|Articles||Go Fund Me||All-Species List||Hot Spots||Go Fund Me|
|Web Epoch NJ Web Design | (c) Copyright 2016 StocksandNews.com, LLC.|
For the week 11/27-12/1
[Posted 5:00 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.
Editorial / New York Post
“Good lord, President Biden’s decline is painful to watch: On Wednesday, he humiliated himself multiple times over the course of a paint-by-numbers speech.
“He dropped into Pueblo, Colo., to tout what the White House says is the world’s largest wind-tower factory, aiming to take credit for creating ‘good, green jobs’ and so bolster his subterranean polls on the economy.
“But he couldn’t stop himself from ad-libbing disastrously.
“He opened with a failed joke about the nuclear ‘football’ – introducing himself to workers by announcing, ‘Now look, my Marine carries that, but it has the code to blow up the world,’ before pointing to the machinery and mock-asking, ‘This is not nuclear weapons, is it?’
“He followed with some ‘senior moment’ borderline-racism: Addressing the South Korean corporate plant owners, he bragged, ‘I am friends with your leader, Mr. Moon, you know’ – plainly meaning Moon Jae-in, who exited as South Korea’s prez last year.
“And Biden has since honored the current president of that land, Yoon Suk Yeol, at a White House state dinner in April, among other meetings at summits and so on.
“Other lowlights included a reference to ‘Congressman Trump’ and referring to Deng Xiaoping (who died in 1997) ‘in the Himalayas’ in a story he’s previously told as featuring Xi Jinping, China’s current prez.
“Biden’s staff already keeps him out of the public eye as much as possible, but at this rate he’s going to have to run for re-election without making any campaign stops at all: He was terrible months ago, and will only get worse.
“Already, pols show that most Democrats want another candidate, but the party establishment won’t budge.
“And any voter doubting he can possibly make it through a second term will take a quick look at (or, worse, hear) Kamala Harris and figure out if they can go Republican, third-party or move to another country.
“Democrats, wake up: You’re doing neither the nation nor your party any good by sticking with this man, and it’s cruel to him.
“Thank him for his service and find a candidate who can pass an elementary sniff-test.”
And then there’s the other side…the presumed GOP candidate.
Robert Kagan, editor at large at the Washington Post and one of the better opinion writers of the past few decades, has a 12-page essay titled “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending.”
Just a brief excerpt:
“Let’s stop the wishful thinking and face the stark reality: There is a clear path to dictatorship in the United States, and it is getting shorter every day. In 13 weeks, Donald Trump will have locked up the Republican nomination. In the RealClearPolitics poll averages (for the period from Nov. 9 to 20), Trump leads his nearest competitor by 47 points and leads the rest of the field combined by 27 points. The idea that he is unelectable in the general election is nonsense – he is tied or ahead of President Biden in all the latest polls – stripping other Republican challengers of their own stated reasons for existence. The fact that many Americans might prefer other candidates, much ballyhooed by such political sages as Karl Rove, will soon become irrelevant when millions of Republican voters turn out to choose the person whom no one allegedly wants….
“Like people on a riverboat, we have long known there is a waterfall ahead but assume we will somehow find our way to shore before we go over the edge. But now the actions required to get us to shore are looking harder and harder, if not downright impossible….
“Establishment Republicans have made no secret of their hope that Trump will be convicted and thus removed from the equation without their having to take a stand against him.
“All this will end once Trump wins Super Tuesday. Votes are the currency of power in our system, and money follows, and by those measures, Trump is about to become far more powerful than he already is. The hour of casting about for alternatives is closing. The next phase is about people falling in line….
“A paralyzing psychology of appeasement has (been) at work. At each stage, the price of stopping Trump has risen higher and higher. In 2016, the price was forgoing a shot at the White House. Once Trump was elected, the price of opposition, or even the absence of obsequious loyalty, became the end of one’s political career, as Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Paul D. Ryan and many others discovered. By 2020, the price had risen again. As Mitt Romney recounts in McKay Coppins’ recent biography, Republican members of Congress contemplating voting for Trump’s impeachment and conviction feared for their physical safety and that of their families. There is no reason that fear should be any less today. But wait until Trump returns to power and the price of opposing him becomes persecution, the loss of property and possibly the loss of freedom. Will those who balked at resisting Trump when the risk was merely political oblivion suddenly discover their courage when the cost might be the ruin of oneself and one’s family?
“We are closer to that point today than we have ever been, yet we continue to drift toward dictatorship, still hoping for some intervention that will allow us to escape the consequences of our collective cowardice, our complacent, willful ignorance and, above all, our lack of any deep commitment to liberal democracy. As the man said, we are going out not with a bang but a whimper.”
Editorial / The Economist
“For the first time since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, he looks as if he could win. Russia’s president has put his country on a war footing and strengthened his grip on power. He has procured military supplies abroad and is helping turn the global south against America. Crucially, he is undermining the conviction in the West that Ukraine can – and must – emerge from the war as a thriving European democracy.
“The West could do a lot more to frustrate Mr. Putin. If it chose, it could deploy industrial and financial resources that dwarf Russia’s. However, fatalism, complacency and a shocking lack of strategic vision are getting in the way, especially in Europe. For its own sake as well as Ukraine’s, the West urgently needs to shake off its lethargy.
“The reason a Putin victory is possible is that winning is about endurance rather than capturing territory. Neither army is in a position to drive out the other from the land they currently control. Ukraine’s counter-offensive has stalled. Russia is losing over 900 men a day in the battle to take Avdiivka, a city in the Donbas region. This is a defenders’ war, and it could last many years.
“However, the battlefield shapes politics. Momentum affects morale. If Ukraine retreats, dissent in Kyiv will grow louder. So will voices in the West saying that sending Ukraine money and weapons is a waste. In 2024 at least, Russia will be in a stronger position to fight, because it will have more drones and artillery shells, because its army has developed successful electronic-warfare tactics against some Ukrainian weapons and because Mr. Putin will tolerate horrific casualties among his own men.
“Increasing foreign support partly explains Russia’s edge on the battlefield. Mr. Putin has obtained drones from Iran and shells from North Korea. He has worked to convince much of the global south that it has no great stake in what happens to Ukraine. Turkey and Kazakhstan have become channels for goods that feed the Russian war machine….
“Mr. Putin is also winning because he has strengthened his position at home. He now tells Russians, absurdly, that they are locked in a struggle for survival against the West. Ordinary Russians may not like the war, but they have become used to it. The elite have tightened their grip on the economy and are making plenty of money….
“Faced with all this, no wonder the mood in Kyiv is darker. Politics has returned, as people jostle for influence. Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, and Valery Zaluzhny, its most senior general, have fallen out. Internal polling suggests that corruption scandals and worries about Ukraine’s future have dented Mr. Zelensky’s standing with voters.
“Western governments insist they are as committed to Ukraine as ever. But polls around the world suggest that many doubt it… If Donald Trump is elected president, having promised peace in short order, America could suddenly stop supplying weapons altogether.
“Europe should be preparing for that dire possibility – and for American help to slow, whoever is in the White House. Instead, European leaders are carrying on as if munificent Joe Biden will always be in charge. The European Union has promised Ukraine ($56 billion), but the money is being held up by Hungary and, possibly, a budgetary mess in Germany… You would think a Trump presidency would galvanize support for Ukraine, as Europe took responsibility for its own defense. One leader privately predicts that support will in fact fragment.
“That would be a disaster….
“Europe must, therefore, plan for Mr. Putin as the main long-term threat to its security. Russia will rearm. It will have combat experience. Planning for Europe’s defense should be designed to prevent Mr. Putin from sensing weakness on its flank – especially if he doubts a President Trump’s willingness to fight should a NATO country be attacked.”
Henry Kissinger, whose passing I discuss in depth below, once said:
“The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.”
Israel / Gaza War…day by day…
Going back to last Friday…when I posted I was able to say Hamas released 24 hostages, 13 Israelis, 10 Thais and a Filipino. Israel released 39 Palestinians. I wrote 33 because I posted before all the final details were available.
Saturday…Hamas released 17 hostages, including 13 Israelis, while Israel freed another 39 Palestinian prisoners.
Sunday…the fragile ceasefire was back on track as Hamas freed 17 more hostages, including 14 Israelis. The Israeli hostages ranged in age from 4 to 84 and included Abigail Edan, a 4-year-old girl whose parents were killed in the Oct. 7 attack. In all, nine children ages 17 and younger were on the list.
Separately, Hamas said it had released one of the Russian hostages it was holding, “in response to the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin” and as a show of appreciation for Moscow’s position on the war. It was apparently an Israeli-Russian dual national.
Israel then freed 39 Palestinian prisoners later Sunday.
So in the first three days, 40 Israelis, 17 Thais, and the Filipino. The Russian was not part of the negotiations.
