, and prepare for an ISIS revival.  Others could exploit security vacuums in Libya or Somalia... Perhaps the greatest risk is that some will return to the West undetected alongside refugees.  Countries hesitant to take back their citizens now should realize they might return anyway – clandestinely....

“When Mr. Trump announced plans for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Syria in December, allies criticized the move as endangering the West’s security.  They were right, and Mr. Trump partly reversed the decision.  Now the roles have flipped, with some prioritizing domestic politics over international security.  If Mr. Trump changed course, they can too.”

Israel: Israel’s president on Wednesday nominated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to head the next government, after he won the backing of a majority of members of parliament following the April 9 election. 

“At a time of great turmoil in our region, we have managed not only to maintain the state’s security and stability, we have even managed to turn Israel into a rising world power,” Netanyahu said at the nomination ceremony after President Reuven Rivlin gave him the mandate to form a new government.  Netanyahu has 28 days, with a two-week extension if needed, to complete the task, and if he succeeds, as is likely, in July he becomes Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Netanyahu has said he intends to build a coalition with five far-right, right-wing and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would give the government, led by his Likud party, 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

Among the most pressing issues is the U.S. peace plan, which it is said will be unveiled once the new Israeli government is in place, according to President Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner this week.  The plan, Kushner said, will require compromise by all parties, but a right-wing coalition in Israel would no doubt object to any proposed territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

And there is the issue of the prime minister and his pending indictments for corruption. Netanyahu said in a Facebook posting on Tuesday: “I am not afraid of threats and I am not deterred by the media.  The public has given me its full confidence, clearly and unequivocally, and I will continue to do everything in order to serve you, the citizens of Israel.”

Egypt: Parliament on Tuesday approved amendments to the constitution that could keep President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in power until 2030, though they still have to be endorsed in a referendum to take effect.  The changes would extend Sisi’s current term to six years from four and then allow him to run again for a third term, which would last six years.

The amendments would also increase the role of the military in political life and increase the president’s power over the judiciary, critics of the changes say.

The 596-member parliament, dominated by Sisi supporters, voted 531 to 22 in favor of the amendments.  No date for the referendum has been set.

Sisi has been accused by rights groups of excessive abuse of power and a relentless crackdown on freedoms.

Libya: Egypt’s President Sisi met on Sunday in Cairo with Khalifa Haftar, the commander of eastern-based Libyan forces, who is under international pressure to halt an advance on the capital Tripoli.  Egypt has close ties with Haftar, though Egypt and the UAE publicly support UN-led peace efforts in Libya, while being seen as Haftar’s closest allies.

Haftar’s campaign has disrupted efforts by the UN to bring rival eastern and western administrations to the negotiating table to end the turmoil.

The fighting thus far has killed well over 100, with at least 14,000 displaced.

Editorial / Washington Post

“After years of turmoil in Libya, United Nations envoys believed they were on the verge of striking a deal this month that would have brought the country’s factions together at a conference to agree on a unified government and a plan for elections.  Then Khalifa Haftar, a 75-year-old warlord who aspires to become Libya’s next dictator, launched an offensive against the capital, Tripoli, that ruptured the peace process and may lead to another devastating Arab civil war.

“What prompted Mr. Haftar to conclude he should seek military victory rather than compromise?  In the past few days, the answer has gradually become clear: His offensive has been egged on and materially supported by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.  These Arab governments and Russia have deliberately sabotaged an international effort that had the support of the European Union, the African Union and the United States, in addition to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

“Mr. Haftar has had backing from these outside powers, as well as from France, for years, even as he consolidated control over eastern Libya and established a rival regime to the UN-backed government in Tripoli.  But days before launching his latest offensive, the self-styled general visited Saudi Arabia, where he was promised millions of dollars in aid to pay for the operation, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.  The money, meant to pay off tribal leaders and recruit new fighters, represents another reckless gamble by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has already launched a disastrous intervention in Yemen as well as failed attempts to subjugate the Lebanese and Qatari governments.

“On Sunday, Mr. Haftar got an explicit endorsement from Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, whom he met in Cairo.  Mr. Sisi had returned only days earlier from visiting President Trump at the White House, but he showed no hesitation in contradicting U.S. demands that Mr. Haftar end his attack.

“For now, the attempt to install Mr. Haftar in Tripoli doesn’t look likely to succeed.  The offensive has had the effect of rallying otherwise fractious Libyan forces; hardened militia men from other cities have poured into the area to stop the invasion....

“The most likely result of the fighting is more needless suffering for Libyans, thousands of whom have already been displaced by the fighting.  The flow of refugees across the Mediterranean to Europe could increase, and the Islamic State, which the United States spent years working to defeat in Libya, could revive.  All this thanks to the meddling of Arab governments that the Trump administration portrays as its close allies and cooperative partners in the region.

