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What We Read Today 11 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:

  • Trump Administration hasn't Decided to Pay Obamacare Bills

  • Trump Promised Unpredictable Foreign Policy - Allies See Incoherence

  • Another Voter ID Law Defeat in Federal Court

  • Trump administration says new evidence discredits Russia’s claims on chemical attack in Syria 

  • Monitor says Syria drops barrel bombs despite U.S. warning; Syria denies

  • Tillerson heads to Moscow carrying Western call for Russia to abandon Assad

  • India's World-Beating Stock Rally Needs Earnings Support

  • North Korea warns of nuclear strike if provoked by U.S.

  • China will get better U.S. trade deal if it solves North Korea problem: Trump

  • Trump Will Break Promise on China Currency, Schwarzman Predicts

  • Fears grow that Russia could meddle in Mexican election

  • American Carnage- Fueled by Opioids

  • The Drug Overdose Death Map

  • Disability among working-age adults: A close look at the states 

  • Road Salt Is Making America’s Lakes Undrinkable

  • U.S. Carbon Emissions Keep Dropping - and It's Not Clean Coal Doing It

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world

U.S.

“The administration is currently deciding its position on this matter,” Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Alleigh Marre wrote in an emailed statement. 

At issue are ObamaCare payments known as “cost-sharing reductions," which reimburse insurers for giving discounted deductibles to low-income ObamaCare enrollees. House Republicans sued the Obama administration over the payments, arguing they were unconstitutional because Congress never appropriated the money.

But now that he is commander in chief, anxious allies say that unpredictability might be better described as incoherence — a dangerous tendency at a moment of high tension with Russia and Syria, and with U.S. warships heading toward the Korean Peninsula.

In recent weeks, the new president has held meetings with his counterparts from other countries. But in some cases, those sessions have only heightened doubts that Trump has a clear sense of what direction he intends to take U.S. foreign policy.

  • The Trump Administration Lost Again in Court, This Time on Voter ID (ProPublica)  A federal court in Texas has again ruled the state’s 2011 voter identification law intentionally discriminated against minorities. It’s the latest loss in the case for Texas — which has spent years unsuccessfully defending the law. But it also has implications for the Trump administration.

In February, the new administration abruptly abandoned the crux of the Justice Department’s opposition to the voter ID law. Government lawyers also asked the judge to delay her decision on whether the law intentionally discriminated against blacks and Latinos.

Judge Nelva Ramos Gonzales rejected their request for a delay. And Monday, she ruled that the law “was passed, at least in part, with a discriminatory intent in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

As noted by Climate Central, the most significant change can be seen in carbon emissions from electric power plants, specifically. This is the second year in a row that this has fallen by five percent, and the first time that such a sizable change could be seen over the course of two years. Since 2005, carbon dioxide emissions at electricity plants have fallen by nearly a quarter. Experts say this is likely the result of inefficient coal-fired power plants being replaced.

The overall carbon decrease can be put down to a drop in pollution from coal used to generate energy and a decrease in coal use all-around in favor cleaner sources of energy (something President Trump has been pledging to fight aggressively). It is not, as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently said, because of anything to do with “clean coal,” which refers to a carbon capture and transportation technique that is expensive, unfunded, and far from widespread in its use.

Energy-related CO2 emissions can be reduced by consuming less petroleum, coal, and natural gas, or by switching from more carbon-intensive fuels to less carbon-intensive fuels. Many of the changes in energy-related CO2 emissions in recent history have occurred in the electric power sector because of the decreased use of coal and the increased use of natural gas for electricity generation.

Starting in the 1940s, people started using salt to make roads less icy, and today the U.S. and Canada dump and estimated 23 million tons of it into roadways every year (the U.S. accounts for almost 80 percent of that). Previous studies have found that salt quickly dissolves into waterways, affecting rivers and groundwater, but researchers knew little about its effect on lakes.

Syria

Russia

India

  • World-Beating Stock Rally Hinges on Corporate India's Profits (Bloomberg)  The fate of India’s world-beating stock-market rally hinges on a routine event: earnings season.  Equities are trading near record levels in Mumbai, bolstered by bets that a state election victory will embolden Prime Minister Narendra Modi to push ahead with his reform agenda. Valuations rose to the highest level since 2010 at the end of March and the S&P BSE Sensex index is the top-performing gauge this year among the world’s 10 biggest stock markets.  The gap between share prices and company profits has widened since 2014 on expectations economic growth will filter into bottom lines. That hasn’t happened consistently.