Monday, Qatar’s foreign ministry said that the truce had been extended by two days, which under the original agreement dictated that Hamas could buy a 24-hour extension for every ten further hostages it releases.
Hamas has an obvious incentive to play for time: a longer pause gives its commanders more time to regroup for the inevitable resumption in the Israeli offensive.
Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, has said the fighting will continue “with intensity” for at least a further two months once the truce ends. Israeli troops will not only move into parts of the north of Gaza they have yet to enter, but it will turn its attention to southern Gaza, where no doubt the bulk of Hamas’ force is, let alone an area now even more densely packed with civilians.
--Prime Minister Netanyahu visited the Gaza Strip, Sunday, the first Israeli head of state to travel to Gaza in two decades, where he spoke with troops and was shown Hamas tunnels.
“We are making every effort to return our hostages, and at the end of the day we will return every one,” he said, adding that “we are continuing until the end, until victory. Nothing will stop us.”
Hamas announced that one of its top commanders had been killed, without saying when or how. Israel’s military confirmed the death.
Monday was then the fourth exchange – the last day of the ceasefire during which a total of 50 hostages and 150 prisoners were to be freed. All have been women and minors.
Eleven hostages were released including 3 French, 2 Germans and 6 Argentinians dual nationals, in exchange for 33 Palestinian prisoners.
One of the Israeli hostages, an 84-year-old woman, is fighting for her life after not receiving vital medication while in Hamas captivity. Another, 78-year-old Ruti Munder, told Israeli news on Monday that supplies are dwindling among the remaining captives. At first, they ate “chicken with rice, all sorts of canned food and cheese.” But more recently, “the economic situation was not good, and people were hungry,” she said.
The Netanyahu government is facing a growing movement to secure the release of hostages first, before resuming fighting.
The Biden government is also under unrelenting pressure over Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, especially from the political left in his own party. The hostage releases not only gives him a chance to declare victory on this issue, it also provides a several-day respite in Israel’s onslaught – and the opportunity to say his early embrace of Netanyahu is paying dividends.
But after Abigail Edan, there were still another nine Americans who are unaccounted for, including whether all are alive.
The fragile true then held for a fifth day, Tuesday, as Israel said 10 of its citizens and two foreigners were freed by Hamas, and 30 Palestinians were later released by the Israelis (15 women and 15 minors).
Mediators, including CIA Director William Burns, met in Qatar to try to extend the ceasefire beyond Wednesday. For the first time since it began, Israel and Hamas traded accusations of a serious violation with an exchange of fire between troops and militants in northern Gaza.
Israel has vowed to resume the war with “full force” to destroy Hamas once it’s clear that no more hostages will be freed under the deal.
The Biden administration has told Israel it must avoid “significant further displacement” and mass casualties among Palestinian civilians if it resumes the offensive, and that it must operate with more precision in southern Gaza than it has in the north.
With the releases Tuesday, Hamas and other militants are still holding about 160 hostages out of the 240 seized in the Oct. 7 assault.
Wednesday, Hamas released 16 hostages, including 10 Israeli women and children and four Thai nationals. Two Russian-Israeli women were freed by Hamas in a separate deal. Israel released another 30 Palestinian prisoners.
Thursday, another eight Israelis were released, bringing the totals freed during the truce to 105 hostages (at least 75 Israelis, including dual nationals, most of the others being Thais, who are farm workers) and 240 Palestinian prisoners.
After the last exchange, 145 hostages are still believed held in Gaza. It is not yet known how many of them are dead or are soldiers, though Israel has used “several dozen” to describe the number of IDF members. Israel was incensed that some women and children that were to be released have not as yet.
--The seven-day truce then came to an abrupt end on Friday, as Israel resumed fighting after shooting down a rocket launched from the enclave. The Israeli military also dropped leaflets over Khan Younis, the most northerly big city in southern Gaza, warning residents to move further south. Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed that Hamas had reneged on the terms of the truce by failing to release some of the agreed-upon hostages. Hamas accused Israel of breaking its commitment to allow fuel trucks into Gaza.
“With the resumption of fighting we emphasize: The Israeli government is committed to achieving the goals of the war – to free our hostages, to eliminate Hamas, and to ensure that Gaza will never pose a threat to the residents of Israel,” the office of the prime minister said in a statement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Israel Thursday for his third visit since the war began, said he told Netanyahu that Israel cannot repeat in south Gaza the massive civilian casualties and displacement of residents it inflicted in the north.
Negotiations to broker another pause in the fighting continued.
It didn’t help that two Palestinian attackers opened fire at a bus stop during the morning rush hour on Thursday at the entrance to Jerusalem, killing at least three people and wounding eight others.
The shooters, killed at the scene, were brothers from East Jerusalem. Hamas then claimed responsibility.
Fighting also resumed at the Israeli-Lebanon broder, Hezbollah saying two of its fighters were among three victims of shelling from Israel. Hezbollah claimed it carried out several attacks on Israeli border positions.
--Turkish President Erdogan and Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi discussed on a call on Sunday the importance of Muslim countries, especially Turkey and Iran, taking a common stance against “Israeli brutality in the Palestinian territories.”
“Israel’s unlawful attacks on Gaza, humanitarian aid efforts for Palestinians and possible measures towards a permanent ceasefire in the region were discussed during the phone call,” the Turkish Presidency said in a statement.
--The humanitarian crisis continued, despite some aid finally getting in. The number of trucks entering Gaza is still less than half the daily average. An estimated 1.7-1.8 million people are internally displaced (out of a pre-war population of 2.3 million), most of them crammed into the southern half of the Gaza Strip.
More than 60% of homes across the Gaza Strip have been destroyed in the Israeli response, according to a UN-led aid group (PDF), which called the destruction “so extensive and widespread that there are, at a minimum, serious concerns regarding possible breaches of international humanitarian law.”
The World Health Organization said that untreated diseases could eventually kill more people in Gaza than bombings if the health system is not restored.
Diarrhea and respiratory infections are widespread among children in overcrowded UN facilities, where almost 1.1 million people are sheltering.
Patients with chronic illnesses like cancer are also receiving no treatment.
--Israeli forces operating in the occupied West Bank killed at least eight Palestinians, including at least one militant, in a 24-hour period, Palestinian health officials said Sunday.
Five of the eight were killed in the militant stronghold of Jenin, while the other three were killed in separate areas of the West Bank. The Israeli military said it killed five Palestinians in a gunbattle during an operation in the Jenin refugee camp, where it was arresting a Palestinian suspected of killing an Israeli father and son at a West Bank car wash earlier in the year.
Conversely, Palestinian militants in the West Bank said they had killed two men accused of collaborating with Israeli authorities and hung their bodies up as a warning, underlining growing fears of increased radicalization as the war continues.
A statement from the Tulkarm Brigades, a group based in the West Bank city of Tulkarm that is associated with the Fatah faction, said there was “no immunity for any informant or traitor.”
“We are on the lookout for him and we will hold him accountable,” it said, referring to any such person.
Footage shared on the Tulkarm Brigades Telegram channel showed a man apparently confessing to working with Israeli security services and providing details of his activities.
Other footage, which could not be verified, showed two dead bodies and bodies hung from a wall and an electricity pylon in front of angry crowds.
--Israeli officials obtained Hamas’ battle plan for the Oct. 7 terrorist attack more than a year before it happened, documents, emails and interviews show. But Israeli military and intelligence officials dismissed the plan as aspirational, considering it too difficult for Hamas to carry out.
The approximately 40-page document, which Israeli authorities code-named “Jericho Wall,” outlined, point by point, exactly the kind of devastating invasion that led to the deaths of about 1,200 people.
The document, reviewed by the New York Times, did not set a date for the attack, but Hamas “followed the blueprint with shocking precision.”
As many are saying, exactly like the U.S. in the days leading up to 9/11, the ignoring of intelligence, the failure to use one’s imagination, as the 9/11 commission later noted.
This Week in Ukraine….
--Russia launched its biggest drone attack on Kyiv since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the city’s mayor said.
Residents were woken by explosions before dawn last Saturday, and for more than six hours, the booms of Kyiv’s air defenses echoed through the city.
The video of wave after wave of attacks is gripping. Officials said more than 75 Iranian-made Shahed drones were fired at the capital and all but one were shut down.
But while the drones are intercepted, the falling debris can be lethal too. No deaths were reported, but at last five were injured and numerous buildings were damaged from both the debris and fires set. Thousands were without power.
President Zelensky also noted that the attack came on the same day that Ukraine commemorates the 1932-1933 Holodomor famine – brought on by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin – which killed several million Ukrainians.
--Russia was then targeted the following day in the biggest drone attack in months. The Russian Defense Ministry reported 20 drones shot down overnight Saturday and early Sunday across at least four regions, including Moscow.
