cheekos

I recently retired after 39 years in Financial Services. Along the way, I believe that I learned a lot, not only about Economics and Financial Markets; but, about a number of other topics. In today's World, everything is connected--Foreign Affairs, Politics, Medicine, Education, Technology, etc. Also, with today's ever-changing World, it is important for everyone to keep up with what is going on--both at home and abroad. We have to be very curious.

Homepage: https://thetruthoncommonsense.wordpress.com

DONALD, WITH FOUR UNWINNABLE WARS ALREADY GOING ON IN THE MIDDLE EAST, WE DON’T NEED YOU TO HELP START ANOTHER!

Does Donald Trump ever think before he opens his mouth, or fires-up his Tweeter?
We are already involved with four local wars in the Middle East, and now he is taking sides in a disagreement, between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the Emirates, on one side, against Qatar on the other, for sponsoring terrorism.  The Saudis had delivered an ultimatum with 13 demands, to be complied with in ten days, before a blockade would be imposed

Donald Trump immediately conveyed his wholehearted support for the blockade.  Why?  In May, the Saudis had feted Trump, and lavished great praise on him; but, that surely couldn’t justify his taking sides in this disagreement!  Consider as well what else has changed since Donald’s trip to Riyadh, just 35 days ago.

Within the past week, Saudi King Salman al-Saud, who has failing health, named his 31 year-old son Salman bin-Abdulaziz al-Saud to be the new Crown Prince, and heir-to-the-throne.  Previously, Prince Salman had been the bellicose defense minister, who sent the Military to attack Yemen, resulting in numerous Yemeni civilian deaths.

Trump’s unfettered support for the blockade of Qatar appears to have prompted Secretary of State James Mattis to rush to Doha, in order for him to confirm our support for the Persian Gulf nation, and to sign a $12 billion arms deal with the Qataris.  The
U. S. Air Force provides air support for our actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, from al-Udeid air force base, just west of Doha.  We also have the Headquarters of both the U. S. Central Command and the Central Air Force Command, at that same Qatar location.   Why didn’t Donald Trump consider all this before he Tweeted-off this?

Secretary of State Rex Tellerson warned the Saudis, and their allies, to make sure that the demands on Qatar are “reasonable and actionable”.  National Security experts confirm that it is not uncommon for State and/or Defense to be on different sides on some issues, from the White House; but, in this case, it is quite peculiar.  In fact, Donald Trump appears to be out of the loop, and there appears not to be any coherent rational policy.

Congress, which has the sole authority to Declare War has certainly shirked its duty in the Middle East!  Out of the four nations in which we are using military force, War Powers (Act) Resolutions have only been issued for Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), and those are grossly outdated, and should definitely be revoked immediately.  The American People should demand more from our Congress, especially with a hands-off President, than to accede to open-ended military actions, without having a defined mission and end-date!

NOTES:

1. The attached article from The Guardian (UK) provides a more in-depth description pop the Trump meddling in the Saudi-Qatar controversy.
2. This recent post provides additional detail on our overall mismanagement of the military in the Middle East.

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CAN DONALD TRUMP BE TRUSTED IN THE VIRTUAL MINEFIELD THAT GEORGE W. BUSH LAID IN THE MIDDLE EAST, BACK IN 2003?

First, let me point-out that the Congress, which has sole Constitutional Authority to Declare War (Article I, Section 8), has not done so since December of 1941.  It has ceded such powers to the Administrative Branch ever since.  And, the War Powers Act, by which Congress supposedly maintains control over the Military, has been used primarily, as an excuse by Presidents, to usurp the authority of the Legislative Branch.

Donald J. Trump, has demonstrated, time and time again, that he is not a hands-on President.  He recently delegated the responsibility for sending an additional 4,000 troops into Afghanistan, to Secretary of Defense James Mattis.  The WPA resolution, which supposedly authorizes that additional force; however, has not been updated since 2001, when it was first approved.

