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For the week 6/29-7/3
[Posted 9:30 p.m. ET, Friday]
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I’m frantically trying to finish up this column before President Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore. I love the place…been there four times. It is beautiful. The film shown in the visitor center is inspirational and the drive through the Black Hills is breathtaking. The entire area, including the Badlands, Spearfish and Deadwood, is my favorite vacation spot in the entire country.
But I’ve gone in the offseason, generally late October (where I’ve hit an occasional blizzard), and that makes a huge difference. Just understand getting out of that place tonight, on the narrow, windy road, will be a mess for those attending.
I wanted to finish up before the speech because from what we’re hearing, a lot of us won’t like it…one bit…and that’s a shame for Fourth of July weekend, when our nation needs healing on so many fronts more than ever.
But President Trump is a man who retweeted a video from The Villages, a massive retirement community in Florida, last weekend, where one of his loudest supporters is screaming “white power,” and the president, and/or his team, didn’t take it down until Republican Sen. Tim Scott called him out on it.
It’s going to be a helluva next four months…and possibly beyond. We are going to be at each other’s throats.
And so it was another embarrassing week for the United States, like total embarrassment. The European Union agreed on an initial “safe list” of 14 countries from which they will allow non-essential travel, with the U.S. not among them. I mean Algeria, Rwanda, Tunisia and Uruguay were on the list, but not us. China will be included if it reciprocates by allowing EU travelers.
The U.S. saw daily record numbers of cases, exceeding 50,000 the last three days of the week, while the entire European Union is around 4,000, at most, total. The EU also has 100 million more people than the United States.
It’s called a failure in leadership.
Infections in the country surged nearly 50 percent in June as states relaxed quarantine rules and tried to reopen their economies, even though they weren’t adhering to the CDC’s guidelines for reopening in the first place. Florida, Texas, Arizona and California in particular.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who apparently was muzzled from appearing on the networks today, said on Tuesday, the U.S. is “going in the wrong direction” in its effort to contain the spread, with daily case counts more than doubling in just the past 2-3 weeks. And it could get a lot worse, like 100,000 cases a day, if behaviors don’t change, he added.
Several southern and western states then slammed the brakes this week on reopening, while others, such as New York and New Jersey, hit the pause button when it comes to indoor dining.
“The numbers speak for themselves. I’m very concerned. I’m not satisfied with what’s going on because we’re going in the wrong direction,” Fauci said. “Clearly we are not in total control right now.”
Later Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence, appearing after meeting with the coronavirus task force, sought to put a more positive spin on things. The U.S. is “in a much better place” than several months ago.
“To every American, we want to assure you that we’re ready,” he added. “More ready than ever before.”
But after weeks of rising Covid-19 cases statewide, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott finally ordered a facial-covering mandate on Thursday.
“We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck,” said Abbott. “But it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another – and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces.”
It was a shocking about-face from Abbott, who has pushed aggressively for a mass reopening. He had also stated previously that the government was powerless in ordering people to wear masks.
George Fuller, mayor of McKinney, Texas, thought his earlier decision to require everyone in his city to wear a mask inside businesses to stem the spread of coronavirus and avert a full economic shutdown was an easy one.
But some constituents in his Dallas exurb saw it differently, pelting him with profane emails, calling him a “pathetic, cowardly little dictator,” even disparaging his teenage daughter for contracting the virus. The vitriol, Fuller said, reflected President Trump’s refusal to fully embrace masks as a tool to stop the spread.
“It’s from the top – it’s why we have the problem we have,” said Fuller, a nonpartisan mayor who has long voted Republican. “It’s unbelievable to me that it’s become the political thing that it is. Our president could have shifted this or diverted from this path, easily.”
Meanwhile, Apple has now closed 77 stores it had reopened across the U.S. McDonald’s announced it was delaying in-store dining for 21 days.
But for the administration, it’s not about the coronavirus, it’s about the economy.
President Trump crowed over Thursday’s employment report for June, with another record number of jobs added, more details below, but after four incredibly volatile months, the labor market still faces a net loss of 14.7 million jobs. But for the president, “Today’s announcement proves that our economy is roaring back.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden said “There’s no victory to be celebrated. We’re still down 15 million jobs and the pandemic is getting worse, not better.”
It’s actually a race against the calendar to a certain extent for President Trump. When we finally get the GDP data for the second quarter later this month, it will be historically ugly. Trump will slough it off and he’s already talking about how the first look at third-quarter GDP, which will be very strong, is released days before the election, Oct. 29, to be exact.
Any pullback due to the coronavirus will be hurtful to economic activity, to say the least.
Lastly, it’s not getting the attention it deserves this week with everything else going on, but China’s move against Hong Kong, stripping away its freedoms, is both sickening and tragic. The United States did no more than ‘bark’ a few times, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo an expert at same; President Trump long bored with the issue, wanting to move on, to ….whatever.
Like whatever’s on Fox News.
[More on the Chinese Communists down below.]
Covid-19 Death Tolls (as of tonight)….
*I said last week that the Trump White House likes to talk about the lower mortality rate, picking out a number from over the weekend, and they did it again this week, looking at Sunday’s death toll of ‘just’ 285.
But I’ve told you any moron knows that the numbers are lower over the period Sat.-Mon. simply because of the weekend factor, and then we play “Catch-up Tuesday.”
As in last Sunday 285, Monday 346, Tuesday 764…then 676, 687, 616…Wed. thru Friday.
But we’ll find out over the next two weeks if we are getting a handle on the mortality rate with Covid, due to use of drugs like remdesivir, more expertise in treating the virus, and more young people becoming infected and hospitalized, but not with the horrible outcomes we had in April and May.
--Across the globe, worrisome spikes exist all over…such as recently in Bolivia, Honduras and Guatemala…a natural progression from Brazil, Chile, Peru and Colombia, and then Mexico.
And cases and/or death rates are spiking in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where it’s also rather warm (cough cough), while South Africa hit a new high in cases today. All three of these have been opening up because they felt a need to economically. It’s backfiring.
--Dr. Fauci claimed in an interview with The Journal of the American Medical Association Thursday that a more infectious strain of the coronavirus may be emerging.
Fauci said research suggests Italy was devastated by a different strain of the coronavirus than the one that originated in Wuhan, China.
The main difference between the two, Fauci said, is that Italy’s version passes from person to person more effectively, making it even more difficult to contain.
“It just seems that the virus replicates better and may be more transmissible,” says Fauci.
However, research has found no evidence that this new strain causes worse symptoms than the original.
--The National Institutes of Health’s director, Dr. Francis Collins, said on Thursday at a Senate committee hearing, that he was optimistic that the administration’s vaccine-acceleration program, Operation Warp Speed, will generate a safe and effective vaccine by year end and can meet a target of making 300 million doses by early 2021.
“That’s really a stretch goal, but it’s the right goal for the American people,” Collins said.
--A report from the New York Times showed that 43% of U.S. coronavirus deaths were linked to nursing homes, though only 11% of the country’s cases occurred in long-term care facilities.
Among more populous states, Pennsylvania saw 68% of its deaths in LTC facilities and Massachusetts 64%. [New York 21%, New Jersey 44%, Florida 52%, Texas 44%, and California 48%.]
--Cameron Wolfe, an infectious-disease doctor and associate professor of medicine at Duke University, on the politicization of wearing a mask.
“What type of dystopian situation are we in, when a face mask is a political statement. We have got to get woken up to the fact that this isn’t going away.”
--Students in Tuscaloosa, Alabama are throwing “COVID parties” with their friends and gambling on who will get sick first, according to local officials.
Covid-positive students were invited and “They put money in a pot and they try to get Covid. Whoever gets Covid first gets the pot. It makes no sense,” said City Council member Sonya McKinstry.
Tuscaloosa is home to the University of Alabama. Roll Tide!
--Patrons of a bar in East Lansing, Mich., were asked to self-quarantine after 85 people who visited the bar in June tested positive.
--Vice President Pence’s trip to Arizona this week had to be postponed by a day after several Secret Service agents, as many as eight, who helped organize the visit either tested positive for the coronavirus or were showing symptoms of being infected.
It was the second time in recent weeks that Secret Service agents preparing for a White House or Trump campaign event outside Washington have contracted the virus. At least three Secret Service personnel working on the advance team for Trump’s rally in Tulsa did so.
Editorial / Washington Post
“In a week in which the United States exceeded 50,000 new coronavirus cases on multiple days, more than double the rate of just a few weeks ago, there are important messages that President Trump could have sent from the White House podium on Thursday. He could have insisted that all Americans wear face masks in public, or urged them to steer clear of crowded July 4 celebrations. He could have pledged a renewed federal effort to expand the still-troubled program of diagnostic testing, a prerequisite for a return to normalcy. He could have given governors support for the need to impose new restrictions to contain the virus.
“He did none of these things.
“Instead, Mr. Trump remains in blissful denial as crisis ripples through the Sun Belt, threatening to create chaos and distress nationwide for months to come. On Wednesday, he said of the pandemic, ‘I think at some point that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.’ On Thursday, in a brief appearance before reporters, without wearing a face mask and refusing to take questions, he said, ‘We have some areas where we are putting out the flames, or the fires, and that’s working out well.’ He went on to assert that the United States, like Europe and China, is ‘getting it under control.’ Some areas are suffering a ‘flare up,’ he acknowledged, ‘and we are putting out the fires’ with a strategy to ‘vanquish and kill the virus.’
“The reality is that the virus is not under control; it is in control. Record-shattering numbers of new cases were reported Wednesday in six states: California, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, Arizona and Alaska. New daily cases are increasing in 41 states compared to two weeks ago. Outbreaks and superspreader events are erupting, such as clusters from Myrtle Beach, S.C. In five months the pandemic has killed nearly 19 times as many Americans as have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Trump – whose early reaction to the pandemic was to wish it away, who failed to muster the logistical support to confront it and who then decided to walk away by leaving the response largely to the states – this week continued to engage in magical thinking, referring to the raging pandemic as ‘certain hot spots.’ In fact, states that opened up prematurely in May are paying the price now, and Mr. Trump bears responsibility for encouraging governors to loosen the restrictions too early. It was a bad miscalculation.
“Now, governors are rapidly trying to backpedal, abruptly closing bars and restaurants, but it is exceedingly difficult to shift from reopening to closure again. Mr. Trump on Thursday elided this difficulty, saying the reopening decision is ‘largely up to them.’ He was characteristically only concerned with praising himself. ‘We’ve done a historic thing,’ he said, adding that he saved ‘millions of lives’ and now is opening up the country ‘far faster than anybody thought even possible and more successfully.’
“This is historic delusion, and it has consequences in human lives.”
Last Friday night as I was going to post, the New York Times reported on Russia’s alleged bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. forces in Afghanistan and for me it was a classic case of my dictum, “wait 24 hours.”
144 hours later, the story is still murky, but I think we can safely deduce the following.
