WITH TRUMP’S BLESSING, WALL STREET APPEARS TO BE WRITING THE SCRIPT TO DE-REGULATE ITSELF!

Wall Street seems to have gotten its fingerprints all over Donald Trump’s plans to Repeal Dodd-Frank, and just eliminate the Department of Labor’s “Fiduciary Rule” outright.  “Dodd” was passed to rein-in the Banks following The Great Recession (4Q07 to 1Q09).  The Fiduciary Rule, on the other hand, applies specifically to Qualified Retirement Plans (IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, etc), and it requires financial professionals to place the clients’ interests ahead of the firm’s, and their own.  Shouldn’t that rule apply to all securities accounts?

Back in November, I wrote about giving our combined personal investment portfolio its first major overhaul ever, because: I have on-going concerns about what havoc Donald Trump might wreck on our Economy; and I wish to simplify our portfolio, in the event that my wife and daughter might have to take over managing it at some point.  And given Trump’s continued irrational behavior, these concerns still seem as relevant as ever.

Yale Economics Professor Joseph Shiller won the Nobel Prize, in 2013, for his empirical analysis of asset prices.  Shiller concluded that the market is inefficient, and he has suggested that passive index funds can do just as well as actively-managed ones, but without the higher management fees.  Warren Buffett, in his Letter to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders, concurred, suggesting that an S & P 500 index fund, possibly with other stock exchange-traded funds, plus individual bonds or a bond ETF, would perform better in the absence of the management fees.  John Boggle, founder of Vanguard Funds, agrees.

In May of 2012, I wrote a post, comparing mutual funds and ETFs.  It provided a brief, but general comparison between actively-traded mutual funds and ETFs.  Given what is happening now; however, I believe that the Advantage has certainly shifted in favor of ETFs.

Here are some sources for learning more about ETFs:

The CNBC (financial channel) web site provides news, plus market statistics.   On the “Markets” drop-down box, the various global markets can be checked in real-time.  At the bottom of the drop-down, go to “ETFs” for a list, prices, performance, and trading volume of the most popular ETFs, with the Sector SPDRs just below them.

Then go to the State Street web page for SPY, and that company also distributes the Sector SPDRs.  On the SPY page, a Fact Sheet can be viewed, as well as other literature.

On the Sector SPDR page, there are Fact Sheets for each of the sector ETFs, performance and a list of all of the stocks, within each of the sectors of the S & P 500. There also is a Sector Tracker, which provides historical performance, for each sector, across various time-frames.

iShares provides a range of mostly overseas ETF, either globally, by region and for many individual countries. Some of the iShares ETFs that I used, when I wanted to put money into various overseas markets, are as follows: EFA for the EAFE (Europe, Australia and there Far East) Index of industrialized markets, EEM, for Diversified Emerging Markets, or EPP for Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan), among others.
Lastly, check the Stock-Encyclopedia ETF Guide to research any ETF, to include Fast Sheet and other research material,

There are hundreds of ETFs on the market.  If your advisor suggests one, be sure to have him/her explain why that (those) particular one(s) would be suitable for your needs.  I would suggest shying away from ETFs that invest in commodities and foreign exchange, because those markets are more oriented toward institutional investors.  Similarly, be aware that ETFs that double or triple the upside of an index, will similarly increase the risk on the downside.

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NICHOLAS KRISTOFF’S OPEN LETTER TO TRUMP VOTERS

NOTE:  This is an open-letter that Nicholas Kristof wrote, in his regular NY Times column, to awaken all Trump Voters:

Dear Trump Voters,

You’ve been had. President Trump sold you a clunker. Now that he’s in the White House, he’s betraying you — and I’m writing in hopes that you’ll recognize that betrayal and hold him accountable.

Trump spoke to your genuine pain, to the fading of the American dream, and he won your votes. But will he deliver? Please watch his speeches carefully. You’ll notice that he promises outcomes, without explaining how they’ll be achieved. He’s a carnival huckster promising that America will thrive with his snake oil.

“We’re going to win, we’re going to win big, folks,” Trump declared Friday at the CPAC meeting, speaking of his foreign policy.

Great! Problem solved. Next? He then outlined his take on drug trafficking and what will surely be his outcome:
“No good. No good. Going to stop.” Wow! Why didn’t anyone else think of that?

