Thursday, August 4, 2016

Trump Keeps Failing And It Doesn’t Matter

Donald Trump is arguably the worst presidential candidate in recent history. He hates babies, is racist, mocks the disabled and the parents of fallen veterans. And yet here we are.


By Olivia Nuzzi
The Daily Beast
August 4, 2016

In the past 48 hours, everything went wrong for Donald Trump.

He lied and ranted more than usual, he insulted and offended, his friends used the press to criticize him, and his enemies in his own party said they were voting for Hillary Clinton, while anonymous reports ran rampant that his campaign was falling apart at the seams. Meanwhile, his poll numbers were going down.

But the rules and customs of American politics have not and do not apply to Trump; therefore, we cannot judge his presidential campaign within their context.

Trump and his campaign cannot be off message because Trump and his campaign do not have a message. Trump and his campaign cannot be in disarray because Trump and his campaign invite and weaponize disarray.

In short, nothing matters.

Were Trump a normal candidate, it would be fair to say that this week, his campaign spiraled out of control.

First, he sallied forth on his mission to push the boundaries of good taste.

He continued to needle Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, a Muslim-American soldier killed in Iraq.

He called Hillary Clinton “the devil” while onstage at a rally in Pennsylvania.

And the next day, he picked a fight with an infant for daring to cry during his rally in Virginia. He kicked the baby out.

Next, he declined to support Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain in their reelection bids.

Remember unity? Neither does he.

Finally, some combination of his fight with the Khan family, his general demeanor, and his refusal to endorse fellow Republicans in their reelection bids sent some conservatives over the edge. (His own running mate, meanwhile, contradicted him by pledging to support both men.)

Trump’s detractors within his own party—Meg Whitman, most notably; but also Maria Comella, a high-level staffer for Chris Christie; and Richard Hanna, a New York congressman—publicly vowed to vote for Clinton.

Whitman said she would not only vote for Clinton but would donate money to her campaign and raise money on her behalf. Trump, she told The New York Times, is “a dishonest demagogue” who has “undermined the character of the nation.”

Comella, who worked for Rudy Giuliani in addition to serving for years as Christie’s most important aide, told CNN that “silence isn’t an option” any longer. She, too, called Trump a “demagogue” who is “preying on people’s anxieties with loose information and salacious rhetoric.”

She added, “I don’t care if it’s good politics or not.”

And Hanna, in an interview and column on Syracuse.com, called Trump “unfit to serve” in part due to the “callousness of his comments” about the parents of a slain Muslim-American soldier. “I think Trump is a national embarrassment,” he said.

The polls offered more bad news for Trump. A Fox News poll released Wednesday revealed Trump down a whopping 10 percent to Clinton, 49 to 39 percent. The poll showed voters questioned Trump’s temperament, with 64 to 37 percent saying Clinton’s was more suited for the presidency.

And then there was the matter of Trump’s friends.

Newt Gingrich, a longtime ally who was on the short list to be his vice president, and Ed Rollins, who co-chaired a political action committee supporting him, decided to come out publicly to denounce Trump’s performance on the general election stage.

The former speaker of the House told The Washington Post “the current race is which of these two is the more unacceptable, because right now neither of them is acceptable.” He added, “Trump is helping her to win by proving he is more unacceptable than she is.”

(Gingrich later backtracked in a series of tweets blaming the media for quoting his words verbatim.)

Rollins, appearing on Fox News, said, “I think one of Donald Trump’s singular difficulties with this campaign is that he sits and watches TV all day long and feels he has to react to every single thing that’s said against him.” He added, “Sometimes great racehorses can’t stay on the track, they wander all over the place, they have to put blinders on them. We need to put a blinder on Donald Trump and his focus needs to be on Mrs. Clinton, and any other Republican he just leaves alone.”

And then came the anonymously sourced reports of internal strife within the campaign.

It began Tuesday night with a tweet from CNBC’s John Harwood: “longtime ally of Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager: ‘Manafort not challenging Trump anymore. Mailing it in. Staff suicidal.” NBC’s Ali Vitali responded, “A Trump campaign source, in reax to this, tells me ‘it’s all true’ and ‘way worse than people realize.’”

CNN then went full missing plane on the topic, reporting that “a GOP source” claimed “Reince Priebus was especially frustrated” by Trump’s refusal to endorse Ryan.

“A knowledgeable Republican source” also told CNN that “some of Trump’s campaign staff—even campaign chairman Paul Manafort—‘feel like they are wasting their time,’ given their boss’s recent comments.”

Manafort, along with other top Trump aides, then called CNN’s Dana Bash to refute the report on the record, an unusual step for a campaign and not exactly a sign that things are going well.

And while this was going on, NBC News was reporting that Priebus, Gingrich, and Giuliani were planning to stage an "intervention" for the candidate to steer him towards sanity.

Trump, for his part, says things are just peachy.

“The campaign is doing really well,” he said onstage at a Daytona rally Wednesday. “It’s never been so well-united. It’s the best in terms of being united since we began. We are doing incredibly well.”

The most likely answer for this confusion is that everybody is lying in some capacity and also almost nobody knows what they’re talking about, including and perhaps especially the candidate.

But for Trump’s presidential prospects, this means almost nothing at all.

This cannot be compared to McCain’s campaign manager and top strategist exiting his staff in July 2007, which was then viewed as a “major shakeup” for the “struggling campaign.”

Nor can it be compared to Gingrich’s entire staff abandoning him during the 2012 primary, or any other number of catastrophes and screw-ups that have weighed down other candidates over the years, like Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comment being leaked or the various car elevator or dog-on-the-roof news cycles sullying his public image and steering him off his message that President Obama was bad and he was good.

Trump’s campaign has forever been populated by amateurs and lunatics who have somehow managed to guide him to success thus far.

And that success is not in spite of his inability to stay “on message” but because of it.

Trump’s message is chaos.

Trump’s free associative speeches are a reflection of what he claims is the chaos in the country.

He can’t speak in real sentences with a beginning, a middle, and an end because he’s just too outraged about too many things too much of the time to form thoughts like that.

And his friends can’t just call him and talk to him like a normal person to offer their advice because he isn’t one. The best way to get through to Trump, if you’re someone like Gingrich, is to air your grievances in the media—because that’s where he will see and absorb them.

And the infighting in his party? He thrives on that sort of drama, and so do his supporters, who signed up for a wrestling match, not a debate between statesman.

This is not an argument that Trump will win, only that to try to interpret the mechanics of his campaign or his “message” using normal logic is a fool’s errand.

Nothing is normal anymore, and nothing matters.


Article Link To The Daily Beast:

ISIS’s New Chechen Warlord

ISIS minister of war Abu Omar al-Shishani looks dead and gone for good, but his brother may be smarter and more dangerous. Will he step out of the shadows?


By Will Cathcart and Vazha Tavberidze 
The Daily Beast
August 4, 2016

It’s been less than a month since news broke that the so-called minister of war of the so-called Islamic State, Tarkhan Batirashvili a.k.a. Omar al-Shishani (Omar the Chechen) had been killed… again. And this time, since weeks have passed without a resurrection, it might just be true. But that news is not quite as good as it sounds.

The famous red-bearded warlord originally from the troubled Pankisi Valley on the Georgian frontier with Chechnya allegedly perished in early July while fighting on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq.

Eight times previously, he was reported killed, and eight times it turned out he was still alive, burnishing his reputation as an almost superhuman survivor. But the ninth life probably was his last.

