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Week in Review

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08/15/2020

For the week 8/10-8/14

[Posted 10:00 PM ET, Friday]

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Edition 1,113

We had three big events this week.  In order…the arrest of Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the selection of Kamala Harris to be Joe Biden’s running mate, and then the peace accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. All three get my usual in-depth treatment, and I could add the attempt at an overthrow of the government in Belarus, but this makes the column exceedingly long and I even left a few items on the cutting-room floor.  [Like my promised ‘key statistics to know before the Election.’  I’ve done the research and I’ll throw it up here next time, without failure.]

Aside from the big topics, with less than 12 weeks to go before Nov. 3rd, we have the Trump-initiated chaos over mail-in voting, where Barack Obama correctly said the president is trying to “kneecap” the postal service; Trump’s “Birtherism II”; QAnon taking center stage; and, oh yeah, a pandemic, the handling of which the president has mangled to devastating effect.

All of these topics are covered below, all the gory details. 

But there were some positive moments for the country, like the following, and I’m talking about the ‘big picture’ and what it says about our nation.  Of course the QAnon / birtherism adherents will not like it.

Once Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee and announced in March that he would pick a woman to be on his ticket, California Senator Kamala Harris was really the front-runner.  Because of his age, and some would say cognitive issues, Biden had to select a running mate who had the heft in voters’ minds to be president on day one.  In my mind it was Harris or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), but then the George Floyd murder removed Klobuchar from consideration (unfairly, I hasten to add), and it was also then that Biden essentially committed to a black woman. Again, it had to be Harris.  His dalliance with some of the black female mayors who briefly took center stage was rather stupid, frankly, because not one of them is qualified to be president, as yet (maybe 2024 or ’28).

Susan Rice then became a co-favorite, and she no doubt has experience, especially in foreign policy, but her record is awful.  Biden was smart not to pick her, even though the two are comfortable with each other, having worked closely together in the Obama administration, and there’s no doubt that IF Biden wins, Susan Rice is your Secretary of State, or national security adviser, whatever she wants.

As for Harris, the child of immigrants, her father coming from Jamaica and her mother from India, she becomes the first Black woman and first Asian-American to run on a major-party presidential ticket.

“She’s not the traditional African-American candidate,” said Fernando Guerra, a pollster and political science professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.  “Her whole political career is based on being a crossover candidate.  It makes her more appealing to non-African Americans, and that’s been her key to success.”

At 55, Harris brings to the Biden campaign relative youth, deep electoral experience and a reputation for sharply challenging Republican appointees such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Attorney General William Barr.  I finish this week’s column with my take on how she’ll treat Vice President Mike Pence in their lone debate, which unlike past debates of this kind could be a difference maker.

Harris was elected district attorney of San Francisco in 2003 and served until 2011, when she became California attorney general. As San Francisco’s top prosecutor, she raised the office’s conviction rate from 50% when she took over to 76% by 2009. She also lost some Black support by threatening parents of chronically truant children with prosecution and jail time.

As attorney general, Harris supervised California’s litigation over bank mortgage policies following the financial crisis and held out in multistate settlement negotiations with Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc. and other lenders to force the banks to raise their offers.  Initial offers of $2 billion to $4 billion in relief for California homeowners grew to more than $20 billion, as Harris also sought relief on behalf of the state’s big pension funds for misrepresentation in the sale of mortgage-backed securities.

She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016, defeating Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez for the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Republicans reacted swiftly, branding Harris as a part of the “left-wing mob” they say controls Biden’s campaign.  And the Trump campaign is going to add the nickname “Phony Kamala” to go with “Sleepy Joe.”

James Pindell / Boston Globe

“The knock on Kamala Harris, presidential candidate, is that she was all California flash and no substance: She was impressive on paper and had an inspiring background, but she lacked an ideological compass.

“Critics point to many examples of political expediency that would make Mitt Romney blush, but the most high-profile one was on Medicare-for-All, the signature policy issue of the 2020 Democratic primary season.

“Preparing for a run for president, Harris became the first senator to co-sponsor Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill.  Once she ran for president, she dropped her support and came up with her own bill that was such a mind-meld of moderate and progressive takes that even she struggled to explain it during debates.

“But that’s history. Now, what Biden requires in his running mate is someone who is politically flexible. And someone with whom he has few areas of fundamental disagreement that President Trump can exploit, the way there would have been if, say, Elizabeth Warren were the choice.

“Check.

“He also needs someone who is charismatic.

“Check.

“And he needs a political street fighter.

“Check.

“Remember her powerful debate performance where she went after Biden?  Picking someone who doesn’t pull punches is probably the right person to be a running mate, while Biden can float above it with lofty rhetoric.

“Biden may well have picked Harris for other reasons.  He already promised he would pick a woman.  There was political pressure in the era of Black Lives Matter to pick a Black woman.

“And Harris is thoroughly vetted in political campaigns, winning statewide in the largest state in the nation three times and running for president. She started out the obvious pick and then became the expected pick.

“In fact, had he not picked her, there would have been a number of stories asking: Why not Harris?

“But now the story is why Harris.  And the reason is clear: her lack of political ideology combined with her killer political instinct and high-wattage charisma.”

Editorial / The Economist

“Joe Biden’s strategy so far has been to stay out of the way as far as possible. The more the news cycle is filled with President Donald Trump, Covid-19 deaths and economic misery, the better for Mr. Biden’s campaign.  So far it has worked: he is nine points up in our average of polls. Democrats have a shot not just at taking the presidency and retaining the House but also at capturing the Senate, which earlier this year had looked out of reach. With that trifecta comes the power to change America.

“But to what end?  Mr. Biden’s stealth campaign is fine as an approach to winning the election in November, but it has not revealed much about what sort of president he might be. His choice of Senator Kamala Harris as his running-mate is different. Because this is the first big call he has had to make, it says something about how he would make decisions in the White House. It also gives an indication of the ideological leanings of a future Biden administration.

“The pick reflects well on the former vice-president, who spent eight years doing the job he has recruited Ms. Harris for.  Mr. Biden has chosen the person who went at him hardest during the primary debates; he has not held a grudge. And he has picked someone who, for all her mold-breaking qualities as the first African-American woman and the first Asian-American on a presidential ticket (her parents are from Jamaica and from India), has come up through the conventional route to high office.  Ms. Harris has been chief prosecutor in San Francisco, state attorney-general in California and is now a U.S. senator.  Mr. Biden promises a return to competent governing.  His running-mate’s cv reinforces the pitch.

“What does the choice say about what a would-be Biden administration might do?  Like Mr. Biden, she comes from the Democratic Party’s center. That means pursuing progress on climate change, health care and the relationship between business and the state through incremental change rather than cheerleading for a revolution….

“Ms. Harris is not particularly ideological, a quality which could also be an asset in November. The Trump campaign was hoping for a crazed leftist; the president’s first attack ad has had to settle for going after ‘phony Kamala.’  As often with Mr. Trump’s insults, there is an element of truth to the charge. During the Democratic primary Ms. Harris seemed willing to abolish private health insurance when the wind appeared to be blowing that way.  Then, when the scheme began to look like a gift to Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, she ditched it, sort of, in favor of an unworkable, cobbled-together hybrid. This suggests a lack of fixed ideas.  It also suggests a kind of flexibility that can be a useful attribute in Washington deal-making.

“In short, she resembles the old white guy at the top of the ticket.  Some veep picks try to compensate for the headline candidate’s particular weakness – think of Mike Pence’s evangelical piety and Mr. Trump’s Hugh Hefner tendencies.  Ms. Harris more of an amplifier.  Like Mr. Biden she has moved with her party, for example on criminal justice, but without ever straying too far from where a majority of voters are. She has accumulated enough experience in executive positions and as a legislator to provide competent backup. That may not sound inspiring, but it would be a contrast to the administration which the Biden/Harris ticket hopes to replace.

“This is all the more important because Ms. Harris may one day inherit or win the presidency herself. Average male life expectancy in America is 76.  Mr. Biden is 77. If he does triumph in November, she may be called on to deputize for him while he is in office.  If he loses, she would be first in line next time round.  For all the anxiety about racism in America at the moment, Ms. Harris feels in many ways like a safe, unremarkable choice for vice-president. That is a sign of progress.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“In choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate on Tuesday, Joe Biden checked the essential boxes his party had demanded – a woman, a minority, and a progressive who has moved left as the Democratic Party has. We’ll see how the California Senator plays in the swing-state suburbs that Mr. Biden needs to defeat President Trump.

“Mr. Biden’s choice is especially important because he would be the oldest President on Inauguration Day at age 78. The actuarial tables and his declining mental acuity suggest he wouldn’t run for re-election, assuming he lasts a full term.  Americans who have watched Mr. Biden on the campaign trail – and the way his advisers protect him from media questioning – are smart enough to know that in voting for Mr. Biden they’re also voting for his running mate as a likely President.

“Ms. Harris is most appealing as an example of American upward mobility, especially for immigrants.  Her father is a Jamaican-born Stanford economist.  Her Indian-born mother was a breast cancer researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Even when the country was less racially tolerant than it is now, both parents had successful careers and were able to provide opportunities for their daughter even as they divorced. She made the most of them.  Like Barack Obama, Ms. Harris’ success is a living refutation of the left’s critique of America as an oppressive, racist land.

“Her political record, on the other hand, will reassure Democrats more than independents or soft Republicans. She’s a political lifer who rose through the patronage machine of former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.  She was a local prosecutor, a state Attorney General for six years, and was elected to the Senate in 2016 after party Bigs cleared the primary for her. This isn’t an extensive resume for executive office, and on foreign policy she is about as experienced as Sarah Palin….

“Her record as prosecutor will bother some on the Black Lives Matter left, but her identity as a minority will blunt that concern.  She’s progressive but malleable.  She was quick to endorse Medicare for All and the Green New Deal as a presidential candidate, but she backtracked when they began to look too extreme.

“She is also a ferocious partisan.  As California AG she killed a deal that would have rescued some ailing Catholic hospitals because of opposition from the Services Employees International Union.  In the Senate she was one of the nastiest questioners of Brett Kavanaugh, which is a high bar. She floated some innuendo about the judicial nominee’s alleged secret discussions about Robert Mueller’s Russia probe without any evidence.  As a candidate, Ms. Harris will be delighted to brawl with Donald Trump.

“Mr. Biden may have backed himself into the corner of having to choose Ms. Harris.  He limited his choices by promising to select a woman, and the black Democrats who saved him in South Carolina pressed for a black woman. Then the Sanders wing pressed for a progressive, and Ms. Harris is a safer choice by far than Elizabeth Warren.

“In this sense the choice is revealing about the unusual nature of Mr. Biden’s candidacy.  He won the nomination as the last-ditch, anti-Trump alternative to what would have been the suicidal selection of Bernie Sanders.  More than any recent nominee, Mr. Biden is a party figurehead, more than a party leader.  In adding Ms. Harris to the ticket, he has underscored that a vote for Mr. Biden isn’t merely a vote to oust Mr. Trump.  It’s a vote for the coastal progressives who now dominate the Democratic Party.”

Well the Journal editorial board shortchanges Harris’ ability to resonate with suburban women.  It also seems to ignore the impact Harris will have in Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in getting out the black female vote in those critical urban areas that could supply the margin of victory in three states that are key to victory…all taken by a total of 80,000 votes, combined, by Donald Trump in 2016.

The black female vote is in fact energized like never before.  That is going to be the true story of Election 2020.

Covid-19 death tolls (as of tonight)….

World…762,441
USA…171,535
Brazil…106,571
Mexico…55,293
India…49,134
UK…41,358
Italy…35,234
France…30,406
Spain…28,617
Peru…25,648

Source: worldometers.info

U.S. daily death tolls…Sun. 535; Mon. 569; Tues. 1,504; Wed. 1,386; Thurs. 1,284; Fri. 1,120.

President Trump keeps talking about how countries who have received credit for the great job they did in suppressing the virus are now spiking, so last week I picked ‘Wednesday’ and compared the United States’ cases and deaths with six European countries that have a combined population of 336.3 million, vs. America’s 330 million and we had 7,281 cases and 100 deaths in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK and Belgium, combined, versus the corresponding U.S. tally of 55,148 and 1,319.

This past Wednesday, yes, Europe continues to see rising case numbers, 8,889 in the aforementioned six nations with 118 deaths, but this is compared to the U.S. with 54,345 new cases and 1,386 deaths on that day.

We’re all about the facts here. I’ll keep doing this exercise for a few more weeks.

[Germany dealt another blow to Spain’s critical tourism industry, declaring nearly all of it, including the tourist island of Mallorca, a coronavirus risk region following a spike in cases there.]

Covid Bytes

--The UK government has signed deals for a further 90 million doses of coronavirus vaccine; the vaccines being developed by the Belgian pharmaceutical company Janssen and the U.S. biotech company Novavax.  It means the UK has placed orders for six experimental vaccines, taking its potential stockpile to 340 million doses.

In theory, there should be enough for everyone in the UK to get five doses.  Most of the vaccines require only two.

With most vaccine trials ending in failure, the government is effectively hedging its bets, hoping that at least one of the vaccines it has purchased proves safe and effective.

--The European Union has agreed to buy at least 300 million doses of AstraZeneca’s potential Covid-19 vaccine in its first such advance purchase deal, which could weaken plans led by the World Health Organization for a global approach.

The European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of all 27 EU member states, said the deal includes an option to purchase 100 million additional doses from the British drugmaker should the vaccine prove safe and effective. The EU’s bilateral deal mirrors moves by the U.S. and other wealthy states, some of which are critical of the WHO’s initiative, and further reduces the potentially available stock in the race to secure effective vaccines.

It’s every man for himself. The Third World will be left behind.

--The United States entered an agreement with drugmaker Moderna Inc. to acquire 100 million doses of its potential Covid-19 vaccine for around $1.5 billion, the company and White House said on Tuesday.

--China has three indigenous coronavirus vaccines in Phase 3 trials, at least one of which is said to be very promising.

--Germany’s leading infectious disease institute said on Wednesday a first vaccine against the coronavirus could be available as early as autumn but warned that it may take longer to control the pandemic.

“Preliminary projections make the availability of one or several vaccines seem possible by autumn 2020,” the Robert Koch Institute said in a statement on its website, citing a global effort to bring immunizations to market.  “It would be dangerous at this point to trust that a vaccination from autumn 2020 can control the pandemic,” it cautioned.  The impact of any vaccine could be tempered by viral mutations or by the resulting immunity only lasting a short time, the institute added.

--Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that Russia had approved a Covid vaccine, without going through Phase 3 trials, which can determine that the vaccine works better than a placebo and doesn’t cause harm to some people who receive it.

“I think it’s really scary.  It’s really risky,” said Daniel Salmon, the director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University.

If it wasn’t so dangerous, it would be laughable. Russia’s Minister of Health, Mikhail Murashko, declared that “all the volunteers developed high titers of antibodies to Covid-19.  At the same time, none of them had serious complications of immunization.”

“This is all beyond stupid,” said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.  “Putin doesn’t have a vaccine, he’s just making a political statement.”  [Carl Zimmer / New York Times]

--New Zealand had gone 100 days without a reported case of domestically transmitted Covid-19, but then this week suddenly positive cases popped up and Auckland went back on lockdown. The country hasn’t reported a death since May 28 and has only 22 overall.

--A batch of frozen chicken wings exported from Brazil to China tested positive for coronavirus, Chinese officials announced Thursday.

The infected poultry was discovered in the city of Shenzhen during routine screenings of imported meat and seafood carried out since June.

People who may have come into contact with the chicken wings were tested by Shenzhen’s health authorities and all the results came back negative.

China reported the day before that the coronavirus was found on packages of shrimp from Ecuador.

Covid-19 was first linked to a seafood market in Wuhan.

--Bill Gates said in an interview last Sunday on CNN that the state of Covid testing in the U.S. is “mind-blowing.”  “You’re paying billions of dollars in this very inequitable way to get the most worthless test results in any country in the world,” he said.  “No other country has this testing insanity.”

Gates blamed the problems with the American testing regime on early mistakes followed by an unwillingness on the part of the federal government to improve testing “because they just want to say how great everything is.”

One particular fix Gates said he suggested to the federal government that went unheeded was to deny reimbursement to any test provider that takes more than 3 days to return results to a patient. Right now, he pointed out, commercial testing companies have an incentive to test as many people as they can with no regard for how quickly they can turn around results, because they are being reimbursed by the government based on how many tests they complete, even if the results aren’t timely and therefore, not useful for people receiving them.

--My state of New Jersey has done a good job of suppressing the virus, though our new case numbers are beginning to slowly tick up again with reopening, but it’s also emblematic of the huge issues faced in reopening schools.  You’ve seen some schools that are already open for the year, such as in Georgia, have had issues, but in New Jersey, most districts had been planning on some kind of hybrid workaround, with in-person learning as well as online, and at first blush it seemed fairly reasonable.

But then the districts started looking at the details and you have the example of Elizabeth, N.J., one of our larger cities, and it was impossible for them to provide in-person instruction because 375 to 400 of the teachers said they would not return to the classroom due to safety concerns.

A day later, the state’s largest teachers’ union demanded Murphy keep all schools closed to in-person instruction.

Meanwhile, President Trump likes to tout New Jersey’s experience with pediatric cases of Covid-19, and how we’ve had just one death in the 17 and younger category, but that is now three, and nearly 6,000 have tested positive.  Of those, 1,021 were 4 years old and younger.

Overall, children made up about 9 percent of all cases in the country as of the end of July.  But different states label the category differently. New Jersey is 0-17. Utah’s data is for people 0-14. Alabama’s is 0-25.

A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association said infections among U.S. children grew 40% in the last half of July. The report aggregates data from 49 states and contradicts President Trump’s assertion that kids are “virtually immune,” the numbers also showing that child infections make up a disproportionately small share of the overall outbreak in the U.S.

Trump World

--At a news conference today, President Trump said he was prepared to provide Americans with direct payments as well as rental assistance and money for small businesses, state and local governments.  I’m waiting for the Democrats to approve it,” Trump said.  “Democrats are holding that up, right?”

A day earlier, the president said he was blocking talks to prevent Democrats from providing more money for the Postal Service or state and local election officials struggling to prepare for Nov. 3 elections during a pandemic.  Then today, he signaled he might approve funds for the Postal Service.

The Postal Service itself sent out an extraordinary warning letter to 46 states saying it might not be able to handle the expected crush in mail-in ballots.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to quickly reverse operational changes they say have led to mail delays and “threaten to undermine our democracy.”

--As alluded to above, President Trump intensified his attacks on vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Thursday, as he appeared to give credence to so-called “birther” theories suggesting she cannot be vice president because of her heritage.

After being the leading proponent of conspiracy theories about former president Obama’s place of birth – Trump was asked about the theory at a press briefing in the White House.

“I just heard that, I heard it today, that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” he said.  “I have no idea if that’s right.  I would have assumed the Democrats would have checked it before she gets chosen to run for vice president. But that’s a very serious… You’re saying that they’re saying that she doesn’t qualify because she wasn’t born in this country?”

An article in Newsweek magazine by conservative law academic John Eastman questioned whether Harris is eligible to become vice president or president under the U.S. constitution, claiming that neither her father or mother was a naturalized U.S. citizen at the time of her birth in 1964.

The president will just stoke it from here on… “He’s a very good lawyer…I just read about it…”

Or he’ll have Jared Kushner, like he did today, go out and say, “I know the story is out there…”

--President Trump said he planned to give his acceptance speech for the presidential nomination at this month’s Republican Party convention from the White House lawn.

“I’ll probably be giving my speech at the White House because it is a great place.  It’s a place that makes me feel good, it makes the country feel good,” the New York Post quoted Trump as saying in an interview.

--Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) doubled down on his criticism of President Trump’s recent executive orders in a tweet on Monday afternoon, saying “no president” has the power to make such unilateral policy decisions.

“No president – whether named Obama or Trump or Biden or AOC – has unilateral power to rewrite immigration law or to cut taxes or to raise taxes,” Sasse said.  “This is because America doesn’t have kings.”

Earlier, Sasse said: “The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop.”

“President Obama did not have the power to unilaterally rewrite immigration law with DACA, and President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law.  Under the Constitution, that power belongs to the American people acting through their members of Congress,” he continued.

Trump shot back, calling Sasse a “Republican in Name Only” or RINO.

“RINO Ben Sasse, who needed my support and endorsement in order to get the Republican nomination for Senate from the GREAT State of Nebraska, has, now that he’s got it (Thank you President T), gone rogue, again.  This foolishness plays right into the hands of the Radical Left Dems!”

--In one of his “coronavirus” briefings / campaign rallies, Trump actually said this: “We have urged Americans to wear masks; maybe they’re great, maybe they’re not too great, but what do you have to lose…it’s up to the governors…we want a certain freedom…states facing unique circumstance…elected governors can implement own policies.”

And this gem: “I don’t believe in polls, but as you know ours are going up very significantly.”

And this: “Mail-in voting is going to be the greatest fraud in election history; biggest problem is going to be with the Democrats, not Russia, China and Iran.”

--Trump tweets:

“I am ready to send more money to States and Local governments to save jobs for Police, Fire Fighters, First Responders, and Teachers.  DEMOCRATS ARE HOLDING THIS UP!”

“I am ready to have @USTreasury and @SBA send additional PPP payments to small business that have been hurt by the ChinaVirus.  DEMOCRATS ARE HOLDING THIS UP!”

“I have directed @stevenmnuchin1 to get ready to send direct payments ($3,400 for family of four) to all Americans.  DEMOCRATS ARE HOLDING THIS UP!”

“I am ready to send Rental Assistance payments to hardworking Americans that have been hurt by the ChinaVirus.  DEMOCRATS ARE HOLDING THIS UP!”

“I have done more for WOMEN than just about any President in HISTORY! As we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of women’s voting rights, we should build a BEAUTIFUL STATUE in Washington, D.C. to honor the many brave women who made this possible for our GREAT COUNTRY…

“…Congress should send me H.R. 473 ASAP and make this happen!  It will INSPIRE all women to continue being bold and brave in achieving their DREAMS!”

“The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me.  They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood.  Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey (sic) Booker in charge! @foxandfriends @MariaBartiromo”

[Gee, that’s not too racist…]

“More Testing, which is a good thing (we have the most in the world), equals more Cases, which is Fake News Gold. They use Cases to demean the incredible job being done by the great men & women of the U.S. fighting the China Plague!”

“John Bolton, one of the dumbest people I’ve met in government and sadly, I’ve met plenty, states often that I respected, and even trusted, Vladimir Putin of Russia more than those in our Intelligence Agencies.  While of course that’s not true, if the first people you met from….

“….so called American Intelligence were Dirty Cops who have now proven to be sleazebags at the highest level like James Comey, proven liar James Clapper, & perhaps the lowest of them all, Wacko John Brennan who headed the CIA, you could perhaps understand my reluctance to embrace!”

“The Fake News Media is giving @KamalaHarris a free pass despite her Radical Left failures and very poor run in the Democrat Primary.  There was nobody meaner or more condescending to Slow Joe, not even me, and yet she quickly evaporated down to almost zero in the polls. Bad!”

“Everybody does phony books on Donald Trump and Republicans, just like the Fake Dossier, which turned out to be a total fraud perpetrated by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC…

“…The Bob Woodward book will be a FAKE, as always, just as many of the others have been.  But, believe it or not, lately I’ve been getting lots of GREAT books!”

“Very poor morning TV ratings for MSDNC’s Morning Joe, headed by a complete Psycho named Joe Scarborough and his ditzy airhead wife, Mika, and also @CNN, headed by complete unknowns. Congratulations to @foxandfriends on dominating the mornings (thank you President Trump!).”

