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Week in Review

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08/22/2020

For the week of 8/17-8/21

[Posted 10:30 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 1,114

Before we get going on the Democratic Convention and other important items of the week, I want to extend my deepest thoughts and prayers for the people of California, suffering yet again from horrific wildfires that as I go to post have killed at least six, destroyed over 500 homes and other structures, and forced nearly 200,000 to flee. Compounding matters is the fact there are so many different major conflagrations that firefighting forces are depleted and so far only 45 of 375 out-of-state fire crews requested by the state had arrived.

And then you have Iowa.  Last Friday night when I posted I casually mentioned the ‘derecho’ that ripped through parts of South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, traveling 770 miles in just 14 hours with hurricane force winds, but I had no idea as to the scope of the damage until Saturday.  An estimated $4 billion in losses, 8,200 homes destroyed or damaged, 13 million acres of corn, 1/3rd of the state’s crop, ruined.  2,500 utility poles downed.  Not just a tragedy of epic proportions, but immensely sad.  As one farmer put it, what more can 2020 do to us?

Most of you know I’ve been to Iowa countless times for the Iowa State Fair, timed to the political cycle, and it’s there I can honestly say I met Joe and Beau Biden (2007), just about eight of us at the Des Moines Register hay bales.  I told you then how Joe Biden was talking about the MRAP mine resistant vehicles desperately needed then to protect the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from IEDs.

I’ve traveled all over Iowa, including to Clear Lake, to see where Buddy Holly’s plane went down in a nearby cornfield…“the day the music died.”  And multiple times to Van Meter, home of the great Bob Feller.

So to my friends in Iowa…and California…all I can offer you are prayers.  Prayers for help you desperately need. 

This week the Democrats took the stage and next week it’s the Republicans turn.  Following is a summary of the more memorable moments from the Dems, who put on a solid show given the circumstances; in fact, so good that many of us prefer this kind of convention vs. the traditional affairs.  I loved the roll call, for starters. 

Republicans will get equal treatment from yours truly next time.

But I do have to add that it is clear to me this election could be as tight as the last one (focus on the CNN poll down below).  As good a job as the Democrats did this week, it’s not likely they moved the progressives enough to get them to come out on Nov. 3rd…or to have their ballot in the mail.

On the other hand, black and suburban women I’m convinced will vote Democrat in record numbers. Will it be enough?  It’s likely to be decided by the same states.

The wildcard is the coronavirus and perceptions come, say, mid-October, and whether kids are finally getting back into actual classrooms by then, and whether or not we are crushed by a renewed surge, coupled with flu season.

I said beginning of the year 2020 would be hell.  None of us knew just how bad it would be.

Takeaways….

Michelle Obama launched a stinging attack on President Trump.  Mrs. Obama, who recorded her keynote address before Joe Biden announced his running mate, said in remarks that closed the first night of the convention on Monday:

“You simply cannot fake your way through this job…

“Our economy is in shambles because of a virus that this president downplayed for too long.”

“Stating the simple fact that a black life matters is still met with derision from the nation’s highest office,” she continued.

“Because whenever we look to this White House for some leadership, or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division and a total and utter lack of empathy.”

She said the last four years had been difficult to explain to America’s children.

“They see our leaders labelling fellow citizens enemies of the state, while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists.

“They watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages and pepper spray and rubber bullets are used on peaceful protests for a photo op.”

And: “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country.  He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head.

“He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us.  It is what it is.”

“We have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it,” she said, wearing a necklace that said “Vote.”

Former President Barack Obama for over three years has stayed above the fray, some saying he’s been too silent.  He wasn’t the other night.

“Tonight, I am asking you to believe in Joe and Kamala’s ability to lead this country out of dark times and build it back better,” Obama said.  “But here’s the thing: No single American can fix this country alone. Democracy was never meant to be transactional – you give me your vote; I make everything better.  So I am also asking you to believe in your own ability – to embrace your own responsibility as citizens – to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure.”

“I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care,” Obama said.

“But he never did.  He’s shown no interest in putting in the work, no interest in finding common ground: no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

Obama said the consequences of the Trump presidency have been “our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”

The former president lamented “the circus of it all, the meanness and the lies and the conspiracy theories.”

“Do not let them take away your power,” he implored voters.  “Do not let them take away your democracy.”

In her acceptance speech, Kamala Harris was introducing herself to America.

“In this election we have a chance to change the course of history,” Harris said. “We’re all in this fight.  You, me, and Joe, together. What an awesome responsibility. What an awesome privilege.”

“We’re at an inflection point,” Harris said.  “The constant chaos leaves us adrift.  The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone.  It’s a lot.  And here’s the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more. We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better, and do the important work.  A president who will bring all of us together – Black, White, Latino, Asian, indigenous – to achieve the future we collectively want. We must elect Joe Biden.”

“Public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is a shared responsibility,” Harris said.  “That led me to become a lawyer, a district attorney, attorney general and a United States senator. And at every step of the way, I’ve been guided by the words I spoke from the first time I stood in a courtroom.  Kamala Harris for the people.”

In his acceptance speech, Joe Biden turned to the coronavirus:

“Our current president has failed in his most basic duty to the nation: He’s failed to protect us.  He’s failed to protect America. And my fellow Americans, that is unforgivable.”

Biden added: “This president, if he’s reelected, you know what will happen.  Cases and deaths will remain far too high.  More mom and pop businesses will close their doors – and this time for good. Working families will struggle to get by.”

Biden compared the coronavirus response to other nations’.

“Just look around: It’s not this bad in Canada or Europe or Japan or almost anywhere else in the world.  And the president keeps telling us, ‘The virus is going to disappear.’  He keeps waiting for a miracle. Well, I have news for him: No miracle is coming.”

And: “As president, the first step I will take: We will get control of the virus that has ruined so many lives.  Because I understand something this president hasn’t from the beginning.  We will never get our economy back on track, we will never get our kids safely back in schools, we’ll never have our lives back until we deal with this virus.”

“Here and now, I give you my word, if you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst.

“I’ll be an ally of the light, not the darkness.

“It’s time for us, for we the people, to come together. And make no mistake, united we can and will overcome this season of darkness in America.

“We’ll choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege….

“We can choose a path of becoming angrier, less hopeful, more divided, a path of shadow and suspicion,” Biden said.

“Or, or, we can choose a different path and together take this chance to heal, to reform, to unite.  A path of hope and light.

“This is a life-changing election. This will determine what America is going to look like for a long, long time.”

And: “What we know about this president is that if he’s given four more years, he’ll be what he’s been for the last four years.

“A president who takes no responsibility, refuses to lead, blames others, cozies up to dictators and fans the flames of hate and division.

“He’ll wake up every day believing the job is all about him, never about you.

“Is that the America you want for you, your family and your children?”

In conclusion: “This is our moment to make hope and history rhyme.”

Biden pulled off his big night really without a hitch.  But the most popular moment no doubt was the video of a 13-year-old, Brayden Harrington, who has struggled with a stutter like Biden did in his youth.

Harrington in the video stuttered a few times while recalling Biden’s counsel in helping him deal with his own speech problems.

“Without Joe Biden, I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” Harrington said, adding: “It was really amazing to hear that someone like me became vice president.  He told me about a book of poems by Yeats he would read aloud to practice. He showed me how he marks up his addresses to make them easier to say out loud.  So I did the same thing today.

“I’m just a regular kid, and in a short amount of time Joe Biden made me more confident about something that’s bothered me my whole life.  Joe Biden cared.  Imagine what he could do for all of us.”

One more…Biden and closely allied Democratic groups raised $70 million during their four-day convention, Biden’s campaign said on Friday.  The broadcasts drew 122 million views across 15 digital platforms and also attracted 85.1 million to television broadcasts.

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

World…802,889
USA…179,200
Brazil…113,454
Mexico…59,610
India…55,928
UK…41,405
Italy…35,427
France…30,503
Spain…28,838
Peru…27,034
Iran…20,376

Source: worldometers.info

U.S. daily death tolls…Sun. 522; Mon. 589; Tues. 1,358; Wed. 1,263; Thurs. 1,090; Fri. 1,170.

In my now regular look at President Trump’s claim that countries who have received credit for the great job they did in suppressing the virus, but are now spiking, I have picked ‘Wednesdays’ for comparison…using Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK and Belgium, which have a combined population of 336.3 million vs. America’s 330 million.

This week the euro six had 10,903 cases on Wednesday with 191 deaths, while the U.S. had 44,957 and 1,263.

But there is no doubt, Europe’s cases are rising and that is not a good sign for us.  Their reopening is further along than ours has been and it’s making a difference.

Covid Bytes

--France has been reporting its highest number of cases this week since mid-April.

--Italy is shutting discos and clubs and has made it compulsory to wear a mask outdoors in some areas during the night-time in the first reimposition of restrictions as cases of coronavirus pick up across the country, especially among younger people.

--Slovenia urged its citizens to return from Croatia by the end of the week or face an obligatory two-week quarantine after the number of Covid-19 cases continued to rise there.  The UK is doing the same…need to be back tonight.

Croatia escaped the worst of the first wave of the pandemic owing to swift lockdowns and a lack of tourist arrivals at the tail-end of winter, and during the reopening of its economy promoted itself as a safe destination for tourists.

But now its reporting record numbers of infections.

--Almost half of Brazilians think President Jair Bolsonaro bears “no responsibility at all” for the country’s more than 100,000 dead from the pandemic, according to a new Datafolha poll.

The poll, published last weekend, says 47% of Brazilians do not assign him any blame for the body count, whereas 11% do.

Bolsonaro himself and several members of his family have gotten coronavirus.  His current wife, Michelle Bolsonaro, got the disease in late July and her grandmother died from the disease this week.

Bolsonaro’s fourth son, who is 22, recently tested positive.

“He is doing very well, taking hydroxychloroquine and will soon recover,” the president’s second wife said in an Instagram post.  Bolsonaro has been pushing for the use of the anti-malarial drug to fight the disease; replacing two health ministers who opposed his agenda.  He has shown indifference to the rising death toll.

Overall, startlingly, Bolsonaro is currently enjoying the highest popularity rating of his administration, according to the same Datafolha poll.  37% of Brazilians rate his term as great or good, compared with 32% in June.

The spike in popularity is most likely due to emergency payments the government has been making to low-income and informal workers set to expire in September.

--At a campaign rally on Monday President Trump said that despite New Zealand claiming to have succeeded in wiping out Covid-19, the country was in fact in the grip of a “terrible” upsurge in cases.

“You see what’s going on in New Zealand?” Trump said in Mankato, Minnesota.  “They beat it, they beat it, it was like front page they beat it…because they wanted to show me something. The problem is…big surge in New Zealand, you know, it’s terrible.  We don’t want that.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fired back at Trump, calling his remarks “patently wrong.”

“I think anyone who’s following Covid and its transmission globally will quite easily see that New Zealand’s nine cases in a day does not compare to the United States’ tens of thousands,” she said.

Overall, New Zealand has less than 1,700 cases with 22 deaths.

But they take it seriously, and so this week, where there have been a few days of over 10 cases, they locked down Auckland and postponed a general election for a month to give authorities time to fight the new “outbreak.”

--The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the rate of infection is steadily increasing in children, who now make up at least 7% of the cases in the U.S., though that number is fuzzy because of inadequate testing.

“The number and rate of cases in children in the United States has been steadily increasing from March to July 2020,” the CDC’s guidance stated. “The true incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in children is not known due to lack of widespread testing and the prioritization of testing for adults and those with severe illness.”

Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics logged a 90% increase in pediatric cases between July 9 and Aug. 6, CBS News reported.

During the last two weeks of July, more than 97,000 children tested positive, according to the joint report issued by the AAP and Children’s Hospital Association on Aug. 6.

--Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Mass General Hospital for Children found that among 192 children, 49 tested positive for the coronavirus and had significantly higher levels of virus in their airways than hospitalized adults in intensive care units, according to a study published Thursday in the Journal of Pediatrics.

“Kids are not immune from this infection, and their symptoms don’t correlate with exposure and infection,” said Dr. Alessio Fasano of Mass General.

Fasano said some children were brought to these settings after exhibiting symptoms, but others showed no symptoms and were brought in because they had been in contact with an infected person or lived in what was considered a high-risk area.

Scientists also discovered only half of the children who tested positive for the disease had a fever, leading experts to question the heavy reliance of non-contact thermal scanners at building entrances.

“How likely are you to pick up every case of Covid? The answer is only 50% of the time,” said Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.  [Adrianna Rodriguez / USA TODAY]

All of the above has to do with the reopening of the schools debate.

--According to a CNN/SSRS survey, nearly 7 in 10 Americans say the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak makes them feel embarrassed, as 62% of the public says President Trump could be doing more to fight the outbreak.

58% disapprove of Trump’s handling of the crisis, as the share who say the worst of the pandemic is yet to come has risen to 55% after dropping through the spring. And as the virus has spread from the nation’s cities throughout its countryside, the number who know someone who’s been diagnosed with the virus has jumped dramatically to 67%, up from 40% in early June.

And Americans are angry.  About 8 in 10 say they are at least somewhat angry about the way things are going in the country today, including 51% who say they are very angry.  CNN has asked this question in polling periodically since 2008, and the previous high for the share who said they were “very angry” was 35%, reached in 2008 and 2016.

Nearly 6 in 10 (57%) say schools in their area should not open for in-person instruction this fall, while 39% say they should be open.  But the issue is sharply driven by partisanship: 74% of Republicans say their local schools should be open vs. 12% of Democrats.

49% say Major League Baseball should not be playing games, and 45% say they should.

Democrats are nearly unanimous in saying they are more embarrassed than proud about the American response to the virus (93% embarrassed, 5% proud), while Republicans are mostly proud (61% say so vs. 33% who are embarrassed).

Only 56% of Americans say they would try to get vaccinated against the coronavirus if a vaccine became widely available at a low cost: 56% say they would try to do so now, while 66% felt that way in May.  Only 38% of Trump supporters say they would seek out a vaccine, vs. 51% who said so in May.

--Moriah Balingit / Washington Post

“Before the pandemic, it was called ‘the homework gap,’ because of the growing number of teachers who assigned homework that required Internet access. Now, as the pandemic forces many schools to switch to remote learning, disconnected students will miss more than homework. They’ll miss all of school.

“For all the talk of Generation Z’s Internet savvy, a stunning number of young people are locked out of virtual classes because they lack high-speed Internet service at home.  In 2018, nearly 17 million children lived in homes without high-speed Internet, and more than 7 million did not have computers at home, according to a report prepared by a coalition of civil rights and education groups that analyzed census data for that year.

“The issue affects a disproportionately high percentage of Black, Latino and Native American households – with nearly one-third of students lacking high-speed Internet at home.  Students in Southern states and in rural communities also were particularly overrepresented.  In Mississippi and Arkansas, about 40 percent of students lacked high-speed Internet….

“Education advocates say Congress could deliver an easy fix as part of a coronavirus relief package by expanding an existing program that helps schools and libraries get Internet service. But those hopes collapsed alongside talks between Congress and the White House on a new relief package. With talks deadlocked, President Trump issued an executive order for coronavirus relief.  It provides nothing for K-12 public schools. The consequences of the gap between those who have access to virtual learning and those who do not could be felt for years to come.”

--Many of us are curious as to what the numbers of positive cases in South Dakota and neighboring states will look like in another 7-10 days after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally wrapped up last weekend.  Health experts were concerned about the mass gathering becoming a “super-spreader” event and one such incident may have occurred on August 11, when a bar-goer visited a saloon from noon to 5:30 p.m., later testing positive, and could easily have transmitted it to scores.

So today, South Dakota reported its highest number of cases since early May, while North Dakota has had its two highest days yet, Thursday and Friday.

Trump World

--President Trump retaliated today after the Democrats accused him all week of being a chaotic and dishonest leader.  Trump said Democrats, not he, would bring chaos to the U.S. if Biden won.

“If our opponents prevail no one will be safe in our country,” Trump told conservative activists in a speech.  “I’m the only thing standing between the American dream and total anarchy, madness and chaos.”

In a preview of what Republicans will argue at their convention next week, Trump hammered away at the law and order theme he has embraced in response to anti-racism and police brutality protests in cities like Portland, Oregon.  He said police had been weakened in “Democrat-run” cities and cited a spike in murders in Chicago, Minneapolis, New York and Philadelphia.  He urged Americans to turn back “radical left socialists and Marxists.”  He called protesters in Portland “crazy.”

“So the future of our country and indeed our civilization is at stake on Nov. 3.”

Trump called the Democrats’ show “the darkest and angriest and gloomiest convention in American history.”

--U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Friday told lawmakers that the Postal Service would deliver ballots “securely and on time” in the presidential election as he faced questions about political interference in the mail system.

In his first public appearance before Congress, DeJoy sought to tamp down concerns that service delays prompted by his cost-cutting measures could result in millions of uncounted ballots in November and help Donald Trump.

“As we head into the election season, I want to assure this committee and the American public that the Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail securely and on-time. This sacred duty is my number one priority between now and Election Day,” he said.

Under pressure from the public and lawmakers, DeJoy on Tuesday suspended all mail service changes until after the election.

President Trump has repeatedly and without evidence said that an increase in mail-in ballots would lead to a surge in fraud.

Senator Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said he had received more than 7,500 reports of mail delays from people in his home state of Michigan. 

“If you plan to continue pursuing these kinds of changes, I think my colleagues, and many of our constituents, will continue to question whether you are the right person to lead this indispensable public institution,” Peters said.

Republican committee chairman Ron Johnson defended DeJoy, citing his “commendable attempt to reduce those excess costs that are now being cynically used to create this false political narrative.”

DeJoy is also due to testify before the Democratic-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Monday.

DeJoy, a major political donor and ally of Trump, assumed the job in June.  He said he supports mail-in balloting and that he did not discuss changes at the postal service and the potential impact on the election with the president, which just isn’t believable.

--Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former adviser and an architect of his 2016 general election campaign, was charged on Thursday with defrauding donors to a private fund-raising effort called We Build the Wall, which was intended to bolster the president’s signature initiative along the Mexican border.

Bannon, working with a wounded Air Force veteran and a Florida venture capitalist, conspired to cheat hundreds of thousands of donors by falsely promising that their money had been set aside for new sections of wall, according to a federal indictment unsealed in Manhattan.

The fund-raising effort collected more than $25 million, and prosecutors said Bannon used nearly $1 million of it for personal expenses.

The despicable Bannon was arrested on a $35 million, 150-foot yacht belonging to one of his business associates, the fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, law enforcement officials said.

A top aide to Joe Biden said “it is not” a surprise to see Bannon charged with fraud.  “No one needed a federal indictment to know that Steve Bannon is a fraud,” said Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield on a conference call with reporters.  Trump, she said, “has consistently used his office to enrich himself, his family and his cronies, so is it really any surprise that yet another one of the grifters he surrounded himself with and placed in the highest levels of government was just indicted? Sadly, it is not.”

--David Ignatius / Washington Post

“As Democrats accelerate their drive to defeat President Trump in November, they have a potent new weapon in a report by a Republican-led Senate committee that chronicles the ‘grave counterintelligence threat’ posed by the extensive contacts between Trump’s former campaign chairman and a Russian intelligence operative.

“The final volume of the report by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation arrives late in the game. Still, it offers the detailed accounting of how Russian spies worked with the Trump team that former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III should have given the country last year.  It offers raw material for the wide-ranging impeachment inquiry that the House of Representatives should have conducted.

“Here at last is hard evidence – certified by GOP committee leaders and published this week – that shreds Trump’s false claims of a Russia ‘hoax’ or ‘witch hunt.’  Let us never hear that glib dismissal of facts again.  From now on, the simple answer to Trump is: ‘That’s not what Senate Republicans found.’

“The document is 952 pages, stuffed with obscure names and details, and few will read much of it. But as someone who has spent four years examining arcane aspects of this story, I can summarize the findings that make the report so powerful.

“The most important is that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman for much of 2016, had repeated secret contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, bluntly described in the report as a ‘Russian intelligence officer.’  Manafort had worked with Kilimnik since 2004, and shared detailed, sensitive information with him before, during and after the campaign.

“We knew that Manafort had worked with Kilimnik, but the scope of their interactions, as laid out in the report, is astonishing.  In page after page, the report describes how Manafort communicated secretly with Kilimnik, shared internal Trump campaign data with him, discussed plans that would advance Russia’s interests in Ukraine and took other questionable actions.

“As the reports describes it, Manafort was determined to obscure his relationship with Kilimnik.  Pressed by Mueller about his contacts with him, Manafort ‘lied consistently,’ the report says. He used encrypted communication devices, secret meetings and private code words to obscure his actions. This relationship, says the report, was ‘the single most direct tie between senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services.’

“The Senate investigators even gathered information ‘suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected to the [Russian military intelligence agency’s] hack and leak operations targeting the 2016 U.S. election’ – the assault on Democratic emails that was the centerpiece of the Kremlin’s election-meddling campaign.

“Kilimnik wasn’t the only Russian intelligence conduit to Manafort and the campaign. Another was Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch whom Manafort has known since 2004.  The Senate report describes Deripaska as ‘a proxy for the Russian state and intelligence services’ who ‘has managed and financed Kremlin-approved and -directed active measures campaigns, including information operations and election interference efforts.’

“A shocking finding was that the Kremlin sought to use this network even after the election to hide its dirty work. Read this passage and consider what it tells us about Trump and his apologists: ‘The Committee observed numerous Russian-government actors from late 2016 until at least January 2020 consistently spreading overlapping false narratives which sought to discredit investigations into Russian interference.’

