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What We Read Today 15 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:

  • The Last Person Born in the 19th Century Died Yesterday

  • Waste Water Restrictions for Coal Plants Removed

  • 2 Tennessee Cases Bring Coal’s Hidden Hazard to Light

  • Here's Why Robust U.S. Job Market Isn't Producing Better Pay

  • U.S. Treasury Has Switzerland in Its Sights 

  • Erdogan's Turkey Votes Tomorrow

  • More Than 7,000 People Evacuated From 4 Besieged Syrian Towns

  • Dozens Killed as Blast Strikes Convoy Carrying Evacuated Syrians

  • Former Afghan president calls decision to drop massive U.S. bomb 'treason'

  • North Korean Official: Situation in a 'Vicious Cycle' 

  • North Korea displays apparently new missiles as U.S. carrier group approaches 

  • Meet the Amazon Em[lpyee Who Out-Earned Jeff Bezos Last Year

  • Good-bye plastic: Lego announces a huge change in the future of its toys.

  • Soros Sued by Fellow Billionaire in $10 Billion Mine Brawl

  • A Retiree Discovers an Elusive Math Proof - and Nobody Notices

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world

Global

  • World's oldest person, last one of 19th century, dies in Italy at 117 (Reuters)  Emma Morano, who lived 117 years and 137 days, was born on Nov. 29, 1899, four years before the Wright brothers first took to the air. Her life spanned three centuries, two World Wars and more than 90 Italian governments.  Caption for picture below:   Emma Morano, thought to be the world's oldest person and the last to be born in the 1800s, is seen during her 117th birthday in her house in Verbania, northern Italy November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

U.S.

  • Trump administration halts Obama-era rule aimed at curbing toxic wastewater from coal plants (The Washington Post)   See also next article.  The Trump administration has hit the pause button on an Obama-era regulation aimed at limiting the dumping of toxic metals such as arsenic and mercury by the nation’s power plants into public waterways.  “I have decided that it is appropriate and in the public interest to reconsider the rule,” Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, wrote this week in a letter to groups that had petitioned the agency to revisit the rule, which was finalized in 2015.  Beginning in 2018, power plants would have had to begin showing that they were using the most up-to-date technology to remove heavy metals — including lead, arsenic, mercury and other pollutants — from their wastewater. Pruitt wrote that the EPA plans to postpone compliance deadlines for the regulation, which is also being challenged in a federal court. On Thursday, the EPA said the rule would cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars a year to comply with.  Pruit said in a statement:

“This action is another example of EPA implementing President Trump’s vision of being good stewards of our natural resources, while not developing regulations that hurt our economy and kill jobs.  Some of our nation’s largest job producers have objected to this rule, saying the requirements set by the Obama administration are not economically or technologically feasible within the prescribed time frame.”

  • 2 Tennessee Cases Bring Coal’s Hidden Hazard to Light (The New York Times)  Coal ash, the hazardous byproduct of burning coal to produce power, is a particularly insidious legacy of the nation’s dependence on coal. Unlike the visible and heavily regulated airborne emissions from power plant smokestacks, coal ash is largely unseen unless there is a major spill and, until recently, far less effectively regulated.  More than 100 million tons of coal ash is produced every year, one of the nation’s largest and most vexing streams of toxic waste. The hazardous dust and sludge — containing arsenic, mercury, lead and other heavy metals — fill more than a thousand landfills and bodies of water in nearly every state, threatening air, land, water and human health.

  • Here's Why Robust U.S. Job Market Isn't Producing Better Pay (Bloomberg)  Growth in Americans’ wages has been leveling off lately, contrary to expectations that a steadily falling jobless rate will quickly lead to a sustained acceleration.  Blame it on dismal productivity and lingering, albeit diminishing, slack even with unemployment at an almost 10-year low of 4.5%.  The government’s most recent jobs report showed the underemployment rate -- the broadest gauge of joblessness because it also includes marginally attached workers and those working part time who’d prefer a full-time position (aka U-6 rate) -- also has been falling though it’s still higher than just before the 2007-2009 recession. 

Switzerland

  • U.S. Treasury Has Switzerland in Its Sights (Bloomberg)  Switzerland was again included among the countries singled out by the U.S. Treasury for the value of their currencies and exports.  That could make life more complicated for the Swiss National Bank, which has used foreign exchange interventions for the better part of a decade to counter an overvalued currency that risked tipping the economy into a recession.  The U.S. department is required by law to report to Congress twice a year on whether its major trading partners are gaming their currencies. The latest report was issued Friday. Given its interventions and trade surplus, Switzerland got added to the watch list last year, and any country deemed to be engaging in unfair practices could face penalties. 

According to President Thomas Jordan, the SNB is only trying to limit the strength of the currency and isn’t pushing it down to artificially low levels. “The monetary policy of the central bank isn’t one of competitive devaluation,” Jordan said in Baden-Baden, Germany, on March 18.

Turkey

  • Erdogan's Turkey (BBC News)  Tomorrow the Turks go to the polls.  Turkey is about to decide what sort of country it wants to be.  The referendum could increase the president’s power.  But how much has Turkey already changed, moulded by the vision of one man?

