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.
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Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world
ISIL has launched a world war (Al Jazeera) It’s starting to feel a little bit like World War III. But the current hostilities with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other Islamic extremist groups don’t conform to any familiar patterns. This is a very 21st century war, with weapons, tactics and battlefields shifting with dizzying speed. Consider the Chechen rebels, who first fought for independence from Russia, then switched their goal to establishing an emirate covering the Caucasus before finally swearing allegiance to ISIL, which is a part of the viral mutation of Islamic extremism — to the point that Al-Qaeda now seems like the sort of terrorist group that Western countries can do business with, like the Irish Republican Army or the Palestine Liberation Organization before it. Targets are no longer just iconic places such as the World Trade Center and Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the site of a car bomb attack in October 2013 for which the East Turkestan Islamic Movement took responsibility. ISIL and those it inspires prefer soft targets, like a bar in Paris’ 11th Arrondissement and a community center in San Bernardino, California. The message is clear: No one is safe anywhere.
Oil market to ring in more gloom with 2016 (CNBC) In an ominous sign for first-quarter oil prices, U.S. government data showed a surprise stockpiling of crude and no slowing in production as the year comes to a close. The weekly Energy Information Administration data showed a jump of 2.6 million barrels of inventory, when many analysts expected a decline. Inventories dropped sharply — by 6 million barrels the previous week.
The Final Days of the Bitcoin Foundation? (Bloomberg) With support dwindling, funds almost depleted, and ex-board members under criminal investigation, bitcoin’s pioneering advocacy group is a symbol for the digital currency’s growing pains.
America's Concentration Camps Are a Warning, Not a Model (Foundation for Econoimic Education) The mass displacement of Japanese-Americans, but not people of German or Italian extraction, was the result of racial rather than security considerations. Roosevelt showed a lifelong hostility toward the Japanese. The lesson that America’s concentration camps should have burned into our national consciousness that we must never do that again — not to a racial, national, or a religious minority, nor anyone else — no matter how afraid we are. They are a warning, not a model.
Belgium terror alert halts New Year fireworks in Brussels (BBC News) New Year fireworks and festivities have been cancelled in the Belgian capital, Brussels, because of a terror alert. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the decision had been taken "given information we have received". Earlier in the week, police arrested two people suspected of planning attacks during the festive season.
Syrian army kills 17 Islamic militants in country's south (Associated Press) Syrian government forces booby trapped a cluster of farm buildings in the southern Daraa province and detonated the explosives as several Islamic rebel factions gathered at the venue, killing 17 militants, opposition activists said Sunday. The explosion, which took place late Saturday, was the latest blow to the rebels shortly after the assassination the previous day of a powerful rebel leader on the outskirts of Damascus. The developments could boost the position of the Damascus government ahead of Syria peace talks in Geneva next month.
Iran conducts 'provocative' live rocket tests near US ships (BBC News) Iran's navy conducted rocket tests last week near US warships and other commercial vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, the American military has said. The tests threaten to cause new tensions between the two nations following their landmark nuclear deal. Iran fired "several unguided rockets" about 1,370m (1,500 yards) from two US vessels and a French frigate, US military spokesman Kyle Raines said. The tests were "highly provocative", said Cmdr Raines. The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow waterway between Iran and Oman that provides passage for nearly a third of all oil traded by sea. The strait is also crucial for ships taking part in the war against so-called Islamic State. See also U.S. preparing new sanctions over Iran's ballistic missile program: sources (Reuters)
Why 2015 was another year to forget everything you thought you knew (Linette Lopez) Josh Brown has prepared a chart to remind us that 2015 was yet another year in which the market defied our expectations for what's normal. When stocks become over valued (top quintile of the CAPE index, for example) it may not be a good time to sell stocks (and definitely may be very painful to start shorting the market). For example, if one had left the market in 1995 when the CAPE index entered the top quintile of historical valuations and stayed out of stocks until today, two market crashes would have been avoided but 445% of gain would have been missed. Econintersect: That is 8.8% compounded.
What Economic Forecasters Got Right, and Wrong, in 2015 (The Wall Street Journal) The big hits (predictions within 10%): U.S. unemployment rate, average monthly gain in non-farms payrolls, average hourly wage increases and probability of recession. The not quite right (predictions within 50%): GDP growth and house price increases. The big misses (predictions off by more than 50%): Fed funds rate, inflation and oil prices.
Landlines are familiar and simple. They’re dumb and there’s some sentimental beauty to that. Landlines are a product of the more innocent time before your phone kept watch on you, shoved “notifications” into your pocket, and profiteered app by app. Still, most people don’t use landlines in a nostalgic way. The sentiment is real, but minor. People fundamentally use old-fashioned phones because they’re useful. The fact that they aren’t very useful is overshadowed by the fact that they have utility. We’re reluctant to be rid of things that work.
But the real reason, the main reason people still have landlines collecting dust in their homes, is that they think it makes them more secure in the face of an emergency. Calls made from landlines to emergency services include addresses in their identification tags, whereas cell phones only initially provide the nearest cell tower. In natural disasters and emergencies, there’s a good chance that your old-fashioned, corded, copper-wired landline will continue to function. (Cordless phones still require power, and therefore will fail.) There’s a chance that your cell phone will not continue to function.
The trendlines show that in just over five years, the landline will be gone — though the truth is more complicated than that. When demand gets very low, they’ll cease to be an option for mass consumption and become a boutique option. Still, they’ll effectively have a zero percent share of the market. Beyond that it’s a matter of generations until they’re both gone and forgotten.
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