The core of the story is that U.S. spy agencies concluded several months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit, the GRU, had offered secret bounties for attacks on coalition troops. The matter was discussed in late March by the National Security Council, as well as with European allies including Britain, according to the Times. Then on Sunday, the Times reported that the first word of the Russian plan came as early as January from military and intelligence officials in Afghanistan.
At least nine U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year, and 20 last year. [16 in 2019 were from hostile gunfire or improvised explosive devices.] The Washington Post reported Sunday night that Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants “are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.”
Needless to say, the bounty report revived longstanding questions about Trump’s affinity for Putin.
Trump tweeted: “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP. Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”
Earlier Sunday, the president backed up White House claims that he and Pence were unaware of the alleged bounty.
The same day, leading Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming said that if the information was genuine, the White House needed to explain why Trump was not told, and why the administration has done nothing in response.
Britain’s defense secretary said on Tuesday he was aware of intelligence relating to reports that Russia paid the Taliban to kill U.S. troops but declined to comment further.
Asked about the reports, Ben Wallace said: “On the issue of the reports which I think were in the New York Times, all I can say is: I’m aware of the intelligence. But I can’t comment on intelligence matters other than to say we take lots of measures to defend and make sure our soldiers…are kept safe when deployed,” Wallace told a parliamentary committee.
During the week, speaking with Fox Business Network, Trump said: “When you bring something into a president and I see many, many things – and I’m sure I don’t see many things that they don’t think rose to the occasion – this didn’t rise to the occasion. And from what I hear – and I hear it pretty good – the intelligence people, many of them didn’t believe it happened at all.”
National security adviser Robert O’Brien said Trump was not verbally briefed on the reports Russia paid militants to kill U.S. soldiers because of a lack of confidence in the intelligence.
O’Brien said the president’s CIA briefer “made the right call” in choosing not to brief the president.
“The person who decided early on whether the president should be briefed on this in the Oval intelligence briefing was a senior career civil servant. And she made that decision because she didn’t have confidence in the intelligence that came out,” he said.
O’Brien told reporters that the U.S. would respond strongly if it is confirmed that Russia paid Taliban militants to kill U.S. and allied soldiers.
The Administration has been saying that reports of bounties being paid did not reach the president’s desk and that there was no consensus within the intelligence community about the veracity of the claim, yet at the same time, the White House has been briefing senior members of both parties in Congress, with some Republicans clearly taking the allegations seriously.
Then O’Brien said the U.S. military has been warned about the claims and contingencies have been put in place.
It was not fake news, as Trump said when the story hit. It doesn’t appear to be a hoax. It was intelligence, which can be good or bad.
Editorial / Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Trump is cast again as the villain who knew the intelligence and did nothing, or should have known but didn’t, and in any event he must be in hock to Vladimir Putin. Mr. Trump and his advisers say he wasn’t briefed on the bounties intelligence, but sources (again anonymous) say it did appear in his daily intelligence briefing that he rarely reads. U.S. intelligence chiefs are denouncing the leakers, who no doubt want to damage Mr. Trump before the election.
“Our first reaction is that the Taliban have been killing Americans for years for the religious pleasure of it – why would getting paid make all that much difference? Iranians have been paying them to kill Americans, and so have jihadist elements in Pakistan, including some in the intelligence services.
“A second point is why anyone is surprised that Mr. Putin’s Russia would try to make trouble for America? He’s been doing it for at least 12 years, across three Administrations, since he invaded neighboring Georgia in 2008. Mr. Biden’s reaction to that affront was to blame the George W. Bush Administration and call for a ‘reset’ with Russia.
“Mr. Putin is interfering in America’s backyard by propping up the Maduro regime in Venezuela. He is trying to drive a wedge in NATO by selling S-400 anti-aircraft missiles to Turkey. He is propping up the murderous Assad regime in Syria. He is blocking an extension of the United Nations arms embargo against Iran.
“His agents traveled to the U.K. and tried to kill a Russian defector with a deadly nerve agent but killed an innocent Briton instead. His government recently imprisoned a former U.S. Marine on what are almost certainly trumped up spying charges. And, by the way, he interfered in the 2016 U.S. election under the nose of the Obama-Biden Administration. Paying to kill Americans is hardly a giant leap of bad faith for Russia’s president for life.
“In the face of all this, Mr. Trump’s continuing personal solicitousness toward Mr. Putin is strange bordering on the bizarre. It’s accomplished nothing except damage his own political standing. But then Mr. Trump has toughened sanctions against Russia, has sent Javelin antitank missiles to Ukraine that Obama-Biden refused to send, has withdrawn from two arms deals Russia is violating, and has tried to stop Nord Stream 2. He’s been far tougher on Russia than Obama-Biden ever was.
“What we’d like to hear from Messrs. Biden and Trump this year is what they’ll do in response if the intelligence about Russian bounties is verified. Does Mr. Trump still want to reward Mr. Putin with an invitation to the G-7? If he does it would rival his near-invitation last year to the Taliban to visit Camp David as an insult to Americans who gave their lives in Afghanistan….
“Concern about deals Mr. Trump might strike with Mr. Putin in a second term is legitimate. If only we could trust that Mr. Biden would be any better, and he might be worse.”
Editorial / USA TODAY
“Even if the president was in the dark until The Times broke the story, he isn’t any more. Has the commander in chief expressed even an ounce of concern that a foreign leader – with a known record of seeking to inflict pain on the United States since the Soviet Union got bogged down in Afghanistan and lost the Cold War – might have bought and paid for dead American troops?
“No. Instead, Trump’s first instinct was to tweet that the initial report about bounties was ‘another phony…Russia hoax.’
“Isn’t it, in fact, more plausible that while Trump has been busy praising his relationship with Putin and urging that Russia be allowed back into the Group of Seven leading industrial nations (from which it was banished after seizing and annexing Crimea in 2014), it would be politically damning to admit during a presidential election year that he was aware of Russian perfidy and did nothing?
“Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., is asking the right questions about Russia and bounties: Was the intelligence told to Trump? Was it in his daily briefing book? What’s being done to safeguard U.S. troops and hold Putin accountable?
“Answers to these and other questions are owed to Congress and the American people, especially the families of the fallen U.S. service members.”
--A divided Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, reasserting a commitment to abortion rights over fierce opposition from dissenting conservative justices in the first big abortion case of the Trump era.
Chief Justice John Roberts and his four more liberal colleagues ruled that the law requiring doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates the abortion rights the court first announced in Roe v. Wade, 1973.
The Louisiana law is virtually identical to one in Texas that the court struck down in 2016, only then it was Justice Anthony Kennedy who was the swing vote.
Roberts had dissented in that Texas case and his position left abortion-rights supporters more relieved than elated.
The chief justice explained that he continues to think the Texas case was wrongly decided but believes it’s important for the court to stand by its prior decisions.
“The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law,” Roberts wrote.
“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
“LAW & ORDER!”
“If I didn’t demand that National Guard Troops go into Minneapolis after watching how poorly the Liberal Democrat government was handling things, you wouldn’t even have a Minneapolis now. Once they were deployed, in force, all looting, burning and crime stopped DEAD!”
“Mail-in Ballots will lead to massive electoral fraud and a rigged 2020 Election. Look at all of the cases and examples that are out there right now, with the Patterson, N.J., being the most recent example. Republicans, in particular, cannot let this happen!”
“The Governor of North Carolina, @RoyCooperNC, made it absolutely IMPOSSIBLE for the Republican Party to have its Convention there – and we all love the State. Millions of Dollars, & JOBS, lost by State. VOTE FOR @DanForestNC!”
“NYC is cutting Police $’s by ONE BILLION DOLLARS, and yet the @NYCmayor is going to paint a big, expensive, yellow Black Lives Matter sign on Fifth Avenue, denigrating this Luxury Avenue. This will further antagonize New York’s Finest, who LOVE New York & vividly remember the…
“….horrible BLM chant, ‘Pigs In A Blanket, Fry ‘Em Like Bacon’. Maybe our GREAT Police, who have been neutralized and scorned by a mayor who hates & disrespects them, won’t let this symbol of hate be affixed to New York’s greatest street. Spend this money fighting crime instead!”
[At last word, for some reason de Blasio backed off on painting the sign, despite spending loads on police overtime in preparation.]
“As I watch the Pandemic spread its ugly face all across the world, including the tremendous damage it has done to the USA, I become more and more angry at China. People can see it, and I can feel it!”
“95% Approval Rating of President Trump in the Republican Party. I would imagine the 5% are the RINOS’ and stupid people who don’t want to see great Judges & Supreme Court Justices, a new & powerful Military, Choice for Vets, 2A Protection, big Regulation Cuts, Life & much more!”
[Ed. To quote Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver,” “You talkin’ to me?”]
“@CNN should move Fredo back to the morning slot. He was rewarded for bad ratings with a much better time slot – and again got really bad ratings. Getting totally trounced by @FoxNews. Give him another shot in the morning – He would easily beat Morning Joe’s poorly rated show!”
“I know better than anyone that my friend Roger Ailes died 3 years ago, just look at what happened to @Foxnews. We all miss Roger!!!”
[Ed. Some former female staffers don’t.]
“THE LONE WARRIOR!”
To which Eric Trump responded:
“You truly are and it’s why America loves and appreciates you!”
“This is a battle to save the Heritage, History, and Greatness of our Country! #MAGA2020”
“My Executive Order to protect Monuments, Statues, etc., IS IN FULL FORCE AND EFFECT. In excess of a 10 year prison term. Please do not put yourself in jeopardy. Many people now under arrest!”
[Ed. President Trump threatened to veto the entire defense bill if it contains a provision that would strip the names of Confederate generals from U.S. military bases.]
“We are tracking down the two Anarchists who threw paint on the magnificent George Washington Statue in Manhattan. We have them on tape. They will be prosecuted and face 10 years in Prison based on the Monuments and Statues Act. Turn yourselves in now!”
--On wearing a mask, the president told Fox Business, “I’d have no problem. Actually, I had a mask on and I said I liked the way I looked. I thought it was OK.
“It was a dark black mask and I thought it looked OK. It looked like the Lone Ranger, but I have no problem with that.”
--Simon & Schuster can move forward with plans to release a tell-all book by President Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, after a New York appellate judge overturned a temporary restraining order against the publisher.
John Bolton’s memoir sold more than 780,000 copies in all formats through its first week, publisher Simon & Schuster said Wednesday.
--Karl Rove / Wall Street Journal…on President Trump’s inability to define his second-term agenda.
“Mr. Trump’s success will depend on discipline, hardly his strength. Amid multiple crises – a pandemic, a badly damaged economy and racial unrest – Americans need to see competence equal to the country’s challenges, and a bold second-term agenda. Anything that undermines this – a needless tweet, a focus on a less important topic or a feud – increases the odds that Mr. Trump will be a one-term president.”
--Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who helped run Trump’s 2016 campaign, said on ABC’s “This Week” that “he will lose” his reelection bid “if he doesn’t change course, both in terms of the substance of what he is discussing and the way that he approaches the American people.”
[Ed. It’s too late…not that Trump can’t win, but too late to change his message.]
