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What We Read Today 14 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:

  • New Climate Change Index is Actuarial Measure of Extreme Weather

  • George Soros:  The Man Behind Mayhem

  • America's Shift to Online Shopping

  • Morbid Science Involving Dead Animal Carcasses

  • Volatility of Bitcoin

  • The Hermit Who Shaped Climate Science

  • Donald Trump's Expectations Meet Washington Reality

  • Supreme Court Puts Hold on North Carolina's Redistricting and Special Election

  • Conservative German Lawmaker Is Quitting Merkel's Party

  • Iraqi Forces Make Big Gains in Mosul

  • Russian Ambassador Invites Trump to Syria Talks

  • Trump Says Sanctions May Go If Russia is Helpful

  • Amazon Pulls India Flag Doormats

  • Trump Team Struggles for Cohesion on China policy

  • China's Environmental Problems

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


Click for large image.


In 1973 Barr had dropped out of college and made his home an abandoned mining shack at the base of Gothic Mountain, a 12,600-foot stone buttress. The cold winds blew through the shack’s wood slat walls as if they didn’t exist; he shared the bare dirt floor with a skunk and pine marten, his only regular company for much of the year. Barr had moved from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains precisely because of the solitude, but he couldn’t escape boredom. Especially that first winter. So he measured snow levels, animal tracks, and in spring the first jubilant calls of birds returning. He filled a notebook with these observations; then another notebook. This has continued now for 44 years.


  • Trump said he’d do a lot — fast. Expectations, meet reality. (The Washington Post)  Running for president, Donald Trump promised an immediate revolution — to quickly rebuild America’s cities, overhaul the tax code and deport millions of illegal immigrants.  Just this week, Trump vowed to get started right away on building a wall along the border with Mexico (“I don’t want to wait”) and repealing and replacing President Obama’s health-care law (“probably the same day, could be the same hour”).  But ahead of his swearing-in on Friday, the extraordinarily high expectations that Trump has set have been running into the logjam known as American democracy. Every new president confronts Washington’s sluggish culture, but Trump’s more grandiose and hard-line ideas could face unprecedented challenges — logistical and even constitutional.

  • Supreme Court puts 2017 NC legislative election on temporary hold (News&Observer)  The biggest gerrymandering battle right now is in North Carolina.  A lower federal court ruled months ago that the current legislative districts are an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, and it ordered the General Assembly to draw new districts by March 15 and hold a rare off-year election in altered districts this November.  Tuesday’s Supreme Court order puts that order on hold at least until a Jan. 19 conference among the justices at which they will consider an appeal seeking to keep the current districts in place.  The map below shows North Catolina's gerrymandered congressional districts.


  • Conservative German Lawmaker Is Quitting Merkel's Party (ABC News)  A lawmaker who has long been critical of Chancellor Angela Merkel's policies says she is leaving the German leader's conservative party, citing discontent over Merkel's approach to migrants.  Erika Steinbach, 73, has been a lawmaker for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union since 1990. But the conservative hardliner has increasingly been at odds with the chancellor, who has steered her party toward the center. Steinbach has criticized the most recent Greek bailout and Merkel's welcoming approach to migrants in 2015.



  • Russian Ambassador Invited Trump Administration to Syria Peace Talks as US Issued Sanctions (ABC News)  Russia's ambassador to the U.S. invited the Trump administration to Syrian peace talks during a phone call in December -- on the same day the Obama administration announced sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its hacking during the U.S. election -- a Trump spokesperson said Friday.  Incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak extended the invitation to the talks, which are scheduled for later this month, during a phone call with President-elect Donald Trump's incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on December 29th, the day the U.S. issued sanctions and expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the country.  The Obama administration was unsuccessful in securing a seat in Syria peace negotiations during talks with Russia and other regional powers and has been excluded from the most recent rounds.

  • Trump suggests he may do away with Russia sanctions if Moscow helpful: WSJ (Reuters)   U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he would keep intact sanctions against Russia "at least for a period of time", and that he wouldn't commit to the "one China" policy until he sees progress from Beijing in its currency and trade practices.  In excerpts from an hourlong interview published by the Journal on Friday, Trump said: "If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?"  Trump suggested he might do away with the sanctions - imposed by the Obama administration in late December in response to Moscow’s alleged cyber attacks - if Moscow proves helpful in battling terrorists and reaching other goals important to Washington, the Journal reported.  Trump told the newspaper he is prepared to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin some time after he is sworn in on Jan. 20.


