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09/26/2020

For the week 9/21-9/25

[Posted 10:00 PM ET, Friday]

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Edition 1,119

Wednesday, President Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power after November’s election – an unprecedented statement by an American president.

Asked during a White House press conference if he would do so in light of the recent unrest in various cities, Trump replied: “Well we’re going to have to see what happens.”

In a reference to mail-in balloting, which is going to be used at record levels across the country, Trump said: “I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots… Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very peaceful,” he said, trailing off.  “There won’t be a transfer, there’ll be a continuation.  The ballots are out of control.  You know it. And you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else.”

Any other president would say something like, while I’m confident I’ll win, of course I’ll cede my office should that be what voters want.

But Trump wants chaos, especially given where he currently stands in the polls in key battleground states, where it’s a toss-up.  He is heavily invested in suggesting there might be some reason not to accept the results, a position that will allow him to rail against the counting of mail-in ballots after Election Day, ballots that are going to skew in favor of Biden.

Trump did the same thing in 2016, at the third presidential debate, when asked whether he would recognize the results of the election.

“I will look at it at the time,” Trump replied.  “I’m not looking at anything now.  I’ll look at it at the time.  What I’ve seen, what I’ve seen, is so bad.”  He then went on to disparage the media and elevate false claims about the risks posed by outdated voter rolls.

Even when he won the election, because he lost the popular vote by nearly three million, he repeated his assertion that somehow the difference was millions of illegal ballots cast without being detected, thus he, not Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote as well as a “landslide” in the Electoral College.  He won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania each by 0.7% or less.  Had he lost those, Clinton wins the Electoral vote 278-260, rather than the 306-232 margin by which Trump did.

So Thursday, the president refused again to promise he’ll accept the results despite emerging bipartisan outrage.  Speaking at the White House with reporters before a campaign trip to North Carolina, Trump reiterated his claim that the election could be tainted because of mail-in voting and that he thereby might not be able to immediately accept them.

“We want to make sure the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be,” Trump said.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) tweeted:

“Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus. Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) tweeted:

“As we have done for over two centuries we will have a legitimate & fair election.  It may take longer than usual to know the outcome, but it will be a valid one.  And at noon on Jan. 20, 2021 we will peacefully swear in the President.”

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) tweeted:

“The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our Republic. America’s leaders swear an oath to the Constitution.  We will uphold that oath.”

But none of the Republicans, while invoking the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution, openly condemned Trump.

“The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th.  There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) wrote in a tweet.

Laurence Tribe, constitutional law professor, Harvard Law School, tweeted:

“ ‘Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very – we’ll have a very peaceful – there won’t be a transfer frankly, there’ll be a continuation.’

“Those are not the words of an American President.  They are the words of the First American Dictator.

“We need a blowout.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray told senators Thursday that the United States has not experienced large-scale voter fraud by mail or other means, and said it would be a “major challenge” for a foreign country to attempt such a thing, despite Trump’s repeated claims.

“Americans must have confidence in our voting system and our election infrastructure,” Wray told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.  “We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections.”

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) pressed Wray about claims made by Trump and his supporters that foreign interests could interfere with the election by sending in bogus mail-in ballots.  Wray responded by echoing the past assurances from U.S. intelligence officials that they’ve seen no sign of such activity so far in this election cycle.

“We have not seen historically any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise” Wray said, though he added fraud has been detected “at the local level from time to time.”

Wray said he was “in no way minimizing” any threat to ballots.  Changing the outcome of a federal election “would be a major challenge for an adversary,” he said, adding that the FBI “would investigate seriously” if it saw indications of such an effort.

Trump has argued that mail-in voting is highly-suspect, saying ballots requested by individual voters are secure but that ballot applications sent out based on voter rolls are not.  On Thursday he urged people in Florida, an important battleground state, to “make sure to request” a mail-in ballot and submit it.

Wray again warned Americans to be on guard against disinformation aimed at manipulating their opinions leading up to Election Day, and to use common sense and good judgment when evaluating what they see online.

“I would encourage people to be critical thinkers, and to get their news from a variety of sources and make up their own mind and be a skeptical, discerning electorate – which is what I think is the best defense against malign foreign influence,” Wray said.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a news briefing Thursday, “The president will accept the results of a free and fair election.” Which is a meaningless statement given where the president wants to take us.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) said, “This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy – and democracy must win.”

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows then denigrated the FBI director in an interview with CBS’ “This Morning.”

“With all due respect to Director Wray, he has a hard time finding emails in his own FBI, let alone figuring out whether there’s any kind of voter fraud,” he said without elaborating.  A top federal prosecutor in battleground Pennsylvania on Thursday said his office and the FBI were investigation whether nine military ballots, seven cast for Trump, had been handled improperly.

Meadows suggested that Wray “drill down on the investigation that just started… Perhaps he needs to get involved on the ground and then he would change his testimony on Capitol Hill.”  The FBI didn’t comment.

To say the least it’s scary stuff.  In an extensive piece in The Atlantic, journalist Barton Gellman outlines the scenarios by which Trump and his lawyers pull every available lever to subvert popular will should it become apparent that he might lose, including working with Republican state legislatures in key states to push through their own electors for the Electoral College, which technically the Constitution might allow.

The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, not one to make rash predictions, openly said he is worried about a second “Civil War.”

Trump said this week he wants a successor to Justice Ginsburg to ensure a full nine-member court in case of an election dispute.  “This will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” he said.

Trump added: “I think it’s better if you go before the election, because I think this scam that the Democrats are pulling…will be before the United States Supreme Court.”

He continued: “Having a four-four situation is not a good situation.  I think it should be eight-nothing, or nine-nothing. But just in case it would be more political than it should be, I think it’s very important to have a ninth justice.”  [In 2000, a 5 to 4 Supreme Court ruling called the race for George W. Bush.]

For months Donald Trump has been talking about the election being the “greatest fraud ever,” a “rigged election.”  Mail-in balloting is a “scam,” a “hoax.”

In delegitimizing our electoral system, one built on trust and confidence, the president is risking our entire democratic process.  It’s dangerous, authoritarian behavior.

Just as importantly, as regards to Russia and his butt-buddy Vladimir Putin, it is a provable fact that Donald Trump is feeding directly into the enemy narrative.  The words in the disinformation campaign out of the Kremlin are the very words then parroted by the president.

It is beyond sickening that the president of the United States has spent four years tearing down our democratic institutions, including our health agencies like the FDA and CDC in the midst of an historic pandemic, and now our democracy is threatened.

I have very openly called for over 1 ½ years for the generals to move in.  I’ve just kind of left it hanging out there, knowing what the generals think of this president and his destruction of much of which we hold dear.  To me it goes back to Helsinki and the summit between Putin and Trump, and a two-hour conversation we still don’t have a single detail on.

Think about it…this week Trump refused to answer a question on what he thought about the poisoning of Alexei Navalny!  He also has said nothing about the dictator Lukashenko in Belarus!  How much more evidence do you need?  This is strictly un-American behavior.

Just as sickening is the depth to which this president has torn this nation apart…to the point that it will take a generation, or more, before we get to some semblance of normalcy and civility in our public discourse…if it’s not already too late, given the destructiveness of social media.

It’s gotten to the point where I’m playing golf the other day with a long-time friend and before the round in the parking lot he hands me something and says, “now that you’ve become a lefty liberal.”

What?!  Me?  Are you kidding?!  Do I have to retell my life story all over again for the umpteenth time…how I saw firsthand at the age of 15 in 1973 how my relatives were living under Communism in Prague and Budapest, and of the goose-stepping soldiers I watched, horrified, one foggy night at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw as I walked alone on the streets of that city?  They were experiences that shaped my belief system forever.  I have never voted for a Democrat in a presidential election, and when it comes to statewide votes, voted once for Senator Bill Bradley, which was a mistake.  That’s who I am, politically.

David French is a longtime conservative writer who summed it up perfectly the other day on one of the networks.

“We can’t keep growing apart as a nation and assume everything is going to be OK.”

Other opinions of Donald Trump’s week:

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“President Trump’s insistence on saying the opposite of whatever the press demands is a source of more than a little of his political success as well as many self-defeating blunders. An example of the latter is his answer Wednesday to a deliberately tendentious question about whether he would commit to ‘a peaceful transferal of power.’

“The media and intelligentsia have worked themselves into a frenzy over imaginary fears that Mr. Trump will somehow remain in office by force if he loses the 2020 election.  ‘Well we’re going to have to see what happens,’ he said when asked to disavow this fantasy.  ‘I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.’

“Start with the obvious: The notion that Mr. Trump could stop a peaceful transition of power is preposterous.  On Jan. 20 his term legally ends.  If Congress hasn’t certified an Electoral College winner on that date – or settled a tie – Nancy Pelosi will be President if she is still House Speaker.  GOP House and Senate leaders have already repudiated Mr. Trump’s remarks.  If he tried to remain after Joe Biden was certified as the winner, his political support would collapse.

“As for the notion that Mr. Trump could execute a coup – he’s been warring with his own security agencies as long as he’s been in office.  He’s been denounced by dozens of retired generals, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff apologized for appearing with him publicly during the unrest in Washington, D.C.

“Mr. Trump’s real point is that he wants to reserve the right to contest dubious election practices, such as post-election litigation to count disputed or late or unsigned ballots.  Democrats are already in court in multiple states asking judges to rewrite state election laws, as we’ve been reporting.

“The rule of law is vital to free and fair elections, and Mr. Trump is right not to forswear his legal options. Yet his reckless comments give credence to Democratic hysteria, and he should clarify his views if he doesn’t want to lose more voters who think he lacks the temperament or self-control for the office….

“(Democrats own) bad behavior is no excuse for Mr. Trump to join them in undermining democratic legitimacy. And he made another mistake Wednesday by suggesting that confirming a new Supreme Court Justice could help him in a post-election legal fight.  ‘This scam that the Democrats are pulling,’ he said, ‘will be before the United States Supreme Court.’  He added: ‘I think it should be eight-nothing or nine-nothing, but just in case it would be more political than it should be, I think it’s very important to have a ninth Justice.’

“This answer hands Democrats a ready-made line of attack in Supreme Court confirmation hearings.  Senate Democrats will charge that Mr. Trump’s nominee is being installed to help him steal the election.  They’ll also demand that she recuse herself from election-related cases.

“We’ve been warning about ill-conceived mail-in voting plans and extended ballot deadlines orchestrated by Democrats and liberal interest group. The worry isn’t that these would ‘rig’ the election but that they would make litigation and complaints of election theft more likely. The Supreme Court may have to rule, however reluctantly, on ballot questions.  Mr. Trump’s comments hurt his nominee, the Court, and maybe his own interests.

“The sad reality is that Democratic opinion leaders have been waiting for a Reichstag fire moment from the minute Mr. Trump took office.  Their thirst to be vindicated has grown more intense as his term draws to a close.  Perhaps they want to save face after misunderstanding their country and its citizens so fundamentally for four years.  Mr. Trump should stop fueling their destructive ideas, because the legitimacy of election results is the bedrock of American democracy.”

John Podhoretz / New York Post

“Let’s take a minute and imagine – or pretend – that President Trump has a grand strategy governing his campaign. That offers a chance to provide the only remotely positive gloss that can be applied to his dumbfounding refusal to say point blank there would be a ‘peaceful transitioin of power’ after the election.

“The grand strategy would be ‘The Scramble.’

“Old guys like me have fond memories of the scrambling quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who would get himself in trouble in the backfield, run backwards 20 yards, then run forward 25 yards – and score a small gain after a huge self-created melodrama.

“If the president wins this election in November, he will prove himself to be the Fran Tarkenton of politics

“In the ‘peaceful transition’ case, as in past cases, Trump gets himself into self-created jams that cause his ideological and partisan rivals to swarm him deep into his own territory – with the hope of somehow both exhausting them and eluding them and finishing on the upside.

“You could say this is what happened when Trump decided to see if he could short-circuit the Joe Biden threat in 2019 by trying to get dirt out of Ukraine on Joe’s son Hunter.  By doing so, he exposed himself to hearings that led to his impeachment. But that effort proved to be a pointless political exercise for the Democrats and didn’t do him any sustained political harm.

“Time and again, Trump draws shocked and outraged fire from his antagonists for saying outrageous things. When the dust settles, his enemies have been driven bananas – and his support is exactly where it was before.

“This quality, the ability to drive liberals and Trump-hating former conservatives into impotent fits of sputtering rage, both delights many of his supporters and seems to recharge Trump’s combative batteries.  It’s almost as though he lives off drinking liberal tears.

“But is that really living?

“At least when Tarkenton scrambled, he often ended up gaining yardage. At best, Trump finds himself back at the line of scrimmage, with an approval rating flatlined in the low 40s.

“Thus, even if you want to believe Trump’s trolling is a strategy rather than a kind of animal cunning – perpetual aggression designed to ward off future challenges to his alpha status – you really ought to question its effectiveness.

“Just because someone has a strategy doesn’t mean it’s a good strategy. It’s probably comforting to think there’s a plan, because otherwise you really have to confront various different possibilities.

“One is that Trump has no idea what he’s doing and simply responds without considering the consequences of his actions.

“The other is that he’s intending to stage a coup and destroy American democracy so he can stay in the Oval Office, and that he was signaling his intention to do so to activate his forces around the country or terrify people into voting for him so that he’s not tested on his intentions.

“Now, which is more likely?

“Do me a favor and try not be crazy when considering the question. I know it’s hard.

“But here’s the thing for anyone inclined to pooh-pooh the deadly seriousness of what Trump said or wouldn’t say. We’re going to be talking about this for at least a week.  It will be a dominating subject of the first debate, which takes place on Tuesday.

“And because he did not slam the door on the subject, this president, who has been trumpeting his support for ‘law and order,’ has undercut any argument he might make against violent street actions by the activist left in the wake of an unclear result after Election Day.

“Moreover, it came just hours after Trump got his best polling news in a month, with state-surveys taken by ABC news and the Washington Post that showed him in better shape in must-win Florida and Arizona.  He stepped on that positive and squashed it like a bug.

“Every minute we’re talking about whether Trump is or is not abusing his power is a minute Trump has lost. And the minutes are growing short.  Trump’s best chance now is, quite simply, to stop scrambling – and shut up.”

Covid-19 death tolls, as of tonight….

World…993,413
USA…208,440
Brazil…140,709
India…93,410
Mexico…75,844
UK…41,936
Italy…35,801
Peru…32,037
France…31,661
Spain…31,232
Iran…25,222
Colombia…25,103
Russia…20,056

Source: worldometers.info

U.S. daily death tolls…Sun. 294; Mon. 388; Tues. 969; Wed. 1,112; Thurs. 943; Fri. 895.

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

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

This week we are at 41,616 new cases and 1,112 deaths in the U.S., with the Euro six continuing to spike…36,042 and 252.  Notice the deaths have remained low in Europe, but I have seen some disconcerting figures in France, as well as the Netherlands, a big hot spot in March and April. Spain has seen some improvement from record highs the week before after it locked down large sections of Madrid.

Therapeutics and just better knowledge of the virus have led to better treatment worldwide, but the number of daily cases around the globe is still at essentially record levels, when you get past the lower, weekend reporting period covering Saturday thru Monday.

The virus remains, folks, as we head into the worst months for the Northern Hemisphere.  Vaccines can’t come soon enough, but we have to be realistic on how quickly they can be distributed, and some of us worry that a place like Africa, which will be the last to get the vaccine, of this you can be sure, still hasn’t felt a full Covid wave, save for South Africa.

Covid Bytes

--AstraZeneca is still waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to approve the restart of the clinical trial of its potential Covid vaccine almost three weeks after it was paused due to safety concerns.  The U.S. trial of AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate, initially developed by the University of Oxford, remains on hold while regulators investigate an illness in one of the participants, even after a British study and other programs outside of the United States have resumed.

AstraZeneca has been accused of being less than transparent through this whole process.

--Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday it started a 60,000-person clinical trial of its single-dose Covid-19 vaccine on three continents, becoming the fourth experimental Covid-19 shot to enter final-stage testing in the U.S.

J&J said it cold learn pivotal results from the trial by early next year, which if positive could lead to government authorization of the vaccine for emergency use soon afterward.  The company aims to enroll adult volunteers in the U.S. and several other countries, including Brazil and South Africa.

A vaccine that Moderna Inc. started Phase 3 testing on in July has enrolled nearly 26,000 people toward a goal of 30,000.

Pfizer and Partner BioNTech SE also started a Phase 3 trial of their vaccine in July and have enrolled nearly 32,000 toward a goal of 44,000.  Interim results of the Moderna and Pfizer studies could come as soon as October, but possibly later, according to company officials.

--The World Health Organization said today that the global death toll could hit 2 million before a successful vaccine is widely used and could be even higher without concerted action to curb the pandemic.

--British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered pubs to close early for the next six months to help curb the surge in Covid infections, the UK hitting record highs in cases.  The new restrictions, which include a ban on serving customers at the bar, and closure at 10:00 p.m., could spell the death knell for businesses that had been forced to shut for 15 weeks earlier in the year.

--Israel hit record case levels this week and locked down for a second time.

I have a question for the Covid deniers.  Why would two favorites of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Benjamin Netanyahu, issue renewed lockdowns or levy severe restrictions anew if the coronavirus wasn’t a real threat to the health and long-term stability of their nations?

--Florida Governor Ron DeSantis lifted Covid-19 restrictions on restaurants today, as well as fitness and personal care facilities.  “I think this will be very, very important to the industry and it also will be a recognition that they have worked as hard as anybody to create safe environments.”   The governor, desperate to please President Trump in the key battleground state, is also suspending outstanding penalties and fines handed out for infractions including not wearing masks.

And DeSantis said he expects a full Super Bowl in February, in Tampa Bay.

--From Sarah Toy / Wall Street Journal:

“The new coronavirus can leave some patients with signs of heart inflammation and injury months after they get sick with Covid-19, even in cases where their illness wasn’t severe, researchers say.

“Lab-grown heart-muscle cells exposed to the new coronavirus in one study show extensive damage.

“The findings could help explain the symptoms of recovered Covid-19 patients, some of whom are struggling with such issues as shortness of breath, chest pain and heart palpitations, scientists say.

“And in some patients, the heart inflammation and damage could lead to serious problems years from now, including irregular heartbeats and even heart failure, though there hasn’t been enough time to study the long-term implications, according to researchers.

“ ‘We basically die with the heart-muscle cells we’re born with, so anything that results in the death of heart muscle has the potential to irreversibly damage the heart’s mechanical ability and the heart’s electrical function,’ said Charles Murry, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Cardiovascular Biology, who is studying  Covid-19’s impact on the heart.”

--Right-wing media has been mocking the estimates of the Covid death toll in the U.S., even as it is in actuality undercounted.  Many public health experts believe that at least 266,000 more people have died in the United States during the pandemic than would have been the case during a typical year.

