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For the week 9/10-9/14
[Posted 11:30 PM ET, Friday]
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As the “wait 24 hours” guy, Hurricane Florence’s story will be a weeks-long affair. President Trump has turned FEMA into a potential campaign issue for the midterm elections and if there are long delays in restoring power, while that would be a largely utility company problem, not a FEMA one, you can be sure the media, save for Fox, will be all over it, and then Trump will respond, and you just wonder what the mood of the electorate will be, specifically within that 5-10 percent that can swing House and Senate races. Just something to watch for.
Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, agreed on Friday to cooperate with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to reduced charges.
Appearing in United States District Court in Washington, Mr. Manafort entered guilty pleas on two charges. Andrew Weissmann, the lead prosecutor, told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that there was a cooperation agreement with Manafort.
As of tonight, it is not clear just what information he might be providing to prosecutors or how the plea agreement might affect Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and related questions about possible collusion by the Trump campaign and obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump.
The president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, quickly sought to distance Mr. Trump from the development.
“Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign,” he said in a statement. “The reason: the president did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”
As part of the deal, the government is seizing four of Manafort’s homes as well as the money in a number of bank accounts, court documents show.
Prosecutors from Mueller’s office charged Manafort with one count of conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Manafort pleaded guilty to those charges.
The prosecutors dropped five other charges encompassing money laundering and violations of a lobbying disclosure law.
Manafort was convicted last month on bank and tax fraud charges after a trial in federal court in Alexandria, Va. He was scheduled to face a second trial on seven separate but related charges in Washington starting next week. The charges stem from work he did as a political consultant in Ukraine.
But President Trump can’t be pleased by this development. He has been praising Manafort for fighting the charges, and in private, Trump has raised the possibility of pardoning him.
At the same time, it isn’t clear what information Manafort would have that would be valuable to Mueller’s investigation. He did serve several roles in the campaign, and he was present at the key June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between a number of campaign officials and a Russian lawyer who was thought to be offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
But Manafort does represent the fifth former Trump aide to plead guilty to charges related to the special counsel investigation – Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos being the others.
President Trump tweeted on Monday: “The GDP Rate (4.2%) is higher than the Unemployment Rate (3.9%) for the first time in over 100 years!” Wrong! The data shows this circumstance last occurred in early 2006.
Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said later Monday that the mistake was likely the result of incorrect information being passed along to the president.
“The history of thought of how errors happen is not something that, you know, I can engage in,” Mr. Hassett said. “What is true is that it’s the highest in 10 years, and at some point somebody probably conveyed it to [the president] adding a zero to that, and they shouldn’t have done that.”
Hassett also quipped that he wasn’t “the chairman of the council of Twitter advisers.”
GDP has been higher than the unemployment rate dozens of times in the past 70 years, but it has been rare in recent decades. The actual number from the first quarter of 1948 thru the second quarter of this year is 64 times, including twice in the early 2000s, and seven times in the 1990s.
Trump didn’t delete his tweet, nor did he issue a correction. Why that would be admitting a mistake, and he’s incapable of doing so.
Trump also tweeted with regards to the economy: “If the Democrats had won the Election in 2016, GDP, which was about 1% and going down, would have been minus 4% instead of up 4.2%.”
Well, that too is a flat-out lie. The economy grew 1.6% in 2016, after years of 2.5% and 2.9% for 2014 and 2015.
The last two quarters of 2016 were at a 1.9% and 1.8% rate, and Q1 in 2017, after Trump had been inaugurated, was 1.8%.
As for the minus 4% figure he threw out, at the height of the Great Recession, GDP was -0.1% in 2008 and -2.5% in 2009, before the recovery commenced.
When it comes to facts, I will never let any president get away with a misrepresentation of same.
Trump added in the GDP tweet: “The Economy is soooo good, perhaps the best in our country’s history (remember, it’s the economy stupid!), that the Democrats are flailing & lying like CRAZY! Phony books, articles and T.V. ‘hits’ like no other pol has had to endure-and they are losing big. Very dishonest people!”
“Our Social Media (and beyond) Stars, @DiamondandSilk, are terrific people who are doing really well. We are all very proud of them, and their great success!” [Ed. they are unwatchable.]
“Republicans are doing really well with the Senate Midterms. Races that we were not even thinking about winning are now very close, or even leading. Election night will be very interesting indeed!”
“The Dems have tried every trick in the playbook – call me everything under the sun. but if I’ all of those terrible things, how come I beat them so badly, 306-223? Maybe they’re just not very good! The fact is they are going CRAZY only because they know they can’t beat me in 2020!”
“The Woodward book is a scam. I don’t talk the way I am quoted. If I did I would not have been elected President. These quotes were made up. The author uses every trick in the book to demean and belittle. I wish the people could see the real facts – and our country is doing GREAT!” [Ed. this from the man who said “you grab them by the pussy....”]
“The Woodward book is a joke – just another assault against me, in a barrage of assaults, using now disproven unnamed and anonymous sources. Many have already come forward to say the quotes by them, like the book, are fiction. Dems can’t stand losing. I’ll write the real book!” [Ed. File that under “Grim Fairy Tales.”]
“The White House is running beautifully. We are making some of the greatest and most important deals in our countries (sic) history – with many more to come. Big progress!”
--On Tuesday, President Trump lauded the feds’ efforts to prepare for Hurricane Florence as it bore down on the East Coast – and boasted at length about his administration’s response after Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico last year.
“I think Puerto Rice was incredibly successful,” Trump said from the White House when asked about lessons learned from Maria, a study finding it resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths.
“I actually think it was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done. Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz quickly begged to differ on Twitter.
“Success? Federal response according to Trump in Puerto Rico a success? If he thinks the death of 3,000 people [was] a success God help us all,” she wrote in one of a series of mocking posts.
The president also repeated his earlier statements about the unique challenges that hampered rescue efforts in the U.S. territory – claiming that power on the island was already out before the storm made landfall.
“The problem with Puerto Rico is that their electric grid and generating plant was dead before the storms ever hit. It was in bad shape, in bankruptcy, had no money, was largely closed. When the storm hit, they had no electricity before the storm. When the storm hit, it took it out entirely,” he said.
The power grid in Puerto Rico had many problems, including financial, but was working prior to the time Maria struck.
“Puerto Rico was actually our toughest one of all because it is an island. You can’t truck things onto it. Everything is by boat. We moved a hospital into Puerto Rico, [a] tremendous military hospital in the form of a ship,” said the president.
The freakin’ hospital ship then sat empty!
Trump repeated: “I think probably the hardest one by far was Puerto Rico because of the island nature, and I actually think it is one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”
Good thing Trump wasn’t in charge at Dunkirk.
So after these statements, the president faced widespread criticism, including from Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who heretofore has avoided confrontation with Trump, but couldn’t this time.
“No relationship between a colony and the federal government can ever be called ‘successful’ because Puerto Ricans lack certain inalienable rights enjoyed by our fellow Americans in the states,” Rosello said in a statement. “The historical relationship between Puerto Rico and Washington is unfair and un-American. It is certainly not a successful relationship.”
Well, our president had to respond to the criticism, so he tweeted on Wednesday:
“We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan).”
Thursday, President Trump then tweeted the following: “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000...
“...This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
Trump may have just cost Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, their elections, given the large numbers of Puerto Ricans in Florida, including those who emigrated to the state after Maria. Both Scott and DeSantis were among the first, along with other Republicans nationwide, to disavow Trump’s comments.
Late tonight, as I go to post, Trump doubled down again, via Twitter.
“ ‘When Trump visited the island territory last October, OFFICIALS told him in a briefing 16 PEOPLE had died from Maria.’ The Washington Post. This was long AFTER the hurricane took place. Over many months it went to 64 PEOPLE. Then, like magic, ‘3000 PEOPLE KILLED.’ They hired...
“...GWU Research to tell them how many people had died in Puerto Rico (how would they not know this?). This method was never done with previous hurricanes because other jurisdictions know how many people were killed. FIFTY TIMES LAST ORIGINAL NUMBER – NO WAY!”
Editorial / New York Daily News
“The President of the United States is a disgusting individual with a dysfunctional moral compass.
“These facts, which we have known for a long time, bear underlining in light of his assertion that the official estimate of Puerto Rico hurricane dead is a whole-cloth fabrication, the result of an elaborate Democratic plot aimed at personally discrediting him. We do not repeat the exact words of the quote here so as not to help spread its destructive, fevered imaginings.
“The estimate – that 2,975 people lost their lives as a result of Hurricane Maria and the months that followed – was in fact the result of an exhaustive review by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.
“How the researchers describe their methods (we have removed parentheticals for brevity’s sake):
“ ‘Our estimates also considered Puerto Rico’s consistently high emigration during the prior decade and dramatic population displacement after the hurricane...