--The Rolling Stones have warned President Trump that he could face legal action if he continues using their songs at his campaign rallies.
Back in 2016 the band tweeted, “The Rolling Stones do not endorse Donald Trump.”
In a statement released Saturday, representatives of the group said that because previous “cease and desist directives” had been ignored, they would have to take “further steps.”
A few weeks ago, Tom Petty’s family issued a cease and desist letter to the Trump campaign over the unauthorized use of his song “I Won’t Back Down” at the Tulsa rally.
I have a strong personal feeling about this topic. Back when I was starting StocksandNews and doing radio commercials in the New York and L.A./San Diego markets, I paid $thousands for the use of the Lemon Pipers’ “Green Tambourine,” the intro, because it was the right thing to do! The money went to the woman who wrote the tune, we had a great phone conversation, she was obviously thrilled and she deserved the money. That’s America! Not this Trump campaign crap, which tells you everything about the character of those running it.
--On Tuesday, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at her daily briefing that “The president does read and he consumes intelligence verbally. This president I will tell you is the most informed person on planet Earth when it comes to the threats we face.”
So there you have it…sleep well.
Wall Street and the Economy
In the back-and-forth tussle between the bulls and the bears on Wall Street, it was the bulls’ turn to prevail as hopes for a vaccine and optimism over reopening trumped any virus fears. But the pessimists could reemerge next week depending on the Covid data.
For now, the June jobs report revealed another record gain, 4.8 million, on top of May’s 2.7 million, but we lost 22.2 million between March and April so we have a long ways to go, including a weekly jobless claims report of 1.427 million, the fifteenth consecutive week over 1 million when, as I told you before, the previous weekly high had been 660,000 set in the midst of the Great Recession.
That said, the unemployment rate did drop to 11.1%, though according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the true rate is higher, 12.1%, due to survey respondents again misclassifying their job status.
Hiring was boosted by the typically low-paying leisure and hospitality industry, which brought back 2.1 million jobs, and some 740,000 in the retail sector.
The white unemployment rate of 10.1% compares to that of blacks, 15.4, which is the largest gap between the two in five years. The unemployment rate for black men is 16.3%.
We are going to need a few more months to shake this all out as I’ve been noting the last few weeks. Try September, and the August jobs figures, before we could get a true reflection of where we are after some of the relief programs have ‘run off.’ And then we have the major recipients of the Cares Act, the airlines, who are talking sizable layoffs when their payroll scheme expires end of September, so we’re talking since the surveys are taken the second week of the month, we won’t know of the real looming carnage in that sector until November’s jobs report, which comes after the election.
Yes, boys and girls, a lot of spin is coming down the pike, including from me.
And we’ll see how much the states are forced to scale back if the surge in Covid-19 continues.
In other economic news, the Chicago purchasing managers report for June came in worse than expected, 36.6 (50 representing the dividing line between growth and contraction), which was highly disappointing, but then the national ISM manufacturing reading for June was better than forecast, a solid 52.6, vs. 41.5 prior, the best reading on this one since April 2019.
Factory orders for May rose 8.0% vs. -13.5% in April. May construction spending was a disappointing -2.1% when a slight gain was expected.
May exports were -4.4%, the lowest reading since 2009.
Add it all up and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer I like to tout has improved to -35.2% on GDP for the second quarter and it should continue to improve as more June data flows through.
The Congressional Budget Office said Thursday that it expected the economy to grow rapidly in the next six months but still wind up down 5.9% for the year overall.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said this week that the economic outlook “is extraordinarily uncertain” and would depend on “our success in containing the virus.”
Europe and Asia
It was PMI week in the eurozone (EA19) for the month of June.
The composite reading was 48.5, versus May’s 31.9. Manufacturing came in at 47.4 vs. 39.4 in May, while services were at 48.3 vs. 30.5. [Courtesy IHS Markit]
Germany 45.2 mfg. June (36.6 May), 47.3 services June (32.6 May)
France 52.3 mfg. (40.6), 50.7 services (31.1)
Italy 47.5 mfg. (45.4), 46.4 services (28.9)
Spain 49.0 mfg. (38.3), 50.2 services (27.9)
Ireland 51.0 mfg. (39.2), 39.7 services (23.4)
Netherlands 45.2 mfg. (40.5)
Greece 49.4 mfg. (41.1)
UK 50.1 mfg. (40.7), 41.1 services (29.0)
Chris Williamson / IHS Markit
“The headline eurozone PMI surged some 17 points in June, a rise beaten over the survey’s 22-year history only by the 18-point gain seen in May. The upturn signals a remarkably swift turnaround in the eurozone economy’s plight amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Having sunk to an unprecedented low in April amid widespread business closures to fight the virus outbreak, the PMI has risen to a level indicative of GDP contracting at a quarterly rate of just 0.2%, suggestive of strong monthly GDP gains in both May and June. [Ed. compared to a near 30% rate of contraction seen at the height of the lockdowns in April.]
“An improvement in business sentiment meanwhile adds to hopes that GDP growth will resume in the third quarter.
“However, despite the vigor of the return to work following Covid-19 business closures, we remain cautious as to the strength of any longer-term recovery after the immediate rebound. Companies continued to report weak underlying demand in June. Many remained risk averse, being reticent to commit to spending and hiring due to persistent uncertainty as to the economic outlook, and in particular the likely sustained weakness of demand for many goods and services due to the need to retain many social distancing measures. While confidence in the future has improved, it remains well below levels seen at the start of the year, reflecting how many businesses are far from back to normal.”
Separately, May unemployment came in at 7.4% for the EA19 vs. 7.3% in April and 7.6% May 2019.
Germany 3.9%, France 8.1%, Italy 7.8%, Spain 14.5%, Ireland 5.6%, Netherlands 3.6%.
Brexit: Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the coronavirus crisis had been a disaster for the United Kingdom and while the government would look at what went wrong it was not the right time to have an inquiry into missteps.
“This has been a disaster,” Johnson told Times Radio. “Let’s not mince our words, I mean this has been an absolute nightmare for the country and the country has gone through a profound shock.”
But the time was not now “for consecrating a huge amount of official time” to looking at “what went wrong and when.”
So on the issue of leaving the European Union and a free trade deal, the two sides concluded several days of “useful” face-to-face talks in Brussels though the Brits said significant differences remained.
“The negotiations have been comprehensive and useful,” UK chief negotiator David Frost said. “But they have also underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues.”
Talks will continue next week in London.
The latest bottom line is Britain will be ready to leave its transitional arrangement with the EU “on Australia terms” if no deal on their future relationship is reached, Johnson told his Polish counterpart last weekend.
The transition period expires Dec. 31, but if no agreement is reached and the Brits’ fallback position is an Australian arrangement, that would mean that much of the trade that transpired between the two would default to World Trade Organization rules, though specific agreements could be put in place for certain goods.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Britons they will have to “live with the consequences” of Boris Johnson rejecting Theresa May’s plan to continue close economic ties with Brussels after Brexit.
“If Britain does not want to have rules on the environment and the labor market or social standards that compare with those of the EU, our relations will be less close.”
France: President Emmanuel Macron suffered a big defeat in nationwide municipal elections last Sunday, which revealed surging support for the Green Party and underlined Macron’s troubles with left-leaning voters. His La Republique en Marche party failed to win a single major city, depriving the president of a local power base ahead of a possible run for a second term in 2022. It was a repudiation of Macron’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, even though the end results were good. The virus is barely circulating in the country, and as you see from the PMI numbers above, France’s recovery is well underway.
The Green Party appeared to have captured several big cities, including Lyon and Strasbourg, according to preliminary results, while the far-right party National Rally (formerly the National Front) took control of its first city with more than 100,000 inhabitants, Perpignan, in the south, giving party leader Marine Le Pen an opportunity to prove the party can govern, ahead of the 2022 presidential election.
The most notable win was that of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who won a race for mayor of his city of Le Havre with a strong 59% of the vote.
In Paris, Socialist Anne Hidalgo, the incumbent, finished first, with Macron’s candidate receiving just 14% of the votes.
In June, Macron’s approval rating stood at 38%, according to an Ifop poll, compared with 23% during the December 2018 yellow-vest protests, but Philippe’s approval rating stood at 50% last month.
So Philippe, a probable presidential contender now, and his government then resigned today as Macron acted on a pledge to reinvent his administration and win back disillusioned voters. Macron is reshaping his government as the country grapples with its deepest economic depression since World War II, a downturn that will shrink the economy an estimated 11% in 2020 and reverse hard-fought gains on unemployment.
“The return from summer holidays will be difficult, we must get ready,” Macron told regional newspapers in an interview published late Thursday.
Macron then named Jean Castex, a top civil servant and local mayor who orchestrated France’s exit from its coronavirus lockdown, as prime minister in a risky cabinet reshuffle. Castex will be tasked with forming the next government, the Elysee Palace said in a brief statement.
Philippe can now become mayor of Le Havree, where he could emerge as a rival to Macron.
Turning to Asia…China’s National Bureau of Statistics released its official government PMI readings for June and they continued to show a gradual improvement from a sharp 6.8% contraction in the first quarter.
The manufacturing reading for June was 50.9 vs. 50.6 in May, while services came in at 54.4 vs. 53.6. But export orders continue to contract, with a sub-index coming in at 42.6 vs. 35.3 in May.
The private Caixin figures for manufacturing in June were 51.2 vs. 50.7 in May, with services at a strong 58.4 vs. 55.0, the fastest rate of growth since April 2010.
Japan reported its June PMI for manufacturing was just 40.1 vs. 38.4 in May, while services came in at 45.0 vs. 26.5.
May retail sales were -12.3% year-over-year, vs. -13.9% yoy in April (the worst since 1998).
May industrial production fell 25.9% yoy vs. -15% in April.
The unemployment rate in May rose to 2.9% from 2.6% the prior month.
Japan’s GDP is still expected to decline at an annualized rate of 20% in the second quarter.
South Korea’s manufacturing PMI for June was 43.4 vs. 41.3 in May, while Taiwan’s was 46.2 vs. 41.9…still contraction all around.
--The Dow Jones rose 3.2% to 25827 in this holiday-shortened week, while the S&P 500 surged 4% and Nasdaq 4.6%, the latter closing Thursday at another new all-time high, 10207.
For the second quarter, however, the Dow rose 17.8%, its best quarterly performance since 1987, the S&P 20%, its best since 1998, and Nasdaq a stupendous 30.6%, the best since 1999.
--U.S. Treasury Yields
6-mo. 0.15% 2-yr. 0.15% 10-yr. 0.67% 30-yr. 1.43%
No big swings despite the big jobs report. But mortgage rates hit a record low of 3.07% on a 30-year fixed.
--Oil prices held generally steady this week, with futures helped by the jobs data and a drawdown in crude inventories, though the spike in U.S. coronavirus infections fanned concerns that economic activity will weaken anew in coming weeks.
Nonetheless, the price for West Texas Intermediate finished at $40.32 today.
