Trump’s still abusing his power

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Today's Agenda

 Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images North America

The Checks and Balances Are in the Mail

Hey, remember that time we impeached President Donald Trump, over like Belarus or something? Probably not. It happened just before we got trapped in the Upside Down. Anyway, long story short: The Senate let the president keep his job despite finding he abused his power to win re-election. The message he apparently received was that he should keep on doing that.

This time the abuse involves the U.S. Postal Service, which Trump has put in the hands of Louis DeJoy, one of his biggest campaign donors. DeJoy has been hobbling its ability to deliver the mail, doing everything short of slashing the tires on mail trucks and hiding those knee socks carriers wear. Trump sometimes claims he just wants to fix the service's busted finances, but Tim O'Brien notes other times he basically admits he's trying to make it harder for Democrats to vote by mail in a pandemic election. Given his track record and the fact there are simpler ways to fix the Postal Service, the second explanation makes more sense. After an outcry, DeJoy today promised to maybe stop hiding the knee socks. But it's not clear he'll reverse damage already done.

Meanwhile, Trump is also pushing his attorney general, Bill Barr, to release results of an investigation into the investigation of his 2016 campaign's contacts with Russia. Because this was a really long time ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a helpful reminder today: Russia wanted Trump to win in 2016, and people on his campaign were eager for its help. Trump claims the investigation of this was flawed and suggests Barr's report will implicate his 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, in witch-hunt shenanigans. Noah Feldman notes Barr's releasing this report ahead of an election would violate a standing Justice Department rule (last broken by Jim Comey in 2016, also helping elect Trump). But what's going to stop him? Certainly not another impeachment.

Further Trump-Power Reading: Trump's pardoning Edward Snowden to settle scores with the FBI would go too far. — Eli Lake

Walmart's Warning

The S&P 500 hit a record high today, thanks partly to upbeat housing data and growing signs the Sunbelt's ugly pandemic surge is retreating a bit. No, this doesn't mean we're leaving the Upside Down tomorrow. But Conor Sen points out Sunbelters will probably get back to shopping and partying more quickly than cautious Northeasterners, boosting the economy in the short term, even while a vacating Congress snoozes on more stimulus.

Still, we could use that stimulus. Walmart Inc., which has vacuumed up even more of our cash than usual in this pandemic, reported another blockbuster quarter today. But Walmart also said stimulus checks boosted sales in the quarter, Sarah Halzack notes, and that spending fell off when those checks started to disappear.

Bonus Urgent-Assistance-Needed Reading: Small businesses are especially vulnerable now, and payday lenders are preying on them. Congress must intervene. — Bloomberg's editorial board

We're Not Ready to Mass-Produce Vaccines

Pop quiz time: In order to make enough Covid-19 vaccines for the whole world, drugmakers will need ample supplies of:

  1. horseshoe crab blood
  2. shark liver oil
  3. octopus tears

If you said a. and b., then you're right, but also what are you doing reading this newsletter? You are urgently needed in the vaccine lab! Anyway, there's a whole lot of weird stuff that goes into making vaccines, write Scott Duke Kominers and Alex Tabarrok. And as we learned from shortages of PPE and other pandemic-fighting equipment, supply chains for this stuff don't just magically appear. We need public investment in them, stat, if we want to be ready for mass vaccinations early next year.

Tech Warring Intensifies

Not content with beating up on TikTok, Trump has turned his attention back to an old target, Huawei Technologies. This week he imposed new restrictions on the Chinese telecom giant's supply chain that Tim Culpan calls "a nuclear warhead" threatening its very existence. The company alone has no ammo with which to retaliate. But China sure does.

As for TikTok: Oracle for some reason has jumped into the race to buy its U.S. operations, kicked off when Trump threatened to ban the app if it didn't find new ownership. You read that right: Oracle, which makes business software, wants to buy TikTok, which helps teens post videos of themselves dancing. Sure, why not? Oracle's Larry Ellison is a devoted Trump fan after all, which may help it win this bidding war. But Oracle-TikTok will be a terrible fit, writes Tae Kim, a desperate grab for relevance by a company with no experience serving consumers.

Telltale Charts

China's plan to double its high-speed rail network is a boondoggle, writes David Fickling; it has far too much capacity already.

There's nothing unusual or problematic about the stock market being dominated by a handful of companies, writes Barry Ritholtz.

Further Reading

Don't get too hopeful about democracy breaking out in Belarus. Vladimir Putin will decide what happens there, and nobody can stop him. — Andreas Kluth

The UAE-Israel deal could lead to greater Israeli-Arab military cooperation to contain Iran. — James Stavridis

Spain's poor leadership has caused it to suffer more than its neighbors from the coronavirus twice. — Ferdinando Giugliano

Private schools should be able to open if they want, given they assume legal liability. — Stephen Carter

A gap year is worse than a year of remote college learning. — Teresa Ghilarducci

ICYMI

Elon Musk is the world's fourth-richest person.

Nancy Pelosi suggested Democrats would cut stimulus demands in half.

I'm glad coronavirus shut down my bar.

Kominers's Conundrums Hint

If you're still waiting for a zap of inspiration to solve our laser genius Conundrum, maybe try thinking about what could unify all the partial words in each group. Once you've done that, you should be able to put the answer together. And if the answer sounds strange, it might help to look up the end of the movie.

Kickers

How long is a foot? Not everybody agrees. (h/t Alistair Lowe)

Scientists capture prehistoric "hell ant" in the act of devouring prey.

Scientists find evidence a terrifying Ice Age puppy ate a woolly rhino. (h/t Ellen Kominers for the previous two kickers)

Ten American towns that feel like Europe.

Note: Please send hell ants and complaints to Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.net.

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