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10/24/2020

For the week 10/19-10/23

[Posted 10:00 PM ET, Friday]

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Edition 1,123

What a week, filled with more recklessness from President Trump as the coronavirus pandemic surged in the United States, with the highest daily case count yet just today, over 80,000, and rising hospitalizations in 38 states.  Fourteen reported new highs in hospitalized Covid-19 patients.

Utah health officials issued a dire warning: “Our major hospitals have started declining new patients in their ICUs and are activating their surge plans now.”

But don’t worry, Covid is “going away,” as Donald Trump has been saying for months and months.  “We’re rounding the corner.”

At the same time we are eleven days from Election Day and as of this evening, over 51 million Americans have already cast their votes, with historic turnout overall expected.

According to Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who runs the U.S. Elections Project, 85 million people could vote before Nov. 3, with 150 million voting in total, or an eligible voter turnout rate of more than 62%, which would be the highest in our lifetimes.

These next eleven days are going to be pure chaos, with all manner of intelligence officials warning of Russian interference.  There will be some incredibly ugly stuff up on social media.  Ignore it.  And no doubt next week we’ll get hit with another surprise or two, the facts of which may be in dispute.

But this is all leading up to the chaos and uncertainty of Election Night itself.  As I note down below with some of the polling data, it seems a virtual certainty that Donald Trump will be declaring victory that evening, while hundreds of lawyers affiliated with the Republican National Committee and the campaign attempt to stop the counting of mail-in ballots, 2/3s of which in most states will be for Biden.  There’s really no telling what will happen.

So on the campaign trail this week, we heard Donald Trump say of his rival that he “should’ve been locked up weeks ago.”

Trump told supporters in Arizona on Monday that Biden is lucky that William Barr is the attorney general “because I know people that would have had him locked up five weeks ago.”

“Bill Barr is a very nice man and a very fair man,” Trump said.  “Just remember it, because I get angry too.”

Earlier on Monday, House Republicans urged Barr to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations stemming from a laptop that allegedly belongs to Hunter Biden.

Lawmakers said they want Barr to look into claims that Biden “played a role in his son’s alleged lucrative business dealings in Ukraine and China.”

Earlier on Monday, Trump called a reporter a “criminal” for not reporting on what he says is Joe Biden’s criminal background.

As he was embarking for Phoenix, ahead of his campaign rally, Trump said: “Joe Biden is a criminal.”

“He’s been a criminal for a long time.  And you’re a criminal – and the media – for not reporting it,” Trump told Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason.

In a call with his campaign staff Monday that was designed to instill confidence in his reelection bid, Trump continued to downplay the pandemic and attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, a day after Fauci criticized Trump’s behavior during an interview Sunday night on “60 Minutes.”

The president claimed that the country did not want to hear more from the country’s scientific leaders about Covid-19.

“People are tired of listening to Fauci and these idiots,” baselessly suggesting that Fauci’s advice on how best to respond to the outbreak was so bad it would have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands more people.

“And yet we keep him,” Trump continued.  “Every day he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him. But Fauci is a disaster.”  He added, “He’s been there for 500 years.” 

Trump also argued that the American people were no longer interested in taking precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, even as the number of confirmed cases has been rising across the country.

“People are tired of Covid.  I have the biggest rallies I’ve ever had. And we have Covid.  People are saying, ‘Whatever – just leave us alone,’” Trump said, adding that he gets large crowds because people are tired of public health restrictions.

At a Trump rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, the president told the crowd in the battleground state that he wouldn’t have had to campaign so much for reelection were it not for the coronavirus pandemic.

“Before the plague came in, I had it made. I wasn’t coming to Erie. I mean, I have to be honest: There’s no way I was coming….I would have called you and said, ‘Hey, Erie, you know, if you have a chance get out and vote,” Trump said.

“We had this thing won,” the president asserted about the election, “and then we got hit with the plague and I had to go back to work.”

Also Tuesday, Trump cut short a contentious interview with “60 Minutes,” threatening to protest by posting a tape of the session before the scheduled broadcast on Sunday, and he did just that Thursday.

“This will be done so that everybody can get a glimpse of what a FAKE and BIASED interview is all about,” Trump said in a series of attacks that included “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl.

So then we had Thursday’s debate….

President Trump was composed and disciplined, offering a stark contrast to the chaos and fury of the first debate.  For his part, Joe Biden was cruising, confident, and then with the very last question on fracking from moderator Kristen Welker, egged on by Trump, Biden blew it and stupidly talked of transitioning from oil and gas to renewables…not as a broad-based idea, but with a date certain. 

The president was elated and no doubt Biden’s gaffe ensured that Texas will remain red, and possibly Pennsylvania as well, though with all the early voting and a decent lead in the latter, according to the polls, who knows what will happen in the Keystone State.

Biden also may have cost his party one or two congressional seats, as Democrats in key races in Texas and Oklahoma scrambled to do damage control.

For his part, President Trump’s answers on the coronavirus were pathetic, but most importantly, Trump stopped the bleeding.

Peggy Noonan / Wall Street Journal

“The hour and a half between 9 and 10:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, Oct. 23, at Belmont University in Nashville was the last chance Donald Trump had to turn it all around.

“Did he?  Could he?

“It’s late in the game, most peoples’ minds are set, and more than 40 million have already voted. But he did himself some good. He wasn’t a belligerent nut.  He held himself together, controlled himself, presented opening remarks that made sense.  He won, not a dazzling win but a win that kept him in the game.  He succeeded in doing what Joe Biden didn’t have to do: If you wanted or needed an excuse, an out, to vote for Mr. Trump, if you wanted an argument that justified your decision in a conversation in the office, he probably gave you what you need.

“It was a good debate. The candidates argued big things. Both had some good moves.  Mr. Trump was smart to dwell, early on, on opening up economically. He hung a ‘Closed’ sign around Mr. Biden’s neck.  Mr. Biden deftly turned accusations of familial venality into reminders of the president’s refusal, after five years of demands, to show his tax returns.

“Mr. Biden too often lapses into government-speak – the ‘public option.’  He was in government 47 years, and sounds it.  Mr. Trump’s power, recovered Thursday night, is to speak like normal people, so you can understand him without having to translate what he’s saying in your head.  He appears to have lied a great deal.  That will be adjudicated in the coming days.

“Moderator Kristen Welker was fabulous – fair-minded, professional and in control. What a star.

“All that said, where are we? This close to Election Day and everyone with bated breath. Everyone sees the polls, the clear Biden lead nationwide and the smaller lead in most of the battleground states.  We know what those polls suggest. But there is little air of defeat among Trump supporters and no triumphalism among Democrats.

“Trump supporters believe he will win because of his special magic, Trump foes fear he will win because of his dark magic.  Pollsters and pundits stare at the data and wonder how to quantify his unfathomable magic.  It’s remarkable that all in their different ways put such stock in the president’s powers, his ability to pull a black swan out of a hat.  I believe he is not magic and faces a big loss, and from the way he’s acted the week leading up to the debate – flailing about, stirring themeless chaos – so does he.

“But there are a few points that contradict the picture.  One is the number 56. That is the percentage of registered voters who, asked by Gallup if they are better off than they were four years ago, say yes.  Fifty-six percent – in a pandemic, after protests, riots and recession!

“It’s only a poll, but after Gallup, a New York Times/Siena poll asked the same question, and 49% said they were better off.

“What’s interesting, though, is that when Siena asked respondents if the country was better off than it was four years ago, only 39% said yes.

“What does this mean?  No one knows.  If the polling is more or less correct, you wonder: Will people vote on their own circumstances or what they perceive to be the country’s?

“The second data point has to do with Mr. Trump’s rallies – big, boisterous and frequent.  He’s been in Michigan and North Carolina and has rallies planned this weekend in Ohio, Wisconsin and New Hampshire….Mr. Biden doesn’t seem to draw much of anybody, and doesn’t try. He doesn’t have rallies, and barely even appearances at this point.  You can, seeing the polls, hypothesize that what you’re seeing at the Trump rallies is a political movement in its death throes.  But I don’t know, they look lively to me…

“Mr. Biden should be talking every day in a big way to the country he wishes to lead.  He shouldn’t be seated in a handsome chair waiting for the crown to be passed, or going out for ice cream in a mask like John Dillinger on the lam….

“Turnout looks to be historic.  There are predictions that it will reach 150 million, even 160 million.  In 2016, 137 million people voted. The changes in how we vote, from early voting to voting by mail, all hastened by the pandemic, will have been established after this election, and won’t go away. This will make things appear more democratic and may leave them more Democratic.  Progressive preoccupation with the Electoral College is about to diminish, sharply.

“If Mr. Biden is an extremely lucky man he will win the presidency and his party will hold the House and lose the Senate.  If the Democrats win all three they’ll be a runaway train fueled by pent-up progressive demand.  If the Democrats lose the Senate, Mr. Biden will have a handy excuse for his natural moderation: ‘You guys may want court packing reparations and taxes on bovine flatulence but I’ve got to get it past Mitch McConnell.’  If the Democrats lose the Senate the Biden presidency will be more moderate, and more popular in a country whose nerves are shot.

“A Republican Senate will let Biden be Biden.”

John Podhoretz / New York Post

“With his back against the wall, Donald Trump pulled himself together and had the debate of his life. For the most part, he was focused, contained and determined to get his message across and not just be the alpha male.

“His defense of his coronavirus response and his argument that the country cannot long survive living under perennial lockdown constituted the most eloquent he’s ever been on the pandemic.

“Trump did make a few of those jaw-dropping assertions about a vaccine – that one is coming in a few weeks and or by the end of the year and that two pharmaceutical firms were almost done with one before naming not two but four firms.

“That could really come back to bite him over the next few weeks as others in the know throw cold water on these claims and he is forced to defend them.

“But where he really drew blood was in returning to the line of attack that helped get him elected – the idea that he had to enter politics because politicians hadn’t done the job.

“ ‘You’re all talk and no action,’ Trump said to Joe Biden in his best line – and in the best moment of any debate of this cycle….

“Mostly, though, this debate made it clear what an incredible mistake Trump made in the first debate by behaving like a jerk.  Had he been this Trump, rather than that Trump, he would be in a stronger position today….

“But just because Trump did so much better doesn’t mean Biden did worse than he did in the first.  He was fine.  He didn’t win, but if he lost, he lost on points, and not many points.

“He refused to play on Trump’s turf and stuck to his own message. When Trump flat-out charged that Biden had taken millions from Ukraine and China, which would make him guilty of multiple felonies, the former vice president did not lose his cool but stuck doggedly with his claim that he did nothing wrong and nothing unethical had happened.

“That’s important because the Hunter Biden corruption story can only be the key to changing the race’s trajectory if (a) that connection to Joe directly can be proved rather than asserted based on a few suggestive e-mails or (b) Biden acts Hillary-like and acts in ways that keep the story alive despite its danger to him….

“And yet there was one moment that may be very damaging to Biden. Trump accused him of wanting to ban fracking – a key industry in the key swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio in particular – and Biden not only said he had never done so, he challenged Trump to find the evidence and put it on Trump’s Web site.

“That evidence exists. There was an exchange between Biden and a voter in New Hampshire in January 2020.  The voter asked him, ‘What about, say, stopping fracking?’ And Biden responded, ‘yes.’

“This is the kind of thing Trump can make a killer commercial about and run in Pennsylvania 10 times a day until the election. Biden’s leading there, but it’s close, and if Trump wins it, he can win the election.

“If he doesn’t, he almost certainly can’t. Watch for it.”

Covid-19 death tolls, as of tonight….

World…1,149,118
USA…229,284
Brazil…156,528
India…117,992
Mexico…88,312
UK…44,571
Italy…37,059
Spain…34,752
France…34,508
Peru…34,033
Iran…31,985
Colombia…29,802
Argentina…28,338
Russia…25,525

Source: worldometers.info

U.S. daily death tolls…Sun. 448; Mon. 452; Tues. 952; Wed. 1,225; Thurs. 973; Fri. 903.

Week twelve of my Wednesday comparison on the case and death tolls of the Euro six (Germany, France, Spain, Italy, UK and Belgium, with a combined population of 336 million) and the U.S. (population 330 million).

The first week, the U.S. had 55,148 cases and 1,319 deaths, while the Euro six had a combined 7,281 and 100.

This week, we are at 63,663 cases and 1,225 deaths in the U.S., and a staggering 105,672 cases and 727 deaths in just the Euro six.  If you believe we are 2-4 weeks behind Europe, as we were in the spring, this does not bode well for November and December here.

The surge in cases in Europe is both startling and tragic.  Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, Russia, and the Euro six, all ten hitting a daily record this week, record high death tolls in some as well.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said today that the total number of coronavirus cases in the country was over 3 million – around three times the number recorded by the Spanish health ministry. Sanchez, speaking during a televised address, cited data from antibody tests as evidence of a far larger toll and suggested that in Spain’s first wave, limited testing had missed many cases.

But all over the world, it’s the same issue.  You have large segments of the population that are tired of restrictions and mask mandates.  Europe has actually done a better job than the United States in helping impacted businesses, but it hasn’t been enough to gain the support of the people in the numbers required to beat down the spread, as they were so successful in doing last spring.

Covid Bytes

--In Iran, which we all know has been undercounting both cases and deaths, they too hit new highs this week, as if they are issuing a plea… ‘We get it…we’re in deep s---.  We need help.’

--Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said the United States is probably entering the worst phase of the pandemic without a national strategy.  “I think the next three months are going to be very challenging.  There’s really no backstop against the spread that we’re seeing,” Gottlieb told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

As for coming vaccines, Gottlieb, who sits on the board of vaccine maker Pfizer, said it may not be until February or March until the first tranche of people who are vaccinated are really protected against the virus.  “So it begs the question, ‘what is the strategy?’” he said.  “And I think the strategy is just to endure the spread until we get to that vaccine.”

--So on the positive side, the Food and Drug Administration approved the antiviral drug remdesivir (Veklury) for use in adult and pediatric patients 12 years of age and older and weighing at least 88 pounds for the treatment of Covid-19 requiring hospitalization.  In clinical trials, remdesivir was shown to reduce recovery time, meaning it’s helpful but hardly a panacea.

--Vaccine trials from both Johnson & Johnson and a joint venture from AstraZeneca and Oxford University are both slated to restart after being paused.

--But the race to create safe and effective vaccines is going to run up against reality: how to safely deliver tens of millions of doses to all corners of the world while ensuring they remain in super cold storage, as the Boston Globe’s Kay Lazar wrote.

As in minus 103 Fahrenheit for the first vaccine expected to be given the green light.  This is nearly four times colder than your home freezer.

As in the nation’s governors are asking about the supply of ultracold freezers and dry ice – already experiencing shortages amid nationwide vaccine trials.

In a letter to the Trump administration, the governors stated, “We need to answer these questions before the vaccine is available so that we are ready to go and no one is caught flat-footed when the time comes to vaccinate people.”

Pfizer for one has said it has developed specifically designed, temperature-controlled shipping packages but the vaccines would have to be used within 10 days.

Moderna’s vaccine, however, would require temps around that of a home freezer.

But the governors are particularly worried about shortages of dry ice that would mirror the initial issues with personal protective gear and ventilators.

--The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance that greatly expands the pool of people considered at risk of contracting the coronavirus by changing the definition of who is a “close contact” of an infected individual.

The change by the CDC is likely to have its biggest impact in schools, workplaces and other group settings where people are in contact with others for long periods of time.  It also underscores the importance of mask-wearing to prevent spread of the virus.

Previously, a “close contact” was someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of a confirmed coronavirus case.  The updated guidance, now defines a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

--Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who spent a week in intensive care after catching Covid-19, undoubtedly at a White House event, or during his role in debate prep for President Trump, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on the need to wear masks and how he had let down his guard in not doing so.

“One of the worst aspects of America’s divided politics is the polarization of something as practical as a mask.  It’s not a partisan or cultural symbol, not a sign of weakness or virtue.  It’s simply a good method – not a perfect one, but a proven one – to contain a cough or prevent the virus from getting in your mouth or nose. Wear it or you may regret it – as I did….

“Those who deny the scientific realities of the pandemic undermine conditions that allow for rapid and complete reopening.”

--Two states that have seen an explosive rise in coronavirus cases since August (and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally), North Dakota and South Dakota, have some of the lowest mask use rates in the nation…just a fact.

--A new report from the CDC notes that if you add up all the people who have died in the U.S. for any reason since late January and compare that figure to the tally from previous years, you’ll find that there have been roughly 300,000 “excess deaths” since the coronavirus came to America.  Two-thirds of those deaths can be attributed to Covid-19, the report says.

The tally covers the weeks from Jan. 26 through Oct. 3.  A team from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics took the actual number of deaths in those weeks in each of the five previous years and used them to estimate the expected deaths for the same weeks in 2020.  Then they compared those expected deaths to the actual deaths reported to the National Vital Statistics System by all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The result: During those 36 weeks, an estimated 299,028 more people died in the U.S. than would have been the case in a normal year. That includes 198,081 people whose deaths were blamed directly on Covid-19.

--Researchers at New York University released a preliminary survey that showed nearly a quarter of New York City’s frontline transit workers may have contracted Covid-19, and those who took sick likely caught the virus at work.

An initial study back in May released by Gov. Cuomo, which analyzed antibody tests, found that 14% of transit workers had contracted the disease.

The virus has killed at least 131 MTA workers.

--Dr. Anthony Fauci told MSNBC today that it’s been “several months” since President Trump met with the White House coronavirus task force.  Fauci said it had been “a while” since he’d spoken with Trump directly about Covid strategy, and that the president is instead relying on the advice of Scott Atlas.

Trump World

--Republicans pushed Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination through the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 12-0 vote, as the panel’s 10 Democrats skipped the hearing in protest of the controversial nominee.

“Barrett deserves to be on the Supreme Court and she will be confirmed,” said committee chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Barrett’s nomination could be decided on the Senate floor as early as Monday, in time to be an influential vote come any post-Election Day issues, which seem a certainty.

--Prior to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe’s statement that Russia and Iran “have taken specific actions to influence public opinion related to our elections,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the acting chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a statement to reporters:

“Our adversaries abroad seek to sow chaos and undermine voters’ belief in our democratic institutions, including the election systems and infrastructure that we rely on to record and properly report expressions of the voters’ will,” it said, in part.  “As we enter the last weeks before the election, we urge every American – including members of the media – to be cautious about believing or spreading unverified, sensational claims related to votes and voting.”

Back in September, the FBI issued an alert that false claims of hacked voter information were likely intended to undermine the credibility of elections.  The statement followed reports that information on 7.6 million Michigan voters had shown up on Russian hacker forums.  “In reality, much U.S. voter information can be purchased or acquired through publicly available sources.  While cyber actors have in recent years obtained voter registration information, the acquisition of this data did not impact the voting process or the integrity of election results,” the FBI statement read.

--Editorial / Washington Post

“Of course we are tired of Covid.  More than 8 million Americans have been infected by the novel coronavirus and at least 219,000 have died, more than in any other country. Some number of those deaths can be attributed to Mr. Trump’s adoption of wishful thinking as policy. He has resisted a national testing plan and a national public health strategy, and he continually encourages reckless behavior and mocks prudence.  The result is more unemployment, more illness, more misery.

“ ‘Masks work? NO,’ Dr. (Scott) Atlas wrote, egregiously.  He is no expert in infectious disease, but he has risen in the White House hierarchy because he is comfortable in Mr. Trump’s make-believe world.  Dr. Atlas rejects universal mask mandates, says they are unnecessary except in close proximity to others, frequently criticizes lockdowns, insists that businesses and schools open, and discourages expanded diagnostic testing.  He pursues the mirage of natural ‘herd immunity.’  There is no other way to read this than a strategy to let a lot of people die.  Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota described it as ‘the most amazing combination of pixie dust and pseudoscience I’ve ever seen.’….

