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What We Read Today 25 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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Merry Christmas!  (Hat tip to @momma_rocker)


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Topics today include:

  • Thirteen Historical Events that Occurred on December 25 (1776-2009)

  • Where Did Fake News Come From?

  • Why Do We Believe Fake News?

  • Give Your Spouse What They Really Want for Christmas

  • Trump Could Threaten Sugary Drink Taxes

  • Six million Households Could Quickly Lose Cost-Sharing Subsidies for Obamacare

  • Progressive Organizations Have Been Flooded with Donations

  • GM Has a Car Glut, is Closing Factories and Laying-off Workers

  • London May Lose Firms to Dublin

  • Britain May Get Empathetic Robot Bank Tellers

  • Israel Reassessing UN Ties

  • Iran Closes Boeing Deal at 'Half Price'

  • Russian Air Crash Kills Red Army Choir Members

  • Major Earthquake in Chile

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • Sugary drink taxes could be threatened by Trump administration, experts say (The Guardian)  Donald Trump’s team, which includes head of biggest soda lobby, and a Republican Congress could side with beverage industry and undo progress, advocates warn.   Sugary drink tax success in the US has followed momentum internationally. Several countries have introduced the taxes in recent years, including Mexico, which introduced the tax in January 2014 and the UK, which is set to introduce its sugary drink tax in 2018.  When 2016 started, Berkeley, California was the only US jurisdiction with a sugary drink tax, which passed in 2014.  But this year, Americans voted by referendum to institute the taxes in four cities, and city officials passed taxes in two other metropolitan areas: Philadelphia and Cook County, Illinois – a 5.2 million person jurisdiction that includes Chicago.  The worry of backers is that Trump and Congress could pass laws that supercede local efforts to tax sugar drinks.

  • Trump could quickly doom ACA cost-sharing subsidies for millions of Americans  (The Washington Post)  This is a complicated story with the bottom line that it would be a lump of coal for Christmas for about half of the lower income American households with Obamacare coverage in 2017:

Even without Congress repealing the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration could undermine the law by unilaterally ending billions of dollars the government pays insurers to subsidize the health coverage of nearly 6 million Americans.

Given that insurers would still be required to provide consumers that financial help, such a move could create upheaval in the ACA’s marketplaces — prompting health plans to raise their prices or drop out, according to health-policy experts in both major political parties.

Intervention by the new president to stop the payments “would precipitate a pretty serious crisis almost immediately” unless Congress stepped in, said James Capretta, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The money is for a kind of financial assistance that is less familiar than the tax credits the law gives most people for their ACA plan premiums. These “cost-sharing reductions” are designed instead to lower the deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket fees for nearly half the customers this year.

The payments are expected to total $9 billion in 2017. Eligible consumers would not feel their loss right away because the law still would compel insurers to lower the fees charged. But without government money to make up the difference, the insurers would take an instant hit.

The subsidies could be eliminated as soon as President-elect Donald Trump takes office, a consequence of an unusual lawsuit that House Republicans brought against the Obama administration two years ago.

The GOP’s case, part of its sustained attack on the 2010 law, contends that the cost-sharing reductions to insurers are illegal because Congress has not provided a specific appropriation for them — an argument the administration disputes. In May, a federal district judge ruled in favor of the House but left the subsidies in place while Obama officials appealed the decision.

Once Trump is sworn in, his administration could simply drop the appeal. At that point, the payments would stop, barring a reversal by the Republicans who sued to get rid of the subsidies. Lawmakers would then have to approve funds to keep the payments in place. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has granted a House request to pause the case until Trump takes office.

  • Progressive causes see 'unprecedented' upswing in donations after US election (The Guardian)  From smaller local organizations to household names such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, nonprofit organizations across the US reported fundraising tallies many magnitudes higher than in previous years as they approached their end-of-year donation drives.  Progressive causes in the US saw a spike in donations immediately after the election on 8 November from voters dismayed, outraged or even frightened by the outcome. In the weeks since, this wave of strategic giving has compounded.

  • “Car Recession” Bites GM: Inventory Glut, Layoffs, Plant Shutdowns (Wolf Street)  GM has been reacting to its fabulously ballooning inventory glut by piling incentives on its vehicles. But that hasn’t worked all that well though it cost a lot of money. Now it’s time to get serious.  It will temporarily close five assembly plants in January and lay off over 10,000 employees, spokeswoman Dayna Hart said Monday (19 December).  There is a big earnings adjustment coming for GM - cars shipped to dealers are accounted as sold.  Plants that assemble cars will be hit, according to the Associated Press:

The company’s Detroit-Hamtramck factory and Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas City, Kansas, each will be shut down for three weeks, while a plant in Lansing, Michigan, will be down for two weeks. Factories in Lordstown, Ohio, and Bowling Green, Kentucky, each will be idled for one week.

