What We're Watching: China’s Trade War Fightback and the Internet’s Role in Mass Shootings

China's trade war retaliation – China let the value of its currency, the renminbi, fall sharply against the US dollar on Monday to its lowest level in a decade. It also reportedly told state-run companies to stop buying from US farmers. Global stock markets plunged. Both moves were aimed squarely at the US and President Trump, who last week threatened to slap tariffs on an additional $300 billion of Chinese goods if Beijing didn't bow to US trade demands. By allowing the renminbi to slip, Beijing is withdrawing an olive branch, signaling that it is no longer willing to keep its currency artificially strong (and its exports less competitive) while talks with the US proceed. Suspending farm purchases is a direct jab at Trump himself; it increases financial pressure on US farmers, an important political constituency for the president. Taken together, China is saying: We're not going to take the latest US threats lying down. In response, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin branded China a "currency manipulator" – a largely symbolic move that may have been intended to forestall an even more aggressive response by the White House. We're watching to see whether the two sides can avoid further escalation.


The "gamification" of mass violence – On Sunday, an apparent white supremacist murdered 20 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, minutes after posting a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto on the website 8chan. It was the third mass shooting this year advertised beforehand on the website, where some anonymous commentators cheer on gunmen by posting ironic memes and encouraging them to get a "high score." The El Paso shooter said he had been inspired by an Australian man who killed 51 Muslims in New Zealand in January, who broadcasted a live, first-person video of his murder spree on Facebook as though it were a video game. We're watching what others have dubbed the "gamification" of mass violence, because it's increasingly clear that the internet and social media's ability to help people with violent, fringe views find and draw inspiration from one another is fueling these mass shootings, and it's not clear how governments can stop it.

What We're Ignoring:

The Turkmen president's proof of life – A couple of weeks ago, we highlighted dubious reports that Turkmenistan's strongman president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, had died from kidney failure. State television said he was merely on holiday. On Sunday, the national broadcaster offered proof of life: a report showed the Turkmen leader driving a rally car near a giant flaming crater in the middle of the desert, then receiving a standing ovation from spectators dressed in identical track suits after rolling three strikes at a bowling lanes. We are ignoring this story, because it illustrates the basic principle that Turkmenistan is an endless rabbit hole of fun that keeps us from other stories. Unless you live there.

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?