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What We Read Today 20 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".).

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Topics today include:

  • The Smart Grid Could Save Money and CO2 Emissions

  • Some U.S. Cities are Seriously Under-invested in Water

  • U.S. Investor Confidence has Not Been this High Since Just Before the Financial Crash

  • How Will Self-Driving Cars Handle the Snow?

  • Why Trump Can't Deliver on Coal Promises

  • Animated Graphic History of U.S. Income Inequality

  • Pain is Rampant Among those Not in the Labor Force

  • FBI Warrant for Clinton E-Mails Released by Judge

  • How Trump Could Raise Clothing Costs for the Poor with Taxes

  • Secretary of the Interior Nominee Committed Expense Account Fraud

  • Most Recent Congress Did Less of 'Do-Nothing'

  • Berlin Assailant Still at Large - Incorrectly Arrested Suspect Released

  • China has Vital Interest in Reducing Fossil Fuel Usage

  • Brazil's Billion-Dollar Railroad to Nowhere

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world

U.S.

  • Trump team asks State Dept. what it spends on international environmental efforts (The Washington Post)  Donald Trump’s presidential transition team has asked State Department officials to disclose how much money it provides each year to international environmental groups. It’s the latest example of how the incoming administration is reassessing the U.S. government’s approach to tackling climate change and other environmental priorities.  The State Department has worked aggressively under President Obama to support international initiatives to cut greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change, but Trump has vowed to pull back from such efforts.  On Nov. 1, Trump said he would “cancel billions of dollars in global warming payments to the United Nations” and devote that money instead to green infrastructure projects and environmental protection.

  • Why Are So Many Men Not Working? They’re in Pain (Bloomberg)  A large share of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 who aren’t in the labor force may suffer from serious health conditions that are “a barrier to work” and suffer physical pain, sadness, and stress in their daily lives, according to research being presented next week by Princeton University labor economist Alan Krueger.  (Econintersect:  How much of these disabilities are cause of unemployment and how much is effect?)  For more details, see Where Have All the Workers Gone?

  • Trump's sons reportedly involved in charity event offering access to president-elect (CNBC)  Donald Trump's grown sons are involved in an inauguration weekend charity event offering packages that include private access to the president-elect, according to multiple reports.  Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are listed as "honorary co-chairmen" for the "Opening Day 2017" event, which is seeking donations for unnamed "conservation charities", according to a draft event brochure obtained by TMZThe Center for Public Integrity reported that the two Trump sons are listed as directors on a Texas nonprofit called the Opening Day Foundation, which is putting on the event and was created on Dec. 14.  Walter Kinzie, the chief executive of Texas event management company encore live, told Public Integrity that a nonprofit group with that name hired it to run the event. However, he told the outlet that the document TMZ acquired is not entirely accurate and that the Trump family members are not definitely participating.

  • FBI’s Request for Clinton E-Mails Is Released by U.S. Judge (Bloomberg)   A federal judge released the FBI’s warrant and application that enabled the agency to search for e-mails linked to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a laptop computer used by her aide Huma Abedin and Abedin’s estranged husband Anthony Weiner.  The redacted version of the document, unsealed by U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel, doesn’t immediately shed new light on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s decision to seek the warrant nine days before the presidential election. The redactions shield the identity of a supervisory FBI agent and two other individuals, who appear to be Abedin and Weiner, and black out several paragraphs.  Attorney Randol Schoenberg, who sued on Dec. 12 for the release, said in an e-mail after reviewing the documents:

"I see nothing at all in the search-warrant application that would give rise to probable cause.  I am appalled." 

  • How a controversial GOP plan could boost the taxes on a sweater from $1.75 to $17 (CNBC)  One of the provisions of proposed tax changes involves a huge increase on taxes pn imported clothing.  About 95% of clothing and shoes sold in the U.S. are manufactured overseas, which means imports make up a vast majority of many U.S. retailers' merchandise. The tax is aimed at encouraging more manufacturing in the U.S. as well as raising government funds.  Econintersect:  This would remove money from the economy, substantially from lower incomes.  Not a good strategy to grow the economy.

  • Trump's Pick for Interior Secretary was Caught in "Pattern of Fraud" at Seal Team 6 (The Intercept)  When when Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke was a mid-career officer at SEAL Team 6, he was caught traveling multiple times to Montana in 1998 and 1999 to renovate his home. Zinke claimed that the travel was for official duties, according to the sources.  Continuing:

He submitted travel vouchers and was compensated for the travel costs.

