What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Billionaire kingmakers in US politics – The man who brought the world the venti caramel Frappuccino shook up US politics over the weekend, telling 60 Minutes that he's "seriously considering" running for president as a "centrist independent." Former Starbucks boss Howard Schultz, estimated to be worth $3 billion, certainly has the cash to mount a credible outsider challenge. But Democrats and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another independent-minded billionaire who has toyed with a presidential bid, warned the move could split opposition to Donald Trump, helping the incumbent president win another term. Trump himself questioned whether Schultz had "the guts" to enter the race. We're watching this closely, because a well-funded independent run would add an extra shot of crazy to the 2020 contest.

The concerns of America's intelligence chiefs – The leaders of America's major intelligence agencies presented their annual threat assessment to the Senate yesterday. The report highlighted the fracturing of America's global alliances and growing strategic alignment between China and Russia as two major threats. On other issues, like North Korea and Iran, the intelligence community and Trump administration are decidedly out of step. Trump has been at odds with the experts before, but this year he'll also be facing an emboldened Democratic majority in the House, making it harder to downplay the disconnect.

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Theresa May's latest Brexit "victory" – Yesterday, the UK's embattled prime minister scored a pyrrhic victory with the defeat of a bill that would have forced her to delay Brexit unless a "no deal" scenario, in which ties with the EU are abruptly severed, is categorically ruled out. Parliament also passed an amendment calling on May to modify a section of the current deal that temporarily maintains the free flow of goods and people along the North Irish border, spurring hopes that there might actually be a Brexit agreement that can gain the support of Parliament. But here's the problem: the EU has made clear for months it isn't willing to budge on the issue. This "victory" smells more like a prelude to defeat.

Cambodia's record-breaking propaganda – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is taking a novel approach to exciting the country's youthful population about his aged, authoritarian government: calling in the Guinness Book of World Records. Since 2015, the strongman ruler and his 36-year-old son, Hun Many, have engineered a string of record-breaking stunts, including the world's biggest sticky rice cake (8,900 pounds), longest scarf (3,772 feet), our personal favorite, a 2,015 person Madison line dance, and most recently, in November, the world's longest dragon boat (286 feet). We're ignoring these obvious marketing ploys, and watching this video about a record-breaking cat that's longer than a baseball bat instead.

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."

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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.

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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.