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) recently said that “When I voted in 2001 to authorize military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, I had no idea I would be authorizing armed conflict for more than 15 years and counting,”   Congress has, in effect, abrogated its responsibility as the only Branch of Government able to Declare War.  Clear guidelines must be required, including: a specific mission objective; an anticipated completion date; and the required troop and equipment requirements.

We still maintain several thousand American GIs in Iraq, which remains under a 2003 WPA resolution.  Quite recently, with the fall of Raqqa—ISIS’s assumed headquarters—there have been rumors afloat, about sending more military advisors, and even some ground forces into Syria.  So far, there has never been a WPA resolution, whereby Congress has authorized Military Action in Syria.  Keep in mind that, such action could put us face-to-face, with both Russia and Iran.

There have been other minor military interventions, such as in Yemen, eight days after Trump’s Inauguration. When Secretary Mattis was confirmed, on January 20, a special waiver was granted to enable him to serve as the Secretary of Defense.  Generally, a nominee for that office must wait seven years, following their separation from active military serve, and Mattis had only retired three years before.  By providing Mattis with the responsibility to decide on any increase in troop levels in Afghanistan, Trump has disregarded the intent of the Civilian Oversight of the Military!

Just recently, Saudi King Salman al-Saud appointed his 31 year-old son, Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, as the Crown Prince, and Heir-Apparent.  Prince Salman had been the Defense Minister, and the driving force behind the Invasion of Yemen, which has caused a significant number of civilian Yemeni deaths.  With King Salman reportedly in ill-health, Donald and the Crown Prince might be a much too dangerous pair!

Just consider the local wars in which we are already engaged—Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and perhaps Iran-Saudi Arabia, if that erupts.  Also, Palestine—with Israel’s nukes— would certainly get dragged into any such regional conflict!  Our two primary adversaries are still China and Russia.  So, let’s not squander our Treasury, lose too many good young men and women, and cause the American People to tire of war—just before the one(s) really matter(s) might commence!

This whole situation makes me think of a bunch of fearless firefighters attacking a wildfire. In this case, if they acted like Donald’s Pentagon, they would be putting-out individual trees, while losing the forest!

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DONALD TRUMP’S VINDICTIVENESS SEEMS TO BE BEHIND TWO SENSELESS IDEAS: ELIMINATING AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE AND SLASHING THE STATE DEPARTMENT BUDGET BY 31%!

Donald Trump has said a lot of idiotic things, taken Tweetery to a new lunacy level, and he has accomplished absolutely nothing…in five months.  Remember all of those asinine Legislative “Acts” that he was going to pass “…on Day One!”  Did Mr. Know-it-all forget that Congress takes more time off than he does—including HIS Inauguration Day?

There are two major actions that Mr. Trump should have most definitely avoided:  Repeal and Replace “Obamacare,” and to slash the State Department Budget by 31%.

Just like any comprehensive bill, such as the (real name) Affordable (Health) Care Act, modifications should be made from time to time, just like what was done after Medicare, was first rolled-out!  Deep down inside, the real reason for eliminating ACA—and why Donald has disrupted it’s functioning—is to replace the huge tax cuts, assessed to the Top Two Percent of Taxpayers, which were lost when the Bush Tax Cuts expired.

And slashing the State Department Budget is reprehensible; because, those 170 State Department Embassies, Consulates and other installations, around-the-world, are the face of of the United States to many foreigners.  Those offices are used for many other purposes, besides diplomacy: Trade and Agricultural Officers work out of them, foreigners apply for Visas there, and its where Americans go when they encounter problems in other countries. Besides, USAID and other social agencies provide excellent assistance, from those offices, directly to rural villages and groups that need it.