“Mr. Trump often complains of U.S. clients who accept Washington’s aid and protection, only to take advantage of its fecklessness.  Should he care to look, he could find an excellent example of that unfolding in Libya.”

And this development today. The White House said that President Trump talked to Gen. Haftar on Monday and discussed “ongoing counterrorism efforts and the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya.” The statement said Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.”

This is nuts.  The United States is/was supporting the UN-sponsored peace efforts backed by the EU. And why are we learning of the call today....days after the fact?!  Because it’s Good  Friday, a normally slow news day dominated this year by the Mueller Report and the president’s response to same.

Yemen: President Trump issued the second veto of his presidency Tuesday, stopping a congressional resolution that would have sought to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

“This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Trump wrote to the Senate Thursday.

Trump added that the resolution is “unnecessary” in part because there are no United States military personnel in Yemen “commanding, participating in, or accompanying military forces of the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis in hostilities in or affecting Yemen.”

Supporters of the War Powers Resolution argued the U.S. shouldn’t be involved in the war without explicit permission from Congress.  Opponents argued the U.S. does not have “boots on the ground” and is offering noncombat technical assistance to Saudi Arabia, an ally.

The bill passed the House 247-175, with sixteen Republicans voting yes with Democrats.  In the Senate the vote was 54 to 46, with seven Republicans voting with Democrats.

Afghanistan: An important meeting between the Taliban and senior Afghan officials was canceled Thursday in a blow to efforts to reach a negotiated settlement of the 18-year Afghan war.

Two days of talks were slated to take place in Qatar, which was to have been the first time since the latest peace effort resumed in earnest that Taliban and officials of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government were to be in the same room.

The issue is over representation, with the Taliban issuing a list of acceptable attendees that differed from a list of 249 politicians, officials, former anti-Soviet rebel leaders and others announced by Kabul earlier this week.

Attempts to rescue the talks failed.  The Taliban previously announced it was gearing up for the spring ‘fighting season.’

North Korea: Kim Jong Un has expressed his deep disappointment with what the North claims was an inflexible, “gangster-like” demand by the U.S. in Hanoi.  And the North Koreans are particularly frustrated with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton.  Kwon Jong Gun, a member of the North’s foreign ministry, was quoted by the state news agency as saying Thursday:

“The Hanoi summit gives us a lesson that whenever Pompeo pokes his nose in, the talks go wrong without any results even from the point close to success.  I wish our dialogue counterpart would not be Pompeo but (some) other person who is more careful and mature in communicating with us.”

The intent clearly is to warn President Trump that the much-vaunted “freeze” is in jeopardy, and the verbal attack on Pompeo is meant to encourage Trump to ignore his hardline advisers and cut a deal with his “friend” Kim Jong Un.

Earlier, in an address to the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim gave the U.S. until the end of the year to come up with a more mutually acceptable negotiation strategy.  As in, Pyongyang wants the sanctions lifted.  But Kim had hinted he would maintain his self-imposed moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches and he has stood by that for now.

So Kim returned to military optics for the first time in five months, paying a visit Tuesday to an Air Force base to inspect fighter combat readiness and then followed that up the next day by supervising the test of what the North’s official media described as a new type of “tactical guided weapon,” though no photos or video were released.  The Pentagon said that while there had been a test, it was “not a ballistic missile.”  Kim appeared to be careful not to step over the line by conducting a nuclear or long-range ballistic missile test.

There are reports Kim is preparing to hold his first summit with Russian President Putin next week in Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East.

Putin could offer economic aid for Pyongyang if he chooses to play a bigger role.  Putin no doubt wants to drive a wedge between Kim and President Trump.

As for South Korea, Kim and senior North Korean officials have been critical of the South and efforts by President Moon Jae-in to play the role of middleman, saying he has hewed too closely to the American side and has dragged his feet on inter-Korean projects that could provide the North with a boost, such as on its infrastructure.

Moon wants to proceed with the projects, but Washington insists that South Korea stick to the sanctions.

Back to Secretary Pompeo, he told reporters today in Washington, “Nothing has changed.  We’ll continue to work to negotiate; still in charge of the team.  President Trump’s obviously in charge of the overall effort, but it’ll be my team.”  Pursuing denuclearization remains the goal, while the United States continues to enforce all sanctions on Pyongyang, Pompeo added.

China: Terry Gou, founder and chairman of Foxconn, will make a run for Taiwan’s presidency in 2020, challenging the incumbent Tsai Ing-wen.