--The British military says Russia has suffered more dead and wounded troops over the last six weeks than just about any other point in the war so far. “Previously, the deadliest reported month for Russia was March 2023 with an average of 776 losses per day, at the height of Russia’s assault on Bakhmut,” the Brits said on social media on Monday. But “Throughout November 2023, Russian casualties, as reported by the Ukrainian General Staff, are running at a daily average of 931 per day.”
--“It’s inaccurate to suggest that Russia is winning the war,” Michael Kofman of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Wall Street Journal on Monday. However, “The material advantages in 2024 are principally on Russia’s side, but they don’t appear decisive enough that Russia will be able to achieve its political aims.”
--NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg urged members of the alliance on Tuesday to “stay the course” in supporting Ukraine as both the United States and European Union struggle to agree on further military aid.
“It’s our obligation to ensure that we provide Ukraine with the weapons they need,” Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“We just have to stay the course. This is also about our security interests,” the secretary general said.
His remarks came as the fate of a $60 billion U.S. military aid package proposed by the Biden administration is in limbo due to opposition from some Republicans in Congress.
Stoltenberg added: “Even though the frontline has not moved so much, the Ukrainians have been able to inflict heavy losses on the Russian forces.”
But, according to pollsters with the European Council on Foreign Relations, “Most people in non-Western countries want Russia’s war on Ukraine to end as soon as possible, even if it means Kyiv ceding territory,” the council wrote about two weeks ago.
--According to the Washington Post, several Chinese businesses are supposedly working with Russia to plan an underwater tunnel linking Russia with occupied Crimea. The allegations come from emails Ukrainian intelligence says were intercepted, including correspondence between apparent Chinese and Russian officials just last month.
Of course this would take years and years to complete, and would require a great deal of protection from the Russian military and navy.
--Defense One and the AP report that phone calls from Russia soldiers that were intercepted show they desperately want out of Ukraine. “It is hard to say how representative these calls are of sentiment in Russia’s armed forces, but their desperation is matched by a spike in legal cases against soldiers in Russia who refuse to fight,” AP writes.
Russian women are increasingly demanding their husbands and sons return from occupying Ukraine, the New York Times reported Monday. “The women and the government officials have been involved in a delicate dance, with the protesters trying not to trigger [counter-demonstration] laws while the authorities seek to avoid hauling the relatives of active duty soldiers off to jail.”
--Meanwhile, as I noted last week in the case of Finland, Russia is trying to create another migrant crisis in Europe, Estonia now part of the situation where Russia is feeding migrants largely from Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan into these countries, after doing so in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia less than two years ago. And no surprise, the biggest surge in asylum seekers since the 2015-16 migrant crisis is fueling support for far-right and anti-immigrant parties, which the Wall Street Journal duly notes is “potentially reshaping European politics for years.”
Vlad the Impaler is just sitting back, with that Cheshire-cat grin.
--The wife of the head of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency was poisoned with heavy metals, according to Babel, a Ukrainian news website. Marianna Budanova, who is married to Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov, the country’s spy chief, was taken to hospital. Reports say that she consumed the poison in her food, and that other employees were also taken ill.
--Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, who was supposed to be near death months ago, said he is ready to send another 3,000 fighters to fight alongside Russia in Ukraine.
This is on top of the 26,000 he has sent since the beginning of the war, though not all are in the field.
--A Russian general has been killed after being blown up on a mine in Ukraine, several pro-Kremlin sources say, apparently on Wednesday.
Maj-Gen Vladimir Zavadsky, 45, was deputy commander of the 14th army corps at the time of his death, they say.
It is not clear where the incident took place, but it is thought his unit was in Kherson region.
At least six other Russian generals are thought to have died since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
--In an interview with the Associated Press, published Friday, President Zelensky says the war with Russia is in a new stage, with winter expected to complicate fighting after a summer counteroffensive that failed to produce desired results due to enduring shortages of weapons and ground forces.
Despite setbacks, however, he said Ukraine won’t give up.
“We have a new phase of war, and that is a fact,” Zelensky said. “Winter as a whole is a new phase of war.”
Asked if he was satisfied by the results of the counteroffensive, he gave a complex answer.
“Look, we are not backing down, I am satisfied. We are fighting with the second (best) army in the world, I am satisfied,” he said, referring to the Russian military. But he added: “We are losing people, I’m not satisfied. We didn’t get all the weapons we wanted, I can’t be satisfied, but I also can’t complain too much.”
Zelensky said he fears the Israel-Hamas war threatens to overshadow the conflict in Ukraine, as competing political agendas and limited resources put the flow of Western military aid to Kyiv at risk.
--At least ten people died in a vicious winter storm that swept the country since Sunday, the interior minister said Tuesday, cutting power and blocking roads.
The Black Sea region of Odesa was particularly hard hit, cars and buses sliding off frozen roads into fields.
Oleh Kiper, governor of the Odesa region where five people died, said nearly 2,500 people had been rescued after becoming trapped by the snow.
The same storm system also battered, and washed away, Russian coastal defenses from some beaches on the occupied Crimean Peninsula.
Ukrainian meteorologists said the storm was among the most intense in decades, snarled supply routes for both countries’ armies and deepened the misery of tens of thousands of soldiers huddled in shallow trenches across the sprawling front line. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were left without power in Russia-occupied territories.
Another issue…violent waves stirred by hurricane-force winds threatened to tear maritime mines from their moorings in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea – complicating the navigation of already dangerous shipping lanes.
--But despite issues such as the above, growing numbers of ships are streaming toward Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and heading out loaded with grain, metals and other cargo despite the threat of attack and floating mines. It’s giving a boost to Ukraine’s agriculture-dependent economy and bringing back a key source of wheat, corn, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products for parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia where local prices have risen and food insecurity is growing.
--A Russian court ruled to extend the detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich for a third time since he was taken into custody in March on an allegation of espionage that he, the Journal and the U.S. government vehemently deny.
Tuesday’s ruling extends Gershkovich’s detention through at least Jan. 30, by which time he will have been held for 10 months.
Russian authorities haven’t publicly presented evidence to back up their espionage allegation. Gershkovich is being held at Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.
--Russia’s Supreme Court effectively outlawed LGBTQ+ activism on Thursday, the most drastic step against advocates of gay, lesbian and transgender rights in the increasingly conservative country.
The LGBTQ+ “movement” was ruled to be an extremist organization by the Justice Ministry.
--Josh Rogin / Washington Post
“For the second winter in a row, Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking advantage of the West’s fatigue to escalate his attacks on Ukrainian cities, trying to freeze Ukrainians into submission. But this year, he is getting an assist from those in Washington who are arguing for pressuring Ukraine into negotiations rather than focusing on helping it win the war.
“The front lines in the Russia-Ukraine war seem stuck. Congress is dragging its feet on passing the military, economic and humanitarian aid Ukrainians urgently need. The American people are growing tired of the effort. No wonder a chorus in Washington is calling for President Biden to lean on Kyiv to sue for peace. In fact, German media is reporting that the White House is discussing just such an approach.
“Some Washington pundits argue Ukrainians should back away from their stated goal of pushing Russian forces completely out of their sovereign territory. Two top ‘realist’ think tankers – former Obama administration official Charles Kupchan and former Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass – wrote in Foreign Affairs this month that Ukraine’s objectives are ‘out of reach.’
“ ‘Washington needs to take the lead in launching consultations with Ukraine and Western allies aimed at persuading Kyiv to offer a ceasefire in place while pivoting from an offensive to a defensive strategy,’ they wrote.
“There are several fundamental problems with this argument. First of all, there’s no indication Moscow has any intention to seriously negotiate. In fact, after preparing for months, Russia is carrying out some of its largest coordinated attacks yet both on Ukrainian cities and on the energy infrastructure on which millions of civilians depend. Last weekend, Russian forces attacked Kyiv with 75 Iranian-made Shahed drones, nearly all of which were reportedly shot down. Those that broke through plunged thousands of homes into darkness. Moscow’s campaign is just beginning.
“ ‘The Russians are just waiting for the temperature to fall below zero to start another wave of massive attacks,’ Ukraine’s energy minister, German Galushchenko, told me in an interview.
“Also, Galushchenko noted, the vast majority of his compatriots oppose a ceasefire and want to keep fighting. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky answers to his people, not to Washington, despite Ukraine’s dependence on U.S. assistance. If he moved to negotiate now, he would lose significant public support.
“Instead of pressuring Ukraine to negotiate with Putin, the United States should focus on helping Ukraine fend off Russian attacks and then get back all its territory, Galushchenko said. Air defense systems and long-range munitions top Ukraine’s list of needed weapons.
“ ‘If the countries of the civilized world allow the Russians to have success in Ukraine…even if they hold on to some territories which they occupy, it will be the end of the global structure as we know it,’ he told me….
