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What We Read Today 17 June 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:

  • Where Did the Polynesians Really Come From?

  • All-bacterial battery makes a nutrient when charged, eats it to discharge

  • The New Normal: Demand, Secular Stagnation and the Vanishing Middle-Class

  • Amazon wrecked the mall. Now it's coming for the grocery store

  • Trump Reveals Flat Revenue at Controversial Washington Hotel

  • Donald Trump had the absolute worst week in Washington

  • Daily Presidential Tracking Poll

  • President Trump Job Approval

  • Mistrial declared in Bill Cosby's criminal trial as jury deadlocks

  • The Housing Recovery Is Leaving Out Most of America

  • London Tower Fire Toll at 58 as Criticism of Premier Grows

  • Cladding 'fitted on Grenfell Tower' is BANNED in US and Germany as material is ruled unsafe for tall buildings

  • Syrian army declares city ceasefire as Russia, U.N. plan July peace talks

  • U.S. welcomes Syria cease-fire, urges opposition to halt attacks.

  • Trump Will Host Modi at White House Later This Month

  • China’s Monetary Policy Zigs Where U.S. Zags

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world

U.S.

Department stores have shed 46% of their workers since 2001, a greater percentage of their jobs than coal mines or factories have lost over the same period. Store closing announcements are piling up at a record pace.

And retail bankruptcies large and small are up 30%, according to BankruptcyData.com. They have included well known names across many sectors: Gymboree, Sports Authority and Payless Shoes have all filed for bankruptcy within the last year.

Sears, the iconic chain that reshaped retailing over the last 100 years, warned earlier this year there is "substantial doubt" it can stay in business.

  • Trump Reveals Flat Revenue at Controversial Washington Hotel (Bloomberg)  President Donald Trump’s latest financial disclosure indicates that his Washington, D.C., hotel hasn’t seen a major jump in monthly revenue since his election, amid critics’ concerns that it might draw spending from people seeking to win the president’s favor.

The hotel, which got off to a money-losing start after its 2016 opening, reported roughly flat average monthly revenue through April 15, according to the 98-page document, which was released Friday evening by the federal Office of Government Ethics.

The disclosure form, the first Trump has filed since taking office, says that the president’s hundreds of holdings produced at least $528.9 million over a 15 1/2-month period that ended in April. That number appears to conflate revenue with income, as Trump’s previous disclosures have.

  • Donald Trump had the absolute worst week in Washington (CNN)   (See also next article.)  Donald Trump hasn't had a lot of good weeks since being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. But this was his worst one yet. This was the week the investigation of Russia's involvement in the 2016 election reached the Oval Office -- and Trump himself.  The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that Trump himself is under investigation by special counsel Bob Mueller for the possibility that he obstructed justice in his decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey.

Trump seemed to confirm that story -- his White House hadn't denied it but instead condemned the leak from which it sprang -- in a Friday morning tweet. "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt," wrote Trump. His aides scrambled in the wake of that tweet to make clear the President was simply saying he had read the reports that he was under investigation but had not been told it separately.

  • Daily Presidential Tracking Poll (Rasmussen Reports)  The most recent report was released 9:30 am Friday, so it was not influenced by Friday's news, discussed in the preceding article.  See also next article.

rasmussen.trump.approval.2017.jun.16

rasmussen.trump.strong.approval.2017.jun.16

  • President Trump Job Approval (Real Clear Politics)  The Rasmussen polling is clearly outside the range of other polls.  If the two extreme results are eliminated (Rasmussen and Quinnipiac), the average results are 39% approve, 53% disapprove.  This is not significantly different from the averages including the two extremes.

Click for larger image.
poll.survey.2017.jun.16

  • Mistrial declared in Bill Cosby's criminal trial as jury deadlocks (CNN)  The high-profile case accusing Bill Cosby of aggravated indecent assault ended in a mistrial Saturday after a Pennsylvania jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision.  The outcome leaves one of America's most recognized entertainers as well as his accusers without vindication, but prosecutors immediately announced they will retry the case.

About an hour into the sixth day of deliberations, Judge Steven O'Neill declared that the jury of seven men and five woman were hopelessly deadlocked in a legal battle closely watched by the public as well as dozens of women who have accused Cosby of similar misconduct in the past.

  • The Housing Recovery Is Leaving Out Most of America (Bloomberg)  For further evidence of the uneven recovery among U.S. housing markets, how’s this: In the 10 most expensive U.S. metropolitan areas, median home values have increased by 63% since 2000, after adjusting for inflation. In the 10 cheapest metros, median values rose by just 3.6%.