--Chesapeake Energy Corp. filed for Chapter 11 on Sunday, becoming the largest U.S. oil and gas producer to seek bankruptcy protection in recent years as it bowed to heavy debts and the impact of the coronavirus on the energy market.
The filing marks the end for the Oklahoma City-based shale pioneer and comes after months of negotiations with creditors.
Chesapeake was co-founded by Aubrey McClendon, an early and high-profile advocate of shale drilling who died in a fiery one-car crash in Oklahoma as he faced a federal probe into bid rigging. Over more than two decades, McClendon had built the company from a small wildcatter to a top U.S. producer of natural gas. It is still the sixth-largest producer by volume.
But the current CEO Doug Lawler inherited a company with $13 billion in debt in 2013, and he had been chipping it down with spending cuts and asset sales, but then this year’s price rout killed any chances Chesapeake had of refinancing its debt load.
The company now hopes to eliminate approximately $7 billion of its debt through restructuring, which has the backing of key lenders, and Chesapeake said it will continue to operate as usual during the bankruptcy process.
--Baker Hughes data released Thursday showed oil and gas drilling activity in the U.S. slowed in June, with the rig count declining to 274 from 969 in the same month last year.
In Canada, there were 18 rigs operating during the month, compared with 114 a year earlier.
So that means a total North American rig count of 292 vs. 1,083 a year earlier.
Baker Hughes’ weekly report on oil rigs (only), released Thursday because of the holiday, showed 185 rigs operating in the U.S., lowest since the week ended June 12, 2009, vs. 788 rigs in operation a year earlier
--Exxon Mobil Corp.’s oil and gas producing and refining businesses will report operating losses in the second quarter, it said in a regulatory filing on Thursday, setting the stage for the company to post another quarterly loss this year, an estimated $2.3 billion according to analysts, with results due out July 31.
Rivals Royal Dutch Shell and BP Plc have disclosed massive spending cuts and writedowns due to the fall in the price of oil.
--Gold hit $1785 on Tuesday intraday and closed the week at $1787, its highest since October 2012, as mounting fears of a resurgence of coronavirus cases kept safe-haven demand alive. On May 15 I issued a rare ‘sell’ at $1754. I’ll stand by that…for now.
--Boeing Co. failed to submit certification documents to the Federal Aviation Administration detailing changes to a key flight control system faulted in two fatal crashes, a long-awaited government report has found. The flight control system known as MCAS was “not an area of emphasis” because Boeing presented it to the FAA as a modification of the jet’s existing speed trim system, with limited range and use, according to the 52-page report by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, dated June 29 and made public Wednesday.
The report addressed mistakes made by both the planemaker and the FAA in the development and certification of the 737 MAX.
A Boeing spokesman said the company had taken steps to enhance safety and was committed to transparency. “When the MAX returns to service, it will be one of the most thoroughly scrutinized aircraft in history, and we have full confidence in its safety,” the spokesman said.
The FAA began holding a series of certification test flights this week to evaluate the MCAS upgrades, which could pave the way for the jet’s return domestically by year end.
The IG report, however, said the FAA’s certification of the MAX was “hampered by a lack of effective communication” between the agency and Boeing, including, critically, “the incomplete understanding of the scope and potential safety impacts” of changes Boeing made to the jet’s flight control system .
“Boeing did not submit certification documents to the FAA detailing the change,” the report said. “FAA flight test personnel were aware of this change, but key FAA certification engineers and personnel responsible for approving the level of airline pilot training told us they were unaware of the revision to MCAS.”
The report says the FAA conducted its first-ever detailed review of the system in January 2019, three months after the first crash in Indonesia.
This is all so disturbing.
Meanwhile, Boeing is facing a slew of canceled 737 MAX orders, including 92 from Norwegian Air, which announced its plans on Monday. Hong Kong’s BOC Aviation then said it was canceling an order for 30 MAX aircraft.
Norwegian Air, which became a major player in 2012 with a big Boeing order, is also claiming compensation from Boeing for the grounding of the MAX and for 787 engine troubles that hit its bottom line, the Oslo-based carrier said on Monday. It is also canceling five 787 Dreamliners.
--Airbus plans to cut 1,700 jobs in the UK, with the Unite union saying 1,116 manufacturing jobs would be lost, with Airbus’ largest UK factories in North Wales and Bristol affected, along with 611 office-based jobs.
“This is yet another act of industrial vandalism and a terrible insult to our incredible UK workforce who deserve so much better from our government,” a Unite official said.
Overall, Airbus is cutting 15,000 jobs within a year, including 900 already earmarked in Germany, saying its future is at stake after the pandemic paralyzed air travel.
Airbus has been moving swiftly to counter damage caused by a 40% slump in its nearly $62 billion jet business. But it faces tough talks with governments as well as unions.
Europe’s biggest aerospace group said it would cut 5,000 positions in France, 5,100 in Germany, 900 in Spain, the 1,700 in the UK and 1,300 elsewhere by mid-2021, for a core total of 14,000, with another 900 having been planned before the crisis at a unit in Germany.
The situation with both unions and the various governments could turn very ugly.
--If it seems like I write a lot about Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, you’re right. But it’s an important bellwether and CEO Michael O’Leary is outspoken and always good copy.
The airline had a flurry of announcements this week. It is planning around 3,500 job cuts if it cannot agree on pay cuts with its staff. Ryanair previously said it cut more than 250 staff from its offices around Europe and was looking at up to 3,000 cuts among pilots and cabin crew. But O’Leary told the BBC he was asking the 3,000 to take pay cuts as an alternative to job losses, including “20 percent from the best paid captains, 5 percent from the lowest paid flight attendants,” O’Leary said.
At the same time, though, Ryanair said it had seen “very strong” bookings for the first two weeks of July across its network, which it largely reopened on Wednesday, though it expects ticket prices to be lower than ever for 12 months. The airline said it will take until 2022 or 2023 for ticket prices to return to the levels seen before the Covid-19 pandemic, O’Leary told Reuters in a separate interview.
Load factor was said to be almost 70% on Wednesday, and with the return to a more regular schedule, it expects to fly at 40% of its usual capacity for July. The company expects to fly more than 4.5 million passengers this month, compared to just 110,000 in April and May.
Well, Friday, Ryanair’s Irish pilots accepted a 20 percent reduction in pay which will be restored over the coming four years
--Air France-KLM aims to present a plant to trade unions to cut just over 6,500 jobs by the end of 2022, with about half of those coming from natural departures, such as retirees, who will not be replaced. Ground staff are expected to be among the hardest hit by the cost cutting plans, as the airline looks to trim capacity and exits loss-making domestic routes.
Another 1,000 jobs are going to be cut at Air France’s HOP! airline
--American Airlines told employees on Wednesday that it has approximately 8,000 more flight attendants than it needs as demand continues to be hammered.* The carrier said it plans to pare down its flight staff to the bare minimum required by the FAA. These changes will go into effect beginning of October, when the government bailout package that prevents airlines from cutting back on the size of their workforce expires. American said it hoped to avoid furloughing thousands and instead will encourage early retirement or voluntary leaves of absence.
*CNBC said the airline told staff that it expects to have an extra 20,000 employees that it wouldn’t need to operate its schedule this fall, but CEO Doug Parker clarified that the company will not furlough all 20,000 employees in October.
It’s the same at all major U.S. airlines, even as American and the others announce they are adding new flights this month and August, with United Airlines citing increased demand for beach and mountain getaways. In United’s case, they said they would add about 25,000 new flights next month, though this will still leave it with about 60 percent fewer planes taking off than it did August of last year.
Back to American, Thursday, they then announced they would end several international routes and see a “prolonged downturn” in travel with demand still seen below previous levels even next summer.
Long-haul international capacity in the summer of 2021 is set to be down 25% versus 2019 levels, American said in a filing with the SEC.
Among the routes that will be ended are Los Angeles to Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo, and Chicago to Budapest.
--Delta Air Lines said last weekend it would send warning notices to about 2,500 pilots regarding possible furloughs at the airline, with Delta reaching a tentative agreement with the Air Line Pilots Association labor union on a pilot-specific voluntary early retirement option.
Previously, CEO Ed Bastian said “we likely remain at least two years away from a return to normal.”
--I do have to say that the TSA checkpoint figures at America’s airports continue to edge up, generally 23% to 25% of 2019 levels. Capt. Bob at Southwest, however, says they are more in the 38% range and he’s positive on the airline’s outlook, especially since it isn’t so reliant on international routes like an American or United.
--Mexican airline company Grupo Aeromexico SAB filed Tuesday for voluntary restructuring under chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code.
Aeromexico’s passenger traffic fell by more than 90% in April and in May, compared with the year-earlier months.
“Our industry faces unprecedented challenges derived from a significant reduction in passenger demand on a global level,” the company said in a filing with the Mexican stock exchange.
Aeromexico joined fellow Latin American airlines Avianca Holdings SA (Colombia) and Latam Airlines Group SA (Chile) in seeking bankruptcy protection.
--Major auto makers reported sharp drops in U.S. sales in the second quarter, with General Motors reporting a 34% drop in Q2 compared with a year earlier, though with demand picking up in May and June. Ford Motor reported a 33% plunge in second-quarter U.S. sales; down 23% for the first half vs. a year ago. Toyota Motor Corp.’s sales fell by about a third, while Fiat Chrysler reported a 39% decline.
Overall, second-quarter U.S. vehicle sales are expected to have fallen by about a third, but not as steep as first feared. Heavy sales promotions and federal stimulus checks helped spur demand.
I’ve had about 12 straight Hondas (true), just rolling over a lease every few years, and this is the first time I’m having a little problem getting what I want because it isn’t in stock (I must have Sirius). My local dealer has been packed two days recently, one weekend day, one midweek, which kind of startled me.
And Honda reported sales declined just 15.5% in June from the same month in 2019. For Q2, Honda’s U.S. sales slumped nearly 28%, down 23.8% year-to-date.
Nissan Motor Co.’s second-quarter U.S. sales fell by nearly half, hurt by a drop in fleet sales, while Hyundai Motor America said sales in June fell 22% after demand from rental-car companies evaporated, but sales to individual retail buyers rose 6%.
--And then there is Tesla, which this week saw its market cap surpass that of Toyota on Wednesday, breaching $200 billion ($208bn vs. Toyota’s closing market value of $202bn that day). On Monday, CEO Elon Musk, in an internal email, called on employees to work hard to allow the electric car maker to break even in the second quarter despite the pandemic.
So Thursday, the company reported far better than expected deliveries in Q2, 90,650 vehicles vs. expectations of about 74,000. Tesla delivered 80,050 units of its new Model Y sport utility vehicle and Model 3 for the quarter.
“While our main factory in Fremont was shut down for much of the quarter, we have successfully ramped production back to prior levels,” the automaker said in a statement.
Tesla shares then finished the week at $1,213, up from $418 on Dec. 31, 2019, and $211 on Aug. 23. The price action is totally out of control.