Wall Street, Washington and the Economy

Congressional Democrats and the White House have stopped talking as prospects for a bipartisan stimulus package grew increasingly dim, Congress now on recess until Labor Day.  State leaders clamored for the two sides to approve a package to directly address the expiration of unemployment benefits.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows went off on vacation for an unspecified amount of time.

President Trump touted an executive order (one of three) signed last weekend in Bedminster, N.J., at his country club that would extend enhanced unemployment benefits while side-stepping Congress. It lowers the weekly bonus to $400 from the extra $600 that expired in late July, with states being asked to cover 25% ($100) of the costs.  But it could take months to implement.

Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren said Wednesday that strong fiscal support is needed for the U.S. economy to rebound, but those policies must be paired with efforts to contain the virus.

“I would say that taking strong fiscal action and taking very few public health actions is completely the wrong mix,” Rosengren said during a webinar conference.  “If you want to actually make sure that the debt doesn’t explode, you have to make sure that we get the pandemic under control.”

“The forecast for the U.S. economy this fall is quite uncertain, but my view is that the recent slowdown in economic activity that we have seen in high frequency data is likely to continue,” Rosengren added.  The Fed official said the parts of the country that enacted longer shutdowns earlier on in the crisis are now benefiting from better health outcomes and more robust spending.  States that lifted restrictions too quickly saw a short-lived increase in economic activity, which became muted after a rise in infections, he said.

“Limited or inconsistent efforts by states to control the virus based on public health guidance are not only placing citizens at unnecessary risk of severe illness and possible death, but are also likely to prolong the economic downturn,” Rosengren said.

--On the issue of President Trump and his call to defer Social Security payroll taxes, Democrats seized on the idea as a signal that Trump would cut the social safety net and break a promise he made as a candidate in 2016 not to touch both it and Medicare.

Deferral of the 6.2% payroll tax on employees for the last three months of this year could mean that up to $150 billion in payments to the Social Security Trust Fund would be delayed, according to the nonpartisan Committee For A Responsible Federal Budgets, which advocates for reducing government deficits.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement: “Providing a payroll tax deferral poses no risk to the Social Security Trust Fund and puts more money in the pockets of hardworking Americans as we fight to end this pandemic from China and rebuild our economy safely.”

With more than 60 million beneficiaries, Social Security is funded by a 12.4% payroll tax evenly divided between employees and employers.  But there was a cloud over the program’s long-term finances long before the pandemic, with government experts estimated it would be unable to pay full benefits starting in 2035.

Many of the details of Trump’s plan are missing.  Businesses also have misgivings, because the plan would require them to change their payroll systems and could leave them responsible for collecting deferred taxes later on.

Robert Samuelson / Washington Post

“It must be clear to almost everyone by now that the sudden and sharp economic downturn that began in late March is something more than a severe recession.  That label was, perhaps, justifiable for the 2007-2009 Great Recession, when unemployment reached a peak of 10 percent. It isn’t now.

“ ‘This situation is so dire that it deserves to be called a ‘depression’ – a pandemic depression,’ write economists Carmen Reinhart and Vincent Reinhart in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.  ‘The memory of the Great Depression has prevented economists and others from using that word.’…

“What’s clear is that the Pandemic Depression resembles the Great Depression of the 1930s more than it does the typical post-World War II recession.  To simplify slightly: The typical postwar slump occurred when the Fed raised interest rates to reduce consumer price inflation. They lowered rates to stimulate growth.

“By contrast, both the Great Recession and the Pandemic Depression had other causes. The Great Recession reflected runaway real estate and financial speculation and their adverse effects on the banking system. The Pandemic Depression occurred when infection fears and government mandates led to layoffs and an implosion of consumer spending.

“The collateral damage has been huge. Small businesses accounted for 47 percent of private-sector jobs in 2016, estimates the Small Business Administration.  Many have failed or will fail because they lacked the cash to survive a lengthy shut down.  In a new study, economist Robert Fairlie of the University of California at Santa Cruz reports an 8 percent drop in the number of small businesses from February to June.  Among African Americans, the decline was 19 percent; among Hispanics, 10 percent….

“The interaction between medicine and economics often baffles.  Is this a health-care crisis or an economic crisis? Before the New Deal in the 1930s, national leaders followed the conventional wisdom of the day – doing little.  Similarly, leaders now are following today’s conventional wisdom, which is to spend lavishly. Will this work or will the explosion of government debt ultimately create a new sort of crisis?

“The language of the past increasingly fits the conditions of the present. The many busts of the 19th century have long been referred to as ‘depressions’ – for example, in the late 1830s, the 1870s and the 1890s.  The accepted reality at the time was that mere mortals had little control over economic events.  We thought we had moved on, but maybe we haven’t.

“The implications for the economic outlook are daunting.  In their essay, the Reinharts distinguish between an economic ‘rebound’ and an economic ‘recovery.’  A rebound implies positive economic growth, which they consider likely, but not enough to achieve full recovery. This would equal or surpass the economy’s performance before the pandemic.  How long would that take? Five years is the Reinharts’ best guess – and maybe more.”

As for the economic data on the week, the biggest was that after 21 straight weeks of weekly jobless claims in excess of 1 million, this week’s figure came in at 963,000 vs. 1,191,000 the week before.  The 963,000 is still 300,000 over what had been the all-time high prior to the pandemic.  The jobs picture remains ugly.

Retail sales in July came in less than expected, just up 1.2% vs. the prior month’s revised 8.4% pace. Ex-autos the figure was 1.9%.

July industrial production was 3.4%, a little better than expected.

On the inflation front, July producer prices came in at 0.6%, 0.5% ex-food and energy; -0.4% year-on-year, 0.3% on core yoy. Consumer prices rose a strong 0.6%, ditto on core; but were still up just 1.0% vs. a year ago, 1.6% ex-the stuff we use.

The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer for third-quarter growth is up to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 26.2%, but we have two months of data to go, the first look at Q3 released Oct. 29, which as you know President Trump has been touting already.

The Treasury Department released the figures on the budget deficit for July, -$63 billion, better than expected because delayed tax payments boosted revenues while coronavirus aid outlays shrank sharply.

That said, due to all the relief programs, the deficit for fiscal 2020 is $2.81 trillion vs. $867bn a year ago, with two more months of data in the fiscal year.  Previously, the full-year deficit record was $1.4 trillion in 2009, amid the Great Recession.

And on the trade front, the U.S. and China postponed talks planned for over the weekend that had been aimed at reviewing progress at the six-month mark of their phase-one trade agreement.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He was supposed to hold a video conference with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.  No reason for the cancellation was given.

Europe and Asia

The EU confirmed its initial flash estimate of second quarter growth in the euro area (EA19), down 12.1% over the first quarter (vs. -9.5% in the United States, -32.9% annualized).  The report from Eurostat had taken into consideration data from the 13 largest nations in the bloc.

Germany -10.1 Q2 over Q1; France -13.8%; Italy -12.4%; Spain -18.5%; Netherlands -8.5%; Austria -10.7%; and Sweden -8.6%, among others.  [Ireland did not report.]

The UK came in at an all-time worst -20.4%.

For the second quarter over the same quarter of 2019, the eurozone saw growth plummet -15.0%.  In the first quarter, GDP had decreased by 3.6%.

Separately, industrial production in the EA19 in June rose 19.1% over May; -12.3% vs. a year ago.

Turning to AsiaChina released some important data points for July, with industrial production up 4.8% from a year earlier, the fourth straight month of expansion, though a little less than expected.  The 4.8% was the same as June’s pace as more businesses resumed production after lockdowns put in place to contain the coronavirus.

Retail sales dropped 1.1% last month vs. a year ago, when a small gain was expected, while compared with a 1.8% decline in June. Sales fell for a seventh straight month in a sign of further sluggish consumer demand, despite the relaxation of containment measures.

Fixed asset investment slipped 1.6% in the first seven months of the year from the same period last year.

Separately, factory-gate (producer) prices fell 2.4% in July vs. a year ago, a sixth straight decline, which isn’t good.  All the preceding from the National Bureau of Statistics.

China’s new home prices rose at a slightly slower monthly pace in July but growth remained steady.  Average new home prices in 70 major cities rose 0.5% from June; 4.8% annualized.

China’s real estate investment rose 3.4% in January-July from a year earlier, according to the NBS.

Taiwan’s Directorate General of Budget forecast the economy on the island would grow about 1.6% in 2020, with second-quarter annual GDP contracting 0.6%.  For 2021, the statistics office is calling for solid GDP growth of 3.9%.

Street Bytes

--The S&P 500 through Thursday had its best 100-day gain since 1933, up 51% since bottoming on March 23.  The Dow Jones has risen 50%, its best 100-day gain since 1933 as well, while the Nasdaq has climbed 62%, its biggest 100-day rally since 2000, the peak of the dot-com bubble.

On the week, the Dow Jones added 1.8% to 27931, while the S&P gained 0.6% to a level just 14 points shy of its all-time mark, while Nasdaq struggled to pick up 0.1%.  Better news on the jobless claims front outweighed the failure in Washington to come up with a relief package and disappointing retail sales.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 0.11%  2-yr. 0.15%  10-yr. 0.71%  30-yr. 1.45%

Yields on the long end of the curve rose sharply on optimism for a vaccine and a stronger economy; the yield on the 10-year back to a level last seen June 12.  The 30-year yield rose a full 22 basis points.

--The coronavirus pandemic will have an even bigger impact on the global economy and demand for oil than previously expected, according to OPEC’s latest monthly report.

The cartel estimates that world-wide oil demand this year will amount to 90.6 million barrels a day, 9.1 million barrels less than last year and a deeper slide than the prior month’s report.

OPEC also said that it expects a 4% contraction in the global economy, worse than its earlier estimate of 3.7%.

While the Vienna-based organization expects major economies to recover as lockdowns ease, “the latest surge of infections in the U.S. will need to be closely monitored, as a continuation of this trend may lead to an erosion in rebounding consumer confidence and spending behavior.”

Rising coronavirus cases in India, Brazil and some eurozone countries, such as Spain, also could derail economic growth and oil demand, OPEC said.

Despite the dour news, OPEC maintained its forecast for a record-breaking rebound in 2021.

Separately, the International Energy Agency lowered its 2020 oil demand forecast to 91.9 million barrels per day, slightly higher than OPEC’s forecast and an 8.1 million bpd decline from last year.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that domestic crude production last week fell to 10.7 million barrels a day, down from a record of 13.1 million in mid-March when governors began issuing stay-at-home orders.

Though jet-fuel consumption remained very weak, down 45% from a year ago, demand for diesel and gasoline continued to climb back, which has led to a drawdown from U.S. stockpiles.

The EIA projects U.S. crude production will fall 990,000 barrels per day to 11.26 million bpd, steeper than the 600,000 bpd decline it forecast last month.

Lastly, the U.S. oil rig count fell by four to 172 during the week that ended Aug. 14, its lowest level since 2005, according to data compiled by Baker Hughes.

The count has been declining for all but one of the past 22 weeks.

The combined oil and gas rig count for the U.S., which stood at 793 on March 6, slid by three to 244 last week, an all-time low.

The price on West Texas Intermediate finished the week at $42.18, barely exceeding the $40 to $41 range of the prior six weeks.

--Marriott International Inc. posted its worst quarterly loss ever, though a budding travel recovery in China offered some hope.

The world’s largest hotel company swung to a second-quarter loss of $234 million, from a year-earlier profit of $232 million, as travel remained depressed during the usually lucrative summer season.

CEO Arne Sorenson called the latest period “the worst quarter we have ever seen by far.”

The hotel industry is suffering through its worst period in modern times, with world-wide cutbacks in business travel and cancellations of conference events. There has been a little pickup in leisure travel during the summer in the U.S., but hotel executives don’t expect business travel returning to pre-Covid-19 levels for two or more years.

Marriott’s occupancy in what it terms Greater China – encompassing China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan – reached 60% in the latest quarter, compared with 70% a year earlier, so that’s encouraging.

Overall revenue fell 72% from a year earlier to $1.46 billion, less than expected.

--Boeing won no new airplane orders, delivered just four commercial jets and wiped another 52 orders from the backlog for its grounded 737 MAX in July.

With international air networks all but paralyzed and domestic routes at a fraction of normal passenger traffic despite a slight recovery, many Boeing airline customers have deferred existing deliveries into the future and avoided new orders.

Rival planemaker Airbus won four new orders in July and delivered 49 airplanes: two small A220s and 47 A320neos.  It delivered no widebody jets, meant for long-haul international flying, which is the most severely hit sector of the business.

For Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX program, cancellations are mounting in addition to deferrals.

Customers last month canceled 43 MAXs outright. An additional nine MAXs were removed from the official backlog because the customer situation meant the contracts were no longer deemed solid enough to meet U.S. accounting standards.

The FAA may unground the MAX by late October and potentially flying passengers again in the U.S. by year end.

But the pandemic has left airlines struggling for cash and reluctant to take delivery of new airplanes when there is little demand.

--Eastman Kodak Co. said on Tuesday it expects sales volumes and working capital to improve in the current quarter after reporting a 31% decline in quarterly revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The photographic equipment maker’s stock plunged on Monday after the government blocked a $765 million loan to the company, which was going to make drug ingredients for use in possible Covid-19 vaccines, because of “alleged wrongdoing” by executives.

“On July 28, we signed a Letter of Interest with Eastman Kodak. Recent allegations of wrongdoing raise serious concerns.  We will not proceed any further unless these allegations are cleared,” the U.S. International Development Finance Corp. wrote in a tweet posted last Friday evening.

A previously announced SEC and congressional inquiry was anticipated to slow, if not stall the deal.

Well, I told you on day one there were probably serious issues at play with the crazy action and volume in Kodak’s stock prior to the July announcement and the shares finished the week at $8.50, down from an intraday high of $60 amid the frenzy.

--The Wall Street Journal reported that “TikTok skirted a privacy safeguard in Google’s Android operating system to collect unique identifiers from millions of mobile devices, data that allows the app to track users online without allowing them to opt out,” a Journal analysis found.

“The tactic, which experts in mobile-phone security said was concealed through an unusual added layer of encryption, appears to have violated Google policies limiting how apps track people and wasn’t disclosed to TikTok users.  TikTok ended the practice in November, the Journal’s testing showed.”

The findings come as TikTok’s Beijing-based parent, ByteDance Ltd., is under pressure from the White House over concerns the data collected by the app is being used by the Chinese government to track U.S. government employees or contractors.

Downloading TikTok and WeChat from the Google or Apple app stores in the U.S. could be blocked by President Trump’s executive orders to restrict the Chinese-owned apps.

The thing is, Facebook and Google also collect a tone of personal data, as do most major mobile apps.

Twitter has joined Microsoft in taking a look at acquiring TikTok’s U.S. operations after President Trump set a fall deadline for the video-sharing platform to strike a deal with an American company.

*Tonight, Trump suddenly gave ByteDance 90 days, not 45, to get a deal done.

--Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. companies whose fortunes are linked to China are pushing back against the Trump administration’s plans to restrict business with the WeChat app, with more than a dozen U.S. multinational companies raising concerns in a call with White House officials Tuesday about the potentially broad scope and impact of Trump’s executive order targeting WeChat.

Apple, Ford, Walmart and Walt Disney were among those participating in the call, the Journal reported.

“For those who don’t live in China, they don’t understand how vast the implications are if American companies aren’t allowed to use it,” said Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council.  “They are going to be held at a severe disadvantage to every competitor.”

--Retail passenger-car sales in China increased 7.7% in July from a year earlier, the China Passenger Car Association said Tuesday, marking the strongest month of sales growth by percentage in more than two years.

Overall auto sales climbed 16.4% in July, the fourth consecutive month of gains as the world’s biggest vehicle market comes off lows hit during the lockdown.

For the year to date, sales were down 12.7% to 12.37 million vehicles, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.  Sales of trucks, vans and other commercial vehicles soared 59.4%, while sales of new energy vehicles grew 19.3%, ending 12 straight months of decline.  [The CAAM differed with the China Passenger Car Association in saying passenger-car sales rose 8.5%.]

But the CAAM has warned of excessive inventory levels as dealers restock vehicles for which there is so far insufficient demand.

--China resumed issuing tourist visas for visitors to Macau, paving the way for the mass return of Chinese gamblers to the world’s largest gaming hub after months of losses.

Importantly, a two-week quarantine imposed on Macau travelers upon their return to the mainland has been lifted.

Without Chinese visitation, Macau’s gaming revenue plunged by over 90% for four consecutive months and operators have been losing $15 million daily in expenses, according to a Morgan Stanley estimate.

--Cisco Systems Inc., maker of network services and videoconference tools, reported fiscal Q4 earnings that were down from last year but beat the Street’s expectations.

Revenue totaled $12.15 billion for the three months ending July 25, down from $13.43 billion for the prior-year period, but also beating estimates.

But the company guided lower for the current quarter and expects revenue to drop 9% to 11%.  The stock fell sharply in response.

--According to a research note from Evercore ISI, Apple suffered an unexpected slide in iPhone sales in China in July.  Analyst Amit Daryanani reviewed the government’s July data on smartphone shipments, which showed a 35% decline for the month overall, marking the third straight month of decline and is a significant deterioration versus the mid-teens declines in May and June, he noted.

Apple shares slipped in part on the news Tuesday to $437.50, but finished the week at $459, hitting another new high.

--Chinese tech giant Huawei is running out of processor chips to make smartphones due to U.S. sanctions and will be forced to stop production of its own most advanced chips, a company executive says, in a sign of growing damage to Huawei’s business from American pressure.

Washington cut off Huawei’s access to U.S. components and technology last year.  Those penalties were tightened in May when the White House barred vendors worldwide from using U.S. technology to produce components for Huawei.

Chips designed by Huawei’s own engineers are made by contractors that need U.S. manufacturing technology, according to a Huawei official, Huawei lacking the ability to make its own chips thus far.

--Tesla announced a five-for-one stock split and the shares went bonkers, up 18% the first day after the news, even though this means nothing fundamentally.

Tesla shareholders will receive four additional shares for every share held after the close of trading on Aug. 28. Shares begin trading on a post-split basis starting Aug. 31.

While the share count will go up fivefold, the price for each share will be reduced by 80%.

Stock splits historically are bullish, a lower share price meaning more retail investors can afford the stock; in this case a $300 stock vs. a $1,500 one.  [Actually, $330 vs. $1,650 after this week’s renewed surge.]

But now many brokers offer fractional shares.

--Lyft Inc. reported its worst financial performance as a public company Wednesday in a quarter hampered by the coronavirus, a steep revenue decline and a wider loss.

The San Francisco-based company still maintains its forecast for a quarterly adjusted profit by the end of next year, even with at least 20% fewer rides than previously anticipated.

Lyft reported a 61% decline in revenue to $339 million, with the adjusted loss widening 37% to $280 million.

Uber Technologies reported similarly dismal results last week, though with a surge in food delivery orders.  Lyft has no such business.

--Berkshire Hathaway said it earned $26.4 billion in the second quarter, a turnaround from a $49.7 billion loss in the first quarter, when a plunge in the stock market, prompted by the coronavirus outbreak, caused huge paper losses in Warren Buffett’s giant stock portfolio.

But Berkshire warned the pandemic could lead to changes in the economy that could hurt its companies.

“We cannot reliably predict when business activities at our numerous and diverse operations will normalize.  Nor can we predict how these events will alter the future consumption patterns of consumers and businesses we serve,” it said in its second-quarter filing.

Aside from its stock holdings in companies like Apple and Bank of America, Berkshire owns outright a wide array of large businesses – in the insurance, railway, energy, retail and manufacturing sectors – that provide a snapshot of the health of the American economy.

Berkshire’s reported $26.7 billion increase in the value of its stock holdings was powered by a $27.3 billion surge in the value of the company’s investment in Apple’s stock, whose price has soared even as the economy sputtered badly.

Berkshire has not been without major problems in its portfolio, announcing a $9.8 billion writedown for its Precision Castparts aircraft and industrial parts business, as the coronavirus caused 10,000 job losses.  Berkshire acquired Precision for $32.1 billion in 2016 and said Covid-19 caused airlines to slash aircraft orders, resulting in significantly less demand for Precision’s products and causing revenue to fall by about a third.

Berkshire also took a $513 million charge on its 26.6% stake in Kraft Heinz Co., which recently took writedowns on several of its businesses, including Maxwell House and Oscar Mayer brands.  [I recently finished off a large pack of Oscar Mayer bologna. That obviously didn’t move the needle enough.]

--Manhattan apartment rents plunged last month by the most in nearly nine years, dismal news for landlords, who are trying to keep units filled amid a health crisis that’s sparked an urban exodus.

July’s vacancy rate climbed to a record of 4.33%, according to Douglas Elliman Real Estate, with 13,117 apartments listed for rent at the end of the month, the most in data going back to 2006.

The median rent, with concessions such as free months factored in, plummeted 10% to $3,167.

New Yorkers have been fleeing Manhattan since March, when the Covid-19 lockdown began.  And now, with the flexibility to stay remote perhaps becoming permanent, so are the departures.

A recent report released by the Partnership for New York City, the trade group that convenes the largest local companies, found that 16% of office employers plan to move jobs out of New York, and a quarter of them are planning to reduce the space they have in the city by at least 20%.

The Hartford Courant reported that more than 16,000 New Yorkers changed their address to Connecticut from March through June, while movers United Van Lines and Mayflower said they had done 1,000 out-of-state moves from New York City starting in March, with 28 percent to Florida and California, and 16 percent to Texas and North Carolina.

--Some of New York’s largest employers have pledged to hire 100,000 “traditionally underserved” residents of the area within the next decade.

The pledge, made by the CEOs of 27 companies, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup and Amazon.com, is part of a new initiative called the New York Jobs CEO Council, according to a statement on Monday.

The CEOs plan to use their collective resources, money and scale to create “pathways to stable careers for New Yorkers in low-income and diverse communities,” many of which have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus health and economic crisis, according to the statement.

People in lower-income, Black and Hispanic communities were more likely to be adversely affected by the pandemic. Many work in lower-paid, service jobs, which were most impacted by the shutdown, and had fewer resources and less savings to cushion the blow.  Those still working were less likely to be able to do so from home, meaning Black, Hispanic and low-income Americans have been at an increased risk of exposure to the virus, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

--The U.S. corn supply is booming thanks to supportive weather.  In its monthly supply-and-demand report released Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it expects 2020 production to total 15.3 billion bushels, up 278 million bushels from its previous estimate.  The USDA now projects a record 181.8 bushels per acre.

71% of the U.S. corn crop is in either good or excellent condition vs. 57% at this time last year.  That’s what happens when you get adequate rain and nothing extreme on the temperature front.

But with an impending surge in inventories, corn futures are down about 8% since July 1.

--McDonald’s sued its former CEO Steve Easterbrook, claiming he had sexual relationships with three subordinates after it discovered “dozens of nude, partially nude, or sexually explicit” photos and videos in the ousted CEO’s corporate email account.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in Delaware state court, the fast-food giant said the nudie pics prove Easterbrook lied about the trio of trysts before he was fired over a separate romance last year.

Gee, I thought he was supposed to be focused on reviving moribund breakfast sales, but now the company wants to claw back the severance package it paid the Brit, which was worth an estimated $41.7 million.

When McDonald’s investigated Easterbrook’s brief relationship with a fourth employee that led to his November 2019 firing, he denied ever being sexually involved with any other company staffers, the lawsuit said.  But an anonymous tip led to the evidence revealing that was a lie, McDonald’s alleges.

Easterbrook, 53, also approved an “extraordinary” stock grant worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for one of the women while they were involved.

Good lord.  What a dirtball!

--United Parcel Service Inc. plans to impose hefty fees on large shippers during the holiday season, reflecting the added complexity and cost of an expected crush of online orders amid the pandemic.

The fees will test the ability of large retailers such as Amazon.com Inc. and Target Corp. to offset costs during a holiday season when skittish shoppers will avoid crowded stores and rely more on online shopping.

