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What We Read Today 17 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".).


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:

Americans' Concern about Privacy

Political Flip-Flops on SCOTUS Appointments

  • Case Outcomes from 8 Member Supreme Court

  • Americans are Concerned about their Privacy

  • Key Cash Flow Ratios for Investors

  • Balance Sheet Ratios Measure Company Health

  • Out of Africa Much Earlier than Previously Thought

  • Hydrogen from Seawater

  • Battle Over Sanders' Economic Plan

  • UK Has Low Pay Pressure in Tight Market

  • Nuclear Material Stolen in Iraq

  • China's Overheated Property Market

  • Why is China's Growth Slowing

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • After Scalia, Parties Flip on Senate’s ‘Duty’ on Nominations (Bloomberg)  Democrats who hoped to block Bush's judges now crying foul.  Republicans demanded floor votes and fair process a decade ago.  Econintersect:  Did you expect principled politicians?  Politics is not about right or wrong - it's about winning or losing.  How will an 8 justice court work out?  It depends on the case - see video.

Here’s what the Constitution says about filling Supreme Court vacancies: nothing. In fact, the Constitution says nothing about the size of the Supreme Court at all. Congress could pass a law leaving the number of justices permanently at eight. Or it could expand the number to 23. All the Constitution requires is that there be a Supreme Court. Beyond that, we’re in the realm of politics.

Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution says that “judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” That’s right, Congress doesn’t have to create any lower federal courts at all. It could rely on state courts to handle all federal law issues with a right of appeal to the Supreme Court.

From the fact that the lower courts are optional, you can deduce that the Supreme Court isn’t. But the size of that court is left undefined. In theory, I think, it could consist of a single judge. The interpretation of the Constitution would rest his hands. You could even call him Anthony Kennedy.

  • Sanders' Economic Plan Torn Apart By Former Clinton, Obama Economists (The Huffington Post)  Four former chairs of the White House Council of Economic Advisers published a letter Wednesday morning chiding the Sanders campaign and Gerald Friedman -- an economist at UMass Amherst who recently put out a 53-page analysis of the Sanders tax and health care plans.  They say a new analysis of the plan makes “claims that cannot be supported by the economic evidence".  Prof. Friedman replied:

"I use entirely conventional methods.  These are all smart people; they know better than what they wrote."


  • U.K. Pay Pressures Remain Subdued in Tight Labor Market (Bloomberg)   U.K. employers are showing few signs of responding to a tightening labor market.  While unemployment held at a decade-low of 5.1% in the fourth quarter, pay pressures remained weak with earnings growth slowing to 1.9%, the Office for National Statistics in London said on Wednesday. Pay growth excluding bonuses edged up to 2%.


  • Car bomb attack on military in Turkish capital kills 28 (Reuters)   Twenty-eight people were killed and dozens wounded in Turkey's capital Ankara on Wednesday when a car laden with explosives detonated next to military buses near the armed forces' headquarters, parliament and other government buildings.  The Turkish military condemned what it described as a terrorist attack on the buses as they waited at traffic lights in the administrative heart of the NATO member's capital.  The attack, the latest in a series of bombings in the past year mostly blamed on Islamic State, comes as Turkey gets dragged ever deeper into the war in neighboring Syria and tries to contain some of the fiercest violence in decades in its predominantly Kurdish southeast.

  • Kurds' advance in Syria divides U.S. and Turkey as Russia bombs (Reuters)  The rapid advance of U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, taking advantage of Russian air strikes to seize territory near the Turkish border, has infuriated Ankara and threatened to drive a wedge between NATO allies.  Washington has long seen the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its YPG military wing as its best chance in the battle against Islamic State in Syria - to the chagrin of fellow NATO member Turkey, which sees the group as terrorists and fears it will stir up greater unrest among its own Kurdish minority.


  • Exclusive: Radioactive material stolen in Iraq raises security fears (Reuters)  Iraq is searching for "highly dangerous" radioactive material stolen last year, according to an environment ministry document and seven security, environmental and provincial officials who fear it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.  The material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer, went missing in November from a storage facility near the southern city of Basra belonging to U.S. oilfield services company Weatherford (WFT.N).  A spokesman for Iraq's environment ministry said he could not discuss the issue, citing national security concerns. A Weatherford spokesman in Iraq declined to comment, and the company's Houston headquarters did not respond to repeated requests for comment.