Gou, Taiwan’s richest man with a net worth of $7.6 billion, said on Wednesday that he would take part in the opposition Kuomintang’s (KMT) party primaries for the race.

“I am willing to [join others] in taking part in the party’s primary, and do not want to be selected to run under any special arrangement,” Guo said after a meeting with the KMT on Wednesday.

“If I win [the primary], I will represent the party to run for president, and if I lose, I will give my full support to the winner during his campaign.”

Guo said that regardless of whether he remained an entrepreneur, he strongly believed Taiwan needed to maintain “peace, stability, the economy and the future.”  [South China Morning Post]

Deng Yuwen / South China Morning Post

“(It’s) clear Beijing has no intention of forcing unification at this stage.  Perhaps it has been holding back from any tough talk because it does not want the Tsai administration or the DPP [Ed. the current ruling party] to seize on it to boost their election chances.

“Did the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] crossover [entering of Taiwan’s airspace on March 31] indicate a change of mind?  It is unlikely, as of now.  Beijing may in fact encourage more such crossovers, in an effort to normalize them to force a new status quo on Taiwan, but it would carefully control the pace of change so things do not get out of control.

“Most likely, China will choose to put pressure on Taiwan using a combination of methods to promote unification step by step.  It may launch more preferential policies and try to initiate discussion on a ‘one country, two systems’ framework with Taiwan’s ruling and opposition parties.  But it is unlikely to resort to threatening the use of force for now, not out of any goodwill, but simply due to several practical constraints.

“One is that Xi’s military reform is not yet complete, and the People’s Liberation Army’s combat power needs to be further strengthened to ensure it has any hope of withstanding a U.S. military intervention.

“Second, the Chinese economy is struggling in the midst of a trade war with the U.S.  Strengthening the economy is a key priority of the Chinese government.

“Third, Xi’s work to consolidate his power base is not yet complete.  Before these goals are reached, Xi’s government would not rashly try to unify Taiwan, unless there is a sudden change in the external environment.

“There are different views on when China would try to unify Taiwan.  One popular theory is it would try to do so by 2021, the year the Chinese Communist Party marks the 100th anniversary of its founding by becoming a well-off society....

“As things stand...unification with Taiwan (soon) is extremely unlikely, given the lack of effort by Beijing to mobilize public opinion and ratchet up pressure on Taiwan.  But the government also won’t delay the settlement of the Taiwan issue indefinitely.  Once Xi believes the conditions mentioned above have been met, he will move to unify Taiwan, by force if necessary....

‘(If Xi) wants to leave a legacy that surpasses Mao Zedong’s, as many believe he does, unification is a must.  No other accomplishment will be enough to secure him that legacy.”

David Ignatius / Washington Post

“In the rebalancing of Sino-American relations that’s underway, the usual roles are reversed: China’s normally deft President Xi Jinping appears to have badly overreached in seeking advantage.  And President Trump, who often seems tone-deaf on foreign policy, is riding a bipartisan consensus that it’s time to push back against Beijing.

“The two nations will probably make a trade deal soon, patching together a working relationship that has been frayed by about a year of tariffs and economic brinkmanship. Experts predict an agreement that will boost U.S. exports to China, improve market access for American firms and reduce the power of Chinese state-owned enterprises – and offer some modest new legal protections for U.S. companies whose commercial secrets have been plundered by Beijing for a half-century.  But as Xi jockeyed for position against the United States, many U.S. experts argue that he misplayed his hand.  After decades of what was known as China’s ‘hide and bide’ strategy of cautious cooperation, the Chinese leader moved to directly challenge U.S. primacy in technology. This eventually triggered a sharp, bipartisan U.S. response, which Trump has harvested.

“ ‘In an incredibly divided Washington, one of the only areas of agreement is that China policy needs to be less accommodating and more resolute toward Beijing,’ says Kurt Campbell, who oversaw East Asia and Pacific policy during the Obama administration.  He credits Trump for recognizing Xi’s weakness: ‘China is not yet ready to take on the U.S., and Trump recognizes this.’....

“There’s blowback in the trade negotiations, too.  Lorand Laskai of the Council on Foreign Relations noted last year that the Trump administration mentioned ‘Made in China 2025’ more than 100 times in its Section 301 trade complaint against Beijing.  A newly wary China has stopped referring to the Thousand Talents Plan or mentioning award recipients, according to reports by Bloomberg News and Nature, respectively.

“The Trump administration still doesn’t have a consistent, comprehensive strategy for dealing with China.  Among other things, it lacks a coherent regional economic framework, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that Trump scuttled.  But now is the right time to confront China’s bad behavior, before Beijing gets any stronger, and while Trump has the political wind at his back.”