UPS said the fees could total as much as $3 a package for ground shipments and up to $4 a package for air shipments.

Retailers are not happy with the higher-than-expected hikes that UPS is talking about.  FedEx hasn’t weighed in yet.

You know, no one has said anything yet, but with all the travel restrictions, many of which will still no doubt be in place come Christmas, let alone the PPE issues concerning chimneys and apartment buildings, how is Santa Claus going to do his job?!  I mean really.

Parents, whatever you do, do NOT bring this topic up with the children.   But you’ll get some clues following NORAD’s computer graphic Christmas Eve and whether Santa is detouring around those countries with the severest restrictions. That will suck.

--We note the passing of media mogul Sumner Redstone, 97.  There are some figures who have been ubiquitous in one’s life and for my business career that was certainly the case with him; a towering figure in the world of media and entertainment for decades who helped shape the company that is now ViacomCBS.

Redstone maintained control of the media company’s corporate parent, National Amusements, as chairman and CEO until his passing, but his daughter, Shari Redstone, has been the public face in recent years as her father battled health issues.

Redstone did everything in his life.  Born on May 27, 1923, he attended Harvard before serving in a military-intelligence division during World War II. He returned to Harvard for his law degree and later worked at a U.S. appellate court in San Francisco.

Redstone began his career in the entertainment industry in 1957, joining his father’s drive-in movie theater business, and then over the next half-century he engineered a steady stream of mergers and acquisitions to assemble a global media conglomerate with holdings in movies and television, book publishing, theaters, movie rentals, and radio.

Redstone began to set his sights on acquiring content to display on the screens of his movie theaters, buying stakes in several movie studios including MGM, Columbia Pictures, and Twentieth Century Fox.  He then he made a big bet on a company called Viacom – owner of cable television channels including MTV, Showtime, TMC, and Nickelodeon.  In 1987, Redstone won a bidding war to take control of Viacom, beating out Carl Icahn, among others.

He eventually bought Paramount Pictures for close to $10 billion in 1994, famously declaring that year that “content is king,” a phrase that has proved so true up to today.  The Paramount acquisition also brought the publisher Simon & Schuster and the Madison Square Garden teams New York Knicks and Rangers, which he sold to Cablevision soon after.

Five years later, Redstone engineered a merger of Viacom and CBS, valued at nearly $40 billion, the largest deal ever in the media industry to that point.

By the mid-2000s, Redstone was back in divestment mode, splitting the two.

“In the 21st century, large is no longer in charge,” he said on a Viacom earnings call in August 2005.  “Leverage will belong to the nimble and the swift, and of course, content will always remain king.”

Meanwhile, Shari Redstone’s influence grew as her father stepped away in 2016, at the age of 92.  Father and daughter began to clash in court, and in public, as Shari pushed to reunite CBS and Viacom, which was finally accomplished in August 2019, after CBS’ powerful CEO and chairman Les Moonves left the company amid allegations of inappropriate behavior.

RIP, Sumner Redstone.  One of the more colorful, and influential, business figures of the past century.

--Finally, good news…New York City museums and aquariums have the green light to open again, starting Aug. 24, with capacity restrictions.  But still not indoor dining or gyms.

Foreign Affairs

China and Hong Kong: Hong Kong police arrested media tycoon and prominent democracy advocate Jimmy Lai on Monday, raiding the offices of his flagship newspaper, the highest-profile case yet against the city’s democracy activists under a new national security law that has fueled U.S.-China tensions.

Lai was shown being taken away in handcuffs from his home. When a reporter asked Lai for his views on the arrest, he answered: “What views do I have?  They want to arrest me.”

Apple Daily, which is under Lai’s media network Next Digital Ltd. and the biggest pro-democracy paper in Hong Kong, reported that nearly 200 officers were entering its offices.

The move was met with criticism from the UK, which handed Hong Kong back to Chinese control in 1997.

A spokesman for China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office supported the arrest and said in a speech that Lai is working with foreign powers to seriously endanger national security.

10 people in all were arrested including Lai, his sons Ian and Timothy, Next Digital Chief Executive Cheung Kim Hung, the chief operating officer and chief financial officer, and the head of the Next Animation Studio.  Two others, one a freelance journalist and the other a member of an election monitoring group, were also among those taken into custody.

The security legislation, which bars subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, has prompted fears among activists and foreign governments that it will be used to curtail basic freedoms.

The U.S. has led foreign governments in expressing concern over the law, saying Hong Kong could no longer be considered sufficiently autonomous.  It has revoked some special trading privileges, which help underpin the city’s reputation as a business hub, and sanctioned officials including Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Last year’s protesters in Hong Kong are quickly becoming this year’s martyrs for democracy.  On Monday police arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai under the new national-security law, and some 200 officers raided the newsroom of his pro-democracy Apple Daily.

“Police arrested Mr. Lai for sedition, criminal fraud and ‘collusion’ with vaguely defined foreign forces.  Mr. Lai’s real crime is that he is Hong Kong’s most effective international advocate and speaks the truth about the Communist Party.    Mr. Lai met last year in Washington with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Members of Congress, and he has also written for these pages.

“If Mr. Lai, 71, is convicted under the new law he may face life in prison.  On Monday police also arrested Mr. Lai’s two sons and four employees of his publishing company.  There’s reportedly also a warrant out for Mark Simon, an American citizen who works for Mr. Lai and was not in Hong Kong at the time of the arrests.  All will have excellent lawyers, but in another assault on the rule of law only judges approved by the Communist Party can decide national-security cases.  Lawmakers Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung have tried to defend the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary, but authorities have disqualified them from running for office, and both may soon be removed from their seats on the Legislative Council.

“China’s state-run media are already predicting the verdict. The Global Times wrote Monday that Mr. Lai ‘is widely seen as a ‘modern traitor.’’ It also claimed that Apple Daily ‘has played a role of instigating hatred, spreading rumors and smearing Hong Kong authorities and the mainland for years,’ ‘played an active role in inciting anti-government riots,’ and ‘is backed and funded by foreign forces to bring about a ‘color revolution’’ in Hong Kong.  For years Beijing has coerced advertisers into blacklisting Apple Daily, and watch now as it tries to use the new law to drive the newspaper out of business.

“All of this is a warning to local and international media in Hong Kong to shut up about freedom or also risk arrest.  Mr. Lai is the most high-profile figure arrested under the new national-security law, but late last month the police arrested four little-known students, the youngest only 16.

“Last week the U.S. imposed sanctions on Chief Executive Carrie Lam, police commissioner Chris Tang and nine others who have deprived Hong Kongers of their rights.  China retaliated Monday with sanctions against 11 Americans including GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, but that’s a sign the U.S. voices are having an effect.  As the Communist Party silences Hong Kongers, it’s all the more important for the world to speak out for them.”

Editorial / Washington Post

“After years of a slow drip-drip, China is now rushing at high speed to end Hong Kong’s legendary freedom and independence.  President Xi Jinping appears to have decided that, with a new national security law in place, Hong Kong should be rapidly swaddled in China’s authoritarian straight jacket – no more temporizing.  This is the unsettling message of Monday’s arrest of democracy champion and tycoon Jimmy Lai.

“The courageous Mr. Lai, 71, was taken away in the most ostentatious way possible: handcuffed by police, along with his sons and seven others, while police raided the newsroom of his pro-democracy Apple Daily, rifling through reporters’ desks and carting off 25 boxes of files, all on suspicion of ‘colluding with foreign powers,’ punishable by life in prison under the new security law that China rammed through recently. The charge is outrageous, but the raids signal a determination to extinguish media freedom, long one of Hong Kong’s crown jewels of liberty, a principle and practice that does not exist under the party-state on the mainland.  Mr. Lai, who got his start in the garment industry, championed Apple Daily as a newspaper unafraid to hold both Hong Kong and Beijing governments to account.

“By using the new national security law so broadly and abruptly in a bid to silence Mr. Lai, Mr. Xi has dispelled any impression that the law would be applied sparingly.  It is now the hammer and tong of China’s repression.  The arrests come on top of the July 31 decision by Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to delay legislative council elections for a year, ostensibly because of the novel coronavirus closing off one of the few remaining forums for Hong Kong residents to express themselves.  The elections were expected to bring out serious opposition to China’s tightening controls; now, China will decide the makeup of the 70-member council until and unless elections are held.

“There can be no more illusions that China will keep its promise from the 1997 handover to allow ‘one-country, two-systems,’ under which Hong Kong was assured that it could retain rule of law, free expression and the promise of full democracy. But the people of Hong Kong have shown, over and over again during the ordeal of recent years, that they cherish the values of a free people. The world must not abandon them or surrender to Beijing’s steamroller.

“If President Trump had not pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, if he had devoted more attention to supporting allies in the region instead of consistently undermining them, he might have more leverage at this moment of crisis in Hong Kong. But Mr. Trump was indifferent toward China’s human rights abuses for years, and his recent burst of campaign-year criticism and sanctions are having little impact on China. The loss of Hong Kong as an island of freedom is a grievous one for all who care about democracy.  Mr. Xi is going about his grim business unrestrained.”

Editorial / New York Times

“Mr. Lai, an ardent critic of the Chinese Communist Party who had used his wealth to finance pro-democracy activities, knew it was coming.  In an Op-Ed in The Times in May, shortly before the government in Beijing announced its intention to pass the (anti-sedition law), he wrote: ‘I have feared that one day the Chinese Communist Party would grow tired not only of Hong Kong’s free press but also of its free people. That day has come.’

“It has been a sad sight for all who had watched hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong’s people bravely take to the streets in the months before the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to several other protests in years past, to protect the modest freedoms they were promised when Britain turned its former colony over to China in 1997.  Beijing started trying to undermine the ‘one country, two systems’ principle from the get-go, but the campaign to quash the opposition has escalated sharply under the unyielding, authoritarian rule of President Xi Jinping….

“It is dubious that (sanctions and statements from the U.S.) can have much effect, given that the officials sanctioned are not likely to travel in one or the other direction due to the pandemic and probably have few assets that the other side can freeze. Given Mr. Xi’s mind-set and China’s growing economic and military might, it is hard to imagine what actions the United States or its allies could do to help the brave people of Hong Kong.

“To them, ‘two systems’ always meant more than a bit of say in local governance: It meant they could continue to enjoy free speech and impartial courts, and freedom from fear of official oppression.  ‘Two systems,’ to the pro-democracy forces, meant a free one in Hong Kong and an unfree one on the mainland.

“All that has long been in peril, no more so than now, and it is terribly sad to see people who had done so much to protect their freedoms fall further challenged again by a system that regards freedom as sedition, free speech as subversion and meeting with foreigners as collusion.

“For now there is not much more the world can do.  Yet Mr. Xi is deluded if he thinks that turning the rule of law into a rule by law will erase the longing for elemental freedoms that is second nature to Hong Kong.  It is incumbent on the United States and its allies, and on all people who cherish freedom, to make abundantly clear to Beijing at every chance that in Hong Kong, as in Xinjiang and the South China Sea, Mr. Xi’s misguided aggression is turning his nation from a rising star into a pariah.”

For his part, Jimmy Lai called on Americans to support Hong Kong’s fight for freedom, saying he hoped it would eventually change China’s behavior that “went against international values.”

“If we don’t change [China], the world will not have peace,” he warned.

Lai walked free on bail, after which he live-streamed a session with the Heritage Foundation, an American think-tank based in Washington.

It is not known when Lai and the others will stand trial.

The Communist Party’s mouthpiece, People’s Daily, ran an online commentary on Thursday, saying that just because Lai was released on bail “did not mean that he can escape from precise punishment under the city’s law.”

Separately, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar became the highest-level U.S. government official to visit Taiwan in four decades on Sunday, when he touched down on the island that China claims is rightly its own; the move being a further escalation of tensions between Washington and Beijing. Azar’s arrival was broadcast live on Taiwanese TV and the nominal focus of his trip was on public health cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan, which has just 7 reported Covid-19 deaths and a mere 481 cases.

Thursday, Taiwan unveiled a $1.4 billion increase for next year’s planned defense spending, as China announced details of its latest combat drills near the democratic island.  Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is pressing for stronger ties with the U.S. to help safeguard the island’s security as she also urged Beijing to recognize Taiwan as a self-governed democracy.

Beijing responded to Azar’s visit by deploying fighter jets that briefly crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait, the unofficial airspace boundary between mainland China and Taiwan.

North Korea: The country is experiencing serious flooding, though turning down any international aid, but there are real concerns over the country’s main nuclear facility because satellite imagery suggests flooding may have damaged pump houses at Yongbyon, according to think-tank 38 North, a website that monitors North Korea.

Yongbyon is home to nuclear reactors, fuel re-processing plants and uranium enrichment facilities that are thought to be used in the country’s nuclear weapons program.

It appears the main reactor has been shut down, but the uranium enrichment plant doesn’t appear to be impacted, 38 North said.

Israel / UAE: In a major surprise announcement, Israel and the UAE agreed to full normalization of relations in a phone call with President Trump on Thursday, marking the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country in 25 years.

Israel agreed to suspend its planned extension of sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria to facilitate relations with the UAE and potentially other Arab and Muslim countries.

The agreement will include establishing embassies and exchanging ambassadors, investments into the Israeli economy, trade, direct flights between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi, an investment in Israeli efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine – as first reported last month – and cooperation in matters of energy and water.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal “full, formal peace” with “one of the strongest countries in the world.”

“Together we can bring a wonderful future. It is an incomparably exciting moment,” Netanyahu said.  “I have the great privilege to make the third peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country, the UAE.”

In remarks in the Oval Office, Trump alluded to “many more countries” in the region normalizing ties with Israel, and “some very exciting things including, ultimately, with the Palestinians.”

UAE Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohamed bin Zayed (MBZ) called it “the agreement to stop Israel’s annexation of the Palestinian Territories and taking steps to bring Peace to the Middle East.  He said in a tweet that he “values the efforts…in order to achieve prosperity and stability for our region.”

Netanyahu said that he still plans to apply Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.

“I’m not giving up on it.  It’s on the table because of me.  Trump put sovereignty into his peace plan because I asked for it,” Netanyahu said.  “But in the first place I said again and again that we would only implement sovereignty in coordination with the U.S. Without support from the U.S., in the best case it would be worthless, and in the worst case, it would hurt ties very much.”

Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem and Washington pointed to the use of the word “suspend,” which implies the pause is only temporary, which has infuriated Palestinians.  The wording was agreed upon by all three sides.  It’s unclear for how long annexation is thus suspended.

Democratic candidate for president Joe Biden said “the UAE’s offer to publicly recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave and badly-needed act of statesmanship. Annexation would be a bloody blow to the course of peace, which is why I oppose it now and would oppose it as president.”

What made Thursday’s announcement so surprising, in part, is that on Monday, Netanyahu blamed the United States for his failure to annex West Bank settlements.

“It was clear from the start that the application of sovereignty would be done only with agreement from the United States.  Otherwise, I would have already done it a while ago,” he told Channel 20 in an interview.

President Trump “is now busy with other things, and this [sovereignty] is not on the top of his mind,” Netanyahu said.

“I hope that in the near future we will be able to advance recognition of the application of sovereignty as well as other diplomatic issues of importance to Israel.”

Netanyahu took credit for the U.S. decision to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and for Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, as well as the legalization of West Bank settlements.

“All of that didn’t happen by accident,” Netanyahu said.

Bobby Ghosh / Bloomberg News

“The most important diplomatic breakthrough in the Middle East in a generation meant so little to the man who first announced it on Twitter that within an hour he had moved on to tweeting about football and predicting the collapse of the United States under Joe Biden. Donald Trump, in full reelection mode, plainly doesn’t think voters will care much about the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

“He’s probably right about that: In an American election cycle, foreign policy success gets only desultory attention.  At the most, Trump might be able to use Thursday’s announcement to score a minor point against Biden in one of their debates.

“And the UAE was always the odds-on favorite to be the first, not least because MBZ, as the prince is popularly known, has aggressively pursued a policy of expanding Emirati influence, often by marrying his ambitions to American interests.

“Between MBZ and Netanyahu, it is the prince who’s taking the greater gamble with normalization. Although the Palestinian cause no longer animates Gulf affairs as it once did, Israel remains highly unpopular among ordinary Arabs.

“His spin doctors will try to portray MBZ as a savior of the Palestinians by suggesting he used the lure of normalization to prevent Netanyahu from going through with a planned annexation of large swathes of the West Bank.  But this is not an easy sell.

“MBZ’s enemies in the region – whether they be Yemeni, Qatari or Iranian – will accuse him of colluding with the Palestinians’ oppressors. The UAE will receive some blame for any Palestinian hereafter killed, hurt or humiliated by Israeli soldiers and settlers.  Islamist terrorists may seek to make an example of him, just as they did the first Arab leader to make a deal with Israel: Anwar Sadat.

“But MBZ can ride out spasms of public opprobrium.  Unlike Trump, he doesn’t need to win any elections.  And the security structures of the UAE will undoubtedly be strengthened to ensure his safety.  He has obviously calculated that the rewards of normalization far outweigh any risk on his part.

“Some of these are obvious.  The agreement allows the two countries to openly trade in goods and services, especially of the military and intelligence kind, which MBZ needs for his ambition to turn the Emirati armed forces into a Little Sparta. Israel and the UAE, already united in their perception of the Iranian threat, can now openly join forces against the common enemy.

“The other advantages of normalization for MBZ are more subtle.  It will, for instance, buy him a great deal of goodwill in Washington, where his clout is already considerable. What’s more, the goodwill will be bipartisan, insulating him from a potential Trump defeat on Nov. 3. Contrasts that with the fortunes of his good friend, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, which are bound to Trump.

“For Netanyahu, the risks of normalization are much lower.  Yes, an about-face on the annexation plan will enrage a large section of his political base, and especially the would-be settlers. That may explain his equivocation on the topic. But an exchange of embassies with the UAE would be a diplomatic triumph even his most vociferous critics cannot deny….

“For the U.S., there is almost no risk at all: Two allies collaborating openly can only serve American interests. Even if this matters little to Trump, future American leaders will appreciate the agreement he announced.”

David Ignatius / Washington Post

“The breakthrough announcement that Israel and the United Arab Emirates will normalize diplomatic relations was the culmination of years of secret contacts – and then a final push by the UAE that persuaded Israel to back off its plans to annex the West Bank.

“President Trump revealed the historic agreement following a three-way call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE leader Mohammed bin Zayed, whose formal title is crown prince of Abu Dhabi.  For once, Trump didn’t need to manufacture any superlatives.  This was, as he tweeted, a ‘HUGE’ achievement. The UAE joins Jordan, which reached a peace agreement with Israel in 1994 and Egypt, which signed a pact with its former enemy in 1979.

“Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, outlined the diplomatic exchanges over the past six weeks that closed the deal during a telephone interview and a later call with a group of journalists.  Kushner said the UAE-Israel pact was an ‘icebreaker’ that he hoped would be followed by similar moves by other Arab countries.

“Kushner didn’t specify what Arab countries might be next.  But State Department officials said likely prospects include Oman, Bahrain and Morocco. For now, officials say, Saudi Arabia will resist formal recognition of Israel.  Iran and Turkey, each seeking the role of Muslim champion, will doubtless accuse the Emiratis of betraying the Palestinian cause.

“Although Thursday’s announcement is a political boost for Trump, it could also facilitate Israeli and Emirati cooperation with a Democratic administration, if Joe Biden should win in November. Arab-Israeli peace is perennially popular with Democrats, and the UAE’s move will make it easier for Democrats in Congress (and perhaps the White House) to improve relations with the Gulf Arab states, despite the strains caused by the war in Yemen and the murder of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi….

“Netanyahu and MBZ were drawn together by shared interests: They agreed that Iran and its proxies threatened the Middle East; they mistrusted the Obama administration and its secret nuclear diplomacy with Iran; they favored more trade and investment across the region; and they liked the Trump administration’s transactional realpolitik.

“Kushner was Trump’s point man in the Middle East, and as he struggled to frame a peace plan over strident Palestinian objections, he turned increasingly to the UAE.  After a February 2019 meeting in Warsaw attended by some Arab leaders, the United States sponsored secret talks between Israel and the UAE, according to the Wall Street Journal. The mediator for those contacts was Brian Hook, the State Department’s (now former) senior official on Iran.

“Kushner’s peace plan, when it was finally announced, seemed stillborn. But Kushner argued that if he could peel off several countries that were ready to make a pragmatic deal, the process of Arab normalization with Israel – a dream since the Jewish state was founded – might finally get some traction.

“Trump’s surprise announcement might be an ‘August surprise’ in the presidential campaign. But it’s welcome news for Israel, the Arabs and the United States.”

Thomas L. Friedman / New York Times

“For once, I am going to agree with President Trump in his use of his favorite adjective: ‘huge.’

“The agreement brokered by the Trump administration for the United Arab Emirates to establish full normalization of relations with Israel, in return for the Jewish state forgoing, for now, any annexation of the West Bank, was exactly what Trump said it was in his tweet: a ‘HUGE breakthrough.’

“It is not Anwar el-Sadat going to Jerusalem – nothing could match that first big opening between Arabs and Israelis. It is not Yasir Arafat shaking Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn – nothing could match that first moment of public reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

“But it is close.  Juist go down the scorecard, and you see how this deal affects every major party in the region – with those in the pro-American, pro-moderate Islam, pro-ending-the-conflict-with-Israel-once-and-for-all camp benefiting the most and those in the radical pro-Iran, anti-American, pro-Islamist permanent-struggle-with-Israel camp all becoming more isolated and left behind.

“It’s a geopolitical earthquake….

“The UAE had been mulling going for more open diplomatic ties with Israel for a while, but it was the discussions over how to stop annexation that created a framework where the UAE could be seen as getting something for the Palestinians in return for its normalization with Israel.

“The Netanyahu dynamics here are fascinating, or as Israeli writer Ari Shavit remarked to me: ‘Netanyahu is trying to get out of his own personal Watergate by going to China.  He’s like Nixon in reverse.’

“What he meant was that Netanyahu had been doing everything he could to appease the right-wing forces in Israel – with shiny objects like annexation – so they would side with him in his corruption trial against Israel’s court system and attorney general.

“By taking this deal, Netanyahu, as Nixon did with China, abandoned his natural ideological allies – the settlers who supported him because they thought he would deliver annexation – ‘and this will force Netanyahu to become more dependent on the center and center-right in Israel going forward,’ said Shavit. ‘This deal may help save Israeli democracy by now depriving Bibi’ of the full army of right-wing forces ‘he needed to destroy the Israeli Supreme Court.’

“The Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, was also stripped of something by this deal, which may force him to the negotiating table.  It stripped him of his biggest ace in the hole – the idea that the gulf Arabs would normalize with Israel only after the Israelis satisfied the demands of the Palestinian Authority with a state to its liking….

“The big geopolitical losers are Iran and all of its proxies: Hezbollah, the Iraqi militias, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Houthis in Yemen and Turkey. This is for a number of reasons.  Up to now, the UAE has kept up a delicate balance between Iran and Israel, not looking to provoke Iran, and dealing with Israel covertly.

“But this deal is right in Iran’s face. The tacit message is: ‘We now have Israel on our side, so don’t mess with us.’ The vast damage Israel inflicted on Iran through apparent cyberwarfare in recent months may have even given the UAE more breathing room to do this deal.

“But there is another message, deeper, more psychological.  This was the UAE telling the Iranians and all their proxies: There are really two coalitions in the region today – those who want to let the future bury the past and those who want to let the past keep burying the future.  The UAE is taking the helm of he first, and it is leaving Iran to be the leader of the second….

“The UAE and Israel and the U.S. on Thursday showed – at least for one brief shining moment – that the past does not always have to bury the future, that the haters and dividers don’t always have to win.

