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U.S. manufacturing sputters just as Trump tries to tout the economy

A GM plant in Flint, Mich., in June.

A GM plant in Flint, Mich., in June. Economists report new signs of shrinkage in manufacturing for the first time since 2016. Credit: AP/Jake May

Bad moon rising

No single number predicts the future of the U.S. economy, which still appears strong.

But new signs of shrinkage in manufacturing — for the first time since 2016 — undercut President Donald Trump's boasts about how he's bringing back that sector after decades of decline.

This week's negative indicator comes from the Institute for Supply Management. The institute publishes a widely watched Purchasing Managers' Index — which fell to 49.1 percent in August from 51.2 percent in July.

Some analysts call the finding one further sign that a recession is on the way with a presidential campaign approaching. Factory activity has also reportedly been contracting in Germany, the U.K., Japan and South Korea.

The political problem for Trump is that the figure comes against the backdrop of his current trade war with China. "Trade remains the most significant issue," said Timothy R. Fiore, chairman of the committee that compiled the institute's index.​

Companies have cited shrinking export orders and the problem of moving supply chains out of China to avoid the tariffs.

On Sunday, the president imposed a new 15 percent tariff on a range of consumer goods. Markets sank briefly Tuesday despite president saying it was Chinese manufacturing that would "crumble" if China didn't accede to U.S. trade terms.

Fake weather?

With Hurricane Dorian threatening to batter several states, President Donald Trump made waves when he insisted for some reason over the weekend that — against all evidence from his National Weather Service — Alabama could be hit.

Rather than acknowledge an obvious error, he went back at it yet again on Wednesday. A presidential video on Dorian included the bizarre sight of a doctored chart of the storm's path.

In the presentation, Trump displays a modified National Hurricane Center “cone of uncertainty” forecast, dated from 11 a.m. on Aug. 29. The graphic aid appeared to have been changed with a black marker to indicate the storm could move into Alabama from Florida.

Asked at an event on opioids if the hurricane chart was drawn on, he said, "I don't know, I don't know."

Go fund it, prez says

Trump on Wednesday defended his move to shift $5 billion in military construction funds and disaster relief allocations toward expanding the U.S. southern border wall and immigrant detention facilities, Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez reports.

He also said moving money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency would not affect storm-recovery efforts. Trump defended the use of military funding as meeting a security crisis at the border.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “The president is trying to usurp Congress’ exclusive power of the purse and loot vital funds from our military.”

Democrats in the eco-chamber

Candidates vying for the Democratic nomination against Trump took part in a seven-hour CNN forum on climate change Wednesday. Even before their allotted time, they revealed some common positions.

For one: All 10 candidates taking part, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), support a halt to new leases to tap into energy deposits on millions of acres both on shore and off the coasts, as Politico notes here. That would reverse current administration efforts.

The Green New Deal, plastic straws, "environmental racism," fracking, a proposed carbon tax, "clean energy jobs," vehicle emissions, water purity and the coal industry were all up for discussion from various angles as candidates faced questions back to back.

MSNBC has scheduled another such forum for Sept. 19-20.

Not guilty in Russiagate twist

Greg Craig worked as a Democratic Party lawyer under President Bill Clinton, and later, for President Barack Obama as White House counsel. As a result, it could be viewed as a partisan exception that he'd been charged in a case that grew out of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russiagate probe.

Federal officials accused Craig of making false statements to the Justice Department about work he did for the Ukrainian government that was somewhat in tandem with the business activities of ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, who's now imprisoned.

Bottom line: A jury acquitted Craig on Wednesday, possibly dealing a setback to the Justice Department's recent efforts to aggressively enforce the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

What else is happening:

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio said of his presidential bid: "I’m going to go and try to get into the October debates ... and if I can’t I think it’s really tough to conceive of continuing.”
  • Trump declined to rule out a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York City. “Sure, anything’s possible. They would like to be able to solve their problem,” he said, referring to inflation in Iran.
  • Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson posted — and then deleted — a tweet saying "power of the mind" helped turn Dorian away from hitting the U.S. harder than is now anticipated.
  • The administration is pushing to weaken federal rules that would have forced Americans to use much more energy-efficient light bulbs, the Times reports.
  • Roger Stone’s longtime aide Andrew Miller, who long fought a subpoena from Mueller, has now been called to testify at his former "dirty trickster" boss’ trial on charges of lying to the FBI and Congress.
  • Trump issued a denial in the fracas over Vice President Mike Pence's stay at of one of his resorts in Ireland even though Pence was meeting officials more than three hours away. It contradicts Pence chief of staff Marc Short who said Trump "suggested" it.

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