“According to The Post’s reporters, Dr. Atlas is at odds with others on the White House coronavirus task force, including Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator.  The hostility spilled into the open Monday in Mr. Trump’s conference call with campaign staff.  ‘People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,’ the president said.  ‘He’s been here for, like 500 years.  He’s like this wonderful sage telling us how – Fauci, if we listened to him, we’d have 700,000 [or] 800,000 deaths.’….”

It’s up to the people now.  Malpractice?

--The New York Post published an article about ten days ago that suggested that Joe Biden used his position to enrich his son Hunter when he was vice president. The Post based the story on photos and documents the paper said it had taken from the hard drive of a laptop purportedly belonging to Hunter Biden.

The article named two sources: Stephen Bannon and Rudy Giuliani, and relied on documents purportedly taken from the hard drive to suggest that the elder Biden, as vice president, had directed American foreign policy in Ukraine to benefit his son, a former board member at a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

The article also suggested that the elder Biden had met with a Burisma adviser, Vadym Pozharskyi.  The Biden campaign said the former vice president’s official schedules showed no meeting with the adviser.  Last month, two Republican-led Senate committees investigating the matter said they had found no evidence of wrongdoing by the former Veep.

Senior editors at the New York Post made the decision to publish the files “after several days’ hard work established its merit,” former editor in chief, now adviser, Colin Allan told the New York Times.

Director of National Intelligence Ratcliffe on Monday said the information contained on the laptop “is not part of some Russian disinformation campaign.”

“If the issue is being investigated as part of Russian interference into the election, it’s hard to believe it would be wrapped up yet,” said Matthew Miller, who led the Justice Department’s public affairs office from 2009 to 2011.  “The whole thing is utterly confusing, which is why Ratcliffe shouldn’t be weighing in at all.  If there is an investigation, it should be conducted quietly and the government should speak with a credible voice when they have something definitive to tell the public.  Obviously, Ratcliffe isn’t a credible voice, and it seems pretty clear he’s just playing the political role he was appointed for in the first place.”

Clinton Watts, a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University and a former FBI special agent said “I cannot imagine that the FBI would in any way be able to determine if this was [Russian] disinformation before the election.  This takes at a minimum weeks or months.”  [Defense One]

Also on Monday, the Department of Justice indicted six Russian GRU hackers for various cybercrimes, including attacking the 2017 French presidential elections and the NotPetya attack that crippled infrastructure across the globe that same year.  Justice Department officials highlighted the time and rigor it takes to publicly attribute cybercriminals in places like Russia.

“For more than two years, we have worked tirelessly to expose these Russian GRU Officers who engaged in a global campaign of hacking, disruption and destabilization, representing the most destructive and costly cyber-attacks in history.”

David Ignatius / Washington Post

“The story of Hunter Biden’s involvement with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma isn’t a scandal about his father, as the Trump campaign claims, but part of a personal tragedy for the vice president’s son, compounded by this week’s dissemination of what looks like disinformation about Joe Biden’s role.

“What’s clear, beyond the false scandal-mongering, has been evident for years: Hunter Biden made a mistake getting involved with a dubious company like Burisma.  But the notion that the Burisma affair undermines Joe Biden’s case to be president is, as he would say, malarkey.

“The Biden campaign has been understandably reluctant to respond, for fear of giving the story legitimacy. Still, Biden has said his son made a mistake.  Family friends say the vice president is reluctant to publicly criticize Hunter Biden further, but they stress that both Bidens have learned the painful lesson that a president’s children should stay away from international business.  Would that the Trump family recognized that rule.

“To provide perspective, I talked this week with a business consultant with extensive experience in Ukraine, whom Hunter Biden contacted in early 2014 as he was considering joining the Burisma board. The consultant strongly urged against this move, but Biden, struggling with personal and financial issues, pressed ahead.

“The danger that Hunter Biden’s Burisma connection might be misused was illustrated soon after.  Burisma posted a photograph on its website of Devon Archer, Hunter Biden’s business partner, standing with the then-vice president before an American flag at what appeared to be the White House. Archer, with Hunter Biden, joined the Burisma board in the spring of 2014.

“The consultant, who requested anonymity, said he urged Hunter Biden through a friend to have Burisma take down the photo, and it was removed from the company’s website that day.  A copy couldn’t be located, but the Biden campaign doesn’t dispute that it may have been taken when Archer visited the White House in April 2014 with his son.

“The Hunter-Ukraine connection has been a political sideshow since the Biden campaign began. It got new voltage this week when the New York Post published what it claimed were emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop suggesting that he had helped arrange a 2015 meeting between his father and a Burisma executive. The Biden campaign denied any such meeting, and its accounts, based on recollections of multiple staff members, are believable. An Eastern European expert in digital forensics who has examined some of the Ukrainian documents leaked to the New York Post told me he found anomalies – such as American-style capitalization of the names of ministries – that  suggest fakery.

“People in personal trouble, as Hunter Biden was in 2014, often ignore good advice, and that seems to be the case here.  The consultant, elaborating on a fragmentary account I reported in March, told me that he was approached in the spring of 2014 by one of Biden’s friends, who was worried about his plans to join Burisma.

“The consultant said he met Biden and the friend for drinks at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Georgetown.  Biden described the discussions between Burisma and his company, Rosemont Seneca Partners, which he had founded five years before with Christopher Heinz and Archer, both friends from Yale.

Biden asked the consultant about some of the Ukrainians involved with Burisma, whom Archer had encountered in Kyiv. Burisma was pursuing new gas leases in Ukraine that it claimed might attract international investment, the consultant remembers, and wanted prominent people on its board.

“The consultant made some inquiries about several senior Burisma executives and then met with Biden a week later.  The consultant told Biden the planned Burisma gas licenses involved small assets that weren’t likely to attract foreign investors, and cautioned the vice president’s son against working for the company.

“ ‘They’re using you for your name.  They will exploit your name to your detriment and your father’s,’ the consultant remembers warning Biden.”

Hunter then joined the board anyway because he needed the money, telling the consultant, “I have to make money for the family.”

“About a month later, the photo of Joe Biden and Archer appeared on the Burisma website… ‘This is the kind of nonsense I talked about,’ the consultant said he warned.”

Archer, like Hunter Biden, joined the Burisma board in 2014.  As a director, Biden received $50,000 a month.  “The Biden campaign said Joe Biden’s tax returns before and after he left office show he didn’t receive any money from Hunter Biden.  Archer left the company in 2018, and Hunter Biden left the next year.  In 2018, a federal jury convicted Archer on a fraud charge involving bonds for a Native American development company, a verdict reaffirmed this month by a federal appeals court.

“Joe Biden said in January it was a ‘mistake’ for his son to join the board, and promised that if he becomes president, none of his family members will have ‘any involvement with any foreign government at all.’  Hunter Biden, too, said he made a ‘mistake’ for which he bore ‘full responsibility.’  That’s the sort of self-criticism we rarely hear from Trump or his family.

“This is smoke without a fire.  Hunter Biden erred.  His father said so quietly but clearly.  He should get on with the business of trying to put the country back together after Trump’s ruinous presidency.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Most of the media is ignoring the emails found in Hunter Biden’s laptop, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t news.  Joe Biden has an obligation to answer questions about his son’s influence-peddling and his own financial dealings – notably regarding China.

“The New York Post last week obtained the contents of a laptop purported to belong to Hunter. The Post has been transparent that it obtained its copy of the hard drive from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who says he received it from the owner of a Delaware computer-repair shop, where it was abandoned in 2019.  Mr. Biden derides this as a ‘smear campaign,’ while House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff calls it without evidence ‘Russian disinformation.’

“Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe says the government has no intelligence to support the disinformation claim. A repair-shop order from April 2019 contains Hunter’s name and what appears to be his signature. The shop owner supplied a subpoena showing the computer and hard drive were seized by the FBI in December 2019. And the Biden campaign hasn’t said the emails are phony.

“The emails regarding Hunter’s business in Ukraine have been widely reported.  But as intriguing is a May 2017 email thread that includes a discussion about ‘remuneration packages’ for six people as part of a business deal with a now-defunct Chinese energy titan, CEFC China Energy.  The Chinese company was international news a few years ago, after the U.S. government charged a CEFC-funded organization with money laundering, and its CEO was detained by Chinese authorities.  CNN reported in 2018 that ‘at its height’ CEFC was ‘hard to distinguish’ from the Chinese government.

“According to the emails, both Bidens were in line in 2017 to benefit from a deal with CEFC.  One email appears to identify Hunter Biden as ‘Chair/Vice Chair depending on agreement with CEFC.’  It also refers to financial payments in terms of ‘20’ for ‘H’ and ’10 held by H for the big guy?’

“Fox News says it has confirmed the veracity of the email with one of its recipients and that sources say the ‘big guy’ is Joe Biden….The Biden campaign says the Veep’s tax returns don’t show any involvement with Chinese investments….

“Joe Biden ought to clear the air on this China business in his own political interest.  Is he the ‘big guy’ in the email?  What happened with the deal?  China will be one of Mr. Biden’s toughest foreign-policy challenges, and the unexplained documents won’t go away once he’s elected.  If Republicans hold the Senate, you can bet there will be more digging.

“President Trump, as usual, is muddying the story with inappropriate demands that the Department of Justice investigate a potential crime. But the real burden here should be on Mr. Biden and the press.  Perhaps Joe Biden wasn’t involved, and Hunter was using his father’s name to advance his own business interests.  But it’s also possible that Joe Biden was aware of the CEFC business and was unwilling to tell his son that he couldn’t trade on his father’s name and position.

“Whatever the truth, the public deserves better than Mr. Biden’s Trump-like dismissal of the CBS reporter who so far is the only one brave enough to ask about the emails.”

***Well, the Wall Street Journal did some reporting and late on Thursday revealed that one of the partners in the CEFC venture, James Gilliar, a British national, told the paper: “I would like to clear up any speculation that former Vice President Biden was involved with the 2017 discussions about our potential business structure. I am unaware of any involvement at anytime of the former Vice President. The activity in question never delivered any project revenue.”

This statement contradicts that of Anthony Bobulinski, who served as CEO of CEFC and has said that in 2017 Hunter Biden consulted his father about the planned venture, with “10 held by H for the big guy.”

Bobulinski was a guest at Thursday’s debate in Nashville, but didn’t take any questions after his statement confirming the emails or provide further details on any remarks made by Joe Biden.

--Hey, boys and girls…did you know we just had “National Character Counts Week”?

Yes, last weekend we had a proclamation from Donald J. Trump that started out:

“The foundation of any free and virtuous society is the moral character of its people.  Personal responsibility, integrity, and the other values which define our unique American spirit underpin our system of self-government and inspire us to continue working toward a more perfect Union. As we observe National Character Counts Week, we think of the special individuals in our lives who exemplify the character qualities to which we all aspire.  In looking to these examples of honor and virtue, we recognize that character is a learned attribute acquired through consistent, purposeful action, not an inherent trait.  We must resolve to build lives and communities grounded in moral clarity in order to strengthen ourselves, our families, our communities, and our Nation….

“Throughout this week, we recommit to being more kind, loving, understanding, and virtuous.  Together, as one national family, we must serve others with giving and grateful hearts to ensure our Republic remains strong, vibrant, and a beacon of hope for future generations.”

Really, that was a proclamation from Donald J. Trump.  The president then exhibited great character in calling Anthony Fauci an “idiot” and trashing female correspondents.

Next up… “National Infrastructure Week” !!!

--President Trump claimed at a rally on Saturday that his decision to serve as president cost him “two, three, maybe more billions of dollars,” adding he would have had “hotels being built in every city in every country in the world.”

This followed his suggestion the night before in Georgia that if he lost the election, “I’m not going to feel so good.  Maybe I’ll have to leave the country, I don’t know.”

--Trump tweets:

“@Fox News Polls are totally FAKE, just like they were in 2016. I am leading in all of the states mentioned, which you will soon see. I thought Fox was getting rid of its pollster.  Sadly, it never happened!”

“Your 401k’s will crash with Biden.  Massive Biden Tax and Regulation increases will destroy all that you have built! Additionally, 180 Million People will lose their Private Healthcare Plans.”

“Remember, BIDEN is going to raise your taxes at a level never seen before. This will not only be very costly for you, it will destroy our economy, which is coming back very rapidly.”

“Corrupt politician Joe Biden makes Crooked Hillary look like an amateur!”

“Hunter Biden’s laptop is a disaster for the entire Biden family, but especially for his father, Joe.  It is now a proven fact, and cannot be denied, that all of that info is the REAL DEAL. That makes it impossible for ‘50%, or 10%’ Joe, to ever assume the office of the President!”

“I will soon be giving a first in television history full, unedited preview of the vicious attempted ‘takeout’ interview of me by Lesley Stahl of @60Minutes.  Watch her constant interruptions & anger.  Compare my full, flowing and ‘magnificently brilliant’ answers to their ‘Q’s’.”

“Look at the bias, hatred and rudeness on behalf of 60 Minutes and CBS.  Tonight’s anchor, Kristen Welker, is far worse! #MAGA”

“Finally!  Suburban women are flocking over to us. They realize that I am saving the Suburbs – the American Dream! I terminated the Regulation that would bring projects and crime to Suburbia. Not on my watch!  Biden will bring the Regulation back, but bigger and worse.”

“Obama is campaigning for us. Every time he speaks, people come over to our side.  He didn’t even want to endorse Sleepy Joe. Did so long after primaries were over!”

“Really good polling numbers as people realize all that we have done.  Rasmussen Approval Rating, just out, 52%.  Approval Rating in the Republican Party, 96%. Thank you!”

“Dr. Tony Fauci says we don’t allow him to do television, and yet I saw him last night on @60Minutes, and he seems to get more airtime than anybody since the late, great, Bob Hope.  All I ask of Tony is that he makes better decisions. He said ‘no masks & let China in’.  Also, Bad arm!

“…P.S. Tony should stop wearing the Washington Nationals’ Mask for two reasons. Number one, it is not up to the high standards that he should be exposing.  Number two, it keeps reminding me that Tony threw out perhaps the worst first pitch in the history of Baseball!”

“The GREAT Bobby Bowden, one of the best coaches EVER in College Football, on his full recovery from Covid-19 ‘…America is the greatest country this side of heaven. I’ve had a chance to get a lot of wins in my life, but I really wanted to win this one because I wanted….

“….to be around to vote for President Trump.’  Over 300 wins and 2 National Championships. Thank you to Florida State for giving us Bobby Bowden!”

President Trump went after Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, of course, after Sasse spoke rather disparagingly of Trump on a donor call.

“Senator Little Ben Sasse of the Great State of Nebraska seems to be heading down the same inglorious path as former Senators Liddle’ Bob Corker, whose approval rating in Tennessee went from 55% to 4%, & Jeff ‘the Flake’ Flake, whose approval rating in Arizona went from 56% to….

“….practically nothing. Both Senators became totally unelectable, couldn’t come even close to winning their primaries, and decided to drop out of politics and gracefully ‘RETIRE’.  @SenSasse could be next, or perhaps the Republicans should find a new and more viable candidate?

“The least effective of our 53 Republican Senators, and a person who truly doesn’t have what it takes to be great, is Little Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a State which I have gladly done so much to help. @SenSasse was as nice as a RINO can be until he recently won the Republican….

“….Nomination to run for a second term. Then he went back to his rather stupid and obnoxious ways.  Must feel he can’t lose to a Dem.  Little Ben is a liability to the Republican Party, and an embarrassment to the Great State of Nebraska.  Other than that, he’s just a wonderful guy!”

Wall Street and the Economy

Wall Street rose and fell largely on another round of stimulus talks, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying Thursday, after talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, that “It’s close.  It’s close.  And the question is, where will the president be at any given moment?  He’s been all over the map,” she told reporters last night.

President Trump, who has been calling for more stimulus, appeared to cast doubt on a deal on Wednesday by saying he could not see any way for Democrats to agree on a stimulus package.

“There primary focus is BAILING OUT poorly run (and high crime) Democrat cities and states,” Trump tweeted. 

But Thursday, White House officials were fairly optimistic, though nothing will get done without the support of Senate Republicans, many of whom have repeatedly rejected the sort of trillion-dollar-plus packages now under discussion.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said on CNBC he would be “very uncomfortable” with a big aid package, but also acknowledged: “That said, I think the price of not doing something is even higher.”

This afternoon, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that talks are not progressing rapidly and that it will be very hard to reach a deal with Democrats on a relief package before the election.

“It isn’t progressing very rapidly right now. There are key policy differences that still remain,” Kudlow told Fox News.

As for the economic data, we had more bullish housing data, with housing starts, while less than expected for September, still at a strong 1.415 million annualized pace.  September existing home sales were at 6.54 million, better than forecast, and up 21% from a year ago.  The median home price of $311,800, another record, is up a whopping 15% from Sept. 2019.

Separately, the weekly jobless claims figure of 787,000 was better than expected and vs. 842,000 the prior week, but still well above the Great Recession peak of 665,000.

As for third-quarter GDP, which is released next Thursday and will provide a final talking point for President Trump on the campaign trail, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow pegs it at 35.3% annualized.

But as for future quarters, S&P Global said today that the outlook for the U.S. economy is cloudy, weighed by the resurgence of Covid infections and the risk of failing to reach a bipartisan stimulus deal before the election.

“Real-time indicators point to an economy on the mend, but at a decelerating pace as elevated uncertainty about the pandemic and fiscal stimulus tilts risks to the downside for the economic outlook in the fourth quarter and beyond,” S&P said in a note.

“This is in line with our belief that after the U.S. economy took the elevator down and halfway back, the recovery has to take the stairs the rest of the way up,” it added.

On the trade front, China passed a new law restricting sensitive exports to protect national security, allowing Beijing to reciprocate against the U.S. as tensions mount between the sides over trade and technology.

The law, which will apply to all companies in China, was passed Saturday by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and will take effect on Dec. 1.

Under the law, China can take “reciprocal measures” toward countries or regions that abuse export controls and threaten its national security and interests.

Export controls under the law will apply to civilian, military and nuclear products, as well as goods, technologies and services related to national security.  A list of controlled items will be published “in a timely manner.”

The key is the law allows Beijing to retaliate against the U.S., as Washington has attempted to block Chinese technology firms such as telecommunications gear supplier Huawei (see story below), Bytedance’s TikTok app and Tencent’s messaging app WeChat on grounds of posing a national security threat, including the data they may possess from operating in the country.

Companies and individuals who endanger national security by breaching the new export control law, including those outside China, could face criminal charges, as well as hefty fines.

We’ll get an early idea on the law with regards to TikTok, I imagine.

Europe and Asia

We had flash PMI readings on the eurozone (EA19) economy for October today, courtesy of IHS Markit, and the composite number came in at 49.4 (50 the dividing line between growth and contraction), with manufacturing at 54.4, but services just 46.2.

Germany’s flash manufacturing reading was a strong 58.0, a 30-month high, but services were down at 48.9.

France’s flash October manufacturing figure was 51.0, but services were 46.5.

In the UK, manufacturing was 53.3, services 52.4.

Chris Williamson / IHS Markit

“The eurozone is at increased risk of falling into a double-dip downturn as a second wave of virus infections led to a renewed fall in business activity in October.

“The survey revealed a tale of two economies, with manufacturers enjoying the fastest growth since early-2018 as orders surged higher amid rising global demand, but intensifying Covid-19 restrictions took an increasing toll on the services sector, led by weakening demand in the hard-hit hospitality industry.

“The divergence is even starker by country. While Germany is buoyed by its manufacturing sector booming to a degree exceeded only twice in almost 25 years of survey history, the rest of the region has sunk into a deepening downturn.

