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What We Read Today 21 July 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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  • Can we ditch dark energy by better understanding general relativity?

  • Small Firms in U.S. are Giving Larger Raises

  • Hubble sees martian moon orbiting the Red Planet

  • New breakthrough discovery—every quantum particle travels backwards

  • 17 Days on North America's Second-Highest Peak

  • 7 Countries Leading the Way on the Race to Go Electric

  • Spicer resigns as White House press secretary

  • Scaramucci heaps praise on Trump in White House debut

  • With New D.C. Policy Group, Dems Continue to Rehabilitate and Unify With Bush-Era Neocons

  • 46 Republicans buck party to help Democrats take down anti-climate action amendment

  • America’s Biggest Publicly Funded, Fully Integrated Health-Care System Is Under Attack

  • Trump Nominates Climate-Denying, Conservative Talk Show Host as USDA's Top Scientist

  • Third Fed Rate Hike this Year?

  • Smaller Economies in the Eurozone have been Outperforming

  • Paramilitary troops kill senior Islamic State leaders, west of Mosul

  • Paramilitary troops kill senior Islamic State leaders, west of Mosul

  • US kills Afghan forces in 'friendly fire' incident

  • India’s prime minister is not as much of a reformer as he seems

  • Scampering dogs in Chile help restore burnt forests 

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • China (leading)

  • Sweden

  • Norway

  • Germany

  • Netherlands

  • France

  • India


One of the most under-discussed yet consequential changes in the American political landscape is the reunion between the Democratic Party and the country’s most extreme and discredited neocons. While the rise of Donald Trump, whom neocons loathe, has accelerated this realignment, it began long before the ascension of Trump and is driven by far more common beliefs than contempt for the current president.

Introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), the amendment would have blocked a provision in the current version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that requires a study into the 20-year impacts of climate change on the military. The amendment also would have removed language from the NDAA that recognizes climate change as a “direct threat” to the national security of the United States.

The Trump administration has no trouble boosting an already swollen Pentagon budget. But it favors only a modest increase in VHA funding, most of which would be spent on steering veterans’ care toward non-VHA doctors and hospitals and to for-profit companies for services like audiology and optometry. As part of their ever-expanding outsourcing strategy, Trump’s Republican allies—and even some Democrats—have demonized VHA employees and attacked their workplace rights and union protections. Meanwhile, according to a number of VHA clinicians I have recently spoken with, VHA leadership is making it difficult for facilities to hire needed staff. An in-house electronic medical-records system that’s one of the best in the country is slated to be replaced by one produced by a private vendor. More importantly, Congress is considering legislation that could pave the way for agency dismantling.

Clovis, an early advisor to the Trump campaign, has a master's in business administration and a doctoral degree in public administration, and appears to have no published scientific or academic work to his name. The position he is nominated for, which is tasked to provide scientific direction and uphold "scientific integrity" at the USDA, has previously been held by distinguished scientists with deep expertise in certain issue areas.

In a 2014 interview, Clovis called evidence of climate change "junk science," claiming that he has "enough of a science background to know when I'm being boofed."

  • Third Fed Rate Hike this Year? (The Daily Shot)  The market-implied probability of a third Fed rate hike this year dipped below 40%, the lowest level since early May.



  • Paramilitary troops kill senior Islamic State leaders, west of Mosul (Iraqi News)  Hat tip to Sig Silber.   Three senior Islamic State leaders were killed in Tal Afar town, west of Mosul, the Shia-led paramilitary troops said on Friday.  A statement by Saraya al-Jihad militia, affiliated to al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units) said troops “identified the bodies of IS members, who were killed on Thursday while infiltrating behind the troops in Tal al-Zalat region, west of Mosul.”  Econintersect:  The new Shia (neo-Persian) empire is growing.

  • Iraq to receive Russian T-90 tanks in 2017 (Iraqi News)  Hat tip to Sig Silber.  Iraq will receive a large number of Russian T-90 tanks during 2017, a senior Russian presidential official was quoted saying late Wednesday.  Russia’s president’s assistant for military cooperation, Vladimir Kojen, told Izvestia newspaper it was not possible for him to state the exact number of tanks, but said the batch come as part of a new deal between both countries. He said the tanks were a first part of a series of military equipment intended for Iraq.  The official did not set a price for the deal, but the newspaper estimated it by more than $1 billion.  Econintersect:  The U.S. is abdicating its role pf recent decades in the "fertile crescent".


  • US kills Afghan forces in 'friendly fire' incident (The Hill)  A U.S. airstrike killed an unspecified number of Afghan forces on Friday in what U.S. officials are describing as a friendly fire incident.  U.S. Forces Afghanistan said in a statement Friday:

“We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families affected by this unfortunate incident.  During a U.S.-supported [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] operation, aerial fires resulted in the deaths of the friendly Afghan forces who were gathered in a compound."