“Pressuring Ukraine to stop fighting simply won’t work. Ukrainians aren’t going to give up, so the United States must not give up on them. The war will end only when Putin has finally learned aggression doesn’t pay.”
Wall Street and the Economy
November ended up being a spectacular month for both stocks and bonds, with the S&P 500 up 8.9%, its biggest monthly gain since July 2022, while the Dow Jones gained 8.8% and Nasdaq 10.7%.
The market has been marching steadily higher on the hopes the Federal Reserve is done raising interest rates, with bonds rallying in response.
And the Fed received the inflation news it was hoping for as October’s personal consumption expenditures index (PCE), rose 3.0% year-on-year, a tick better than expectations, while the critical core figure, ex-food and energy, rose 3.5%, as expected but down from 3.7% prior as the positive trend continues, 3.5% the lowest since May 2021.
But 3.5% is still not the Fed’s target of 2%, though no one expects the Fed at their upcoming Open Market Committee gathering (Dec. 12-13) to tighten interest rates after pausing since July.
Christopher Waller, a Fed governor and a permanent voting member on the FOMC, gave a speech on Tuesday titled “Something Appears to Be Giving,” wherein he said: “I am encouraged by what we have learned in the past few weeks [and this was before Thursday’s PCE] – something appears to be giving, and it’s the pace of the economy. I am increasingly confident that policy is currently well positioned to slow the economy and get inflation back to 2 percent.
Waller has been a hawk on the inflation topic, ditto Michelle Bowman, another inflation-focused Fed governor and permanent voting member. Bowman did say this week that she saw risks that factors like higher services spending or climbing energy costs could keep inflation elevated. She said that it was still her basic expectation that the Fed would need to raise rates further, but not now, necessarily.
“I remain willing to support raising the federal funds rate at a future meeting should the incoming data indicate that progress on inflation has stalled or is insufficient to bring inflation down to 2 percent in a timely way,” Bowman said.
So then today, Chair Jerome Powell said the risks of the Fed slowing the economy more than necessary have become “more balanced” with those of not moving interest rates high enough to control inflation, reaffirming the central bank’s intent to be cautious but also offering fresh optimism on its progress so far, so stocks, and bonds, rallied anew, Treasury yields plummeting further.
“We are getting what we wanted to get” out of the economy, Powell said during an event in Atlanta, noting that the “full effects” of the Fed’s 5.25 percentage points of rate hikes to date have likely not yet been felt.
As the Fed goes forward, “the data will tell us if we need to do more” rate hikes, Powell said, reiterating that it was still too early to declare the Fed’s inflation fight finished.
“We are prepared to tighten policy further if it becomes appropriate to do so,” he said.
In other economic news, October new home sales were poor, 679,000 vs. an expected 725,000 annualized pace, and vs. a prior revised figure of 719,000.
The Case-Shiller home price index for September rose 0.7% month-over-month for the 20-city index, up 3.9% year-over-year, both of which were in line with expectations.
Going back to the PCE, October personal income rose 0.2%, while consumption was also up 0.2%, both meeting consensus, the latter befitting a slowing economy.
We had a shock number on Chicago manufacturing for November, 55.8 (50 the dividing line between growth and contraction), when 45.1 was expected and vs. 44.0 prior. Was this somehow a mistake?
The next day, the national ISM manufacturing figure for November was a little under forecast, 46.7, unchanged from October, which seemed more like it.
And we had a second look at third-quarter GDP, up a whopping 5.2%, the best since Q4 2021.
The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer for fourth-quarter growth, though, is at just 1.2%, after this week’s data.
Freddie Mac’s 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is down to 7.22%, a fifth straight weekly decline since the Oct. 26 peak of 7.79%.
Lastly, the holiday shopping season got off to a so-so start.
Thanksgiving Day online sales were up 5.5% over last year, according to Adobe Analytics, while Black Friday online sales, $9.8 billion, rose 7.5%.
Remember, inflation can account for a good portion of the rise.
Overall Black Friday sales, online and in-store, rose just 2.5% from last year, rising only 1.1% in-store, according to Mastercard Spending Pulse.
For the five days, Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, online spending was up 7.8%, $38 billion, according to Adobe, better than expected.
Europe and Asia
Today, we had the release of the manufacturing PMIs for the eurozone for November, courtesy of S&P Global and Hamburg Commercial Bank, 44.2 vs. 43.1 in October, a 6-month high, but still strong deterioration.
Dr. Cyrus de la Rubia, Chief Economist of HCB
“November has not been the prettiest, and this does not refer only to the weather but also to the situation in the manufacturing sector of the eurozone. Output is still on the decline, and firms have trimmed their staff for a sixth straight month. Sure, almost all the sub-indices have perked up a bit. However, the improvements are mostly timid, lacking the dynamism needed to declare an upward trend.”
Eurostat released its flash estimate for November inflation in the eurozone and it is down to 2.4%, from 2.9% in October.
And it has come down substantially on core, ex-food and energy, to 4.2% from 5% prior, but still well above the European Central Bank’s target of 2%, a la the Fed, the Bank of England, and the Bank of Japan.
Eurostat also reported that the euro area unemployment rate for October was 6.5%, unchanged from September and down from 6.6% in Oct. 2022.
Germany 3.1%, France 7.3%, Italy 7.8%, Spain 12.0%, Netherlands 3.6%, Ireland 4.8%.
Netherlands: Geert Wilders’ attempts to form a Dutch government hit a snag, not the first one, when a senator he appointed to find coalition partners, resigned owing to a fraud scandal. The major political parties have ruled out working with Wilders’ hard-right Party for Freedom, but it will be nearly impossible to form a government without his 37 seats out of 150.
Turning to Asia…China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported that the manufacturing PMI for November was 49.4 vs. 49.5 in October, a little worse than expected, and further contraction, with the services figure 50.2 vs. 50.6 prior.
Caixin’s private manufacturing PMI was better than forecast, 50.7 vs. October’s 49.5.
Separately, the NBS said it is investigating false reporting of statistics from at least one province, but didn’t specify what category, or categories, was in doubt.
Japan’s November manufacturing PMI was 48.3 vs. 48.7.
October retail sales rose 4.2% year-over-year, while industrial production in the month was up 0.9% Y/Y.
South Korea’s manufacturing PMI for last month was 50.0, ending a 16-month sequence of decline, while Taiwan’s came in at 48.3.
--Stocks rose a fifth straight week thanks to talk of a soft landing and tumbling bond yields. The Dow Jones rose 2.4% to 36245, a new high for the year, ditto the S&P 500, up 0.8% to 4594. Nasdaq gained 0.4%.
Next week a big jobs report.
--U.S. Treasury Yields
6-mo. 5.35% 2-yr. 4.55% 10-yr. 4.21% 30-yr. 4.40%
Global bonds had their best month since 2008, with Treasuries climbing on bets the Federal Reserve will be able to start cutting rates in the first half of 2024 – even if the Fed says the contrary, no cuts soon.
The yield on the German 10-year fell to 2.36% from last Friday’s 2.64%.
Bloomberg’s widely tracked U.S. Aggregate bond index rose 4.8% in November, representing the biggest such gain since the mid-1980s.
The U.S. 10-year yield plunged to 4.21% today, down 27 basis points on the week and the lowest weekly close since Sept. 1.
The 2-year was down 40 bps to 4.55%. Jiminy Cricket, as my grandfather used to say. [His grandson thinks more on the line of Holy S---!]
--OPEC+ held their delayed meeting Thursday, as the cartel struggles to come to a consensus on production cuts.
The question was how to split the cuts among the 23 member countries, some of whom already accepted lower production targets at the last OPEC+ meeting in Vienna in June.
And the result was a mess, as the meeting promised further output cuts but was hazy on the details.
The alliance announced roughly 900,000 barrels a day of fresh output cuts from January, but the curbs are voluntary, with Angola already rejecting its quota. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said it will prolong its separate 1 million barrel-a-day reduction throughout the first quarter.
There was no concluding press conference and final communiques.
So the extra 900,000 barrels a day of additional curbs to be delivered over the first quarter is highly unlikely, and there is little cause for optimism among oil traders, barring further geopolitical issues in the Middle East that could hamper production.
OPEC’s biggest issue these days, however, is the United States, which reported on Thursday that crude output in the world’s largest producer hit a record high of 13.2 million barrels a day in September.
Meanwhile, Brazil – which has contributed to the increase in global supplies – said it would join the OPEC+ alliance cooperation charter next year, but won’t be taking part in any production cuts for now.
One aside, an industry group forecast that Canadian oil-and-gas producers will drill nearly 500 more wells in 2024, an increase of 8% on this year. The plans were spurred by the prospect of new pipelines, such as the Trans Mountain expansion. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to impose a cap on the industry’s greenhouse-gas emissions, but the policy has been repeatedly delayed.