“While the overall downturn remains only modest, and far slighter than seen during the second quarter, the prospect of a slide back into recession will exert greater pressure on the ECB to add more stimulus and for national governments to help cushion the impact of Covid-19 containment measures, which not only tightened across the region in October but look set to be stepped up further in November.”

Separately, Eurostat released second quarter government debt figures for the euro area, with the figure up to 95.1% of GDP for the euro area, up from 86.3% in Q1, due to the impact of the containment measures as well as policy responses to the coronavirus.

The highest ratios of government debt to GDP at the end of June were recorded in Greece (187.4%), Italy (149.4%), and Portugal (126.1%).

Elsewhere…France (114.1%), Spain (110.1%), Germany (67.4%), and the Netherlands (55.2%).

In the UK, the debt to GDP ratio is up to 96.6%.

All of these figures will continue to worsen.

Brexit: The two sides are struggling to reach a trade agreement, but it does appear there has been some progress.  For example today French President Emmanuel Macron hinted that his country’s fishing industry should prepare for a smaller catch after Brexit, in a sign he is laying the ground for a compromise to help the European Union strike a final deal with the UK.

The EU and Britain have basically now given each other three weeks to avoid damaging $900 billion in annual trade when Britain leaves the bloc’s single market on Jan. 1, fisheries among the biggest obstacles.  Macron has rejected London’s demand for annual negotiations on fish quotas in British waters, saying it damages EU industry, but Macron seems to understand he needs to budge a little.

France has a total of 20,000 fishermen, on top of 10,000 fish processing jobs, and a fourth of France’s catch in the northeastern Atlantic was in British waters, according to the latest survey.   The fishing industry in turn is highly influential politically for Macron.

Any agreement would need to fix catch quotas for over a 100 species.

All seem to be in agreement that if France climbs down just a bit on this key issue, the odds of reaching an overall agreement go up.  EU negotiator Michel Barnier this week was reportedly only interested in the topic of fish, seemingly because the rest would fall into place.

But Macron has to walk the tightrope of appearing tough, while at the same time knowing that even a small reduction could lead to thousands of job losses.

The other big issue remains economic fair play, fair competition standards.

Bottom line is time is short, and you have legal texts to be worked out, and the approval of all 27 EU nations.

One other important issue. Britain is one of Europe’s biggest military powers and it has formally notified the EU of its intention to withdraw from the bloc’s military missions by the end of this year.  The EU has complained about Britain’s refusal to negotiate a new international security and foreign policy pact.

Turning to AsiaChina’s National Bureau of Statistics reported that the economy grew 4.9% in the third quarter (from a year ago) vs. 3.2% in the second quarter, though the figure was lower than expected.  Nonetheless, the 4.9% was the result of rising exports and consumption.

The NBS also reported that retail sales in September were up a solid 3.3% year-over-year, after a 0.5% increase in August, though retail sales remain down 7% the first 9 months of 2020 compared to the same period last year.

Industrial production in September rose 6.9% yoy (vs. August’s 5.6% increase), while fixed-asset investment (airports, rails, roads) was up 0.8% the first 9 months.

In Japan, we had figures on September exports, down 4.9% year-over-year and the 22nd straight month of declines, though this follows six months of double-digit declines.  Imports were down 17.2%.

Exports to the U.S. were up 0.7% in September, and up 14.0% to China.

We also had flash PMI readings for October in Japan, with manufacturing at 47.0 and services 46.6, both remaining firmly in contraction mode, the recession continuing.

Street Bytes

--Stocks broke a three-week winning streak (4 weeks for NASDAQ) amid uncertainty over the stimulus program and the continued resurgence in coronavirus cases.  The Dow finished down 1.0% to 28335, while the S&P 500 lost 0.5% and Nasdaq 1.1%.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 0.11%  2-yr. 0.15%  10-yr. 0.84%  30-yr. 1.64%

The yield on the 10-year hadn’t closed over 0.80% since June.

--Oil stockpiles fell for a second straight week in the U.S., but crude prices also fell about $1 to $39.78 as surging Covid-19 cases stoked worries about further demand destruction in the market.

For the week ended Oct. 16, the Energy Information Administration reported commercial crude stockpiles fell by 1 million barrels to 488.1 million barrels.

Separately, oil rigs operating in the U.S. rose by six this week to 211, according to energy-services firm Baker Hughes.  The rig count has been below 200 until earlier this month.  A year ago, the U.S. had 696 rigs in operation.

--Meanwhile, ConocoPhillips agreed to acquire Concho Resources Inc. for $9.7 billion in what would be the largest U.S. oil deal since the pandemic began roiling global energy markets.

The acquisition gives ConocoPhillips, the largest oil producer in Alaska, a much larger footprint in the hottest oil field in the U.S., the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico.

--The Justice Department accused Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and search advertising in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the government’s most significant challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation and one that could reshape the way consumers interact with the internet.

In the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, the agency accused Google of locking up deals with giant partners like Apple and throttling competition through exclusive business contracts and agreements.

Google’s deals with Apple*, mobile carriers and other handset makers to make its search engine the default option for users accounted for most of its dominant market share in search, the agency said, a figure that most put at around 80 percent.

The agency said in the 57-page complaint: “For many years, Google has used anticompetitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in the markets for general search services, search advertising and general search text advertising – the cornerstones of its empire.”

The lawsuit will no doubt stretch out over years, with other antitrust lawsuits from state attorneys general.

Google called the suit “deeply flawed.”  But the Justice Department’s move signals a new era for the tech sector; reflecting pent-up and bipartisan frustration toward companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, with outsize influence over commerce, search, media and advertising.

Google’s chief legal officer, Kent Walker, said in a blog post: “People use Google because they chose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”

Walker said the lawsuit would do “nothing to help consumers. To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”

In its complaint, the Justice Department said that Google’s actions had hurt consumers by stifling innovation, reducing choice and diminishing the quality of search services, including consumer data privacy.

*The Wall Street Journal reported: “Though Google and Apple have been tight-lipped on how much their deal is worth, the lawsuit projects that it accounts for between 15% and 20% of Apple’s annual profits…

“That means Google pays as much as $11 billion, or roughly one-third of Alphabet’s annual profits, to Apple for pole position on the iPhone.  In return, Apple-originated search traffic adds up to half of Google search volume, the government says.”

--Southwest Airlines Co. on Thursday reported total operating revenue fell to $1.79 billion from $5.64 billion in the year-ago quarter.

“The pandemic persists along with the negative effects on air travel demand,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement.  He urged officials in Washington to extend the government’s Payroll Support Program by six months.  “Absent this extension, we simply cannot afford to continue with the conditions required to maintain full pay and employment.”

The airline expects operating revenue in October to decline 65% to 70% year-over-year.  It expects a 60% to 65% year-over-year revenue decline in November.

As of Sept. 30, the company had about $14.6 billion in cash and short-term investments.

“We are encouraged by modest improvements in leisure passenger traffic trends since the slowdown in demand experienced in July,” Kelly said.  ‘However, until we have widely-available vaccines and achieve herd immunity, we expect passenger traffic and booking trends to remain fragile.”

[After the TSA checkpoint tally for Sunday hit 1,031,505, the first day over 1 million since the pandemic started, 40% of last year’s level, Monday thru Thursday we were back down to 31% to 37% capacity vs. 2019.]

Separately, Southwest said it will sell flights to full capacity starting Dec. 1, instead of its current policy of underselling flights to only 65% capacity to allow middle seats to remain open.

“According to research put forth within the last two weeks by several reputable institutions, all arriving at the same conclusion – the risk of breathing Covid-19 particles on an airplane is virtually non-existent, with the combination of air filtration and face covering requirements,” Gary Kelly said in a statement.

Delta is the last of four largest airlines to not sell the middle seat and it said it won’t do so through Jan. 6.  American and United started selling middle seats months ago.

Airline trade groups and unions have said that planes need to be roughly 75% full for a carrier to break even in a normal price environment.

In the last two weeks, both the Department of Defense’s Transportation Command and the International Air Transport Association released studies saying that the risk of catching Covid-19 during a flight is low if passengers are wearing masks and following other safety guidelines.

IATA says only 44 cases of Covid transmission have been tied directly to flying on a commercial airplane.

--American Airlines posted a net loss of $2.40 billion in the third quarter, compared with a profit of $425 million a year earlier.  Total operating revenue fell to $3.17 billion from $11.91 billion.  The airline expects its cash burn rate to fall to about $25 million to $30 million a day in the fourth quarter from about $44 million per day in the third quarter and $58 million per day in the second. 

American ended the third quarter with $13.6 billion in available liquidity, after securing a total of $7.5 billion in federal loans.  “These funds will be critical as we continue to fight for the future of our company,” American CEO Doug Parker said in a memo to employees.

--Tesla Inc. reported its fifth consecutive quarterly profit, $331 million, on record revenue of $8.8 billion, boosted by an uptick in vehicle deliveries and sales of environmental regulatory credits to other automakers. The electric car maker also affirmed its target to deliver half a million vehicles by the end of this year, a goal that will require it to significantly ramp up vehicle sales in the fourth quarter.

CEO Elon Musk called it “our best quarter in history.”  The company sold 139,593 vehicles in the third quarter, a 53% increase from a year earlier.

Total cash on hand increased to $14.5 billion because of a $5 billion stock sale earlier this year.

Tesla said it had the capacity installed to produce and deliver 500,000 vehicles this year, but added that achieving its goal has become more difficult. [By comparison, GM sold about 660,000 cars in the U.S. in the third quarter alone.]

“Achieving this target depends primarily on quarter over quarter increases in Model Y and Shanghai production,” the company said.

Asked on a conference call with analysts whether Tesla aimed to deliver 840,000 to 1 million vehicles next year based on its factories’ current maximum capacity, CEO Elon Musk responded the target was “in that vicinity.”

Tesla’s market capitalization has become the largest among all global automakers despite the company trailing in sales, revenue and profit.  Virtually all are in agreement that the company is rather richly valued, especially with new competition on the horizon.  General Motors, for example, revealed an electric version of its Hummer pickup truck this week that will compete with Tesla’s futuristic Cybertruck, which is scheduled to go into production next year.  Musk on Wednesday said Cybertruck orders will be delivered in 2022, or toward the end of 2021 at the earliest.

Without the sale of regulatory credits, Tesla would not have reported a profitable quarter.  So far this year, regulatory credits account for $1.18 billion, or 7% of total automotive revenue. As competitors begin selling more electric vehicles, that revenue is expected to dry up.

Tesla is also grappling with quality problems, offering to inspect some Tesla Model Ys prone to losing their roofs to the wind, and to repair bumpers on the Model 3, prone to falling off when they fill with water after rainstorms.

And then today Bloomberg reported Tesla is recalling around 30,000 of its imported Model S and Model X cars in China over suspension problems.  The recalled vehicles were manufactured between Sept. 2013 and Jan. 2018

--Netflix added 2.2 million subscribers in the third quarter, just under its projection of 2.5 million and far lower than the previous quarter’s addition of 10 million subscribers.  The company now has 195.15 million subscribers globally.

Revenue in the third quarter grew 23% to $6.4 billion and net income was up 19% from the same period a year earlier to nearly $790 million.

The company beat analysts’ expectations on sales but missed on net income and new subscribers and the shares fell on the report.

The Los Gatos, Calif., company remains the king of streaming, a dominant player in a sea of rivals including Disney+, Apple TV+ and HBO Max.  Netflix had warned that subscriber growth would slow down in the second half of the year because many consumers had already signed up earlier in response to the pandemic and sheltering at home.

--Procter & Gamble reported its biggest global sales increase in 15 years as consumers spent more to keep their homes and themselves clean during the pandemic.

The maker of Tide detergent and Gillette razors said demand grew for pricier products, such as Swiffer mops and Dawn dish soaps.

P&G said demand in recent months appears driven by a sustained focus on home cleaning and personal hygiene as people remain home more.

“The dynamics associated with this period of economic difficulty are different than in the past,” P&G finance chief Jon Moeller said.  “Large portions of peoples’ budgets are not being spent on travel, leisure and hospitality, which leaves them more money in the budget.”

P&G said organic sales, a measure excluding currency moves, acquisitions and divestitures, rose 9% for the quarter ended Sept. 30 compared with a year earlier.

Interestingly, according to Nielsen, sales of private-label household and personal-care products fell 1% overall in the U.S. for the four-week period ended Oct. 3, a sign that consumers are leaning toward higher-priced, name-brand products.

P&G’s home-care unit, with products like Swiffer, Febreze and Mr. Clean, saw sales jump 30%.

Overall, P&G said net sales for the quarter were $19.3 billion, up 9% versus the prior year.  Net income was $4.31 billion, an increase of 20% year-over-year.

The company raised its guidance for profit gains as well as sales for the fiscal year ending in June 2021.

--Nestle raised its guidance for 2020 organic sales growth to around 3% after beating third-quarter expectations on Wednesday with 4.9% growth driven by strong demand for pet food, coffee and health products.

The world’s biggest food group has weathered the Covid-19 pandemic better than some peers as its focus on high-growth categories helped offset a slump in food sales to restaurants and cafes.

Demand for food and drinks consumed at home remained strong during lockdowns, while sales of products consumed out of home and on the go – about 15% of Nestle’s sales – fell 26.4% in the third quarter.

--Snap Inc.’s stock price surged after the social media company reported quarterly revenue and user growth that topped estimates, fueled by advertisers’ stepped-up spending and consumers’ increased use of their phones for messaging and entertainment during the pandemic.

The Santa Monica company, which makes the Snapchat mobile app for sending disappearing photos and videos, said third-quarter sales rose by 52% to $678.7 million, far exceeding analysts’ estimates.  Snapchat had 249 million daily active users in the quarter.

--Purdue Pharma LP agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges over the handling of its addictive prescription opioid OxyContin, in a deal with U.S. prosecutors that effectively sidestepped paying billions of dollars in penalties and stopped short of criminally charging its executives or wealthy Sackler family owners.

In a far-reaching agreement unveiled Wednesday, Purdue formally admitted to criminal conduct related to distribution of its painkillers and agreed to pay $225 million to resolve Justice Department investigations.  Prosecutors imposed significant penalties exceeding $8 billion against Purdue, though the lion’s share will go largely unpaid.  Purdue agreed to pay $225 million toward a $2 billion criminal forfeiture, with the Justice Department foregoing the rest if the company completes a bankruptcy reorganization dissolving itself and shifting assets to a “public benefit company,” or similar entity, that steers the $1.775 billion unpaid portion to thousands of U.S. communities suing it over the opioid crisis.

A $3.54 billion criminal fine and $2.8 billion civil penalty are likely to receive cents on the dollar as they compete with trillions of dollars of other claims from those communities and other creditors in Purdue’s bankruptcy proceedings, according to court documents.  Members of the billionaire Sackler family who own Purdue agreed to pay a separate $225 million civil penalty for allegedly causing false claims for OxyContin to be made to government healthcare programs such as Medicare.

Neither the Sacklers nor any Purdue executives were criminally charged.  Many in Congress want the company and the Sacklers to face more severe consequences for their alleged roles in the opioid crisis.

OxyContin has been blamed in more than 470,000 deaths in the country since 2000.

“The abuse and diversion of prescription opioids has contributed to a national tragedy of addiction and deaths, in addition to those caused by illicit street opioids,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.

“With criminal guilty pleas, a federal settlement of more than $8 billion, and the dissolution of a company and repurposing its assets entirely for the public’s benefit, the resolution in today’s announcement re-affirms that the Department of Justice will not relent in its multi-pronged efforts to combat the opioids crisis,” he said.

--Goldman Sachs Group Inc. will pay about $2.8 billion while admitting  wrongdoing in breaking U.S. corruption laws to end a bribery probe that stretched from Southeast Asia to Hollywood and reinforced a reputation for scandal that the Wall Street firm has been trying  to shed.

Goldman took $174 million in compensation from executives as well as paying nearly $3 billion to officials in four countries.

The settlement with the Justice Department would resolve an investigation into Goldman’s work for a corrupt Malaysian government fund known as 1MDB.  Prosecutors have accused an international cast of characters – including two Goldman bankers – of embezzling billions of dollars from the fund, with U.S. officials arguing the bank ignored signs of fraud in pursuit of fees.

All in, the 1MDB scandal will cost Goldman more than $5 billion to resolve, but the investment bank will avoid the harshest sanctions that prosecutors had sought and has already accounted for the penalties in its financial reports to shareholders.

As a salve to shareholders, Goldman said Thursday it would cut bonuses for CEO David Solomon and three top lieutenants and claw back millions of dollars in past pay from his predecessor, Lloyd Blankfein, and other departed executives.  “We must always remain open to improvement, learn from our mistakes and accept the consequences when we fail,” Solomon said in a statement.

--Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. reported better-than-expected quarterly comparable sales growth, boosted by a surge in online orders from consumers avoiding dining out, as comp sales rose 8.3% for the third quarter, better than the Street expected.  Revenues rose 14.1% to $1.60 billion overall, with digital sales representing 48.8% of sales.

But profits dropped 18.6%, hurt by higher beef prices, delivery costs and coronavirus-related expenses.  Net income fell to $80.2 million.

--CVS Health said it is hiring 15,000 people to administer Covid-19 tests and flu vaccinations as it prepares for an expected surge in cases this fall and winter.

More than 10,000 of the new hires will be licensed pharmacy technicians who can give Covid-19 tests – and who the company hopes will also be authorized to administer vaccinations.

--Cathay Pacific is slated to ax about 6,000 workers, including 5,900 affiliated with its Dragon brand, in a bid to stay afloat, with most cuts aimed at its Hong Kong workforce.  About 5,000 employees in Hong Kong could be let go, with further layoffs possible in the future depending on the pandemic.

The Cathay group has about 33,000 employees worldwide.  Most other airlines are reducing their workforces by 20-30 percent.

Cathay Pacific is the group’s largest airline, with 132 passenger planes on long-haul routes and serving key Asian cities.  Cathay Dragon (which I’ve flown on and loved) flies primarily to mainland China and other regional destinations.

Cathay Pacific lost a record $1.27 billion in the first six months of the year and continues to burn $240 million a month.  The airline said it would operate at less than half capacity throughout next year compared with pre-crisis levels, underscoring the slow pace of recovery.

--Intel Corp. on Thursday reported adjusted earnings in line with consensus estimates but down from a year earlier, while revenue fell 4% to $18.3 billion from a year ago.  For Q4, the chip maker expects revenue of $17.4 billion.

Intel also said it remains confident in its strategy amid competition for a market fueled by data and the rise of AI, 5G networks and edge computing.

But the shares cratered over 10% today because the company reported a 10% revenue decline for its Data Center Group, which was most severely impacted by a huge 47% drop in its Enterprise & Government subsegment, which had previously reported two consecutive quarters of more than 30% growth, so this was a shocker.

Earlier, Intel reached a deal to sell its flash-memory manufacturing business to South Korea’s SK Hynix Inc. for about $9 billion.  The Intel unit makes NAND flash memory products primarily used in devices such as hard drives, thumb drives and cameras.  The U.S. chipmaker has been weighing getting out of the business for some time, with declining prices for flash memory.

The operations being acquired by SK Hynix generated about $2.8 billion in sales in the first six months of this year, the companies said, which represents the lion’s share of Intel’s overall memory sales.  Hynix will now become one of the world’s largest NAND memory makers, trailing only Samsung Electronics Co.

Intel, best known for making the central processing units at the heart of personal computers, started as a memory manufacturer in the late 1960s before stiff competition from Japan’s burgeoning electronics industry forced the company to change course.

--Swedish regulators on Tuesday banned the use of telecom equipment from China’s Huawei and ZTE in its 5G network ahead of the spectrum auction scheduled for next month.

The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority said the setting of the license conditions followed assessments by the Swedish Armed Forces and the Swedish Security Service.