But the likes of Mark Levin, the host of a syndicated radio show and a Fox News program, declared on Twitter Wednesday that “THE U.S. DID NOT SURPASS 200,000 COVID-19 DEATHS.” As evidence he cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that 94 percent of the reported deaths involved underlying health problems and that 6 percent of the people who died had no illness or medical condition other than Covid-19.

Levin is not alone in claiming the death toll was inflated, a false claim also promoted by a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory and amplified by President Trump in a post since removed.  This despite the fact that the White House projected 200,000 deaths this past spring.

Health experts have repeatedly debunked the interpretation of the data.  Earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci tried to clear up the misconceptions on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“The point that the CDC was trying to make was that a certain percentage of them had nothing else, but just Covid,” Fauci said.  “That does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of Covid didn’t die of Covid-19 – they did.”

But as the world hits 1 million deaths from the coronavirus pandemic this weekend, Sunday, a study out of the University of Melbourne’s global burden of disease group claims global fatalities may be closer to 1.8 million.

Alan Lopez, a laureate professor and director at the university, said the coronavirus’s rapid spread and ability to transmit in people with no signs of the disease have enabled it to outrun measures to accurately quantity cases through widespread diagnostic testing.

“One million deaths has meaning by itself, but the question is whether it’s true,” Lopez said in an interview with Bloomberg.  “It’s fair to say, that the 1 million deaths, as shocking as it sounds, is probably an underestimate – a significant underestimate.”

Even in countries with sophisticated health systems, mortality is difficult to accurately gauge. Tens of thousands of probable Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. weren’t captured by official statistics between March and May, a study in July found, which impacted efforts to track and mitigate the virus’ progression.

India, for example, has 5.8 million Covid cases, but accounts for only 93,000 deaths, but it lacks a reliable national vital statistics registration system to track deaths in real time.

Russia, on the other hand, is attributing the cause of deaths in some of its patients to pre-existing conditions, though they came into the hospital because of Covid, raising questions about the veracity of official mortality data there.  Iran’s figures have long been questioned, especially last spring.

The World Health Organization laid out guidance for classifying coronavirus deaths in June, advising countries to count fatalities if patients had symptoms of the disease regardless of whether they were a confirmed case, and unless there was a clear alternative cause.  A Covid-19 fatality should be counted as such even if pre-existing conditions exacerbated the disease, said the organization.  The CDC released similar guidelines.

Lopez, whose research has received funding by Bloomberg Philanthropies, set up by Michael Bloomberg, said, “Doctors often are learning as they go along, so they’re not certifying all the deaths that are due to Covid as Covid deaths.”

--Covid-19 patients aged 75 to 84 are 220 times more likely to die from the disease than 18-to-29-year-olds, according to the CDC. Seniors over 85 years have a 630 times higher risk of dying. The older age of fatal Covid-19 cases has made some people think “they’re old people, they’re going to die anyway,” said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“I have a really hard time with that,” Osterholm told Bloomberg’s Lisa Du.  “That’s an unfortunate and very sad way to come to understand this pandemic. Many of those people who died are very important loved ones to so many of us that it’s hard to just dismiss it as it’s just a number.”

I have good friends who ‘dismiss’ such deaths.  It sickens me.

Trump World

--In a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, nearly six in 10 Americans say that the president elected in November should be the one to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

All told, 59% say the winner should choose the person to fill Ginsburg’s seat, including 97% of Democrats, 59% of independents and 17% of Republicans.  In March 2016, opinions broke the other way, with 57% saying that President Obama should have been the one to fill the vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia rather than the president elected in November.  In the new poll, 41% say Trump should make an appointment to the seat now.

There has been a complete partisan reversal over that time, with Republicans moving from 26% saying the sitting president should pick the next justice to 83% saying the same now, while Democrats have moved from 85% saying Obama should have chosen the next justice to 3% saying the same about Trump now.  Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, never received a hearing in the Senate, let alone a vote, and the seat was ultimately filled by Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released today finds 38 percent of Americans say the replacement for Justice Ginsburg should be nominated by Trump and confirmed by the current Senate, while 57 percent say it should be left to the winner of the presidential election and a Senate vote next year.

Partisans are deeply divided on the issue, though clear majorities of independents (61 percent) and women (64 percent) say the next justice should be chosen by the winner of the election.

So there is consensus between the CNN and Post/ABC polls.

But after Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins said they wanted the next president to pick the replacement for Justice Ginsburg, Mitt Romney said Tuesday he would support a floor vote to replace her, essentially clinching consideration of President Trump’s nominee this year despite the impending election.  With a 53-seat majority, Majority Leader McConnell has the votes he needs to move forward with a nominee and Trump is announcing his pick tomorrow, Saturday.  Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa are the top contenders, Barrett seemingly the pick as I go to post.

Much more next time on how this will play out in terms of the hearings, where Sen. Kamala Harris will be in the spotlight, let alone two Republican senators in tight re-election races; Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Susan Collins.

Should Barrett, for example, be approved before the election, Democrats with good reason will  fear not only the rollback of progressive gains – including restrictions on abortion rights and the possible invalidation of the Affordable Care Act – but also the potential that a 6-3 conservative majority could hand Trump virtually unchecked power, or overturn any major achievement of a Biden presidency.

Regarding the possible invalidation of the ACA, you also now have the explosive Covid-19 angle and the potential that this new “precondition” could prevent one from gaining affordable coverage.

--Speaking of which, President Trump on Tuesday said that it’s a “horrible thing” and “a shame” that the U.S. passed 200,000 Covid-19 deaths. 

“It’s a shame,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn.  “That being said, we shouldn’t have had anybody, and you saw my United Nations speech.  China should have stopped it at their border, they should have never let this spread all over the world.”

Trump gave himself an A+ grade for his coronavirus response, to which journalist Bob Woodward said he was “quite frankly embarrassed” for the president giving himself such a mark, “because all Americans know that 200,000 were killed.”  [Save for the deniers.]

“The visitation of the medical nightmare on the American population is staggering, stunning.  It’s on his head, and he did not do enough.  He just didn’t,” said Woodward at a forum.

--Trump’s nominee to lead the agency in charge of curbing domestic terrorism told senators that White supremacists have become the “most persistent and lethal threat” to the U.S. from within the country.

White supremacist extremists, from a lethality standpoint over the last two years, particularly when you look at 2018 and 2019, are certainly the most persistent and lethal threat when we talk about domestic violent extremists,” said Chad Wolf, who has been heading the Department of Homeland Security in an acting capacity since late last year.

This was notable given that Trump and Attorney General Barr have sought to portray the nation as besieged by “left-wing” agitators fomenting violence in protests over racial injustice.

Wolf also told senators that the U.S. faces threats of election interference from Russia, China and Iran and that “Russia looks to denigrate former Vice President Biden.”  Wolf said there’s no current intelligence proving that Iran or China have yet carried out attacks.

So a surprisingly independent performance from Mr. Wolf.

--Trump tweets:

“Vote-by-mail ballots in my home state of FLORIDA begin going out TODAY!  Make sure to request yours, fill it out & send it in. Request yours today.”

[Ed. Funny how mail-in voting is just fine here.]

“We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!”

“Sleepy Joe Biden just closed down his campaign for the day (Again). Wants to rest!  He is a very LOW ENERGY INDIVIDUAL, and our Country cannot make it in these exciting, but complex and competitive times, with a Low Energy President!!!”

“The Democrats are only interested in BAILING OUT their badly managed, high crime, Blue States. They are not interested in our workers or small businesses.  Crazy Nancy will only do stimulus, which would be helpful, if we couple it with bailout money. Republican States are great!!!”

[The following is on Trump’s long-awaited healthcare plan.]

“We are providing better care, and more choice, at lower cost.  We are delivering a healthier, safer, brighter, and more prosperous future for EVERY citizen in our magnificent land – because we are proudly putting AMERICA FIRST!

“The FIRST PILLAR of the America First Healthcare Plan – more CHOICE for American Patients!

“The SECOND PILLAR of the America First Healthcare Plan will lower costs for families and seniors. The days of ripping off American patients are over. Today, I signed an historic executive order that ENDS surprise medical billing.

“The FINAL PILLAR of the America First Healthcare Plan – better care!  The historic action I took today includes the first-ever executive order to affirm it is the official policy of the United States Government to protect patients with pre-existing conditions.”

And there you have it, boys and girls…the long-awaited Trump healthcare plan. 

“I hardly know Cindy McCain other than having put her on a Committee at her husband’s request.  Joe Biden was John McCain’s lapdog. So many BAD decisions on Endless Wars & the V.A., which I brought from a horror show to HIGH APPROVAL.  Never a fan of John. Cindy can have Sleepy Joe!”

Wall Street and the Economy

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday issued a fresh warning amid a continued deadlock in Congress over another coronavirus relief package.  While households are spending now, perhaps using what’s left of money from the $2.3 trillion package passed by Congress in March, “the risk is they will go through that money, ultimately, and have to cut back on spending and maybe lose their home or their lease,” Powell said in testimony before the Senate Banking Committee.  “That is the downside risk of no further action. We don’t see much of that yet, but it could well be out there in the not-too-distant future,” Powell said in his last of three hearings in which he testified before Congress this week.

While around half of the 22 million jobs lost in March and April have been recovered, Powell said he was concerned about the number of Americans that were likely to remain out of work until vaccines made it possible for a complete recovery in sectors such as entertainment and lodging that have been most disrupted by the pandemic.

“We still have 11 million people out there” without jobs, Powell said.  “There is a lot of work to do there.”

Noted economist Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said that without a substantial fiscal relief bill out of Congress by end of the year, GDP in the fourth quarter will come in at just 4% as personal income sees a steep decline due to the loss of the supplemental unemployment benefit programs, down from Pantheon’s forecast of 10% in Q4.  The firm is calling for 30% in Q3.

The $600 per week enhanced unemployment benefit ended in July, and the follow-up $300 per week Lost Wages Assistance scheme expires in December.

We had more strong data on the housing front, with existing home sales for August coming in as expected, a seasonally adjusted annualized figure of 6.00 million, up 10.5% year over year and the highest since December 2006. The median home price hit another record of $310,600, up 11.4% from a year ago, as the high-end market, sales of homes priced at more than $1 million, surged 44% nationally.

August new home sales were at their highest level since Sept. 2006, 1.011 million (annualized).

Today, we had an announcement on August durable goods (big-ticket items), and they were up far less than expected, and versus the prior month, 0.4%, ditto ex-transportation, while the core capital goods metric rose 1.8%.

Lastly, jobless claims came in at 870,000 for the week, slightly above last week’s revised 866,000.  Not good.

But you add it all up and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer for the third quarter is unchanged at 32.0%, annualized.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office released new projections showing weaker growth and significantly more red ink over the next 30 years than it had previously thought.

Granted, such long-term forecasts are kind of worthless, but the fact is growth averaged 2.5% from 1990 to 2019, which is more or less what we’ve seen for years prior to the pandemic and now the CBO anticipates average annual growth of just 1.6% from 2020 to 2050.

It’s the debt factor that is now key for the future.  I’ve cried wolf on the topic for years and years but with all the spending on the coronavirus and relief packages, it’s easy to understand the CBO’s forecast for debt as a share of GDP of 195% by 2050, 45 percentage points higher than the CBO projected in June 2019.  It’s not just the surging outlays to combat the coronavirus, but it’s higher spending on Social Security and Medicare, as well as rising interest costs.

Yes, near term, lower interest rates are helping keep borrowing costs in check, but rates will rise one of these days and the impact will be huge.

Lastly, at least the House passed a stopgap funding bill to keep the government operating through Dec. 11 after both parties and the White House struck a deal to provide aid to farmers and food assistance for low-income families. The Senate and White House will sign off on it shortly, with final passage averting a shutdown prior to the election.

Europe and Asia

We had the flash PMI readings for September in the eurozone, courtesy of IHS Markit, and the composite came in at 50.1 vs. 51.9 in August (50 representing the dividing line between growth and contraction).  Manufacturing was 53.7 vs. 51.7 last month, while services came in at 47.6 vs. 50.5 in August.

Germany had a flash manufacturing reading of 56.6 vs. 52.2 in August, a 26-month high, but services dipped to 49.1 from 52.5 last month.

France’s flash manufacturing reading for September was 50.9 vs. 49.8, while the services figure dropped to 47.5 vs. 51.5.

Chris Williamson / IHS Markit:

“The eurozone’s economic recovery stalled in September, as rising Covid-19 infections led to a renewed downturn of service sector activity across the region.

“A two-speed economy is evident, with factories reporting that production growth was buoyed by rising demand, notably from export markets and the reopening of retail in many countries, but the larger service sector has sunk back into decline as face-to-face consumer businesses in particular have been hit by intensifying virus concerns.

“Job losses also picked up in the service sector as more companies became worried about costs and overhead.  Fortunately, factories saw slower staff shedding as pressure on capacity begins to emerge, suggesting the overall rate of job cutting has peaked.

“Encouragement comes from a further improvement in companies’ expectations for the year ahead, but this optimism often rests on infection rates falling, which remains far from guaranteed for the coming months. The main concern at present is therefore whether the weakness of the September data will intensify into the fourth quarter, and result in a slide back into recession after a frustratingly brief rebound in the third quarter.”

Far more PMI data for the broader EU next week.

Brexit:  There is a small window of several weeks for Britain and the European Union to reach a breakthrough in trade talks before Britain’s upper house of parliament considers the contentious Internal Market Bill.  The House of Commons is expected to pass the legislation next week, but then it will stall in the upper House of Lords until November, it appears, well past the European Union’s critical summit Oct. 15-16.

On Friday, Britain said there was still a lot of work to do in talks and called on the EU to translate a “more constructive attitude” into realistic policy positions.  “There remains a lot of work to do and either outcome is still possible,” a UK government said.  “In particular, the differences on fisheries and the level playing field remain significant.”

“If the gaps in these areas are to be bridged, the EU’s more constructive attitude will need to be translated into more realistic policy positions in the days to come.”

Senior minister Michael Gove warned that queues of up to 7,000 heavy-good vehicles could develop in southeast England from January if Britain leaves the EU without a Brexit trade deal, what he calls a “reasonable worst-case scenario.”  While the government remains committed to a deal, he said, he urged businesses to prepare.

The chaos will be created when only “30 to 60 percent of trucks laden with goods arrive at Dover and other ports in southeast England with the right paperwork to cross to France.”  Goods would be held up for days.

The London School of Economics released an analysis that concludes the economic cost for the UK of a no-deal Brexit could be two or three times as bad as the impact of Covid-19.  LSE modelling puts the long-term economic hit at 8 percent of GDP, which is similar to the UK government’s own forecast in 2018 in this regard of 7.6 percent. 

Conversely, the Bank of England’s latest forecast of the impact of Covid-19 shows a reduction of 1.7 percent of GDP to the economy up to 2022.

Yes, short-term the economic impacts of Covid dwarf those of Brexit, such as in the second quarter, but the LSE concludes that there will be longer-term damage from a no-deal Brexit to the country’s reputation for ease of doing business, with delays due to administrative burdens at ports, constraints on travel and tourism, as well as curbs on immigration and free movement of labor.

Separately, British car production fell by an annual 45% in August as the sector continues to suffer due to Covid-19 pushing down demand, an industry body said today. British factories churned out 51,039 cars last month, leaving output in the first eight months of the year down by nearly 350,000 compared to the same period in 2019, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said.  “Companies are bracing for a second wave with tighter social and business restrictions, making the industry’s attempts to restart even more challenging,” said the chief of the SMMT. The industry is Britain’s biggest exporter of goods and handling potential disruptions to trade resulting from Brexit doesn’t help.  “A no deal scenario would be disastrous, with car volumes potentially falling below 750,000 by 2025, hampering sector efforts to drive investment into the new skills, facilities and technologies that will be integral to delivering a zero-carbon future,” the SMMT said.

Italy: Italian government bonds pushed to record highs (record low yields) on Wednesday following regional elections earlier this week that diminished the prospect of political instability.

The yield on the 10-year fell to 0.77%, before closing the week at 0.88%.

Matteo Salvini’s rightwing populist League party failed to make a breakthrough in Italy’s traditionally leftwing regions, which would have raised the prospect of snap national elections.  So Rome’s borrowing costs stand at historic lows despite the economic slump sparked by the pandemic and a humongous government debt load prior to the outbreak.

With the risks of an early election off the table, the government can focus on getting the economy back in order.

Italians also voted to shrink the size of the national parliament, in an expression of Europeans’ continuing frustration with their political class.

According to polling, nearly 70% of voters approved a constitutional amendment that cuts the number of lawmakers by about one third.

The change is a victory for Italy’s 5-Star Movement, an eclectic antiestablishment party that has channeled popular anger with a political caste that many Italians see as privileged and out of touch with ordinary people.  The referendum shows the continuing strength of populist sentiment in Eruope.

Turning to Asia…no major economic news out of China, with all manner of PMI data coming out next week.

Chinese President Xi Jinping did however issue remarks on the economy published on Saturday that cited the nation’s steady recovery from the coronavirus-induced slump.

“The basic characteristics of China’s economy with sufficient potential, great resilience, strong vitality, large space for maneuver and many policy instruments have not changed,” Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as saying.

China has strong manufacturing capacity, very large domestic markets and huge investment potentials, Xi said.

Xi reaffirmed a “dual circulation” strategy that would help steer the economy towards greater self-reliance, as U.S. hostility and a global pandemic increase external risks.

Xi conceded the pandemic “has exacerbated global challenges as globalization slows and unilateralism and protectionism rise… We must seek our development in a more unstable and uncertain world.”

Xi urged calmness amid rising challenges.  “The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation can never be achieved easily with the beating of gongs and drums,” he said.

We had flash PMI readings from Japan for September, with manufacturing coming in at 45.2 vs. 45.8 in August, while services were at 45.6 vs. 45.0, so more of the same…more contraction.

Street Bytes

--Stocks finished mixed, with the Dow Jones and S&P 500 falling for a fourth consecutive week, down 1.7% and 0.6%, respectively, the Dow at 27173.  But Nasdaq ended its 3-week skid, up 1.1%

Stocks were hit on fears that Congress and the White House will not reach an agreement on a new stimulus plan, while election uncertainties are definitely at the forefront, as well as ongoing concerns over sky-high tech valuations.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 0.10%  2-yr. 0.13%  10-yr. 0.66%  30-yr. 1.40%

Another week of little movement in Treasuries.  I could be writing the same thing for the next year…or more.

--U.S. crude stockpiles fell by more than 1 million barrels last week, continuing a multi-month trend, but inventories were still about 13% above the five-year average for this time of year.  Concerns about demand amid a resurgence in the coronavirus in key areas, such as Europe, as well as rising supply, including from Libya, which is increasing output following the end of an eight-month militia blockade of oil exports, hurt prices.

--ByteDance and Oracle Corp. issued conflicting statements on Monday over the terms of an agreement they reached with the White House over the weekend to allow TikTok to continue to operate in the United States, casting doubt on President Trump’s preliminary blessing of the deal.

