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What We Read Today 16 December 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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Topics today include:

  • World Energy Turning Point:  Solar is Cheaper than Wind

  • Stand-Alone 24/7 Renewable Energy System Based on Hydrogen Energy Storage

  • Obama Says Government was Cautious in Handling Russian Hacking Info During Election

  • FBI Now Agrees with CIA on Russian Hacking

  • Fed Hawk Says More than 3 Fed Hikes in 2017 are Possible

  • Trump Builds a Team of Bosses, Risk Takers and Deal Makers

  • White Male Power Returns to the Executive Branch

  • Electoral College Ploy to Block Trump

  • North Carolina Republicans and Outgoing Governor Strip Incoming Democrat of Power

  • German Government Advisor Recommends Germany Quit the Euro

  • Dispute Holds Up Evacuation from Aleppo 'Hell'

  • Japan Bond Market Calms

  • China Seizes U.S. Oceanographic Survey Drone in Philippine Waters

  • How Not to Get Hacked by the Russians (Or Anybody Else)

  • IBM is Aggregating Big Data

  • CO2 Trend is Stunningly Clear

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • World Energy Hits a Turning Point: Solar That's Cheaper Than Wind (Bloomberg)  Emerging markets are leapfrogging the developed world on energy costs thanks to cheap panels.  A transformation is happening in global energy markets that’s worth noting as 2016 comes to an end: Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity.  This has happened in isolated projects in the past: an especially competitive auction in the Middle East, for example, resulting in record-cheap solar costs. But now unsubsidized solar is beginning to outcompete coal and natural gas on a larger scale, and notably, new solar projects in emerging markets are costing less to build than wind projects, according to fresh data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  And, while solar now produced electricity at about half the cost of the cheapest fosil fuel, coal, the sun doesn't shine all the time.  So, for now fossil fuels still have a role to play.  See next article.

  • Performance of a stand-alone renewable energy system based on energy storage as hydrogen (IEEE Explore)  Twelve years ago this paper reported on the construction and testing of a  stand-alone renewable energy system based on energy storage as hydrogen at the Hydrogen Research Institute, and successfully tested for autonomous operation with developed control system and power conditioning devices.  The experimental results clearly indicate that a stand-alone RE system based on hydrogen production is safe and reliable.  Econintersect:  We are looking for and have not yet found a recently dated source discussing the costs and economics of hydrogen storage in general.


  • Obama Says U.S. Was Cautious in Handling Russian Election Hacks (Bloomberg)  President Barack Obama said the U.S. government took a cautious approach to allegations the Russians had hacked Democratic Party officials before the election out of concern that the issue would be politicized.  See also Obama seeks to tone down hacking fight with Trump (The Hill)

  • FBI backs CIA report on Russian interference: report (The Hill)  (Econintersect:  The agency convergence that we saw lacking in Early Bird this morning appears to be emerging.)  The FBI supports a CIA assessment that Russia deliberately attempted to intervene in the election to help President-elect Donald Trump win, The Washington Post reported on Friday.  Both FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stand by the CIA assessment, the report said.

  • Fed Hawk Lacker Says May Need More Than Three Hikes in 2017 (Bloomberg)  Jeffrey Lacker, one of the Federal Reserve’s most hawkish policy makers, warned that the U.S. central bank may have to raise rates more than three times next year and said he doesn’t know if policy makers are already behind the curve on inflation.  The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond told reporters Friday after taking part in a panel discussion in Charlotte, North Carolina:

“If we were to see a burst of demand growth, that would suggest a steeper path of rates to maintain price stability.  There is a range of paces of interest rate hikes that would qualify as gradual, including paces more rapid than one or two or three a year,” he said. “We can get where we need to be with a pace of increases that qualifies as gradual.”

  • Trump builds team of bosses to shake up Washington (Reuters)  The Trump cabinet is heavy with risk takers and deal makers.  Trump, who says Washington is "broken" and controlled by special interests, has largely eschewed technocrats with long government experience. Instead, he has built a team of bosses.

