Protectionism What? EU and South America Strike Major Trade Deal

One of the largest multilateral trade deals in history was signed just a few days ago, between the European Union and Mercosur, a South American trade bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The deal covers countries with a total population of nearly 800 million people and it took 20 years to hammer out. It will open up Europe to more South American agricultural goods, while reducing their duties on European manufactured exports like cars, shoes, machinery, and, of course, wines and cheeses.

Three quick thoughts on this:

Trump wasn't even in the room, but he's in this story: One reason the long-deadlocked talks got crackling again was that Trump's more confrontational approach to US allies on trade had pushed the Europeans into seeking opportunities elsewhere. This is the largest trade deal the EU has ever struck, following smaller recent deals with Japan, Canada, Mexico, and Singapore.

Did you think all "populists" were protectionists? They aren't. Brazil's controversial far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is a major backer of the deal. He has made it his mission to reduce tariffs and other investment barriers in what is one of the world's most protectionist countries. He sees that as a way to spur growth and clear away a legacy of left-wing economic policies.

Could it go up in smoke? Yup. Farmers in Europe and manufacturers in Mercosur don't like it, and that matters because the deal still requires ratification by each member country (that means 28 in Europe alone.) But the biggest immediate challenge will come in Argentina. If Wall Street friendly President Mauricio Macri loses his fading re-election bid to the leftwing protectionist ticket of Alberto Fernandez and former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner later this year, Buenos Aires could throw a wrench into this thing fast.

Technology has played a big role in accelerating globalization. While it's our business to advance technology, we also believe that technology should respect and even help protect the world's timeless values. That conviction has led us to announce a new and fourth pillar to Microsoft's AI for Good portfolio – our $125 million, five-year commitment to use artificial intelligence to tackle some of society's biggest challenges. This new pillar will focus on AI for Cultural Heritage. Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.

Does Boris Johnson strengthen or weaken the US-UK relationship?

Well I mean strengthens it in so far as he and Trump like each other. They're both oriented towards Brexit. They're kind of right-wing populists that aren't ideologically moored. But will it last? Boris could flip on a dime on any major issue as can Trump. So it's kind of volatile. Plus they both really love the media and when they're in front of each other with other people the potential to - I mean Boris upsets people and Trump easily takes offense. So this could easily go south.

Will Iran release the captured UK oil tanker?

I mean over time I suspect it will. But remember the UK has an Iranian tanker as well, so it's much more likely they work these things out together even if they're not explicitly linked, than suddenly the Iranians say, "Oh I'm sorry. Here's your tanker"

Will protests continue in Hong Kong?

It certainly seems that way. The question is what will China do about it? Xi Jinping is now saying that they are reaching the danger zone and the ability of the Chinese to hit back and hit back hard is real. I worry about those protesters.

Will Robert Mueller reveal anything new when he testifies on Capitol Hill?

I highly doubt it. He said very clearly that he does not intend to go beyond what was in his report. So Democrats looking for bombshells on collusion or obstruction are likely to be disappointed.

Can President Trump expand his electoral college edge in 2020?

Well he thinks he can. He thinks he can win in places like Minnesota and New Hampshire. I think it's more likely that he just hangs on to the Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that got him there in 2016.

Should the governor of Puerto Rico resign?

Absolutely. Governor Rossello should resign. He's lost the confidence of the island. Puerto Rico needs a fresh start particularly after all these terrible text messages. He should definitely resign.

Finally for The Rant: today's rant is on Elizabeth Warren who put out a report today saying the economy is on the brink of collapse. It was very alarmist, certainly there are problems with the economy. Issues that could be fixed but she risks sounding like she's yelling fire in a crowded theater with calls like that.

"A regime willing to kill en masse to stay in power,' Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iranian, discusses the challenges facing the rise of democracy within the country.

Avi Loeb, The Chair of Harvard University's Astronomy Department, delves into the search for extraterrestrial life.