China’s ByteDance was racing to avoid a crackdown on its popular short-video app after the U.S. Commerce Department said on Friday it would block new downloads and updates to the app.  U.S. officials had expressed concern that the personal data of as many as 100 million Americans that use the app was being passed on to China’s Communist Party.

ByteDance said on Monday that it will own 80% of TikTok Global, a newly created U.S. company that will own most of the app’s operations worldwide.  ByteDance added that TikTok Global will become its subsidiary.  Oracle and Walmart Inc., which have agreed to take stakes in TikTok Global of 12.5% and 7.5% respectively, had said on Saturday that majority ownership of TikTok would be in American hands.

The current plan for TikTok Global does not involve any transfer of algorithms or technologies, and Oracle will be able to inspect TikTok U.S.’s source code, ByteDance said on Monday.

The Commerce Department postponed a ban on downloads and apps to the TikTok app that was due to take effect on Sunday by one week, to give the companies time to finalize the deal.

Because 41% of ByteDance is owned by U.S. investors, if you count this indirect ownership TikTok Global would be majority owned by U.S. parties.

ByteDance on Monday also confirmed plans for an initial public offering of TikTok Global, Oracle saying this would happen in less than 12 months on a U.S. exchange.

For the Chinese angle, the following is from a Communist Party mouthpiece, Global Times:

“Unlike the global hunt for Huawei, the U.S. has resorted to another form of extortion against TikTok.  TikTok has rapidly risen in the U.S. market with its unique algorithm advantages.  It closely integrated with American users. This also allowed the U.S. government to hold TikTok as a hostage.  It further exposed the Trump administration to the opposition of young users – who could risk President Trump’s reelection.

“For Washington, reorganizing TikTok and making it completely ‘de-Sinicized’ into a new company that is entirely controlled by U.S. companies is the most cost-effective approach.  It not only shows the decisiveness of the Trump administration, but also caters to U.S. companies.  Meanwhile, TikTok’s 100 million users in the U.S. will not be affected. Thus the whole country will be happy. The entire event will finally become a great achievement for the Trump administration.

“More importantly, this hands-off approach to branding the internet’s most cutting-edge video as a ‘U.S. company’ alleviates long-term anxieties of U.S. tech firms.  Regardless of where high-tech companies emerged (whether in China or any other country), the U.S. can follow TikTok’s model of stalking them and subjugating them to U.S. ownership and control.  In this case, U.S. technological hegemony will be passed down from generation to generation.

“For these goals, Washington has mobilized the entire nation to launch a combination of suppressive tactics against TikTok and its parent company ByteDance.  First, U.S. government officials and congressional representatives have made many groundless accusations that TikTok is transferring U.S. user data to the Chinese government. Following this, the Trump administration sought to ban the popular app in the country, with the U.S. president even personally expressing such determination. Then Microsoft showed up.  It took the extreme choice: TikTok would be either banned or sold to a U.S. company.

“TikTok was being forced into desperation. And suddenly there seemed to be a turn for the better.  Oracle could help run TikTok’s U.S. operations as a trusted technology partner.  This means TikTok did not need to be fully sold to a U.S. company.  It seems that TikTok needs only to give up a part of its equity, reorganize board members, approve Oracle’s access to the source code, and move its global business outside of China into the reorganized company. Compared with previous dilemmas, this seems to be a much better course of action.

“Survival after desperation might be a very alluring time for all parties involved.  Nonetheless, Trump has made it clear that he wants Oracle and Walmart’s total control of TikTok.  He wants the new company to ‘have nothing to do with China.’

“It is plain to all that Washington’s methods involve maximum pressure. These also entail blackmailing and trying to tempt TikTok with promises of survival….

“As a result, the Chinese government stepped in just in time. It first added the algorithm to the technology export control list on August 28.  This dealt a blow to the arrogance of the U.S. side. Then when the U.S. said that it ‘agrees in concept’ to ByteDance’s agreement with Oracle and Walmart, the Chinese government tried to press ahead with the deal.  Following suit, the Chinese government sent a clear signal of its opposition to the agreement, redefining the direction of this high-tech battle.

“Any single company is weak on its own. But China as a big country will not accept blackmail from the U.S.  Nor will it hand over control of an outstanding high-tech Chinese company to extortionists. The success of Huawei and ByteDance proves that China’s overall business environment has the ability to incubate companies with its own core technology and global competitiveness.  We cannot let these Chinese companies be arbitrarily slaughtered by the U.S.  We should not let Washington control the lifeline of China’s technological development in the future. We hope to maintain fair and mutually beneficial cooperation with the U.S.  But we are ready to fight resolutely against the bullying and gangster-like logic of the U.S. as well.  We have long believed in the philosophy that when we properly handle each other’s core and major interests, China-U.S. relations will grow smoothly. Otherwise, they will be in trouble.  We hope that it is no longer a luxury to see the great powers meet each other halfway in the 21st century.”

Hu Xijin, the editor of Global Times, tweeted: “Based on what I know, Beijing won’t approve current agreement between ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, and Oracle, Walmart, because the agreement would endanger China’s national security interests and dignity,” Hu wrote.

A federal judge on Thursday gave the Trump administration until Friday afternoon to postpone a fast-approaching ban on U.S. downloads of TikTok, or defend the policy in a court hearing this weekend.

I have seen nothing new as I go to post.  We’ll find out by Sunday where we are, maybe.  I apologize this is an incredibly complex, yet important, story that few can really explain because we don’t know where it is going to end up!

Most say of the deal as currently structured that President Trump gets nothing that he asked for. 

--Major U.S. airlines launched a last-ditch bid to persuade Congress to grant them a new $25 billion bailout to help avert tens of thousands of employee furloughs set to begin Oct. 1.

“We’re not going to give up,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said, affirming that the airline would furlough some 19,000 on Oct. 1, without fresh aid.  He reiterated, however, that the company itself is not at risk without assistance.  “American Airlines is going to be fine,” Parker said.

Two key Republican senators (Roger Wicker and Susan Collins) introduced legislation that would authorize another $28.8 billion in payroll assistance for passenger airlines (including smaller ones), but congressional aides said it was unlikely to win passage given aid requests from many other struggling industries.  And now with lawmakers focused on the Supreme Court vacancy, the likelihood of Congress passing a broad coronavirus relief package before Oct. 1 is virtually nil.  It is possible, however, that the airlines could tap $25 billion in government loans provided under the $2.3 trillion Cares Act.

--Shares in Boeing surged nearly 7% today after it was reported that Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson plans to test-fly the 737 MAX next week as part of the company’s efforts to return the aircraft to service.

--Separately, United Airlines said Thursday it will launch a new Covid-19 testing program Oct. 15 for its customers traveling from San Francisco International Airport to Hawaii, the purpose being to avoid a 14-day quarantine in Hawaii.

--California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that aims to end the sale of new gasoline and diesel-powered passenger cars in the state by 2035.

Newsom said in a statement that the widespread adoption of zero-emission vehicles would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help to combat climate change.  The transportation sector is responsible for more than half of carbon pollution in California, the Democrat said.

The announcement came as Newsom emphasizes climate change as a key cause for the state’s catastrophic wildfires the past month.

Newsom presented his plan as “an economic opportunity, the opportunity to transform our economy across sectors, the opportunity to accelerate innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit.”

Electric vehicles currently account for less than 10% of new vehicle sales in California, so more work must be done to increase consumer demand.

A spokeswoman for Ford said: “We agree with Gov. Newsom that it’s time to take urgent action to address climate change…Progress requires public-private partnerships, smart infrastructure and key resources that encourage consumers to invest in electrified products. We look forward to continuing to do our part to drive this transformation.”

The order is aimed at new car sales and won’t prohibit Californians from owning or selling existing gas-powered cars, Newsom said.

--Elon Musk is working on cheaper, more powerful batteries for Tesla’s electric cars, but many of the required innovations are still works in progress, Elon Musk said Tuesday at the company’s California factory.

The advances could ultimately cut battery costs more than 50 percent and increase the distance a Tesla vehicle can travel by nearly as much.  Musk said this would make it possible to produce a “compelling” $25,000 electric vehicle three years from now.

But Musk, known for making promises that often take far longer than expected to fulfill, said the company has not yet made the advances needed to get to that point, which disappointed investors, looking for a major technical breakthrough, in part because of the way Tesla had pitched the event, “Battery Day.”  Tesla stock then cratered in response late Tuesday and Wednesday, but recovered to finish the week at $407, down from $442 the prior Friday.

--Nikola Corp. Executive Chairman Trevor Milton is stepping down from the electric-truck startup with immediate effect in the wake of allegations from a short seller that he and the company had made false statements to investors.

The company said Milton would be replaced by Stephen Girsky, a former General Motors executive who already sits on the truck company’s board.

Nikola has been under scrutiny since short seller Hindenburg Research released a report earlier this month accusing the company and Milton of making exaggerated claims about the readiness of Nikola’s technology and how much of it is proprietary.

Securities regulators and the Justice Department are also looking into whether Nikola misled investors.

Nikola shares hit $54 on Sept. 8 amid the news GM was buying a stake in the company to produce Nikola’s truck, but they have now cratered to $19.45.

--Nike reported revenue that was roughly flat in the quarter ending Aug. 31 from a year earlier, but analysts expected a steep drop and the shares soared to new highs.  In the preceding quarter, Nike sales had plummeted 38% despite the company’s strong online sales.

Nike sales were strong globally. China as well as Europe, the Middle East and Africa stood out, with revenue growing by 6% and 5%, respectively, compared with a year earlier.  In North America, where revenue was hit hard during the peak pandemic months, sales had mostly recovered and were down by just 2%, though footwear sales were up 11%.

Online sales continued to grow rapidly, up 82% year over year, despite stores reopening, and are now about nearly a third of total revenue, a goal the company had previously set for 2023.

Nike’s net income rose to $1.52 billion, with revenue falling 0.6% to $10.6 billion.

Nike has gained favor among shoppers this year with investments in marketing itself as a socially conscious company, prominently supporting movements like Black Lives Matter and Time to Vote. 

But the shares by any metric are now overvalued, a 75 P/E, 42 on forward earnings.

--Ralph Lauren Corp. said it would cut its workforce by roughly 15%, reflecting a sharp drop in revenue due to coronavirus-related store closures earlier this year and potential challenges ahead.

The New York-based company employed roughly 24,900 people globally as of late March, including 13,800 in the U.S., according to its most recent annual report.

--Wells Fargo’s CEO Charles Scharf was forced to apologize Wednesday for blaming the lack of Black employees at the bank on a “limited” talent pool.

“While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from,” Scharf said in a June company memo.  The memo and similar statements by Scharf during a Zoom meeting exasperated some Black employees, according to reports.

Scharf’s comments were pilloried online.

“Perhaps it’s the CEO of Wells Fargo who lacks the talent to recruit Black workers,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet.

Scharf apologized in a memo to the entire company “for making an insensitive comment reflecting my own unconscious bias.”

“There are many talented diverse individuals working at Wells Fargo and throughout the financial services industry and I never meant to imply otherwise,” Scharf wrote.  “It’s clear to me that, across the industry, we have not done enough to improve diversity, especially at senior leadership levels. And there is no question Wells Fargo has to make meaningful progress to increase diverse representation.”

--In the middle of a global pandemic, Southern California home prices keep setting records. The six-county region’s median price reached $600,000 in August, up 12.1% from a year earlier, according to data released Wednesday by DQNews.

This is the largest percentage increase since 2014 and the third consecutive month during which prices set a new all-time high. Sales rose 2.4% from a year earlier.

One realtor working in the Los Angeles area told the L.A. Times, “We have had houses with 40 to 50 offers. It’s just bizarre.”

As Andrew Khour writes of California, which applies elsewhere:

“Compared with low-wage workers, people who tend to have the financial ability to buy homes have been far less likely to lose their jobs, and in some ways, their ability to purchase a house has only expanded.”

--Meanwhile, the reality is, as alluded to above, many are struggling.  In Los Angeles, for example, the upscale Luxe Rodeo Drive hotel has closed, the 86-room hotel sharing a block with such high-end outlets as Cartier and Harry Winston.  Workers were notified last week it was permanently ceasing operations.

This is the first high-end hotel in the Los Angeles area to go out of business because of the pandemic, but others are sure to file, experts pointing to an unusually high loan delinquency rate among hotel borrowers as a sign of closures likely to follow.

High-end hotels have also closed in other parts of the country, such as the 44-story Hilton Times Square hotel in New York City.

--New York City’s dire economic state continues to hit city workers in their pockets, as the mayor, Bill de Blasio, expands furloughs to more than 9,000 employees at city agencies.

Last week de Blasio had announced furloughs for 500 officials of the mayor’s office, himself included.

The furloughs (five days of unpaid leave between October and March) will save the city $21 million, but Gotham faces an $8.5 billion budget gap over the next two years, according to a July 29 report by the Financial Control Board.

It doesn’t help that the Metropolitan Opera announced it will remain shuttered for the entire 2020-21 season, through next September.

“This week should have been the triumphant start of a new season.  Instead, the health crisis forces us to now announce the cancellation of the season in its entirety,” said Peter Gelb, general manager.  “As you can imagine, nothing makes us sadder.”

Broadway is closed at least into January.

--Separately, New York City’s restaurants will finally be able to hold indoor dining as of Sept. 30, but at only 25 percent of capacity, which nearly enough for survival.

As one restaurateur told Crain’s New York Business, “We cannot get through the winter with only 25 percent unless there is some sort of government assistance.”

High-end restaurants, for example, spend most of their money on payroll, around 33 percent, according to restaurant consultant Don Evans. Food and beverage takes another 33 percent.  The rest of the expenses might include 10 percent on rent; 10 percent on insurance and utilities; and 14 percent on “other” expenses, including linens, garbage, sanitation and paying outside apps like OpenTable.

“If you have to bring in your chef for $120,000, your manager at $80,000 and two sous chefs at $60,000 each, the numbers just don’t work.  They don’t even come close,” said Evans.

However, today Mayor de Blasio finally did something good.  Outdoor dining, which was slated to end next month, has now been approved for year-round and for many establishments this is a difference maker.  For many others, though, it’s not.  Without near-capacity indoor dining, they won’t make it.

Foreign Affairs

China/Hong Kong/Taiwan: Hong Kong authorities arrested Joshua Wong over a 2019 protest and for allegedly violating an anti-mask law which courts have since found partially unconstitutional, according to the activist’s social media accounts.

The veteran activist Koo Sze-yiu was also arrested, pro-democracy figures told the Guardian.

Wong, 23, is one of the most high-profile figures of the pro-democracy movement which drew mass protests on to the streets of Hong Kong throughout much of 2019, before the pandemic and then draconian national security laws brought them to an end this year.

Wong was arrested for participating in an unauthorized assembly on Oct. 5, 2019.

He was released on bail a few hours later, and told media the international community should focus less on prominent activists like him and call for the release of the 12 Hongkongers detained in mainland China after allegedly attempting to flee Hong Kong for Taiwan by boat.

On the issue of Taiwan…Chinese aircraft approached Taiwan multiple times in the past week, demonstrating Beijing is a threat to the entire region and have shown Taiwanese even more clearly the true nature of China’s government, President Tsai Ing-wen said.

The aircraft flew across the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait and into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, causing Taiwan to scramble jets to intercept.

Last weekend, China’s air force put out a video showing its nuclear capable H-6 bombers, which have been involved in many Chinese fly-bys of Taiwan, exercising.

One montage shows a simulation of an H-6 attack against an air base which appears to be the main U.S. Air Force base on Guam.

Taiwan then test-fired missiles off its eastern and southern coasts following the military maneuvers staged by Beijing.

China said sending U.S. troops to Taiwan would mean war with China, the Global Times wrote in an editorial in response to Military Times articles mulling such a deployment.  Tsai Ing-wen has pursued the path of independence and been drawn into Washington’s policy of containing Beijing, the Communist Party-backed newspaper said.  This has brought closer a tipping point toward “a just war to liberate Taiwan.”

Global Times:

“The U.S. and the island of Taiwan must give up all illusions about the redeployment of U.S. troops in Taiwan, because it means nothing but war.  The Anti-Secession Law outlined three conditions that would compel China to use force. The second condition is ‘the development of major incidents that involve the independence of Taiwan from the mainland,’ and the third condition is ‘the exhaustion of all options to reach a deal on the peaceful reunification.’ The redeployment of U.S. troops in Taiwan meets the two conditions. We believe that the PLA will inevitably take military actions to start a just war to liberate Taiwan.

“The U.S. now wants to shape the Taiwan Straits as the main front to prevent China’s rise, because the Democratic Progress Party (DPP) authorities in Taiwan have completely turned to the U.S., and thus can be used as a tool. We must warn the DPP authorities not to wrongly believe that U.S. support is safe for them to split China without being punished.

“PLA fighter jets recently crossed the so-called middle line of the Taiwan Straits on a large scale, clearly drawing the red line that the U.S. and Taiwan must not further collude. The Global Times has understood that PLA fighter jets were as closest as only seconds away from the coast of Taiwan.  They were only one step away from flying over the island of Taiwan.

“The Global Times has predicted several times that the PLA fighter jets will fly over the island of Taiwan. The mainland would like to warn the Taiwan authorities that if the U.S. and Taiwan continue to collude, this scenario would be bound to take place.  If the Taiwan authorities still believe that the U.S. and Taiwan can adopt ‘salami slicing’ by sending higher-level officials to visit each other, they are making a gamble that will be costly to both of them….

“The mainland has patiently promoted its policy for peaceful reunification for years.  However, the Tsai (Ing-wen) authorities obstinately have walked toward the path of ‘Taiwan independence’ and fallen prey to the U.S. strategy of China containment, bringing the cross-Straits situation closer to a tipping point.  If a cross-Straits war eventually breaks out, the Tsai authorities will be the collective sinners to be punished.”

Ian Bremmer, noted global strategist, had the following in an interview with Barron’s:

“The U.S. versus China competition is on steroids because of the pandemic. On pretty much every front, the relations between the two largest economies in the world are getting worse – whether you are talking about the Uighurs or Hong Kong or Taiwan or trade or the South China Sea or tech or coronavirus.

“Second, President Xi Jinping could do no wrong for a while, but he has really overplayed his hand.  He’s nowhere close to as powerful as the U.S., but is picking fights with other countries: India, Australia, Canada, even the Czech Republic. It feels like insecurity. It feels like Xi Jinping didn’t handle the initial outbreak of coronavirus well, took some internal criticism, slapped it down hard, and is now just playing a nationalist patriotic rally-around-the-flag card. That might not go well.”

President Trump used his UN General Assembly address on Tuesday to attack China’s handling of the pandemic, saying the world body “must hold China accountable” for its actions related to the outbreak.