  • Amazon Pulls Flag Doormats After Complaints From India (ABC News)  After India's foreign minister demanded Amazon apologize for allowing doormats featuring India's flag to be sold on its Canadian website, the retail giant pulled the products and, according to the foreign ministry, expressed "regret" they had ever been available.  The doormats caused a diplomatic uproar in India after they appeared on the Amazon site. Some viewed walking on the flag as insulting the national symbol, a crime in India.


  • Trump team struggles for cohesion on tougher China policy (Reuters)  The incoming U.S. administration’s tough talk against China has set the stage for showdowns on everything from security to trade and cyberspace, but contradictory signals are sowing uncertainty over how far President-elect Donald Trump is prepared to go in confronting Beijing.  Highlighting the contested South China Sea as a potential flashpoint, Trump’s Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson threw out an explosive challenge to Beijing on Wednesday by calling for it be denied access to artificial islands it is building in the strategic waterway.  A Trump transition adviser told Reuters that Tillerson, Trump’s pick to be America's top diplomat, did not mean to suggest the new administration would impose a naval blockade, which would risk armed confrontation with China, something the new administration was not seeking.  But another official authorized to speak on behalf of the transition team pushed back on that view, saying Tillerson “did not misspeak" when he said China should be barred from its man-made islands.  Amid the conflicting signals on policy, the team appears to be making progress on plans for a major naval build-up in East Asia to counter China's rise.

  • Seven Things China Needs to Get Right This Year (Bloomberg) Politics, Economy, Diplomacy, Trade, Currency, Environment and Reform.  Chinese tourists are going on lung-cleansing trips to escape smog.

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

  • New Climate Index Shows Extreme Weather Is Now 3 Times More Frequent (Climate Control)  Extreme weather over the last five years has been occurring with a regularity that’s about three times the norm, according to a newly created index from a group of number crunchers.  The Actuaries Climate Index, which was officially launched near the end of 2016, takes data from “neutral, scientific sources, generating objective, evidence-based results on extreme weather events”,  according to the index’s creators.

I have struggled to understand George Soros because he is a character riddled with contradiction. His push to break down borders by increasing immigration all over the world is undermining his desire to establish a unified Europe and a unified world. By pushing too hard, too fast, he's creating obvious pushback. So, I decided to work on an article that would help me get a little better sense of what drives him.

On the one hand, he openly acknowledged at the end of 2016 that an "immigration crisis" is busting Europe apart at the seams. On the other, he states that the EU has always been his cherished project. So, why is he pushing immigration to the EU's breaking point?

If you ever had a photo of an animal carcass stashed away on your computer or phone because you were too mesmerized to trash it, and you were too terrified about what others would think to share it, you are not alone. Since Tuesday biologists and the morbidly curious alike have been blowing up Twitter with a photo contest for #BestCarcass.

The photos depict a kind of heavy metal version of your typical nature documentary. Swollen, shriveled, gnarled, bloody, stringy, flattened, crusty, sometimes frozen in place: the pictures aren’t conventionally pretty. But beyond the gore, each photo contains a story — not just about the lives of the animals involved, but about those making and sharing the photos. So even if you’re not sitting on a stash of decaying animal photos, for those of you with an inquisitive mind and a strong stomach, now is your moment.

  • Retail Sales Figures Bear Out America's Storefront-to-Online Shift (Bloomberg)  Holiday sales at Macy's Inc.Sears Holdings Corp., and J.C. Penney Co. were anemic and U.S. government data just confirmed it. The nation's traditional department stores are steadily losing ground to their online rivals — a shift in the retail landscape that shows both the change in Americans' shopping patterns and where the job growth is taking place (see first graph below).  But, even as retail sales have grown since 2001, retaile employment has contracted because online sales are accomplished with fewer employees.  Retail sales employment is down 23% since 2001, from 935k to 716k (second graph below).

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