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What We Read Today 31 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:

  • Tesla Autodrive Accident Avoidance Caught on Video

  • The Closing of the Academic Mind

  • Many Americans Think Fake News is Sowing Confusion

  • Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car will Cost Twice as much to Drive as a Prius

  • U,S. Population Growth Rate in 2016 is Lower than Any Year Since 1932

  • U.S. Birth Rate has Fallen 30% Since 2000

  • The Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Problems for Donald Trump

  • Filling the Empty Seat on the Supreme Court is Shaping Up as Quite a Battle

  • Remember Obama's Problems with Congress?  Trump May Follow Suit

  • Is the Trump Trade Already Unwinding?

  • UK Sets New Record for Renewable Energy

  • Rebels Warn They Could Abandon Truce in Syria

  • Bombings Kill 29 in Baghdad

  • Russian Hacking Code Found in Vermont Utility Computer

  • Japan Wants Overworked Citizens to Start a Weekend Early

  • Japan Has More Car Charging Stations than Gas Stations

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • The Emoluments Clause: Its text, meaning, and application to Donald J. Trump (Brookings)  As careful students of history, the Framers were painfully aware that entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious risk to the Republic.  The Emoluments Clause was forged of their hard-won wisdom.  It is no relic of a bygone era, but rather an expression of insight into the nature of the human condition and the preconditions of self-governance.

Never in American history has a president-elect presented more conflict of interest questions and foreign entanglements than Donald Trump. Given the vast and global scope of Trump’s business interests, many of which remain shrouded in secrecy, we cannot predict the full gamut of legal and constitutional challenges that lie ahead.  But one violation, of constitutional magnitude, will run from the instant that Mr. Trump swears he will “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” While holding office, Mr. Trump will receive—by virtue of his continued interest in the Trump Organization and his stake in hundreds of other entities—a steady stream of monetary and other benefits from foreign powers and their agents.

In the attached brief, we examine the Emoluments Clause in detail and conclude that Donald Trump’s diverse dealings violate both the spirit and the letter of this critical piece of the U.S. Constitution.

Download “The Emoluments Clause: Its text, meaning, and application to Donald J. Trump.”

  • Where the supreme court battle goes from here: 'There will be a huge fight' (The Guardian)  Donald Trump has promised to nominate a conservative in the mould of Antonin Scalia – but Democrats seem ready to battle to prevent that from happening.

  • President Obama’s legislative legacy and what it means for the next administration (Brookings)  While President Obama had some legislative success his two terms were marked by extreme polarization in Congress, especilly the last 6 years.  This article suggests that Donald Trump may have similar difficulties.

  • Is the “Trump Trade” Already Unwinding? (Wolf Street)  Over the last ten days, the markets have been jinxed, and nearly everything changed direction. Stocks fell. Treasury yields backed off as beaten-down Treasury prices recovered a little bit. The much maligned dollar, after surging to a decade high, couldn’t quite get to parity with the euro, and then fell against the euro and yen. Banks got bruised. Even oil was down except over the last few hours Friday afternoon. And everyone has been feverishly waiting all month for the Dow to finally hit 20,000 any moment now. And everyone is still waiting….  The Dow peaked on December 20 at 19,975, a ridiculously small 25 points away from party-hat time. Everyone knew it would happen. In fact, it would have to happen because it was just a few decent trading moments away. But since then, Dow 20,000 slipped through the fingers like dry sand. It closed the year at 19,719, so 281 points below, after having been for a big part of the month within a hair of nailing it.  The S&P 500, after falling 0.5% on Friday, is now down 1.5% from its high on December 13. The rip-roaring Trump Trade since the Election has started to unwind (chart by Doug Short at Advisor Perspectives):


  • Christmas Day 2016 sets new UK record for renewable energy use (The Guardian)  Christmas Day was the greenest on record for energy generation, according to the power group Drax.  The company said more than 40% of the electricity generated on the day came from renewable sources, the highest ever. It compared with 25% on Christmas Day in 2015, and 12% in 2012.


  • U.N. Security Council welcomes Syria truce, rebels warn they could abandon it (Reuters)   The United Nations Security Council on Saturday welcomed a ceasefire in the Syrian civil war, but rebel groups threatened to abandon the two-day-old truce if violations persisted.  A resolution welcoming the ceasefire, the third truce this year seeking to end nearly six years of war, was adopted unanimously by the 15-member Council, meeting in New York.  The deal, brokered by Russia and Turkey, which back opposing sides, reduced violence, but firefights, air strikes and shelling went on in some areas.  Factions belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) - a loose alliance of militias excluding more radical Islamist groups - said government forces and Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah fighters had been trying to push rebels back in the Wadi Barada valley, northwest of Damascus. A statement from the rebel groups:

"Continued violations by the regime and bombardment and attempts to attack areas under the control of the revolutionary factions will make the agreement null and void." 