--Shares in FedEx Corp. soared 12% on Wednesday after the delivery giant reported stronger than expected results for its fiscal fourth quarter owing to a surge in residential deliveries, while experiencing a jump in international cargo during the period, helping to offset a significant decline in commercial shipments as thousands of businesses closed due to broad lockdowns.
With the surge in homebound shoppers buying online and the resulting impact on deliveries, FedEx said that 72% of shipments in the U.S. went to residences in the latest quarter, compared with 56% a year ago.
Chairman and CEO Fed Smith said that deliveries tied to online shopping were comparable to the level seen during the holidays.
But home deliveries do carry higher costs and FedEx has taken steps to curb the influx of orders by limiting the number of orders retailers like Kohl’s Corp. could ship out of their stores.
The company said it wasn’t giving an outlook for earnings for the new fiscal year “as the timing and pace of an economic recovery are uncertain.” FedEx said it was cutting capital spending by about $1 billion from the prior year as it reduces spending on replacement vehicles and delays upgrades to some facilities.
--Gilead Sciences Inc. detailed its pricing plans for the Covid-19 drug remdesivir, saying it will charge U.S. hospitals $3,120 for a typical patient.
The drugmaker will begin charging for the drug in July; the U.S. having distributed remdesivir donated by Gilead since the drug was authorized for emergency use in May.
Under the company’s plans, Gilead will charge a higher price for most patients in the U.S., and a lower price for the rest of the developed world where governments directly negotiate drug prices.
The government price (such as for the VA) will be $390 a dose, or $2,340 a patient for the shortest treatment course and $4,290 for a longer treatment course.
Gilead said in the U.S. it will charge nongovernment buyers such as hospitals about $520 a dose, or one-third more than the government price, for patients who are commercially insured. That works out to $3,120 for a patient getting the shorter, more common course of treatment.
The drug interferes with the new coronavirus’ ability to replicate within a patient’s cells.
Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day said, “This medicine is priced far below the value it brings to health-care systems and that’s true for private payers and government payers.”
The drug is said to lower hospital stays for the most severe Covid patients by about a third (or four days earlier than patients who didn’t get the drug), which is why O’Day can make such a claim.
Separately, the Associated Press had a story on how the U.S. government reached an agreement with Gilead to make the bulk of their production of remdesivir for the next three months available to Americans, with the Dept. of Health and Human Services saying it had secured 500,000 treatments through September, which amounts to all but 10% of production in August and September.
Needless to say, other countries are not happy, as it is the only drug licensed by both the U.S. and the European Union as a treatment for those with severe illness from the coronavirus.
Americans better hope the first vaccine is made by an American company, that’s all I’ll add for now.
--According to StandardMedia Tracker, last month, U.S. advertising revenue plunged 31 percent with the postponement of big-ticket sporting events dragging down big media companies like Disney, which owns ESPN.
Disney and WarnerMedia logged some of the steepest ad declines last month due to a delay in the NBA playoffs, which typically take place in May and on into June. WarnerMedia (TNT) saw its ad revenue fall 45 percent during May while Disney’s dropped nearly 40 percent.
The coronavirus-embattled travel industry slashed its ad spend by a whopping 87 percent, the most in any category, the report said. Automotive ad spending dipped by 60 percent, followed by apparel and accessories ad spend, down 57 percent.
Google, Facebook and Microsoft saw smaller drops in ad revenue because they are less reliant on sports.
--According to a new analysis from the Center for New York City Affairs, Gotham could end 2020 with 600,000 fewer jobs than when the year started, having lost 1.2 million since February.
Workers in office settings that can shift to remote operations are merely mired in the recession, with a loss of about 6.3% of those jobs in the city since February. Meanwhile, servers and retail workers are suffering a historic depression, with jobs in so-called face-to-face work down 35% from the start of the pandemic.
“The big hit on the face-to-face industries disproportionately hits low-income workers in New York City, many of whom are persons of color, and many jobs that are concentrated in certain neighborhoods,” said James Parrott, who co-wrote the report. “The economic outlook for those neighborhoods and those workers is pretty bleak at this point.”
Employment in restaurants and bars alone was more than 200,000 below February levels by the end of May, accounting for one in every five city jobs displaced by Covid-19, according to the report.
Meanwhile, New York City and New Jersey halted plans for indoor dining amid the surge in Covid cases in other states.
--Macy’s has been holding a series of ‘flash’ fireworks displays this week in all of New York City’s five boroughs, not wanting to reveal locations until the last minute in order to avoid large crowds. Couple this with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the company is a critical institution in the Big Apple and for America overall. I mean who doesn’t catch at least some of the parade, in good times and bad.
But boy is Macy’s Inc. struggling, reporting a staggering $3.58 billion quarterly loss on Wednesday, including a $3 billion impairment charge.
The pandemic has forced brick-and-mortar retailers to tap credit lines, lay off employees and suspend dividends and buybacks in a bid to stay afloat.
“While our stores are reopened, we expect that the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to impact the country for the remainder of the year,” Macy’s CEO, Jeff Gennette, said in a statement, adding that the department store operator does not expect another total shutdown of stores.
Macy’s, which also owns Bloomingdale’s, said net sales for the fiscal first quarter ended May 2 nearly halved to $3.02 billion.
The retailer’s results come as some of its peers, including J. Crew, J.C. Penney and Neiman Marcus Group, have filed for bankruptcy after failing to cope with market uncertainties and mounting debt.
Last week, Macy’s said it would lay off about 3,900 employees in corporate and management positions in a bid to save cash, but it did not provide an updated outlook.
Macy’s suffers because of its flagship Manhattan store and the “virtual disappearance of international tourism spending,” which isn’t expected to “recover any time soon,” said Gennette on a call with investors Wednesday.
--As noted above, McDonald’s Corp. is pausing the reopening of dine-in service in the U.S. by three weeks.
“Our resiliency will be tested again. Covid-19 cases are on the rise,” said a company letter by Joe Erlinger, McDonald’s U.S. president.
McDonald’s operators began offering limited, dine-in service in May, and around 2,200 of its 14,000 U.S. restaurants now allow customers to eat their meals inside. Restaurant owners that began offering dine-in service can continue if their jurisdiction still allows it, but the company decided to halt additional openings as a number of state and local governments tighten social-distancing regulations ahead of the holiday weekend.
McDonald’s has fared much better compared to its peers owing to its busy drive-throughs.
--Papa John’s said Tuesday same-store sales in North America in the second quarter, ending June 28, increased by 28%, and by 5.3% at its international stores. The company said June marked a third consecutive month of double-digit sales growth in North America.
--General Mills Inc., maker of Cheerios and Betty Crocker cake mix, reported a 16% jump in comparable sales for the latest quarter, which ended May 31. The company said its U.S. cereal sales, which were picking up before the pandemic, rose 26% in the quarter.
But while General Mills expects elevated demand to continue, the uncertainty of the coronavirus made it difficult to predict an earnings range for the coming year. I mean how far can you stock your pantry? I am more than ready for a second wave in New Jersey and another lockdown and supply issues at the grocery store…and I was back in March…I just am not shopping as much as I used to in that regard. I have a legitimate 30-day+ soup supply, for example. [General Mills makes Progresso…a very solid go-to product that is a fave of StocksandNews.]
Yet in my tri-state region, no doubt it would be panic city all over again, especially for paper products, if we start spiking anew. Companies like General Mills and rival Conagra (Heathy Choice meals and Birds Eye frozen veggies) have vowed they will be ready to meet demand.
Overall, General Mills’ quarterly sales increased 21% over a year earlier, though this was only slightly ahead of expectations.
--Cirque du Soleil announced Monday it is filing for bankruptcy protection amid the coronavirus crisis.
The entertainment group is an institution on the Las Vegas Strip, with its pricey, mesmerizing shows high on visitors’ vacation agendas. The company had six shows operating in major Las Vegas casino hotels when the coronavirus crushed travel and closed casinos for nearly three months. Personally, years ago I saw “The Beatles Love” and it was phenomenal. I feel for these guys.
--The world’s mountain of discarded flat-screen TVs, cellphones and other electronic goods grew to a record high last year, according to a UN-backed study, which estimated the amount of e-waste piled up globally at 59.1 million tons, or the equivalent of 350 cruise ships the size of the Queen Mary II.
--Shares of gun stocks rose to fresh record highs Thursday amid the sharp rise in domestic gun sales since the start of the pandemic and the civil unrest over race.
Background checks for gun sales set a new record in June, rising 71% year-over-year to around 3.9 million, according to data compiled by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, multiple media outlets reported Thursday.
--As you know I have a special affection for Ireland and needless to say their critical tourism industry is in shambles, “shattered,” in the words of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (Itic). Itic is calling for 1 billion euros to disburse to struggling businesses to stave off a wave of insolvencies.
Consider that revenues in the tourism sector are slated to fall to about $2.6 billion his year, a three-quarters drop from $10.2 billion in 2019 before the coronavirus shock.
Even under an optimistic scenario, it is not expected to be until 2023, or maybe 2024, before the sector reaches 2019 levels again.
Tourism employs 265,000 in the country, easily the largest industry.
Further proof of the disaster here…famous Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street in Dublin announced it was officially closing, 110 staff impacted. Bewley’s, like other establishments of its ilk has been largely shutdown since March 16 and it wasn’t paying its rent.
In fact, when you talk of shutting the pubs, there are no worse potential superspreaders than a classic Irish pub…dark, dank, zero ventilation…and that is what you find in my beloved Lahinch, which I know is struggling mightily without U.S. tourism dollars (and greens fees at its famous links).
--CNN recorded its biggest audience for any three-month period in the network’s 40-year history, with Fox News and MSNBC also having record-setting quarters ending in June, according to Nielsen Company.
But CNN’s audience increased at a higher pace than its rivals, and it is also seeing strong numbers for its digital operation.
“All of our research shows we are the most trusted name in news,” Jeff Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports and CNN chief executive, said Wednesday. “Others may not believe that, others may scoff at that, the president of the United States makes fun of it, but it’s true.”
CNN’s weekday prime-time audience of 1.95 million was up 120% over the same period last year, Nielsen said. Fox News, which has led in the ratings for nearly two decades, had an average of 4.07 million viewers, a 43% increase, while MSNBC’s count of 2.47 million was up 13% from 2019.
For the total day, CNN’s viewership was up 119% over 2019, Fox jumped 48% and MSNBC by 34%.
--Finally, I mentioned the struggling New England lobster business last week, the result of poor trade policy.
Sunday, the Wall Street Journal editorialized:
“We hope Peter Navarro has received his updated business cards. At a meeting in Maine this month with commercial fishermen, President Trump was told how his trade war has devastated the state’s lobster industry. Mr. Trump said he’d get his trade adviser working on it posthaste: ‘Peter Navarro is going to be the Lobster King now, OK?’
“In 2018 China placed a 25% retaliatory tariff on U.S. seafood products, including lobster. America’s total lobster exports to China, excluding Hong Kong, proceeded to fall to $51 million last year from $148 million in 2018, according to federal data. The tariff gave a large advantage to Canada’s lobstermen, who clamped their big red claws onto sales that used to be Maine’s.
