US economy sending mixed signals: Here's what it all means
Brattleboro Reformer (VT)
WORLD NEWS IN BRIEF
The U.S. economy is caught in an awkward, painful place.
A confusing one, too.
Growth appears to be sputtering, home sales are tumbling and economists warn of a potential recession ahead. But consumers are still spending, businesses keep posting profits and the economy keeps adding hundreds of thousands of jobs each month.
In the midst of it all, prices have accelerated to four-decade highs, and the Federal Reserve is desperately trying to douse the inflationary flames with higher interest rates. That's making borrowing more expensive for households and businesses.
The Fed hopes to pull off the triple axel of central banking: Slow the economy just enough to curb inflation without causing a recession.
Many economists doubt the Fed can manage that feat, a so-called soft landing.
Surging inflation is most often a side effect of a red-hot economy, not the current tepid pace of growth. Today's economic moment conjures dark memories of the 1970s, when scorching inflation co-existed, in a kind of toxic brew, with slow growth. It hatched an ugly new term: stagflation.
How do we know when a recession has begun?
By one common definition, the U.S. economy is on the cusp of a recession. Yet that definition isn't the one that counts.
On Thursday, when the government estimates the gross domestic product for the April-June period, some economists think it may show that the economy shrank for a second straight quarter.
That would meet a longstanding assumption for when a recession has begun.
But economists say that wouldn't mean that a recession had started. During those same six months when the economy might have contracted, businesses and other employers added a prodigious 2.7 million jobs - more than were gained in most entire years before the pandemic.
Wages are also rising at a healthy pace, with many employers still struggling to attract and retain enough workers.
The job market's strength is a key reason why the Federal Reserve is expected to announce another hefty hike in its short-term interest rate on Wednesday, one day before the GDP report.
Several Fed officials have cited the healthy job growth as evidence that the economy should be able to withstand higher rates and avoid a downturn. Many economists, though, are dubious of that assertion.
The Fed is also trying to combat raging inflation, which reached a 9.1 percent annual rate in June, the worst mark in nearly 41 years.
Rapid price increases, particularly for such essentials as food, gas and rent, have eroded Americans' incomes and led to much gloomier views of the economy among consumers.
Trump back in Washington, repeating election lies
In dueling speeches not far from the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, former President Donald Trump repeated the false election claims that sparked the Jan. 6 insurrection while his former vice president, Mike Pence, implored the Republican Party to stop looking backward.
Potential foes for the 2024 GOP nomination, neither man was ready to announce a campaign, but their speeches underscored divisions in the party between Trump loyalists and Republicans who may still like Trump's ideas but are more than ready to move on.
The former president was clearly not ready to move on.
"It was a catastrophe that election. A disgrace to our country," Trump said, insisting despite all evidence that he had won in 2020. And he continued to tease his plans for the future, telling his cheering crowd, "We may just have to do it again."
Federal and state election officials from both parties and Trump's own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence the 2020 election was tainted. The former president's allegations of fraud were also roundly rejected by courts, including by judges appointed by Trump.
Northwestern US set for its hottest day of long heat wave
Temperatures are predicted to soar to 100 degrees in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday, which is expected to be the hottest day of a heat spell that meteorologists believe will be unusually long for the Pacific Northwest region, which rarely sees such scorching weather.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency across much of the state, warning the extreme temperatures may cause utility outages and transportation disruptions.
"With many parts of Oregon facing a high heat wave, it is critical that every level of government has the resources they need to help keep Oregonians safe and healthy," Brown said in a statement.
As the northwestern U.S. heated up, the hot spell on the East Coast appeared to have broken, with few areas east of the Mississippi River under heat advisories on Tuesday.
Philadelphia hit 99 degrees Sunday before factoring in humidity. Newark, New Jersey, had its fifth consecutive day of 100 degrees or higher, the longest such streak since records began in 1931. Boston also hit 100 degrees, surpassing the previous daily record high of 98 degrees set in 1933.
