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What We Read Today 25 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".).


Every day most of this column ("What We Read Today") is available only to GEI members.

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Topics today include:

  • Broken Politics and a Fragile World Economy

  • Plastic waste on beaches are underestimated by 80%

  • Trump’s Sanctuary Cities Order Blocked by Federal Judge

  • Trump is trying to win over Democrats to his massive tax cut plan

  • Did Trump Get the Anti-Robot Vote?

  • Americans Back Immigration and Trade at Record Levels

  • Support for free trade agreements rebounds modestly, but wide partisan differences remain 

  • How journalism became a crime in Turkey 

  • Japanese Minister to Resign After Remark on 2011 Quake, Report Says 

  • U.S. military begins moving THAAD missile defense into South Korea site: Yonhap

  • Softwood lumber dispute fires up trade fight between Canada, U.S.

  • Its location a mystery for centuries, huge Indian city is found in Kansas

  • Tesla's Semi Truck: Too Much Weight And A Decade Too Late

  • This Time Is Different: Two Reasons Not to Be Alarmed by the Nasdaq Record

  • Real House Prices and Price-to-Rent Ratio in February

  • And More

Note:  Due to staff travel there will be no 'What We Read Today' tomorrow (Wednesday, 26 April). 

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • Broken Politics and a Fragile World Economy (Bloomberg)  The global economy is gathering momentum, the International Monetary Fund has declared. That's probably correct and undeniably encouraging, but there's an ominous discord between this economic expansion and what's euphemistically called "political uncertainty" -- that is, the stresses caused by surging anti-trade, anti-market, anti-immigrant populism.

This "uncertainty" could be the prelude to some seriously bad policies, enough to derail one or more leading economies and stall the global expansion. And there's another danger, less obvious but no less important: the prospect of chronic underperformance. Even if the new politics doesn't bring the ceiling down, it threatens to block the longer-term policies that would promote growth.

Dr Jennifer Lavers, from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, has told Sky News current pollution data could represent just "the tip of the iceberg" of what is really in the environment.

Her study compared the number of plastic items found during a typical beach clean-up - the main source of data for estimates about the quantity of waste on coastlines - with the amount subsequently identified by more thorough surveys of the same areas.


  • Trump’s Sanctuary Cities Order Blocked by Federal Judge (Bloomberg)  A San Francisco judge barred enforcement of President Donald Trump’s executive order withholding funds from so-called sanctuary cities that fail to comply with federal immigration demands by shielding undocumented immigrants.  San Francisco and its Silicon Valley neighbor, Santa Clara County, on Tuesday both won preliminary injunctions blocking the Jan. 25 edict by Trump who declared sanctuary jurisdictions cause “immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic." The city and county argued the president’s order violated the Constitution and threatened to deprive them of funding for local programs.  The federal government may ask the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco to overturn the ruling.

  • Trump is trying to win over Democrats to his massive tax cut plan (Business Insider)  The large tax plan set to be introduced by President Donald Trump on Wednesday is expected to include some provisions that will try and get Democrats on board with the proposal.  Politico's Nancy Cook and Ben White reported on Tuesday that the tax proposal, which will likely be broad outlines, will likely include provisions for infrastructure spending and a tax credit for childcare.

It remains unclear whether opinions are shifting permanently on these matters, or whether support for immigration and trade is solidifying among Democrats and independents as part of a broader reaction against the policies of President Donald Trump.

Six in 10 Americans said immigration helps the nation more than it hurts—up 6 points since the last sounding, in September 2016. One-third of people in the survey said immigration hurts more than it helps.

The result, which marks the highest level of support for immigration dating to at least 2005, comes as Mr. Trump is asking lawmakers to fund a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and has twice signed executive orders, blocked by federal courts, suspending entry from certain countries.

  • Support for free trade agreements rebounds modestly, but wide partisan differences remain (Pew Research Center)  See also preceding article.  Americans’ support for free trade agreements, which fell sharply during the 2016 presidential campaign, has rebounded modestly. The partisan gap in views of trade agreements remains substantial, with Republicans far more likely than Democrats to have a skeptical view of these agreements.  Currently, 52% say free trade agreements between the United States and other countries are a good thing for the U.S., while 40% view them as a bad thing, according to a recent survey by Pew Research Center. In October, during the campaign’s final weeks, just 45% expressed positive opinions of free trade agreements. Current views of free trade remain less positive than they were in May 2015, when 58% said these agreements were good for the U.S.


  • How journalism became a crime in Turkey (Al Monitor)  With the April 16 referendum, Turkey took its first step into a new era. It is a step toward institutionalizing a populist model of governance that will open new ground for violations and tensions in vital areas such as justice, freedom and the supremacy of law.

Since the botched coup in July 2016, Turkey has seen two distinct trends in this context. The first is the ongoing purge and punishment of the putschist group, that is, followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, the accused mastermind of the coup. The second is the clampdown on the opposition and the media, which is carried out on the pretext of the coup attempt. Scores of government opponents have been arrested arbitrarily for alleged links to the putschists. Intellectuals and journalists who have nothing to do with the Gulenists and who have long stood up against military coups are now facing life sentences on incredible charges, including “subliminal” communication with the putschists via TV programs and articles.


