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What We Read Today 21 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:

  • Inuits May Contain DNA from Extinct Hominids

  • 7 Things to Know about the Winter Solstice

  • How the Electoral College Came to Be

  • The Spiritual Crisis of the Modern Economy

  • A Discussion of the MICC

  • Obamacare Sign-ups Ahead of Previous Years' Schedules

  • China Foe Nominated for Trade Council Head

  • Trump's Budget Director Nominee has Some Strange Economic Ideas

  • Do We Need Any Government-Funded Research at All?

  • Know Terrorist Sought for Berlin Truck Massacre

  • Syria Peace Deal Will Not Involve U.S. or NATO

  • Israel Will Take Wounded Civilians from Aleppo

  • Bitcoin Blasts Past $800

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world

U.S.

  • 6.4M people sign up for ObamaCare so far (The Hill)  The Obama administration on Wednesday announced that 6.4 million people so far have signed up for ObamaCare coverage for next year, touting strong growth despite the threat of repeal.  The 6.4 million signups are through the preliminary deadline of Dec. 19, which is 400,000 more people compared to the numbers through last year’s preliminary deadline. The final deadline to enroll is not until Jan. 31, when the administration hopes to have a total of 13.8 million people.  Officials touted the number released Wednesday as evidence that people are still eager to sign up and get coverage despite the threat of Republicans repealing ObamaCare.  See also  If Not Obamacare, Then What? (The Atlantic)  This is a review of what some Trump voters want instead of Obamacare.

  • 10 health insurance ideas that could bloom in 2017 (LifeHealthPro)  Obama administration officials spent eight years shaping the health insurance regulatory landscape to their liking.  Now, Republicans are moving in with their own ideas of what to plant and what to prune.  Rep. Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia who was picked to be President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, described his vision for the health policy garden this way: “A health care system that works for patients, families, and doctors; that leads the world in the cure and prevention of illness; and that is based on sensible rules to protect the well-being of the country while embracing its innovative spirit.”  Here is a list of 10 products and services which "might bloom in 2017":

  1. Federal health agency officials will talk to agent and broker groups more often.

  2. Senior market program proposals that are flash but cheap, so-called 'senior nibbler' products.

  3. Clearing away Obama administration-related efforts to shield issuers of Affordable Care Act-compliant major medical coverage against competition from skimpier, cheaper alternatives.

  4. Big health account measures, both individual savings and employer funded.

  5. More minimum essential coverage plans that cover less.

  6. Voluntary risk pool programs.

  7. More private exchanges.

  8. Paperwork burden reductions.

  9. Expanded health data protection services.

  10. More Zika virus control programs.

  • Trump taps Peter Navarro to lead new WH trade council (The Hill)  President-elect Donald Trump is shaking up how the White House handles trade deals, appointing an economist with close ties to his campaign to lead a new advisory council.  Trump’s transition team announced Wednesday that Peter Navarro, a campaign and transition policy adviser and economics professor at the University of California, Irvine, will lead the new White House National Trade Council.  The trade council will advise Trump on trade negotiations and lead a program focused on buying American products and employing American workers for government projects.  Wednesday’s announcement signals Trump’s willingness to provoke China with policy, not just campaign rhetoric.  Like Trump, Navarro has been skeptical of previous trade deals, insisting they’re abused by international competitors and stifle American manufacturing. He’s written two books critical of Chinese foreign and economic policy — "Death by China: Confronting the Dragon – A Global Call to Action” and “Crouching Tiger: What China's Militarism Means for the World” — and he supports the Trump-proposed 45% import tax on Chinese goods.

  • Trump’s budget director has some awfully strange ideas about economic policy (Vox)  Matt Yglesias says that Trump's nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R, SC) has stated views on a number of crucial economic policy questions that "are absurd". If implemented, they could have "terrible consequences for the American economy".  Here is the list (see also next article):

  • There is no need for periodic increases in the federal government’s statutory debt ceiling.

  • The Fed has been "devaluing the dollar" during a period of time that the dollar has actually appreciated against world currencies by about 20%.

  • The devalued dollar has choked off economic growth.

  • U.S. citizens should look to Bitcoin rather than the dollar.

