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What We Read Today 13 February 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:

  • Canadian PM Trudeau and Pres. Trump Meet in Washington

  • Refugees from U.S. Seek Canadian Asylum

  • More on Universal Basic Income

  • Should You Consider Selling Your Home "For Sale by Owner"?

  • The Terrible Science Behind Smoking Bans

  • How Many Police Actually Ever Fire their Weapon on Duty?

  • Extraordinary Levels of Pollution Found in the Mariana Trench

  • Judge Rejects Standing Rock Request

  • Flynn on Thin Ice

  • John Oliver Using Ads to "Get Facts to Trump"

  • Porn Site Offers Sex Ed in Utah After Bill to offer It in Schools Failed

  • U.S. Truck Sales Down Sharply

  • Couriers in Britain Changed to Independent Contractors and Paid Way Under Min. Wage

  • Germany Cleared for EV Charging Network

  • IMF Wants Ireland to Relax Mortgage Underwriting

  • National Park Expansions in India Causing Unrest

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • 'Extraordinary' levels of toxic pollution found in 10km deep Mariana trench (The Guardian)  Scientists have discovered “extraordinary” levels of toxic pollution in the most remote and inaccessible place on the planet – the 10km deep Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean.  Small crustaceans that live in the pitch-black waters of the trench, captured by a robotic submarine, were contaminated with 50 times more toxic chemicals than crabs that survive in heavily polluted rivers in China.  Econintersect:  Proof positive (sarcasm warning) that rivers flow into the oceans and the water and everything in them doesn't flow out.  The water evaporates into the atmosphere and the low volatility pollutants remain.



  • Judge rejects Standing Rock request to block Dakota Access pipeline drilling (The Guardian)  A federal judge has rejected a request from indigenous tribes to block drilling of the Dakota Access pipeline, the latest blow to the Standing Rock Sioux after Donald Trump fast-tracked final permits for the last phase of construction.  The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes challenged the president’s decision last week to speed approvals for the last stretch of the $3.7bn pipeline under the Missouri river in North Dakota. But US district James Boasberg sided with the pipeline corporation at a Washington DC hearing on Monday afternoon and ruled to allow continued construction.

  • Flynn seen as standing on thin ice (The Hill)  Michael Flynn's position as President Trump’s national security adviser appeared to be in peril on Monday as Democrats stepped up their attacks and the White House remained stonily silent.  President Trump was not asked about Flynn at a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a circumstance that seemed orchestrated by the White House.  Reports circulated that Flynn was on “thin ice”, according to CNN, while one administration official told The Washington Post that the “knives are out” for the national security adviser.  See also next article.

  • Trump 'evaluating the situation' involving Flynn, Russia (Associated Press)   President Donald Trump is "evaluating the situation" regarding his embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn's conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., the White House said Monday, deepening the uncertainty surrounding Flynn's future in the new administration.  Flynn apologized privately for the controversy to Vice President Mike Pence, according to a White House official. Pence, relying on information from Flynn, publicly vouched that the retired Army lieutenant general did not discuss U.S. sanctions against Russia in calls with the Russia late last year. Flynn has since told the White House that sanctions may have come up.

  • Utah rejects sex education bill, so porn site redirects to instructional videos (The Guardian)  Utah's House education committee voted last week to reject the HB215 bill, which would have allowed parents to opt in for their children to attend sex education classes that include lessons on consent and contraception.  In the wake of the anti-sex education vote, porn site xHamster has started to detect when people are browsing from Utah and given them the option of visiting The Box, a YouTube channel featuring non-explicit sex education videos.  In addition, The Box answers user-submitted questions about sex and sexuality and features episodes on the female orgasm, how to put on condoms and how to reconcile religious beliefs with a healthy sex life. 

  • U.S. Medium- and Heavy-Duty Trucks Down 17.9% in January (Wards Auto)  U.S. big-truck sales totaled 25,726 units in January, 17.9% below 2016’s 31,351.

Class 8 posted the largest loss with only 10,944 deliveries for January, a 31.4% decrease from year-ago’s 15,952. Volvo Truck increased 8.6% to 1,178 units, the only truck maker in the weight class to post a gain. International plummeted 50.4% down to 1,293 units. PACCAR’s Kenworth dropped 29.5% while sister brand Peterbilt dropped 12.3%. Freightliner and Western Star also posted double-digit losses in Class 8 of 41.0% and 22.9%, respectively.

Medium-duty trucks overall rendered a decline on 14,782 units, 4.0% below like-2016’s 15,399.


  • £1.73 an hour: Jinn couriers complain over low earnings (The Guardian)  Some takeaway delivery couriers say they are being paid as little as £1.73 ($2.16) an hour, far below the national minimum wage.  A courier in Leeds self-employed through Jinn, an app that allows customers to have meals and groceries delivered to their homes from outlets such as McDonalds, KFC and Sainsbury’s, provided evidence to the Guardian that he had been paid just £125 for 72 hours’ work.  Another showed he had received £264 for 94 hours – the equivalent of £2.80 an hour. A third said he was paid an effective rate of £3.05 an hour. Take-home pay is often even lower because the couriers must cover their own motorbike expenses of about £30 a week. The national living wage for people aged 25 and over is currently £7.20 an hour.  In common with many workers in the UK’s fast-growing gig economy, the couriers are classed as self-employed, meaning the mandatory minimum wage does not apply to them. But they have complained after Jinn, which is based in east London, scrapped a minimum hourly rate of £8 an hour in January. They now work on a piecework basis, being paid per delivery rather than an hourly rate.