By contrast, President Xi struck a conciliatory tone in his pre-recorded virtual address to the General Assembly, calling for enhanced cooperation over the pandemic and stressing that China had no intention of fighting “either a Cold War or a hot one” with any country.

North Korea: A South Korean official has been shot dead and burned by North Korean troops, the South’s defense ministry said, condemning the “brutal act.”

Seoul said the man had disappeared from a patrol boat near the border and was later found in the North’s waters.

North Korean soldiers shot him, then poured oil over his body and set it alight, the ministry said.  It had come to this conclusion based on its analysis of “diverse intelligence.”

The official was working for the fisheries department.  It is believed he had been trying to defect.  A North Korean patrol boat found the man, who was wearing a life jacket, at sea.  After questioning him from a distance, he was shot dead in the water.

Kim Jong Un then issued a rare apology for the killing, Seoul said today.  Kim reportedly told his counterpart Moon Jae-in that the “disgraceful affair” should not have happened.

The death was the first of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade and caused outrage in the South.

The border between the Koreas is tightly policed, and the North is thought to have a “shoot-to-kill” policy in place to prevent coronavirus from entering the country.

Iran: President Hassan Rouhani told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday that the United States could impose “neither negotiations nor war” on the Islamic Republic amid heightened tension between the longtime foes over Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

“Iran is not a bargaining chip in U.S. elections and domestic policy… Any U.S. administration after the upcoming elections will have no choice but to surrender to the resilience of the Iranian nation,” Rouhani told the annual UN gathering in a video message.

President Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, and unilaterally reimposed sanctions that have hobbled Iran’s economy.  Trump wants a broader agreement with Tehran’s clerical rulers that further restricts Iran’s nuclear program, halts its ballistic missile development work and ends its support for proxy forces around the Middle East. 

Iran has refused to hold talks with the United States unless Washington lifts sanctions on Tehran and returns to the original agreement.  In retaliation, Tehran has scaled back compliance with nuclear capacity limits set by the deal.

In his UN address earlier in the day, Trump said: “We withdrew from the terrible Iran nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions on the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.”

The Trump administration on Monday slapped new sanctions on Iran to support the U.S. assertion that all UN sanctions against Tehran that were lifted under the 2015 agreement are now reinstated.  That move was rejected by key European allies as well as U.S. adversaries such as Russia and China who are all parties to the nuclear accord.

In his address to the General Assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron said the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran had so far failed.

Editorial / Washington Post

“A decade ago Iran found itself ostracized at the United Nations, subject to sweeping sanctions approved by a united Security Council. As this year’s session of the UN General Assembly gets underway Tuesday, it is the United States that will stand in extraordinary and unprecedented isolation, thanks to the abysmal failure of the Trump administration’s diplomacy.

“Over the weekend, the State Department proclaimed that UN sanctions once imposed on Iran were back in effect – only to be repudiated not just by Tehran, but by Washington’s closest allies.  Britain, Germany and France, which for years partnered with the United States in seeking to curb Iran’s nuclear program, issued a joint statement saying the U.S. declaration was ‘incapable of having legal effect.’  The three European nations, along with Russia and China, will continue to observe the terms of the 2015 accord limiting Iranian nuclear activity.  In claiming the deal is dead and sanctions are back, the United States is alone.

“The administration is seeking to force the rest of the world to conform with its version of reality by threatening sanctions against banks and companies that facilitate arms deals with Iran, or that support its nuclear and missile production. The continued reliance of the international financial system on the U.S. dollar adds teeth to the policy – though at the risk of further weakening international support for the dollar as a reserve currency.

“Yet the bottom line is that the Trump administration has destroyed the international alliance that forced Tehran to limit activities that could have allowed it to build nuclear weapons.  The ‘maximum pressure’ campaign President Trump launched has failed either to obtain more concessions from Tehran, as he predicted, or to bring about regime change – the goal Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tacitly embraced.  Meanwhile, Iran has stepped up nuclear work and now has five times as much enriched uranium as it did 2 ½ years ago.”

Russia: The CIA assessed in August that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top aides “are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations” aimed at undermining Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the 2020 election, according to a new report in the Washington Post by Josh Rogin.

“We assess that President Vladimir Putin and the senior most Russian officials are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations aimed at denigrating the former U.S. Vice President, supporting the U.S. president and fueling public discord ahead of the U.S. election in November,” the first line of the assessment reads, the Post reported.

The CIA compiled its August 31 assessment with input from the National Security Agency and the FBI using public, unclassified and classified intelligence sources, the Post reported, citing two sources who reviewed the document.

“We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.’  This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia,” William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in a statement in August.

The U.S. accused Putin in 2017 of directing all efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

In his statement from August, Evanina also accused pro-Russian Ukrainian parliamentarian Andril Derkach of “spreading claims about corruption” to undermine Biden’s candidacy.

Derkach has close ties to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and Giuliani has acknowledged that he received documents from Derkach about Biden.

Josh Rogin:

“Last week, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray referred to Evanina’s statement in testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee without referring to Derkach by name. Wray said the FBI was tracking ‘very active efforts’ by Russia ‘to both sow divisiveness and discord, and I think the intelligence community had assessed this publicly, primarily to denigrate Vice President Biden.’

“Trump responded to Wray by saying he was bothered the FBI director didn’t talk about China’s interference. ODNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) has also reported that China and Iran are attempting to interfere in the U.S. political process.  Trump has also personally promoted the anti-Biden information Derkach is peddling.  On Aug. 18, Trump retweeted a since-banned Twitter user who posted part of a purported 2016 audio tape Derkach released this year of Biden speaking with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

“The tapes Derkach released appear to show Biden linking loan guarantees to the ouster of then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who was accused of corruption. Giuliani, who met with Derkach in Kiev in December and in New York this year, has claimed the tapes show Biden was working to protect his son Hunter, who at the time was on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. The released tapes show no such connection….

“Even though Derkach is a former member of a pro-Russian party who attended the Dzerzhinsky Higher School of the KGB in Moscow, Giuliani has consistently defended his relationship with Derkach. Following the Treasury Department’s announcement sanctioning Derkach, Giuliani told the New York Times he has ‘no reason to believe [Derkach] is a Russian agent,’ but added, ‘How the hell would I know?’

“[House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot] Engel (D-N.Y.) told me he is not surprised to learn that parts of the intelligence community have concluded Putin is directly trying to help Trump’s election campaign, again. But he called on the administration to publicly release these findings.

“ ‘What’s most infuriating is that the administration seems to be doing everything it can to hide the facts from Congress and the American people,’ he said.  ‘The president seems to be trying to turn the entire executive branch into an arm of his reelection campaign, dangerously politicizing foreign policy and intelligence.’”

Laughably, today, Vladimir Putin called for an agreement between Russia and the United States to guarantee not to engage in cyber-meddling in each other’s elections and internal affairs, the Kremlin said.  In a statement, Putin called for a reset between Russia and the United States and said he wanted an agreement between the two countries to prevent incidents in cyberspace.

“One of the main strategic challenges of our time is the risk of a large-scale confrontation in the digital sphere,” Putin said in the statement.

Oh brother.

Belarus: Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in for a sixth term as president in a secretive and tightly guarded ceremony, which opposition leaders and European Union states decried as a farce that only highlighted his lack of legitimacy.

Without any prior public announcement, police and soldiers sealed the center of the capital, Minsk, on Wednesday morning and Lukashenko’s convoy of cars sped through empty streets to the city’s Palace of Independence, where he took the oath of office before loyal officials and members of the security services.

His claim to have won last month’s election with an implausible 80 percent of votes sparked the biggest crisis of his 26-year rule.  More than 10,000 have been detained in massive protests since, at least three have been killed, with hundreds hurt.

The EU said it will not recognize the election results or Lukashenko’s presidency.  He has accused the West of trying to oust him, while Russia has offered its financial and security assistance.

Lukashenko said during the inauguration: “I cannot – I have no right – to abandon Belarusians who have tied not only their political preferences but their own fate and the future of their children to government policy.”

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claims to be the rightful winner of the election and the legitimate leader of Belarus, called the ceremony a “farce” that only served to bring the autocrat’s time as president to an end.

“In fact, today, Lukashenko simply went into retirement,” she said from neighboring Lithuania, where she fled after the election, fearing arrest.

Afghanistan: The level of violence in Afghanistan is unacceptably high and the United States expects further setbacks during peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the Special Representative for Afghanistan said on Tuesday, as the two sides remain far apart on even the most basic issues to end two decades of war.

“By any measure, current levels of violence are too high,” said U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, addressing a House of Representatives hearing.

The Taliban has refused to agree to a ceasefire and the war grinds on.  At least 57 members of the security forces were killed in the days prior to Khalilzad’s testimony.

With all foreign troops slated to be gone by May 2021, the Afghan government is grappling with how to share power or contend with a Taliban push for military victory.

The U.S. is expected to reduce troop levels to 4,000 to 5,000 in the coming months, and to zero by May 2021 if conditions were met.

Random Musings

--Presidential poll data….

Gallup: 42% approve of Trump’s job performance, 56% disapprove; 92% of Republicans approve, 36% of independents (Aug. 31-Sept. 13).
Rasmussen: 52% approve, 48% disapprove (Sept. 25).

--In a new Quinnipiac University national poll of likely voters released Sept. 23rd, Joe Biden leads President Trump 52-42 percent, unchanged from a Sept. 2nd national survey.

Democrats back Biden 96-2 percent, independents back him 49-41 percent, and Republicans back Trump 91-7 percent.

94 percent say their minds are made up, while 5 percent say they might change their minds.

47 percent plan to vote in person on Election Day, while 34 percent plan to vote by mail/absentee ballot, and 15 percent plan to vote at an early voting location.

Among voters who say they plan to vote in person on Election Day, 57 percent support Trump while 35 percent support Biden.  However, among voters who plan to vote by mail/absentee ballot, 68 percent back Biden while 26 percent support Trump.

66 percent of likely voters say they are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned that a foreign government may try to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, while 33 percent say they are eighter “not so concerned” or “not concerned at all.”

On his coronavirus response, voters give Trump a negative 42-56 percent approval.

Likely voters give Trump an overall job approval rating of 43 percent, 53 percent disapprove.

--An NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll finds Biden ahead by 8 points among registered voters, 51 to 43 percent.  Last month the former vice president led 50 to 41.

The poll shows that close to 90 percent have firmly made up their minds, and that seven-in-10 believe the upcoming debates aren’t that important in deciding their vote.

But this poll still has 11 percent of all voters being up for grabs.

Biden leads among Black voters 90 to 5 percent, voters ages 18-34 (60 percent to 31 percent), women (57 percent to 37 percent), whites with college degrees (54 to 41), independents (45 to 39) and seniors (50 to 46).

Biden also led among Latinos, nationally, 62 to 26 percent.  In 2016, Hillary won the Hispanic vote by a 66-28 margin, exit polls showed.

Trump, meanwhile, has the edge among all white voters (53-43), men (50 to 45) and whites without college degrees (59-36).

And in the combined 12 swing states – Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – Biden is ahead by 6 points, 51 to 45 percent.

Overall, President Trump’s job approval is 45 percent, up 3 points from July, while 53 percent disapprove.

--A poll conducted for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by the Univ. of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs has Trump and Biden both at 47 percent of likely voters in Georgia, a state Trump carried by five points four years ago.

--According to a pair of Washington Post/ABC News polls in two Sun Belt battleground states that Trump won in 2016, the president leads Joe Biden in Florida among likely voters, 51-47 percent, while registered voters split 47 percent for Trump to 48 percent for Biden.

In Arizona, Trump’s margin is smaller, Trump leading 49-48 percent among likely voters.  Among registered votes, Biden leads 49-47.  Hillary Clinton carried the Latino vote in the state by 61 percent to 31 percent, according to network exit polls.

In Florida, the Latino vote splits 52 percent for Biden and 39 percent for Trump, among registered voters. Hillary Clinton carried the Latino vote here four years ago 62-35.

In Arizona, Biden leads Trump among Latinos by 61 to 34 percent.  Clinton carried the Latino vote in AZ 61-31.

[The poll also shows a close Senate race in Arizona, with Democratic challenger Mark Kelly at 49 percent to Republican Sen. Martha McSally’s 48 percent among likely voters.  Kelly has a five-point edge among registered voters, 50-45 percent.]

--In Reuters/Ipsos polls of six battleground states released on Tuesday, Biden led Trump among likely voters in Michigan, 49-44, while the two were tied in North Carolina 47-47.

In Wisconsin, Biden led 48-43.  In Pennsylvania, Biden is leading 49-46.

In Florida, Reuters/Ipsos has Biden and Trump 47-47.  In Arizona, Biden 47-46.

--New Fox News surveys of likely voters in three key states have Biden ahead in all three.

52-41 in Nevada; 51-44 in Pennsylvania; and 50-45 in Ohio, which Hillary Clinton lost by eight, 51.7-43.6.

--In a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of likely Maine voters, Republican Senator Susan Collins is narrowly trailing her Democratic challenger, Sara Gideon, 46 to 41 percent, the bulk of the poll conducted before the death of Justice Ginsburg.

--To start September, Joe Biden’s campaign had $466 million in the bank, about $141 million more than President Trump, with $325 million.  Both figures include available cash spread across the national parties and allied fundraising committees.

--David Ignatius / Washington Post

“ ‘And Wisconsin goes for…nobody, yet.’  That’s the kind of inconclusive message you may hear often on election night, as television networks try to cover the results of a presidential contest unlike any other in our history. Viewers should be grateful for the caution.

“Journalists at all the major networks use similar language to describe the challenge of reporting the Nov. 3 outcome. They recognize that because many votes will be cast by mail, the counting will be slow in some states and the final result may be delayed for days. Commendably, all the networks are preparing for a ‘decision night’ that may not yield an immediate decision.

“ ‘There’s a lot of responsibility for us. We take it very seriously,’ Bret Baier of Fox News, who will be co-anchoring that network’s coverage, stressed in an interview.  ‘If the difference in the number of absentee ballots yet to be counted is too large, you can’t make the call.’

“I spoke this week with senior political journalists at Fox News, ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC. They’ve all been pondering the unusual political dynamics caused by the coronavirus pandemic.  More voters will be casting absentee ballots, which often take longer to count than in-person votes. This mail-in electorate is expected to skew sharply Democratic.

“A September CNN poll found that 78 percent of Joe Biden’s supporters plan to vote early or by mail, while 68 percent of President Trump’s supporters want to vote in person on Election Day.  In Pennsylvania, 70 percent of requests for absentee ballots came from Democrats and only 29 percent from Republicans, the New York Times reported this month.

“Think about election night: The returns that are available by midnight, say, will be heavy with in-person votes, and they might show that Trump is leading in enough states to win an electoral college majority. The president, bolstered by these initial returns, might declare victory. But until the mail-in votes are counted in key swing states, such a declaration could be premature.

“ ‘This will be an election like no other,’ cautioned Steve Kornacki, the national political correspondent for NBC and MSNBC.  Tempers will be high, and so will uncertainty about the result.

“David Chalian, the political director at CNN, explained: ‘If someone out there is claiming victory, and we haven’t counted the vote yet and made a call, we have to be clear that the facts don’t back up that claim….One thing that’s critical is that we be as transparent as possible about what is and isn’t in the vote count, and what we know about the still-outstanding vote.’

“Trump and his supporters have been working overtime to delegitimize mail-in votes.  A blatant example was the claim this month by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany that a ‘fair’ election will be one ‘where we know who the president of the United States is on election night. That’s how the system is supposed to work.’  Nonsense. The system is supposed to count every vote.

“The stakes on Election Day are huge, and voters on both sides will want some indication that night of how the race is trending. The networks plan to use ‘exit polls,’ which this year will include telephone sampling that captures absentee voters. There are two polling criteria: the National Election Pool, used by ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC; and VoteCast, used by Fox News and the Associated Press.  Competing narratives shouldn’t be a danger here.  ‘Two high-quality surveys are better than one,’ argued Scott Clement, the polling director at The Post, who has used both….

“Journalists remember the embarrassment of mistaken early calls that Al Gore had won the 2000 election.  ‘Humility is always the key,’ noted John Dickerson, a senior political analyst and ’60 Minutes’ correspondent at CBS.  ‘Delay is a sign of rigor.’”

--A grand jury in Jefferson County, Ky., has charged Brett Hankison, a former Louisville police detective, with three counts of wanton endangerment in the first degree, but the charges are not related directly to the shooting death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor on March 13.  Hankison, one of three officers involved, was fired by the department in June, with a termination letter saying he “wantonly and blindly” shot 10 times into Taylor’s apartment (which endangered occupants in next door apartments).

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R), who is black, like Taylor, said he did not anticipate charges in the future.

Cameron said the state’s investigation determined the officers’ use of force was justified because they had been fired upon first, by Kenneth Walker, who was Taylor’s boyfriend.

Cameron said the state investigation did not determine who fired the fatal shot.  He said he asked the FBI crime lab to investigate as well, and it determined Det. Myles Cosgrove fired the shot that killed Taylor.

The attorney general said the investigation uncovered one witness who heard the detectives identify themselves, disputing earlier reports that a “no-knock” warrant was being served.

Cameron said that Taylor was struck by six shots fired by the other two officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Cosgrove.  He said both officers’ actions were justified because Taylor’s boyfriend shot first. Walker said he fired because he thought the officers were intruders.

Attorney Benjamin Crump, representing the Taylor family, called the grand jury decision “outrageous and offensive.”  Today he demanded that AG Cameron release the evidence presented to it.

“There seems to be two justice systems in America.  One for Black America and one for White America,” Crump said.  Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) has also called on Cameron to make evidence in the case public.

--Tropical Storm Beta tied a weather record that is more than a century old, Beta the ninth tropical storm or hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland in a single season – the first time we’ve seen this since 1916.

--Ice in the Arctic Ocean melted to its second-lowest level on record this summer, triggered by global warming along with natural forces, U.S. scientists reported Monday.

The extent of ice-covered ocean at the North Pole and extending farther south to Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia reached its summertime low of 1.4 million square miles last week before starting to grow again.  Arctic sea ice reaches its low point in September and its high in March.

This year’s melt is second only to 2012, when the ice shrank to 1.3 million square miles, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which has been keeping satellite records since 1979.

In the 1980s, the ice cover was about 1 million square miles larger than current summer levels.

---

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

God bless America.

---

Gold $1864…down $93 on the week
Oil $40.04

Returns for the week 9/21-9/25

Dow Jones  -1.8%  [27173]
S&P 500  -0.6%  [3298]
S&P MidCap  -2.6%
Russell 2000  -4.0%
Nasdaq  +1.1%  [10913]

Returns for the period 1/1/20-9/25/20

Dow Jones  -4.8%
S&P 500  +2.1%
S&P MidCap  -11.9%
Russell 2000  -11.6%
Nasdaq+21.6%

Bulls 51.5
Bears
19.4

Hang in there…Mask up, wash your hands.

Enjoy the debate.

