Friday/ Trump at Day 100

Day 100 of the Trump presidency is on Saturday.  The media was full of reports this week about the (non) accomplishments of President Trump, but his supporters remain optimistic that he will bring about significant changes.   The only really significant item is the appointment of a conservative US Supreme Court Justice – one for which Republicans in the senate had to change the rules so that Justice Neil Gorsuch could be appointed by a simple majority (under the old rules a 60-40 majority was needed).

As for legislation, there were the failed attempts at overhauling Obamacare, the one page ‘tax reform’ (really a tax cut for the rich), and really no proposal about badly needed infrastructure repairs other than that border wall with Mexico (which none of the border States want, by the way).   Finally, let’s not forget the head-snapping policy reversals, too many to recall – NATO being obsolete and then no longer, the USA withdrawing from NAFTA and then not, declaring China a currency manipulator and then not; the list goes on.

Thursday/ big tech earnings day

I remember the days in 2002-2003 when the NASDAQ Composite Index fell down to below 2,000, from its peak of 5,000 .. wondering, what will this graph look like 10 years from now? And know we know. It took 15 years to get back to 5,000!

Thursday was a big day for the earnings reports of technology companies, with Alphabet (parent company of Google), Amazon, Intel and Microsoft reporting earnings. (Apple and Facebook will report next week).

The share prices of both Alphabet ($908 as of Friday) and Amazon ($927 as of Friday) are now approaching $1,000.  Will that happen this year?  Time will tell. (Right now the US economy is only growing at 0.7%.  Most economists say it would have to achieve 2% growth to drive the stock market higher by year end).

The NASDAQ composite index continues to make new highs. It crossed 6,000 on April 25. (Screen from CNBC program called ‘Closing Bell’).

Wednesday/ a laughable stunt from the King of Debt

‘A laughable stunt by a gang of plutocrats looking to enrich themselves at the expense of the country’s future’ .. says the New York Times of President Trump’s ‘tax plan’ outlined by his top lieutenants Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn (both multimillionaires and former Goldman Sachs bankers).

I could not agree more.  The seven points from the proposal (on the right) are from the New York Times. Broadly speaking (more details are needed), all the tax cuts will add anything from $2 trillion to $7 trillion in additional debt over the first 10 years. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said he would get rid of the $20 trillion national debt in 8 years – perhaps the most stratospherically unattainable boast of all he has made, ever.

So yes – all this nonsense from a President that has refused to release his own tax forms, that has appointed his son-in-law and daughter to White House positions, with their world-wide business interests intact, and that has not even tried to put his own businesses at arm’s length to the presidency.

 

 

 

Tuesday/ where is the USS Carl Vinson?

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was in the news this month : part of a miscommunication between the White House and the United States Armed Forces.   A few days after President Trump stated that it was part of an armada steaming* to the Korean peninsula, the US navy published pictures picked up by the New York Times, that showed it was in fact going in the opposite direction.   South Korea was not impressed. Said a Yonhap news agency headline: Trump’s armada gaffe stains his commitment to the alliance.

(Update: On Wednesday April 26, Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the four-star commander of U.S. Pacific Command, testified at a hearing of the House Committee on Armed Services that he was to blame for the miscommunication).

*I love the word ‘steaming’, quaint word and old-fashioned as it is. Nimitz-class carriers are in fact nuclear-powered. There are ten of these supercarriers in service in the United States Navy.

Here is a great drawing of the USS Carl Vinson, its aircraft, and the Korean peninsula.  The flight deck is as big as four football fields.  (Source: On-line edition of De Volkskrant, a Dutch daily newspaper).

Sunday/ the center holds (in France)

Macron, macaroon. Macron’s name makes me think of a macaroon (a sandwich cookie with a filling in the middle)!

It’s nice to see that independent candidate and centrist Emmanuel Macron came out on top of the final polls in today’s French election .. even though it’s unsettling that anti-EU, anti-immigration candidate Marine Le Pen still has a shot at winning in the final round, on May 7.

The pre-election polling turned out to be accurate, though, and one has to believe that most voters will coalesce around Macron in the final round.  En marche! (Forward!)

