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What We Read Today 03 April 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:

  • Maple syrup extract enhances antibiotic action

  • How to axe the IRS: Switch to an elegant and fair value-added tax

  • Switch from nuclear to coal-fired power linked to low birth weight in US region

  • Impacts of nuclear plant shutdown on coal-fired power generation and infant health in the Tennessee Valley in the 1980s

  • Tesla's Market Value Passes Ford

  • The government’s struggle to hold opioid manufacturers accountable

  • Dems reach magic number to block Supreme Court nominee 

  • Senators fear fallout of nuclear option

  • Trump Donates First Quarter Salary to the National Park Service

  • Britain's Brexit Bill Gives Government Unprecedented Powers 

  • St. Petersburg Bombing Kills 11

  • In the Philippines, 'The Punisher' Takes a Beating 

  • Moon, Ahn and a Self-Described Strongman Vie to Lead South Korea

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world

U.S.

  • The government’s struggle to hold opioid manufacturers accountable (The Washington Post)  After years pf investigation, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) has been unable (or unwilling) to bring a case against Mallinkrodt Pharmaceuticals, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of the highly addictive generic painkiller oxycodone.  From The WaPo:

Ultimately, the DEA and federal prosecutors would contend that the company ignored its responsibility to report suspicious orders as 500 million of its pills ended up in Florida between 2008 and 2012 — 66 percent of all oxycodone sold in the state. Government investigators alleged in internal documents that the company’s lack of due diligence could have resulted in nearly 44,000 federal violations and exposed it to $2.3 billion in fines, according to confidential government records and emails obtained by The Washington Post.

But six years later, after four investigations that spanned five states, the government has taken no legal action against Mallinckrodt. Instead, the company has reached a tentative settlement with federal prosecutors, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Under the proposal, which remains confidential, Mallinckrodt would agree to pay a $35 million fine and admit no wrongdoing.

  • Dems reach magic number to block Supreme Court nominee (The Hill)  Senate Democrats have clinched enough support to block Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court, setting up a "nuclear" showdown over Senate rules later this week.  Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) announced on Monday that he will oppose President Trump's pick on a procedural vote where he will need the support of eight Democrats to cross a 60-vote threshold to end debate on Gorsuch. Coons is the 41st Democrat to back the filibuster.  See also next article.

  • Senators fear fallout of nuclear option (The Hill)  Senators in both parties are speculating that a blowup over President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court could lead not only to the end of the filibuster for such nominations, but for controversial legislation as well.  While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the legislative filibuster is safe, lawmakers fear that pressure will grow to get rid of it if Democrats block Neil Gorsuch’s nomination this week.  McConnell has all but promised to change the Senate’s rules to allow Gorsuch to be confirmed in a majority vote if Democrats filibuster him.

  • Trump Today: President gives his first-quarter salary to National Park Service (MarketWatch)  White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump has donated his first-quarter salary of $78,333 to the National Park Service. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters at the daily White House briefing the money would go to maintaining historic battlefield sites. Trump said during the campaign he would not take a salary as president.  The National Park Service is under the Interior Department — an agency whose budget Trump has pledged to cut by $1.5 billion, or 12%.

UK

The British government published its proposals on Thursday for a Great Repeal Bill, aimed at converting European Union law into domestic law, on the first day after Britain leaves the EU. Britain's Brexit minister, David Davis, told Parliament that the Great Repeal Bill will provide clarity, and certainty for businesses, workers, and consumers, across the United Kingdom, on the day the UK leaves the EU.

However, a recently released report from the group called, Another Europe Is Possible, has warned that the proposals grant the government an almost unprecedented level of unaccountable power. Using a political process that will chill democratic scrutiny.

  • Activist 'upset' that Trump staff secretly photographed her urinating (The Guardian)  Rohan Beyts, an environment activist who campaigned against the resort, has told a court she felt “really upset” after learning that Donald Trump employees had secretly photographed her allegedly urinating on his golf course.  Beyts is suing the US president’s golf course in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, for breach of privacy after its executives called in the police over the incident in April 2016, accusing her of committing a public nuisance.  Betys says she was suffering incontinence and sought out a private spot behind a dune.  She was not trespassing under Scotlish law and the filming was in violation of Scottish law, according toThe Guardian.

Russia

The explosion occurred at around 2.30pm local time on Monday, after the train had left Sennaya Ploshchad station in the centre of St Petersburg. The driver made the decision to continue to the next station, Tekhnologicheskii Institut, in order to make evacuation easier.  

The explosive device had been left inside the carriage, according to law enforcement sources. Those on the train spoke of a blast that was mainly felt in the carriage where it occurred, three from the front of the train.

Philippines

  • In the Philippines, 'The Punisher' Takes a Beating (Stratfor)  Nine months after surging into office on a wave of popular support, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is on shaky ground as he pushes ahead with his controversial agenda. At home, "The Punisher's" brutal campaign against drug dealers and crackdown on corruption among bureaucrats and police forces are still widely supported by Philippine citizens. But the extrajudicial killings, which so far have claimed around 8,000 lives, have begun to draw criticism from the Catholic Church, civil society groups and Western governments. His political opponents have seized upon the condemnations, along with his threats to impose martial law, to try to mobilize the public against his young administration.