Ukraine: According to the Kremlin’s closest ally in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk, a prominent figure in Ukraine’s Russia-leaning opposition, Ukraine’s new president could regain control over the separatist-controlled east of his country within months and get cheap gas and major investment from Russia if he does a deal with Moscow.

In an interview before the presidential runoff on Sunday, which polls show novice Volodymr Zelenskiy should easily win, over President Petro Poroshenko, Medvedchuk said the Kremlin was keen to know more about Zelensky, a 41-year-old Russian-speaking TV comedian who has zero political experience, to understand if he is someone it could do a deal with.

A Ukrainian citizen, Medvedchuk does not represent Russia, but his words carry weight due to his close friendship with Vladimir Putin, Medvedchuk often used as a go-between between the two nations.  Medvedchuk said the Russian leader is godfather to his daughter, and that he held talks in Moscow with Putin as recently as two weeks ago.

The Kremlin has not said if Medvedchuk is acting on its behalf, but this is all part of a grand plot; Russia, perhaps, cutting some kind of  energy deal to win some relief from sanctions imposed by the European Union over its 2014 annexation of Crimea and its backing for the pro-Russian Donbass uprising.

Putin might be willing to release 24 captured Ukrainian sailors as a goodwill gesture, Medvedchuk said, which you can wager is something Putin will indeed do, but this is insulting.  They never should have been taken prisoner in the first place!

As for Zelensky, no one has a clue how he will rule and if he is already in the Kremlin’s pocket, despite outward appearances to the contrary.    

Venezuela: Another week...and another week with President Nicolas Maduro in power.  The Trump administration’s tough talk has meant nothing but more misery for the people and a still-growing refugee crisis for Venezuela’s neighbors.

Elliott Abrams, the administration’s special envoy for Venezuela, said in a meeting with reporters the other day, that “It’s open for debate,” on the issue of why the military hasn’t abandoned Maduro.  “I’ll give you part of the answer, and it’s the Cubans.”

The administration believes there are at least 20,000 Cuban military and intelligence agents embedded in the Venezuelan armed forces.  “They are the enforcers.  They are the people who are watching generals and colonels like hawks,” Abrams said.  “They are the people who are substantially in charge of incarceration and punishment” of Venezuelans seen as disloyal.”

The presence of tens of thousands of Cubans in Venezuela is not in dispute, though Cuba says most are doctors and teachers, while some U.S. analysts say the number of security officials is far lower than the administration claims.

Random Musings

--Presidential tracking polls...

Gallup: 45% approval of Trump’s job performance, 51% disapproval; 89% Republicans, 39% Independents (April 12).
Rasmussen: 49% approval, 51% disapproval (April 19).

A new Reuters/Ipsos national poll conducted after the release of the Mueller report, had President Trump’s approval rating falling to 37%, down from 40% in a similar poll conducted on April 15 and matching the lowest level of the year.  That is also down from 43% in a poll conducted shortly after Attorney General Barr circulated a summary of the report in March.

In this new survey, 40% said they thought Trump should be impeached, while 42% said he should not.

--Joe Biden is entering the race for the Democratic nomination for president this coming week, much to President Trump’s delight.

--George Will / Washington Post...on the 2020 vote:

“The Financial Times notes that, in 2018, exit polls showed that a plurality of voters – 41 percent – ranked health care as their foremost concern.  That was the year when it became obligatory for all candidates to promise that health insurance shall not be denied because of a person’s preexisting health problems.  But Trump (‘Nobody knew health care could be so complicated’) evidently is going to seek reelection saying: ‘Trust me, there will be ‘a really great’ Republican health-care plan – after the election, and after my administration has convinced a court to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act (including guaranteed coverage for those with preexisting conditions), which now enjoys the support of a narrow majority.

“Voters might wonder why the coming health plan’s greatness will not be unveiled as an election asset.  And voters might remember that in 1968 President Richard M. Nixon said: Trust me, I have a plan to end the Vietnam War.  When, seven years later, in April 1975, the last helicopter lifted off the roof of the besieged U.S. Embassy in Saigon, more than 21,000 Americans had died in combat since Nixon’s inauguration – approximately 37 percent of those killed in the war since the early 1960s.

“The eventual Democratic nominee is probably among the many who are already running.  So the party, with the mosaic of factions to placate (affluent progressives, faculty club socialists, suburban women, African Americans, Hispanics, climate worriers, identity-politics warriors, etc.) and its aversion to winner-take-all primaries, should remember 1972 or 1984.  Its nominees, George McGovern and Walter Mondale, won 25 percent and 38 percent, respectively, of the nominating electorate’s votes.  In the two general elections, they combined to lose 98 states.”

--Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld announced he was seeking the Republican nomination against President Trump in 2020.