“ ‘For observed mortality, we used records for all deaths occurring from September 2017-February 2018. The estimates of excess all-cause mortality attributable to the hurricane are the result of comparing the projections for the census and displacement scenarios to observed mortality in the vital registration data.’
“Because Donald Trump dislikes the conclusions, he spits insults at the expert demographers who did the work. Because he fears the American people will reach the obvious conclusion that he botched a big job, he tells sisters and brothers and daughters and sons of those whose loved ones died that their deepest personal losses are figments of their imagination.
“We have a President with chronic distemper who runs roughshod over the rule of law and democratic norms, but asks to be judged by results.
“When the results do not fit the narrative he wishes to advance, he attacks facts as political fabrication.
“We end where we began: The President of the United States is a disgusting individual with a dysfunctional moral compass.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he had “no reason” to dispute Puerto Rico’s official death toll of 3,000. “Casualties don’t make a person look bad,” Ryan told reporters, “so I have no reason to dispute these numbers.”
Wall Street and Trade
Stocks resumed their winning ways. Fundamentals are strong and the trade issue, while definitely impacting individual companies and industries, negatively, is but a flyspeck in the grand scheme of things thus far.
We had inflation data this week for August, and the producer price index was negative, -0.1%, when a +0.2% reading was expected; -0.1% ex-food and energy as well. Year-over-year, the PPI was 2.8%, 2.3% on core vs. a prior 2.7%.
The consumer price index for the month was also below expectations, 0.2%, 0.1% on core, and 2.7% yoy, 2.2% ex-the stuff we use.
So all is good on that front.
August retail sales were disappointing, up just 0.1%, ex-autos 0.3%, but July was revised upward to 0.7%, so average the two and we’re fine.
August industrial production came in at a solid 0.4%
The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer for the third quarter is at 4.4%.
The Federal Reserve’s interest-rate hikes will begin to drag on U.S. economic growth and employment by next year, according to Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans, as the level of borrowing costs appropriately turns “mildly restrictive” after more than a decade of acting as a stimulant. This marked a change in tone for Evans, who earlier in the year was trying to convince his colleagues to stop raising rates in order to give the economy and inflation a bit more room to run.
Evans told an economic forum in Indiana today: “The U.S. economy is firing on all cylinders, with strong growth, low unemployment, and inflation approaching our 2 percent symmetric target on a sustained basis.”
Evans added that policy will respond to circumstances. So if uncertainty over trade policy begins to hurt business spending, for example, the Fed may deliver a shallower path of rate hikes; if the Fed or fiscal policy proves to have been more stimulative than thought then it may need to tighten policy further.
But earlier, Fed policymaker Lael Brainard argued that even with further rate hikes it will probably be a couple years before borrowing costs start impeding growth.
The Fed is hiking rates anew at its Sept. 25-26 meeting.
Editorial / Washington Post
“Good things are happening in the U.S. economy. The unemployment rate in August was only 3.9 percent, and the inflation rate is hovering at or near the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent. The latest Census Bureau data show that median household income was about $61,400 in 2017, meaning middle-class incomes have roughly returned to pre-Great Recession levels. The poverty rate fell from 12.7 percent in 2016 to 12.3 percent in 2017. Surveys of both business and consumer sentiment indicate that ‘animal spirits’ are robust.
“Any president would be inclined to boast about this much good news on his or her watch. Characteristically, President Trump over-boasted, falsely claiming in a tweet Monday that the most recent quarterly rate of economic growth, 4.2 percent, exceeded the unemployment rate ‘for the first time in over 100 years!’ In fact, that’s happened numerous times in the past century, as the White House Council of Economic Advisers subsequently admitted. Meanwhile, his predecessor, Barack Obama, staked his own claim: ‘When you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let’s just remember how this recovery started,’ he told supporters.
“At the risk of making ourselves unpopular with both sides, we’re going to say each has a point. The growing economy represents the acceleration of a trend that began in Mr. Obama’s first presidential term, when he was trying to pull the country out of an epic recession (with an assist from a bailout fund that President George W. Bush pushed through Congress in late 2008). The most controversial measure of his term, ObamaCare, was said by the GOP to be a job killer, which it wasn’t, to put it mildly. The second-most controversial, roughly $763 billion in tax cuts and spending increases – ‘the stimulus’ – probably added 2 percent to annual growth, according to a 2017 paper by Gerald A. Carlino of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank.
“Mr. Trump, therefore, inherited a tightening labor market, good for workers. However it stands to reason that the massive new tax cuts and spending increases he signed into law reheated the already warmed-up economy. So give Mr. Trump that much credit.
“If he and the Republicans can take responsibility for the benefits of his policies, however, they must also own the potential costs. Despite GOP promises that lower taxes would pay for themselves in higher growth, federal revenue has gone up only 1 percent so far this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office, not nearly enough to offset higher spending, especially for rising interest payments. The budget deficit is up $222 billion. Debt represents a long-term threat to growth; the costs of Mr. Trump’s deregulation, of which he also boasts, may ultimately be measured in the coin of decreased public health and safety. Trade wars, too, remain a risk factor.
“The Federal Reserve’s policies probably deserve more credit for the recovery than politicians of either party. Yet Mr. Trump has recently bashed the Fed for raising rates, a challenge to the central bank’s independence, which, if the president pursues it, could turn into a historic mistake.”
Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office this week announced that the budget deficit hit $895 billion for the past 11 months, through August, with September being the end of the fiscal year. This represented a 33 percent increase from one year before. Normally, the deficit shrinks during strong economic times.
Corporate tax receipts fell 30 percent in the past 11 months.
There are also growing signs the borrowing binge has only begun, with House Republicans proposing an additional $646 billion in tax cuts this week – a number that could grow to $2 trillion over a decade.
On the trade front...China said on Thursday that it welcomed an invitation by the United States to hold a new round of trade talks, as Washington prepares to further escalate the U.S.-China trade war with tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.
Larry Kudlow, who heads the White House Economic Council, told Fox Business Network that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had sent an invitation to senior Chinese officials, but he declined to give any further details.
Asked if the Trump administration would like to have additional trade talks with China, Kudlow said: “If they come to the table in a serious way to generate some positive results, yes, of course. That’s what we’ve been asking for months and months.”
Meanwhile, trade talks between the United States and the European Union aren’t going anywhere fast.
Talks between the United States and Canada continued to be at a stalemate, seemingly over the dairy issue.
Lastly, this week was the unofficial start of the 2008 Financial Crisis (which started earlier, but the nation and world woke up the second week of September that year).
Sebastian Mallaby / Washington Post
“The 10th anniversary of the Lehman Brothers bust this week resounds with retrospectives on the great financial crisis. Having immersed myself in the life of one of the protagonists, I have my own perspective. When my biography of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan first published two years ago, I was concerned that the common understanding of the crisis was wrong. Now, as we go back after a full decade, the mistake looks dangerous.
“The central error in the popular post-crisis consensus was the idea that naïve believers in the self-policing efficiency of markets led us over the precipice. Greenspan was painted as the high priest of this laissez-fairy-tale delusion, and people seized on a moment when he appeared to plead guilty: Under the pressure of congressional questioning, he confessed to a ‘flaw’ in his pro-market ideology. What Greenspan meant was that all belief systems – whether pro-government or pro-market – are imperfect. But that subtlety was lost. Quoted and requoted without proportion or context, Greenspan’s purported mea culpa threatened to define his legacy.
“As faith in markets was discredited, the popular imagination fastened on behavioral economics, the study of how financiers or indeed ordinary consumers are neither efficient nor necessarily rational in pursuing their own interests....Countless diagnoses of the crash have presented faith in efficient markets as a chief culprit, observing that markets aren’t rational because people aren’t, either....
“In sum, blaming the financial crisis on the naivete of leading policymakers such as Greenspan and (Lawrence) Summers is unfair and unfounded. What’s emerging now is that this myth is also dangerous.
“The myth distracts attention from the reality that political constraints, not intellectual failures, prevented policymakers from curing the housing mania. Nobody remembers that in 2001 the Greenspan Fed banned the most abusive subprime mortgages, for the good reason that the ban was circumvented. But why was it circumvented? The answer is that the capture of Congress by financial lobbies ensured the balkanization of regulation into an alphabet soup of agencies, many of them underfunded and ineffective. Nonbank mortgage lenders, for example, came under the authority of the Federal Trade Commission, which had no resources to conduct preemptive supervision. Small wonder that the sharp practices in the industry became egregious, or that nonbanks continue to dominate today’s mortgage business.
“Nor is this an isolated example. The Greenspan Fed also tried to force more capital into the banks it supervised, but it soon realized that this would drive risk-taking into various ‘shadow banks’ that lay outside its authority: Again, the alphabet soup drowned good policy. Greenspan also pushed for tougher regulation of the Federal National Mortgage Association and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (a.k.a. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), the government-backed mortgage giants, presciently observing that they posed ‘a systemic risk sometime in the future.’ Fannie’s lobbyists hit back with a TV ad warning Congress not to back the Greenspan plan. That buried it.