In the case of both eliminating ACA and slashing the State Budget, there is no responsible reason, whatsoever, for Donald Trump to do so.  But, after analyzing these ideas, I definitely see a relationship.  Let me highlight each:

1.   Mr. Trump resents the fact that Affordable Health Care isn’t focused around him.  Even though Republicans have called for some form of Health Care for All, going all the way back to Richard M. Nixon, and perhaps even earlier, the GOP just never seemed to have followed through in legislating it!  Also, Trump is displaying his racism through his intention to eradicate the signature accomplishment of Barack Obama, our First Black President.

2. Additionally, Donald doesn’t seem capable of letting go of his hatred for former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton.  When it came to “dirty tricks”, Trumpie was far and away, the all-time champion, and definitely not the victim, during the campaign!  When Secretary of Defense James Mattis heard that State’s budget would be slashed, he said he was “…going to need more bullets!”  Mattis realizes that every dollar spent by State—especially in its various social programs—results in less dollars needed for Defense!

So, when Trump & Friends misrepresent why they needs to Repeal “Obamacare,” and he proposes slashing the State Department budget, the reasons are: his narcissism; racism; sexism; providing huge tax breaks to Mega-Billionaires; and slashing State’s budget to will help pay for the idiotic Wall!

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DOES FOREIGN AID REALLY WORK, OR IS IT JUST ANOTHER FORM OF BRIBERY?

Foreign Aid is the term, which refers to wealthy nations giving money, or often weaponry, to much-lesser developed countries.  In 2003, George W. Bush even had the audacity to proclaim that he would spread democracy throughout the Middle East.  What an ignorant thing to say?  That might sound “nice” to many Americans watching on TV; however, no nation, in the history of the world, has ever been changed from external forces—or resources!

The target group, of countries that might receive such aid, generally ranges from the poorer developing nations, to “frontier” nations, which have hardly even begun to industrialize.  Such countries usually have a fairly modern capital, and perhaps one or two major cities, which tend to have the usual modern conveniences.  And, these cities are where most aid dollars are squandered!  But, the vast majority of the population generally doesn’t live in the cities

The average person, in many poverty-stricken countries, mostly lives in rural areas, commonly speak only the regional languages, lack electricity, doesn’t have access to clean water for drinking and bathing, has no TV or access to the media, and flush toilets are probably an unknown luxury!  Such people are mostly illiterate, subsist on one or two dollars per day, and they lack any type of affordable transportation, other than by walking.  These rural inhabitants neither know, nor care, who is in power, in the capital.  They know that they are on their own, and their livelihood is subject to droughts and the seasonal monsoons.

Still, foreign aid is much appreciated, especially by those who receive it—the president, close associates, and the military that protects them!   The large cities are kept reasonably up to a semi-modern status, in order to show visiting government officials, and the occasional tourist, the benefits that their assistance has provided.  But, all that is just a charade to maintain the top government officials’ personal “money supply!”  Unfortunately, none of those upgrades ever seem to get out into the countryside—to the people!

Corruption is a very important source of stability for the various presidents, since they do not have the support of the people.  They realize that they may only retain power until they are overthrown or assassinated.  So, they take as much of the aid as they can, and share a part of the money with the military, which protects them while they are in office, and the rest is forwarded to offshore investment accounts!

The U. S. government must certainly understand how this game it played.  When we provide money or weapons, some of which can be bartered to non-friendly states, or terrorist organizations; but, we are definitely looking for something in return.  When George Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, he admitted that he wanted their oil.  And consider: perhaps a naval base in the South China Seas, to counteract China’s interest in controlling vital sea lanes; or an NSA monitoring installation near Russia.

Believe it or not, there are numerous examples of really successful Aid; however, but, only when it is distributed directly to the people who really need it.  Some of these programs are  funded by the U. S. State Department, which makes Trump”s budget cuts so horrendous!  Several additional examples are: micro-loans, which provide the first helping hand to people at the very bottom rung of impoverished societies; sleeping nets to combat malaria, and immunizations to fight various other diseases; and actually building water and sewer systems, thereby helping eliminate a number of diseases.