Weld said on Monday that “it is time to return to the principles of Lincoln – equality, dignity and opportunity for all.’  He said, in his words, ‘There is no greater cause on earth than to preserve what truly makes America great.  I am ready to lead that fight.’

Weld, the Libertarian vice presidential nominee in 2016, served two terms as a largely-successful Massachusetts governor in the 1990s.

Weld’s move makes Trump the first incumbent president since George H.W. Bush in 1992 to face a notable primary challenge.

It seems clear Weld’s strategy, however quixotic, is to make some real noise in the New Hampshire primary, those Republican voters being quite familiar with him.

So, just musing, if the president is acting irrationally around that time, and, let’s say, North Korea is a problem and Trump is going nuts with tweets, and Weld takes 30% of the primary vote, maybe he forces Trump to react, irrationally, further, and people begin to wonder.

--From the Star-Ledger: “The mother of a New Jersey man who died of a rare ‘brain-eating amoeba’ after visiting a Texas surf resort has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the water park.

“Health officials say testing found evidence of the rare but deadly amoeba at one of the four attractions at the BSR Cable Park and Surf Resort in Waco.  Fabrizio S. was 29 when he died on Sept. 21 from an infection, which can happen when contaminated water enters the body through the nose....

“The New Jersey Department of Health said the man had visited the park on Sept. 8. Symptoms generally start about five days after infection, with death occurring about five days later, according to the CDC.”

Only four of the 143 people known to have been infected in the U.S. between 1962 and 2017 have survived.

“The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District said that even though the amoeba wasn’t detected at the establishment’s Surf Resort, Lazy River or Royal Flush, the water at those attractions was very cloudy, had organisms that indicated the presence of feces, had low chlorine levels and conditions favorable to Naegleria fowleri growth.”

I bring up this story because this winter, a lot of commercials aired in my area for some water parks connected to ski areas in the nearby Pocono Mountains and they looked like the worst possible places to have a good time, let alone you just know the conditions are unhealthy.  I would never take my family to one of these places. 

--Talk about worrisome...you have this from Tzvi Joffre of The Jerusalem Post:

“Scientists reported that worryingly high amounts of microplastic particles are raining down on a remote area in France’s Pyrenees Mountains, according to National Geographic.

“The study is the first of its kind ever conducted.  Only two other studies have looked at microplastics in the air, since most scientific and media attention has been on microplastics in oceans and waterways.

“Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic waste which can be smaller than 25 microns in size.  In comparison, a human hair is about 60 to 70 microns in diameter.

“ ‘If you go outside with a UV light, set at a wavelength of 400 nanometers, and shine it sideways you’ll see all kinds of plastic particles in the air fluoresce,’ said Deonie Allen, a researcher at EcoLab in the School of Agricultural and Life Sciences in Toulouse, France.  ‘It’s almost worse indoors.  It’s all a bit terrifying.’

“Allen’s team collected microplastics for five months at a meteorological station about 4,500 feet above sea level.

“After studying wind patterns to find the source of the microplastics, the team did not succeed in finding an obvious source for the plastics within 60 miles of the sparsely populated region.  Steve Allen, co-author of the study, said that it is still unknown how far microplastics can travel.

“About 420 million tons of plastics were made in 2015.  Plastic waste degrades over time to microplastic particles or even smaller nanoparticles.

“The health effects of microplastic exposure are unknown, Stephanie Wright, a researcher at the Centre for Environment and Health at King’s College London in the United Kingdom, told National Geographic.

“ ‘We’ve only recently recognized human exposure to microplastics through the air,’ Wright said.

“All that is known is that microplastics smaller than 25 microns can enter the human body through the nose and mouth and those smaller than five microns can end up in lung tissue.  ‘Other types of small particles do have health impacts,’ Wright pointed out.

“Microplastics can accumulate heavy metals like mercury and persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including brominated flame retardants and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  These materials have known health impacts, Wright said.

“ ‘We don’t have this sort of material in nature,’ Deonie Allen said, according to NPR.”

And then there are nanoplastics, which are as widespread as microplastics, but the technology to detect them doesn’t exist yet.

--Thomas L. Friedman / New York Times

“Although my day job is writing the foreign affairs column for The New York Times – more Persian Gulf than fairway golf – thinking about golf and playing as often as I can is my all-consuming hobby.  So like millions of others, I was awed by Tiger Woods’ comeback for the ages by his winning the Masters at 43 years old.  What can be learned from it?....

“The biggest takeaway for me is the reminder of the truism that golf is the sport most like life, because it is played on an uneven surface.  Good and bad bounces are built into the game, and so much of success in golf is about how you react to those good and bad bounces.  Do you quit?  Do you throw your club?  Do you cheat?  Do you whine?  Do you blame your caddie?