“One goal of this coverup was to ‘promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election,’ the Senate report says. Sound familiar? It should. This lie has been voiced repeatedly by Trump and his defenders.  Participants in the deception included Manafort, Kilimnik, Deripaska and others, the Senate report says – but the real purveyor in chief of the disinformation operation was Trump himself….

“The report includes hundreds of pages of other damning information.  One particularly vivid passage describes Trump’s attempts to ingratiate himself with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he was hosting the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in November 2013.  ‘I am a big fan of yours,’ Trump had cooed back in 2007 in a congratulatory letter.

“As the pageant approached, Trump went into overdrive.  In a June 26, 2013, letter, he invited the Russian dictator to attend as a ‘guest of honor’ and added a handwritten note in his distinctive block letters: ‘THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN!’ For the next three years, Trump’s family and fixers tried unsuccessfully to build his cherished ‘Trump Tower Moscow’ with the help of Putin cronies.

“ ‘Facts are stubborn things,’ said John Adams, our second president. And the facts of the Trump team’s interactions with Russian intelligence are clearly documented here.  As the Senate report stresses, this is a counterintelligence problem – a matter of combating Russian spies. The bipartisan report has revealed this story in extraordinary new detail: Read it and weep.”

--Trump tweets:

“WHY DID HE REFUSE TO ENDORSE SLOW JOE UNTIL IT WAS ALL OVER, AND EVEN THEN WAS VERY LATE? WHY DID HE TRY TO GET HIM NOT TO RUN?”

[Ed. Speaking of Barack Obama]

“HE SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN, AND GOT CAUGHT!”

“Don’t buy GOODYEAR TIRES – They announced a BAN ON MAGA HATS. Get better tires for far less!  [This is what the Radical Left Democrats do.  Two can play the same game, and we have to start playing it now!].”

“IF YOU CAN PROTEST IN PERSON, YOU CAN VOTE IN PERSON!”

“The ObamaBiden Administration was the most corrupt in history, including the fact that they got caught SPYING ON MY CAMPAIGN, the biggest political scandal in the history of our Country.  It’s called Treason, and more. Thanks for your very kind words Michelle!”

“Looking back into history, the response by the ObamaBiden team to the H1N1 Swine Flu was considered a weak and pathetic one. Check out the polling, it’s really bad.  The big difference is that they got a free pass from the Corrupt Fake News Media!”

[Ed. for the umpteenth time, Donald Trump is an idiot to bring up this topic.  12,500 died in the H1N1 pandemic in the U.S., according to the CDC, and as I’ve told you our lives weren’t changed one bit and, for example, I was literally traveling all over the world with no issues.]

“Somebody please explain to @MichelleObama that Donald J. Trump would not be here, in the beautiful White House, if it weren’t for the job done by your husband, Barack Obama.  Biden was merely an afterthought, a good reason for that very late & unenthusiastic endorsement….

“….My Administration and I built the greatest economy in history, of any country, turned it off, saved millions of lives, and now am building an even greater economy than it was before.  Jobs are flowing, NASDAQ is already at a record high, the rest to follow. Sit back & watch!”

“John Kasich did a bad job in Ohio, ran for President and was easy to beat, and now went to the other side desperate for relevance.  Good job by Chris C in exposing yet another loser!”

“Many thousands of people work for our government. With that said, a former DISGRUNTLED EMPLOYEE named Miles Taylor, who I do not know (never heard of him), said he left & is on the open arms Fake News circuit. Said to be a real ‘stiff’.  They will take anyone against us!”

“People forget how divided our Country was under ObamaBiden. The anger and hatred were unbelievable. They shouldn’t be lecturing to us.  I’m here, as your President, because of them!”

Wall Street and the Economy

Stocks, at least those represented by Nasdaq and the S&P 500, continued to power higher, both hitting records.  With the S&P’s close on Tuesday, the market had recovered all of the losses of the pandemic-fueled bear market from Feb. 19 to its trough on March 23, lasting just 33 days.

But the quick bear market still packed a punch, falling 34% from its February high to its March low.  The rally back, 51.5% through Tuesday, was/is one of the most powerful on record in such a short period of time.

Meanwhile, the disconnect between the stock market and the real economy continued.

Yes, housing numbers were strong for July with housing starts in the month much better than expected, 1.496 million annualized.  July existing home sales came in at 5.86 million versus the previous month’s revised 4.7 million rate, with the median home price $304,100, rising to more than $300,000 nationally for the first time on record, according to the National Association of Realtors.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said: “With the sizable shift in remote work, current homeowners are looking for larger homes and this will lead to a secondary level of demand even into 2021.  The number of new listings is increasing, but they are quickly taken out of the market from heavy buyer competition.  More homes need to be built.”

So the housing sector is in great shape.  But at the same time, initial jobless claims this week rose by 135,000 to back over the 1 million level, 1.1m, in the week ended Aug. 15, Labor Department data showed.

Continuing claims – the total number of Americans claiming ongoing unemployment assistance – decreased to 14.8 million in the week ended Aug. 8, the lowest since early April.

The downtrend in continuing claims is favorable news for the recovery, but the jobless claims number is not good. Companies are going bankrupt and small businesses are disappearing at a time when the economy has only recovered about half of the jobs it lost in March and April.

Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at Maria Fiorini Ramirez, Inc., wrote in a note to clients “the fact that five months into the crisis initial claims are running at 1.1 million per week, in absolute terms, is very bad news.”

Plus you have the expiration of the extra $600 in weekly jobless benefits at the end of last month and the inability of Republican and Democratic lawmakers to come to an agreement on how to extend them; President Trump having signed an executive order to provide $300 a week in federal support to most unemployment benefit recipients, but if a state adopts this, it is not likely that checks will go out for weeks.

On the trade front, the news was not good.  The Trump administration on Thursday declined to acknowledge any plans to meet with China over the Phase 1 trade deal after the commerce ministry in Beijing said bilateral talks would be held “in the coming days” to evaluate the agreement’s progress.

Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng made the comments about the forthcoming discussions at a weekly briefing held online, but did not elaborate.

The videoconference meeting slated for Aug. 15, the six-month anniversary of the trade deal’s launch, had been delayed and President Trump said it was his decision.

---

So I’ve been wanting to jot down some basic numbers every American should be aware of and then be able to use in the proper context.

Some of these figures are somewhat random but designed to give you a look at various points in time.

U.S. unemployment rate

Oct. 2009… 10.0%...peak during Great Recession
Jan. 2017… 4.7%...Trump takes office
Sept. 2019… 3.5%
Feb. 2020… 3.5%
July 2020… 10.2%

Black unemployment rate

Jan. 2007… 7.9%
Mar. 2010… 16.8% [9.9% overall jobless rate]
Jan. 2017… 7.5%...Trump takes office
Aug. 2019… 5.4% [3.7% overall rate]
Feb. 2020… 5.8%
July 2020… 15.2%

Weekly Jobless Claims

The all-time worst number before the pandemic was 665,000 the week of Mar. 28, 2009, during the Great Recession.

On Jan. 21, 2017, the 4-week moving average was 245,500.

Mar. 7, 2020… 211,000
Mar. 14, 2020… 282,000
Mar. 21, 2020… 3,307,000
Mar. 28, 2020… 6,867,000
Apr. 4, 2020… 6,615,000
Aug. 8, 2020… 971,000 [revised from 963,000]
Aug. 15, 2020… 1,106,000

U.S. GDP (annualized percent change from previous year)

2012… 2.2%
2013… 1.8%
2014… 2.5%
2015… 3.1%
2016… 1.7%
2017… 2.3%
2018… 3.0%
2019… 2.2%

My point in this exercise is that when the president talks about the greatest economy in history, pre-Covid, that’s just another lie.  I commented months ago, also pre-pandemic, that I’m guessing if you asked the average voter on the street what the unemployment rate was when President Trump assumed office, they would say 8%.  That’s how Trump has sold us.  But it was 4.7%.  Facts matter.

Forget 2020, because that’s just not fair, but we were also told the tax plan of the current administration would lead to 4% growth.  2018, I submit, was solid because the tax cuts were geared towards corporations who had a big incentive to invest in capital equipment.  I’ll update these figures from time to time.

And we were on track for a $1 trillion budget deficit, pre-pandemic, which is outrageous given the rosy scenarios we were sold.

Europe and Asia

We had IHS Markit’s flash PMI readings for August in the eurozone, with the composite at 51.6 vs. 54.9 in July (50 the dividing line between growth and contraction).  Manufacturing came in at 51.7 vs. last month’s 51.8, while the reading for the service sector was just 50.1 vs. 54.7.

The drop in the composite reading dashes the hopes for those dreaming of a V-shaped recovery.

Germany’s flash manufacturing figure for August was 53.0, a 23-month high, but the services reading was down to 50.8 from last month’s 55.6.

France’s manufacturing sector contracted a bit, 49.0, while services fell from a robust 57.3 to 51.9.

Andrew Harker, IHS Markit:

“The eurozone’s rebound lost momentum in August, highlighting the inherent demand weakness caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The recovery was undermined by signs of rising virus cases in various parts of the euro area, with renewed restrictions impacting the service sector in particular.  Manufacturers continued to post marked increases in output and new orders.

“Companies remain cautious when making decisions on employment, again opting to lower staffing levels in August amid a lack of confidence in the strength of the recovery.

“The eurozone stands at a crossroads, with growth either set to pick back up in coming months or continue to falter following the initial post-lockdown rebound. The path taken will likely depend in large part on how successfully Covid-19 can be suppressed and whether companies and their customers alike can gain the confidence necessary to support growth.”

In the UK, the flash August manufacturing PMI was 55.3, a 30-month high, with services up to 60.1, a 72-month high.  So a sharp recovery in demand and thus overall business activity as the economy reopened.

Separately, Britain’s government debt has soared to a record 2 trillion pounds ($2.62 trillion dollars), surpassing the country’s annual GDP for the first time since 1961 (100.5 percent, to be exact).  Increased public spending in response to the coronavirus crisis and decreasing tax revenues amid social distancing restrictions on businesses and individuals will do that.

“The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a significant impact on the UK public sector finances,” the Office for National Statistics said.

“These effects arise from both the introduction of public health measures and from new government policies to support businesses and individuals,” it said.

Brexit: The latest negotiating round between Britain and the EU on their future relationship after a post-Brexit transition period runs out at the end of 2020 brought no breakthroughs this week on the key sticking points, an official with the bloc said on Friday.

“Nothing has moved.  (There were) some technical exchanges that weren’t entirely pointless but nothing noteworthy on the topics that matter,” the official told Reuters.

Britain’s top negotiator, David Frost, said, “There are…significant areas which remain to be resolved and even where there is a broad understanding between negotiators, there is a lot of detail to work through.  Time is short on both sides.”

Turning to Asia…there was nothing of note on the data front from China.

Japan’s flash PMI data for August showed continued problems, with the manufacturing figure 44.7 vs. 43.9 in July, services 45.0 vs. 45.4.

Bernard Aw, principal economist at IHS Markit, said:

“Japanese business activity continued to contract in August, adding to concerns about the depth of the economic downturn and recovery pace as conditions remain challenging for manufacturers and service providers due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Demand continued to be adversely affected by subdued trade flows and social distancing measures.  New orders fell sharply in August, accompanied by a substantial drop in export sales….

“With the downturn extending into August, Japan’s labor market continued to deteriorate, with survey data showing employment falling further….

“Rising unemployment may also hit domestic household income and spending in the months ahead.”

The recession will continue.  Earlier, Japan reported the economy fell 7.8% in the second quarter over the previous one (27.8% annualized), making it three negative quarters in a row.  Private consumption fell 8.2% in Q2 from Q1.

Meanwhile, more than half of Japanese companies believe the Tokyo Olympics should be cancelled or put off again.  A poll of 13,000 companies that responded to the poll by Tokyo Shoko Research had 27.8% saying the Games should be cancelled, while 25.8% saw another postponement as desirable.

5.3% said the Olympics should be held with no spectators.

And lastly, there are concerns over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s health.  He reportedly “vomited blood” in his office last month and on Monday had a more than seven-hour “routine medical check-up” at a Tokyo hospital, aides said, which failed to end speculation he may have to step down, sooner than later.  Abe became the country’s longest-serving prime minister in November.  Back in 2007 he was chronically ill with ulcerative colitis, but has since been able to manage the disease thanks to a medication previously unavailable in Japan.

Street Bytes

--Apple became the first-ever company to reach a market value of $2 trillion, which has a major impact on the performance of the market value-weighted S&P and other indices.  In fact, Apple, which bottomed on March 23 at $224, closed today at $498.50, giving it a market cap of $2.1 trillion. This is nuts.

Meanwhile, the Dow Jones finished unchanged on the week, technically down a fraction of a point, while the S&P rose 0.7% to a new high today, 3397, while Nasdaq, +2.7%, closed at a new high of its own, 11311.

Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet continue to power the rally, but the P/E on the S&P is now 35.35 (trailing 12 months).  That is mighty high, sports fans.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 0.11%  2-yr. 0.13%  10-yr. 0.63%  30-yr. 1.34%

We had a rally on the long end of the curve, which was also the case across the pond in Europe, with the yield on the German bund (10-year) back down to -0.51%.

--Oil finished basically unchanged on the week at $42.25, falling today on concerns by OPEC about the effects of the continued pandemic on fuel consumption.

Separately, Baker Hughes reported that the number of oil rigs operating in the U.S. rose this week for the first time since mid-July but continued to remain at historically low levels, up 11 to 183.  A year ago, there were 754 in operation.

Meanwhile, we had the following story….environmentalists none too pleased.

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Who says American democracy is hard?  It only took 40 years to open up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, and on Monday the Interior Department opened the largely barren acreage to oil leases.

“Congress created ANWR way back in 1980 with a mandate to study its potential for oil and gas.  In the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a Republican House and Senate finally mandated that the federal government establish a plan for energy development. The environmental lobby opposed any drilling, but native communities in the region and Alaskans have long supported it as an economic boon with little risk to the land or grazing caribou or popular nature photography.

“Some 92% of ANWR will remain untouched under the interior plan, and the rest should be protected with extensive drilling protocols.  Accidents can happen, but the leases and drilling could provide thousands of new jobs and revenue for Alaska and the federal government. The U.S. Geological Survey believes the ANWR coastal plan is the largest source of onshore oil reserves in North America. Alaskans are especially pleased because the flow of oil from current drilling sites is slowing down, and the pipeline to the lower 48 states needs new supplies. Alaskans also count on royalties from oil drilling for their state and personal coffers….

“The politics of climate change is fraught and polarized these days, and the new default on the left is to keep all fossil fuels in the ground. A Biden White House would be under enormous pressure to introduce regulatory and other obstacles.

“That would be a shame because, barring some technological breakthrough, America will need oil and gas for electric power and transportation for decades to come.  Might as well let Americans benefit form producing it.”

--Walmart sales soared, with sales at U.S. locations open at least a year jumping 9.3%.  The company topped almost all expectations by wide margins as it reported for its recent quarter on Tuesday, though the shares, which hit an all-time high on Monday, fell back on the news.

The trend of consumers relying on the likes of Walmart, Amazon and others as lifelines for necessities during the start of the pandemic continued, with WMT’s online sales up 74% for the fiscal first quarter.  That trend accelerated in the second quarter and broadened the gap between traditional retailers, many of them anchor stores at the mall, and big box operators like Walmart and Target.

Net income for Walmart reached $6.48 billion in the quarter, or $2.27 per share; $1.56 adjusted, which easily outpaced the Street’s projections of $1.22.

The world’s largest retailer posted revenue of $137.74 billion, with its ecommerce sales rising  97% in the quarter.

But now, with the $600-a-week federal unemployment check that had been sent to roughly 28 million laid-off workers having expired and negotiations in Congress on a new economic relief package stalled, with no evidence of an agreement in sight, at least in the near future, there are real concerns what the influence will be on the likes of a Walmart or Target.

Also, Walmart and its ilk are facing soaring costs related to the pandemic that include cleaning protocols. The company said that costs related to Covid-19 hit $1.5 billion during the fiscal second quarter, up from nearly $900 million in such costs during the fiscal first quarter.

--Speaking of Target, it reported a major increase in second-quarter earnings on Wednesday and the stock rocketed to an all-time high, up 12% on the news.  Earnings rose to $3.38 per share in the three months through Aug. 1, up from $1.82 in the prior-year period.  Total revenue was $22.98 billion, up from $18.42 billion last year, obliterating the Street’s estimates on both metrics.

Same-store sales increased 24% and online sales leaped 195% for the quarter, when businesses were temporarily closed and tens of millions of Americans were under restrictions to stem the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Our second quarter comparable sales growth…is the strongest we have ever reported, which is a true testament to the resilience of our team and the durability of our business model,” crowed Target Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell.

Cornell said the figures show that customers responded to Target’s “safe and convenient shopping experience” as a response to the pandemic.

Target said it saw “unusually strong market-share gains across all five of its core merchandise categories,” adding that it gained about $5 billion in market share in the first half of its fiscal year.

Cornell told CNBC in an interview, “In the pandemic, we’re not going to restaurants, we’re not going to movies. Those traditional summer trips have been canceled. We’re not on planes. We’re not spending dollars on lodging, so many of those dollars have been redirected into retail.”

Target said back in June it would increase its starting wage for employees to $15 an hour and pay a $200 bonus to its hourly store and distribution workers for working during the pandemic.  The increase took effect on July 5, a day after the $2-an-hour premium it had been paying employees for months ended.  The bonus was paid in late July.

--Home improvement chain Home Depot, helped by the do-it-yourself renovations trend, reported a 23.4% rise  in same-store sales, with overall revenue up 23% to $38.05 billion in the May-to-July period, an increase from $30.84 billion during the same period in 2019.

“The home has never been more important to the customer,” Home Depot Chairman and CEO Craig Menear said on a call with analysts Tuesday.  “We’re all spending lots of time there. We’re seeing things that need to be done or things that you want to be done. We’re clearly seeing the customer engaged in a really strong way right now.”

Comp-store sales growth remained strong in the first two weeks of August, after the quarter ended.  But Menear added that the pandemic made it difficult to forecast how long heightened demand would persist.

“It’s really so uncertain,” he said.  “We don’t know the answer to that, which is why we can’t really extrapolate current performance to future performance.”

But daily foot traffic to Home Depot stores since April has been running at least 35% above last year’s, according to Unacast Inc., which tracks location data from 25 million cellphones on any given day. 

In the quarter, HD spent $480 million on additional employee benefits during the pandemic, including bonuses for hourly workers in stores and distribution centers. 

--Lowe’s Co. posted surging sales in its May-July quarter, another large retailer that has benefited from shifting consumer spending patterns during the pandemic.  Comparable store sales grew a stupendous 35.1% as people shopped for basic repair and maintenance projects.  CEO Marvin Ellison said demand for home repair strengthened as consumers redirected spending from other discretionary categories.

Total sales were $27.3 billion vs. $21 billion in last year’s equivalent quarter, far better than analysts’ forecasts.

Ellison added: “It’s difficult for a company our size to grow sales by 35% comp without having some significant market-share gain.  That’s happening as well.”

In Lowe’s case, growth from do-it-yourself projects outpaced growth from sales to contractors, as was the case with Home Depot, but in the last quarter, there was more work done by people themselves than outside professionals, Lowe’s said, which plays to the company’s advantage as they depend less on contractors than HD does.

--As opposed to the above four Big Box giants, Kohl’s has struggled. The company posted a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss on Tuesday, as the department-store chain reopened most of its stores that were shuttered for weeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

But Kohl’s is lucky in that only about 5% of the company’s stores are located in malls, which have seen traffic plummet compared to strip-malls.  Kohl’s net income narrowed to $47 million from $241 million a year earlier.  But excluding one-time items, Kohl’s lost 25 cents per share, with net sales falling to $3.21 billion from $4.17 billion.

--FedEx announced it was following UPS’ lead is adding surcharges on certain home deliveries and packages it hands off to the U.S. Postal Service during the holiday shopping season.

FedEx is implementing the surcharges and fees to “continue providing our customers with the best possible service during this challenging time,” the company said on its website.

“As the impact of the virus continues to generate a surge in residential deliveries, we are entering this holiday peak season with extremely high demand for capacity and are experiencing increased operating costs across our network,” FedEx said.  “We anticipate residential volume to continue to surge into the new year.”

FedEx’s website says residential shipments could see a per-package charge of $1 to $5, depending on how much more the customer is shipping.

FedEx SmartPost, the home delivery service in which FedEx hands off shipments to the Postal Service for the final stretch, will see a $1 per package surcharge from Nov. 2 to Nov. 29. That surcharge increases to $2 per package from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, and back down to $1 per package from Dec. 7 to Jan. 17, 2021.

FedEx Ground’s average daily package volume jumped 25% from the year before in the most recent quarter vs. the prior year, and now, FedEx workers will be handling a new surge of packages for the holidays.

--Boeing Co. plans more job cuts in response to a pandemic-driven drop in jetliner demand it expects to continue for at least three years.

The aerospace giant told its employees in a memo late Monday that it is adding a second round of buyout offers, a move that would further reduce its workforce by an unspecified number beyond the cut of 19,000 already announced in July.  Boeing is expected to reveal more details next week.

In July, the company said it was weighing the possible closure of one of the two assembly sites for its 787 Dreamliner.

More than 6,000 workers have already left the company, mostly at its commercial airplane operation in the Seattle area and units providing airlines with services such as parts and maintenance.

“I truly wish the current market demand could support the size of our workforce,” said CEO David Calhoun.

--American Airlines plans to suspend flights to 15 cities in October, when a federal ban against service cuts carriers agreed to as part of the CARES / coronavirus aid package expires.