This time, ISIS’s very own “official” news agency, Amaq, bemoaned his passing as “a great loss for the caliphate.” More credible still is what we’ve heard from Pankisi, where we have interviewed Tarkhan (“Omar”) Batirashvili’s relatives, sympathizers and intelligence contacts extensively over the last two years.

According to three knowledgeable sources there, who did not want to be named for obvious security reasons, Tarkhan’s family got a phone call from Syria from none other than his surviving older brother, Tamaz, who confirmed Tarkhan’s death and offered his condolences.

So, while Tarkhan is gone, which is good, Tamaz is still around, which most definitely is not. As The Daily Beast reported in detail in October 2014, in the Pankisi valley Tamaz is believed to be much more important to the Islamic State’s organization, its intelligence operations, and its military strategy than Tarkhan/Omar ever was.

“Tamaz is everything, the main actor; Tarkhan is nothing,” the father of the two men, Temur, told us in 2014. It was Tamaz who went off to fight the Russians in the Chechen wars of the 1990s; it was Tamaz who became an experienced combat leader; it was Tamaz who most interested the Georgian intelligence services.

“They are together,” said the father. “Tamaz is his mentor. He survived the huge Grozny war and came back alive. [But] in Syria, Tamaz doesn’t show himself.”

Frequent—almost daily—phone calls from the fighters in Syria to their contacts and family in Pankisi have tended to confirm that picture over the last two years.

The Pankisi recruits in Syria credit Tamaz with planning the successful ISIS offensives his younger brother’s fame was built on, including the conquest of Mosul and Tikrit in Iraq in 2014, which led directly to the announcement by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that he was creating an “Islamic Caliphate.”

We spent two years trying to get some definitive impression of Tamaz's appearance, but could not find anything conclusive. We were told that Tamaz, like his brother, had a red beard. We were told at one point that, while Tarkhan allowed himself to be photographed frequently in military gear, Tamaz prefers to dress simply, in a gown with a scarf on his head.

Then, recently, from another source we received the above photo of Tamaz, second from the left, pictured with the ISIS "minister of justice" among others. No robes, and no red beard in this image. In fact, he strongly resembles his father.

Tamaz’s military prowess and importance to Georgian intelligence was confirmed to us in 2014 by a former Georgian military official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified by name.

The government in Tbilisi obviously had a huge interest in the fight going on next door in the 1990s as the Chechens fought to gain their independence from Russia, and Russia in the meantime supported rebellious breakaway territories in Georgia.

Over time, Georgian intelligence enlisted many Chechens, and according to the same security source there were much more important and capable Pankisi veterans than Tarkhan. “We only recruited him because we were interested in his brother Tamaz, and his friends, who were ‘real wolves,’ experienced soldiers, and veterans of the Chechen wars. We had certain interests toward them.” (The photograph here might well be considered a wolf pack of such veterans as they look now.)

Georgia’s Anti-Terrorism Center, or ATC, allegedly ran some jihadists out of Pankisi to fight against Moscow’s troops in Grozny, a charge the Georgian government has always denied.

What success Georgian intelligence had recruiting Tamaz himself is unclear, but he continued to gain fighting experience and distinguished himself as a talented up-and-coming guerilla warfare planning specialist. He joined another warlord from the Pankisi valley, Muslim (Murad) Margoshvili. Even after Russian President Vladimir Putin engineered the brutal reconquest of Grozny, the Chechen capital, the group continued what became known as the “partisan wars” in the forests and hills of Daghestan and Chechnya for another decade, which is to say until about 2009 or 2010.

After that, according to his father, Tamaz spent some time in Ukraine under a false identity. We do not know what he was doing there. His father says he oversaw construction projects. We do know that business often is associated with the Chechen mafia.

In 2013, Tamaz and Tarkhan went to Syria. Tarkhan had washed out of the Georgian security services and been imprisoned, he said, on trumped up charges. Tamaz took his wife and two children to the front, and began working closely with the array of jihadists and former Iraqi military men who are the core of the ISIS intelligence apparatus.

After the establishment of the “caliphate” in the summer of 2014, both brothers garnered important positions in the government of the putative state —Tarkhan becoming minister of war, while Tamaz took the position of counter intelligence and reconnaissance chief, all the while controlling and administering most of the prisons on the ISIS territory, according to members of the Pankisi network we questioned.

For a time, new recruits were pouring into ISIS from the impoverished farms and villages of Pankisi, not least because the new Islamic State promised what came to be called five-star jihad—a world of luxury for true believers, including houses and businesses confiscated from infidels, and even slave girls.

But in the last few months those dreams have evaporated under mounting pressure from the U.S.-backed coalition fighting ISIS from the air, and a mix of forces, mainly led by Kurdish factions, on the ground.

Enthusiasm for the ISIS cause has waned in Pankisi, so has the number of willing recruits, and the surviving veterans in Syria are getting increasingly hostile toward their own countrymen.

Over the last two months, audio recordings have been released cajoling and threatening Pankisi’s stay-at-home Muslims. Adam (Guram) Guramashvili, the so-called justice minister of ISIS, starred in the first of these. (He is third from the left in the photograph.) He accused the Pankisi Muslim Council, a group of respected elders, of “sacrilegial inactivity and cooperation with infidels.” Guramashvili called for Pankisi’s Muslims to swear fealty to the caliphate en masse. To underscore the seriousness of his message, he warned, “It’s not just Adam saying this.”

In Pankisi, the more authoritative figure lurking in the background of that statement was assumed to be not Allah or Muhammad, but, most likely, Tamaz.

A subsequent, even more threatening message was delivered by Ruslan (Hamza) Tokhosashvili (with thick black beart and wore rim glasses in the photo), who was Tarkhan’s one-time driver and close ally. He is now in charge of his own military detachment in ISIS-land.

“Every day our boys are killed here, much blood is shed, your sisters and children are bleeding,” said Tokhosashvili. “If you don’t come now, then when will you? If you stray from the righteous path, rest assured, you’ll regret it. Time will come and we will come to Georgia, if not us, our brothers will. And you know full well that it will be hard for you.” Those who do not enlist in jihad will be seen as enemies, he said.

But in the Pankisi valley these days. even hotheaded young men are reluctant to fight on a losing side. That’s what ISIS has started to look like from their perspective, and Tarkhan’s demise drives the point home: his nine lives have run out.

That’s the problem with symbols: whatever Tarkhan’s talents, or lack of them, he’d been made the face of the Chechens in ISIS—the face of leadership, bravery, brilliance: a superhero of sorts. And being a face like that requires its own sort of talent.

Today, even if Tamaz wants to step into that more public role as Abdurahman al-Shishani, his nom de guerre, he may find it’s hard to do. Some men are just made for the shadows.


Article Link To The Daily Beast:

America And Japan Must Team Up To Stop China

They can prepare South China Sea states to stand up to Beijing.


By Taylor M. Wettach
The National Interest
August 4, 2016

After a period of strategic drift, the U.S.-Japan alliance has been reconfirmed as the cornerstone of regional security under an Abe administration committed to moving Japan to the front of the global stage. This reinforcing of the alliance, exemplified by the revision of the U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines, is boosted by an array of Japanese national-security reforms that include reinterpretation of the constitution to allow for collective self-defense and the removal of the longstanding arms-export ban. While such developments reflect the ideological bent of the Abe government, they are rooted in a competitive security environment and, in particular, the rise of China.

The challenge of China’s rise to Asia’s security has been most evident in the maritime sphere. Japan has had to bear much of the burden in responding to growing Chinese assertiveness in the East China Sea, culminating in Beijing’s declaration of an Air-Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over Japan’s territorial waters. Ultimately, however, the contest in the East China Sea has demonstrated the significance of Asia’s most important alliance, as exemplified by Beijing’s apparent moderation following President Obama’s commitment to defend the Senkaku Islands.

