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What We Read Today 16 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:

  • GOP Outlines New Health Law

  • Russian Spy Ship 30 Miles Off U.S. East Coast

  • Trump Has a Boisterous Press Conference

  • Trump Removes Restrictions of Coal Mining Debris

  • Trump Asks for Help in Setting Up Meeting with Congressional Black Caucus

  • Trump Declines to Discuss Possible U.S. Responses to Russian Aggression

  • South Korea Court Approves Arrest of Samsung Heir

  • China's Global Buying Spree Slows

  • New Credit in China Surges to Record High

  • Can China "Over Invest"?

  • Solar Energy Potential in the U.S.

  • A Small Fraction of Death Valley Could Produce All of the U.S. Electricity

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • GOP leaders unveil new health law outline, divisions remain (Associated Press)  Top House Republicans unveiled a rough sketch of a massive health care overhaul to rank-and-file lawmakers Thursday, but a lack of detail, cost estimates and GOP unity left unresolved the problem that's plagued them for years: What's the party's plan and can Congress pass it?  At a closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other party leaders described a broad vision for voiding much of President Barack Obama's 2010 statute and replacing it with conservative policies. It features a revamped Medicaid program for the poor, tax breaks to help people pay doctors' bills and federally subsidized state pools to assist those with costly medical conditions in buying insurance.  Lawmakers called the ideas options, and many were controversial. One being pushed by Ryan and other leaders would replace the tax increases in Obama's law with new levies on the value of some employer-provided health plans — a political no-fly zone for Republicans averse to tax boosts.

  • Lawmakers sound alarm over Russian spy ship patrolling off U.S. East Coast (CBS News)  Members of Congress are sounding the alarm about a Russian spy ship sailing off the Connecticut coast. They believe the vessel, the Viktor Leonov, may be collecting information on Naval Submarine Base New London, the Navy’s main submarine facility on the East Coast, the home port of 15 nuclear subs.  According to CBS News correspondent David Martin, the Russian vessel is 75 miles northeast of Norfolk, Virginia, mostly staying 30 miles off the coast. While officials say the boat doesn’t pose any real threat to residents nearby, it does appear to be part of a recent pattern of Russian provocations

  • 'Chaos.' 'Mess.' 'Fake news.' 'Turmoil.' Trump lets loose at press conference (USA Today)  President Trump opened his press conference with a more-than-20-minute opening statement in which he criticized the news media, bragged about the number of electoral votes he received in November and said the Islamic State is "another mess I inherited" from predecessor, Barack Obama. He lashed out repeatedly at what he called "fake news" and at reporters, who he accused of distorting what he has done as president and failing to accurately cover his administration.

  • The Latest: Trump overturns bill on coal mining debris (Associated Press)   President Donald Trump has put the brakes on a regulation blocking coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams.  Trump called the regulation a "job-killing rule" before he signed a measure to overturn it. Lawmakers from coal-mining states stood close by, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.  Several coal miners and energy company executives also attended the White House signing ceremony.  Republicans and some Democrats argued that the rule could eliminate thousands of coal-related jobs. They said the rule also ignored dozens of existing federal, state and local regulations.  The Interior Department said in December when it announced the rule that 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests would be protected.

  • Trump asks black reporter to "set up the meeting" with Congressional Black Caucus (CBS News)  President Donald Trump asked for help in setting up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.  This is what led up to that:  Journalist April Ryan, who serves as the White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, followed up after the president talked about visiting inner cities:

When you say the inner cities, are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your urban agenda?”  When Mr. Trump seemed unfamiliar with the “CBC” acronym, Ryan, who is black, clarified: “Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus --


South Korea

  • South Korea Court Approves Arrest of Samsung Heir Jay Y. Lee (Bloomberg)  A South Korean court approved a special prosecutor’s second request to arrest Samsung Group’s Jay Y. Lee on allegations of bribery, perjury and embezzlement, an extraordinary step that jeopardizes the executive’s ascent to the top role at the world’s biggest smartphone maker and the nation’s most powerful company.  The Seoul Central District Court issued an arrest warrant for Lee early Friday. Including procedural steps and appeals, it may take as long as 18 months for a trial and verdict. There’s a chance the suspect could destroy evidence or flee, so arresting him is appropriate, a court spokesperson said.  Investigators are looking into whether the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co. was involved in providing as much as 43 billion won ($38 million) to benefit a close friend of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, in exchange for government support of his management succession. Prosecutors allege that Lee, 48, funded Park’s associates as he tried to consolidate control over the sprawling conglomerate founded by his grandfather.


