Welcome to America’s Newsletter from Tag The Flag, the best morning newsletter on the internet, bringing you nonpartisan news and every view of the Red, White, and Blue. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.
📌 BULLETIN BOARD
Would you give up up vacation days to pay off your student loans? This North Carolina-based insurer is betting that a third of its U.S. workforce would take advantage of this new perk, whereby it pays cash toward debt relief for unused vacation days. Big picture: Some 4% of large corporations now offer cash payments of up to $250 a month toward student-loan repayment.
Virginia’s leadership crisis took an absurd turn Wednesday when the man who is second in line to become governor admitted he has worn blackface — even as Gov. Ralph Northam’s job is already on the line for the same thing and the man who is first in line to replace him is embroiled in a sex scandal. Why it matters: The disastrous domino effect has now thrust the Republican state House speaker into the spotlight as the third in line for the top job — a man who only scored his post in a coin-toss election. – NY Post
US trade deficit narrows much more than expected
Trade data for the first 11 months of 2018 show a 10.9% surge in America’s trade deficit with China, to $382bn. The uptick in goods imports was pushed by strong American consumer demand, and came despite the imposition of stiff tariffs on China and shrinkage in America’s overall trade deficit. On a broader level, the drop in the trade deficit will serve as a boost to fourth-quarter GDP, which is expected to show a 2.5 percent increase. – The Economist
Farmer bankruptcies swell to decade high in Farm Belt
U.S. farmers in the Midwest are filing for bankruptcy at levels the U.S. hasn’t seen for approximately a decade. Drivers: rural America is suffering a multiyear slump in prices for corn, soybeans and other farm commodities touched off by a worldwide glut, made worse by growing competition from agriculture powerhouses such as Russia and Brazil. Trade disputes, whether you think they’re good or bad, have simply roiled agricultural markets, making matters worse. Zoom Out: Chapter 12 bankruptcy filings are still below the highs of 2010 when looking at nationwide numbers. But the Midwest is hurting. – WSJ / Axios
+J.C. Penney ditches home appliances to focus on apparel
+Trump Nominates Outspoken Critic David Malpass To Head World Bank
+New Mexico governor withdraws National Guard from the border
A Brazilian court has sentenced former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to a further 12 years and 11 months in prison for corruption. The Charges: Lula, 73, was found guilty of taking renovation work from a company implicated in a massive corruption scheme. Big Picture: The former president is already serving a 12-year sentence over work done on a beach-front property. – BBC
Macedonia signs accord to join NATO — but only after changing its name
NATO signed a protocol to admit Macedonia as a future member. The country’s path to accession was cleared when it agreed to adopt a new name—Northern Macedonia—thus appeasing Greece, which has its own region called Macedonia. It will become NATO’s 30th member.The last country to join the military alliance was Montenegro in 2017. – NBC
Sexual assault allegations against a former Costa Rican leader
Óscar Arias Sánchez, the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president of Costa Rica, has been accused of sexual assault by three women. Big picture: In Costa Rica, long-held gender norms have actually escalated violence against women. Only one politician has ever been forced out of office for a sexual harassment complaint. – Tico Times / NYT
+Sabarimala temple board reverses opposition to entry of women
+Stansted 15 activists avoid jail after blocking deportation flight
+ SoftBank shares surge more than 17 percent after CEO Son announces ‘enormous’ stock buyback
Chipotle Profit Rises as Changes, Investments Drive Growth
Chipotle on Wednesday reported quarterly earnings and revenue that beat analysts’ expectations, thanks to increasing foot traffic and menu price increases – Shares of the company jumped 10 percent. Why it matters: the results show that the company is continuing to move past food-safety scares in recent years that eroded customers’ trust, something that is really hard to do. CEO Brian Niccol has been popular with investors for the turnaround seeing as how Chipotle’s stock had its best year since 2013 last year, with shares soaring nearly 50 percent. – CNBC
Despite struggles, Knicks become first NBA team valued at $4 billion
Things have not been going well for fans of the New York Knicks recently to say the least. Already locked into their sixth straight losing season — their 16th in the last 18 campaigns — the Knicks also traded away their first home-grown superstar in decades with the hope of solving their issues through free agency. Despite this, the team is the first in the NBA to cross the $4 billion mark. Big picture: With a valuation that equals the New York Yankees, the Knicks now only trail the Dallas Cowboys ($5 billion) as the most valuable American sports franchise. Keep reading: On Wednesday, Forbes released its annual valuation of the league’s 30 franchises with each team reaching at least $1 billion for just the second time. – Forbes / Yahoo
The meditation unicorn: Calm raises $88 million at $1 billion valuation
Calm, the meditation and wellness app that launched back in 2012, announced the close of an $88 million Series B financing with a valuation of $1 billion. Why this matters: meditation is growing inpopularity across the U.S. — the CDC says it tripled from 4.1 percent in 2012 to 14.2 percent in 2017. Calm has capitalized on the craze by offering a suite of mindfulness and wellness tools, from guided meditation sessions to a product called “Sleep Stories.” The company is now profitable — and is on track to do $150 million in annual revenue. – Tech Crunch
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
1964: Beatles arrive in New York
On February 7, 1964, Pan Am Yankee Clipper flight 101 from London Heathrow lands at New York’s Kennedy Airport–and “Beatlemania” arrives. It was the first visit to the United States by the Beatles.
Get this:a tree planted in memory of George Harrison, lead guitarist of The Beatles, died after being infested by beetles.