The relative deterrent success of the U.S.-Japan alliance in the East China Sea has, in relief, made clear the difficulty of arresting Chinese assertiveness in the more actively contested and less effectively defended South China Sea. Despite efforts by claimant states to utilize all of the national-security tools at their disposal, from increased defense spending to international arbitration, China’s regional rivals have not arrested Beijing’s efforts to turn Southeast Asian waters into a Chinese lake.

National Interests and Regional Problem Solving


Although a Chinese victory in the South China Sea would be a clear existential threat to the claimant states, it is also a significant strategic threat to both the United States and Japan. Both states have demonstrated their recognition of this through words as well as actions, such as the United States’ freedom-of-navigation operations (FONOP) and Japanese military-exercise participation. And while U.S. involvement in the disputed waters is largely taken for granted given its status as the region’s principal security guarantor, there has been active speculation that a more liberated Japan might take on a bigger role in bolstering Southeast Asian maritime security.

In this regard, maritime security experts have called for Japan to join the U.S. FONOP effort. Ultimately, however, even with Asia’s most proficient native navy and loosened constitutional restraints, the involvement of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces in the South China Sea remains limited by already overstretched resources. Furthermore, many in the Japanese policy community believe that, “Actively challenging China’s questionable territorial claims in the South China Sea will likely cause an increase in aggressive Chinese naval activity against the Japan’s Senkaku Islands . . . and would thus prove counterproductive to Japan’s security interests.”

Cooperative Capacity-Building Capability

This does not mean, however, that Tokyo will, or should, be a bystander in addressing Asia’s most pressing problem. The best way that Tokyo can support the development of security in the volatile South China Sea is through capacity building. Such an effort responds to the Southeast Asian maritime states’ limitations in monitoring and defending their sovereign territory and exclusive economic zones.

Japan has already made a significant effort toward accomplishing this goal. In addition to engaging in exercises with regional states, Japan has established a Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) to enhance regional anti-piracy efforts and has taken a lead role in bringing regional coast guards together. Tokyo has also signed strategic partnership agreements with Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, and agreed to provide patrol ships and aircraft to these nations as well. Furthermore, Japan is an active provider of strategic official development assistance (ODA) that links aid and security interests; Japanese funding for power grids, airports and port facilities has the potential to serve as dual economic and defense infrastructure, supplementing Japanese arms transfers, coordination and training for Southeast Asian maritime states.

Such activity buttresses the United States’ effort to foster regional security, including its own capacity-building endeavors. In this regard, it should be noted that despite developments such as the loosening of arms export restrictions on Vietnam and the negotiation of an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines, the United States continues to spend what has been described as “budget dust” to assist Southeast Asian partners. While the Senate Armed Services Committee has sought to respond to this weakness through the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative designed to provide $425 million in training, infrastructure construction and vessels for Southeast Asian partners, Congress has thus far only authorized $50 million for FY 2016, rather than the entire five-year program.

Toward A More Central Cornerstone

Given this situation, as well as the common interests of the United States and Japan in addressing regional maritime insecurity, capacity-building represents an ideal area for U.S.-Japan regional cooperation. The United States can take the lead in directly responding to China’s efforts to change the status quo in the South China Sea, including by challenging Beijing’s island-building project. Japan can support regional states by applying its significant capacity-building capability to maritime Southeast Asia, coordinating the various tools at its disposal—such as ODA—toward the common objectives of the alliance. Such an effort would be an application, on a more expansive scale, of the front office/back office concept applied to the U.S.-Japan alliance, with each partner utilizing its comparative advantages.

Simultaneously, both partners should reinforce their overall security position in the region in line with their national-security strategies and the revised defense guidelines, and the United States should continue to pursue a greater commitment toward capacity building in recognition of its absolute advantage in this field. This effort should also be more explicitly coordinated with that of Japan. For example, Japan should be involved in current bilateral capacity-building working groups with Southeast Asian states, such as those established with Indonesia and Vietnam. Such a practice can prevent redundant or contradictory efforts, while maximizing the regional impact of the alliance.

Through coordinating Southeast Asian maritime capacity-building, the United States and Japan can make greater progress toward providing Southeast Asian maritime states with minimum credible deterrence amidst growing Chinese pressure. In doing so, they will be able to demonstrate the value of a U.S.-Japan alliance not just to their own national interests, but to the interests of the region more broadly, building a foundation for this Pacific partnership as a regional problem-solving mechanism.


Article Link To The National Interest:

Crude Prices Get A Break From The Bears After Gasoline Stocks Fall Sharply

By Dan Strumpf
MarketWatch
August 4, 2016

Oil prices inched closer to the $41-a-barrel level on Thursday, after data released overnight suggested a decline in the glut of refined fuel.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, light, sweet crude futures for delivery in September CLU6, +0.22% gained 6 cents, or 0.2%, to $40.90 a barrel in the Globex electronic session. Prices rose above the $40 mark after tipping below that level earlier this week for the first time in three months.

October Brent crude LCOV6, -0.09% on London’s ICE Futures exchange dipped $0.03 to $43.07 a barrel, after rallying $1.30, or 3.1% to $43.10 a barrel Wednesday.

U.S. oil shot up $1.32, or 3.3%, to settle at $40.83 a barrel on Wednesday after U.S. government data surprised traders with a 3.3 million-barrel decline in gasoline inventories there. Changes to fuel inventories are of particular interest to traders, as a renewed glut of fuel has pushed oil prices lower in recent weeks. Oil prices had entered a bear market, defined as a fall of 20% or more from a recent high, earlier in the week.

The deep fall in gasoline stockpiles contrasted with a rise in crude inventories, but “the market chose to ignore the bearish, counter-seasonal and surprising build in crude oil,” said Michael Wittner, energy analyst at Société Générale,

The focus in the oil market in recent weeks has once again shifted to the perceived supply glut worldwide. Many market watchers had expected the supply and demand to return to balance later this year, helped in part by strong demand for imported oil in China. Yet anticipation has risen in recent weeks that more production may return to market from Libya and Nigeria, both of which have been beset by supply disruptions in recent months.

In refined fuel markets, Nymex reformulated gasoline blendstock for September RBU6, -0.20% — the benchmark gasoline contract — fell 8 points to $1.3491 a gallon, while September diesel traded at $1.2956, 81 points higher. ICE gasoil for August changed hands at $368.50 a metric ton, up $5 from Wednesday’s settlement.


Article Link to MarketWatch:

Toyota First-Quarter Operating Profit Dips 15 Percent As Strong Yen Weighs

By Idrees Ali
Reuters
August 4, 2016

Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) reported on Thursday a 15 percent dip in first-quarter operating profit as a strong yen weighed on earnings.

Operating profit at Japan's largest automaker was 642 billion yen ($6.33 billion), beating an average estimate of 493.5 billion yen from 11 analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S/.

Toyota lowered its forecast for full-year operating profit, expecting it to slide 44 percent to 1.6 trillion yen, which would be a four-year low. It's most recent forecast was for 1.7 trillion yen.

It is budgeting for the yen to trade around 102 yen to the U.S. dollar compared with an earlier estimate of 105 yen. It sees a rate of 113 yen to the euro compared with a 120 yen forecast at the start of the quarter.


Article Link to Reuters:

Thursday, August 4, Morning Global Market Roundup: Sterling Slips As BoE Rate Call Looms, Asian Shares Boosted By Oil

By Nichola Saminather and Hideyuki Sano
Reuters
August 4, 2016

The British pound edged lower on Thursday as investors anticipated the Bank of England would cut interest rates to a record low later in the session, while a rebound in oil prices from four-month lows lifted Asian stocks.

