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What We Read Today 14 November 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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Topic today include:

  • Pristine Ancient Greek Mosaics Unearthed

  • Clustered Groups of Proteins Attack the Brain

  • Claims of Statistical Abnormalities for 2016 Election are Bogus

  • Housing Market Not Highly Susceptible to Damage from Higher Mortgage Interest Rates

  • First Hyperloop to be Operational in Four Years

  • 2016 Will Set New Global Temperature Record

  • 16 of the 17 Hottest Years Ever Recorded are in the 21st Century

  • There is a Simple Reason Why Obama will not Pardon Hillary

  • Popularity of Polls and Forecasts Hurt Clinton Turnout

  • What is Mike Pence Hiding in his E-Mails?

  • Oil Mogul Hamm Top of List for Energy Secretary

  • Trump Hates Net Neutrality

  • What to Bannon and Priebus Tell Us about the Coming Trump Presidency?

  • Trump is a Big Problem for Merkel

  • Russian Police Find Voting Fraud

  • China Warns Trump:  "We Can Cut Off iPhone Sales in China"

  • Close Call Commercial Plane and Drone at Toronto Airport

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • 2016 will be the hottest year on record, UN says (The Guardian)  2016 will very likely be the hottest year on record and a new high for the third year in a row, according to the UN. It means 16 of the 17 hottest years on record will have been this century.  The scorching temperatures around the world, and the extreme weather they drive, mean the impacts of climate change on people are coming sooner and with more ferocity than expected, according to scientists.  The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report, published on Monday at the global climate summit in Morocco, found the global temperature in 2016 is running 1.2C above pre-industrial levels. This is perilously close to to the 1.5C target included as an aim of the Paris climate agreement last December.


  • Here's why Obama likely won't pardon Clinton (USA Today)  Hillary Clinton will not be getting a pardon from President Obama.  And if Obama is to be kept to his word, neither will former CIA Director David Petraeus, convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, intelligence contractor Edward Snowden or Pvt. Chelsea Manning, all of whom were accused or convicted of mishandling classified information.  The reason is simple: None of them have applied to the Office of the Pardon Attorney for executive clemency.

  • Popularity of polls and forecasts aided Clinton's loss, says strategist (The Guardian)  Hillary Clinton’s chief campaign strategist said a national “obsession” with campaign forecasters like Nate Silver and New York Times’ Upshot blog had deeply worried the Democratic presidential campaign in the final weeks of the election, and could have hurt voter turnout.

  • What's Mike Pence hiding in his emails? (USA Today)  Now that the presidential campaign and most of the furor over Hillary Clinton's email scandal are behind us, the Pence administration is going to court to argue for its own brand of email secrecy.  The administration is fighting to conceal the contents of an email sent to Gov. Mike Pence by a political ally. That email is being sought by a prominent Democratic labor lawyer who says he wants to expose waste in the Republican administration.  But legal experts fear the stakes may be much higher than mere politics because the decision could remove a judicial branch check on executive power and limit a citizen's right to know what the government is doing and how it spends taxpayer dollars.  According to said Gerry Lanosga, an Indiana University media professor specializing in public records law:

"It comes down to this — the court is giving up its ability to check another branch of government, and that should worry people." 

  • Oil mogul Hamm tops Trump list for U.S. energy secretary: sources (Reuters)   Continental Resources Chief Executive Harold Hamm is at the top of President-elect Donald Trump's list to serve as energy secretary, according to U.S. Representative Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, a Trump energy adviser who confirmed he is also under consideration for the job.  Hamm, 70, became one of America's wealthiest men during the U.S. oil and gas drilling boom over the past decade, tapping into controversial hydraulic fracturing drilling technology to access vast deposits in North Dakota's shale fields.

  • Trump hates net neutrality (recode)  A Donald Trump presidency will shake up key regulatory agencies in Washington, which could lead to a reversal of hard-won decisions on issues like net neutrality and completely upend the relationships the tech industry has worked to foster with regulators.  Trump will appoint new leaders to agencies like the Federal Communications Commission, the agency that brought us net neutrality last year.  Yet Trump has also promised a “temporary moratorium on new agency regulations” and to “eliminate our most intrusive regulations”.  On the issue of net neutrality, Trump hasn’t said much, but he appears to have sided with the ISPs — the companies selling broadband service — over internet companies like Netflix or Amazon.  He tweeted two years ago that net neutrality was just another way to attack conservative media.

  • What do Bannon and Priebus tell us about Trump's coming reign? (The Guardian)  Columnist Richard Wolfe says that with an alt-right demagogue, a party hack, the family, there are so many competing fiefdoms that the Trump presidency has sown the seeds of its own collapse. 


  • Trump poses daunting new challenge for Germany's Merkel (Reuters)   Donald Trump's victory has been a shock for America's major partners around the world. But perhaps nowhere has the blow been more painful than in Germany, a country that under Angela Merkel has come to see itself as a bastion of openness and tolerance.  On virtually every issue of importance to the German chancellor, from confronting Russian aggression and promoting free trade, to combating climate change and tackling the tide of refugees fleeing Syria, Trump seems likely to turn Washington from an ally into an adversary.  He invoked the German chancellor's name to insult his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton during the U.S. campaign, calling her "America's Merkel". And he described her decision last year to open German borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants as "insane".


