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For the week 8/27-8/31
[Posted 11:30 PM ET, Friday]
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John McCain...Trump World
I was glued to the various services for the late Senator John McCain this week, as I will be Saturday from the National Cathedral. I caught them all. All the tributes to a truly great man. Yes, I shed more than a few tears at some of the remembrances and eulogies. I agree with former chief of staff and longtime associate Grant Woods:
“We shall not see his like again.”
I was an unabashed supporter of John McCain. I believed in his foreign policy, being an internationalist myself, and I agreed with McCain’s guiding principle of American exceptionalism.
What we were reminded of, however, this week was just how beloved John McCain was around the world. I have extensive stories below, at the end of this column, but imagine, this is a man who spent New Year’s Eve in 2016 with troops on Ukraine’s front line. When I read that from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko this week, that blew me away, and I thought I knew everything about John McCain.
Oh, like every other supporter of the senator, there were times you disagreed. I gave the max to his 2008 campaign (I’m on the web), went to hear him in New York City, but was incredulous when he selected Sarah Palin to be his running mate (after the initial 24-hour sugar high wore off). McCain made lots of other bad choices in his political career.
But what you keep coming back to, if you share beliefs such as mine, and his, is that America is the beacon of democracy for all the world.
It was John McCain who confronted the same bastards, but directly, that I write of all the time... Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un...Bashar Assad....
It was John McCain who was truly beloved by dissidents, especially of Russia and China, as well as the less visible cases such as in Myanmar. No doubt there was a shedding of tears in those countries this week.
John McCain stood for American values like few others in our nation’s history.
As his longtime aide and speechwriter Mark Salter wrote this week:
“To the downtrodden, the freedom fighters, the forgotten and the desperate, he was their champion.”
This coming week, or in the weeks to follow, Americans are going to become most familiar with a looming catastrophe...Syria (and Russia’s) assault on the province of Idlib. I write more on this below, but as I’ve written, 2012 will prove to be the key year for the world this century; the year in which Barack Obama, more concerned with the elections that fall than the cause of humanity blew off Turkish President Erdogan’s plea for a joint no-fly zone in Syria that, as any reader of more than a year knows, would have prevented the loss of over 400,000 lives, 9 million+ displaced, the refugee crisis in Europe, and the rise of ISIS. John McCain (and Lindsey Graham) were the lone men in Washington who got it.
This wasn’t John McCain, war-monger, as many improperly describe him, this was John McCain, statesman...diplomat. A man who was a staunch supporter of the very global alliances President Trump seeks to tear down.
Speaking of our president, I had prepared a scathing list on just what a small, pathetic leader he was this week.
But for now, all history needs to know is that while John McCain first looked into Vladimir Putin’s soul and “saw only three letters: K.G.B.,” Donald Trump praised Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un, and said nothing honorable, worthy of the moment, of John McCain outside of some insipid tweets that were contemptible.
As McCain once said of Trump: “The damage inflicted by (his) naivete, egotism, false equivalence and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate.”
This was a week of national mourning like few in our nation’s history, and there was Donald Trump, beside himself that McCain was sucking up the coverage.
Donald Trump, who praised Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, couldn’t raise the flag from half-staff fast enough, before his aides and critics got a hold of him and said ‘enough.’
Politicians from both sides of the aisle as well as national leaders of veterans’ groups slammed Trump in protest, calling the commander-in-chief vindictive and petty.
The White House typically honors deceased lawmakers by keeping the building’s flags at half-staff until their funerals, but that requires a presidential proclamation, and Trump didn’t issue one.
Denise Rohan, the national commander of the American Legion, said in a public letter to the president Monday.
“Mr. President, just this year, you released presidential proclamations noting the deaths of Barbara Bush and Billy Graham.
“Sen. McCain was an American hero and cherished member of The American Legion. As I’m certain you are aware, he served five and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and retired from the U.S. Navy at the rank of Captain. He then served in the U.S. Congress for more than three decades.
“On behalf of The American Legion’s two million wartime veterans, I strongly urge you to make an appropriate presidential proclamation noting Senator McCain’s death and legacy of service to our nation, and that our nation’s flag be half-staffed through his interment,” she wrote.
The same classless Donald Trump who about two weeks ago went to Fort Drum to sign the “McCain Defense Authorization Bill,” and didn’t mention McCain’s name.
The same Donald Trump, who on Thursday, amid the services, spent over an hour in Indiana railing about the fake news, and never once mentioned John McCain.
Former Vice President Joe Biden eulogized John McCain in terms that were clearly intended to paint a contrast with Trump, recalling McCain’s devotion to a country and a politics “organized not around tribe but around ideals.”
Biden spoke of the values of “fairness, honesty, dignity, respect, giving hate no safe harbor, leaving no one behind and understanding that as Americans, we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves.”
“With John,” Biden said, “it was a value set that was neither selfish nor self-serving.”
More on the passing of John McCain below.
--President Trump in essence fired White House counsel, Don McGahn, announcing via a tweet he would be leaving the administration this fall, leaving the president’s side just as the sprawling Russia investigation could come to a conclusion.
Now it’s true, everyone assumed McGahn was leaving after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as Supreme Court Justice, as many of us presume, but Trump hadn’t talked to McGahn about this before tweeting about it.
“I have worked with Don for a long time and truly appreciate his service!”
Don McGahn will emerge a hero in this whole fiasco, of this you can be sure. Recall, the president asked McGahn last June 2017 to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and refused to do so, threatening to resign, after which Trump backed down.
McGahn had stayed on at the urging of Mitch McConnell, while McGahn played the critical role in executing a strategy of appointing conservative judges to the federal bench.
And we recently learned McGahn spent 30 hours being interviewed by Mueller’s investigators.
--In an interview with Bloomberg News, President Trump said Thursday that embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ job was safe at least until after the midterm elections.
“I just would love to have him do a great job,” Trump said. Asked if he’d keep Sessions beyond November, Trump declined to comment.
Trump tweets: “How the hell is Bruce Ohr still employed at the Justice Department? Disgraceful! Witch Hunt!”
“Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of...
“...results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!”
“I just cannot state strongly enough how totally dishonest much of the Media is. Truth doesn’t matter to them, they only have their hatred & agenda. This includes fake books which come out about me all the time, always anonymous sources, and are pure fiction. Enemy of the People!”
“The hatred and extreme bias of me by @CNN has clouded their thinking and made them unable to function. But actually, as I have always said, this has been going on for a long time. Little Jeff Z [Ed. Zucker] has done a terrible job, his ratings suck & AT&T should fire him to save credibility!”
“What’s going on at @CNN is happening, to different degrees, at other networks – with @NBCNews being the worst. The good news is that Andy Lack(y) is about to be fired(?) for incompetence, and much worse. When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, they were hurt badly!”
It was the first time Trump has suggested any impropriety over his damning interview with Holt in the 15 months since it aired.
Recall, in the May 2017 interview, Trump characterized his firing of Comey this way: “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’”
Trump’s comment thus raised questions about whether he sought to undercut and obstruct the investigation by removing the man in charge of it.
And this bizarre one:
“STATEMENT FROM THE WHITE HOUSE President Donald J. Trump feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese Government. At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with...
“...considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities. This is not helpful! Nonetheless, the President believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts...
“...of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games. Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before. As for the U.S.-China trade disputes, and other...
“...differences, they will be resolved in time by President Trump and China’s great President Xi Jinping. Their relationship and bond remain very strong.”
Incredibly, this is what passes for official U.S. foreign policy these days. President Trump didn’t pass this by anyone on his foreign policy team, but as I describe below, both North Korea and China of course responded, and it wasn’t good.
--Michael Gerson / Washington Post
“(We) are seeing the largest test of political character in my lifetime. And where are the Republican leaders large enough to show the way?
“President Trump’s recent remarks to evangelical Christians at the White House capture where Republican politics is heading. ‘This November 6 election,’ Trump said, ‘is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion.’ A direct, unadorned appeal to tribal hostilities. Fighting for Trump, the president argued, is the only way to defend the Christian faith. None of these men and women of God, apparently, gagged on their hors d’oeuvres.
“If religious get-out-the-vote efforts are insufficient, according to the president, ‘that will be the beginning of ending everything that you’ve gotten.’ The gates of hell will not prevail against the church, but evidently Nancy Pelosi would.
“ ‘It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question that [Democrats] will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence.’ Here Trump is preparing his audience for the possibility of bloodshed by predicting it from the other side. Christians, evidently, need to start taking ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ more literally.
“This is now what passes for GOP discourse – the cultivation of anger, fear, grievances, prejudices and hatreds.
“I have sympathy for principled Republicans at a time when principle is swiftly and effectively punished. In Florida’s recent primaries, significantly more Republican voters said they were loyal to Trump than to the GOP. In many places, the only way for an ordinary Republican senator or House member to maintain any political influence is to burn incense to the emperor.
“But Republican leaders need to prepare themselves. This compromise is likely to be temporary. Trump is not only making a challenge to the Republican establishment; he is also increasingly impatient with structures of democratic accountability. As Edward Luce argues in ‘The Retreat of Western Liberalism,’ ‘the true populist loses patience with the rules of the democratic game.’ He comes to view himself as the embodied voice of the people, and opponents as (in Trump’s words) ‘un-American’ and ‘treasonous.’
“As Robert S. Mueller III continues the inexorable investigation of Trump’s sleazy business and political world – and if Democrats gain the House and begin aggressive oversight – a cornered president may test the limits of executive power in the attempt to avoid justice. If the GOP narrowly retains control of the House, Trump and others will take it as the vindication of his whole approach to politics. The president will doubtlessly go further in targeting his enemies for investigation and other harm. He will doubtlessly attack the independence of the FBI and attempt to make it an instrument of his will. He will doubtlessly continue his vendetta against responsible journalism and increase his pressure on media companies that don’t please him. On a broad front, Trump’s lunacy will become operational.”
--The White House did not directly address a new estimate of the death toll in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico...2,975...according to a study by George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, which was commissioned by the Puerto Rican government, a stunning increase over the 64 deaths counted by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s administration.
But President Trump offered again this week that his administration “did a terrific job.”
