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Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- The White House confirmed Thursday Iran had agreed to transfer five imprisoned Americans to house arrest as part of a deal—years in the making—that will reportedly free several Iranians jailed in the United States for sanctions violations and unfreeze up to $6 billion in Iranian assets for “humanitarian” uses. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday he “hope[s] and expect[s]” yesterday’s development will result in the detained Americans returning home to the United States, but declined to offer many more details on what Iran is receiving as part of the deal. The agreement was met with immediate criticism from Republicans, some former U.S. intelligence officials, and human rights activists. The deal “incentivizes Iran’s regime to take more hostages,” said Masih Alinejad, a leading Iranian critic of the regime. “They paid little cost & got a huge benefit.”
- The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.2 percent month-over-month and 3.2 percent annually in July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday, compared to 0.2 percent and 3 percent in June. The increase was lower than expected and the annualized uptick is largely due to “base effects”—inflation was unusually low month-over-month last July because June 2022 marked a 40-year high of 9.1 percent, skewing the base of a 12-month comparison. The Fed will get one more CPI report before its September 19 meeting where investors expect the central bank to pause its rate-hiking campaign.
- Following an emergency meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Thursday, West African leaders ordered the immediate “activation” and “deployment” of a “standby force” after coup leaders in Niger refused to reinstall the democratically elected leader by the August 6 deadline set by the alliance. It was not immediately clear what actions the force would take, though the ruling junta reportedly told U.S. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland during her visit to the country this week that they would kill President Mohamed Bazoum—whom they’re holding under arrest—if ECOWAS took military action against the coup leaders.
- Ecuador’s government deployed troops across the country yesterday to enforce a state of emergency in response to the assassination of a presidential candidate a day earlier. Six Colombian suspects were arrested for allegedly plotting the deadly shooting of Fernando Villavicencio—a fierce critic of corruption and gang activity—after a campaign event in Quito. Ecuador is set to hold its presidential election on August 20.
- Ukraine ordered the evacuation on Thursday of almost 40 towns and villages in the country’s northeast near the city of Kupyansk, as Russian forces moved in recent days to recapture areas liberated by Ukraine in September. Approximately 12,000 people are being told to flee to safer parts of the country, making this the largest evacuation order from Ukrainian authorities since October. At least one woman was killed Thursday by Russian shelling in the area.
- Russia launched its first lunar mission in almost 50 years yesterday, racing India to be the first country to land on the moon’s south pole—a potential water source. The unmanned Lunar-25 rocket, which blasted off from eastern Russia on Thursday, is estimated to reach the moon around August 16 before landing on its surface around August 21—roughly the same time as the Indian craft launched several weeks ago. The Russian ship will take and analyze soil samples and make other scientific observations for about a year.
- The Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily blocked a $6 billion bankruptcy settlement by Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma yesterday, agreeing to hear arguments on the matter in December. If approved, the settlement would shield the Sackler family—which owns the company—from thousands of civil lawsuits related to its role in the opioid epidemic.
- A group of researchers at the Chicago-area Fermilab claimed yesterday that they measured the behavior of muons, an elusive subatomic particle, more precisely than has ever been accomplished before. The group found that the particles behave contrary to the Standard Model—a core scientific theory which has for a half century explained particle physics by four fundamental forces—building on a similar experiment from 2021 and potentially confirming the existence of a fifth force of nature.
- Former President Donald Trump and Walt Nauta—Trump’s aide and co-defendant—both pleaded not guilty Thursday to the superseding charges alleging Trump illegally retained classified documents at his Mar-A-Lago hotel and that he, Nauta, and the third, newly charged co-defendant, Carlos De Oliveira, conspired to conceal those documents from federal authorities. Trump was not present at the hearing in Florida. De Oliveira, who was present, did not lodge a plea because his local counsel had not yet officially filed notice to represent De Oliveira. The federal magistrate judge overseeing the hearing ordered De Oliveira to return with local counsel Tuesday in order to be arraigned.
- Special counsel Jack Smith requested a January 2, 2024, start date for former President Donald Trump’s trial over his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election, according to a court filing yesterday. Trump’s legal team will likely attempt to delay the trial, but if accepted, Smith’s proposed start date would come just two weeks before the beginning of the GOP presidential primary calendar.
- President Joe Biden declared a federal disaster in Hawaii yesterday as wildfires continue to ravage the Big Island and Maui. The fires have killed at least 55 people and scorched buildings across Hawaii, including in the historic town of Lahaina in Maui. The declaration will provide aid for damaged property and fund other programs to assist with the recovery.
Inflation Cools, but Gas Prices Start to Heat Up
Economists and officials at the Federal Reserve have been obsessed for months now with how the airplane that is the U.S. economy will “land.” Is it resilient enough to weather the headwinds of the Fed’s historic rate-hiking campaign, lowering inflation without tipping into a recession? Or, will the elevated rates bring the plane crashing down on the tarmac, sparking a recession in an election year? July’s inflation numbers, released yesterday, provide additional evidence supporting the former “soft landing” scenario, showing the rate of price increases is continuing to cool as wages and job growth remain stable. But some economists remain concerned about the stickiness of high service prices going into next year and the effects that oil production cuts abroad will have on prices at the pump.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its Consumer Price Index (CPI) report for July yesterday, and it was another good one. Both overall CPI and core inflation—a measure that excludes volatile food and energy prices—rose just 0.2 percent month-over-month in July, mirroring June’s similarly positive numbers. Annual inflation ticked up slightly in July from 3 to 3.2 percent, but that can largely be attributed to some wonky base effects—because the rate of inflation began to moderate in July 2022, comparisons to July 2023 don’t look as stark. “The huge numbers [from June 2022] are rolling off, so now you’re comparing them to numbers from 12 months ago that weren’t so outrageous,” Brendan Walsh, a principal at Markets Policy Partners, tells TMD. “So, it is a little harder for the year-over-year ones to keep dropping so precipitously.”