Similarly, all looks rosy for tax outcomes: “We’re going to massively lower taxes on the middle class,” Trump said. But that seems like a classic shell game.

The Tax Policy Center estimated that Trump’s tax plan (to the extent that there is one) would hugely increase the federal debt and give middle-income households an average tax cut of $1,010, or 1.8 percent of after-tax income — while the top 1 percent would save $214,690, or 13.5 percent of after-tax income.

Trump made more than 280 campaign promises as a candidate, and a few — such as infrastructure spending to create jobs — would be sensible if done right. But there still is no infrastructure plan, and The Washington Post Fact Checker is tracking 60 specific campaign promises and found only six cases so far of promises kept.

It’s still early, and Trump has nominated a smart conservative to the Supreme Court and followed his campaign line on issues like barring refugees.

But while you voted for Trump because you put faith in his gauzy pledges, I bet he will do no better with campaign promises than with marriage vows.

Health care will be one of the greatest betrayals. On Friday, he described his plan: “We’re going to make it much better, we’re going to make it less expensive.”

Yet the steps that Republicans seem likely to take on health care will hurt ordinary Americans.

For example, Trump seems poised to weaken the contraception mandate for insurance coverage and curb funding for women’s health clinics. The upshot will likely be more unintended pregnancies, more abortions, more unplanned births — and more women dying of cervical cancer.

The biggest Trump bait-and-switch was visible Friday when he talked about giving Americans “access” to health care. That’s a scam his administration is moving toward, with millions of Americans likely to lose health insurance: Instead of promising insurance coverage, Trump now promises “access” — and if you can’t afford it, tough luck.

This promise of “access” is an echo of Marie Antoinette. In Trump’s worldview, starving French peasants wouldn’t have needed bread because they had “access” to cake.

Many of you voted for Trump because he campaigned as a populist. But instead of draining the swamp, he’s wallowing in it and monetizing the presidency. He retains his financial interests, refuses to release his taxes or explain what financial leverage Russia may have over him, and doubled the fee to join Mar-a-Lago to $200,000.

The greatest betrayal of all will come if, as some of his advisers recommend, he “reforms” and tears holes in some of the big safety net programs like Medicaid, Social Security or Medicare. Medicaid is particularly vulnerable.

Trump howls at the news media, not just because it embarrasses him, but because it provides an institutional check on his lies, incompetence and conflicts of interest. But we can take his vitriol: When the time comes, we will write Trump’s obituary, not the other way around.

Let’s not get distracted by his howls or tweets. What’s most important at this moment is not Trump’s theatrics, but the policies he is putting in place in areas like health care and immigration that will devastate the lives of ordinary Americans.

Trump’s career has often been built on scamming people who put their faith in him, as Trump University shows. Now he’s moved the scam to a much bigger stage, and he boasts of targeting Muslims, refugees and unauthorized immigrants.

Please don’t cheer, or acquiesce in these initial targets. The truth is that among the biggest losers from Trump policies will be you Trump voters, especially those of you from the working and middle class. You were hoping you’d elected a savior, and instead Donald Trump is doing to you what he did to just about everyone who ever trusted him: He’s betraying you.

The sooner you recognize that, the sooner you can fight back and push for policies that will protect your health care and Social Security, defend the integrity of our election system and protect your own interests. You have a false savior, and you will have to turn on him to save yourselves and our nation.

Note from Mr. Kristoff:  I invite you to sign up for my free, twice-weekly email newsletter. Please also join me on Facebook and Google+, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter (@NickKristof).

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THE TRANSGENDER POTTY BROUHAHA HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH REST ROOMS, AND EVERYTHING TO DO WITH SEXUAL DISCRIMINATION!

NOTE:  With minor changes, this is a repeat of a prior post, which was first published on March 1, 2016.  I have tweaked it slightly, in order clarify some points, and to update it for the ignorance of the Trump White House.

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The equality of the Constitutional Rights of all Americans—regardless of age, sex, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.—are guaranteed under our Constitution.   As some Republican-led states have tried, in various and devious ways, to circumvent these rights, the U. S. Supreme Court has reaffirmed them over and over again.   But these ignorant attempts, costly to the taxpayers, continue on.