--Pathetic Trump comment No. 4.895. Addressing the Thursday rally in Indiana, at one point Trump said of the media: “I have a better education from better schools than them...I’m president and they’re not.”
Wall Street and Trade
The S&P 500 and Nasdaq, as well as the small-cap Russell 2000 index, all hit record highs this week, owing to strong corporate profits and more solid economic news, as well as optimism, at least for now, on the trade front.
The first revision of second-quarter GDP had it ticking up to 4.2% from an initial reading of 4.1%; reinforcing what should be the Republicans’ main talking point, ditto the president’s if he wasn’t so distracted elsewhere.
[The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow indicator for the third quarter is currently at 4.1%.]
July personal income was basically in line with expectations, 0.3%, with consumption (consumer spending) at a solid 0.4%. The Fed’s preferred inflation barometer, the personal consumption expenditures index, PCE, is running at 2.3% year-over-year, 2.0% ex-food and energy, which is the Fed’s target.
The Chicago purchasing managers’ index for August was 63.6, down from July’s 65.5 but still terrific (50 being the dividing line between growth and contraction).
The Conference Board’s August reading on consumer confidence came in at its highest level since October 2000.
On the housing front, we had the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price data and for June (this one has a lag), the average price in the 20-city index was up 6.3%, down from 6.5% the previous month.
David Blitzer, managing director at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said, “We’ve been running faster than we should be able to sustain for quite some time.”
To reiterate Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s remarks from his Jackson Hole, Wyoming, appearance at an annual symposium last Friday, Powell said the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee (FOMC) must balance the threat of moving too fast and shortening the expansion, or moving too slowly and allowing for overheating.
“I see the current path of gradually raising interest rates as the FOMC’s approach to taking seriously both of these risks.” While unemployment is low, “there does not seem to be an elevated risk of overheating.”
“This is good news, and we believe that this good news results in part from the ongoing normalization process, which has moved the stance of policy gradually,” Powell said. “If the strong growth in income and jobs continues, further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate will likely be appropriate.”
On the Trade front...the United States and Mexico reached common ground on key trade terms on Monday, President Trump announcing the two sides had reached a preliminary agreement, that still needs a sign-off from Canada, which governs $1.2 trillion in annual trade.
Trump has repeatedly demanded renegotiation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which he blames for a decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs, especially in the auto industry.
So Trump, in a televised appearance from the Oval Office, proclaimed the two sides had agreed on terms that made for an “incredible” deal that was “much more fair.”
But the outcome remains in doubt...and details were minimal.
What we do know is that the U.S. and Mexico agreed that 75% of a product must be made in the U.S. and Mexico to receive tax-free treatment, which is more than the existing 62.5%.
On cars, the two sides also settled on rules that will require 40%-45% of each vehicle to be made by workers earning at least $16 an hour. That provision is designed to discourage companies from locating plants in lower-wage Mexico.
The announced deal would allow President Trump to impose 25% tariffs on imports of Mexican-made passenger vehicles and auto parts above certain volumes, apparently 2.4 million vehicles annually. Volumes above that level would be subject to tariffs, according to auto industry officials.
The two sides agreed to review the trade pact every six years – but the review will not carry the threat of expiration as the U.S. had initially proposed (the so-called “sunset provision”).
Without Canada, though, there was no certainty, such as for industries like agriculture.
Canada’s initial reaction was that Mexico’s concessions to the U.S. would pave the way for productive talks.
President Trump told Canadian officials they had until Friday to sign on to his new North American trade pact, threatening to leave them behind, rip up the existing pact and even, possibly, hit Canada with draconian auto tariffs.
At the end of the day, with Trump having to confirm off-the- record, hardline comments he had made about Canada in an interview Thursday with Bloomberg that leaked out (maybe through Trump himself...because that’s what he does), talks with Canada resume next Wednesday, with the goal of getting a deal all three nations could sign.
Earlier today, Trump formally told Congress he plans to sign a trade deal with Mexico in 90 days, which Canada could join “if it is willing.”
The administration is anxious to start the clock on the 90-day notice that U.S. trade law requires Trump to give Congress before he can sign any agreement. Friday was an important deadline because the White House wants to get a deal done by Dec. 1, when Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto steps down for President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). Lopez Obrador had his representatives at the U.S.-Mexico talks, but Trump doesn’t want to risk the new Mexican administration balking at a deal his team brokered with the old one.
Trump has until the end of September to send Congress the full, detailed deal.
But many members of Congress have been telling the White House they won’t back a deal that excludes Canada.
A trilateral deal would need only 51 votes in the Senate, while a bilateral pact would need a far more difficult 60-vote threshold, according to Republican Senator Pat Toomey. If Republicans retain 51 of the Senate’s seats in the midterm elections, they could approve a new agreement without the support of Democrats.
The U.S. and Canada could announce a preliminary agreement, such as in the U.S.-Mexico arrangement, which would give the two sides another month to finalize a deal.
Editorial / Wall Street Journal
“President Trump says his new trade deal with Mexico can go forward without Canada, but that’s more bluster than reality. Canada needs the U.S. market for its goods, but Mr. Trump also needs Canada to join his revised deal to prevent economic harm and get his pact through Congress.
“Start with the economic interdependence, which is considerable. Canada ranked as the number one export market for no fewer than 33 U.S. states in 2016. That includes northern states that border Canada, but also Georgia, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Tennessee, according to the Census Bureau. Those are all states Mr. Trump carried in 2016.
“California’s biggest export market is Mexico, but it still sends a staggering $25.4 billion in goods and services to Canada in a year. About 1.2 million Golden State jobs rely on trade and investment with Canada, according to the Business Council of Canada. Michigan exports $24.6 billion north of the border, Texas $24.1 billion, Ohio $20.2bn, New York $19.2bn and Illinois $18.6bn.
“All of this buying and selling has grown accustomed to the cross-border rules and zero tariffs under the current trilateral NAFTA pact. Renouncing those rules out of pique so Mr. Trump can impose a 25% tariff on cars made in Canada would be economic folly.
“Members of Congress understand this, which is why many are now speaking up to say that Canada must be part of any new deal. It isn’t clear that Congress can pass a Mexico-U.S. pact without Canada. Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey thinks that such a pact with Mexico wouldn’t qualify under ‘fast-track’ rules, which means it would require 60 Senate votes.
“ ‘NAFTA was a tri-party agreement only made operative with legislation enacted by Congress. Any change, such as NAFTA’s termination, would require additional legislation from Congress,’ Mr. Toomey said in a statement on his website. Pennsylvania sends about $11.8 billion in exports to Canada each year.
“Excluding Canada would also make it harder to win union support that could persuade Democrats to vote for the new deal. (Canada’s unions) and unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO represent more than a million workers in Canadian companies. A 25% U.S. auto tariff would cost many union workers their job....
“Mr. Trump says his tariff policy will yield ‘smart’ trade deals, but a bilateral deal with Mexico isn’t good enough. He needs Canada as much as Canada needs the U.S. market.”
As for China, President Trump is prepared to quickly ramp up this trade war and has told aides he is ready to impose tariffs on $200 billion more in Chinese imports as soon as a public comment period on the plan ends next week, Bloomberg News reported on Thursday.
The White House declined comment, which impacted the markets negatively on Thursday.
Washington is demanding Beijing improve market access and intellectual property protections for U.S. companies, as part of a plan to address a $375 billion trade gap.
The world’s two largest economies have already applied tariffs to $50 billion of each other’s goods in a tit-for-tat tussle thus far. Talks ended last week without major breakthroughs, and there are no plans for further talks at this time.
Administration officials are reportedly divided over how far to push Beijing.
Also yet to come, a deal with the European Union. The EU said on Thursday it made one of the most significant concessions in its negotiations with the United States, an offer to cut its existing penalties on autos to zero, provided the United States dropped its own tariffs. But in the Bloomberg interview the same day, President Trump said it wasn’t enough. “Their consumer habits are to buy their cars, not to buy our cars.”
Earth to President Trump. You ever see the size of parking spots in Europe? Our cars aren’t built for the European market.
And then there was President Trump’s threat, via the Bloomberg interview, to withdraw from the World Trade Organization if “they don’t shape up.” Such a move would undermine one of the foundations of the modern global trading system, which the United States was instrumental in creating. Trump has complained the United States is treated unfairly in global trade and has blamed the WTO for allowing that to happen.
Lastly, on a separate matter, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled Wednesday that imports of Canadian newsprint do not threaten or materially harm the U.S. newsprint industry, a decision that reverses tariffs put in place by the Trump administration this year.
The commission’s 5-0 ruling comes after the Commerce Department had put in place two sets of duties levied on producers and exporters of uncoated groundwood paper – the material on which most newspapers are printed.
Newspaper groups have said the duties increased newsprint costs by nearly 30% for news organizations, which have already been struggling mightily. The Tampa Bay Times, for one, eliminated 50 jobs to cope with the estimated $3.5 million additional cost the paper expected to pay annually for newsprint as a result of the tariffs.
Europe and Asia
A flash estimate of euro area annual inflation in August, courtesy of Eurostat, puts it at 2.0%, down from 2.1% in July 2018. Ex-food and energy, just 1.2%, down from 1.3%.
Euro area unemployment for July was 8.2%, same as the prior two months, and versus 9.1% a year earlier. [Eurostat]
The jobless rate was 3.4% in Germany, 9.2% in France, Spain 15.1%, Italy 10.4% and 19.5% in Greece (May).
Brexit: As the October deadline approaches for the UK to secure a Brexit deal with the European Union, two sides agreed that a divorce deal could be finalized by the middle of November and still have time to get it signed off on by all the parliaments in time for the March 29, 2019 deadline.
Initially, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said the Government was “working to the October deadline,” but, “Both sides have agreed to increase the pace of negotiations. That’s what we’re doing.”
Britain’s Brexit minister Dominic Raab told lawmakers on Wednesday that a deal is “within our sights,” pointing to the EU summit in October, adding there was “a measure of leeway” over the exact timetable.
Negotiations have stalled over the issue of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and a no-deal scenario is still very much in play.
It doesn’t help that support for May’s Conservatives continues to plummet in opinion polls.