“It was a breath of fresh air. May it one day soon turn into a howling wind of change that spreads across the whole region.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“President Trump’s Mideast strategy has been to strongly back Israel, support the Gulf monarchies, and press back hard against Iranian imperialism. His liberal critics insisted this would lead to catastrophe that never came, and on Thursday it delivered a diplomatic achievement: The United Arab Emirates and Israel agreed to normalize relations, making the UAE the first Arab League country to recognize the Jewish state in 20 years.

“The agreement is worth celebrating on its own terms but it also holds lessons for U.S. foreign policy.  On regional strategy, this shows the benefit of the U.S. standing by its historic allies in the Middle East.  President Obama shunned Israel and the Gulf states and sought to normalize Iran. His nuclear deal, an economic boon to Tehran, was a means to that end. But Iran does not want to be normalized.  It’s a revolutionary regime that wants to disrupt the non-Shiite countries, spread its military influence from Syria to Lebanon to Yemen, and destroy Israel.

“Mr. Trump’s pivot from Iran reassured Israel and the Gulf states and put the U.S. in a position to broker agreements. Israel and the UAE have worked together covertly, but the agreement will allow deeper economic ties and strengthen regional checks on Iranian power.  UAE’s move could also spur Bahrain and possibly Oman to seek the benefits, in Jerusalem and Washington, from closer Israel ties.  For decades Israel was treated as a pariah state in the Middle East, but that era may be ending.”

Daoud Kuttab / Washington Post…Kuttab a Palestinian journalist based in Amman, Jordan.

“The useless agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is nothing but a ploy to artificially inflate the Trump administration’s foreign policy achievements ahead of the election.  In real terms, it was nothing but leaders trading with used goods.

“On Thursday, President Trump announced that U.S. diplomats had brokered a major breakthrough. The agreement basically declares that the corrupt government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will postpone its plans for the unilateral annexation of occupied Palestinian land in return for normalization with a small but rich Arab Gulf state. The problem with the big hoopla around this is that it is neither a genuine breakthrough nor will it bring peace between Israelis and Arabs anytime soon.

“Israel’s prime minister had already postponed the plans for unilateral annexation after the international community, and more than half of Israelis had rejected the move, which would have been a crass violation of international law.  And for their part, the United Arab Emirates had already broken its promises to Palestinians and Arabs by conducting many acts of normalization with Israel. UAE planes carrying aid for Palestinians have been allowed to fly directly to Israeli airports recently.  UAE and Israeli athletes participated together in international events to signal warmer ties.

“The UAE, a member of the Arab League, originally agreed to the 2002 Saudi-initiated Arab Peace initiative that called for the normalization of relations in return for the Israelis ending their 1967 occupation of Arab lands.  Palestinians and the world, including the United States, have considered the areas Israel took in June 1967 to be occupied areas, and various regional and international agreements have stressed this fact.

“Then came the Trump administration with its ill-advised vision for peace, which gave Israel everything they wanted and didn’t even bring Palestinians to the negotiating table.

“Though now more than ever there’s a real, urgent need to bring peace to the region, this so-called breakthrough fails to provide even a road map for the end of the decades-long Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

“The timing and context of this agreement can’t be ignored.  Netanyahu is facing well-documented corruption charges and is trying to wiggle himself out of a governing deal with the centrist Blue and White party.  He’s hoping that this will improve his chances for an outright win in a potentially fourth Israeli general election in less than two years.

“Trump, trailing badly in the polls, is hoping for a boost from his right-wing Zionist supporters (both Jewish and evangelical Christians) in the form of campaign funding, including from the pro-Netanyahu billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who was upset that Trump didn’t support Netanyahu enough in his pursuit of the unilateral annexation plan….

“Had Israel gone through with its unilateral annexation plans, it would have jeopardized its peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt and could have brought sanctions from traditional European supporters such as Germany, Britain and France.

“The tragedy in all of this is that Palestinians will be totally erased from all the talk of ‘breakthroughs’ and ‘peace.’  But we know that genuine peace will only come by seriously committing to end the Israeli occupation and creating a democratic and peaceful Palestinian state that can exist side-by-side a safe and secure Israel.  Until then, all will be just part of an insulting diplomatic circus.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif on Friday denounced the accord between the UAE and Israel as “theatre” fabricated by the United States.  “They (U.S.) think that by fabricating the theatre like the one that happened yesterday unfortunately, that they can determine the fate of Palestine,” Zarif said in televised remarks during a visit to Lebanon.  “The current U.S. administration has proven that it is not capable of understanding the political realities in our region.”

Media and people in the UAE hailed the Gulf state’s deal with Israel as a diplomatic victory that helps the Palestinians, but silence reigned in Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon: As the now-dismissed Lebanese government said in the first hours of the Aug. 4 catastrophic blast in Beirut, the U.S. government has concluded that maintenance work likely led to the explosion of a large cache of ammonium nitrate.  It was not a “bomb of some kind,” as President Trump declared in the immediate hours after.  As I noted last week, it likely resulted from welding that took place at the port the day of the explosion, which set fire to other unspecified materials, that then ignited the chemical stockpile.

The death toll is 160 with another 60 missing; 6,000 injured; 300,000 displaced.

The explosion stoked public outrage that forced Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet to resign early this week, with parliament, in its first session since the explosion, approving a state of emergency yesterday that grants sweeping powers to the military, which in the old days was the most respected institution in the country, but which had lost respect in the days after the catastrophe due to the lack of an emergency response.

The new declaration allows the armed forces to try civilians in military courts for security crimes, bans public gatherings, censors media, establishes curfews and allows the military to enter residents’ homes for security purposes. The state of emergency remains in place until Aug. 21, for starters.

The need for immediate emergency aid in Lebanon is urgent.  Donor countries pledged nearly $300 million in aid at a conference in Paris last Sunday that included at least 28 countries, organized by French President Emmanuel Macron.  The aid effort will be overseen by the UN instead of the Lebanese government, but this sum is a mere drop in the bucket given the scope of the damage. For starters, hundreds of thousands now have no way to make a living.  No place to live.

The resignation of the cabinet is likely to trigger more political instability as not only is there a political vacuum, but there is no real functioning state to deal with the disaster.

For now, Prime Minister Diab’s cabinet becomes a caretaker government with limited powers until a new government is formed, which is expected to occur through a pact among the country’s rival political factions.  In the past, this process took months.  Diab said he would request early elections, but no timeline was set.

Lebanon’s economy is in free fall and the protesters are demanding a total overhaul of the political system, not just a replacement of the government.  Economists forecast the blast could wipe up to 25% off of the country’s GDP.

Afghanistan: The government agreed to release 400 “hard-core” Taliban prisoners, paving the way for peace talks aimed at ending two decades of war.  Among those freed are Taliban members accused of major attacks against civilians and foreigners, including a 2017 truck bombing near the German embassy in Kabul that killed more than 150 – the deadliest attack in the 19-year insurgency.

President Trump is pressuring the government to reach a deal so that he can bring more troops home, hopefully prior to the election, and whether it’s in the best interests of the Afghans or not. Currently, there are about 8,600 U.S. troops in the country and Defense Secretary Mark Esper said they are looking for a reduction to less than 5,000 by the end of November.

Turkey: France is sending two Rafale fighter jets and a naval frigate to the eastern Mediterranean as part of plans to increase its military presence in the region amid signs of tension with Turkey.

Earlier this week, French President Macron called on Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in the disputed waters in that area, which has resulted in heightened tensions with Greece.

Belarus: Following strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s claim of victory in Sunday’s presidential election, with 80 percent of the vote, thousands took to the streets in what turned into a bloody protest, police moving in with force.

Lukashenko alleged a foreign-backed plot to destabilize the country, ditto Russia, and dismissed the demonstrators as criminals and unemployed.  Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old teacher who emerged from obscurity weeks ago to become Lukashenko’s main rival, won 9.9% of the vote, the data showed.

But a presidential ally, the head of a national state council, said on Thursday that Lukashenko had ordered an urgent review of the detentions.  “We don’t fight, we don’t need war,” said Natalya Kochanova.

On Thursday, tens of thousands of protesters were joined by workers from some state-run industries that are the pride of Lukashenko’s Soviet-style economic model, including the Minsk Automobile Plant.  Footage showed them chanting “elections” and “go away.”

Tikhanouskaya on Friday asked supporters to sign an online petition demanding a recount of last Sunday’s presidential election, in which she believes she was cheated out of victory.

Tikhanouskaya, who fled to neighboring Lithuania with her children on Tuesday, fearing reprisals, asked supporters to demand an official investigation into allegations that the election was rigged.

She called for an end to violence and asked all city mayors to organize peaceful gatherings this weekend.

The government began releasing thousands of detained protesters on Friday, many of whom said they had suffered beatings and torture, after the rare public apology in an effort to quell the nationwide protests, which pose the biggest challenge to Lukashenko in his 26 years in power.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded the unconditional and immediate release of detained demonstrators.

At least two protesters have died and around 6,700 were detained this week in the crackdown following the vote.

Protesters said the fact that Lukashenko had been officially credited with 80% of votes in the election showed it had been massively rigged.

Lukashenko, a 65-year-old former Soviet collective farm manager, has faced increased anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic – which he dismissed as a “psychosis” – as well as a sluggish economy and human rights.

Editorial / The Economist

“In a country in the heart of Europe grisly acts were being committed this week, with the approval of Russia and China, the mildest of European protests and near-silence from America. An election was rigged; the challenger was forced to leave the country; protesters are being beaten and jailed. The perpetrator is Alexander Lukashenko, a 65-year-old dictator who has ruled the former Soviet republic of Belarus for most of its 30 years of independence. With luck, though, he may have overreached….

“Mr. Lukashenko has done all this before and got away with it, largely because he retained enough support to claim a degree of legitimacy.

“This time, however, he appears to have lost most of the population, thanks partly to his extraordinary incompetence in dealing with Covid-19.  They queued up to vote for Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former teacher who became an accidental candidate after her popular blogger husband was jailed to prevent him from running.  She made only two big promises: to release all political prisoners and to hold a proper election within six months.  The authorities said she had won only 9.9% of the vote, an impossibility given the vast crowds she attracted during her rock-star progress around the country during the campaign. The true result is unknowable, but in a few polling stations where rigging was prevented by observers she won about 70%. When Mr. Lukashenko was declared the victor, the largest crowds in independent Belarus’ history came out to roar their rage and disbelief.

“They were met with rubber bullets and stun grenades.  Thousands have been arrested.  Journalists were hunted down.  Ms. Tikahnouskaya herself was detained inside the central election commission where she went to file a complaint and was apparently coerced to read out a statement renouncing her claim to power.  Her husband is incarcerated and her children are in hiding….Ms. Tikhanouskaya was forced to go to Lithuania, explaining that: ‘Children are the most important things in our lives.’

“The Western response has been feeble….

“(The West) should recognize the election in Belarus for what it was – a sham.

“It should demand the release of all political prisoners and the formation of a transitional government.  If Mr. Lukashenko refuses, the West should impose sanctions not only on him and members of his family but also on everyone involved in rigging the election and abusing protesters. It should warn the heads of the Belarussian law-enforcement agencies and the armed forces of their personal responsibility if they carry out the orders of an illegitimate president. That is the right way to help the people of Belarus, who are demonstrating and striking against repression, and so that a phony election shall not stand.”

Vladimir Putin used a congratulatory telegram to nudge Lukashenko to accept deeper ties between the two nations, which the Belarusian leader has previously rejected as an assault on his country’s independence.

Random Musings

--Presidential tracking polls….

Gallup: 41% approve, 56% disapprove of President Trump’s job performance; 91% of Republicans approve; 34% of independents do (July 1-23).
Rasmussen: 47% approve, 52% disapprove (Aug. 14).

--In a new Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday, taken Tues. and Wed., nearly nine out of 10 Democrats approve of Kamala Harris as their party’s vice presidential nominee.  87% of Democrats and 37% of Republicans considered the selection of Harris to be a “major milestone” for the United States, 60% of all Americans.

46% of U.S. adults said they would vote for a Biden/Harris ticket, while 38% would vote for Trump and Mike Pence.

Among women, 60% said they have a favorable view of Harris, compared with 53% who felt the same way about Biden.

--A national Monmouth University Poll of registered voters has 51% supporting Joe Biden, 41% President Trump.  The remaining vote is scattered across third-party candidates, 4% undecided.  In late June, Biden led in the Monmouth survey 52-39.

Biden leads among women in this one by a commanding 61-32 percent margin.

--A new Hill/HarrisX national poll of registered voters, Aug. 8-11, prior to the selection of Kamala Harris, had Joe Biden with just a 44-40 percent lead, 4 percent going for someone else, a sizable 9 percent still undecided and the rest saying they weren’t going to vote.

An Economist/YouGov national survey of U.S. adults had Biden up 49-39 over Trump.

--Yesterday, a new Fox News poll has Biden leading 49-42 percent over Trump in a national survey of registered voters, with nine percent undecided.  This survey had Biden up 49-41 a month ago, and 50-38 in June.

--A Pew Research Center national survey of registered voters has Biden up 53-45 percent.  But 66% of Trump’s supporters say they support him strongly, compared with fewer than half (46%) of Biden’s supporters.

Both the Pew and Fox were largely conducted prior to the announcement of Kamala Harris as Biden’s running mate.

--A CBS News and YouGov poll released Sunday morning found Joe Biden leading Trump 48% to 42% among likely voters in Wisconsin, a pivotal state won by Trump 47.2% to 46.5% in 2016, while a survey for the Election Research Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, looking at registered voters, found Biden ahead 49% to 43%.  The Marquette University Law School Poll, released on Tuesday, finds Biden at 50%, Trump with 46%.

Most, 59% in CBS’ poll, say Trump is doing a bad job handling the coronavirus outbreak (58% in the Marquette survey).

35% to 44% in the three polls say they will vote by mail.

--According to the “States of Play” survey from CNBC and Change Research, Biden leads Trump by 6 points in Florida, 50 to 44 percent, and by 5 points in Michigan, 48 to 43 percent.  Biden is also up by 4 points in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, 48 to 44 percent and 47 to 43 percent, respectively.

Biden is up just one in Arizona, 45 to 44 percent.

Trump holds a narrow lead over Biden in North Carolina, 48 to 47 percent.

Nationally, Biden holds a 6-point lead in the same survey, 50 to 44 percent.

46 percent approve of Trump’s job performance, while only 44 percent approve of his handling of the pandemic.

--On Thursday, Joe Biden called on all U.S. governors to mandate mask wearing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.  Biden, Kamala Harris by his side, made the call for a nationwide mandate after a virtual meeting with public health advisers in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

“Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months,” Biden said.  “Every governor should mandate mandatory mask wearing.”

Biden said that early delays in calling for masks led to unnecessary deaths.

President Trump, who long refused to wear a mask in public, turning masks into a political symbol and sparking squabbles across the country, said states have unique differences, and that governors need to have the freedom to make their own policies and also called on Biden to “stop playing politics with the virus.”

--Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) condemned QAnon on Wednesday, saying it has “no place in Congress” on the heels of several Republican candidates who espouse the theory winning congressional primaries.

“Qanon is a  fabrication,” Kinzinger tweeted, a day after QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene won a Republican primary runoff election in Georgia.

“This ‘insider’ has predicted so much incorrectly (but people don’t remember PAST predictions) so now has switched to vague generalities,” he said.  “Could be Russian propaganda or a basement dweller. Regardless, no place in Congress for these conspiracies.”

QAnon is a baseless conspiracy theory that alleges that there is a “deep state” run by political elites, business leaders and Hollywood celebrities with ties to a child sex trafficking ring.  In addition to claiming that “deep state” members are pedophiles, the theory insists that they are actively working against President Trump.

The online movement started in 2017 on internet message boards, with posts from a self-proclaimed government insider who calls himself “Q,” presumably who Kinzinger was referring to.

Trump tweeted his support for Greene: “Congratulations to future Republican Star Marjorie Greene on a big Congressional primary win in Georgia against a very tough and smart opponent. Marjorie is strong on everything and never gives up – a real WINNER!”

Republican Jeff Flake, a former senator from Arizona, said the future of the Republican Party depended on disassociating itself from the movement.

“If the GOP wants to be a relevant political force in the future, it cannot endorse those who embrace QAnon and other conspiracy theories,” Flake tweeted.

The Trump campaign criticized Kinzinger for coming out against QAnon candidates, questioning why he would bring up QAnon falsehoods instead of ones “pushed by Democrats.”

Trump hasn’t directly addressed the QAnon theory or its supporters, but he has retweeted accounts that promote the QAnon conspiracy theory at least 185 times, according to Media Matters for America, a progressive watchdog group.

Max Boot / Washington Post

“On Tuesday, Marjorie Greene, a racist conspiracy-monger, won a Republican primary in Georgia that will almost certainly result in her winning a congressional seat in a deep-red district. The same day, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat notorious for anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic sentiments, beat back a well-funded challenger to win her primary in a blue district in Minnesota.

“By juxtaposing these election outcomes, the media can give the impression, wittingly or not, that both major parties are in the grip of extremists.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Democrats have the far left under control, while Republicans are being controlled by the far right.

“Greene and Omar actually have little in common. The Somali-born member of Congress has gotten into trouble for backing the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and for suggesting that Jewish money controls Congress.  (‘It’s all about the Benjamins baby.’)  But she has apologized for her anti-Semitic statements.

“Greene, by contrast, is unrepentant in her racism and conspiracy mongering. She has falsely claimed that George Soros, a liberal Jewish financier, is a ‘Nazi himself trying to continue what was not finished.’ She has described the election of Omar and another Muslim woman to Congress as an ‘Islamic invasion of our government.’ She has suggested that ‘the most mistreated group of people in the United States today are White males.’

“As if that weren’t bad enough, Greene is also a supporter of QAnon.  This cult, which has been linked to acts of violence, believes that President Trump is fighting a secret clique of ‘deep state’ child molesters.  Greene said in a video: ‘There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it.’

“Some Republican members of Congress have denounced Greene for her ‘disgusting’ comments, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) didn’t lift a finger to block here election, and Trump welcomed her win. He called her a ‘future Republican star’ who is ‘strong on everything and never gives up – a real WINNER!’

“And why shouldn’t Trump welcome this QAnon wing nut to his party? She fits right in….

“When the Republican Party was under assault from the conspiracy-minded John Birch Society in the 1960s, responsible conservatives such as Richard Nixon and William F. Buckley Jr. marginalized them. That isn’t happening today. Trump has regularly retweeted QAnon accounts, his son Eric posted a giant ‘Q’ as well as the group’s slogan (‘Where we go one, we go all’) on his Instagram account, and Donald Trump Jr. has echoed the group’s deranged claims that Joe Biden is a pedophile.

“The president might not be a full-fledged QAnon adherent, but he is a racist and a conspiracy-monger in his own right.  The conspiracy theories that he has promoted – Joe Scarborough is a murderer, former president Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, Sen. Ted Cruz’s father killed John F. Kennedy, etc. – are nearly as nutty as the ones promulgated by QAnon….

“Trump is also becoming increasingly blatant in his appeals to White bigots. He tweeted on Wednesday that ‘the ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me,’ because under a Biden presidency ‘low income housing would invade their neighborhood.’ Trump claimed that the person in charge of this plot would be African American Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).  This isn’t a racist dog whistle; this is a wolf whistle.

“Under Trump, the GOP has become a party of white nationalists and conspiracy-mongers. I had feared that the Republican swing to the far right would lead the Democrats to go to the far left – and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ brief run as the Democratic front-runner had confirmed my concerns. But the ticket of Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris is as mainstream and moderate as you can get.  Trump & Co. can bellow all day long that they are lackeys for Sanders and ‘the Squad,’ but it’s simply not credible. The Republican Party, by contrast, isn’t just catering to extremists – it’s led by one.”

--Americans across the political spectrum support temporary immigration restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but the nation remains divided when it comes to immigration enforcement, including President Trump’s push to expand the southern border wall, according to a national Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll released Thursday.

A large majority of Republicans (81%), a plurality of Democrats (49%) and a majority of independents (62%) said the U.S. government has done right by temporarily enacting immigration restrictions in an effort to slow the spread of the pandemic.

The poll was conducted before the New York Times reported this week that the Trump administration is considering banning U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents from reentering the U.S. if they show symptoms of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was created by President Obama to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, which Trump has tried to end, 69% of Republican in the poll said they not only support DACA, but they also support a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.

Trump has dramatically cut back and, at times, completely suspended the refugee and asylum systems that allow those fleeing war, violence or persecution to seek a safe haven in the U.S.  But 60% of Republicans support asylum for people fleeing war and violence, and 59% of Republicans support asylum for those fleeing political and religious persecution.

--The incredibly destructive derecho that moved from far southeast South Dakota into Ohio on Monday traveled approximately 770 miles in 14 hours and produced wind gusts of 100 mph in Des Moines, Iowa.

--Much of Canada’s remaining intact ice shelf has broken apart into hulking iceberg islands thanks to a hot summer and global warming, scientists said.

Canada’s 4,000-year-old Milne Ice Shelf was the country’s last intact ice shelf, but at the end of July ice analyst Adrienne White, of the Canadian Ice Service, noticed that satellite photos showed about 43% of it had broken off.

Two giant icebergs formed, along with numerous smaller ones, and they have already started drifting away.  The biggest is nearly the size of Manhattan.

Maybe it’s just as well the cruise ships are anchored and not in service these days.

Temperatures from May to early August in the region have been 9 degrees warmer than the 1980 to 2010 average, University of Ottawa glaciology professor Luke Copland said.  This is on top of an Arctic that already had been warming much faster than the rest of globe, with this region warming even faster.

“Without a doubt, it’s climate change,” Copland said, noting the ice shelf is melting from both hotter air above and warmer water below.  [Associated Press]

--Speaking of heat, Phoenix, Arizona is up to 38 days with a high temperature of 110-degrees this summer, smashing the previous record of 33 days set in 2011, and it seems destined to hit 50, looking at the long-range forecast.

But, all together now…it’s a dry heat!

--Smash Mouth, a rock band that last had a top ten hit in the U.S. in 2001, performed at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Sunday, thousands of bikers at the jam-packed event as coronavirus cases continue to surge.

Frontman Steve Harwell said, “We’re all here together tonight.  (Screw) that Covid (s---).”

Next week, look for Harwell to be seated next to Dr. Scott Atlas in one of President Trump’s coronavirus briefings, that have little to do with, err, ‘the Covid’.  Hey, did you know we’re the “Ventilator King”?

--Lastly, when it comes to a Kamala Harris v. Mike Pence vice presidential debate, I’m imagining Joe Biden in his interview process asked Harris how she would take on Pence.  Harris said (I have it on the utmost authority) that she would play the role of Sir Dinadan in “Camelot,” (aka Kamalot).

Harris

Your lordship can’t believe this blustering prattle
Let him prove it with a sword or lance instead!

I promise you, when I’ve done this Gaul in battle
His shoulders will be lonesome for his head!

Biden

You’ll disconnect him?

Harris

I’ll vivisect him.

Biden

You’ll open-wide him?

Harris

I’ll subdivide him.

Biden

Oh, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear.

Then you may guide me through the ‘third’
If you can carry out our program
In fact, I’d grieve inside should you not guide me to the ‘third.’

Vote.

---

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

God bless America.

---

Gold $1953…down $93 on the week
Oil $42.23

Returns for the week 8/10-8/14

Dow Jones  +1.8%  [27931]
S&P 500  +0.6%  [3372]
S&P MidCap  +0.6%
Russell 2000  +0.6%
Nasdaq  +0.1%  [11019]

Returns for the period 1/1/20-8/14/20

Dow Jones  -2.1%
S&P 500  +4.4%
S&P MidCap  -5.5%
Russell 2000  -5.4%
Nasdaq  +22.8%

Bulls 58.1
Bears 16.2

Hang in there.  Mask up…wash your hands.

Dr. Bortrum posted a new column!

