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What We Read Today 20 May 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:

  • U.S. Shale Roars Back at OPEC

  • High Fives in Riyadh as Trump Leaves Woes Behind for Deals

  • Tips For Reading Washington Post Stories About Trump Based On Anonymous Leaks

  • We Are Watching A Slow-Motion Coup D’etat

  • Trump's Russian Meeting:  Right Thing, Wrong Reasons, Deep Stupidity

  • Blackstone Unveils $100 Billion Ambition for Infrastructure

  • How Cell-Phone Plans With Unlimited Data Limited Inflation

  • Mapping the UK Political Manifestos

  • Moderate Hassan Rouhani wins a second term in Iran

  • Brazil’s president asks top court to suspend probe

  • Why Is the Bitcoin Price Rising to $2,000?

  • Mathematics and mind are supernatural, therefore God exists?

  • You Can Prove a Negative

  • Americans Are Paying $38 to Collect $1 of Student Debt

  • Financial Parasites are Sucking the Life Out of America

  • Trends and patterns in intermarriage

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


OPEC may get its members to agree to continue to tamp down oil production, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory.

The biggest threat to the 13-member group’s dominance has been U.S. shale.

In November 2014, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to keep production levels high in the hope it could maintain market share. But that was a difficult task to begin with, and since then, U.S. shale producers have become even more efficient.

By the time OPEC reversed course in November 2016, sending oil prices up as much as 10 percent, shale had already gained ground.



The first day of Donald Trump’s inaugural trip abroad yielded a bonanza of business deals as the president looked to change the focus from the controversies dogging his administration to fulfilling a campaign promise to revitalize the U.S. economy.

Tremendous investments,” Trump said on Saturday as he headed into a meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince. “Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.

It’s nearly incontrovertible that a slow-motion coup d’etat is now taking place. Since November 9, 2016, forces within the U.S. government, media, and partisan opposition have aligned to overthrow the Electoral College winner, Donald Trump.

To achieve this they have undermined the institutions of the Fourth Estate, the bureaucratic apparatus of the U.S. government, and the very nature of a contentious yet affable two-party political system. Unlike the coup d’etat that sees a military or popular figure lead a minority resistance or majority force into power over the legitimate government, this coup d’etat is leaderless and exposes some of the deepest fissures in our system of government. This coup d’etat represents not the rule of one man or even many, but by the multitude of our elites.

  • Right Thing, Wrong Reasons, Deep Stupidity (FreeThought Blogs)  Hat tips to Marcus Ranum and Roger Erickson.  The author says that it is quite likely that the "information" Trump shared with the Russians was quite appropriate, but his defense of President Trump (and his Democratic party critics, as well) ends there.  Here is an illustrative excerpt:

Trump is an embarrassment as a human being, never mind a president. But this manufactroversy is revealing how shallow the press’ understanding is. It’s showing how manipulative and shallow the ‘opposition’ like Nancy Pelosi are. It makes me so angry and frustrated to see how openly ignorant the media are; they’re so stupid they just read whatever talking-points they get given by whoever’s trying to manipulate public opinion. And they do it because they know their consumers are so ignorant that they’re not going to question the lies that are being shoveled at them. If the Russians were thinking anything when Trump told them about the jihadi bomb intelligence it was probably, “Why are you telling us this? Our agents in DHS already told us, but we figured it out immediately after Sharm El Sheikh, you stupid child, you!”

Lies, lies, lies, lies, lies, lies, and stupid. Which is worse? I hate them all.

  • Blackstone Unveils $100 Billion Ambition for Infrastructure (Bloomberg)  Blackstone Group LP, the world’s biggest private equity manager, is eyeing more than $100 billion in infrastructure investments with a new strategy anchored by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.  PIF agreed to commit $20 billion to the pool, and Blackstone plans to raise the same amount from other investors, the New York-based asset manager said in a statement Saturday. With leverage, Blackstone expects to have more than $100 billion in purchasing power for infrastructure projects, primarily in the U.S.  Econintersect:  We strongly object to major reliance on private investment for infrastructure in the U.S.  Such action results in the realization of about $50 billion value in infrastructure for every $100 billion the government spends.  The other $50 billion is payment to a parasitic private financial system which is doing nothing more than the government could do for itself:  create money to pay for the infrastructure.  Isn't it time to get $100 billion in infrastructure value for $100 billion expended?  For further discussion see China Can Fund Infrastructure With Its Own Credit, So Can We.

  • How Cell-Phone Plans With Unlimited Data Limited Inflation (The Wall Street Journal)  Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a research note this week that nearly half of the decline in core CPI inflation this year can be traced to a single item: wireless telephone services.  Cell-plan prices dropped 7% in March and fell an additional 1.7% in April, according to Labor Department data. From April last year, wireless service prices were down 12.9%, the largest decline in 16 years.