Brian Trumbore



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Week in Review

09/26/2020

For the week 9/21-9/25

[Posted 10:00 PM ET, Friday]

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

Edition 1,119

Wednesday, President Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power after November’s election – an unprecedented statement by an American president.

Asked during a White House press conference if he would do so in light of the recent unrest in various cities, Trump replied: “Well we’re going to have to see what happens.”

In a reference to mail-in balloting, which is going to be used at record levels across the country, Trump said: “I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots… Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very peaceful,” he said, trailing off.  “There won’t be a transfer, there’ll be a continuation.  The ballots are out of control.  You know it. And you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else.”

Any other president would say something like, while I’m confident I’ll win, of course I’ll cede my office should that be what voters want.

But Trump wants chaos, especially given where he currently stands in the polls in key battleground states, where it’s a toss-up.  He is heavily invested in suggesting there might be some reason not to accept the results, a position that will allow him to rail against the counting of mail-in ballots after Election Day, ballots that are going to skew in favor of Biden.

Trump did the same thing in 2016, at the third presidential debate, when asked whether he would recognize the results of the election.

“I will look at it at the time,” Trump replied.  “I’m not looking at anything now.  I’ll look at it at the time.  What I’ve seen, what I’ve seen, is so bad.”  He then went on to disparage the media and elevate false claims about the risks posed by outdated voter rolls.

Even when he won the election, because he lost the popular vote by nearly three million, he repeated his assertion that somehow the difference was millions of illegal ballots cast without being detected, thus he, not Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote as well as a “landslide” in the Electoral College.  He won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania each by 0.7% or less.  Had he lost those, Clinton wins the Electoral vote 278-260, rather than the 306-232 margin by which Trump did.

So Thursday, the president refused again to promise he’ll accept the results despite emerging bipartisan outrage.  Speaking at the White House with reporters before a campaign trip to North Carolina, Trump reiterated his claim that the election could be tainted because of mail-in voting and that he thereby might not be able to immediately accept them.

“We want to make sure the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be,” Trump said.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) tweeted:

“Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus. Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) tweeted:

“As we have done for over two centuries we will have a legitimate & fair election.  It may take longer than usual to know the outcome, but it will be a valid one.  And at noon on Jan. 20, 2021 we will peacefully swear in the President.”

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) tweeted:

“The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our Republic. America’s leaders swear an oath to the Constitution.  We will uphold that oath.”

But none of the Republicans, while invoking the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution, openly condemned Trump.

“The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th.  There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) wrote in a tweet.

Laurence Tribe, constitutional law professor, Harvard Law School, tweeted:

“ ‘Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very – we’ll have a very peaceful – there won’t be a transfer frankly, there’ll be a continuation.’

“Those are not the words of an American President.  They are the words of the First American Dictator.

“We need a blowout.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray told senators Thursday that the United States has not experienced large-scale voter fraud by mail or other means, and said it would be a “major challenge” for a foreign country to attempt such a thing, despite Trump’s repeated claims.

“Americans must have confidence in our voting system and our election infrastructure,” Wray told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.  “We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections.”

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) pressed Wray about claims made by Trump and his supporters that foreign interests could interfere with the election by sending in bogus mail-in ballots.  Wray responded by echoing the past assurances from U.S. intelligence officials that they’ve seen no sign of such activity so far in this election cycle.

“We have not seen historically any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise” Wray said, though he added fraud has been detected “at the local level from time to time.”

Wray said he was “in no way minimizing” any threat to ballots.  Changing the outcome of a federal election “would be a major challenge for an adversary,” he said, adding that the FBI “would investigate seriously” if it saw indications of such an effort.

Trump has argued that mail-in voting is highly-suspect, saying ballots requested by individual voters are secure but that ballot applications sent out based on voter rolls are not.  On Thursday he urged people in Florida, an important battleground state, to “make sure to request” a mail-in ballot and submit it.

Wray again warned Americans to be on guard against disinformation aimed at manipulating their opinions leading up to Election Day, and to use common sense and good judgment when evaluating what they see online.

“I would encourage people to be critical thinkers, and to get their news from a variety of sources and make up their own mind and be a skeptical, discerning electorate – which is what I think is the best defense against malign foreign influence,” Wray said.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a news briefing Thursday, “The president will accept the results of a free and fair election.” Which is a meaningless statement given where the president wants to take us.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) said, “This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy – and democracy must win.”

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows then denigrated the FBI director in an interview with CBS’ “This Morning.”

“With all due respect to Director Wray, he has a hard time finding emails in his own FBI, let alone figuring out whether there’s any kind of voter fraud,” he said without elaborating.  A top federal prosecutor in battleground Pennsylvania on Thursday said his office and the FBI were investigation whether nine military ballots, seven cast for Trump, had been handled improperly.

Meadows suggested that Wray “drill down on the investigation that just started… Perhaps he needs to get involved on the ground and then he would change his testimony on Capitol Hill.”  The FBI didn’t comment.

To say the least it’s scary stuff.  In an extensive piece in The Atlantic, journalist Barton Gellman outlines the scenarios by which Trump and his lawyers pull every available lever to subvert popular will should it become apparent that he might lose, including working with Republican state legislatures in key states to push through their own electors for the Electoral College, which technically the Constitution might allow.

The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, not one to make rash predictions, openly said he is worried about a second “Civil War.”

Trump said this week he wants a successor to Justice Ginsburg to ensure a full nine-member court in case of an election dispute.  “This will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” he said.

Trump added: “I think it’s better if you go before the election, because I think this scam that the Democrats are pulling…will be before the United States Supreme Court.”

He continued: “Having a four-four situation is not a good situation.  I think it should be eight-nothing, or nine-nothing. But just in case it would be more political than it should be, I think it’s very important to have a ninth justice.”  [In 2000, a 5 to 4 Supreme Court ruling called the race for George W. Bush.]

For months Donald Trump has been talking about the election being the “greatest fraud ever,” a “rigged election.”  Mail-in balloting is a “scam,” a “hoax.”

In delegitimizing our electoral system, one built on trust and confidence, the president is risking our entire democratic process.  It’s dangerous, authoritarian behavior.

Just as importantly, as regards to Russia and his butt-buddy Vladimir Putin, it is a provable fact that Donald Trump is feeding directly into the enemy narrative.  The words in the disinformation campaign out of the Kremlin are the very words then parroted by the president.

It is beyond sickening that the president of the United States has spent four years tearing down our democratic institutions, including our health agencies like the FDA and CDC in the midst of an historic pandemic, and now our democracy is threatened.

I have very openly called for over 1 ½ years for the generals to move in.  I’ve just kind of left it hanging out there, knowing what the generals think of this president and his destruction of much of which we hold dear.  To me it goes back to Helsinki and the summit between Putin and Trump, and a two-hour conversation we still don’t have a single detail on.

Think about it…this week Trump refused to answer a question on what he thought about the poisoning of Alexei Navalny!  He also has said nothing about the dictator Lukashenko in Belarus!  How much more evidence do you need?  This is strictly un-American behavior.

Just as sickening is the depth to which this president has torn this nation apart…to the point that it will take a generation, or more, before we get to some semblance of normalcy and civility in our public discourse…if it’s not already too late, given the destructiveness of social media.

It’s gotten to the point where I’m playing golf the other day with a long-time friend and before the round in the parking lot he hands me something and says, “now that you’ve become a lefty liberal.”

What?!  Me?  Are you kidding?!  Do I have to retell my life story all over again for the umpteenth time…how I saw firsthand at the age of 15 in 1973 how my relatives were living under Communism in Prague and Budapest, and of the goose-stepping soldiers I watched, horrified, one foggy night at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw as I walked alone on the streets of that city?  They were experiences that shaped my belief system forever.  I have never voted for a Democrat in a presidential election, and when it comes to statewide votes, voted once for Senator Bill Bradley, which was a mistake.  That’s who I am, politically.

David French is a longtime conservative writer who summed it up perfectly the other day on one of the networks.

“We can’t keep growing apart as a nation and assume everything is going to be OK.”

Other opinions of Donald Trump’s week:

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“President Trump’s insistence on saying the opposite of whatever the press demands is a source of more than a little of his political success as well as many self-defeating blunders. An example of the latter is his answer Wednesday to a deliberately tendentious question about whether he would commit to ‘a peaceful transferal of power.’

“The media and intelligentsia have worked themselves into a frenzy over imaginary fears that Mr. Trump will somehow remain in office by force if he loses the 2020 election.  ‘Well we’re going to have to see what happens,’ he said when asked to disavow this fantasy.  ‘I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.’

“Start with the obvious: The notion that Mr. Trump could stop a peaceful transition of power is preposterous.  On Jan. 20 his term legally ends.  If Congress hasn’t certified an Electoral College winner on that date – or settled a tie – Nancy Pelosi will be President if she is still House Speaker.  GOP House and Senate leaders have already repudiated Mr. Trump’s remarks.  If he tried to remain after Joe Biden was certified as the winner, his political support would collapse.

“As for the notion that Mr. Trump could execute a coup – he’s been warring with his own security agencies as long as he’s been in office.  He’s been denounced by dozens of retired generals, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff apologized for appearing with him publicly during the unrest in Washington, D.C.

“Mr. Trump’s real point is that he wants to reserve the right to contest dubious election practices, such as post-election litigation to count disputed or late or unsigned ballots.  Democrats are already in court in multiple states asking judges to rewrite state election laws, as we’ve been reporting.

“The rule of law is vital to free and fair elections, and Mr. Trump is right not to forswear his legal options. Yet his reckless comments give credence to Democratic hysteria, and he should clarify his views if he doesn’t want to lose more voters who think he lacks the temperament or self-control for the office….

“(Democrats own) bad behavior is no excuse for Mr. Trump to join them in undermining democratic legitimacy. And he made another mistake Wednesday by suggesting that confirming a new Supreme Court Justice could help him in a post-election legal fight.  ‘This scam that the Democrats are pulling,’ he said, ‘will be before the United States Supreme Court.’  He added: ‘I think it should be eight-nothing or nine-nothing, but just in case it would be more political than it should be, I think it’s very important to have a ninth Justice.’

“This answer hands Democrats a ready-made line of attack in Supreme Court confirmation hearings.  Senate Democrats will charge that Mr. Trump’s nominee is being installed to help him steal the election.  They’ll also demand that she recuse herself from election-related cases.

“We’ve been warning about ill-conceived mail-in voting plans and extended ballot deadlines orchestrated by Democrats and liberal interest group. The worry isn’t that these would ‘rig’ the election but that they would make litigation and complaints of election theft more likely. The Supreme Court may have to rule, however reluctantly, on ballot questions.  Mr. Trump’s comments hurt his nominee, the Court, and maybe his own interests.

“The sad reality is that Democratic opinion leaders have been waiting for a Reichstag fire moment from the minute Mr. Trump took office.  Their thirst to be vindicated has grown more intense as his term draws to a close.  Perhaps they want to save face after misunderstanding their country and its citizens so fundamentally for four years.  Mr. Trump should stop fueling their destructive ideas, because the legitimacy of election results is the bedrock of American democracy.”

John Podhoretz / New York Post

“Let’s take a minute and imagine – or pretend – that President Trump has a grand strategy governing his campaign. That offers a chance to provide the only remotely positive gloss that can be applied to his dumbfounding refusal to say point blank there would be a ‘peaceful transitioin of power’ after the election.

“The grand strategy would be ‘The Scramble.’

“Old guys like me have fond memories of the scrambling quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who would get himself in trouble in the backfield, run backwards 20 yards, then run forward 25 yards – and score a small gain after a huge self-created melodrama.

“If the president wins this election in November, he will prove himself to be the Fran Tarkenton of politics

“In the ‘peaceful transition’ case, as in past cases, Trump gets himself into self-created jams that cause his ideological and partisan rivals to swarm him deep into his own territory – with the hope of somehow both exhausting them and eluding them and finishing on the upside.

“You could say this is what happened when Trump decided to see if he could short-circuit the Joe Biden threat in 2019 by trying to get dirt out of Ukraine on Joe’s son Hunter.  By doing so, he exposed himself to hearings that led to his impeachment. But that effort proved to be a pointless political exercise for the Democrats and didn’t do him any sustained political harm.

“Time and again, Trump draws shocked and outraged fire from his antagonists for saying outrageous things. When the dust settles, his enemies have been driven bananas – and his support is exactly where it was before.

“This quality, the ability to drive liberals and Trump-hating former conservatives into impotent fits of sputtering rage, both delights many of his supporters and seems to recharge Trump’s combative batteries.  It’s almost as though he lives off drinking liberal tears.

“But is that really living?

“At least when Tarkenton scrambled, he often ended up gaining yardage. At best, Trump finds himself back at the line of scrimmage, with an approval rating flatlined in the low 40s.

“Thus, even if you want to believe Trump’s trolling is a strategy rather than a kind of animal cunning – perpetual aggression designed to ward off future challenges to his alpha status – you really ought to question its effectiveness.

“Just because someone has a strategy doesn’t mean it’s a good strategy. It’s probably comforting to think there’s a plan, because otherwise you really have to confront various different possibilities.

“One is that Trump has no idea what he’s doing and simply responds without considering the consequences of his actions.

“The other is that he’s intending to stage a coup and destroy American democracy so he can stay in the Oval Office, and that he was signaling his intention to do so to activate his forces around the country or terrify people into voting for him so that he’s not tested on his intentions.

“Now, which is more likely?

“Do me a favor and try not be crazy when considering the question. I know it’s hard.

“But here’s the thing for anyone inclined to pooh-pooh the deadly seriousness of what Trump said or wouldn’t say. We’re going to be talking about this for at least a week.  It will be a dominating subject of the first debate, which takes place on Tuesday.

“And because he did not slam the door on the subject, this president, who has been trumpeting his support for ‘law and order,’ has undercut any argument he might make against violent street actions by the activist left in the wake of an unclear result after Election Day.

“Moreover, it came just hours after Trump got his best polling news in a month, with state-surveys taken by ABC news and the Washington Post that showed him in better shape in must-win Florida and Arizona.  He stepped on that positive and squashed it like a bug.

“Every minute we’re talking about whether Trump is or is not abusing his power is a minute Trump has lost. And the minutes are growing short.  Trump’s best chance now is, quite simply, to stop scrambling – and shut up.”

Covid-19 death tolls, as of tonight….

World…993,413
USA…208,440
Brazil…140,709
India…93,410
Mexico…75,844
UK…41,936
Italy…35,801
Peru…32,037
France…31,661
Spain…31,232
Iran…25,222
Colombia…25,103
Russia…20,056

Source: worldometers.info

U.S. daily death tolls…Sun. 294; Mon. 388; Tues. 969; Wed. 1,112; Thurs. 943; Fri. 895.

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

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

This week we are at 41,616 new cases and 1,112 deaths in the U.S., with the Euro six continuing to spike…36,042 and 252.  Notice the deaths have remained low in Europe, but I have seen some disconcerting figures in France, as well as the Netherlands, a big hot spot in March and April. Spain has seen some improvement from record highs the week before after it locked down large sections of Madrid.

Therapeutics and just better knowledge of the virus have led to better treatment worldwide, but the number of daily cases around the globe is still at essentially record levels, when you get past the lower, weekend reporting period covering Saturday thru Monday.

The virus remains, folks, as we head into the worst months for the Northern Hemisphere.  Vaccines can’t come soon enough, but we have to be realistic on how quickly they can be distributed, and some of us worry that a place like Africa, which will be the last to get the vaccine, of this you can be sure, still hasn’t felt a full Covid wave, save for South Africa.

Covid Bytes

--AstraZeneca is still waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to approve the restart of the clinical trial of its potential Covid vaccine almost three weeks after it was paused due to safety concerns.  The U.S. trial of AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate, initially developed by the University of Oxford, remains on hold while regulators investigate an illness in one of the participants, even after a British study and other programs outside of the United States have resumed.

AstraZeneca has been accused of being less than transparent through this whole process.

--Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday it started a 60,000-person clinical trial of its single-dose Covid-19 vaccine on three continents, becoming the fourth experimental Covid-19 shot to enter final-stage testing in the U.S.

J&J said it cold learn pivotal results from the trial by early next year, which if positive could lead to government authorization of the vaccine for emergency use soon afterward.  The company aims to enroll adult volunteers in the U.S. and several other countries, including Brazil and South Africa.

A vaccine that Moderna Inc. started Phase 3 testing on in July has enrolled nearly 26,000 people toward a goal of 30,000.

Pfizer and Partner BioNTech SE also started a Phase 3 trial of their vaccine in July and have enrolled nearly 32,000 toward a goal of 44,000.  Interim results of the Moderna and Pfizer studies could come as soon as October, but possibly later, according to company officials.

--The World Health Organization said today that the global death toll could hit 2 million before a successful vaccine is widely used and could be even higher without concerted action to curb the pandemic.

--British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered pubs to close early for the next six months to help curb the surge in Covid infections, the UK hitting record highs in cases.  The new restrictions, which include a ban on serving customers at the bar, and closure at 10:00 p.m., could spell the death knell for businesses that had been forced to shut for 15 weeks earlier in the year.

--Israel hit record case levels this week and locked down for a second time.

I have a question for the Covid deniers.  Why would two favorites of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Benjamin Netanyahu, issue renewed lockdowns or levy severe restrictions anew if the coronavirus wasn’t a real threat to the health and long-term stability of their nations?

--Florida Governor Ron DeSantis lifted Covid-19 restrictions on restaurants today, as well as fitness and personal care facilities.  “I think this will be very, very important to the industry and it also will be a recognition that they have worked as hard as anybody to create safe environments.”   The governor, desperate to please President Trump in the key battleground state, is also suspending outstanding penalties and fines handed out for infractions including not wearing masks.

And DeSantis said he expects a full Super Bowl in February, in Tampa Bay.

--From Sarah Toy / Wall Street Journal:

“The new coronavirus can leave some patients with signs of heart inflammation and injury months after they get sick with Covid-19, even in cases where their illness wasn’t severe, researchers say.

“Lab-grown heart-muscle cells exposed to the new coronavirus in one study show extensive damage.

“The findings could help explain the symptoms of recovered Covid-19 patients, some of whom are struggling with such issues as shortness of breath, chest pain and heart palpitations, scientists say.

“And in some patients, the heart inflammation and damage could lead to serious problems years from now, including irregular heartbeats and even heart failure, though there hasn’t been enough time to study the long-term implications, according to researchers.

“ ‘We basically die with the heart-muscle cells we’re born with, so anything that results in the death of heart muscle has the potential to irreversibly damage the heart’s mechanical ability and the heart’s electrical function,’ said Charles Murry, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Cardiovascular Biology, who is studying  Covid-19’s impact on the heart.”

--Right-wing media has been mocking the estimates of the Covid death toll in the U.S., even as it is in actuality undercounted.  Many public health experts believe that at least 266,000 more people have died in the United States during the pandemic than would have been the case during a typical year.