“Last week brought the first decree of Lobster King Peter I, long may he not reign over crustaceans. Mr. Trump issued a memo laying out a policy of protection for the U.S. lobster industry. China’s original retaliatory tariff of 25%, it explains, has since been raised to 30%. Add China’s usual ‘most favored nation’ tariffs of 5% and 7%, depending on the species, and ‘American lobsters currently face tariffs of either 35 percent or 37 percent.”
“As part of the ‘phase one’ U.S.-China trade deal, Beijing said it would increase purchases of American products, including seafood. The White House promises to monitor Maine’s lobster exports each month for progress, while threatening ‘to impose reciprocal retaliatory tariffs on seafood exports from China.’ Retaliation for retaliation, in other words.
“Mr. Trump is also directing the Agriculture Department to consider action ‘to provide assistance to fishermen and producers in the United States lobster industry.’ In other words, lobstermen might soon be getting the same kind of bailout money that the White House has paid to hog and soybean farmers harmed by the trade war.
“But these lobstermen don’t want a handout. They want customers, and some buyers in China might never come back, even under the reign of a wiser trade sovereign. Talk about a lobster trap, which this year could cost Mr. Trump the one Maine electoral vote he won in 2016.”
China and Hong Kong: I’ve been to Hong Kong four times in the recent past and I absolutely love the place. Pure excitement…energy…amazing beauty. Granted, normally hot, humid and smoggy, but you get used to it.
But the chances of me going back again, as much as I’d love to, are virtually nil with the passage and immediate implementation of Beijing’s national security law. For starters, anything you’ve written criticizing China in the past online is fair game now and, well, let’s just say I’ve written volumes on my attitudes toward China, Xi Jinping, and the Chinese Communist Party.
Expect a mass exodus from the city, to Britain and perhaps Australia, for starters, with foreign businesses gradually pulling up their operations. Capital is already flowing out.
Beijing appointed an official who became prominent during the clampdown on protests in a Chinese village as director of its new national security office in Hong Kong, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.
Zheng Yanxiong, 56, most recently served as the secretary general of the Communist Party committee of Guangdong province, an economic powerhouse bordering Hong Kong. Expect to see his name frequently over the coming years. He was responsible for a clampdown on protesters in 2011 in a village under Guangdong’s jurisdiction, named Wukan.
The new security agency was established under national security legislation imposed by China this week on HK that will punish crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. It’s the start of an authoritarian era for China’s freest city. It’s sad…and absolutely terrifying.
Under the legislation, the new agency in Hong Kong, again, totally controlled by Beijing, can take enforcement action beyond pre-existing local laws in the most serious cases. The legislation allows agents to take suspects across the border for trials in Communist Party-controlled courts and specifies special privileges for the agents.
Analysts also believe the police now have the power to ask companies for assistance when it comes to online privacy and that the companies will have to fork over the information. Police will no longer have to seek court orders before requiring internet users or “relevant service providers” believed to cover social media platforms and also firms – to remove information or help with an investigation.
The sweeping security law also gives police the power to search electronic devices that may contain evidence of a national security offense. The law also says the Hong Kong government shall take “necessary measures” to strengthen supervision and regulation over national security matters on the internet.
Meanwhile, Australia is actively considering providing safe haven to Hong Kong residents, a move likely to further inflame tensions with Beijing.
Editorial / Washington Post
“Hong Kong as it has been known – a bastion of free speech and rule of law, an autonomous, glittering capital of capitalism – has been smothered. Overnight, China has imposed a new national security law of six chapters and 66 articles that will criminalize dissent and install a system of secret police, putting the territory under the same authoritarian boot as the mainland. President Trump has been signaling for a long time that he would not stand up for human rights and democracy in Hong Kong. Perhaps not surprisingly, China acted with brusque indifference to protests from the West.
“The law was passed in secret by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing and signed by President Xi Jinping before people in Hong Kong had even seen the text. The law defines as punishable offenses: ‘secession, subversion, organization and perpetration of terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.’ These words are right out of China’s dictatorial handbook, and can be used arbitrarily to stop anything the authorities dislike. One provision specifically allows for prosecution of anyone ‘provoking by unlawful means hatred among Hong Kong residents’ toward either Beijing or Hong Kong governments. A few years ago, China plotted to nab booksellers from Hong Kong who sold gossip volumes about China’s leaders. Now, anyone who hoists a placard that says ‘Down with President Xi Jinping!’ might well draw a jail term.
“The law creates a division for investigating threats to national security – a secret police – and gives Beijing a strong hand in how it will work. One of the more remarkable provisions in the new law, Article 38, states that it covers offenses committed ‘outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region.’ This suggests a long arm of the Chinese thought police, intent on punishing people outside Hong Kong who stir up criticism of the government. For all practical purposes, a critic might not be prosecuted abroad, but woe to those who set foot in Hong Kong. [Ed. Such as moi.]
“China has broken its promise to Britain on the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 to preserve the concept of ‘one country, two systems’ for 50 years. Many hoped Hong Kong’s system might rub off on China, but in the end, China’s overwhelmed Hong Kong. This makes it even more imperative for the West to stand by the vibrant democracy of Taiwan.
“China seems unconcerned by recent protests and threats of sanctions from the United States, and no wonder, considering Mr. Trump’s evident disinterest. A response worthy of consideration is legislation in Congress introduced by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) [Ed. my congressman] and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) that would open a pathway to enter the United States for Hong Kong entrepreneurs, scientists and academics. Britain is also considering a special five-year visa for as many as 2.9 million Hong Kong citizens with British national overseas status.
“These measures will help individuals escape China’s persecution, but the flame of Hong Kong’s democratic ideals has been abruptly extinguished. It is a momentously sad day for world freedom.”
Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would penalize banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement the national security law, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling it a “brutal, sweeping crackdown” on Hong Kong.
“The law is a brutal, sweeping crackdown against the people of Hong Kong, intended to destroy the freedoms they were promised,” Pelosi said in an appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Senate passed similar legislation last week, but under congressional rules the bill must return to the Senate and be passed there before being sent to President Trump to sign into law or veto.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the security law was an affront to all nations and Washington would continue to implement Trump’s directive to end the territory’s special status.
“Free Hong Kong was one of the world’s most stable, prosperous and dynamic cities. Now it will be just another Communist-run city where people will be subject to the party elites’ whims,” Pompeo said.
But despite the tough language, some doubt the willingness of the Trump administration to take the sort of forceful action that would have an impact on Beijing, given the extensive U.S. business interests in Hong Kong and Trump’s desire to maintain a trade deal reached with China this year.
In the first major protest since the national security law went into effect, Hong Kong police fired water cannon and tear gas and arrested nearly 200 people.
Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry said the government has asked some U.S. media outlets present in the country to submit information about their China operations. A Ministry spokesman named the AP, National Public Radio, CBS and UPI as companies asked to submit the requested information in writing within seven days.
The United States in June said it would start treating four major Chinese media outlets as foreign embassies, following similar moves on other outlets earlier in the year.
On a totally different issue, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission designated Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp. as national security threats, a step toward driving the Chinese manufacturers from the U.S. market, where small rural carriers rely on their cheap network equipment.
“Both Huawei and ZTE have close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and China’s military apparatus,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said on Twitter. “We are sending a clear message: the U.S. government, and this @FCC in particular, cannot and will not allow the Chinese Communist Party to exploit vulnerabilities in U.S. communications networks.”
Meanwhile, India banned dozens of Chinese mobile apps, including widely used TikTok and WeChat, after a border clash between troops from the two countries left 20 Indian soldiers dead last month.
New Delhi cited cybersecurity concerns in blocking the Chinese apps from one of the largest and fastest-growing markets in the world. A senior Indian government official said the ban was imposed because the apps might have been used to harm India’s defenses, as well as to send a message to China.
Back to Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in a major move that is flying under the radar, said his country will significantly increase military spending and focus on the Indo-Pacific region amid rising tensions between the U.S. and China.
Morrison pledged to boost Australia’s arms budget over 10 years by 40%, with the country acquiring long-range missiles and other capabilities to “deter” future conflicts.
Relations between Australia and China are at their worst in decades.
Australia will be purchasing from the U.S. Navy up to 200 long-range anti-ship missiles, which can travel up to 229 miles. It will also invest in developing a hypersonic weapons systems.
North Korea: Kim Jong Un told a meeting of the politburo of the ruling Workers Party the North had stopped the coronavirus from making inroads in the country, state news agency KCNA said on Friday, which means that Covid-19 was indeed a major problem…at least you’d have to deduce this from Kim making a statement like that after months of virtual seclusion.
“We have thoroughly prevented the inroad of the malignant virus and maintained a stable anti-epidemic situation despite the worldwide health crisis, which is a shining success achieved,” Kim said in a statement. He warned against self-complacency or relaxation in the anti-epidemic effort and urged North Koreans to maintain “maximum alert,” KCNA said.
According to the WHO, North Korea has reopened schools but kept a ban on public gatherings and made it mandatory for people to wear masks in public places.
The North’s public health ministry has reported all 922 people checked so far have tested negative. I don’t buy it.
Russia: The Kremlin hailed the result of a nationwide vote that handed President Vladimir Putin the right to run for two more terms, the final results after the week-long process showing that nearly 78% of voters backed changes to the constitution allowing Putin potentially two more six-year terms after his current one ends in 2024. That means the 67-year-old, who has ruled Russia for two decades as either president or prime minister, could be in power until he is 83.
While Putin has said he has yet to decide on his political future, critics say of course he will stay in office as long as possible. I say it’s the only way for him to avoid an investigation into his immense wealth. As a private citizen, he’s screwed.
But as to the vote percentage, 78%? C’mon. Putin’s approval rating stood at a record low 60% last month, still high but not what it used to be, which was 90% at one point, according to the independent Levada Center. Opposition activists have called the vote illegitimate and said it was designed to legalize Putin’s presidency for life.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s loyal spokesman, said the emphatic nature of the vote was a measure of how deeply Russians trusted Putin to run the country.
Election officials said turnout was 65%. No way.
Iran: The Atomic Energy Agency of Iran acknowledged an “incident” at Iran’s main nuclear-fuel production site at Natanz early Thursday, with photos released by the government revealing extensive damage at a factory the country has boasted of producing a new generation of centrifuges. The United States has warned such machinery could speed Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
But most of the assembly of the centrifuges was believed to be underground and it’s not known what damage was done there. However….
The New York Times reported “A Middle Eastern intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss closely held information, said the blast was caused by an explosive device planted inside the facility. The explosion, he said, destroyed much of the aboveground parts of the facility where new centrifuges – delicate devices that spin at supersonic speeds – are balanced before they are put into operation.”
Natanz is where the United States and Israel conducted a sophisticated cyberattack a decade ago, an attack lasting for several years, that altered the computer code of Iran’s industrial equipment and destroyed about 1,000 centrifuges, setting back Iran’s nuclear program for a year or more.
