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What We Read Today 16 February 2016

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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Every day most of this column ("What We Read Today") is available only to GEI members.

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Other Scientific, Health, Political, Economics and Business Items of Note and Miscellanea

Topics today include:

  • Kashkari:  Break Up the Big Banks

  • Oil Output Freeze for Saudi Arabia and Russia

  • Oil Prices Decline

  • Oil Exploration and Production Companies Risk Bankruptcy

  • France's Sarkosy Under Investigation

  • Turkey - Russia War Risk Growing

  • Islamic State Money Problems

  • First 'New Silk Road' Train Arrives in Tehran

  • New Source for Lyme Disease

  • Lyme Disease Corruption

  • Lyme Disease Denial in Australia

  • New Early Humanoid:  Ancestor or Cousin?

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world

Global

  • Saudis and Russia agree oil output freeze, Iran still an obstacle (Reuters)  Top oil exporters Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed on Tuesday to freeze output levels but said the deal was contingent on other producers joining in - a major sticking point with Iran absent from the talks and determined to raise production.  The Saudi, Russian, Qatari and Venezuelan oil ministers announced the proposal after a previously undisclosed meeting in Doha. It could become the first joint OPEC and non-OPEC deal in 15 years, aimed at tackling a growing oversupply of crude and helping prices recover from their lowest in over a decade.  See also next article.

  • Oil Producers Frozen With Fear (Bloomberg)  Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Qatar say they will freeze oil production at January levels, provided others -- read: Iran -- agree to do the same. Written another way, you could say that four large oil producing countries just confirmed that they won't cut output, which was the same situation that prevailed last week, before oil prices rallied on news of talks between OPEC members and Russia.  So nothing has really changed from a week ago.  See next article for reaction in the market.

  • Oil loses nearly 4 percent as hopes over Saudi, Russia deal fade (Reuters)  Brent oil fell almost 4% on Tuesday, erasing early gains after top producers Russia and Saudi Arabia dashed expectations of an outright supply cut by agreeing only to freeze output if other big exporters joined them.  Benchmark Brent prices jumped briefly through $35 a barrel after Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed to keep output at January levels, in what could be the first joint OPEC and non-OPEC deal in 15 years.   Brent settled down $1.21 at $32.18 a barrel, after rising earlier to $35.55.  U.S. crude settled down 40 cents at $29.04, off the day's high of $31.53.  See Crude drops as output freeze hopes fade, with more OPEC meetings on tap (Investing.com)  Click on chart for latest streaming data for most recent five days (WTI Crude).

crude.wti.2016.feb.11.16

Nearly 35% of publicly traded oil and gas exploration and production companies around the world — about 175 firms — are at high risk of falling into bankruptcy, the auditing and consulting firm reported. Not only do these companies have high debt levels, but their ability to pay interest on those loans has deteriorated, according to the firm.

oil.pain.video.cnbc.2016.feb.16

U.S.

  • Fed's Kashkari Floats Breaking Up Big Banks to Avert Meltdown (Bloomberg)  Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari will lead an effort to toughen U.S. banking laws to prevent another financial crisis, saying regulators must consider options including breaking up the nation’s largest financial institutions.  Former head of TARP urges going beyond Dodd-Frank law and moving past parochial interests to secure our financial future.

It is often said that in Washington, no bad idea stays dead for long. This is certainly true for the crazy paranoia we see around the budget deficit and idea that it is going to bankrupt the country and leave our children impoverished. The moral of this story is usually that we need to cut and/or privatize Social Security and Medicare.

The deficit hawks had been relatively quiet the last few years. They had a big victory with the 2011 budget deal between President Barack Obama and House Republicans. This led to substantial reductions in spending for 2012 and subsequent years. These cuts slowed the economy and kept millions of people from getting jobs, but the small positive from the deal was that it temporarily silenced the deficit hawks. After all, with the deficit falling rapidly and the debt-to-GDP ratio going down, what did they have to complain about?

