An Italian Power Play

Imagine: It's October 2019, and European bureaucrats are facing down a brash leader who has promised to bring Brussels to heel. No, not Boris Johnson, who appears increasingly determined to take the UK out of the EU on October 31. I'm talking about Matteo Salvini.

Italy's right-wing interior minister plunged the country's government into turmoil on Friday by demanding a no-confidence vote in Europe's third-biggest economy. It's the beginning of the end for the uneasy, 14-month-old governing coalition between his right-wing Lega party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. Salvini visited a string of Italian beaches in his swim trunks over the weekend to take his case to Italian voters. Parliamentarians have been summoned back from summer holidays; the Italian senate is due to meet today to decide on a date for a no-confidence vote, which could take place as soon as tomorrow.

An anti-immigration crusader who has risked sanctions by pushing ahead with big tax cuts that would break the EU's budget rules, Salvini is gambling that an early vote will allow Lega to consolidate its growing popularity in Italy and install him as prime minister. His chances look decent: One recent poll put Lega's support in Italy at 36 percent, double that of 5-Star, and also comfortably ahead of the more mainstream center-left Democratic Party (PD). Rules that give any party or group of parties that win 40 percent of the votes in a national election in Italy a "bonus" allotment of seats could allow Salvini to form a government without former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party, instead relying on the smaller Brothers of Italy party, which Salvini much prefers. Investors reacted nervously on Monday to the prospect of a budgetary showdown between an emboldened Salvini and the EU.

The gambit could backfire. Parties seen as breaking up a government tend to suffer in subsequent polls in Italy. Matteo Renzi, the former PD prime minister, has suggested banding together with rival factions to block a Lega takeover. Lega is also facing an unfolding scandal about top party aides' attempts to solicit funding from Russia ahead of European elections this past May that could complicate citizens' choices in a new poll.

But if Salvini and Lega win, it could embolden a politician whose rants against immigrants and Brussels have resonated with Italian voters fed up with traditional political parties. For the EU this autumn, the biggest source of political turmoil may not be a charismatic politician who wants to take his country out of the bloc, but one who wants to stay in and wreak political havoc.

Internationally, food security is under threat from drought, while agriculture is subject to thin margins and complex global trade. There is also pressure to do more with less to ensure food security for the global population. Because of this, farmers are driven to get the most out of every harvest, even if that short-term focus may have long-term ill effects on the soil and their yield. Farmers in the U.S. are now turning to Ag-Analytics, a leader in AI solutions, to help address these concerns. Sharing Microsoft's goal to help monitor, model and manage Earth's natural resources with cloud and AI, the company brings precision agriculture to fruition in a platform that helps farmers leverage data to make decisions. Read more on Microsoft on the Issues.

Are The US and China on Collision Course in The South China Sea? Senator Chris Coons talks about China's ambitions for a blue water navy and what it means for US security.

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As topsy-turvy as global politics has been over the past several years –Brexit, Trump, the rise of anti-establishment leaders in France, the Philippines, Italy, Pakistan, and Brazil, the surge of the European far right and so on – it's all unfolded during a time when the global economy was actually doing pretty well.

So what happens when the inevitable recession hits? Earlier this week, markets suffered their worst day of the year as investors confronted that question.

Germany's economy, the world's fourth-largest, is shrinking. China's factories are churning at their slowest rate in 17 years. The trade fights between the US and China, the US and Europe, and South Korea and Japan involve countries that together account for half the global economy. And worries about a chaotic British exit from the EU aren't helping either.

Even more worrying than these individual trends, through, is that the zero-sum politics driving all this disruption might also make a global economic swoon harder to get out of.

During the last big economic crisis in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, the world's major economies were able to compromise and coordinate their responses to the recession in ways that avoided an even deeper downturn.

In today's more cutthroat political environment, that kind of cooperation is a lot less likely -- particularly if a downturn fuels even more of social and political polarization within countries that has empowered economic nationalists in the first place.

We're not in a recession yet. But buckle up, because when the next downturn hits, politics is going to make it harder to contain the pain.

President Trump pays homage to a 1980s New York legend to explain his trade policy.

A pivotal weekend in Hong Kong – Some 300,000 demonstrators are expected at Hong Kong's Victoria Park on Sunday, in the 11th straight week of protests. Chaotic and partly violent demonstrations shut down Hong Kong International Airport this week, and tensions are high. Chinese paramilitary forces are reportedly drilling on the mainland close to the Hong Kong border. Xi Jinping, the president of China, knows a military crackdown would cripple Hong Kong's reputation as a stable financial center and could hurt the Chinese economy more broadly. But he may eventually conclude he has little choice but to snuff this out before other restive regions of China get similar ideas. The tenor of the marches this weekend will offer a clue about which way it's likely to go.

Maduro's crackdown on the military – One reason Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has survived an economic collapse, a popular revolt, assassination attempts, and a failed coup by opposition leader Juan Guaido is that the military brass has stuck with him. For one thing, they are tied to the regime's lucrative illegal businesses and black market schemes. But there's also now a stick to go along with that carrot: The New York Times describes Maduro's "growing reliance on torture" and purges of military officers – including alleged coup-plotter Captain Rafael Acosta, who died after being beaten and electrocuted to in a Venezuelan military hospital. We are watching closely to see if there is a point where Maduro screws up the calibration of carrots vs sticks and finds himself at the business end of a rifle in the Miraflores palace.

Trudeau's woes – In many ways Nicolas Maduro's polar opposite, Canada's prime minister has a lot going for him: dreamy good looks; a decent – if not overwhelming – majority for his Liberal Party in Parliament; and a generally safe, resource-rich country with millions of lakes, friendly people, big skies and (relatively) small problems. But earlier this week, an independent ethics commissioner ruled that the prime minister had breached the country's conflict of interest laws earlier this year when he pressured prosecutors to ease off of a bribery investigation of a major Canadian construction firm, because of fears about job losses. Trudeau has accepted the report's findings, but isn't resigning. We're watching to see how this simmering scandal affects Canada's upcoming national elections in October.

Something your salmon friends will never believe – You are a salmon. You are trying to get upriver so you can mate and die. Also you must avoid bears and bald eagles. Now there is a dam in your way of your favorite river. This is a problem. You pause an— WHAT IS HAPPENING. SUDDENLY YOU ARE BEING SHOT THROUGH A PNEUMATIC TUBE AND… just look at this thing.

What We're Ignoring

Japanese robotic tails Researchers at Japan's Keio University have developed a wearable robotic tail that they say could help elderly people and others with balance problems steady themselves. Look, we know that managing an ageing population is one of Japan's most pressing challenges. We also know that automation is one way that countries with shrinking workforces can better support a growing population of retirees. But giving people tails seems like a less efficient way to address these problems than, say, tweaking immigration policy ever so slightly to bring in more young workers, no?