Brian Trumbore

 



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Week in Review

08/15/2020

For the week 8/10-8/14

[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 1,113

We had three big events this week.  In order…the arrest of Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the selection of Kamala Harris to be Joe Biden’s running mate, and then the peace accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. All three get my usual in-depth treatment, and I could add the attempt at an overthrow of the government in Belarus, but this makes the column exceedingly long and I even left a few items on the cutting-room floor.  [Like my promised ‘key statistics to know before the Election.’  I’ve done the research and I’ll throw it up here next time, without failure.]

Aside from the big topics, with less than 12 weeks to go before Nov. 3rd, we have the Trump-initiated chaos over mail-in voting, where Barack Obama correctly said the president is trying to “kneecap” the postal service; Trump’s “Birtherism II”; QAnon taking center stage; and, oh yeah, a pandemic, the handling of which the president has mangled to devastating effect.

All of these topics are covered below, all the gory details. 

But there were some positive moments for the country, like the following, and I’m talking about the ‘big picture’ and what it says about our nation.  Of course the QAnon / birtherism adherents will not like it.

Once Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee and announced in March that he would pick a woman to be on his ticket, California Senator Kamala Harris was really the front-runner.  Because of his age, and some would say cognitive issues, Biden had to select a running mate who had the heft in voters’ minds to be president on day one.  In my mind it was Harris or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), but then the George Floyd murder removed Klobuchar from consideration (unfairly, I hasten to add), and it was also then that Biden essentially committed to a black woman. Again, it had to be Harris.  His dalliance with some of the black female mayors who briefly took center stage was rather stupid, frankly, because not one of them is qualified to be president, as yet (maybe 2024 or ’28).

Susan Rice then became a co-favorite, and she no doubt has experience, especially in foreign policy, but her record is awful.  Biden was smart not to pick her, even though the two are comfortable with each other, having worked closely together in the Obama administration, and there’s no doubt that IF Biden wins, Susan Rice is your Secretary of State, or national security adviser, whatever she wants.

As for Harris, the child of immigrants, her father coming from Jamaica and her mother from India, she becomes the first Black woman and first Asian-American to run on a major-party presidential ticket.

“She’s not the traditional African-American candidate,” said Fernando Guerra, a pollster and political science professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.  “Her whole political career is based on being a crossover candidate.  It makes her more appealing to non-African Americans, and that’s been her key to success.”

At 55, Harris brings to the Biden campaign relative youth, deep electoral experience and a reputation for sharply challenging Republican appointees such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Attorney General William Barr.  I finish this week’s column with my take on how she’ll treat Vice President Mike Pence in their lone debate, which unlike past debates of this kind could be a difference maker.

Harris was elected district attorney of San Francisco in 2003 and served until 2011, when she became California attorney general. As San Francisco’s top prosecutor, she raised the office’s conviction rate from 50% when she took over to 76% by 2009. She also lost some Black support by threatening parents of chronically truant children with prosecution and jail time.

As attorney general, Harris supervised California’s litigation over bank mortgage policies following the financial crisis and held out in multistate settlement negotiations with Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc. and other lenders to force the banks to raise their offers.  Initial offers of $2 billion to $4 billion in relief for California homeowners grew to more than $20 billion, as Harris also sought relief on behalf of the state’s big pension funds for misrepresentation in the sale of mortgage-backed securities.

She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016, defeating Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez for the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Republicans reacted swiftly, branding Harris as a part of the “left-wing mob” they say controls Biden’s campaign.  And the Trump campaign is going to add the nickname “Phony Kamala” to go with “Sleepy Joe.”

James Pindell / Boston Globe

“The knock on Kamala Harris, presidential candidate, is that she was all California flash and no substance: She was impressive on paper and had an inspiring background, but she lacked an ideological compass.

“Critics point to many examples of political expediency that would make Mitt Romney blush, but the most high-profile one was on Medicare-for-All, the signature policy issue of the 2020 Democratic primary season.

“Preparing for a run for president, Harris became the first senator to co-sponsor Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill.  Once she ran for president, she dropped her support and came up with her own bill that was such a mind-meld of moderate and progressive takes that even she struggled to explain it during debates.

“But that’s history. Now, what Biden requires in his running mate is someone who is politically flexible. And someone with whom he has few areas of fundamental disagreement that President Trump can exploit, the way there would have been if, say, Elizabeth Warren were the choice.

“Check.

“He also needs someone who is charismatic.

“Check.

“And he needs a political street fighter.

“Check.

“Remember her powerful debate performance where she went after Biden?  Picking someone who doesn’t pull punches is probably the right person to be a running mate, while Biden can float above it with lofty rhetoric.

“Biden may well have picked Harris for other reasons.  He already promised he would pick a woman.  There was political pressure in the era of Black Lives Matter to pick a Black woman.

“And Harris is thoroughly vetted in political campaigns, winning statewide in the largest state in the nation three times and running for president. She started out the obvious pick and then became the expected pick.

“In fact, had he not picked her, there would have been a number of stories asking: Why not Harris?

“But now the story is why Harris.  And the reason is clear: her lack of political ideology combined with her killer political instinct and high-wattage charisma.”

Editorial / The Economist

“Joe Biden’s strategy so far has been to stay out of the way as far as possible. The more the news cycle is filled with President Donald Trump, Covid-19 deaths and economic misery, the better for Mr. Biden’s campaign.  So far it has worked: he is nine points up in our average of polls. Democrats have a shot not just at taking the presidency and retaining the House but also at capturing the Senate, which earlier this year had looked out of reach. With that trifecta comes the power to change America.

“But to what end?  Mr. Biden’s stealth campaign is fine as an approach to winning the election in November, but it has not revealed much about what sort of president he might be. His choice of Senator Kamala Harris as his running-mate is different. Because this is the first big call he has had to make, it says something about how he would make decisions in the White House. It also gives an indication of the ideological leanings of a future Biden administration.

“The pick reflects well on the former vice-president, who spent eight years doing the job he has recruited Ms. Harris for.  Mr. Biden has chosen the person who went at him hardest during the primary debates; he has not held a grudge. And he has picked someone who, for all her mold-breaking qualities as the first African-American woman and the first Asian-American on a presidential ticket (her parents are from Jamaica and from India), has come up through the conventional route to high office.  Ms. Harris has been chief prosecutor in San Francisco, state attorney-general in California and is now a U.S. senator.  Mr. Biden promises a return to competent governing.  His running-mate’s cv reinforces the pitch.

“What does the choice say about what a would-be Biden administration might do?  Like Mr. Biden, she comes from the Democratic Party’s center. That means pursuing progress on climate change, health care and the relationship between business and the state through incremental change rather than cheerleading for a revolution….

“Ms. Harris is not particularly ideological, a quality which could also be an asset in November. The Trump campaign was hoping for a crazed leftist; the president’s first attack ad has had to settle for going after ‘phony Kamala.’  As often with Mr. Trump’s insults, there is an element of truth to the charge. During the Democratic primary Ms. Harris seemed willing to abolish private health insurance when the wind appeared to be blowing that way.  Then, when the scheme began to look like a gift to Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, she ditched it, sort of, in favor of an unworkable, cobbled-together hybrid. This suggests a lack of fixed ideas.  It also suggests a kind of flexibility that can be a useful attribute in Washington deal-making.

“In short, she resembles the old white guy at the top of the ticket.  Some veep picks try to compensate for the headline candidate’s particular weakness – think of Mike Pence’s evangelical piety and Mr. Trump’s Hugh Hefner tendencies.  Ms. Harris more of an amplifier.  Like Mr. Biden she has moved with her party, for example on criminal justice, but without ever straying too far from where a majority of voters are. She has accumulated enough experience in executive positions and as a legislator to provide competent backup. That may not sound inspiring, but it would be a contrast to the administration which the Biden/Harris ticket hopes to replace.

“This is all the more important because Ms. Harris may one day inherit or win the presidency herself. Average male life expectancy in America is 76.  Mr. Biden is 77. If he does triumph in November, she may be called on to deputize for him while he is in office.  If he loses, she would be first in line next time round.  For all the anxiety about racism in America at the moment, Ms. Harris feels in many ways like a safe, unremarkable choice for vice-president. That is a sign of progress.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“In choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate on Tuesday, Joe Biden checked the essential boxes his party had demanded – a woman, a minority, and a progressive who has moved left as the Democratic Party has. We’ll see how the California Senator plays in the swing-state suburbs that Mr. Biden needs to defeat President Trump.

“Mr. Biden’s choice is especially important because he would be the oldest President on Inauguration Day at age 78. The actuarial tables and his declining mental acuity suggest he wouldn’t run for re-election, assuming he lasts a full term.  Americans who have watched Mr. Biden on the campaign trail – and the way his advisers protect him from media questioning – are smart enough to know that in voting for Mr. Biden they’re also voting for his running mate as a likely President.

“Ms. Harris is most appealing as an example of American upward mobility, especially for immigrants.  Her father is a Jamaican-born Stanford economist.  Her Indian-born mother was a breast cancer researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Even when the country was less racially tolerant than it is now, both parents had successful careers and were able to provide opportunities for their daughter even as they divorced. She made the most of them.  Like Barack Obama, Ms. Harris’ success is a living refutation of the left’s critique of America as an oppressive, racist land.

“Her political record, on the other hand, will reassure Democrats more than independents or soft Republicans. She’s a political lifer who rose through the patronage machine of former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.  She was a local prosecutor, a state Attorney General for six years, and was elected to the Senate in 2016 after party Bigs cleared the primary for her. This isn’t an extensive resume for executive office, and on foreign policy she is about as experienced as Sarah Palin….

“Her record as prosecutor will bother some on the Black Lives Matter left, but her identity as a minority will blunt that concern.  She’s progressive but malleable.  She was quick to endorse Medicare for All and the Green New Deal as a presidential candidate, but she backtracked when they began to look too extreme.

“She is also a ferocious partisan.  As California AG she killed a deal that would have rescued some ailing Catholic hospitals because of opposition from the Services Employees International Union.  In the Senate she was one of the nastiest questioners of Brett Kavanaugh, which is a high bar. She floated some innuendo about the judicial nominee’s alleged secret discussions about Robert Mueller’s Russia probe without any evidence.  As a candidate, Ms. Harris will be delighted to brawl with Donald Trump.

“Mr. Biden may have backed himself into the corner of having to choose Ms. Harris.  He limited his choices by promising to select a woman, and the black Democrats who saved him in South Carolina pressed for a black woman. Then the Sanders wing pressed for a progressive, and Ms. Harris is a safer choice by far than Elizabeth Warren.

“In this sense the choice is revealing about the unusual nature of Mr. Biden’s candidacy.  He won the nomination as the last-ditch, anti-Trump alternative to what would have been the suicidal selection of Bernie Sanders.  More than any recent nominee, Mr. Biden is a party figurehead, more than a party leader.  In adding Ms. Harris to the ticket, he has underscored that a vote for Mr. Biden isn’t merely a vote to oust Mr. Trump.  It’s a vote for the coastal progressives who now dominate the Democratic Party.”

Well the Journal editorial board shortchanges Harris’ ability to resonate with suburban women.  It also seems to ignore the impact Harris will have in Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in getting out the black female vote in those critical urban areas that could supply the margin of victory in three states that are key to victory…all taken by a total of 80,000 votes, combined, by Donald Trump in 2016.

The black female vote is in fact energized like never before.  That is going to be the true story of Election 2020.

Covid-19 death tolls (as of tonight)….

World…762,441
USA…171,535
Brazil…106,571
Mexico…55,293
India…49,134
UK…41,358
Italy…35,234
France…30,406
Spain…28,617
Peru…25,648

Source: worldometers.info

U.S. daily death tolls…Sun. 535; Mon. 569; Tues. 1,504; Wed. 1,386; Thurs. 1,284; Fri. 1,120.

President Trump keeps talking about how countries who have received credit for the great job they did in suppressing the virus are now spiking, so last week I picked ‘Wednesday’ and compared the United States’ cases and deaths with six European countries that have a combined population of 336.3 million, vs. America’s 330 million and we had 7,281 cases and 100 deaths in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK and Belgium, combined, versus the corresponding U.S. tally of 55,148 and 1,319.

This past Wednesday, yes, Europe continues to see rising case numbers, 8,889 in the aforementioned six nations with 118 deaths, but this is compared to the U.S. with 54,345 new cases and 1,386 deaths on that day.

We’re all about the facts here. I’ll keep doing this exercise for a few more weeks.

[Germany dealt another blow to Spain’s critical tourism industry, declaring nearly all of it, including the tourist island of Mallorca, a coronavirus risk region following a spike in cases there.]

Covid Bytes

--The UK government has signed deals for a further 90 million doses of coronavirus vaccine; the vaccines being developed by the Belgian pharmaceutical company Janssen and the U.S. biotech company Novavax.  It means the UK has placed orders for six experimental vaccines, taking its potential stockpile to 340 million doses.

In theory, there should be enough for everyone in the UK to get five doses.  Most of the vaccines require only two.

With most vaccine trials ending in failure, the government is effectively hedging its bets, hoping that at least one of the vaccines it has purchased proves safe and effective.

--The European Union has agreed to buy at least 300 million doses of AstraZeneca’s potential Covid-19 vaccine in its first such advance purchase deal, which could weaken plans led by the World Health Organization for a global approach.

The European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of all 27 EU member states, said the deal includes an option to purchase 100 million additional doses from the British drugmaker should the vaccine prove safe and effective. The EU’s bilateral deal mirrors moves by the U.S. and other wealthy states, some of which are critical of the WHO’s initiative, and further reduces the potentially available stock in the race to secure effective vaccines.

It’s every man for himself. The Third World will be left behind.

--The United States entered an agreement with drugmaker Moderna Inc. to acquire 100 million doses of its potential Covid-19 vaccine for around $1.5 billion, the company and White House said on Tuesday.

--China has three indigenous coronavirus vaccines in Phase 3 trials, at least one of which is said to be very promising.

--Germany’s leading infectious disease institute said on Wednesday a first vaccine against the coronavirus could be available as early as autumn but warned that it may take longer to control the pandemic.

“Preliminary projections make the availability of one or several vaccines seem possible by autumn 2020,” the Robert Koch Institute said in a statement on its website, citing a global effort to bring immunizations to market.  “It would be dangerous at this point to trust that a vaccination from autumn 2020 can control the pandemic,” it cautioned.  The impact of any vaccine could be tempered by viral mutations or by the resulting immunity only lasting a short time, the institute added.

--Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that Russia had approved a Covid vaccine, without going through Phase 3 trials, which can determine that the vaccine works better than a placebo and doesn’t cause harm to some people who receive it.

“I think it’s really scary.  It’s really risky,” said Daniel Salmon, the director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University.

If it wasn’t so dangerous, it would be laughable. Russia’s Minister of Health, Mikhail Murashko, declared that “all the volunteers developed high titers of antibodies to Covid-19.  At the same time, none of them had serious complications of immunization.”

“This is all beyond stupid,” said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.  “Putin doesn’t have a vaccine, he’s just making a political statement.”  [Carl Zimmer / New York Times]

--New Zealand had gone 100 days without a reported case of domestically transmitted Covid-19, but then this week suddenly positive cases popped up and Auckland went back on lockdown. The country hasn’t reported a death since May 28 and has only 22 overall.

--A batch of frozen chicken wings exported from Brazil to China tested positive for coronavirus, Chinese officials announced Thursday.

The infected poultry was discovered in the city of Shenzhen during routine screenings of imported meat and seafood carried out since June.

People who may have come into contact with the chicken wings were tested by Shenzhen’s health authorities and all the results came back negative.

China reported the day before that the coronavirus was found on packages of shrimp from Ecuador.

Covid-19 was first linked to a seafood market in Wuhan.

--Bill Gates said in an interview last Sunday on CNN that the state of Covid testing in the U.S. is “mind-blowing.”  “You’re paying billions of dollars in this very inequitable way to get the most worthless test results in any country in the world,” he said.  “No other country has this testing insanity.”

Gates blamed the problems with the American testing regime on early mistakes followed by an unwillingness on the part of the federal government to improve testing “because they just want to say how great everything is.”

One particular fix Gates said he suggested to the federal government that went unheeded was to deny reimbursement to any test provider that takes more than 3 days to return results to a patient. Right now, he pointed out, commercial testing companies have an incentive to test as many people as they can with no regard for how quickly they can turn around results, because they are being reimbursed by the government based on how many tests they complete, even if the results aren’t timely and therefore, not useful for people receiving them.

--My state of New Jersey has done a good job of suppressing the virus, though our new case numbers are beginning to slowly tick up again with reopening, but it’s also emblematic of the huge issues faced in reopening schools.  You’ve seen some schools that are already open for the year, such as in Georgia, have had issues, but in New Jersey, most districts had been planning on some kind of hybrid workaround, with in-person learning as well as online, and at first blush it seemed fairly reasonable.

But then the districts started looking at the details and you have the example of Elizabeth, N.J., one of our larger cities, and it was impossible for them to provide in-person instruction because 375 to 400 of the teachers said they would not return to the classroom due to safety concerns.

A day later, the state’s largest teachers’ union demanded Murphy keep all schools closed to in-person instruction.

Meanwhile, President Trump likes to tout New Jersey’s experience with pediatric cases of Covid-19, and how we’ve had just one death in the 17 and younger category, but that is now three, and nearly 6,000 have tested positive.  Of those, 1,021 were 4 years old and younger.

Overall, children made up about 9 percent of all cases in the country as of the end of July.  But different states label the category differently. New Jersey is 0-17. Utah’s data is for people 0-14. Alabama’s is 0-25.

A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association said infections among U.S. children grew 40% in the last half of July. The report aggregates data from 49 states and contradicts President Trump’s assertion that kids are “virtually immune,” the numbers also showing that child infections make up a disproportionately small share of the overall outbreak in the U.S.

Trump World

--At a news conference today, President Trump said he was prepared to provide Americans with direct payments as well as rental assistance and money for small businesses, state and local governments.  I’m waiting for the Democrats to approve it,” Trump said.  “Democrats are holding that up, right?”

A day earlier, the president said he was blocking talks to prevent Democrats from providing more money for the Postal Service or state and local election officials struggling to prepare for Nov. 3 elections during a pandemic.  Then today, he signaled he might approve funds for the Postal Service.

The Postal Service itself sent out an extraordinary warning letter to 46 states saying it might not be able to handle the expected crush in mail-in ballots.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to quickly reverse operational changes they say have led to mail delays and “threaten to undermine our democracy.”

--As alluded to above, President Trump intensified his attacks on vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Thursday, as he appeared to give credence to so-called “birther” theories suggesting she cannot be vice president because of her heritage.

After being the leading proponent of conspiracy theories about former president Obama’s place of birth – Trump was asked about the theory at a press briefing in the White House.

“I just heard that, I heard it today, that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” he said.  “I have no idea if that’s right.  I would have assumed the Democrats would have checked it before she gets chosen to run for vice president. But that’s a very serious… You’re saying that they’re saying that she doesn’t qualify because she wasn’t born in this country?”

An article in Newsweek magazine by conservative law academic John Eastman questioned whether Harris is eligible to become vice president or president under the U.S. constitution, claiming that neither her father or mother was a naturalized U.S. citizen at the time of her birth in 1964.

The president will just stoke it from here on… “He’s a very good lawyer…I just read about it…”

Or he’ll have Jared Kushner, like he did today, go out and say, “I know the story is out there…”

--President Trump said he planned to give his acceptance speech for the presidential nomination at this month’s Republican Party convention from the White House lawn.

“I’ll probably be giving my speech at the White House because it is a great place.  It’s a place that makes me feel good, it makes the country feel good,” the New York Post quoted Trump as saying in an interview.

--Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) doubled down on his criticism of President Trump’s recent executive orders in a tweet on Monday afternoon, saying “no president” has the power to make such unilateral policy decisions.

“No president – whether named Obama or Trump or Biden or AOC – has unilateral power to rewrite immigration law or to cut taxes or to raise taxes,” Sasse said.  “This is because America doesn’t have kings.”

Earlier, Sasse said: “The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop.”

“President Obama did not have the power to unilaterally rewrite immigration law with DACA, and President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law.  Under the Constitution, that power belongs to the American people acting through their members of Congress,” he continued.

Trump shot back, calling Sasse a “Republican in Name Only” or RINO.

“RINO Ben Sasse, who needed my support and endorsement in order to get the Republican nomination for Senate from the GREAT State of Nebraska, has, now that he’s got it (Thank you President T), gone rogue, again.  This foolishness plays right into the hands of the Radical Left Dems!”

--In one of his “coronavirus” briefings / campaign rallies, Trump actually said this: “We have urged Americans to wear masks; maybe they’re great, maybe they’re not too great, but what do you have to lose…it’s up to the governors…we want a certain freedom…states facing unique circumstance…elected governors can implement own policies.”

And this gem: “I don’t believe in polls, but as you know ours are going up very significantly.”

And this: “Mail-in voting is going to be the greatest fraud in election history; biggest problem is going to be with the Democrats, not Russia, China and Iran.”

--Trump tweets:

“I am ready to send more money to States and Local governments to save jobs for Police, Fire Fighters, First Responders, and Teachers.  DEMOCRATS ARE HOLDING THIS UP!”

“I am ready to have @USTreasury and @SBA send additional PPP payments to small business that have been hurt by the ChinaVirus.  DEMOCRATS ARE HOLDING THIS UP!”

“I have directed @stevenmnuchin1 to get ready to send direct payments ($3,400 for family of four) to all Americans.  DEMOCRATS ARE HOLDING THIS UP!”

“I am ready to send Rental Assistance payments to hardworking Americans that have been hurt by the ChinaVirus.  DEMOCRATS ARE HOLDING THIS UP!”

“I have done more for WOMEN than just about any President in HISTORY! As we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of women’s voting rights, we should build a BEAUTIFUL STATUE in Washington, D.C. to honor the many brave women who made this possible for our GREAT COUNTRY…

“…Congress should send me H.R. 473 ASAP and make this happen!  It will INSPIRE all women to continue being bold and brave in achieving their DREAMS!”

“The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me.  They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood.  Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey (sic) Booker in charge! @foxandfriends @MariaBartiromo”

[Gee, that’s not too racist…]

“More Testing, which is a good thing (we have the most in the world), equals more Cases, which is Fake News Gold. They use Cases to demean the incredible job being done by the great men & women of the U.S. fighting the China Plague!”

“John Bolton, one of the dumbest people I’ve met in government and sadly, I’ve met plenty, states often that I respected, and even trusted, Vladimir Putin of Russia more than those in our Intelligence Agencies.  While of course that’s not true, if the first people you met from….

“….so called American Intelligence were Dirty Cops who have now proven to be sleazebags at the highest level like James Comey, proven liar James Clapper, & perhaps the lowest of them all, Wacko John Brennan who headed the CIA, you could perhaps understand my reluctance to embrace!”

“The Fake News Media is giving @KamalaHarris a free pass despite her Radical Left failures and very poor run in the Democrat Primary.  There was nobody meaner or more condescending to Slow Joe, not even me, and yet she quickly evaporated down to almost zero in the polls. Bad!”

“Everybody does phony books on Donald Trump and Republicans, just like the Fake Dossier, which turned out to be a total fraud perpetrated by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC…

“…The Bob Woodward book will be a FAKE, as always, just as many of the others have been.  But, believe it or not, lately I’ve been getting lots of GREAT books!”

“Very poor morning TV ratings for MSDNC’s Morning Joe, headed by a complete Psycho named Joe Scarborough and his ditzy airhead wife, Mika, and also @CNN, headed by complete unknowns. Congratulations to @foxandfriends on dominating the mornings (thank you President Trump!).”

Wall Street, Washington and the Economy

Congressional Democrats and the White House have stopped talking as prospects for a bipartisan stimulus package grew increasingly dim, Congress now on recess until Labor Day.  State leaders clamored for the two sides to approve a package to directly address the expiration of unemployment benefits.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows went off on vacation for an unspecified amount of time.

