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What We Read Today 13 January 2017

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:

  • Baboons Can Make Humanlike Speech Sounds

  • What does Post-Truth Mean for a Philosopher?

  • Lady Liberty as a Black Woman

  • Tesla Unveils Pricing Structure for Supercharging Stations

  • Why it's Impossible to Predict when that Giant Antarctic Ice Sheet will Split

  • There is a Big Crack between Trump and Capital Hill Republicans

  • Between Trump and GOP:  Can Both Survive?

  • Ode to Obama and Legacy of Failure:  Two Views

  • GOP Strips Contraception Coverage from Healthcare

  • The Three-Step Plan to Repeal Obamacare

  • How the GOP Could End CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program)

  • GOP Strategy:  Repeal Obamacare and Blame it On the Democrats

  • Assad Ordered Chemical Attacks:  UN Observers

  • Parting Shot from Samantha Powers Leaving the UN:  Iran Deal is Working

  • China's Yuan Problems

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • Why it's Impossible to Predict when that Giant Antarctic Ice Sheet will Split (Wired)  Over recent months, scientists working in Antarctica have been watching a fissure growing in the continent’s fourth-largest ice shelf. Since last November, the crack has lengthened by some 90 miles. It has 13 miles more before it rends completely, and a chunk of ice the size of Delaware goes bobbing into the Weddell Sea. The calving chunk could be a sign that the entire Larsen C ice shelf—nearly twice the size of Massachusetts—is breaking apart.  Then again, it could mean nothing. Other similar fissures have existed for years in other Antarctic ice shelves and they still haven't fractured.



  • Deportation of the undocumented

  • Medicare reform

  • Russia

  • Repeal and Replace Obamacare

  • Muslim ban

  • Support of NATO

  • Term Limits

In Obama’s mind, his tenure has been nothing short of unbelievable.

That’s not how most Americans feel, though. Voters rejected continuity with Obama’s policies in favor of uncertain change, placing power in the hands not just of a political novice, but a man of questionable judgment and temper. That’s how much Americans disagree that Obama’s time in the White House has been a success. It is a sobering indictment...

...his entire approach to governance belied a conceit that the major questions of policy had been settled. From health care to climate change to financial regulation, the question was not whether the federal government should take action, but what the details should look like.

If Obama’s domestic legacy is evanescent, his enduring legacy will be in foreign policy. In 2008, Obama promised to “restore our moral standing” in the world, by which he meant that America would retreat from the international stage to “focus on nation-building here at home.”

In practice, that meant abandoning the Middle East and allowing ISIS to rise from the ashes of Iraq. Obama was elected on nothing so much as a desire among Americans to be done with that part of the world, and Obama had an idea how to do it: elevate Iran as a regional hegemon to replace America.

  • Ode to Obama (The New York Times, MSN News)  From an avowed Obama supporter:

Even more impressive is Obama’s skill for raising and parsing delicate issues like race, so that all of the people involved feel respected and represented, so that all participants in the debate feel that they have been truly heard and seen.

He hasn’t always gotten this right. No human being has always gotten everything right. Holding him to that impossible standard hardly seems fair. But he started from a very strong and respectable position and has grown even more steady and sure from there.

So as the end of his presidency draws close, America is confronted with the reality of what is being lost. It is no wonder that a Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday found that “American voters approve 55–39 percent of the job President Barack Obama is doing, his best approval rating in seven years.” For comparison, Trump’s approval rating as the president-elect is only 37 percent.

Obama wasn’t perfect, but neither is anyone — you or I — and neither was any other president. But Obama is a good man and a good president. Some would argue that he was great on both counts.

We will remember that — and miss it — when Trump’s whirlwind of scandal, conflict, crudeness, boorishness and vindictiveness barrels into Washington.

The suspicious similarity between Kremlin propaganda and Trump propaganda surely cannot mean,, that the Kremlin,,influences the Trump campaign? Surely not. Preposterous notion. But just in case the patterns don't go away, remember: the Kremlin's goal is not merely to create national bifurcation. The goal is to create confusion of allegiance, of trust, of truth, loss of faith in the open society, in the very epistemology of empirical fact. You'd think such a quasi-metaphysical inversion of all certainty couldn't be deliberately achieved. You'd have to be paranoid to believe that.

Believe it. Because we have the established record in other countries, in Russia, in Georgia, in Turkey, in Poland and Hungary.