Usually such legislation has been initiated by individual states, and anointed with seemingly benign titles; however, those are merely dog whistles to excite the political base.  In fact, the true intent of such laws is often quite different from advertised.  Titles such as “Pastor Protection” or “Women’s Protection”, or suggesting that they are intended to protect small businesses, are really smoke screens.

Such laws can only be intended to deny specific constitutional rights of others.  here can be no other relevance!  Who’s going to sue a clergymen whose religion does not condone same-sex marriage for not performing a ceremony?  Or suing a caterer or pastry shop that refuses to provide services for an LGBT event?   Or a woman getting an abortion without having considered the various implications ahead of time?

This month (March 2016), North Carolina and Mississippi passed laws that require transgender persons to use rest rooms, in schools and public buildings, that confirm with the sex noted on their birth certificates.  (Who carries a Birth Certificate?)  Now, consider how asinine this is.  Would a woman who was born a man look for a urinal in the Ladies Room?  Likewise, would a man who was born a woman really try to use a urinal in the Mens Room?   In each case, they would go into a stall to…(well) GO.

These states have already seen major companies decide to cancel expanding facilities there.  Similarly, bills such as the current  “Potty Bill” have resulted in major sports leagues and national conventions shifting their biggest events to other states.  And as expected, individual tourism is seeing a fall-off, as well.

Such legislation truly serves no purpose!   As noted, there is nothing to see here!  The LGTB Community is not a haven for sexual perverts, no more than the general population.  And unfortunately, the larger cities, which tend to be more open-minded, will generally be the losers when corporate  expansion, sporting events, conventions, and tourism will be lost!   So, the areas that are trying to do the right thing are the ones that pay the price—for Bigotry.

More recently, the Trump Regime has suggested that such laws should be left up to the individual states; however, that is a lame attempt “not to take a stand”!  Just considering the past inane attempts to pass racist and bigoted legislation, by the individual states, just points-out what a patchwork quilt of laws, with conflicting values, America will have!  But, as the original post notes, isn’t “Who Goes Where” really a question of Reality?

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CONGRESS MUST RE-AFFIRM ITS SOLE AUTHORITY TO DECLARE WARS–ESPECIALLY NOW, DURING THE TRUMP REGIME!

Although Health Care and Immigration are currently receiving the bulk of the media coverage—and rightfully so—I am gravely concerned about our National Security, as well.  Donald Trump didn’t create the current situation; however, under his Regime, he can only make it worse!  I am referring to the informal, even frivolous manner in which America wages war today, and Congress has apparently ceded that responsibility, over past decades, to the Executive Branch.

Only Congress is authorized to Declare War, under the U. S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8), and that Authority cannot be delegated.  Beginning with Vietnam, our wars have been entered into in a most informal manner, and generally for spurious reasons.  When we send men, and now women, to War, it should only be when America or its allies are in danger, when all else has been tried, and with the complete support of the American People!

I was one of those pawns who went to Vietnam, in the 1960s,  for dubious participation in someone else’s civil war.  It began when 3,500 Marines were deployed in 1965, and it grew to a massive army of 500,000 Americans, at its highest point.  And, for every infantry “Grunt”, there were four (like me) who were not in the actual fight.

Perhaps, worst of all, it was an Open-Ended War, with no means of knowing if and when our side won or lost.  We didn’t win!  As North Vietnamese Special Envoy, Le Duc Tho, told Henry Kissinger, after the Paris Peace Talks in 1973: “You won the battles, but you lost the War!”

Then, in 2001 why did President George W. Bush send an initial 35,000 American troops into Afghanistan, assumedly to kill or capture one man—Osama bin Laden?  As usual, too large a force is counter-productive.  And, the extra men did, in fact, get into trouble!

Bush also allowed the (Dick) Cheney-(Donald) Rumsfeld Cabal to fabricate the need to invade Iraq in 2003.  “Rummy” and Company forced the Army Chief-of-Staff, General Eric Shinseki, to retire. Then, they overruled the Generals, by forcing an inconsistent “Battle Plan”, to wage war on the cheap.  In that situation, politics trumped protocol and experience, and this sets the stage for the, perhaps even more dangerous Donald Trump Regime.

The failed raid, in Yemen on January 29, which took the life of one Navy SEAL (husband and father), and caused the deaths of numerous Yemenis, was ordered and carried-out prematurely, and with insufficient Intelligence.  So far, Trump has shown a preference for loyalty, over experience and competence.

