What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Another shutdown showdown — Unless the US Congress and President Trump reach a deal to fund the federal government by Friday, there will be another partial government shutdown. The issue, once again, is President Trump's request for $5.7 billion to begin building a wall along the US-Mexico border, which the Democrats refuse to grant. Late on Monday night, Democrats and Republicans reached a compromise "in principle" on about $1.3 billion in funding for new border barriers as well as no change to the number of detention spots for undocumented migrants funded by the budget. Democrats had wanted to reduce that number of "detention beds," while the GOP sought to increase it. Congressional leaders seem optimistic, but we are watching to see if this compromise will be acceptable to President Trump himself.

Polar invasion of Russia — Over the weekend more than 50 polar bears stormed a restricted military community on a Russian island in the Arctic, prowling through garbage dumps and apartment blocks in search of food. The local government has declared a state of emergency. Wildlife experts blame the crisis in part on global warming – as Arctic ice floes melt, the polar bears' vast traditional hunting grounds are shrinking, forcing them to look for food in human settlements. As we've written, the Russian government sees a lucrative opportunity to profit from new shipping lanes as the polar ice recedes – but if the polar bears have anything to say about it, things could get ugly fast.


WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Rome's bid to cook NATO's books — Italy's populist-led government is calling on NATO to change how it calculates members' defense spending. Rome contends that the alliance's requirement that 2 percent of GDP be spent toward defense include non-military investments, like cyber and energy infrastructure. In 2018, Italy spent 1.15 percent of GDP on defense, putting it in 22nd place out of the alliance's 29 members in terms of expenditure. We're ignoring this because it seems like the last-ditch effort of a cash-strapped government, and NATO's not going to buy it.

Middle Eastern peace in Middle Eastern Europe – Coinciding with the 40thanniversary of the Iranian revolution this week, Poland is co-hosting an international conference ostensibly aimed at discussing stability in the Middle East but which has a distinctly anti-Iranian bent. US Vice President Mike Pence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are set to attend, but most EU foreign ministers are skipping the occasion, as Brussels and Washington still disagree over the wisdom of the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal last year. We don't expect any groundbreaking announcements to come out of this one, though Poland's right-wing government likely hopes that hosting the event will help it to woo the Trump administration into building a US base – possibly called "Fort Trump" – on Polish soil.

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.