Crude closed the week at $74.23, down sharply late today on machinations concerning the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and skepticism over the ‘voluntary’ production cuts.
--General Motors shares surged 9% Wednesday as the automaker announced its biggest-ever stock buyback - $10 billion in total. CEO Mary Barra promised better days ahead in response to critics of its unsteady push into electric vehicles (not to mention robotaxis) and self-driving cars. But revenue is rising this year almost solely because of growth coming from GM’s gasoline-burning offerings. EV sales have been minimal.
GM said it will fund the share buyback in part by freeing up capital previously earmarked for development of EVs and autonomous vehicles.
Last month, GM said it would push back the opening of an electric-truck factory in suburban Detroit by a year. It also scrapped an earlier goal of producing 400,000 EVs over a roughly two-year stretch, through mid-2024.
The company also said it will work to offset higher labor expenses from its new contract with the United Auto Workers and unionized employees in Canada. The contracts will add a total of $9.3 billion in costs over about four years, including $1.5 billion next year, higher than analysts had estimated.
GM said it would log strong profits this year despite the six-week strike that shaved $1.1 billion from its bottom line in the third and fourth quarters. The company expects full-year operating profit of $11.7 billion to $12.7 billion, after withdrawing its guidance last month during the strike.
--Meanwhile, on Thursday, Ford Motor pegged the cost of a new labor deal at $8.8 billion, cutting its full-year profit forecast due to lost production from the strike.
The deal with the UAW will add about $900 in labor costs per vehicle by 2028, which Ford said it would work to offset by cutting costs elsewhere. The automaker now expects adjusted earnings of $10 billion to $10.5 billion for 2023, down from its prior forecast of $11 billion to $12 billion.
The forecast includes $1.7 billion in lost profits from the strike, which Ford also estimated led to about 100,000 fewer wholesale vehicle sales.
Ford has previously said it would also slash future EV investment plans by $12 billion.
--For the first time ever, a commercial plane flew across the Atlantic Ocean without using fossil fuels.
Virgin Atlantic said the test flight from London to New York was powered only by sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, a broad category of jet fuel that creates fewer carbon emissions than standard kerosene blends. The fuel on this flight was made from waste fats and plant sugars and emits 70% less carbon than petroleum-based jet fuel, according to a press release. It landed at JFK Airport on Tuesday afternoon.
Experts say sustainable aviation fuels may one day play a big role in shrinking the aviation industry’s carbon footprint – even though its production is minuscule today. SAF accounts for about 0.1% of airlines’ current fuel consumption.
This was a one-time stunt as standard jet engines aren’t designed to run on only sustainable fuel, and it is too expensive and rare for it to be practical for airlines to run all-SAF routes.
But it’s a milestone.
--TSA checkpoint numbers vs. 2019
11/30…100 percent of 2019 levels
*We were told that Sunday would be over 3 million passengers, and it was 2.907m vs. 2.882m on the same day in 2019. But this is still a record, according to the TSA.
--Elon Musk told advertisers who have halted spending on X due to his endorsement of an antisemitic post to “go f--k” themselves, deepening a rift between the billionaire and the companies that generate most of the platform’s revenue.
In an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Times Dealbook Summit on Wednesday, Musk said that a recent exodus of big brands – which included IBM, Apple, Walt Disney, Comcast and Warner Bros – was “going to kill the company, and the whole world will know the advertisers killed the company.”
But Musk, who bought X for $44 billion in October 2022, dismissed the idea that he wanted the marketers to return. “If somebody is going to try to blackmail with advertising, blackmail me with money, go f--k yourself. Is that clear, I hope it is.”
Musk said that his trip to Israel earlier this week “wasn’t an apology tour” and that it was planned before he made the controversial remarks.
He also said he has “no problem being hated” and that “it’s a real weakness to want to be liked.”
“Hate me, like me, or indifferent, do you want the best car or do you not want the best car,” he said Wednesday evening.
X could lose as much as $75 million in advertising revenue by the end of the year with the dozens of major brands that have paused their marketing campaigns, according to internal documents viewed by the New York Times this week.
Meanwhile, Tesla rolled out its Cybertruck, delivering the first twelve, with the price starting at $60,900 for the cheapest model available in 2025 with a 250-mile battery range. The most expensive of the three models, the Cyberbeast, will reach up to 320 miles and be available for sale next year.
--Speaking of Musk, China announced it has completed the initial set-up of its first high-orbit satellite communication network, which is expected to provide a swift satellite internet service within its borders and in several belt and road nations.
The Chinese project could be an alternative to SpaceX’s Starlink.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the parent company of the satellite operator, said the network would provide internet service for industries ranging from aviation and navigation to emergency services and energy, state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.
--Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, said that national security and intelligence officials need to speak more publicly about the risks of Chinese influence in TikTok.
Gallagher, who has been trying to ban TikTok, said the U.S. needs “the Secretary of Defense and all the service secretaries talking very openly, honestly, candidly to the American people about the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army and why they should care,” Gallagher told reporters ahead of his committee’s hearing on China’s strategy to shape the information space.
--Salesforce shares surged 9% at the open Thursday after the company posted quarterly profits at the close Wednesday that inched past Street estimates.
While it continues to grapple with soft conditions in some parts of the economy, the provider of cloud-based customer relationship management software said it is seeing signs of improving customer sentiment.
For its fiscal third quarter, ended Oct. 31, Salesforce reported revenue of $8.72 billion, up 11% from a year earlier, consensus at $8.7bn. Adjusted profits were $2.11 a share, six cents ahead of the Street.
For the January quarter, Salesforce projected revenue of between $9.18bn and $9.23bn, with consensus at $9.2bn.
And Salesforce now sees revenue for the full year of between $34.75bn and $34.8bn, with adjusted profits of $8.18 to $8.19 a share, up from a previous forecast of $8.04 to $8.06.
--Hewlett Packard Enterprises posted October-quarter financial results that were largely in line with Street estimates, driven by growing strength in its high-performance-computing and AI segment.
For the quarter, HPE posted revenue of $7.35 billion, down 7% from a year ago, and right at the midpoint of the company’s forecast range.
Adjusted profits were 52 cents a share, down 9% from a year ago, two cents above analysts expectations.
The high-performance-computing and AI segment, which includes HP’s supercomputing business, had revenue of $1.18 billion in the quarter, up 37%, and well above consensus.
The company’s compute segment, which sells servers to data centers, had revenue of $2.6 billion, down 31%, and about $160 million below Street estimates.
For the full year, HPE posted revenue of $29.1bn, up 2%.
--Dell Technologies shares fell 5% after the company posted mixed financial results for its latest quarter, with strong profits offset by softer-than-expected revenue and continued weakness in corporate PC demand.
For the fiscal third quarter ended Oct. 31, Dell reported revenue of $22.3 billion, down 10% from a year ago, and below consensus of $23 billion.
Adjusted earnings were $1.88 a share, well above the Street’s forecast of $1.46.
Revenue in the company’s Client Solutions Group, mostly PCs, was $12.3 billion, down 11% from a year ago.
While Dell continues to expect the PC market to return to growth in calendar 2024, the company saw improving demand over the summer plateau in September.
--Pfizer shares fell Friday as it said it would not advance a twice-daily version of oral weight-loss drug danuglipron into late-stage studies after most patients dropped out of a mid-stage trial with high rates of side effects such as nausea and vomiting, which is one way to lose weight, mused the editor, though not the preferred alternative.
--Richard Vanderford of the Wall Street Journal had a story on the impact of severe convective storms (thunderstorms/hail/tornadoes) this year, “with record-setting levels of damage more typically found with hurricanes.”
Like the Pfizer drug manufacturing plant in North Carolina that was extensively damaged by a tornado in July. Or the September hailstorm near Austin, Texas, that damaged over 750 vehicles owned by an auto dealer.
Through Nov. 13, such severe storms have led to at least $55.67 billion in insured damage in the U.S. The $50 billion figure for such storms had never been topped before.
--Red Lobster’s “Ultimate Endless Shrimp” became more popular than expected, inadvertently becoming a key factor in a $11 million loss in the third quarter, parent company Thai Union Group said, after the promotional deal, where guests picked two types of shrimp to have non-stop for $20, landed a permanent spot on Red Lobster menus in June.
The price of the shrimp deal has now risen to $25.
--I went to see “Napoleon” on Wednesday and thoroughly enjoyed it, as did those with me and others in the small audience (a 12:20 p.m. show). The reviews in the U.S. were pretty poor, while the British reviews were outstanding.
I was pleased to see the Columbia Pictures/Apple production (produced by Apple and distributed by Sony) was second in the box office last weekend to Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.”