The change means 10 airports will lose their only airline service; airports such as Dubuque and Sioux City, Iowa; Florence, S.C.; Huntington, W. Va.; and New Haven, Conn.

As part of the rescue package, Congress gave the Transportation Department the power to require airlines to maintain pre-pandemic levels of service until March 2022.  But the department chose only to exercise that power until Sept. 30 of this year, when a ban on furloughs and layoffs of airline employees also expires.

Unions representing pilots, flight attendants and other workers in the industry are urging Congress to extend the part of the rescue package that supports wages and benefits through March.  Airlines have said that once the ban lifts on Oct. 1, they are prepared to layoff tens of thousands of workers.

A majority of House members and 16 Senate Republicans have said they support extending the payroll protections, but negotiations over a broader coronavirus relief package have been stalled for weeks.

If lawmakers do act, it’s not clear if the Transportation Department would choose to extend the prohibition on service cuts.

--The union representing Delta Air Lines pilots said on Friday that 1,806 had agreed to early retirement programs, spurring talks with management to avoid furloughs as the airline continues to weather a downturn in demand.  Delta had sent warnings of potential furloughs to 2,258 pilots, the union said.

--Lufthansa said it had reached an agreement with pilots on Wednesday over a package of short-term measures to cut costs as the German airline battles to reduce losses due to the pandemic.  In return for job guarantees until at least March 31, 2021, the pilots union has agreed to reduced top-up payments to short-time working benefits as well as cuts to pension benefits through the end of 2020.

Lufthansa added it would only be able to avoid layoffs beyond March if it reached a long-term agreement for pilots, including a corresponding cut in working hours and salaries.  The airline employs around 5,000 pilots.  It added that wage increases previously negotiated for this year would be postponed until January 2021.

So the two sides have worked out a deal that gives them more time to negotiate an amicable longer-term pact.

--President Trump voiced support on Tuesday for Oracle Corp. to buy the U.S. operations of TikTok, adding a new wrinkle to the bidding for the Chinese-owned video-sharing app.

Oracle is a new entrant in the negotiations for TikTok, whose owner ByteDance Ltd. is facing a fall deadline from the Trump administration to divest itself of its U.S. operations.

Oracle, a giant in business software, has held preliminary discussions about teaming with some of ByteDance’s existing minority investors (General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital) to buy the U.S. operations but no word on how advanced the talks may be.

Microsoft earlier announced it was in discussions with ByteDance, and that it was coordinating with the White House, but Oracle has closer ties to the administration than the others in the bidding process, including Twitter, which is also exploring a bid.

Oracle co-founder, chairman and largest shareholder, Larry Ellison, earlier this year threw a fundraiser at his house for President Trump.  CEO Safra Catz worked on the executive committee for the Trump transition team in 2016.

Asked Tuesday if Oracle would be a good buyer for TikTok, President Trump said, “Well I think Oracle is a great company and I think its owner is a tremendous guy, a tremendous person. I think that Oracle would be certainly somebody that could handle it.”

The administration has said TikTok represents a threat to national security because it is owned by a Chinese company. ByteDance has repeatedly disputed U.S. claims that it would share information on U.S. users with the Chinese government.

--China said on Tuesday it firmly opposes U.S. suppression of Huawei Technologies Co., after the Trump administration announced it would further tighten restrictions on the company.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, speaking at a daily news briefing, urged the United States to stop discrediting Chinese companies.

The Chinese government would continue to take all necessary measures to safeguard the legitimate rights of Chinese companies, said Zhao.

Earlier, the U.S. Commerce Department issued new rules curbing Huawei’s access to foreign-made chips, expanding the Trump administration’s restrictions on the telecom company’s link to crucial components.

The new rules prohibit non-U.S. companies from selling any chips made using U.S. technology to Huawei without a special license.  The rule covers even widely available, off-the-shelf chips made by overseas firms, placing severe new limits on Huawei’s ability to source parts.

President Trump on Monday reiterated his concerns – long voiced by the national security community and denied by Huawei – that the company’s telecom equipment could be used to spy on Americans.

“We don’t want their equipment in the United States because they spy on us,” he said during an interview Monday on ‘Fox & Friends.’  “They know everything – they knew everything we were doing.  Huawei is a way of – is really – I call it the spyway.”

Huawei has said it has never spied on behalf of any country and would refuse any request to spy for Beijing.

Huawei is the world’s largest maker of telecom equipment, and in the second quarter edged out Samsung to become the largest seller of smartphones, too.  The company has become a leader in 5G technology, even as Washington has long regarded its products as a national security threat.

The curbs potentially put the U.S. semiconductor industry’s billions of dollars worth of annual global sales at greater risk. Industry giants such as Qualcomm Inc. have been lobbying the administration to ease the earlier restrictions – not strengthen them – to keep business from gravitating to foreign companies.

The Semiconductor Industry Association’s chief executive, John Neuffer, said that the changes “will bring significant disruption to the U.S. semiconductor industry.”

--Tesla new-car registrations in China fell month-over-month in July, yet Tesla stock continued to soar, up to another all-time high.

The move comes as Bloomberg reported that 11,456 Tesla vehicles were registered in China during the month of July, down from more than 15,000 in June.  While this sounds weak, registrations are often weakest in the first month of a new quarter.  In March the figure was 12,000, and then only 5,000 in April.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives wrote in a research report, “We continue to believe EV demand in China is starting to accelerate in July/August.”

So, irrespective of the above, Tesla shares, down to $1,365 just last week before the announcement of the 5-for-1 stock split (which goes into effect Aug. 31), soared to over $2,000, which was analyst Ives’ best-case scenario just weeks ago, ending the week at $2,050, giving it a market cap of $382 billion. 

--Goodyear Tire CEO Rich Kramer said Thursday the company had clarified its policy to make clear employees can wear apparel expressing support for law enforcement after it faced a boycott call from President Trump.

Trump told reporters Wednesday he would swap out the Goodyear tires on his presidential limousine if there were an alternative.

Goodyear on Thursday said it had a longstanding policy of asking employees of refraining from workplace expressions of support for any political candidates.

Trump accused the Ohio-based company of “playing politics” by forbidding workers from donning the “Make America Great Again” caps favored by his supporters.

“Don’t buy GOODYEAR TIRES – They announced a BAN ON MAGA HATS,” Trump tweeted Wednesday.

Trump said it was “disgraceful” that the company would prevent employees from wearing attire supporting the ‘Blue Lives Matter’ movement that supports law enforcement, while allowing support for other causes.

--Amazon.com said Tuesday it is planning to expand its physical offices and add about 3,500 jobs in the cities of New York, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Detroit and Dallas.

Of this, about 2,000 jobs will be hired in New York. The company is looking to fill various positions, including cloud infrastructure architects, software engineers and data scientists.

The company said it will invest more than $1.4 billion for the expansion of its offices in these cities.

--China-based e-commerce giant Alibaba Group holdings posted revenue of $21.8 billion, up 34% from a year ago, and slightly ahead of the Street’s consensus, earnings also beating forecasts.  Active users on its China retail marketplaces reached 742 million, up 16 million from the rolling 12-month period ended March 30.  Mobile monthly active users reached 874 million, up 28 million in the past quarter.

--Southern California home sales and prices jumped in July as households brushed off economic uncertainty and rushed to take advantage of record-low mortgage rates.

Across the six-county region, sales of new and previously owned houses, townhouses and condos rose 27.7% from June and managed an increase of 2.5% from the pre-pandemic days of July 2019, according to data released by DQNews.

The Southland’s median sales prices climbed by the most since 2018, rising 8.5% from a year earlier to a record of $585,000.

The median home price in Orange County rose 6.3% from a year earlier to $775,000.  In Los Angeles County, the median price rose 5.5% from a year earlier to $670,000.

--America’s leading CEOs got paid 14 percent more on average in 2019 – and their paychecks could grow again this year even amid the pandemic, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute.

The chief executives at the top 350 U.S. companies by sales raked in an average of $21.3 million last year, up from about $18.7 million in 2018.  That means the average CEO made 320 times as much money as a typical rank-and-file worker in their industry – a ratio that’s ballooned from 61-to-1 in 1989.

Granted, the report is from a left-leaning think tank, but their conclusions ring true.

“Importantly, rising CEO pay does not reflect rising value of skills, but rather CEOs’ use of their power to set their own pay. And this growing earning power at the top has been driving the growth of inequality in our country.”

--Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, a former journalist, to be his new finance minister after Bill Morneau resigned on Monday, amid a charity scandal that has hit Trudeau.  Freeland would be the first woman to hold the role, and she will keep her post as deputy prime minister, as CTV first reported.

--Pizza Hut is expected to close 300 of its restaurants after one of its major franchisees declared bankruptcy.  The locations are mostly dine-in and have been adversely affected by the coronavirus which, for the most part, has not led to a decrease in demand for delivery and take-out pies, and major chains are on hiring sprees to keep up with surges in orders.

However, some Pizza Huts owned by NPC International will be closing their doors after the Kansas-based company declared bankruptcy.

NPC, which owns 1,225 Pizza Huts and 385 Wendy’s restaurants in 27 states, said it would close locations that were not designed to handle large amounts of takeout and delivery orders and open smaller locations aimed at handling the increased online demand.

Domino’s, which has smaller carryout-focused stores, recently announced it was hiring 20,000 new workers to keep up with demand after reporting a 30% quarterly increase in profits.

Meanwhile, casual dining chains were already facing challenges before Covid-19 hit, hurt by the rise of fast-casual competition and increased food costs.

Now, several of the largest restaurant companies in the U.S. are struggling with capacity restrictions on indoor dining and attempting to lure customers with takeout in a bid to avoid financial disaster.

A new report by S&P Global Market Intelligence says the owners of Outback Steakhouse, Applebee’s and The Cheesecake Factory are facing the highest likelihood of not paying back their debts, which would force them to file for bankruptcy protection. 

One chain, California Pizza Kitchen, has already filed for Chapter 11.

Analysts are particularly concerned about the coming winter, which will eliminate outdoor seating options for many restaurants, and the demise of the extra $600 in unemployment benefits exacerbates the situation.

Sales at restaurants and bars fell 26% in June, compared with a year earlier, according to S&P.

Foreign Affairs

China / Taiwan: Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“China’s Communist Party crackdown on Hong Kong gets more menacing by the day. This week’s roundup of democracy advocates including publisher Jimmy Lai is the latest assault on the once-free city, and hardliners in Beijing see Taiwan as the next prize. Given the possibility of a showdown over Taiwan in the next four years, the nature of America’s commitment to the island ought to make more than a passing appearance in the 2020 presidential campaign.

“Taiwan’s importance to America’s Pacific alliances has long been recognized.  If the U.S. allowed Taipei to fall under Beijing’s control – official or de facto – states like Vietnam would doubt America’s commitment to their independence and draw closer to China.  If Beijing can then pry established allies like Japan away from the U.S., the Communist Party would be well on its way to regional hegemony.

“Beyond traditional grand strategy, Taiwan now has a special significance because of its technological prowess. TSMC, based in Taiwan, is the world’s leading manufacturer of semiconductors, and it is consolidating its position.  Its shares have surged this summer as U.S.-based Intel announced recently it might exit the chip-manufacturing business.

“That puts Taiwan in the middle of the U.S.-China tech rivalry. China aims to lead the world in high-tech products and it has relied on computer chips made by TSMC. The U.S. is also wooing TSMC, which announced in May it would open a factory in Arizona.  U.S. sanctions are making it impossible for China’s Huawei to buy chips from TSMC.  Political scientist Graham Allison has speculated that Beijing may see the tech rivalry as cause to take control of the island and its flagship company by force.

“Which brings us back to U.S. politics. China has been intensifying its military exercises near Taiwan, and coercion or even an assault of some kind rank high among the national-security crises the next President may face.

“The Trump Administration has given a sense of its policy approach.  It approved the sale of advanced F-16s to Taiwan after the Obama Administration refused, and it is considering the sale of Sea Guardian surveillance drones as well as missiles and mines.  Over the weekend Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar visited Taipei in a rare and politically significant show of cabinet-level support.

“Yet President Trump’s transactional relationship with allies worries some Taiwanese.  His impulse to retrench militarily – including threatening to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea – may also embolden Beijing.

“One productive step a Biden Administration might take on this front is joining and renegotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership on trade to strengthen U.S. alliances with a path for Taiwan to join.  China’s isn’t part of the TPP but Mr. Trump walked away from the pact.

“A major question is whether a Biden Administration would return to the Obama Administration’s more distant relationship with Taiwan for fear of offending Beijing….

“Mr. Biden has had dovish foreign-policy instincts for decades, and in 2001 he rebuked George W. Bush for saying the U.S. would defend Taiwan if attacked.  But popular and elite American views on China have shifted as Beijing is more openly aggressive, and Michele Flournoy, a top contender for secretary of Defense in a Biden Administration, wrote recently about the necessity of strong U.S. deterrence in the Western Pacific.

“The candidates should be pressed to explain their views on Taiwan beyond platitudes about warm feelings.  The island is at the center of a great-power rivalry, and voters deserve to hear how the next President would handle it.”

Iran: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the United Nations Security Council that the United States intends to restore virtually all previously suspended UN sanctions on Iran, and that the Trump administration is prepared to block Russia and China from any attempts to violate sanctions on Iran.

Editorial / Washington Post

“Two days after taking credit for the opening of diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the Trump administration suffered a humiliating reversal at the UN Security Council that was, in some ways, more telling about the results of its Middle East policies.  The United States asked the council to approve an extension of the 13-year-old embargo on arms trade with Iran – something that matters greatly to Israel and U.S. Arab allies, and which most of the democratic world favors.  Yet only one member of the 15-member council, the Dominican Republic, sided with Washington. Russia and China opposed the motion, while 11 countries – including Britain, France and Germany – abstained.

“The vote could open the way for Iran to obtain Chinese and Russians arms – for example, missiles it could employ against Israel, the UAE or U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf.  At the least, it demonstrated how the Trump administration’s attempt to crush Iran’s Islamic regime has instead made it more dangerous, while isolating the United States.

“The UN defeat was a direct result of President Trump’s repudiation of the 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program, which was brokered by the Obama administration in collaboration with the European Union, China and Russia.  Mr. Trump claimed renewed U.S. sanctions would force a better deal; instead, Iran renewed its enrichment of uranium and launched attacks in the Persian Gulf.  Now the arms embargo, which the UN resolution ratifying the nuclear pact extended to this October, is also gone.  European allies chose not to vote for renewing it, in part because they wish to preserve what remains in the agreement, including UN inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities….

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a prime architect of the failed Iran policy, railed against the Security Council’s vote, while promising unspecified U.S. action to stop Iran from obtaining new weapons.  ‘We can’t allow the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell weapons,’ Mr. Pompeo said.  ‘I mean, that’s just nuts.’ Agreed. But if Tehran nevertheless succeeds in doing so, it will be due to the gross malfeasance of Mr. Pompeo – and Mr. Trump’s foolish torching of the Obama administration’s legacy.”

Separately, the UAE summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires in Abu Dhabi in response to a speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the foreign ministry described as “unacceptable.”

Rouhani said in the speech last Saturday the UAE had made a “huge mistake” in reaching an agreement to normalize ties with Israel and called it a betrayal by the Gulf state.

“They (the UAE) better be mindful. They have committed a huge mistake, a treacherous act.”

An Iranian hardline daily, Kayhan, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a front-page commentary: “The UAE’s great betrayal of the Palestinian people…will turn this small, rich country which is heavily dependent on security into a ‘legitimate and easy target’ for the resistance.”

Israel: The United Arab Emirates accord to normalize ties with Israel should remove “any hurdle” for the United States to sell the F-35 stealth fighter jet to the Gulf Arab state, a senior Emirati official said on Thursday.

The U.S. has sold the F-35 to allies, including Turkey, South Korea, Japan and Israel, but sales to the Gulf require a deeper review due to U.S. policy for Israel to maintain a military advantage in the Middle East.

“We have legitimate requests that are there. We ought to get them…the whole idea of a state of belligerency or war with Israel no longer exists,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in an online interview with the Atlantic Council.

This is a big issue. Any F-35 sale could take years to negotiate and deliver, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country would oppose any sale, citing a need to maintain Israeli military superiority in the region.

A Netanyahu spokesman said: “To begin with, the prime minister opposed selling the F-35 and advanced weaponry to any countries in the Middle East, including Arab states that make peace with Israel. The prime minister expressed this consistent stance time after time before the U.S. government and it hasn’t changed.”

Poland, the most recent F-35 customer, purchased 32 of the jets in January, but will not receive its first delivery until 2024.

Separately, White House adviser Jared Kushner said this week that “Israel has agreed with us that they will not move forward (with their annexation plan in parts of the West Bank) without our consent. We do not plan to give our consent for some time.”

Iraq: President Trump said on Thursday that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq “shortly,” but he gave no specific date or timeline speaking to reporters following a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi at the White House.

“We have been taking our troops out of Iraq fairly rapidly, and we look forward to the day when we don’t have to be there. And hopefully Iraq can live their own lives and they can defend themselves, which they’ve been doing long before we got involved,” Trump said.  “We were there, and now we’re getting out,” he continued.  “We’ll be leaving shortly.”

Roughly 5,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Iraq, training and supporting the Iraqi military, including in the ongoing fight against ISIS.  But months of rocket attacks by Iran-aligned militias on U.S. interests in Iraq, including many in Baghdad’s Green Zone, have caused U.S. forces to pull back from bases across Iraq and turn them over to Iraqi security partners.

Pressed on a specific timeline for withdrawal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that it would take place “as soon as we can complete the mission.”

Lebanon: A UN-backed tribunal on Tuesday convicted one member of the militant group Hezbollah and acquitted three others of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon said Salim Ayyash was guilty, as a co-conspirator, of five charges stemming from his involvement in the suicide truck bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others in a huge blast in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.  The attack also wounded 226 people.

Three other Hezbollah members, however, were acquitted of all charges.

All four defendants were tried in absentia. Ayyash is not likely to serve any prison time because Hezbollah has vowed to not hand over any suspects.

The tribunal’s judges also said Tuesday there was no evidence that either the Hezbollah leadership or Syria was involved in the attack.

Hariri’s son Saad, also a former Lebanese prime minister, said that the family accepted the verdicts, which came after an investigation and trial spanning years. “Justice will be executed, regardless of how long it takes,” he said.

Rafik Hariri, in the months before his death, was a supporter of reducing the influence of Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Presiding Judge David Re said after studying reams of evidence (the written judgement is 2,600 pages long) that while Syria and Hezbollah “may have had motives to eliminate Mr. Hariri, and some of his political allies,” there was no evidence to prove their involvement.

But the guilty verdict for only one of the four defendants could compound tensions in Lebanon.  Hariri was its most prominent Sunni Muslim politician at the time of his death, while Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group backed by Iran.

The verdicts had been delayed by nearly two weeks as a mark of respect for victims of another devastating explosion; the detonation of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port.  The official death toll is now 180, more than 6,000 injured, and 300,000 with homes unfit to live in.

And now Lebanon’s crippled health-care system is having to deal with a worrying surge in coronavirus cases. The chart looks grim…straight up.

Plus, as I predicted right after the explosion, Lebanon faces a serious food shortage. 85% of Lebanon’s food arrives through the sea port that was badly damaged and unusable for now, while as you saw, the grain silos storing most of the country’s wheat supplies were destroyed.

The UN’s World Food Program warned Lebanon’s dysfunctional government, “We don’t have time for games to be played. Donors will not step up if they see politicians getting in the way of humanitarian aid.”

The WFP is working to bring a three-month supply of wheat flour and grains for bakeries and mills.

For now food shipments are being rerouted to the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli, which can only handle a fraction of the Beirut port’s capacity.

Turkey: No threats can deter Turkey from seeking natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, adding that Ankara expects actors in the region to take steps to de-escalate tensions.

Greece and Cyprus are locked in a dispute with Turkey over overlapping claims to areas potentially rich in resources.  Two Turkish survey vessels are in areas claimed by the three countries.

“Turkey is determined to seek its rights in the eastern Mediterranean until the end,” Erdogan said in a speech.  “No colonialist power or threat can deter our country from the oil and natural gas resources believed to be in the region.”

Russia and Belarus: Russian opposition leader Alexander Navalny is gravely ill and at last word in a coma after allegedly being poisoned while on a trip to Siberia.

Navalny began feeling ill on a plane to Moscow after drinking tea at an airport café in the Siberian city of Tomsk.  His condition became so serious that the plane made an emergency landing at the city of Omsk, where he was carried off on a stretcher.  He was placed on a ventilator in a hospital there.

Navalny’s aides said they believe the tea he drank was laced with poison, which, if confirmed, would be the latest in a long series of poisonings and suspected poisonings of people who have fallen out with the Kremlin, which denies settling scores with its foes by murdering them.

Germany and France offered on Thursday to provide medical care on their soil for Navalny, as both French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel said they were deeply concerned at what was happening to one of the fiercest critics of Vladimir Putin.

Russia said its doctors would decide if Navalny could be moved, not Germany or France.

But then this afternoon, Russia relented and Navalny was flown to Germany, still in a coma.

The incident coincides with a political crisis in Belarus, a Russian ally, and comes ahead of regional Russian elections next month.  Some anti-Kremlin protesters in Russia’s far east have started chanting “Long live Belarus!” in support of the protesters in Minsk.  “Putin is scared,” said an EU diplomat, who declined to be named.  “He is sending a message to his own people not to try to do at home what they see on TV from Belarus.”