“Or do you say what the great golfers say when a bounce turns against them or their ball ends in a divot in the middle of the fairway and only a great shot will get them back into the hole?  They all say to their caddie the same two words: ‘Watch this.’  And then they pull off a remarkable shot that winds through the trees, over the hill and past the sand trap, avoids the pond on the left and lands right in the middle of the putting green – which is exactly the shot Tiger hit on the 11th hole out of the trees at Augusta National on Sunday.

“To do that under pressure is stunning, but it is not just luck or even pure physical attributes.  It is about practice – hours and hours and hours.  Gary Player liked to say, ‘The more I practice the luckier I get.’  And that is where, for me, the meaning of Tiger’s comeback begins: his willingness to commit to endless hours of physical rehabilitation and then endless hours of practice.  How many of us have that iron will?  But the physical part is the least of it....

“For the better part of a decade, he could not win a major until his back was healed and he got the monkey of his own misdeeds off his back – by becoming a good father and a better person to his fans and his fellow golfers.  You could see him looking everyone in the eye in the last couple of years, and it finally unlocked his fan base.  It gave them permission to root for him again, full-throated, despite all the ways he’d disappointed them.  And that clearly unlocked his mind, and I am sure his body too, so he could swing freely again.

“And that leads to another way that golf is so much like life. Each and every round is a journey, and, like all of life’s journeys, it’s never a straight line.  It’s always full of crazy bounces, self-inflicted mistakes and unexpected detours, and therefore always a journey of discovery about yourself and your playing partners. And, if you love the game, it’s an everlasting journey in search of self-improvement – always trying to get your geography, geometry, physics and psychology in perfect alignment.

“And when you see it done at the highest level, on the toughest terrain, under the most intense spotlight by someone who had it, lost it and then got it back, you can only say: ‘What a privilege!  I saw Tiger make his comeback and win the Masters at age 43. What a crazy, wonderful, amazing journey!”

--The Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral....

What a depressing scene this was Monday afternoon as all of us watched, helpless.  It also seemed like it took forever before we saw the first fire response, but it seems the initial location of the blaze was misidentified and precious minutes were lost.

But hundreds of French firefighters then fought heroically to save the two towers, and many of the treasures and historic artifacts were saved, including a centuries-old crown of thorns made from reeds and gold and said to be worn by Jesus before his crucifixion, and the tunic believed to have been worn by Saint Louis, a 13th century king of France. At one point hundreds of firefighters, policemen and municipal workers formed a human chain to remove the treasures.

In the end the “worst had been avoided” with the preservation of the cathedrals’ main structure, as President Macron said.

There was no initial indication from officials that this was anything more than an accident, and on Thursday Paris police announced they believe it was an electrical short circuit that most likely caused the fire.

Among the finest examples of European Gothic architecture, Note-Dame is visited by more than 13 million people a year, and is the most-visited monument in Paris.

It was at Notre-Dame that King Henry VI of England was crowned “King of France” in 1431, that Napoleon was made emperor in 1804, and Pope Pius X beatified Joan of Arc in 1909.  Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterand were mourned there.

And the cathedral is known for the legend of the hunchback of Notre Dame, the fictional bell-ringer immortalized by Victor Hugo in his 1831 novel, which later was adapted into multiple films.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that France intends to rebuild the cathedral entirely within five years, saying the French people would pull together to repair their national symbol.  [Experts believe it will easily be 10+ years.]

“We will rebuild Notre-Dame even more beautifully and I want it to be completed in five years, we can do it,” Macron said.  “It is up to us to convert this disaster into an opportunity to come together, having deeply reflected on what we have been and what we have to be and become better than we are.  It is up to us to find the thread of our national project.”

“This is not a time for politics,” Macron added.

Some 24 hours after the fire started, more than 750 million euros ($845 million) had been pledged, with France’s billionaires stepping up...three billionaire families that own France’s giant luxury goods empires: Kering, LVMH and L’Oreal, kicking in 500 million euros alone.

France announced it will hold an international competition to design a replacement for the towering spire, the first step in the long path to rebuild the cathedral.  French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the competition will address the question of whether the spire should be rebuilt at all or identically to the one destroyed on Monday, which was an add-on back in the 19th century.

France has a history of updating its historic buildings with modern flourishes, such as American I.M. Pei’s design of the glass pyramids in the courtyard of the Louvre that opened in 1989.

Kathleen Parker / Washington Post

“At least he recognized the urgency.

“As the world gasped in horror on Monday at the sight of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral burning in a cataclysmic moment, the president of the United States imparted these words of wisdom: ‘Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out.  Must act quickly!”