Election results from france24.com. The top two candidates go through to the final round on May 7. None of the traditional party candidates survived the first round!  President Hollande was so unpopular that he declined to stand for re-election, becoming the first single term French president since the dawn of France’s Fifth Republic in 1958 to do so.

Saturday/ don’t kill the world

‘We Kill the World (Don’t Kill the World)’ from German pop group Boney M. was a No 1 hit song in South Africa in 1981.
It was Earth Day today, I thought of the song, and looked up the words again.

 

P.S. Check out astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s four-minute Facebook video on the history and current state of science in America. ‘Science is a fundamental part of the country that we are’.

 

Wednesday/ solar eclipse fever

I like this retro-styled picture from Rainbow Symphony. Public Service Warning : DO NOT EVER LOOK AT THE SUN WITHOUT PROPER PROTECTION – you will get photokeratitis, a painful eye condition caused by exposure of insufficiently protected eyes to ultraviolet light!

Here’s a viewer from Rainbow Symphony: a piece of #14 welder’s glass that produces a green image of the sun.

For the first time since 1979, people in the continental United States will be able to see a total solar eclipse later this year, on Monday August 21. The sun is 400 times larger in diameter than Earth’s moon, but since the moon is 400 times closer than the sun, they appear to be the same size in the heavens.

I read on the Great American Eclipse website that the moon is actually moving away from Earth by about one inch a year.  That means that in a distant epoch, humans will run out of total solar eclipses to view, and only see annular eclipses (a ring of sun around the moon).

IMPORTANT NOTE (especially to humans in positions of great power):
Let us not destroy Earth before then with thermonuclear war, or by continuing the burning of fossil fuels for the generation of energy.

Here’s the path of the solar eclipse that interests me most, since it’s within reach to drive to from Seattle. (Hotels and campsites in towns close to and all along the path are filling up rapidly).

 

Tuesday/ here is the silver Krugerrand

The 1-oz. fine silver Krugerrand is larger than the 1-oz. fine gold one. The specific gravity* of silver is only 10.31, while that of gold is 19.32. (That’s an USA quarter dollar coin in the upper right corner, for reference).    *Indicates ‘how many times heavier than water’ the substance is.

 

 

I finally gave up trying to order a 2017 South African silver Krugerrand directly from the South African Mint, and used a local coin importer instead.

My silver Krugerrand arrived in the mail today – allowing me to check it out up close with my magnifier.  I love to ‘inspect’ coins, and stamps from up close and to see all the fine detail.

Here’s a close-up of the sliver Krugerrand. The Krugerrand had only been issued in gold since 1967. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, 1-0z. coins in silver and in platinum were issued.  For the first time, the family of gold Krugerrand coins is extended to a giant 50-oz Krugerrand (100 mm/ 3.93 in diameter), and a 5-oz Krugerrand and on the smaller side to tiny 1/20 oz. and 1/50 oz. coins. The design of the antelope (a ‘pronking’ springbok, one of South Africa’s national symbols) was introduced in 1984 for the gold coin, and is by Coert Steynberg. I spot an aloe at the bottom of the picture, as well.

Saturday/ April 15 is Tax Day

Here’s the confirmation message issued by the TurboTax tax software program (I filed my tax return in back in February).

April 15 is Tax Day in the United States (the day by which the prior calendar year’s taxes need to be filed).  Since April 15 falls on a Saturday this year and Easter Monday, procrastinators have until Tuesday April 18 to file their taxes.

There were protests in some cities, demanding that President Trump release his tax returns. In a tweet, Trump called the protests ‘small organized rallies ‘and ‘that someone should look into them’.  (Which elicited a storm of responses, of course. The honest truth is that someone should look into the tax returns of the President –  to determine all the multiple conflicts of interest between his business interests and his holding office as President of the United States, while also having his family members on the White House staff).

Thursday/ on North Korea watch

North Korea has conducted 5 nuclear tests the last decade, and all signs point to a sixth test this weekend.  (This April 15 marks the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder). The New York Times points out in an article with a lot of technical detail, that the North’s detonations generate shock waves that register around the globe. Mount Mantap is the only active nuclear testing site in the world.   China is reportedly exerting a lot of pressure on North Korea (Kim Jong-un), trying to dissuade him from going ahead and escalating the tensions further.   ‘If China does not take care of it, the USA will’ declared President Trump.   But surely, analysts say, that cannot mean a pre-emptive attack on the nuclear facilities in North Korea.   And South Korea would have to sign off on any military action, given that Seoul is just across the border.