  • Women and minorities could be missing from the Cabinet’s ‘big four’ jobs for the first time since 1993 (The Washington Post)   Now that Donald Trump has named ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his pick for secretary of state, the transition has reached a milestone of sorts. Nominations for the most prized jobs in the Cabinet -- the people who lead the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and the Treasury -- are all in place, filling what have come to be known as the "big four" jobs. As The Post wrote in 2011, these are the "original departments created by George Washington, with the heftiest portfolios" -- the most high-profile positions and among the foremost voices guiding the president's thinking on critical military, foreign affairs, justice and economic issues.  And for the first time in more than two decades -- if those four names are ultimately confirmed -- the "big four" jobs will be entirely white and male.

  • Long-Shot to Block Trump Lands at Electoral College Monday (Bloomberg)  The Electoral College’s 538 members gather Monday at 50 state capitols to cast the ballots that matter the most when it comes to electing a U.S. president.  Normally sedate affairs that pass with little notice, this year’s proceedings have been injected with a bit of drama and a dash of uncertainty with an unprecedented campaign by a small group of electors to overturn the results of Election Day.  The attempt to deny Donald Trump the presidency by trying to convince Democratic and Republican peers to back someone else is almost sure to fail. But it injects still more rancor in what already has been a divisive political season and serves as a capstone for a 2016 presidential election that will go down as one of the oddest in U.S. history.  Econintersect:  We think this scheme to reverse what was the election of a candidate with a clear margin of victory under the rules of our constitution is very ill-conceived.  But it is not the only effort underway to subvert the outcome of an election - see the next article.

  • If Ya Can’t Beat ‘Em, Screw ‘Em: Defeated North Carolina Governor Signs Bill Gutting Election Integrity (The Huffington Post)   Current North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has signed one of two bills that would drastically reduce the powers of his successor, incoming Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper.  House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 4 were introduced by Republican lawmakers in the state legislature on Wednesday. Both bills passed in their respective chambers the following day by large margins.  McCrory promptly signed SB 4 on Friday.  SB 4 takes aim at the North Carolina Board of Elections following several board decisions to extend voting hours in certain precincts in the Democratic stronghold of Durham County on Election Day.  The bill will increase the number of Board of Elections members from five appointed by the governor to eight, split evenly along party lines. Cooper would appoint four of them, while two would be picked by the state House and another two by the state Senate. SB 4 also increases county election boards from three members ― two appointed by the sitting governor ― to four members, split along party lines.  The bill could potentially undermine voting rights efforts in the state by requiring a 6-2 majority to move forward on any motions. The Board of Elections handles a number of questions related to election integrity.  (Econintersect:  The Republican state legislature has previously passed measures which the Republican (former) governor has sign into laws that have been struck down by courts as unconstitutional because they were "blatantly prejudicial" against minority voters.)

Critics view McCrory’s haste to sign the bill ― and the likelihood that he will also sign HB 17 ― as a power grab by a bitter incumbent and his legislature. Cooper declared victory over McCrory on Nov. 9, but McCrory refused to concede the race because it was too close to call.

Cooper was up by 4,300 votes on Election Day and continued to rise in the count. Instead of bowing out graciously, McCrory asked that all provisional ballots be counted, formally called for a statewide recount and made brash allegations of voter fraud before finally conceding on Dec. 5. 

HB 17, which the governor has yet to sign, mandates that Cooper’s Cabinet picks receive approval from the Republican-dominated state Senate. It also bars Cooper from making any appointments to the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees or the state Board of Education.

The bill will also greatly reduce the number of administrative employees in “exempt positions” Cooper can designate. “Exempt positions” are not subject to the same hiring and firing rules that govern other state employees.

Cooper, who is currently the state attorney general, said he is willing to sue Republicans over these bills or any other potentially unconstitutional measures.