  • Russian police find evidence of fraud during parliamentary election (Reuters)  Russian police have said they found evidence of fraud at a polling station where Reuters reporters saw irregularities during a Sept. 18 parliamentary election that was won by a party loyal to the Kremlin.  A police unit in the region of Mordovia wrote in a letter to Reuters that it had investigated and found signs of criminal fraud at polling station No. 591. It said it had handed over the case to the Investigative Committee, the state body which decides whether to bring criminal charges.  The police letter was the first official acknowledgement fraud may have taken place. Election officials had said last month the Reuters findings were unproven.


  • China threatens to cut sales of iPhones and US cars if 'naive' Trump pursues trade war (The Guardian)  US president-elect Donald Trump would be a “naive” fool to launch an all-out trade war against China, a Communist party-controlled newspaper has claimed.  During the acrimonious race for the White House Trump repeatedly lashed out at China, vowing to punish Beijing with “defensive” 45% tariffs on Chinese imports and to officially declare it a currency manipulator.  On Monday the state-run Global Times warned that such measures would be a grave mistake.  The Global Times claimed any new tariffs would trigger immediate “countermeasures” and “tit-for-tat approach” from Beijing.  For example, China could halt sales of iPhines and Apple products. The newspaper said in an editorial:

“If Trump wrecks Sino-US trade, a number of US industries will be impaired. Finally the new president will be condemned for his recklessness, ignorance and incompetence.” 


  • Ancient Gecko Shines Light on Australian Desert Origins (R&D)  Researchers have discovered an ancient species of gecko in the ranges of Central Australia which may shine new light on how and when Australia's deserts began to form millions of year ago.  Lead researcher Dr Paul Oliver from ANU said the velvet gecko Oedura luritja from the iconic ranges of Central Australia had been hiding in plain sight.  He said genetics indicated this gecko had no close living relatives.  Dr. Oliver said:

 "This suggests this gecko may have been isolated by this initial aridification of Australia long ago, and then persisted in its rocky refuge for millions of years. It is what we know as a relict species - something left behind after all its relatives have died out." 


  • Crew members injured as plane avoids near collision with suspected drone (The Guardian)  A Canadian airliner with 54 passengers on board had to swerve to avoid a suspected drone near Toronto early on Monday, slightly injuring two cabin crew, in the most serious case of its kind in Canada, officials said.  The Porter Airlines Bombardier Q400 twin-prop plane, which took off from Ottawa, was at 9,000ft (2,750 meters), descending into the city’s Billy Bishop waterfront airport when the pilots saw an unmanned aerial vehicle and were forced to take evasive action.

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

Click for larger image.

  • Proteins Could Be More Dangerous in Groups (R&D)   A new study sheds light on why sometimes clumping proteins leads to degenerative brain diseases kill some cells while leaving others unharmed.  Researchers at Catholic University Leuven in Belgium believe normally innocuous proteins, known as prions or amyloids, become dangerous when they can be engineered to clump into fibers similar to those formed by proteins involved in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and brain-wasting prion diseases like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.  According to an article in Science News, the research shows that cells that normally rely on the protein’s normal function for survival die when the proteins clump together. But when the cells don’t need the protein, they remain unharmed by the grouping.  Clumpy proteins are twisted forms of normal proteins that have been identified in many nerve-cell-killing diseases. These proteins can often make other normal copies of the protein go rogue.  See De novo design of a biologically active amyloid (Science)

  • Lies, damned lies, & statistics (Salil Mehta, Statistical Ideas)  SM has contributed to GEI. Dr. Mehta is one of the world's foremost statisticians.  In this article, he very bluntly expresses his disdain for all the pollsters masquerading as statisticians.   Mehta doesn't expressly criticize the assumption that the normal (gaussian) distribution curve should apply to polling data, but he does point out the ridiculous claim by Nate Silver that the result in 2016 "was merely a 5σ probability (1:1200 year event)".  But, such a statement can only be made if one uses the normal distribution function.  Econintersect:  We cannot resist offering a corny pun:  The problem with statistical analysis is that it is normally screwed up.  And Salil includes a beautiful graphic which shows that the 2016 election result is not a "5-sigma anomaly" but falls well within the distribution of all presidential election results.

We are still a few years away from the stronger demographic patch that will bolster housing demand, but keep in mind, that for now, mortgage demand is low.  Don’t believe the hype that housing is strong.  Housing hasn’t been strong in this cycle, and that means that the possibility of an existing home sales crash is unlikely.  Even when rates hit 4.5%, we only lost 200K in sales, some perspective is needed. You can make a thesis that the rate of growth will be challenged but a housing collapse not so much.

The real risk is on the new home sale side because these sales are more mortgage rate sensitive because they are more dependent on mortgage demand. Not to mention new homes are much more expensive than existing homes. However, since we are working from a level of  580K new home sales for 2017,  the downside is limited.  This level of sales is more typical of what we were see in a recession, not  in the 8th year of a cycle when mortgage rates have below 5% since early 2011.  So keep an eye out at that 4.25% – 4.5% level on mortgage rates level and see if it does impact any activity this time around. With the economic cycle older, better demographics and more footing that we had in 2013, the housing market should act better than mid to low 400K in new home sales.

  • Hyperloop One Posts Concept Video for Next-Gen Transit System (R&D)  Hyperloop One unveiled the first phase in its vision for the future of transportation.  The startup stationed in Los Angeles, Calif. posted a video last week showing how the proposed Hyperloop train, a series of depressurized tubes linked together that run on a magnetically powered track, could cut travel time between Dubai and Abu Dhabi down to 12 minutes instead of the typical two hours.  The target for start-up operation of the system is 2020.

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