“Well, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Could we possibly be more banal?

“Ever too soon to the tweet, President Trump didn’t think before typing – or worse, he did.  Mightn’t a clever president – or one of his staffers – suffer through a brief Goggle search before launching?  Or, better, skip the Quick-Fix-It blurb and say something normal?  How about: ‘America’s heart breaks for Notre Dame.’  Instead, the French civil defense agency tweeted back that ‘water-bombing’ the 850-year-old cathedral could ‘lead to the collapse of the entire structure.’....

“Meanwhile, the rest of the world watched in silence, muted by the horror of the unthinkable – the disintegration of one of the world’s greatest monuments.  The fire consumed much of the roof’s wooden latticework, which was called ‘the forest’ because it took some 52 acres’ worth of oak trees to build it.  Begun in 1163 during the reign of King Louis VII, the cathedral took nearly 200 years to construct.  It only took 12 hours of blistering flames to reduce its core to ashes.

“The weight of the symbolism – layers upon layers – is almost too much to bear.  Millions of words, by now, have been spilled as writers and mourners seek the right ones to express the enormity of this loss, not just to Paris, the French and Catholics, but also to humankind.  The destruction of so much history and beauty is overwhelmingly sad....

“It wasn’t just Notre Dame – ‘Our Lady’ – that was being destroyed. To my mind, I was witnessing the immolation of Western civilization. The words that kept repeating themselves as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing were simpler: This is so wrong.

“Notre Dame isn’t supposed to burn.  It is immortal in the hearts and minds of men and women who have lived and died for generations in its shadow.  Airplanes aren’t supposed to crash into buildings, either.  One couldn’t help connecting the burning of Notre Dame to the destruction of the World Trade Center.  Even though very different – one a monument to money and the other to God – both instances felt wrong in the way of civilization unraveling....

“Fire, alternately nature’s most ruthless element and also a most efficient purgatory, released its fury upon one of humanity’s greatest monuments to the holy trinity – God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and Earth; Jesus Christ, His only son; and the Holy Ghost, forever and ever.  The layers upon layers of symbolism in the devastation of art, beauty, faith, history and our ultimate vulnerability are almost too much to bear.

“Which reminds us that when the twin towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, the man who would become president of the United States 15 years later boasted that one of his buildings had become the tallest in Lower Manhattan.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Even as parts of the venerable church collapsed, a miracle emerged: It appears no lives were lost though the cathedral had been a hive of activity for Holy Week worshippers, workmen and tourists.  Yet the loss to Western civilization is incalculable.  Countless artifacts, including some of Europe’s rarest stained glass from the famed rose windows, have been lost.  So has a tactile connection to the faith and artistry of the countless anonymous workmen who built and improved it over the centuries.

“The loss will be felt most keenly by the French.  The importance of Notre Dame as a religious, cultural and political monument in France’s life is hard to appreciate if you aren’t French.  An analogy for Americans would be to imagine the Metropolitan Museum of Art, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Capitol in Washington burned at the same time.  President Emmanuel Macron described the sadness at seeing ‘a part of us’ burn.

“It’s a part of all of us.  One need only witness the throngs of visitors around Notre Dame each day from Africa, South America and Asia alongside North Americans and Europeans to see how its cultural significance spread far beyond the Western civilization that created it.  It has stood for nearly 900 years as a globally recognizable monument to the faith practiced within it.

“The French have endured as a nation for longer than Notre Dame occupied its site in the middle of Paris, and they have survived far deadlier tragedies.  The damage to their greatest national monument is a disaster, but expect French pride and elan to restore what they can of their historic but living legacy.”

Editorial / Washington Post

“The cathedral’s magnetic effect was a concentrated version of Paris’ own.  A quarter of a century ago, Russians, allowed for the first time to travel abroad following the Soviet Union’s collapse, flocked to apply for passports and visas, usually with just one destination in mind.  When they reached the French capital, many made a beeline to Notre Dame, there to have their breath taken away.  Walking in its exterior and interior shadows, some said, was like inhabiting a dream come true.

“We can hope for a miracle of reconstruction, but for now that living dream, shared by so many for so long, lives mainly in memory.  Notre Dame, suffused with history, gave the impression of man-made permanence.  Kings and queens were crowned and married there....It was neither as old as the pyramids, nor as mysterious as Stonehenge, but every bit as enduring and indelible.  Or so we thought.

“The world weeps for Notre Dame, and for Paris....

“Many were in silent tears; many others embraced strangers.  But in general, thousands gathered because they realized they could do nothing else but catch a final glimpse of the place they had known and loved, a place that Macron immediately promised to rebuild but that can never quite be the same again.”

