Economy & business

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.”

Science & Health

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.”

Silicon Valley & Technology

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.

Arts & Entertainment

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.

Arts & Entertainment

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.

Silicon Valley & Technology

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.

Science & Health

Canada Introduces Legislation to Legalize Marijuana

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government introduced legislation Thursday to let adults possess 30 grams of marijuana in public – a measure that would make Canada the largest developed country to end a nationwide prohibition on recreational marijuana.

Trudeau has long promised to legalize recreational pot use and sales. U.S voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada voted last year to approve the use of recreational marijuana, joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

The South American nation of Uruguay is the only nation to legalize recreational pot.

The proposed law allows four plants to be grown at home. Those under 18 found with small amounts of marijuana would not face criminal charges.

Officials said Canadians should be able to smoke marijuana legally by July 1, 2018. The federal government set the age at 18, but is allowing each of Canada’s provinces to determine if it should be higher. The provinces will also decide how the drug will be distributed and sold. The law also defines the amount of THC in a driver’s blood, as detected by a roadside saliva test, that would be illegal. Marijuana taxes will be announced at a later date.

The Canadian government closely followed the advice of a marijuana task force headed by former Liberal Health Minister Anne McLellan. That panel’s report noted public health experts tend to favor a minimum age of 21 as the brain continues to develop to about 25, but said setting the minimum age too high would preserve the illicit market.

Canadian youth have higher rates of cannabis use than their peers worldwide.

“If your objective is to protect public health and safety and keep cannabis out of the hands of minors, and stop the flow of profits to organized crime, then the law as it stands today has been an abject failure,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told a news conference. “Police forces spend between $2 billion and $3 billion every year trying to deal with cannabis, and yet Canadian teenagers are among the heaviest users in the western world … We simply have to do better.”

Goodale said they’ve been close touch with the U.S. government on the proposed law and noted exporting and importing marijuana will continue to be illegal.

“The regime we are setting up in Canada will protect our kids better and stop the flow of illegal dollars to organized crime. Our system will actually be the better one,” Goodale said

Former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who is the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, said officials learned from the experiences from other jurisdictions like Colorado and Washington state.

While the government moves to legalize marijuana, retail outlets selling pot for recreational use have already been set up. Trudeau has emphasized current laws should be respected. Police in Toronto, Vancouver and other cities raided stores earlier last month and made arrests.

The news that Canada was soon going to announce the law was noticed online last month by Snoop Dogg , who tweeted “Oh Canada!” Canadian folk singer Pat Robitaille released a “Weed song” to coincide with the government’s announcement.


Arts & Entertainment

‘Star Wars’ Embraces Girl Power With New Heroine Stories, Toys

“Star Wars” is beefing up its girl power through a new series of animated short movies featuring the sci-fi saga’s heroines including Princess Leia, Rey and Jyn Erso.

Walt Disney Co and Lucasfilm announced on Thursday that “Star Wars Forces of Destiny” will focus on the “untold stories of everyday heroism that shape the destinies” of the main female characters in the franchise.

The move is the latest by Disney to broaden the male-dominated audience for the “Star Wars” series, which is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the original 1977 film starring Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill.

The 2-3 minute shorts will be launched on Disney YouTube in July and will be followed by more shorts on Disney Channel television in the autumn. A range of new action figures and dolls, as well as other merchandise, will also be released.

“‘Star Wars Forces of Destiny’ is for anyone who has been inspired by Leia’s heroism, Rey’s courage, or Ahsoka’s tenacity, Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, said in a statement.

Actors Daisy Ridley (Rey), Felicity Jones (Jyn) and Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata) will voice their characters. The voice for Princess Leia, played in the movies by Carrie Fisher, will be supplied by Shelby Young following Fisher’s sudden death of a heart attack in December.

Disney was criticized when Ridley’s fearless Rey in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was barely featured in toys and merchandising even though she was a lead character in the 2015 film. The uproar sparked the social media campaign #wheresrey.

John Frascotti, president of toymaker Hasbro Inc, said in a statement the “Star Wars” fan base has broadened over the last 40 years, and the “Forces of Destiny” toy line would “help connect with new audiences as well as appeal to existing fans.”

Science & Health

Cancer Incidence Increases Among Children Worldwide

The number of newly diagnosed childhood cancer cases worldwide rose by 13 percent during the past two decades, according to an agency of the World Health Organization.

In a study published in the journal The Lancet Oncology, researchers with the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, reported the incidence of childhood cancer was 140 per million per year from 2001-2010 among children up to age 14.  

The incidence was 124 per million cancers annually throughout the 1980’s, according to data from a previous IARC study.  

Eva Steliarova-Foucher works in the cancer surveillance section of the IARC, which is part of the WHO.  

She said cancers that strike adults, notably cancers of the breast, colon and prostate, are often caused by genetic mutations that accumulate over time.

In children, she said, the disease is likely due to a genetic predisposition, adding that children tend to get different cancers than adults.

“The first most common cancer in children is leukemia, and this was seen in all the regions.  And then it is followed by cancers of the central nervous system in mostly high-income countries, and it was lymphoma in the other world, in low-income countries.”

The data were collected from 153 cancer registries in 62 countries, departments and territories covering about 10 percent of the world’s children.  

The best records of childhood cancers were from Western countries, including the United States, which kept records on almost 100 percent of sick children.  Five percent or less of the data came from Africa and Asia, according to the report.  In those low resource settings, Steliarova-Foucher says many cancers may go undiagnosed because of a lack of awareness and the unavailability of diagnostic equipment.

But she stresses that collection of data is important because, “You need to know how many cases there will be in the next years so that you have enough amenities to take care of these children. You need to know how much their treatment will cost also.  So, these data provide the first indicator of the burden (of cancer) in this population.”

For the first time, the IARC report also gathered cancer data on adolescents, between the ages of 15 and 19.  The incidence there was 185 cancers in one million teens each year, with lymphoma and melanoma at the top of the list.

By knowing the incidence of childhood cancer, Steliarova-Foucher says researchers can begin to identify some of the factors that may contribute to childhood cancer, including environmental pollutants and infections, which might be avoided.

Arts & Entertainment

Tony-winning Gospel Singer Linda Hopkins Dies at 92

Actress and gospel singer Linda Hopkins, who won a Tony Award in 1972 for the musical “Inner City,” died Monday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, according to her great-niece Hazel Lindsey. She was 92.

Inspired by blues singer Bessie Smith, Hopkins wrote and starred in 1974’s one-woman musical “Me and Bessie,” and was later nominated for a Tony for musical “Black and Blue.”

The New Orleans-born singer toured with Sammy Davis Jr. and jazz musician Branford Marsalis. Her film and television appearances include Clint Eastwood’s “Honkytonk Man,” the miniseries “King” and 1979’s “Roots: The Next Generations.”

Hopkins, whose biggest hit was a cover of “Shake a Hand” with Jackie Wilson, made her singing debut in church at age 3. When she was 11, she was discovered by gospel icon Mahalia Jackson.