European governments have been reviewing the role of Chinese companies in building their networks following pressure from the United States, which says they pose a security threat because, among other concerns, Chinese companies and citizens must by law aid the state in intelligence gathering.

The United Kingdom in July ordered Huawei equipment to be purged completely from Britain’s 5G network by 2027, becoming one of the first European countries to do so.

--My in-ground pool manufacturing expert, Brad K., based in New Jersey, said he is frantically building inventory and supplies for what he says will be a stronger 2021 than 2020, which broke records.  The poor guy gets no sleep.

--The pandemic will interrupt 50 years of steadily increasing turkey consumption, threatening to change holiday traditions forever.  It’s a real problem for America’s 2,500 turkey farms, as farmers try to predict demand and processing schedules.  The fear is being stuck with too many big turkeys and not enough small ones.  You also have the issue of processing plant operators and workers’ vulnerability to Covid outbreaks that have ravaged poultry and beef processing plants.

--Europe’s museums are largely open, but there are few visitors.  For example, Amsterdam’s giant Rijksmuseum, which houses galleries of Dutch old master paintings, normally sees 10,000 people crowded into it each day.  Today, it’s about 800.  The Louvre in Paris normally has about 15,000 visitors a day and is now reporting 4,500 to 5,000.

Foreign Affairs

China: In a highly nationalistic speech on Friday marking the 70th anniversary of China’s entry into the Korean war against American forces, President Xi Jinping warned the U.S. that the Chinese military was determined to defeat invaders.

Speaking from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi touted the war to “resist U.S. aggression and aid Korea” from 1950 to 1953 – the only military conflict between China and the United States – as a demonstration of China’s military might against American imperialists.  He also called for moves to expedite the modernization of the country’s defense and armed forces.

“Seventy years ago, the imperialist invaders fired upon the doorstep of a new China,” he said.  “The Chinese people understood that you must use the language that invaders can understand – to fight war with war and to stop an invasion with force, earning peace and respect through victory. The Chinese people will not create trouble but nor are we afraid of them, and no matter the difficulties or challenges we face, our legs will not shake and our backs will not bend.”

Xi stressed that “any country and any army, no matter how powerful they used to be” – a clear jab at the U.S. – would see their actions “battered” if they stood against the international community. He added that China needed to accelerate its military modernization to build a world-class military, and to ensure that the ruling Communist Party maintained “absolute leadership” over the military.

“In today’s world, any unilateralism, protectionism, and ideology of extreme self-interest are totally unworkable, and any blackmailing, blockades and extreme pressure are totally unworkable,” he said.  “Any actions that focus only on oneself and any efforts to engage in hegemony and bullying will simply not work – not only will it not work, but it will be a dead end.”  [South China Morning Post]

Thursday, China threatened to retaliate against the latest U.S. arms sale to Chinese-claimed Taiwan, as the island welcomed the weapons package but said it was not looking to get into an arms race with Beijing.

The Trump administration has ramped up support for Taiwan through arms sales and visits by senior U.S. officials, adding to tensions between Beijing and Washington, already heightened by disagreements over the South China Sea, Hong Kong, human rights and trade.

Beijing has applied increasing pressure on democratically-ruled Taiwan to accept China’s sovereignty, including by flying fighter jets across the sensitive mid-line of the Taiwan Strait.

Russia: Officials said on Tuesday that Russia would be ready to freeze its total number of nuclear warheads if the United States did the same in order to extend their last major arms control treaty by a year.  The offer, so close to the election, would be a small gift to President Trump, as in it wouldn’t move the needle at the polls, but the timing is curious.

The two sides have been negotiating over the fate of the New START Agreement, which is due to expire in February.  The United States last week rejected a Russian offer to unconditionally extend the pact for one year, saying that any proposal that did not envisage freezing all nuclear warheads was a “non-starter.”

New START, signed in 2010, imposes limits on the two countries’ strategic nuclear arsenals.  Extending it would mark a rare bright spot in the fraught relationship between the two countries.

The United States has called for China to be included in a broader treaty that would replace New START, but China has rejected that proposal.

The Trump administration has been pressing Russia to conclude the agreement before the Nov. 3 election to provide Trump with a diplomatic achievement.

Azerbaijan and Armenia: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Azeri and Armenian officials in Washington, D.C., today for talks on ending the conflict, but two Russia-brokered ceasefires have collapsed since fighting broke out on September 27 over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and there were few hopes of a breakthrough.

Afghanistan: Taliban fighters killed at least 37 Afghan government troops in attacks this week in an offensive to overrun Baharak district in the northeastern province of Takhar, prompting government forces to call in air support, and the Taliban claims an air strike targeting fighters hit a religious school, killing children, which the government claims is not correct.

So if you thought the peace talks in Qatar were going smoothly, there has been nothing but rising violence in the country since they started.

Israel/Sudan: The two agreed on Friday to take steps to normalize relations in a deal brokered with the help of the United States.  President Trump sealed the agreement in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Transitional Council Head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.  Trump’s decision this week to remove Sudan from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism paved the way for the accord with Israel.

Netanyahu hailed it as a “new era” for the region, but the Palestinian leadership, watching as more of their Arab brethren appear to give their quest for statehood a lower priority, called it a “new stab in the back,” after recent similar deals with UAE and Bahrain.

Trump, speaking in the Oval Office today, said at least five other countries wanted to follow suit and normalize relations with Israel.

Initially, Israel and Sudan will focus on agriculture and trade.

Lebanon: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is back, Hariri nominated as the country’s next premier a year after he quit the position under pressure from popular protests.  Many Lebanese had sought a complete overhaul of the political system they blame for the deadly Beirut explosion.

President Michel Aoun on Thursday tasked Hariri with forming a new government after a majority of lawmakers backed him.

Hariri vowed to act swiftly. “I am adamant on keeping my promise…by working to stop the collapse that threatens our economy, our society and our security,” he said in a national broadcast.

The last government collapsed in the wake of the explosion in August that tore through the capital, killing about 200 and compounding an existing economic crisis.

Lebanon needs to secure a $10 billion International Monetary Fund bailout and unlock aid that Western leaders have made contingent on political reform.

But Hariri must first name a cabinet, a process that usually takes months of political horse trading.

France: Following the beheading of a teacher in France by a Chechen Islamist, France’s Interior Ministry announced it was preparing to expel 231 foreigners on a government watch list for suspected extremist religious beliefs.  President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government has been under pressure from conservative and far-right parties to take a tougher stance on non-nationals deemed a security threat.

Random Musings

--Presidential poll data….

Gallup: New update…43% approve of President Trump’s job performance, 55% disapprove; 94% of Republicans approve, 35% of independents (Sept. 30-Oct. 15).  Previous splits were 46/52; 94, 39.  The current 35% approval from independents compares with 47% in April.
Rasmussen: 51% approve, 48% disapprove (Oct. 23).

--A new New York Times/Siena College national poll has Joe Biden leading President Trump 50%-41%.

Trump is favored by Men, 48%-42%.

Biden is favored by Women, 58%-35%.

Biden leads among those 65+, 51%-41%.

Trump leads among Whites, 50%-44%.

Biden leads among Nonwhites, 66%-22%.

Independents go for Biden 46%-37%.

Biden leads Trump by 12 points on who is best to lead the coronavirus issue.

--In the battleground states, a University of North Florida poll puts Biden up just one point over Trump there, with Trump rising five percent from earlier this month in the same survey.

Biden is up just one percent in a Washington Post/ABC News poll of North Carolina registered voters.

CNN polling for 10 swing states has Biden up a statistically significant amount in Pennsylvania (52 to 43 percent), Michigan and Wisconsin (both 51 to 43 percent).

In Iowa, Georgia, Ohio and North Carolina, it’s much closer – with Biden either tied or up by a couple percentage points. Texas remains Trump territory, the president leading Biden by four points (49 to 45 percent).

Then, Thursday, in new CNN / SSRS polls of likely voters, Biden leads Trump in Florida 50-46, within the margin of error, but Biden leads by ten points in Pennsylvania, 53-43 percent.

In a Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters in Texas, Trump and Biden are tied at 47-47 percent.  This compares to a Sept. 24 poll that had Trump ahead 50-45.

Among those who will vote in person on Election Day, 62 percent support Trump and 32 percent support Biden.

Among those who are voting by mail or absentee ballot, 63 percent say they support Biden and 31 percent support Trump.

Yup, President Trump could have pretty sizable initial leads the night of the election, but that will change significantly as mail-in ballots are counted.

In Pennsylvania, Quinnipiac found Biden has a 51-43 percent lead over Trump.  Same thing here as in Texas.

Among those who are voting in person on Election Day, it’s 63-32 Trump.

Among those voting by mail or absentee ballot, Biden gets 79 percent while Trump only receives 13 percent.

A series of Reuters/Ipsos polls of likely voters found that Biden leads Trump in Pennsylvania 49-45 percent.

In Wisconsin, Biden leads 51-43. In Florida, Biden and Trump are essentially tied, 49 percent for Biden, 47 percent for Trump.

In Arizona, Reuters/Ipsos has Biden ahead 50-46.  In Michigan, Biden leads 51-43.  In North Carolina, Biden edges Trump 48-47.

And we had some Fox News battleground surveys…Biden leading 52-40 in Michigan, 50-45 in Pennsylvania, and 49-44 percent in Wisconsin.

Trump leads in Ohio but just by 48-45.

Biden trounces Trump among suburban women: Michigan +35, Ohio +18, Pennsylvania +29, and Wisconsin +21.

--Former President Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail on Wednesday in Philadelphia with a blistering attack on Donald Trump.  Speaking at a drive-in rally on behalf of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Obama took aim at Trump’s divisive rhetoric, his track record in the Oval Office and his habit of re-tweeting conspiracy theories.

“With Joe and Kamala at the helm, you’re not going to have to think about the crazy things they said every day,” Obama said.  “And that’s worth a lot.  You’re not going to have to argue about them every day. It just won’t be so exhausting.”

“You’ll be able to go about your lives knowing that the president is not going to retweet conspiracy theories about secret cabals running the world or that Navy seals didn’t kill bin Laden,” Obama continued, referring to posts Trump recently retweeted on Twitter.

“That’s not normal presidential behavior.  We wouldn’t tolerate it from a high school principal.  We wouldn’t tolerate it from a coach. We wouldn’t tolerate it from a coworker.  We wouldn’t tolerate it in our family, except for maybe a crazy uncle somewhere.”

Obama blasted Trump for his handling of the coronavirus, nothing that the president himself had fallen victim to the virus.

“Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us,” he said.  “He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself.”

“This is not a reality show. This is reality,” Obama said.  “And the rest of us have had to live with the consequences of him proving himself incapable of taking the job seriously.”

Obama warned Democrats against complacency.

“We’ve got to turn out like never before,” he said.  “We cannot leave any doubt in this election.”

Rich Lowry / New York Post

“Joe Biden is the most cosseted presidential candidate in memory.

“He has run a minimalist campaign that has avoided the press as much as possible, while the press hasn’t been baying for more access and answers, but eager to avoid anything that could be discomfiting to the campaign.

“Never before have the media been so openly fearful of asking or reporting something that might hurt a presidential candidate.  What are supposed to be the animating values of our adversarial press – informing the public, getting answers, holding the powerful to account – have all been subordinated to the protection racket that is coverage of Joe Biden

“Even the lowest common denominator of news – simply being interesting – has been tossed aside.  Boring and uneventful is the new newsworthy.  This presumably isn’t how they teach it in journalism school, but no one has had trouble adjusting.

“The tendency reached a new level in the media’s handling of New York Post reports on e-mails obtained from a laptop that Hunter Biden reportedly left off at a Delaware repair shop.

“Here was a story with enough mysteries and plotlines to keep a couple of newsrooms busy.  Are the e-mails, putting Hunter Biden’s sleazy overseas business dealings in a more sinister light, legitimate?  Did Hunter really take the laptop to the shop and forget about it?  And, more important, what do the e-mails say about what Joe Biden knows or should have known about Hunter’s work that depended so heavily on proximity to the vice president?

“Instead, the press has been uninterested at best and hostile at worst.  It’s the opposite of a feeding frenzy.  The media have deployed their bomb-disposal unit for fear that a potentially explosive story might detonate.

“What Biden has to say about the e-mails is inherently of interest.  Yet he wasn’t asked about it at his ABC News town hall last week.  Never mind that his response would have made headlines afterward and the clip would have been shown in every TV segment about the debate.

“Subsequently, CBS reporter Bo Erickson betrayed his profession by asking Biden his response to The Post story on a tarmac. He got slammed by Biden: ‘I have no response, it’s another smear campaign, right up your alley, those are the questions you always ask.’

“No one rallied to Erickson’s defense.  Instead, respectable figures on the center-left shamed Erickson for having asked a politician an unwelcome question – which the day before yesterday would have been considered Journalism 101….

“Usually, the media love candidates who make good copy, who provide drama and color.  In its hatred and fear of President Trump, though, reporters have thrown in their lot with the dull and meandering Biden, bringing to the effort all the complacency and pointed incuriosity they can muster.”

--Stuart Stevens, Reed Galen, Steve Schmidt and Rick Wilson / Washington Post [the four being co-founders of the Lincoln Project]

“This is for the many men and women in Washington with whom we have worked over the past 30-plus years. Some of you hold elected office. Some are officials in the Trump administration.  Many of you are members of the consultant and lobbyist class.

“In two weeks, the most consequential election of our generation will come, and your time for choosing will arrive. As Republicans, will you stand with President Trump, or will you stand with, and stand up for, America?  Will you protect democracy or protect a single person and his family?

“We’re not merely talking about your vote.

“We’re talking about what comes next.

“Never before in U.S. history has an incumbent president refused in advance to accept the outcome of an election. In the days ahead, your party may call upon you to support efforts by a White House that refuses to transfer power after a loss at the polls. The weapons won’t be tanks but thousands of lawyers backed by an attorney general who works for the president, not the people.

“This effort will succeed only if a Republican Party power structure offers blind allegiance to one man instead of the republic. Every Republican elected official, staffer, consultant, operative and sympathizer will face a choice: my party or my country?

“To do nothing is a choice.  Passivity may seem easy at first. Soon, though, what you’ll be asked to do to remain in favor will surpass your moral boundaries. By then, it will be too late.

“And, by then, it will be anything but easy.  Remember why you came to Washington.  You came to serve, whether as an intern, young staffer or the most senior official in a government, with great hope and idealism.  With time, all passions cool, but we hope that you have not, at your core, lost the beliefs that first brought you to the nation’s capital.

“Trump, though, was never in anyone’s plan.  From the moment he descended the golden escalator, you’ve seen him for what he is: a boor, incapable and unfit for office.  His victory was an unwelcome shock.  The Washington – the nation – you knew would soon be gone – none of us knew just how far gone.

“Since taking office, Trump’s behavior has deteriorated.  His contempt for the laws, traditions, rules and norms became breathtakingly evident.  Hushed conversations over lunches and dinners became recitations of his latest outrage. But what did you about it?  Nothing.

“You know what Republican elected officials have said about Trump behind closed doors from the start because you are often – maybe always – behind those doors.  You’ve seen the haunted look in a colleague’s or a boss’s eyes after a meeting with the unstable, unfit man who is our president.  You know in your heart that Trump should not be president for another day.

“We understand what we are asking: to choose between doing what’s best for the country and doing what’s best for your bank account. Many of you have ‘kept your powder dry,’ waiting for the right moment to say or do something – preserving all the while the little transactional encounters that can mean the difference between failure and success.

“We know what you stand to lose from taking a stand.  Your phone calls and texts may go unreturned. The receptions, parties and dates on the social calendar may be outside your reach.  You may be ostracized.  You may lose business.

“And it will be worth it.

“To believe that your life or your business will continue as you’ve known them during four more years of the current administration is to close your eyes.  You know what Trump is doing to the country you love.

“As conservatives, we long argued that culture was the soul of America. We were right, but it is Trump who now assaults our nation’s soul.

“The time for choosing is at hand.  Will you choose a republic or an autocracy? ….

“In war and peace, Americans have displayed unparalleled courage in the face of evil and injustice.  It doesn’t take courage to stand up to Trump; it takes courage to stand up for your country.  That is the legacy we inherited and are called to defend.

“That is the choice.  America or Trump?  Now is the time to stand with the country you love.”

--Retired Navy admiral William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, 2011-14 / Wall Street Journal

“In their 1998 book, ‘A World Transformed,’ George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft recount the events that fundamentally changed the world during the Bush presidency. At the end of the last chapter Bush observes: ‘The importance of American engagement has never been higher.  If the United States does not lead, there will be no leadership…If we fail to live up to our responsibilities, if we shirk the role that only we can assume, if we retreat from our obligation to the world in indifference, we will one day pay the highest price once again for our neglect and shortsightedness.’

“For all the challenges the past 20 years brought on this country – for all the loss, the heartache, the hubris and the errant decisions – in times of crisis, the world still looked to America to lead. They believed that in spite of our political differences, our domestic turmoil, the ugliness of our democratic process and some bad decisions, America in the end would do the right thing. That we would stand up to tyranny, lift up the downtrodden, free the oppressed, and fight for the righteous.

“Now, the world no longer looks up to America.  They have been witness to our dismissiveness, our lack of respect and our transactional approach to global issues.  They have seen us tear up our treaties, leave our allies on the battlefield and cozy up to despots and dictators.  They have seen our incompetence in handling the pandemic and the wildfires. They have seen us struggle with social injustice. They no longer think we can lead, because they have seen an ineptness and a disdain for civility that is beyond anything in their memory. But, without American leadership the world will indeed be transformed, just not in the way we hope.

“This could all change in November.

“We need a president who understands the importance of American leadership, at home and abroad.  We need a leader of integrity whose decency and sense of respect reflects the values we expect from our president.  We need a president for all Americans, not just half of America.

“This week I went to the polls in Texas.  Truth be told, I am a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, small-government, strong-defense and a national-anthem-standing conservative.  But, I also believe that black lives matter, that the Dreamers deserve a path to citizenship, that diversity and inclusion are essential to our national success, that education is the great equalizer, that climate change is real and that the First Amendment is the cornerstone of our democracy. Most important, I believe that America must lead in the world with courage, conviction and a sense of honor and humility.

“If we remain indifferent to our role in the world, if we retreat from our obligation to our citizens and our allies and if all fail to choose the right leader, then we will pay the highest price for our neglect and shortsightedness.

“I voted for Joe Biden.”

--Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions for the first time as pontiff while being interviewed for the feature-length documentary “Francesco,” which premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival.

“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film.  “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”

While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages.  However, he had never come out publicly in favor of civil unions as pope.

--Finally, congratulations to NASA and the spectacular Osiris-Rex spacecraft for its audacious tag-and-go maneuver designed to grab surface rock from an asteroid, Bennu, a 500m-wide (1/3rd of a mile) object.

The spacecraft was launched four years ago and made contact with Bennu some 200 million miles from Earth.

This is amazing, but if the mission was deemed successful, i.e., picked up a significant enough sample, Osiris-Rex will then begin a long journey home that, if successful, would find it landing in the Utah desert in September 2023.

---

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

God bless America.

---

Gold $1903
Oil $39.78

Returns for the week 10/19-10/23

Dow Jones  -1.0%  [28335]
S&P 500  -0.5%  [3465]
S&P MidCap  +0.9%
Russell 2000  +0.4%
Nasdaq  -1.1%  [11548]

Returns for the period 1/1/20-10/23/20

Dow Jones  -0.7%
S&P 500  +7.3%
S&P MidCap  -2.3%
Russell 2000  -1.7%
Nasdaq  +28.7%

Bulls  59.2…nearing danger level again
Bears
20.4

Hang in there…Mask up, wash your hands.

