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What We Read Today 19 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:

  • North America's Lost Medieval City

  • Critical Theory in the Age of Trump

  • Is Trump America's Berlusconi?

  • Instagram is the Jewel of the Facebook Portfolio

  • Instagram is Worth More than Snapchat and Twitter Combined

  • Trump Cruises to Electoral College Victory

  • Bad Losers and What They Fear Losing

  • Clinton's Defeat and the Fake News Conspiracy

  • Is the Rural Voice Justification for the Electoral College?

  • French Court Convicts Lagarde in a Criminal Case

  • German Wikileaks from Internal Sources, Not Russian Hackers

  • Russian Ambassador to Turkey Assassinated

  • Aleppo Evacuation

  • Obama's Aleppo Defense

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • Trump cruises to Electoral College victory despite protests (Associated Press)   There were many protesters but few faithless electors as Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote Monday — ensuring that the billionaire will become America's 45th president.  An effort by anti-Trump forces to persuade Republican electors to abandon the president-elect came to practically nothing and the process unfolded largely according to its traditions. Trump's polarizing victory Nov. 8 and the fact Democrat Hillary Clinton had won the national popular vote had stirred an intense lobbying effort, but to no avail.  Even one of Trump's fiercest Republican rivals, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said it was time to get behind the president-elect.  "We want unity, we want love", Kasich said as Ohio's electors voted to back Trump at a statehouse ceremony. Kasich refused to endorse or even vote for Trump in the election.  With several states still voting, Trump had 304 votes and Clinton had 169. It takes 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency. Texas put Trump over the top, despite two Republican electors casting protest votes.  Befitting an election filled with acrimony, thousands of protesters converged on state capitols across the country Monday, urging Republican electors to abandon their party's winning candidate.  The final vote has not been tallied, although Trump is not expected to get any more electoral votes.

  • The Bad Losers (And What They Fear Losing) (CounterPunch)  Hat tip to Roger Erickson.  Interesting discussion here about America's place in the world.  Excerpt below.  As far as why Clinton lost:  A total of about 41,000 people in three states voted for Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton.  In view of all the garbage in play during the campaign, Econintersect suggests attributing the outcome to any 1, 2, or 3 factors is ridiculous.  See also Clinton’s Defeat and the Fake News Conspiracy.

If the 2016 presidential campaign was a national disgrace, the reaction of the losers is an even more disgraceful spectacle.  It seems that the political machine backing Hillary Clinton can’t stand losing an election.

And why is that?

Because they are determined to impose “exceptional” America’s hegemony on the entire world, using military-backed regime changes, and Donald Trump seems poised to spoil their plans.  The entire Western establishment, roughly composed of neoconservative ideologues, liberal interventionists, financial powers, NATO, mainstream media and politicians in both the United States and Western Europe, committed to remaking the Middle East to suit Israel and Saudi Arabia and to shattering impertinent Russia, have been thrown into an hysterical panic at the prospect of their joint globalization project being sabotaged by in ignorant intruder.

Donald Trump’s expressed desire to improve relations with Russia throws a monkey wrench into the plans endorsed by Hillary Clinton to “make Russia pay” for its bad attitude in the Middle East and elsewhere. If he should do what he has promised, this could be a serious blow to the aggressive NATO buildup on Russia’s European borders, not to mention serious losses to the U.S. arms industry planning to sell billions of dollars worth of superfluous weapons to NATO allies on the pretext of the “Russian threat”.

The war party’s fears may be exaggerated, inasmuch as Trump’s appointments indicate that the United States’ claim to be the “exceptional”, indispensable nation will probably survive the changes in top personnel.  But the emphasis may be different. And those accustomed to absolute rule cannot tolerate the challenge.

  • GOP electors cite rural voice in Electoral College (Associated Press)  Hat tip to Sig Silber. This article is a good discussion of the rhetoric about popular vote vs. electoral vote for U.S. president.  One wonders about the objectivity when a popular vote result quoted is a couple of weeks old ("some 2.6 million" pluraity for Clinton).  The latest count reported by Wikepedia is 2.87 million.  The popular vote margin in 2016 is not central to the arguments for or against the electoral college in general, but if it is to be mentioned the number should at least be correctly stated.  More than 2.6 million would have served that purpose.  Finally, the small state vs big state argument seems superfluous when the actual voting outcomes in recent presidential elections is reviewed.  Econintersect is working on such an analysis to be published in the near future.  The ultimate question to be resolved is: "should a vote president in Vermont or Wyoming count 4.5 X as much as a vote in California or Texas?"  There are valid arguments on both sides of that question.