The factories make most cars in the General Motors lineup including the Chevrolet Cruze, Camaro, Corvette, Malibu, Volt, and Impala; the Cadillac CT6, CTS and ATS; and the Buick LaCrosse.



  • Dozens of UK banks and financial firms 'looking at moving to Ireland' (The Guardian)  The head of the agency tasked with attracting foreign investment to Ireland says City corporations are interested in relocating.  Banks and financial institutions make up the overwhelming majority of more than 100 companies inquiring about relocating to Ireland after Brexit, according to Martin Shanahan, the chief executive of the Industrial Development Agency (IDA).  Shanahan said that many of the corporations looking to move were based in the City of London.

  • Britain’s most hated bank is rolling out a robot teller that shows empathy (Quartz)   The latest effort in the banking world (there are already robotic bank receptionists in China and Japan) is to take the rote responses of bots to the next level, by adding a touch of human empathy. The Royal Bank of Scotland (paywall) plans to unveil its new artificial intelligence system, known as “Luvo,” by the end of the year.  The AI service, designed by IBM, will attend to customer banking needs through its mobile or online as a chatbot. It will function similarly to Siri, the iPhone virtual assistant that answers questions with a distinct voice and “personality.” Customers will be able to ask various questions and request services, like replacing a lost bank card or changing a PIN number. Eventually, the bank says, Luvo’s capabilities will surpass Siri’s, by tweaking its tone and replies to convey an understanding of customers’ moods, like frustration or unhappiness.



  • Israel to ‘reassess’ ties with UN, says Benjamin Netanyahu The Guardian)  Israel will reassess its ties with the UN following the adoption by the security council of a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has announced.  The vote was able to pass the 15-member council on Friday after the US broke with a longstanding approach of diplomatically shielding Israel and did not wield its veto power as it had many times before – a decision that Netanyahu called “shameful”.  Netanyahu said on Saturday:

“I instructed the foreign ministry to complete within a month a re-evaluation of all our contacts with the United Nations, including the Israeli funding of UN institutions and the presence of UN representatives in Israel.  I have already instructed to stop about 30 million shekels (£6.3 million, $6.6 million) in funding to five UN institutions, five bodies, that are especially hostile to Israel … and there is more to come."


  • Iran says it sealed Boeing plane deal at half price (Reuters)  Iran said on Sunday it had negotiated to pay only about half the announced price for 80 new Boeing (BA.N) airliners in an order that the American planemaker had said was worth $16.6 billion.  Boeing and its European rival Airbus (AIR.PA) have both signed huge contracts this month to supply airliners to Iran, the first such deals since international sanctions were lifted under a deal to curb Tehran's nuclear program.  Replacing Iran's antiquated civil aviation fleet is one of the biggest economic opportunities of the 2015 accord to lift sanctions, which was negotiated by the outgoing administration of U.S. President Barack Obama. President elect Donald Trump is a vocal critic of the pact.  Despite Iran's great need for new planes to replace those from the sanctions era, it has entered the market at a time when Boeing, Airbus and smaller planemakers have all faced a downturn in orders, and are therefore expected to offer deep discounts.  Boeing said this month it was cutting production of its 777 long-haul jet due to a drop in demand.

  • Iran allows free foreign exchange at banks in move to unify rates (Reuters)  Iran authorized some banks on Saturday to deal in foreign exchange trading at a free-market rate, the central bank said, as authorities try to unify exchange rates.  Iran operates two exchange rates, a free market rate, which was at around 40,140 rials to the dollar on Saturday and an official rate used for some state transactions, set by the central bank at around 32,300 rials.  In recent months, the central bank has raised the official rate gradually to shrink the gap between the two. It has said it wants to unify the exchange rate, to make the economy more efficient and create a level field for private firms competing with state institutions with access to cheaper foreign exchange.


  • All 92 on Syria-bound Russian military jet killed in crash, including 60 from Red Army Choir (Reuters)  A Russian military plane carrying 92 people, including dozens of Red Army Choir singers, dancers and orchestra members, crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, killing everyone on board, Russian authorities said.  The Russian Defence Ministry said one of its TU-154 Tupolev planes had disappeared from radar screens at 0525 MSK (0225 GMT), two minutes after taking off from Sochi in southern Russia, where it had stopped to refuel from Moscow, on its way to Syria.  Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a ministry spokesman, told reporters that nobody had survived.


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

  • Today in History: December 25 (MSN News)  Slide show with 13 moments in history that occurred on December 25  over a period of 234 years, from 1776 to 2009. 

  • Where fake news came from — and why some readers believe it (Los Angeles Times)  If a lie is telling you something you want to hear, you’re more likely to think it’s true.  That explains much about the success of fake news.  But fake news is not new.  In the U.S., what today might be considered propaganda or fake news was commonly accepted practice in the late 18th and 19th centuries, said Andie Tucher, a historian and journalism professor at Columbia University.  He said:

“Newspapers were very political in the early years of the republic.  There was no understanding and no expectation that news should be impartial. News was the thing that expressed opinion.”

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