Brian Trumbore



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Week in Review

10/24/2020

For the week 10/19-10/23

[Posted 10:00 PM ET, Friday]

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

Edition 1,123

What a week, filled with more recklessness from President Trump as the coronavirus pandemic surged in the United States, with the highest daily case count yet just today, over 80,000, and rising hospitalizations in 38 states.  Fourteen reported new highs in hospitalized Covid-19 patients.

Utah health officials issued a dire warning: “Our major hospitals have started declining new patients in their ICUs and are activating their surge plans now.”

But don’t worry, Covid is “going away,” as Donald Trump has been saying for months and months.  “We’re rounding the corner.”

At the same time we are eleven days from Election Day and as of this evening, over 51 million Americans have already cast their votes, with historic turnout overall expected.

According to Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who runs the U.S. Elections Project, 85 million people could vote before Nov. 3, with 150 million voting in total, or an eligible voter turnout rate of more than 62%, which would be the highest in our lifetimes.

These next eleven days are going to be pure chaos, with all manner of intelligence officials warning of Russian interference.  There will be some incredibly ugly stuff up on social media.  Ignore it.  And no doubt next week we’ll get hit with another surprise or two, the facts of which may be in dispute.

But this is all leading up to the chaos and uncertainty of Election Night itself.  As I note down below with some of the polling data, it seems a virtual certainty that Donald Trump will be declaring victory that evening, while hundreds of lawyers affiliated with the Republican National Committee and the campaign attempt to stop the counting of mail-in ballots, 2/3s of which in most states will be for Biden.  There’s really no telling what will happen.

So on the campaign trail this week, we heard Donald Trump say of his rival that he “should’ve been locked up weeks ago.”

Trump told supporters in Arizona on Monday that Biden is lucky that William Barr is the attorney general “because I know people that would have had him locked up five weeks ago.”

“Bill Barr is a very nice man and a very fair man,” Trump said.  “Just remember it, because I get angry too.”

Earlier on Monday, House Republicans urged Barr to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations stemming from a laptop that allegedly belongs to Hunter Biden.

Lawmakers said they want Barr to look into claims that Biden “played a role in his son’s alleged lucrative business dealings in Ukraine and China.”

Earlier on Monday, Trump called a reporter a “criminal” for not reporting on what he says is Joe Biden’s criminal background.

As he was embarking for Phoenix, ahead of his campaign rally, Trump said: “Joe Biden is a criminal.”

“He’s been a criminal for a long time.  And you’re a criminal – and the media – for not reporting it,” Trump told Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason.

In a call with his campaign staff Monday that was designed to instill confidence in his reelection bid, Trump continued to downplay the pandemic and attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, a day after Fauci criticized Trump’s behavior during an interview Sunday night on “60 Minutes.”

The president claimed that the country did not want to hear more from the country’s scientific leaders about Covid-19.

“People are tired of listening to Fauci and these idiots,” baselessly suggesting that Fauci’s advice on how best to respond to the outbreak was so bad it would have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands more people.

“And yet we keep him,” Trump continued.  “Every day he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him. But Fauci is a disaster.”  He added, “He’s been there for 500 years.” 

Trump also argued that the American people were no longer interested in taking precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, even as the number of confirmed cases has been rising across the country.

“People are tired of Covid.  I have the biggest rallies I’ve ever had. And we have Covid.  People are saying, ‘Whatever – just leave us alone,’” Trump said, adding that he gets large crowds because people are tired of public health restrictions.

At a Trump rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, the president told the crowd in the battleground state that he wouldn’t have had to campaign so much for reelection were it not for the coronavirus pandemic.

“Before the plague came in, I had it made. I wasn’t coming to Erie. I mean, I have to be honest: There’s no way I was coming….I would have called you and said, ‘Hey, Erie, you know, if you have a chance get out and vote,” Trump said.

“We had this thing won,” the president asserted about the election, “and then we got hit with the plague and I had to go back to work.”

Also Tuesday, Trump cut short a contentious interview with “60 Minutes,” threatening to protest by posting a tape of the session before the scheduled broadcast on Sunday, and he did just that Thursday.

“This will be done so that everybody can get a glimpse of what a FAKE and BIASED interview is all about,” Trump said in a series of attacks that included “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl.

So then we had Thursday’s debate….

President Trump was composed and disciplined, offering a stark contrast to the chaos and fury of the first debate.  For his part, Joe Biden was cruising, confident, and then with the very last question on fracking from moderator Kristen Welker, egged on by Trump, Biden blew it and stupidly talked of transitioning from oil and gas to renewables…not as a broad-based idea, but with a date certain. 

The president was elated and no doubt Biden’s gaffe ensured that Texas will remain red, and possibly Pennsylvania as well, though with all the early voting and a decent lead in the latter, according to the polls, who knows what will happen in the Keystone State.

Biden also may have cost his party one or two congressional seats, as Democrats in key races in Texas and Oklahoma scrambled to do damage control.

For his part, President Trump’s answers on the coronavirus were pathetic, but most importantly, Trump stopped the bleeding.

Peggy Noonan / Wall Street Journal

“The hour and a half between 9 and 10:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, Oct. 23, at Belmont University in Nashville was the last chance Donald Trump had to turn it all around.

“Did he?  Could he?

“It’s late in the game, most peoples’ minds are set, and more than 40 million have already voted. But he did himself some good. He wasn’t a belligerent nut.  He held himself together, controlled himself, presented opening remarks that made sense.  He won, not a dazzling win but a win that kept him in the game.  He succeeded in doing what Joe Biden didn’t have to do: If you wanted or needed an excuse, an out, to vote for Mr. Trump, if you wanted an argument that justified your decision in a conversation in the office, he probably gave you what you need.

“It was a good debate. The candidates argued big things. Both had some good moves.  Mr. Trump was smart to dwell, early on, on opening up economically. He hung a ‘Closed’ sign around Mr. Biden’s neck.  Mr. Biden deftly turned accusations of familial venality into reminders of the president’s refusal, after five years of demands, to show his tax returns.

“Mr. Biden too often lapses into government-speak – the ‘public option.’  He was in government 47 years, and sounds it.  Mr. Trump’s power, recovered Thursday night, is to speak like normal people, so you can understand him without having to translate what he’s saying in your head.  He appears to have lied a great deal.  That will be adjudicated in the coming days.

“Moderator Kristen Welker was fabulous – fair-minded, professional and in control. What a star.

“All that said, where are we? This close to Election Day and everyone with bated breath. Everyone sees the polls, the clear Biden lead nationwide and the smaller lead in most of the battleground states.  We know what those polls suggest. But there is little air of defeat among Trump supporters and no triumphalism among Democrats.

“Trump supporters believe he will win because of his special magic, Trump foes fear he will win because of his dark magic.  Pollsters and pundits stare at the data and wonder how to quantify his unfathomable magic.  It’s remarkable that all in their different ways put such stock in the president’s powers, his ability to pull a black swan out of a hat.  I believe he is not magic and faces a big loss, and from the way he’s acted the week leading up to the debate – flailing about, stirring themeless chaos – so does he.

“But there are a few points that contradict the picture.  One is the number 56. That is the percentage of registered voters who, asked by Gallup if they are better off than they were four years ago, say yes.  Fifty-six percent – in a pandemic, after protests, riots and recession!

“It’s only a poll, but after Gallup, a New York Times/Siena poll asked the same question, and 49% said they were better off.

“What’s interesting, though, is that when Siena asked respondents if the country was better off than it was four years ago, only 39% said yes.

“What does this mean?  No one knows.  If the polling is more or less correct, you wonder: Will people vote on their own circumstances or what they perceive to be the country’s?

“The second data point has to do with Mr. Trump’s rallies – big, boisterous and frequent.  He’s been in Michigan and North Carolina and has rallies planned this weekend in Ohio, Wisconsin and New Hampshire….Mr. Biden doesn’t seem to draw much of anybody, and doesn’t try. He doesn’t have rallies, and barely even appearances at this point.  You can, seeing the polls, hypothesize that what you’re seeing at the Trump rallies is a political movement in its death throes.  But I don’t know, they look lively to me…

“Mr. Biden should be talking every day in a big way to the country he wishes to lead.  He shouldn’t be seated in a handsome chair waiting for the crown to be passed, or going out for ice cream in a mask like John Dillinger on the lam….

“Turnout looks to be historic.  There are predictions that it will reach 150 million, even 160 million.  In 2016, 137 million people voted. The changes in how we vote, from early voting to voting by mail, all hastened by the pandemic, will have been established after this election, and won’t go away. This will make things appear more democratic and may leave them more Democratic.  Progressive preoccupation with the Electoral College is about to diminish, sharply.

“If Mr. Biden is an extremely lucky man he will win the presidency and his party will hold the House and lose the Senate.  If the Democrats win all three they’ll be a runaway train fueled by pent-up progressive demand.  If the Democrats lose the Senate, Mr. Biden will have a handy excuse for his natural moderation: ‘You guys may want court packing reparations and taxes on bovine flatulence but I’ve got to get it past Mitch McConnell.’  If the Democrats lose the Senate the Biden presidency will be more moderate, and more popular in a country whose nerves are shot.

“A Republican Senate will let Biden be Biden.”

John Podhoretz / New York Post

“With his back against the wall, Donald Trump pulled himself together and had the debate of his life. For the most part, he was focused, contained and determined to get his message across and not just be the alpha male.

“His defense of his coronavirus response and his argument that the country cannot long survive living under perennial lockdown constituted the most eloquent he’s ever been on the pandemic.

“Trump did make a few of those jaw-dropping assertions about a vaccine – that one is coming in a few weeks and or by the end of the year and that two pharmaceutical firms were almost done with one before naming not two but four firms.

“That could really come back to bite him over the next few weeks as others in the know throw cold water on these claims and he is forced to defend them.

“But where he really drew blood was in returning to the line of attack that helped get him elected – the idea that he had to enter politics because politicians hadn’t done the job.

“ ‘You’re all talk and no action,’ Trump said to Joe Biden in his best line – and in the best moment of any debate of this cycle….

“Mostly, though, this debate made it clear what an incredible mistake Trump made in the first debate by behaving like a jerk.  Had he been this Trump, rather than that Trump, he would be in a stronger position today….

“But just because Trump did so much better doesn’t mean Biden did worse than he did in the first.  He was fine.  He didn’t win, but if he lost, he lost on points, and not many points.

“He refused to play on Trump’s turf and stuck to his own message. When Trump flat-out charged that Biden had taken millions from Ukraine and China, which would make him guilty of multiple felonies, the former vice president did not lose his cool but stuck doggedly with his claim that he did nothing wrong and nothing unethical had happened.

“That’s important because the Hunter Biden corruption story can only be the key to changing the race’s trajectory if (a) that connection to Joe directly can be proved rather than asserted based on a few suggestive e-mails or (b) Biden acts Hillary-like and acts in ways that keep the story alive despite its danger to him….

“And yet there was one moment that may be very damaging to Biden. Trump accused him of wanting to ban fracking – a key industry in the key swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio in particular – and Biden not only said he had never done so, he challenged Trump to find the evidence and put it on Trump’s Web site.

“That evidence exists. There was an exchange between Biden and a voter in New Hampshire in January 2020.  The voter asked him, ‘What about, say, stopping fracking?’ And Biden responded, ‘yes.’

“This is the kind of thing Trump can make a killer commercial about and run in Pennsylvania 10 times a day until the election. Biden’s leading there, but it’s close, and if Trump wins it, he can win the election.

“If he doesn’t, he almost certainly can’t. Watch for it.”

Covid-19 death tolls, as of tonight….

World…1,149,118
USA…229,284
Brazil…156,528
India…117,992
Mexico…88,312
UK…44,571
Italy…37,059
Spain…34,752
France…34,508
Peru…34,033
Iran…31,985
Colombia…29,802
Argentina…28,338
Russia…25,525

Source: worldometers.info

U.S. daily death tolls…Sun. 448; Mon. 452; Tues. 952; Wed. 1,225; Thurs. 973; Fri. 903.

Week twelve of my Wednesday comparison on the case and death tolls of the Euro six (Germany, France, Spain, Italy, UK and Belgium, with a combined population of 336 million) and the U.S. (population 330 million).

The first week, the U.S. had 55,148 cases and 1,319 deaths, while the Euro six had a combined 7,281 and 100.

This week, we are at 63,663 cases and 1,225 deaths in the U.S., and a staggering 105,672 cases and 727 deaths in just the Euro six.  If you believe we are 2-4 weeks behind Europe, as we were in the spring, this does not bode well for November and December here.

The surge in cases in Europe is both startling and tragic.  Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, Russia, and the Euro six, all ten hitting a daily record this week, record high death tolls in some as well.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said today that the total number of coronavirus cases in the country was over 3 million – around three times the number recorded by the Spanish health ministry. Sanchez, speaking during a televised address, cited data from antibody tests as evidence of a far larger toll and suggested that in Spain’s first wave, limited testing had missed many cases.

But all over the world, it’s the same issue.  You have large segments of the population that are tired of restrictions and mask mandates.  Europe has actually done a better job than the United States in helping impacted businesses, but it hasn’t been enough to gain the support of the people in the numbers required to beat down the spread, as they were so successful in doing last spring.

Covid Bytes

--In Iran, which we all know has been undercounting both cases and deaths, they too hit new highs this week, as if they are issuing a plea… ‘We get it…we’re in deep s---.  We need help.’

--Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said the United States is probably entering the worst phase of the pandemic without a national strategy.  “I think the next three months are going to be very challenging.  There’s really no backstop against the spread that we’re seeing,” Gottlieb told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

As for coming vaccines, Gottlieb, who sits on the board of vaccine maker Pfizer, said it may not be until February or March until the first tranche of people who are vaccinated are really protected against the virus.  “So it begs the question, ‘what is the strategy?’” he said.  “And I think the strategy is just to endure the spread until we get to that vaccine.”

--So on the positive side, the Food and Drug Administration approved the antiviral drug remdesivir (Veklury) for use in adult and pediatric patients 12 years of age and older and weighing at least 88 pounds for the treatment of Covid-19 requiring hospitalization.  In clinical trials, remdesivir was shown to reduce recovery time, meaning it’s helpful but hardly a panacea.

--Vaccine trials from both Johnson & Johnson and a joint venture from AstraZeneca and Oxford University are both slated to restart after being paused.

--But the race to create safe and effective vaccines is going to run up against reality: how to safely deliver tens of millions of doses to all corners of the world while ensuring they remain in super cold storage, as the Boston Globe’s Kay Lazar wrote.

As in minus 103 Fahrenheit for the first vaccine expected to be given the green light.  This is nearly four times colder than your home freezer.

As in the nation’s governors are asking about the supply of ultracold freezers and dry ice – already experiencing shortages amid nationwide vaccine trials.

In a letter to the Trump administration, the governors stated, “We need to answer these questions before the vaccine is available so that we are ready to go and no one is caught flat-footed when the time comes to vaccinate people.”

Pfizer for one has said it has developed specifically designed, temperature-controlled shipping packages but the vaccines would have to be used within 10 days.

Moderna’s vaccine, however, would require temps around that of a home freezer.

But the governors are particularly worried about shortages of dry ice that would mirror the initial issues with personal protective gear and ventilators.

--The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance that greatly expands the pool of people considered at risk of contracting the coronavirus by changing the definition of who is a “close contact” of an infected individual.

The change by the CDC is likely to have its biggest impact in schools, workplaces and other group settings where people are in contact with others for long periods of time.  It also underscores the importance of mask-wearing to prevent spread of the virus.

Previously, a “close contact” was someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of a confirmed coronavirus case.  The updated guidance, now defines a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

--Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who spent a week in intensive care after catching Covid-19, undoubtedly at a White House event, or during his role in debate prep for President Trump, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on the need to wear masks and how he had let down his guard in not doing so.

“One of the worst aspects of America’s divided politics is the polarization of something as practical as a mask.  It’s not a partisan or cultural symbol, not a sign of weakness or virtue.  It’s simply a good method – not a perfect one, but a proven one – to contain a cough or prevent the virus from getting in your mouth or nose. Wear it or you may regret it – as I did….

“Those who deny the scientific realities of the pandemic undermine conditions that allow for rapid and complete reopening.”

--Two states that have seen an explosive rise in coronavirus cases since August (and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally), North Dakota and South Dakota, have some of the lowest mask use rates in the nation…just a fact.

--A new report from the CDC notes that if you add up all the people who have died in the U.S. for any reason since late January and compare that figure to the tally from previous years, you’ll find that there have been roughly 300,000 “excess deaths” since the coronavirus came to America.  Two-thirds of those deaths can be attributed to Covid-19, the report says.

The tally covers the weeks from Jan. 26 through Oct. 3.  A team from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics took the actual number of deaths in those weeks in each of the five previous years and used them to estimate the expected deaths for the same weeks in 2020.  Then they compared those expected deaths to the actual deaths reported to the National Vital Statistics System by all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The result: During those 36 weeks, an estimated 299,028 more people died in the U.S. than would have been the case in a normal year. That includes 198,081 people whose deaths were blamed directly on Covid-19.

--Researchers at New York University released a preliminary survey that showed nearly a quarter of New York City’s frontline transit workers may have contracted Covid-19, and those who took sick likely caught the virus at work.

An initial study back in May released by Gov. Cuomo, which analyzed antibody tests, found that 14% of transit workers had contracted the disease.

The virus has killed at least 131 MTA workers.

--Dr. Anthony Fauci told MSNBC today that it’s been “several months” since President Trump met with the White House coronavirus task force.  Fauci said it had been “a while” since he’d spoken with Trump directly about Covid strategy, and that the president is instead relying on the advice of Scott Atlas.

Trump World

--Republicans pushed Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination through the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 12-0 vote, as the panel’s 10 Democrats skipped the hearing in protest of the controversial nominee.

“Barrett deserves to be on the Supreme Court and she will be confirmed,” said committee chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Barrett’s nomination could be decided on the Senate floor as early as Monday, in time to be an influential vote come any post-Election Day issues, which seem a certainty.

--Prior to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe’s statement that Russia and Iran “have taken specific actions to influence public opinion related to our elections,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the acting chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a statement to reporters:

“Our adversaries abroad seek to sow chaos and undermine voters’ belief in our democratic institutions, including the election systems and infrastructure that we rely on to record and properly report expressions of the voters’ will,” it said, in part.  “As we enter the last weeks before the election, we urge every American – including members of the media – to be cautious about believing or spreading unverified, sensational claims related to votes and voting.”

Back in September, the FBI issued an alert that false claims of hacked voter information were likely intended to undermine the credibility of elections.  The statement followed reports that information on 7.6 million Michigan voters had shown up on Russian hacker forums.  “In reality, much U.S. voter information can be purchased or acquired through publicly available sources.  While cyber actors have in recent years obtained voter registration information, the acquisition of this data did not impact the voting process or the integrity of election results,” the FBI statement read.

--Editorial / Washington Post

“Of course we are tired of Covid.  More than 8 million Americans have been infected by the novel coronavirus and at least 219,000 have died, more than in any other country. Some number of those deaths can be attributed to Mr. Trump’s adoption of wishful thinking as policy. He has resisted a national testing plan and a national public health strategy, and he continually encourages reckless behavior and mocks prudence.  The result is more unemployment, more illness, more misery.

“ ‘Masks work? NO,’ Dr. (Scott) Atlas wrote, egregiously.  He is no expert in infectious disease, but he has risen in the White House hierarchy because he is comfortable in Mr. Trump’s make-believe world.  Dr. Atlas rejects universal mask mandates, says they are unnecessary except in close proximity to others, frequently criticizes lockdowns, insists that businesses and schools open, and discourages expanded diagnostic testing.  He pursues the mirage of natural ‘herd immunity.’  There is no other way to read this than a strategy to let a lot of people die.  Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota described it as ‘the most amazing combination of pixie dust and pseudoscience I’ve ever seen.’….