The sterling slipped 0.1 percent to $1.3301 GBP=D4, but remained some distance from its three-decade low of $1.2798 hit almost a month ago.

Meanwhile, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS rose 0.5 percent, led by gains in resource shares, recovering some ground lost in Wednesday's 1.5 percent decline.

European shares were also set to open higher, with financial spreadbetter CMC Markets expecting Britain's FTSE 100 .FTSE to rise 0.1 percent, and Germany's DAX GDAXI and France's CAC 40 .FCHI to start the day up 0.3 percent.

The Bank of England is expected to cut its policy rate by at least a quarter percentage point to 0.25 percent, making its first reduction since 2009 in a bid to ward off a recession that appeared increasingly likely after the United Kingdom voted to quit the European Union in June.

Currency dealers were uncertain how sterling would react to a rate cut, as it has been largely factored in and the scale of sterling's declines since the Brexit vote could limit the immediate downside.

"Given the market has a 25 basis-point cut priced at 100 percent, one would expect a huge spike in GBP/USD if they fail to ease," Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne, wrote in a note.

"But the real issue is whether they cut by 50 basis points and give a strong indication of quantitative easing in the September meeting."

Britain's economy is slowing at the fastest pace since the financial crisis, based on Markit's monthly all-sector Purchasing Managers' Index on Wednesday, which recorded the steepest month-on-month decline on record.

Many market players also believe the BoE may resume its multi-billion-pound quantitative easing program of government bond purchases.

The euro fell 0.1 percent to $1.1141 EUR=EBS, retreating from its 5-week high of $1.1234 touched on Monday.Oil, which jumped more than 3 percent on Wednesday, extended gains in Asian trade on Thursday, as larger-than-expected draw on gasoline stocks in the United States eased concerns about global supply glut.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 rose 0.7 percent on Thursday to $43.38 per barrel, extending its recovery from Monday's four-month low of $41.41. U.S. crude CLc1 gained 0.8 percent to $41.16 per barrel.

Energy shares also rose, contributing to gains on Wall Street, with the S&P 500 index .SPXclosing up 0.3 percent on Wednesday.

Japan's Nikkei .N225, which earlier touched a near-four-week low on Thursday, rebounded to end the day up 1.1 percent as the yen weakened.

Against the yen, the dollar was 0.4 percent stronger at 101.650 yen JPY=D4, inching away from Monday's low of 100.68 yen.

Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Kikuo Iwata said on Thursday that a comprehensive review of the central bank's monetary policy next month would focus on the transmission mechanism and obstacles to its monetary policy. However, it is not meant to offer a specific direction for future monetary policy, he said.

Japanese government bonds, which suffered their worst sell-off in more than three years this week on worries the Bank of Japan may be running out of realistic easing options, remained under pressure.

The 10-year JGB yield rose 1 basis point to minus 0.080 percent JP10YTN=JBTC.

The broad increase in risk appetite helped Chinese shares recover some ground lost earlier. China's CSI 300 index .CSI300 gained 0.2 percent, and the Shanghai Composite.SSEC advanced 0.1 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng .HSI climbed 0.6 percent.

The dollar bounced back 0.7 percent from Monday's five-week low against a basket of six major currencies as investors looked to July payrolls data on Friday.

The dollar index added 0.1 percent to 95.647 .DXY =USD on Thursday, though it is still far below a 4 1/2-month peak of 97.569 hit last week.

A report from payrolls processor ADP showed on Wednesday U.S. private employers added 179,000 jobs in July, a tad above market expectations and bolstering hopes that Friday's data could show moderate growth in employment.

Soft second-quarter U.S. GDP data and some other mixed data have dented the dollar as they reduced expectations that the Federal Reserve will raise rates this year.

"A September rate hike could only be justified if July and August’s payrolls prove exceptionally strong," David Lafferty, chief market strategist at Natixis Global Asset Management, wrote in a note. "However, a post-election tightening in December is still in the cards provided the macro data doesn’t deteriorate."

Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans said on Wednesday that one rate increase might be appropriate this year, despite his worry that inflation is undershooting the Fed's 2 percent target, because "the real economy is doing quite well."


Article Link to Reuters:

ECB's Weidmann: Possibilities To Adjust QE, But Must Not Alter Design

By Caroline Copley
Reuters
August 4, 2016

There are possibilities to adjust the European Central Bank's quantitative easing (QE) programme, but it is important not to alter the design, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann said in an interview published on Thursday.

"With a view to the programme, there are adjustment possibilities. But from my point of view we must be very careful with the configuration," Weidmann told weekly Die Zeit.

The ECB currently buys bonds weighted to each country's contribution to the central bank's capital. Germany is currently the biggest beneficiary therefore, but changes would potentially allow other countries to benefit.

Weidmann said an increase in buying bonds from countries with particularly high indebtedness or bad credit ratings would distance the ECB further from its core mandate.

"If we grant individual countries special conditions or concentrate increasingly on highly-indebted countries than we will blur the lines between monetary policy and fiscal policy somewhat further," he told the paper.

"This can lead to the independence of the central bank being called into question, which is, however, the basis for stability-orientated monetary policy," he said.

He added this could increase the pressure in the end to keep interest rates lower for longer than is necessary with a view to prices if highly indebted states could not withstand a rate rise.


Article Link to Reuters:

As U.S. Crude Wobbles Near $40, New Oil Rally In Doubt

By Barani Krishnan
Reuters
August 4, 2016

U.S. crude's slide below $40 a barrel this week has hardened the resolve of oil market bears to drive prices lower, with oversupply, refining cutbacks and a breakdown in the oil/dollar trade spelling an end to this year's rally.

Few believe oil will revisit the 12-year lows of $26 to $27 a barrel seen in the first quarter, but many are zeroing in on $35 a barrel or lower for U.S. crude. Short bets have increased in recent weeks as investors believe the spring rally that nearly doubled the price of oil took the market too far, too fast.

"The bandwagon trade just two months ago was that we will hit $60, but now $35 is looking like more of a reality," said John Kilduff, partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital.

"We're in a vicious cycle, with no sign of this glut in oil products disappearing anytime soon, while any cutback by refiners is backing up crude into the system. This tells me the rally is over," said Kilduff. He said he was using mostly options and futures positions to bet on $35 oil.

Crude inventories jumped by 1.4 million barrels in the most recent week, surprising forecasters who expected an identical draw. The build brought stockpiles, minus the U.S. strategic reserve, to an all-time seasonal high of 522.5 million barrels, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

OPEC oil producers are pumping near record high levels while top crude exporter Saudi Arabia cut prices for its Asian customers at the weekend, signaling another price war and tussle for crude market share.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude settled below $40 on Tuesday for the first time since April. It ended Wednesday at $40.83 a barrel.

Tariq Zahir, an oil bear who trades mostly in timespreads of WTI, is betting the spot U.S. price will not hold above $40 for long.

"I'm selling into this rally," Zahir, who heads Tyche Capital Advisors in New York, said Wednesday. Having frequently made money this year betting nearer-dated oil contracts will weaken against farther-dated deliveries, Zahir was also emboldened by short bets that have built up lately against WTI.

Speculators, including hedge funds, have turned increasingly bearish toward crude and refined products in the last two months, adding the equivalent of 56 million barrels of extra short positions in the three main Brent and WTI futures and options contracts in the week ending July 26.