Michael McFaul / Washington Post

“Alexei Navalny holds the audacious belief that Russians should be able to choose their leaders in free, fair and competitive elections. That’s why he tried to run for president in 2018, but was denied a place on the ballot.

“He believes that government officials should not use their power for personal enrichment. That’s why he operates one of the most important investigative media outlets in Russia.

“He champions the idea that Russians should not be arrested unjustly. That’s why he organizes protests and gets arrested himself.

“Navalny threatens autocracy in Russia. That’s why, in a most cruel and sinister act, the authorities sentenced his brother to three years in jail.

“And that may be why Navalny has now, it would seem, been attacked again – apparently poisoned. He is lying unconscious, connected to a ventilator in an intensive care unit in a Siberian hospital.

“Analysts in Russia and the West spend too much time scrutinizing Navalny’s policy positions: Is he too nationalist?  Is he not liberal enough?  Is he too leftist?  Those are questions for Russian voters to decide – but right now they can’t.  To give them such a chance is what Navalny is fighting for.

“Navalny’s heroic struggle is no different from what Gandhi, King, Mandela and Havel fought for. While Navalny has not succeeded yet, there should be no doubt that his cause is good and just.

“Vladimir Putin is evil.  Over the past 20 years, Russia’s current leader has constructed a ruthless dictatorship.  He has shut down independent media and civil society organizations, and he has arrested critics and business leaders who dare to challenge his unconstrained powers.  Abroad, Putin has annexed Ukrainian territory, sent troops to Syria to prop up one of the most brutal dictators of our time, violated American sovereignty in 2016 to try to influence the outcome of our presidential election, and is interfering again in our election now.  At home and abroad, Putin’s regime and its proxies have repeatedly killed, or tried to kill, its critics.  Navalny may have just become his latest victim.

“I use the verb ‘may’ because, of course, we do not know all the details.  We probably never will.  We still don’t know all the facts about who killed Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, or who twice poisoned democratic defender Vladimir Kara-Murza, or the full story behind other assassinated Russian heroes who also fought against evil.

“Putin has a talent for deniability.  Yet even if the ex-KGB officer who now runs Russia didn’t directly order a hit on Navalny, he is still to blame.  It is Putin who has empowered intelligence officers and created permissive conditions for vigilantes.

“In an earlier period in American history, our government and people would have stood united on the side of good in this fight against evil.  There was no partisan divide when it came to standing up for heroes and standing against villains….

“President Trump, by contrast, has enthusiastically embraced Putin and excused his villainous ways. To the best of my knowledge, Trump has never praised, let alone met with, activists or opposition leaders in Russia, Ukraine or Belarus.  On hearing of Navalny’s hospitalization, all Trump could muster Thursday was ‘We haven’t seen it yet, we’re looking at it, and Mike [Pompeo]’s going to be reporting to me soon.’  Not a word of concern, let alone outrage.  In the clear divide between good and evil in Russia, Trump is on the wrong side.

“American indifference to evil has consequences. It emboldens the villains and weakens the heroes.  But sometimes presidents must say and do things – for example, to impose sanctions on Alexander Lukashenko for stealing an election in Belarus, to criticize Putin for aiding the Taliban, to signal solidarity with Navalny and offer assistance as European leaders have – not because these actions might be effective, but because they are right.  In a world divided by good and evil, it’s time for America to get back on the right side.”

In Belarus, the protests against President Alexander Lukashenko continue after he stole the election of two weeks ago.  Chancellor Angela Merkel said she sees no role for herself as a mediator because Lukashenko refuses to take her calls.

But the dictator has been talking to Vladimir Putin nonstop it seems, Merkel warning Putin that a Russian military intervention would “complicate” things.

Putin told President Macron that French interference in the internal affairs of Belarus or exerting pressure on the country’s leadership would be unacceptable.

On Tuesday, Lukashenko awarded medals “for impeccable service” to law enforcement officials who have helped him crack down on protesters.

Lukashenko is under the biggest pressure of his 26-year-rule, with no sign of an end to the protests and strikes over the election, which the president says he won with 80 percent of the vote but protesters say was blatantly rigged.

The opposition established a council inside the country, a move Lukashenko denounced as an attempt to seize power.  Many of the opposition leaders are either in jail or in exile, including presidential candidate Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled the country after the vote her supporters say she won.

Vladimir Putin told Lukashenko that Russia was ready to offer military assistance if necessary.

Random Musings

--Presidential tracking polls…

Gallup: 42% approve of President Trump’s job performance, 55% disapprove; 90% of Republicans, 39% of independents approve (July 30-Aug. 12).  The prior figures for July 1-13 were 41/56, 91, 34.
Rasmussen: 51% approve, 47% disapprove of Trump’s performance (Aug. 21).  Was 47-52 last week.

--As the virtual Democratic National Convention opened, Joe Biden held a 12-point lead over Donald Trump among registered voters, 53-41%, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.  Among ‘likely’ voters, the margin is 54-44%.

The share of Biden supporters who are very enthusiastic about supporting him has grown from 28% in March to 48% today.  He still has a wide deficit on this gauge compared with Trump, with 65% strong enthusiasm, but it’s eased considerably.  It’s a measure to watch because enthusiasm can encourage turnout.

54% see Kamala Harris as qualified to take over as president if something happened to Biden.  Just 33% see her as “too liberal” – a GOP line of attack.  And a narrow majority, 52%, sees her favorably overall, the only one of the four to cross that line. Biden is at 50% favorability, vs. 44% for Mike Pence and 42% for Trump.

Looking back four years, Hillary Clinton had a favorability rating of 42% heading into her convention, 8 points below Biden’s number.  By late October, she and Trump were equally unpopular, taking favorability off the table as a differentiating factor in that election.

Overall, Trump’s job approval rating is 43%, while 55% disapprove, similar to last month.

59% disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

Biden has a 17-point lead among independents, 54-37%.  Whites divide closely, 50-45%, Trump-Biden, compared with Trump +18 points in March.  Biden is +16 among women.

--A new CNN/SSRS poll of registered voters has a Biden-Harris ticket at 50% to 46% for Trump-Pence, which is basically a tie given the margin of error.

Across 15 battleground states, the survey finds Biden has the backing of 49% of registered voters, while Trump lands at 48%.

This survey has Biden leading Trump among independents 46-45%, when in June it was 52-41%.

Overall, only 42% approve of the job Trump is doing, while 54% disapprove.

Kamala Harris joins the ticket with a narrowly positive favorability rating (41% have a favorable view, 38% unfavorable).

--A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has Biden leading Trump among registered voters, 50-41%, essentially unchanged from an 11-point lead a month ago. But Biden is failing to generate widespread enthusiasm, the poll finds.

“This poll is a warning for Democrats and the Biden team that there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster who worked on the survey with Bill McInturff, a Republican, and Jeff Horwitt, a Democrat.

In another sign of potential softness in the Democrats’ support, 58% of those who back Mr. Biden say their vote is more in opposition to Mr. Trump than in favor of their chosen candidate.

Women go for Biden 57-36% and Blacks by 88-8%.  Hispanics go to Biden 57-31%.  Independents 49-25% for Biden.

Trump carries Men 47-43% and those with high school or less, 54-36%.

College grads go to Biden 61-31%.

Four years ago in this survey, Hillary Clinton led by 9 points as well.

President Trump’s overall job approval rating ticked up two points to 44%, with 53% disapproving.

In this one, 58% disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

--A separate WSJ/NBC survey found that supporters of Joe Biden are more likely than Trump supporters to say they will vote by mail and are more likely to trust the accuracy of November’s ballot count.

47% who back Biden plan to vote by mail rather than in person, compared with 11% of Trump supporters.

66% of Trump votes say they plan to cast ballots in person on Election Day, compared with 26% of Biden supporters.  As amplified below, the difference could affect perceptions of which candidate is leading in the vote early, since mailed ballots can take longer to count than in-person votes.

--According to a separate CNN/SSRS poll, a majority of Americans (55%) say they don’t think President Trump will concede should he lose in November.  A slightly larger majority said that in 2016 (61%), but Trump was not a sitting president then. There is near unanimity, though, that once all states have certified their votes for president, the loser should accept the results and concede (87% feel that way, up from 77% in October 2016).

A sizable minority (36%) say their confidence in the count will be diminished if a winner cannot be determined on election night because it is taking longer than usual to count, a prospect that is increasingly likely as larger shares of the public turn to by-mail ballots to cast their votes.

Among all registered voters, 34% say they prefer to vote by mail in the presidential election, 22% say they want to vote early at a polling place, and just 43% say they would prefer to vote in-person on Election Day. That represents a 10-point increase over the share who voted by mail in 2016: 24%, according to the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission.

Among supporters of the President, 66% say they prefer to vote in person on Election Day.  Those voters backing Joe Biden mostly prefer to vote by mail (53%).

Yes, it is likely that early election returns could look wildly different from what ends up being the final result, especially since election officials sometimes count entirely one type of ballot first, and then shift to the other, meaning this year, early returns may not be representative of the full pool of votes.  Differences between absentee vote and Election Day vote have not generally been as uniformly partisan in the past.

For example, two years ago in Arizona, Republican Martha McSally was ahead on election night, but Democrat Kyrsten Sinema later took the lead.  Once that happened, Trump decried “corruption” and tweeted, “call for a new election?”  McSally later conceded.

Overall, 51% of Americans say they disapprove of the way the President is handling the security of elections in the United States, 40% approve.  The poll was being conducted as news broke about changes to the U.S. Postal Service which may have been politically motivated.

Trump’s own supporters do largely say that the loser of the election has a responsibility to concede, as do most Biden supporters (83% among Trump supporters, 94% among Biden’s voters), and despite Trump’s noncommittal stance, most voters feel that their chosen candidate will follow through with a concession (68% of Trump voters say he will, 83% of Biden supporters say the former VP will).

--Laura Loomer is one of the most high-profile figures of the radical right, a self-described “proud Islamophobe” who has been banned from social media but this week won a GOP nomination in a Florida primary to run against incumbent Rep. Lois Frankel (Dem.) in the general election.  It isn’t expected that Loomer will then go to Washington, however, because the district, in which Mar-a-Lago sits, is heavily Democrat.

But it is highly disturbing, to say the least, that President Trump expressed his congratulations.

Loomer, part of the QAnon movement, has described Islam as a “cancer on humanity” and said that Muslim candidates should not be allowed to hold office in America.

That behavior has led to Loomer being banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – not to mention ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft.  (She tweeted in 2018 that “someone needs to create a non-Islamic form of Uber or Lyft because I never want to support another Islamic immigrant driver.”)

Loomer raised more than $1 million for her six-way primary fight thanks to support from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Trump ally Roger Stone and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz.  Loomer then played up that she was the Trumpiest candidate in the field, touting her belief in the President’s “law and order” message.

Trump rewarded that support with a tweet touting Loomer’s win on Tuesday night.

“Great going Laura.  You have a great chance against a Pelosi puppet!” He also retweeted several accounts congratulating Loomer on her victory, including that of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the GOP nominee in Georgia’s 14th district who has publicly supported the QAnon conspiracy theory and expressed a number of anti-Islamic views.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that Trump hadn’t done a “deep dive” into the views Loomer and Greene espouse before congratulating them.

“The President routinely congratulates people who officially get the Republican nomination for Congress, so he does that as a matter of course,” McEnany said.  “He hasn’t done a deep dive into the statements by these two particular women. I don’t know if he’s even seen that. But he supports the Muslim community, he supports the community of faith more broadly in this country.”

Trump has declined to answer whether he endorses QAnon. When McEnany was asked about that on Wednesday, she said she’d never heard it mentioned at the White House.

“I’ve never heard of that. There’s a lot of media focus on that but certainly never heard of that from the President,” she said. 

But Trump is not just giving cover to the likes of Greene and Loomer, he is encouraging their views.

As CNN’s Chris Cillizza notes, by Trump doing so, it presents “an existential threat to the identity of the broader Republican Party forged over a century and a half. Because if the GOP is willing to not just have Laura Loomer in its ranks but to embrace her – and her radical views – then what, exactly, differentiates it from the conspiracy theorists and anti-Islamic voices of the internet fever swamps?”

Editorial / Washington Post

“Twitter announced last month that it had removed thousands of accounts spreading messages about QAnon. Days later, TikTok blocked hashtags that corresponded to QAnon videos. And early this month, Facebook removed a QAnon group with 200,000 members.  All of which led many Americans to ask the question: What on earth is QAnon?

“Unfortunately, this question isn’t so easy to answer. QAnon is a conspiracy theory involving a ‘deep state’ of child molesters (and child-eaters) who worship the devil and run this country’s most powerful institutions.  It originates with an anonymous persona called Q who claims to possess a top-level security clearance used to access government secrets about a vast left-wing plot against President Trump. Yet from there, the theory has sprawled across the Internet, offering various versions of differing degrees of bizarreness luring the susceptible reader down a rabbit hole – and tempting the outside observer to ignore the wackiness altogether. Except ignoring QAnon isn’t an option.

“Not only has QAnon led to intense online harassment of innocent parties, and not only has it led to physical violence, but Americans also can’t ignore QAnon because adherents to some form of the theory may soon represent them in Congress.  More than 60 candidates this fall have expressed their sympathies with the cause. Fourteen have clinched a place on the ballot.  Mr. Trump himself has been known to retweet QAnon-adjacent content, and on Friday, when he was asked about the phenomenon, he sidestepped the inquiry. This sent believers into paroxysms.

“That QAnon is tiptoeing ever closer to the political mainstream is only one of many challenges for social media sites.  These sites can’t ignore QAnon, but neither can they simply ban it – not really.  Platforms tend to prefer to focus on behavior rather than content… When platforms do focus on content, they are far more likely to act when there is a risk of real-world harm. QAnon has caused real-world harm, surely. But not every post related to the theory runs that risk, and swinging the moderator’s mallet could needlessly squelch speech – perhaps fueling the same accusations of a scheming liberal conglomerate that are the movement’s raison d’etre.  And even if platforms did decide QAnon as a whole was too much of a menace to countenance, they’d run into trouble determining which posts qualified.

“QAnon is poised to act as a test case for the convoluted rules and enforcement apparatuses social media sites have developed over their years-long shift toward taking responsibility.  These technology companies will need to navigate the labyrinths they themselves have constructed. They should also explain to the rest of us the routes they are taking. All the while, they’ll confront a quandary entirely out of their power to resolve: The president isn’t an accidental beneficiary of these conspiracy-mongers.  He is egging them on.”

--Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was only given a minute at the convention, which she used to move to nominate Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.  Her message, however, even if but that single minute, was that the far-left is a force to be reckoned with should Joe Biden win.

“In a time when millions of people in the United States are looking for deep systemic solutions to our crisis of mass evictions, unemployment and lack of health care…and out of a love for all people, I hereby second the nomination of Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont for president of the United States of America,” she said.

While the speech was diplomatic, Ocasio-Cortez did not mention Biden by name once.

“Right now what you’re seeing is that we’ve got a common goal to beat Donald Trump, but come January, we maybe have a different goal,” said Corbin Trent, a former Ocasio-Cortez aide and political adviser.  “They won the nomination, so they get to pick the game plan.  Now, that doesn’t mean that they get to pick the game plan in the midterms, when we start primarying their asses. And it don’t mean that they get to pick the game plan when we start recruiting for 2024 and we primary their asses.”  [Rachel Bade / Washington Post]

--Former President Bill Clinton was not given much time on Tuesday night, but he used it to eviscerate President Trump.

“At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center,” Clinton said.  “Instead, it’s a storm center.  There’s only chaos.  Just one thing never changes – his determination to deny responsibility and shift the blame.  The buck never stops there.”

Clinton was unusually personal for a member of the world’s most exclusive club.

“If you want a president who defines the job as spending hours a day watching TV and zapping people on social media, he’s your man,” he said.  “Denying, distracting, and demeaning works great if you’re trying to entertain and inflame. But in a real crisis, it collapses like a house of cards.”

Bill Clinton is still generally popular but a CBS News poll found that while 56% of Democrats wanted to hear him speak, 63% wanted to hear from AOC.

--Thomas L. Friedman / New York Times

“Here is a sentence I never in a million years thought that I would ever write or read: This November, for the first time in our history, the United States of America may not be able to conduct a free and fair election and, should President Trump be defeated by Joe Biden, have a legitimate and peaceful transfer of power.

“Because if half the country thinks their votes were not fully counted due to deliberate sabotaging of the U.S. Postal Service by this administration, and if the other half are made to believe by the president that any mail-in vote for Biden was fraudulent, that would not result in just a disputed election – not another Bush v. Gore for the Supreme Court to sort out – that would be the end of American democracy as we know it.  It also isn’t hyperbole to say it could sow the seeds of another Civil War.

“The threat is real….

“Trump said in a press conference last Wednesday that he would not sign off on either $25 billion in emergency funds for the U.S.P.S. or $3.5 billion in election assistance to help states, both of which Democrats have been pressing for as part of a federal Covid-19 relief bill.

“ ‘They need that money in order to have the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump told Fox Business Network the next day.  “But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”

“I have covered banana republic dictators who were more subtle than that in attempting to rig their elections or undermine votes for their opponent.”

--Brooklyn federal prosecutors allege that a Long Island attorney, Jason Kurland, who billed himself as the “lottery lawyer,” ran a mobbed-up scheme to bilk jackpot winners out of more than $100 million in prize money.

Kurland cultivated clients from across the nation, including a $1.5 billion Mega Millions winner, and promised to invest their winnings – but instead threw their cash into shady investments run by reputed Genovese crime family soldier Christopher Chierchio and two other associates.

Kurland allegedly got kickbacks for steering the money to Chierchio, 52, and his partners, who funneled a portion of the lottery winners’ money back to them under the guise that they were “interest payments” on their phony investments.  But the “winners” ended up losing.

Prosecutors allege Kurland ended up skimming $107 million from the unsuspecting investors.

“Lottery winners can’t believe their luck when they win millions of dollars, and the men we arrested this morning allegedly used that euphoric feeling to their advantage,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said in a statement.

--CNN’s Anderson Cooper had a rather remarkable interview with My Pillow founder Mike Lindell, Cooper tearing into Lindell for touting an unproven drug as a potential “cure” for Covid-19, calling the prominent supporter of President Trump a “snake oil salesman.”

Lindell has been advocating for the use of oleandrin, an extract from the oleander plant, as a treatment for the coronavirus.  Lindell helped Andrew Whitney of Phoenix Biotechnology land an Oval Office meeting in July where they pitched the drug to Trump, according to reports from the Washington Post, Axios and CNN.  Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson also attended the meeting, Axios reported.

Lindell, who has a financial stake in Phoenix Biotechnology, told Cooper that he learned about the drug from a friend who told Lindell he had an “answer to the virus.”  He said he brought the news to Carson, a neurosurgeon but not an expert in infectious diseases, who declared it to be the “real deal” and brought it to the president.

“This thing works.  It’s the miracle of all time,” Lindell told Cooper.  After his inability to give specifics on where and when the drug was studied, Lindell told Cooper, “You’re just misconstrued because the media is trying to take away this amazing cure that works for everybody.”

“You have no medical background, you’re not a scientist,” Cooper said.  “A guy called you in April, said he had this product.  You are now on the board and going to make money from the sale of this product. The reason he reached out to you is because you have the ear of the president, so he gets a meeting with the president, and you stand to make money from this.  How do you sleep at night?” Cooper asked.

I watched the entire lengthy interview.  It was a tension convention, and an embarrassing moment for Lindell.

Trump said of oleandrin when asked about it on Monday, “We’ll look at it… We’re looking at a lot of different things.”

--Actress Lori Loughlin was sentenced to two months in prison in the college admissions scandal; her husband, Mossimo Gainnulli, receiving five months.

The spouses were convicted of paying $500,000 to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as fake crew team recruits.

The actress said she regretted the way her actions “undermined” her daughters’ accomplishments and “exacerbated” inequalities in society.

--Greenland lost a record amount of ice during an extra-warm 2019, with the melt massive enough to cover California in more than 4 feet of water.

After two years when summer ice melt had been minimal, last summer shattered all records with 586 billion tons of ice melted, according to satellite measurements reported Thursday. That’s more than 140 trillion gallons of water.

The yearly average loss had been 259 billion tons since 2003, with the old record of 511 billion tons set in 2012, per a study in Nature Communications Earth & Environment.

But the two years before were only on average about 108 billion tons.  It’s largely all about changes in the Jetstream.

--What could be the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on earth – 130F – may have been reached in Death Valley National Park, California, this past Sunday, though it has yet to be validated.  The high on Monday was 127.

Brandi Stewart, who works at Death Valley National Park, told the BBC, “It’s an oppressive heat and it’s in your face.”

“When you walk outside it’s like being hit in the face with a bunch of hairdryers,” she said. “You feel the heat and it’s like walking into an oven and the heat is just all around you.”

Over a century ago, 1913, there was a reading of 134F in Death Valley, but modern weather experts believe this was an erroneous measurement.

---

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

God bless America.

---

Gold $1947
Oil $42.25

Returns for the week 8/17-8/24

Dow Jones  -0.0%  [27930]…down 0.69 points on the week
S&P 500  +0.7%  [3397]
S&P MidCap  -2.0%
Russell 2000  -1.6%
Nasdaq  +2.7%  [11311]

Returns for the period 1/1/20-8/24/20

Dow Jones  -2.1%
S&P 500  +5.2%
S&P MidCap  -7.4%
Russell 2000  -7.0%
Nasdaq  +26.1%

Bulls 59.2
Bears 16.5

Hang in there.  Mask up…wash your hands.