“According to The Post’s reporters, Dr. Atlas is at odds with others on the White House coronavirus task force, including Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator.  The hostility spilled into the open Monday in Mr. Trump’s conference call with campaign staff.  ‘People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,’ the president said.  ‘He’s been here for, like 500 years.  He’s like this wonderful sage telling us how – Fauci, if we listened to him, we’d have 700,000 [or] 800,000 deaths.’….”

It’s up to the people now.  Malpractice?

--The New York Post published an article about ten days ago that suggested that Joe Biden used his position to enrich his son Hunter when he was vice president. The Post based the story on photos and documents the paper said it had taken from the hard drive of a laptop purportedly belonging to Hunter Biden.

The article named two sources: Stephen Bannon and Rudy Giuliani, and relied on documents purportedly taken from the hard drive to suggest that the elder Biden, as vice president, had directed American foreign policy in Ukraine to benefit his son, a former board member at a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

The article also suggested that the elder Biden had met with a Burisma adviser, Vadym Pozharskyi.  The Biden campaign said the former vice president’s official schedules showed no meeting with the adviser.  Last month, two Republican-led Senate committees investigating the matter said they had found no evidence of wrongdoing by the former Veep.

Senior editors at the New York Post made the decision to publish the files “after several days’ hard work established its merit,” former editor in chief, now adviser, Colin Allan told the New York Times.

Director of National Intelligence Ratcliffe on Monday said the information contained on the laptop “is not part of some Russian disinformation campaign.”

“If the issue is being investigated as part of Russian interference into the election, it’s hard to believe it would be wrapped up yet,” said Matthew Miller, who led the Justice Department’s public affairs office from 2009 to 2011.  “The whole thing is utterly confusing, which is why Ratcliffe shouldn’t be weighing in at all.  If there is an investigation, it should be conducted quietly and the government should speak with a credible voice when they have something definitive to tell the public.  Obviously, Ratcliffe isn’t a credible voice, and it seems pretty clear he’s just playing the political role he was appointed for in the first place.”

Clinton Watts, a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University and a former FBI special agent said “I cannot imagine that the FBI would in any way be able to determine if this was [Russian] disinformation before the election.  This takes at a minimum weeks or months.”  [Defense One]

Also on Monday, the Department of Justice indicted six Russian GRU hackers for various cybercrimes, including attacking the 2017 French presidential elections and the NotPetya attack that crippled infrastructure across the globe that same year.  Justice Department officials highlighted the time and rigor it takes to publicly attribute cybercriminals in places like Russia.

“For more than two years, we have worked tirelessly to expose these Russian GRU Officers who engaged in a global campaign of hacking, disruption and destabilization, representing the most destructive and costly cyber-attacks in history.”

David Ignatius / Washington Post

“The story of Hunter Biden’s involvement with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma isn’t a scandal about his father, as the Trump campaign claims, but part of a personal tragedy for the vice president’s son, compounded by this week’s dissemination of what looks like disinformation about Joe Biden’s role.

“What’s clear, beyond the false scandal-mongering, has been evident for years: Hunter Biden made a mistake getting involved with a dubious company like Burisma.  But the notion that the Burisma affair undermines Joe Biden’s case to be president is, as he would say, malarkey.

“The Biden campaign has been understandably reluctant to respond, for fear of giving the story legitimacy. Still, Biden has said his son made a mistake.  Family friends say the vice president is reluctant to publicly criticize Hunter Biden further, but they stress that both Bidens have learned the painful lesson that a president’s children should stay away from international business.  Would that the Trump family recognized that rule.

“To provide perspective, I talked this week with a business consultant with extensive experience in Ukraine, whom Hunter Biden contacted in early 2014 as he was considering joining the Burisma board. The consultant strongly urged against this move, but Biden, struggling with personal and financial issues, pressed ahead.

“The danger that Hunter Biden’s Burisma connection might be misused was illustrated soon after.  Burisma posted a photograph on its website of Devon Archer, Hunter Biden’s business partner, standing with the then-vice president before an American flag at what appeared to be the White House. Archer, with Hunter Biden, joined the Burisma board in the spring of 2014.

“The consultant, who requested anonymity, said he urged Hunter Biden through a friend to have Burisma take down the photo, and it was removed from the company’s website that day.  A copy couldn’t be located, but the Biden campaign doesn’t dispute that it may have been taken when Archer visited the White House in April 2014 with his son.

“The Hunter-Ukraine connection has been a political sideshow since the Biden campaign began. It got new voltage this week when the New York Post published what it claimed were emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop suggesting that he had helped arrange a 2015 meeting between his father and a Burisma executive. The Biden campaign denied any such meeting, and its accounts, based on recollections of multiple staff members, are believable. An Eastern European expert in digital forensics who has examined some of the Ukrainian documents leaked to the New York Post told me he found anomalies – such as American-style capitalization of the names of ministries – that  suggest fakery.

“People in personal trouble, as Hunter Biden was in 2014, often ignore good advice, and that seems to be the case here.  The consultant, elaborating on a fragmentary account I reported in March, told me that he was approached in the spring of 2014 by one of Biden’s friends, who was worried about his plans to join Burisma.

“The consultant said he met Biden and the friend for drinks at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Georgetown.  Biden described the discussions between Burisma and his company, Rosemont Seneca Partners, which he had founded five years before with Christopher Heinz and Archer, both friends from Yale.

Biden asked the consultant about some of the Ukrainians involved with Burisma, whom Archer had encountered in Kyiv. Burisma was pursuing new gas leases in Ukraine that it claimed might attract international investment, the consultant remembers, and wanted prominent people on its board.

“The consultant made some inquiries about several senior Burisma executives and then met with Biden a week later.  The consultant told Biden the planned Burisma gas licenses involved small assets that weren’t likely to attract foreign investors, and cautioned the vice president’s son against working for the company.

“ ‘They’re using you for your name.  They will exploit your name to your detriment and your father’s,’ the consultant remembers warning Biden.”

Hunter then joined the board anyway because he needed the money, telling the consultant, “I have to make money for the family.”

“About a month later, the photo of Joe Biden and Archer appeared on the Burisma website… ‘This is the kind of nonsense I talked about,’ the consultant said he warned.”

Archer, like Hunter Biden, joined the Burisma board in 2014.  As a director, Biden received $50,000 a month.  “The Biden campaign said Joe Biden’s tax returns before and after he left office show he didn’t receive any money from Hunter Biden.  Archer left the company in 2018, and Hunter Biden left the next year.  In 2018, a federal jury convicted Archer on a fraud charge involving bonds for a Native American development company, a verdict reaffirmed this month by a federal appeals court.

“Joe Biden said in January it was a ‘mistake’ for his son to join the board, and promised that if he becomes president, none of his family members will have ‘any involvement with any foreign government at all.’  Hunter Biden, too, said he made a ‘mistake’ for which he bore ‘full responsibility.’  That’s the sort of self-criticism we rarely hear from Trump or his family.

“This is smoke without a fire.  Hunter Biden erred.  His father said so quietly but clearly.  He should get on with the business of trying to put the country back together after Trump’s ruinous presidency.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Most of the media is ignoring the emails found in Hunter Biden’s laptop, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t news.  Joe Biden has an obligation to answer questions about his son’s influence-peddling and his own financial dealings – notably regarding China.

“The New York Post last week obtained the contents of a laptop purported to belong to Hunter. The Post has been transparent that it obtained its copy of the hard drive from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who says he received it from the owner of a Delaware computer-repair shop, where it was abandoned in 2019.  Mr. Biden derides this as a ‘smear campaign,’ while House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff calls it without evidence ‘Russian disinformation.’

“Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe says the government has no intelligence to support the disinformation claim. A repair-shop order from April 2019 contains Hunter’s name and what appears to be his signature. The shop owner supplied a subpoena showing the computer and hard drive were seized by the FBI in December 2019. And the Biden campaign hasn’t said the emails are phony.

“The emails regarding Hunter’s business in Ukraine have been widely reported.  But as intriguing is a May 2017 email thread that includes a discussion about ‘remuneration packages’ for six people as part of a business deal with a now-defunct Chinese energy titan, CEFC China Energy.  The Chinese company was international news a few years ago, after the U.S. government charged a CEFC-funded organization with money laundering, and its CEO was detained by Chinese authorities.  CNN reported in 2018 that ‘at its height’ CEFC was ‘hard to distinguish’ from the Chinese government.

“According to the emails, both Bidens were in line in 2017 to benefit from a deal with CEFC.  One email appears to identify Hunter Biden as ‘Chair/Vice Chair depending on agreement with CEFC.’  It also refers to financial payments in terms of ‘20’ for ‘H’ and ’10 held by H for the big guy?’

“Fox News says it has confirmed the veracity of the email with one of its recipients and that sources say the ‘big guy’ is Joe Biden….The Biden campaign says the Veep’s tax returns don’t show any involvement with Chinese investments….

“Joe Biden ought to clear the air on this China business in his own political interest.  Is he the ‘big guy’ in the email?  What happened with the deal?  China will be one of Mr. Biden’s toughest foreign-policy challenges, and the unexplained documents won’t go away once he’s elected.  If Republicans hold the Senate, you can bet there will be more digging.

“President Trump, as usual, is muddying the story with inappropriate demands that the Department of Justice investigate a potential crime. But the real burden here should be on Mr. Biden and the press.  Perhaps Joe Biden wasn’t involved, and Hunter was using his father’s name to advance his own business interests.  But it’s also possible that Joe Biden was aware of the CEFC business and was unwilling to tell his son that he couldn’t trade on his father’s name and position.

“Whatever the truth, the public deserves better than Mr. Biden’s Trump-like dismissal of the CBS reporter who so far is the only one brave enough to ask about the emails.”

***Well, the Wall Street Journal did some reporting and late on Thursday revealed that one of the partners in the CEFC venture, James Gilliar, a British national, told the paper: “I would like to clear up any speculation that former Vice President Biden was involved with the 2017 discussions about our potential business structure. I am unaware of any involvement at anytime of the former Vice President. The activity in question never delivered any project revenue.”

This statement contradicts that of Anthony Bobulinski, who served as CEO of CEFC and has said that in 2017 Hunter Biden consulted his father about the planned venture, with “10 held by H for the big guy.”

Bobulinski was a guest at Thursday’s debate in Nashville, but didn’t take any questions after his statement confirming the emails or provide further details on any remarks made by Joe Biden.

--Hey, boys and girls…did you know we just had “National Character Counts Week”?

Yes, last weekend we had a proclamation from Donald J. Trump that started out:

“The foundation of any free and virtuous society is the moral character of its people.  Personal responsibility, integrity, and the other values which define our unique American spirit underpin our system of self-government and inspire us to continue working toward a more perfect Union. As we observe National Character Counts Week, we think of the special individuals in our lives who exemplify the character qualities to which we all aspire.  In looking to these examples of honor and virtue, we recognize that character is a learned attribute acquired through consistent, purposeful action, not an inherent trait.  We must resolve to build lives and communities grounded in moral clarity in order to strengthen ourselves, our families, our communities, and our Nation….

“Throughout this week, we recommit to being more kind, loving, understanding, and virtuous.  Together, as one national family, we must serve others with giving and grateful hearts to ensure our Republic remains strong, vibrant, and a beacon of hope for future generations.”

Really, that was a proclamation from Donald J. Trump.  The president then exhibited great character in calling Anthony Fauci an “idiot” and trashing female correspondents.

Next up… “National Infrastructure Week” !!!

--President Trump claimed at a rally on Saturday that his decision to serve as president cost him “two, three, maybe more billions of dollars,” adding he would have had “hotels being built in every city in every country in the world.”

This followed his suggestion the night before in Georgia that if he lost the election, “I’m not going to feel so good.  Maybe I’ll have to leave the country, I don’t know.”

--Trump tweets:

“@Fox News Polls are totally FAKE, just like they were in 2016. I am leading in all of the states mentioned, which you will soon see. I thought Fox was getting rid of its pollster.  Sadly, it never happened!”

“Your 401k’s will crash with Biden.  Massive Biden Tax and Regulation increases will destroy all that you have built! Additionally, 180 Million People will lose their Private Healthcare Plans.”

“Remember, BIDEN is going to raise your taxes at a level never seen before. This will not only be very costly for you, it will destroy our economy, which is coming back very rapidly.”

“Corrupt politician Joe Biden makes Crooked Hillary look like an amateur!”

“Hunter Biden’s laptop is a disaster for the entire Biden family, but especially for his father, Joe.  It is now a proven fact, and cannot be denied, that all of that info is the REAL DEAL. That makes it impossible for ‘50%, or 10%’ Joe, to ever assume the office of the President!”

“I will soon be giving a first in television history full, unedited preview of the vicious attempted ‘takeout’ interview of me by Lesley Stahl of @60Minutes.  Watch her constant interruptions & anger.  Compare my full, flowing and ‘magnificently brilliant’ answers to their ‘Q’s’.”

“Look at the bias, hatred and rudeness on behalf of 60 Minutes and CBS.  Tonight’s anchor, Kristen Welker, is far worse! #MAGA”

“Finally!  Suburban women are flocking over to us. They realize that I am saving the Suburbs – the American Dream! I terminated the Regulation that would bring projects and crime to Suburbia. Not on my watch!  Biden will bring the Regulation back, but bigger and worse.”

“Obama is campaigning for us. Every time he speaks, people come over to our side.  He didn’t even want to endorse Sleepy Joe. Did so long after primaries were over!”

“Really good polling numbers as people realize all that we have done.  Rasmussen Approval Rating, just out, 52%.  Approval Rating in the Republican Party, 96%. Thank you!”

“Dr. Tony Fauci says we don’t allow him to do television, and yet I saw him last night on @60Minutes, and he seems to get more airtime than anybody since the late, great, Bob Hope.  All I ask of Tony is that he makes better decisions. He said ‘no masks & let China in’.  Also, Bad arm!

“…P.S. Tony should stop wearing the Washington Nationals’ Mask for two reasons. Number one, it is not up to the high standards that he should be exposing.  Number two, it keeps reminding me that Tony threw out perhaps the worst first pitch in the history of Baseball!”

“The GREAT Bobby Bowden, one of the best coaches EVER in College Football, on his full recovery from Covid-19 ‘…America is the greatest country this side of heaven. I’ve had a chance to get a lot of wins in my life, but I really wanted to win this one because I wanted….

“….to be around to vote for President Trump.’  Over 300 wins and 2 National Championships. Thank you to Florida State for giving us Bobby Bowden!”

President Trump went after Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, of course, after Sasse spoke rather disparagingly of Trump on a donor call.

“Senator Little Ben Sasse of the Great State of Nebraska seems to be heading down the same inglorious path as former Senators Liddle’ Bob Corker, whose approval rating in Tennessee went from 55% to 4%, & Jeff ‘the Flake’ Flake, whose approval rating in Arizona went from 56% to….

“….practically nothing. Both Senators became totally unelectable, couldn’t come even close to winning their primaries, and decided to drop out of politics and gracefully ‘RETIRE’.  @SenSasse could be next, or perhaps the Republicans should find a new and more viable candidate?

“The least effective of our 53 Republican Senators, and a person who truly doesn’t have what it takes to be great, is Little Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a State which I have gladly done so much to help. @SenSasse was as nice as a RINO can be until he recently won the Republican….

“….Nomination to run for a second term. Then he went back to his rather stupid and obnoxious ways.  Must feel he can’t lose to a Dem.  Little Ben is a liability to the Republican Party, and an embarrassment to the Great State of Nebraska.  Other than that, he’s just a wonderful guy!”

Wall Street and the Economy

Wall Street rose and fell largely on another round of stimulus talks, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying Thursday, after talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, that “It’s close.  It’s close.  And the question is, where will the president be at any given moment?  He’s been all over the map,” she told reporters last night.

President Trump, who has been calling for more stimulus, appeared to cast doubt on a deal on Wednesday by saying he could not see any way for Democrats to agree on a stimulus package.

“There primary focus is BAILING OUT poorly run (and high crime) Democrat cities and states,” Trump tweeted. 

But Thursday, White House officials were fairly optimistic, though nothing will get done without the support of Senate Republicans, many of whom have repeatedly rejected the sort of trillion-dollar-plus packages now under discussion.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said on CNBC he would be “very uncomfortable” with a big aid package, but also acknowledged: “That said, I think the price of not doing something is even higher.”

This afternoon, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that talks are not progressing rapidly and that it will be very hard to reach a deal with Democrats on a relief package before the election.

“It isn’t progressing very rapidly right now. There are key policy differences that still remain,” Kudlow told Fox News.

As for the economic data, we had more bullish housing data, with housing starts, while less than expected for September, still at a strong 1.415 million annualized pace.  September existing home sales were at 6.54 million, better than forecast, and up 21% from a year ago.  The median home price of $311,800, another record, is up a whopping 15% from Sept. 2019.

Separately, the weekly jobless claims figure of 787,000 was better than expected and vs. 842,000 the prior week, but still well above the Great Recession peak of 665,000.

As for third-quarter GDP, which is released next Thursday and will provide a final talking point for President Trump on the campaign trail, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow pegs it at 35.3% annualized.

But as for future quarters, S&P Global said today that the outlook for the U.S. economy is cloudy, weighed by the resurgence of Covid infections and the risk of failing to reach a bipartisan stimulus deal before the election.

“Real-time indicators point to an economy on the mend, but at a decelerating pace as elevated uncertainty about the pandemic and fiscal stimulus tilts risks to the downside for the economic outlook in the fourth quarter and beyond,” S&P said in a note.

“This is in line with our belief that after the U.S. economy took the elevator down and halfway back, the recovery has to take the stairs the rest of the way up,” it added.

On the trade front, China passed a new law restricting sensitive exports to protect national security, allowing Beijing to reciprocate against the U.S. as tensions mount between the sides over trade and technology.

The law, which will apply to all companies in China, was passed Saturday by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and will take effect on Dec. 1.

Under the law, China can take “reciprocal measures” toward countries or regions that abuse export controls and threaten its national security and interests.

Export controls under the law will apply to civilian, military and nuclear products, as well as goods, technologies and services related to national security.  A list of controlled items will be published “in a timely manner.”

The key is the law allows Beijing to retaliate against the U.S., as Washington has attempted to block Chinese technology firms such as telecommunications gear supplier Huawei (see story below), Bytedance’s TikTok app and Tencent’s messaging app WeChat on grounds of posing a national security threat, including the data they may possess from operating in the country.

Companies and individuals who endanger national security by breaching the new export control law, including those outside China, could face criminal charges, as well as hefty fines.

We’ll get an early idea on the law with regards to TikTok, I imagine.

Europe and Asia

We had flash PMI readings on the eurozone (EA19) economy for October today, courtesy of IHS Markit, and the composite number came in at 49.4 (50 the dividing line between growth and contraction), with manufacturing at 54.4, but services just 46.2.

Germany’s flash manufacturing reading was a strong 58.0, a 30-month high, but services were down at 48.9.

France’s flash October manufacturing figure was 51.0, but services were 46.5.

In the UK, manufacturing was 53.3, services 52.4.

Chris Williamson / IHS Markit

“The eurozone is at increased risk of falling into a double-dip downturn as a second wave of virus infections led to a renewed fall in business activity in October.

“The survey revealed a tale of two economies, with manufacturers enjoying the fastest growth since early-2018 as orders surged higher amid rising global demand, but intensifying Covid-19 restrictions took an increasing toll on the services sector, led by weakening demand in the hard-hit hospitality industry.

“The divergence is even starker by country. While Germany is buoyed by its manufacturing sector booming to a degree exceeded only twice in almost 25 years of survey history, the rest of the region has sunk into a deepening downturn.