“The important lesson of the crisis is not that markets are fallible, which every thoughtful person knew already. It is that essential regulations – the sort that the supposedly anti-regulation Greenspan actually favored – are stymied by fractured government machinery and rapacious lobbies....
“And although post-2008 regulations have ensured that banks are better capitalized, the lobbyists are pushing back. Merely a decade after the Lehman bankruptcy brought the world economy to its knees, the Trump administration is listening to them.”
Tomorrow, Sept. 15, is the 10th anniversary of Lehman Bros. filing for bankruptcy, and Merrill Lynch agreeing to a $50-billion takeover by Bank of America – sending the Dow Jones down 504 points the following Monday, the most since the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
Europe and Asia
The European Central Bank on Thursday lowered its forecasts for Europe’s economic growth this year and next, but said it would press ahead with a carefully telegraphed plan to phase out easy money.
It’s a delicate balance. The ECB has started to pivot away from years of zero (minus) interest rates, following the Federal Reserve, but the euro economy has begun to soften and faces headwinds ranging from Brexit to its troubled neighbor, Turkey.
In a statement, the ECB said it expects to wind down its $2.9 trillion bond-buying program (quantitative easing) by year-end, while the bank also expects to hold its benchmark interest rate at the record low of minus 0.4% at least through the summer of 2019.
“When we stop (buying bonds), this doesn’t mean our monetary policy stops being” supportive, ECB President Mario Draghi said at a news conference, citing the low level of interest rates.
The ECB lowered its growth forecasts for the eurozone (EA19) by 0.1 percentage points for this year and next, to 2% and 1.8%, respectively. EA19 inflation is expected to average 1.7% this year and the following two years.
[Also Thursday, the Bank of England opted to leave interest rates on hold at 0.75%, despite strengthening growth and inflation.]
Brexit: There is still no full exit agreement between Brussels and London for leaving the European Union on March 29, with some rebels in Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party threatening to vote down a deal if she clinches one.
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney warned that Britain’s property market would crash and mortgage rates spiral up in the event of a chaotic no-deal Brexit, with house prices falling 35 percent over three years, Carney told ministers, and Mrs. May, Thursday.
According to the Guardian, Carney warned that the impact of a chaotic no-deal Brexit could be as catastrophic as the 2008 financial crisis. Speaking at the Irish central bank on Friday, Carney did not directly address the media reports of his closed-door meeting with May’s cabinet the day before.
Britain’s Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said after a phone call today with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier that negotiators are “closing in on workable solutions” to the outstanding issues in Brexit talks.
“While there remain some substantive differences we need to resolve, it is clear our teams are closing in on workable solutions to the outstanding issues in the Withdrawal Agreement, and are having productive discussions in the right spirit on the future relationship,” Raab said. “Looking ahead, we agreed to review the state of play in the negotiations following the informal meeting of heads of state or government of the European Union in Salzburg next Thursday, and we reiterated our willingness to devote the necessary time and energy to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion.”
The U.K. and EU are preparing for a special summit to sign a Brexit deal in November, assuming they resolve key disagreements.
Back to Mark Carney, he also announced this week he would stay on as governor until the end of January 2020 to help navigate the turbulence of Brexit.
Editorial / The Economist
“Theresa May could be forgiven for seeing next week’s trip to Salzburg to meet her fellow EU leaders as a welcome break from continual harassment at home. Her plan for Brexit, announced at Chequers, her country retreat, in July, is under attack from all sides. Hardline Brexiteers hate the idea of keeping in close alignment with EU regulations so as to preserve frictionless trade in goods. Remainers dislike the plan’s omission of services, which are Britain’s most competitive sector. This week there was even wild talk among some Tory MPs of ousting Mrs. May as party leader. In today’s febrile political climate, the chances of getting a Chequers-like plan through Parliament seem alarmingly small.
“Alas the EU may not offer the prime minister much succor. Reports that it is softening its objections to Chequers are premature. It regards the proposal to use a customs arrangement to avoid a hard border as complex and unworkable. It believes that allowing Britain to stay in the single market for goods but not services would undermine the market’s integrity. Its mantra is that Britain can have a Canada-style free-trade deal or full membership of the single market with full obligations like Norway – but nothing in between. Its hope is that, with time running out, its bullheadedness will push Mrs. May into making more concessions, even to the extent of accepting free movement of people.
“Such intransigence is a mistake. Chequers certainly has flaws that will need fixing in further negotiations. It could yet evolve into something closer to Norway plus a customs union. But even as it stands, Mrs. May’s plan is a big shift by the government towards accepting the EU’s principal demand – that a post-Brexit Britain should abide by most single-market rules, including, in effect, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. It offers a way to avert a border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic that a Canada-type agreement on its own does not. And the promise to maintain a level playing-field for competition answers one of Brussels’ biggest fears, of a race to the bottom in standards.
“Though including services would be beneficial, membership of the single market for goods alone is hardly heresy. Most free-trade deals cover goods, not services. Moreover, Switzerland and the Channel Islands are in effect members of the EU’s single market for goods alone. Brussels may hate these precedents, but it cannot deny their existence.
“As for free movement of people, there is no economic logic arguing that this is needed for a single market. In practice several countries restrict it. The Swiss offer jobs to their nationals first. The Belgians throw out migrants who cannot find work. Liechtenstein has quotas for how many EU nationals it admits. There should be scope for compromise, the more so since the numbers coming to Britain from the EU have fallen sharply.
“Chequers has enemies everywhere, yet it is the only serious proposal on the table. Even at home, Brexiteers who are campaigning to sink the scheme have failed to come up with a coherent alternative plan or any credible way to avoid a hard border in Ireland
“The EU’s leaders may reckon that, since the Chequers plan’s unpopularity in Mrs. May’s party makes it unlikely to pass muster, they have little to lose by rubbishing it. But doing so too aggressively could make it harder for any Brexit deal at all to be agreed on. The risk of then getting a new hardline Tory prime minister set on a no-deal Brexit is surely worse than Chequers, especially as Mrs. May’s plan can evolve further. Given this, Europe’s leaders should be ready to bend a little more now.”
Turkey: The central bank here sharply raised interest rates – defying President Erdogan’s demand to cut them – in an attempt to counter the country’s economic problems and reverse growing investor aversion to emerging-market economies.
The central bank hiked its main interest rate to 24% from 17.75% on Thursday, a staggering 6.25%, citing concerns over price stability and saying it would maintain a tight monetary policy stance until the inflation outlook improves significantly.
The Federal Reserve’s own tightening of monetary policy has driven money away from riskier countries and into the relative safety of U.S. assets.
President Erdogan made no comment after the central bank’s move.
Sweden: The big election was held on Sunday and Sweden became the latest European country to shift to the right, though the Sweden Democrats (SD), a right-wing party with roots in neo-Nazism, didn’t do as well as some thought prior to the vote, picking up 17.6%, a gain of five points from the last election. While it was the best-ever showing for the party, the ruling center-left Social Democrats took in 40.6% and the opposition center-right Alliance 40.3%.
What the Sweden Democrats’ gain means, though, is that it will be difficult for the country to form a stable government anytime soon as it deals with a fractured parliament and unpredictable coalition negotiations. As of today, it seems the SD would have to be part of the discussions for whichever party wants to rule.
At the same time, most seem to believe that if the Alliance were to enter into negotiations with the Sweden Democrats, that would spell the end of Alliance.
The SD campaign was centered on immigration and crime, subjects normally considered off-limits in a country known for the civility of its political debate. The party also wants to leave the European Union.
So Sweden joins the likes of the far-right in Austria, which has joined the government, and Italy, where an anti-immigrant party is also in the ruling coalition, while the largest opposition force in Germany, the AfD, is now a player.
If Sweden can’t agree on a prime minister after four attempts at forming a government, a new election would be called.
Germany / Italy: The two reached an agreement in principle to stop illegal immigrants from traveling between the two countries, Germany’s interior minister said on Thursday, but news of the deal comes at a time of turmoil for Germany’s new left-right coalition, rekindling concerns about the stability of the six-month-old government.
Horst Seehofer, interior minister and one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s most ardent critics in her broad conservative movement, said he had reached an agreement with his Italian counterpart, anti-establishment politician Matteo Salvini, to turn back any asylum seeker found to have already applied for asylum in Italy.
Seehofer has insisted on a broad immigration crackdown that Ms. Merkel has opposed, threatening to resign and remove his Bavarian Party, the Christian Social Union, from her ruling alliance.
Italy has been barring ships carrying immigrants rescued in the Mediterranean from its ports.
The new deal means Germany will accept one newly rescued asylum seeker for each immigrant that gets sent back to Italy.
