CURRENT EVENTS

The First 100 Days

The Trump administration has muddled through the first 100 days, the so-called honeymoon period, with a series of stumbles, bumbles and contradictions.

It may get better, but in the meantime stop listening to anything and everything Trump, Spicer or any of the administration pooh-bahs say.  I really mean STOP LISTENING, just wait to see what they do and accomplish.

You’ll have less stomach pains and zero heart palpitations if you ignore all the Sunday talk shows, all the tweets, all the press briefings, and all the pundits analyzing and speculating on what anything means.

Here’s a quick summary of the first 100 days:

  • Appointed a new Supreme to the court, but left several hundred judgeships waiting to be filled.
  • Did the right thing by fulfilling Obama’s red line when Syria used gas they said they didn’t have on civilians. Why did they destroy only half of the airfield?
  • Lost out to the so-called Congressional Freedom Caucus on replacing Obamacare. They should more accurately be called the Self-Defeating Caucus.  It promises to be back.
  • Backtracked on a lot of campaign rhetoric on China, NATO, the Export-Import Bank, the CIA, as well as the flattering comments about Putin.
  • Proposed an austere budget that filled a lot of campaign promises.
  • Have yet to fill a lot of big executive branch administration slots.
  • Since the day President Trump took office, hundreds of far-left protestors have stormed congressional offices and town halls across the country, demanding that America’s duly elected president be investigated and impeached. They damaged property, disturbed other building tenants, trashed the restrooms, and screamed hateful and divisive rhetoric through bullhorns and loudspeakers.
  • He changed the soft stance of the Obama administration on foreign policy to a more muscular approach. He let our allies and our enemies know we will take assertive action—i.e., Syria, North Korea, Afghanistan—to demonstrate our commitment.
  • The Trumpsters have proposed a somewhat reasonable, albeit sketchy, tax reform plan that doubles the deductions for single and married couples and reduces the tax brackets from seven to three. It eliminates the amount and inheritance tax, reduces capital gain to 15%, and encourages corporations to repatriate overseas profits.  Just the first step in a long congressional massage.

Summary:

They’ve been busy—probably busier than any other administration since FDR—more executive orders and legislation primarily rolling back regulations.

It was not quite as productive as his supporters hoped for, nor as disastrous as his detractors screamed.  He absorbed more than he expected he would have to and learned a lot more about government, which he minimized during the campaign and the transition.

With a little over 3-1/2 years to go, he’s going to have to slug it out to have any success with his agenda.  We live in the most interesting of times.  Keep your seatbelts on.  The roller coaster will continue.

Spain and England Threaten War

You might’ve seen that Brexit became official early in April.

Fully nine months after voters decided in a referendum to leave the European Union, the British government made it official by filing the paperwork for Article 50.

But what you probably didn’t see was that the very same day, the government of Spain demanded that Britain return Gibraltar, which is on the Spanish coast but has been a British territory for 300 years.

Spain also suggested (wink, wink) that it wouldn’t actively block Scotland from joining the EU should it decide to break away from the United Kingdom.

In the diplomatic firestorm that followed, Britain threatened to go to war with Spain should the country decide to take Gibraltar by force; and it had a few choice words to say about Scotland, too.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I wanted to.

Now, I put the probability of actual armed conflict between England and Spain at zero.

This is 2017, not 1704.  It just shows you how bizarre geopolitics has become.

The Fed Could Gift Trump His Infrastructure Dreams

Starting in March of 2009, the Fed created money out of thin air and used it to buy mortgage-backed bonds and Treasury bonds.  Today, the Fed holds $2.5 trillion of Treasury bonds and about $1.8 trillion of mortgage-backed bonds.

They created this money to unfreeze the mortgage market and jumpstart the economy.  Whether or not they achieved their goals is a question for another time.  But, for the purposes of this discussion, the money was created, and the bonds purchased.

Once the money was created, it was bound to enter the U.S. economy eventually.

Before the crisis, the Fed held around $800 billion of securities.  Now it holds $4.5 trillion.

For the moment, the money is frozen in the form of bonds.  When the Fed either sells the bonds or simply lets them mature, the money will hit the U.S. economy.

But we could also take the opportunity to use the funds for a common purpose, like an infrastructure fund.

By law, the Fed can’t hold onto an “excess cash” balance, so periodically the Fed calculates its current and expected expenses, and essentially sends the rest of its cash stash to the U.S. Treasury as a gift.

Money printed by the Fed could land on President Trump’s desk wrapped in a bow.

Build a wall!  Build a bridge!  Repair a dam!  Replace the air-traffic control system!

Those might be the cries from the White House, calling for repairs and renovations to our nation that will also create jobs.  But, in my head, they all translate to one thing first:  Spend money!

We’ve been down this road, of course.  In 2009, we passed the American Recovery Act, pledging $800 billion for infrastructure spending and to create jobs.  Later, Congress added the language, “or to maintain jobs,” to the details.  But who’s keeping track?

We handed hundreds of billions of dollars to states, which used the funds to pay first responders, teachers, and other workers.  But we didn’t build or renovate much of anything—certainly not $800 billion worth of anything.

But we did accomplish something.  We added almost $1 trillion to our national debt.

In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, at the end of February, Trump reiterated his plan for massive infrastructure spending.  He also announced a massive tax cut aimed at the middle class.

The two ideas are at odds, unless we either divert funds from other sources to pay for the infrastructure, or earmark the gift money that the Fed sends the government for that purpose.

Once Congress gets their arms around how this works, the process should be simple.  And it won’t add a dime to the U.S. deficit or debt.

Big Band Jazz Concerts

If you liked the big jazz bands of yesteryear, like Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Gerry Mulligan or Benny Goodman, you would enjoy the Los Angeles Jazz Institute weekend concerts May 24-28 at the Westin LAX.

Each of the bands rents or buys the music charts of the big jazz bands, so you’ll never know the difference.

You can buy a package for the whole weekend or individual tickets.  If you like big band jazz, you’ll enjoy this trip to the past.

You can check out the whole program at jazzinstitute.org.  They generally run two weekend programs a year; Memorial Day and mid October.

The Circus TV Show

Goes beyond the headlines to analyze the politics of what’s going on.  It airs at 8pm on Sundays on Showtime with three of the keenest observers we have:  Mark Halperin, John Heilemann and Mark McKinnon.

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