Separately, Panasonic is the latest to move its European headquarter from the UK to Amsterdam in October as Brexit approaches. The aim is to avoid tax issues linked to Britain’s decision to exit the EU.
A problem for a Japanese company is that if Britain cuts corporate tax rates in an attempt to attract business, and if Panasonic ended up paying less tax in the UK, then it could be liable for a bigger tax bill in Japan.
More than 800 Japanese companies employ more than 100,000 people in the UK. But financial firms including Nomura and Sumitomo Mitsui have already said they will no longer maintain their EU headquarters in London.
Italy: The government is threatening to pull out of the European Union’s search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean unless other EU countries agree to allow rescued migrants to land at their ports rather than just Italian ones.
Matteo Salvini, the hardline interior minister, said Rome was “assessing” whether to continue with the anti-trafficking Operation Sophia.
Under Sophia’s rules, all rescued migrants are taken to Italian ports – but Italy’s coalition government has demanded more support from other EU countries after bearing the brunt of the 2015 migration crisis.
While migrant arrivals are way down from 2015’s hoards, the migration issue has become hugely divisive across the continent, with southern European countries rightfully complaining they have been left to bear the brunt of the crisis.
Salvini lashed out against French President Emmanuel Macron this week, after Macron criticized him for turning away migrant boats.
“Macron should have the good taste to keep quiet and not give lectures to the Italians,” Salvini said, after accusing France of pushing back more than 40,000 migrants to Italy last year.
Germany: An estimated 5,000 far-right protesters clashed with around 1,000 counter protesters on Monday night in the eastern German city of Chemnitz, as a Syrian (23) and an Iraqi (22) remained under arrest on suspicion of stabbing a man to death during a fight the day before.
Several people were injured during the disturbances, including alleged assaults on migrants, with others filmed making the Nazi salute, which is illegal in Germany.
There are many in the country who say the number of far-right, Nazi-like organizations in Germany is small, but the protests were organized by far-right groups including the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) which has seats in parliament; AfD rising in the polls.
France: President Macron suffered a major political blow when his popular environmental minister, Nicolas Hulot, one of the most respected members of Macron’s cabinet, abruptly resigned during a radio interview, without having previously told Macron.
Macron continues to face mounting problems as the centrist seeks to solve decades of low growth and high unemployment. Drawing up a budget amid the punk economic environment has been a struggle as France needs to reduce its deficit under European Union rules.
Earlier in the summer, Macron’s former bodyguard and senior security aide was filmed manhandling protesters while appearing to impersonate a policeman.
But picture that Hulot’s resignation came as Macron was setting out on a trip to sell his EU agenda. As a government spokesman correctly put it, “The most basic of courtesies would have been to warn the president of the republic and the prime minister.”
Turning to Asia ....I got a kick out of an extensive story in the South China Morning Post that echoes what so many of us have thought about over the years.
“Officials at the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) are having a tough time explaining their latest set of data to anyone’s satisfaction.
“This year, economists and analysts have been scratching their heads over an increasing number of statistical anomalies in some of the most watched data, such as industrial profits.
“This is not a new problem for the NBS, whose results have been questioned by outside experts for years.
“One of the most notorious examples is the long-standing problem with the country’s gross domestic product figures, where the combined provincial figures do not tally with the NBS’s national total.”
It is indeed comical, the consistency of the GDP figures, but as Carsten Holz, professor of economics from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who has closely studied Chinese statistics for years, put it:
“In an authoritarian system there is definitely an incentive for statistics officials to publish data that will please the government.
“At the same time, however, economic policy that is based on unreliable data can only be deficient and thus leads to outcomes that will not please the government.”
The data discrepancies, between provincial figures and national ones, apparently are only getting worse.
Electricity consumption, for instance, has been one that most thought was a pretty reliable indicator, and now it’s not so much, according to folks who follow this stuff for a living.
NBS also reports growth in national statistics, even when in yuan terms there is none.
Personally, I just look for trends. Obviously, when you get GDP numbers like 6.9%, 6.8%, 6.7%, and 6.8%, something is badly amiss, when compared with legitimate data sets such as U.S. GDP...2.8%, 2.3%, 2.2%, and 4.2% our last four quarters.
Meanwhile, the NBS released its PMI on manufacturing and it came in at 51.3 for August, essentially unchanged from the prior month.
In Japan, industrial production fell 0.1% in July over June, while core consumer prices in August rose 0.9% on an annual basis,
--As noted above, stocks rose to new highs, the S&P 500 closing the week at 2901, up 0.9% and 8.5% for the year. Nasdaq hit a new high of its own, and finished at 8109, crossing 8000 for the first time, up 2.1%...17.5% for 2018. The Dow Jones is still about 650 points shy of its record high at 25964, up 0.7% the past five days and 5.0% for the year.
The Commerce Department reported that as part of its broadest measure of after-tax profits, across the U.S. they rose 16.1% in the second quarter from a year earlier, the biggest gain in six years.
Owing to the corporate tax cut of last year, taxes paid by companies were down 33% from a year earlier.
--U.S. Treasury Yields
6-mo. 2.26% 2-yr. 2.63% 10-yr. 2.86% 30-yr. 3.02%
--The national gas price heading into the Labor Day weekend is $2.84 per gallon, 48 cents more than a year ago.
The oil price finished the week at $69.88, as U.S. crude inventories fell more than expected, per the Energy Information Administration.
Some experts widely expect crude to stay at, or exceed, the $70 level in the weeks ahead as supply from Iran continues to fall with the U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil industry due to take effect at the start of November.
--Amazon shares surged past $2,000 for the first time on Thursday, finishing the week at $2,016. At $2,050, the e-commerce giant would join Apple in the $1 trillion market cap club. The shares have gained over 3,000 percent in the past decade.
In fact, less than a year ago in early October 2017, Amazon shares first crossed the $1,000 mark.
A Morgan Stanley report this week raised the price target for the retailer to $2,500, with analyst Bryan Nowak saying in a note: “We have increasing confidence that Amazon’s rapidly growing, increasingly large, high margin revenue streams (advertising, AWS, subscriptions) will drive higher profitability.”
--Elon Musk did it again. The Tesla CEO announced in a tweet last weekend that he was abandoning a plan to take his electric carmaker private, a move that may make his legal and regulatory woes worse.
About 15 minutes after I posted late last Friday night, I saw the story and could have injected it into my column but opted not to, not having the details I require. Musk said that taking the company private “would be even more time-consuming and distracting than initially anticipated,” and that “most of Tesla’s existing shareholders believe we are better off as a public company.”
It was on August 7 that Musk first shocked investors, and the Tesla board, with his tweet announcing he had “funding secured” for a go-private deal at $420 a share, which would value the company at $72 billion.
Musk and Tesla are facing investor lawsuits and an SEC investigation into the truthfulness of the August 7 tweet, according to the Wall Street Journal. But now the SEC will look at Musk’s statement last Friday night, pulling back from taking the company private, as a possible indication that he did not have a reasonable basis for his statement of Aug. 7.
In an Aug. 13 statement, Musk said that he left a July 31 meeting with the managing director of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund “with no question that a deal...could be closed.”
But one of Tesla’s biggest challenges today is ramping up production of its Model 3. The company is aiming to consistently build 5,000 per week, a target it says it has managed “multiple times” since first achieving the mark one week in June.
The shares finished the week at $301.25, down from $322.75 a week earlier.
--Toyota Motor Corp. is expanding an alliance with Uber Technologies Inc. through a new investment and a plan to get self-driving cars on the road.
Toyota will invest about $500 million in a deal that will value the ride-hailing company at $72 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal, though neither company commented.
Uber has a three-pronged self-driving strategy. For one, Uber bought Volvos, retrofitted the cars with its self-driving technology and operates the fleet on its own. In another, Daimler AG is operating its own self-driving cars on Uber’s network. And then the Toyota deal becomes a third pillar, with Uber licensing its technology.
Public road testing with Uber’s Volvo vehicles is still on hold after one of its vehicles killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., in March.
--Apple announced it was hosting an event on Sept. 12 at the company’s Cupertino, California, campus, where it is widely expected to unveil three new smartphones...at least it has released new phone models in the second week of September before.
Separately, in an interview with CNBC this week, Warren Buffett, celebrating his 88th birthday, said his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. conglomerate had added a “little” to its already huge stake in Apple.
Buffett said of his holdings, which are representative of the broader economy, that “Business is good across the board. It was good two years ago, it keeps getting better.”
[Buffett added he was buying back Berkshire stock as a way to deploy some of the company’s $111.1 billion of cash.]
--Best Buy reported its largest second-quarter sales boost in 15 years on Tuesday, helping push both the top and bottom lines beyond the Street’s expectations.
Same-store sales jumped 6% during the quarter, but investors sent the shares lower on a weaker-than-expected forecast for the current quarter, even as it raised its guidance for sales and profits for the full year, forecasting same-store sales of 3.5% to 4.5% for the full fiscal year, up from the original guidance of flat to 2% growth.
Profit jumped 16.7% to $244 million, as revenue rose 5% to $9.38 billion.
Best Buy has improved its store experience over the years, and invested in price matching and speedier delivery options.
But the company warned on upward wage pressure as weighing on profits.
--Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. said weaker sales of Under Armour Inc. apparel and a decision to pull back from the hunting business dragged on the retailer’s latest quarterly results.
Comparable-store sales fell 4%, weaker-than-expected and bucking the overall trend in the retail sector. Part of the reason was the decision by Under Armour to sell in more stores, including Kohl’s. And Dick’s decision to tighten its policy on gun sales after 17 people were killed in a February shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school. The retailer halted sales of any firearms to people under age 21 at all of its 845 Dick’s and Field & Stream stores and stopped selling assault-style weapons at Field & Stream. When excluding Under Armour and the hunting and electronics business, comp-store sales fell 1%.
While the shares fell 2% on the earnings news, they are up over 20% for the year. Net income of $119.4 million handily beat expectations.
--Tiffany & Co. is still shining bright, the jeweler reporting sales that exceeded analysts’ estimates, while raising its full-year forecast.