Two SEAL officers investigated Zinke’s records and discovered a yearslong “pattern of travel fraud,” according to two of the sources. When confronted about the trips, Zinke acknowledged that he spent the time repairing and restoring a home in Whitefish, Montana, and visiting his mother, according to two retired SEAL Team 6 leaders. The future lawmaker eventually told SEAL leaders that the Montana house was where he intended to live after he retired from the Navy.

After Zinke was caught and warned, he continued to travel home and submit the expenses to the Navy. The offense would normally have been serious enough to have ended Zinke’s career, but senior officers at SEAL Team 6 did not formally punish him. Zinke could have been referred for criminal charges, or subjected to a nonjudicial proceeding that would have censured him, likely removing him from the unit. Neither of those things happened, and he was allowed to finish his assignment at the elite unit.

Germany

"The executor of the operation.. in Berlin is a soldier of the Islamic state and he executed the operation in response to calls to target nationals of the coalition countries." 

China

  • How China Beats the U.S. at Clean-Air Progress (Bloomberg)  The Chinese are literaly dying from fossil fuels.  That is likely to help China to fix its carbon emissions problem, since such a fix can be packaged and sold to the citizenry along with concrete everyday improvements in breathability and urban visibility. The U.S. does not have the same options for convincing its citizens to bear the costs of a carbon tax or related measures.

beijing.air.pollution

Brazil

  • Brazil's billion-dollar railroad to nowhere (Reuters)  Pictured below:  The track of the Transnordestina railway comes to an end in Custodia, Brazil on Oct. 27, 2016. The failed infrastructure project was supposed to stretch 1700 km (1056 miles), connecting the remote state of Piaui to the ports of Pecem and Suape. After 10 years of construction and $1.76 billion of mostly public funds, the stalled project is less than half finished, with only 600 km (373 miles) of track laid.

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

This brief describes the current context for local water infrastructure investment in the United States, with a particular focus on large drinking water utilities. As concerns continue to ripple from incidents in Flint, Mich. and beyond, cities remain at the forefront of many investment challenges, yet they often do not have a clear sense of where they stand relative to other markets. By examining how cities vary across three measures of utility finances— operational performance, long-term debt, and rates—and three broader economic measures affecting system performance—changes in population, changes in median household income, and the share of lower-income households—this brief attempts to paint a more complete picture of regional water investment.

Only a handful of drinking water utilities in the largest cities, including those in Washington, Denver, and San Francisco, for example, perform well across all six indicators of financial and economic health. Meanwhile, many cities, from Detroit to Cleveland to Birmingham, Ala., are facing difficulties managing their utility finances while confronting difficult economic realities. Their challenges are spurring action in a variety of innovative planning approaches.

water.invest.perf.table.600x360

  • US investor optimism jumps to 9-year high: Survey (CNBC)  Individual investor optimism jumped to a nine-year high in November, according to the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index published Tuesday.  The 96 read last month marked the third straight quarterly rise and was up from 79 in the third quarter, the survey said. The last time the index approached the November level was before the financial crisis, in May 2007 with a read of 95, the report said. The index was at 103 in January 2007.  Econintersect:  How confident does that make you feel?

investor.confidence.1996.2016

  • How will self-driving cars handle the snow? (readwrite)  Over 70 percent of the nation’s roads are located in snowy regions that receive more than five inches of average snowfall each year. According to the Federal Highway Administration, over 70% of the United States population also live in those areas.  Suffice to say, driverless vehicles won’t matter one bit to Americans unless the cars can drive well in snowy weather. No one is likely to use a “fair weather” driverless car that must be taken off the road during the winter months.  One concern is snow and ice blocking sensors used to guide the car.  There are technology solutions for this problem, discussed in this article.

  • Five charts that show why Trump can’t deliver on his coal promises (Brookings)  President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to revive the coal industry and bring back coal mining jobs with fewer regulations and better trade deals. However, Trump’s vision of a revived coal industry that offers plentiful new jobs may remain just that: a vision.  With all of the talk about cleaner air and less CO2 emissions, the real reason is day one economics:  coal is just too expensive.  Natural gas is cheaper and much coal today costs more than renewable energy sources.  On top of that, the future cost trajectories are rising for fossil fuel sources and falling for renewables.  Click graphics for larger images.


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