  • Court says IMF chief Lagarde guilty - without penalty (Frankfurter Allgemein)  IMF CEO Christine Lagarde has been found guilty in a criminal case in Paris but is not punished. She is said to have been negligent in her time as French Minister of Finance, allowing an embezzlement of public funds. The IMF board now wants to discuss the consequences.  The conviction of the French Special Court does not result in an entry into the French criminal record.  This article says:

The decision shattered Lagardé's credibility. According to earlier data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, there is no requirement according to which Lagarde would have to give up its office in case of conviction.Nevertheless, he now wants to call his governing body. "The Board of Directors is expected to meet shortly to discuss recent developments," said IWF communications chief Gerry Rice in a statement. The Panel had already discussed the consequences of the Lagardes court case in France in previous meetings.


  • Truck rams German Christmas market, killing at least 9 (Associated Press)   A truck rammed into a crowded Christmas market in central Berlin on Monday evening, killing at least nine people as it tore through tables and wooden stands. Many others were injured. Police said a suspect believed to be the driver was arrested nearby and a passenger was dead.  The vehicle crashed into the market outside the capital's popular Christmas market at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. AP Television footage showed a large Scania truck with its windshield smashed out on the sidewalk alongside the market, with a swarm of ambulances nearby. A large Christmas tree with a gold star on top was toppled over nearby in the street, and tree branches were crushed under the truck's tires.  Police said they were still investigating whether the crash was deliberate. But it came less than a month after a U.S. State Department calling for caution in markets and other public places, saying extremist groups including Islamic State and al-Qaida were focusing "on the upcoming holiday season and associated events".  Islamic State and al-Qaida have both called on followers to use trucks in particular to attack public places.

  • Quelle für Enthüllungen im Bundestag vermutet (Frankfurter Allgemein)  Hat tip to Roger Erickson.  Two excerpts in German are followed by translation.  Headline in English is:  "Source Suspected of Revelations in the Bundestag".  The crux of the facts is that the 2015 hack involved 16 GB of data, but Wilkileaks has published 90 GB covering many more areas that were in the hacked material.

Hinter der Veröffentlichung Tausender Dokumente aus dem NSA-Untersuchungsausschuss waren zuletzt russische Hacker vermutet worden. Jetzt gehen die Behörden von einer undichten Stelle im Bundestag selbst aus. 

Dem Bericht nach sind Sicherheitsbehörden des Bundes überzeugt, dass nicht Hacker die Anfang Dezember von der Internetplattform Wikileaks veröffentlichten 2420 Dokumente entwendet haben. Erst recht gebe es keinen Hinweis darauf, dass das Material 2015 bei dem Cyberangriff auf den Bundestag gestohlen worden sei, heiße es in Sicherheitskreisen.

After the publication of thousands of documents from the NSA investigation committee, Russian hackers had recently been suspected. Now the authorities are suspecting a leak in the Bundestag itself.

The report referred to security authorities of the Federation being convinced that not the beginning of December of the Internet platform Hackers Wikileaks have stolen published in 2420 documents. There was certainly no evidence that the material had been stolen in the cyber attack on the Bundestag in 2015, it was called into security crises.


  • Witness to an assassination: AP photographer captures attack (Associated Press)  The Russian ambassador to Turkey was assasinated today at an art exhibition in Ankara.  The assassin, who was killed in a 15-minute shoot-out, shouted during the killing.  Here is the AP account from their photographer:

"Don't forget Aleppo. Don't forget Syria!" the gunman shouted in Turkish, referring to the Syrian city where Russian bombardments have helped drive rebels from areas they had occupied for years during the war. He also shouted "Allahu akbar" but I couldn't understand the rest of what he said in Arabic.


  • Aleppo girl whose tweets captured world attention evacuated (Associated Press)    A Syrian girl from eastern Aleppo whose tweets from the war zone captivated world attention was evacuated to safety Monday, part of an evacuation deal that saw the remaining residents of the former rebel enclave head to other parts of the country.  "I escaped from East #Aleppo", she tweeted after arriving in Rashidin, an area west of Aleppo, after she and her mother were evacuated from the war-torn east of the city.  Seven-year-old Bana Alabed's mother Fatemah set up and began operating the account in September, tweeting on her daughter's behalf, they documented the horrors of living through the government's assault on eastern Aleppo, which destroyed much of the city. Their account eventually garnered some 334,000 followers.