Populists govern by swapping issues, as opposed to resolving them. Purposeful randomness, constant ambush, relentless slaloming and red herrings dropped all around are the new normal. Their favorite means of communication is provoking conflict. They do not mind being hated. Their two basic postures of “defending” and “triumphing” are impossible to perform without picking enemies.

I was terrified to learn that pundits in the United States have started to elaborate on possible benefits of Trump’s stances toward Russia and China. Few developments are more frightening than the populist edition of George Orwell’s dystopia. The world is now dominated by three gigantic powers, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, a.k.a. the United States, Russia and China, and all three are governed by promises of making their realms “great again.”

Please do not forget that populists can turn into peaceniks or imperialists at any moment, depending on what they think could yield good spin that boosts their support. Remember how Putin and Erdogan had switched, within months this year, from warring to fraternity. Or how [Hungary prime minister] Orban in opposition had blasted any compromises with Russia, only to become Putin’s best friend upon his election.

Late last night, the Senate took the first step toward dismantling the Affordable Care Act. As part of the proceeding, Democratic senators introduced a series of amendments, most of which were designed to spotlight highly popular provisions of the ACA that will be lost if the law is repealed. Republicans voted them all down. The action was mostly political theater, but it was a discouraging glimpse at the state of GOP thinking on health care.

Voting on the amendments lasted almost seven hours. One of the many amendments Republicans struck down was one in support of requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of contraceptives. If that measure is reflected in the bill that eventually repeals Obamacare (we are still some distance from that), it would leave 55 million women without no-co-pay birth control.

  • Republicans' Three-Step Plan to Kill Obamacare:  Step 1 Complete (Wired)  Republicans have passed a budgetary resolution bill that defunds Obamacare.  That can be done with a simple majority, which thus bill received, 51-48 with Rand Paul (R, KY) abstaining.  Things that will go away with budgetary voting rules are provisions such as the mandate, premium supplements for lower incomes and Medicaid expansion.  If both the House and the Senate pass budgets with funding removed, Obamacare will be crippled if and when signed by President Donald Trump.  But the provisions of the law such as prexisting conditions and up to age 26 on parents' policies will remain on the books, only changeable with a 60 vote majority in the Senate.  That is not likely to happen.  So chaos could ensue in health insurance.

  • The New Republican Plan to Make Democrats Repeal Obamacare Is to Take Children’s Health Care Hostage (New York Magazine)

The Republican dilemma on health care is that the party may have the ability to destroy the status quo, but it doesn’t have the ability to put something in its place. One reason is mechanical: They can defund Obamacare with just 50 Senate votes, but they need 60 to rewrite its insurance regulations. The other reason is ideological: Giving people the better coverage they promised, or even minimally acceptable coverage, requires providing resources, and there’s no way that’s ideologically acceptable to their party to conjure those resources, which is why the unified Republican plan has been stuck in the almost-there stage since 2009.

The Republican strategy to solve this dilemma is to coerce Democrats into solving their dilemma for them by repealing Obamacare and blaming Democrats for the disaster caused by the repeal unless they agree to support some kind of Republican proposal — and, by supporting it, neuter their chance to blame Republicans for the outcome. And yet some doubt is already creeping in as to whether this massive hostage-taking scheme can actually work. Their answer to this dilemma is … take even more hostages. Specifically, some very small ones. “According to multiple GOP sources, Republicans are looking at whether to use reauthorizations of existing programs, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as vehicles for replacement measures,” reports Mike DeBonis in the Washington Post. “That could give them leverage to secure cooperation from Democrats.”

A bit of explanation is required. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, was created in 1998 as part of a deal in which Democrats got health coverage for children and Republicans got a capital-gains tax cut. It has since grown quite popular, and insures 8 million children from low-income families. In 2015, it was reauthorized by a vote of 392–37 in the House and 92–8 in the Senate. It needs to be reauthorized again at the end of this year or it will expire.

Click for large image.


  • Exclusive: Assad linked to Syrian chemical attacks for first time (Reuters)  International investigators have said for the first time that they suspect President Bashar al-Assad and his brother are responsible for the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, according to a document seen by Reuters.  A joint inquiry for the United Nations and global watchdog the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had previously identified only military units and did not name any commanders or officials.  Now a list has been produced of individuals whom the investigators have linked to a series of chlorine bomb attacks in 2014-15 - including Assad, his younger brother Maher and other high-ranking figures - indicating the decision to use toxic weapons came from the very top, according to a source familiar with the inquiry.