President Trump touted an executive order (one of three) signed last weekend in Bedminster, N.J., at his country club that would extend enhanced unemployment benefits while side-stepping Congress. It lowers the weekly bonus to $400 from the extra $600 that expired in late July, with states being asked to cover 25% ($100) of the costs.  But it could take months to implement.

Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren said Wednesday that strong fiscal support is needed for the U.S. economy to rebound, but those policies must be paired with efforts to contain the virus.

“I would say that taking strong fiscal action and taking very few public health actions is completely the wrong mix,” Rosengren said during a webinar conference.  “If you want to actually make sure that the debt doesn’t explode, you have to make sure that we get the pandemic under control.”

“The forecast for the U.S. economy this fall is quite uncertain, but my view is that the recent slowdown in economic activity that we have seen in high frequency data is likely to continue,” Rosengren added.  The Fed official said the parts of the country that enacted longer shutdowns earlier on in the crisis are now benefiting from better health outcomes and more robust spending.  States that lifted restrictions too quickly saw a short-lived increase in economic activity, which became muted after a rise in infections, he said.

“Limited or inconsistent efforts by states to control the virus based on public health guidance are not only placing citizens at unnecessary risk of severe illness and possible death, but are also likely to prolong the economic downturn,” Rosengren said.

--On the issue of President Trump and his call to defer Social Security payroll taxes, Democrats seized on the idea as a signal that Trump would cut the social safety net and break a promise he made as a candidate in 2016 not to touch both it and Medicare.

Deferral of the 6.2% payroll tax on employees for the last three months of this year could mean that up to $150 billion in payments to the Social Security Trust Fund would be delayed, according to the nonpartisan Committee For A Responsible Federal Budgets, which advocates for reducing government deficits.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement: “Providing a payroll tax deferral poses no risk to the Social Security Trust Fund and puts more money in the pockets of hardworking Americans as we fight to end this pandemic from China and rebuild our economy safely.”

With more than 60 million beneficiaries, Social Security is funded by a 12.4% payroll tax evenly divided between employees and employers.  But there was a cloud over the program’s long-term finances long before the pandemic, with government experts estimated it would be unable to pay full benefits starting in 2035.

Many of the details of Trump’s plan are missing.  Businesses also have misgivings, because the plan would require them to change their payroll systems and could leave them responsible for collecting deferred taxes later on.

Robert Samuelson / Washington Post

“It must be clear to almost everyone by now that the sudden and sharp economic downturn that began in late March is something more than a severe recession.  That label was, perhaps, justifiable for the 2007-2009 Great Recession, when unemployment reached a peak of 10 percent. It isn’t now.

“ ‘This situation is so dire that it deserves to be called a ‘depression’ – a pandemic depression,’ write economists Carmen Reinhart and Vincent Reinhart in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.  ‘The memory of the Great Depression has prevented economists and others from using that word.’…

“What’s clear is that the Pandemic Depression resembles the Great Depression of the 1930s more than it does the typical post-World War II recession.  To simplify slightly: The typical postwar slump occurred when the Fed raised interest rates to reduce consumer price inflation. They lowered rates to stimulate growth.

“By contrast, both the Great Recession and the Pandemic Depression had other causes. The Great Recession reflected runaway real estate and financial speculation and their adverse effects on the banking system. The Pandemic Depression occurred when infection fears and government mandates led to layoffs and an implosion of consumer spending.

“The collateral damage has been huge. Small businesses accounted for 47 percent of private-sector jobs in 2016, estimates the Small Business Administration.  Many have failed or will fail because they lacked the cash to survive a lengthy shut down.  In a new study, economist Robert Fairlie of the University of California at Santa Cruz reports an 8 percent drop in the number of small businesses from February to June.  Among African Americans, the decline was 19 percent; among Hispanics, 10 percent….

“The interaction between medicine and economics often baffles.  Is this a health-care crisis or an economic crisis? Before the New Deal in the 1930s, national leaders followed the conventional wisdom of the day – doing little.  Similarly, leaders now are following today’s conventional wisdom, which is to spend lavishly. Will this work or will the explosion of government debt ultimately create a new sort of crisis?

“The language of the past increasingly fits the conditions of the present. The many busts of the 19th century have long been referred to as ‘depressions’ – for example, in the late 1830s, the 1870s and the 1890s.  The accepted reality at the time was that mere mortals had little control over economic events.  We thought we had moved on, but maybe we haven’t.

“The implications for the economic outlook are daunting.  In their essay, the Reinharts distinguish between an economic ‘rebound’ and an economic ‘recovery.’  A rebound implies positive economic growth, which they consider likely, but not enough to achieve full recovery. This would equal or surpass the economy’s performance before the pandemic.  How long would that take? Five years is the Reinharts’ best guess – and maybe more.”

As for the economic data on the week, the biggest was that after 21 straight weeks of weekly jobless claims in excess of 1 million, this week’s figure came in at 963,000 vs. 1,191,000 the week before.  The 963,000 is still 300,000 over what had been the all-time high prior to the pandemic.  The jobs picture remains ugly.

Retail sales in July came in less than expected, just up 1.2% vs. the prior month’s revised 8.4% pace. Ex-autos the figure was 1.9%.

July industrial production was 3.4%, a little better than expected.

On the inflation front, July producer prices came in at 0.6%, 0.5% ex-food and energy; -0.4% year-on-year, 0.3% on core yoy. Consumer prices rose a strong 0.6%, ditto on core; but were still up just 1.0% vs. a year ago, 1.6% ex-the stuff we use.

The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer for third-quarter growth is up to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 26.2%, but we have two months of data to go, the first look at Q3 released Oct. 29, which as you know President Trump has been touting already.

The Treasury Department released the figures on the budget deficit for July, -$63 billion, better than expected because delayed tax payments boosted revenues while coronavirus aid outlays shrank sharply.

That said, due to all the relief programs, the deficit for fiscal 2020 is $2.81 trillion vs. $867bn a year ago, with two more months of data in the fiscal year.  Previously, the full-year deficit record was $1.4 trillion in 2009, amid the Great Recession.

And on the trade front, the U.S. and China postponed talks planned for over the weekend that had been aimed at reviewing progress at the six-month mark of their phase-one trade agreement.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He was supposed to hold a video conference with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.  No reason for the cancellation was given.

Europe and Asia

The EU confirmed its initial flash estimate of second quarter growth in the euro area (EA19), down 12.1% over the first quarter (vs. -9.5% in the United States, -32.9% annualized).  The report from Eurostat had taken into consideration data from the 13 largest nations in the bloc.

Germany -10.1 Q2 over Q1; France -13.8%; Italy -12.4%; Spain -18.5%; Netherlands -8.5%; Austria -10.7%; and Sweden -8.6%, among others.  [Ireland did not report.]

The UK came in at an all-time worst -20.4%.

For the second quarter over the same quarter of 2019, the eurozone saw growth plummet -15.0%.  In the first quarter, GDP had decreased by 3.6%.

Separately, industrial production in the EA19 in June rose 19.1% over May; -12.3% vs. a year ago.

Turning to AsiaChina released some important data points for July, with industrial production up 4.8% from a year earlier, the fourth straight month of expansion, though a little less than expected.  The 4.8% was the same as June’s pace as more businesses resumed production after lockdowns put in place to contain the coronavirus.

Retail sales dropped 1.1% last month vs. a year ago, when a small gain was expected, while compared with a 1.8% decline in June. Sales fell for a seventh straight month in a sign of further sluggish consumer demand, despite the relaxation of containment measures.

Fixed asset investment slipped 1.6% in the first seven months of the year from the same period last year.

Separately, factory-gate (producer) prices fell 2.4% in July vs. a year ago, a sixth straight decline, which isn’t good.  All the preceding from the National Bureau of Statistics.

China’s new home prices rose at a slightly slower monthly pace in July but growth remained steady.  Average new home prices in 70 major cities rose 0.5% from June; 4.8% annualized.

China’s real estate investment rose 3.4% in January-July from a year earlier, according to the NBS.

Taiwan’s Directorate General of Budget forecast the economy on the island would grow about 1.6% in 2020, with second-quarter annual GDP contracting 0.6%.  For 2021, the statistics office is calling for solid GDP growth of 3.9%.

Street Bytes

--The S&P 500 through Thursday had its best 100-day gain since 1933, up 51% since bottoming on March 23.  The Dow Jones has risen 50%, its best 100-day gain since 1933 as well, while the Nasdaq has climbed 62%, its biggest 100-day rally since 2000, the peak of the dot-com bubble.

On the week, the Dow Jones added 1.8% to 27931, while the S&P gained 0.6% to a level just 14 points shy of its all-time mark, while Nasdaq struggled to pick up 0.1%.  Better news on the jobless claims front outweighed the failure in Washington to come up with a relief package and disappointing retail sales.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 0.11%  2-yr. 0.15%  10-yr. 0.71%  30-yr. 1.45%

Yields on the long end of the curve rose sharply on optimism for a vaccine and a stronger economy; the yield on the 10-year back to a level last seen June 12.  The 30-year yield rose a full 22 basis points.

--The coronavirus pandemic will have an even bigger impact on the global economy and demand for oil than previously expected, according to OPEC’s latest monthly report.

The cartel estimates that world-wide oil demand this year will amount to 90.6 million barrels a day, 9.1 million barrels less than last year and a deeper slide than the prior month’s report.

OPEC also said that it expects a 4% contraction in the global economy, worse than its earlier estimate of 3.7%.

While the Vienna-based organization expects major economies to recover as lockdowns ease, “the latest surge of infections in the U.S. will need to be closely monitored, as a continuation of this trend may lead to an erosion in rebounding consumer confidence and spending behavior.”

Rising coronavirus cases in India, Brazil and some eurozone countries, such as Spain, also could derail economic growth and oil demand, OPEC said.

Despite the dour news, OPEC maintained its forecast for a record-breaking rebound in 2021.

Separately, the International Energy Agency lowered its 2020 oil demand forecast to 91.9 million barrels per day, slightly higher than OPEC’s forecast and an 8.1 million bpd decline from last year.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that domestic crude production last week fell to 10.7 million barrels a day, down from a record of 13.1 million in mid-March when governors began issuing stay-at-home orders.

Though jet-fuel consumption remained very weak, down 45% from a year ago, demand for diesel and gasoline continued to climb back, which has led to a drawdown from U.S. stockpiles.

The EIA projects U.S. crude production will fall 990,000 barrels per day to 11.26 million bpd, steeper than the 600,000 bpd decline it forecast last month.

Lastly, the U.S. oil rig count fell by four to 172 during the week that ended Aug. 14, its lowest level since 2005, according to data compiled by Baker Hughes.

The count has been declining for all but one of the past 22 weeks.

The combined oil and gas rig count for the U.S., which stood at 793 on March 6, slid by three to 244 last week, an all-time low.

The price on West Texas Intermediate finished the week at $42.18, barely exceeding the $40 to $41 range of the prior six weeks.

--Marriott International Inc. posted its worst quarterly loss ever, though a budding travel recovery in China offered some hope.

The world’s largest hotel company swung to a second-quarter loss of $234 million, from a year-earlier profit of $232 million, as travel remained depressed during the usually lucrative summer season.

CEO Arne Sorenson called the latest period “the worst quarter we have ever seen by far.”

The hotel industry is suffering through its worst period in modern times, with world-wide cutbacks in business travel and cancellations of conference events. There has been a little pickup in leisure travel during the summer in the U.S., but hotel executives don’t expect business travel returning to pre-Covid-19 levels for two or more years.

Marriott’s occupancy in what it terms Greater China – encompassing China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan – reached 60% in the latest quarter, compared with 70% a year earlier, so that’s encouraging.

Overall revenue fell 72% from a year earlier to $1.46 billion, less than expected.

--Boeing won no new airplane orders, delivered just four commercial jets and wiped another 52 orders from the backlog for its grounded 737 MAX in July.

With international air networks all but paralyzed and domestic routes at a fraction of normal passenger traffic despite a slight recovery, many Boeing airline customers have deferred existing deliveries into the future and avoided new orders.

Rival planemaker Airbus won four new orders in July and delivered 49 airplanes: two small A220s and 47 A320neos.  It delivered no widebody jets, meant for long-haul international flying, which is the most severely hit sector of the business.

For Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX program, cancellations are mounting in addition to deferrals.

Customers last month canceled 43 MAXs outright. An additional nine MAXs were removed from the official backlog because the customer situation meant the contracts were no longer deemed solid enough to meet U.S. accounting standards.

The FAA may unground the MAX by late October and potentially flying passengers again in the U.S. by year end.

But the pandemic has left airlines struggling for cash and reluctant to take delivery of new airplanes when there is little demand.

--Eastman Kodak Co. said on Tuesday it expects sales volumes and working capital to improve in the current quarter after reporting a 31% decline in quarterly revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The photographic equipment maker’s stock plunged on Monday after the government blocked a $765 million loan to the company, which was going to make drug ingredients for use in possible Covid-19 vaccines, because of “alleged wrongdoing” by executives.

“On July 28, we signed a Letter of Interest with Eastman Kodak. Recent allegations of wrongdoing raise serious concerns.  We will not proceed any further unless these allegations are cleared,” the U.S. International Development Finance Corp. wrote in a tweet posted last Friday evening.

A previously announced SEC and congressional inquiry was anticipated to slow, if not stall the deal.

Well, I told you on day one there were probably serious issues at play with the crazy action and volume in Kodak’s stock prior to the July announcement and the shares finished the week at $8.50, down from an intraday high of $60 amid the frenzy.

--The Wall Street Journal reported that “TikTok skirted a privacy safeguard in Google’s Android operating system to collect unique identifiers from millions of mobile devices, data that allows the app to track users online without allowing them to opt out,” a Journal analysis found.

“The tactic, which experts in mobile-phone security said was concealed through an unusual added layer of encryption, appears to have violated Google policies limiting how apps track people and wasn’t disclosed to TikTok users.  TikTok ended the practice in November, the Journal’s testing showed.”

The findings come as TikTok’s Beijing-based parent, ByteDance Ltd., is under pressure from the White House over concerns the data collected by the app is being used by the Chinese government to track U.S. government employees or contractors.

Downloading TikTok and WeChat from the Google or Apple app stores in the U.S. could be blocked by President Trump’s executive orders to restrict the Chinese-owned apps.

The thing is, Facebook and Google also collect a tone of personal data, as do most major mobile apps.

Twitter has joined Microsoft in taking a look at acquiring TikTok’s U.S. operations after President Trump set a fall deadline for the video-sharing platform to strike a deal with an American company.

*Tonight, Trump suddenly gave ByteDance 90 days, not 45, to get a deal done.

--Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. companies whose fortunes are linked to China are pushing back against the Trump administration’s plans to restrict business with the WeChat app, with more than a dozen U.S. multinational companies raising concerns in a call with White House officials Tuesday about the potentially broad scope and impact of Trump’s executive order targeting WeChat.

Apple, Ford, Walmart and Walt Disney were among those participating in the call, the Journal reported.

“For those who don’t live in China, they don’t understand how vast the implications are if American companies aren’t allowed to use it,” said Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council.  “They are going to be held at a severe disadvantage to every competitor.”

--Retail passenger-car sales in China increased 7.7% in July from a year earlier, the China Passenger Car Association said Tuesday, marking the strongest month of sales growth by percentage in more than two years.

Overall auto sales climbed 16.4% in July, the fourth consecutive month of gains as the world’s biggest vehicle market comes off lows hit during the lockdown.

For the year to date, sales were down 12.7% to 12.37 million vehicles, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.  Sales of trucks, vans and other commercial vehicles soared 59.4%, while sales of new energy vehicles grew 19.3%, ending 12 straight months of decline.  [The CAAM differed with the China Passenger Car Association in saying passenger-car sales rose 8.5%.]

But the CAAM has warned of excessive inventory levels as dealers restock vehicles for which there is so far insufficient demand.

--China resumed issuing tourist visas for visitors to Macau, paving the way for the mass return of Chinese gamblers to the world’s largest gaming hub after months of losses.

Importantly, a two-week quarantine imposed on Macau travelers upon their return to the mainland has been lifted.

Without Chinese visitation, Macau’s gaming revenue plunged by over 90% for four consecutive months and operators have been losing $15 million daily in expenses, according to a Morgan Stanley estimate.

--Cisco Systems Inc., maker of network services and videoconference tools, reported fiscal Q4 earnings that were down from last year but beat the Street’s expectations.

Revenue totaled $12.15 billion for the three months ending July 25, down from $13.43 billion for the prior-year period, but also beating estimates.

But the company guided lower for the current quarter and expects revenue to drop 9% to 11%.  The stock fell sharply in response.

--According to a research note from Evercore ISI, Apple suffered an unexpected slide in iPhone sales in China in July.  Analyst Amit Daryanani reviewed the government’s July data on smartphone shipments, which showed a 35% decline for the month overall, marking the third straight month of decline and is a significant deterioration versus the mid-teens declines in May and June, he noted.

Apple shares slipped in part on the news Tuesday to $437.50, but finished the week at $459, hitting another new high.

--Chinese tech giant Huawei is running out of processor chips to make smartphones due to U.S. sanctions and will be forced to stop production of its own most advanced chips, a company executive says, in a sign of growing damage to Huawei’s business from American pressure.

Washington cut off Huawei’s access to U.S. components and technology last year.  Those penalties were tightened in May when the White House barred vendors worldwide from using U.S. technology to produce components for Huawei.

Chips designed by Huawei’s own engineers are made by contractors that need U.S. manufacturing technology, according to a Huawei official, Huawei lacking the ability to make its own chips thus far.

--Tesla announced a five-for-one stock split and the shares went bonkers, up 18% the first day after the news, even though this means nothing fundamentally.

Tesla shareholders will receive four additional shares for every share held after the close of trading on Aug. 28. Shares begin trading on a post-split basis starting Aug. 31.

While the share count will go up fivefold, the price for each share will be reduced by 80%.

Stock splits historically are bullish, a lower share price meaning more retail investors can afford the stock; in this case a $300 stock vs. a $1,500 one.  [Actually, $330 vs. $1,650 after this week’s renewed surge.]

But now many brokers offer fractional shares.

--Lyft Inc. reported its worst financial performance as a public company Wednesday in a quarter hampered by the coronavirus, a steep revenue decline and a wider loss.

The San Francisco-based company still maintains its forecast for a quarterly adjusted profit by the end of next year, even with at least 20% fewer rides than previously anticipated.

Lyft reported a 61% decline in revenue to $339 million, with the adjusted loss widening 37% to $280 million.

Uber Technologies reported similarly dismal results last week, though with a surge in food delivery orders.  Lyft has no such business.

--Berkshire Hathaway said it earned $26.4 billion in the second quarter, a turnaround from a $49.7 billion loss in the first quarter, when a plunge in the stock market, prompted by the coronavirus outbreak, caused huge paper losses in Warren Buffett’s giant stock portfolio.

But Berkshire warned the pandemic could lead to changes in the economy that could hurt its companies.

“We cannot reliably predict when business activities at our numerous and diverse operations will normalize.  Nor can we predict how these events will alter the future consumption patterns of consumers and businesses we serve,” it said in its second-quarter filing.

Aside from its stock holdings in companies like Apple and Bank of America, Berkshire owns outright a wide array of large businesses – in the insurance, railway, energy, retail and manufacturing sectors – that provide a snapshot of the health of the American economy.

Berkshire’s reported $26.7 billion increase in the value of its stock holdings was powered by a $27.3 billion surge in the value of the company’s investment in Apple’s stock, whose price has soared even as the economy sputtered badly.

Berkshire has not been without major problems in its portfolio, announcing a $9.8 billion writedown for its Precision Castparts aircraft and industrial parts business, as the coronavirus caused 10,000 job losses.  Berkshire acquired Precision for $32.1 billion in 2016 and said Covid-19 caused airlines to slash aircraft orders, resulting in significantly less demand for Precision’s products and causing revenue to fall by about a third.

Berkshire also took a $513 million charge on its 26.6% stake in Kraft Heinz Co., which recently took writedowns on several of its businesses, including Maxwell House and Oscar Mayer brands.  [I recently finished off a large pack of Oscar Mayer bologna. That obviously didn’t move the needle enough.]

--Manhattan apartment rents plunged last month by the most in nearly nine years, dismal news for landlords, who are trying to keep units filled amid a health crisis that’s sparked an urban exodus.

July’s vacancy rate climbed to a record of 4.33%, according to Douglas Elliman Real Estate, with 13,117 apartments listed for rent at the end of the month, the most in data going back to 2006.

The median rent, with concessions such as free months factored in, plummeted 10% to $3,167.

New Yorkers have been fleeing Manhattan since March, when the Covid-19 lockdown began.  And now, with the flexibility to stay remote perhaps becoming permanent, so are the departures.

A recent report released by the Partnership for New York City, the trade group that convenes the largest local companies, found that 16% of office employers plan to move jobs out of New York, and a quarter of them are planning to reduce the space they have in the city by at least 20%.

The Hartford Courant reported that more than 16,000 New Yorkers changed their address to Connecticut from March through June, while movers United Van Lines and Mayflower said they had done 1,000 out-of-state moves from New York City starting in March, with 28 percent to Florida and California, and 16 percent to Texas and North Carolina.

--Some of New York’s largest employers have pledged to hire 100,000 “traditionally underserved” residents of the area within the next decade.

The pledge, made by the CEOs of 27 companies, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup and Amazon.com, is part of a new initiative called the New York Jobs CEO Council, according to a statement on Monday.

The CEOs plan to use their collective resources, money and scale to create “pathways to stable careers for New Yorkers in low-income and diverse communities,” many of which have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus health and economic crisis, according to the statement.

People in lower-income, Black and Hispanic communities were more likely to be adversely affected by the pandemic. Many work in lower-paid, service jobs, which were most impacted by the shutdown, and had fewer resources and less savings to cushion the blow.  Those still working were less likely to be able to do so from home, meaning Black, Hispanic and low-income Americans have been at an increased risk of exposure to the virus, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

--The U.S. corn supply is booming thanks to supportive weather.  In its monthly supply-and-demand report released Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it expects 2020 production to total 15.3 billion bushels, up 278 million bushels from its previous estimate.  The USDA now projects a record 181.8 bushels per acre.

71% of the U.S. corn crop is in either good or excellent condition vs. 57% at this time last year.  That’s what happens when you get adequate rain and nothing extreme on the temperature front.

But with an impending surge in inventories, corn futures are down about 8% since July 1.

--McDonald’s sued its former CEO Steve Easterbrook, claiming he had sexual relationships with three subordinates after it discovered “dozens of nude, partially nude, or sexually explicit” photos and videos in the ousted CEO’s corporate email account.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in Delaware state court, the fast-food giant said the nudie pics prove Easterbrook lied about the trio of trysts before he was fired over a separate romance last year.

Gee, I thought he was supposed to be focused on reviving moribund breakfast sales, but now the company wants to claw back the severance package it paid the Brit, which was worth an estimated $41.7 million.

When McDonald’s investigated Easterbrook’s brief relationship with a fourth employee that led to his November 2019 firing, he denied ever being sexually involved with any other company staffers, the lawsuit said.  But an anonymous tip led to the evidence revealing that was a lie, McDonald’s alleges.

Easterbrook, 53, also approved an “extraordinary” stock grant worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for one of the women while they were involved.

Good lord.  What a dirtball!

--United Parcel Service Inc. plans to impose hefty fees on large shippers during the holiday season, reflecting the added complexity and cost of an expected crush of online orders amid the pandemic.

The fees will test the ability of large retailers such as Amazon.com Inc. and Target Corp. to offset costs during a holiday season when skittish shoppers will avoid crowded stores and rely more on online shopping.