“While the overall downturn remains only modest, and far slighter than seen during the second quarter, the prospect of a slide back into recession will exert greater pressure on the ECB to add more stimulus and for national governments to help cushion the impact of Covid-19 containment measures, which not only tightened across the region in October but look set to be stepped up further in November.”

Separately, Eurostat released second quarter government debt figures for the euro area, with the figure up to 95.1% of GDP for the euro area, up from 86.3% in Q1, due to the impact of the containment measures as well as policy responses to the coronavirus.

The highest ratios of government debt to GDP at the end of June were recorded in Greece (187.4%), Italy (149.4%), and Portugal (126.1%).

Elsewhere…France (114.1%), Spain (110.1%), Germany (67.4%), and the Netherlands (55.2%).

In the UK, the debt to GDP ratio is up to 96.6%.

All of these figures will continue to worsen.

Brexit: The two sides are struggling to reach a trade agreement, but it does appear there has been some progress.  For example today French President Emmanuel Macron hinted that his country’s fishing industry should prepare for a smaller catch after Brexit, in a sign he is laying the ground for a compromise to help the European Union strike a final deal with the UK.

The EU and Britain have basically now given each other three weeks to avoid damaging $900 billion in annual trade when Britain leaves the bloc’s single market on Jan. 1, fisheries among the biggest obstacles.  Macron has rejected London’s demand for annual negotiations on fish quotas in British waters, saying it damages EU industry, but Macron seems to understand he needs to budge a little.

France has a total of 20,000 fishermen, on top of 10,000 fish processing jobs, and a fourth of France’s catch in the northeastern Atlantic was in British waters, according to the latest survey.   The fishing industry in turn is highly influential politically for Macron.

Any agreement would need to fix catch quotas for over a 100 species.

All seem to be in agreement that if France climbs down just a bit on this key issue, the odds of reaching an overall agreement go up.  EU negotiator Michel Barnier this week was reportedly only interested in the topic of fish, seemingly because the rest would fall into place.

But Macron has to walk the tightrope of appearing tough, while at the same time knowing that even a small reduction could lead to thousands of job losses.

The other big issue remains economic fair play, fair competition standards.

Bottom line is time is short, and you have legal texts to be worked out, and the approval of all 27 EU nations.

One other important issue. Britain is one of Europe’s biggest military powers and it has formally notified the EU of its intention to withdraw from the bloc’s military missions by the end of this year.  The EU has complained about Britain’s refusal to negotiate a new international security and foreign policy pact.

Turning to AsiaChina’s National Bureau of Statistics reported that the economy grew 4.9% in the third quarter (from a year ago) vs. 3.2% in the second quarter, though the figure was lower than expected.  Nonetheless, the 4.9% was the result of rising exports and consumption.

The NBS also reported that retail sales in September were up a solid 3.3% year-over-year, after a 0.5% increase in August, though retail sales remain down 7% the first 9 months of 2020 compared to the same period last year.

Industrial production in September rose 6.9% yoy (vs. August’s 5.6% increase), while fixed-asset investment (airports, rails, roads) was up 0.8% the first 9 months.

In Japan, we had figures on September exports, down 4.9% year-over-year and the 22nd straight month of declines, though this follows six months of double-digit declines.  Imports were down 17.2%.

Exports to the U.S. were up 0.7% in September, and up 14.0% to China.

We also had flash PMI readings for October in Japan, with manufacturing at 47.0 and services 46.6, both remaining firmly in contraction mode, the recession continuing.

Street Bytes

--Stocks broke a three-week winning streak (4 weeks for NASDAQ) amid uncertainty over the stimulus program and the continued resurgence in coronavirus cases.  The Dow finished down 1.0% to 28335, while the S&P 500 lost 0.5% and Nasdaq 1.1%.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 0.11%  2-yr. 0.15%  10-yr. 0.84%  30-yr. 1.64%

The yield on the 10-year hadn’t closed over 0.80% since June.

--Oil stockpiles fell for a second straight week in the U.S., but crude prices also fell about $1 to $39.78 as surging Covid-19 cases stoked worries about further demand destruction in the market.

For the week ended Oct. 16, the Energy Information Administration reported commercial crude stockpiles fell by 1 million barrels to 488.1 million barrels.

Separately, oil rigs operating in the U.S. rose by six this week to 211, according to energy-services firm Baker Hughes.  The rig count has been below 200 until earlier this month.  A year ago, the U.S. had 696 rigs in operation.

--Meanwhile, ConocoPhillips agreed to acquire Concho Resources Inc. for $9.7 billion in what would be the largest U.S. oil deal since the pandemic began roiling global energy markets.

The acquisition gives ConocoPhillips, the largest oil producer in Alaska, a much larger footprint in the hottest oil field in the U.S., the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico.

--The Justice Department accused Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and search advertising in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the government’s most significant challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation and one that could reshape the way consumers interact with the internet.

In the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, the agency accused Google of locking up deals with giant partners like Apple and throttling competition through exclusive business contracts and agreements.

Google’s deals with Apple*, mobile carriers and other handset makers to make its search engine the default option for users accounted for most of its dominant market share in search, the agency said, a figure that most put at around 80 percent.

The agency said in the 57-page complaint: “For many years, Google has used anticompetitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in the markets for general search services, search advertising and general search text advertising – the cornerstones of its empire.”

The lawsuit will no doubt stretch out over years, with other antitrust lawsuits from state attorneys general.

Google called the suit “deeply flawed.”  But the Justice Department’s move signals a new era for the tech sector; reflecting pent-up and bipartisan frustration toward companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, with outsize influence over commerce, search, media and advertising.

Google’s chief legal officer, Kent Walker, said in a blog post: “People use Google because they chose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”

Walker said the lawsuit would do “nothing to help consumers. To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”

In its complaint, the Justice Department said that Google’s actions had hurt consumers by stifling innovation, reducing choice and diminishing the quality of search services, including consumer data privacy.

*The Wall Street Journal reported: “Though Google and Apple have been tight-lipped on how much their deal is worth, the lawsuit projects that it accounts for between 15% and 20% of Apple’s annual profits…

“That means Google pays as much as $11 billion, or roughly one-third of Alphabet’s annual profits, to Apple for pole position on the iPhone.  In return, Apple-originated search traffic adds up to half of Google search volume, the government says.”

--Southwest Airlines Co. on Thursday reported total operating revenue fell to $1.79 billion from $5.64 billion in the year-ago quarter.

“The pandemic persists along with the negative effects on air travel demand,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement.  He urged officials in Washington to extend the government’s Payroll Support Program by six months.  “Absent this extension, we simply cannot afford to continue with the conditions required to maintain full pay and employment.”

The airline expects operating revenue in October to decline 65% to 70% year-over-year.  It expects a 60% to 65% year-over-year revenue decline in November.

As of Sept. 30, the company had about $14.6 billion in cash and short-term investments.

“We are encouraged by modest improvements in leisure passenger traffic trends since the slowdown in demand experienced in July,” Kelly said.  ‘However, until we have widely-available vaccines and achieve herd immunity, we expect passenger traffic and booking trends to remain fragile.”

[After the TSA checkpoint tally for Sunday hit 1,031,505, the first day over 1 million since the pandemic started, 40% of last year’s level, Monday thru Thursday we were back down to 31% to 37% capacity vs. 2019.]

Separately, Southwest said it will sell flights to full capacity starting Dec. 1, instead of its current policy of underselling flights to only 65% capacity to allow middle seats to remain open.

“According to research put forth within the last two weeks by several reputable institutions, all arriving at the same conclusion – the risk of breathing Covid-19 particles on an airplane is virtually non-existent, with the combination of air filtration and face covering requirements,” Gary Kelly said in a statement.

Delta is the last of four largest airlines to not sell the middle seat and it said it won’t do so through Jan. 6.  American and United started selling middle seats months ago.

Airline trade groups and unions have said that planes need to be roughly 75% full for a carrier to break even in a normal price environment.

In the last two weeks, both the Department of Defense’s Transportation Command and the International Air Transport Association released studies saying that the risk of catching Covid-19 during a flight is low if passengers are wearing masks and following other safety guidelines.

IATA says only 44 cases of Covid transmission have been tied directly to flying on a commercial airplane.

--American Airlines posted a net loss of $2.40 billion in the third quarter, compared with a profit of $425 million a year earlier.  Total operating revenue fell to $3.17 billion from $11.91 billion.  The airline expects its cash burn rate to fall to about $25 million to $30 million a day in the fourth quarter from about $44 million per day in the third quarter and $58 million per day in the second. 

American ended the third quarter with $13.6 billion in available liquidity, after securing a total of $7.5 billion in federal loans.  “These funds will be critical as we continue to fight for the future of our company,” American CEO Doug Parker said in a memo to employees.

--Tesla Inc. reported its fifth consecutive quarterly profit, $331 million, on record revenue of $8.8 billion, boosted by an uptick in vehicle deliveries and sales of environmental regulatory credits to other automakers. The electric car maker also affirmed its target to deliver half a million vehicles by the end of this year, a goal that will require it to significantly ramp up vehicle sales in the fourth quarter.

CEO Elon Musk called it “our best quarter in history.”  The company sold 139,593 vehicles in the third quarter, a 53% increase from a year earlier.

Total cash on hand increased to $14.5 billion because of a $5 billion stock sale earlier this year.

Tesla said it had the capacity installed to produce and deliver 500,000 vehicles this year, but added that achieving its goal has become more difficult. [By comparison, GM sold about 660,000 cars in the U.S. in the third quarter alone.]

“Achieving this target depends primarily on quarter over quarter increases in Model Y and Shanghai production,” the company said.

Asked on a conference call with analysts whether Tesla aimed to deliver 840,000 to 1 million vehicles next year based on its factories’ current maximum capacity, CEO Elon Musk responded the target was “in that vicinity.”

Tesla’s market capitalization has become the largest among all global automakers despite the company trailing in sales, revenue and profit.  Virtually all are in agreement that the company is rather richly valued, especially with new competition on the horizon.  General Motors, for example, revealed an electric version of its Hummer pickup truck this week that will compete with Tesla’s futuristic Cybertruck, which is scheduled to go into production next year.  Musk on Wednesday said Cybertruck orders will be delivered in 2022, or toward the end of 2021 at the earliest.

Without the sale of regulatory credits, Tesla would not have reported a profitable quarter.  So far this year, regulatory credits account for $1.18 billion, or 7% of total automotive revenue. As competitors begin selling more electric vehicles, that revenue is expected to dry up.

Tesla is also grappling with quality problems, offering to inspect some Tesla Model Ys prone to losing their roofs to the wind, and to repair bumpers on the Model 3, prone to falling off when they fill with water after rainstorms.

And then today Bloomberg reported Tesla is recalling around 30,000 of its imported Model S and Model X cars in China over suspension problems.  The recalled vehicles were manufactured between Sept. 2013 and Jan. 2018

--Netflix added 2.2 million subscribers in the third quarter, just under its projection of 2.5 million and far lower than the previous quarter’s addition of 10 million subscribers.  The company now has 195.15 million subscribers globally.

Revenue in the third quarter grew 23% to $6.4 billion and net income was up 19% from the same period a year earlier to nearly $790 million.

The company beat analysts’ expectations on sales but missed on net income and new subscribers and the shares fell on the report.

The Los Gatos, Calif., company remains the king of streaming, a dominant player in a sea of rivals including Disney+, Apple TV+ and HBO Max.  Netflix had warned that subscriber growth would slow down in the second half of the year because many consumers had already signed up earlier in response to the pandemic and sheltering at home.

--Procter & Gamble reported its biggest global sales increase in 15 years as consumers spent more to keep their homes and themselves clean during the pandemic.

The maker of Tide detergent and Gillette razors said demand grew for pricier products, such as Swiffer mops and Dawn dish soaps.

P&G said demand in recent months appears driven by a sustained focus on home cleaning and personal hygiene as people remain home more.

“The dynamics associated with this period of economic difficulty are different than in the past,” P&G finance chief Jon Moeller said.  “Large portions of peoples’ budgets are not being spent on travel, leisure and hospitality, which leaves them more money in the budget.”

P&G said organic sales, a measure excluding currency moves, acquisitions and divestitures, rose 9% for the quarter ended Sept. 30 compared with a year earlier.

Interestingly, according to Nielsen, sales of private-label household and personal-care products fell 1% overall in the U.S. for the four-week period ended Oct. 3, a sign that consumers are leaning toward higher-priced, name-brand products.

P&G’s home-care unit, with products like Swiffer, Febreze and Mr. Clean, saw sales jump 30%.

Overall, P&G said net sales for the quarter were $19.3 billion, up 9% versus the prior year.  Net income was $4.31 billion, an increase of 20% year-over-year.

The company raised its guidance for profit gains as well as sales for the fiscal year ending in June 2021.

--Nestle raised its guidance for 2020 organic sales growth to around 3% after beating third-quarter expectations on Wednesday with 4.9% growth driven by strong demand for pet food, coffee and health products.

The world’s biggest food group has weathered the Covid-19 pandemic better than some peers as its focus on high-growth categories helped offset a slump in food sales to restaurants and cafes.

Demand for food and drinks consumed at home remained strong during lockdowns, while sales of products consumed out of home and on the go – about 15% of Nestle’s sales – fell 26.4% in the third quarter.

--Snap Inc.’s stock price surged after the social media company reported quarterly revenue and user growth that topped estimates, fueled by advertisers’ stepped-up spending and consumers’ increased use of their phones for messaging and entertainment during the pandemic.

The Santa Monica company, which makes the Snapchat mobile app for sending disappearing photos and videos, said third-quarter sales rose by 52% to $678.7 million, far exceeding analysts’ estimates.  Snapchat had 249 million daily active users in the quarter.

--Purdue Pharma LP agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges over the handling of its addictive prescription opioid OxyContin, in a deal with U.S. prosecutors that effectively sidestepped paying billions of dollars in penalties and stopped short of criminally charging its executives or wealthy Sackler family owners.

In a far-reaching agreement unveiled Wednesday, Purdue formally admitted to criminal conduct related to distribution of its painkillers and agreed to pay $225 million to resolve Justice Department investigations.  Prosecutors imposed significant penalties exceeding $8 billion against Purdue, though the lion’s share will go largely unpaid.  Purdue agreed to pay $225 million toward a $2 billion criminal forfeiture, with the Justice Department foregoing the rest if the company completes a bankruptcy reorganization dissolving itself and shifting assets to a “public benefit company,” or similar entity, that steers the $1.775 billion unpaid portion to thousands of U.S. communities suing it over the opioid crisis.

A $3.54 billion criminal fine and $2.8 billion civil penalty are likely to receive cents on the dollar as they compete with trillions of dollars of other claims from those communities and other creditors in Purdue’s bankruptcy proceedings, according to court documents.  Members of the billionaire Sackler family who own Purdue agreed to pay a separate $225 million civil penalty for allegedly causing false claims for OxyContin to be made to government healthcare programs such as Medicare.

Neither the Sacklers nor any Purdue executives were criminally charged.  Many in Congress want the company and the Sacklers to face more severe consequences for their alleged roles in the opioid crisis.

OxyContin has been blamed in more than 470,000 deaths in the country since 2000.

“The abuse and diversion of prescription opioids has contributed to a national tragedy of addiction and deaths, in addition to those caused by illicit street opioids,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.

“With criminal guilty pleas, a federal settlement of more than $8 billion, and the dissolution of a company and repurposing its assets entirely for the public’s benefit, the resolution in today’s announcement re-affirms that the Department of Justice will not relent in its multi-pronged efforts to combat the opioids crisis,” he said.

--Goldman Sachs Group Inc. will pay about $2.8 billion while admitting  wrongdoing in breaking U.S. corruption laws to end a bribery probe that stretched from Southeast Asia to Hollywood and reinforced a reputation for scandal that the Wall Street firm has been trying  to shed.

Goldman took $174 million in compensation from executives as well as paying nearly $3 billion to officials in four countries.

The settlement with the Justice Department would resolve an investigation into Goldman’s work for a corrupt Malaysian government fund known as 1MDB.  Prosecutors have accused an international cast of characters – including two Goldman bankers – of embezzling billions of dollars from the fund, with U.S. officials arguing the bank ignored signs of fraud in pursuit of fees.

All in, the 1MDB scandal will cost Goldman more than $5 billion to resolve, but the investment bank will avoid the harshest sanctions that prosecutors had sought and has already accounted for the penalties in its financial reports to shareholders.

As a salve to shareholders, Goldman said Thursday it would cut bonuses for CEO David Solomon and three top lieutenants and claw back millions of dollars in past pay from his predecessor, Lloyd Blankfein, and other departed executives.  “We must always remain open to improvement, learn from our mistakes and accept the consequences when we fail,” Solomon said in a statement.

--Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. reported better-than-expected quarterly comparable sales growth, boosted by a surge in online orders from consumers avoiding dining out, as comp sales rose 8.3% for the third quarter, better than the Street expected.  Revenues rose 14.1% to $1.60 billion overall, with digital sales representing 48.8% of sales.

But profits dropped 18.6%, hurt by higher beef prices, delivery costs and coronavirus-related expenses.  Net income fell to $80.2 million.

--CVS Health said it is hiring 15,000 people to administer Covid-19 tests and flu vaccinations as it prepares for an expected surge in cases this fall and winter.

More than 10,000 of the new hires will be licensed pharmacy technicians who can give Covid-19 tests – and who the company hopes will also be authorized to administer vaccinations.

--Cathay Pacific is slated to ax about 6,000 workers, including 5,900 affiliated with its Dragon brand, in a bid to stay afloat, with most cuts aimed at its Hong Kong workforce.  About 5,000 employees in Hong Kong could be let go, with further layoffs possible in the future depending on the pandemic.

The Cathay group has about 33,000 employees worldwide.  Most other airlines are reducing their workforces by 20-30 percent.

Cathay Pacific is the group’s largest airline, with 132 passenger planes on long-haul routes and serving key Asian cities.  Cathay Dragon (which I’ve flown on and loved) flies primarily to mainland China and other regional destinations.

Cathay Pacific lost a record $1.27 billion in the first six months of the year and continues to burn $240 million a month.  The airline said it would operate at less than half capacity throughout next year compared with pre-crisis levels, underscoring the slow pace of recovery.

--Intel Corp. on Thursday reported adjusted earnings in line with consensus estimates but down from a year earlier, while revenue fell 4% to $18.3 billion from a year ago.  For Q4, the chip maker expects revenue of $17.4 billion.

Intel also said it remains confident in its strategy amid competition for a market fueled by data and the rise of AI, 5G networks and edge computing.

But the shares cratered over 10% today because the company reported a 10% revenue decline for its Data Center Group, which was most severely impacted by a huge 47% drop in its Enterprise & Government subsegment, which had previously reported two consecutive quarters of more than 30% growth, so this was a shocker.

Earlier, Intel reached a deal to sell its flash-memory manufacturing business to South Korea’s SK Hynix Inc. for about $9 billion.  The Intel unit makes NAND flash memory products primarily used in devices such as hard drives, thumb drives and cameras.  The U.S. chipmaker has been weighing getting out of the business for some time, with declining prices for flash memory.

The operations being acquired by SK Hynix generated about $2.8 billion in sales in the first six months of this year, the companies said, which represents the lion’s share of Intel’s overall memory sales.  Hynix will now become one of the world’s largest NAND memory makers, trailing only Samsung Electronics Co.

Intel, best known for making the central processing units at the heart of personal computers, started as a memory manufacturer in the late 1960s before stiff competition from Japan’s burgeoning electronics industry forced the company to change course.

--Swedish regulators on Tuesday banned the use of telecom equipment from China’s Huawei and ZTE in its 5G network ahead of the spectrum auction scheduled for next month.

The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority said the setting of the license conditions followed assessments by the Swedish Armed Forces and the Swedish Security Service.