Brian Trumbore

 

 



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Week in Review

08/22/2020

For the week of 8/17-8/21

[Posted 10:30 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 1,114

Before we get going on the Democratic Convention and other important items of the week, I want to extend my deepest thoughts and prayers for the people of California, suffering yet again from horrific wildfires that as I go to post have killed at least six, destroyed over 500 homes and other structures, and forced nearly 200,000 to flee. Compounding matters is the fact there are so many different major conflagrations that firefighting forces are depleted and so far only 45 of 375 out-of-state fire crews requested by the state had arrived.

And then you have Iowa.  Last Friday night when I posted I casually mentioned the ‘derecho’ that ripped through parts of South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, traveling 770 miles in just 14 hours with hurricane force winds, but I had no idea as to the scope of the damage until Saturday.  An estimated $4 billion in losses, 8,200 homes destroyed or damaged, 13 million acres of corn, 1/3rd of the state’s crop, ruined.  2,500 utility poles downed.  Not just a tragedy of epic proportions, but immensely sad.  As one farmer put it, what more can 2020 do to us?

Most of you know I’ve been to Iowa countless times for the Iowa State Fair, timed to the political cycle, and it’s there I can honestly say I met Joe and Beau Biden (2007), just about eight of us at the Des Moines Register hay bales.  I told you then how Joe Biden was talking about the MRAP mine resistant vehicles desperately needed then to protect the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from IEDs.

I’ve traveled all over Iowa, including to Clear Lake, to see where Buddy Holly’s plane went down in a nearby cornfield…“the day the music died.”  And multiple times to Van Meter, home of the great Bob Feller.

So to my friends in Iowa…and California…all I can offer you are prayers.  Prayers for help you desperately need. 

This week the Democrats took the stage and next week it’s the Republicans turn.  Following is a summary of the more memorable moments from the Dems, who put on a solid show given the circumstances; in fact, so good that many of us prefer this kind of convention vs. the traditional affairs.  I loved the roll call, for starters. 

Republicans will get equal treatment from yours truly next time.

But I do have to add that it is clear to me this election could be as tight as the last one (focus on the CNN poll down below).  As good a job as the Democrats did this week, it’s not likely they moved the progressives enough to get them to come out on Nov. 3rd…or to have their ballot in the mail.

On the other hand, black and suburban women I’m convinced will vote Democrat in record numbers. Will it be enough?  It’s likely to be decided by the same states.

The wildcard is the coronavirus and perceptions come, say, mid-October, and whether kids are finally getting back into actual classrooms by then, and whether or not we are crushed by a renewed surge, coupled with flu season.

I said beginning of the year 2020 would be hell.  None of us knew just how bad it would be.

Takeaways….

Michelle Obama launched a stinging attack on President Trump.  Mrs. Obama, who recorded her keynote address before Joe Biden announced his running mate, said in remarks that closed the first night of the convention on Monday:

“You simply cannot fake your way through this job…

“Our economy is in shambles because of a virus that this president downplayed for too long.”

“Stating the simple fact that a black life matters is still met with derision from the nation’s highest office,” she continued.

“Because whenever we look to this White House for some leadership, or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division and a total and utter lack of empathy.”

She said the last four years had been difficult to explain to America’s children.

“They see our leaders labelling fellow citizens enemies of the state, while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists.

“They watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages and pepper spray and rubber bullets are used on peaceful protests for a photo op.”

And: “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country.  He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head.

“He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us.  It is what it is.”

“We have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it,” she said, wearing a necklace that said “Vote.”

Former President Barack Obama for over three years has stayed above the fray, some saying he’s been too silent.  He wasn’t the other night.

“Tonight, I am asking you to believe in Joe and Kamala’s ability to lead this country out of dark times and build it back better,” Obama said.  “But here’s the thing: No single American can fix this country alone. Democracy was never meant to be transactional – you give me your vote; I make everything better.  So I am also asking you to believe in your own ability – to embrace your own responsibility as citizens – to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure.”

“I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care,” Obama said.

“But he never did.  He’s shown no interest in putting in the work, no interest in finding common ground: no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

Obama said the consequences of the Trump presidency have been “our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”

The former president lamented “the circus of it all, the meanness and the lies and the conspiracy theories.”

“Do not let them take away your power,” he implored voters.  “Do not let them take away your democracy.”

In her acceptance speech, Kamala Harris was introducing herself to America.

“In this election we have a chance to change the course of history,” Harris said. “We’re all in this fight.  You, me, and Joe, together. What an awesome responsibility. What an awesome privilege.”

“We’re at an inflection point,” Harris said.  “The constant chaos leaves us adrift.  The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone.  It’s a lot.  And here’s the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more. We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better, and do the important work.  A president who will bring all of us together – Black, White, Latino, Asian, indigenous – to achieve the future we collectively want. We must elect Joe Biden.”

“Public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is a shared responsibility,” Harris said.  “That led me to become a lawyer, a district attorney, attorney general and a United States senator. And at every step of the way, I’ve been guided by the words I spoke from the first time I stood in a courtroom.  Kamala Harris for the people.”

In his acceptance speech, Joe Biden turned to the coronavirus:

“Our current president has failed in his most basic duty to the nation: He’s failed to protect us.  He’s failed to protect America. And my fellow Americans, that is unforgivable.”

Biden added: “This president, if he’s reelected, you know what will happen.  Cases and deaths will remain far too high.  More mom and pop businesses will close their doors – and this time for good. Working families will struggle to get by.”

Biden compared the coronavirus response to other nations’.

“Just look around: It’s not this bad in Canada or Europe or Japan or almost anywhere else in the world.  And the president keeps telling us, ‘The virus is going to disappear.’  He keeps waiting for a miracle. Well, I have news for him: No miracle is coming.”

And: “As president, the first step I will take: We will get control of the virus that has ruined so many lives.  Because I understand something this president hasn’t from the beginning.  We will never get our economy back on track, we will never get our kids safely back in schools, we’ll never have our lives back until we deal with this virus.”

“Here and now, I give you my word, if you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst.

“I’ll be an ally of the light, not the darkness.

“It’s time for us, for we the people, to come together. And make no mistake, united we can and will overcome this season of darkness in America.

“We’ll choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege….

“We can choose a path of becoming angrier, less hopeful, more divided, a path of shadow and suspicion,” Biden said.

“Or, or, we can choose a different path and together take this chance to heal, to reform, to unite.  A path of hope and light.

“This is a life-changing election. This will determine what America is going to look like for a long, long time.”

And: “What we know about this president is that if he’s given four more years, he’ll be what he’s been for the last four years.

“A president who takes no responsibility, refuses to lead, blames others, cozies up to dictators and fans the flames of hate and division.

“He’ll wake up every day believing the job is all about him, never about you.

“Is that the America you want for you, your family and your children?”

In conclusion: “This is our moment to make hope and history rhyme.”

Biden pulled off his big night really without a hitch.  But the most popular moment no doubt was the video of a 13-year-old, Brayden Harrington, who has struggled with a stutter like Biden did in his youth.

Harrington in the video stuttered a few times while recalling Biden’s counsel in helping him deal with his own speech problems.

“Without Joe Biden, I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” Harrington said, adding: “It was really amazing to hear that someone like me became vice president.  He told me about a book of poems by Yeats he would read aloud to practice. He showed me how he marks up his addresses to make them easier to say out loud.  So I did the same thing today.

“I’m just a regular kid, and in a short amount of time Joe Biden made me more confident about something that’s bothered me my whole life.  Joe Biden cared.  Imagine what he could do for all of us.”

One more…Biden and closely allied Democratic groups raised $70 million during their four-day convention, Biden’s campaign said on Friday.  The broadcasts drew 122 million views across 15 digital platforms and also attracted 85.1 million to television broadcasts.

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

World…802,889
USA…179,200
Brazil…113,454
Mexico…59,610
India…55,928
UK…41,405
Italy…35,427
France…30,503
Spain…28,838
Peru…27,034
Iran…20,376

Source: worldometers.info

U.S. daily death tolls…Sun. 522; Mon. 589; Tues. 1,358; Wed. 1,263; Thurs. 1,090; Fri. 1,170.

In my now regular look at President Trump’s claim that countries who have received credit for the great job they did in suppressing the virus, but are now spiking, I have picked ‘Wednesdays’ for comparison…using Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK and Belgium, which have a combined population of 336.3 million vs. America’s 330 million.

This week the euro six had 10,903 cases on Wednesday with 191 deaths, while the U.S. had 44,957 and 1,263.

But there is no doubt, Europe’s cases are rising and that is not a good sign for us.  Their reopening is further along than ours has been and it’s making a difference.

Covid Bytes

--France has been reporting its highest number of cases this week since mid-April.

--Italy is shutting discos and clubs and has made it compulsory to wear a mask outdoors in some areas during the night-time in the first reimposition of restrictions as cases of coronavirus pick up across the country, especially among younger people.

--Slovenia urged its citizens to return from Croatia by the end of the week or face an obligatory two-week quarantine after the number of Covid-19 cases continued to rise there.  The UK is doing the same…need to be back tonight.

Croatia escaped the worst of the first wave of the pandemic owing to swift lockdowns and a lack of tourist arrivals at the tail-end of winter, and during the reopening of its economy promoted itself as a safe destination for tourists.

But now its reporting record numbers of infections.

--Almost half of Brazilians think President Jair Bolsonaro bears “no responsibility at all” for the country’s more than 100,000 dead from the pandemic, according to a new Datafolha poll.

The poll, published last weekend, says 47% of Brazilians do not assign him any blame for the body count, whereas 11% do.

Bolsonaro himself and several members of his family have gotten coronavirus.  His current wife, Michelle Bolsonaro, got the disease in late July and her grandmother died from the disease this week.

Bolsonaro’s fourth son, who is 22, recently tested positive.

“He is doing very well, taking hydroxychloroquine and will soon recover,” the president’s second wife said in an Instagram post.  Bolsonaro has been pushing for the use of the anti-malarial drug to fight the disease; replacing two health ministers who opposed his agenda.  He has shown indifference to the rising death toll.

Overall, startlingly, Bolsonaro is currently enjoying the highest popularity rating of his administration, according to the same Datafolha poll.  37% of Brazilians rate his term as great or good, compared with 32% in June.

The spike in popularity is most likely due to emergency payments the government has been making to low-income and informal workers set to expire in September.

--At a campaign rally on Monday President Trump said that despite New Zealand claiming to have succeeded in wiping out Covid-19, the country was in fact in the grip of a “terrible” upsurge in cases.

“You see what’s going on in New Zealand?” Trump said in Mankato, Minnesota.  “They beat it, they beat it, it was like front page they beat it…because they wanted to show me something. The problem is…big surge in New Zealand, you know, it’s terrible.  We don’t want that.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fired back at Trump, calling his remarks “patently wrong.”

“I think anyone who’s following Covid and its transmission globally will quite easily see that New Zealand’s nine cases in a day does not compare to the United States’ tens of thousands,” she said.

Overall, New Zealand has less than 1,700 cases with 22 deaths.

But they take it seriously, and so this week, where there have been a few days of over 10 cases, they locked down Auckland and postponed a general election for a month to give authorities time to fight the new “outbreak.”

--The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the rate of infection is steadily increasing in children, who now make up at least 7% of the cases in the U.S., though that number is fuzzy because of inadequate testing.

“The number and rate of cases in children in the United States has been steadily increasing from March to July 2020,” the CDC’s guidance stated. “The true incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in children is not known due to lack of widespread testing and the prioritization of testing for adults and those with severe illness.”

Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics logged a 90% increase in pediatric cases between July 9 and Aug. 6, CBS News reported.

During the last two weeks of July, more than 97,000 children tested positive, according to the joint report issued by the AAP and Children’s Hospital Association on Aug. 6.

--Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Mass General Hospital for Children found that among 192 children, 49 tested positive for the coronavirus and had significantly higher levels of virus in their airways than hospitalized adults in intensive care units, according to a study published Thursday in the Journal of Pediatrics.

“Kids are not immune from this infection, and their symptoms don’t correlate with exposure and infection,” said Dr. Alessio Fasano of Mass General.

Fasano said some children were brought to these settings after exhibiting symptoms, but others showed no symptoms and were brought in because they had been in contact with an infected person or lived in what was considered a high-risk area.

Scientists also discovered only half of the children who tested positive for the disease had a fever, leading experts to question the heavy reliance of non-contact thermal scanners at building entrances.

“How likely are you to pick up every case of Covid? The answer is only 50% of the time,” said Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.  [Adrianna Rodriguez / USA TODAY]

All of the above has to do with the reopening of the schools debate.

--According to a CNN/SSRS survey, nearly 7 in 10 Americans say the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak makes them feel embarrassed, as 62% of the public says President Trump could be doing more to fight the outbreak.

58% disapprove of Trump’s handling of the crisis, as the share who say the worst of the pandemic is yet to come has risen to 55% after dropping through the spring. And as the virus has spread from the nation’s cities throughout its countryside, the number who know someone who’s been diagnosed with the virus has jumped dramatically to 67%, up from 40% in early June.

And Americans are angry.  About 8 in 10 say they are at least somewhat angry about the way things are going in the country today, including 51% who say they are very angry.  CNN has asked this question in polling periodically since 2008, and the previous high for the share who said they were “very angry” was 35%, reached in 2008 and 2016.

Nearly 6 in 10 (57%) say schools in their area should not open for in-person instruction this fall, while 39% say they should be open.  But the issue is sharply driven by partisanship: 74% of Republicans say their local schools should be open vs. 12% of Democrats.

49% say Major League Baseball should not be playing games, and 45% say they should.

Democrats are nearly unanimous in saying they are more embarrassed than proud about the American response to the virus (93% embarrassed, 5% proud), while Republicans are mostly proud (61% say so vs. 33% who are embarrassed).

Only 56% of Americans say they would try to get vaccinated against the coronavirus if a vaccine became widely available at a low cost: 56% say they would try to do so now, while 66% felt that way in May.  Only 38% of Trump supporters say they would seek out a vaccine, vs. 51% who said so in May.

--Moriah Balingit / Washington Post

“Before the pandemic, it was called ‘the homework gap,’ because of the growing number of teachers who assigned homework that required Internet access. Now, as the pandemic forces many schools to switch to remote learning, disconnected students will miss more than homework. They’ll miss all of school.

“For all the talk of Generation Z’s Internet savvy, a stunning number of young people are locked out of virtual classes because they lack high-speed Internet service at home.  In 2018, nearly 17 million children lived in homes without high-speed Internet, and more than 7 million did not have computers at home, according to a report prepared by a coalition of civil rights and education groups that analyzed census data for that year.

“The issue affects a disproportionately high percentage of Black, Latino and Native American households – with nearly one-third of students lacking high-speed Internet at home.  Students in Southern states and in rural communities also were particularly overrepresented.  In Mississippi and Arkansas, about 40 percent of students lacked high-speed Internet….

“Education advocates say Congress could deliver an easy fix as part of a coronavirus relief package by expanding an existing program that helps schools and libraries get Internet service. But those hopes collapsed alongside talks between Congress and the White House on a new relief package. With talks deadlocked, President Trump issued an executive order for coronavirus relief.  It provides nothing for K-12 public schools. The consequences of the gap between those who have access to virtual learning and those who do not could be felt for years to come.”

--Many of us are curious as to what the numbers of positive cases in South Dakota and neighboring states will look like in another 7-10 days after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally wrapped up last weekend.  Health experts were concerned about the mass gathering becoming a “super-spreader” event and one such incident may have occurred on August 11, when a bar-goer visited a saloon from noon to 5:30 p.m., later testing positive, and could easily have transmitted it to scores.

So today, South Dakota reported its highest number of cases since early May, while North Dakota has had its two highest days yet, Thursday and Friday.

Trump World

--President Trump retaliated today after the Democrats accused him all week of being a chaotic and dishonest leader.  Trump said Democrats, not he, would bring chaos to the U.S. if Biden won.

“If our opponents prevail no one will be safe in our country,” Trump told conservative activists in a speech.  “I’m the only thing standing between the American dream and total anarchy, madness and chaos.”

In a preview of what Republicans will argue at their convention next week, Trump hammered away at the law and order theme he has embraced in response to anti-racism and police brutality protests in cities like Portland, Oregon.  He said police had been weakened in “Democrat-run” cities and cited a spike in murders in Chicago, Minneapolis, New York and Philadelphia.  He urged Americans to turn back “radical left socialists and Marxists.”  He called protesters in Portland “crazy.”

“So the future of our country and indeed our civilization is at stake on Nov. 3.”

Trump called the Democrats’ show “the darkest and angriest and gloomiest convention in American history.”

--U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Friday told lawmakers that the Postal Service would deliver ballots “securely and on time” in the presidential election as he faced questions about political interference in the mail system.

In his first public appearance before Congress, DeJoy sought to tamp down concerns that service delays prompted by his cost-cutting measures could result in millions of uncounted ballots in November and help Donald Trump.

“As we head into the election season, I want to assure this committee and the American public that the Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail securely and on-time. This sacred duty is my number one priority between now and Election Day,” he said.

Under pressure from the public and lawmakers, DeJoy on Tuesday suspended all mail service changes until after the election.

President Trump has repeatedly and without evidence said that an increase in mail-in ballots would lead to a surge in fraud.

Senator Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said he had received more than 7,500 reports of mail delays from people in his home state of Michigan. 

“If you plan to continue pursuing these kinds of changes, I think my colleagues, and many of our constituents, will continue to question whether you are the right person to lead this indispensable public institution,” Peters said.

Republican committee chairman Ron Johnson defended DeJoy, citing his “commendable attempt to reduce those excess costs that are now being cynically used to create this false political narrative.”

DeJoy is also due to testify before the Democratic-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Monday.

DeJoy, a major political donor and ally of Trump, assumed the job in June.  He said he supports mail-in balloting and that he did not discuss changes at the postal service and the potential impact on the election with the president, which just isn’t believable.

--Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former adviser and an architect of his 2016 general election campaign, was charged on Thursday with defrauding donors to a private fund-raising effort called We Build the Wall, which was intended to bolster the president’s signature initiative along the Mexican border.

Bannon, working with a wounded Air Force veteran and a Florida venture capitalist, conspired to cheat hundreds of thousands of donors by falsely promising that their money had been set aside for new sections of wall, according to a federal indictment unsealed in Manhattan.

The fund-raising effort collected more than $25 million, and prosecutors said Bannon used nearly $1 million of it for personal expenses.

The despicable Bannon was arrested on a $35 million, 150-foot yacht belonging to one of his business associates, the fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, law enforcement officials said.

A top aide to Joe Biden said “it is not” a surprise to see Bannon charged with fraud.  “No one needed a federal indictment to know that Steve Bannon is a fraud,” said Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield on a conference call with reporters.  Trump, she said, “has consistently used his office to enrich himself, his family and his cronies, so is it really any surprise that yet another one of the grifters he surrounded himself with and placed in the highest levels of government was just indicted? Sadly, it is not.”

--David Ignatius / Washington Post

“As Democrats accelerate their drive to defeat President Trump in November, they have a potent new weapon in a report by a Republican-led Senate committee that chronicles the ‘grave counterintelligence threat’ posed by the extensive contacts between Trump’s former campaign chairman and a Russian intelligence operative.

“The final volume of the report by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation arrives late in the game. Still, it offers the detailed accounting of how Russian spies worked with the Trump team that former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III should have given the country last year.  It offers raw material for the wide-ranging impeachment inquiry that the House of Representatives should have conducted.

“Here at last is hard evidence – certified by GOP committee leaders and published this week – that shreds Trump’s false claims of a Russia ‘hoax’ or ‘witch hunt.’  Let us never hear that glib dismissal of facts again.  From now on, the simple answer to Trump is: ‘That’s not what Senate Republicans found.’

“The document is 952 pages, stuffed with obscure names and details, and few will read much of it. But as someone who has spent four years examining arcane aspects of this story, I can summarize the findings that make the report so powerful.

“The most important is that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman for much of 2016, had repeated secret contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, bluntly described in the report as a ‘Russian intelligence officer.’  Manafort had worked with Kilimnik since 2004, and shared detailed, sensitive information with him before, during and after the campaign.

“We knew that Manafort had worked with Kilimnik, but the scope of their interactions, as laid out in the report, is astonishing.  In page after page, the report describes how Manafort communicated secretly with Kilimnik, shared internal Trump campaign data with him, discussed plans that would advance Russia’s interests in Ukraine and took other questionable actions.

“As the reports describes it, Manafort was determined to obscure his relationship with Kilimnik.  Pressed by Mueller about his contacts with him, Manafort ‘lied consistently,’ the report says. He used encrypted communication devices, secret meetings and private code words to obscure his actions. This relationship, says the report, was ‘the single most direct tie between senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services.’

“The Senate investigators even gathered information ‘suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected to the [Russian military intelligence agency’s] hack and leak operations targeting the 2016 U.S. election’ – the assault on Democratic emails that was the centerpiece of the Kremlin’s election-meddling campaign.

“Kilimnik wasn’t the only Russian intelligence conduit to Manafort and the campaign. Another was Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch whom Manafort has known since 2004.  The Senate report describes Deripaska as ‘a proxy for the Russian state and intelligence services’ who ‘has managed and financed Kremlin-approved and -directed active measures campaigns, including information operations and election interference efforts.’

“A shocking finding was that the Kremlin sought to use this network even after the election to hide its dirty work. Read this passage and consider what it tells us about Trump and his apologists: ‘The Committee observed numerous Russian-government actors from late 2016 until at least January 2020 consistently spreading overlapping false narratives which sought to discredit investigations into Russian interference.’