  • China's Record Global Buying Spree Wanes Amid Capital Flow Curbs (Bloomberg)   China’s record outbound investment slumped last month as authorities stepped up scrutiny of acquisitions overseas and other deals to keep money from flowing out of the country.  The world’s biggest trading nation saw outward investment decline 35.7% from a year earlier in yuan terms in January, the Ministry of Commerce said Thursday. Foreign direct investment to the nation also dropped by 9.2%.  Overseas purchases surged to a record last year. Last month, the foreign exchange regulator rolled out measures to further examine such deals. The government has announced new rules aimed at keeping money in the country as officials seek to stem capital outflows and bolster the weakening yuan.

  • Trump May Be the Reform Catalyst China Needs: Goldman Forecaster (Bloomberg)  Wasteful investment and an absence of breakthrough economic reforms are bolstering arguments made by China bears, says Song Yu, chief China economist at Beijing Gao Hua Securities Co. The tonic? Donald Trump.  "Will China collapse? No, but the element of truth in their concern is rising," says Song, the most accurate forecaster of the economy for three straight years, according to Bloomberg Rankings.  That’s where the U.S. president comes in. If he takes action such as imposing punitive tariffs that dim China’s economic outlook, it will be an additional hit to the nation’s "fragile equilibrium" that may spur a quickening in the pace of reforms, says Song, whose firm is Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s joint-venture partner in the mainland.   Song suggests that China is guilty of "over investment".

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

Click for larger image.

  • Efficiency of Solar Panels (Solar Reviews)  With solar panels efficiency is a measure of how much of the solar irradiation that fall to the earth that the panel is able to convert to electricity. Efficiencies range from as low as 10% for cheaper thin film panels, to 14-15% for most polycrystalline panels and up as high as 20% for some panels that use more advanced technologies (or combinations of technologies). But does this mean that a consumer buying a 5kw system with a panel that is 18% efficient will get more kwh's of solar electricity than a person buying a solar power system with panels that are 14% efficient.  The answer is no! They will both get the same amount of power produced because the efficiency of the solar panel is already taken into account when rating a panel. This will mean that if two panels are both 300 Watt panels then they both produce 300 watts of power at standard test conditions (25C).

  • New solar cell is more efficient, costs less than its counterparts (MIT News)  The cost of solar power is beginning to reach price parity with cheaper fossil fuel-based electricity in many parts of the world, yet the clean energy source still accounts for just slightly more than 1% of the world’s electricity mix.  A team of researchers from MIT and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology may have found a way around this seemingly intractable tradeoff between efficiency and cost.  The team’s step-cell concept can reach theoretical efficiencies above 40%  and estimated practical efficiencies of 35%.

  • Startup makes residential solar panels twice as efficient (  With a 36% yield, the solar panels developed by startup Insolight could deliver up to twice as much energy as traditional panels. The company came up with a thin structure that directs the sun's rays to the small surface area of very high performance solar cells. The result is a highly efficient flat photovoltaic system.  The founders are convinced that their solar panels will lower the price per kWh paid by consumers. The system will probably be a little more expensive to buy, according to Florian Gerlich, Insolight COO -

 "- but this will be quickly offset by the additional energy that will be generated.  The price of solar panels has dropped sharply in recent years, but not enough to produce electricity at a competitive cost.  For residential systems, solar panels accounted for less than 20% of total installation costs in the United States in 2015. Even if the solar panels were free, this would not always offset the system's cost. Currently, most of the margin earned by solar energy developers comes from subsidies. Yet these subsidies are declining."

  • Generation at Utility Scale Facilities (U.S. Energy Information Administration)  In 2015 the U.S. total electrical generation was 4,077,601 thousand megawatthours (4,077.6 gigawatthours)

  • Assessment of Solar Electric Potential (Econontersect)  This is a summary of computations made for this note (not published elsewhere):

  • For average annual sum of incident solar energy of 2,000 kWh/m2, the area of 2,038.8 million m2 is required to produce all the electricity generated in the U.S. in 2015.  That is 503,800 acres; or 787 square miles.

  • If the area is half occupied by solar cells with efficiency of 18%, the total area needed is 8744 square miles.  This is about 2/3 of 1% of the area of the state of Arizona or about 15% of the area of Death Valley National Park.

  • Of course, current energy storage and grid technology would preclude all of the electricity for the U.S. to be produced in this manner.  The point is, it doesn't take much land to use solar energy. 

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