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by John Ellis. (7/20/2019)
1. President Trump’s approval ratings are under water in national polls. His position for re-election, on the other hand, might not be quite so bleak. His advantage in the Electoral College, relative to the national popular vote, may be even larger than it was in 2016, according to an Upshot analysis of election results and polling data. It is even possible that Mr. Trump could win the election while losing the national vote by as much as five percentage points.
2. Iran seized at least one British oil tanker in a vital Persian Gulf waterway on Friday, a sharp escalation of tensions with the West that revived fears of a military clash, even as voices on both sides appeared to be seeking room for negotiations. The impoundment of the tanker by Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps naval patrols came a day after the United States said it had downed an Iranian drone menacing an American warship in the region.
3. The British government has warned that Iran is choosing “a dangerous path of illegal and destabilizing behavior” and advised UK ships to avoid the strait of Hormuz after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker as the crisis in the Gulf escalates. The foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said on Saturday morning that Britain’s response would be “considered but robust” if the British-flagged Stena Impero was not released, although he had earlier said the government was not contemplating military action.
4. Fed-gazing: Federal Reserve officials signaled they are ready to lower interest rates by a quarter-percentage point later this month, while indicating the potential for additional reductions, despite the recent surge in market expectations of a half-point cut. Officials aren’t prepared for bolder action now, according to the officials’ recent public statements and interviews, as they weigh concerns about a slowdown in global growth, an increase in trade-policy uncertainty and a pullback in inflation.
5. Sentiment expressed in public communications by the biggest American companies slumped in June to the lowest level in at least a year, driven by negative mentions of economic growth and international relations, according to a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysis. The report Friday outlined findings drawn from 4,000 earnings and conference call transcripts by S&P 500 companies over a year, and showed that sentiment measured by its index closely tracked Institute for Supply Management reports and regional business activity surveys.
6. American households remained relatively confident about the economy in early July, and their expectations for longer-run inflation firmed. The University of Michigan said Friday its index of consumer sentiment was 98.4 in July, up slightly from June’s final reading of 98.2. That fell short of the 99.0 economists expected for the month’s preliminary reading; a final figure for July will be released August 2.
7. Pressured by his closest advisers to force a snap election, Matteo Salvini is hesitating. The usually hyper-active deputy premier is keeping the country waiting as he considers whether to take his biggest political gamble yet and pull out of Italy’s fractious populist coalition. After months of skirmishes with coalition partner and rival Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement, Salvini has never been so close to bringing the government down, according to a senior adviser, who asked not to be named discussing confidential deliberations. Most of Salvini’s lieutenants want an early vote, the adviser said.
8. Almost three months after clinching victory in Spain’s general election, Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez is closing in on the support he needs to finally take power. The acting prime minister is hustling for votes in a fragmented parliament ahead of a confidence vote next week. He achieved an important breakthrough on Friday when his main ally-cum-rival dropped his demands for a cabinet post.
9. After years of discord over Afghanistan, Pakistan is now cooperating with U.S. to help pressure the Taliban to strike a peace deal, with the aim of extricating the U.S. from its longest war. The cooperation—also highlighted by Pakistan’s arrest this week of a militant leader long wanted by the U.S. and India—helped pave the way for Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to visit President Trump at the White House next Monday.
10. North Korea's total trade with other countries fell sharply in 2018, the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency announced on Friday, as long-term sanctions continue to take their toll. The total value of North Korea's trade, excluding that with South Korea, was $2.8 billion in 2018, down 49%. It was the second straight annual drop and the first time the figure has fallen below $3 billion. Exports plummeted 86% to $240 million, and imports fell 31% to $2.6 billion.
11. Jakarta is sinking, and at the worst possible time. As sea levels creep higher, the coastal megalopolis continues to pump too much water from its underlying aquifers, causing the land to collapse by almost a foot a year in some places. A modern city, home to 10 million people, is in danger of disappearing: According to one researcher’s models, 95 percent of north Jakarta could be submerged by 2050.
12. The heat goes on: Earth sizzled to its hottest June on record as the climate keeps going to extremes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Thursday announced that June averaged 60.6 degrees (15.9 Celsius), about 1.7 degrees (0.9 Celsius) warmer than the 20th century average.
13. Natural gas, long touted as a cleaner burning alternative to coal, has a leakage problem. A new study has found that leaks of methane, the main ingredient in natural gas and itself a potent greenhouse gas, are twice as big as official tallies suggest in major cities along the U.S. eastern seaboard. The study suggests many of these fugitive leaks come from homes and businesses—and could represent a far bigger problem than leaks from the industrial extraction of the fossil fuel itself.
14. Lovers of chocolate: brace yourselves. The price of your favorite confectionery could rise as Ivory Coast and Ghana, the west African countries that account for almost two-thirds of the world’s cocoa, join forces to push up prices. Inspired by Opec, the oil producers’ cartel, the two nations announced this month a fixed price premium of $400 a tonne over the benchmark cocoa futures price, for every contract sold by either country for the 2020/21 season.
15. By measuring the fast electrical spikes of individual neurons in the touch region of the brain, Brown University neuroscientists have discovered a new type of cell that keeps time so regularly that it may serve as the brain's long-hypothesized clock or metronome.
16. WeWork Cos. co-founder Adam Neumann has cashed out more than $700 million from the company ahead of its initial public offering through a mix of stock sales and debt, people familiar with the matter said—an unusually large sum given that startup founders typically wait for the IPO to monetize their holdings. In April of last year, Matt Levine wrote what News Items regards as the definitive piece about WeWork, which you can find here.
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