  • Obama’s Aleppo defense (Al Monitor)  Hat tip to Roger Erickson.  Here is an Arab world newspaper's summary of the situation in Syria, and in Aleppo specifically.

The beginning of the end of the siege of Aleppo proceeds with inexcusable agony for residents of what was Syria’s largest city.

US President Barack Obama, at a press conference Dec. 16, said that although as president he “always feel[s] responsible,” the blame for the “brutality” in Aleppo rests “in one place alone — with the Assad regime and its allies Russia and Iran. And this blood and these atrocities are on their hands.” Obama, who is regularly and often unfairly skewered by critics for his "failure" in Syria, explained that “unless we were all in and willing to take over Syria, we were going to have problems. … I understand the impulse to want to do something. But ultimately, what I’ve had to do is to think about what can we sustain, what is realistic.” In referencing his approach to pursue a diplomatic solution, which he continues to believe is “the right approach,” Obama said, “I cannot claim that we have been successful.”

Obama might have cast a wider net in assigning blame to include those regional powers who have allowed, or even facilitated, the rise of the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, all in the name of deposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Jabhat al-Nusra, which changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, is now the largest al-Qaeda affiliate ever thanks to the support of some US regional allies, as none other than US Vice President Joe Biden explained two years ago.

The Syrian government’s apparent victory in Aleppo, which wrought unconscionable suffering, hopefully signals an irreversible setback for Jabhat al-Nusra, which, according to UN special Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, has held the city’s residents “hostage,” as we reported here in October

The mainstream press often appears to obscure, or overlook, or not know, that the point of the spear for the “rebels” in Aleppo are Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies, including Ahrar al-Sham, even though this information is well-documented in the weekly “Syrian Situation Report” and other sources

Similarly, almost never mentioned in press accounts is that these terrorists and armed groups rule through intimidation, fear and Islamic law in areas they control. This column has been one of the few to give prominence to Amnesty International’s must-read report on life inside areas under control of armed groups in Aleppo and Idlib. The report’s press release pointed out that these “groups operating in Aleppo, Idlib and surrounding areas in the north of Syria have carried out a chilling wave of abductions, torture and summary killings,” including the targeting of children and journalists. 


  • (Doctored) Photo (Forwarded by Cliffford Johnson and Rpger Erickson)  This goes a considerable step beyond fake news.  But it is funny.


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

  • Finding North America’s lost medieval city (ars technica)  At the height of its development, around 1050 AD, the city of Cahokia was larger than either London or Paris at that time.  The actual name of the city when it existed is not known. The name Cahokia is given because that was the name of the Indian tribe living in the area when the first European explorers arrive more than 150 years after the last inhabitants abandoned it and 500 years after its zenith.  The city stood where East St. Louis, Illinois is today, with suburbs across the river at the current location of St. Louis.  The city stood about 10 miles south of the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and  20 miles south of the Illinois River's mouth into the Mississippi providing waterway passages to much of the center of the continent, including the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes.  The picture below is an artist's rendition of what the public area at the center of the city might have looked like, dominated by a 100 foot high pyramid (existing today as Monk's Mound).

Click for large image.

  • Critical Theory in the Age of Trump (CounterPunch)  This is a critical analysis which cannot be accused of pulling punches (pardon the punish reference to the publication).  Here is the start of the article:

In the early 1930s, a maverick group of academics anticipated the rise of demagogues such as Trump: at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany. They were living through the horrific rise of Hitler, who rose from the ashes of the Reichstag, who promised to put an end to the corruption, moral bankruptcy, and the national humiliation and weakness of the short-lived Weimar Republic. Many of these researchers need no introduction: Adorno, Horkheimer, Arendt, Benjamin.

Of course, Trump is no Hitler, and history does not repeat, but it does rhyme, as Twain said. Trump is our own Berlusconi, a small-minded bigot, kleptocrat and tax evader, a narcissist, a world class womanizer and misogynist. At the same time, they both have the Teflon man condition: none of their brazen criminality and deviance seems to stick.

This is undoubtedly related to the childlike immaturity and emotionality of western electorates, who are willing to forgive any strongman/clown as long as the appearance of strength and national glory is upheld. All this chauvinistic patriotism comes at a huge cost, however. Rather than focusing on the material conditions of poverty and spiritual malaise, collectively, our gaze is diverted. Slavish devotion to the state, militarism, and to technology has only brought us closer to the brink of disaster, even as most people taken the rationality of the system as a given.

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