Hard Numbers

0 and 0 and 0: The State Department has spent zero of the $120 million that has been allocated since late 2016 to counter foreign efforts to meddle in US elections or sow distrust in democracy. Furthermore, zero of the 23 analysts working in the department’s Global Engagement Center — which has been tasked with countering Moscow’s disinformation campaign — speak Russian. A departmental hiring freeze means zero of the computer experts needed to track foreign cyber-activity will be hired any time soon. Unless this is some kind of judo move or Jedi mind trick, it’s hard to see how this bolsters US defenses against election meddling in this fall’s midterm elections or beyond.


13: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who over the weekend secured a fresh mandate as head of a grand coalition, has been in power for 13 years. During that time Japan has had eight prime ministers, Italy has had seven, and Australia six. France, Argentina, and South Africa have each elected four different presidents during that span, while the US, Turkey, and Brazil have each gone through three. If there is a single German word for “outlasting your political counterparts” we would like to learn it.

58: Since the electoral season in Mexico officially began last September, 58 politicians have been assassinated, or nearly 10 every month. Security is a critical issue as Mexicans head to the polls for a pivotal presidential election this summer.

82: In a Pew survey conducted last fall, 82% of Italians said they distrust parliament, and an equal share said the national economic situation is bad despite recent improvements. About three-quarters of Italians said politicians don’t care what ordinary people think — not surprisingly, the anti-establishment parties did molto bene in the elections over the weekend.

1 billion: Chinese venture capital investment into Latin America jumped to $1 billion this year, up from a paltry $30 million in 2015, according to data collected by Preqin, a market research firm. China’s investment in Latin America has until now focused overwhelmingly on infrastructure and natural resources, but startups, particularly in tech, are a new focus as China’s state and private investors expand their economic presence in the region.

Wrecking the global economy's hopes for a relaxing late-August Friday, China and the US have taken fresh shots at each other in their deepening trade war.

First, China announced new tariffs on US goods in response to US levies on China's exports that are set to take effect next month.

Trump responded with a vintage tweet storm, lashing out at China and demanding that US firms stop doing business there. The Dow plunged as markets waited for the next shoe to drop. And drop it did: later in the day Trump announced higher tariffs on nearly everything that China exports to the United States.

Why now? Bear in mind, all of this comes right as Trump is leaving for this weekend's G7 summit in France. That gathering already promised to be a testy one – but with the global economy slowing, the impact of Trump's increasingly nasty trade war with China will add fresh tensions to the occasion.

So where are we in the trade war now? Here is an updated list of what measures each side has imposed to date, and what's next. Both sides have a lot at stake, but from the looks of it, the list isn't going to get shorter any time soon.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

More Show less

The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

More Show less

Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.