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What We Read Today 04 May 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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Topics today include:

  • The $70 Million Diamond

  • Major Ice Shelf Separating from Antarctica

  • The 10 American Communities Growing Obese the Fastest

  • Obamacare Rate Hikes in 2017 Will Be Average for Years Preceding Passage of PPACA

  • MediGap Enrollment Continues to Rise

  • Construction Growth Continues but Slower

  • Some Places in America Have More than 50% Unemployment for Working Age Men

  • Supreme Court Appears Ready to Legalize Corruption

  • Tesla:  Loses Money, Production Execa Leave and Stock Jumps

  • All About Trump

  • Why is Sanders Still In It?

  • Migrant Crisis News from EU, Syria and Jordan

  • Impeachment Trial Comes Closer in Brazil

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • The chasm cutting an Antarctic base adrift (BBC News)  Thirty-six years after he first went there as a young meteorologist, BBC Weather's Peter Gibbs returned to the current, sixth incarnation of the British Antarctic Survey's Halley Research Station. There, on "a day with no horizon", he explored the chasm threatening to cast it adrift.  The Brunt Ice Shelf is in the process of breaking off Antarctica and sliding into the ocean.


  • The Supreme Court Gets Ready to Legalize Corruption (The New Yorker)  If the SCOTUS overturns the conviction of former New Jersey governor Bob McDowell, this article says it will do the same for bribery of elected officials as the Citizens United decision did for bribery of candidates.  (Econintersect:  The principle that has held as long as we can remember that those with any kind of public trust must avoid the appearance of potential conflict of interest appears to be fading from American morality and law.)  From this article:

At the core of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s 2010 opinion for the five-to-four majority in Citizens United was a simple idea: money is speech. In Citizens United, the Court, on First Amendment grounds, struck down a rule that banned corporations from sponsoring political advertisements in the period before elections. Such a “prohibition on corporate independent expenditures” was “a ban on speech,” Kennedy wrote.

In the McDonnell case, his lawyers argued that what federal prosecutors called bribery was also really just speech by Jonnie R. Williams, the McDonnells’ benefactor. Noel Francisco, McDonnell’s lawyer, did a skillful job of giving a constitutional gloss to the seedy facts of his client’s case. Williams plied the McDonnell family with expensive vacations, a Rolex watch, fifteen thousand dollars for their daughter’s wedding reception, the use of a Ferrari, and a hundred and twenty thousand dollars in loans in an effort to get the governor to promote Williams’s nutritional-supplement enterprise. According to Francisco, Williams was only paying for access (which is generally legal), not government action (which is not). As the lawyer put it in his oral argument, “The line is between access to decision-makers, on the one hand, and trying to influence those decisions, on the other.” In this view, it’s permissible for McDonnell to be paid for official access, just not for official acts.

The same concept is at the heart of both the Citizens United and McDonnell cases. In the campaign case, Kennedy said Congress could only prohibit quid-pro-quo corruption in regulating campaign contributions. Outside of a direct exchange of a contribution in return for a government action, the First Amendment protected the right to contribute money to campaigns. Likewise, McDonnell’s argument is that Congress can only prohibit bribery when there is an explicit quid pro quo—a payment or gift in return for a specific official act. In both cases, though, the Court seems determined to define quid pro quo so narrowly that it’s practically impossible to find.

  • Two Tesla Production Chiefs to Leave Ahead of Model 3 Ramp-Up (Bloomberg)   Two top manufacturing executives are leaving Tesla Motors Inc., including the global head of production, at a time when the electric-car company is about to release its most important car: the mass-production Model 3.  Greg Reichow, Tesla's vice president of production and one of its highest-paid executives, and Josh Ensign, vice president of manufacturing, will leave the company. A Tesla spokesperson confirmed both departures and said Reichow will remain until his replacement is found.  A person familiar with the situation who isn't authorized to speak about the matter said the executive changes are linked to delays, glitches, and a recall that have bedeviled Tesla's Model X. Tesla denied any connection between the departures and production problems with its SUV.  See also Tesla loses 57 cents per share, vs expected loss of 58 cents (Tesla stock rose 4% on the news). 