In fact, Donald Trump has rebuked our Intelligence Community on numerous occasions.  And more recently, he appointed Steve Bannon, his Chief Political Strategist, as a permanent member of the National Security Council.  In essence, Donald Trumps appears to be politicizing National Security–and that can be dangerous!

Given the current insane manner in which the U. S. wages War, Congress must, at a minimum: re-affirm its sole discretion to Declare War; formalize the process through an actual Declaration of War; require the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of Defense to consult with both Houses of Congress, to review a fully drawn-up Battle Plan, before a declaration is even voted on; and lastly re-enact the Military Draft—without any deferments, whatsoever—as a means for the entire Nation to share in the Burden of War, including the children of Congress, as well as those of all of America!

NOTE:  A prior blog post, “Re-Enact the Military Draft!”, provides a more detailed explanation of how the Draft might serve to deter Congress from declaring questionable Wars of Convenience, and to insure the engagement of the American People.

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ITS TIME TO PULL THE PLUG ON THE DONALD J. TRUMP PRESIDENCY!

As I watched his Campaign Rally, this afternoon, from Melbourne, Florida, I can only say that Donald J. Trump has, indeed, gone stark raving Mad!  Yes, that’s right—he’s campaigning for President, and continuing to spew divisiveness!  Just the fact that someone, who has only been in office for one month, and has demonstrated quite clearly that he is incompetent, and in way over his head, is already out campaigning for “Four More Years!”

This has got to be initiated within the Republican Party, as I suggested in a recent post, because they control both Houses of Congress.  Congress is the Branch of Government, which is authorized to oversea the President and, frankly, Trump and his entire staff need to go!  Donald Trump, who apparently has never encountered discipline or oversight, has been acting as if he is above the Law, as well as the Constitution.  And anyone who has stood by, enabling such behavior, is complicit in the danger that he represents for America.

Several days ago, while holding a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump not only made derogatory comments about an election that was more than three months past; but, he also defended the National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, who he had only fired a couple of days before.  Also, rumors abound that, at least one of Flynn’s former deputies, from when he was fired by the Army in 2014, might still be working on the National Security Council Staff.

Our allies and trading partners, around-the-world, seem to be planning for a period in which America is no longer a close friend.  He offended Australia, one of our closest allies, both in the Pacific and the Middle East, when he made an offensive, and rude, telephone call to Prime Minister Turnbull.  He failed to comprehend America’s long-time One-China Policy, when he called the President of Taiwan.  And, virtually all of South America is siding with Mexico, and forging closer ties with European and Asian trading Partners.

The most ignorant tactic that Trump has attempted so far, however, is how he is treating Europe—somewhat like a piñata.  Both V. P. Michael Pence and Secretary of Defense, James Matthis, have been attending a meeting of European Defense Ministers, this past several days.  When they reaffirm America’s support for NATO, but make no mention of the European Union, it can make one wonder—don’t they know that many of the members of one, also belong to the other?

Up to a point, anyone can say that new Administration commonly have different Plans; but, with the Trump Regime, there doesn’t appear to be any concrete Plan!  Admiral Robert Harvard reportedly turned-down the role of National Security Advisor, since he couldn’t name his own staff.  However, word also got out that he made-up his mind after watching Trump’s press conference, yesterday, in which he vehemently attacked the Media. General David Petreus also reportedly insists on naming his own staff, if appointed. And, let’s not forget that Trump has politicized the NSC by naming Steve Bannon, his Chief Political Strategist, to it–as a Permanent Member!

Considering all of this nonsense—disruption within the West Wing, the Lying Game, attacking the Media, favoring Loyalty over Competence, and paying tribute to a fired National Security risk—that just sets the stage for utter chaos!  When someone forgets that he put the car keys in the freezer, or walks two blocks from home and doesn’t know where she is, its time for an Intervention.  Well, with Donald Trump already on the campaign trails, let’s Intervene before he loses the Keys to the Nuclear Arsenal!

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IS DONALD TRUMP ATTEMPTING TO ERADICATE “FREEDOM OF THE PRESS”, AND OTHER IMPORTANT RIGHTS, FROM THE U. S. CONSTITUTION?

