AP News in Brief: US economy sending mixed signals

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.


EXPLAINER: How do we know when a recession has begun?

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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% 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, Pence speeches put stark GOP divide on display

WASHINGTON (AP) — The intensifying rivalry between former President Donald Trump and his once fiercely loyal vice president, Mike Pence, was put on stark display Tuesday as the two gave dueling speeches in Washington on the future of the Republican Party.

Trump, in his first return to Washington since Democrat Joe Biden ousted him from the White House, repeated the false election fraud claims that sparked the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, while Pence, in a separate address, implored the party to move on from Trump’s defeat.

Federal and state election officials 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 he appointed.

“It was a catastrophe, that election,” Trump nonetheless declared to an audience of cheering supporters at the America First Agenda Summit, about a mile from the White House he once called home.

Hours earlier, addressing a student conservative group, Pence said, “Some people may choose to focus on the past, but elections are about the future.”


Civilian medic commands respect on Ukraine war’s front lines

DONETSK REGION, Ukaine (AP) — 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 Ministry 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’s Crimean 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.


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.

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