Salvini, head of Italy’s nativist League party, is trying to get other anti-immigration politicians around the EU to form an alliance while persuading other EU countries to take in some of the asylum seekers who come to Italy by ship. But Salvini’s anti-immigration potential partners don’t want to take in migrants from Italy.
Separately, the larger party in Italy’s coalition, the 5-Star Movement, kept up pressure on Economy Minister Giovanni Tria to boost spending in next year’s budget, as EU authorities are advising the country to do the opposite...reduce the debt.
5-Star is seeking a universal income, but there is no talk, yet, of leaving the coalition if it isn’t part of the budget. At the same time, the League is seeking sweeping tax cuts.
Meanwhile, the other big player in Merkel’s coalition, the center-left Social Democrats, have demanded that the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency resign over his description of far-right protests in eastern Germany, essentially turning a blind eye to neo-Nazi violence.
Hungary: The European Parliament issued a rare rebuke of a member state, with lawmakers saying Hungary was becoming an authoritarian state in the heart of Europe that encourages nationalists across the continent to follow in the same path.
The EU’s legislature voted overwhelmingly to label Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government a “systemic threat to the rule of law.” While there are no immediate consequences resulting from the vote, sanctions could be levied down the road.
Orban has been a leader of Europe’s anti-immigrant forces, building a fence to keep out refugees and refusing to participate in an EU-wide relocation program for asylum seekers.
But it’s Orban’s challenge to EU rules governing democracy that was under attack this week by lawmakers. His government has exerted control over the courts, media regulators and tax inspectors, building what he calls an “illiberal state” that emulates the likes of China and Russia. Czech and Polish leaders have talked about the same vision.
Polish President Andrzeg Duda denounced the EU’s move.
Turning to Asia...China’s trade surplus with the United States widened to a record $31 billion in August as exports surged despite American tariff hikes, potentially adding fuel to President Trump’s battle with Beijing over industrial policy.
Exports to the U.S. rose 13.4 percent to $44.4 billion, a tick better than July’s growth of 13.3 percent, according to customs data. Imports of U.S. goods rose 11.1 percent to $13.3 billion, decelerating from the prior month’s 11.8 percent.
China reported a record $275.8 billion trade surplus with the United States last year.
China’s global exports rose 12.2 percent, down from July’s 12.6 percent. Imports rose 20.9 percent, down from 21 percent.
The country’s global trade gap was $27.9 billion, which means that without sales to the U.S. market, China would have run a trade deficit.
Exports to the 28-nation European Union, China’s biggest trading partner, rose 11 percent to $37 billion. Imports rose 15 percent to $24.9 billion.
China’s consumer inflation rose to a six-month high last month due to higher food prices caused by bad weather and an outbreak of swine flu, though the figures showed little direct impact from the trade war with the United States.
The national consumer price index accelerated to 2.3 percent in August from 2.1 percent in July, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Monday.
Food prices were the main driver of the increase, rising 1.7 percent from a year earlier, and much faster than the 0.5 percent gain a month earlier, with pork prices up 9 percent over July.
Chinese core inflation, which excludes food and energy, increased 2 percent in August.
China’s new home prices rose 1.4 percent in August from a month earlier, per the NBS, the fastest price gain since September 2016 and the 40th straight month of price increases, according to Reuters calculations.
One more...Chinese auto sales fell in August for the second consecutive month, as market saturation and weak consumer confidence combined to slow the world’s biggest car market.
Vehicle sales fell 3.8 percent to 2.1 million last month, the government-backed China Association of Automobile Manufacturers reported. This followed a 4 percent drop in July.
Ford Motor Co. said its China sales fell 36 percent in August year-over-year to 62,683 vehicles. General Motors recently stopped reporting monthly sales figures in China (and the U.S.), but its local partner, SAIC Motor, said sales were down at both of its joint ventures with GM in August.
Toyota Motor Co. saw its sales increase 23 percent to 133,000 in August, with Lexus sales jumping 59 percent in the month. Toyota was aided by China’s recent reduction of auto tariffs to 15 percent from 25 percent. U.S. imports don’t benefit from the reduction, with Beijing having slapped a punitive 25 percent tariff on U.S.-built vehicles in retaliation for new American tariffs on foreign cars.
In Japan, second-quarter GDP was revised upward to an annualized 3.0 percent pace, up from a preliminary reading of 1.9 percent and ahead of estimates. It was the fastest growth since the start of 2016.
The capital expenditures component of GDP grew 3.1 percent in the April-June period, the fastest for this important item since the start of 2015.
But companies remain cautious about sharing their profits with employees, keeping a lid on private consumption and inflation. The consumer is 60 percent of GDP, and consumption grew 0.7 percent in Q2 from the previous three months.
--Stocks resumed their winning ways this week, with the Dow Jones advancing 0.9% to 26154. The S&P 500 gained 1.2% and Nasdaq 1.4%. It’s the quiet before the Fed meeting...and then third-quarter earnings reports.
--U.S. Treasury Yields
6-mo. 2.33% 2-yr. 2.78% 10-yr. 3.00% 30-yr. 3.13%
Investors lapped up a $23bn, 10-year Treasury auction, showing strong demand for the debt as its yield approached 3 percent, which it hasn’t traded above since the beginning of August. The 10-year hasn’t finished a week at that level, as it did today, since May 18.
--OPEC oil production surged last month, more than making up for a decline in Iranian supply due to U.S. sanctions, the International Energy Agency said Thursday.
In its monthly market report, the IEA said crude oil output in the OPEC countries climbed in August by 420,000 barrels a day, to average 32.63 million barrels a day; the biggest month-on-month increase in more than two years, the increase mainly coming from higher production in Libya, Iraq, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
Iranian crude oil production fell month-on-month by 150,000 barrels a day in August, to 3.63 million barrels a day, with exports dropping by 280,000 barrels to 1.9 million. The IEA said, “Top buyers China and India cut back sharply.”
Russian production was steady at 11.2 million barrels a day last month. Saudi production increased to 10.42 million.
The IEA left oil demand growth forecasts for this year and next unchanged, at 1.4 million barrels a day for 2018 and 1.5 million for 2019.
--President Trump tweeted over the weekend: “‘Ford has abruptly killed a plan to sell a Chinese-made small vehicle in the U.S. because of the prospect of higher U.S. tariffs.’ CNBC. This is just the beginning. This car can now be BUILT IN THE U.S.A. and Ford will pay no tariffs!”
As Phoebe Wall Howard of the Detroit Free Press wrote: “Auto analyst groaned in response to tweets sent by President Trump that touted his tariffs on Chinese imports and his claim that the trade war would inspire Ford Motor Co. to build its popular Ford Active crossover in the U.S. rather than overseas.
“The Dearborn-based company issued a statement in response to the president:
“ ‘It would not be profitable to build the Focus Active in the U.S. given an expected annual sales volume of fewer than 50,000 units and its competitive segment. Ford is proud to employ more U.S. hourly workers and build more vehicles in the U.S. than any other automaker.’
“Jon Gabrielsen, a market economist who advises automakers and auto suppliers, said, ‘This is further evidence that neither the president nor his trade representatives have any clue of the complexities of global supply chains.’
“A trade war actually hurts one of America’s most iconic companies, Gabrielsen said. ‘This forces Ford to forfeit the sales they would have had if they could continue to import that low-volume niche vehicle.’”
After touting his tariff plan, the president then cited tariff data “that alarmed analysts.”
Trump: “If the U.S. sells a car into China, there is a tax of 25%. If China sells a car into the U.S., there is a tax of 2%. Does anyone think that is FAIR? The days of the U.S. being ripped-off by other nations is OVER!”
“Wrong again, (analyst Kristin) Dziczek, told the Detroit Free Press. “China lowered the tariff rate from 25 percent to 15 percent for most-favored nation status – which is offered to World Trade Organization members – but raised it to 40 percent for the U.S. in retaliation for the tariffs we put on Chinese goods.”
She continued, “And the tariffs we charge for goods coming into the U.S. is 2.5 percent, not 2 percent. And then we put an additional 25 percent on cars coming from China into the U.S. So now they’re paying 27.5 percent. This is why Ford had to re-evaluate.”
American automakers ship about 250,000 vehicles a year from the U.S. to China, while China ships about 50,000 vehicles to the U.S. annually, Dziczek noted.
--Trump also tweeted about Apple, which is concerned the prices paid in the U.S. for its iPhones would go way up because of the tariffs Trump has enacted on the import of goods from China.
So Trump tweeted: “Apple prices may increase because of the massive Tariffs we may be imposing on China – but there is an easy solution where there would be ZERO tax, and indeed a tax incentive. Make your products in the United States instead of China. Start building new plants now. Exciting! #MAGA”
But the price of an iPhone could be $2,000. It’s about all the parts that make up an iPhone; OLED screens, camera sensors, solid state storage drives...they are all made-in-Asia products. The reason the launch of the iPhone X was delayed in 2017, for example, was the scarcity of the OLED screens. It took time for Apple to get factories up to speed with demand.
