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What We Read Today 15 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:

  • Google's AI Has Reinvented the Master Language

  • Educational Progress in America Hides the Failure for the Disadvantaged

  • American Schools Don't Produce Well Educated Minds

  • Obama's War on Whistleblowers

  • History of Income Equality/Inequality for the American 1%

  • Government Actions Correlated with Increasing Income Inequality Triggers

  • Trump Team is Shunning Davos

  • Rand Paul is Drafting a Low-cost Replacement for Obamacare

  • Clinton Global Initiative Has Been Shut Down

  • Outgoing CIA Director Has Warnings for Trump

  • BoB Woodruff:  Intel Community Attacking Trump with Garbage

  • Trump Calls NATO Obsolete and Indifferent about End to EU

  • Pound Drops Below $1.20

  • China's Demographic Challenge

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • Trump Team Shunning Davos Meeting of World’s Economic Elite (Bloomberg)  Donald Trump won’t send an official representative to the annual gathering of the world’s economic elite in Davos, taking place next week in the days leading up to his inauguration, although one of the president-elect’s advisers is slated to attend.  Former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn, a regular attendee in the past, told the group he would skip 2017 after being named in December to head the National Economic Council, said people familiar with the conference. Other top Trump appointees will also pass up the forum.  A senior member of Trump’s transition team said the president-elect thought it would betray his populist-fueled movement to have a presence at the high-powered annual gathering in the Swiss Alps. The gathering of millionaires, billionaires, political leaders and celebrities represents the power structure that fueled the populist anger that helped Trump win the election, said the person, who asked for anonymity to discuss the matter.  Hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci is planning to travel to Davos, though. The founder of SkyBridge Capital and an early backer of Trump’s campaign, Scaramucci was named on Thursday as an assistant to the president.


  • Senator Paul Drafting Health-Care Measure to Replace Obamacare (Bloomberg)  Republican Senator Rand Paul said he’s drafting legislation for a health-care insurance plan that could replace Obamacare, including a provision to “legalize” the sale of inexpensive insurance policies that provide abbreviated coverage.  “That means getting rid of the Obamacare mandates on what you can buy,” Paul said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. Obamacare, which Republicans are moving to repeal, requires insurers to cover a number of procedures -- such as preventive care and pregnancy -- that Paul said drives up the cost.  Econintersect:  Two possibilities here:  Either the policies will be true catastrophic loss insurance with no payments for routine healthcare (ie, very large deductibles, such as $20k or $50k) or they will "no insurance insurance" and not even cover catastrophes effectively.  Neither type of plan would constitute "healthcare".  So would the "Obamacare" replacement be called "Randinsurance"?

  • The Clinton Foundation Shuts Down Clinton Global Initiative (Observer)  Hat tip to Roger Erickson.  The Clinton Foundation’s long list of wealthy donors and foreign government contributors during the 2016 elections provoked critics to allege conflicts of interests. Clinton partisans defended the organization’s charitable work, and dismissed claims that it served as a means for the Clintons to sell off access, market themselves on the paid speech circuit, and elevate their brand as Hillary Clinton campaigned for the presidency.  But as soon as Clinton lost the election, many of the criticisms directed toward the Clinton Foundation were reaffirmed. Foreign governments began pulling out of annual donations, signaling the organization’s clout was predicated on donor access to the Clintons, rather than its philanthropic work.  On January 12, the Clinton Foundation received more bad news: a WARN notice was filed with the New York Department of Labor. The main office of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City would be closing, laying off 22 employees.  Econintersect:  Observer's  publisher is Jared Kuschner, son-in-law and soon-to-be Whitehouse advisor to President Donald Trump.

  • CIA Director Airs Warnings for Trump Amid Intelligence Tensions (Bloomberg)  The outgoing CIA director called Donald Trump’s comments about the U.S. intelligence community “outrageous” and suggested the president-elect’s attitude toward Russia reflected an incomplete understanding of the country’s intentions.  The comments by John Brennan on “Fox News Sunday” came amid escalating tensions between the president-elect and the intelligence community following a series of insults and allegations by Trump in recent weeks.

  • Bob Woodward: Trump's Right – Intel Community Attacking Him With Garbage (NewsMax)  Hat tip to Roger Erickson.  Bob Woodward blasted as "garbage" an unsubstantiated dossier released by U.S. intelligence agencies that alleges deep ties between President-elect Donald Trump and Moscow.  In an interview on "Fox News Sunday",  the celebrated Washington Post editor said he sided with Trump in his fight with intel agencies on the salacious document.

  • UPDATED: Cuomo pitches 750-mile biking-hiking trail plan for NY state (Associated Press, Times Telegram)   New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to complete and connect two greenway trails crisscrossing the state from Manhattan to Canada and from Albany to Buffalo to create a 750-mile paved biking and hiking route that will be marketed as a national tourist destination.  Cuomo proposed spending $200 million over three years to pave 350 miles of gaps in the existing greenways and connect them to create what he calls the Empire State Trail.  The Democratic governor at a state of the state speech Tuesday in Westchester County:

"We want to build the largest multi-use trail in the nation." 


