Daily briefing: Sanctions against Russia, UK cars go electric, science of love

US Congress attempts to punish Moscow for alleged meddling in presidential campaign

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The House of Representatives in the US has voted overwhelmingly to impose sanctions on Russia as Congress attempts to punish Moscow for alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. The bill, which still needs to be passed by the Senate, would complicate President Donald Trump’s hopes of improving relations with Russia.

The new sanctions have become the subject of intense scrutiny both in Washington and overseas, where European allies have raised the threat of retaliation because the measures could affect a pipeline project to transport Russian gas into Germany.

It was a dramatic day in the US capital. Senator John McCain returned to Washington after surgery to help the Republican health bill. The proposal replacing major portions of the Affordable Care Act failed to attract enough votes to pass. The debate now rolls on, with the Senate set to vote on other proposals including a repeal-only option. Senator McCain chastised Republicans for “getting nothing done”. Mr Trump also touted plans for a “major trade deal” with a post-Brexit UK while rekindling his rhetorical trade wars with Brussels by lashing out at a “very protectionist” EU. (FT, BBC, NYT, WSJ, Guardian)

In the news

Sessions’ slow-motion defenestration
Donald Trump is now on his second consecutive day of publicly humiliating the attorney-general on Twitter, following an interview with The New York Times last week in which he said he wished he’d never appointed Jeff Sessions. This has had the bizarre effect of making an attorney-general who is fiercely disliked by Democrats “seem somewhat more praiseworthy, at least for his decision to recuse on Russia”. Also, the Alabama conservative is finally getting a chance to implement policies he long championed — to no avail, and is therefore unlikely to quit. (Atlantic, FT)

UK goes electric
All newly bought cars will have to be electric within a quarter of a century. Environment minister Michael Gove plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 in the government’s long-awaited “air quality plan” on Wednesday. It is part of a wider package of measures to bring pollution levels back to legal limits. (FT)

Spain’s prime minister in court
Mariano Rajoy became Spain’s first sitting premier to appear as a witness in a court case, testifying in a sprawling fraud and bribery case that links local business leaders and politicians of his ruling centre-right Popular party. The swirling corruption allegations have damaged the reputation of his party, which has slid in recent polls despite a steady economic expansion and jobs recovery under his leadership. (FT)

Sperm ‘wake-up call’
The sperm count of men in the western world has fallen by more than half over a period of 40 years. “The extent of the decline in sperm counts in the western world revealed in this study is shocking,” said one expert. Some said the sperm count drop could make humans extinct. (FT, BBC)

Flash phase out announced
Seven years after Steve Jobs publicly berated the widely used Flash internet media software, the late Apple co-founder is getting his way. The software — long a necessity of online life, though known to many internet users only from the moments when they can’t play a video because they don’t have it installed — will be phased out in 2020. (FT)

Toyota developing solid state battery
Toyota is reported to be in the “production engineering” stage of developing an electric vehicle battery with a solid electrolyte. Japan’s Chunichi Shimbun newspaper indicated that the company plans to use the new battery in a range of electric vehicles from 2022. The solid state battery — a holy grail of energy storage engineering — would have a long range and would charge in minutes, and has the potential to be smaller and lighter than existing lithium-ion battery tech used in electric vehicles. (Ars Technica)

Greece’s €3bn auction
Greece has returned to the sovereign debt market for the first time in three years, a milestone in the country’s return to economic health. While the bond sale was seen as a sign of increasing confidence in Athens, it also underlined how record-low interest rates were forcing investors to hunt for yield by turning to borrowers once seen as pariahs. (FT)

The day ahead

Facebook and Amazon report
The share prices of both companies hit all-time highs last week ahead of what are likely to be strong quarterly earnings, with the Nasdaq already setting fresh records this week. Facebook has exceeded profit expectations for 16 consecutive quarters. (FT)

Fed policy statement
The Federal Reserve is widely expected to leave rates unchanged at its monetary policy setting meeting. It has previously hinted at three rate rises in 2017 and delivered two already, but market expectations for another move before the end of this year have fallen below 50 per cent following disappointing US economic data. (FT)

Keep up with the important business, economic and political stories in the coming days with the FT’s Week Ahead.

What we’re reading

Parable of the Brexiters and the Pole
When a member state decides to rebel against the EU, should it follow the Brussels rule book on how to do so? Seen from the continent, the threat of a disorderly Brexit has underlined that leaving the union is disruptive and painful. Brexit no longer seems like a bug that may spread. But the EU may have a potentially bigger problem on its hands if the Poles show they can achieve what they want, with fewer downsides, by staying in the club and bending the rules. (FT)

UK’s quiet mental health revolution
England is testing the world’s most ambitious initiative to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses. Talk therapy is being offered free of charge at clinics throughout the country — in remote farming villages, industrial suburbs, isolated immigrant communities and high-end enclaves — with the eventual goal of extending the mental health care to the whole of Britain. (NYT)

The science of love
What exactly is love? How long does it last and what purpose does it serve? Wired asks a neuroscientist and biological anthropologist to tackle these age old questions (Wired)

Shock therapy for spendthrifts?
Can’t be trusted to make good decisions? Enter Pavlok — its name inspired by Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov — a bracelet that gives you a mild electric shock if you do something you don’t want to do. (FT)

Video of the day

Macron’s popularity plummets
Emmanuel Macron’s approval rating dropped by 10 percentage points to 54 per cent in July, the second-biggest drop in popularity for a French president so soon after an election. What’s caused this change? (FT)


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