Cameras for smartphones, including Samsung’s, have been manufactured in Asia for decades.
Wednesday, Apple unveiled its biggest and most expensive iPhone lineup ever, making a bet on larger screens as a key to getting millions of iPhone users to upgrade to a new device, while forking over more money. Apple will also be touting longer-lasting batteries and new photo-editing tools.
Apple raised the price of its highest end phone by $100 with the introduction of the $1,099 iPhone XS Max, a plus-size, 6.5-inch version of last year’s anniversary model. The new iPhone XS, priced at $999, costs the same as last year’s iPhone X and features the same 5.8-inch OLED display. And the iPhone XR is a 6.1-inch device with an edge-to-edge LCD display priced at $749, splitting the difference between last year’s iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus prices.
According to Piper Jaffray, an estimated 254 million consumers use iPhones that are more than three years old and 486 million use iPhones that are more than two years old.
Reminder, the iPhone still accounts for about two-thirds of Apple’s revenue, and for growth it needs to convince existing users to upgrade, as the smartphone market in the U.S. is already saturated.
--Meanwhile, Apple is trying to turn its smartwatch into a medical device. The fourth incarnation, called the Series 4 and due out later this month, adds features that allow it to take high-quality heart readings and detect falls.
I have been unimpressed by Apple Watch, as in, why the heck would I need one? The company doesn’t release sales figures, but analysts estimate Apple shipped roughly 18 million of the gadgets in 2017. Apple sold 216 million iPhones in the same period.
--Tesla shares climbed nearly 9 percent on Monday as investors reacted to Elon Musk, who over the weekend predicted “the most amazing quarter in our history,” Musk adding in an email to employees Friday night (long after the market had closed) that Tesla will deliver “more than twice as many cars as we did last quarter.”
Tesla finished the week at $295, up from $264 the prior week.
--Boy, the following sure doesn’t surprise me, as I’ve told you for years of the problem that exists in my own neighborhood.
From Arune Viswanatha and Kate O’Keeffe / Wall Street Journal
“Two years before Equifax Inc. stunned the world with the announcement it had been hacked, the credit-reporting company believed it was the victim of another theft, only this time at the hands of Chinese spies, according to people familiar with the matter. In the previously undisclosed incident, security officials feared that former employees had removed thousands of pages of proprietary information before leaving and heading to jobs in China. Materials included code for planned new products, human-resources files and manuals.
“Equifax went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. Investigators from the company and the FBI came to view events at Equifax as potentially a huge theft of data – not of consumers’ personal data, as happened with the subsequent 2017 hacking of Equifax’s files, but of confidential business information.
“Equifax security officials briefed the then-chief executive, Richard Smith, at a fall 2015 meeting, spreading high stacks of paper across the length of the boardroom table. The voluminous printouts represented what they feared was stolen. Adding to suspicions, the Chinese government had recently asked eight companies to help it build a national credit-reporting system.
“At one point, Equifax grew so worried it began building a way to monitor the computer activity of all of its ethnic-Chinese employees, according to people familiar with the investigation. The resource-heavy project, which raised legal concerns internally, was short-lived.”
--Macy’s announced it plans to hire 80,000 seasonal staff members, boosting hiring for its online operations, as it expects a “strong” holiday shopping season, this despite the fact the Street has lowered its expectations for department stores in the current quarter.
Macy’s said the hires will be across all segments, including call centers, distribution centers and online fulfillment centers for both Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s stores.
The 80,000, however, is actually the same as last year, when in December, Macy’s added an additional 7,000 because of traffic.
--Target said it is planning to hire 120,000 workers across the country ahead of the holiday season, 20 percent more than last year.
“Coming off a strong second quarter, we’re anticipating a busy holiday season and want to make sure we have the right teams in place across all of our stores and distribution and fulfillment centers to deliver an exceptional experience for our guess,” said Target executive Janna Potts.
All ‘team members’ hired after this weekend will begin with wages starting at $12 an hour; with the company hiking all store workers’ wages to at least $15 an hour by 2020.
--CBS CEO Leslie Moonves was forced to resign last weekend after more women came forward accusing him of sexual harassment in a new story from the New Yorker. Moonves denied the allegations, calling the latest “appalling.”
“Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am.”
The CBS board hired external counsel led by Mary Jo White, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Nancy Kestenbaum, a former federal prosecutor, to investigate the claims.
Moonves could receive up to $120m in severance pay, but the payout depends on the results of the investigation. If the probe doesn’t find cause to fire him under his employment contract, he would receive most of it, if not all, and he would be involved in the leadership transition for up to one year, with CBS providing him “office services and security services” for up to two years.
However, if the board does find cause to dismiss him, CBS will keep its money, with the company then donating $20m of the severance to charity groups that “support the #metoo movement and equality for women in the workplace.”
At the same time, CBS has dropped its lawsuit that aimed to strip the Redstone family of their voting power in CBS. In turn, National Amusements, the investment vehicle of the Redstones, agreed not to try to merge Viacom and CBS for two years, unless two-thirds of the board of directors unaffiliated with the Redstones support it.
Joseph Ianniello will serve as president and acting CEO.
Separately, Jeff Fager, who has overseen top-rated CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” since 2004, is leaving the network after he was found to have violated the company’s policy regarding sexual harassment.
CBS News President David Rhodes said in a memo to staff: “He violated company policy and it is our commitment to uphold those policies at every level.”
Rhodes added the ouster is “not directly related to the allegations that surfaced in press reports” regarding sexual harassment and a hostile work environment at Fager’s operation.
A New Yorker story last July claimed he ignored inappropriate behavior at “60 Minutes” and that there were at least three financial settlements paid to former CBS News employees.
The now ousted Leslie Moonves was a big supporter of Fager.
--Alibaba Group announced the succession plan for co-founder and chairman Jack Ma, who will continue as executive chairman of the company over the next 12 months to ensure a smooth transition to Daniel Zhang, the current CEO, who will become chairman of the board as of Sept. 10, 2019.
As part of a statement announcing the move, Jack Ma said: “When Alibaba was founded in 1999, our goal was to build a company that could make China and the world proud and one that could cross three centuries to last 102 years....No company can rely solely on its founders. Of all people, I should know that. Because of physical limits on one’s ability and energy, no one can shoulder the responsibilities of chairman and CEO forever....Having been trained as a teacher, I feel extremely proud of what I have achieved. Teachers always want their students to exceed them, so the responsible thing to do for me and the company to do is to let younger, more talented people take over in leadership roles so that they inherit our mission.”
Ma announced he is going to focus his time on philanthropy, specifically in the field of education.
--General Motors Co. is recalling more than one million late-model pickup trucks and large sport-utility vehicles in the U.S. for a steering defect, the latest example of a problem generated by the industry’s growing use of software to control a car’s mechanical functions.
The defect has been linked to 30 crashes and two injuries. The trucks can lose their electronically controlled power steering momentarily before it suddenly comes back on. The flaw causes drivers to lose control especially at slower speeds, GM said. Dealers will update the software to fix the problem for free.
From 2013 to 2016, electronics-related automotive recalls grew 30% annually on average, about six times faster than the pace from the previous six years, according to a report from consultancy AlixPartners.
--Supermarket chain Kroger Co. missed same-store sales estimates, sending the shares down as much as 10 percent. Under its “Restock” program launched this year, the largest U.S. supermarket operator with $123 billion in 2017 sales has been adjusting product assortments, rearranging store layouts and highlighting private-label brands on its shelves. But the strategy has resulted in short-term disruption, which could lead to customers going elsewhere.
Same-store sales, ex-fuel, rose 1.6 percent. But adjusted net income beat expectations .
--Shares in Snap Inc. hit a new low on Wednesday, to $8.90, after a leading analyst, Richard Greenfield, said he was “tired of watching Snapchat decline from the sidelines” and that it’s time to sell the messaging app’s stock, giving it a new price target of $5. Snap went public in 2017 at $17 a share. [It finished the week at $9.30.]
--Sears Holdings Corp. posted another loss in its latest quarter but said sales turned positive this summer.
The company reported a loss of $508 million in its fiscal second quarter, or $4.68 a share, which compares with a loss of $250 million, or $2.33 a share, a year earlier. Sales of $3.2 billion were down sharply from $4.3 billion in the prior-year’s second quarter. Much of that was from store closings, but sales at stores open at least a year fell 3.9%.
CEO Edward Lampert said he was encouraged, however, by improvements in July and August, when same-store sales rose 3% and 2.5%.
--Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos plans to commit an initial $2 billion to fund a new charitable organization dedicated to helping the homeless and educating preschoolers. Bezos and his wife will form the Bezos Day One Fund to support existing nonprofit organizations that help homeless families, while creating a nonprofit network of Montessori-inspired preschools in low-income communities.
