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What We Read Today 27 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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Topics today include:

  • The toughest places for builders to construct new homes

  • How the Military Became the Country's Largest Employer of Transgender Americans

  • Growth-Starved Utilities Have Found a New Way of Making Money

  • Sperm Count Dropping in Western World

  • NASDAQ Record Highs

  • A Short History of BIEN

  • Jeff Bezos Briefly Tops Bill Gates as the World's Richest Person

  • Scaramucci: Priebus is a 'paranoid schizophrenic,' will be asked to resign

  • Scaramucci: Let Priebus 'Explain He's Not A Leaker'

  • Scaramucci goes after Bannon in explosive phone call

  • House Passes $788 Billion Spending Bill With Border-Wall Funds

  • Key senator backs 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal

  • With or Without Obamacare, Health-Care Costs Are Battering the Middle Class

  • Immigrants to the U.S.: Where They Are Coming from, and Where They Are Headed

  • State Department defends controversial terrorism report 

  • Mideast’s ‘Only Democracy’ joins push to Silence Al Jazeera: Netanyahu

  • Iran successfully launches satellite-carrying rocket — report 

  • A Refutation of Neoliberalism's Defenders in Ecuador

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world

Global

  • A Short History of BIEN (basicincome.org)  Hat tips to Roger Erickson and Serban Enache.  This is an organization that started 34 years ago, although many of us have only become aware of it in in the last few years.  BIEN is the acronym for Basic Income European Network.

  • Jeff Bezos Briefly Tops Bill Gates as the World's Richest Person (Bloomberg)  A surge in Amazon.com Inc. shares Thursday morning in advance of the online retailer’s earnings report briefly propelled founder Jeff Bezos past Bill Gates as the world’s richest person.  Shares of the online retailer fell 0.7% to $1,046 at 4 p.m. in New York, after climbing as high as $1,083.31 four hours earlier, which gave Bezos a net worth of $92.3 billion. Gates had a net worth of $90.8 billion as of the Wednesday close.  Bezos remains ranked second on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, behind the Microsoft Corp. co-founder. Gates, 61, has held the top spot since May 2013.

U.S.

  • Scaramucci: Priebus is a 'paranoid schizophrenic,' will be asked to resign (The Hill)  See aslo next article.  White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci unloaded on chief of staff Reince Priebus, accusing him of leaking details of a private dinner with President Trump and claiming he will be asked to resign.  Scaramucci told New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza in a Wednesday phone call:

“Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac. They’ll all be fired by me [he said of the White House communications staff].  I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I’ll fire tomorrow. I’ll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus — if you want to leak something — he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.”

  • Scaramucci: Let Priebus 'Explain He's Not A Leaker' (NPR)  The Game of Thrones-like infighting in the West Wing of the White House is turning from a behind-the-scenes struggle into a public duel.  Newly installed White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci was livid Thursday morning over a report in Politico that indicates he has assets worth as much as $85 million and that he took a $5 million salary from SkyBridge Capital, the hedge fund he founded, in the first half of the year.

Scaramucci tweeted Wednesday night suggesting that reporting the financial disclosure information was "a felony" and saying that he will contact the FBI.

"In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45."

The tweet has since been deleted.

On Thursday morning, Scaramucci called into CNN and all but accused White House chief of staff Reince Priebus of deliberately leaking the report.

However, the financial disclosure form is a public document, which the Politicoreporter who obtained it said she retrieved through normal channels.

“I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.  I’m not trying to build my own brand off the f---ing strength of the president. I’m here to serve the country.” 

  • Plan would fund defense, energy, Congress, Corps of Engineers

  • Current version of House plan has little chance in Senate

Israel

  • State Department defends controversial terrorism report (The Times of Israel)  Hat tip to Sig Silber.  Spokeswoman says document claiming various Israeli policies spur Palestinian extremism ‘consistently’ highlights terror attacks against Israelis.  The US State Department on Wednesday defended an annual report on terrorism under fire from pro-Israel groups for saying that a lack of hope drives Palestinian violence.  Meanwhile, the umbrella foreign policy group for Jewish organizations expressed its “deep concerns” about the report, saying it shifts responsibility for terrorism from the Palestinians to Israel.