European governments have been reviewing the role of Chinese companies in building their networks following pressure from the United States, which says they pose a security threat because, among other concerns, Chinese companies and citizens must by law aid the state in intelligence gathering.

The United Kingdom in July ordered Huawei equipment to be purged completely from Britain’s 5G network by 2027, becoming one of the first European countries to do so.

--My in-ground pool manufacturing expert, Brad K., based in New Jersey, said he is frantically building inventory and supplies for what he says will be a stronger 2021 than 2020, which broke records.  The poor guy gets no sleep.

--The pandemic will interrupt 50 years of steadily increasing turkey consumption, threatening to change holiday traditions forever.  It’s a real problem for America’s 2,500 turkey farms, as farmers try to predict demand and processing schedules.  The fear is being stuck with too many big turkeys and not enough small ones.  You also have the issue of processing plant operators and workers’ vulnerability to Covid outbreaks that have ravaged poultry and beef processing plants.

--Europe’s museums are largely open, but there are few visitors.  For example, Amsterdam’s giant Rijksmuseum, which houses galleries of Dutch old master paintings, normally sees 10,000 people crowded into it each day.  Today, it’s about 800.  The Louvre in Paris normally has about 15,000 visitors a day and is now reporting 4,500 to 5,000.

Foreign Affairs

China: In a highly nationalistic speech on Friday marking the 70th anniversary of China’s entry into the Korean war against American forces, President Xi Jinping warned the U.S. that the Chinese military was determined to defeat invaders.

Speaking from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi touted the war to “resist U.S. aggression and aid Korea” from 1950 to 1953 – the only military conflict between China and the United States – as a demonstration of China’s military might against American imperialists.  He also called for moves to expedite the modernization of the country’s defense and armed forces.

“Seventy years ago, the imperialist invaders fired upon the doorstep of a new China,” he said.  “The Chinese people understood that you must use the language that invaders can understand – to fight war with war and to stop an invasion with force, earning peace and respect through victory. The Chinese people will not create trouble but nor are we afraid of them, and no matter the difficulties or challenges we face, our legs will not shake and our backs will not bend.”

Xi stressed that “any country and any army, no matter how powerful they used to be” – a clear jab at the U.S. – would see their actions “battered” if they stood against the international community. He added that China needed to accelerate its military modernization to build a world-class military, and to ensure that the ruling Communist Party maintained “absolute leadership” over the military.

“In today’s world, any unilateralism, protectionism, and ideology of extreme self-interest are totally unworkable, and any blackmailing, blockades and extreme pressure are totally unworkable,” he said.  “Any actions that focus only on oneself and any efforts to engage in hegemony and bullying will simply not work – not only will it not work, but it will be a dead end.”  [South China Morning Post]

Thursday, China threatened to retaliate against the latest U.S. arms sale to Chinese-claimed Taiwan, as the island welcomed the weapons package but said it was not looking to get into an arms race with Beijing.

The Trump administration has ramped up support for Taiwan through arms sales and visits by senior U.S. officials, adding to tensions between Beijing and Washington, already heightened by disagreements over the South China Sea, Hong Kong, human rights and trade.

Beijing has applied increasing pressure on democratically-ruled Taiwan to accept China’s sovereignty, including by flying fighter jets across the sensitive mid-line of the Taiwan Strait.

Russia: Officials said on Tuesday that Russia would be ready to freeze its total number of nuclear warheads if the United States did the same in order to extend their last major arms control treaty by a year.  The offer, so close to the election, would be a small gift to President Trump, as in it wouldn’t move the needle at the polls, but the timing is curious.

The two sides have been negotiating over the fate of the New START Agreement, which is due to expire in February.  The United States last week rejected a Russian offer to unconditionally extend the pact for one year, saying that any proposal that did not envisage freezing all nuclear warheads was a “non-starter.”

New START, signed in 2010, imposes limits on the two countries’ strategic nuclear arsenals.  Extending it would mark a rare bright spot in the fraught relationship between the two countries.

The United States has called for China to be included in a broader treaty that would replace New START, but China has rejected that proposal.

The Trump administration has been pressing Russia to conclude the agreement before the Nov. 3 election to provide Trump with a diplomatic achievement.

Azerbaijan and Armenia: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Azeri and Armenian officials in Washington, D.C., today for talks on ending the conflict, but two Russia-brokered ceasefires have collapsed since fighting broke out on September 27 over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and there were few hopes of a breakthrough.

Afghanistan: Taliban fighters killed at least 37 Afghan government troops in attacks this week in an offensive to overrun Baharak district in the northeastern province of Takhar, prompting government forces to call in air support, and the Taliban claims an air strike targeting fighters hit a religious school, killing children, which the government claims is not correct.

So if you thought the peace talks in Qatar were going smoothly, there has been nothing but rising violence in the country since they started.

Israel/Sudan: The two agreed on Friday to take steps to normalize relations in a deal brokered with the help of the United States.  President Trump sealed the agreement in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Transitional Council Head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.  Trump’s decision this week to remove Sudan from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism paved the way for the accord with Israel.

Netanyahu hailed it as a “new era” for the region, but the Palestinian leadership, watching as more of their Arab brethren appear to give their quest for statehood a lower priority, called it a “new stab in the back,” after recent similar deals with UAE and Bahrain.

Trump, speaking in the Oval Office today, said at least five other countries wanted to follow suit and normalize relations with Israel.

Initially, Israel and Sudan will focus on agriculture and trade.

Lebanon: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is back, Hariri nominated as the country’s next premier a year after he quit the position under pressure from popular protests.  Many Lebanese had sought a complete overhaul of the political system they blame for the deadly Beirut explosion.

President Michel Aoun on Thursday tasked Hariri with forming a new government after a majority of lawmakers backed him.

Hariri vowed to act swiftly. “I am adamant on keeping my promise…by working to stop the collapse that threatens our economy, our society and our security,” he said in a national broadcast.

The last government collapsed in the wake of the explosion in August that tore through the capital, killing about 200 and compounding an existing economic crisis.

Lebanon needs to secure a $10 billion International Monetary Fund bailout and unlock aid that Western leaders have made contingent on political reform.

But Hariri must first name a cabinet, a process that usually takes months of political horse trading.

France: Following the beheading of a teacher in France by a Chechen Islamist, France’s Interior Ministry announced it was preparing to expel 231 foreigners on a government watch list for suspected extremist religious beliefs.  President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government has been under pressure from conservative and far-right parties to take a tougher stance on non-nationals deemed a security threat.

Random Musings

--Presidential poll data….

Gallup: New update…43% approve of President Trump’s job performance, 55% disapprove; 94% of Republicans approve, 35% of independents (Sept. 30-Oct. 15).  Previous splits were 46/52; 94, 39.  The current 35% approval from independents compares with 47% in April.
Rasmussen: 51% approve, 48% disapprove (Oct. 23).

--A new New York Times/Siena College national poll has Joe Biden leading President Trump 50%-41%.

Trump is favored by Men, 48%-42%.

Biden is favored by Women, 58%-35%.

Biden leads among those 65+, 51%-41%.

Trump leads among Whites, 50%-44%.

Biden leads among Nonwhites, 66%-22%.

Independents go for Biden 46%-37%.

Biden leads Trump by 12 points on who is best to lead the coronavirus issue.

--In the battleground states, a University of North Florida poll puts Biden up just one point over Trump there, with Trump rising five percent from earlier this month in the same survey.

Biden is up just one percent in a Washington Post/ABC News poll of North Carolina registered voters.

CNN polling for 10 swing states has Biden up a statistically significant amount in Pennsylvania (52 to 43 percent), Michigan and Wisconsin (both 51 to 43 percent).

In Iowa, Georgia, Ohio and North Carolina, it’s much closer – with Biden either tied or up by a couple percentage points. Texas remains Trump territory, the president leading Biden by four points (49 to 45 percent).

Then, Thursday, in new CNN / SSRS polls of likely voters, Biden leads Trump in Florida 50-46, within the margin of error, but Biden leads by ten points in Pennsylvania, 53-43 percent.

In a Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters in Texas, Trump and Biden are tied at 47-47 percent.  This compares to a Sept. 24 poll that had Trump ahead 50-45.

Among those who will vote in person on Election Day, 62 percent support Trump and 32 percent support Biden.

Among those who are voting by mail or absentee ballot, 63 percent say they support Biden and 31 percent support Trump.

Yup, President Trump could have pretty sizable initial leads the night of the election, but that will change significantly as mail-in ballots are counted.

In Pennsylvania, Quinnipiac found Biden has a 51-43 percent lead over Trump.  Same thing here as in Texas.

Among those who are voting in person on Election Day, it’s 63-32 Trump.

Among those voting by mail or absentee ballot, Biden gets 79 percent while Trump only receives 13 percent.

A series of Reuters/Ipsos polls of likely voters found that Biden leads Trump in Pennsylvania 49-45 percent.

In Wisconsin, Biden leads 51-43. In Florida, Biden and Trump are essentially tied, 49 percent for Biden, 47 percent for Trump.

In Arizona, Reuters/Ipsos has Biden ahead 50-46.  In Michigan, Biden leads 51-43.  In North Carolina, Biden edges Trump 48-47.

And we had some Fox News battleground surveys…Biden leading 52-40 in Michigan, 50-45 in Pennsylvania, and 49-44 percent in Wisconsin.

Trump leads in Ohio but just by 48-45.

Biden trounces Trump among suburban women: Michigan +35, Ohio +18, Pennsylvania +29, and Wisconsin +21.

--Former President Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail on Wednesday in Philadelphia with a blistering attack on Donald Trump.  Speaking at a drive-in rally on behalf of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Obama took aim at Trump’s divisive rhetoric, his track record in the Oval Office and his habit of re-tweeting conspiracy theories.

“With Joe and Kamala at the helm, you’re not going to have to think about the crazy things they said every day,” Obama said.  “And that’s worth a lot.  You’re not going to have to argue about them every day. It just won’t be so exhausting.”

“You’ll be able to go about your lives knowing that the president is not going to retweet conspiracy theories about secret cabals running the world or that Navy seals didn’t kill bin Laden,” Obama continued, referring to posts Trump recently retweeted on Twitter.

“That’s not normal presidential behavior.  We wouldn’t tolerate it from a high school principal.  We wouldn’t tolerate it from a coach. We wouldn’t tolerate it from a coworker.  We wouldn’t tolerate it in our family, except for maybe a crazy uncle somewhere.”

Obama blasted Trump for his handling of the coronavirus, nothing that the president himself had fallen victim to the virus.

“Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us,” he said.  “He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself.”

“This is not a reality show. This is reality,” Obama said.  “And the rest of us have had to live with the consequences of him proving himself incapable of taking the job seriously.”

Obama warned Democrats against complacency.

“We’ve got to turn out like never before,” he said.  “We cannot leave any doubt in this election.”

Rich Lowry / New York Post

“Joe Biden is the most cosseted presidential candidate in memory.

“He has run a minimalist campaign that has avoided the press as much as possible, while the press hasn’t been baying for more access and answers, but eager to avoid anything that could be discomfiting to the campaign.

“Never before have the media been so openly fearful of asking or reporting something that might hurt a presidential candidate.  What are supposed to be the animating values of our adversarial press – informing the public, getting answers, holding the powerful to account – have all been subordinated to the protection racket that is coverage of Joe Biden

“Even the lowest common denominator of news – simply being interesting – has been tossed aside.  Boring and uneventful is the new newsworthy.  This presumably isn’t how they teach it in journalism school, but no one has had trouble adjusting.

“The tendency reached a new level in the media’s handling of New York Post reports on e-mails obtained from a laptop that Hunter Biden reportedly left off at a Delaware repair shop.

“Here was a story with enough mysteries and plotlines to keep a couple of newsrooms busy.  Are the e-mails, putting Hunter Biden’s sleazy overseas business dealings in a more sinister light, legitimate?  Did Hunter really take the laptop to the shop and forget about it?  And, more important, what do the e-mails say about what Joe Biden knows or should have known about Hunter’s work that depended so heavily on proximity to the vice president?

“Instead, the press has been uninterested at best and hostile at worst.  It’s the opposite of a feeding frenzy.  The media have deployed their bomb-disposal unit for fear that a potentially explosive story might detonate.

“What Biden has to say about the e-mails is inherently of interest.  Yet he wasn’t asked about it at his ABC News town hall last week.  Never mind that his response would have made headlines afterward and the clip would have been shown in every TV segment about the debate.

“Subsequently, CBS reporter Bo Erickson betrayed his profession by asking Biden his response to The Post story on a tarmac. He got slammed by Biden: ‘I have no response, it’s another smear campaign, right up your alley, those are the questions you always ask.’

“No one rallied to Erickson’s defense.  Instead, respectable figures on the center-left shamed Erickson for having asked a politician an unwelcome question – which the day before yesterday would have been considered Journalism 101….

“Usually, the media love candidates who make good copy, who provide drama and color.  In its hatred and fear of President Trump, though, reporters have thrown in their lot with the dull and meandering Biden, bringing to the effort all the complacency and pointed incuriosity they can muster.”

--Stuart Stevens, Reed Galen, Steve Schmidt and Rick Wilson / Washington Post [the four being co-founders of the Lincoln Project]

“This is for the many men and women in Washington with whom we have worked over the past 30-plus years. Some of you hold elected office. Some are officials in the Trump administration.  Many of you are members of the consultant and lobbyist class.

“In two weeks, the most consequential election of our generation will come, and your time for choosing will arrive. As Republicans, will you stand with President Trump, or will you stand with, and stand up for, America?  Will you protect democracy or protect a single person and his family?

“We’re not merely talking about your vote.

“We’re talking about what comes next.

“Never before in U.S. history has an incumbent president refused in advance to accept the outcome of an election. In the days ahead, your party may call upon you to support efforts by a White House that refuses to transfer power after a loss at the polls. The weapons won’t be tanks but thousands of lawyers backed by an attorney general who works for the president, not the people.

“This effort will succeed only if a Republican Party power structure offers blind allegiance to one man instead of the republic. Every Republican elected official, staffer, consultant, operative and sympathizer will face a choice: my party or my country?

“To do nothing is a choice.  Passivity may seem easy at first. Soon, though, what you’ll be asked to do to remain in favor will surpass your moral boundaries. By then, it will be too late.

“And, by then, it will be anything but easy.  Remember why you came to Washington.  You came to serve, whether as an intern, young staffer or the most senior official in a government, with great hope and idealism.  With time, all passions cool, but we hope that you have not, at your core, lost the beliefs that first brought you to the nation’s capital.

“Trump, though, was never in anyone’s plan.  From the moment he descended the golden escalator, you’ve seen him for what he is: a boor, incapable and unfit for office.  His victory was an unwelcome shock.  The Washington – the nation – you knew would soon be gone – none of us knew just how far gone.

“Since taking office, Trump’s behavior has deteriorated.  His contempt for the laws, traditions, rules and norms became breathtakingly evident.  Hushed conversations over lunches and dinners became recitations of his latest outrage. But what did you about it?  Nothing.

“You know what Republican elected officials have said about Trump behind closed doors from the start because you are often – maybe always – behind those doors.  You’ve seen the haunted look in a colleague’s or a boss’s eyes after a meeting with the unstable, unfit man who is our president.  You know in your heart that Trump should not be president for another day.

“We understand what we are asking: to choose between doing what’s best for the country and doing what’s best for your bank account. Many of you have ‘kept your powder dry,’ waiting for the right moment to say or do something – preserving all the while the little transactional encounters that can mean the difference between failure and success.

“We know what you stand to lose from taking a stand.  Your phone calls and texts may go unreturned. The receptions, parties and dates on the social calendar may be outside your reach.  You may be ostracized.  You may lose business.

“And it will be worth it.

“To believe that your life or your business will continue as you’ve known them during four more years of the current administration is to close your eyes.  You know what Trump is doing to the country you love.

“As conservatives, we long argued that culture was the soul of America. We were right, but it is Trump who now assaults our nation’s soul.

“The time for choosing is at hand.  Will you choose a republic or an autocracy? ….

“In war and peace, Americans have displayed unparalleled courage in the face of evil and injustice.  It doesn’t take courage to stand up to Trump; it takes courage to stand up for your country.  That is the legacy we inherited and are called to defend.

“That is the choice.  America or Trump?  Now is the time to stand with the country you love.”

--Retired Navy admiral William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, 2011-14 / Wall Street Journal

“In their 1998 book, ‘A World Transformed,’ George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft recount the events that fundamentally changed the world during the Bush presidency. At the end of the last chapter Bush observes: ‘The importance of American engagement has never been higher.  If the United States does not lead, there will be no leadership…If we fail to live up to our responsibilities, if we shirk the role that only we can assume, if we retreat from our obligation to the world in indifference, we will one day pay the highest price once again for our neglect and shortsightedness.’

“For all the challenges the past 20 years brought on this country – for all the loss, the heartache, the hubris and the errant decisions – in times of crisis, the world still looked to America to lead. They believed that in spite of our political differences, our domestic turmoil, the ugliness of our democratic process and some bad decisions, America in the end would do the right thing. That we would stand up to tyranny, lift up the downtrodden, free the oppressed, and fight for the righteous.

“Now, the world no longer looks up to America.  They have been witness to our dismissiveness, our lack of respect and our transactional approach to global issues.  They have seen us tear up our treaties, leave our allies on the battlefield and cozy up to despots and dictators.  They have seen our incompetence in handling the pandemic and the wildfires. They have seen us struggle with social injustice. They no longer think we can lead, because they have seen an ineptness and a disdain for civility that is beyond anything in their memory. But, without American leadership the world will indeed be transformed, just not in the way we hope.

“This could all change in November.

“We need a president who understands the importance of American leadership, at home and abroad.  We need a leader of integrity whose decency and sense of respect reflects the values we expect from our president.  We need a president for all Americans, not just half of America.

“This week I went to the polls in Texas.  Truth be told, I am a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, small-government, strong-defense and a national-anthem-standing conservative.  But, I also believe that black lives matter, that the Dreamers deserve a path to citizenship, that diversity and inclusion are essential to our national success, that education is the great equalizer, that climate change is real and that the First Amendment is the cornerstone of our democracy. Most important, I believe that America must lead in the world with courage, conviction and a sense of honor and humility.

“If we remain indifferent to our role in the world, if we retreat from our obligation to our citizens and our allies and if all fail to choose the right leader, then we will pay the highest price for our neglect and shortsightedness.

“I voted for Joe Biden.”

--Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions for the first time as pontiff while being interviewed for the feature-length documentary “Francesco,” which premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival.

“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film.  “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”

While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages.  However, he had never come out publicly in favor of civil unions as pope.

--Finally, congratulations to NASA and the spectacular Osiris-Rex spacecraft for its audacious tag-and-go maneuver designed to grab surface rock from an asteroid, Bennu, a 500m-wide (1/3rd of a mile) object.

The spacecraft was launched four years ago and made contact with Bennu some 200 million miles from Earth.

This is amazing, but if the mission was deemed successful, i.e., picked up a significant enough sample, Osiris-Rex will then begin a long journey home that, if successful, would find it landing in the Utah desert in September 2023.

---

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

God bless America.

---

Gold $1903
Oil $39.78

Returns for the week 10/19-10/23

Dow Jones  -1.0%  [28335]
S&P 500  -0.5%  [3465]
S&P MidCap  +0.9%
Russell 2000  +0.4%
Nasdaq  -1.1%  [11548]

Returns for the period 1/1/20-10/23/20

Dow Jones  -0.7%
S&P 500  +7.3%
S&P MidCap  -2.3%
Russell 2000  -1.7%
Nasdaq  +28.7%

Bulls  59.2…nearing danger level again
Bears
20.4

Hang in there…Mask up, wash your hands.

Brian Trumbore