But the likes of Mark Levin, the host of a syndicated radio show and a Fox News program, declared on Twitter Wednesday that “THE U.S. DID NOT SURPASS 200,000 COVID-19 DEATHS.” As evidence he cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that 94 percent of the reported deaths involved underlying health problems and that 6 percent of the people who died had no illness or medical condition other than Covid-19.

Levin is not alone in claiming the death toll was inflated, a false claim also promoted by a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory and amplified by President Trump in a post since removed.  This despite the fact that the White House projected 200,000 deaths this past spring.

Health experts have repeatedly debunked the interpretation of the data.  Earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci tried to clear up the misconceptions on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“The point that the CDC was trying to make was that a certain percentage of them had nothing else, but just Covid,” Fauci said.  “That does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of Covid didn’t die of Covid-19 – they did.”

But as the world hits 1 million deaths from the coronavirus pandemic this weekend, Sunday, a study out of the University of Melbourne’s global burden of disease group claims global fatalities may be closer to 1.8 million.

Alan Lopez, a laureate professor and director at the university, said the coronavirus’s rapid spread and ability to transmit in people with no signs of the disease have enabled it to outrun measures to accurately quantity cases through widespread diagnostic testing.

“One million deaths has meaning by itself, but the question is whether it’s true,” Lopez said in an interview with Bloomberg.  “It’s fair to say, that the 1 million deaths, as shocking as it sounds, is probably an underestimate – a significant underestimate.”

Even in countries with sophisticated health systems, mortality is difficult to accurately gauge. Tens of thousands of probable Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. weren’t captured by official statistics between March and May, a study in July found, which impacted efforts to track and mitigate the virus’ progression.

India, for example, has 5.8 million Covid cases, but accounts for only 93,000 deaths, but it lacks a reliable national vital statistics registration system to track deaths in real time.

Russia, on the other hand, is attributing the cause of deaths in some of its patients to pre-existing conditions, though they came into the hospital because of Covid, raising questions about the veracity of official mortality data there.  Iran’s figures have long been questioned, especially last spring.

The World Health Organization laid out guidance for classifying coronavirus deaths in June, advising countries to count fatalities if patients had symptoms of the disease regardless of whether they were a confirmed case, and unless there was a clear alternative cause.  A Covid-19 fatality should be counted as such even if pre-existing conditions exacerbated the disease, said the organization.  The CDC released similar guidelines.

Lopez, whose research has received funding by Bloomberg Philanthropies, set up by Michael Bloomberg, said, “Doctors often are learning as they go along, so they’re not certifying all the deaths that are due to Covid as Covid deaths.”

--Covid-19 patients aged 75 to 84 are 220 times more likely to die from the disease than 18-to-29-year-olds, according to the CDC. Seniors over 85 years have a 630 times higher risk of dying. The older age of fatal Covid-19 cases has made some people think “they’re old people, they’re going to die anyway,” said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“I have a really hard time with that,” Osterholm told Bloomberg’s Lisa Du.  “That’s an unfortunate and very sad way to come to understand this pandemic. Many of those people who died are very important loved ones to so many of us that it’s hard to just dismiss it as it’s just a number.”

I have good friends who ‘dismiss’ such deaths.  It sickens me.

Trump World

--In a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, nearly six in 10 Americans say that the president elected in November should be the one to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

All told, 59% say the winner should choose the person to fill Ginsburg’s seat, including 97% of Democrats, 59% of independents and 17% of Republicans.  In March 2016, opinions broke the other way, with 57% saying that President Obama should have been the one to fill the vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia rather than the president elected in November.  In the new poll, 41% say Trump should make an appointment to the seat now.

There has been a complete partisan reversal over that time, with Republicans moving from 26% saying the sitting president should pick the next justice to 83% saying the same now, while Democrats have moved from 85% saying Obama should have chosen the next justice to 3% saying the same about Trump now.  Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, never received a hearing in the Senate, let alone a vote, and the seat was ultimately filled by Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released today finds 38 percent of Americans say the replacement for Justice Ginsburg should be nominated by Trump and confirmed by the current Senate, while 57 percent say it should be left to the winner of the presidential election and a Senate vote next year.

Partisans are deeply divided on the issue, though clear majorities of independents (61 percent) and women (64 percent) say the next justice should be chosen by the winner of the election.

So there is consensus between the CNN and Post/ABC polls.

But after Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins said they wanted the next president to pick the replacement for Justice Ginsburg, Mitt Romney said Tuesday he would support a floor vote to replace her, essentially clinching consideration of President Trump’s nominee this year despite the impending election.  With a 53-seat majority, Majority Leader McConnell has the votes he needs to move forward with a nominee and Trump is announcing his pick tomorrow, Saturday.  Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa are the top contenders, Barrett seemingly the pick as I go to post.

Much more next time on how this will play out in terms of the hearings, where Sen. Kamala Harris will be in the spotlight, let alone two Republican senators in tight re-election races; Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Susan Collins.

Should Barrett, for example, be approved before the election, Democrats with good reason will  fear not only the rollback of progressive gains – including restrictions on abortion rights and the possible invalidation of the Affordable Care Act – but also the potential that a 6-3 conservative majority could hand Trump virtually unchecked power, or overturn any major achievement of a Biden presidency.

Regarding the possible invalidation of the ACA, you also now have the explosive Covid-19 angle and the potential that this new “precondition” could prevent one from gaining affordable coverage.

--Speaking of which, President Trump on Tuesday said that it’s a “horrible thing” and “a shame” that the U.S. passed 200,000 Covid-19 deaths. 

“It’s a shame,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn.  “That being said, we shouldn’t have had anybody, and you saw my United Nations speech.  China should have stopped it at their border, they should have never let this spread all over the world.”

Trump gave himself an A+ grade for his coronavirus response, to which journalist Bob Woodward said he was “quite frankly embarrassed” for the president giving himself such a mark, “because all Americans know that 200,000 were killed.”  [Save for the deniers.]

“The visitation of the medical nightmare on the American population is staggering, stunning.  It’s on his head, and he did not do enough.  He just didn’t,” said Woodward at a forum.

--Trump’s nominee to lead the agency in charge of curbing domestic terrorism told senators that White supremacists have become the “most persistent and lethal threat” to the U.S. from within the country.

White supremacist extremists, from a lethality standpoint over the last two years, particularly when you look at 2018 and 2019, are certainly the most persistent and lethal threat when we talk about domestic violent extremists,” said Chad Wolf, who has been heading the Department of Homeland Security in an acting capacity since late last year.

This was notable given that Trump and Attorney General Barr have sought to portray the nation as besieged by “left-wing” agitators fomenting violence in protests over racial injustice.

Wolf also told senators that the U.S. faces threats of election interference from Russia, China and Iran and that “Russia looks to denigrate former Vice President Biden.”  Wolf said there’s no current intelligence proving that Iran or China have yet carried out attacks.

So a surprisingly independent performance from Mr. Wolf.

--Trump tweets:

“Vote-by-mail ballots in my home state of FLORIDA begin going out TODAY!  Make sure to request yours, fill it out & send it in. Request yours today.”

[Ed. Funny how mail-in voting is just fine here.]

“We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!”

“Sleepy Joe Biden just closed down his campaign for the day (Again). Wants to rest!  He is a very LOW ENERGY INDIVIDUAL, and our Country cannot make it in these exciting, but complex and competitive times, with a Low Energy President!!!”

“The Democrats are only interested in BAILING OUT their badly managed, high crime, Blue States. They are not interested in our workers or small businesses.  Crazy Nancy will only do stimulus, which would be helpful, if we couple it with bailout money. Republican States are great!!!”

[The following is on Trump’s long-awaited healthcare plan.]

“We are providing better care, and more choice, at lower cost.  We are delivering a healthier, safer, brighter, and more prosperous future for EVERY citizen in our magnificent land – because we are proudly putting AMERICA FIRST!

“The FIRST PILLAR of the America First Healthcare Plan – more CHOICE for American Patients!

“The SECOND PILLAR of the America First Healthcare Plan will lower costs for families and seniors. The days of ripping off American patients are over. Today, I signed an historic executive order that ENDS surprise medical billing.

“The FINAL PILLAR of the America First Healthcare Plan – better care!  The historic action I took today includes the first-ever executive order to affirm it is the official policy of the United States Government to protect patients with pre-existing conditions.”

And there you have it, boys and girls…the long-awaited Trump healthcare plan. 

“I hardly know Cindy McCain other than having put her on a Committee at her husband’s request.  Joe Biden was John McCain’s lapdog. So many BAD decisions on Endless Wars & the V.A., which I brought from a horror show to HIGH APPROVAL.  Never a fan of John. Cindy can have Sleepy Joe!”

Wall Street and the Economy

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday issued a fresh warning amid a continued deadlock in Congress over another coronavirus relief package.  While households are spending now, perhaps using what’s left of money from the $2.3 trillion package passed by Congress in March, “the risk is they will go through that money, ultimately, and have to cut back on spending and maybe lose their home or their lease,” Powell said in testimony before the Senate Banking Committee.  “That is the downside risk of no further action. We don’t see much of that yet, but it could well be out there in the not-too-distant future,” Powell said in his last of three hearings in which he testified before Congress this week.

While around half of the 22 million jobs lost in March and April have been recovered, Powell said he was concerned about the number of Americans that were likely to remain out of work until vaccines made it possible for a complete recovery in sectors such as entertainment and lodging that have been most disrupted by the pandemic.

“We still have 11 million people out there” without jobs, Powell said.  “There is a lot of work to do there.”

Noted economist Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said that without a substantial fiscal relief bill out of Congress by end of the year, GDP in the fourth quarter will come in at just 4% as personal income sees a steep decline due to the loss of the supplemental unemployment benefit programs, down from Pantheon’s forecast of 10% in Q4.  The firm is calling for 30% in Q3.

The $600 per week enhanced unemployment benefit ended in July, and the follow-up $300 per week Lost Wages Assistance scheme expires in December.

We had more strong data on the housing front, with existing home sales for August coming in as expected, a seasonally adjusted annualized figure of 6.00 million, up 10.5% year over year and the highest since December 2006. The median home price hit another record of $310,600, up 11.4% from a year ago, as the high-end market, sales of homes priced at more than $1 million, surged 44% nationally.

August new home sales were at their highest level since Sept. 2006, 1.011 million (annualized).

Today, we had an announcement on August durable goods (big-ticket items), and they were up far less than expected, and versus the prior month, 0.4%, ditto ex-transportation, while the core capital goods metric rose 1.8%.

Lastly, jobless claims came in at 870,000 for the week, slightly above last week’s revised 866,000.  Not good.

But you add it all up and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer for the third quarter is unchanged at 32.0%, annualized.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office released new projections showing weaker growth and significantly more red ink over the next 30 years than it had previously thought.

Granted, such long-term forecasts are kind of worthless, but the fact is growth averaged 2.5% from 1990 to 2019, which is more or less what we’ve seen for years prior to the pandemic and now the CBO anticipates average annual growth of just 1.6% from 2020 to 2050.

It’s the debt factor that is now key for the future.  I’ve cried wolf on the topic for years and years but with all the spending on the coronavirus and relief packages, it’s easy to understand the CBO’s forecast for debt as a share of GDP of 195% by 2050, 45 percentage points higher than the CBO projected in June 2019.  It’s not just the surging outlays to combat the coronavirus, but it’s higher spending on Social Security and Medicare, as well as rising interest costs.

Yes, near term, lower interest rates are helping keep borrowing costs in check, but rates will rise one of these days and the impact will be huge.

Lastly, at least the House passed a stopgap funding bill to keep the government operating through Dec. 11 after both parties and the White House struck a deal to provide aid to farmers and food assistance for low-income families. The Senate and White House will sign off on it shortly, with final passage averting a shutdown prior to the election.

Europe and Asia

We had the flash PMI readings for September in the eurozone, courtesy of IHS Markit, and the composite came in at 50.1 vs. 51.9 in August (50 representing the dividing line between growth and contraction).  Manufacturing was 53.7 vs. 51.7 last month, while services came in at 47.6 vs. 50.5 in August.

Germany had a flash manufacturing reading of 56.6 vs. 52.2 in August, a 26-month high, but services dipped to 49.1 from 52.5 last month.

France’s flash manufacturing reading for September was 50.9 vs. 49.8, while the services figure dropped to 47.5 vs. 51.5.

Chris Williamson / IHS Markit:

“The eurozone’s economic recovery stalled in September, as rising Covid-19 infections led to a renewed downturn of service sector activity across the region.

“A two-speed economy is evident, with factories reporting that production growth was buoyed by rising demand, notably from export markets and the reopening of retail in many countries, but the larger service sector has sunk back into decline as face-to-face consumer businesses in particular have been hit by intensifying virus concerns.

“Job losses also picked up in the service sector as more companies became worried about costs and overhead.  Fortunately, factories saw slower staff shedding as pressure on capacity begins to emerge, suggesting the overall rate of job cutting has peaked.

“Encouragement comes from a further improvement in companies’ expectations for the year ahead, but this optimism often rests on infection rates falling, which remains far from guaranteed for the coming months. The main concern at present is therefore whether the weakness of the September data will intensify into the fourth quarter, and result in a slide back into recession after a frustratingly brief rebound in the third quarter.”

Far more PMI data for the broader EU next week.

Brexit:  There is a small window of several weeks for Britain and the European Union to reach a breakthrough in trade talks before Britain’s upper house of parliament considers the contentious Internal Market Bill.  The House of Commons is expected to pass the legislation next week, but then it will stall in the upper House of Lords until November, it appears, well past the European Union’s critical summit Oct. 15-16.

On Friday, Britain said there was still a lot of work to do in talks and called on the EU to translate a “more constructive attitude” into realistic policy positions.  “There remains a lot of work to do and either outcome is still possible,” a UK government said.  “In particular, the differences on fisheries and the level playing field remain significant.”

“If the gaps in these areas are to be bridged, the EU’s more constructive attitude will need to be translated into more realistic policy positions in the days to come.”

Senior minister Michael Gove warned that queues of up to 7,000 heavy-good vehicles could develop in southeast England from January if Britain leaves the EU without a Brexit trade deal, what he calls a “reasonable worst-case scenario.”  While the government remains committed to a deal, he said, he urged businesses to prepare.

The chaos will be created when only “30 to 60 percent of trucks laden with goods arrive at Dover and other ports in southeast England with the right paperwork to cross to France.”  Goods would be held up for days.

The London School of Economics released an analysis that concludes the economic cost for the UK of a no-deal Brexit could be two or three times as bad as the impact of Covid-19.  LSE modelling puts the long-term economic hit at 8 percent of GDP, which is similar to the UK government’s own forecast in 2018 in this regard of 7.6 percent. 

Conversely, the Bank of England’s latest forecast of the impact of Covid-19 shows a reduction of 1.7 percent of GDP to the economy up to 2022.

Yes, short-term the economic impacts of Covid dwarf those of Brexit, such as in the second quarter, but the LSE concludes that there will be longer-term damage from a no-deal Brexit to the country’s reputation for ease of doing business, with delays due to administrative burdens at ports, constraints on travel and tourism, as well as curbs on immigration and free movement of labor.

Separately, British car production fell by an annual 45% in August as the sector continues to suffer due to Covid-19 pushing down demand, an industry body said today. British factories churned out 51,039 cars last month, leaving output in the first eight months of the year down by nearly 350,000 compared to the same period in 2019, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said.  “Companies are bracing for a second wave with tighter social and business restrictions, making the industry’s attempts to restart even more challenging,” said the chief of the SMMT. The industry is Britain’s biggest exporter of goods and handling potential disruptions to trade resulting from Brexit doesn’t help.  “A no deal scenario would be disastrous, with car volumes potentially falling below 750,000 by 2025, hampering sector efforts to drive investment into the new skills, facilities and technologies that will be integral to delivering a zero-carbon future,” the SMMT said.

Italy: Italian government bonds pushed to record highs (record low yields) on Wednesday following regional elections earlier this week that diminished the prospect of political instability.

The yield on the 10-year fell to 0.77%, before closing the week at 0.88%.

Matteo Salvini’s rightwing populist League party failed to make a breakthrough in Italy’s traditionally leftwing regions, which would have raised the prospect of snap national elections.  So Rome’s borrowing costs stand at historic lows despite the economic slump sparked by the pandemic and a humongous government debt load prior to the outbreak.

With the risks of an early election off the table, the government can focus on getting the economy back in order.

Italians also voted to shrink the size of the national parliament, in an expression of Europeans’ continuing frustration with their political class.

According to polling, nearly 70% of voters approved a constitutional amendment that cuts the number of lawmakers by about one third.

The change is a victory for Italy’s 5-Star Movement, an eclectic antiestablishment party that has channeled popular anger with a political caste that many Italians see as privileged and out of touch with ordinary people.  The referendum shows the continuing strength of populist sentiment in Eruope.

Turning to Asia…no major economic news out of China, with all manner of PMI data coming out next week.

Chinese President Xi Jinping did however issue remarks on the economy published on Saturday that cited the nation’s steady recovery from the coronavirus-induced slump.

“The basic characteristics of China’s economy with sufficient potential, great resilience, strong vitality, large space for maneuver and many policy instruments have not changed,” Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as saying.

China has strong manufacturing capacity, very large domestic markets and huge investment potentials, Xi said.

Xi reaffirmed a “dual circulation” strategy that would help steer the economy towards greater self-reliance, as U.S. hostility and a global pandemic increase external risks.

Xi conceded the pandemic “has exacerbated global challenges as globalization slows and unilateralism and protectionism rise… We must seek our development in a more unstable and uncertain world.”

Xi urged calmness amid rising challenges.  “The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation can never be achieved easily with the beating of gongs and drums,” he said.

We had flash PMI readings from Japan for September, with manufacturing coming in at 45.2 vs. 45.8 in August, while services were at 45.6 vs. 45.0, so more of the same…more contraction.

Street Bytes

--Stocks finished mixed, with the Dow Jones and S&P 500 falling for a fourth consecutive week, down 1.7% and 0.6%, respectively, the Dow at 27173.  But Nasdaq ended its 3-week skid, up 1.1%

Stocks were hit on fears that Congress and the White House will not reach an agreement on a new stimulus plan, while election uncertainties are definitely at the forefront, as well as ongoing concerns over sky-high tech valuations.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 0.10%  2-yr. 0.13%  10-yr. 0.66%  30-yr. 1.40%

Another week of little movement in Treasuries.  I could be writing the same thing for the next year…or more.

--U.S. crude stockpiles fell by more than 1 million barrels last week, continuing a multi-month trend, but inventories were still about 13% above the five-year average for this time of year.  Concerns about demand amid a resurgence in the coronavirus in key areas, such as Europe, as well as rising supply, including from Libya, which is increasing output following the end of an eight-month militia blockade of oil exports, hurt prices.

--ByteDance and Oracle Corp. issued conflicting statements on Monday over the terms of an agreement they reached with the White House over the weekend to allow TikTok to continue to operate in the United States, casting doubt on President Trump’s preliminary blessing of the deal.