Climate disinformation leaves lasting mark as world heats
In 1998, as nations around the world agreed to cut carbon emissions through the Kyoto Protocol, America's fossil fuel companies plotted their response, including an aggressive strategy to inject doubt into the public debate.
"Victory," according to the American Petroleum Institute's memo, "will be achieved when average citizens 'understand' (recognize) uncertainties in climate science... Unless 'climate change' becomes a non-issue... there may be no moment when we can declare victory."
The memo, later leaked to The New York Times that year, went on to outline how fossil fuel companies could manipulate journalists and the broader public by muddying the evidence, by playing up "both sides" of the debate and by portraying those seeking to reduce emissions as "out of touch with reality."
Nearly 25 years later, the reality of a changing climate is now clear to most Americans, as heatwaves and wildfires, rising sea levels and extreme storms become more common.
Last week, President Joe Biden announced moves intended to expand offshore wind, though he stopped short of declaring a national climate emergency. A Supreme Court ruling last month limited the federal government's ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, meaning it will be up to a divided Congress to pass any meaningful limits on emissions.
DONETSK REGION, UKRAINE
Civilian medic commands respect on Ukraine war's front lines
All over the Donetsk region, close to the front lines of Russia's war in Ukraine, Nataliia Voronkova turns up at Ukrainian field positions and hospitals wearing high heels. A colleague bought her running shoes, but Voronkova gave them away.
A helmet and a protective vest aren't part of her uniform, either, as she distributes first-aid kits and other equipment to Ukrainian soldiers and paramedics. She is a civilian, the founder of a medical non-profit, and looking like one is something no one can take from her, even in a combat zone.
"I am myself, and I will never give up my heels for anything," Voronkova said of the red strappy sandals, beige pumps and other elegant footwear she typically pairs with full skirts and midi dresses as she makes her dangerous rounds to secret military bases and mobile medical units.
The former adviser to the Ukrainian Defense Minis-try with graduate degrees in banking and finance is a familiar sight to officers and troops in eastern Ukraine.
For eight years after Moscow seized Ukraine'sCrimean Peninsula in 2014, Voronkova dedicated her life to providing tactical medical training and equipment for Ukrainian forces fighting pro-Russia separatists.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February has created exponentially more need for her organization, Volunteers Hundred Dobrovolia, and new challenges.
Body near Lake Mead swimming site 3rd to surface since May
Another body has surfaced at Lake Mead - this time in a swimming area where water levels have dropped as the Colorado River reservoir behind Hoover Dam recedes because of drought and climate change. The National Park Service did not say in a statement how long officials think the corpse was submerged in the Boulder Beach area before it was found Monday by people who summoned park rangers.
Clark County Coroner Melanie Rouse said Tuesday it was partially encased in mud at the water line of the swimming area along the shore north of Hemenway Harbor marina.
The gender of the dead person was not immediately apparent, Rouse said, and it was too early to tell a time, cause and manner of death.
Investigators will review missing persons records as part of the effort, Rouse said.
The corpse was the third found since May as the shoreline retreats at the shrinking reservoir between Nevada and Arizona east of Las Vegas. The lake surface has dropped more than 170 feet since the reservoir was full in 1983. It is now about 30% full.
Grim news from Walmart sends US markets lower
Big retailers and technology companies led stocks lower on Wall Street Tuesday after Walmart warned that inflation is hurting American consumers' spending power.
The sell-off comes ahead of the Federal Reserve's latest interest rate policy statement on Wednesday, when economists expect the central bank to announce another sharp rate hike as it ratchets up its fight against surging inflation.
The S&P 500 fell 1.2 percent, wiping out nearly half of the benchmark index's gains from last week.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.7 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite closed 1.9 percent lower.
Walmart slumped 7.6 percent after the retail giant cut its profit outlook for the second quarter and the full year late Tuesday, saying that rising prices for food and gas are forcing shoppers to cut back on more profitable discretionary items, particularly clothing.