UPS said the fees could total as much as $3 a package for ground shipments and up to $4 a package for air shipments.

Retailers are not happy with the higher-than-expected hikes that UPS is talking about.  FedEx hasn’t weighed in yet.

You know, no one has said anything yet, but with all the travel restrictions, many of which will still no doubt be in place come Christmas, let alone the PPE issues concerning chimneys and apartment buildings, how is Santa Claus going to do his job?!  I mean really.

Parents, whatever you do, do NOT bring this topic up with the children.   But you’ll get some clues following NORAD’s computer graphic Christmas Eve and whether Santa is detouring around those countries with the severest restrictions. That will suck.

--We note the passing of media mogul Sumner Redstone, 97.  There are some figures who have been ubiquitous in one’s life and for my business career that was certainly the case with him; a towering figure in the world of media and entertainment for decades who helped shape the company that is now ViacomCBS.

Redstone maintained control of the media company’s corporate parent, National Amusements, as chairman and CEO until his passing, but his daughter, Shari Redstone, has been the public face in recent years as her father battled health issues.

Redstone did everything in his life.  Born on May 27, 1923, he attended Harvard before serving in a military-intelligence division during World War II. He returned to Harvard for his law degree and later worked at a U.S. appellate court in San Francisco.

Redstone began his career in the entertainment industry in 1957, joining his father’s drive-in movie theater business, and then over the next half-century he engineered a steady stream of mergers and acquisitions to assemble a global media conglomerate with holdings in movies and television, book publishing, theaters, movie rentals, and radio.

Redstone began to set his sights on acquiring content to display on the screens of his movie theaters, buying stakes in several movie studios including MGM, Columbia Pictures, and Twentieth Century Fox.  He then he made a big bet on a company called Viacom – owner of cable television channels including MTV, Showtime, TMC, and Nickelodeon.  In 1987, Redstone won a bidding war to take control of Viacom, beating out Carl Icahn, among others.

He eventually bought Paramount Pictures for close to $10 billion in 1994, famously declaring that year that “content is king,” a phrase that has proved so true up to today.  The Paramount acquisition also brought the publisher Simon & Schuster and the Madison Square Garden teams New York Knicks and Rangers, which he sold to Cablevision soon after.

Five years later, Redstone engineered a merger of Viacom and CBS, valued at nearly $40 billion, the largest deal ever in the media industry to that point.

By the mid-2000s, Redstone was back in divestment mode, splitting the two.

“In the 21st century, large is no longer in charge,” he said on a Viacom earnings call in August 2005.  “Leverage will belong to the nimble and the swift, and of course, content will always remain king.”

Meanwhile, Shari Redstone’s influence grew as her father stepped away in 2016, at the age of 92.  Father and daughter began to clash in court, and in public, as Shari pushed to reunite CBS and Viacom, which was finally accomplished in August 2019, after CBS’ powerful CEO and chairman Les Moonves left the company amid allegations of inappropriate behavior.

RIP, Sumner Redstone.  One of the more colorful, and influential, business figures of the past century.

--Finally, good news…New York City museums and aquariums have the green light to open again, starting Aug. 24, with capacity restrictions.  But still not indoor dining or gyms.

Foreign Affairs

China and Hong Kong: Hong Kong police arrested media tycoon and prominent democracy advocate Jimmy Lai on Monday, raiding the offices of his flagship newspaper, the highest-profile case yet against the city’s democracy activists under a new national security law that has fueled U.S.-China tensions.

Lai was shown being taken away in handcuffs from his home. When a reporter asked Lai for his views on the arrest, he answered: “What views do I have?  They want to arrest me.”

Apple Daily, which is under Lai’s media network Next Digital Ltd. and the biggest pro-democracy paper in Hong Kong, reported that nearly 200 officers were entering its offices.

The move was met with criticism from the UK, which handed Hong Kong back to Chinese control in 1997.

A spokesman for China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office supported the arrest and said in a speech that Lai is working with foreign powers to seriously endanger national security.

10 people in all were arrested including Lai, his sons Ian and Timothy, Next Digital Chief Executive Cheung Kim Hung, the chief operating officer and chief financial officer, and the head of the Next Animation Studio.  Two others, one a freelance journalist and the other a member of an election monitoring group, were also among those taken into custody.

The security legislation, which bars subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, has prompted fears among activists and foreign governments that it will be used to curtail basic freedoms.

The U.S. has led foreign governments in expressing concern over the law, saying Hong Kong could no longer be considered sufficiently autonomous.  It has revoked some special trading privileges, which help underpin the city’s reputation as a business hub, and sanctioned officials including Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Last year’s protesters in Hong Kong are quickly becoming this year’s martyrs for democracy.  On Monday police arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai under the new national-security law, and some 200 officers raided the newsroom of his pro-democracy Apple Daily.

“Police arrested Mr. Lai for sedition, criminal fraud and ‘collusion’ with vaguely defined foreign forces.  Mr. Lai’s real crime is that he is Hong Kong’s most effective international advocate and speaks the truth about the Communist Party.    Mr. Lai met last year in Washington with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Members of Congress, and he has also written for these pages.

“If Mr. Lai, 71, is convicted under the new law he may face life in prison.  On Monday police also arrested Mr. Lai’s two sons and four employees of his publishing company.  There’s reportedly also a warrant out for Mark Simon, an American citizen who works for Mr. Lai and was not in Hong Kong at the time of the arrests.  All will have excellent lawyers, but in another assault on the rule of law only judges approved by the Communist Party can decide national-security cases.  Lawmakers Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung have tried to defend the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary, but authorities have disqualified them from running for office, and both may soon be removed from their seats on the Legislative Council.

“China’s state-run media are already predicting the verdict. The Global Times wrote Monday that Mr. Lai ‘is widely seen as a ‘modern traitor.’’ It also claimed that Apple Daily ‘has played a role of instigating hatred, spreading rumors and smearing Hong Kong authorities and the mainland for years,’ ‘played an active role in inciting anti-government riots,’ and ‘is backed and funded by foreign forces to bring about a ‘color revolution’’ in Hong Kong.  For years Beijing has coerced advertisers into blacklisting Apple Daily, and watch now as it tries to use the new law to drive the newspaper out of business.

“All of this is a warning to local and international media in Hong Kong to shut up about freedom or also risk arrest.  Mr. Lai is the most high-profile figure arrested under the new national-security law, but late last month the police arrested four little-known students, the youngest only 16.

“Last week the U.S. imposed sanctions on Chief Executive Carrie Lam, police commissioner Chris Tang and nine others who have deprived Hong Kongers of their rights.  China retaliated Monday with sanctions against 11 Americans including GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, but that’s a sign the U.S. voices are having an effect.  As the Communist Party silences Hong Kongers, it’s all the more important for the world to speak out for them.”

Editorial / Washington Post

“After years of a slow drip-drip, China is now rushing at high speed to end Hong Kong’s legendary freedom and independence.  President Xi Jinping appears to have decided that, with a new national security law in place, Hong Kong should be rapidly swaddled in China’s authoritarian straight jacket – no more temporizing.  This is the unsettling message of Monday’s arrest of democracy champion and tycoon Jimmy Lai.

“The courageous Mr. Lai, 71, was taken away in the most ostentatious way possible: handcuffed by police, along with his sons and seven others, while police raided the newsroom of his pro-democracy Apple Daily, rifling through reporters’ desks and carting off 25 boxes of files, all on suspicion of ‘colluding with foreign powers,’ punishable by life in prison under the new security law that China rammed through recently. The charge is outrageous, but the raids signal a determination to extinguish media freedom, long one of Hong Kong’s crown jewels of liberty, a principle and practice that does not exist under the party-state on the mainland.  Mr. Lai, who got his start in the garment industry, championed Apple Daily as a newspaper unafraid to hold both Hong Kong and Beijing governments to account.

“By using the new national security law so broadly and abruptly in a bid to silence Mr. Lai, Mr. Xi has dispelled any impression that the law would be applied sparingly.  It is now the hammer and tong of China’s repression.  The arrests come on top of the July 31 decision by Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to delay legislative council elections for a year, ostensibly because of the novel coronavirus closing off one of the few remaining forums for Hong Kong residents to express themselves.  The elections were expected to bring out serious opposition to China’s tightening controls; now, China will decide the makeup of the 70-member council until and unless elections are held.

“There can be no more illusions that China will keep its promise from the 1997 handover to allow ‘one-country, two-systems,’ under which Hong Kong was assured that it could retain rule of law, free expression and the promise of full democracy. But the people of Hong Kong have shown, over and over again during the ordeal of recent years, that they cherish the values of a free people. The world must not abandon them or surrender to Beijing’s steamroller.

“If President Trump had not pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, if he had devoted more attention to supporting allies in the region instead of consistently undermining them, he might have more leverage at this moment of crisis in Hong Kong. But Mr. Trump was indifferent toward China’s human rights abuses for years, and his recent burst of campaign-year criticism and sanctions are having little impact on China. The loss of Hong Kong as an island of freedom is a grievous one for all who care about democracy.  Mr. Xi is going about his grim business unrestrained.”

Editorial / New York Times

“Mr. Lai, an ardent critic of the Chinese Communist Party who had used his wealth to finance pro-democracy activities, knew it was coming.  In an Op-Ed in The Times in May, shortly before the government in Beijing announced its intention to pass the (anti-sedition law), he wrote: ‘I have feared that one day the Chinese Communist Party would grow tired not only of Hong Kong’s free press but also of its free people. That day has come.’

“It has been a sad sight for all who had watched hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong’s people bravely take to the streets in the months before the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to several other protests in years past, to protect the modest freedoms they were promised when Britain turned its former colony over to China in 1997.  Beijing started trying to undermine the ‘one country, two systems’ principle from the get-go, but the campaign to quash the opposition has escalated sharply under the unyielding, authoritarian rule of President Xi Jinping….

“It is dubious that (sanctions and statements from the U.S.) can have much effect, given that the officials sanctioned are not likely to travel in one or the other direction due to the pandemic and probably have few assets that the other side can freeze. Given Mr. Xi’s mind-set and China’s growing economic and military might, it is hard to imagine what actions the United States or its allies could do to help the brave people of Hong Kong.

“To them, ‘two systems’ always meant more than a bit of say in local governance: It meant they could continue to enjoy free speech and impartial courts, and freedom from fear of official oppression.  ‘Two systems,’ to the pro-democracy forces, meant a free one in Hong Kong and an unfree one on the mainland.

“All that has long been in peril, no more so than now, and it is terribly sad to see people who had done so much to protect their freedoms fall further challenged again by a system that regards freedom as sedition, free speech as subversion and meeting with foreigners as collusion.

“For now there is not much more the world can do.  Yet Mr. Xi is deluded if he thinks that turning the rule of law into a rule by law will erase the longing for elemental freedoms that is second nature to Hong Kong.  It is incumbent on the United States and its allies, and on all people who cherish freedom, to make abundantly clear to Beijing at every chance that in Hong Kong, as in Xinjiang and the South China Sea, Mr. Xi’s misguided aggression is turning his nation from a rising star into a pariah.”

For his part, Jimmy Lai called on Americans to support Hong Kong’s fight for freedom, saying he hoped it would eventually change China’s behavior that “went against international values.”

“If we don’t change [China], the world will not have peace,” he warned.

Lai walked free on bail, after which he live-streamed a session with the Heritage Foundation, an American think-tank based in Washington.

It is not known when Lai and the others will stand trial.

The Communist Party’s mouthpiece, People’s Daily, ran an online commentary on Thursday, saying that just because Lai was released on bail “did not mean that he can escape from precise punishment under the city’s law.”

Separately, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar became the highest-level U.S. government official to visit Taiwan in four decades on Sunday, when he touched down on the island that China claims is rightly its own; the move being a further escalation of tensions between Washington and Beijing. Azar’s arrival was broadcast live on Taiwanese TV and the nominal focus of his trip was on public health cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan, which has just 7 reported Covid-19 deaths and a mere 481 cases.

Thursday, Taiwan unveiled a $1.4 billion increase for next year’s planned defense spending, as China announced details of its latest combat drills near the democratic island.  Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is pressing for stronger ties with the U.S. to help safeguard the island’s security as she also urged Beijing to recognize Taiwan as a self-governed democracy.

Beijing responded to Azar’s visit by deploying fighter jets that briefly crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait, the unofficial airspace boundary between mainland China and Taiwan.

North Korea: The country is experiencing serious flooding, though turning down any international aid, but there are real concerns over the country’s main nuclear facility because satellite imagery suggests flooding may have damaged pump houses at Yongbyon, according to think-tank 38 North, a website that monitors North Korea.

Yongbyon is home to nuclear reactors, fuel re-processing plants and uranium enrichment facilities that are thought to be used in the country’s nuclear weapons program.

It appears the main reactor has been shut down, but the uranium enrichment plant doesn’t appear to be impacted, 38 North said.

Israel / UAE: In a major surprise announcement, Israel and the UAE agreed to full normalization of relations in a phone call with President Trump on Thursday, marking the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country in 25 years.

Israel agreed to suspend its planned extension of sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria to facilitate relations with the UAE and potentially other Arab and Muslim countries.

The agreement will include establishing embassies and exchanging ambassadors, investments into the Israeli economy, trade, direct flights between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi, an investment in Israeli efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine – as first reported last month – and cooperation in matters of energy and water.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal “full, formal peace” with “one of the strongest countries in the world.”

“Together we can bring a wonderful future. It is an incomparably exciting moment,” Netanyahu said.  “I have the great privilege to make the third peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country, the UAE.”

In remarks in the Oval Office, Trump alluded to “many more countries” in the region normalizing ties with Israel, and “some very exciting things including, ultimately, with the Palestinians.”

UAE Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohamed bin Zayed (MBZ) called it “the agreement to stop Israel’s annexation of the Palestinian Territories and taking steps to bring Peace to the Middle East.  He said in a tweet that he “values the efforts…in order to achieve prosperity and stability for our region.”

Netanyahu said that he still plans to apply Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.

“I’m not giving up on it.  It’s on the table because of me.  Trump put sovereignty into his peace plan because I asked for it,” Netanyahu said.  “But in the first place I said again and again that we would only implement sovereignty in coordination with the U.S. Without support from the U.S., in the best case it would be worthless, and in the worst case, it would hurt ties very much.”

Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem and Washington pointed to the use of the word “suspend,” which implies the pause is only temporary, which has infuriated Palestinians.  The wording was agreed upon by all three sides.  It’s unclear for how long annexation is thus suspended.

Democratic candidate for president Joe Biden said “the UAE’s offer to publicly recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave and badly-needed act of statesmanship. Annexation would be a bloody blow to the course of peace, which is why I oppose it now and would oppose it as president.”

What made Thursday’s announcement so surprising, in part, is that on Monday, Netanyahu blamed the United States for his failure to annex West Bank settlements.

“It was clear from the start that the application of sovereignty would be done only with agreement from the United States.  Otherwise, I would have already done it a while ago,” he told Channel 20 in an interview.

President Trump “is now busy with other things, and this [sovereignty] is not on the top of his mind,” Netanyahu said.

“I hope that in the near future we will be able to advance recognition of the application of sovereignty as well as other diplomatic issues of importance to Israel.”

Netanyahu took credit for the U.S. decision to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and for Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, as well as the legalization of West Bank settlements.

“All of that didn’t happen by accident,” Netanyahu said.

Bobby Ghosh / Bloomberg News

“The most important diplomatic breakthrough in the Middle East in a generation meant so little to the man who first announced it on Twitter that within an hour he had moved on to tweeting about football and predicting the collapse of the United States under Joe Biden. Donald Trump, in full reelection mode, plainly doesn’t think voters will care much about the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

“He’s probably right about that: In an American election cycle, foreign policy success gets only desultory attention.  At the most, Trump might be able to use Thursday’s announcement to score a minor point against Biden in one of their debates.

“And the UAE was always the odds-on favorite to be the first, not least because MBZ, as the prince is popularly known, has aggressively pursued a policy of expanding Emirati influence, often by marrying his ambitions to American interests.

“Between MBZ and Netanyahu, it is the prince who’s taking the greater gamble with normalization. Although the Palestinian cause no longer animates Gulf affairs as it once did, Israel remains highly unpopular among ordinary Arabs.

“His spin doctors will try to portray MBZ as a savior of the Palestinians by suggesting he used the lure of normalization to prevent Netanyahu from going through with a planned annexation of large swathes of the West Bank.  But this is not an easy sell.

“MBZ’s enemies in the region – whether they be Yemeni, Qatari or Iranian – will accuse him of colluding with the Palestinians’ oppressors. The UAE will receive some blame for any Palestinian hereafter killed, hurt or humiliated by Israeli soldiers and settlers.  Islamist terrorists may seek to make an example of him, just as they did the first Arab leader to make a deal with Israel: Anwar Sadat.

“But MBZ can ride out spasms of public opprobrium.  Unlike Trump, he doesn’t need to win any elections.  And the security structures of the UAE will undoubtedly be strengthened to ensure his safety.  He has obviously calculated that the rewards of normalization far outweigh any risk on his part.

“Some of these are obvious.  The agreement allows the two countries to openly trade in goods and services, especially of the military and intelligence kind, which MBZ needs for his ambition to turn the Emirati armed forces into a Little Sparta. Israel and the UAE, already united in their perception of the Iranian threat, can now openly join forces against the common enemy.

“The other advantages of normalization for MBZ are more subtle.  It will, for instance, buy him a great deal of goodwill in Washington, where his clout is already considerable. What’s more, the goodwill will be bipartisan, insulating him from a potential Trump defeat on Nov. 3. Contrasts that with the fortunes of his good friend, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, which are bound to Trump.

“For Netanyahu, the risks of normalization are much lower.  Yes, an about-face on the annexation plan will enrage a large section of his political base, and especially the would-be settlers. That may explain his equivocation on the topic. But an exchange of embassies with the UAE would be a diplomatic triumph even his most vociferous critics cannot deny….

“For the U.S., there is almost no risk at all: Two allies collaborating openly can only serve American interests. Even if this matters little to Trump, future American leaders will appreciate the agreement he announced.”

David Ignatius / Washington Post

“The breakthrough announcement that Israel and the United Arab Emirates will normalize diplomatic relations was the culmination of years of secret contacts – and then a final push by the UAE that persuaded Israel to back off its plans to annex the West Bank.

“President Trump revealed the historic agreement following a three-way call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE leader Mohammed bin Zayed, whose formal title is crown prince of Abu Dhabi.  For once, Trump didn’t need to manufacture any superlatives.  This was, as he tweeted, a ‘HUGE’ achievement. The UAE joins Jordan, which reached a peace agreement with Israel in 1994 and Egypt, which signed a pact with its former enemy in 1979.

“Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, outlined the diplomatic exchanges over the past six weeks that closed the deal during a telephone interview and a later call with a group of journalists.  Kushner said the UAE-Israel pact was an ‘icebreaker’ that he hoped would be followed by similar moves by other Arab countries.

“Kushner didn’t specify what Arab countries might be next.  But State Department officials said likely prospects include Oman, Bahrain and Morocco. For now, officials say, Saudi Arabia will resist formal recognition of Israel.  Iran and Turkey, each seeking the role of Muslim champion, will doubtless accuse the Emiratis of betraying the Palestinian cause.

“Although Thursday’s announcement is a political boost for Trump, it could also facilitate Israeli and Emirati cooperation with a Democratic administration, if Joe Biden should win in November. Arab-Israeli peace is perennially popular with Democrats, and the UAE’s move will make it easier for Democrats in Congress (and perhaps the White House) to improve relations with the Gulf Arab states, despite the strains caused by the war in Yemen and the murder of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi….

“Netanyahu and MBZ were drawn together by shared interests: They agreed that Iran and its proxies threatened the Middle East; they mistrusted the Obama administration and its secret nuclear diplomacy with Iran; they favored more trade and investment across the region; and they liked the Trump administration’s transactional realpolitik.

“Kushner was Trump’s point man in the Middle East, and as he struggled to frame a peace plan over strident Palestinian objections, he turned increasingly to the UAE.  After a February 2019 meeting in Warsaw attended by some Arab leaders, the United States sponsored secret talks between Israel and the UAE, according to the Wall Street Journal. The mediator for those contacts was Brian Hook, the State Department’s (now former) senior official on Iran.

“Kushner’s peace plan, when it was finally announced, seemed stillborn. But Kushner argued that if he could peel off several countries that were ready to make a pragmatic deal, the process of Arab normalization with Israel – a dream since the Jewish state was founded – might finally get some traction.

“Trump’s surprise announcement might be an ‘August surprise’ in the presidential campaign. But it’s welcome news for Israel, the Arabs and the United States.”

Thomas L. Friedman / New York Times

“For once, I am going to agree with President Trump in his use of his favorite adjective: ‘huge.’

“The agreement brokered by the Trump administration for the United Arab Emirates to establish full normalization of relations with Israel, in return for the Jewish state forgoing, for now, any annexation of the West Bank, was exactly what Trump said it was in his tweet: a ‘HUGE breakthrough.’

“It is not Anwar el-Sadat going to Jerusalem – nothing could match that first big opening between Arabs and Israelis. It is not Yasir Arafat shaking Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn – nothing could match that first moment of public reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

“But it is close.  Juist go down the scorecard, and you see how this deal affects every major party in the region – with those in the pro-American, pro-moderate Islam, pro-ending-the-conflict-with-Israel-once-and-for-all camp benefiting the most and those in the radical pro-Iran, anti-American, pro-Islamist permanent-struggle-with-Israel camp all becoming more isolated and left behind.

“It’s a geopolitical earthquake….

“The UAE had been mulling going for more open diplomatic ties with Israel for a while, but it was the discussions over how to stop annexation that created a framework where the UAE could be seen as getting something for the Palestinians in return for its normalization with Israel.

“The Netanyahu dynamics here are fascinating, or as Israeli writer Ari Shavit remarked to me: ‘Netanyahu is trying to get out of his own personal Watergate by going to China.  He’s like Nixon in reverse.’

“What he meant was that Netanyahu had been doing everything he could to appease the right-wing forces in Israel – with shiny objects like annexation – so they would side with him in his corruption trial against Israel’s court system and attorney general.

“By taking this deal, Netanyahu, as Nixon did with China, abandoned his natural ideological allies – the settlers who supported him because they thought he would deliver annexation – ‘and this will force Netanyahu to become more dependent on the center and center-right in Israel going forward,’ said Shavit. ‘This deal may help save Israeli democracy by now depriving Bibi’ of the full army of right-wing forces ‘he needed to destroy the Israeli Supreme Court.’

“The Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, was also stripped of something by this deal, which may force him to the negotiating table.  It stripped him of his biggest ace in the hole – the idea that the gulf Arabs would normalize with Israel only after the Israelis satisfied the demands of the Palestinian Authority with a state to its liking….

“The big geopolitical losers are Iran and all of its proxies: Hezbollah, the Iraqi militias, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Houthis in Yemen and Turkey. This is for a number of reasons.  Up to now, the UAE has kept up a delicate balance between Iran and Israel, not looking to provoke Iran, and dealing with Israel covertly.

“But this deal is right in Iran’s face. The tacit message is: ‘We now have Israel on our side, so don’t mess with us.’ The vast damage Israel inflicted on Iran through apparent cyberwarfare in recent months may have even given the UAE more breathing room to do this deal.

“But there is another message, deeper, more psychological.  This was the UAE telling the Iranians and all their proxies: There are really two coalitions in the region today – those who want to let the future bury the past and those who want to let the past keep burying the future.  The UAE is taking the helm of he first, and it is leaving Iran to be the leader of the second….

“The UAE and Israel and the U.S. on Thursday showed – at least for one brief shining moment – that the past does not always have to bury the future, that the haters and dividers don’t always have to win.