Oil's recent tumble came amid a breakdown in its correlation with the dollar .DXY. When the dollar falls, oil usually rises. That did not happen earlier this week when the U.S. currency fell to six-week lows. Some saw that as a bearish sign.

Yet others expect stronger oil prices. Goldman Sachs on Wednesday maintained its 2017 target for oil at $52.50. The bank noted that most of the sell-off has been the result of declines in far-dated contracts, suggesting a "repricing of long-term potential supply," rather than a reassessment of current conditions.

French bank Societe Generale said in a note on Tuesday that compared to the first quarter of the year, when global stocks were rising, now, "global supply and demand are roughly balanced, in large part due to steadily declining U.S. crude production."


Article Link to Reuters:

Erdogan’s Purge Is A Sectarian War

The alliance between Erdogan and Gulen came apart because it's impossible to reconcile their rival interpretations of Islam — and Islamism.


Foreign Policy
August 4, 2016

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the secular Turkish Republic that replaced the Islamic Ottoman Empire, died in 1938, but Turks still define themselves as pro- or anti-Ataturk — though women need not say anything because their headscarves, or lack thereof, proclaim their allegiance. The anti-Ataturk camp that wants to remake Turkey into an Islamic state was always supported by the less educated majority of the country’s population, but until 2002 it was firmly kept under control by the Turkish officer corps, whose unifying “Kemalist” ideology was strictly secular.

What undid this equilibrium was a winning alliance of populist Islamists, led by the thinly educated ex-soccer player Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the university-educated followers of Fethullah Gulen, a religious entrepreneur on a huge scale, whose followers established more than a thousand schools from Texas to Tashkent, as well as dozens of universities, student halls, and teaching institutes. Erdogan’s talent was, and is, to rally the masses by invoking their Muslim identity against all comers, from the West in general to better-educated, less devout fellow Turks; in 1999, he spent months in prison after being convicted for inciting religious hatred.

Gulen’s winning formula was to collect funds from the devout to offer free, or discounted, educational opportunities in schools presented as entirely secular, indeed with an emphasis on the teaching of science, in which Islamic practices are propagated very gradually by the friendly persuasion of slightly older students in private chats. Under Ataturk’s rules, Turkish universities were to be completely secular, banning the wearing of the Islamic headscarf and any form of worship on the premises. But with student housing both scarce and expensive in Turkish cities, Gulenist lodges offering free rooms served to convert tens of thousands of graduates into his devotees, many of them ready to do their bit after graduation by contributing funds, helping to establish schools or teaching in them, or by working in the media to good effect. Others did more than that, successfully infiltrating the Turkish officer corps by outmaneuvering its no-beard and no-headscarf rules with the blessing of Gulen, who no doubt justified such concealment with his own interpretation of the Islamic tenet of taqiyah.

So when Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the 2002 elections, it was able to govern Turkey successfully, remaining in power until now, instead of being forced out or dissolved by military order, as with all previous attempts at forming Islamist governments. It was not Erdogan’s brawlers and provincials who implemented the AKP’s economic policies but rather Gulen’s competent technocrats, achieving good results that dissuaded a military intervention, along with obdurate European pressures in the name of democracy, and the vigilance of disguised Gulenists within the officer corps.

What destroyed the alliance was the exact nature of Gulen’s Islam, which allows the dishonesty of systematic deception, but whose own substance is genuinely moderate — his creed truly accepts coexistence with other monotheists, including non-Sunni Muslims, and totally prohibits any form of violence in the name of religion against polytheists as well (in spite of the Quranic injunction).

But for Erdogan and his core AKP colleagues, such as former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Islam is something else entirely: specifically Sunni and the only religion entitled to exist at all. Its conquest of the planet must be advanced by all means possible, from mandatory religious education in Turkey (achieved by closing more and more secular schools) to the use of any amount of violence by Sunni Muslims fighting non-Sunnis anywhere in the world, from Hamas in Gaza to the al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and the Uighurs in China. That is why Erdogan tacitly supported the Islamic State as long as he could, initially prohibiting the use of the Incirlik Air Base against the group and allowing Turkish dealers to import its oil. (It’s no coincidence that when some Turkish truck drivers were kidnapped by the group, they were not beheaded but released.) Even when over-the-top outrages committed by the Islamic State finally forced Erdogan to allow U.S. airstrikes from Incirlik, the Turkish air force bombed only the Kurds. It was again because of its specifically Sunni identity that Turkey’s ties to Shiite Iran — and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s nominally Shiite Alawite ally — were always strained in spite of their common hatred of the West. (It’s notable that Davutoglu and Erdogan never used the common label “Alawite” to describe the religion of Syria’s leader but rather “Nusayri,” a heretical epithet among local Sunnis.)

When they met Erdogan and Davutoglu, their European colleagues and U.S. President Barack Obama saw the Armani suits and heard the standard language of statecraft. But by 2009 or so, Gulen judged that he had helped engender a monster, a covertly extremist Islamist regime that would ruin Turkey and damage Islam by starting violent quarrels with all its neighbors, which duly happened.

The Gulenists in the police and judiciary tried to solve the problem in 2013 by bringing down Erdogan and a number of his ministers on amply justified corruption charges; there is no other explanation for the billions of dollars accumulated by Erdogan’s family. But instead of resigning, Erdogan ordered the abrupt dismissal of the prosecutors and police involved, rightly counting on the unconditional support of his Islamist AKP base; the rule of law, after all, is a Western concept of and about which Erdogan’s most fervent supporters know little and care less.

Erdogan struck back by denouncing the Gulenists’ “parallel structure” inside the government and armed forces and dismissing as many as his spies — or merely jealous subordinates — could identify for him while shutting down Gulen-affiliated banks, businesses, and media outlets, including Zaman, the country’s largest-circulation newspaper. Because there were, of course, no membership lists — to be a Gulenist is a state of mind — what ensued was not a roundup but a witch hunt, which kept expanding in scope as more and more denunciations came in, many no doubt motivated by personal rivalries or career ambitions. Another 2,500 or so police investigators, public prosecutors, and judges were about to be dismissed when the botched coup intervened on July 15.

That, in turn, unleashed the no-holds-barred Erdogan, with mass dismissals and arrests even before the proclamation of martial law, devastating the entire apparatus of the Turkish state, including the armed forces, which lost 87 of 198 army generals, 30 of 72 air force generals, 32 of 55 navy admirals, seven of 32 in the gendarmerie general command, and the only coast guard admiral, as well as 1,099 less senior officers. For a country fighting militant Kurds affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in earnest, and at least pretending to fight the Islamic State, those are devastating losses.

As for the country’s economy, the confiscation and paralysis of many businesses, large and small, are inflicting much damage, even as tourism revenues have plunged. Yet more damage is certain as less educated, miseducated, and uneducated AKP militants move into key government positions vacated by the dismissal or arrest of supposed Gulenists.

Ataturk would not have been surprised: He was convinced that Islam in any form would be the ruin of the Turks.


Article Link to Foreign Policy:

Russia Will Do What It Wants In Rio

If Moscow can invade Crimea and get away with it, then it can cheat to win Olympic medals.


Politico EU
August 4, 2016

The Olympic jamboree starts Friday in Rio de Janeiro. In the run-up to the Games, as the organizers scrambled to iron out all the traditional last-minute snags, they faced a thorny social problem: Should we invite the druggies to our party?

Less than three weeks before the start of the Olympics, the World Anti-Doping Agency urged a total ban on Russian participation. WADA released a report that it claimed corroborated “state-sponsored subversion of anti-doping processes.” The highlight was a scheme to cheat drug testers at the Sochi Winter Olympics — an example, it said, of Russia’s breathtaking contempt for international rules.