“One goal of this coverup was to ‘promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election,’ the Senate report says. Sound familiar? It should. This lie has been voiced repeatedly by Trump and his defenders.  Participants in the deception included Manafort, Kilimnik, Deripaska and others, the Senate report says – but the real purveyor in chief of the disinformation operation was Trump himself….

“The report includes hundreds of pages of other damning information.  One particularly vivid passage describes Trump’s attempts to ingratiate himself with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he was hosting the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in November 2013.  ‘I am a big fan of yours,’ Trump had cooed back in 2007 in a congratulatory letter.

“As the pageant approached, Trump went into overdrive.  In a June 26, 2013, letter, he invited the Russian dictator to attend as a ‘guest of honor’ and added a handwritten note in his distinctive block letters: ‘THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN!’ For the next three years, Trump’s family and fixers tried unsuccessfully to build his cherished ‘Trump Tower Moscow’ with the help of Putin cronies.

“ ‘Facts are stubborn things,’ said John Adams, our second president. And the facts of the Trump team’s interactions with Russian intelligence are clearly documented here.  As the Senate report stresses, this is a counterintelligence problem – a matter of combating Russian spies. The bipartisan report has revealed this story in extraordinary new detail: Read it and weep.”

--Trump tweets:

“WHY DID HE REFUSE TO ENDORSE SLOW JOE UNTIL IT WAS ALL OVER, AND EVEN THEN WAS VERY LATE? WHY DID HE TRY TO GET HIM NOT TO RUN?”

[Ed. Speaking of Barack Obama]

“HE SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN, AND GOT CAUGHT!”

“Don’t buy GOODYEAR TIRES – They announced a BAN ON MAGA HATS. Get better tires for far less!  [This is what the Radical Left Democrats do.  Two can play the same game, and we have to start playing it now!].”

“IF YOU CAN PROTEST IN PERSON, YOU CAN VOTE IN PERSON!”

“The ObamaBiden Administration was the most corrupt in history, including the fact that they got caught SPYING ON MY CAMPAIGN, the biggest political scandal in the history of our Country.  It’s called Treason, and more. Thanks for your very kind words Michelle!”

“Looking back into history, the response by the ObamaBiden team to the H1N1 Swine Flu was considered a weak and pathetic one. Check out the polling, it’s really bad.  The big difference is that they got a free pass from the Corrupt Fake News Media!”

[Ed. for the umpteenth time, Donald Trump is an idiot to bring up this topic.  12,500 died in the H1N1 pandemic in the U.S., according to the CDC, and as I’ve told you our lives weren’t changed one bit and, for example, I was literally traveling all over the world with no issues.]

“Somebody please explain to @MichelleObama that Donald J. Trump would not be here, in the beautiful White House, if it weren’t for the job done by your husband, Barack Obama.  Biden was merely an afterthought, a good reason for that very late & unenthusiastic endorsement….

“….My Administration and I built the greatest economy in history, of any country, turned it off, saved millions of lives, and now am building an even greater economy than it was before.  Jobs are flowing, NASDAQ is already at a record high, the rest to follow. Sit back & watch!”

“John Kasich did a bad job in Ohio, ran for President and was easy to beat, and now went to the other side desperate for relevance.  Good job by Chris C in exposing yet another loser!”

“Many thousands of people work for our government. With that said, a former DISGRUNTLED EMPLOYEE named Miles Taylor, who I do not know (never heard of him), said he left & is on the open arms Fake News circuit. Said to be a real ‘stiff’.  They will take anyone against us!”

“People forget how divided our Country was under ObamaBiden. The anger and hatred were unbelievable. They shouldn’t be lecturing to us.  I’m here, as your President, because of them!”

Wall Street and the Economy

Stocks, at least those represented by Nasdaq and the S&P 500, continued to power higher, both hitting records.  With the S&P’s close on Tuesday, the market had recovered all of the losses of the pandemic-fueled bear market from Feb. 19 to its trough on March 23, lasting just 33 days.

But the quick bear market still packed a punch, falling 34% from its February high to its March low.  The rally back, 51.5% through Tuesday, was/is one of the most powerful on record in such a short period of time.

Meanwhile, the disconnect between the stock market and the real economy continued.

Yes, housing numbers were strong for July with housing starts in the month much better than expected, 1.496 million annualized.  July existing home sales came in at 5.86 million versus the previous month’s revised 4.7 million rate, with the median home price $304,100, rising to more than $300,000 nationally for the first time on record, according to the National Association of Realtors.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said: “With the sizable shift in remote work, current homeowners are looking for larger homes and this will lead to a secondary level of demand even into 2021.  The number of new listings is increasing, but they are quickly taken out of the market from heavy buyer competition.  More homes need to be built.”

So the housing sector is in great shape.  But at the same time, initial jobless claims this week rose by 135,000 to back over the 1 million level, 1.1m, in the week ended Aug. 15, Labor Department data showed.

Continuing claims – the total number of Americans claiming ongoing unemployment assistance – decreased to 14.8 million in the week ended Aug. 8, the lowest since early April.

The downtrend in continuing claims is favorable news for the recovery, but the jobless claims number is not good. Companies are going bankrupt and small businesses are disappearing at a time when the economy has only recovered about half of the jobs it lost in March and April.

Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at Maria Fiorini Ramirez, Inc., wrote in a note to clients “the fact that five months into the crisis initial claims are running at 1.1 million per week, in absolute terms, is very bad news.”

Plus you have the expiration of the extra $600 in weekly jobless benefits at the end of last month and the inability of Republican and Democratic lawmakers to come to an agreement on how to extend them; President Trump having signed an executive order to provide $300 a week in federal support to most unemployment benefit recipients, but if a state adopts this, it is not likely that checks will go out for weeks.

On the trade front, the news was not good.  The Trump administration on Thursday declined to acknowledge any plans to meet with China over the Phase 1 trade deal after the commerce ministry in Beijing said bilateral talks would be held “in the coming days” to evaluate the agreement’s progress.

Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng made the comments about the forthcoming discussions at a weekly briefing held online, but did not elaborate.

The videoconference meeting slated for Aug. 15, the six-month anniversary of the trade deal’s launch, had been delayed and President Trump said it was his decision.

---

So I’ve been wanting to jot down some basic numbers every American should be aware of and then be able to use in the proper context.

Some of these figures are somewhat random but designed to give you a look at various points in time.

U.S. unemployment rate

Oct. 2009… 10.0%...peak during Great Recession
Jan. 2017… 4.7%...Trump takes office
Sept. 2019… 3.5%
Feb. 2020… 3.5%
July 2020… 10.2%

Black unemployment rate

Jan. 2007… 7.9%
Mar. 2010… 16.8% [9.9% overall jobless rate]
Jan. 2017… 7.5%...Trump takes office
Aug. 2019… 5.4% [3.7% overall rate]
Feb. 2020… 5.8%
July 2020… 15.2%

Weekly Jobless Claims

The all-time worst number before the pandemic was 665,000 the week of Mar. 28, 2009, during the Great Recession.

On Jan. 21, 2017, the 4-week moving average was 245,500.

Mar. 7, 2020… 211,000
Mar. 14, 2020… 282,000
Mar. 21, 2020… 3,307,000
Mar. 28, 2020… 6,867,000
Apr. 4, 2020… 6,615,000
Aug. 8, 2020… 971,000 [revised from 963,000]
Aug. 15, 2020… 1,106,000

U.S. GDP (annualized percent change from previous year)

2012… 2.2%
2013… 1.8%
2014… 2.5%
2015… 3.1%
2016… 1.7%
2017… 2.3%
2018… 3.0%
2019… 2.2%

My point in this exercise is that when the president talks about the greatest economy in history, pre-Covid, that’s just another lie.  I commented months ago, also pre-pandemic, that I’m guessing if you asked the average voter on the street what the unemployment rate was when President Trump assumed office, they would say 8%.  That’s how Trump has sold us.  But it was 4.7%.  Facts matter.

Forget 2020, because that’s just not fair, but we were also told the tax plan of the current administration would lead to 4% growth.  2018, I submit, was solid because the tax cuts were geared towards corporations who had a big incentive to invest in capital equipment.  I’ll update these figures from time to time.

And we were on track for a $1 trillion budget deficit, pre-pandemic, which is outrageous given the rosy scenarios we were sold.

Europe and Asia

We had IHS Markit’s flash PMI readings for August in the eurozone, with the composite at 51.6 vs. 54.9 in July (50 the dividing line between growth and contraction).  Manufacturing came in at 51.7 vs. last month’s 51.8, while the reading for the service sector was just 50.1 vs. 54.7.

The drop in the composite reading dashes the hopes for those dreaming of a V-shaped recovery.

Germany’s flash manufacturing figure for August was 53.0, a 23-month high, but the services reading was down to 50.8 from last month’s 55.6.

France’s manufacturing sector contracted a bit, 49.0, while services fell from a robust 57.3 to 51.9.

Andrew Harker, IHS Markit:

“The eurozone’s rebound lost momentum in August, highlighting the inherent demand weakness caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The recovery was undermined by signs of rising virus cases in various parts of the euro area, with renewed restrictions impacting the service sector in particular.  Manufacturers continued to post marked increases in output and new orders.

“Companies remain cautious when making decisions on employment, again opting to lower staffing levels in August amid a lack of confidence in the strength of the recovery.

“The eurozone stands at a crossroads, with growth either set to pick back up in coming months or continue to falter following the initial post-lockdown rebound. The path taken will likely depend in large part on how successfully Covid-19 can be suppressed and whether companies and their customers alike can gain the confidence necessary to support growth.”

In the UK, the flash August manufacturing PMI was 55.3, a 30-month high, with services up to 60.1, a 72-month high.  So a sharp recovery in demand and thus overall business activity as the economy reopened.

Separately, Britain’s government debt has soared to a record 2 trillion pounds ($2.62 trillion dollars), surpassing the country’s annual GDP for the first time since 1961 (100.5 percent, to be exact).  Increased public spending in response to the coronavirus crisis and decreasing tax revenues amid social distancing restrictions on businesses and individuals will do that.

“The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a significant impact on the UK public sector finances,” the Office for National Statistics said.

“These effects arise from both the introduction of public health measures and from new government policies to support businesses and individuals,” it said.

Brexit: The latest negotiating round between Britain and the EU on their future relationship after a post-Brexit transition period runs out at the end of 2020 brought no breakthroughs this week on the key sticking points, an official with the bloc said on Friday.

“Nothing has moved.  (There were) some technical exchanges that weren’t entirely pointless but nothing noteworthy on the topics that matter,” the official told Reuters.

Britain’s top negotiator, David Frost, said, “There are…significant areas which remain to be resolved and even where there is a broad understanding between negotiators, there is a lot of detail to work through.  Time is short on both sides.”

Turning to Asia…there was nothing of note on the data front from China.

Japan’s flash PMI data for August showed continued problems, with the manufacturing figure 44.7 vs. 43.9 in July, services 45.0 vs. 45.4.

Bernard Aw, principal economist at IHS Markit, said:

“Japanese business activity continued to contract in August, adding to concerns about the depth of the economic downturn and recovery pace as conditions remain challenging for manufacturers and service providers due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Demand continued to be adversely affected by subdued trade flows and social distancing measures.  New orders fell sharply in August, accompanied by a substantial drop in export sales….

“With the downturn extending into August, Japan’s labor market continued to deteriorate, with survey data showing employment falling further….

“Rising unemployment may also hit domestic household income and spending in the months ahead.”

The recession will continue.  Earlier, Japan reported the economy fell 7.8% in the second quarter over the previous one (27.8% annualized), making it three negative quarters in a row.  Private consumption fell 8.2% in Q2 from Q1.

Meanwhile, more than half of Japanese companies believe the Tokyo Olympics should be cancelled or put off again.  A poll of 13,000 companies that responded to the poll by Tokyo Shoko Research had 27.8% saying the Games should be cancelled, while 25.8% saw another postponement as desirable.

5.3% said the Olympics should be held with no spectators.

And lastly, there are concerns over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s health.  He reportedly “vomited blood” in his office last month and on Monday had a more than seven-hour “routine medical check-up” at a Tokyo hospital, aides said, which failed to end speculation he may have to step down, sooner than later.  Abe became the country’s longest-serving prime minister in November.  Back in 2007 he was chronically ill with ulcerative colitis, but has since been able to manage the disease thanks to a medication previously unavailable in Japan.

Street Bytes

--Apple became the first-ever company to reach a market value of $2 trillion, which has a major impact on the performance of the market value-weighted S&P and other indices.  In fact, Apple, which bottomed on March 23 at $224, closed today at $498.50, giving it a market cap of $2.1 trillion. This is nuts.

Meanwhile, the Dow Jones finished unchanged on the week, technically down a fraction of a point, while the S&P rose 0.7% to a new high today, 3397, while Nasdaq, +2.7%, closed at a new high of its own, 11311.

Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet continue to power the rally, but the P/E on the S&P is now 35.35 (trailing 12 months).  That is mighty high, sports fans.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 0.11%  2-yr. 0.13%  10-yr. 0.63%  30-yr. 1.34%

We had a rally on the long end of the curve, which was also the case across the pond in Europe, with the yield on the German bund (10-year) back down to -0.51%.

--Oil finished basically unchanged on the week at $42.25, falling today on concerns by OPEC about the effects of the continued pandemic on fuel consumption.

Separately, Baker Hughes reported that the number of oil rigs operating in the U.S. rose this week for the first time since mid-July but continued to remain at historically low levels, up 11 to 183.  A year ago, there were 754 in operation.

Meanwhile, we had the following story….environmentalists none too pleased.

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Who says American democracy is hard?  It only took 40 years to open up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, and on Monday the Interior Department opened the largely barren acreage to oil leases.

“Congress created ANWR way back in 1980 with a mandate to study its potential for oil and gas.  In the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a Republican House and Senate finally mandated that the federal government establish a plan for energy development. The environmental lobby opposed any drilling, but native communities in the region and Alaskans have long supported it as an economic boon with little risk to the land or grazing caribou or popular nature photography.

“Some 92% of ANWR will remain untouched under the interior plan, and the rest should be protected with extensive drilling protocols.  Accidents can happen, but the leases and drilling could provide thousands of new jobs and revenue for Alaska and the federal government. The U.S. Geological Survey believes the ANWR coastal plan is the largest source of onshore oil reserves in North America. Alaskans are especially pleased because the flow of oil from current drilling sites is slowing down, and the pipeline to the lower 48 states needs new supplies. Alaskans also count on royalties from oil drilling for their state and personal coffers….

“The politics of climate change is fraught and polarized these days, and the new default on the left is to keep all fossil fuels in the ground. A Biden White House would be under enormous pressure to introduce regulatory and other obstacles.

“That would be a shame because, barring some technological breakthrough, America will need oil and gas for electric power and transportation for decades to come.  Might as well let Americans benefit form producing it.”

--Walmart sales soared, with sales at U.S. locations open at least a year jumping 9.3%.  The company topped almost all expectations by wide margins as it reported for its recent quarter on Tuesday, though the shares, which hit an all-time high on Monday, fell back on the news.

The trend of consumers relying on the likes of Walmart, Amazon and others as lifelines for necessities during the start of the pandemic continued, with WMT’s online sales up 74% for the fiscal first quarter.  That trend accelerated in the second quarter and broadened the gap between traditional retailers, many of them anchor stores at the mall, and big box operators like Walmart and Target.

Net income for Walmart reached $6.48 billion in the quarter, or $2.27 per share; $1.56 adjusted, which easily outpaced the Street’s projections of $1.22.

The world’s largest retailer posted revenue of $137.74 billion, with its ecommerce sales rising  97% in the quarter.

But now, with the $600-a-week federal unemployment check that had been sent to roughly 28 million laid-off workers having expired and negotiations in Congress on a new economic relief package stalled, with no evidence of an agreement in sight, at least in the near future, there are real concerns what the influence will be on the likes of a Walmart or Target.

Also, Walmart and its ilk are facing soaring costs related to the pandemic that include cleaning protocols. The company said that costs related to Covid-19 hit $1.5 billion during the fiscal second quarter, up from nearly $900 million in such costs during the fiscal first quarter.

--Speaking of Target, it reported a major increase in second-quarter earnings on Wednesday and the stock rocketed to an all-time high, up 12% on the news.  Earnings rose to $3.38 per share in the three months through Aug. 1, up from $1.82 in the prior-year period.  Total revenue was $22.98 billion, up from $18.42 billion last year, obliterating the Street’s estimates on both metrics.

Same-store sales increased 24% and online sales leaped 195% for the quarter, when businesses were temporarily closed and tens of millions of Americans were under restrictions to stem the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Our second quarter comparable sales growth…is the strongest we have ever reported, which is a true testament to the resilience of our team and the durability of our business model,” crowed Target Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell.

Cornell said the figures show that customers responded to Target’s “safe and convenient shopping experience” as a response to the pandemic.

Target said it saw “unusually strong market-share gains across all five of its core merchandise categories,” adding that it gained about $5 billion in market share in the first half of its fiscal year.

Cornell told CNBC in an interview, “In the pandemic, we’re not going to restaurants, we’re not going to movies. Those traditional summer trips have been canceled. We’re not on planes. We’re not spending dollars on lodging, so many of those dollars have been redirected into retail.”

Target said back in June it would increase its starting wage for employees to $15 an hour and pay a $200 bonus to its hourly store and distribution workers for working during the pandemic.  The increase took effect on July 5, a day after the $2-an-hour premium it had been paying employees for months ended.  The bonus was paid in late July.

--Home improvement chain Home Depot, helped by the do-it-yourself renovations trend, reported a 23.4% rise  in same-store sales, with overall revenue up 23% to $38.05 billion in the May-to-July period, an increase from $30.84 billion during the same period in 2019.

“The home has never been more important to the customer,” Home Depot Chairman and CEO Craig Menear said on a call with analysts Tuesday.  “We’re all spending lots of time there. We’re seeing things that need to be done or things that you want to be done. We’re clearly seeing the customer engaged in a really strong way right now.”

Comp-store sales growth remained strong in the first two weeks of August, after the quarter ended.  But Menear added that the pandemic made it difficult to forecast how long heightened demand would persist.

“It’s really so uncertain,” he said.  “We don’t know the answer to that, which is why we can’t really extrapolate current performance to future performance.”

But daily foot traffic to Home Depot stores since April has been running at least 35% above last year’s, according to Unacast Inc., which tracks location data from 25 million cellphones on any given day. 

In the quarter, HD spent $480 million on additional employee benefits during the pandemic, including bonuses for hourly workers in stores and distribution centers. 

--Lowe’s Co. posted surging sales in its May-July quarter, another large retailer that has benefited from shifting consumer spending patterns during the pandemic.  Comparable store sales grew a stupendous 35.1% as people shopped for basic repair and maintenance projects.  CEO Marvin Ellison said demand for home repair strengthened as consumers redirected spending from other discretionary categories.

Total sales were $27.3 billion vs. $21 billion in last year’s equivalent quarter, far better than analysts’ forecasts.

Ellison added: “It’s difficult for a company our size to grow sales by 35% comp without having some significant market-share gain.  That’s happening as well.”

In Lowe’s case, growth from do-it-yourself projects outpaced growth from sales to contractors, as was the case with Home Depot, but in the last quarter, there was more work done by people themselves than outside professionals, Lowe’s said, which plays to the company’s advantage as they depend less on contractors than HD does.

--As opposed to the above four Big Box giants, Kohl’s has struggled. The company posted a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss on Tuesday, as the department-store chain reopened most of its stores that were shuttered for weeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

But Kohl’s is lucky in that only about 5% of the company’s stores are located in malls, which have seen traffic plummet compared to strip-malls.  Kohl’s net income narrowed to $47 million from $241 million a year earlier.  But excluding one-time items, Kohl’s lost 25 cents per share, with net sales falling to $3.21 billion from $4.17 billion.

--FedEx announced it was following UPS’ lead is adding surcharges on certain home deliveries and packages it hands off to the U.S. Postal Service during the holiday shopping season.

FedEx is implementing the surcharges and fees to “continue providing our customers with the best possible service during this challenging time,” the company said on its website.

“As the impact of the virus continues to generate a surge in residential deliveries, we are entering this holiday peak season with extremely high demand for capacity and are experiencing increased operating costs across our network,” FedEx said.  “We anticipate residential volume to continue to surge into the new year.”

FedEx’s website says residential shipments could see a per-package charge of $1 to $5, depending on how much more the customer is shipping.

FedEx SmartPost, the home delivery service in which FedEx hands off shipments to the Postal Service for the final stretch, will see a $1 per package surcharge from Nov. 2 to Nov. 29. That surcharge increases to $2 per package from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, and back down to $1 per package from Dec. 7 to Jan. 17, 2021.

FedEx Ground’s average daily package volume jumped 25% from the year before in the most recent quarter vs. the prior year, and now, FedEx workers will be handling a new surge of packages for the holidays.

--Boeing Co. plans more job cuts in response to a pandemic-driven drop in jetliner demand it expects to continue for at least three years.

The aerospace giant told its employees in a memo late Monday that it is adding a second round of buyout offers, a move that would further reduce its workforce by an unspecified number beyond the cut of 19,000 already announced in July.  Boeing is expected to reveal more details next week.

In July, the company said it was weighing the possible closure of one of the two assembly sites for its 787 Dreamliner.

More than 6,000 workers have already left the company, mostly at its commercial airplane operation in the Seattle area and units providing airlines with services such as parts and maintenance.

“I truly wish the current market demand could support the size of our workforce,” said CEO David Calhoun.