North Korea

China

The Trump administration is expected to issue a report in mid-April that will include a determination on whether China manipulates its currency, the renminbi. “I would doubt that would happen,” Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone Group chairman and chief executive officer said Tuesday in a Bloomberg Television interview.

Mexico

  • Fears grow that Russia could meddle in Mexican election (The Hill)  Fears that Russia could meddle in next year’s Mexican presidential election are growing.  While there is no hard evidence to suggest that Moscow will be involved in the contest, its effort to disrupt last year’s U.S. election and reports that it is trying to affect elections in Europe have augmented concerns.

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

  • American Carnage (First Things)  Hat tip to Roger Erickson.  There have always been drug addicts in need of help, but the scale of the present wave of heroin and opioid abuse is unprecedented. Fifty-two thousand Americans died of overdoses in 2015—about four times as many as died from gun homicides and half again as many as died in car accidents.  The opioid and drug overdose epodemics are truly American carnage.  See also next article from December 2016, which has a lower number for opioid deaths only in 2015.  The number in this article is for opioids plus all other drug ODs. See second article below for details on how the problem is growing.

  • Where opiates killed the most people in 2015 (The Washington Post)  More than 33,000 people died of opioid overdoses in the United States in 2015. But speaking of an “opiate epidemic” is in some ways a misnomer. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the country is in fact dealing with multiple opioid epidemics right now — each with a distinct geographic footprint.

Starting with the big picture, here's a map of total opioid death rates by state. County-level data would be preferable, but the CDC suppresses data for many small counties to protect the privacy of the people who live there. The data in this map encompasseseverything from heroin to hydrocodone to more powerful synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

  • Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015 (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)  The U.S. opioid epidemic is continuing, and drug overdose deaths nearly tripled during 1999–2014. Among 47,055 drug overdose deaths that occurred in 2014 in the United States, 28,647 (60.9%) involved an opioid.  The drug overdose death rate increased significantly from 12.3 per 100,000 population in 2010 to 16.3 in 2015. Death rates increased in 30 states and DC and remained stable in 19 states.

To provide financial support, federal and state governments offer programs serving disabled people of all ages. In 2015, the U.S. government spent $143 billion to help nearly 9 million disabled workers and about 2 million of their family members through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. A 2016 report from the U.S. Social Security Administration shows that another $54.8 billion was distributed in 2015 as cash payments through a second federal program, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which targets low-income people who are disabled or elderly. The majority of SSI payments, however, go to disabled adults.

  • There are large differences in disability prevalence among states. Prevalence among U.S-born residents ranges from about 13 percent in North Dakota, Minnesota and Hawaii to 22 percent or more in Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia. The national average is 16.6 percent.

  • The authors studied individuals who live in the same state where they were born and found substantial differences among age groups across the states. For example, in North Dakota, 4.1 percent of people aged 25  to 34 who were born in that state are disabled, while in West Virginia, 10.5 percent of people aged 25 to 34 who were born in that state are disabled. In Minnesota, 14.6 percent of people aged 55 to 64 who were born in that state are disabled. The proportion is more than twice that (31 percent) in West Virginia.

  • “Younger adults in the ‘unhealthiest’ states experience levels of disability similar to adults a decade or two older in the ‘healthiest’ states.”

  • The patterns are similar for men and women.

  • The states with the largest prevalence of residents with hearing disabilities are Alaska (10.2 percent), West Virginia (7.4 percent) and New Mexico (7.3 percent). New Jersey had the smallest prevalence with hearing disabilities (3.7 percent).

  • The states with the largest prevalence  of residents with vision-related disabilities are Alaska (6.3 percent), New Mexico (5.3 percent) and Mississippi (5.0 percent). Minnesota had the smallest prevalence of residents with vision-related disabilities (1.7 percent).

  • The states with the largest prevalence  of residents with cognitive disabilities are Mississippi (9.0 percent), West Virginia (8.9 percent) and Kentucky (8.7 percent). North Dakota had the smallest prevalence of residents with cognitive disabilities (4.1 percent).

  • Living in a state that has a long history of offering an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) seems to reduce the odds of disability later in life.

  • Higher tobacco taxes are linked to lower odds of disability for middle-age women.

  • “Living in a state with a strong economic output (measured by GSPPC [gross state product per capita]) and a population that shares more equally in those fortunes seems to be particularly salubrious.”

  • Napoleon was not short; he was of average height.

  • Nowhere in the bible does it specify three wise men.

  • Black holes are not really holes.


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