NOTE:  “A Path Appears,” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, provides examples of how you might help, or just contribute!  This same husband and wife, Pulitzer Prize winning team, also co-authored “Half the Sky”, which is on my Books That I Recommend tab.

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TRUMP’S IMPEACHMENT OR RESIGNATION WOULD BE INSUFFICIENT: WE NEED TO TOTALLY CLEAR-THE-DECK OF HIS ENTIRE REGIME! HERE’S WHY!

The contacts made by a number of Trump loyalists—including (since fired) National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and son-in-law Jared Kushner, during the end of the Obama Administration, were totally illegal and highly unethical!  Paul Manafort, who was fired a year ago, has pro-Russian Ukrainian ties, and is now back in the fold of close Trump confidantes.  Corey Lewandowski, also fired last summer, has returned, as well.  Where did these people go after they left, what did they do, and for whom?

There have been a number of Opinion pieces written recently, which suggested that “President Pence” was sounding better, and better; but, I definitely do not agree!  Americans do not vote for a Vice President; rather, they vote for a President, and his hand-picked VP—just comes along, as a package deal.  And, when I see: the degree to which Trump is doing the bidding of the Mega-Billionaires; he seems intent on turning our allies into enemies, and our enemies into trusted friends, I just fail to see any rationale for it.  But, little by little, Trump has been isolating America from the world, at large!

Donald Trump is our most dangerous weapon, and he’s pointed inward, toward America!    With all that is going on, as well as providing sensitive intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak—a reputed spy master—I can only wonder who else in the Trump Regime is complicit in these activities?   There are just so many likely candidates!

VP Michael Pence keeps praising Trump for all of his mythical accomplishments, and forceful actions.   I can only believe that Pence’s end-game is to continue to kiss Donald’s ring, and his derriere and, in time, he might get to replace Trump in the Presidency!   Can there be any other reason why an assumably rationale man would allow himself to become so closely aligned with Donald J. Trump?  But, if last November’s Election were invalidated, we would need a brand new Election

While Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is investigating possible Trump links with Russia, as well as other side matters, he could hire Constitutional attorneys to review whether there is a way to declare last November’s Election Null-and-Void.   A new Election could be held in, let’s say, 90-to-120 days, with the shorter time-frame decreasing any opportunity for similar collusion and interference.  It would be senseless to Impeach Trump, or accept his Resignation, and then expect the same group of people to begin working toward America’s best interest?

In the interim, an evenly weighted Senate Committee should be assigned to manage the Affairs of State, until a new election can be held to elect the President. The respective two ranking members should function as equals. Perhaps nothing much would be accomplished by the committee during that time; but then, what has Donald J. Trump really accomplished during his five months in office?

This is certainly not the first time that a President has acted more in his own, or his party’s best interest. This has been, however, the first time that a President has filled his Regime with a total Rogue’s Gallery of incompetent and disruptive people who are only loyal to him. I’ll leave it to History to properly place Bill Clinton, as it will Reagan and Bush 41 for the Iran-Contra Affair, and cover-up and, of course, Richard Nixon and Watergate.

Even if my plea falls on deaf ears, and nothing is accomplished, I can only trust that some of the Good American People will begin, state-by-state, and district-by-district, beginning to take back America! Much of what I am concerned about today has been going on for decades—beginning with the Trickle-Down Economics Mythology, circa 1980—and it has been made much, much worse by Citizens-United.

Its time to re-insert “We the People” back into our government, and toss-out the: Corporations; the Billionaires; the Lobbyists and all of the politicians that have let it happen—over the past 37 years–on their watch!

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TODAY’S FEDERAL RESERVE RATE HIKE WAS BOTH PRUDENT AND NECESSARY!