  • Government Advisor: Germany Should Quit Euro (Handelsblatt)  Europe is in a “disastrous” state and Germany should quit the euro zone to enable the E.U. to survive, one of Germany’s best-known management consultants and government advisors, Roland Berger, told Handelsblatt.  He said:

“Otherwise Europe will break apart ever more. The economic cultures in the 19 member states of the euro zone are simply far too different. We shouldn’t think so much about whether Greece can be saved but whether it wouldn’t be far more logical if Germany were to leave the euro zone to preserve the E.U. as a whole.”

Click for larger image.


  • Dispute holds up evacuation from 'hell' of Aleppo (Reuters)   The evacuation of the last opposition-held areas of the Syrian city of Aleppo was suspended on Friday after pro-government militias demanded that wounded people should also be brought out of two Shi'ite villages being besieged by rebel fighters.  The second day of the operation to take fighters and civilians out of Aleppo's rebel enclave ground to a halt amid recriminations from all sides after a morning that had seen the pace of the operation pick up.  U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters:

"Aleppo is now a synonym for hell.  I very much regret that we had to stop this operation."


Click for large image.


  • Pentagon Demands China Return Intercepted U.S. Navy Vessel (Bloomberg)   The Pentagon demanded that China immediately return a U.S. Navy underwater drone that was captured in the South China Sea, in a confrontation certain to exacerbate tensions in a region where the government in Beijing has sought to assert greater control.  China “unlawfully seized” the unmanned underwater vehicle Thursday while it was being recovered by a U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ship during routine operations 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines, according to a Defense Department statement.

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

How not to get hacked by Russians (or anyone else)—lessons from the DNC’s disastrous cyber strategy (Quartz)  The US FBI told the Democratic National Committee in September of 2015 that its computer network had been breached by hackers linked to the Russian government. But nothing concrete happened about the cyber break-in for seven months, according to an exhaustive report on Dec. 13 in the New York Times (paywall).  Instead, DNC workers committed a sequence of jaw-dropping blunders. Combined with tech practices that ignored even the most basic rules of cyber safety, this allowed hackers to rummage through the DNC’s server, downloading tens of thousands of private emails which were ultimately published on Wikileaks. (The FBI agent tasked with warning the DNC was also strangely lackadaisical about it, doing little more than leaving a series of voicemails after speaking to an IT temp, though the DNC’s headquarters are just a half mile from the FBI’s own.)  The simple technique that did in the DNC (and many others who get hacked) is being taken in by phishing, as explained in this article.

Watson Financial Services is born out of IBM’s purchase of Promontory Financial Group (Tech Crunch)  The big data power grab is underway:

If Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest had a big data eating contest brother, IBM would be a serious contender for first place. Today the tech stalwart announced that it had come to an agreement to acquire Promontory Financial Group. 

To make sense of this deal, you have to avoid relegating Promontory into the small box of financial services. Instead, it’s most practical to think of it as a big data company that also has a services business. While it’s true that it works with some of the largest banks in the world, it has slowly amassed a collection of regulatory and compliance data. Promontory also has a workforce that includes over 600 experts in the space.

Earlier this year, IBM closed another equally obscure deal to acquire The Weather Company. However, these two deals have a lot in common and indicate that IBM is hungry for companies in non-traditional spaces that have access to large stores of information. The Weather Company deal gave IBM Watson access to a large collection of weather data that helped to augment and add value to the Watson system in a very short time frame. The Promontory data will do much the same.

Watson has grown to become one of IBM’s crown jewels. In the company’s Q2 earning report, IBM announced that its cognitive solutions division had posted revenues of $4.7 billion, up 4 percent year over year.

This deal puts IBM up against companies like Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg that have their own regulatory and compliance solutions for the financial services industry. These services are focused on tracking, monitoring and analyzing regulatory changes. Other companies like Palantir have developed legal and capital markets solutions for analyzing unstructured data for tasks like fraud production.

CO2 Concentrations Trend Stunningly Clear (Twitter)


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