Vladimir Putin sincerely believes the rest of the world is just as cynical and corrupt as he is but that it simply doesn’t have the guts to acknowledge it. The Olympic authorities’ confused and timid reaction to WADA’s report suggests that the Russians can hope to act badly and bluster their way out of paying a heavy price — as they have so many times before.

"In the face of overwhelming evidence that Russia had deliberately and systematically broken the rules, the IOC could not bring itself to pull the trigger."

In January 2014, the Brookings Institution addressed a memo to U.S. President Barack Obama warning that Russia, freed from the threat of a potential boycott, would start misbehaving after the Sochi Games wrapped up. True to form, Russia annexed Crimea in March, less than a month after the Games ended. Shortly afterward, they moved into eastern Ukraine.

In the end, few Russians who were not already banned will miss the Games. Just as Russian-backed militias are still in Donetsk, so Russian athletes will be in Rio.

* * *

Like his Soviet predecessors, Putin sees sport as a propaganda tool. He wants to make Russia great again. And big wins in the international sporting arena would give off the impression that he is succeeding.

Centrally organized Russian doping goes back to 1952 when the old Soviet Union first deigned to compete in the Olympics. Under Putin, Russia has built a state-sponsored doping system on steroids.

The problem for the Russians is that anti-doping tests had been vastly improved. By the start of the decade, Russian athletes were testing positive at an eye-catching rate. Russia responded by trying to beat the system and to cow, subvert or buy officials.

So complex was the Russian doping conspiracy that it became difficult to keep everyone in line. Former officials of RUSADA, the Russian anti-doping agency, began squealing to the Western media. In 2014, Vitaly Stepanov appeared in a German documentary describing state-sponsored doping. WADA investigated. Its report, in November 2015, focused on Russian doping in track and field — not a Winter Olympic sport. It found that the Russians had destroyed some 1,400 positive samples and bribed officials of track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, to ignore positive tests and detected the hand of the FSB, the successor to the KGB.

"Not everybody was in for total ban on Russian participation. The sponsors have business in Russia. And for national broadcasters, a Russian baddie in lane 6 makes for better TV."


In May, Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the drug testing lab in Sochi who fled Russia, told his tale to the New York Times. At the 2014 Winter Games, testing was conducted in Russian labs, in Sochi and Moscow, but the hosts had to find a way to deceive the latest WADA weapon: neutral observers.

The FSB came up with a scheme that suggests its agents may have watched too many “Mission Impossible” movies. It drilled holes in the wall of the room where samples were stored and devised a system for replacing the seals on the bottles. Agents dressed as plumbers switched bottles at night. Senior figures in Moscow would decide whether to replace the dirty samples with clean ones or to hang the athlete out to dry. They communicated their choice with code words.

WADA again launched an inquiry, this time under a Canadian law professor, Richard McLaren, who reported that “the forensic evidence corroborates what Rodchenkov was saying.” WADA was unequivocal. Russia should be banned from Rio.

But the International Olympic Committee equivocated. In the face of overwhelming evidence that Russia had deliberately and systematically broken the rules, the IOC could not bring itself to pull the trigger.

The committee and its member federations include senior Russian officials who face political pressure from Russia. It is likely that not all of the IOC’s paymasters were united behind a Russian ban. The sponsors have business in Russia. And for national broadcasters, a Russian baddie in lane 6 makes for better TV.

The IOC also had legal and ethical concerns about banning athletes who had never tested positive. They would be punishing the innocent. The IOC also feared a challenge in the courts. They took legal advice and then ran for the hills.

Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC, had previously talked of removing sports federations’ control of drug-testing because they could not be trusted to take tough decisions.

Now, Bach refused to make a tough decision. After WADA called for a ban, Bach passed the buck to individual sports federations. Several began rubber-stamping Russian athletes at once.

"The Russian government reiterated its opposition to doping and promised to root out the guilty while insisting others cheat as much, or more, than they do."

After Bach backed down he was razzed by German tabloid Bild. It ran a picture of Bach under the headline: “Putin’s Poodle.”

The Russian government reiterated its opposition to doping and promised to root out the guilty while insisting others cheat as much, or more, than they do. The Kremlin argued that the accusations were politically motivated.

Rodchenkov, the Russians say, was a doping profiteer who bought drugs in the U.S. and sold them to athletes. He switched samples in Sochi to cover his tracks, they claim.

It hardly matters. Rodchenkov was telling the truth, but even though Russia was caught breaking the international rules in a systematic and premeditated fashion, the IOC could not find the unity to push back.

It’s become a familiar story. Just as Russia can bomb Syria or occupy Crimea, it can corrupt the Olympics. And it can count on a response that is long on words and short on action.


Article Link to Politico EU:

Sorry, GOP: There Is No Trump 'Reset' Button

Real Clear Politics
August 4, 2016

Back in mid-March—when Americans could still operate in healthy denial regarding the political tragicomedy to come—Dr. Ben Carson, fresh off of endorsing Donald Trump for president, delivered a somnolent yet strangely chipper performance on MSNBC’S “Morning Joe.” Trump’s Chicago rally had just been canceled after rounds of fisticuffs between his supporters and protesters. Carson was there to assure America, or at least Republicans, that all was well.

“Donald Trump will come to the realization that this is a golden opportunity for leadership,” Carson said, appearing, as usual, as if he might nod off right then and there. “I think you’re probably going to see him pivoting more in the direction of everybody, rather than just those who are angry.” This magical and inevitable “pivot,” Carson assured the audience, would come “very shortly.”

I now invite readers to join me in a short yet hearty belly laugh, followed by a brisk bout of wheezing, followed by the wiping of tears from one’s eyes, either from hilarity or despair. The long-fabled Trump “pivot,” of course, never came.

It never came when Newt Gingrich predicted it would. It never came when Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan reluctantly tied their wagons to the Trump Train, silently hoping it would somehow magically jump to a completely different track running in the opposite direction 500,000 ideological feet away. It never came when Scott Walker helpfully endorsed Donald Trump while managing not to use his name.

Heck, it never even came when Trump himself predicted it. “As I get closer and closer to the goal, it’s going to get different,” he announced to Greta Van Susteren in February. “I will be changing very rapidly. I’m very capable of changing to anything I want to change to.” Or, as he later told his obsequious pal Sean Hannity: “At the right time, I will be so presidential that you’ll call me and you’ll say, ‘Donald, you have to stop that, it’s too much.’”

Right. So, here we are. The GOP has its nominee, and it is Donald Trump. This has been documented for quite some time, and we are reminded of it daily—and yet, amazingly, a good number of otherwise intelligent people seem repeatedly shocked that Donald Trump is indeed Donald Trump, and not a Calvin Coolidge/Ronald Reagan/Ludwig von Mises hybrid hiding inside a fantastically clever and wildly expensive Donald Trump look-alike suit.

How else can one explain the GOP’s bizarre nervous breakdown this week, shortly after its own convention, inspired by the same brand of Trumpian behavior that has been on clear display for the past year? “The Republican Party was in turmoil again Wednesday,” the Washington Post reported breathlessly, “as party leaders, strategists, and donors voiced increasing alarm about the flailing state of Donald Trump’s candidacy and fears that the presidential nominee was damaging the party with an extraordinary week of self-inflicted mistakes, gratuitous attacks and missed opportunities.”

Those “mistakes” and “attacks” included broadsides against Paul Ryan and John McCain, reports of major internal campaign dysfunction, various odd comments about sexual harassment, missteps in an interview about Ukraine, and an elongated and exhausting feud with a Gold Star military family who lost their son in Iraq. In an impressively short period of time, Trump tossed out enough media red meat to drown out any peep of Hillary coverage, positive or negative—or Obama coverage, for that matter.