  • Iran nuclear deal working, wise for Trump to uphold: U.S. envoy to U.N. (Reuters)  A deal between Iran and key world powers to curb Tehran's nuclear program is working and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump would be wise to preserve it, outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said on Friday.  Trump, who will take office in a week, has threatened to either scrap the nuclear agreement or seek a better deal.  Power said of the deal Iran made with Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, the United States and the European Union:

"We who see the threat that Iran poses, through its destabilizing actions in the region and through its support for terrorism, would be very wise to preserve an agreement that denies it a weapon of mass destruction.  We have succeeded in ensuring that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons ... it's working," 


Click for larger image.


  • Cubans sold everything to reach U.S., now hundreds stranded (Reuters)  Hundreds of Cubans who sold their homes and belongings in pursuit of an American dream that now lays in tatters were stranded in Central America and Mexico on Friday after Washington abruptly ended a lenient immigration policy.  U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday repealed a measure granting automatic residency to virtually every Cuban who arrived in the United States, whether or not they had visas, ending a longstanding exception to U.S. policy.  See next article.

  • Surge in Cuban immigration to U.S. continued through 2016 (Pew Research Center)  The number of Cubans entering the U.S. has spiked dramatically since President Barack Obama announced a renewal of ties with the island nation in late 2014, a Pew Research Center analysis of government data shows. The U.S. has since opened an embassy in Havana, a move supported by a large majority of Americans, and public support is growing for ending the trade embargo with Cuba.   On Thursday, the White House announced its latest step in policy toward Cuba by ending a long-standing policy that treated Cubans seeking to enter the U.S. differently from other immigrants. Under the old policy, Cubans hoping to legally live in the U.S. needed only to show up at a port of entry and pass an inspection, which included a check of criminal and immigration history in the U.S. After a year in the country, they were allowed to apply for legal permanent residence. The new policy makes Cubans who attempt to enter the U.S. without a visa subject to removal, whether they arrive by sea or port of entry.  

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

  • Monkey Say, Monkey Do: Baboons Can Make Humanlike Speech Sounds (Scientific American)  To the untrained listener, a bunch of babbling baboons may not sound like much. But sharp-eared experts have now found that our primate cousins can actually produce humanlike vowel sounds. The finding suggests the last common ancestor of humans and baboons may have possessed the vocal machinery for speech—hinting at a much earlier origin for language than previously thought.

  • What does post-truth mean for a philosopher? (BBC News)   "Post-truth" has come to describe a type of campaigning that has turned the political world upside down.  Fuelled by emotive arguments rather than fact-checks, it was a phrase that tried to capture the gut-instinct, anti-establishment politics that swept Donald Trump and Brexit supporters to victory.  Oxford Dictionaries made it the word of the year, defining it as where "objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief".  But what does this new world mean for academics and scientists whose whole purpose is trying to establish objective facts?  AC Grayling, public thinker, master of the New College of the Humanities, and Remain campaigner, views the post-truth world with undisguised horror.  The philosopher, awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours, warns of the

"corruption of intellectual integrity" [and damage to] "the whole fabric of democracy".

  • Lady Liberty shown as black woman on U.S. coin for first time (Reuters)  The United States Mint has unveiled a $100 gold coin featuring an African-American woman as the face of Lady Liberty for the first time in the history of U.S. currency.  The 24-karat gold coin, which marks the Mint's 225th anniversary, was debuted on Thursday in the Department of the Treasury's Cash Room in Washington, D.C.  It is the first in a series of gold coins featuring Lady Liberty, which has been used on American coinage since the late 1790s, as an ethnic woman, Mint Principal Deputy Director Rhett Jeppson said in a statement.  Other editions will use designs representing Asian, Hispanic Americans and others. 

Click for larger image at Reuters.

  • Tesla Unveils Pricing Structure for Supercharging Stations (Bloomberg)  Tesla Motors Inc. said it will charge new customers fees to use its Supercharging stations if they exceed an annual limit, detailing its price structure to help pay for the expansion of its network of stations.  The move announced Thursday marks Tesla’s first attempt to monetize a service that the company’s electric-car owners have long enjoyed for free as it prepares to introduce the more affordable Model 3 sedan later this year. The company led by Elon Musk stressed that Tesla is “only aiming to recover a portion of our costs and set up a fair system for everyone; this will never be a profit center for Tesla”.  Tesla vehicles ordered after Jan. 15, 2017, will receive roughly 400 kilowatt-hour of free Supercharging credits (about 1,000 miles) annually on the anniversary of their delivery.

Click for larger image at Bloomberg.

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