Overall domestic box office sales, at over $8.2 billion for 2023, are edging closer to expectations the industry can reach $9 billion in sales this year, which while down from the $11 billion years logged before the pandemic, isn’t awful, all things considered.
You won’t believe this, but I hadn’t been to a movie in a theater in I’m guessing 15 years, and now I’m kind pumped to go back. [I liked the Bob Marley pic trailer, by the way. Looks promising…February 2024]
--Lastly, we note the passing of legendary investor Charlie Munger, weeks shy of his 100th birthday. Munger was Warren Buffett’s business partner at Berkshire Hathaway, and Buffett credits him with changing his approach to buying companies.
Munger was good at clear thinking, tuning out distractions, and sifting through the noise. He didn’t follow fads – such as he was viciously critical of crypto and meme stocks. If an investment case was too difficult to understand in simple terms, it wasn’t for Munger, or Berkshire.
“Charlie has the best 30-second mind in the world,” Buffett once said. “He goes from A to Z in one move. He sees the essence of everything before you even finish the sentence.”
Buffett noted that Munger helped him see the value during the late 20th century in growth companies like Coca-Cola, a shift from his previous focus on cheap, undervalued companies – which Buffett’s mentor, noted value investor Benjamin Graham, called cigar butts.
Buffett once wrote of Munger in an annual report: “The blueprint he gave me was simple: Forget what you know about buying fair businesses at wonderful prices; instead, buy wonderful businesses at fair prices.”
“We’ve never had an argument,” Buffett said. Repeating one of Munger’s favorite lines, Buffett said that when they did differ, Munger would say, “Warren, think it over and you’ll agree with me because you’re smart and I’m right.”
Longtime Berkshire investors liked Munger’s moral compass, his willingness to speak his mind, his ability to turn a phrase, and his great rapport with Buffett. All this was a welcome contrast to so many tight-lipped, afraid-to-offend corporate executives.
Munger, like Buffett, took a salary of just $100,000 annually for more than 25 years and lived in the same house for over 60 years. He was wealthy thanks to his Berkshire stake that was worth more than $2 billion.
One of Munger’s life lessons was: “We all start out stupid and we all have a hard time staying sensible, and you have to keep working at it,” he told an audience in 2020. That requires reading constantly – and not just in your own area. “I never liked [specialization]…I like romping over a whole field.”
Foreign Affairs, Part II
China: Meeting for the first time in about four years, the top diplomats from South Korea, Japan and China agreed Sunday to revive cooperation among the Asian neighbors and resume their leaders’ trilateral summit – but without a specific timing.
The three countries together account for about 25% of the global gross domestic product, but efforts to boost cooperation have often hit a snag because of a mix of issues including historical disputes stemming from Japan’s wartime aggression and the strategic competition between China and the United States.
But the lack of an agreement on the timing for the trilateral summit would suggest the top-level gathering won’t likely happen this year as South Korea, the chair of the next summit, had hoped. At least they all talked face to face.
At the same time, Beijing and Washington are in talks to restore military communication channels following an agreement reached by Presidents Biden and Xi two weeks ago, the Chinese defense ministry said on Thursday.
Senior Colonel Wu Qian, the ministry spokesman, said during a press briefing that the defense authorities of the two countries were communicating and coordinating to resume military-to-military communications “on the basis of equality and respect.”
It was the first time the Chinese defense ministry has confirmed it is working with the U.S. to restore military communications that had been suspended amid deteriorating ties between the two powers.
But last weekend, Beijing hit out at Washington after a U.S. warship entered waters near disputed islands.
“The serious violation of China’s sovereignty and security by the United States is further iron proof that it is pursuing ‘navigation hegemony’ and creating ‘militarization of the South China Sea,’” a People’s Liberation Army Southern Theatre Command spokesman said.
“It fully proves that the United States is an out-and-out ‘security risk creator of the South China Sea,’ and the ‘biggest disrupter’ of peace and stability in the (region).
“Troops in the theatre remain on high alert at all times and resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security and peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
Separately, the World Health Organization called on China earlier in November to give up information on its surge in pneumonia among children, and health authorities in Beijing said flu, adenovirus and respiratory viruses have surpassed the pneumonia, which shows signs of abating among children. [Pneumonia/RSV cases are rising among children in some U.S. states, particularly Ohio and Massachusetts.]
Now the government says the broader population is likely to be hit hard during the mainland’s first winter after Covid restrictions.
Various reports have shown a surge in patients rushing to hospitals, and pictures of overcrowded hallways and children on intravenous infusions have gone viral on Chinese social media. Masks are back (voluntarily) and some schools in eastern Zhejiang province suspended in-person teaching.
Meanwhile, in Taiwan, less than seven weeks to go until polling day, and while the opposition collapsed last week, making President Xi Jinping’s stated goal of voluntary unification with Taiwan more remote, an unprecedented third straight term in power for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is not a foregone conclusion.
Support for DPP presidential candidate William Lai is at just 31.4%, with the Kuomintang’s Hou Yu-ih at 31.1%, according to a survey by the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation released last Friday. Taiwan People’s Party’s Ko Wen-je is at 25.2%.
It’s about voters just wanting change after eight years of DPP rule, even though both opposition leaders plan to restart direct talks with Beijing, which is not popular.
So this could be a huge upset in the works. I sure hope not.
North Korea: On Tuesday, North Korean state media said leader Kim Jong Un had reviewed spy satellite photos of the White House, Pentagon and U.S. aircraft carriers at the naval base of Norfolk.
Pyongyang successfully launched its first reconnaissance satellite last week, which it has said was designed to monitor U.S. and South Korean military movements.
Since then state media has reported the satellite photographed cities and military bases in South Korea, Guam, and Italy, in addition to Washington, D.C.
But so far, Pyongyang has not released any imagery, leaving analysts and foreign governments to debate how capable the new satellite actually is.
Of course you can obtain photos of most of these places for free online without putting a satellite into orbit, typed the editor sarcastically.
Iran/Yemen: Unidentified armed individuals seized a tanker carrying a cargo of phosphoric acid in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday, a U.S. defense official said. It’s the latest in a series of attacks in Middle Eastern waters and followed a seizure of an Israeli-linked cargo ship by Yemen Houthis, allies of Iran, in the southern Red Sea last week. The group, which also fired ballistic missiles and armed drones at Israel, vowed to target more Israeli vessels.
But the U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement early Monday that its forces and allies, including the destroyer USS Mason, responded to the seizure and demanded the armed assailants release the tanker.
“Subsequently, five armed individuals debarked the ship and attempted to flee via their small boat,” Central Command said. “The Mason pursued the attackers resulting in their eventual surrender.”
The Central Command did not identify the attackers, but said a missile launch from Houthi-controlled Yemen followed early Monday morning.
“The missiles landed in the Gulf of Aden approximately 18.5km from the ships.”
Israeli air strikes put Damascus airport out of service on Sunday, the Syrian army and a pro-government newspaper said.
Israel has for years carried out strikes against what it has described as Iranian-linked targets in Syria.
New Zealand: Chrisotpher Luxon, the leader of the country’s center-right National Party, was sworn in Monday. After Jacinda Ardern, the country’s liberal former prime minister, resigned in January, and then an October election, Luxon formed a coalition with two hard-right parties. On Saturday, the new government announced it would scrap a policy introduced by Ardern which would have eventually outlawed smoking. New Zealand was going to become the first nation to do so.
Smoking is the leading cause of death in the country. But the government wants to use the revenue on taxing cigarettes for tax cuts.
Separately, Australia will ban imports of single-use vapes in January in an effort to curb their use among young people. All other non-medical vape imports will be prohibited from March, and domestic production will also be outlawed next year.
This seemed to be the week for countries to rule on smoking. Health professionals decried a decision by Malaysia’s government to drop a generational smoking ban in a tobacco law update from Wednesday.
Malaysia’s government had initially put together a bill which would have made it only the second nation in the Asia-Pacific region to drive through a law aimed at preventing future generations from smoking. [New Zealand the first, until now.]
Malaysia’s bill would have made it illegal for individuals born on or after January 1, 2007, to buy and consumer tobacco and smoking products such as vapes and e-cigarettes.
The nation faces soaring health costs incurred by its 5 million smokers.
--Presidential approval ratings…
Gallup: New numbers…37% approve of President Biden’s job performance, 59% disapprove; 27% of independents approve (Nov. 1-21). The general approval and disapproval figures are the same as the last readings, Oct. 2-23. But the 27% figure for independents is not only the lowest for this category, but understand it was 61% when Biden was inaugurated!
Rasmussen: 44% approve, 53% disapprove (Dec. 1).
--The influential network associated with billionaire Charles Koch will throw its money and influence behind Nikki Haley in the Republican presidential primary, the group announced Tuesday.