If you’ve been paying any attention to the presidential campaign over the past few months, you know this is nothing new. This is classic Trump. He is not slipping “off message,” as hopeful Republican insiders like to claim. This sort of thing is Trump’s message, and it has been since the day he announced his candidacy. But alas, dear GOP: These days, it seems, you can’t do anything right—and in this case, you can’t even properly time your freak-outs.

“Key Republicans close to Donald Trump’s orbit are plotting an intervention with the candidate after a disastrous 48 hours,” NBC News reported Wednesday, in news that could have come out of a contentious sorority chapter meeting. “Republican National Committee head Reince Priebus, former Republican New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are among the Trump endorsers hoping to talk the real estate mogul into a dramatic reset of his campaign in the coming days.”

Ah, the fabled “reset,” paired with an intervention, paired with various other quixotic attempts to craft a candidate into something he’s not, and perhaps doesn’t even want to be! I’m sure it will lead to more “message discipline,” and perhaps learning “some new skills”—that helpful suggestion comes from Newt Gingrich, in the Post story—and a quick and easy personality transformation. Good luck with that, GOP. As the old chorus goes: I’m sure this time will be different.


Article Link to Real Clear Politics:

When Obama Does It, It’s Not Ransoming Hostages, It’s Just Coincidence

By Post Editorial Board
The New York Post
August 4, 2016

It’s not paying ransom if President Obama is the one flying hundreds of millions in cold, hard cash to Tehran to grease the release of American hostages.

That’s the White House line, anyway.

Press Secretary Josh Earnest spent 20 minutes Wednesday trying to throw cold water on bombshell Wall Street Journal reporting on the $400 million in euros and other hard currency flown aboard an unmarked cargo plane on the day of January’s hostage release — over fierce Justice Department objections.

Yes, Obama did announce that, as part of his dubious nuclear deal with Tehran, he’d agreed to settle an old Iranian claim for $400 million, plus $1.3 billion in interest.

But what he never told the American people — and what his administration deliberately withheld from Congress — was all the sordid details.

Like the cash airlift — a payoff landed the very day four innocent American captives were freed by Tehran (which also got back seven Iranian criminals).

Earnest called the timing a coincidence.

Never mind that the talks for a prisoner swap were stalled until Washington agreed to the payout. Or that Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders boasted openly they’d coerced the money “for the release of the American spies.”

Sure sounds like a ransom payment to us.

Paying ransoms effectively puts a price on the head of every American. That’s why Iran is busy re-stocking its supply of US hostages — with three more recently taken captive and another, former FBI agent Bob Levinson, still unaccounted for.

Team Obama defends it as just another part of its supposed shift in relations with Iran — all centered on the nuclear deal, the cornerstone of Obama’s foreign-policy legacy (and fully backed by Hillary Clinton).

Yet the deal looks ever worse as more facts roll out — like the secret side deal that leaves Iran far closer to a nuclear bomb than Obama has been claiming.

Looks, in fact, like one of the most shameful accords in US history.

For all the phony narratives the White House spun to sneak the deal past Congress, polls show the American people have never supported it. When will Democrats admit they made a horrible mistake?


Article Link to The New York Post:

George Will: Is There a Method To Trump’s Madness?

The public is numb to Trump’s scattershot of stupefying statements.


By George Will 
The National Review
August 3, 2016

In the 1870s, when Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall controlled New York City, and in the 1950s and 1960s, when Chicago’s Democratic machine was especially rampant, there was a phenomenon that can be called immunity through profusion: Fresh scandals arrived with metronomic regularity, so there was no time to concentrate on any of them. The public, bewildered by blitzkriegs of bad behavior, was enervated.

What Winston Churchill said about an adversary — “He spoke without a note and almost without a point” — can be said of Donald Trump, but this might be unfair to him. His speeches are, of course, syntactical train wrecks, but there might be method to his madness. He rarely finishes a sentence (“Believe me!” does not count), but perhaps he is not the scatterbrain he has so successfully contrived to appear. Maybe he actually is a sly rascal, cunningly in pursuit of immunity through profusion.

He seems to understand that if you produce a steady stream of sufficiently stupefying statements, there will be no time to dwell on any one of them, and the net effect on the public will be numbness and ennui. So, for example, while the nation has been considering his interesting decision to try to expand his appeal by attacking Gold Star parents, little attention has been paid to this: Vladimir Putin’s occupation of the Crimea has escaped Trump’s notice.

It is, surely, somewhat noteworthy that someone aspiring to be America’s commander-in-chief has somehow not noticed the fact that for two years now a sovereign European nation has been dismembered. But a thoroughly jaded American public, bemused by the depths of Trump’s shallowness, might have missed the following from Trump’s appearance last Sunday on ABC’s This Week.

When host George Stephanopoulos asked, “Why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?” — removing the call for providing lethal weapons for Ukraine to defend itself — Trump said: “[Putin's] not going into Ukraine, Okay? Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.”

Stephanopoulos: “Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?”

Trump: “Okay, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet. You have [President] Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama, with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this, in the meantime, he’s going where — he takes — takes Crimea, he’s sort of — I mean . . . ”

What Trump, in that word salad, calls the “certain way” that Putin is in Crimea is called annexation, enforced by the Russian army. But Trump — channeling his inner Woodrow Wilson and his principle of ethnic self-determination — says what has happened to Crimea is sort of democratic because “from what I’ve heard” the people of Crimea “would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

Before the interview ended, Trump expressed his displeasure with the schedule for presidential debates, two of which are on nights with nationally televised NFL games. (There are such games three nights each autumn week.) “I got a letter from the NFL,” Trump claimed, “saying this is ridiculous.” The NFL says it has sent no such letter. But before this Trump fib/figment of his imagination/hallucination can be properly savored, it will be washed away by a riptide of others. Immunity through profusion.

The nation, however, is not immune to the lasting damage that is being done to it by Trump’s success in normalizing post-factual politics. It is being poisoned by the injection into its bloodstream of the cynicism required of those Republicans who persist in pretending that although Trump lies constantly and knows nothing, these blemishes do not disqualify him from being president.

As when, last week, Mike Pence reproved Barack Obama for deploring, obviously with Trump in mind, “homegrown demagogues.” Pence, doing his well-practiced imitation of a country vicar saddened by the discovery of sin in his parish, said with sorrowful solemnity: “I don’t think name calling has any place in public life.” As in “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz and “Little Marco” Rubio and “Crooked Hillary” Clinton?

Pence is just the most recent example of how the rubble of ruined reputations will become deeper before November 8. It has been well said that “sooner or later, we all sit down to a banquet of consequences.” The Republican party’s multi-course banquet has begun.


Article Link to The National Review:

Trump’s Presidential Run May Be Ruining His Businesses

By James Covert
The New York Post
August 4, 2016

The presidential election is still 96 days away but many Americans have already voted — with their feet.

Visits to Donald Trump-named hotels, casinos and golf courses in six states are down 10 percent over the past year, roughly the time the billionaire developer has been running for president, compared to the previous 12-month period, according to data obtained by The Post from Foursquare.

In the hardest-hit properties — New York City’s Trump SoHo, the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago and Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal, which was hit by a strike — traffic declines hit 17 to 24 percent, said Foursquare, whose mobile research apps have accurately forecast swings in sales of iPhones, Chipotle burritos and McDonald’s breakfasts.

The firm zeroed in on Trump-named properties in the six states that draw the most traffic.