Bezos tweeted: “If our own great-grandchildren don’t have lives better than ours, something has gone very wrong.”
Someone needs to tell Bezos that the world ends in 2033 due to nuclear war. Don’t lose sleep over your great-grandchildren.
--Volkswagen confirmed Thursday that it will end production of the Beetle in 2019, though it hinted that the car could one day be revived.
VW U.S. CEO Hinrich J. Woebcken said in a statement: “The loss of the Beetle after three generations, over nearly seven decades, will evoke a host of emotions from the Beetle’s many devoted fans.” [No it won’t.]
But regarding a potential return some day, Woebcken said: “I would say, ‘Never say never.’”
VW sold 15,166 Beetle models in the U.S. in 2017, down 3.2%. The current generation model has been in production in Puebla, Mexico, since 1997.
The car first hit the U.S. in 1949.
--Ryanair cabin crew in five countries are set to go on strike on September 28 in another blow to the airline as it battles continuing labor unrest.
Cabin crew who are union members in Italy, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands will stage the job action, which follows a strike by Ryanair pilots in Germany on Wednesday. That saw the airline cancel 150 of its German flights.
--The NFL’s television ratings for its first weekend were actually flat vs. last year, a good sign for the league. But while ratings fell sharply in 2016 and 2017, the NFL TV ad market remained strong. Whether this continues remains to be seen, but a stabilization in the numbers of viewers this year would clearly lead to continued solid ad revenues.
--Meanwhile, Nike’s share price has fully recovered from the announcement it was using Colin Kaepernick for its 30th anniversary of the company’s “Just Do It” campaign.
There was speculation the ad campaign would lead to a drop in sales, but anecdotal evidence has shown this has not been the case. Nike reveals its quarterly results on Sept. 25.
--Sales of microwavable meals are rising at the fastest pace in a decade, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, up 5.7% over the year ended July 15, according to market-research firm Spins, after minimal growth the prior two years.
Efforts to cut salt and other less healthful ingredients from ready-made meals appears to be resonating with customers who like the convenience...such as moi.
Syria: Government forces continue to mass in preparation for an offensive on the last major rebel stronghold in Syria, with airstrikes pounding Idlib as a prelude to the final assault.
Russia and Iran, in talks with Turkey last week, rejected Turkey’s plea for restraint. UN officials say 800,000 more people could be forced out of Idlib in the offensive, most inevitably heading to Turkey, which is already hosting 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
Meanwhile, Iran is embedding its Quds Forces and Shiite militias in areas the regime retakes.
The U.S. is working with France and the U.K. on plans for a coordinated military strike in Syria if the regime uses chemical weapons in the offensive.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Illinois) / Defense News
“The Syrian War rages on into its eighth year and yet the United States is still without a real strategy for the dire situation there. While much of the world’s focus fades away with the ever-changing news cycle, the war crimes being committed in Syria are still happening in full force as President Bashar al-Assad continues to murder his people with help from his friends in Russia and Iran. They do not believe the world is watching; they do not fear any retribution; and they have no remorse for their genocide. If we fail to act, their offensive planned for Syria’s Idlib region will be more horrific than anything we’ve seen in this conflict.
“Our lack of a strategy in Syria has been a failing practice. The initial attacks already happening in Idlib are just a prelude to the civilian bloodbath that the world will soon witness if Assad once again uses chemical weapons on his own people. We cannot stand idly by and allow this humanitarian crisis to compound further. The peace talks with Turkey, Russia, and Iran have failed.
“It’s time to act.
“Since World War I, the United States has held that chemical weapons have no place on the battlefield. We have held strong to this principle and it has been core to our American values.
“We know that Assad and his ruthless regime have committed countless war crimes and bear responsibility for murdering more than half a million Syrians. We know that Assad has used chemical weapons on several occasions to attack and murder civilians. We know the Russian and Iranian regimes have supported Assad in this genocide, including strikes that account for more than 50,000 dead Syrian children. We have seen Assad and his cronies use food as a weapon in cities like Madaya, Aleppo, and Eastern Ghouta by refusing humanitarian aid deliveries by UN and other organizations. And we have witnessed the targeting and destruction of hospitals across the most ravaged cities in Syria.
“Because we know all this, we cannot turn a blind eye and ignore the horrific reality in Syria right now. We cannot isolate ourselves from this crisis. If we fail to act in Syria and fail to inflict punishment over the use of chemical weapons, we will ultimately see the end of the nonproliferation treaty of chemical weapons and open the world to ghastly horrors, perpetual insecurity, and extreme dangers. What happens in Syria, and what happens in the Middle East, has a very real impact on America’s national security and the security of future generations.
“To be clear, I’m not suggesting the U.S. invade Syria, post up thousands of U.S. troops, and start World War III. But, I am suggesting we take a stand for what is right, what is just, and what is in the best interest of the United States and the freedom-loving people around the world. We need a long-term strategy in Syria that leads to a solution of peace and an end to the ongoing, deadly conflict. This strategy should also include the end of the Assad regime and a place at the table of government for the Syrian people.
“To do this, we must maintain a presence in Syria, bolster the de-escalation zones that have already been established, and enforce a no-fly zone in the region. This is vital for the safety of our coalition units, humanitarian aid volunteers, and Syrian citizens who have been forced to flee their homes and communities....
“I believe America has a mission to be an example of self-governance in a world drowning in strongmen, cruelty, and chaos – and I believe we have an opportunity to show the people of Syria, and the world, that the American Dream continues. We are still that shining city on a hill, and a beacon of hope for peace and prosperity.
“Let’s shine a light on the evil actions of Iran and Russia, and expose with that brightness the torture, inhumane use of chemical weapons, and the bombing of aid convoys and hospitals by the Assad regime. Let’s make our presence known in Syria and let’s push back on these strongmen who target the innocent.
“Let’s speak out for the freedom-loving people who so desperately need America’s voice. Let’s shine our light on the oppressive darkness around the world. And let’s save Syria.”
UN human rights investigators said Wednesday that Syrian government forces fired chlorine, a banned chemical weapon, on a rebel-held Damascus suburb and on Idlib province this year, in attacks that constitute war crimes.
The Commission of Inquiry on Syria has now documented 39 incidents where chemical weapons were used since 2013, including 33 attributed to the government, the UN said.
The UN also said over 1 million Syrian men, women and children have been displaced so far this year “with most now living in dire conditions.”
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey / Wall Street Journal
“Across Turkey’s southern border, Bashar Assad’s criminal regime has for seven years targeted Syria’s citizens with arbitrary arrests, systematic torture, summary executions, barrel bombs, and chemical and conventional weapons. As a result of the Syrian civil war, which the United Nations Human Rights Council calls ‘the worst man-made disaster since World War II,’ millions of innocent people have become refugees or been internally displaced.
“Turkey has gone to extraordinary lengths to alleviate suffering of the Syrian people, hosting some 3.5 million refugees – more than any other country in the world. At the same time we have become the target of terrorist organizations operating next door: the so-called Islamic State and the PKK. Neither the heavy cost of humanitarian efforts nor security concerns have weakened our resolve.
“As Turkey faced those challenges, it made diplomatic efforts to find a political solution. We have brought the Syrian opposition to the negotiating table in Geneva and launched the Astana process alongside Russia and Iran. Consequently, Turkey was able to broker cease-fires, create de-escalation zones, and evacuate civilians from areas under regime attack.
“Today we find ourselves at a critical juncture again, as the Assad regime, with the help of its allies, prepares to launch a massive offensive against Idlib, which is home to some three million people and one of the few remaining safe havens for internally displaced Syrians. In an attempt to prevent the assault, my government contributed to the creation of a deconfliction zone and set up 12 observation posts to document and report cease-fire violations.
“The Assad regime seeks to legitimize its imminent attack on counterterrorism grounds. Make no mistake: No country appreciates the need to combat terrorism better than Turkey, which has suffered severely from terrorist attacks since the Syrian conflict began exporting insecurity throughout the region. But Bashar Assad’s solution is a false one. Innocent people must not be sacrificed in the name of fighting terrorism. This will only create new hotbeds of terrorism and extremism. The rise of ISIS was an outcome – not the cause – of what was happening in Syria. The international community must contain such violence to stop terrorism from taking root....
“All members of the international community must understand their responsibilities as the assault on Idlib looms. The consequences of inaction are immense. We cannot leave the Syrian people to the mercy of Bashar Assad. The purpose of a regime offensive against Idlib would be indiscriminate attacks to wipe out its opposition – not a genuine or effective campaign against terrorism. A regime assault would also create serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond....
“(The) obligation to stop the next bloodshed is not the West’s alone. Our partners in the Astana process, Russia and Iran, are likewise responsible for stopping this humanitarian disaster.