The endorsement marks the latest sign that powerful GOP donors are coalescing behind Haley.
What impact this has is unclear. It could be negligible. But if Haley emerges after Iowa and New Hampshire as the only candidate with a shot at defeating Donald Trump, the money haul for her campaign will only increase substantially.
Haley then would need some quick victories because Trump otherwise will have enough delegates by early March and Super Tuesday.
If I were Trump, I’d stay off Truth Social through New Hampshire, but that’s impossible for him.
AFP Action – a political arm of Koch’s network – has already spent millions of dollars on advertising in early voting states this year to cast Trump as likely to lose the general election.
But that’s not what recent polls say. That 81-year-old in the White House is one easy target. That old guy keeps whispering, while leaning over, creepily, “Watch me.” We have. It’s very disturbing.
--Meanwhile, first son Hunter Biden has offered to publicly testify before the House Oversight Committee investigating his business ties, according to a copy of a letter his attorney sent the panel. Dec. 13 is apparently the day.
Originally, Hunter was going to appear in a closed-door, transcribed interview.
But his attorney suggested details of a private sitdown would be selectively leaked to “manipulate” the facts. Ergo, lawyer Abbe Lowell proposed “opening the door.”
Lowell added in his letter to the panel: “[All] your focus has been on this President’s family while turning a blind eye toward former President Trump and his family’s businesses, some of which the family maintained while serving in office – an area ripe to inform your purported legislative pursuits,” Lowell added.
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky) responded in a statement that panel members “expect full cooperation” with their initial subpoena but “also agree that Hunter Biden should have [the] opportunity to testify in a public setting at a future date.”
--George Santos was expelled from Congress today, and it wasn’t close…311 lawmakers in favor of expulsion, including 105 Republicans, and 114 against. [2/3s needed.]
“The new whole number of the House is 434,” a downcast Speaker Mike Johnson announced, confirming that his already paper-thin majority had shrunk further.
Santos became just the sixth person expelled from the House, and the first to be jettisoned without being first convicted of a federal crime or supporting the Confederacy.
The lying, scheming POS walked out of the chamber before the vote was finished. Descending the House steps to a waiting car, Santos told reporters he was ready to turn the page on Congress.
“Why would I want to stay here?” he said. “To hell with this place.”
“George Santos is a liar – in fact, he has admitted to many of them – who has used his position of public trust to personally benefit himself from Day 1,” said Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, Republican of New York who is Santos’ closest congressional neighbor and most ardent foe.
A special election will be held in relatively short order and Republicans could easily lose the seat.
I maintain, as I said on day one of his saga, that George Santos is capable of a serious crime down the road. I would not want to be near this creep.
--Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger died on Wednesday at the age of 100. Incredibly, he traveled to China just a few months ago, July, where he was feted by President Xi Jinping.
Former president George W. Bush said that with the death of Kissinger, the United States had “lost one of the most dependable and distinctive voices.”
Kissinger served as secretary of state for both presidents Richard Nixon (starting out as national security adviser) and Gerald Ford.
As the country’s top diplomat he played a key role in shaping U.S. policy during the Cold War.
He will be forever remembered for engineering the United States’ opening to China, but he negotiated an exit from the Vietnam War (for which he shared a Nobel Peace Prize) and was involved in setting relations with the Soviet Union at a critical time, including negotiating the first major treaty limiting U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals. [The first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.]
His shuttle diplomacy helped end the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict as well.
Apart from serving in two administrations, he advised a dozen presidents over his long career, including Joe Biden.
But he was a hugely polarizing figure, strongly criticized by his opponents on the left, particularly over human rights abuses as he pursued U.S. interests abroad.
He supported Indonesia in its invasion of East Timor, backed the invasion of Angola by the apartheid regime in South Africa and worked with the CIA to overthrown the democratically-elected president of Chile.
And after he received the Nobel Peace Prize, it was revealed Kissinger had supported Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia in 1969, causing two Nobel committee members to step down over the decision.
Kissinger was a practitioner of “realism”, “Realpolitik,” in foreign relations.
Chinese state media praised Kissinger on the announcement of his passing, a distinct change in tone for the outlets, noted in recent years for their antipathy toward American administrations as relations have plumbed to their lowest depths since the normalization in relations in the 1970s that Kissinger helped bring about.
China Central Television, the state broadcaster, called Kissinger a “legendary diplomat” and a “living fossil” who had witnessed the development of U.S.-China relations.
“Today, this ‘old friend of the Chinese people,’ who had a sharp vision and a thorough understanding of world affairs, has completed his legendary life,” China News Service proclaimed in an obituary.
Niall Ferguson / Wall Street Journal
“In 1972 the administration achieved what Kissinger was prepared to sacrifice smaller pieces on the chessboard. Pakistan took precedence over India and East Pakistan (which became Bangladesh), because Islamabad was the key conduit to Beijing. South Vietnam and Taiwan found that the U.S. was a fickle ally. Kissinger’s many critics focused on the human costs of strategic decisions that were, Kissinger long argued, inevitably choices between evils.
“Nixon’s downfall had paradoxical implications for Kissinger. On the one hand, it made him even more powerful. When the Yom Kippur War broke out, Nixon was so preoccupied with his domestic travails that Kissinger was essentially in charge. Yet Congress’s assertions of power in Watergate’s aftermath ultimately doomed the attempt to avoid dishonor in Vietnam. The 1975 fall of Saigon was a bitter pill.
“At the time of Watergate, the French political philosopher, Raymond Aron warned Kissinger: ‘You’d better pray for [Nixon’s] survival, because the minute he goes they’ll come after you.’ That proved prescient.
“In the 1970s it was conservatives, from William F. Buckley to California Gov. Ronald Reagan, who found fault with the policy of détente with Moscow and Beijing. As the Cold War drew to a close and Reagan embraced his own version of détente, the left’s critique of Kissinger grew louder. After the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, it became easier to denounced the lesser evils the U.S. had committed during the Cold War. Yet other administrations also faced such choices, preferred military dictators to Marxists, and sent American forces into foreign countries.
“The disproportionate harshness of the attacks on Kissinger wasn’t entirely unexpected to him, and not only because of his early experiences of antisemitism. As a young historian, he had been keenly aware of the near-impossibility of a popular foreign policy. Writing about Prince Metternich in his first book, ‘A World Restored’ (1957), Kissinger noted that statesmen tend to have a ‘tragic quality,’ because ‘it is in the nature of successful policies that posterity forgets how easily things might have been otherwise…. The statesman is therefore like one of the heroes in classical drama who has had a vision of the future but who cannot transmit it directly to his fellow-men.’
“Unwittingly, the young Kissinger had written his own epitaph.”
George F. Will / Washington Post
“Although Henry Kissinger ranks, with John Quincy Adams, John Hay and Dean Acheson, among America’s most intellectually sophisticated and culturally cosmopolitan secretaries of state, even in his 10th decade his love of this country had an almost childlike purity. This was fitting for one who had seen Hitler’s Germany through a child’s eyes.
“Kissinger made it his vocation to make America less American by inoculating it with a European sense of life’s irremediable tragic dimension. Nevertheless, he was, as immigrants often are, a romantic about the nation that took him in and allowed him to flourish.
“Kissinger leavened his romanticism with cynicism as he tutored this nation in realism. What critics called his elegant immorality, he considered the granite foundation of true morality – the facing of facts that are disagreeable and intractable. One such is the permanence of impermanence in the international system.
“A corollary of this maxim is the inescapable imperative of a balance of power. Hence Kissinger’s greatest achievement, helping, as Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, to bring China into the game of nations. Kissinger admired the Chinese as ‘scientists of equilibrium, artists of relativity.’ He also admired Charles de Gaulle, ‘the son of a continent covered with ruins,’ who understood that finality is a chimera: ‘History knows no resting places and no plateaus’ because ‘the management of a balance of power is a permanent undertaking, not an exertion that has a foreseeable end.’….
“Politics has its own physics, and Kissinger’s acquisitiveness regarding power, his sharp elbows as a bureaucratic infighter and his intermittent inability to suffer fools gladly all earned him enemies in Washington, which admires few for very long. But although he came from academia to be one planet orbiting the sun of presidential power, he stayed to become a sun. When Nixon, who launched Kissinger on a trajectory to glory, resigned, one of the first decisions by Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, was to reassure an anxious world that Kissinger’s hand would remain on the foreign policy tiller. By the time Kissinger left office, he ranked with George Marshall among America’s most history-making public officials who never served in elective or judicial office.
“Kissinger coupled his strategic pessimism with tactical optimism. He thought he could, like a Confederate cavalry officer, make daring and nimbleness buy time for the West. The Soviet Union could, like Gulliver, be restrained by numerous tiny cords of political, arms-control and economic agreements.