“It was a breath of fresh air. May it one day soon turn into a howling wind of change that spreads across the whole region.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“President Trump’s Mideast strategy has been to strongly back Israel, support the Gulf monarchies, and press back hard against Iranian imperialism. His liberal critics insisted this would lead to catastrophe that never came, and on Thursday it delivered a diplomatic achievement: The United Arab Emirates and Israel agreed to normalize relations, making the UAE the first Arab League country to recognize the Jewish state in 20 years.

“The agreement is worth celebrating on its own terms but it also holds lessons for U.S. foreign policy.  On regional strategy, this shows the benefit of the U.S. standing by its historic allies in the Middle East.  President Obama shunned Israel and the Gulf states and sought to normalize Iran. His nuclear deal, an economic boon to Tehran, was a means to that end. But Iran does not want to be normalized.  It’s a revolutionary regime that wants to disrupt the non-Shiite countries, spread its military influence from Syria to Lebanon to Yemen, and destroy Israel.

“Mr. Trump’s pivot from Iran reassured Israel and the Gulf states and put the U.S. in a position to broker agreements. Israel and the UAE have worked together covertly, but the agreement will allow deeper economic ties and strengthen regional checks on Iranian power.  UAE’s move could also spur Bahrain and possibly Oman to seek the benefits, in Jerusalem and Washington, from closer Israel ties.  For decades Israel was treated as a pariah state in the Middle East, but that era may be ending.”

Daoud Kuttab / Washington Post…Kuttab a Palestinian journalist based in Amman, Jordan.

“The useless agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is nothing but a ploy to artificially inflate the Trump administration’s foreign policy achievements ahead of the election.  In real terms, it was nothing but leaders trading with used goods.

“On Thursday, President Trump announced that U.S. diplomats had brokered a major breakthrough. The agreement basically declares that the corrupt government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will postpone its plans for the unilateral annexation of occupied Palestinian land in return for normalization with a small but rich Arab Gulf state. The problem with the big hoopla around this is that it is neither a genuine breakthrough nor will it bring peace between Israelis and Arabs anytime soon.

“Israel’s prime minister had already postponed the plans for unilateral annexation after the international community, and more than half of Israelis had rejected the move, which would have been a crass violation of international law.  And for their part, the United Arab Emirates had already broken its promises to Palestinians and Arabs by conducting many acts of normalization with Israel. UAE planes carrying aid for Palestinians have been allowed to fly directly to Israeli airports recently.  UAE and Israeli athletes participated together in international events to signal warmer ties.

“The UAE, a member of the Arab League, originally agreed to the 2002 Saudi-initiated Arab Peace initiative that called for the normalization of relations in return for the Israelis ending their 1967 occupation of Arab lands.  Palestinians and the world, including the United States, have considered the areas Israel took in June 1967 to be occupied areas, and various regional and international agreements have stressed this fact.

“Then came the Trump administration with its ill-advised vision for peace, which gave Israel everything they wanted and didn’t even bring Palestinians to the negotiating table.

“Though now more than ever there’s a real, urgent need to bring peace to the region, this so-called breakthrough fails to provide even a road map for the end of the decades-long Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

“The timing and context of this agreement can’t be ignored.  Netanyahu is facing well-documented corruption charges and is trying to wiggle himself out of a governing deal with the centrist Blue and White party.  He’s hoping that this will improve his chances for an outright win in a potentially fourth Israeli general election in less than two years.

“Trump, trailing badly in the polls, is hoping for a boost from his right-wing Zionist supporters (both Jewish and evangelical Christians) in the form of campaign funding, including from the pro-Netanyahu billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who was upset that Trump didn’t support Netanyahu enough in his pursuit of the unilateral annexation plan….

“Had Israel gone through with its unilateral annexation plans, it would have jeopardized its peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt and could have brought sanctions from traditional European supporters such as Germany, Britain and France.

“The tragedy in all of this is that Palestinians will be totally erased from all the talk of ‘breakthroughs’ and ‘peace.’  But we know that genuine peace will only come by seriously committing to end the Israeli occupation and creating a democratic and peaceful Palestinian state that can exist side-by-side a safe and secure Israel.  Until then, all will be just part of an insulting diplomatic circus.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif on Friday denounced the accord between the UAE and Israel as “theatre” fabricated by the United States.  “They (U.S.) think that by fabricating the theatre like the one that happened yesterday unfortunately, that they can determine the fate of Palestine,” Zarif said in televised remarks during a visit to Lebanon.  “The current U.S. administration has proven that it is not capable of understanding the political realities in our region.”

Media and people in the UAE hailed the Gulf state’s deal with Israel as a diplomatic victory that helps the Palestinians, but silence reigned in Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon: As the now-dismissed Lebanese government said in the first hours of the Aug. 4 catastrophic blast in Beirut, the U.S. government has concluded that maintenance work likely led to the explosion of a large cache of ammonium nitrate.  It was not a “bomb of some kind,” as President Trump declared in the immediate hours after.  As I noted last week, it likely resulted from welding that took place at the port the day of the explosion, which set fire to other unspecified materials, that then ignited the chemical stockpile.

The death toll is 160 with another 60 missing; 6,000 injured; 300,000 displaced.

The explosion stoked public outrage that forced Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet to resign early this week, with parliament, in its first session since the explosion, approving a state of emergency yesterday that grants sweeping powers to the military, which in the old days was the most respected institution in the country, but which had lost respect in the days after the catastrophe due to the lack of an emergency response.

The new declaration allows the armed forces to try civilians in military courts for security crimes, bans public gatherings, censors media, establishes curfews and allows the military to enter residents’ homes for security purposes. The state of emergency remains in place until Aug. 21, for starters.

The need for immediate emergency aid in Lebanon is urgent.  Donor countries pledged nearly $300 million in aid at a conference in Paris last Sunday that included at least 28 countries, organized by French President Emmanuel Macron.  The aid effort will be overseen by the UN instead of the Lebanese government, but this sum is a mere drop in the bucket given the scope of the damage. For starters, hundreds of thousands now have no way to make a living.  No place to live.

The resignation of the cabinet is likely to trigger more political instability as not only is there a political vacuum, but there is no real functioning state to deal with the disaster.

For now, Prime Minister Diab’s cabinet becomes a caretaker government with limited powers until a new government is formed, which is expected to occur through a pact among the country’s rival political factions.  In the past, this process took months.  Diab said he would request early elections, but no timeline was set.

Lebanon’s economy is in free fall and the protesters are demanding a total overhaul of the political system, not just a replacement of the government.  Economists forecast the blast could wipe up to 25% off of the country’s GDP.

Afghanistan: The government agreed to release 400 “hard-core” Taliban prisoners, paving the way for peace talks aimed at ending two decades of war.  Among those freed are Taliban members accused of major attacks against civilians and foreigners, including a 2017 truck bombing near the German embassy in Kabul that killed more than 150 – the deadliest attack in the 19-year insurgency.

President Trump is pressuring the government to reach a deal so that he can bring more troops home, hopefully prior to the election, and whether it’s in the best interests of the Afghans or not. Currently, there are about 8,600 U.S. troops in the country and Defense Secretary Mark Esper said they are looking for a reduction to less than 5,000 by the end of November.

Turkey: France is sending two Rafale fighter jets and a naval frigate to the eastern Mediterranean as part of plans to increase its military presence in the region amid signs of tension with Turkey.

Earlier this week, French President Macron called on Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in the disputed waters in that area, which has resulted in heightened tensions with Greece.

Belarus: Following strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s claim of victory in Sunday’s presidential election, with 80 percent of the vote, thousands took to the streets in what turned into a bloody protest, police moving in with force.

Lukashenko alleged a foreign-backed plot to destabilize the country, ditto Russia, and dismissed the demonstrators as criminals and unemployed.  Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old teacher who emerged from obscurity weeks ago to become Lukashenko’s main rival, won 9.9% of the vote, the data showed.

But a presidential ally, the head of a national state council, said on Thursday that Lukashenko had ordered an urgent review of the detentions.  “We don’t fight, we don’t need war,” said Natalya Kochanova.

On Thursday, tens of thousands of protesters were joined by workers from some state-run industries that are the pride of Lukashenko’s Soviet-style economic model, including the Minsk Automobile Plant.  Footage showed them chanting “elections” and “go away.”

Tikhanouskaya on Friday asked supporters to sign an online petition demanding a recount of last Sunday’s presidential election, in which she believes she was cheated out of victory.

Tikhanouskaya, who fled to neighboring Lithuania with her children on Tuesday, fearing reprisals, asked supporters to demand an official investigation into allegations that the election was rigged.

She called for an end to violence and asked all city mayors to organize peaceful gatherings this weekend.

The government began releasing thousands of detained protesters on Friday, many of whom said they had suffered beatings and torture, after the rare public apology in an effort to quell the nationwide protests, which pose the biggest challenge to Lukashenko in his 26 years in power.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded the unconditional and immediate release of detained demonstrators.

At least two protesters have died and around 6,700 were detained this week in the crackdown following the vote.

Protesters said the fact that Lukashenko had been officially credited with 80% of votes in the election showed it had been massively rigged.

Lukashenko, a 65-year-old former Soviet collective farm manager, has faced increased anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic – which he dismissed as a “psychosis” – as well as a sluggish economy and human rights.

Editorial / The Economist

“In a country in the heart of Europe grisly acts were being committed this week, with the approval of Russia and China, the mildest of European protests and near-silence from America. An election was rigged; the challenger was forced to leave the country; protesters are being beaten and jailed. The perpetrator is Alexander Lukashenko, a 65-year-old dictator who has ruled the former Soviet republic of Belarus for most of its 30 years of independence. With luck, though, he may have overreached….

“Mr. Lukashenko has done all this before and got away with it, largely because he retained enough support to claim a degree of legitimacy.

“This time, however, he appears to have lost most of the population, thanks partly to his extraordinary incompetence in dealing with Covid-19.  They queued up to vote for Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former teacher who became an accidental candidate after her popular blogger husband was jailed to prevent him from running.  She made only two big promises: to release all political prisoners and to hold a proper election within six months.  The authorities said she had won only 9.9% of the vote, an impossibility given the vast crowds she attracted during her rock-star progress around the country during the campaign. The true result is unknowable, but in a few polling stations where rigging was prevented by observers she won about 70%. When Mr. Lukashenko was declared the victor, the largest crowds in independent Belarus’ history came out to roar their rage and disbelief.

“They were met with rubber bullets and stun grenades.  Thousands have been arrested.  Journalists were hunted down.  Ms. Tikahnouskaya herself was detained inside the central election commission where she went to file a complaint and was apparently coerced to read out a statement renouncing her claim to power.  Her husband is incarcerated and her children are in hiding….Ms. Tikhanouskaya was forced to go to Lithuania, explaining that: ‘Children are the most important things in our lives.’

“The Western response has been feeble….

“(The West) should recognize the election in Belarus for what it was – a sham.

“It should demand the release of all political prisoners and the formation of a transitional government.  If Mr. Lukashenko refuses, the West should impose sanctions not only on him and members of his family but also on everyone involved in rigging the election and abusing protesters. It should warn the heads of the Belarussian law-enforcement agencies and the armed forces of their personal responsibility if they carry out the orders of an illegitimate president. That is the right way to help the people of Belarus, who are demonstrating and striking against repression, and so that a phony election shall not stand.”

Vladimir Putin used a congratulatory telegram to nudge Lukashenko to accept deeper ties between the two nations, which the Belarusian leader has previously rejected as an assault on his country’s independence.

Random Musings

--Presidential tracking polls….

Gallup: 41% approve, 56% disapprove of President Trump’s job performance; 91% of Republicans approve; 34% of independents do (July 1-23).
Rasmussen: 47% approve, 52% disapprove (Aug. 14).

--In a new Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday, taken Tues. and Wed., nearly nine out of 10 Democrats approve of Kamala Harris as their party’s vice presidential nominee.  87% of Democrats and 37% of Republicans considered the selection of Harris to be a “major milestone” for the United States, 60% of all Americans.

46% of U.S. adults said they would vote for a Biden/Harris ticket, while 38% would vote for Trump and Mike Pence.

Among women, 60% said they have a favorable view of Harris, compared with 53% who felt the same way about Biden.

--A national Monmouth University Poll of registered voters has 51% supporting Joe Biden, 41% President Trump.  The remaining vote is scattered across third-party candidates, 4% undecided.  In late June, Biden led in the Monmouth survey 52-39.

Biden leads among women in this one by a commanding 61-32 percent margin.

--A new Hill/HarrisX national poll of registered voters, Aug. 8-11, prior to the selection of Kamala Harris, had Joe Biden with just a 44-40 percent lead, 4 percent going for someone else, a sizable 9 percent still undecided and the rest saying they weren’t going to vote.

An Economist/YouGov national survey of U.S. adults had Biden up 49-39 over Trump.

--Yesterday, a new Fox News poll has Biden leading 49-42 percent over Trump in a national survey of registered voters, with nine percent undecided.  This survey had Biden up 49-41 a month ago, and 50-38 in June.

--A Pew Research Center national survey of registered voters has Biden up 53-45 percent.  But 66% of Trump’s supporters say they support him strongly, compared with fewer than half (46%) of Biden’s supporters.

Both the Pew and Fox were largely conducted prior to the announcement of Kamala Harris as Biden’s running mate.

--A CBS News and YouGov poll released Sunday morning found Joe Biden leading Trump 48% to 42% among likely voters in Wisconsin, a pivotal state won by Trump 47.2% to 46.5% in 2016, while a survey for the Election Research Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, looking at registered voters, found Biden ahead 49% to 43%.  The Marquette University Law School Poll, released on Tuesday, finds Biden at 50%, Trump with 46%.

Most, 59% in CBS’ poll, say Trump is doing a bad job handling the coronavirus outbreak (58% in the Marquette survey).

35% to 44% in the three polls say they will vote by mail.

--According to the “States of Play” survey from CNBC and Change Research, Biden leads Trump by 6 points in Florida, 50 to 44 percent, and by 5 points in Michigan, 48 to 43 percent.  Biden is also up by 4 points in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, 48 to 44 percent and 47 to 43 percent, respectively.

Biden is up just one in Arizona, 45 to 44 percent.

Trump holds a narrow lead over Biden in North Carolina, 48 to 47 percent.

Nationally, Biden holds a 6-point lead in the same survey, 50 to 44 percent.

46 percent approve of Trump’s job performance, while only 44 percent approve of his handling of the pandemic.

--On Thursday, Joe Biden called on all U.S. governors to mandate mask wearing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.  Biden, Kamala Harris by his side, made the call for a nationwide mandate after a virtual meeting with public health advisers in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

“Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months,” Biden said.  “Every governor should mandate mandatory mask wearing.”

Biden said that early delays in calling for masks led to unnecessary deaths.

President Trump, who long refused to wear a mask in public, turning masks into a political symbol and sparking squabbles across the country, said states have unique differences, and that governors need to have the freedom to make their own policies and also called on Biden to “stop playing politics with the virus.”

--Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) condemned QAnon on Wednesday, saying it has “no place in Congress” on the heels of several Republican candidates who espouse the theory winning congressional primaries.

“Qanon is a  fabrication,” Kinzinger tweeted, a day after QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene won a Republican primary runoff election in Georgia.

“This ‘insider’ has predicted so much incorrectly (but people don’t remember PAST predictions) so now has switched to vague generalities,” he said.  “Could be Russian propaganda or a basement dweller. Regardless, no place in Congress for these conspiracies.”

QAnon is a baseless conspiracy theory that alleges that there is a “deep state” run by political elites, business leaders and Hollywood celebrities with ties to a child sex trafficking ring.  In addition to claiming that “deep state” members are pedophiles, the theory insists that they are actively working against President Trump.

The online movement started in 2017 on internet message boards, with posts from a self-proclaimed government insider who calls himself “Q,” presumably who Kinzinger was referring to.

Trump tweeted his support for Greene: “Congratulations to future Republican Star Marjorie Greene on a big Congressional primary win in Georgia against a very tough and smart opponent. Marjorie is strong on everything and never gives up – a real WINNER!”

Republican Jeff Flake, a former senator from Arizona, said the future of the Republican Party depended on disassociating itself from the movement.

“If the GOP wants to be a relevant political force in the future, it cannot endorse those who embrace QAnon and other conspiracy theories,” Flake tweeted.

The Trump campaign criticized Kinzinger for coming out against QAnon candidates, questioning why he would bring up QAnon falsehoods instead of ones “pushed by Democrats.”

Trump hasn’t directly addressed the QAnon theory or its supporters, but he has retweeted accounts that promote the QAnon conspiracy theory at least 185 times, according to Media Matters for America, a progressive watchdog group.

Max Boot / Washington Post

“On Tuesday, Marjorie Greene, a racist conspiracy-monger, won a Republican primary in Georgia that will almost certainly result in her winning a congressional seat in a deep-red district. The same day, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat notorious for anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic sentiments, beat back a well-funded challenger to win her primary in a blue district in Minnesota.

“By juxtaposing these election outcomes, the media can give the impression, wittingly or not, that both major parties are in the grip of extremists.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Democrats have the far left under control, while Republicans are being controlled by the far right.

“Greene and Omar actually have little in common. The Somali-born member of Congress has gotten into trouble for backing the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and for suggesting that Jewish money controls Congress.  (‘It’s all about the Benjamins baby.’)  But she has apologized for her anti-Semitic statements.

“Greene, by contrast, is unrepentant in her racism and conspiracy mongering. She has falsely claimed that George Soros, a liberal Jewish financier, is a ‘Nazi himself trying to continue what was not finished.’ She has described the election of Omar and another Muslim woman to Congress as an ‘Islamic invasion of our government.’ She has suggested that ‘the most mistreated group of people in the United States today are White males.’

“As if that weren’t bad enough, Greene is also a supporter of QAnon.  This cult, which has been linked to acts of violence, believes that President Trump is fighting a secret clique of ‘deep state’ child molesters.  Greene said in a video: ‘There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it.’

“Some Republican members of Congress have denounced Greene for her ‘disgusting’ comments, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) didn’t lift a finger to block here election, and Trump welcomed her win. He called her a ‘future Republican star’ who is ‘strong on everything and never gives up – a real WINNER!’

“And why shouldn’t Trump welcome this QAnon wing nut to his party? She fits right in….

“When the Republican Party was under assault from the conspiracy-minded John Birch Society in the 1960s, responsible conservatives such as Richard Nixon and William F. Buckley Jr. marginalized them. That isn’t happening today. Trump has regularly retweeted QAnon accounts, his son Eric posted a giant ‘Q’ as well as the group’s slogan (‘Where we go one, we go all’) on his Instagram account, and Donald Trump Jr. has echoed the group’s deranged claims that Joe Biden is a pedophile.

“The president might not be a full-fledged QAnon adherent, but he is a racist and a conspiracy-monger in his own right.  The conspiracy theories that he has promoted – Joe Scarborough is a murderer, former president Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, Sen. Ted Cruz’s father killed John F. Kennedy, etc. – are nearly as nutty as the ones promulgated by QAnon….

“Trump is also becoming increasingly blatant in his appeals to White bigots. He tweeted on Wednesday that ‘the ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me,’ because under a Biden presidency ‘low income housing would invade their neighborhood.’ Trump claimed that the person in charge of this plot would be African American Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).  This isn’t a racist dog whistle; this is a wolf whistle.

“Under Trump, the GOP has become a party of white nationalists and conspiracy-mongers. I had feared that the Republican swing to the far right would lead the Democrats to go to the far left – and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ brief run as the Democratic front-runner had confirmed my concerns. But the ticket of Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris is as mainstream and moderate as you can get.  Trump & Co. can bellow all day long that they are lackeys for Sanders and ‘the Squad,’ but it’s simply not credible. The Republican Party, by contrast, isn’t just catering to extremists – it’s led by one.”

--Americans across the political spectrum support temporary immigration restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but the nation remains divided when it comes to immigration enforcement, including President Trump’s push to expand the southern border wall, according to a national Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll released Thursday.

A large majority of Republicans (81%), a plurality of Democrats (49%) and a majority of independents (62%) said the U.S. government has done right by temporarily enacting immigration restrictions in an effort to slow the spread of the pandemic.

The poll was conducted before the New York Times reported this week that the Trump administration is considering banning U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents from reentering the U.S. if they show symptoms of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was created by President Obama to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, which Trump has tried to end, 69% of Republican in the poll said they not only support DACA, but they also support a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.

Trump has dramatically cut back and, at times, completely suspended the refugee and asylum systems that allow those fleeing war, violence or persecution to seek a safe haven in the U.S.  But 60% of Republicans support asylum for people fleeing war and violence, and 59% of Republicans support asylum for those fleeing political and religious persecution.

--The incredibly destructive derecho that moved from far southeast South Dakota into Ohio on Monday traveled approximately 770 miles in 14 hours and produced wind gusts of 100 mph in Des Moines, Iowa.

--Much of Canada’s remaining intact ice shelf has broken apart into hulking iceberg islands thanks to a hot summer and global warming, scientists said.

Canada’s 4,000-year-old Milne Ice Shelf was the country’s last intact ice shelf, but at the end of July ice analyst Adrienne White, of the Canadian Ice Service, noticed that satellite photos showed about 43% of it had broken off.

Two giant icebergs formed, along with numerous smaller ones, and they have already started drifting away.  The biggest is nearly the size of Manhattan.

Maybe it’s just as well the cruise ships are anchored and not in service these days.

Temperatures from May to early August in the region have been 9 degrees warmer than the 1980 to 2010 average, University of Ottawa glaciology professor Luke Copland said.  This is on top of an Arctic that already had been warming much faster than the rest of globe, with this region warming even faster.

“Without a doubt, it’s climate change,” Copland said, noting the ice shelf is melting from both hotter air above and warmer water below.  [Associated Press]

--Speaking of heat, Phoenix, Arizona is up to 38 days with a high temperature of 110-degrees this summer, smashing the previous record of 33 days set in 2011, and it seems destined to hit 50, looking at the long-range forecast.

But, all together now…it’s a dry heat!

--Smash Mouth, a rock band that last had a top ten hit in the U.S. in 2001, performed at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Sunday, thousands of bikers at the jam-packed event as coronavirus cases continue to surge.

Frontman Steve Harwell said, “We’re all here together tonight.  (Screw) that Covid (s---).”

Next week, look for Harwell to be seated next to Dr. Scott Atlas in one of President Trump’s coronavirus briefings, that have little to do with, err, ‘the Covid’.  Hey, did you know we’re the “Ventilator King”?

--Lastly, when it comes to a Kamala Harris v. Mike Pence vice presidential debate, I’m imagining Joe Biden in his interview process asked Harris how she would take on Pence.  Harris said (I have it on the utmost authority) that she would play the role of Sir Dinadan in “Camelot,” (aka Kamalot).

Harris

Your lordship can’t believe this blustering prattle
Let him prove it with a sword or lance instead!

I promise you, when I’ve done this Gaul in battle
His shoulders will be lonesome for his head!

Biden

You’ll disconnect him?

Harris

I’ll vivisect him.

Biden

You’ll open-wide him?

Harris

I’ll subdivide him.

Biden

Oh, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear.

Then you may guide me through the ‘third’
If you can carry out our program
In fact, I’d grieve inside should you not guide me to the ‘third.’

Vote.

---

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

God bless America.

---

Gold $1953…down $93 on the week
Oil $42.23

Returns for the week 8/10-8/14

Dow Jones  +1.8%  [27931]
S&P 500  +0.6%  [3372]
S&P MidCap  +0.6%
Russell 2000  +0.6%
Nasdaq  +0.1%  [11019]

Returns for the period 1/1/20-8/14/20

Dow Jones  -2.1%
S&P 500  +4.4%
S&P MidCap  -5.5%
Russell 2000  -5.4%
Nasdaq  +22.8%

Bulls 58.1
Bears 16.2

Hang in there.  Mask up…wash your hands.

Dr. Bortrum posted a new column!

Brian Trumbore