“Idlib is the last exit before the toll. If the international community, including Europe and the U.S., fail to take action now, not only innocent Syrians but the entire world stands to pay the price. Turkey has done everything in its power to stop the bloodshed next door. To ensure that we succeed, the rest of the world must set aside narrow self-interest and throw its weight behind a political solution.”
I totally concur with President Erdogan on this topic. Long-time readers will recall 2012, and the failure of the Obama administration to heed Erdogan’s call for a no-fly zone back then in northern Syria that you now well know would have prevented so much suffering and death.
Iran: The nation’s nuclear chief told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he hopes the deal between Tehran and the world powers survives, but warns the program will be in a stronger position than ever if not.
Ali Akbar Salehi also told the AP in an exclusive interview in Tehran that the “consequences will be harsh” if there are any new attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear scientists. A string of bombings, blamed on Israel, targeted a number of scientists beginning in 2010 at the height of Western concerns over Iran’s program.
Salehi also said that President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 accord “puts him on the loser’s side” of history.
He added: “That deal could have paved the way for building the trust and the confidence that we had lost.”
Salehi spoke about Iran’s efforts to build a new facility at Natanz’s uranium enrichment center that will produce more advanced centrifuges. Those devices enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas.
“If we have to go back and withdraw from the nuclear deal, we certainly do not go back to where we were before,” Salehi said. “We will be standing on a much, much higher position.”
Yemen: The UN warned on Friday that shelling and airstrikes in Yemen’s Hudaida province have targeted humanitarian workers and infrastructure, threatening its ability to feed 3.5 million “very hungry people.”
Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen’s conflict since 2015, when the Arab coalition intervened in support of the government.
Israel: Editorial / Wall Street Journal
“The Trump Administration is blowing the whistle on the Palestine Liberation Organization, and it would be hard to identify a more overdue reality check in U.S. foreign policy.
“The Administration announced Monday that it is closing the PLO’s Washington office, citing lack of progress on peace negotiations. The PLO began as a terrorist organization but was allowed to open an office in Washington in 1994 after the Oslo accords produced hope for a new era of reconciliation between the PLO and Israel.
“That hope has never been fulfilled, notably since the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat began the second intifada after walking away from the historic and generous Israeli peace offer brokered by Bill Clinton in 2000. Long-term indulgence of the PLO’s recalcitrance has had the effect of allowing a toxic and reflexive anti-Israel sentiment to build in international institutions, not least among academics and students on U.S. campuses. The Trump Administration has tried to revive the Israeli-Palestinian talks, but it has also shown less tolerance for Palestinian resistance. Last November Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas used his speech at the United Nations to call for the investigation and prosecution of Israeli officials by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Trump Administration said then that the PLO’s Washington office was at risk of closure.
“Mr. Abbas’ call for an investigation of Israel by the ICC was consciously provocative, and the PLO’s Washington office would have known that. The U.S. Congress said in 2015 – before Donald Trump became President – that the Secretary of State was required to certify that the PLO wasn’t trying to use the ICC against Israel.
“In a speech Monday to the Federalist Society, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton made clear the U.S. will push back hard against any ICC investigation involving members of the U.S. military or the country’s allies.
“ ‘The United States,’ Mr. Bolton said, ‘will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. We will not cooperate with the ICC.’
“Meanwhile, late last month the U.S. announced it is permanently cutting funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or Unrwa, a primary source of Palestinian financial support for decades. The numbers are significant. The U.S. decision will cut off more than $300 million from Unrwa’s $1.24 billion budget. By now the UN agency is essentially a shadow government in the Palestinian-held territories. In Gaza alone, there are 274 Unrwa schools with a student population of 280,000.
“The point of all this isn’t to be vindictive but to show Mr. Abbas and the PLO that they can’t continue to underwrite anti-Semitic textbooks and anti-Israel terrorism without consequences. If the Palestinians want to be treated with the respect of a peace partner, they have to first show a desire for peace.”
North Korea: The country held a military parade in Pyongyang last weekend, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country, and it did not feature the usual display of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could threaten the U.S. homeland, so some seized on this as a symbolic show of good will.
President Trump thanked Kim Jong-un via Twitter, saying the parade was “a big and very positive statement from North Korea.”
“Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will both prove everyone wrong!”
There is still no timeline, details or any mechanisms to verify Kim’s promised denuclearization.
On the same day that the White House welcomed a letter to President Trump from Kim, proposing another meeting of the two leaders, the aforementioned John Bolton struck a markedly less optimistic tone, expressing frustration that Kim had not yet begun to fulfill his promise to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons.
“The possibility of another meeting between the two presidents obviously exists,” Mr. Bolton said, “but President Trump can’t make the North Koreans walk through the door he’s holding open. They’re the ones that have to take the steps to denuclearize, and that’s what we’re waiting for.”
But White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, described Kim’s letter as “very warm, very positive.”
“The president has achieved tremendous success with his policies so far,” Sanders said. “And this letter was further evidence of progress in that relationship.”
Friday, North and South Korea opened their first liaison office near their tense border to facilitate better communication and exchanges ahead of their leaders’ summit in Pyongyang next week. The office is the first of its kind since the Koreas were divided at the end of the Second World War.
The Koreas so far have been using telephone and fax-like communication channels when they want to arrange talks and exchange messages. But those channels have been often suspended when tensions rose over North Korea’s nuclear program.
China: The New York Times reported that the Trump administration is considering sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies to punish Beijing’s detention of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs and other minority Muslims in large internment camps, according to current and former American officials.
Until now, President Trump has resisted punishing China for its human rights record, or even accusing it of widespread violations. Of course he has no freakin’ clue what this issue is about.
China said it is not mistreating Muslims in Xinjiang province but is putting some people through training courses to avoid extremism spreading, unlike Europe which had failed to deal with the problem, a Chinese official told reporters on Thursday.
Li Xiaojun, director for publicity at the Bureau of Human Rights Affairs of the State Council Information Office, said, “What China is doing is to establish professional training centers, educational centers. If you do not say it’s the best way, maybe it’s the necessary way to deal with Islamic or religious extremism, because the West has failed in doing so, in dealing with religious Islamic extremism. Look at Belgium, look at Paris, look at some other European countries. You have failed.”
Regarding last Friday’s development that had the U.S. recalling its ambassadors to El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Panama....
Editorial / Wall Street Journal
“So why are American and Chinese diplomats jousting in Latin America?
“The answer is Taiwan. In the last 15 months Beijing has convinced the three countries to drop diplomatic recognition of the island and establish relations with mainland China. The U.S. recalled its ambassadors to signal that it will downgrade ties with countries that switch. Only 17 nations now recognize Taiwan, and several of those are wavering.
“China’s diplomatic campaign is part of a larger effort to force Taiwan to accept reunification. Chinese leaders have threatened war if there is no progress toward this goal, and Chinese military forces are conducting maneuvers around the island. Taiwanese understandably refuse to give up their de facto independence or their hard-won democracy.
“The U.S. show of solidarity with Taiwan is welcome, and perhaps the demarches will deter more diplomatic defections. But the Trump Administration could do much more to help the island. For example, in June the U.S. opened a new de facto embassy in Taipei. Taiwan’s friends in Congress requested that a cabinet-level official attend the ceremony. But after China threw a tantrum, the U.S. was represented by the assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.
“The U.S. is also failing to sell Taiwan the arms it needs to defend itself, a requirement under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act....
“Moves to engage Taiwan or bolster its defense may cause fireworks in Beijing, but that is because Beijing has learned that its threats work. Li Kexin, then a counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, last December responded to a proposal for U.S. Navy port calls to Taiwan: ‘The day that a U.S. Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force.’ The U.S. shelved the idea, and Beijing promoted Mr. Li to deputy chief of mission.”
Russia: Two Russians appeared on state television on Thursday, saying they had been wrongly accused by Britain of trying to murder a former Russian spy and his daughter in England and that they had visited Salisbury in March for tourism.
British prosecutors last week identified two Russians they said were operating under aliases – Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – whom they accused of trying to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal with a military-grade nerve agent.
The two men who appeared on Russia’s state-funded RT television had some physical similarities to the men shown in British police images.
“Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town,” one of the men said of the English town of Salisbury in a short clip of the interview played by RT.
They said they may have approached Skripal’s house by chance but did not know where it was located. They had stayed less than an hour in Salisbury because of bad weather.
You can stop laughing.
Britain claims the two suspects were Russian military intelligence officers (GRU) almost certainly acting on orders from the Kremlin.
On a different topic, Russian police detained more than 800 people protesting against planned increases to the pension age on Sunday, according to OVD-Info, a rights organization that monitors detentions.
The protests were organized by jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his supporters, a challenge to the authorities who were hoping for a large turnout for regional elections the same day.
Navalny had planned to lead Sunday’s protest in Moscow, but a court last month convicted him of breaking protest laws and jailed him for 30 days, in a move designed to derail the protests.