Tiffany has experienced a renaissance after a lengthy period of same-store sales contraction that ended after new CEO Alessandro Bogliolo revamped the company to attract younger shoppers and spark new interest in the brand. Reed Krakoff, design chief, has supposedly crafted flashy new products, though I have to admit, as a Dollar Tree shopper myself, buying kitchen sponges...for a dollar...I really wouldn’t know.
Tiffany’s same-store sales worldwide jumped 7%, after excluding currency swings. In the Americas, comp-store sales rose 8%, while sales in the Asia Pacific region, ex-Japan, were up 10%. Europe, however, showed a decline of 4%.
The stock in initial pre-market trading was up substantially, but then ended down on the week. The shares had risen 46% over the past year and a pause was probably warranted.
--As alluded to above, the Trump administration said it would explore regulating Google – an effort that would challenge protections around free speech online – as Trump alleges Google manipulates its search results to prominently display negative stories about him and other Republicans.
After the president’s tweets, his top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said the White House is “taking a look” at whether, and how, Google should be regulated.
Then Trump told reporters separately:
“We have literally thousands and thousands of complaints coming in. And you just can’t do that. And so I think that Google and Twitter and Facebook, they are really treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful. It is not fair to large portions of the population,” he continued.
So Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said: “What he doesn’t like is the news. It’s not the people who are delivering it or the platforms on which they receive it. It seems to be the news itself, because around there [the White House], the news is not good except the fake news.”
Smith added that Trump’s statement “means nothing.”
Google quickly rebuked Trump’s comments. In a statement to The Hill, they said that Google search does not hold any political bias.
“When users type queries into the Google Search bar, our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds,” said a spokesperson.
Regulating search results would violate the First Amendment, lawmakers from both parties, and tech experts said.
Republican Sen. John Neely Kennedy (La.) said: “We can all agree on one thing: Poison is being spread on the Internet, but what is poison? Somebody is going to have to step in and be a neutral arbiter of what can go on, and what can’t. I don’t want to see the government do that.”
Google processes 90 percent of searches globally, and its algorithms return results based on their calculated relevance, a process Google portrays as neutral.
So they say....but....
In the past, Google has faced investigations for giving preference to its own products and services in search results.
--Coca-Cola Co. said it would buy British coffee-shop chain Costa for $5.1 billion, as Coke diversifies further from its soft-drink roots and becomes the latest consumer goods company to place a bet on coffee.
Costa, a rival to Starbucks Corp. in the U.K., has nearly 4,000 stores in 32 countries, including a growing presence in China. But it doesn’t have any U.S. stores.
--Campbell Soup Co. plans to sell its international operations and refrigerated-foods business, abandoning efforts to play up fresh food and leaving the door open to a full scale.
After the divestiture of businesses that accounted for $2.1 billion in annual revenue (roughly a quarter of the company’s total) under brands including Bolthouse Farms, Arnott’s and Kelsen, what remains will be split between Campbell soups, meals and drinks, and the snack business.
Activist investors such as Daniel Loeb of Third Point LLC forced the move, but want more.
--Canada’s economy rebounded in the second quarter, powered by strong exports and an acceleration in consumer spending. GDP rose at a 2.9% annualized rate in Q2, according to Statistics Canada. It was 1.4% in the first quarter.
--The Southern California median home price slipped in July from June’s record (a normal pattern), but it was still up 5.8% from July 2017, according to data released Thursday by real estate firm CoreLogic.
North Korea: As alluded to above, and which bears repeating, President Trump hailed his personal relationship with Kim Jong Un on Wednesday and said there was currently no reason to resume war games with South Korea, a day after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said they could resume following a brief, post-Singapore summit halt to them.
Trump issued a series of tweets (a statement) in which he once again questioned China’s role in helping to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons that threaten the U.S.
Written in the third person, the statement said Trump believed North Korea was under “tremendous pressure” from China, but Beijing was also supplying Pyongyang with “considerable aid,” including fuel, fertilizer and commodities.
“This is not helpful!” the statement said. “Nonetheless, the President believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games,” it added. “Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.”
The statement also said that the U.S. trade dispute with China and other differences “will be resolved in time by President Trump’s and China’s great President Xi Jinping. Their relationship and bond remain very strong.”
As usual, Trump caught many American military planners and the State Department off guard.
Prior to the tweets, last Sunday, North Korea’s state newspaper accused the U.S. of “hatching a criminal plot to unleash a war against the DPRK” while “having a dialogue with a smile of its face,” following a report on South Korean radio that American forces in Japan were running drills aimed at invading Pyongyang.
“We cannot but take a serious note of the double-dealing attitudes of the U.S. as it is busy staging secret drills involving man-killing special units while having a dialogue with a smile on its face,” the commentary from North Korea’s Rodong Sinmum said
“The U.S. would be sadly mistaken if it thinks that it can browbeat someone through trite ‘gunboat diplomacy’ which it used to employ as an almighty weapon in the past and attain its sinister intention,” it added.
Pyongyang has given no indication it is willing to give up its weapons unilaterally as the Trump administration has demanded. Last Friday, Trump called off a trip to North Korea by Pompeo just hours after Pompeo had announced it and publicly acknowledged for the first time that his efforts to get the North to denuclearize had stalled. The harsh rhetoric from Pyongyang came in response to the cancellation.
North Korea is seeking sanctions relief and a formal conclusion to the 1950-53 Korean War, but Washington says North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons first.
Pompeo has been warned by U.S. officials that talks with Pyongyang could collapse, and instead, Kim could try to cut a deal with South Korea, to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington.
China responded to Trump’s accusations in his tweets by accusing the president of “shifting blame,” while deriding his “irresponsible and absurd logic.”
“A lot of people, like me, feel that the U.S. is first in the world when it comes to twisting the truth, and irresponsible and absurd logic,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing. “This logic is not easily understood by all.”
Meanwhile, Japan is set to pay $2.1 billion for a new U.S. missile defense system, amid pressure from President Trump to accelerate its spending on American military hardware, partly as a way to reduce the trade deficit.
China: The United Nations’ human rights experts called on China to free Muslim Uighurs from alleged re-education camps, detained on the “pretext of countering terrorism.’ The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination cited estimates that up to one million Uighurs may be held involuntarily in extra-legal detention in China’s far western Xinjiang province. China’s foreign ministry rejected the allegations. China has never officially confirmed the existence of the camps, though it maintain Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists.
But the U.N. criticized China’s “broad definition of terrorism and vague references to extremism and unclear definition of separatism in Chinese legislation.’
A group of U.S. lawmakers has urged the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Chinese officials and companies allegedly tied to the security crackdown in Xinjiang. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Republican Rep. Chris Smith (N.J.) are leading the charge.
Separately, the Communist Party is doubling down on efforts to rid the country’s vast bureaucracy of its inertia, after a relentless anti-corruption campaign had many officials opting for inaction in an effort to save themselves.
But as the South China Morning Post reported, “Updated party rules released this week state that failing to implement policies from the top is now officially a breach of discipline that can see cadres lose their jobs or even be expelled from the party.
“Those who refuse to implement policy directives from the party’s Central Committee, who run their own agenda, or ‘are not resolute enough, cut corners or make accommodations’ in applying them, will be subject to punishment under the new rules, which took effect on August 18.”
Earlier, the cabinet announced a series of “targeted inspections” – especially on priority issues such as reducing poverty, tackling pollution, promoting innovation and revitalizing the rural economy.
Finally, Owen Churchill of the South China Morning Post reported the following:
“China’s ruling Communist Party is pursuing an aggressive, covert infiltration of U.S. educational and social institutions to quell dissenting voices and strengthen its soft power overseas, according to a report written for an influential U.S. congressional body.
“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is seeking ‘to co-opt ethnic Chinese individuals and communities living outside China,’ said the report, published by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission....
“The commission’s report highlights the scrutiny to which the party subjects overseas Chinese, not only as carriers of soft power but also as potential resources for the monitoring of anti-party individuals and groups operating abroad.”
Exactly what I’ve been telling you for years, based on my own observations and experiences.
Iran: According to the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran continues to fulfill the key requirements of the 2015 nuclear deal, the agency said Thursday, despite the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement.
The IAEA puts together a quarterly report for member states that was seen by the Wall Street Journal, with the IAEA saying Iran was honoring its pledges to limit stockpiles of key nuclear materials and maintain IAEA inspectors’ access to sites.
Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium rose to 139 kilograms from 124 kilograms in May, but remained well within the 202-kilogram limit. A kilogram is 2.2 pounds.
Earlier, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast doubt on the ability of EU countries to save the agreement and said Tehran might abandon it. Khamenei told President Hassan Rouhani not to rely too much on European support as he came under increased pressure at home over his handling of the economy in the face of U.S. sanctions, with key ministers under attack by parliament.
Rouhani was summoned to parliament to answer questions about the country’s economic crisis, and then it voted to reject his explanation, in a remarkable rebuke of him.
Rouhani blamed U.S. sanctions, not the government, for his country’s troubles. The president has long been viewed as a moderate (it’s relative), and he campaigned in 2013 and 2017 on easing hostilities between his country and the West. He did get the 2015 nuclear accord with the United States and five other powers to give up elements of Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of some sanctions.
But then Trump withdrew from the agreement and reimposed sanctions not only on Iran but also on companies doing business with the country, which has persuaded European businesses to largely stay away, even though Britain, France and Germany (members of the P5+1 signatories) gave them certain protections.
With Ayatollah Khamenei and the unelected Guardian Council still having most of the power in Iran, Rouhani’s position is tenuous. If he is removed, the hardliners will be strengthened, most agree. Sunday, parliament voted to fire the country’s finance minister.
Meanwhile, Iran announced Monday that it had agreed to a deal to deepen military cooperation with Syria, reaffirming its intention to stay in the country, regardless of U.S. efforts to have it removed. No details were given.
Syria: The northwest province of Idlib, a refuge for civilians and rebels displaced from other areas of Syria as well as powerful jihadist forces, has been hit by a wave of air strikes and shelling this month, in a probable prelude to a full-scale government offensive that promises to be a true catastrophe.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Moscow remained in contact with the United States on the situation in Idlib, as well as with Turkey and Iran, the Syrian government and opposition.