  • India’s prime minister is not as much of a reformer as he seems (The Economist)  Hat tip to Sanjeev Kulkarni.  This article says that yes, Mr Modi has pandered to religious sentiment at times, most notably by appointing a rabble-rousing Hindu prelate as chief minister of India’s most-populous state, Uttar Pradesh. But he has also presided over an acceleration in economic growth, from 6.4% in 2013 to a high of 7.9% in 2015—which made India the fastest-growing big economy in the world. He has pushed through reforms that had stalled for years, including an overhaul of bankruptcy law and the adoption of a nationwide sales tax (GST) to replace a confusing array of local and national levies. Foreign investment has soared, albeit from a low base. India, cabinet ministers insist, is at last becoming the tiger Mr Modi promised.  But Mr. Modi has been "more an administrator than a reformer":

Alas, these appearances are deceiving (see article). The GST, although welcome, is unnecessarily complicated and bureaucratic, greatly reducing its efficiency. The new bankruptcy law is a step in the right direction, but it will take much more to revive the financial system, which is dominated by state-owned banks weighed down by dud loans. The central government’s response to a host of pressing economic problems, from the difficulty of buying land to the reform of rigid labour laws, has been to pass them to the states. And at least one of the big reforms it has undertaken—the overnight cancellation of most of India’s banknotes in an effort to curb the black economy—was counterproductive, hamstringing legitimate businesses without doing much harm to illicit ones. No wonder the economy is starting to drag.


  • Scampering dogs in Chile help restore burnt forests (  Hat tip to Roger Erickson.  Forest fires in Chile ravaged vast swathes of land this year, leaving patches once thick with sturdy old trees reduced to burnt landscapes. Now, three plucky dogs are helping replant it all.  Trained Border Collies run through a forest devastated by massive fire, sowing tree seeds that fall to the ground from their special backpacks in Talca, Chile.


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

  • Can we ditch dark energy by better understanding general relativity? (  Hat tip to Roger Erickson.  A renewed suggestion that dark energy may not be real—dispensing with 70% of the stuff in the universe—has reignited a longstanding debate.  Dark energy and dark matter are theoretical inventions that explain observations we cannot otherwise understand.  So physicists have "made up options" that would be consistent with observations of the universe.  (Econintersect:  In this respect physics is like theology, creating myths to rationalize that which cannot be explained by direct observation.  And economics is also a practitioner of myths of "explanation".  Is mankind fundamentally limited by the trait of human nature to try to avoid acknowledging ignorance?)

On the scale of galaxies, gravity appears to be stronger than we can account for using only particles that are able to emit light. So we add dark matter particles as 25% of the mass-energy of the Universe. Such particles have never been directly detected.

On the larger scales on which the Universe is expanding, gravity appears weaker than expected in a universecontaining only particles – whether ordinary or dark matter. So we add "dark energy": a weak anti-gravity force that acts independently of matter.

  • Hubble sees martian moon orbiting the Red Planet (  The sharp eye of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured the tiny moon Phobos during its orbital trek around Mars. Because the moon is so small, it appears star-like in the Hubble pictures.  

Over the course of 22 minutes, Hubble took 13 separate exposures, allowing astronomers to create a time-lapse video showing the diminutive moon's orbital path. The Hubble observations were intended to photograph Mars, and the moon's cameo appearance was a bonus.

A football-shaped object just 16.5 miles by 13.5 miles by 11 miles, Phobos is one of the smallest moons in the solar system. It is so tiny that it would fit comfortably inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway.

The little moon completes an orbit in just 7 hours and 39 minutes, which is faster than Mars rotates. Rising in the Martian west, it runs three laps around the Red Planet in the course of one Martian day, which is about 24 hours and 40 minutes. It is the only natural satellite in the solar system that circles its planet in a time shorter than the parent planet's day.

  • New breakthrough discovery—every quantum particle travels backwards (  Mathematicians at the Universities of York, Munich and Cardiff have identified a unique property of quantum mechanical particles – they can move in the opposite way to the direction in which they are being pushed.  In everyday life, objects travel in the same direction as their momentum – a car in forward motion is going forwards, and certainly not backwards.  However, this is no longer true on microscopic scales - quantum particles can partially go into reverse and travel in the direction opposite to their momentum. This unique property is known as 'backflow'.

    Econintersect:  To us, this is not a new discovery but simple a manifestation of the dual nature of light and matter.  Quantum mechanical properties are probabilistic and particles have both mass and waveform representations.  The most widely recognized manifestations of this are the 'particle in a box' quantum mechanical effect, which results in observable quantum tunnelling, and the representation of an individual electron in atoms and molecules as a 'cloud' rathere than a physical point in space. 

Quantum tunneling through a barrier. The energy of the tunneled particle is the same but the probability amplitude is decreased.

  • 17 Days on North America's Second-Highest Peak (Outside)  Only 759 feet shorter than Denali, Logan is the largest mountain on the planet by circumference and is protected by the world’s largest nonpolar ice fields. Best of all, it’s remote and crowd-free compared to Denali: Parks Canada listed only 53 climbers in the permit system for 2017 to climb the challenging peak.  This post has a collection of stunning photographs.

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