Today, the Federal Reserve announced that it was raising the “Fed Funds Rate”, which is the intra-bank lending rate that banks charge one another.  The increase was made after one of the eight yearly Federal Open Market Committee Meetings, which are generally attended by all seven members of the Federal Reserve Board, as well as the twelve regional Federal Reserve Bank Presidents, from around the country.  While still low on a historical basis, the rate has risen by just 0.25%, to a range of 1.00-to-1.25%.

At the two-day meeting, the FOMC reviews many economic statistics, from each of the 12 regions, with an emphasis on Employment and Inflation in each.  Following the meeting, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen announced that the labor market continues to improve, and that inflation is expected to soon approach the Fed’s two percent target rate.

Donald Trump has been trying to prod Ms. Yellen not to raise rates again, and several journalists have been reporting that some homeowners have had trouble with the last increase mortgage payment increase.   Many retirees, however, have been clamoring for higher CD rates, since they need the higher income to live on.  Although the Fed doesn’t set mortgage, consumer loan or CD rates, any adjustments to the “Funds Rate” generally do have some impact, across the interest rate spectrum!

Over the past 40 years that I have been involved specifically in the bond market, interest rates had never been anywhere near as low as they are now; that is, until ten years ago!  To an extent, such very low rates had added to The Great Recession (4Q07 to 1Q09), since banks found ways to encourage mortgage re-financing and consumer lending to people who should not have qualified for the loans.  Then, once the money was spent—on real estate and merchandise that they couldn’t afford—all they had left were big, big bills!

But, let’s consider today’s rate hike in terms of the Fed’s Dual Mandate—Maximum Employment and Stables Prices, along with Moderate Long-Term Interest Rates.  The amount of necessary monetary stimulus dwindles as the labor market recovers, and if the rates remain depressed for too long, that could cause the economy to overheat, and inflation to overshoot the two percent target.

When rates are still extremely low, as they currently are, the Fed also has little ammunition to respond to another banking crisis, or a foreign currency crisis, such as occurred during the 1990s, both in Latin America and East Asia.  This is why today’s rate increases makes perfect sense, as is the anticipated one more this year.

As always, the Fed doesn’t act on a rigid schedule regarding changes in monetary policy.  Rather, it is constantly reviewing the updated data, keeping in constant touch with other central banks and considering its options.  Ultimately, the Federal Reserve makes decisions on a meeting-to-meeting basis; however, it can act sooner, when necessary!

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DURING A MARKET SHIFT, BE SURE TO UNDERSTAND ANY CHANGES THAT YOU MAKE, AND WHY!

Last Friday, the NASDAQ opened down by over three percent, and it remained that way, also closing the day around that amount.  The Technology ETF (Symbol: XLK), which tracks the technology “components” (corporations) within the S & P 500 also remained down by three percent through the close of the day.  Since there weren’t any other market sectors exhibiting similar turbulence, and economic and geopolitical news wasn’t out of the ordinary, I just assumed that the sudden drop was due to some investors taking profits.

On Monday, while the NASDAQ and Tech ETF opened down by over three percent again, both began to recover in the late morning.  Although they still closed down again that day, the momentum had definitely shifted positive.  And, I believe that that was confirmed today, when they both opened up by around one-half percent, and closed at a positive 0.73%

The inter-active chart on the Sector SPDR website displays the performance of all ten industrial sectors, represented within the S & P 500.  You can compare different time-frames, by clicking across the top of the Sector-Tracker Chart.  Until Friday, the Tech Sector had led, or almost led for every time-frame represented; however, the recent two-day drop, pushed it back for one-month or less.  I still remain heavily weighted in Tech, and I regard other investors taking profits as positive for the sector.

Technology represents approximately 22% of the S & P 500, and is roughly 50% larger than the Financials, the next largest sector.  While Amazon might be forcing some retailers to downsize, and alternative energy might be eating into the fossil fuels, I just don’t see that happening to technology.  It has become integral to our vey way of life.  And, as we rely more, and more, on Technology, what could replace it—but newer technology?

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