China’s ByteDance was racing to avoid a crackdown on its popular short-video app after the U.S. Commerce Department said on Friday it would block new downloads and updates to the app.  U.S. officials had expressed concern that the personal data of as many as 100 million Americans that use the app was being passed on to China’s Communist Party.

ByteDance said on Monday that it will own 80% of TikTok Global, a newly created U.S. company that will own most of the app’s operations worldwide.  ByteDance added that TikTok Global will become its subsidiary.  Oracle and Walmart Inc., which have agreed to take stakes in TikTok Global of 12.5% and 7.5% respectively, had said on Saturday that majority ownership of TikTok would be in American hands.

The current plan for TikTok Global does not involve any transfer of algorithms or technologies, and Oracle will be able to inspect TikTok U.S.’s source code, ByteDance said on Monday.

The Commerce Department postponed a ban on downloads and apps to the TikTok app that was due to take effect on Sunday by one week, to give the companies time to finalize the deal.

Because 41% of ByteDance is owned by U.S. investors, if you count this indirect ownership TikTok Global would be majority owned by U.S. parties.

ByteDance on Monday also confirmed plans for an initial public offering of TikTok Global, Oracle saying this would happen in less than 12 months on a U.S. exchange.

For the Chinese angle, the following is from a Communist Party mouthpiece, Global Times:

“Unlike the global hunt for Huawei, the U.S. has resorted to another form of extortion against TikTok.  TikTok has rapidly risen in the U.S. market with its unique algorithm advantages.  It closely integrated with American users. This also allowed the U.S. government to hold TikTok as a hostage.  It further exposed the Trump administration to the opposition of young users – who could risk President Trump’s reelection.

“For Washington, reorganizing TikTok and making it completely ‘de-Sinicized’ into a new company that is entirely controlled by U.S. companies is the most cost-effective approach.  It not only shows the decisiveness of the Trump administration, but also caters to U.S. companies.  Meanwhile, TikTok’s 100 million users in the U.S. will not be affected. Thus the whole country will be happy. The entire event will finally become a great achievement for the Trump administration.

“More importantly, this hands-off approach to branding the internet’s most cutting-edge video as a ‘U.S. company’ alleviates long-term anxieties of U.S. tech firms.  Regardless of where high-tech companies emerged (whether in China or any other country), the U.S. can follow TikTok’s model of stalking them and subjugating them to U.S. ownership and control.  In this case, U.S. technological hegemony will be passed down from generation to generation.

“For these goals, Washington has mobilized the entire nation to launch a combination of suppressive tactics against TikTok and its parent company ByteDance.  First, U.S. government officials and congressional representatives have made many groundless accusations that TikTok is transferring U.S. user data to the Chinese government. Following this, the Trump administration sought to ban the popular app in the country, with the U.S. president even personally expressing such determination. Then Microsoft showed up.  It took the extreme choice: TikTok would be either banned or sold to a U.S. company.

“TikTok was being forced into desperation. And suddenly there seemed to be a turn for the better.  Oracle could help run TikTok’s U.S. operations as a trusted technology partner.  This means TikTok did not need to be fully sold to a U.S. company.  It seems that TikTok needs only to give up a part of its equity, reorganize board members, approve Oracle’s access to the source code, and move its global business outside of China into the reorganized company. Compared with previous dilemmas, this seems to be a much better course of action.

“Survival after desperation might be a very alluring time for all parties involved.  Nonetheless, Trump has made it clear that he wants Oracle and Walmart’s total control of TikTok.  He wants the new company to ‘have nothing to do with China.’

“It is plain to all that Washington’s methods involve maximum pressure. These also entail blackmailing and trying to tempt TikTok with promises of survival….

“As a result, the Chinese government stepped in just in time. It first added the algorithm to the technology export control list on August 28.  This dealt a blow to the arrogance of the U.S. side. Then when the U.S. said that it ‘agrees in concept’ to ByteDance’s agreement with Oracle and Walmart, the Chinese government tried to press ahead with the deal.  Following suit, the Chinese government sent a clear signal of its opposition to the agreement, redefining the direction of this high-tech battle.

“Any single company is weak on its own. But China as a big country will not accept blackmail from the U.S.  Nor will it hand over control of an outstanding high-tech Chinese company to extortionists. The success of Huawei and ByteDance proves that China’s overall business environment has the ability to incubate companies with its own core technology and global competitiveness.  We cannot let these Chinese companies be arbitrarily slaughtered by the U.S.  We should not let Washington control the lifeline of China’s technological development in the future. We hope to maintain fair and mutually beneficial cooperation with the U.S.  But we are ready to fight resolutely against the bullying and gangster-like logic of the U.S. as well.  We have long believed in the philosophy that when we properly handle each other’s core and major interests, China-U.S. relations will grow smoothly. Otherwise, they will be in trouble.  We hope that it is no longer a luxury to see the great powers meet each other halfway in the 21st century.”

Hu Xijin, the editor of Global Times, tweeted: “Based on what I know, Beijing won’t approve current agreement between ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, and Oracle, Walmart, because the agreement would endanger China’s national security interests and dignity,” Hu wrote.

A federal judge on Thursday gave the Trump administration until Friday afternoon to postpone a fast-approaching ban on U.S. downloads of TikTok, or defend the policy in a court hearing this weekend.

I have seen nothing new as I go to post.  We’ll find out by Sunday where we are, maybe.  I apologize this is an incredibly complex, yet important, story that few can really explain because we don’t know where it is going to end up!

Most say of the deal as currently structured that President Trump gets nothing that he asked for. 

--Major U.S. airlines launched a last-ditch bid to persuade Congress to grant them a new $25 billion bailout to help avert tens of thousands of employee furloughs set to begin Oct. 1.

“We’re not going to give up,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said, affirming that the airline would furlough some 19,000 on Oct. 1, without fresh aid.  He reiterated, however, that the company itself is not at risk without assistance.  “American Airlines is going to be fine,” Parker said.

Two key Republican senators (Roger Wicker and Susan Collins) introduced legislation that would authorize another $28.8 billion in payroll assistance for passenger airlines (including smaller ones), but congressional aides said it was unlikely to win passage given aid requests from many other struggling industries.  And now with lawmakers focused on the Supreme Court vacancy, the likelihood of Congress passing a broad coronavirus relief package before Oct. 1 is virtually nil.  It is possible, however, that the airlines could tap $25 billion in government loans provided under the $2.3 trillion Cares Act.

--Shares in Boeing surged nearly 7% today after it was reported that Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson plans to test-fly the 737 MAX next week as part of the company’s efforts to return the aircraft to service.

--Separately, United Airlines said Thursday it will launch a new Covid-19 testing program Oct. 15 for its customers traveling from San Francisco International Airport to Hawaii, the purpose being to avoid a 14-day quarantine in Hawaii.

--California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that aims to end the sale of new gasoline and diesel-powered passenger cars in the state by 2035.

Newsom said in a statement that the widespread adoption of zero-emission vehicles would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help to combat climate change.  The transportation sector is responsible for more than half of carbon pollution in California, the Democrat said.

The announcement came as Newsom emphasizes climate change as a key cause for the state’s catastrophic wildfires the past month.

Newsom presented his plan as “an economic opportunity, the opportunity to transform our economy across sectors, the opportunity to accelerate innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit.”

Electric vehicles currently account for less than 10% of new vehicle sales in California, so more work must be done to increase consumer demand.

A spokeswoman for Ford said: “We agree with Gov. Newsom that it’s time to take urgent action to address climate change…Progress requires public-private partnerships, smart infrastructure and key resources that encourage consumers to invest in electrified products. We look forward to continuing to do our part to drive this transformation.”

The order is aimed at new car sales and won’t prohibit Californians from owning or selling existing gas-powered cars, Newsom said.

--Elon Musk is working on cheaper, more powerful batteries for Tesla’s electric cars, but many of the required innovations are still works in progress, Elon Musk said Tuesday at the company’s California factory.

The advances could ultimately cut battery costs more than 50 percent and increase the distance a Tesla vehicle can travel by nearly as much.  Musk said this would make it possible to produce a “compelling” $25,000 electric vehicle three years from now.

But Musk, known for making promises that often take far longer than expected to fulfill, said the company has not yet made the advances needed to get to that point, which disappointed investors, looking for a major technical breakthrough, in part because of the way Tesla had pitched the event, “Battery Day.”  Tesla stock then cratered in response late Tuesday and Wednesday, but recovered to finish the week at $407, down from $442 the prior Friday.

--Nikola Corp. Executive Chairman Trevor Milton is stepping down from the electric-truck startup with immediate effect in the wake of allegations from a short seller that he and the company had made false statements to investors.

The company said Milton would be replaced by Stephen Girsky, a former General Motors executive who already sits on the truck company’s board.

Nikola has been under scrutiny since short seller Hindenburg Research released a report earlier this month accusing the company and Milton of making exaggerated claims about the readiness of Nikola’s technology and how much of it is proprietary.

Securities regulators and the Justice Department are also looking into whether Nikola misled investors.

Nikola shares hit $54 on Sept. 8 amid the news GM was buying a stake in the company to produce Nikola’s truck, but they have now cratered to $19.45.

--Nike reported revenue that was roughly flat in the quarter ending Aug. 31 from a year earlier, but analysts expected a steep drop and the shares soared to new highs.  In the preceding quarter, Nike sales had plummeted 38% despite the company’s strong online sales.

Nike sales were strong globally. China as well as Europe, the Middle East and Africa stood out, with revenue growing by 6% and 5%, respectively, compared with a year earlier.  In North America, where revenue was hit hard during the peak pandemic months, sales had mostly recovered and were down by just 2%, though footwear sales were up 11%.

Online sales continued to grow rapidly, up 82% year over year, despite stores reopening, and are now about nearly a third of total revenue, a goal the company had previously set for 2023.

Nike’s net income rose to $1.52 billion, with revenue falling 0.6% to $10.6 billion.

Nike has gained favor among shoppers this year with investments in marketing itself as a socially conscious company, prominently supporting movements like Black Lives Matter and Time to Vote. 

But the shares by any metric are now overvalued, a 75 P/E, 42 on forward earnings.

--Ralph Lauren Corp. said it would cut its workforce by roughly 15%, reflecting a sharp drop in revenue due to coronavirus-related store closures earlier this year and potential challenges ahead.

The New York-based company employed roughly 24,900 people globally as of late March, including 13,800 in the U.S., according to its most recent annual report.

--Wells Fargo’s CEO Charles Scharf was forced to apologize Wednesday for blaming the lack of Black employees at the bank on a “limited” talent pool.

“While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from,” Scharf said in a June company memo.  The memo and similar statements by Scharf during a Zoom meeting exasperated some Black employees, according to reports.

Scharf’s comments were pilloried online.

“Perhaps it’s the CEO of Wells Fargo who lacks the talent to recruit Black workers,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet.

Scharf apologized in a memo to the entire company “for making an insensitive comment reflecting my own unconscious bias.”

“There are many talented diverse individuals working at Wells Fargo and throughout the financial services industry and I never meant to imply otherwise,” Scharf wrote.  “It’s clear to me that, across the industry, we have not done enough to improve diversity, especially at senior leadership levels. And there is no question Wells Fargo has to make meaningful progress to increase diverse representation.”

--In the middle of a global pandemic, Southern California home prices keep setting records. The six-county region’s median price reached $600,000 in August, up 12.1% from a year earlier, according to data released Wednesday by DQNews.

This is the largest percentage increase since 2014 and the third consecutive month during which prices set a new all-time high. Sales rose 2.4% from a year earlier.

One realtor working in the Los Angeles area told the L.A. Times, “We have had houses with 40 to 50 offers. It’s just bizarre.”

As Andrew Khour writes of California, which applies elsewhere:

“Compared with low-wage workers, people who tend to have the financial ability to buy homes have been far less likely to lose their jobs, and in some ways, their ability to purchase a house has only expanded.”

--Meanwhile, the reality is, as alluded to above, many are struggling.  In Los Angeles, for example, the upscale Luxe Rodeo Drive hotel has closed, the 86-room hotel sharing a block with such high-end outlets as Cartier and Harry Winston.  Workers were notified last week it was permanently ceasing operations.

This is the first high-end hotel in the Los Angeles area to go out of business because of the pandemic, but others are sure to file, experts pointing to an unusually high loan delinquency rate among hotel borrowers as a sign of closures likely to follow.

High-end hotels have also closed in other parts of the country, such as the 44-story Hilton Times Square hotel in New York City.

--New York City’s dire economic state continues to hit city workers in their pockets, as the mayor, Bill de Blasio, expands furloughs to more than 9,000 employees at city agencies.

Last week de Blasio had announced furloughs for 500 officials of the mayor’s office, himself included.

The furloughs (five days of unpaid leave between October and March) will save the city $21 million, but Gotham faces an $8.5 billion budget gap over the next two years, according to a July 29 report by the Financial Control Board.

It doesn’t help that the Metropolitan Opera announced it will remain shuttered for the entire 2020-21 season, through next September.

“This week should have been the triumphant start of a new season.  Instead, the health crisis forces us to now announce the cancellation of the season in its entirety,” said Peter Gelb, general manager.  “As you can imagine, nothing makes us sadder.”

Broadway is closed at least into January.

--Separately, New York City’s restaurants will finally be able to hold indoor dining as of Sept. 30, but at only 25 percent of capacity, which nearly enough for survival.

As one restaurateur told Crain’s New York Business, “We cannot get through the winter with only 25 percent unless there is some sort of government assistance.”

High-end restaurants, for example, spend most of their money on payroll, around 33 percent, according to restaurant consultant Don Evans. Food and beverage takes another 33 percent.  The rest of the expenses might include 10 percent on rent; 10 percent on insurance and utilities; and 14 percent on “other” expenses, including linens, garbage, sanitation and paying outside apps like OpenTable.

“If you have to bring in your chef for $120,000, your manager at $80,000 and two sous chefs at $60,000 each, the numbers just don’t work.  They don’t even come close,” said Evans.

However, today Mayor de Blasio finally did something good.  Outdoor dining, which was slated to end next month, has now been approved for year-round and for many establishments this is a difference maker.  For many others, though, it’s not.  Without near-capacity indoor dining, they won’t make it.

Foreign Affairs

China/Hong Kong/Taiwan: Hong Kong authorities arrested Joshua Wong over a 2019 protest and for allegedly violating an anti-mask law which courts have since found partially unconstitutional, according to the activist’s social media accounts.

The veteran activist Koo Sze-yiu was also arrested, pro-democracy figures told the Guardian.

Wong, 23, is one of the most high-profile figures of the pro-democracy movement which drew mass protests on to the streets of Hong Kong throughout much of 2019, before the pandemic and then draconian national security laws brought them to an end this year.

Wong was arrested for participating in an unauthorized assembly on Oct. 5, 2019.

He was released on bail a few hours later, and told media the international community should focus less on prominent activists like him and call for the release of the 12 Hongkongers detained in mainland China after allegedly attempting to flee Hong Kong for Taiwan by boat.

On the issue of Taiwan…Chinese aircraft approached Taiwan multiple times in the past week, demonstrating Beijing is a threat to the entire region and have shown Taiwanese even more clearly the true nature of China’s government, President Tsai Ing-wen said.

The aircraft flew across the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait and into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, causing Taiwan to scramble jets to intercept.

Last weekend, China’s air force put out a video showing its nuclear capable H-6 bombers, which have been involved in many Chinese fly-bys of Taiwan, exercising.

One montage shows a simulation of an H-6 attack against an air base which appears to be the main U.S. Air Force base on Guam.

Taiwan then test-fired missiles off its eastern and southern coasts following the military maneuvers staged by Beijing.

China said sending U.S. troops to Taiwan would mean war with China, the Global Times wrote in an editorial in response to Military Times articles mulling such a deployment.  Tsai Ing-wen has pursued the path of independence and been drawn into Washington’s policy of containing Beijing, the Communist Party-backed newspaper said.  This has brought closer a tipping point toward “a just war to liberate Taiwan.”

Global Times:

“The U.S. and the island of Taiwan must give up all illusions about the redeployment of U.S. troops in Taiwan, because it means nothing but war.  The Anti-Secession Law outlined three conditions that would compel China to use force. The second condition is ‘the development of major incidents that involve the independence of Taiwan from the mainland,’ and the third condition is ‘the exhaustion of all options to reach a deal on the peaceful reunification.’ The redeployment of U.S. troops in Taiwan meets the two conditions. We believe that the PLA will inevitably take military actions to start a just war to liberate Taiwan.

“The U.S. now wants to shape the Taiwan Straits as the main front to prevent China’s rise, because the Democratic Progress Party (DPP) authorities in Taiwan have completely turned to the U.S., and thus can be used as a tool. We must warn the DPP authorities not to wrongly believe that U.S. support is safe for them to split China without being punished.

“PLA fighter jets recently crossed the so-called middle line of the Taiwan Straits on a large scale, clearly drawing the red line that the U.S. and Taiwan must not further collude. The Global Times has understood that PLA fighter jets were as closest as only seconds away from the coast of Taiwan.  They were only one step away from flying over the island of Taiwan.

“The Global Times has predicted several times that the PLA fighter jets will fly over the island of Taiwan. The mainland would like to warn the Taiwan authorities that if the U.S. and Taiwan continue to collude, this scenario would be bound to take place.  If the Taiwan authorities still believe that the U.S. and Taiwan can adopt ‘salami slicing’ by sending higher-level officials to visit each other, they are making a gamble that will be costly to both of them….

“The mainland has patiently promoted its policy for peaceful reunification for years.  However, the Tsai (Ing-wen) authorities obstinately have walked toward the path of ‘Taiwan independence’ and fallen prey to the U.S. strategy of China containment, bringing the cross-Straits situation closer to a tipping point.  If a cross-Straits war eventually breaks out, the Tsai authorities will be the collective sinners to be punished.”

Ian Bremmer, noted global strategist, had the following in an interview with Barron’s:

“The U.S. versus China competition is on steroids because of the pandemic. On pretty much every front, the relations between the two largest economies in the world are getting worse – whether you are talking about the Uighurs or Hong Kong or Taiwan or trade or the South China Sea or tech or coronavirus.

“Second, President Xi Jinping could do no wrong for a while, but he has really overplayed his hand.  He’s nowhere close to as powerful as the U.S., but is picking fights with other countries: India, Australia, Canada, even the Czech Republic. It feels like insecurity. It feels like Xi Jinping didn’t handle the initial outbreak of coronavirus well, took some internal criticism, slapped it down hard, and is now just playing a nationalist patriotic rally-around-the-flag card. That might not go well.”

President Trump used his UN General Assembly address on Tuesday to attack China’s handling of the pandemic, saying the world body “must hold China accountable” for its actions related to the outbreak.