At the same time he called the militants in Idlib a “festering abscess” which needs to be liquidated.
Russia is also building up a large naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea off Syria. NATO confirmed: “The Russian Navy has dispatched substantial naval forces to the Mediterranean, including several ships equipped with modern cruise missiles,” a NATO spokesman said.
Russian media confirmed the deployment.
Today, Foreign Minister Lavrov said the Syrian government had every right to chase militants out of Idlib and that talks on establishing humanitarian corridors were ongoing. ‘Winter’ is coming.
David Ignatius / Washington Post
“As the Syrian tragedy lurches toward a bloody final showdown in Idlib province, the Trump administration is struggling to check Russia and the Assad regime from an assault there that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres warns would be a ‘humanitarian catastrophe.’
“The administration’s efforts are so late in coming, and so limited, it’s hard to muster much hope they can reverse seven years of American failure. But at least the administration has stopped the dithering and indecision of the past 18 months and signaled that the United States has enduring interests in Syria, beyond killing Islamic State terrorists – and that it isn’t planning to withdraw its Special Operations forces from northeastern Syria anytime soon.
“ ‘Right now, our job is to help create quagmire [for Russia and the Syrian regime] until we get what we want,’ says one administration official, explaining the effort to resist an Idlib onslaught. This approach involves reassuring the three key U.S. allies on Syria’s border – Israel, Turkey and Jordan – of continued American involvement.
“President Trump’s personal commitment to Syria is unclear, given his frequent past comments that America’s role there should be limited to fighting terrorists. But the revamped policy appears to have the backing of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who recently appointed Jim Jeffrey, a respected former ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, to coordinate Syria engagement.
“This 11th-hour rediscovery of Syria is poignant, because it comes as America is mourning the death of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who anguished in his final years about the United States’ inability to check the slaughter there. McCain believed that because of feckless policy, the United States was complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians.
“The administration has signaled a stiffer stance by warning Russia against its planned escalation in Idlib, which Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described Wednesday as ‘a festering abscess’ that must be ‘liquidated.’ Russia has mobilized about 15 ships near Syria as a prelude to a final assault. National security adviser John Bolton warned publicly last week that the United States would respond ‘very strongly’ if President Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons.
“Idlib, located in the northwest corner of Syria, has become a haven for terrorists, anti-regime fighters and desperate civilians who fled there after the fall of Aleppo and Daraa. The province’s population is now about 3 million, swollen by perhaps 1 million refugees. In the Idlib cauldron are about 10,000 hardcore al-Qaeda fighters, along with foreign jihadists who joined the Islamic State caliphate.
“Turkey fears that a massive assault on Idlib could drive as many as 2.5 million refugees north toward the Turkish border. From there, some (including terrorists) would try to make their way to Europe, creating a new security nightmare for countries already panicked by refugees. Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations’ envoy for Syria, this week described Idlib as a ‘perfect storm.’ In this case, that overused metaphor seems apt.”
Turkey: President Tayyip Recep Erdogan said on Friday, Turkey will not be toppled or suppressed by the “economic war” declared against it by the West, amid a widening currency crisis that has seen the lira plunge nearly 40 percent this year.
“If they have their dollars, we have our God. They can’t topple Turkey with dollars,” Erdogan told supporters. He also called credit ratings agencies “imposters and racketeers” and asked Turks to not heed their evaluations.
Russia: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was jailed for 30 days for repeat violations of the country’s rules for mass gatherings, making it impossible for the activist to attend protests he is organizing next month against the government’s plans to raise the retirement age.
Navalny was detained outside his Moscow apartment on Saturday. Earlier this month, he called for protests on Sept. 9 against the retirement age hike. President Putin, under rare domestic pressure, softened some of the rule changes in a national address on Wednesday, but Navalny, from prison, has told his supporters to turn out on the 9th. Some polls have shown Putin’s popularity down to the high 60s over this issue, from their usual 85%.
The retirement age is being raised to 65 from 60 for men and to 63 from 55 for women. But then Putin lowered the change for women to 60. Without reform, Putin said the pension system will go bankrupt.
Separately, Russian-made spaceships will no longer carry American astronauts to the International Space Station after a contract between the two nations expires on April 2019, Russia’s top defense and space industry official announced today. Space has been a rare area of cooperation between the two nations.
NASA is planning to send a manned test flight to the ISS aboard Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s Crew Dragon commercial spacecraft from Florida next April.
Venezuela: The U.N.’s migration agency says Venezuela is heading for the same refugee “crisis moment” seen in the Mediterranean in 2015.
The warning comes as its neighbors try to halt the movement of people fleeing Venezuela’s economic crisis.
Peru brought in stricter border regulations on Saturday – a day after a court overturned Ecuador’s attempt to strengthen its own controls.
More than two million Venezuelans have fled their country since 2014.
Peru is now home to about 400,000 Venezuelan migrants, most of whom arrived in the past year. Peruvians’ patience and hospitality is rightfully wearing thin. The U.N. estimates 870,000 refugees are in Colombia.
--Presidential tracking polls....
Gallup: 41% approval, 54% disapproval of President Trump’s job performance (Aug. 26). 85% of Republicans approve. 35% of Independents. This last one has been between 33% and 39% the last ten weeks.
Rasmussen: 48% approval, 50% disapproval (Aug. 31).
--A new Wall Street Journal and NBC News poll found President Trump had a 44% approval rating among registered voters, in a survey taken after Paul Manafort was convicted, and Michael Cohen had pleaded guilty to tax fraud and campaign finance violations. The figure was 46% in the days prior to the legal developments, so essentially no change at all.
In the key generic House poll, 50% said Democrats should control Congress, 42% said Republicans.
--And tonight, a new Washington Post / ABC News poll had Trump with just a 36% job approval (78% among Republicans), and a record 60% disapproval for this survey. [An April survey put the split at 40 / 56.]
The Post/ABC poll was conducted in the week after the Manafort-Cohen proceedings, and it also shows that 49% say Congress should begin impeachment proceedings, 46% say it should not.
53% say they think Trump has tried to interfere with Mueller’s investigation in a way that amounts to obstruction of justice; 35% say they do not think the president has tried to interfere.
64% of Americans do not think Trump should fire Jeff Sessions, with 19% saying he should.
But the four-month gap between polls makes it difficult to attribute the modest uptick in disapproval of the president to any specific event.
--Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has said nothing on who he will select to fill John McCain’s seat, respectfully choosing to wait until McCain is buried. He has only said he will not appoint himself.
Here’s hoping he selects Cindy McCain, should she so accept, to hold the office until a 2020 special election, the winner of that filling out the remainder of McCain’s term through 2022, McCain having been re-elected to his sixth term in 2016.
Republican Rep. Martha McSally won the party primary this week to fill the seat currently held by retiring Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.
--Yes, the Florida gubernatorial race is going to be something. Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis vs. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. A staunch supporter of Donald Trump, vs. a candidate who had the full backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer. Both are 39 and defeated more moderate opponents.
Gillum became the second African American gubernatorial nominee in the South this year, Stacey Abrams of Georgia the other.
Addressing supporters Tuesday night, Gillum, who has called for Trump’s impeachment, said:
“We’re going to make clear to the rest of the world that the dark days that we’ve been under coming out of Washington, that the derision and the division that have been coming out of our White House, that right here in the state of Florida we are going to remind this nation of what is truly the American way.”
DeSantis tied his fate to the president, who campaigned for him this summer. He beat state Agriculture Commissioner, and former congressman, Adam Putnam, who had been eyeing the governor’s office for years.
In his victory speech, DeSantis said he would continue to align himself tightly in the general election with Trump and his allies, listing a string of the president’s accomplishments.
“I’d say that’s pretty good work for a year and a half, so let’s keep it going,” he said.
Then, in an interview, DeSantis said of his opponent and the looming November vote, Floridians shouldn’t “monkey this up.”
Of course this was a dog whistle. I can honestly say in my 60 years I’ve never used this term, nor can I recall ever hearing anyone else use it.
--New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and actress Cynthia Nixon squared off Wednesday in a heated debate ahead of their Sept. 13 Democratic primary, disagreeing on every issue, except whether they wanted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s endorsement.
When asked if they wanted de Blasio’s support, Cuomo and Nixon didn’t say “yes” or “no.”
But they clashed on everything else, from health care, to the subway system, their experience in government and public unions.
I saw a fair amount of clips on this one and Nixon surprisingly held her own, hammering Cuomo on corruption in his administration. She made no major gaffes.
But for his part, Cuomo kept his cool as Nixon tried to rattle him.
It was the first and only time the two will share a stage prior to the election. Nixon trails badly in all the polls, but she is setting herself up, perhaps, for a promising future in New York progressive politics.
--Michael Morell / Washington Post
“Amid all the controversies and scandals from Washington dominating our news cycle, a major counterterrorism success announced by the United States last week did not get the attention it deserved: Government officials are confident that Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, al-Qaeda’s chief bomb maker, was killed during a U.S. drone strike late last year.
“If the reports are true – and caution is in order since Asiri has been reported killed before, only to show up very much alive – he would be the most significant international terrorist removed from the battlefield since Osama bin Laden....
“(Asiri) was the mastermind behind a number of explosive devices that were able to evade security checkpoints. He was well known as a master of his craft, and was as intelligent as he was evil. When I left government in 2013, I considered him the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. His removal leaves the world a safer place.”
Asiri was responsible for the underwear bomb, that Abdulmutallab failed to correctly detonate on the U.S. airliner he was on that would have exploded in midair, killing 290 people on board.
Asiri also hid bombs in printer cartridges designed to bring down multiple cargo flights to the United States. But while the bombs could evade airport scanners, and bomb-sniffing dogs, coordinated intelligence work discovered the plot.
“More recently, the bomb maker successfully designed explosive devices that could be hidden in electronic equipment, which resulted in the current Transportation Security Administration requirement that travelers remove laptops and iPads from carry-on luggage as they go through airport security.”
Some have said the problem is that even if Asiri is dead, he had been training new bomb makers for years, but Michael Morell says, “few, if any of those, likely have his talent and creativity.”
“This successful U.S. operation shows that, despite the partisan politics of Washington that dominates the daily news cycle, the men and women of the U.S. national security community continue to work hard and effectively to keep our country safe. I have no doubt that politics are not affecting those working on the front lines protecting the country.”
--Tiger Woods was asked this week about his relationship with President Trump, the two having golfed together more than once.
“I’ve known Donald for a number of years,” said Woods. “We’ve played golf together. We’ve had dinner together. I’ve known him pre-presidency and obviously during his presidency.”
Asked whether he thought badly about Trump due to his policies on immigration, Woods said: “Well, he’s the President of the United States. You have to respect the office.”
Tiger at all costs has always stayed out of politics, but you can take his statement two ways.
President Trump tweeted: “Tiger wouldn’t play the game – he is very smart. More importantly, he is playing great golf again!”
Jack Nicklaus chimed in on Golf Channel, “I couldn’t have agreed with Tiger more. Whether it’s Barack Obama or Donald Trump in the office of the president, you respect the office.”
“It doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “The office of the president is the head of the greatest country in the world.”
--Last Saturday in Ireland, Pope Francis vowed to adopt “stringent” measures to rid the Catholic Church of the “pain and shame” caused by decades of sexual abuse and its tolerance by clerical authorities.
Ireland, once a bastion of the church, has been eroded severely by scandal, a center of some of the most egregious abuse.
Francis met privately for a lengthy time with eight survivors. In his public appearances, Francis labeled the abuses as “repugnant crimes,” but he was greeted with tough language from Irish authorities and others who decried the role of church leadership in the crimes.
“The failure of ecclesiastical authorities – bishops, religious superiors, priests and others – to adequately address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community,” the pope said.
But as one survivor who attended the event said after, “I want to see the pope tell us what he is going to do. He’s given us promises, but we do need action.”
Separately, I did like Pope Francis’ comment to the World Festival of Families in Dublin Saturday night, wherein he said of the dangers of social media:
“It is important that these media never become a threat to the real web of flesh and blood relationships by imprisoning us in a virtual reality and isolating us from the very relationships that challenge us to grow to our full potential in communion with others.”
But then there are the allegations from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican’s former ambassador to the United States, who called for the Pope to step down in an open letter accusing senior officials of knowing about ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s alleged sexual assaults as early as 2000.
Vigano also claimed he had warned Francis about “a dossier” on McCarrick in June 2013, three months after he was elected Pope.
On the flight home from Dublin, Francis said only of Vigano and his allegations, the letter “speaks for itself” and that he would not comment on it.
Editorial / Wall Street Journal
“For Catholics still reeling from a recent Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of sexual abuse by priests and coverups by their bishops, the weekend brought another shock. A former papal nuncio (ambassador) to the U.S. claims Pope Francis lifted or ignored sanctions imposed by his predecessor on Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for the cardinal’s abuse of seminarians. The nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, also called for Pope Francis to resign.
“The archbishop’s charges have split the Catholic community. Some defend his reputation for honesty and professionalism while others suggest he is motivated by dislike for Pope Francis, or that he disagrees with the pope’s liberal politics. Some secular defenders who like the pope’s politics, and are stalwarts of the #MeToo movement, want to excuse the episode.
“But motives are irrelevant here, or at least they should be. The question is whether the archbishop’s claims are true, and that should be fairly easy to determine.
“Earlier this summer, the Vatican stripped Cardinal McCarrick of his cardinal’s hat and restricted him after the Archdiocese of New York deemed credible an allegation that he had sexually abused a teenager. But among the bombshells in his 11-page letter, Archbishop Vigano’s reveals the cardinal had been put under sanction years before by Pope Benedict – until Pope Francis gave him a get-out-of-jail pass.
“At least in America, most bishops have done a fair job implementing the 2002 reforms designed to hold abusive clerics accountable to the law and the church. Most Americans have thought the ugly subculture of priests abusing boys and girls was largely cleaned up. But if the archbishop is right, the lies continue.
“Pope Francis did not help himself when asked about the charges on his way home from Ireland on Sunday, saying he would neither confirm nor deny the allegations. More encouraging was the reaction from the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. Far from dismissing Archbishop Vigano, he asked for a Vatican investigation and issued a statement saying ‘the questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence.’
“Among the ironies here is that, in the capitalist system Pope Francis so often attacks, no corporate executive publicly accused of covering up abuses like this could escape accountability. The Catholic Church is not a profit-making corporation, and the Pope is no CEO.
“But when it comes to allegations of abuse and coverup against its leaders by a man who is also a senior leader, surely a church has an even greater interest in getting to the truth. Pope Francis will have to disclose and explain the truth or forfeit his moral authority.”
--I found this news bit out of the Los Angeles Times today rather staggering. The only remaining doctor in Oregon’s only heart transplant program has resigned (no reason given), leaving the state with no medical facilities that can perform the life-saving procedure.
Oregon Health & Science University is now working to transfer the 20 patients on its waiting list to other transplant centers, including those in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area.
OHSU performed 18 heart transplants in 2016 and 30 more were completed there in 2017, according to federal data.
--The Farmers’ Almanac is predicting a “colder-than-normal” winter, stretching from the Continental Divide to the Appalachians.
Editor Peter Geiger said in a statement on the company’s website: “Contrary to the stories storming the web, our time-tested, long-range formula is pointing toward a very long, cold, and snow-filled winter.”
As a kid, I used to pore through the Almanac, looking for potential snow days. Mr. Geiger is forecasting a number of snowstorms for the end of November and December, with several storms forecast in March for my general area. I need to plan office closures.
So start stocking up on your favorite beer of choice and Chex Mix. Mark R. recommends Utz Italian Hoagie Chips.
Then again, I was just reminded the Farmers’ Almanac is different from its rival Old Farmers’ Almanac. I don’t know what their forecast is.
John McCain, RIP....
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that the senator’s support for Israel “sprang from his belief in democracy and freedom.”
“Senator John McCain stood for an America that was a reliable and close partner that – because of its strength – shouldered responsibility for others and stood by its values and principles even in difficult moments,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “We will remember his voice.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed Maas’s comments, saying, “John McCain was led by the firm conviction that the sense of all political work lies in service to freedom, democracy and the rule of law. His death is a loss to all those who share his conviction.”
While Merkel called McCain “one of the great political personalities of our time,” French President Emmanuel Macron referred to him as “a true American hero.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a tweet that McCain “embodied the idea of service over self. It was an honor to call him a friend of the UK.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called McCain’s death “sad news for all Ukrainian people.” On twitter, Poroshenko said, “We will never forget his invaluable contribution to the development of democracy and freedom in Ukraine and the support of our state... The memory of John McCain will remain in our hearts forever.” Poroshenko posted photos of McCain’s 2016 visit to troops in war-torn eastern Ukraine. The senator spent New Year’s Eve with those soldiers, telling them, “Your struggle is our struggle.”
“He never backed down from his beliefs & forever strived for a more peaceful & prosperous world,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said Sunday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “In an era filled with cynicism about national unity and public service, John McCain’s life shone as a bright example. He showed us that boundless patriotism and self-sacrifice are not outdated concepts or clichés, but the building blocks of an extraordinary life.”
Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama: “Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt. Michelle and I send our most heartfelt condolences to Cindy and their family.”
Former President George W. Bush: “Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant, it is hard to think of them stilled. John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order. He was a public servant in the finest traditions of our country. And to me, he was a friend whom I’ll deeply miss.”
Former President George H.W. Bush: “John McCain was a patriot of the highest order, a public servant of rarest courage. Few sacrificed more for, or contributed more to, the welfare of his fellow citizens – and indeed freedom-loving peoples around the world. Another American maverick and warrior, General George Patton, once observed: ‘We should thank God that men such as these have lived.’”
Oleg Morozov, member of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee: “The enemy is dead... May the Lord accept his dark soul and determine its future.”
“He was good in his hatred toward Russia. He was the symbol of contemporary overt anti-Russian thinking.”
“Give him credit for his honest enmity, his honest hatred and intransigence. Others play a double game. He said what he thought.”
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov: “He stood out among American politicians for his inexplicable and incomprehensive resentment of Russia. He didn’t like the very fact of its existence.”
Editorial / Wall Street Journal
“When John McCain was shot down over Hanoi in October 1967, he was near death: his leg, both arms and left shoulder were broken. Some of his fellow POWs didn’t think he’d make it. But the Naval Academy grad beat the odds then and continued to do so until Saturday, when he finally succumbed to brain cancer at age 81.
“McCain’s calling card was honor and character. When he was fished out of that lake in downtown Hanoi, the North Vietnamese first withheld treatment until they discovered his father was an admiral and commander of naval forces in Europe. The late, great Admiral James Stockdale, who was tortured in that prison, said McCain ‘received an offer that, as far as I know, was made to no other American prisoner: immediate release, no strings attached.’
“The young pilot told the Vietnamese what they could do with their special treatment, effectively sentencing himself to four more years of beatings. This reflected his profound sense of duty. In the Hanoi Hilton he and his fellow POWs resisted the enemy despite torture and returned with honor....
“In the Senate his politics was generally conservative but more personal than ideological. His abiding priority was the men and women in uniform. McCain was determined that when America sent its soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines into harm’s way, they would have what they needed to prevail – including the moral support of their representatives. And he wasn’t afraid of sacred cows: McCain spoke loudly and honestly about ethanol subsidies, knowing it would cost him in the Iowa primaries if he ever ran for President.
“McCain’s preoccupation with personal honor did not always serve him well. He was tarred by the Keating Five scandal in 1989 when he and four other Senators were accused of improperly intervening with regulators on behalf of the Lincoln Savings & Loan run by Charles Keating, who had been a campaign contributor. McCain was the least culpable, having been dragged in by the others. But he was scarred by the event and devoted the rest of his career to rehabilitating his name by promoting campaign-finance reforms that in theory take money out of politics but in practice dent the First Amendment.
“Over time he adopted the media’s label as a ‘maverick,’ nicknaming his 2000 presidential campaign bus the ‘Straight Talk Express.’ But while he often referred to the media as ‘his base,’ with only partial irony, his positions put him at odds with many of his own party and cost him the nomination against George W. Bush.