Four are blue, or Democratic-leaning states — New York, New Jersey, Hawaii and Illinois — and two are swing states, Florida and Nevada.

Properties in blue states suffered disproportionately, the Foursquare data showed.

While Trump casinos carry the developer’s name they are not owned by the billionaire — but were included in the Foursquare data.

Conversely, the results didn’t include Trump-owned properties that don’t carry the Trump brand, such as the posh Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., where bookings have reportedly been strong.

Visits to Trump properties by women have fallen the most, the data show, dropping more than 20 percent in each of the months, including 29 percent last month.

“Whether the loss in visits is coming from sightseers versus paying hotel guests is unclear,” Foursquare cautioned, adding it has weighted its findings against US Census data to eliminate age and gender bias.

“Traffic does not always equate with revenue.”

Meanwhile, Trump-branded resorts in cities in the two swing states — in Miami and Las Vegas — staged a bit of a comeback in July, with the traffic decline narrowing to just 3 percent following a 20-percent drop in June, Foursquare said.

The Trump Organization played down the double-digit declines.

“The findings cited are minute and inconsequential, and they do not provide a complete or accurate representation of performance,” a Trump Hotels spokeswoman said, noting the company is “very pleased with the performance of [its] business and with our guest engagement on popular social media channels.”

The data from Foursquare, culled from more than 1 million hotel, casino and resort-going customers, could be released as soon as Thursday.


Article Link to The New York Post:

Could Trump Actually Drop Out Of The Race? And What Would Happen If He Did?

By Paul Waldman
The Washington Post
August 4, 2016

Establishment Republicans tried everything they could think of to stop Donald Trump from becoming their party’s nominee. They poured $100 million into Jeb Bush’s campaign. They aired ads saying he wasn’t a true conservative. They penned special issues of conservative magazines making the case against him. They created a hashtag. Nothing worked.

Now it’s August, Trump is officially the Republican nominee for president (certified at a uniquely unhelpful convention), and somehow the idea that someone, anyone other than Trump might represent the GOP in November refuses to die. And after an unusually bad week even for him, people are asking: Is it possible that Trump could actually pull out of the race? And what would happen if he did?

The idea seems ludicrous, it’s true. Of course, it also seems ludicrous that a presidential candidate would get into a week-long fracas with the family of a soldier who died in Iraq. So let’s take it seriously, at least for a moment.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the last couple of days have been sublimely awful for Trump, bringing a string of damaging stories and bizarre missteps of the kind you might expect to see over the course of a few months of a failing campaign, all happening within 36 hours or so, from Trump’s inability to let his fight with the Khan family drop, to his pointed refusal to endorse Paul Ryan and John McCain, to telling Americans to pull their money out of the stock market, to revealing his blame-the-victim attitude toward sexual harassment, to his assertion that the election is being rigged against him. And then there’s my favorite story of the day, in which Trump goes to Loudoun County, Virginia, the richest county in America, tells the crowd, “you’re doing lousy over here, by the way, I hate to tell you,” then cites as evidence some factory closures that occurred hundreds of miles away (one of which was actually in North Carolina).

And that’s only what’s happening in public. We’re getting hints that behind the scenes, things are falling apart. Yesterday John Harwood tweeted that an associate of Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort told him that Manafort is “not challenging Trump anymore. Mailing it in. Staff suicidal” (the campaign denies this). RNC chair Reince Priebus was reportedly“apoplectic” at Trump’s comments about Ryan and McCain. The New York Times reports that “Republicans now say Mr. Trump’s obstinacy in addressing perhaps the gravest crisis of his campaign may trigger drastic defections within the party, and Republican lawmakers and strategists have begun to entertain abandoning him en masse.” And here’s what Chuck Todd and Hallie Jackson report this morning:

"Key Republicans close to Donald Trump’s orbit are plotting an intervention with the candidate after a disastrous 48 hours led some influential voices in the party to question whether Trump can stay at the top of the Republican ticket without catastrophic consequences for his campaign and the GOP at large.

Republican National Committee head Reince Priebus, former Republican New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are among the Trump endorsers hoping to talk the real estate mogul into a dramatic reset of his campaign in the coming days, sources tell NBC News."


I have no idea what such a “reset” would entail, since the problem with the Trump campaign comes down to two words: Donald Trump. Is he suddenly going to become “so presidential that you people will be so bored,” as he used to say? Of course not. The most likely outcome of this rather intense period is that Trump promises to be a little more careful with his words, and Republicans go back to their baseline level of anxiety, as opposed to today’s outright panic.

But could he actually drop out of the race? The argument against it has a number of factors in its favor. First, nothing like that has ever happened before (though neither has a candidate like Trump ever been a party nominee before). Second, doing so would be an acknowledgement of defeat, which is obviously something Trump would find intolerable. Third, he’s only trailing Hillary Clinton by six points or so, which means it’s entirely possible that he could stabilize his campaign and hope for some dramatic event (an alien invasion, perhaps) that changes the dynamic of the race and allows him to win.

The argument for why he might abandon his run is less persuasive, but not dramatically so. Trump is facing a level of scrutiny and criticism unlike anything he’s ever experienced before, and it may be taking a personal toll. If he concludes he’s going to lose anyway, why not jump ship now and let somebody else take the fall? After all, that’s what he’s done in the past. All those bankruptcies his businesses have gone through? He managed in the end to convince himself that they were actually not failures, but shrewd stratagems by the world’s greatest businessman, himself. In time he might be able to tell a similar story about this race: He ran the greatest campaign in history and showed everyone what a winner he was, then stepped aside once he had made his point, deciding to return to the business world where his true magnificence could be more fully realized.

He might also spin the tale as one of betrayal: with even Republicans conspiring against him, he decided that fighting on was no longer worthwhile, and he chose to let them lose without him in the hopes that they’d learn their lesson and reform their corrupt party. It’s impossible for us to know what’s actually going through Trump’s mind, but you could imagine his unique combination of narcissistic grandiosity and rampaging insecurity pushing him in either direction.

So what would happen if Trump did actually drop out of the race after already being named the nominee? This morning, ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported that Republican Party officials are trying to determine what to do if it happens, but fortunately, the RNC bylaws have provisions regarding such a scenario. They say that if the nominee exits the race for whatever reason, the 168 members of the national committee would vote to name a replacement nominee, in a process roughly analogous to the Electoral College, with members from each state voting together.

It doesn’t sound that difficult in practical terms, except for the fact that it would virtually guarantee that Hillary Clinton would be the next president. The chaos would reinforce all her arguments that she’s the stable, sensible choice. The Republicans would have to find someone to fill Trump’s spot — and don’t think Paul Ryan would do it, because he’s not that dumb, so Mike Pence might be the default replacement. And Trump’s supporters, after being told for so long that they’re fighting against a corrupt establishment, would likely stay home in large numbers after 168 party bosses picked a nominee.

That’s the biggest reason that those in the GOP, as disgusted as they are at Trump, will probably not want to push things that far: the alternative is even more distressing. Unless they’re convinced that things will keep getting worse and Trump will drag down their majorities in the Senate and House with him — and that the election won’t turn out quite as badly if they have a pinch-hitter at the top of the ticket — they’re likely to just keep trying to convince him to clean up his act and hope that the damage doesn’t spread too far down the ballot.

It’s important to note that Trump has said nothing indicating he’s considering leaving the race. And he may well still believe he’s going to win, since after all, he’s doing great with the Hispanics, the African-Americans love him, women are totally on his side, the middle class is completely in for Trump, it’s incredible, believe me. But it’s not as though his behavior has been all that predictable up until now.


Article Link to The Washington Times: