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What We Read Today 17 March 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".).

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Topics today include:

  • The Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump

  • Trump and Merkel Can't Hide Differences

  • Fired US attorney Preet Bharara said to have been investigating HHS secretary Tom Price

  • Fact-checking Democrats’ rhetoric on the GOP health-care bill

  • Fact-checking the White House's rhetoric on the CBO report

  • Trump’s Defense Secretary Cites Climate Change as National Security Challenge

  • Trump’s planned military buildup is based on faulty claims, not good strategy

  • 62 agencies and programs Trump wants to eliminate

  • Freedom of religion under threat across Europe after EU court rules employers can ban headscarves

  • US makes formal apology to Britain after White House accuses GCHQ of wiretapping Trump Tower

  • 'London Bridge is down': the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death

  • Saudis Study $65 Billion in China Investments

  • Why History is on the Side of the Indian Stock Market

  • Tokyo Has More Than Two Job Openings for Every Applicant

  • Tourists are Overwhelming New Zealand

  • Mercedes-Benz to Announce 'Steer-only' Cars

  • When is Buying a Home Better Economically than Renting?

  • Steve Keen Looks for Research Support

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world

U.S.

  • Fired US attorney Preet Bharara said to have been investigating HHS secretary Tom Price (ProPublica)  Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was removed from his post by the Trump administration last week, was overseeing an investigation into stock trades made by the president’s health secretary, according to a person familiar with the office.  Tom Price, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, came under scrutiny during his confirmation hearings for investments he made while serving in Congress. The Georgia lawmaker traded hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shares in health-related companies, even as he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry.

  • The Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump (Politico)  Politico says that Angela Merkel, "whether she wants the job or not, is the West’s last, best hope".  Further:

Their styles reflect their vastly different backgrounds. Merkel, Germany’s first and only female chancellor, was raised by a pastor in communist East Germany, where she earned a doctorate in physical chemistry. Although she is the longest-serving and most powerful leader in Europe, she is unfailingly modest, competent and consensus-oriented. Trump’s all-about-me mentality, Queens upbringing and brash, tabloid-and-reality-TV personality couldn’t be more different.

The contrast in substance is just as stark. From the Eurozone meltdown to the refugee surge, Merkel has been through multiple crises. She has no illusions about Vladimir Putin and the spy-ridden Kremlin team running Russia, and places a high value on quiet diplomacy, free trade, international law and the institutions of the European Union.

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EU

  • Freedom of religion under threat across Europe after EU court rules employers can ban headscarves (The Conversation)  Employers across Europe have been given the green light to ban staff from wearing religious and political symbols after a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ). The ruling opens up a Pandora’s box and could disproportionately affect Muslim women facing requests to remove headscarves in some places of work across Europe. But it is also likely to affect other people that display their religious affiliations through their dress, such as Sikh men, Orthodox Jewish women, nuns working in hospitals or schools, or those who overtly display their political affiliations or sympathies.

The ECJ ruling related to two cases brought by national courts in France and Belgium, regarding Muslim women who had sued their employers. The women argued that they had been discriminated against at work for being asked to remove their veils – one by the employer and the other by a customer and subsequently by her employer – and were sacked when they refused to do so.

  • Trump and Merkel can't hide fundamental differences in first visit (The Guardian)  Donald Trump and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, struck a conciliatory tone at their first face-to-face meeting on Friday, but there was little disguising their fundamental differences in policy and style.  Merkel said she was “gratified” that the US president pledged support for Nato and the Minsk peace process in Ukraine. Trump insisted that he is a believer in free trade and declared: “I am not an isolationist.”  But it was hard to escape the testy relationship between the bookish woman now seen as a crucial bulwark of the postwar liberal order and the brash businessman who rose to power on a populist tide.  Two pictures tell a lot:

UK

"Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitanoabout GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wiretapping' against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."

Netherlands

  • Dutch election: why Geert Wilders failed to destroy the mainstream government (The Conversation)  There may be 13 political parties active in Dutch politics, but that made the second largest vote getter (20 parliamentary seats) in the election this week, the anti-Islam and anti-EU party PVV party of Geert Wilders, a big loser.  The winner, with 33 seats, is the incumbent Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte.  Rutte is expected to form a coalition with other parties to continue as prime minister; there is little hope for Wilders to obtain sufficient support from minor parites to be able to form a government.  The reason, according to this article:

The Dutch economy has rebounded from the 2009 financial crisis and is now among the fastest growing of the OECD countries. Unemployment is low and the government actually recorded a budget surplus in the last quarters before the election. And while the economy didn’t seem to play an important role in an election campaign overshadowed by issues of immigration and national identity, the actual outcome suggests otherwise.   