Wednesday/ active or passive fund management?

The Wall Street Journal reports that new data show that 82% of actively managed U.S. mutual funds trailed their respective benchmarks, even over 15 years (previous studies were for shorter time periods).  ‘The debate over whether passive management is as good or better than active management is a long-running and contentious one, but it has heated up in recent years. Active managers’ struggles to beat the market over recent years amid a long-term bull market in stocks have resulted in fee pressure, fund closings, business overhauls and mergers.
Investors have spoken with their wallets, turning to index-tracking funds in droves. Some $1.2 trillion has been withdrawn from actively managed U.S. stock funds since the start of 2007 through March, according to Morningstar Inc. Nearly the same amount, $1.1 trillion, has moved into passive U.S. stock funds over the same period’.

I see in the comments section that some readers say that this analysis is too simple. It ignores risk, and that one index fund does not make for a diversified portfolio.

Tuesday/ in the lion’s den

On Tuesday, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer condemned the Syria attack with chemical weapons (of last week) in a press briefing in the White House by saying ‘not even Adolf Hitler had sunk so far as to use chemical weapons against his own population’.  This is such a historically incorrect claim, that journalists in the room threw him a lifeline (‘What did you mean by that?’), but his muddled response only ended up making matters worse.

By the end of Tuesday he had to issue a written clarification, and had to correct that clarification twice, as well.   And finally, he went on live television one more time, and apologize.  As one cable news commentator said : at least the apology was unconditional.  Not one of those apologies that start with ‘If I offended anyone, I apologize .. ‘.

‘Sean Spicer in the lion’s den’, says this report on the web site of German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.  And the caption asks: Trump’s spokesperson – the hardest job in Washington? (I would say so, yes).

Saturday/ still in an almost-zero rate world

The number of jobs added to the US economy in March was only 98,000 – far fewer than the 185,000 estimate. Weirdly, the unofficial unemployment rate went down to 4.5%, the lowest in 10 years (meaning more people had given up looking for work?).   Hourly wages only rose 0.2% (in a strong economy this number would be 3% or even 4%).

The Federal Reserve Bank will probably keep raising the federal funds rate, to allow them more room to maneuver for the next recession.  There is so much talk of raising the rates – or not – at each Federal Reserve Meeting, that I had to look up the recent history of the rate (see below).  It’s still very low by historical standards (the rate is now 0.75 to 1.00 %):

Dec 16, 2008 target rate set to 0.0–0.25
Dec 16, 2015 — 0.25-0.50
Dec 14, 2016 — 0.50-0.75
Mar 15, 2017 — 0.75-1.00

Friday night movie

I don’t watch movies on TV as a rule, but sometimes I click up and down through the channels just to see what is on.  On Friday night I stumbled again onto ‘This is 40’ (2012, directed by Judd Apatow). I knew that after all a lot of interpersonal relation-ship chaos, the movie would end with a great scene where Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd & Leslie Mann) go out to find some live music, and that it would be Ryan Adams singing ‘Lucky Now’.  So I patiently waited for the movie to reach the end, so that I could see the song again.  I love that song!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday/ Syria .. what will happen tomorrow?

So .. what to make of Pres. Trump’s (and/or his Secretary of State’s?) sudden change of heart regarding intervention in Syria, is the question being debated all night here on cable news.   (The Pentagon launched dozens of missiles to hit the air base near Homs, in Syria, that was reportedly used for preparing and launching the sarin gas attack against civilians on Tuesday).   There have been chemical attacks before.  This is a civil war that has now raged for 6 years, claiming ~500,000 lives, displacing 7.6 million people internally in Syria, and producing 4.8 million refugees.

Many observers are not too critical of the action that was taken, but it was not authorized by Congress (it should have been); it was an abrupt change in policy, and it was done unilaterally.   Several tweets noted that officials in the State Dept were out of the loop, as were key US allies.

