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What We Read Today 22 August 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:

  • Seven Reasons Why Advisors Should Use Bond Ladders

  • How to turn cheap power back on

  • Fossil Fuel Subsidies: Overview

  • Solar Could Beat Coal to Become the Cheapest Power on Earth

  • Wind and solar power are saving Americans an astounding amount of money

  • Big data finds the Medieval Warm Period – no denial here

  • The application of machine learning for evaluating anthropogenic versus natural climate change

  • Trump’s Rust Belt Base: It’s Not His Fault

  • Pressure on Manafort grows as feds track more income, possible money laundering

  • No decision yet on size of U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan: Mattis

  • Trump to Renew Call for Wall Funding in Arizona

  • Why isn’t Treasury’s crackdown on real estate money permanent?

  • GOP Eyes Budget Maneuver to Allow $450 Billion More in Tax Cuts

  • U.S. to withhold up to $290 million in Egypt aid

  • Tillerson sees possible pathway to U.S.-N.Korea dialogue 'in near future'

  • Venezuela-U.S. relations at lowest point ever: Maduro

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world

U.S.

We’ve been tracking eight of his supporters -- two in each of the crucial Heartland states he flipped in the election -- since late last year and barely a hint of disenchantment has surfaced. Not over the health-care flop or the inner-circle shakeups or the Russia probe or the Charlottesville incident or the constant tweeting (Ok, one of them, Kim Woodrosky of Pennsylvania, hates it).

To them, the hand-wringing over these things is a silly waste of time, a ruse orchestrated by the media to drag the president down. They still believe in him. Some more than ever.

Two sources familiar with the inquiry tell McClatchy that investigators are working to confirm information indicating that Manafort and the consulting firms he led earned between $80 million and $100 million over a decade from pro-Moscow Ukrainian and Russian clients.

Mueller’s expanded focus on Manafort’s complicated financial picture is zeroing in on whether he may have evaded taxes or engaged in any money laundering schemes, the sources say, and the hunt for his financial records through a labyrinth of offshore bank and business accounts has become an important prong of the investigation.

Trump offered few specifics in a televised address about Afghanistan on Monday, but promised a stepped-up military campaign against Taliban insurgents who have gained ground against U.S.-backed Afghan government forces. He also singled out neighboring Pakistan for harboring militants, an accusation denied by Islamabad.

  • Trump to Renew Call for Wall Funding in Arizona (Bloomberg)  President Donald Trump will travel near the U.S. border with Mexico on Tuesday to view the patrol equipment and facilities in Yuma, Arizona, and renew calls to fund a wall to keep out those trying to enter the U.S. illegally.

The trip is meant to tout the decline in illegal border crossings under Trump. Apprehensions at the Southwest border are down about 46 percent compared to the same period last year, according to Department of Homeland Security officials who briefed reporters Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

A border fence in Yuma has reduced illegal entry significantly over the past decade, the officials said.

McClatchy reported exclusively that Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as FinCEN, had continued and expanded a previous Geographic Targeting Order that was set to expire.

The extension is timely since Special Counsel Robert Mueller, tapped to probe possible collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign in last year’s election, reportedly is looking at purchases of Trump-branded properties, which often happen through shell companies.

Under the proposal, the GOP would not account for things like expiring tax breaks when gauging the budgetary impact of tax legislation -- giving tax writers more room for cuts. Senate budget and tax panels are discussing the move to a “current policy” baseline -- instead of the standard “current law” baseline -- said the people who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The chief House tax writer, Kevin Brady, also signaled openness to the approach last month, saying it would lead to deeper tax cuts.

Egypt

  • U.S. to withhold up to $290 million in Egypt aid (Reuters)  The United States has decided to deny Egypt $95.7 million in aid and to delay a further $195 million because of its failure to make progress on respecting human rights and democratic norms, two sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.  The decision reflects a U.S. desire to continue security cooperation as well as frustration with Cairo's stance on civil liberties, notably a new law that regulates non-governmental organizations that is widely seen as part a growing crackdown on dissent, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

North Korea

  • Tillerson sees possible pathway to U.S.-N.Korea dialogue 'in near future' (Reuters)  U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to make a peace overture to North Korea on Tuesday, welcoming what he called the restraint it had shown recently in its weapons programs and saying a path could be opening for dialogue "sometime in the near future."  Tillerson told reporters, referring to U.N. sanctions on North Korea:

"We have had no missile launches or provocative acts on the part of North Korea since the unanimous adoption of the U.N. Security Council resolution." 