  • Iran offers no action in support of global oil pact (Reuters)  Iran on Wednesday stopped short of offering to restrain oil output as part of a global pact to freeze production to prop up prices, making clear it wants to recapture the market share it lost during years of sanctions.  Iran's stance will complicate talks on output levels after a surprise compromise this week between two of the world's top exporters - non-OPEC Russia and the group's leader Saudi Arabia - to freeze output at January levels, near their historic highs.  The first mooted global oil pact in 15 years has so far failed to impress the market, which had expected a production cut instead of a freeze that could even turn into an increase if Iran wins special terms from fellow OPEC members.


  • What next for China's overheated property market? (BBC News)  Wang Shi, head of China's largest property development company talks about China's bloated real estate market in an interview with the BBC.  He admits that China has grossly overbuilt but sees a good future in "environmentally-friendly and sustainable development".

  • Why is China's growth slowing? (BBC News)   China's economy has been hit by shrinking foreign and domestic demand, weak investment, factory overcapacity and oversupply in the property market.  Stephen Evans reports on how the country's slowdown is being felt in the steel industry.  See video with article.

Americans’ Attitudes About Privacy, Security and Surveillance (Pew Research Center)  Americans have limited confidence in "the world's" capacity to preserve their privacy.  A majority think that privacy is very important in many areas, workplaces excepted.  See first graphic below.  But Americans have littlw confidence that their privacy is secure.  See second graph below.  Concern grows with greater awareness about government surveillance programs.  See third graph below.


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

  • 7 Cash Flow Ratios Every Value Investor Should Know (Old School Value)  Bookmark this excellent reference.   The author says that: "Cash Flow Ratios are reliable indicators of liquidity than balance sheet or income statement ratios."  But balance sheet ratios are important, too.  See next article.

  • 20 Balance Sheet Ratios for Businesses and to Determine a Company’s Health (Old School Value)  For overall assessment of financial health you must use the balance sheet in addition to cash flow analysis. 

  • Why don’t employees pay more attention to healthcare costs? (Employee Benefit News)   When it comes to selecting a physician, only 10% of patients consider changing doctors — and only 4% compare prices — when making their choice. Significantly, this was the case regardless if the patient was on a traditional or a high deductible health plan, according to a JAMA Internal Medicine research survey.  Healthcare consultants often beat the consumerism drum, chanting that high deductible plans will subdue the trend toward higher healthcare costs. But the results of the JAMA survey would indicate otherwise. Perhaps costs are reduced due to care deferral or avoidance, but not due to purchasing decisions influenced by provider pricing.  Now why is this? It’s clear to me that the price comparison tools available to the public don’t make it easy enough for consumers to make informed decisions. It is not enough to know which provider is less expensive; patients must have the confidence that they are getting quality professional services. While the carrier “starring” systems are a start in this direction, they are not sophisticated enough to influence provider selection. Yet interestingly, about half of those surveyed said they would use additional sources of healthcare pricing information, if they were available.

  • Out of Africa, and into the arms of a Neanderthal (Reuters)  Scientists said on Wednesday an analysis of the genome of a Neanderthal woman whose remains were found in a cave in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia near the Russia-Mongolia border detected residual DNA from Homo sapiens, a sign of inter-species mating which could have occurred 100,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought.  Now scientists think that homo sapiens (modern man) moved out of Africa in many waves before the final one started about 50,000 to 60,000 years ago.  The previous waves did not establish dominance for homo sapiens but did leave a DNA trail which is just now being discovered.

  • This Startup Just Launched With A New Way to Turn Seawater into Hydrogen (Fortune)   People don’t really talk about the “hydrogen economy” like they did a decade ago. It’s a dream to use hydrogen to power vehicles, and generate electricity in a cleaner and more convenient way than tapping oil for cars or coal for power.  But if one new, ambitious startup gets its way (and proves its technology works) hydrogen as a power source could have another shot at generating excitement and making big money.  A company called Joi Scientific claims to have found an energy efficient way of creating hydrogen when needed (means it can be used without storage and transportation issues).  The details of the process have not been revealed but then company says that the costs and energy economics of their process is far superior to the traditional processes involving electrolysis of water or conversion of natural gas.

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