Day: April 13, 2017

Trump, Yellen May Not Be an Odd Couple After All

At first glance, U.S. President Donald Trump and Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen may have little in common.

Yellen is an academic economist and veteran of Democratic administrations who is committed to an open global economy, while Trump is a real estate mogul with an electoral base suspicious of the economic order Yellen helped to create.

Yet the two may have interests in common now that Trump is president and both want to get as many Americans working as possible.

Since her appointment as Fed chair in February 2014, Yellen has kept interest rates low and she currently pledges to raise them only slowly even though unemployment, at 4.5 percent, is at its lowest in nearly 10 years.

Meanwhile, Trump’s election campaign promises to cut taxes, spend money on infrastructure and deregulate banking, have helped propel a surge in the U.S. Conference Board’s consumer confidence index to its highest level since the internet stocks crash 16 years ago.

Former Fed staff and colleagues who know Yellen said Trump’s surprising remarks this week in a Wall Street Journal interview, in which he did not rule out Yellen’s reappointment to a new four-year term next year, are not as outlandish as they may appear now that the president has a vested interest in keeping markets and the economy on an even keel.

And the same staff and colleagues say Yellen may well accept reappointment, despite Trump’s criticism of her during last year’s election campaign.

Many in Trump’s Republican party have called for tighter monetary policy and a less activist Fed, but “the president would not really find that useful,” said former Fed vice chair Donald Kohn.

If Trump fills three existing Federal Reserve board vacancies with people Yellen thinks she could work with, “it would be really difficult to turn down” a reappointment when her term as chair expires in February 2018.

“If she continues to do well, he’d be nuts to ditch her for an unknown quantity,” said University of California, Berkeley, economics professor Andrew Rose, a long-time colleague and co-author with Yellen of an oft-cited study of labor markets.

Yellen took over from Ben Bernanke as Fed chair in February 2014 with the U.S. economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis still on shaky ground, and she has made no secret she puts a priority on growth in jobs and wages and a broad recovery in U.S. household wealth.

In a slow return to more normal monetary policy, Yellen has stopped the purchase of additional financial securities by the Fed and in December 2015 began raising short term interest rates for the first time in 10 years.

So far those policy shifts have been engineered with little apparent impact on job growth, and so mesh with Trump’s core election campaign promises to restore employment and earnings.

The slow rise in interest rates in the past year has also happened while U.S. stock prices have risen to record highs, though Trump has claimed the credit for himself.

Precedent for Fed Chair to Stay On

There is precedent for Trump to stick with a former president’s Fed chair appointment. Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, the three previous Fed chairs, served at least two four-year terms and were nominated by both Democratic and Republican presidents.

However it may be a more difficult step for Trump.

During last year’s election campaign, Trump accused Yellen of accepting orders from then President Obama to keep interest rates low for political reasons, and he said he would replace her as Fed chair because she is not a Republican party member.

In a particularly biting moment last year, in a campaign video advertisement, he labeled her as among the “global special interests” who had ruined life for middle America.


The Fed on Thursday said it had no response to Trump’s comments published on Wednesday on Yellen and or on whether Yellen would consider a second term.

Much Could Still Go Wrong

Some of Trump’s advisers and some Republican lawmakers want a more conservative Fed in which the chair has less power and would see a Yellen reappointment as yet another step away from his promise to “drain the swamp” of the Washington establishment.

There are also three current vacancies on the Fed’s seven member Board of Governors, and unorthodox new members could make it difficult for Yellen to manage policy or accept another four-year term.

But if the choice is her consensus style or someone unproven in their ability to manage public and market expectations, “he’d be wise to reappoint her,” said Joseph Gagnon, a former Fed staffer and Berkeley colleague of Yellen’s currently at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“I don’t see what is in his interests to appoint someone who is going to jack up interest rates.”


Montana Hunter’s Find Leads to Discovery of Prehistoric Sea Creature

A fossil found by an elk hunter in Montana nearly seven years ago has led to the discovery of a new species of prehistoric sea creature that lived about 70 million years ago in the inland sea that flowed east of the Rocky Mountains.