By contrast, President Xi struck a conciliatory tone in his pre-recorded virtual address to the General Assembly, calling for enhanced cooperation over the pandemic and stressing that China had no intention of fighting “either a Cold War or a hot one” with any country.

North Korea: A South Korean official has been shot dead and burned by North Korean troops, the South’s defense ministry said, condemning the “brutal act.”

Seoul said the man had disappeared from a patrol boat near the border and was later found in the North’s waters.

North Korean soldiers shot him, then poured oil over his body and set it alight, the ministry said.  It had come to this conclusion based on its analysis of “diverse intelligence.”

The official was working for the fisheries department.  It is believed he had been trying to defect.  A North Korean patrol boat found the man, who was wearing a life jacket, at sea.  After questioning him from a distance, he was shot dead in the water.

Kim Jong Un then issued a rare apology for the killing, Seoul said today.  Kim reportedly told his counterpart Moon Jae-in that the “disgraceful affair” should not have happened.

The death was the first of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade and caused outrage in the South.

The border between the Koreas is tightly policed, and the North is thought to have a “shoot-to-kill” policy in place to prevent coronavirus from entering the country.

Iran: President Hassan Rouhani told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday that the United States could impose “neither negotiations nor war” on the Islamic Republic amid heightened tension between the longtime foes over Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

“Iran is not a bargaining chip in U.S. elections and domestic policy… Any U.S. administration after the upcoming elections will have no choice but to surrender to the resilience of the Iranian nation,” Rouhani told the annual UN gathering in a video message.

President Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, and unilaterally reimposed sanctions that have hobbled Iran’s economy.  Trump wants a broader agreement with Tehran’s clerical rulers that further restricts Iran’s nuclear program, halts its ballistic missile development work and ends its support for proxy forces around the Middle East. 

Iran has refused to hold talks with the United States unless Washington lifts sanctions on Tehran and returns to the original agreement.  In retaliation, Tehran has scaled back compliance with nuclear capacity limits set by the deal.

In his UN address earlier in the day, Trump said: “We withdrew from the terrible Iran nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions on the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.”

The Trump administration on Monday slapped new sanctions on Iran to support the U.S. assertion that all UN sanctions against Tehran that were lifted under the 2015 agreement are now reinstated.  That move was rejected by key European allies as well as U.S. adversaries such as Russia and China who are all parties to the nuclear accord.

In his address to the General Assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron said the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran had so far failed.

Editorial / Washington Post

“A decade ago Iran found itself ostracized at the United Nations, subject to sweeping sanctions approved by a united Security Council. As this year’s session of the UN General Assembly gets underway Tuesday, it is the United States that will stand in extraordinary and unprecedented isolation, thanks to the abysmal failure of the Trump administration’s diplomacy.

“Over the weekend, the State Department proclaimed that UN sanctions once imposed on Iran were back in effect – only to be repudiated not just by Tehran, but by Washington’s closest allies.  Britain, Germany and France, which for years partnered with the United States in seeking to curb Iran’s nuclear program, issued a joint statement saying the U.S. declaration was ‘incapable of having legal effect.’  The three European nations, along with Russia and China, will continue to observe the terms of the 2015 accord limiting Iranian nuclear activity.  In claiming the deal is dead and sanctions are back, the United States is alone.

“The administration is seeking to force the rest of the world to conform with its version of reality by threatening sanctions against banks and companies that facilitate arms deals with Iran, or that support its nuclear and missile production. The continued reliance of the international financial system on the U.S. dollar adds teeth to the policy – though at the risk of further weakening international support for the dollar as a reserve currency.

“Yet the bottom line is that the Trump administration has destroyed the international alliance that forced Tehran to limit activities that could have allowed it to build nuclear weapons.  The ‘maximum pressure’ campaign President Trump launched has failed either to obtain more concessions from Tehran, as he predicted, or to bring about regime change – the goal Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tacitly embraced.  Meanwhile, Iran has stepped up nuclear work and now has five times as much enriched uranium as it did 2 ½ years ago.”

Russia: The CIA assessed in August that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top aides “are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations” aimed at undermining Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the 2020 election, according to a new report in the Washington Post by Josh Rogin.

“We assess that President Vladimir Putin and the senior most Russian officials are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations aimed at denigrating the former U.S. Vice President, supporting the U.S. president and fueling public discord ahead of the U.S. election in November,” the first line of the assessment reads, the Post reported.

The CIA compiled its August 31 assessment with input from the National Security Agency and the FBI using public, unclassified and classified intelligence sources, the Post reported, citing two sources who reviewed the document.

“We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.’  This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia,” William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in a statement in August.

The U.S. accused Putin in 2017 of directing all efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

In his statement from August, Evanina also accused pro-Russian Ukrainian parliamentarian Andril Derkach of “spreading claims about corruption” to undermine Biden’s candidacy.

Derkach has close ties to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and Giuliani has acknowledged that he received documents from Derkach about Biden.

Josh Rogin:

“Last week, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray referred to Evanina’s statement in testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee without referring to Derkach by name. Wray said the FBI was tracking ‘very active efforts’ by Russia ‘to both sow divisiveness and discord, and I think the intelligence community had assessed this publicly, primarily to denigrate Vice President Biden.’

“Trump responded to Wray by saying he was bothered the FBI director didn’t talk about China’s interference. ODNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) has also reported that China and Iran are attempting to interfere in the U.S. political process.  Trump has also personally promoted the anti-Biden information Derkach is peddling.  On Aug. 18, Trump retweeted a since-banned Twitter user who posted part of a purported 2016 audio tape Derkach released this year of Biden speaking with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

“The tapes Derkach released appear to show Biden linking loan guarantees to the ouster of then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who was accused of corruption. Giuliani, who met with Derkach in Kiev in December and in New York this year, has claimed the tapes show Biden was working to protect his son Hunter, who at the time was on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. The released tapes show no such connection….

“Even though Derkach is a former member of a pro-Russian party who attended the Dzerzhinsky Higher School of the KGB in Moscow, Giuliani has consistently defended his relationship with Derkach. Following the Treasury Department’s announcement sanctioning Derkach, Giuliani told the New York Times he has ‘no reason to believe [Derkach] is a Russian agent,’ but added, ‘How the hell would I know?’

“[House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot] Engel (D-N.Y.) told me he is not surprised to learn that parts of the intelligence community have concluded Putin is directly trying to help Trump’s election campaign, again. But he called on the administration to publicly release these findings.

“ ‘What’s most infuriating is that the administration seems to be doing everything it can to hide the facts from Congress and the American people,’ he said.  ‘The president seems to be trying to turn the entire executive branch into an arm of his reelection campaign, dangerously politicizing foreign policy and intelligence.’”

Laughably, today, Vladimir Putin called for an agreement between Russia and the United States to guarantee not to engage in cyber-meddling in each other’s elections and internal affairs, the Kremlin said.  In a statement, Putin called for a reset between Russia and the United States and said he wanted an agreement between the two countries to prevent incidents in cyberspace.

“One of the main strategic challenges of our time is the risk of a large-scale confrontation in the digital sphere,” Putin said in the statement.

Oh brother.

Belarus: Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in for a sixth term as president in a secretive and tightly guarded ceremony, which opposition leaders and European Union states decried as a farce that only highlighted his lack of legitimacy.

Without any prior public announcement, police and soldiers sealed the center of the capital, Minsk, on Wednesday morning and Lukashenko’s convoy of cars sped through empty streets to the city’s Palace of Independence, where he took the oath of office before loyal officials and members of the security services.

His claim to have won last month’s election with an implausible 80 percent of votes sparked the biggest crisis of his 26-year rule.  More than 10,000 have been detained in massive protests since, at least three have been killed, with hundreds hurt.

The EU said it will not recognize the election results or Lukashenko’s presidency.  He has accused the West of trying to oust him, while Russia has offered its financial and security assistance.

Lukashenko said during the inauguration: “I cannot – I have no right – to abandon Belarusians who have tied not only their political preferences but their own fate and the future of their children to government policy.”

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claims to be the rightful winner of the election and the legitimate leader of Belarus, called the ceremony a “farce” that only served to bring the autocrat’s time as president to an end.

“In fact, today, Lukashenko simply went into retirement,” she said from neighboring Lithuania, where she fled after the election, fearing arrest.

Afghanistan: The level of violence in Afghanistan is unacceptably high and the United States expects further setbacks during peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the Special Representative for Afghanistan said on Tuesday, as the two sides remain far apart on even the most basic issues to end two decades of war.

“By any measure, current levels of violence are too high,” said U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, addressing a House of Representatives hearing.

The Taliban has refused to agree to a ceasefire and the war grinds on.  At least 57 members of the security forces were killed in the days prior to Khalilzad’s testimony.

With all foreign troops slated to be gone by May 2021, the Afghan government is grappling with how to share power or contend with a Taliban push for military victory.

The U.S. is expected to reduce troop levels to 4,000 to 5,000 in the coming months, and to zero by May 2021 if conditions were met.

Random Musings

--Presidential poll data….

Gallup: 42% approve of Trump’s job performance, 56% disapprove; 92% of Republicans approve, 36% of independents (Aug. 31-Sept. 13).
Rasmussen: 52% approve, 48% disapprove (Sept. 25).

--In a new Quinnipiac University national poll of likely voters released Sept. 23rd, Joe Biden leads President Trump 52-42 percent, unchanged from a Sept. 2nd national survey.

Democrats back Biden 96-2 percent, independents back him 49-41 percent, and Republicans back Trump 91-7 percent.

94 percent say their minds are made up, while 5 percent say they might change their minds.

47 percent plan to vote in person on Election Day, while 34 percent plan to vote by mail/absentee ballot, and 15 percent plan to vote at an early voting location.

Among voters who say they plan to vote in person on Election Day, 57 percent support Trump while 35 percent support Biden.  However, among voters who plan to vote by mail/absentee ballot, 68 percent back Biden while 26 percent support Trump.

66 percent of likely voters say they are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned that a foreign government may try to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, while 33 percent say they are eighter “not so concerned” or “not concerned at all.”

On his coronavirus response, voters give Trump a negative 42-56 percent approval.

Likely voters give Trump an overall job approval rating of 43 percent, 53 percent disapprove.

--An NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll finds Biden ahead by 8 points among registered voters, 51 to 43 percent.  Last month the former vice president led 50 to 41.

The poll shows that close to 90 percent have firmly made up their minds, and that seven-in-10 believe the upcoming debates aren’t that important in deciding their vote.

But this poll still has 11 percent of all voters being up for grabs.

Biden leads among Black voters 90 to 5 percent, voters ages 18-34 (60 percent to 31 percent), women (57 percent to 37 percent), whites with college degrees (54 to 41), independents (45 to 39) and seniors (50 to 46).

Biden also led among Latinos, nationally, 62 to 26 percent.  In 2016, Hillary won the Hispanic vote by a 66-28 margin, exit polls showed.

Trump, meanwhile, has the edge among all white voters (53-43), men (50 to 45) and whites without college degrees (59-36).

And in the combined 12 swing states – Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – Biden is ahead by 6 points, 51 to 45 percent.

Overall, President Trump’s job approval is 45 percent, up 3 points from July, while 53 percent disapprove.

--A poll conducted for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by the Univ. of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs has Trump and Biden both at 47 percent of likely voters in Georgia, a state Trump carried by five points four years ago.

--According to a pair of Washington Post/ABC News polls in two Sun Belt battleground states that Trump won in 2016, the president leads Joe Biden in Florida among likely voters, 51-47 percent, while registered voters split 47 percent for Trump to 48 percent for Biden.

In Arizona, Trump’s margin is smaller, Trump leading 49-48 percent among likely voters.  Among registered votes, Biden leads 49-47.  Hillary Clinton carried the Latino vote in the state by 61 percent to 31 percent, according to network exit polls.

In Florida, the Latino vote splits 52 percent for Biden and 39 percent for Trump, among registered voters. Hillary Clinton carried the Latino vote here four years ago 62-35.

In Arizona, Biden leads Trump among Latinos by 61 to 34 percent.  Clinton carried the Latino vote in AZ 61-31.

[The poll also shows a close Senate race in Arizona, with Democratic challenger Mark Kelly at 49 percent to Republican Sen. Martha McSally’s 48 percent among likely voters.  Kelly has a five-point edge among registered voters, 50-45 percent.]

--In Reuters/Ipsos polls of six battleground states released on Tuesday, Biden led Trump among likely voters in Michigan, 49-44, while the two were tied in North Carolina 47-47.

In Wisconsin, Biden led 48-43.  In Pennsylvania, Biden is leading 49-46.

In Florida, Reuters/Ipsos has Biden and Trump 47-47.  In Arizona, Biden 47-46.

--New Fox News surveys of likely voters in three key states have Biden ahead in all three.

52-41 in Nevada; 51-44 in Pennsylvania; and 50-45 in Ohio, which Hillary Clinton lost by eight, 51.7-43.6.

--In a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of likely Maine voters, Republican Senator Susan Collins is narrowly trailing her Democratic challenger, Sara Gideon, 46 to 41 percent, the bulk of the poll conducted before the death of Justice Ginsburg.

--To start September, Joe Biden’s campaign had $466 million in the bank, about $141 million more than President Trump, with $325 million.  Both figures include available cash spread across the national parties and allied fundraising committees.

--David Ignatius / Washington Post

“ ‘And Wisconsin goes for…nobody, yet.’  That’s the kind of inconclusive message you may hear often on election night, as television networks try to cover the results of a presidential contest unlike any other in our history. Viewers should be grateful for the caution.

“Journalists at all the major networks use similar language to describe the challenge of reporting the Nov. 3 outcome. They recognize that because many votes will be cast by mail, the counting will be slow in some states and the final result may be delayed for days. Commendably, all the networks are preparing for a ‘decision night’ that may not yield an immediate decision.

“ ‘There’s a lot of responsibility for us. We take it very seriously,’ Bret Baier of Fox News, who will be co-anchoring that network’s coverage, stressed in an interview.  ‘If the difference in the number of absentee ballots yet to be counted is too large, you can’t make the call.’

“I spoke this week with senior political journalists at Fox News, ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC. They’ve all been pondering the unusual political dynamics caused by the coronavirus pandemic.  More voters will be casting absentee ballots, which often take longer to count than in-person votes. This mail-in electorate is expected to skew sharply Democratic.

“A September CNN poll found that 78 percent of Joe Biden’s supporters plan to vote early or by mail, while 68 percent of President Trump’s supporters want to vote in person on Election Day.  In Pennsylvania, 70 percent of requests for absentee ballots came from Democrats and only 29 percent from Republicans, the New York Times reported this month.

“Think about election night: The returns that are available by midnight, say, will be heavy with in-person votes, and they might show that Trump is leading in enough states to win an electoral college majority. The president, bolstered by these initial returns, might declare victory. But until the mail-in votes are counted in key swing states, such a declaration could be premature.

“ ‘This will be an election like no other,’ cautioned Steve Kornacki, the national political correspondent for NBC and MSNBC.  Tempers will be high, and so will uncertainty about the result.

“David Chalian, the political director at CNN, explained: ‘If someone out there is claiming victory, and we haven’t counted the vote yet and made a call, we have to be clear that the facts don’t back up that claim….One thing that’s critical is that we be as transparent as possible about what is and isn’t in the vote count, and what we know about the still-outstanding vote.’

“Trump and his supporters have been working overtime to delegitimize mail-in votes.  A blatant example was the claim this month by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany that a ‘fair’ election will be one ‘where we know who the president of the United States is on election night. That’s how the system is supposed to work.’  Nonsense. The system is supposed to count every vote.

“The stakes on Election Day are huge, and voters on both sides will want some indication that night of how the race is trending. The networks plan to use ‘exit polls,’ which this year will include telephone sampling that captures absentee voters. There are two polling criteria: the National Election Pool, used by ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC; and VoteCast, used by Fox News and the Associated Press.  Competing narratives shouldn’t be a danger here.  ‘Two high-quality surveys are better than one,’ argued Scott Clement, the polling director at The Post, who has used both….

“Journalists remember the embarrassment of mistaken early calls that Al Gore had won the 2000 election.  ‘Humility is always the key,’ noted John Dickerson, a senior political analyst and ’60 Minutes’ correspondent at CBS.  ‘Delay is a sign of rigor.’”

--A grand jury in Jefferson County, Ky., has charged Brett Hankison, a former Louisville police detective, with three counts of wanton endangerment in the first degree, but the charges are not related directly to the shooting death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor on March 13.  Hankison, one of three officers involved, was fired by the department in June, with a termination letter saying he “wantonly and blindly” shot 10 times into Taylor’s apartment (which endangered occupants in next door apartments).

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R), who is black, like Taylor, said he did not anticipate charges in the future.

Cameron said the state’s investigation determined the officers’ use of force was justified because they had been fired upon first, by Kenneth Walker, who was Taylor’s boyfriend.

Cameron said the state investigation did not determine who fired the fatal shot.  He said he asked the FBI crime lab to investigate as well, and it determined Det. Myles Cosgrove fired the shot that killed Taylor.

The attorney general said the investigation uncovered one witness who heard the detectives identify themselves, disputing earlier reports that a “no-knock” warrant was being served.

Cameron said that Taylor was struck by six shots fired by the other two officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Cosgrove.  He said both officers’ actions were justified because Taylor’s boyfriend shot first. Walker said he fired because he thought the officers were intruders.

Attorney Benjamin Crump, representing the Taylor family, called the grand jury decision “outrageous and offensive.”  Today he demanded that AG Cameron release the evidence presented to it.

“There seems to be two justice systems in America.  One for Black America and one for White America,” Crump said.  Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) has also called on Cameron to make evidence in the case public.

--Tropical Storm Beta tied a weather record that is more than a century old, Beta the ninth tropical storm or hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland in a single season – the first time we’ve seen this since 1916.

--Ice in the Arctic Ocean melted to its second-lowest level on record this summer, triggered by global warming along with natural forces, U.S. scientists reported Monday.

The extent of ice-covered ocean at the North Pole and extending farther south to Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia reached its summertime low of 1.4 million square miles last week before starting to grow again.  Arctic sea ice reaches its low point in September and its high in March.

This year’s melt is second only to 2012, when the ice shrank to 1.3 million square miles, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which has been keeping satellite records since 1979.

In the 1980s, the ice cover was about 1 million square miles larger than current summer levels.

---

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

God bless America.

---

Gold $1864…down $93 on the week
Oil $40.04

Returns for the week 9/21-9/25

Dow Jones  -1.8%  [27173]
S&P 500  -0.6%  [3298]
S&P MidCap  -2.6%
Russell 2000  -4.0%
Nasdaq  +1.1%  [10913]

Returns for the period 1/1/20-9/25/20

Dow Jones  -4.8%
S&P 500  +2.1%
S&P MidCap  -11.9%
Russell 2000  -11.6%
Nasdaq+21.6%

Bulls 51.5
Bears
19.4

Hang in there…Mask up, wash your hands.

Enjoy the debate.

Brian Trumbore