  • Challenges to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's hold on power, whether in the form of an impeachment or a coup, are unlikely to gain momentum while he remains broadly popular.

  • But China's unrelenting attempts to extend its maritime boundaries will complicate its detente with the Philippines and undermine Duterte's political support at home.

  • Meanwhile, the president's contentious domestic agenda will test the mettle of his ruling coalition. 

South Korea

  • Moon, Ahn and a Self-Described Strongman Vie to Lead South Korea (Bloomberg)  Five weeks from South Korea’s election, it’s down to a three-horse race.  Park Geun-hye’s unprecedented ouster last month triggered a special election set for May 9. Late Monday, frontrunner Moon Jae-in was confirmed as the candidate for the left-leaning Democratic Party of Korea, and Ahn Cheol-soo has all but sealed the nomination for his center-left People’s Party. Hong Joon-pyo will represent Park’s right-wing Liberty Korea Party.

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

  • No more 'superbugs'? Maple syrup extract enhances antibiotic action (Phys.org)  Hat tip to Roger Erickson.  Antibiotics save lives every day, but there is a downside to their ubiquity. High doses can kill healthy cells along with infection-causing bacteria, while also spurring the creation of "superbugs" that no longer respond to known antibiotics. Now, researchers may have found a natural way to cut down on antibiotic use without sacrificing health: a maple syrup extract that dramatically increases the potency of these medicines.

The researchers will present their work today at the 253rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

"Native populations in Canada have long used maple syrup to fight infections," says Nathalie Tufenkji, Ph.D. "I've always been interested in the science behind these folk medicines."

The idea for the project really gelled when Tufenkji, who had been studying the antimicrobial effects of cranberry extracts, learned of the anti-cancer properties of a phenolic maple syrup extract. "That gave me the idea to check its antimicrobial activity," Tufenkji says. "So, I sent my postdoc to the store to buy some syrup."

  • How to axe the IRS: Switch to an elegant and fair value-added tax (Peter Morici, MarketWatch)  Morici, a Univesrity of Maryland professor, argues that replacing the federal income tax with a value added tax (VAT) would produce "a simpler and fairer system".  Many of his arguments are valid (Econintersect opinion), see first excerpt below regarding negatives for the current income tax system.  Morici acknowledges the major shortcoming of the VAT system is its regressive nature, falling disproportionately (on a percentage of income basis) on lower incomes.  He offers a tax credit award system for children and seniors to try to offset.  See second excerpt below, regarding a tax on all economic activity.  Econintersect: To completely remove the regressive nature of VAT, we suggest a reverse income tax system would be needed.  Using Morici's 20% VAT number, lowest income levels would receive a substantial annual payment by filing their income statement report.  An example:  first $5,000 of income receives the largest payment (either the full 20%, or something lower).  For each dependent (typically spouse and children) the full payment income is increased by exemptions of $5,000.  Thus, a family of four gets the full "refund" for income up to $20,000.  The refund formula could then reduce the payment proportionately such that the payment is phased down to 0% by individual income of $40,000 (as an example), which would be $160,000 for a family of four.  To accommodate the disadvantages for seniors, the individual exemptions could be higher over 65.  If doubled, seniors would get the maximum "rebate" for income up to $10,000 individually ($20,000 per couple), with phase down to 0% by $45,000 ($90,000 per couple).   This would remove the most regressive characteristics of what Morici proposes. 

The personal and corporate taxes levy terribly high marginal rates, offer a myriad of special-interest credits and deductions, require expensive recordkeeping and impose complex auditing functions at the Internal Revenue Service that have proven susceptible to political abuse.

Americans believe it favors the very wealthy and big businesses, who can afford high-dollar lobbyists and big campaign contributions. It does encourage businesses of all sizes to often make decisions based on tax considerations instead of sound economics.

Junk it [the income tax system] and impose a VAT of 11% on all economic activities.

Two problems would remain. A VAT would tax rich and poor consumers at the same rate. The elderly, who more or less live on savings, have already paid income taxes on those savings and would be taxed again.

An effective response would be to raise the rate to 14%, and award each parent $4,000 for each child under 21 and to seniors 65 and older.

Taking things a step further, the Social Security and Medicare taxes could be eliminated by raising the rate to 20%.

  • Switch from nuclear to coal-fired power linked to low birth weight in US region (The Guardian)   See also next article.  Children in a region of the US were born smaller after the area switched from nuclear plants to coal-fired power stations, new research has found.  The study looked at of the impact of nuclear power plant closures in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 – the most serious such accident in US history – in which one of the power station’s reactors underwent a partial meltdown.  While the study is based on a historical incident, experts say the results are pertinent given the shift from nuclear to coal power in Japan and Germany following the Fukushima accident in 2011, and the eagerness of the Trump administration to embrace coal.  According to Edson Severnini, author of the research from Carnegie Mellon University in the US:

“At the time policymakers thought they were protecting public health by scrutinizing nuclear power plants, given the partial meltdown that happened in Three Mile Island.  But they didn’t anticipate this indirect effect that happened through the relocation of electricity generation from nuclear to coal.”

coal.power.birth.weight


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