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What We Read Today 22 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:

  • Kenneth Arrow, the Youngest Economist to Win Nobel Prize, Dies at 95

  • Krugman Doesn't Believe Trump's Growth Estimates

  • Why is There Obsession with Nazi Alt-History?

  • Cash-Out Refinancing During Bubble Years Will Lead to Disaster

  • Support for Obamacare is Rising

  • President Trump's Approval Rating is Rising

  • President Trump's Approval Rating is Falling

  • Polls Disagree:  Same Day One Says Trump Approval Rating Near 50%, Two Others say Less than 40%

  • California Flooding

  • Record 72% of Americans Approve of Trade

  • New EPA Chief Has Regulated Companies Write Regulations

  • Leader Of Azerbaijan Goes Full ‘House Of Cards’ And Appoints His Wife As Vice President

  • Mexico Riled by Trump's New Deportation Memos

  • Mexican Official Says Deporting Non-Mexicans to Mexico Is a ‘Non-Starter’

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • Poll: Support for Obamacare is rising (Politico)  The 2010 health care law is becoming more popular, even as it heads toward the chopping block — further complicating efforts by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal and replace it.  For details see National Tracking Poll.


  • President Trump’s Approval Rating Hits 48 Percent: Politico Poll (The Daily Caller)  According to this article, President Trump’s approval rating has hovered near 50% during the one month he has been in office.  (Econintersect:  Polls not mentioned here have the president's approval rating around 40%.  See also next two articles.)  According to a new poll conducted by Politico and Morning Consult, 48% of voters approve of the job Trump has done in office so far, while 45% disapprove. That same poll — which survey an estimated 2,000 registered voters — found that 27% strongly approve of the president, while 33% strongly disapprove.  Morning Consult’s co-founder and chief research officer said the results showed that Trump has “strong support from within his party,” with 85% of Republicans approving of his performance.

  • Trump has a problem: Americans increasingly think he's incompetent (Business Insider) (Econintersect:  Poll results disagree far beyond the estimated arrors.  See preceding article and next article.)  Josh Barro reports here:

Donald Trump has already set a record for being the most unpopular new president since the invention of telephone polling. But I don't think job approval is even the poll number Trump should be most worried about.

If I were him, I'd be worrying about the question the Quinnipiac University poll is asking about my leadership skills.

In a new Quinnipiac survey out today, only 42% of adults said they think Trump is a good leader, and 55% said he's not.

  • 'Sinking like a rock': Trump's approval rating keeps plummeting (Business Insider)  President Donald Trump received his lowest approval rating since he took office in a poll released on Wednesday.  Voters gave Trump a 38% job approval rating in Wednesday'sQuinnipiac University poll, down from a 42% approval rating in Quinnipiac's last poll on February 7.  The Quinnipiac poll shows a severe partisan split. Eighty-three percent of Republicans approve of Trump, while 91% of Democrats disapprove. 

  • San Jose mayor admits failures in flood evacuation order (Associated Press)   The mayor of San Jose acknowledged that the city failed to properly notify residents to evacuate during a flood emergency early Wednesday when some people said they got their first notice with a knock on their door from a firefighter.  City officials ordered more than 14,000 residents to leave their homes as water from swollen Coyote Creek flooded homes and temporarily shut down a portion of a major freeway.  Flooding problems are widespread thoughout California.  See Thousands flee, freeway shut in flooding near San Francisco.

  • In US, Record-High 72% See Foreign Trade as Opportunity (Gallup)  A record-high 72% of Americans see foreign trade as an opportunity for economic growth. This is up sharply from 58% last year, after much debate about trade during the presidential election cycle.

  • Scott Pruitt Goes After Critics, EPA In His First Speech To The Agency (The Huffington Post)  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt mentioned a “toxic environment” just once during his first address Tuesday to the embattled agency staff.  But he wasn’t talking about industry pollution or conserving nature. He was referring to his critics’ political rhetoric.  Then he began to outline his vision for the EPA. He described an agency that prioritized making it easier for polluters to comply with regulations. He promised to listen intently to companies before saddling them with new regulations. He admonished his new employees, some fearing layoffs amid looming budget cuts, for acting outside the agency’s legal mandate and running roughshod over states’ rights.  He did not mention climate change or environmental destruction. (Econintersect:  Pruitt seems to be more concerned about the effects of regulation on those regulated than about protecting the enviroment.  He wants to "make it easier for polluters to comply with regulations" - he did not say he wanted to reduce pollurion.  Should we change EPA to mean Environmental Pollution Agency?)  See also next article.  He said:

“Regulations ought to make things regular.  Regulations exist to give certainty to those they regulate. Those we regulate ought to know what’s expected of them so they can place and allocate resources to comply.”

The Center for Media and Democracy has sought the release of emails between energy companies and Pruitt for the past two years, saying they show energy companies drafted language that Pruitt's attorney general office then used in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the office he now heads, over regulations on energy operations.