Syria

  • Dozens Killed as Blast Strikes Convoy Carrying Evacuated Syrians (The New York Times)  Dozens of people were killed in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Saturday when a car bomb struck a group of buses carrying residents and fighters who had been evacuated from two besieged towns the day before.  The blast interrupted a deal between the government and the rebels to evacuate people from four villages that have suffered prolonged sieges.  Photographs from the scene posted on social media showed a line of buses destroyed in the blast, their windows blown out and charred bodies scattered in the road.  Syrian state television said at least 39 people were killed in what it called a terrorist attack. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which opposes the government and tracks the war from Britain through contacts in Syria, said at least 43 people were killed.  See also More Than 7,000 People Evacuated From 4 Besieged Syrian Towns.

Click for larger image.

Afghanistan

  • Former Afghan president calls decision to drop massive U.S. bomb 'treason' (Reuters)  Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai accused his successor on Saturday of committing treason by allowing the U.S. military to drop the largest conventional bomb ever used in combat during an operation against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan.  Karzai, who also vowed to "stand against America", retains considerable influence within Afghanistan's majority Pashtun ethnic group, to which President Ashraf Ghani also belongs. His strong words could signal a broader political backlash that may endanger the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan.  Afghan defense officials have said the 21,600-pound (9,797-kg) GBU-43, dropped late on Thursday in the eastern province of Nangarhar, had killed nearly 100 suspected militants, though they acknowledged this was an estimate and not based on an actual body count.

North Korea

  • North Korean Official: Situation in a 'Vicious Cycle' (Bloomberg)  North Korea's vice foreign minister says President Donald Trump's policy toward the country is more "vicious and aggressive" than President Barack Obama's.  The country's official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).  Vice Minister Han Song Ryol told The Associated Press that Trump's tweets were making trouble in the region.  Trump tweeted Tuesday that the North was "looking for trouble" and if China didn't do its part to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, the U.S. could handle it alone.   Han said:

 "We are comparing Trump's policy toward the DPRK with the former administrations and we have concluded that it's becoming more vicious and more aggressive.  Whatever comes from U.S. politicians, if their words are designed to overthrow the DPRK system and government, we will categorically reject them."

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

  • This Amazon Employee Out-Earned Jeff Bezos Last Year (Bloomberg)  Amazon CEO Bezos may be the world’s second-richest person, but he was outearned last year by Andrew Jassy, the head of Amazon Web Services which includes the company’s cloud business.  Jassy received $35.4 million in stock and about $179,000 in salary and a 401(k) match, according to a regulatory filing from the Seattle-based company Wednesday. The shares rose in value to about $54 million as of Tuesday’s close. Jassy, promoted to a new CEO role for the division a year ago, was the company’s top-paid employee among the six executives whose compensation has to be publicly disclosed, including Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos.

  • Good-bye plastic: Lego announces a huge change in the future of its toys. (Upworthy)   The Lego Group os going to invest 1 BILLION Danish Krone (which is about $150 million USD) in a program that'll make the Lego blocks we know and love even better!  They're going to spend the money to hire 100 amazing, smart people to figure out materials that aren't harmful to the environment that can be used to make Legos instead.  See also Lego Group to Invest 1 Billion DKK Boosting Research for Sustainable Materials.

  • Gold in the 21st Century (Chart of the Day)  oday's chart provides some long-term perspective on this millennium's gold market. As today's chart illustrates, the pace of the bull market in gold that began back in 2001 increased over time. In 2011, however, the parabolic trend in gold prices came to an end and a new downtrend began. So far this year, gold has rallied and is once again testing resistance of its five-year downtrend channel.

Soros funded law firms, transparency groups, investigators and government officials in Guinea in a coordinated effort to ensure BSG Resources Ltd. lost the rights to the Simandou deposit in April 2014, BSGR said in a complaint filed Friday in Manhattan federal court.

After years of BSGR accusing Soros of propagating corruption allegations which resulted in its loss of Simandou, this is the first time it took direct legal action against him. In the complaint, BSGR alleges that Soros was driven by a grudge dating back to 1998 around a business in Russia and his alleged hostility towards Israel.

  • A Retiree Discovers an Elusive Math Proof - and Nobody Notices (Wired)  Thomas Royen, a little-known retired German statistician, has found the proof of a famous conjecture at the intersection of geometry, probability theory, and statistics that had eluded top experts for decades.  Known as the Gaussian correlation inequality (GCI), the conjecture originated in the 1950s, was posed in its most elegant form in 1972 and has held mathematicians in its thrall ever since.  Royen formulated the proof in the summer of 2014 but it is only now starting to get wide professional distribution.

    In its most famous form, formulated in 1972, the GCI links probability and geometry: It places a lower bound on a player’s odds in a game of darts, including hypothetical dart games in higher dimensions.  Imagine two convex polygons, such as a rectangle and a circle, centered on a point that serves as the target. Darts thrown at the target will land in a bell curve or “Gaussian distribution” of positions around the center point. The Gaussian correlation inequality says that the probability that a dart will land inside both the rectangle and the circle is always as high as or higher than the individual probability of its landing inside the rectangle multiplied by the individual probability of its landing in the circle. In plainer terms, because the two shapes overlap, striking one increases your chances of also striking the other. The same inequality was thought to hold for any two convex symmetrical shapes with any number of dimensions centered on a point.  

    Until Royen's proof in 2014, countless attempts to prove the hypothesis failed.  The graphic below shows applied examples of the GCI hypothesis, which can now be called the CGI Law.  Econintersect:  Or the Royen Law?


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