Imamura, who oversees post-disaster reconstruction efforts in northern Japan, said earlier in the day it was "good" the quake struck the Tohoku region. While estimates suggest that damage from the disaster reached 25 trillion yen ($225 billion), "it was still good it was in Tohoku," he told a ruling Liberal Democratic Party event in Tokyo, according to footage carried by NHK.

"If this were closer to the Tokyo area, it could have been of enormous proportions," he said. He later retracted the comments, telling reporters he just meant the damage would have been greater had the quake hit Tokyo.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denounced the comments, calling them "extremely inappropriate," according to NHK.

South Korea

  • U.S. military begins moving THAAD missile defense into South Korea site: Yonhap (Reuters)  The U.S. military has started moving parts of the controversial THAAD anti-missile defense system into a planned deployment site in South Korea, Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday.  The United States and South Korea have agreed to deploy THAAD in response to threat of missile launches by North Korea but China has opposed the move saying it helps little to deter the North while destabilizing regional security balance.


  • Softwood lumber dispute fires up trade fight between Canada, U.S. (Reuters)  The United States and Canada faced off on Tuesday in a renewed battle over softwood lumber that threatened to spill over into multiple other sectors, though U.S. President Donald Trump said he did not fear a trade war with Canada.  Canada vowed to fight back against Washington's move on Monday to impose tariffs on lumber that mostly feeds U.S. homebuilding, noting trade authorities have consistently sided with Ottawa in the long-standing dispute. The heated rhetoric came amid fresh attacks from the U.S. president against Canada's dairy industry, and just months after a warm meeting between Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Washington, where Trump said the U.S.-Canada trade relationship only needed "tweaking".   Trump said during a meeting with agricultural leaders at the White House to sign a new executive order:

"People don't realize Canada's been very rough on the United States...they've outsmarted our politicians for years." 

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

  • Its location a mystery for centuries, huge Indian city is found in Kansas (Witchita Eagle)  Etzanoa has been a mystery for 400 years. Archaeologists could not find it. Historians thought reports of a permanent settlement with 20,000 Native Americans in it were exaggerated.  But in Arkansas City, at the confluence of the Walnut and Arkansas Rivers, Blakeslee, an anthropologist and archaeologist at Wichita State University, has found evidence of a town stretching across thousands of acres of bluffs and rich bottomland along two rivers. What clinched it was the discovery, by a high school student, of a half-inch iron cannon ball.  He even found a still-functional water shrine, depicting communication with the spirit world, carved into a limestone boulder in the backyard pf a current resident.

Etzanoa is the second-biggest settlement of Native Americans found in the United States, Blakeslee said. Now it is the known location of a 1601 battle pitting outnumbered Spaniards firing cannons into waves of attacking Indian warriors.  It's a good story, all true, Blakeslee said: A lost city, a forgotten mythology — and the story of the once-great Wichita Nation, decimated by European diseases, and then pushed aside by white settlers and the United States Army.

Etzanoa might have been comparable in size to Cahokia, Blakeslee said. That alone should bring world attention.

The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in western Illinois, with its pyramid Monk's Mound, is the biggest Native American urban complex ever built in the United States. It showcases the 14.4-acre mound that was the centerpiece of the ancient city and the outlines of the city, enclosed by fortress walls and filled with shrines of a powerful mythology and culture outside St. Louis.

Cahokia — the remnants of the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico — attracts 400,000 visitors a year, which gets the attention of Arkansas Citians. If Etzanoa was bigger, "and it might have been," that will rewrite American history, Blakeslee said.

  • Tesla's Semi Truck: Too Much Weight And A Decade Too Late (John Petersen, Seeking Alpha)  JP calculates that the battery pack needed to power a 20,000 semi-tractor would add between 26,000 and 39,000 pounds and occupy 400-600 cubic feet of space.  A 40 foot semi-trailor averages about 10,000-12,000 cubic feet of space so the batteries would only occupy a space of about 5% of total cargo space; but the legal gross weight limit is 80,000.  The use of from 33% to almost half of the gross vehicle weight for batteries does not seem feasible economically.  These are conclusions based on JP's data.  There are many other takes on this in the great comment thread on the article, some of which the author (JP) does not accept.  Worthwhile clicking through for the comments alone although the article is great as well.

  • This Time Is Different: Two Reasons Not to Be Alarmed by the Nasdaq Record (The Wall Street Journal)  Is this the signal the top is near?  The venerable WSJ is saying 'this time is different'.  Reasons Excuses shown include comparisons to the 2000 top.  See graph below for one. (Econintersect:  Yes, things are different now than in 2000.  But that doesn't mean that P/E ratios much larger that earnings growth rates are not vulnerable to sharp correction, especially in a sluggish economy which is starting to look overdue for a recession.)  From the WSJ:

The Nasdaq Composite crossed the 6000 mark on Tuesday morning, setting another record in a year that is already a hot one for the index, and further putting the old dot-com days in the rear-view mirror. But there are at least two notable old records it has not yet surpassed. One is a measure of how far the index still has to go, the other is a mark nobody really wants to see again.

Click for large image.

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