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What We Read Today 23 December 2015

Econintersect: Every day our editors collect the most interesting things they find from around the internet and present a summary "reading list" which will include very brief summaries (and sometimes longer ones) of why each item has gotten our attention. Suggestions from readers for "reading list" items are gratefully reviewed, although sometimes space limits the number included.

This feature is published every day late afternoon New York time. For early morning review of headlines see "The Early Bird" published every day in the early am at GEI News (membership not required for access to "The Early Bird".).


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Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • When Does Bargaining Become Fraud? (Bloomberg) Regulators want to crack down on bond dealers who don’t tell the whole truth.  The bottom line: The government crackdown on deceptive bond-trading tactics may bog down in court because they’re so common.  Econintersect:  Has lying and cheating become "American exceptionalism"?  Or are the bond trading tactics described a global phenomenon?


  • Wall Street Mulls Naughty List for Ethically Challenged Bankers (Bloomberg)  Bankers’ misdeeds would be cataloged, by name, on a private registry for hiring managers under a proposal that’s gaining traction as Wall Street firms struggle to restore reputations damaged by the financial crisis and the Libor and foreign-exchange scandals.  When traders or bankers leave a firm, any instances in which they’ve violated the firm’s ethics or conduct rules would be listed on a central database, allowing prospective employers to see their records before deciding whether to hire them.  Econintersect:  How about enforcing existing criminal laws and strengthening them when they are found lacking?

  • Donald Trump leads by more than 20 points in new national poll (This Week, MSN News)  Just months ago, many political observers thought it highly unlikely that Donald Trump could sustain his lead in the polls. However, on the eve of 2016, the perennial frontrunner commands 39 percent of support from Republican-inclined voters, a CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday has found. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz trails at 18 percent — an improvement since the last CNN/ORC poll in November, but still a distant second to Trump. Ben Carson and Marco Rubio have 10 percent apiece. The rest of the candidates are in single digits.

  • As military handles drone strikes, less scrutiny by Congress (Associated Press)  Putting the U.S. military in charge of drone strikes in Iraq and Syria has effectively reduced congressional scrutiny of those sensitive operations, leaving some activists, lawmakers and U.S. intelligence officials fearful of increased civilian casualties.  Until recently the CIA, which is subject to closer congressional scrutiny, ran drone strike programs.  Econintersect:  More in the spread of undeclared war.

  • US oil up over 3.5% on EIA, rig count data (CNBC)  Oil prices rose as much as 4% on Wednesday, underpinned by an unexpectedly large fall in U.S. crude inventories, but were still close to multi-year lows as supplies remained abundant and as OPEC lowered the demand outlook for its exports.  The data surprise prompted crude futures for both U.S. West Texas Intermediate and global Brent to rise to a session high.  WTI (WTI) futures were up $1.29, or 3.6%, at $37.43, having risen as high as $37.79. Brent futures were up $1.08, or 2.9%, at $37.19 a barrel, off a session peak of $37.44.

  • Upside-down weather pattern across US linked to El Nino (Associated Press)  A weather pattern partly linked with El Nino has turned winter upside-down across the U.S. during a week of heavy holiday travel, bringing spring-like warmth to the Northeast, a risk of tornadoes in the South and so much snow across the West that even skiing slopes have been overwhelmed.  Econintersect:  And yet El Nino indicators may be rapidly failing - see this week's weather and climate review by GEI climate economist Sig Silber.

  • Minimum Wage Going Up In 14 States At Start Of 2016 (The Huffington Post)  Many states automatically adjust their wage floors each year according to a consumer price index. There would have been more raises set for 2016 if not for the slow rate of inflation. Eight states that index their minimum wages -- Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon and Washington -- won't be raising them at all this coming year. (Several other states that index will still be raising them; it all depends on how a particular state measures the rising cost of living.)  cities and counties have been even more aggressive than their statehouses in setting a higher minimum wage. Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as a handful of smaller cities on the West Coast, all are gradually phasing in a $15 minimum wage. Meanwhile, several cities and states have enacted $15 minimum wage laws specifically for public-sector and government-contract workers.  The fedreal minimum wage hasn't moved since 2009, when it rose from $6.55 to $7.25.  Here are 14 states raising minimum wage at the beginning of the new year:



  • Cameron's office to probe why British Muslim family barred from U.S. (BBC News)  British Prime Minister David Cameron's office said on Wednesday it was looking into the case of a family of 11 British Muslims who were refused permission to board a flight from London to Los Angeles to visit Disneyland.  The family of two adults and nine children were told by a U.S. official that their right to travel had been revoked as they waited in the departure lounge of Gatwick airport last Tuesday.  They say they had been granted travel authorization online several weeks previously and were given no reason for the last-minute reversal.