  • Kasich Plans to Exit Race, Cementing Trump’s Standard-Bearer Status (Bloomberg)   Ohio Governor John Kasich plans to suspend his presidential campaign, two people close to his campaign said, cementing Donald Trump’s status as the Republican standard-bearer virtually certain to face Democrat Hillary Clinton in November.  Kasich’s move comes after Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called for the party to unite behind Trump as the presumptive nominee.

  • Sanders’ Indiana Primary Win Slows Clinton’s March to Nomination (Bloomberg)  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won an upset victory in Indiana’s Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday, slowing Hillary Clinton’s progress to the nomination and giving his campaign a much-needed boost as the campaign enters its final stage.

If Republican voters hadn’t been so disillusioned by their usual leaders, Trump would have remained a fringe candidate. Instead, aided by some prominent right-wing media figures, such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Sean Hannity, the New York businessman was able to present himself as the heir to the Tea Party revolution, which many activists felt had been quashed or betrayed. He was also able to tap into many Republicans’ anger, some of it tinged with racism, about President Obama and his policies; into broader fears of terrorism and economic decline; and into a general disgust with professional politicians, some of which was brought about by the G.O.P.’s own obstructionism.

Contented countries don’t produce politicians like Trump. For many years now, a majority of Americans have told pollsters that they believe the nation is on the wrong track. A decade and a half marked by foreign wars, terrorist threats, recession, slow growth, political gridlock, culture wars, and (for many voters) declining incomes have further undermined faith in the political system, creating space for insurgent candidates like Trump and Bernie Sanders.


  • Migrant crisis: EU plans penalties for refusing asylum seekers (BBC News)   The European Commission has proposed reforms to EU asylum rules that would see stiff financial penalties imposed on countries refusing to take their share of asylum seekers.  The bloc's executive body is planning a sanction of €250,000 (£200,000; $290,000) per person.  The Commission wants changes made to an asylum system which has buckled amid an influx of migrants.  The plans would require support from most member states as well as MEPs.  EU officials hope that, twinned with a deal with Turkey that has already reduced migrant numbers, tensions over migration within the bloc can be reduced.


  • Tensions surface between Turkish president, prime minister (Associated Press)   Long-denied tensions between Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and hand-picked Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu are beginning to surface publicly, leading to speculation from political observers that the country's powerful leader may be considering replacing the premier with a figure more willing to take a backseat role.  Davutoglu had been expected to succeed Erdogan as premier and leader of his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.  The rift comes at a precarious time for Turkey, which is gripped by a surge in violent attacks perpetrated by Kurdish and Islamic State militants. The country has also seen renewed fighting with the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and growing spillover from the war in neighboring Syria, including a refugee and migrant crisis.


  • US announces extension of Syria truce to Aleppo (Associated Press)  The United States and Russia have persuaded Syria's government and moderate rebels to extend the country's fragile truce to the northern city of Aleppo, the State Department said Wednesday, although sporadic clashes continue.  The agreement was reached late Tuesday and took effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday Damascus time (5:01 p.m. Tuesday EDT), Secretary of State John Kerry said. The Syrian military confirmed the truce but said it would take effect Thursday and last for 48 hours. U.S. officials said they were looking into the discrepancy.


  • Some 59,000 Syrians, a new high, stranded on Jordan border (Associated Press)  The number of Syrian refugees gathered in remote desert areas on the Jordanian border and waiting to enter the kingdom has risen to a new high of 59,000, the commander of Jordan's Border Guard Forces said Wednesday.  In the last three days alone, some 5,000 more Syrians arrived in two sprawling makeshift camps on the border, fleeing renewed fighting in the city of Aleppo, Gen. Saber al-Mahayreh told reporters.  Jordan and the international community are at odds over the fate of the stranded refugees.  Aid organizations say Jordan must speed up entry procedures because the refugees live in dire conditions, including inadequate shelter, along the border.  Jordan says refugees pose a potential security risk, with some coming from areas controlled by the extremist Islamic State group, and need to be vetted.