But the new budget projections released last month by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) resurrected their complaints from the dead. The projections show deficits rising as a share of GDP with the debt-to-GDP also rising.

  • Antonin Scalia death: Questions asked as US fights over successor (BBC News)  Questions have been raised over the handling of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's death, as political sniping over his successor continues.  A judge ruled that Mr Scalia died from natural causes despite initial confusion over the cause of death.  The judge said she had been assured "there were no signs of foul play".  US President Barack Obama is expected to nominate a new justice in coming weeks but Republicans want the decision to be left to his successor next year.  The question of who will replace Mr Scalia, a powerful conservative voice in America's highest court, is turning into a big battle between Republicans and Democrats in a crucial presidential election year, and could spark a constitutional crisis.

France

  • France's Sarkozy placed under investigation in campaign funding probe: prosecutor (Reuters)   Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was placed under investigation on Tuesday in a scandal over irregularities in his 2012 re-election campaign finances, the Paris Prosecutor said, dealing a serious blow to his hopes of running again in 2017.  Sarkozy, 61, was questioned all day by magistrates at the Paris financial prosecutor's office before being notified that he was under investigation for "suspected illegal financing of an election campaign for a candidate, who went beyond the legal limit for electoral spending".  The legal move is a prelude to a possible trial but does not lead automatically to prosecution. However, it means he will be tied up in legal proceedings for months to come, making it hard for him to contest a center-right primary in November ahead of next year's presidential election.

Turkey

  • A Direct Turkey-Russia Clash Is a Growing Risk on Syria Border (Bloomberg)  There’s only one major group of combatants in the Syrian war that’s backed by both Russia and the U.S. -- and now Turkey is attacking it.  Turkey is bombing Syrian Kurdish group backed by Russia, U.S.  Syria’s five-year war has turned into a tangled web of proxy conflicts between global and regional powers, with a growing risk that some of them could clash directly. Right now the most dangerous flashpoint is between Russia and NATO member Turkey, which shot down a Russian plane in November. Since then tensions have steadily built as the Assad-Russia alliance -- with help from the Kurds -- threatens to surround Turkish-backed rebels in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city.  See also next article (in Syria section).

Syria

  • Syria: How one strip of land could change everything (CNN)   The dusty roads of Azaz, just off the Turkish-Syrian border, used to be the sort of place you whizzed through on the way to rebel-held Aleppo. Now it is the scene of seismic changes to the war in Syria, which could decide the most complex and unresolved question of the conflict: who will fight for Syria's Sunni Arabs?  Hospitals in Azaz were hit by a rocket strike Monday, but the area has also been the scene of fierce clashes. Contesting the town are two groups: Syrian Sunni rebels, many backed by Turkey, Gulf states and sometimes the U.S., are facing an advance from the Syrian Kurds known as the YPG, another group that receives U.S. support.  It will help if you look at a map: Essentially this fight is for the slim tranche of territory these relatively moderate Sunni rebels used to consider their stronghold and that used to be the vital supply route into Aleppo.

syria.north

  • IS faces budget crunch, killing perks and slashing salaries (Associated Press)  Faced with a cash shortage in its so-called caliphate, the Islamic State group has slashed salaries across the region, asked Raqqa residents to pay utility bills in black market American dollars, and is now releasing detainees for a price of $500 a person.   The extremists who once bragged about minting their own currency are having a hard time meeting expenses, thanks to coalition airstrikes and other measures that have eroded millions from their finances since last fall. Having built up loyalty among militants with good salaries and honeymoon and baby bonuses, the group has stopped providing even the smaller perks: free energy drinks and Snickers bars.  Necessities are dwindling in its urban centers, leading to shortages and widespread inflation, according to exiles and those still suffering under its rule.

Ukraine

  • Ukraine crisis: PM Yatsenyuk survives no-confidence vote (BBC News)   Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has survived a parliamentary no-confidence vote, hours after the president asked him to step down.  The prime minister has been criticised over the slow pace of reforms and faces allegations of corruption.  Earlier, President Petro Poroshenko said the PM had lost the support of the coalition and the country's trust.  Mr Yatsenyuk's public support has eroded amid Ukraine's economic problems.  The no-confidence motion required 226 votes to pass, but only 194 out of the 339 MPs supported it.  The decision came moments after lawmakers voted the cabinet's work in 2015 unsatisfactory.