The new species of elasmosaur is detailed in an article published Thursday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Most elasmosaurs, a type of marine reptile, had necks that could stretch 18 feet, but the fossil discovered in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is distinct for its much shorter neck — about 7{ feet.


“This group is famous for having ridiculously long necks, I mean necks that have as many as 76 vertebrae,” said Patrick Druckenmiller, co-author of the article and a paleontologist with the University of Alaska Museum of the North. “What absolutely shocked us when we dug it out — it only had somewhere around 40 vertebrae.”


The smaller sea creature lived around the same time and in the same area as the larger ones, which is evidence contradicting the belief that elasmosaurs did not evolve over millions of years to have longer necks, co-author Danielle Serratos said.


Elasmosaurs were carnivorous creatures with small heads and paddle-like limbs that could grow as long as 30 feet. Their fossils have been discovered across the world, and the one discovered in northeastern Montana was well-preserved and nearly complete.


Hunter David Bradt came across the exposed fossil encased in rock while he was hunting for elk in the wildlife refuge in November 2010, Druckenmiller said. He recognized it as a fossil, took photographs and alerted a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee.


The refuge along the Missouri River is popular with hunters for its big game and remote setting.


“This is a vast, remote and rugged place that has changed very little since Lewis and Clark passed through these lands more than 200 years ago,” refuge manager Paul Santavy said.


Bradt, who lives in Florence, Montana, did not immediately return a call for comment.


It took three days to excavate the fossil, but much longer to clean and study it before the determination could be made that it was a new species, Druckenmiller said.


He and Serratos submitted their findings to the journal last year.


Druckenmiller said the inland sea that stretched the width of Montana to Minnesota and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico was teeming with marine reptiles, but relatively few of their fossils have been excavated.


“It’s a total bias — just more people out there are interested in land-living dinosaurs than marine reptiles,” he said. “There would be a lot more known if more people were studying them.”


Tesla Set to Unveil Electric Semi-truck in September

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says the company plans to unveil an electric semi-truck in September.


Musk tweeted the announcement Thursday. He offered no other details about the semi, such as whether it will be equipped with Tesla’s partially self-driving Autopilot mode.


Musk also said the company plans to unveil a pickup truck in 18 to 24 months.


Tesla currently sells two electric vehicles, the Model S sedan and Model X SUV. Its lower-cost Model 3 electric car is due out by the end of this year.


But Musk revealed last summer that the Palo Alto, California-based company is working on several more vehicles, including the semi and a minibus.


Tesla shares rose nearly 3 percent in late trading Thursday in response to Musk’s tweet.


Make Music Day Festival Coming to Dozens of US Cities

More than 50 U.S. cities will be hosting Make Music Day, a free one-day outdoor festival celebrating music and music-making.

The annual event is June 21, the summer solstice.

Highlights of Make Music Day in the U.S. will include Sousapaloozas in Chicago; Cleveland; Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis-St. Paul; New York; and San Jose, California.

Part of Make Music Day is an event called Mass Appeal in which musicians play together in single-instruments groups. Featured instruments will include guitars, harmonicas, accordions, trombones, bassoons, French horns and harps. More than 150 are scheduled.

Street Studios in Atlanta; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Minneapolis-St. Paul; New York; and Philadelphia will give passers-by a chance to collaborate in producing original music.

The festival began in France in 1982 and has since spread to 750 cities across 120 countries.


University of Michigan Unveils 1,500-pound Rubik’s Cube

University of Michigan mechanical engineering students have made one of the most popular puzzle games much larger. And tougher to solve.

Seven former and current students unveiled a 1,500-pound Rubik’s Cube during a ceremony Thursday inside the G.G. Brown engineering building on the Ann Arbor campus. The massive, mostly aluminum structure is meant to be played by students and others on campus.

Four students came up with the idea three years ago and handed down the project to other students.

“It’s the largest solvable mechanical stationary Rubik’s Cube,” said Ryan Kuhn, a 22-year-old senior who helped assemble the giant puzzle this week. “It was kind of an urban myth of North Campus, this giant Rubik’s Cube that’s been going on for a while.”


The oversized version of the brain-teasing 3-D puzzle, which has flummoxed players since its heyday in the 1980s, is much harder to decipher than its diminutive counterpart, said Kuhn, who called it an “interactive mechanical art piece.”