  • Berlin's Refugee Youth (Al Jazeera)  Germany had no plan to handle the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and now they are cutting back on that.


  • Putin: Russia, US have narrowed their differences on Syria (Associated Press)  President Vladimir Putin was both cordial and coarse in his year-end news conference Thursday, saying the U.S. and Russia have narrowed their differences on Syria and share the same view of how to settle the conflict. 

  • Syria conflict: Russian air strikes 'killed 200 civilians' (BBC News)  At least 200 civilians were killed in Russian air strikes in Syria in the two months to the end of November, an Amnesty International report says.  Quoting witnesses, the human rights group accuses Russia of using cluster bombs in civilian areas and says such attacks could constitute war crimes.  See also AP article in Russia section.


  • Accusations grow against Russia over Syria civilian killings (Associated Press)  Russian officials have repeatedly rejected accusations that they have targeted civilians while residents and most opposition activists inside Syria acknowledge they have no way of categorically distinguishing whether planes that carry out a specific attack are operated by Russians or Syrians.  But human rights group say the pattern of attacks suggests Russia is flouting international humanitarian law and that it may even amount to war crimes.


  • Afghan Taliban 'overrun Sangin area' (BBC News)   Latest reports from southern Afghanistan suggest that Sangin district in Helmand province is now almost entirely under Taliban control after days of fierce fighting.  The police headquarters and the main government building fell to the Taliban on Wednesday, a local senator said.  The Taliban say their fighters have seized the entire district.  However, the Afghan defense ministry said fighting was continuing and that reinforcements had been sent.


  • Brazil declares emergency after 2,400 babies are born with brain damage, possibly due to mosquito-borne virus (The Washington Post)  A pathogen, known as Zika and first discovered in forest monkeys in Africa over 70 years ago, is the new West Nile -- a virus that causes mild symptoms in most but can lead to serious neurological complications or even death in others. Brazil's health ministry said on Nov. 28 that it had found the Zika virus in a baby with microcephaly — a rare condition in which infants are born with shrunken skulls — during an autopsy after the child died. The virus was also found in the amniotic fluid of two mothers whose babies had the condition.

Latest on Oil (Walter Kurtz, The Daily Shot)  A number of interesting things are happening with oil.  First two graphics below, U.S. inventories are declining and the price is rising.  For the first time in years the premium for Brent crude over WTI has vanished (third graphic). But the options market is still betting on lower prices (in the $20s - fourth graphic below).  The stars are not aligned.  Something's gotta give.




Other Economics and Business Items of Note and Miscellanea

  • Capitalism – Not China – Is to Blame for the Current Global Economic Decline (Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism)  YS has contributed to GEI.  Yves Smith decries the breakdown of the government role in a properly functioning capitalist system.  She has included an article by Richard D, Wolff, Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, New York City.   Excerpt from her introduction:

Adam Smith himself called for a capitalism with strong curbs on monopolists and prohibitions against employers colluding to suppress wages.

Capitalism cannot exist without a government apparatus. A market system depends on governments to enforce contracts and other “rules of the game,” like truth in advertising. Private businessmen also have time horizons that are too short to allow for the private financing and operation of infrastructure, so that again falls to public or quasi-public entities, like utilities.

Based on author Michael Lewis' autopsy of the 2008 financial markets collapse, The Big Short is now a fitful satire of a deregulated American greed-dream that anyone unfamiliar with CNBC may find tough to follow. I did, and I watch CNBC.

  • Porcupines: The Original Bark Eaters (Adirondack Almanack)  An article for our nature lovers, with a little bit of native American history included.

  • These are the people responsible for our out of control police… (Fabius Maximus)  FM has contributed to GEI. The people responsible include you.  The public is responsible.  There is diminished confidence in the police but widespread apathy about making any changes.  See also next article which contains a recently released video of a shooting of an unarmed, mentally-ill man by a San Diego policeman.  No charges have reportedly been filed.  Interesting graphic from Gallup included with the article shows that police still have the confidence of more than half the population, so confidence is down but still relatively high:

  • Video Shows San Diego Police Officer Shooting Man in April (Associated Press)  The San Diego County district attorney released a video Tuesday that shows a police officer fatally shooting a transient seconds after the officer left his patrol car as the man walked toward him.  District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis defended her decision last month not to prosecute Browder at an hour-long news conference. She cited witness accounts that Nehad had a knife and released other surveillance video that doesn't show the shooting but that she said portrayed Nehad as a threat.  The object he was carrying turned out to be a blue metallic pen.

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