  • Trump's budget director pick: “Do we really need government-funded research at all” (Vox)   President-elect Donald Trump recently picked Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina to head the White House's Office of Management and Budget. Like many of Trump’s other Cabinet nominees, Mulvaney seems to have a disturbingly low opinion of science.  In a stunning September 9 Facebook post (that’s since been deleted but is still cached), Mulvaney asked, “... what might be the best question: do we really need government funded research at all”.  The post was written in the midst of a heated debate in Congress about how much more money to allocate to the fight against the Zika virus. It wasn’t clear whether Mulvaney, a budget hawk, was referring to all of the government’s scientific research or just to government-funded research on Zika. (We’ve asked his office for comment and haven’t heard back.)  But Mother Jones’s Pema Levy pointed out that Mulvaney exaggerated the uncertainty around the link between the birth defect microcephaly and Zika to cast doubt on the need for Zika research funding. His argument, in other words, was: Scientists aren’t sure what’s going on with Zika, so why do we need research?

Germany

  • Berlin attack: European arrest warrant issued for Tunisian suspect (The Guardian)  Germany’s security services are under intense pressure to explain how a Tunisian man who was under covert surveillance for several months and known to multiple intelligence agencies for apparent ties to Islamic extremists appeared to fall through the cracks and allegedly carry out Monday night’s truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin.  A European arrest warrant was issued on Wednesday for Tunisian citizen Anis Amri, 24, two days after the attack in which at least 12 people were killed and dozens of others were injured. Amri is feared to be armed and dangerous, and appears to have used six different aliases and three different nationalities.

Israel

  • Israel just announced it will take in wounded civilians from Aleppo (Vox)  Hat tip to Sig Silber.  Israel has spent years trying to avoid getting sucked into the vicious civil war raging in neighboring Syria. It’s now wading into the conflict in a way you wouldn’t expect.  On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he has ordered his government to “find ways” to bring injured civilians from Aleppo, Syria, to Israeli hospitals. That could clear the way for hundreds of Syrians, a country still technically at war with Israel, to cross into the country at the express invitation of a prime minister normally known for his hard-line positions on Iran, the Palestinians, and other issues.

Syria

  • Common ground on Syria unites Russia and Turkey against the west (The Guardian)  Exasperated by what he sees as the American failure to deliver on its promises to isolate the jihadis in the Syrian opposition, Putin plans with Turkey and Iran to prepare his own Syrian peace roadmap. He wants to capitalise on his military victory with a diplomatic triumph. Tuesday’s meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey Russia and Iran, with its portentous Moscow Declaration, is supposed to be the first stage in the closure of the civil war on Russian terms.  At this point at least, the Gulf States, Europe and the US are excluded from the process. Moscow even said:

“... almost every level of dialogue with the US is now frozen. We don’t communicate with one another, or if we do at minimal level”.

India

  • Bitcoin Price Blasts Past $800; May Hot $2000 by 2017 (Bitcoinist)  The exact date of the last time Bitcoin reached $800 USD was February 5th of 2014, and Bitcoin seems to have little resistance to future gains. Even Bitcoin’s scalability can no longer stop its growth, and this is for several reasons.  One of the supporting factors is the increasing use of bitcoin in India due to the shortage of cash there during "demonetization".  From Twitter:

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

  • Arctic Inuit, Native American cold adaptations may originate from extinct hominids (Phys.org)  Het tip to Roger Erickson.  In the Arctic, the Inuits have adapted to severe cold and a predominantly seafood diet. After the first population genomic analysis of the Greenland Inuits (Fumagalli, Moltke et al. 2015, Science doi: 10.1126/science.aab2319), a region in the genome containing two genes has now been scrutinized by scientists: TBX15 and WARS2. This region is thought to be central to cold adaptation by generating heat from a specific type of body fat, and was earlier found to be a candidate for adaptation in the Inuits.  Now, a team of scientists led by Fernando Racimo, Rasmus Nielsen et al. have followed up on the first natural selection study in Inuits to trace back the origins of these adaptations.  According to Fernando Racimo:

"The Inuit DNA sequence in this region matches very well with the Denisovan genome, and it is highly differentiated from other present-day human sequences, though we can't discard the possibility that the variant was introduced from another archaic group whose genomes we haven't sampled yet."

  • The winter solstice is Wednesday: 7 things to know about the shortest day of the year (Vox)  The winter solstice is upon us: Wednesday, December 21, will be the shortest day of 2016 for anyone living north of the equator (and Tuesday night will be the longest night of the year). If pagan rituals are your thing, this is probably a big moment for you. If not, the official first day of winter is neat for other reasons, too.  In this article is a short scientific guide to the solstice and the longest night of the year (though not, as we’ll see, the longest night in Earth’s history — that happened back in 1912).  Here are two of the excellent graphics in this article:

The crisis posed by the acquisition of unwarranted power by the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC) is a fundamental a problem distorting the American political economy. (An early draft of Eisenhower's speech included a reference to Congress, but is was subsequently dropped for reasons unknown.) The attached schematic summarizes the relations among the players in the MICC:


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