  • Mideast’s ‘Only Democracy’ joins push to Silence Al Jazeera: Netanyahu (Common Dreams)  Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has vowed to close the Jerusalem office of the Qatar-backed Al Jazeera satellite news station in a Facebook posting. Failing that, he said, he would introduce legislation to ban Al Jazeera in Israel (presumably Israel/ Palestine, since Israel keeps 4.5 million Palestinians under siege or direct military rule).  Netanyahu accuses Al Jazeera of “incitement,” which, according to this author, in the right wing Israeli lexicon means reporting news about how the Israelis are militarily occupying and gradually expropriating the Palestinians.

Iran

  • Iran successfully launches satellite-carrying rocket — report  (The Times of Israel)  Iran successfully launched a satellite-carrying rocket into space on Thursday, the country’s state media reported without elaborating.  Iranian state television described the launch as involving a “Simorgh” rocket that is capable of carrying a satellite weighing 250 kilograms (550 pounds). The state media report did not elaborate on the rocket’s payload.  “Simorgh” means “phoenix” in Persian.

Ecuador

  • A Refutation of Neoliberalism's Defenders in Ecuador (Common Dreams)  Hat tip to Roger Erickson.  James Galbraith, Ha-Joon Chang, and William K. Black continue a discussion of neoliberalism in Ecuaddor.  (JG and WKB have contributed to GEI.)  This is a very informative (and entertaining) read.  A substantial portion of this article is s refutation of criticisms of the authors' earlier writing on the subject.  The protagoniosts are Carlos Uribe-Teran and Pablo Vega-Garcia, both professors of economics at the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito.

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

  • The toughest places for builders to construct new homes (Realty Biz News)  Hat tip to Issi Romen.  This article quotes material from an interview of  Issi Romem, chief economist of BuildZoom (and a GEI contributor), by The Wall Street Journal.  Excerpts from this article:

unlike many would assume, downtown areas aren’t the toughest place to build a home. Instead its the inner suburbs, where wealthier residents tend to live.

BuildZoom identified the top three toughest areas to build a home in the U.S. as Venice Beach in Southern California, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn, New York, and Fishtown, Philadelphia.

The research indicates that gentrifying neighborhoods are the most challenging for builders, BuildZoom said.

Romem said:

“Because the inner suburbs have been around longer than more distant suburbs, the inner suburbs are more likely to have depleted their supply of vacant lots, leaving no room for acceptable new construction.” 

  • How the Military Became the Country's Largest Employer of Transgender Americans (Priceonomics)  The available evidence suggests that transgender Americans serve at rates well above the national average. Though the data is sparse, studies estimate that trans men and women are anywhere from two- to five-times more likely to join the military as their cisgender (nontrans) counterparts. For all its perceived conservatism and raging heteronormativity, the United States Armed Forces is almost certainly the largest employer of transgender people in this country. 

  • Growth-Starved Utilities Have Found a New Way of Making Money (Bloomberg)  Utilities are looking for a regulatory change that would allow them to own both means of generation and distribution.  

Here’s how it works: Some utilities that for years contracted to buy electricity from wind and solar farm owners are now shifting away from these so-called power purchase agreements, or PPAs. They’re instead seeking approval from state regulators to buy the assets outright and recover the costs from customers through rates. While the takeovers are being branded as a cheaper way of securing power, saving ratepayers millions in the end, they also guarantee profits for utilities.

  • Sperm Count Dropping in Western World (Scientific American)  This is the way your world will end - not with a bang but a whimper.  (Apologies to T S Eliot.)  Sperm counts in men from America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have dropped by more than 50% in less than 40 years, researchers said on Tuesday.  They also said the rate of decline is not slowing. Both findings -- in a meta-analysis bringing together various studies -- pointed to a potential decline in male health and fertility.  The analysis did not explore reasons for the decline, but researchers said falling sperm counts have previously been linked to various factors such as exposure to certain chemicals and pesticides, smoking, stress and obesity.  Hagai Levine, who co-led the work at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Jerusalem, said:

"This study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world to investigate the causes of the sharp ongoing drop in sperm count." 

Today, the Nasdaq closed at another all-time record high. For some perspective on the tech-laden Nasdaq Composite, today's chart presents the overall trend of the Nasdaq since 2000. As today's chart illustrates, the Nasdaq's seven-year post-financial crisis rally is still very much intact. In fact, even with today's record high, the Nasdaq is not trading near resistance.

 


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