“He tried again and won in 2008, but that was the worst possible moment for a Republican: amid a financial crisis, a long and unpopular war in the Middle East, and an attractive African-American on the Democratic ticket. The same media that praised his anti-GOP positions abandoned him against Barack Obama, citing his choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate as an excuse.
“In his last decade McCain continued to advocate for a stronger military and continuing U.S. leadership against the advancing authoritarians in Russia, China and the Middle East. But his vote against reforming ObamaCare and Medicaid contradicted his support for the military. Without reforms, entitlements will grow and inevitably squeeze military spending to European levels.
“Most important to McCain’s view of politics was his devout patriotism and unfaltering faith in American exceptionalism. Hailing to the service of his grandfather and father, and his own in Vietnam, McCain believed in the rightness of American purposes around the world. This belief caused him in his final years to resist the drift in his own party toward isolationism. This was the principled root of his differences with Donald Trump.
“When McCain received his brain-cancer diagnosis, his daughter called him a ‘warrior at dusk.’ It is an apt description. While the searing experience of Vietnam led so many to lose their faith in America’s goodness, for John McCain it was the opposite. ‘I fell in love with my country,’ he said, ‘when I was a prisoner in someone else’s.’”
Mark Salter, longtime aide and speechwriter / Washington Post
“McCain was a romantic about his causes and a cynic about the world. He had the capacity to be both things and to live with the contradiction. He had seen human beings at their best and worst – often in the same experience. He understood the world as it is with all its corruption and cruelty. But he thought it a moral failure to accept injustice as the inescapable tragedy of our fallen nature.
“When he said to the Myanmar political prisoner, or the harassed Belarusan dissident, or the Ukrainian captive, ‘I know a little of what you’ve suffered,’ it needed no elaboration. He was in league with them – united by suffering, endurance and the knowledge that the most marvelous of human achievements is to not lose hope when experience has taught you hope is for fools.
“He was restless and enthusiastic, quick and quick-tempered. He could be impetuous and cantankerous. He was defiant in defeat, and sometimes in victory, too. He didn’t have sides, his mother said, meaning different faces for different occasions. He was all he was, all of the time....
“He could be shrewd when it served his cause. Vladimir Putin once declared the end of the West’s world order in a speech in Munich, glaring at the senator as he delivered his harshest lines. McCain openly despised Putin long before most of the West realized the danger he posed, and everyone in the hall assumed McCain would fire back with both barrels. But he discarded the speech he had prepared and spoke as if he were merely disappointed to find that his adversary was just a bully.
“He hated Putin because he sided with Putin’s victims, the oppressed in Russia and the nations living under threat of Putin’s nostalgia for empire. He hated Putin because Putin presented himself as the disruptor of the world the West had made, and McCain was militant in defense of its values.
“ ‘Nobody’s cheated me,’ he remarked, not long after his brain cancer diagnosis. ‘I’m 80, and I’ve had a hell of a life.’ He was far from perfect and willing to detail his imperfections. But to the downtrodden, the freedom fighters, the forgotten and the desperate, he was their champion.
“My daughter is a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural province of a small, underdeveloped country. One day a local complained to her about his government. ‘We need freedom,’ he told her, and he didn’t appear optimistic about the prospects for acquiring it. ‘But we have friends in America,’ he said, brightening. ‘John McCain wants to help us.’ He hadn’t any idea my daughter had a connection to McCain, and she didn’t volunteer it.
“A random guy living in the back of beyond not only knew John McCain’s name, but knew him to be a friend who would help him if he could. I think my friend would be content with that as a eulogy. He died knowing that a life spent serving the dignity of his fellow man brought the most satisfaction and with it a little hope for God’s mercy.”
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III / Wall Street Journal
“The death of Sen. John McCain is not just a moment to commemorate the life of an extraordinary man; it is an occasion to reflect on his principles. McCain was a hero and patriot, but he also was a politician who understood the importance of compromise. A staunch Republican, he nonetheless was able to reach across the aisle when he thought the interests of the American people demanded it.
“Few lawmakers today follow McCain’s example of compromise. Whatever one party proposes, the other opposes reflexively. When a legislator attempts to bridge the gap, his constituents often consider it a betrayal. No wonder so much of the public’s business is left undone. Government has become incapable of tackling critical issues. Instead, the parties ping-pong blame back and forth depending on which side is in power.
“In my 88 years, I have never witnessed a problem as vexing as the continuing deterioration of America’s political dialogue. Although other threats during my lifetime have jeopardized our security – five hot wars and a cold one, the Great Depression and the Great Recession – Americans conquered them by working together rather than against one another.
“Sadly, however, civility, compromise and respect for the political center are being replaced with vicious language, pernicious partisanship and crippling polarization. The problems recur at every level of our political system, as our once firm center has given way to a destructive hyperpartisanship.
“Strict party-line voting mirrors the attitudes of constituents whose opinions are diverging rapidly. A Pew Research Center poll last year indicated that Republicans are moving further to the right and Democrats are moving further left.
“The further the parties diverge, the more tribal society becomes. Gallup polling indicates that twice as many Americans as in the 1950s oppose marriage outside their political party: Almost two-thirds wouldn’t want their daughter or son to marry someone from the other party.
“In addition to this dislike for each other, distrust of politicians and institutions also has grown. Rather than address the real problems of the day, Americans and our representatives spend time blaming one another for our ills – both real and perceived....
“(John) McCain stressed that Americans should take time to listen to one another, because brokering solutions requires measured collaboration, not torrents of outrage. [Ed. see McCain’s farewell statement below.]....
“John McCain recognized that resistance to compromise stands in the way of America’s advancement. We all would do well to heed his advice.”
Chemi Shalev / Haaretz
“If John McCain was destined to die, his timing, after two years of Donald Trump’s presidency, was impeccable. The eulogies for McCain’s courage, integrity, service, independence and other unique qualities echo stronger against the backdrop of Trump’s contrary traits. The songs and poems of praise for McCain enfold defiance against the president who selfishly and cruelly tormented him. The genuine grief at the passing of such a revered and respected figure in American politics is enhanced by a yearning for the values he represented, which are slowly disappearing from our collective lives.
“No one was better suited than McCain to play the role of the anti-Trump. He was a scion of navy admirals, not real estate speculators. He volunteered to serve as a combat pilot in the U.S. Navy rather than evade service on a pretext of bone spurs. He was tortured to near-death in five and a half years of captivity in North Vietnam, while Trump thrived in New York on bombast and lechery. He devoted his life to serving the public rather than to wheeling, dealing and the cult of celebrity. He was true to the values that Trump disdains, and he worshipped his country instead of himself.
“Trump’s vicious attacks on McCain, during and after the recent presidential campaign, epitomized the corruption of America’s soul. When in July 2015 Trump refused to recognize McCain’s sacrifice, a month after declaring his candidacy, by saying he preferred war heroes ‘who weren’t captured’ the ground was supposed to quake under his feet. Experts said Americans wouldn’t tolerate such blatant disparagement by a serial draft evader of a national treasure, but the rest was history to the contrary.
“McCain’s America was vanquished: It fell to the mouth that spouted insults, profanities, vulgarity and complete self-absorption....
“McCain was no stranger to venomous attacks on his rivals, but he captured the hearts of his ideological adversaries in 2008 by refusing to embrace the demonization of Obama and by insisting that his Democratic rival was a decent and honorable man with whom he had sharp political differences. His sympathy for Obama, his refusal to bow to Trump’s malice and the very fact that he enjoyed the kind of reverence that Trump yearns for but will never achieve combined to turn McCain, even after his malignancy became known, into the president’s favorite whipping boy. McCain suffered the indignities but they came with a silver lining: In the eyes of Trump’s many critics, McCain became the president’s antithesis, a symbol of principled politics in a Trumpian age of degenerative corruption and endless lies.
“McCain’s family has announced that he asked to be eulogized by Bush and Obama, the rivals who beat him but whom he continued to respect, and that Trump stay away from his funeral. Even in death, McCain sought to mark a red line between the bitterly contested politics that nonetheless upholds basic integrity, represented in his eyes by both Bush and Obama, and the darkness of trickery, viciousness and narcissism that Trump brought to the White House and imposed on McCain’s beloved Republican Party.
“Trump’s banishment from McCain’s last rites, which are sure to move and unite all Americans except the president’s most rabidly partisan fans, comes at a time when Trump is politically besieged as never before, serving as a harsh blow to the president. This is McCain’s sweet revenge on the president he deplored: Even from his grave, he will have the last word.”
Editorial / New York Post
“(McCain’s) undeniable heroism and personal sacrifice made him an inspiring figure to millions, yet he never traded on that identity for political gain. But it did help forge a sense of purpose and devotion to honesty that turned him into one of the most respected voices on Capitol Hill.
“It also made him a maverick, willing to exasperate others in his party by embracing positions they considered wrongheaded. As his former colleague Joe Lieberman once said: ‘God only made one John McCain, and he is his own man.’
“Indeed, many Republicans groused that he was the news media’s favorite Republican – at least until 2008, when he stood in Barack Obama’s way, and many who’d long sung his praises instead savaged him mercilessly.”
Kathleen Parker / Washington Post
“The world seems already a lesser place with the passing of Sen. John McCain.
“The ensuing deluge of accolades and tributes – notwithstanding the president’s limp and late acknowledgment of McCain’s service to the nation – has revealed a level of reverence we don’t see often. Despite traits and qualities that sometimes earned McCain enemies among friends, the past few days have been filled with a sense that we’ve lost something more than the man; we’ve lost one of the few remaining remnants of the American honor code.
“A stalwart patriot who gave nearly his all to the country he so loved, McCain reminded us of the values that formed a nation: hard work, self-sacrifice, bravery, strength, and goodness of intention and spirit. McCain’s life’s work embodied all of these at various times, and we release him from Earth’s bonds with not a little trepidation that we won’t see his likes again.
“His courage, primarily, seems to have set him apart from most other late notables. That, and his toughness, which was recognized even by the former director of the North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp where McCain spent more than five years. Retired Col. Tran Trong Duyet remarked on his former captive’s death by recalling how much he liked him personally ‘for his toughness and strong stance,’ and grew fond of him later for his efforts to build relations between Vietnam and the United States.