  • Rousseff's woes mount as Brazilian senator backs impeachment trial (Reuters)  Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's chances of remaining in office plummeted on Wednesday after a key senator recommended the leftist leader face an impeachment trial and a top prosecutor said she should be included in a vast corruption investigation.  Rousseff, whose popularity has fallen in the last year due in large part to a deepening economic recession, is expected to become the first Brazilian president to fail to complete a presidential term in more than 20 years.  Senator Antonio Anastasia, an opposition member tasked with recommending whether to put Rousseff on trial in the Senate for breaking budget laws, told a 21-member Senate committee that the charges were serious enough to remove her from office.  The committee is expected to vote overwhelmingly on Friday to send his recommendation to the full chamber.  Econintersect:  The Brazilain Olympics start in just 3 months.

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

  • Diamond the size of a tennis ball could fetch $70 million (Associated Press, MSN News)   It's a rock for the ages - but don't try wearing this on your finger.  A 3-billion-year-old diamond the size of a tennis ball — the largest discovered in over a century — could sell for more than $70 million, auctioneer Sotheby's said Wednesday.  The auction house plans to offer the Lesedi la Rona diamond in London on June 29.  The diamond was unearthed in November in Botswana at a mine owned by Canada's Lucara Diamond Corporation. It measured 1,109 carats, the second-largest gem-quality rough diamond ever discovered. Its name means "our light" in the Tswana language of southern Africa.


  • 10 towns where a LOT of people got fat (LifeHealthPro)  Rising obesity rates threaten the health and finances of people worldwide.  Obesity is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease; an increased use of acute medical and long-term care (LTC) services; and an increased rate of disability, and death.  Here are 10 U.S. communities where obesity has increased by 10 percentage points or more since 2002.  No, they are not all in the South.  Two are in New Hampshire, two are in Ohio (one is a tri-sate community with West Virginia and Kentucky) and one in Wisconsin.  The "winner" is Baton Rouge, Louisiana which increased by 14.7% to 36% obese population.

  • PPACA World 2017: Rates might not be THAT bad (LifeHealthPro)  The bottom line is that health insurance rate increases appear to be in line with what they were before Obamacare.  Obamacare may not be that effective so far in controlling increasing healthcare costs but it appears that the extended coverage to more people, many with poorer health, is not increasing the the growth in costs.  The auhtor also sees an easing in rising costs from "pent-up demand for healthcare".

  • Medigap enrollment rises 6.5% (HealthLifePro)  Use of Medicare supplement (Medigap) insurance policies increased in 2015, but the average amount of premium each enrollee paid fell.  The summary:

  • The total number of Medigap covered lives increased 6.5 percent, to 11.9 million.

  • Overall Medigap premium revenue increased 6 percent, to $26 billion.

  • The average amount of premium revenue per enrollee fell 0.5 percent, to $2,200.

  • The marketwide ratio of claims paid to premium revenue increased to 77.1 percent in 2015, from 76.6 percent in 2014.

  • The average amount of cash issuers had left over after paying an enrollee's claims fell 2.8 percent, to $503.

  • Construction Industry Growth Trends (RS Means)  The construction industry’s rate of growth is slowing, but still growing. The rate of growth for 2016 is forecast at 6% and is expected to reach $1.6 trillion.  From March 2015 to March 2016, the construction sector in 44 states and Washington D.C. saw job growth.  Increased construction spending is anticipated to affect various industry sectors including highways, schools and universities, hospitals, water and sewer, public and private building, retail and manufacturing power. With such widespread growth, firms plan on expanding beyond their typical geographic markets, and perhaps target new market segments, as well. Just in March, nonresidential constructions starts rose 18%.

  • The men America has left behind (CNN Money)  Some places in America have more than 50% of the working-age men unemployed.  These are places where there are more than the average number with only a high school education.

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