The center had sued Pruitt on Feb. 7, ahead of the Senate vote to confirm his nomination by President Donald Trump, to release the records detailing his communications with energy companies.

The attorney general's office released more than 7,500 pages of emails late on Tuesday, holding back an unknown number of documents it called exempted or privileged. Oklahoma Judge Aletia Timmons is reviewing those documents, but there is no set time for when or if they would be released.

Among the documents released were communications between Devon Energy and Pruitt's office that suggest the company gave the Oklahoma officials language on limits on methane emissions at oil and gas operations. Pruitt's office then used this language in suing the EPA over the regulations, the documents suggest.



  • Mexican officials riled by Trump’s new deportation memos (Politico)  President Donald Trump's blunt diplomatic touch is creating new headaches for the deeply troubled U.S.-Mexico relationship.  The Trump administration riled Mexican officials by choosing Tuesday — on the eve of visits by the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to Mexico City — to release sweeping guidelines on deportations and a border wall.  As Mexican officials rushed to contact the State Department for more information, the timing of the guidelines' release threatened to severely hinder what could have been a diplomatic make-up session, U.S. and Mexican officials and analysts said.  See also next article.

  • Mexican Official Says Deporting Non-Mexicans to Mexico Is a ‘Non-Starter’ (ProPublica)  Mexican officials have flatly rejected the Trump administration’s plan to deport to Mexico migrants caught illegally crossing the U.S. southern border, regardless of nationality.  On the eve of a high-level meeting between the two countries, Mexican officials said Mexico will never accept the return of Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans and others who traveled through the country on their way to the United States, most often to ask for asylum here.  The idea of deporting non-Mexicans to Mexico as long as they entered the U.S. from that country is a never-implemented provision in American immigration law. A pair of memos signed by John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, said the Trump administration plans to use the law. Multiple immigration lawyers said they either had never heard of the provision being used, or they had only seen it used with citizens of Mexico.

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

  • Kenneth Arrow, Nobel-Winning Economist Whose Influence Spanned Decades, Dies at 95 (The New York Times)  Hat tip to Benn Steil.  Kenneth J. Arrow, one of the most brilliant economic minds of the 20th century and, at 51, the youngest economist ever to win a Nobel, died on Tuesday at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 95.  Paul A. Samuelson, the first American to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science, called Professor Arrow

“... the most important theorist of the 20th century in economics.” When Professor Arrow received the award in 1972, Professor Samuelson wrote, “The economics of insurance, medical care, prescription drug testing — to say nothing of bingo and the stock market — will never be the same after Arrow.”

  • On Economic Arrogance (Paul Krugman, The New York Times)  Prof. K doesn't think the economy can grow at the rates assumed by President Trump:

According to press reports, the Trump administration is basing its budget projections on the assumption that the U.S. economy will grow very rapidly over the next decade — in fact, almost twice as fast as independent institutions like the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve expect. There is, as far as we can tell, no serious analysis behind this optimism; instead, the number was plugged in to make the fiscal outlook appear better.

  • SS-GB: why the renewed obsession with alternative Nazi histories? (The Conversation)  Nazis have taken over London – on screens at least. The BBC’s absorbing new series SS-GB, based on Len Deighton’s popular 1978 novel, imagines a world in which the Nazis have invaded and defeated Britain by 1941.  Such an imaginative conceit is by no means unusual. Similar dystopian visions of Nazi victory in World War II have long been popular. Take, for instance, Richard Harris’ Fatherland (1992), Stephen Fry’s Making History (1996), Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004) and CJ Sansom’s acclaimed Dominion (2012). There was even Iron Sky, the 2012 film which imagined that the defeated Nazis fled to the other side of the moon in 1945 only to plan a space fleet to return to conquer Earth some 60 years later.  The author says:

As we enter our own counterfactual age, in which truth is twisted and lies disseminated, the renewed obsession with “alternative histories” provides a powerful cautionary reminder of what can happen when nightmares are made real.

  • Cash-Out Refinancing During Bubble Years Will Lead to Disaster (Keith Jurow, Advisor Perspectives)  KJ has contributed to GEI.  Nearly all analysts who write about the housing bubble have focused on the purchasing madness that occurred. While this is important, it overlooks the refinancing insanity of 2004-2007. This refinancing lunacy will devastate mortgage and housing markets for years to come.  You may wonder why I choose to focus on bubble era refinancing. After all, refinancing happens all the time.  Here is why: California was the nation's epicenter for the refinancing madness. During the bubble years, roughly five times as many refinanced first liens were originated there as were purchase loans.  Millions of homeowners refinanced once, twice, even three times or more while their homes soared in value. These became known as “cash-out refis,” where the borrower refinanced for a larger amount than the previous loan. A California home that may have been purchased for $200,000 in 1997 could easily have had a $600,000 refinanced loan in 2006. When home prices began to tumble, they found themselves trapped in a badly underwater property.  The problem is biggest for non-agency (not Fannie and Freddie) mortgages and has been growing since the Great Financial Crisis.

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