UK

  • London Tower Fire Toll at 58 as Criticism of Premier Grows (Bloomberg)  U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May conceded the response for victims of this week’s tower block inferno “was not good enough,” as public criticism of her mounted and police raised the probable death toll to at least 58.  In addition to 30 confirmed fatalities, 28 people are missing and presumed dead, Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy told reporters on Saturday. The total may increase, he said, because it is based on residents’ reports of who was in the building early Wednesday when the fire erupted.  See also next article.

Reynobond’s fire-resistant panel sells for £24 per square metre - £2 more expensive than the standard version. Estimates suggest that the cost of using the more expensive version would have cost about £5000.

Syria

India

  • Trump Will Host Modi at White House Later This Month (Bloomberg)  President Donald Trump will welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington this month, seeking closer economic and defense ties and cooperation in fighting terrorism, the White House said Monday.  The June 26 meeting will be the first between the leaders of the world's two largest democracies, home to 1.6 billion people.  U.S.-India relations prospered under President Barack Obama, particularly after Modi took office in 2014. India was seen as a partner to balance China's growing weight in Asia.

China

  • China’s Monetary Policy Zigs Where U.S. Zags (The Wall Street Journal)  A day after the U.S. Federal Reserve tightened monetary policy, China’s central bank effectively loosened, in a move that suggests Chinese authorities are now more concerned about financial turmoil inside the country than money flowing out of it.  The People’s Bank of China on Friday injected a net 250 billion yuan ($36.73 billion) into the financial system—more than it has on any single day since mid-January, when demand for cash was high ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.

The massive pump priming comes as a monthslong regulatory crackdown on excessive leverage and financial misbehavior in China has left the markets jittery. Most recently, authorities detained Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of Anbang Insurance Group, one of China’s biggest insurers, for what people familiar with the matter described as a probe into possible economic crimes.

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

  • Where Did the Polynesians Really Come From? (Ancient Origins)  Oceania was the last region to be settled by humans and the last part of Oceania to be settled by humans was Polynesia. Polynesians are famous for their voyages to remote islands in distant parts of the Pacific. Using outrigger canoes, they founded a society across islands stretching in a triangle from the Hawaiian Islands to Easter Island to New Zealand, that was reasonably well connected by trade, language, culture, and religion, for being distributed over such a large area. One major question today is where did the Polynesians originally come from? Several theories have been proposed over the years, but one which is gaining ground is that the Polynesians originated from Taiwan, parts of Papua New Guinea, and Southeast Asia.  See also New study suggests that the Philippines is the ancestral homeland of Polynesians.

It is even possible that Thor Heyerdahl may have been partly right about an Amerindian connection. Genetic studies of the Rapa Nui of Easter Island reveal a small percentage of Native American ancestry (8%). To be fair, this study also revealed 16% European ancestry for the Rapa Nui. However, the genes and haplogroups associated with European descent are much less degraded due to recombination than those associated with Native American descent, making it clear that European haplogroups are from 19th century Europeans intermarrying with the natives. The genes associated with Native American ancestry are much older, suggesting a date closer to the 13th-15th centuries AD for these elements entering the genes of the Rapa Nui.

Although it is possible that South American voyagers sailed to Polynesia to meet the Rapa Nui, the Polynesians are known to have been more skilled at seafaring at the time, so it is more likely that it was the Polynesians who came to the Americas. The Rapa Nui may have come to South America to trade with the natives, and as a result may have ended up also bringing home South American brides.

  • All-bacterial battery makes a nutrient when charged, eats it to discharge (Ochen)  The ultimate destination of this electron transport chain doesn't have to be a chemical. There are a variety of bacteria that ultimately send the electrons off into the environment instead. And researchers have figured out how to turn these into a fuel cell, harvesting the electrons to do something useful. While some of these designs were closer to a battery than others, all of them consumed some sort of material in harvesting the electrons.  (For more details, including the fact that the starting material in this experiment was cow manure, see arstechnica.com.)

A team of researchers in the Netherlands figured out how to close the loop and create an actual bacterial battery. One half of the battery behaves like a bacterial fuel cell. But the second half takes the electrons and uses them to synthesize a small organic molecule that the first can eat. Its charging cycle is painfully slow and its energy density is atrocious, but the fact that it works at all seems rather noteworthy.

  • The New Normal: Demand, Secular Stagnation and the Vanishing Middle-Class (Servass Storm, Institute for New Economic Thinking)  Econintersect:  The Servass analysis indicates that the so-called "New Normal" really started at least as early as 1950.  The current real GDP growth rate is part of a 66-year trend, although there may be some increase in the downward trend more recently (1995-2016):

real.gdp.growth.rate.1950.2016


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