  • EU Clears German Plan for EV Charging Network (Wards Auto)   The European Commission said on Monday it had approved German plans for an infrastructure network for charging electric vehicles across the country.  The plan, at a total cost of 300 million euros ($319.4 million) over four years, will require that the electricity comes from renewable energy sources, with contracts awarded through an open tender process.  EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement:

"Electric vehicles can provide real benefits to society by reducing harmful emissions and noise pollution. The German support scheme will encourage consumers and businesses to use electric vehicles.  It will provide the necessary infrastructure in a cost-effective way in line with EU state aid rules."


  • Mortgage crisis: IMF demands mortgage cap overhaul to ease rules (Independent)  The IMF has called for an overhaul of the Central Bank's mortgage caps, raising the prospect of more lenient borrowing rules for some buyers.  The overhaul would involve a new system, which would take a fuller account of borrowers' ability to repay loans by measuring their levels of debt.  Under the current rules, there is a limit to what people can borrow, which is determined by their income.  But under the IMF system, debt would be factored in, so that those with lower levels of debt would be able to borrow more than those with higher levels.



  • Canada's Trudeau talks trade with Trump at White House (Associated Press)   A political odd couple, President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resolutely played up their similarities at their first meeting Monday, even as obvious differences lurked behind their public smiles.  After their White House meeting, the North American neighbors emerged to hail their close ties, with Trump promising to "build upon our very historic friendship" and Trudeau noting the "special" bond between the countries.  But it was hard to escape their contrasting worldviews.  Speaking to reporters, Trump defended his restrictive refugee and immigration orders, saying that "we cannot let the wrong people in." Trudeau, on the other hand, said Canada continues to "pursue our policies of openness."

  • Canada arrests nearly 70 asylum seekers at US border following Trump travel ban (The Guardian)  Nearly 70 people seeking asylum in Canada were arrested over the weekend, adding to the small but growing number of refugees who are braving bitterly cold winter conditions to cross the border after Donald Trump’s executive ordertemporarily barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries.  A spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency said that 21 people were intercepted in Manitoba, while 46 others made claims at border crossings in Québec.  Migrants must apply for asylum in whichever is the first country they arrive in, according to a 2004 deal between Canada and the US known as the Safe Third Country Agreement.  The agreement means that unsuccessful applicants for asylum in Canada can be sent back to the US, and since Trump’s executive order, migration advocates have called for the agreement to be repealed.

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

What it all comes down to is fear. FDR was absolutely right when he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Fear prevents risk-taking, which prevents failure, which prevents innovation. If the great fears are of hunger and homelessness, and they prevent many people from taking risks who would otherwise take risks, then the answer is to simply take hunger and homelessness off the table. Don’t just hope some people are unafraid enough. Eliminate what people fear so they are no longer afraid.

If everyone received as an absolute minimum, a sufficient amount of money each month to cover their basic needs for that month no matter what — an unconditional basic income — then the fear of hunger and homelessness is eliminated. It’s gone. And with it, the risks of failure considered too steep to take a chance on something.

But the effects of basic income don’t stop with a reduction of risk. Basic income is also basic capital. It enables more people to actually afford to create a new product or service instead of just think about it, and even better, it enables people to be the consumers who purchase those new products and services, and in so doing decide what succeeds and what fails through an even more widely distributed and further decentralized free market system.

  • Thinking About Selling Your Home “For Sale By Owner’ Or FSBO? Before You Do… (Michael Haltman, Hallmark Abstract Service)  MH contributes to GEI.  Sometimes when a homeowner is selling their home, they see dollar signs and consider ‘saving’ the 3%-6% commission paid to a realtor and try to sell it on their own, aka For Sale By Owner or FSBO!  But in reality is this way of thinking actually pennywise and dollar foolish? MH goes through the list of what you get when a realtor sells your house.

  • We Used Terrible Science to Justify Smoking Bans (Slate)  Comprehensive studies have found no correlation between secondhand smoke heart disease.  The risk of lung cancer from secondhand smoke is 12% to 43% greater than for those with no exposure.  While this is significant it is much less than the 1200% greater risk for smokers.  Econintersect:  We still hate the smell of secondhand smoke.

  • A closer look at police officers who have fired their weapon on duty (Pew Research Center)  Many Americans believe it is common for police officers to fire their guns. About three-in-ten adults estimate that police fire their weapons a few times a year while on duty, and more than eight-in-ten (83%) estimate that the typical officer has fired his or her service weapon at least once in their careers, outside of firearms training or on a gun range, according to a recent Pew Research Center national survey.  In fact, only about a quarter (27%) of all officers say they have ever fired their service weapon while on the job, according to a separate Pew Research Center survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform.

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