Venzuela

  • Venezuela-U.S. relations at lowest point ever: Maduro (Reuters)  Relations between Caracas and Washington are at their lowest point ever, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday in a speech at the presidential palace for international media that was televised to the nation.  He said that he and U.S. President Donald Trump should be respectful of each other and that relations between Venezuela and the United States should be normalized and a dialog established.

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

  • Seven Reasons Why Advisors Should Use Bond Ladders (Advisor Perspectives)  An investor brought to the author's attention a piece that restated many of the old canards about bond ladders. This article is one of many. Even highly regarded finance columnists like Jane Quinn have taken laddered bond portfolios to task.  The author groups these criticisms into 7 categories and shows they are invalid - in fact they reveal the reasons why ladders should be used.  Econintersect:  This is an excellent article.

  • How to turn cheap power back on (The Spectator)  This article argues that a return to coal for electricity generation would be a return to cheap energy.  (Econintersect:  If CO2 is not contributing to climate change (global warming) the argument makes sense - see next two articles.)  The author implies that renewable energy sources cannot compete with coal unless subsidized by the government.  He accuses supporters for wind/solar to be using "dodgy economic modelling".  The author says the "fabled onset of cheap renewables has been an ever-receding mirage imminent for the past 30 years".   Econintersect:  The cost of unsubsidized wind/solar energy has been falling dramatically and is approaching, comparable to or less than coal today - see second article below.  Also, the author ignores the subsidies for coal - see next article.  In the G-20 alone government subsidies for fossil fuels are nearly 4X larger than for renewable energy - see video in next article.

  • Fossil Fuel Subsidies: Overview (Oil Change International)  This article gives an accounting of the direct and indirect subsidies governments provide to fossil fuels (at least $775 billion to $1 trillion annually) and estimated externalities costing upward of $5.3 trillion annually.  (Econintersect:  The magnitude of the externalities depends on the very nebulous estimate of costs of global warming and the extent to which it will occur.) The introduction:

A fossil fuel subsidy is any government action that lowers the cost of fossil fuel energy production, raises the price received by energy producers, or lowers the price paid by energy consumers. Essentially, it’s anything that rigs the game in favor of fossil fuels compared to other energy sources.

The most obvious subsidies are direct funding and tax giveaways, but there are many activities that count as subsidies – loans and guarantees at favorable rates, price controls, governments providing resources like land and water to fossil fuel companies at below-market rates, research and development funding, and more.

Click to watch video.
solar.war.on.coal.video

  • Wind and solar power are saving Americans an astounding amount of money (Vox)  Wind and solar power have been subsidized by just about every major country in the world, either directly or indirectly through tax breaks, mandates, and regulations.  The main rationale for these subsidies is that wind and solar produce, to use the economic term of art, “positive externalities” — benefits to society that are not captured in their market price. Specifically, wind and solar power reduce pollution, which reduces sickness, missed work days, and early deaths. Every wind farm or solar field displaces some other form of power generation (usually coal or natural gas) that would have polluted more.  

    Subsidies for renewables are meant to remedy this market failure, to make the market value of renewables more accurately reflect their total social value.

  • Big data finds the Medieval Warm Period – no denial here (The Spectator)  Hat tip to Sig Silber.  The authors conclude that the data they have reviewed (0 AD to 1980) cannot confirm that the current temperature rise is explained by anything other than the long-term historical temperature cycling of the planet.  They dismiss the fact that their model indicates no temperature rise since 1980 (in fact it appears they find a slight decline) during a 36-year period that has seen global temperatures surging to new highs.  See next article.

  • The application of machine learning for evaluating anthropogenic versus natural climate change (Science Direct)  In graph below, brown is the global temperature change record; blue is the authors; derived temoerature history.  Abstract:

Time-series profiles derived from temperature proxies such as tree rings can provide information about past climate. Signal analysis was undertaken of six such datasets, and the resulting component sine waves used as input to an artificial neural network (ANN), a form of machine learning. By optimizing spectral features of the component sine waves, such as periodicity, amplitude and phase, the original temperature profiles were approximately simulated for the late Holocene period to 1830 CE. The ANN models were then used to generate projections of temperatures through the 20th century. The largest deviation between the ANN projections and measured temperatures for six geographically distinct regions was approximately 0.2 °C, and from this an Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) of approximately 0.6 °C was estimated. This is considerably less than estimates from the General Circulation Models (GCMs) used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and similar to estimates from spectroscopic methods.


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