Donald Trump has been attacking the Legitimate Media, since the early days of his candidacy. Now, it’s one thing to dislike journalists who ask tough questions, which is their job; but, it’s another to openly attempt to cow an entire industry into irrelevance. And, the latter seems to be one of Mr. Trump’s odious intentions

The role of the Media, in a Democracy, is to monitor the government and insure that it is, in fact, doing the People’s business—and not that of some special interests, including its own! “Freedom of the Press (Media)” is one of the Four Rights, which are specifically cited in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. The others are: Religion; Speech and Lawful Assembly. Might they also be in Trump’s cross-hairs?

Soon after his Inauguration, Mr. Trump issued an Executive Order, which was rebuked by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He immediately began attacking, in turn, the Trial Judge, “that bad Court” and, in effect, the entire Judiciary. Mr. Trump seems to believe that he is above the law. Before 1776, Kings such as George III of Great Britain, asserted that they possessed all power, as given them by God. The American Colonies refuted that idea, when we claimed out Independence. Need we do that again!

In an article, from the NY Times, Jim Gutenberg recounts the story of Rick Casey, a TV and newspaper journalist and commentator, in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Casey took exception to comments made by Congressman Lamar Alexander (R-TX), on the Floor of the House of Representatives. Alexander had inaccurately lambasted the “Liberal Nation Media” for not highlighting some early accomplishments of Donald Trump, which it had

In his diatribe, Mr. Alexander suggested a potential solution for the Media, when he said: “Better to get your news directly from the President. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” So, Mr. Casey started his next Commentary with: “Smith’s proposal is quite innovative for America. We’ve never really tried getting all our news from our top elected official. It has been tried elsewhere, however. North Korea comes to mind.”

The potential beginning of the end for Rick Casey’s career might have begun when his commentary, on Radio Station KLRN, was replaced by an earlier one. KLRN is affiliated with the Public Broadcasting Service. PBS is a (partially) government-sponsored TV corporation, along with its counterpart, National Public Radio. Both produce and broadcast shows, which might not otherwise be available through commercial media companies.

Mr. Casey was advised that his Commentary was replaced in order to avoid the risk of losing government funding. Congressman Alexander, in fact, sits on the PBS Board. There has been previous program modifications and, no doubt, that might be more common, in the days of the Trump Regime.

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AMERICA NEEDS A HERO—A GOP HERO!

In the 1984 sound track for the movie Footloose, Bonnie Tyler sang: “I need a Hero…And it’s gotta be soon!”  Right now, that’s the fix that our country is in.  America does need a Hero!   The Donald Trump Regime, unfortunately, is in utter chaos, and in his own mind, Trump believes that it is functioning like a well-oiled machine.  Trump has had key advisors fraternizing with our Russian enemy; but, Donald seems more focused on his ratings and his image, while carrying-out on-going attacks on the media.

Frankly, it’s disheartening to realize that whenever our so-called President is on TV, many Americans just look at each other, and wonder what sort of idiocy or false news he will spread this time.  And unfortunately, he hardly ever fails to surprise us with his ignorance.

Trump is quite delusional when he suggests that everything is running smoothly, or perhaps he is just plain lying.  Less than a month into office, Donald has already begun searching for excuses and scapegoats to blame: he “inherited a mess”, and he is also trying to blame the Obama National Security Team for the failed January 28 Yemeni raid.

Our ideal Hero would have to be a Republican, and someone who would not face political ramifications for standing-up to Donald Trump.  And the one that I have in mind, Senator John McCaine, surely has the fortitude.  As an 81 year-old Senator, who was just re-elected, and a former Vietnam POW, Senator McCaine surely has all of the necessary qualifications to be our Nation’s Hero–Again!

Under our Constitution, it is Congress’s responsibility to keep the President in check, and remind him that he is not above the law!  The GOP must initiate any actions since it controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate. McCaine, along with his usual accomplice, Senator Lindsay Graham, can build a Team of like-minded Senators–from both parties–and invite colleagues in the House to join in, as well.

Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the nominal leaders in the Congress, both seem more interested is using Trump for their own political purposes, rather than to take control—an Intervention—of a dangerous situation.  Luckily, true GOP Leadership might be available.  McCaine and Graham must take action, “…and its gotta be soon!

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