--American Airlines plans to suspend flights to 15 cities in October, when a federal ban against service cuts carriers agreed to as part of the CARES / coronavirus aid package expires.

The change means 10 airports will lose their only airline service; airports such as Dubuque and Sioux City, Iowa; Florence, S.C.; Huntington, W. Va.; and New Haven, Conn.

As part of the rescue package, Congress gave the Transportation Department the power to require airlines to maintain pre-pandemic levels of service until March 2022.  But the department chose only to exercise that power until Sept. 30 of this year, when a ban on furloughs and layoffs of airline employees also expires.

Unions representing pilots, flight attendants and other workers in the industry are urging Congress to extend the part of the rescue package that supports wages and benefits through March.  Airlines have said that once the ban lifts on Oct. 1, they are prepared to layoff tens of thousands of workers.

A majority of House members and 16 Senate Republicans have said they support extending the payroll protections, but negotiations over a broader coronavirus relief package have been stalled for weeks.

If lawmakers do act, it’s not clear if the Transportation Department would choose to extend the prohibition on service cuts.

--The union representing Delta Air Lines pilots said on Friday that 1,806 had agreed to early retirement programs, spurring talks with management to avoid furloughs as the airline continues to weather a downturn in demand.  Delta had sent warnings of potential furloughs to 2,258 pilots, the union said.

--Lufthansa said it had reached an agreement with pilots on Wednesday over a package of short-term measures to cut costs as the German airline battles to reduce losses due to the pandemic.  In return for job guarantees until at least March 31, 2021, the pilots union has agreed to reduced top-up payments to short-time working benefits as well as cuts to pension benefits through the end of 2020.

Lufthansa added it would only be able to avoid layoffs beyond March if it reached a long-term agreement for pilots, including a corresponding cut in working hours and salaries.  The airline employs around 5,000 pilots.  It added that wage increases previously negotiated for this year would be postponed until January 2021.

So the two sides have worked out a deal that gives them more time to negotiate an amicable longer-term pact.

--President Trump voiced support on Tuesday for Oracle Corp. to buy the U.S. operations of TikTok, adding a new wrinkle to the bidding for the Chinese-owned video-sharing app.

Oracle is a new entrant in the negotiations for TikTok, whose owner ByteDance Ltd. is facing a fall deadline from the Trump administration to divest itself of its U.S. operations.

Oracle, a giant in business software, has held preliminary discussions about teaming with some of ByteDance’s existing minority investors (General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital) to buy the U.S. operations but no word on how advanced the talks may be.

Microsoft earlier announced it was in discussions with ByteDance, and that it was coordinating with the White House, but Oracle has closer ties to the administration than the others in the bidding process, including Twitter, which is also exploring a bid.

Oracle co-founder, chairman and largest shareholder, Larry Ellison, earlier this year threw a fundraiser at his house for President Trump.  CEO Safra Catz worked on the executive committee for the Trump transition team in 2016.

Asked Tuesday if Oracle would be a good buyer for TikTok, President Trump said, “Well I think Oracle is a great company and I think its owner is a tremendous guy, a tremendous person. I think that Oracle would be certainly somebody that could handle it.”

The administration has said TikTok represents a threat to national security because it is owned by a Chinese company. ByteDance has repeatedly disputed U.S. claims that it would share information on U.S. users with the Chinese government.

--China said on Tuesday it firmly opposes U.S. suppression of Huawei Technologies Co., after the Trump administration announced it would further tighten restrictions on the company.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, speaking at a daily news briefing, urged the United States to stop discrediting Chinese companies.

The Chinese government would continue to take all necessary measures to safeguard the legitimate rights of Chinese companies, said Zhao.

Earlier, the U.S. Commerce Department issued new rules curbing Huawei’s access to foreign-made chips, expanding the Trump administration’s restrictions on the telecom company’s link to crucial components.

The new rules prohibit non-U.S. companies from selling any chips made using U.S. technology to Huawei without a special license.  The rule covers even widely available, off-the-shelf chips made by overseas firms, placing severe new limits on Huawei’s ability to source parts.

President Trump on Monday reiterated his concerns – long voiced by the national security community and denied by Huawei – that the company’s telecom equipment could be used to spy on Americans.

“We don’t want their equipment in the United States because they spy on us,” he said during an interview Monday on ‘Fox & Friends.’  “They know everything – they knew everything we were doing.  Huawei is a way of – is really – I call it the spyway.”

Huawei has said it has never spied on behalf of any country and would refuse any request to spy for Beijing.

Huawei is the world’s largest maker of telecom equipment, and in the second quarter edged out Samsung to become the largest seller of smartphones, too.  The company has become a leader in 5G technology, even as Washington has long regarded its products as a national security threat.

The curbs potentially put the U.S. semiconductor industry’s billions of dollars worth of annual global sales at greater risk. Industry giants such as Qualcomm Inc. have been lobbying the administration to ease the earlier restrictions – not strengthen them – to keep business from gravitating to foreign companies.

The Semiconductor Industry Association’s chief executive, John Neuffer, said that the changes “will bring significant disruption to the U.S. semiconductor industry.”

--Tesla new-car registrations in China fell month-over-month in July, yet Tesla stock continued to soar, up to another all-time high.

The move comes as Bloomberg reported that 11,456 Tesla vehicles were registered in China during the month of July, down from more than 15,000 in June.  While this sounds weak, registrations are often weakest in the first month of a new quarter.  In March the figure was 12,000, and then only 5,000 in April.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives wrote in a research report, “We continue to believe EV demand in China is starting to accelerate in July/August.”

So, irrespective of the above, Tesla shares, down to $1,365 just last week before the announcement of the 5-for-1 stock split (which goes into effect Aug. 31), soared to over $2,000, which was analyst Ives’ best-case scenario just weeks ago, ending the week at $2,050, giving it a market cap of $382 billion. 

--Goodyear Tire CEO Rich Kramer said Thursday the company had clarified its policy to make clear employees can wear apparel expressing support for law enforcement after it faced a boycott call from President Trump.

Trump told reporters Wednesday he would swap out the Goodyear tires on his presidential limousine if there were an alternative.

Goodyear on Thursday said it had a longstanding policy of asking employees of refraining from workplace expressions of support for any political candidates.

Trump accused the Ohio-based company of “playing politics” by forbidding workers from donning the “Make America Great Again” caps favored by his supporters.

“Don’t buy GOODYEAR TIRES – They announced a BAN ON MAGA HATS,” Trump tweeted Wednesday.

Trump said it was “disgraceful” that the company would prevent employees from wearing attire supporting the ‘Blue Lives Matter’ movement that supports law enforcement, while allowing support for other causes.

--Amazon.com said Tuesday it is planning to expand its physical offices and add about 3,500 jobs in the cities of New York, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Detroit and Dallas.

Of this, about 2,000 jobs will be hired in New York. The company is looking to fill various positions, including cloud infrastructure architects, software engineers and data scientists.

The company said it will invest more than $1.4 billion for the expansion of its offices in these cities.

--China-based e-commerce giant Alibaba Group holdings posted revenue of $21.8 billion, up 34% from a year ago, and slightly ahead of the Street’s consensus, earnings also beating forecasts.  Active users on its China retail marketplaces reached 742 million, up 16 million from the rolling 12-month period ended March 30.  Mobile monthly active users reached 874 million, up 28 million in the past quarter.

--Southern California home sales and prices jumped in July as households brushed off economic uncertainty and rushed to take advantage of record-low mortgage rates.

Across the six-county region, sales of new and previously owned houses, townhouses and condos rose 27.7% from June and managed an increase of 2.5% from the pre-pandemic days of July 2019, according to data released by DQNews.

The Southland’s median sales prices climbed by the most since 2018, rising 8.5% from a year earlier to a record of $585,000.

The median home price in Orange County rose 6.3% from a year earlier to $775,000.  In Los Angeles County, the median price rose 5.5% from a year earlier to $670,000.

--America’s leading CEOs got paid 14 percent more on average in 2019 – and their paychecks could grow again this year even amid the pandemic, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute.

The chief executives at the top 350 U.S. companies by sales raked in an average of $21.3 million last year, up from about $18.7 million in 2018.  That means the average CEO made 320 times as much money as a typical rank-and-file worker in their industry – a ratio that’s ballooned from 61-to-1 in 1989.

Granted, the report is from a left-leaning think tank, but their conclusions ring true.

“Importantly, rising CEO pay does not reflect rising value of skills, but rather CEOs’ use of their power to set their own pay. And this growing earning power at the top has been driving the growth of inequality in our country.”

--Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, a former journalist, to be his new finance minister after Bill Morneau resigned on Monday, amid a charity scandal that has hit Trudeau.  Freeland would be the first woman to hold the role, and she will keep her post as deputy prime minister, as CTV first reported.

--Pizza Hut is expected to close 300 of its restaurants after one of its major franchisees declared bankruptcy.  The locations are mostly dine-in and have been adversely affected by the coronavirus which, for the most part, has not led to a decrease in demand for delivery and take-out pies, and major chains are on hiring sprees to keep up with surges in orders.

However, some Pizza Huts owned by NPC International will be closing their doors after the Kansas-based company declared bankruptcy.

NPC, which owns 1,225 Pizza Huts and 385 Wendy’s restaurants in 27 states, said it would close locations that were not designed to handle large amounts of takeout and delivery orders and open smaller locations aimed at handling the increased online demand.

Domino’s, which has smaller carryout-focused stores, recently announced it was hiring 20,000 new workers to keep up with demand after reporting a 30% quarterly increase in profits.

Meanwhile, casual dining chains were already facing challenges before Covid-19 hit, hurt by the rise of fast-casual competition and increased food costs.

Now, several of the largest restaurant companies in the U.S. are struggling with capacity restrictions on indoor dining and attempting to lure customers with takeout in a bid to avoid financial disaster.

A new report by S&P Global Market Intelligence says the owners of Outback Steakhouse, Applebee’s and The Cheesecake Factory are facing the highest likelihood of not paying back their debts, which would force them to file for bankruptcy protection. 

One chain, California Pizza Kitchen, has already filed for Chapter 11.

Analysts are particularly concerned about the coming winter, which will eliminate outdoor seating options for many restaurants, and the demise of the extra $600 in unemployment benefits exacerbates the situation.

Sales at restaurants and bars fell 26% in June, compared with a year earlier, according to S&P.

Foreign Affairs

China / Taiwan: Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“China’s Communist Party crackdown on Hong Kong gets more menacing by the day. This week’s roundup of democracy advocates including publisher Jimmy Lai is the latest assault on the once-free city, and hardliners in Beijing see Taiwan as the next prize. Given the possibility of a showdown over Taiwan in the next four years, the nature of America’s commitment to the island ought to make more than a passing appearance in the 2020 presidential campaign.

“Taiwan’s importance to America’s Pacific alliances has long been recognized.  If the U.S. allowed Taipei to fall under Beijing’s control – official or de facto – states like Vietnam would doubt America’s commitment to their independence and draw closer to China.  If Beijing can then pry established allies like Japan away from the U.S., the Communist Party would be well on its way to regional hegemony.

“Beyond traditional grand strategy, Taiwan now has a special significance because of its technological prowess. TSMC, based in Taiwan, is the world’s leading manufacturer of semiconductors, and it is consolidating its position.  Its shares have surged this summer as U.S.-based Intel announced recently it might exit the chip-manufacturing business.

“That puts Taiwan in the middle of the U.S.-China tech rivalry. China aims to lead the world in high-tech products and it has relied on computer chips made by TSMC. The U.S. is also wooing TSMC, which announced in May it would open a factory in Arizona.  U.S. sanctions are making it impossible for China’s Huawei to buy chips from TSMC.  Political scientist Graham Allison has speculated that Beijing may see the tech rivalry as cause to take control of the island and its flagship company by force.

“Which brings us back to U.S. politics. China has been intensifying its military exercises near Taiwan, and coercion or even an assault of some kind rank high among the national-security crises the next President may face.

“The Trump Administration has given a sense of its policy approach.  It approved the sale of advanced F-16s to Taiwan after the Obama Administration refused, and it is considering the sale of Sea Guardian surveillance drones as well as missiles and mines.  Over the weekend Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar visited Taipei in a rare and politically significant show of cabinet-level support.

“Yet President Trump’s transactional relationship with allies worries some Taiwanese.  His impulse to retrench militarily – including threatening to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea – may also embolden Beijing.

“One productive step a Biden Administration might take on this front is joining and renegotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership on trade to strengthen U.S. alliances with a path for Taiwan to join.  China’s isn’t part of the TPP but Mr. Trump walked away from the pact.

“A major question is whether a Biden Administration would return to the Obama Administration’s more distant relationship with Taiwan for fear of offending Beijing….

“Mr. Biden has had dovish foreign-policy instincts for decades, and in 2001 he rebuked George W. Bush for saying the U.S. would defend Taiwan if attacked.  But popular and elite American views on China have shifted as Beijing is more openly aggressive, and Michele Flournoy, a top contender for secretary of Defense in a Biden Administration, wrote recently about the necessity of strong U.S. deterrence in the Western Pacific.

“The candidates should be pressed to explain their views on Taiwan beyond platitudes about warm feelings.  The island is at the center of a great-power rivalry, and voters deserve to hear how the next President would handle it.”

Iran: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the United Nations Security Council that the United States intends to restore virtually all previously suspended UN sanctions on Iran, and that the Trump administration is prepared to block Russia and China from any attempts to violate sanctions on Iran.

Editorial / Washington Post

“Two days after taking credit for the opening of diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the Trump administration suffered a humiliating reversal at the UN Security Council that was, in some ways, more telling about the results of its Middle East policies.  The United States asked the council to approve an extension of the 13-year-old embargo on arms trade with Iran – something that matters greatly to Israel and U.S. Arab allies, and which most of the democratic world favors.  Yet only one member of the 15-member council, the Dominican Republic, sided with Washington. Russia and China opposed the motion, while 11 countries – including Britain, France and Germany – abstained.

“The vote could open the way for Iran to obtain Chinese and Russians arms – for example, missiles it could employ against Israel, the UAE or U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf.  At the least, it demonstrated how the Trump administration’s attempt to crush Iran’s Islamic regime has instead made it more dangerous, while isolating the United States.

“The UN defeat was a direct result of President Trump’s repudiation of the 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program, which was brokered by the Obama administration in collaboration with the European Union, China and Russia.  Mr. Trump claimed renewed U.S. sanctions would force a better deal; instead, Iran renewed its enrichment of uranium and launched attacks in the Persian Gulf.  Now the arms embargo, which the UN resolution ratifying the nuclear pact extended to this October, is also gone.  European allies chose not to vote for renewing it, in part because they wish to preserve what remains in the agreement, including UN inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities….

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a prime architect of the failed Iran policy, railed against the Security Council’s vote, while promising unspecified U.S. action to stop Iran from obtaining new weapons.  ‘We can’t allow the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell weapons,’ Mr. Pompeo said.  ‘I mean, that’s just nuts.’ Agreed. But if Tehran nevertheless succeeds in doing so, it will be due to the gross malfeasance of Mr. Pompeo – and Mr. Trump’s foolish torching of the Obama administration’s legacy.”

Separately, the UAE summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires in Abu Dhabi in response to a speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the foreign ministry described as “unacceptable.”

Rouhani said in the speech last Saturday the UAE had made a “huge mistake” in reaching an agreement to normalize ties with Israel and called it a betrayal by the Gulf state.

“They (the UAE) better be mindful. They have committed a huge mistake, a treacherous act.”

An Iranian hardline daily, Kayhan, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a front-page commentary: “The UAE’s great betrayal of the Palestinian people…will turn this small, rich country which is heavily dependent on security into a ‘legitimate and easy target’ for the resistance.”

Israel: The United Arab Emirates accord to normalize ties with Israel should remove “any hurdle” for the United States to sell the F-35 stealth fighter jet to the Gulf Arab state, a senior Emirati official said on Thursday.

The U.S. has sold the F-35 to allies, including Turkey, South Korea, Japan and Israel, but sales to the Gulf require a deeper review due to U.S. policy for Israel to maintain a military advantage in the Middle East.

“We have legitimate requests that are there. We ought to get them…the whole idea of a state of belligerency or war with Israel no longer exists,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in an online interview with the Atlantic Council.

This is a big issue. Any F-35 sale could take years to negotiate and deliver, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country would oppose any sale, citing a need to maintain Israeli military superiority in the region.

A Netanyahu spokesman said: “To begin with, the prime minister opposed selling the F-35 and advanced weaponry to any countries in the Middle East, including Arab states that make peace with Israel. The prime minister expressed this consistent stance time after time before the U.S. government and it hasn’t changed.”

Poland, the most recent F-35 customer, purchased 32 of the jets in January, but will not receive its first delivery until 2024.

Separately, White House adviser Jared Kushner said this week that “Israel has agreed with us that they will not move forward (with their annexation plan in parts of the West Bank) without our consent. We do not plan to give our consent for some time.”

Iraq: President Trump said on Thursday that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq “shortly,” but he gave no specific date or timeline speaking to reporters following a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi at the White House.

“We have been taking our troops out of Iraq fairly rapidly, and we look forward to the day when we don’t have to be there. And hopefully Iraq can live their own lives and they can defend themselves, which they’ve been doing long before we got involved,” Trump said.  “We were there, and now we’re getting out,” he continued.  “We’ll be leaving shortly.”

Roughly 5,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Iraq, training and supporting the Iraqi military, including in the ongoing fight against ISIS.  But months of rocket attacks by Iran-aligned militias on U.S. interests in Iraq, including many in Baghdad’s Green Zone, have caused U.S. forces to pull back from bases across Iraq and turn them over to Iraqi security partners.

Pressed on a specific timeline for withdrawal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that it would take place “as soon as we can complete the mission.”

Lebanon: A UN-backed tribunal on Tuesday convicted one member of the militant group Hezbollah and acquitted three others of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon said Salim Ayyash was guilty, as a co-conspirator, of five charges stemming from his involvement in the suicide truck bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others in a huge blast in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.  The attack also wounded 226 people.

Three other Hezbollah members, however, were acquitted of all charges.

All four defendants were tried in absentia. Ayyash is not likely to serve any prison time because Hezbollah has vowed to not hand over any suspects.

The tribunal’s judges also said Tuesday there was no evidence that either the Hezbollah leadership or Syria was involved in the attack.

Hariri’s son Saad, also a former Lebanese prime minister, said that the family accepted the verdicts, which came after an investigation and trial spanning years. “Justice will be executed, regardless of how long it takes,” he said.

Rafik Hariri, in the months before his death, was a supporter of reducing the influence of Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Presiding Judge David Re said after studying reams of evidence (the written judgement is 2,600 pages long) that while Syria and Hezbollah “may have had motives to eliminate Mr. Hariri, and some of his political allies,” there was no evidence to prove their involvement.

But the guilty verdict for only one of the four defendants could compound tensions in Lebanon.  Hariri was its most prominent Sunni Muslim politician at the time of his death, while Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group backed by Iran.

The verdicts had been delayed by nearly two weeks as a mark of respect for victims of another devastating explosion; the detonation of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port.  The official death toll is now 180, more than 6,000 injured, and 300,000 with homes unfit to live in.

And now Lebanon’s crippled health-care system is having to deal with a worrying surge in coronavirus cases. The chart looks grim…straight up.

Plus, as I predicted right after the explosion, Lebanon faces a serious food shortage. 85% of Lebanon’s food arrives through the sea port that was badly damaged and unusable for now, while as you saw, the grain silos storing most of the country’s wheat supplies were destroyed.

The UN’s World Food Program warned Lebanon’s dysfunctional government, “We don’t have time for games to be played. Donors will not step up if they see politicians getting in the way of humanitarian aid.”

The WFP is working to bring a three-month supply of wheat flour and grains for bakeries and mills.

For now food shipments are being rerouted to the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli, which can only handle a fraction of the Beirut port’s capacity.

Turkey: No threats can deter Turkey from seeking natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, adding that Ankara expects actors in the region to take steps to de-escalate tensions.

Greece and Cyprus are locked in a dispute with Turkey over overlapping claims to areas potentially rich in resources.  Two Turkish survey vessels are in areas claimed by the three countries.

“Turkey is determined to seek its rights in the eastern Mediterranean until the end,” Erdogan said in a speech.  “No colonialist power or threat can deter our country from the oil and natural gas resources believed to be in the region.”

Russia and Belarus: Russian opposition leader Alexander Navalny is gravely ill and at last word in a coma after allegedly being poisoned while on a trip to Siberia.

Navalny began feeling ill on a plane to Moscow after drinking tea at an airport café in the Siberian city of Tomsk.  His condition became so serious that the plane made an emergency landing at the city of Omsk, where he was carried off on a stretcher.  He was placed on a ventilator in a hospital there.

Navalny’s aides said they believe the tea he drank was laced with poison, which, if confirmed, would be the latest in a long series of poisonings and suspected poisonings of people who have fallen out with the Kremlin, which denies settling scores with its foes by murdering them.

Germany and France offered on Thursday to provide medical care on their soil for Navalny, as both French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel said they were deeply concerned at what was happening to one of the fiercest critics of Vladimir Putin.

Russia said its doctors would decide if Navalny could be moved, not Germany or France.

But then this afternoon, Russia relented and Navalny was flown to Germany, still in a coma.

The incident coincides with a political crisis in Belarus, a Russian ally, and comes ahead of regional Russian elections next month.  Some anti-Kremlin protesters in Russia’s far east have started chanting “Long live Belarus!” in support of the protesters in Minsk.  “Putin is scared,” said an EU diplomat, who declined to be named.  “He is sending a message to his own people not to try to do at home what they see on TV from Belarus.”