  • Trump Calls NATO Obsolete and Dismisses EU in German Interview (Bloomberg)  U.S. President-elect Donald Trump called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would follow the U.K. in leaving the bloc and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper that will raise concerns in Berlin over trans-Atlantic relations.  Quoted in German from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade. For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent whether the EU breaks up or stays together, according to Bild.  Econintersect:  It's hard to understand what kind of negotiation strategy this is vis a vis Russia.  Is the deal already made?


  • Pound Drops Below $1.20 as May Reported to Seek Hard Brexit (Bloomberg)  The pound fell against the dollar, dropping below $1.20 for the first time since October’s flash crash, after reports said U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will signal plans to quit the European Union’s single market to regain control of Britain’s borders and laws.  Sterling declined against all of its major peers after the Sunday Times said that May will prepare to withdraw from tariff-free trade with the region in return for the ability to curb immigration and strike commercial deals with other countries. The currency has fallen 19 percent against the dollar since the nation opted to leave the EU in June’s referendum, with declines since the initial aftermath of the vote mainly sparked by concern May would pursue a so-called hard Brexit.



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

  • Google's AI Has Reinvented the Master Language (Foundation for Economic Education)  Up until September of last year, Google Translate used phrase-based translation. It basically did the same thing you and I do when we look up key words and phrases in our Lonely Planet language guides. It’s effective enough, and blisteringly fast compared to awkwardly thumbing your way through a bunch of pages looking for the French equivalent of collectios of phrases in context.  Phrase-based translation is a blunt instrument. It does the job well enough to get by. But mapping roughly equivalent words and phrases without an understanding of linguistic structures can only produce crude results.  In September, Google gave their translation tool a new engine: the Google Neural Machine Translation system (GNMT). This new engine comes fully loaded with all the hot 2016 buzzwords, like neural network and machine learning.  Google Translate got smart. It developed the ability to learn from the people who used it. It learned how to make educated guesses about the content, tone, and meaning of phrases based on the context of other words and phrases around them. And it got creative.  For full details see Zero-Shot Translation with Google’s Multilingual Neural Machine Translation System.

  • Five key trends in U.S. student performance (Economic Policy Institute)  This article covers educational progress by blacks and Hispanics, the takeoff of Asians, the stall of non-English speakers, the persistence of socioeconomic gaps, and the damaging effect of highly segregated schools.

Hispanic and Asian students who are English language learners (ELL) are falling further behind white students in mathematics and reading achievement. And gaps between higher- and lower-income students persist, with some changes that vary by subject and grade. Meanwhile, the proportion of low-income students in U.S. schools has increased rapidly, as has the share of minority students in the student population. The chances of ending up in a high-poverty or high-minority school are highly determined by a student’s race/ethnicity and social class. For example, black and Hispanic students—even if they are not poor—are much more likely than white or Asian students to be in high-poverty schools.

These disparities represent a stubborn educational failure story. Attending a high-poverty school lowers math and reading achievement for students in all racial/ethnic groups and this negative effect has not diminished over time. And attending a school in which blacks and Hispanics make up more than 75 percent of the student body lowers achievement of black, Hispanic, and Asian students but does not affect white students (in some of the analyzed years it actually had a small positive influence on math test scores for whites).

These patterns of change (or lack of change) could have important implications for what is happening in American society in general and in U.S. schools in particular.

  • Celebrated Teacher Explains Why Schools Don't Produce Well-Educated Minds (Foundation for Economic Education)  Former New York school teacher of the year John Taylor Gatto once answered the question 'What is a good education?' in his book Weapons of Mass Instruction. He said the four critical elements of a good education are not only missing in America - American schools are doing just the opposite.  According to Gatto, the sign of a well-educated mind is one that can make connections and is connected to four different things:

  1. Connected to Different Human Styles

  2. Connected to Complex Experiences

  3. Connected to Intellectual Ideas

  4. Connected to Itself (i.e. self-knowledge)

  • Obama’s Legacy: A Historic War On Whistleblowers (Long Island Press) Hat tips to John Kiriakou and Roger Erickson.   As President Barack Obama soared into office eight years ago, he promised, on his first day in the White House, to launch “a new era of open government”.

As for Obama’s record, here’s what history will show: In his eight years in office, the Obama Justice Department spearheaded eight Espionage Act prosecutions, more than all US administrations combined. Journalists were also caught in the crosshairs: Investigators sought phone records for Associated Press journalists, threatened to jail an investigative reporter for The New York Times, and named a Fox News reporter a co-conspirator in a leak case. In Texas, a journalist investigating private defense contractors became the focus of a federal prosecution and was initially charged for sharing a hyperlink containing hacked information that had already been made public.

  • Income Inequality (  Income includes the revenue streams from wages, salaries, interest on a savings account, dividends from shares of stock, rent, and profits from selling something for more than you paid for it. Income inequality refers to the extent to which income is distributed in an uneven manner among a population. In the United States, income inequality, or the gap between the rich and everyone else, has been growing markedly, by every major statistical measure, for some 30 years.  Graphs below for the Top 1% data: Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States, Emmanuel Saez, June 2015.  Second graph below annotated by Econintersect to indicate key economic events we correlate with the start of surges in growing income inequality.

The top 1 percent of America’s income earners have more than doubled their share of the nation’s income since the middle of the 20th century. American top 1 percent incomes peaked in the late 1920s, right before the onset of the Great Depression. 


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