Rich Lowry / New York Post

“ ‘I believe that this church offers the carefully discerning such cause for admiration,’ the 14th-century French philosopher Jean de Jandun wrote of Notre Dame, ‘that its inspection can scarcely sate the soul.’

“A cultural calamity played out on live TV when the cathedral that has been a focal point of Christendom for so long was gutted by a raging fire, destroying a significant part of an inheritance built up over hundreds of years in a few hours.

“Notre Dame stands for so many qualities that we now lack – patience and staying power, the cultivation of beauty, a deep religious faith, a cultural confidence and ambition that could create a timeless monument of our civilization – that the collapse of its spire was almost too much to bear.

“The great novelist Victor Hugo, who did so much to revive interest in the cathedral when it was in disrepair in the 19th century, wrote of how ‘every surface, every stone of this venerable pile, is a page of the history, not only of the country, but of science and art.’

“It was the work of generations, completed over the course of 300 years, in a triumph over considerable architectural and logistical challenges.

“It arose at the original site of a pagan temple.  Thousands of tons of stone had to be transported from outside Paris for it, one ox cart or barge at a time. To achieve its soaring height and hold up its ceiling and walls, it relied on the innovative use of the rib vault and flying buttress.

“France built 80 cathedrals and 500 large churches across this period, but there was only one Notre Dame of Paris, a Gothic jewel whose towers, prior to the advent of the Eiffel Tower, were the tallest structure in Paris.

“It is – or, one hates to think, was – adorned by what are significant cultural artifacts in their own right.

“The statuary meant to illustrate the story of the Bible and to awe worshippers who couldn’t read.

“The stained-glass windows that took considerable ingenuity to embed in stone walls and are themselves artistic marvels.

“The organ with more than 8,000 pipes.  The bells, with their own names, including the largest, the masterpiece Emmanuel, dating back to the 15th century and recast in 1681.

“Not to mention the relics that mean so much to the Catholic faithful.

“It has been the site of countless processions and services to petition and thank God on behalf of the French nation.

“It was where illustrious marriages occurred, where Napoleon crowned himself emperor, where Charles de Gaulle attended a Mass to celebrate the liberation of Paris in 1944, rifle fire echoing outside.

“It survived the rampages of iconoclastic Huguenots in the 16th century, the depredations of radicals during the French Revolution in the 18th century...and incidental damage during two world wars in the 20th century.

“All the while, it accumulated layers of history and meaning.

“Its great advocate Hugo wrote of how ‘the greatest productions of architecture are not so much the work of individuals as of a community; are rather the offspring of a nation’s labor than the out-come of individual genius; the deposit of a whole people; the heaped-up treasure of centuries; the residuum left by the successive evaporations of human society; in a word, a species of formations.’

“He added: ‘Each wave of time leaves its coating of alluvium, each race deposits its layers on the monuments, each individual contributes his stone to it.’

“Notre Dame has been thoughtfully restored and preserved over the years, to our credit.  But it’s difficult not to discern a distressing message in the wanton destruction that ravaged the iconic cathedral – what prior generations so carefully and faithfully built, we are losing.”

Finally, in one of my many trips to Paris, back on May 2, 2011, I wrote in my Bar Chat column:

“As I learned again on Sunday in Paris, life is funny.  In the morning I walked to Notre Dame Cathedral, about 30 minutes from my hotel, and it was perfect spring weather.  I’m Catholic, though not a good one these days, but was determined to attend Mass and attempt to atone for my estimated 6,987 sins...and that’s just from 2007-2011.

“While I was aware this Sunday was the Beatification of Pope John Paul II, I naively didn’t realize it would be celebrated in such high fashion here. I will not comment on JP II and the process, just understand that when you walked into Notre Dame there was a great banner and picture of him over the altar.

“I’ve been to Notre Dame a number of times but can’t remember attending Mass before and let’s just say the organ music is spectacularly beautiful...also haunting.  In other words, way cool.  I kept glancing up to see if I could spot the Hunchback, but he was well hidden it seems.”

God help the people of France rebuild this masterpiece of faith.

---

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

God bless America.

---

Gold $1277
Oil $64.00

Returns for the week 4/15-4/19

Dow Jones  +0.6%  [26559]
S&P 500  -0.00%  [2905]
S&P MidCap N/A
Russell 2000 N/A
Nasdaq  +0.2%  [7998]

Returns for the period 1/1/19-4/19/19

Dow Jones  +13.9%
S&P 500  +15.9%
S&P MidCap  +17.5%
Russell 2000  +16.1%
Nasdaq  +20.5%

Bulls 54.8
Bears
19.2

Have a great week.  Happy Easter and Passover!

Brian Trumbore