“Kissinger’s pessimism about the West’s weariness arose from two miscalculations. He underestimated the staying power of the bourgeois societies of the West. One reason he was mistaken about these societies having the stamina to stay the Cold War’s course was that he overestimated the economic sinews of the Soviet system.
“A decade after Kissinger left the State Department, communism, whose confidence flowed from Marxism’s economic determination, absorbed a brutal, indeed fatal, lesson in the importance of economic factors. In 1976, Ronald Reagan challenged Ford for the Republican nomination by running against Kissingerism. And at the 1986 summit in Iceland, Reagan icily told Mikhail Gorbachev that if there were to be an intensified arms race, he, Reagan, could guarantee that America would win it. The statesman’s task, Kissinger believed, is ‘to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstance.’ He helped mange the Cold War until the nation chose a president determined not to manage it but to win it.
“What Andre Malraux said of de Gaulle can be said of Kissinger: Steeped in history, he was ‘a man of the day before yesterday and the day after tomorrow.’”
--Unlike Henry Kissinger, who was active until his final days, Sandra Day O’Connor, who died Friday at the age of 93, has been out of the public eye since she released a letter in October 2018, when she was 88, announcing that she had been diagnosed with the beginning stages of dementia, “probably Alzheimer’s disease,” and was withdrawing from public life.
O’Connor was the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1981 to fulfill a campaign promise to appoint the first female justice. Fifty-one years old at the time of her nomination, she served for 24 years, retiring in January 2006 to care for her ailing husband. As the court moved to the right during that period, her moderate conservatism made her look in the end like a relative liberal.
While her Stanford Law School classmate, William Rehnquist, served as chief justice during much of her tenure, Justice O’Connor was referred to as the most powerful woman in America, and she was, the term the “O’Connor court” popularized at the time.
--The surge of migrants entering the U.S. increasingly includes people from a surprising place: China. As in more than 24,000 Chinese citizens have been apprehended crossing into the United States from Mexico in the past year, which is more than in the preceding 10 years combined, according to government data.
They typically fly into Ecuador, where they do not need a visa. Then, like the others, they pay smugglers to guide them up to the U.S. Once at the border, they turn themselves in to officials and many seek asylum.
And most succeed. Chinese citizens are more successful than people from other countries with their asylum claims in immigration court.
--New York’s Finest continue to bolt from the job at an alarming rate, according to data obtained by the New York Post, and some cops worry the exodus will only get worse because the city plans to cancel the next five Police Academy classes, shrinking the nation’s largest police force to the smallest it’s been in decades.
A total of 2,516 NYPD cops have left so far this year, the fourth highest number in the past decade and 43% more than the 1,750 who hightailed it in 2018, before the pandemic and crime spikes hit Gotham, NYPD pension data show.
Officers typically work 20 years or more to collect their full pension, which can equate to 50% of their final average salary.
--Former Indiana governor, and Purdue University president (until the end of 2022), Mitch Daniels, in an op-ed for the Washington Post.
Daniels grew up in Indianapolis in a community with a large Jewish population, “probably one-third” in his public grade school.
“As much as I admired my Jewish friends’ grades and study habits, I marveled even more at the values with which many were raised. On Halloween, when I was out practicing minor vandalism and raking in all the candy I could carry home, many of my Jewish classmates were out collecting donations for UNICEF. As an incensed nation grieved for three young civil rights volunteers killed in Mississippi in 1964, we were unsurprised to learn that two of the victims who had been working for equality in the South were Jewish.
“It has been noted that, for those alive in the decades after World War II, the Holocaust and its lessons were not merely remembered but vividly so… Young and old, Jew and gentile alike, we had learned what the worst form of racism, the ‘oldest hatred,’ looked like.
“And in the summer between high school and college, where I wound up having two Jewish roommates, the Six-Day War exploded in 1967, reminding the world, as it was just reminded yet again on Oct. 7, of the implacable determination of Israel’s neighbors to destroy it and its people, if at all possible.
“The college I attended, like many others, had discriminated blatantly against Jews for much of its history, and was only then admitting and atoning for it. No one raised in such an era, particularly as I had been, could imagine what has come to pass – a time when large numbers of supposedly educated Americans would cheer on those who gleefully slaughtered Jewish people, even infants.
“Now, to see so many such institutions of higher education wallowing in moral confusion and hypocrisy is cause for dejection at how far the sector has fallen, and how little many young Americans know of essential history once so immediate and universally understood.
“It isn’t just the students on many campuses who have a flawed understanding of Israel’s history and a warped moral sensibility. By now, too many of those running these institutions have, to their detriment, spent their adult lives closeted with people with views identical to their own, but vastly different from a majority of their fellow citizens. It came as a shock to them that their moral-equivalence dithering over Israel’s right to self-defense met with such outrage.
“In trying to make amends, they found themselves in a hole of their own excavation. After pontificating so often about ‘microaggressions,’ ‘hostile environments’ and ‘hate speech’ of vastly lesser virulence and almost never true violence, they could not suddenly remain institutionally mute about the real items. Having suppressed and ‘canceled’ speech at variance with the dogmas dominant on their campus, they had no answer for those who called, unwisely in my opinion, for the suppression of speech or the outright banning of organizations espousing hatred and endorsing atrocity.
“But maybe this disgraceful moment can be at least partially redeemed if it encourages some self-awareness in these administrators and reduces some of their arrogance that has caused increasing numbers of Americans to turn away from attending college altogether. Higher ed has operated for too long in a homogenous, non-diverse bubble of groupthink. America would benefit if that bubble were burst by the sudden discovery of a larger world of people who see things very differently.”
More than a few of us hoped that Daniels would run for president back in the day but, alas, he opted not to. He would have been an outstanding leader of our nation.
--I watched a little of Rosalynn Carter’s memorial service and saw daughter Amy Carter’s eulogy.
Amy was treated so cruelly by the press, and so many of us, as she grew up in the White House. I can’t imagine what the treatment would be in today’s social media world.
Of course back then it didn’t help when her father, Jimmy, said during his debate with Ronald Reagan on the topic of negotiating a weapons treaty with the Soviet Union:
“I think to close out this discussion, I think it would be better to put into perspective what we are talking about. I had a discussion with our daughter, Amy, the other day before I came here to ask her what the most important issue was. She said she thought it was nuclear weaponry, and the control of nuclear arms.”
Eegads…that’s what you call a gaffe, boys and girls. Amy was 13 years old at the time.
--Spain, specifically Catalonia, is suffering through its worst drought on record, with reservoirs that provide water for about 6 million people, including Spain’s second-biggest city Barcelona, filled to just 18% of their capacity. By comparison, Spain’s reservoirs as a whole are at 43%.
Barcelona has been relying on Europe’s largest desalination plant for drinking water.
Water restrictions get tighter and tighter.
--Indian rescuers began drilling vertically on Sunday from the top of a mountain under which 41 workers became trapped two weeks ago while working on a highway tunnel in the Himalayas, government officials said.
The men, construction workers from some of India’s poorest states, have been stuck in the 3-mile tunnel since it caved in early on Nov. 12. Authorities have said they were safe, with access to light, oxygen, food, water and medicines.
So Monday, rescuers brought in “rat miners” to drill through a narrow pipe and help pull the 41 out.
“Rat mining” is a primitive, hazardous and controversial method used in India mostly to remove coal deposits through narrow passages. The name comes from its resemblance to rats burrowing through narrow holes.
“Three of us will go inside the tunnel, one will do the drilling, the other will collect muck and the third one will push the muck through the trolley,” Rakesh Rajput, one of the miners, told Reuters.
And then Tuesday, all 41 were freed, after the complex, incredible rescue operation to drill through rock and debris.
They were officially trapped 17 days and all 41 appeared to be healthy, officials said.
The company, Dhami, said each of the workers will be given checks worth about $1,200 and will be able to go home and spend time with their family.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the successful rescue “is making everyone emotional,” in a statement on X.
“I want to tell the men who were trapped in the tunnel that your bravery and patience are inspiring everyone,” he wrote.
And Go Rat Miners!
Pray for the men and women of our armed forces…and all the fallen, including the victim(s) of the Osprey aircraft crash into waters off of Japan on Tuesday…only one of eight passengers confirmed dead as I go to post.
Pray for Ukraine, Israel and the innocent in Gaza.
God bless America.
Regular Gas: $3.24; Diesel: $4.21 [$3.47 / $5.15 yr. ago]
Returns for the week 11/27-12/1
Dow Jones +2.4% 
S&P 500 +0.8% 
S&P MidCap +2.5%
Russell 2000 +3.0%
Nasdaq +0.4% 
Returns for the period 1/1/23-12/1/23
Dow Jones +9.3%
S&P 500 +19.7%
S&P MidCap +8.0%
Russell 2000 +5.8%
Hang in there.