  • Mapping the manifestos (The Economist)  For once, British voters can hardly complain that the parties are all the same. Jeremy Corbyn has taken Labour far to the left with a plan to re-nationalise industries and spend billions on public services, including free university education. Theresa May's Conservatives are focused on executing a hard Brexit. The Liberal Democrats are offering the chance to overturn it altogether, via a second referendum. And the UK Independence Party (UKIP), whose founding purpose was to make Britain leave the European Union and which has rather lost its mojo since the referendum, offers a right-wing sideshow.  So far, so different. But there are some curious overlaps.

Click for large image.


  • Hassan Rouhani wins a second term (The Economist)  Moderate forces have won a resounding victory in Iran.  If he had intended to clip President Hassan Rouhani’s wings, Iran’s reactionary supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be disappointed. Far from the knife-edge of an election analysts had anticipated, Mr Rouhani won a resounding 57% of the vote with his rousing reformist rhetoric, and secured a second term without the need for a run-off. His main rival, an authoritarian former judge, Ebrahaim Raisi, who had the backing of the hardliners, trailed badly with 38%.

Traditionally, Mr Khamenei has found second-term presidents, whatever their hue, to be troublesome. Gaining in confidence and anxious to leave a legacy, they have fought to claw back some of the supreme leader’s powers, resulting in acrimonious showdowns. Thanks to his superior constitutional and extra-constitutional powers, Mr Khamenei has always emerged on top. But at 78, he is, perhaps, tiring. Mr Rouhani, ten years his junior, will feel empowered by a popular mandate the unelected supreme leader lacks. He won 23.5m votes, almost 5m more than he did in 2013, and more than any previous president (with the exception of the election in 2009, which is widely reckoned to have been rigged).


  • Brazil’s president asks top court to suspend probe (Financial Times)  Brazil’s political crisis took a bizarre turn on Saturday as the country’s president, Michel Temer, claimed that a secret tape that allegedly showed him endorsing bribe payments had been edited to frame him. Mr Temer asked Brazil’s top court to shelve an investigation against him until it could be determined if the recording was “manipulated”.

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

  • Why Is the Bitcoin Price Rising to $2,000? (David Zeiler, Money Morning)  DZ has contributed to GEI.  A powerful combination of factors is driving the price of Bitcoin higher.  The Bitcoin price has jumped from just under $1,000 at the start of the year to nearly $2,000 today (Friday).  The Bitcoin price gains since 2015 have made it the best-performing investment class in the world. After a 35% rise in 2015, the Bitcoin price increased 123% last year. And in less than five months in 2017, the Bitcoin price has doubled again.  Here are some factors driving bitcoin higher:

  • Bitcoin was made legal tender in Japan on April 1.

  • Bitcoin's offspring have enjoyed even bigger gains this year. The collective market value of all cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin has rocketed 1,500% year to date, from $2.2 billion to $35.2 billion. That's helped boost the Bitcoin price because many cryptos can only be bought with Bitcoin.

  • Institutional investors are bringing "big money" to a "small market" which means continuous samll buying amounts to establish large positions.

  • Rising political and geopolitical risk is increasing demand for apolitical currencies.

  • More and more virtual finance transactions can only be done using bitcoin.

  • Mathematics and mind are supernatural, therefore God exists? (FreeThought Blogs)  The first argument the author quotes is that "math is magic. It’s not matter, and it’s not energy, therefore it’s something independent of physical reality."  The discussion by this author (a biologist) is quite interesting, both logically and intuitively.  Econintersect:  The arguments that we have read by both atheists and believers often suffer from a fallacy of construction:  The failure to prove a negative is taken as "proof" of the opposing positive argument.  There can be probabilistic conclusions from such arguments but never an absolute conclusion.  And the change in probability from failure to prove a negative (like 'there is no God') is minuscule if one accepts the 'principle' of logic that it is 'impossible to prove a negative'.  Of course, the statement "You cannot prove a negative" is itself a negative statement and by its own logic would be unprovable.  See You Can Prove a Negative (Psychology Today).  For a great adventure down this rabbit hole of logic, reads today's post by Frank Li:  There is No God – Not in China, Nor Elsewhere!.

  • Americans Are Paying $38 to Collect $1 of Student Debt (Bloomberg)  Here is another example of a parasitic financial sector boondoggle at the expense of the U.S. government:

The federal government has, in recent years, paid debt collectors close to $1 billion annually to help distressed borrowers climb out of default and scrounge up regular monthly payments. New government figures suggest much of that money may have been wasted.

Nearly half of defaulted student-loan borrowers who worked with debt collectors to return to good standing on their loans defaulted again within three years, according to an analysis by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For their work, debt collectors receive up to $1,710 in payment from the U.S. Department of Education each time a borrower makes good on soured debt through a process known as rehabilitation. They keep those funds even if borrowers subsequently default again, contracts show. The department has earmarked more than $4.2 billion for payments to its debt collectors since the start of the 2013 fiscal year, federal spending data show.

  • Trends and patterns in intermarriage (Pew Research Center)  In 1967, when miscegenation laws were overturned in the United States, 3% of all newlyweds were married to someone of a different race or ethnicity. Since then, intermarriage rates have steadily climbed. By 1980, the share of intermarried newlyweds had about doubled to 7%. And by 2015 the number had risen to 17%.

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