  • Baghdad blasts kill 29 as Mosul fighting intensifies (Reuters)  Three bombs killed 29 people in Baghdad on Saturday as fighting intensified in the northern city of Mosul, where Iraqi government forces are trying to rout Islamic State militants from their last major stronghold in the country.  Blasts, including one suicide attack, tore through a busy market in the Sinak neighborhood, police said. A pro-Islamic State news agency said the target was Shi'ite Muslims, whom the militants regard as apostates.  A third blast later in the day killed four people in the eastern New Baghdad district, where a minibus packed with explosives blew up in a busy commercial street, police and medics said.  Islamic State has continued to launch attacks in the heavily fortified capital, even after losing most of the northern and western territory it seized in 2014.


  • Russian Hacking Code Found in Vermont Power Utility Computer (Bloomberg)  Computer code connected to Russian cyberattacks by U.S. intelligence agencies has been found in a laptop computer at a Vermont electric utility, a development that emerged a day after the Obama administration hit Russia with sanctions for hacking during this year’s U.S. election.  The laptop wasn’t connected to the power grid at the time, the Burlington Electric Department said in a statement on Friday. It said it scanned its computer network and found the malware after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent out an alert about the code to owners and operators of critical infrastructure.


  • Japan Wants Its Overworked Citizens to Start Weekends Early (Bloomberg)  The country that coined the word "karoshi," or death by overwork, wants companies to let workers finish early on the last Friday of every month, go out and have fun.  In an effort to curb excessive work hours and to spur consumption, the Japanese government and business groups are launching a "Premium Friday" campaign, scheduled to start on February 24.  Although it's unknown how many companies will participate, the nation’s biggest business lobby, Keidanren, wrote to its more than 1,300 member companies, encouraging them to take part.

  1. An unsepecified number of the charging stations are situated in private garages, not available to the public.

  2. Also, the government is actually offering more incentives and support for H2 fuel cell autos than for electric cars.


  • China’s Xi Vows to Defend Maritime Interests, Sovereignty in ’17 (Bloomberg)  Chinese President Xi Jinping said the country will deepen reforms as he vowed to safeguard its sovereignty and maritime interests in 2017, a year that will present fresh international and domestic challenges for the leaders in Beijing.  In a New Year’s speech published Saturday by Xinhua, Xi said the outcome of reforms should benefit more people and he vowed to address difficulties in areas such as employment, education, health care and housing. He also said the country adheres to peaceful development and resolutely safeguards its sovereignty and maritime interests.

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

  • Watch a Tesla predict a car crash 2 vehicles ahead (Mashable)  Dash cam footage from a Tesla shows the car's autopilot function predicting a car accident before anyone saw it coming.  In the clip, first uploaded to Twitter by Hans Noordsij, a group of cars can be seen traveling down the A2 highway in the Netherlands.  The Forward Collision Warning on the Tesla beeps, and the emergency braking system kicks in. A brief moment later, the vehicle in front of the Tesla rear ends and SUV, which then flips before quickly coming to a stop.

  • The Closing of the Academic Mind (Project Syndicate)  In the United States and the United Kingdom, some students and teachers now seek to constrain argument and debate. They contend that people should not be exposed to ideas with which they strongly disagree. Moreover, they argue that history should be rewritten to expunge the names (though not the endowments) of those who fail to pass today’s tests of political correctness. Thomas Jefferson and Cecil Rhodes, among others, have been targeted. And how would Churchill and Washington fare if the same tests were applied to them?

  • Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion (Pew Research Center)  According to a new survey by Pew Research Center, most Americans suspect that made-up news is having an impact. About two-in-three U.S. adults (64%) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. This sense is shared widely across incomes, education levels, partisan affiliations and most other demographic characteristics. 

Though they sense these stories are spreading confusion, Americans express a fair amount of confidence in their own ability to detect fake news, with about four-in-ten (39%) feeling very confident that they can recognize news that is fabricated and another 45% feeling somewhat confident. Overall, about a third (32%) of Americans say they often see political news stories online that are made up. While it is difficult to measure the precise extent to which people actually see news that has been completely fabricated – given that news consumers could see but not recognize made-up news stories as well as mistake factual stories for false ones — these figures provide a high-level sense of the public’s perception of this kind of content.

And some Americans say they themselves have shared fake news. Overall, 23% say they have ever shared a made-up news story, with 14% saying they shared a story they knew was fake at the time and 16% having shared a story they later realized was fake.

  • Toyota’s Fuel Cell Car: Pay Twice as Much per Mile Than Prius Hybrid (Transport evolved)  It promises to combine the freedom of gasoline vehicles with the environmental benefits of purely electric cars, but hydrogen fuel cell cars won’t be as cheap to fuel as either.   That’s the frank admittance of Toyota’s senior vice president Bob Carter, who told those at the JP Morgan Auto Conference in New York yesterday that the cost of filling up Toyota’s first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell car would initially be more than paying for a tank of gasoline.   From that, expect a range of around 300 miles.

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