Syria

Saudi Arabia

Amin Nasser, chief executive officer of the Saudi state crude producer, signed a memorandum of understanding with China North Industries Group Corp. on Thursday to explore downstream oil opportunities. Saudi Aramco, as the company is known, is already a partner in refineries and petrochemical plants in the country. The Chinese company, known as Norinco, manufactures weapons and machinery and also has a refining unit.

Companies from both countries signed 22 agreements to study joint investment opportunities at a ceremony in Beijing. Chinese firms will look at a $2 billion petrochemical plant in Jazan, in the southwest of Saudi Arabia, supplying solar energy material, building e-commerce businesses and investing in a cultural theme park in the Middle East.

India

  • A $33 Billion Manager Says History on Side of Indian Stocks (Bloomberg)  Viewed against its regional peers, the rallying Indian stock market is expensive. Looking at it in terms of its own past, however, a case can be made that there’s room to rise.  It’s a case the nation’s top fund manager is willing to make.

The NSE Nifty 50 Index rallied to an all-time high on Tuesday after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s resounding victory in state elections. While the advance drove it above Japan as the most expensive market in the region relative to earnings and book value, the latter metric was higher in India as recently as two years ago.

Another indicator, one favored by Warren Buffett that compares overall market capitalization to the size of the economy, tells a similar story. The value of Indian equities has climbed to $1.82 trillion, a nine-year high, after the Nifty gauge rebounded from a low in December as data showed Asia’s third-largest economy is recovering from Modi’s decision late last year to junk high-value currency notes. That was about 87 percent of the nation’s GDP.

Japan

  • Tokyo Has More Than Two Job Openings for Every Applicant (Bloomberg)  Graduate recruitment in Japan looks a bit like a scene from the movie "The Matrix." Hordes of students dressed in identical black suits and white shirts make the rounds of seminars, tests and interviews. Even as jobs outnumber applicants, these "Agent Smiths" still fight it out for coveted positions at big-name companies, while leaving smaller employers out in the cold.  Shuto Kuriyama, who works in human resources at regional furniture chain Shimachu Co., said:

"Popular firms in industries like finance have seven applicants for one job. For us, we have seven competitors going after one candidate." 

New Zealand

  • Too Many People Are Going to New Zealand. And That's a Problem (Bloomberg)  Tourism is a big industry for New Zealand but the visitor boom puts infrastructure, environment under pressure.  A hotel shortage highlights need for more investment in a big growth driver for the country.  Tourism is growing much faster than had been projected but investment in the needed infrastructure has not picked up apace.

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

  • In the Next Few Hours, the Deep State Will Launch Its Revenge on Trump (Casey Research)  Econintersect:  There is no date or time on this post so the Casey organization can claim they accurately warned of the exact time of the next economic collapse, whether it comes today or years from now.  Fear mongering over something innocuous can still sell a lot of "advice".

  • Facelifted S-Class Allows Driver to Go Footloose (Wards Auto)  Speeding fines are set to become a thing of the past for drivers of the upcoming facelifted Mercedes-Benz S-Class following a decision to equip the upmarket sedan with an extended range of driver-assistance systems, including newly developed Active Distance Assist that provides fully autonomous acceleration and braking over any journey programmed into its upgraded navigation system.  (Econintersect:  Starting base prices for S-Class vehicles are close to $100k in the U.S..  Survey of a couple of U.S. dealerships showed new prices fully equipped (but not yet including Active Driving Assistance) approaching $200k.)  More from Wards Auto:

Part of a revised Distronic Plus adaptive cruise-control system Mercedes says eventually will filter down into all of its models, the new driving function promises set-and-forget speed-limit peace of mind by autonomously controlling throttle and brake inputs and strictly adhering to both posted and temporary speed limits, whether in an urban environment, on country roads or on the highway.

When engaged, Active Distance Assist allows the driver to ignore the pedals for extended periods. Laws in many markets still require drivers to steer. However, the job of accelerating and braking as well as scanning road signs for changes in speed limits and other warnings is taken care of and autonomously acted upon by the new S-Class that makes its public debut at next month’s Shanghai motor show and goes on sale in the third quarter.

  • Taking the Home Ownership Plunge (Peter Moricci, Washington Times)  Prof Morici finds that it doesn't take a long period of ownership to make buying a home economically advantageous to renting:

Employing a handy calculator on the site I found that for the Washington metro area — with 10 percent down, a 30-year mortgage and a 4.25 interest rate — if the average home is occupied for 5 years after purchase, owning beats renting by about 12 percent. Extending the turnover period to 7 years jumps the savings of owning over renting to 24 percent.

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