The timing was suspicious. Last week I wrote of an explosion at the military base of Parchin, 12 miles from Tehran, which sent a massive fireball into the sky. Satellite photos of the area after showed hundreds of yards of charred scrubland not seen in images taken in the weeks ahead of the incident.
The BBC reported that several members of its staff received an email from a previously unknown group, which referred to itself as the Homeland Cheetahs, before news of the fire at Natanz became public. The group said it is composed of dissidents in Iran’s military and security apparatus.
The New York Times said there is no way as yet to determine if Homeland Cheetahs is a real group, whether it is domestic, or if it is supported by a foreign power.
Shortly after the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, Tehran announced it was speeding forward with assembling centrifuges at Natanz and released photographs of the facility and some of its staff. Last year, Iran began producing uranium well above limits in the 2015 agreement.
Separately, Iran has issued an arrest warrant for President Trump and 35 others over the killing of top general Qassem Soleimani and has asked Interpol for help, according to the Fars news agency. The U.S. and Interpol both dismissed the idea.
Soleimani, leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was killed by a drone strike in Iraq on Jan. 3, after Washington accused him of masterminding attacks by Iranian-aligned militias on U.S. forces in the region.
Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to push the UN Security Council to extend an arms embargo on Iran before it expires in October, prompting Russia to slam Washington’s policy toward Tehran as like “putting a knee” to the country’s neck. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued that Iran is not a “responsible democracy” and must be held accountable.
Afghanistan: The UN mission in Afghanistan said its findings indicate the Afghan military mistakenly fired mortars at a busy cattle market in southern Helmand province, killing 23, including children.
The UN concluded the Afghan military fired the “mortars in response to Taliban fire, missing the intended target.”
Last Saturday, in a separate incident, two employees of Afghanistan’s human rights commission were killed in Kabul on Saturday as a bomb attached to their vehicle exploded, the latest in a rising series of targeted killings in the Afghan capital. So much for the U.S. agreement with the Taliban.
Turkey: A Turkish court has delayed a decision on whether the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul can be converted into a mosque.
The Council of State – Turkey’s highest administrative body – said it would make a ruling within 15 days.
The 1,500- year-old UNESCO World Heritage site was originally a cathedral before becoming a mosque and then a museum in the 1930s.
It may become a mosque again if the court approves the move, Turkey’s President Erdogan calling for the change during an election rally last year.
Islamists in Turkey have long called for it to be converted, but secular opposition members have opposed the move and the proposal has met with international criticism, from religious and political leaders worldwide.
The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church has criticized the proposal, as has Greece – home to many millions of Orthodox followers.
I’ve been there…it’s massive…and, yes, should remain a museum.
Myanmar: At least 162 were killed in a landslide at a jade mine, after a heap of mining waste collapsed into a lake and buried many workers under mud and water.
“Video footage on social media showed frantic miners racing uphill to escape as a towering pile of black waste cascaded into a turquoise lake, churning up a tsunami-like wave of mud.”
The jade mining industry is loosely regulated at best. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to clean up the industry when she took power in 2016, but activists say little has changed.
--Presidential tracking polls….
Gallup: 39% approve of President Trump’s performance, 57% disapprove; 85% of Republicans approve, 39% of independents (May 28-June 4…still no update).
Rasmussen: 47% approve, 52% disapprove (July 3).
--Joe Biden said on Tuesday that President Trump had failed the American people in his response to the coronavirus pandemic, calling for doubling the number of drive-through testing sites and setting nationwide standards for reopening the economy.
Escalating his criticism of Trump’s handling of the crisis, Biden accused him of “doing next to nothing” as the U.S. death toll surpassed 125,000.
“Donald Trump failed us. Month after month, as many of us urged him to step up and do his job, he failed us,” Biden said.
“The American people didn’t make enormous sacrifices over the past four months so you could waste your time with late-night rantings and tweets,” he added, addressing Trump. “They didn’t make these sacrifices so you could ignore the science and turn responsible steps like wearing a mask into a political statement.”
--Stuart Stevens / USA TODAY
“I’ve worked in five Republican presidential campaigns. Four won the nomination and two won the White House. It’s a presidential election summer but I am trying to do everything I can to help elect a Democrat: Joe Biden.
“Another four years of Donald Trump would be a disaster for America and the world. They would also be a disaster, and likely fatal, for the Republican Party. The reality is that President Trump is a symptom, not the source, of the disease that is ravaging the Republican Party. Only by confronting that sickness can there be a possibility of a cure.
“In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower got 36% of the African American vote. In 1964, that number fell to 6% for Barry Goldwater. One could have argued that once the Civil Rights bill, which Goldwater opposed, became law, many of those former Republican African Americans would return to the party. But it never happened, and Republicans have never come to grips with the reasons.
“For decades, Republicans told themselves that African Americans would be drawn back to the party if only Republicans understood how to communicate with Black voters.
“This launched a cottage industry of Black Republican consultants hired by the RNC to help white Republican candidates and campaigns deliver their message to non-white voters. ‘If you talk about ‘good’ jobs not just jobs, African Americans will hear you,’ was a standard of these lessons.
“It was all nonsense. African Americans heard Republicans clearly; they just didn’t like what they were hearing. The party that revered Ronald Reagan’s line, ‘The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help,’’ never realized that to many African Americans and lower income whites, the federal government was the last best hope for a better life.
“After the 2012 election, Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus commissioned a so-called ‘autopsy’ to analyze the reasons the party had only won the popular vote once since 1988. The need to reach out to non-white voters, to appeal to younger voters and women was presented not just as a political necessity but a moral mandate for a governing party.
“All of that was thrown aside a few years later when the party embraced the white grievance candidacy of Donald Trump. Trump didn’t bend the party to his will, he gave the party an excuse to quit pretending it really cared about anything but power….
“The only way to save the Republican Party is to crush Trump and Trumpism and rebuild. It’s why I say, when I am asked what to do about the party I worked in for so long, ‘Burn it to the ground and start over.’
“That starts with electing Joe Biden. Most importantly, Biden is a decent man with a seriousness of purpose that is totally lacking in the Trump administration. The alternative is four more years of a Republican Party that endorsed Roy Moore and stands silently by as Attorney General Bill Barr shreds the rule of law….
“I spent years working to defeat Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama. In those battles, I passionately believed Bob Dole, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney would make better presidents, but I never feared for the country if a Democrat won. That’s how a civil society must function. But today I do desperately fear for the country if Trump wins, again. History tells us that once hate is unleashed and legitimized by a major political party, it is difficult to stop. History will judge each of us on what we did to defend America in this tenuous moment.”
--A CBS News poll of 2,009 U.S. adult residents conducted for CBS by YouGov found only 5% said things in America are going “very well,” against 40% who said they’re going “very badly,” the survey taken between June 23-26. Another 19% said things were “somewhat well” and 36% said “somewhat badly.”
Most Americans, 72%, said that, as they look back a few months, the Trump administration wasn’t ready to deal with the coronavirus outbreak when it started in early 2020, against 28% who said it was “prepared.”
Almost half, 49%, said the virus outbreak would get worse over the summer. The remainder was split between those who think it will get better and those who expect it to stay about the same.
The CBS poll said assessments of how President Trump has handled the outbreak continue to slip, to 41% who believe he has handled it well, down from 53% in late March.
On the mask issue, it is totally partisan, and people trusted their gut more than anything: Of those who use masks, 86% said they were guided by “their own assessments.” Of those, 78% also said they took the word of medical and health professionals and 24% said they followed Trump’s advice.
--New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who really is a godawful leader, as he proves literally every day, agreed with the City Council to cut $1 billion from the New York Police Department’s funding in a municipal budget for the 2021 fiscal year. The negotiations were shaped by two crises that have shaken the city…the coronavirus, which created a $9 billion shortfall in revenue, leading to deep cuts across city agencies, and then the month of nationwide protests against police violence, which gave voice to those who want to “defund the police.”
Originally, back in April, de Blasio was going to cut NYPD funding by less than 1% while slashing youth services, but then he took the NYPD’s $6 billion operating budget and cut it by $1 billion.
Those are the headlines. The reality is NYC pays gobs in police overtime, so you can find substantial savings there, and there are some responsibilities that shouldn’t be the NYPD’s, but I was most disturbed by the cancellation of the July class of more than 1,000 new recruits.
I do agree with restoring some summer youth programs that were on the chopping block until now.
But the fact is shootings are way up, homicides up, and reality will quickly hit city leaders in the face. Nothing will kill New York’s future faster than the growing perception Gotham is no longer the safe haven (among big cities) it had become the past two decades. Business, already on edge with the growing reality future pandemics will hit cities as hard as this one has, will have their minds made up for them when it comes to plans to relocate to the suburbs.
So it’s time to take a deep breath and just let the headlines dictate future policy…the uglier they get, the faster the reversal.
[There are some who say the budget cut is not what it seems…that money is just being shifted around…and there is some truth to that.]
Meanwhile, a poll conducted by Siena College Research Institute shows a majority of New York state voters don’t support reducing funding for police departments, even as they agree the recent killings of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks are part of a “pattern of excessive police violence toward Black people.”
91% of Black respondents said they believed there was a pattern of excessive police violence, while 9% said the killings of Floyd and Brooks were tragic, isolated instances. 40% of white respondents agreed with the latter statement, while 53% of white voters surveyed last week said they were part of a pattern.
57% opposed reducing funding for police, and 60% said in response to a separate question that they opposed defunding police.
51% of respondents from Gotham said they supported reducing police funding. This will change.
--The attorney general for New York said on Tuesday that an agreement had been reached to settle for nearly $19 million two sexual misconduct lawsuits on behalf of multiple women against imprisoned former film producer Harvey Weinstein.
But attorneys representing six of the women who have made accusations against Weinstein called the proposed deal a “sellout” that did not require Weinstein, 68, to accept responsibility or personally pay out any money.
The settlement still must be approved by a federal judge and a bankruptcy court.
--Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend and longtime associate of the late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested in New Hampshire on Thursday on U.S. charges of luring underage girls so that Epstein could sexually abuse them.
Maxwell, 58, was arrested in Bradford, New Hampshire, according to the FBI. She is charged with four counts related to procuring and transporting minors for illegal sex acts and two counts of perjury, according to the indictment by federal prosecutors in New York.
“Maxwell was among Epstein’s closest associates and helped him exploit girls who were as young as 14 years old,” said acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss. “Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse. In some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse herself.” She could face a potential life sentence, even if she pleads guilty.
Epstein has been linked socially to numerous powerful figures, from Donald Trump to Bill Clinton to Britain’s Prince Andrew. Prince Andrew is a principal target now, with Strauss saying, “We would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us,” the prince being particularly close to Maxwell.
Maxwell is the daughter of late British media magnate Robert Maxwell. She has kept a low profile since Epstein’s death.
--The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jason Nark had a piece on Gettysburg, Pa., where the Confederacy lost 3,903 soldiers and the Union 3,155 during the three-day battle that raged from July 1 to July 3. Across the 6,000 acres of Gettysburg National Military Park, there are scores of monuments placed since the war ended, and approximately two dozen dedicated to the Confederacy and its soldiers, though many of these were erected in the 1960s and 1970s, during the height of the civil rights era.