Meanwhile, Russia and China held their first large-scale joint war games for the first time since the post-Soviet era, offering Chinese generals rare and valuable experience training outside their country’s borders.
The five days of drills were also designed to show the two sides are moving beyond symbolic displays of cooperation against the United States, and that the two can coordinate weapons systems and command structures.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has wanted to turn his armed forces into a more expeditionary fighting force and the joint exercises offer China tremendous insight on how to extend logistical and supply chains.
Brazil: Right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro will not be hitting the campaign trail again until perhaps right before the October elections due to his recovery from the knife attack that almost killed him.
At the same time, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former president celebrated on the left, is campaigning from a prison cell where he is serving a 12-year sentence after being convicted of corruption.
But after being declared ineligible by the electoral court, this week Lula transferred his candidacy to running mate Fernando Haddad (former mayor of Sao Paulo), though Lula will be calling the shots.
Bolsonaro is riding a sympathy vote, his popularity surging to 30%* after the attack, up from 24% prior to it, which will probably put him on top in the first round of voting on Oct. 7, but he won’t be able to avoid a runoff later in the month.
*I just saw a new poll before I go to post that has Bolsonaro at 26% (Datafolha). Haddad was at 13%. There are multiple candidates, including a center-left one, Gomes, at 13%, and a “business-friendly” candidate, Alekmin, at 9%.
I might have to see if this race is available on DraftKings.
--Presidential tracking polls....
Gallup: 40% approval of President Trump’s job performance, 54% disapproval (Sept. 9). 85% Republicans; 36% Independents.
Rasmussen: 47% approval, 51% disapproval (Sept. 14)
--In a new CNN Poll by SSRS, President Trump received an approval rating of just 36%, down from 42% in August. Among independents, the drop was sharp, from 47% approval last month to 31% now. Trump’s disapproval rating was 61%, up from 55%; 61% being the worst of his presidency.
On other issues, the same poll found 58% believing the anonymous op-ed writer should identify themselves, and 55% think it is inappropriate for an administration official to work against the agenda of the president for whom he or she works.
On the issue of honesty, just 32% say they see the president as honest and trustworthy, the worst read in CNN polling. 32% also say Trump is someone they are proud to have as president, down 6 points since March and the lowest since Trump took office.
Finally, there was some good news for Trump. 49% approve of his handling of the economy, with 69% describing it as good, a figure that has held steady over the past few months.
--In a Quinnipiac University national poll, 38% approve of President Trump’s job performance, 54% disapprove, compared to a 41-54 split August 14. [The approval rating in this survey has been consistently between 38 and 43 percent since March 7.]
60% do not believe Trump is honest, 32% do. By a 65-30 margin, the electorate does not believe the president is level-headed. And by a 55-41 margin, the people don’t believe he is fit to serve as president.
The percentage saying Brett Kavanaugh* should be confirmed to the Supreme Court is just 41%, 42% saying no. [81-3 among Republicans, 45-39 among Independents, for confirmation; Democrats oppose 76-9 percent.]
55% say Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a fair investigation into possible Trump campaign coordination with the Russians, 32% believe he isn’t.
*Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) referred a letter to the FBI that addresses a decades-old allegation of sexual abuse against Kavanaugh; the woman going to the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow. Kavanaugh has been vetted for numerous federal positions and judgeships. This never came up. 65 women who knew Kavanaugh in high school signed a letter defending him.
--In New York’s primary Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a commanding 63-22 lead heading into the vote, according to a Sienna Research Institute poll released Monday. Siena’s July survey had Cuomo leading 60-29.
So Gov. Cuomo ended up defeating Nixon 64% to 34%. Seeking a third term, Cuomo now faces Republican Marc Molinaro in a race most expect to be less difficult than the primary.
Separately, a slimy mailer that sought to link Cynthia Nixon to anti-Semitism was drafted and approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s closest advisers, the New York Post reported.
The mailer – paid for by the state Democratic Party – hit 7,000 mailboxes in Jewish neighborhoods. Cuomo denied he had anything to do with the smear.
But sources told the Post the former top aide, Larry Schwartz, “was very involved with the mailer and signed off on it,” a Democratic source told the paper, describing the aide as a “henchman” and “enforcer.”
A Cuomo spokeswoman then admitted Schwartz worked on the mailer, but that “he only saw the positive section and never saw the negative section. Had he seen it, it would have never gone out.”
If you believe that, then you believe the new Tappan Zee Bridge is safe (a little bridge humor for the locals).
--Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse said on some of the Sunday morning talk shows that he probably thinks about leaving the Republican Party “every morning,” while decrying the way he said Republicans and Democrats get caught up in the political furors of the day, Sasse saying he focuses instead on a “long-term vision” for the country.
Sasse told CNN’s “State of the Union” he considers himself an “independent conservative who caucuses with the Republicans,” though he said he is “committed to the party of Lincoln and Reagan as long as there is a chance to reform.”
Sasse insists he isn’t running for president in 2020. I’m guessing with each noxious Trump tweet, Sasse inches closer....but as a Republican?
--S.E. Cupp / New York Daily News, on the reemergence of former President Barack Obama.
“(In his initial speeches on the campaign trail for Democratic candidates): Exploding the deficit, embracing Vladimir Putin, reckless spending, corporate subsidies, taking advantage of veterans, undermining our alliances, allowing our elections to be vulnerable to attacks: ‘None of this is conservative,’ (Obama) scolded.
“He’s right, of course. But for those of us old enough to remember, it rings a little hollow when he and the Democratic Party famously took someone who was conservative – and decent, moral, honest and good – and ripped him to shreds just to traffic in the very politics of fear Obama is now eschewing.
“Lest you’ve forgotten, Mitt Romney, the Democrats had you believe, was a sexist monster. Why? he kept ‘binders full of women’ – whom he’d only hoped to hire. Mitt Romney, Obama had you believe, was a paranoid ignoramus. Why? He thought Russia was our greatest geopolitical threat.
“Mitt Romney, Obama had you believe, was a ‘bulls—tter.’ Why? Because politics. Of course we now know Romney is everything Trump is not, and I imagine he looks pretty good today in light of where we currently are. Ditto for George W. Bush, John McCain, John Boehner and every other reasonable Republican liberals once called monsters and now like to recall fondly for the way we were.
“Spare me. Obama is right to criticize Trump and the Republican Party for supporting him. But color me more than a little skeptical of his nostalgia for the good old days, when conservatives were principled. He insisted we were just as ‘dangerous’ then.”
--“The foreign-born population in the United States has reached its highest share since 1910, according to government data released Thursday, and the new arrivals are more likely to have come from Asia and have college degrees” than those of past decades, as reported by the New York Times’ Sabrina Tavernise, utilizing data from the Census Bureau.
Newcomers had tended to be mostly from Latin America, but a Brookings Institution study of the data shows that since 2010, 41 percent came from Asia and 39 percent from Latin America. 45 percent have college degrees, vs. 30 percent of those who came between 2000 and 2009.
Foreign-born populations rose by 20 percent in Tennessee and Kentucky since 2010, and just six percent in New York and California, states with large immigrant populations.
--The Catholic Church in Germany acknowledged a “depressing and shameful” legacy of sexual abuse on Wednesday after a leaked study said clerics had abused thousands of children over a 70-year period.
The document, commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference, revealed that 1,670 clerics and priests had sexually abused 3,677 minors, mostly males, in the country between 1946 and 2014, Der Spiegel said
The same day, Pope Francis summoned senior bishops from around the world to the Vatican for an unprecedented meeting in February to discuss the protection of minors. The Vatican had no immediate comment on the report from Germany.
Separately, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington and formerly in the same position in Pittsburgh, revealed he planned to discuss his resignation with Francis. Wuerl has been under withering criticism since the release last month of a grand jury report saying that more than 1,000 children had been victimized over decades in Pennsylvania, and that church leaders had covered it up.
Personally, I still can’t believe that a man I knew, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, is at the heart of the church scandals, and if Pope Francis covered up knowledge of McCarrick’s past transgressions, Francis would have to step down.
Archbishop Georg Ganswein, who was Pope Benedict’s personal secretary and closest adviser, said at a book presentation on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: “The Catholic Church looks full of confusion at its own 9/11, even though this catastrophe isn’t associated with a single date, but rather at so many days and years, and innumerable victims.”
Pray for the men and women of our armed forces...and all the fallen.
And with the anniversary of 9/11, we remember those who were ‘going up,’ while the rest were ‘going down.’
God bless America.
Returns for the week 9/10-9/14
Dow Jones +0.9% 
S&P 500 +1.2% 
S&P MidCap +1.0%
Russell 2000 +0.5%
Nasdaq +1.4% 
Returns for the period 1/1/18-9/14/18
Dow Jones +5.8%
S&P 500 +8.7%
S&P MidCap +7.7%
Russell 2000 +12.1%