Donald Trump tweets from 2012 and 2013 when President Obama was in office.

 

Monday/ farewell to dandelion

Here are the crayons from Crayola’s 24-crayon set. Dandelion is the dark yellow third from the bottom. Crayola will reportedly replace the dandelion color with a color from the blue or green family.

Crayola announced recently that they are retiring the dandelion crayon color.  I have fond childhood memories* of Crayola crayons, but I did not have dandelion – it was introduced only in 1990.  Even so, I bought a 24-pack with the dandelion crayon color in (cost $4), to put on my desk here at home, to see what the fuss is about, and to have a dandelion crayon after all.

*I was fascinated by the colors called periwinkle and mahogany, and when the metallic silver and gold crayon colors came out).

Friday/ Zuma’s end game?

On Thursday night South African President Jacob Zuma fired the widely respected Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan* and set off an outcry by many in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and opposition political parties. By the end of the week, the South African rand had slipped some 8% against the dollar, amid renewed concerns about corruption at the top levels of government. Many South Africans are also concerned that the South Africa’s economy and viability as an investment could be downgraded by credit ratings agencies.  (Unemployment in South Africa is a huge challenge, and stands at 27%).  From Bloomberg News Jan 26, 2017 : In a 2014 report, the graft ombudsman found that the president unfairly benefited from a taxpayer-funded 215.9 million rand upgrade of his private home, and last year the nation’s top court ruled that he violated his oath of office by refusing to repay some of the money. In a separate finding last year, the ombudsman implied that Zuma allowed a wealthy family in business with his son (the Guptas) to influence cabinet appointments and the awarding of state contracts.

The next South African Presidential election is only in 2019, but all eyes are looking to December of this year.  The ANC’s 54th national conference will be held, and Zuma’s support (he is the current ANC President) will surely face a crucial test.

*Fired along with eight other ministers in the cabinet.  Technically the South African Constitution allows for the President to do this, but there is wide agreement that this was done in the President’s personal interest, and not in the interests of South African citizens.

‘Rise up, South Africa’, says this photo in Die Burger newspaper. That is fired Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan (with his arm raised) in the middle of the picture, with his ex-deputy Mcebisi Jonas to his right.

Thursday/ (just another day of) chaos in the White House

Great summary of statements made by disgraced ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (since January).

News broke today of 1. two Trump White House officials that meddled with the House investigation into Russian agents’ involvement in the 2016 US Election (and if they were aided by the Trump 2016 campaign) and 2. that ousted ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn ‘has a story to tell’ but will only do so in exchange for immunity.

This is on top of the usual dose of offensive and angering new actions from the Trump ‘Administration’* : now allowing ISPs to sell users’ browsing history for profit; stripping government funding from important health-care provided by Planned Parenthood clinics; approving the use of a pesticide in agriculture (linked to brain damage and previously banned); appointing family and in-laws to White House positions; reports that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is now virtually empty (it has just one guy working there).

*An oxymoron, since they are not ‘administering’ anything.  They’re dismantling just about everything that had been put into place that look out for the interests of citizens, in favor of special interest groups and billionaires (read: Carl Icahn).

Graphic from the Washington Post. ‘Here’s what we know so far about Team Trump’s ties to Russian interests’. (Kislyak is a Russian diplomat who has served as Russia’s Ambassador to the United States since 2008).

Tuesday/ first day for the new £1 coin

The new £1 coin has a latent image (in the middle at the bottom), micro-lettering – very small lettering on the lower inside rim on both sides of the coin – and an undisclosed high-security feature, built into the coin, to protect it from counterfeiting in the future.

The Royal Mint is rolling out* a new £1 coin in the United Kingdom today, the first update of the £1 coin since 1983. It is billed as the world’s most secure coin and features a ‘latent’ image  that changes from a ‘£’ symbol to the number ‘1’ when the coin is seen from different angles. (Cool).

I was curious to see if the current 1.2413 exchange rate is actually an all-time low for the British Pound against the US Dollar, but it is not : the record low of 1.05 was in 1985.

*Rolling out may not be the right term to use. The coin is 12 sided with alternatively smooth and grooved edges.  The old round coin could roll smoothly, but not so with the new one.