The puzzle is solved when the player is able to manipulate the cube until all nine squares on each of its six sides display an individual color.

“It’s very reasonable that it could take at least an hour” to solve, said Martin Harris, who helped conceive the project in 2014 while hanging out in the College of Engineering honors office.


Tiger Woods Wins First of Four Golf Masters on This Day in 1997

Twenty years ago on April 13, 1997, American athlete Tiger Woods made history, winning one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments, the Masters, in Augusta, Georgia. He became the youngest golfer to win – and he did it by 12 strokes, a record that still stands.

​That day, Woods not only shot a 72-hole score of 18-under-par 270, but he also shattered the Masters record of 271 that Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd had shared. 

By June 1997, Woods was ranked No. 1 in the world.

Two years later, he won eight PGA tournaments, earned a record $6 million in prize money and began a winning streak that eventually tied Ben Hogan’s in 1948, the second-longest in PGA history. 

Much of his success is owed to Tiger’s close relationship to his father, Earl, who coached his prodigal son since childhood.

In June 2000, Woods won his first U.S. Open, considered the most challenging golf tournament in the world. Woods shot a record 12-under-par 272 to finish 15 strokes ahead of his nearest competitors. 

It was considered the greatest professional golf performance in history, surpassing even his 1997 Masters’ triumph and the 1862 showing by Old Tom Morris. 

In July 2000, Woods captured the British Open, and in August the PGA championship. At the age of 24, he was the youngest player ever to win all four major golf titles and just the second to win three majors in a year.

His winning streak slowed in the 2000’s around the time he married Elin Nordegren, a Swedish former model with whom he had two children.

The golfer won his 10th major, the British Open, in 2005. 

His performance fluctuated throughout the rest of the decade as he struggled with a torn ACL. His career took a further hit in 2009 in relation to a car accident outside his Florida home.

Later, several women came forward alleging they had affairs with the famous golfer. Nordegren divorced him in August 2010.

Woods’ last win took place in 2013.  

Woods planned to play throughout 2017, but a nagging back injury forced him to announce last month that he was withdrawing from the 2017 Masters. 


IOC Commits to Meeting Set for Flood-hit Peru

The International Olympic Committee said Thursday that it still planned to hold its annual meeting in Lima despite the devastating recent floods in Peru.

The 2024 Olympic hosting vote between Los Angeles and Paris is set for September 13, the opening day of the IOC session.

Peru’s suitability for the weeklong Olympic meetings was questioned in ongoing fallout from heavy rains and mudslides last month.

The IOC said the Peruvian government confirmed Thursday that its preparations were “going ahead as planned.”

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said hosting the Olympic meetings would “send a vital message to the world and to Peru that we are ready to welcome the world after the emergency situation.”

Last week, the IOC and Pan American Sports Organization made a $600,000 donation to flood recovery work.


IAAF Report Finds ‘Little Progress’ by Russia in Ending Doping in Athletics

Russia’s lack of progress in cleaning up its doping culture and introducing a satisfactory testing regime continues to impede the country’s reinstatement to athletics, the IAAF said Thursday.

Providing its latest update on Russia’s state-sponsored doping system, the  International Association of Athletics Federations also criticized the country’s decision to make Yelena Isinbayeva the head of the country’s scandalized anti-doping agency.

“It is difficult to see how this helps to achieve the desired change in culture in Russia track and field, or how it helps to promote an open environment for Russian whistle-blowers,” Russia task force chairman Rune Andersen said in his report to the IAAF Council.

Isinbayeva repeatedly criticized the World Anti-Doping Agency, framed doping investigations as an anti-Russian plot and called for a leading whistle-blower to be banned for life.

The two-time gold medalist and world-record holder missed the Rio de Janeiro Olympics because of a ban on Russia’s athletics team that is unlikely to be lifted soon, based on the IAAF’s fresh concerns.

Tough stance stays

“There is no reason why better progress has not been made,” IAAF President Sebastian Coe said, adding that the IAAF would not soften its tough stance.