Michael McFaul / Washington Post

“Alexei Navalny holds the audacious belief that Russians should be able to choose their leaders in free, fair and competitive elections. That’s why he tried to run for president in 2018, but was denied a place on the ballot.

“He believes that government officials should not use their power for personal enrichment. That’s why he operates one of the most important investigative media outlets in Russia.

“He champions the idea that Russians should not be arrested unjustly. That’s why he organizes protests and gets arrested himself.

“Navalny threatens autocracy in Russia. That’s why, in a most cruel and sinister act, the authorities sentenced his brother to three years in jail.

“And that may be why Navalny has now, it would seem, been attacked again – apparently poisoned. He is lying unconscious, connected to a ventilator in an intensive care unit in a Siberian hospital.

“Analysts in Russia and the West spend too much time scrutinizing Navalny’s policy positions: Is he too nationalist?  Is he not liberal enough?  Is he too leftist?  Those are questions for Russian voters to decide – but right now they can’t.  To give them such a chance is what Navalny is fighting for.

“Navalny’s heroic struggle is no different from what Gandhi, King, Mandela and Havel fought for. While Navalny has not succeeded yet, there should be no doubt that his cause is good and just.

“Vladimir Putin is evil.  Over the past 20 years, Russia’s current leader has constructed a ruthless dictatorship.  He has shut down independent media and civil society organizations, and he has arrested critics and business leaders who dare to challenge his unconstrained powers.  Abroad, Putin has annexed Ukrainian territory, sent troops to Syria to prop up one of the most brutal dictators of our time, violated American sovereignty in 2016 to try to influence the outcome of our presidential election, and is interfering again in our election now.  At home and abroad, Putin’s regime and its proxies have repeatedly killed, or tried to kill, its critics.  Navalny may have just become his latest victim.

“I use the verb ‘may’ because, of course, we do not know all the details.  We probably never will.  We still don’t know all the facts about who killed Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, or who twice poisoned democratic defender Vladimir Kara-Murza, or the full story behind other assassinated Russian heroes who also fought against evil.

“Putin has a talent for deniability.  Yet even if the ex-KGB officer who now runs Russia didn’t directly order a hit on Navalny, he is still to blame.  It is Putin who has empowered intelligence officers and created permissive conditions for vigilantes.

“In an earlier period in American history, our government and people would have stood united on the side of good in this fight against evil.  There was no partisan divide when it came to standing up for heroes and standing against villains….

“President Trump, by contrast, has enthusiastically embraced Putin and excused his villainous ways. To the best of my knowledge, Trump has never praised, let alone met with, activists or opposition leaders in Russia, Ukraine or Belarus.  On hearing of Navalny’s hospitalization, all Trump could muster Thursday was ‘We haven’t seen it yet, we’re looking at it, and Mike [Pompeo]’s going to be reporting to me soon.’  Not a word of concern, let alone outrage.  In the clear divide between good and evil in Russia, Trump is on the wrong side.

“American indifference to evil has consequences. It emboldens the villains and weakens the heroes.  But sometimes presidents must say and do things – for example, to impose sanctions on Alexander Lukashenko for stealing an election in Belarus, to criticize Putin for aiding the Taliban, to signal solidarity with Navalny and offer assistance as European leaders have – not because these actions might be effective, but because they are right.  In a world divided by good and evil, it’s time for America to get back on the right side.”

In Belarus, the protests against President Alexander Lukashenko continue after he stole the election of two weeks ago.  Chancellor Angela Merkel said she sees no role for herself as a mediator because Lukashenko refuses to take her calls.

But the dictator has been talking to Vladimir Putin nonstop it seems, Merkel warning Putin that a Russian military intervention would “complicate” things.

Putin told President Macron that French interference in the internal affairs of Belarus or exerting pressure on the country’s leadership would be unacceptable.

On Tuesday, Lukashenko awarded medals “for impeccable service” to law enforcement officials who have helped him crack down on protesters.

Lukashenko is under the biggest pressure of his 26-year-rule, with no sign of an end to the protests and strikes over the election, which the president says he won with 80 percent of the vote but protesters say was blatantly rigged.

The opposition established a council inside the country, a move Lukashenko denounced as an attempt to seize power.  Many of the opposition leaders are either in jail or in exile, including presidential candidate Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled the country after the vote her supporters say she won.

Vladimir Putin told Lukashenko that Russia was ready to offer military assistance if necessary.

Random Musings

--Presidential tracking polls…

Gallup: 42% approve of President Trump’s job performance, 55% disapprove; 90% of Republicans, 39% of independents approve (July 30-Aug. 12).  The prior figures for July 1-13 were 41/56, 91, 34.
Rasmussen: 51% approve, 47% disapprove of Trump’s performance (Aug. 21).  Was 47-52 last week.

--As the virtual Democratic National Convention opened, Joe Biden held a 12-point lead over Donald Trump among registered voters, 53-41%, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.  Among ‘likely’ voters, the margin is 54-44%.

The share of Biden supporters who are very enthusiastic about supporting him has grown from 28% in March to 48% today.  He still has a wide deficit on this gauge compared with Trump, with 65% strong enthusiasm, but it’s eased considerably.  It’s a measure to watch because enthusiasm can encourage turnout.

54% see Kamala Harris as qualified to take over as president if something happened to Biden.  Just 33% see her as “too liberal” – a GOP line of attack.  And a narrow majority, 52%, sees her favorably overall, the only one of the four to cross that line. Biden is at 50% favorability, vs. 44% for Mike Pence and 42% for Trump.

Looking back four years, Hillary Clinton had a favorability rating of 42% heading into her convention, 8 points below Biden’s number.  By late October, she and Trump were equally unpopular, taking favorability off the table as a differentiating factor in that election.

Overall, Trump’s job approval rating is 43%, while 55% disapprove, similar to last month.

59% disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

Biden has a 17-point lead among independents, 54-37%.  Whites divide closely, 50-45%, Trump-Biden, compared with Trump +18 points in March.  Biden is +16 among women.

--A new CNN/SSRS poll of registered voters has a Biden-Harris ticket at 50% to 46% for Trump-Pence, which is basically a tie given the margin of error.

Across 15 battleground states, the survey finds Biden has the backing of 49% of registered voters, while Trump lands at 48%.

This survey has Biden leading Trump among independents 46-45%, when in June it was 52-41%.

Overall, only 42% approve of the job Trump is doing, while 54% disapprove.

Kamala Harris joins the ticket with a narrowly positive favorability rating (41% have a favorable view, 38% unfavorable).

--A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has Biden leading Trump among registered voters, 50-41%, essentially unchanged from an 11-point lead a month ago. But Biden is failing to generate widespread enthusiasm, the poll finds.

“This poll is a warning for Democrats and the Biden team that there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster who worked on the survey with Bill McInturff, a Republican, and Jeff Horwitt, a Democrat.

In another sign of potential softness in the Democrats’ support, 58% of those who back Mr. Biden say their vote is more in opposition to Mr. Trump than in favor of their chosen candidate.

Women go for Biden 57-36% and Blacks by 88-8%.  Hispanics go to Biden 57-31%.  Independents 49-25% for Biden.

Trump carries Men 47-43% and those with high school or less, 54-36%.

College grads go to Biden 61-31%.

Four years ago in this survey, Hillary Clinton led by 9 points as well.

President Trump’s overall job approval rating ticked up two points to 44%, with 53% disapproving.

In this one, 58% disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

--A separate WSJ/NBC survey found that supporters of Joe Biden are more likely than Trump supporters to say they will vote by mail and are more likely to trust the accuracy of November’s ballot count.

47% who back Biden plan to vote by mail rather than in person, compared with 11% of Trump supporters.

66% of Trump votes say they plan to cast ballots in person on Election Day, compared with 26% of Biden supporters.  As amplified below, the difference could affect perceptions of which candidate is leading in the vote early, since mailed ballots can take longer to count than in-person votes.

--According to a separate CNN/SSRS poll, a majority of Americans (55%) say they don’t think President Trump will concede should he lose in November.  A slightly larger majority said that in 2016 (61%), but Trump was not a sitting president then. There is near unanimity, though, that once all states have certified their votes for president, the loser should accept the results and concede (87% feel that way, up from 77% in October 2016).

A sizable minority (36%) say their confidence in the count will be diminished if a winner cannot be determined on election night because it is taking longer than usual to count, a prospect that is increasingly likely as larger shares of the public turn to by-mail ballots to cast their votes.

Among all registered voters, 34% say they prefer to vote by mail in the presidential election, 22% say they want to vote early at a polling place, and just 43% say they would prefer to vote in-person on Election Day. That represents a 10-point increase over the share who voted by mail in 2016: 24%, according to the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission.

Among supporters of the President, 66% say they prefer to vote in person on Election Day.  Those voters backing Joe Biden mostly prefer to vote by mail (53%).

Yes, it is likely that early election returns could look wildly different from what ends up being the final result, especially since election officials sometimes count entirely one type of ballot first, and then shift to the other, meaning this year, early returns may not be representative of the full pool of votes.  Differences between absentee vote and Election Day vote have not generally been as uniformly partisan in the past.

For example, two years ago in Arizona, Republican Martha McSally was ahead on election night, but Democrat Kyrsten Sinema later took the lead.  Once that happened, Trump decried “corruption” and tweeted, “call for a new election?”  McSally later conceded.

Overall, 51% of Americans say they disapprove of the way the President is handling the security of elections in the United States, 40% approve.  The poll was being conducted as news broke about changes to the U.S. Postal Service which may have been politically motivated.

Trump’s own supporters do largely say that the loser of the election has a responsibility to concede, as do most Biden supporters (83% among Trump supporters, 94% among Biden’s voters), and despite Trump’s noncommittal stance, most voters feel that their chosen candidate will follow through with a concession (68% of Trump voters say he will, 83% of Biden supporters say the former VP will).

--Laura Loomer is one of the most high-profile figures of the radical right, a self-described “proud Islamophobe” who has been banned from social media but this week won a GOP nomination in a Florida primary to run against incumbent Rep. Lois Frankel (Dem.) in the general election.  It isn’t expected that Loomer will then go to Washington, however, because the district, in which Mar-a-Lago sits, is heavily Democrat.

But it is highly disturbing, to say the least, that President Trump expressed his congratulations.

Loomer, part of the QAnon movement, has described Islam as a “cancer on humanity” and said that Muslim candidates should not be allowed to hold office in America.

That behavior has led to Loomer being banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – not to mention ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft.  (She tweeted in 2018 that “someone needs to create a non-Islamic form of Uber or Lyft because I never want to support another Islamic immigrant driver.”)

Loomer raised more than $1 million for her six-way primary fight thanks to support from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Trump ally Roger Stone and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz.  Loomer then played up that she was the Trumpiest candidate in the field, touting her belief in the President’s “law and order” message.

Trump rewarded that support with a tweet touting Loomer’s win on Tuesday night.

“Great going Laura.  You have a great chance against a Pelosi puppet!” He also retweeted several accounts congratulating Loomer on her victory, including that of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the GOP nominee in Georgia’s 14th district who has publicly supported the QAnon conspiracy theory and expressed a number of anti-Islamic views.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that Trump hadn’t done a “deep dive” into the views Loomer and Greene espouse before congratulating them.

“The President routinely congratulates people who officially get the Republican nomination for Congress, so he does that as a matter of course,” McEnany said.  “He hasn’t done a deep dive into the statements by these two particular women. I don’t know if he’s even seen that. But he supports the Muslim community, he supports the community of faith more broadly in this country.”

Trump has declined to answer whether he endorses QAnon. When McEnany was asked about that on Wednesday, she said she’d never heard it mentioned at the White House.

“I’ve never heard of that. There’s a lot of media focus on that but certainly never heard of that from the President,” she said. 

But Trump is not just giving cover to the likes of Greene and Loomer, he is encouraging their views.

As CNN’s Chris Cillizza notes, by Trump doing so, it presents “an existential threat to the identity of the broader Republican Party forged over a century and a half. Because if the GOP is willing to not just have Laura Loomer in its ranks but to embrace her – and her radical views – then what, exactly, differentiates it from the conspiracy theorists and anti-Islamic voices of the internet fever swamps?”

Editorial / Washington Post

“Twitter announced last month that it had removed thousands of accounts spreading messages about QAnon. Days later, TikTok blocked hashtags that corresponded to QAnon videos. And early this month, Facebook removed a QAnon group with 200,000 members.  All of which led many Americans to ask the question: What on earth is QAnon?

“Unfortunately, this question isn’t so easy to answer. QAnon is a conspiracy theory involving a ‘deep state’ of child molesters (and child-eaters) who worship the devil and run this country’s most powerful institutions.  It originates with an anonymous persona called Q who claims to possess a top-level security clearance used to access government secrets about a vast left-wing plot against President Trump. Yet from there, the theory has sprawled across the Internet, offering various versions of differing degrees of bizarreness luring the susceptible reader down a rabbit hole – and tempting the outside observer to ignore the wackiness altogether. Except ignoring QAnon isn’t an option.

“Not only has QAnon led to intense online harassment of innocent parties, and not only has it led to physical violence, but Americans also can’t ignore QAnon because adherents to some form of the theory may soon represent them in Congress.  More than 60 candidates this fall have expressed their sympathies with the cause. Fourteen have clinched a place on the ballot.  Mr. Trump himself has been known to retweet QAnon-adjacent content, and on Friday, when he was asked about the phenomenon, he sidestepped the inquiry. This sent believers into paroxysms.

“That QAnon is tiptoeing ever closer to the political mainstream is only one of many challenges for social media sites.  These sites can’t ignore QAnon, but neither can they simply ban it – not really.  Platforms tend to prefer to focus on behavior rather than content… When platforms do focus on content, they are far more likely to act when there is a risk of real-world harm. QAnon has caused real-world harm, surely. But not every post related to the theory runs that risk, and swinging the moderator’s mallet could needlessly squelch speech – perhaps fueling the same accusations of a scheming liberal conglomerate that are the movement’s raison d’etre.  And even if platforms did decide QAnon as a whole was too much of a menace to countenance, they’d run into trouble determining which posts qualified.

“QAnon is poised to act as a test case for the convoluted rules and enforcement apparatuses social media sites have developed over their years-long shift toward taking responsibility.  These technology companies will need to navigate the labyrinths they themselves have constructed. They should also explain to the rest of us the routes they are taking. All the while, they’ll confront a quandary entirely out of their power to resolve: The president isn’t an accidental beneficiary of these conspiracy-mongers.  He is egging them on.”

--Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was only given a minute at the convention, which she used to move to nominate Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.  Her message, however, even if but that single minute, was that the far-left is a force to be reckoned with should Joe Biden win.

“In a time when millions of people in the United States are looking for deep systemic solutions to our crisis of mass evictions, unemployment and lack of health care…and out of a love for all people, I hereby second the nomination of Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont for president of the United States of America,” she said.

While the speech was diplomatic, Ocasio-Cortez did not mention Biden by name once.

“Right now what you’re seeing is that we’ve got a common goal to beat Donald Trump, but come January, we maybe have a different goal,” said Corbin Trent, a former Ocasio-Cortez aide and political adviser.  “They won the nomination, so they get to pick the game plan.  Now, that doesn’t mean that they get to pick the game plan in the midterms, when we start primarying their asses. And it don’t mean that they get to pick the game plan when we start recruiting for 2024 and we primary their asses.”  [Rachel Bade / Washington Post]

--Former President Bill Clinton was not given much time on Tuesday night, but he used it to eviscerate President Trump.

“At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center,” Clinton said.  “Instead, it’s a storm center.  There’s only chaos.  Just one thing never changes – his determination to deny responsibility and shift the blame.  The buck never stops there.”

Clinton was unusually personal for a member of the world’s most exclusive club.

“If you want a president who defines the job as spending hours a day watching TV and zapping people on social media, he’s your man,” he said.  “Denying, distracting, and demeaning works great if you’re trying to entertain and inflame. But in a real crisis, it collapses like a house of cards.”

Bill Clinton is still generally popular but a CBS News poll found that while 56% of Democrats wanted to hear him speak, 63% wanted to hear from AOC.

--Thomas L. Friedman / New York Times

“Here is a sentence I never in a million years thought that I would ever write or read: This November, for the first time in our history, the United States of America may not be able to conduct a free and fair election and, should President Trump be defeated by Joe Biden, have a legitimate and peaceful transfer of power.

“Because if half the country thinks their votes were not fully counted due to deliberate sabotaging of the U.S. Postal Service by this administration, and if the other half are made to believe by the president that any mail-in vote for Biden was fraudulent, that would not result in just a disputed election – not another Bush v. Gore for the Supreme Court to sort out – that would be the end of American democracy as we know it.  It also isn’t hyperbole to say it could sow the seeds of another Civil War.

“The threat is real….

“Trump said in a press conference last Wednesday that he would not sign off on either $25 billion in emergency funds for the U.S.P.S. or $3.5 billion in election assistance to help states, both of which Democrats have been pressing for as part of a federal Covid-19 relief bill.

“ ‘They need that money in order to have the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump told Fox Business Network the next day.  “But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”

“I have covered banana republic dictators who were more subtle than that in attempting to rig their elections or undermine votes for their opponent.”

--Brooklyn federal prosecutors allege that a Long Island attorney, Jason Kurland, who billed himself as the “lottery lawyer,” ran a mobbed-up scheme to bilk jackpot winners out of more than $100 million in prize money.

Kurland cultivated clients from across the nation, including a $1.5 billion Mega Millions winner, and promised to invest their winnings – but instead threw their cash into shady investments run by reputed Genovese crime family soldier Christopher Chierchio and two other associates.

Kurland allegedly got kickbacks for steering the money to Chierchio, 52, and his partners, who funneled a portion of the lottery winners’ money back to them under the guise that they were “interest payments” on their phony investments.  But the “winners” ended up losing.

Prosecutors allege Kurland ended up skimming $107 million from the unsuspecting investors.

“Lottery winners can’t believe their luck when they win millions of dollars, and the men we arrested this morning allegedly used that euphoric feeling to their advantage,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said in a statement.

--CNN’s Anderson Cooper had a rather remarkable interview with My Pillow founder Mike Lindell, Cooper tearing into Lindell for touting an unproven drug as a potential “cure” for Covid-19, calling the prominent supporter of President Trump a “snake oil salesman.”

Lindell has been advocating for the use of oleandrin, an extract from the oleander plant, as a treatment for the coronavirus.  Lindell helped Andrew Whitney of Phoenix Biotechnology land an Oval Office meeting in July where they pitched the drug to Trump, according to reports from the Washington Post, Axios and CNN.  Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson also attended the meeting, Axios reported.

Lindell, who has a financial stake in Phoenix Biotechnology, told Cooper that he learned about the drug from a friend who told Lindell he had an “answer to the virus.”  He said he brought the news to Carson, a neurosurgeon but not an expert in infectious diseases, who declared it to be the “real deal” and brought it to the president.

“This thing works.  It’s the miracle of all time,” Lindell told Cooper.  After his inability to give specifics on where and when the drug was studied, Lindell told Cooper, “You’re just misconstrued because the media is trying to take away this amazing cure that works for everybody.”

“You have no medical background, you’re not a scientist,” Cooper said.  “A guy called you in April, said he had this product.  You are now on the board and going to make money from the sale of this product. The reason he reached out to you is because you have the ear of the president, so he gets a meeting with the president, and you stand to make money from this.  How do you sleep at night?” Cooper asked.

I watched the entire lengthy interview.  It was a tension convention, and an embarrassing moment for Lindell.

Trump said of oleandrin when asked about it on Monday, “We’ll look at it… We’re looking at a lot of different things.”

--Actress Lori Loughlin was sentenced to two months in prison in the college admissions scandal; her husband, Mossimo Gainnulli, receiving five months.

The spouses were convicted of paying $500,000 to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as fake crew team recruits.

The actress said she regretted the way her actions “undermined” her daughters’ accomplishments and “exacerbated” inequalities in society.

--Greenland lost a record amount of ice during an extra-warm 2019, with the melt massive enough to cover California in more than 4 feet of water.

After two years when summer ice melt had been minimal, last summer shattered all records with 586 billion tons of ice melted, according to satellite measurements reported Thursday. That’s more than 140 trillion gallons of water.

The yearly average loss had been 259 billion tons since 2003, with the old record of 511 billion tons set in 2012, per a study in Nature Communications Earth & Environment.

But the two years before were only on average about 108 billion tons.  It’s largely all about changes in the Jetstream.

--What could be the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on earth – 130F – may have been reached in Death Valley National Park, California, this past Sunday, though it has yet to be validated.  The high on Monday was 127.

Brandi Stewart, who works at Death Valley National Park, told the BBC, “It’s an oppressive heat and it’s in your face.”

“When you walk outside it’s like being hit in the face with a bunch of hairdryers,” she said. “You feel the heat and it’s like walking into an oven and the heat is just all around you.”

Over a century ago, 1913, there was a reading of 134F in Death Valley, but modern weather experts believe this was an erroneous measurement.

---

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

God bless America.

---

Gold $1947
Oil $42.25

Returns for the week 8/17-8/24

Dow Jones  -0.0%  [27930]…down 0.69 points on the week
S&P 500  +0.7%  [3397]
S&P MidCap  -2.0%
Russell 2000  -1.6%
Nasdaq  +2.7%  [11311]

Returns for the period 1/1/20-8/24/20

Dow Jones  -2.1%
S&P 500  +5.2%
S&P MidCap  -7.4%
Russell 2000  -7.0%
Nasdaq  +26.1%

Bulls 59.2
Bears 16.5

Hang in there.  Mask up…wash your hands.

Brian Trumbore