China

  • First 'Silk Road' train arrives in Tehran from China (AFP, Yahoo! News)  Hat tip to Roger Erickson. The first train to connect China and Iran arrived in Tehran on Monday loaded with Chinese goods, reviving the ancient Silk Road, the Iranian railway company said.  The train, carrying 32 containers of commercial products from eastern Zhejiang province, took 14 days to make the 9,500-kilometre (5,900-mile) journey through Kazakstan and Turkmenistan.

  • China warns U.S. of 'serious consequences' over Washington plaza name (Reuters)   China's Foreign Ministry warned the United States on Tuesday there would be "serious consequences" if a plaza in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington was named after a pro-democracy dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner.  By unanimous voice vote, the U.S. Senate on Friday backed a plan to name the plaza after Liu Xiaobo, jailed for 11 years in 2009 on subversion charges for organizing a petition urging an end to one-party rule.  China views Liu as a criminal.

Other Scientific, Health, Political, Economics and Business Items of Note and Miscellanea

  • New Cause for Lyme Disease Complicates Already Murky Diagnosis (Scientific American)  Tick-borne Lyme disease in the U.S. has long been thought to be caused by a single microbe, a spiral-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Last week this notion was challenged when a team led by scientists at the Mayo Clinic discovered that Lyme could be caused, albeit rarely, by a different bacterial species that may incite more serious symptoms ranging from vomiting to neurological issues. Scientists working in the contentious field of Lyme disagree, however, as to what this information means for public health and if these findings are truly the first of their kind. For years, they say, research has pointed to the notion that the spirochete that causes Lyme disease in the U.S. is more heterogeneous than many have acknowledged.

  • Lyme Disease coverage on Channel 7's Sunday Night 23/11/2014 (You Tube)  Australian television documentary about the trials of those with Lyme Disease in that country.  Lyme Disease patients are abandoned in Australia and drawn overseas for treatment, as the federal government will not accept that Lyme Disease exists in Australia.  See next article.

  • Lyme Disease: What Your Doctor Hasn't Told You (You Tube)  The controversies about Lyme Disease within the medical community have at least three factors involved:  Lack of knowledge, medical care cost containment and conflicts of interest.

In the brand-new fossil vault at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in South Africa, shelf space is already running out. The glass-doored cabinets lining the room brim with bones of early human relatives found over the past 92 years in the many caves of the famed Cradle of Humankind region, just 40 kilometers northwest of here. The country's store of extinct humans has long ranked among the most extensive collections in the world. But recently its holdings doubled with the discovery of hundreds of specimens in a cave system known as Rising Star. According to paleoanthropologist Lee Berger and his colleagues, who unearthed and analyzed the remains, they represent a new species of human—Homo naledi, for “star” in the local Sotho language—that could overturn some deeply entrenched ideas about the origin and evolution of our genus, Homo.

  • This Face Changes the Human Story. But How? (National Geographic)  Scientists have discovered a new species of human ancestor deep in a South African cave, adding a baffling new branch to the family tree.  While primitive in some respects, the face, skull, and teeth show enough modern features to justify H. naledi's placement in the genus Homo. Artist Gurche spent some 700 hours reconstructing the head from bone scans, using bear fur for hair.  The braincase of the male skull of H. naledi measures a mere 560 cubic centimeters in volume, less than half that of the modern human skull.  H. naledi's hand displays curved fingers, a clue that the species had retained an ability to climb in trees and on rocks. However, the thumb, wrist, and palm bones are all remarkably modern.  The age of the ancient bones has not yet been determined so the possible relationships to homo sapiens is quite uncertain.

Click to larger graphic at National Geographic.homo.naledi.body.parts.600x600


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