“Everything that’s here was congressionally mandated,” said Jason Martz, the National Parks Service’s acting spokesman for Gettysburg.
I watched Michael Smerconish on CNN the other Saturday and he had on Scott Hancock, an associate professor of history and Africana studies at Gettysburg College (good school, by the way), who said the parks’ museum and visitor center does do an excellent job of laying out the causes of the conflict, that the Confederacy was fighting to preserve slavery.
“If you go on the battlefield and never go in the museum, you would never know about slavery, would never know that there was anything to do with Black people at all in Gettysburg,” he told the Inquirer said.
But Hancock doesn’t want them removed, as he reinforced on “Smerconish.” He just wants them put into context, perhaps with placards informing visitors that many were erected during the Civil Rights era to “protect and maintain white supremacy.”
Local gift store owners concede they like the attention, because they sell far more Confederate items than Union ones.
One customer from Frederick County, Maryland, told the Inquirer that he bought a number of the more conspicuous Confederate flag (as opposed to the original, which doesn’t look like the familiar version), “Because everybody else is against it.”
No comment from me in this context, but in my three trips to Gettysburg, I have purchased a ton of artwork, including beautiful prints from the likes of John Paul Strain and Mort Kunstler. They’re in my living room today.
If you haven’t been to Gettysburg, or taken the kids yet, go. The place is awesome, and the museum and presentation there is a must, especially with today’s headlines.
[And also go to Appomattox…I can’t help but add…and allow enough time to take a stroll on the trail heading away from McLean House.]
--Legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, one of the more respected voices in his sport, made a powerful plea last weekend to end systemic racism and social injustice.
Coach K asked people to recognize Black Lives Matter as a human rights statement, not a political one. He urged understanding of the ways racism has manifested itself in our country for centuries, and he asked people to do something about it.
Krzyzewski, who played basketball at Army from 1966-69 and went on to coach his alma mater before beginning his storied career at Duke, referenced his West Point background.
Following is the full transcript of the video:
“Black Lives Matter. Say it. Can’t you say it? Black Lives Matter. We should be saying it every day. It’s not political. This is not a political statement. It’s a human rights statement. It’s a fairness statement. Over the last couple months, I have had an opportunity to see more, to listen more, to think more and to understand at a deeper level. So have you, so have you.
“Do we not see the problem, the disease, the plague that has been with our country for four centuries? Do we not see systemic racism and social injustice? Come on. We all see that. It’s manifested in so many ways: criminal justice, the killings that we have seen and we haven’t seen, the denial of economic opportunities for our Black community, educational opportunities, healthcare. It’s manifested in so many ways and has been there for four centuries.
“We see that. And what we do when we see that, we talk but we turn the other way. We don’t solve the problem. The problem will not be solved, and no problem is solved, unless you acknowledge the problem. Acknowledge it. If you acknowledge it, you have the duty to solve it. We as a country have the duty to solve this problem.
“When I was a cadet at West Point – and the prayer is still there, there is a cadet prayer – in the cadet prayer one of the segments of the prayer says, Lord help me choose the harder right. Help me choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong. We as a country have chosen the easier wrong for four centuries. It is time to choose the harder right. It is time to end systemic racism and social injustice. It’s time. Black Lives Matter.”
--It really is remarkable that out of 330 million or so Americans, that once again we have the choice come November of picking between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
Nothing points this out better than a new national Pew Research Center poll, as referenced in the Wall Street Journal, conducted June 16-22 among 4,708 adults, including 3,577 registered voters, which finds sharp differences in how voters evaluate Trump’s presidency compared with Biden’s presidency, if he is elected. Very few voters – just 9% - say Trump is an average president; 37% say he is a good or great president; and a much larger share (53%) say he is poor or terrible, including 42% who think he is a terrible president.
Fewer voters (28%) say Biden would be a good or great president than say that about Trump as president. And compared with Trump, many more say Biden would be average; 29% say he would be an average president. However, 43% say Biden would be poor or terrible, which is 10 percentage points lower than the share expressing such negative views about Trump as president.
When it comes to voters’ views of the candidates’ personal traits and characteristics, Trump and Biden are a study in contrasts. Across six personal traits, Trump draws his lowest rating for being even-tempered. Just 25% of voters say ‘even-tempered’ describes Trump very or fairly well; nearly three times as many (74%) say this phrase describes him not too well or not at all well. Even among voters who support Trump in the fall election, just 53% describe him as even-tempered.
--The great comic, actor, director Carl Reiner died Monday, age 98. He was active on social media right up until his death, tweeting a rebuke of President Trump hours before passing.
“As I arose at 7:30 this morning, I was saddened to relive the day that led up to the election of a bankrupted and corrupt businessman who had no qualifications to be the leader of any country in the civilized world…”
--Princeton University’s board of trustees voted to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from its school of public and international affairs, saying the late president’s segregationist policies make him an “especially inappropriate namesake” for a public policy school.
“When a university names a school of public policy for a political leader, it inevitably suggests that the honoree is a model for students who study at the school,” university president Christopher L. Eisgruber wrote in a letter to the Princeton community regarding Friday’s vote by the board of trustees. “This searing moment in American history has made clear that Wilson’s racism disqualifies him from that role. In a nation that continues to struggle with racism, this University and its school of public and international affairs must stand clearly and firmly for equality and justice.”
The school will now be known as the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
Back in 2015, amid a student-led campaign to have Wilson’s name removed, committee convened by the university recommended that Princeton instead focus on efforts to make the university more inclusive.
--Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York / Wall Street Journal
“Defacing, tearing down and hiding statues and portraits is today’s version of Puritan book-burning. Our children need to know their country’s past, its formative figures and their virtues and vices. That’s how we learn and pass on our story. Is there any more effective way to comprehend America’s history of racism than reading ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or one of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, works of literature now ominously on the chopping block?
“My own mom kept a photo of her parents hanging on the wall of our house. Her dad, my grandfather, was an abusive drunk who abandoned his family. I’m glad we got to know of him, the good and the bad.
“The same is true of the church I love and am honored to serve. Yes, there are scandalous parts of our history, and countless episodes when popes, bishops, priests and others – including some who are now saints – didn’t act as they should have.
“God forbid we’d go through a cultural revolution as China did five decades ago. Beware those who want to purify memories and present a tidy – and inaccurate – history. And who’s to say which statues, portraits, books and dedications are spared? Remember when some objected to raising the status of the Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to a national holiday, citing his self-admitted flaws?
“If literature that depicts prejudice, or words or scenes that are today rightly abhorred, is to be banned, I don’t know if even the Bible can survive. If we only honor perfect, saintly people of the past, I guess I’m left with only the cross. And some people would ban that.
“As a historian by training, I want to remember the good and the bad, and recall with gratitude how even people who have an undeniable dark side can let light prevail and leave the world better. I want to keep bringing classes of schoolchildren to view such monuments, and to explain to them how even such giants in our history had crimes, unjust acts and plain poor judgment mixed in with the good we honor.”
--Daniel Henninger / Wall Street Journal
“Rewriting history doesn’t yet include eliminating daily turns of the calendar, so they will have to endure the hard fact that between July 3 and July 5 falls the Fourth of July and that most Americans still believe this day is about the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
“This is the most notable July 4 in a long time, because the United States, all of a sudden, is in a revolutionary moment.
“Until now, the Fourth of July was the holiday celebrated by everyone in the U.S. as an American tradition. The message being sent by the protesters in the streets is, ‘Your traditions don’t mean a thing to us, and we will toss them out as we see fit.’
“Each year, nearly every town holds a Fourth of July parade and celebrates with evening fireworks. This year, the coronavirus pandemic means few parades, while in New York City and elsewhere, massive nightly fireworks are intended to intimidate, not celebrate.
“The Fourth of July is, or was, a day of families joined in quiet expressions of patriotism, with American flags flying. This year, families are divided, the air filled with shouted bitterness and somewhere this weekend an American flag will be burned.
“The U.S. is in a revolutionary moment not just because of the street protests after the death of George Floyd or because of the pulling down of presidents’ monuments. On their own, these demonstrations wouldn’t come to much, primarily because – if the on-camera interviews conducted with protesters are representative – the substance of their protest is so unformed and diffused. Fireworks – loud, startling and self-extinguishing – are an apt metaphor.
“The important element is the acts of consent from America’s elites. These people sit atop the country’s commanding institutions…and their instant assent provides legitimacy and puts us into something resembling a revolutionary situation. Which means this will be a revolutionary presidential election, the second in a row.
“In that spirit, let me recommend some weekend reading: the Declaration of Independence. See how you react to revisiting the ideas that made a real revolution, stated in less than 1,500 words.
“Even amid that upheaval there was wit. Without once naming George III, they refer merely to ‘the president King of Great Britain.’ Today you would search in vain for a member of the ‘resistance’ who consigns Mr. Trump to anonymity as ‘the current president of the United States.’ That no such sophisticated insult is possible reflects how far we’ve come, or gone….
“One is struck by the tone of optimistic defiance in the Declaration’s text. Compare it with the pro forma, almost cookie-cutter language in statements from the boards of directors at Princeton or the American Museum of Natural History, who instead sound like defeated men and women. Wherever the current revolt may end, it’s hard to see our own confused, wan elites as the heirs to the country’s original leadership.
“A forewarning to Trumpians: These first declarers also take ‘the Tyrant’ to task on immigrants, for ‘refusing to pass’ laws ‘to encourage their migrations hither.’ And international commerce, ‘for cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world.’ All sides today will claim to find supporting language in the Declaration’s text, such as ‘They too have been deaf to the voice of justice.’
“Times change – and that’s the point. Through the Revolution, the Civil War and all the years since that signing, the American idea has been about social, political and economic progress.
“In contrast, the defining symbol that now attaches to the current revolution – and their conscious choice – is the removing of monuments, including the general who won the War for Independence and the general who won the Civil War over slavery.
“It is a misstatement to call what is going on now an American revolution. The Declaration’s revolution was about creating a new nation. Today’s claimants see the future as de novo, a blank slate, an exercise in elimination. It is closer to what the ever-ironic 1960s radical anarchist Abbie Hoffman called ‘revolution for the hell of it.’ That isn’t enough.
“This weekend’s Fourth of July is the 244th anniversary of America’s first revolution. It remains the benchmark against which any successor idea must be measured.”
Returns for the week 6/29-7/3
Dow Jones +3.2% 
S&P 500 +4.0% 
S&P MidCap… N/A
Russell 2000… N/A
Nasdaq +4.6% [10207…all-time high]
Returns for the period 1/1/20-7/3/20
Dow Jones -9.5%
S&P 500 -3.1%
S&P MidCap -13.8%
Russell 2000 -14.2%
Bulls [No new data…57.3/18.4 the split last week.]
Dr. Bortrum posted a new column!
Hang in there. Mask up…wash your hands.
And Happy Fourth, America!!!