“McCain fared less well with the president of the United States, who has behaved like a vengeful brat the past few days. Perhaps he is aiming for consistency rather than compassion, or maybe he’s simply undone by the inevitable contrasts – a larger-than-life hero vs. the trite bully whom even pulpits find distasteful. It was just three years ago that Donald Trump cast doubt on McCain’s heroism, telling the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa that he was a hero only because he was captured: ‘I like people that weren’t captured,’ said the future president.
“Trump also once demeaned all Vietnam vets by telling Howard Stern in 1997 that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases was ‘my personal Vietnam.’ For good measure, Trump added, ‘I feel like a great and very brave soldier.’
“And this is our commander in chief, who this week couldn’t cough up a kind word for McCain – nor maintain the White House flag at half-staff for more than a day – until, apparently, he could no longer bear the torture of harsh critics shoving condemnation under his thin skin.
“What made McCain a hero isn’t that he endured immense suffering. It doesn’t take a hero to be shot down or captured. We tend to overuse the term these days. The definition of a hero is someone who supersedes the ordinary call of duty and puts his or her own life in peril, or takes a dangerous risk, for the sake of another.
“McCain was a hero because he refused early release when it was offered as a propaganda strategy once his captors learned that his father was a Navy admiral. McCain repeatedly declined, saying he would go only if those captured before him were also released. This singular act of self-abnegation is no one’s to question, least of all President Trump’s, whose military title is so misplaced that one marvels at the self-control of military leadership, for many of whom nausea must be a constant companion.
“No question. McCain could be difficult. He occasionally vexed his fellow Republicans by voting against them, notably in a stage-crafted thumbs-down on the Senate floor last summer when he returned to Washington to vote against the repeal of ObamaCare. Sometimes he seemed to relish his ‘maverick’ designation perhaps too much. And he wasn’t always wise, as when he surrendered to pressure and selected then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate, rather than Joe Lieberman, whom he preferred.
“Strangely, toward the end, he was viewed by many as part of the establishment swamp that Trump came to drain. He was a hawkish, pro-immigration centrist when the GOP base was increasingly becoming a hard-right, isolationist bulwark against civility, dignity and the reality of globalization. Thus, McCain and Trump were full-throated foes, each standing his ground on opposing shores of American rectitude.
“It is a tragedy that McCain, the warrior-hero, should exit the stage just when his model of citizenship is so needed. But perhaps by his leaving and the eulogies to follow, more Americans will recognize what it really takes to make America great again – and who clearly doesn’t get it.”
Richard Fontaine / Defense News
“More than a decade ago, Senator John McCain sought to stop the Bush administration’s attempt to weaken the protections offered by the Geneva Conventions. The provision at issue was obscure, the matter legally complicated, and the White House was ready to fight. But McCain was determined.
“At the time, I served as the senator’s foreign policy adviser. Talking to his office, we went over the issue one more time. It’s important, I said, but few understand it. You may well lose if you choose to fight this. Even if you win, you’ll get no credit for the victory, and the matter will soon be forgotten. But, I added, I think it’s the right thing to do.
“ ‘They are threatening to weaken the Geneva Conventions,’ McCain responded. ‘I can’t let them do that. I’ll fight them to the end – even if it costs me everything.’
“Everything, in late 2006, included the Republican presidential nomination, for which the senator was preparing to announce his candidacy in a matter of months. Everything would also be his last and best shot at the White House, a position to which much of his career and life seemed to lead. Everything might mean his standing with Republicans, many of whom already looked at the senator from Arizona with curiosity or dismay when, a year before, he led the fight to bar torture of terrorist detainees. Some of the senator’s political advisers warned that a fight over this issue, and with this president at this time, would result in votes he’d never get and dollars he’d never raise.
“But fight McCain did. And he won – ultimately a quiet, legalistic success that left intact the Geneva Conventions, the formal protections that establish basic standards of treatment for those, including Americans, captured in combat. That expression of political courage – risking his power and ambition in a cause greater than himself – was quintessential John McCain. I was never prouder to work for him than on that day some 12 years ago. And this commitment to principle, despite its costs, is what America has lost with the senator’s passing....
“Whether they agreed with any of his particular views or decisions, most admired his service to America and penchant for brave stands that cast aside the political consequences. McCain bucked his party by working with Russ Feingold on campaign-finance reform and with Ted Kennedy on immigration. He pushed for the surge in Iraq when the crumbling war effort led many to seek withdrawal instead of victory. He was a champion of human rights who supported the use of American power for moral ends. McCain believed deeply in American exceptionalism; his celebrated line that treating terrorist detainees humanely is ‘not about them, it’s about us’ summed up much of his worldview....
“When it came to matters of national security, however, McCain was deadly serious. The senator pushed for the muscular use of American power in pursuit of the nation’s interests and in defense of its values. He cared not just about Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Russia, but also about places like Burma, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Cambodia. He valued American alliances and the ideals that infuse them, he believed that the liberal order established after 1945 was worth defending, and he was convinced of America’s unique responsibility to take on burdens others would rather shed....
“It’s hard to imagine American political life without John McCain. His departure leaves a void of congressional leadership, of national-security thought, and of moral direction that seems nearly impossible to fill. And if ever there were a moment when his presence is necessary, this tumultuous time in our country’s politics is it.
“Yet today hundreds of people could tell a story of their time with McCain much like the one I’ve related here. He shaped the views and careers of his Senate colleagues and staff and his friends and supporters. His fingerprints are all over America’s law and policy, our institutions and even the way in which Americans think of themselves and their role in the world. And in all this, he leaves behind something far, far greater than himself – a legacy which is, by his own reckoning, the best measure of a meaningful life.”
Editorial / New York Daily News...published hours before McCain’s death.
“We in the news business often wait to register our appreciation for great women and men until it is too late. On the hope that he might read our words, we correct that habit here for John McCain, who has ended medical treatment for his brain cancer and will soon shuffle off this mortal coil.
“We thank him for serving his country in the Navy, and for enduring severe torture over the course of more than five years after the North Vietnamese shot down his A-4E Skyhawk over Hanoi.
“We thank him for serving his country in the U.S. House and Senate.
“We thank him for emerging from a corruption scandal – he was one of the Keating Five, senators who had received political contributions and other favors from savings and loan crook Charles Keating – by taking responsibility for his actions and resolving to clean up the corrosive influence of massive donations on the political system.
“We thank him for warring against ticky-tack pork barrel spending; for being ever on guard against threats to American security; for being alert to, and demanding action against, climate change.
“We thank him, a conservative Republican, for working in a bipartisan fashion with liberal Democrats on issues ranging from establishing relations with Vietnam to immigration reform.
“We thank him for running for President in 2008 with uncommon dignity, and for decimating those who peddled divisive invective about his opponent, Barack Obama. McCain lost that race, but he won broad-based respect.
“We thank him for speaking out early and clearly about the dangers posed by the current occupant of the Oval Office, who horrifyingly belittled McCain’s wartime heroism and sacrifice.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you John McCain.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham...excerpts from his tribute delivered on the Senate floor, Tues.
“He could be tough but the joy that you received from being with him will sustain you for a lifetime. And I am so lucky to have been in his presence.”
“I do not cry for a perfect man. I cry for a man who had honor and always was willing to admit to his imperfection.”
“Humiliation and affection were constant companions. The more he humiliated you, the more he liked you.”
Remembering above all else the concession speech McCain gave the night he lost the presidency to Barrack Obama in 2008:
“John taught us how to lose. When you go throughout the world people remember his concession speech as much as anything else. There are so many countries where you can’t afford to lose, ‘cause they kill you.’
“And John said that night ‘President Obama is now my president.’ So he healed the nation at a time he was hurt....
“I learned that failure and success are the different sides of the same coin. ...I have become better from my failures because it teaches us.”
Oh how McCain taught him the “foundation” of what makes up a “great person”....
“To those who are striving as a young person, remember John McCain. He failed a lot, but he never quit. The reason we’re talking about him today and the reason I’m crying is because he was successful in spite of his failures.”
“If you’re thinking about getting into politics, the one thing I would ask you to look at when it comes to the life of John McCain is that it’s okay to tell people, I screwed up.”
“He taught me that life without passion and love is a sad life. He lived life to its fullest. He was often disappointed, but he was never deterred from getting back up and going at it again,” Graham said. “Love – not a work often associated with Sen. McCain, but it should be. ...My name is Graham not McCain, but I feel like a McCain. I don’t know if I’ve earned that honor, but I feel like it.”
“John will inspire courage, he will reinforce the idea that nothing is inevitable as long as a few people are willing to fight for what they believe is right. It is going to be a lonely journey for a while...
“If you want to help the country, be more like John McCain. I believe there is a little John McCain in all of us, and the little John McCain practiced by a lot of people can make this a really great nation,” Graham concluded.
And the final words from Senator John McCain:
“My fellow Americans, whom I have gratefully served for sixty years, and especially my fellow Arizonans.
“Thank you for the privilege of serving you and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead. I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them.
“I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on earth. I feel that way even now as I prepare for the end of my life. I have loved my life, all of it. I have had experiences, adventures and friendships enough for ten satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best day of anyone else’s.
“I owe that satisfaction to the love of my family. No man ever had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than I am of mine. And I owe it to America. To be connected to America’s causes – liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people – brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.
“ ‘Fellow Americans’ – that association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American. We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have acquired great wealth and power in the process.
“We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.
“We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.
“Ten years ago, I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president. I want to end my farewell to you with the heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening.
“I feel it powerfully still.
“Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.
“Farewell, fellow Americans. God bless you, and God bless America.”
Returns for the week 8/27-8/31
Dow Jones +0.7% 
S&P 500 +0.9% 
S&P MidCap +0.5%
Russell 2000 +0.9%
Nasdaq +2.1% 
Returns for the period 1/1/18-8/31/18
Dow Jones +5.0%
S&P 500 +8.5%
S&P MidCap +7.6%
Russell 2000 +13.4%
Bulls 59.6...60 is the historical ‘danger’ signal for this contrarian indicator
Happy Labor Day...on to the mid-term elections.
RIP, John McCain.