“There is testing but it is still far too limited,” Coe said. He said the Russian investigative committee was “still refusing to hand over athlete biological passport samples for independent testing from labs”; some athletes remained in “closed cities that are difficult or impossible to get to”; coaches from a tainted system were still employed; and “we have got the head coach of RUSAF [Russia’s athletics federation] effectively refusing to sign their own pledge” to clean up its culture.

The IAAF is allowing some Russians to compete internationally as neutrals while their country remained banned, with 12 athletes proving they have been adequately tested for drugs over a lengthy period by non-Russian agencies.

The athletes are still “subject to acceptance of their entries by individual meeting organizers,” such as the Diamond League series, the IAAF has said. The 14-meet circuit opens on May 5 in Doha, Qatar.


Microsoft: US Foreign Intel Surveillance Requests More Than Doubled

Microsoft Corp said on Thursday it had received at least a thousand surveillance requests from the U.S. government that sought user content for foreign intelligence purposes during the first half of 2016.

The amount, shared in Microsoft’s biannual transparency report, was more than double what the company said it received under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) during the preceding six-month interval, and was the highest the company has listed since 2011, when it began tracking such government surveillance orders.

The scope of spying authority granted to U.S. intelligence agencies under FISA has come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks, sparked in part by evolving, unsubstantiated assertions from President Donald Trump and other Republicans that the Obama White House improperly spied on Trump and his associates.

Microsoft said it received between 1,000 and 1,499 FISA orders for user content between January and June of 2016, compared to between 0 and 499 during both January-June 2015 as well as the second half of 2015.

The number of user accounts impacted by FISA orders fell during the same period, however, from between 17,500 and 17,999 to between 12,000 and 12,499, according to the report.

The U.S. government only allows companies to report the volume of FISA requests in wide bands rather than specific numbers.

FISA orders, which are approved by judges who sit on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, are tightly guarded national security secrets. Even the existence of a specific FISA order is rarely disclosed publicly.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the FBI obtained a FISA order to monitor the communications of former Trump advisor Carter Page as part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.

Parts of FISA will expire at the end of the year, unless U.S. lawmakers vote to reauthorize it. Privacy advocates in Congress have been working to attach new transparency and oversight reforms to any FISA legislation, and to limit government searches of American data that is incidentally collected during foreign surveillance operations.

Microsoft also for the first time published a national security letter, a type of warrantless surveillance order used by the FBI.

Other technology companies, including Twitter Inc and Yahoo Inc, have also disclosed national security letters in recent months under a transparency measure of the USA Freedom Act that was enacted into law by the U.S. Congress in 2015.


Facebook Cracks Down on 30,000 Fake Accounts in France

Facebook said on Thursday it is taking action against tens of thousands of fake accounts in France as the social network giant seeks to demonstrate it is doing more to halt the spread of spam as well as fake news, hoaxes and misinformation.

The Silicon Valley-based company is under intense pressure as governments across Europe threaten new laws unless Facebook moves quickly to remove extremist propaganda or other content illegal under existing regulation  

Social media sites including Twitter, Google’s YouTube and Facebook also are under scrutiny for their potential to be used to manipulate voters in national elections set to take place in France and Germany in coming months.

In a blog post, Facebook said it was taking action against 30,000 fake accounts in France, deleting them in some, but not all, cases. It said its priority was to remove fake accounts with high volumes of posting activity and the biggest audiences.

“We’ve made improvements to recognize these inauthentic accounts more easily by identifying patterns of activity — without assessing the content itself,” Shabnam Shaik, a Facebook security team manager, wrote in an official blog post.

For example, the company said it is using automated detection to identify repeated posting of the same content or an increase in messages sent by such profiles.

Also on Thursday, Facebook took out full-page ads in Germany’s best-selling newspapers to educate readers on how to spot fake news.

In April, the German cabinet approved proposed new laws to force social networks to play a greater role in combating online hate speech or face fines of up to 50 million euros ($53 million).  

These actions by Facebook follow moves the company has taken in recent months to make it easier for users to report potential fraud amid criticism of the social network’s role in the spread of hoaxes and fake news during the U.S. presidential elections.

It has also begun working with outside fact-checking organizations to flag stories with disputed content, and removed financial incentives that help spammers to cash in by generating advertising revenue from clicks on false news stories.