We’re Broke as the Ten Commandments, but Here’s a Few Billion

capture-20151104-010014The State Department released a presser this weekend on its commitment to the “prosperity, sovereignty, stability, and security of the five Central Asian countries as well as a vision of regional economic connectivity through its New Silk Road initiative.” This assistance includes programs over the next several years to increase these countries’ employment, economic efforts and exports.

Here’s the problem, and it’s one not everyone wishes to delve too far because they worry the questions make them look out of the loop or uneducated somehow. Why are we sending so much money to other countries when our own country is drowning due to a lack of the very same programs we’re furnishing the world? Now, in the past, anytime a question like this was posed, it was met with patronizing answers such as, “It’s just the way things are. It’s part of an intricate political and financial system that’s been in place for years and it benefits the United States as much as it does our partner countries.” Most people would leave it at that, even though that’s the most ridiculous answer “non-answer” ever presented. That’s no longer an acceptable answer. How long are we going to allow this to be enough?

Earlier this year, I wrote about Vice President Joe Biden’s efforts of securing at least $1 billion in aid for the three countries that were sending people to our borders. He’d published an op ed in March asking for $1 billion so that we can save Central America from itself. It read, in part:

“The president and I are determined to address conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and help these countries on their path to economic prosperity. To that end, we requested $1 billion in next year’s budget to help Central America’s leaders make the difficult reforms and investments required to put the region on a more stable and sustainable path.”

We’ve heard nothing else about it and so far, I’ve not been able to find specifics in the newly-approved budget, though it was approved.

To most of us, it’s simple: we don’t give money to people when we can’t pay our own bills. Somehow, those we’ve elected don’t seem to mind giving away money that’s first, not theirs to give and second, that we can’t cover.

These countries are taking money to improve their own infrastructures; they want to improve employment opportunities, foreign trade policies, growth opportunities and their own political/monetary shortcomings. They want your money to do it. Our politicians are happy to oblige, even as our own structures are falling apart. Make no mistake – things are getting hokey.

Donald Trump today accused Janet Yellen of deliberately keeping interest rates low as a favor to Obama. He just said what the rest are afraid to say. Tonight, he’s being accused of alienating his own party. Now, granted, he’s a loudmouth and as my mom says, “He lets his bulldog mouth overload his jaybird ass”, but it doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Let’s take it a step further:

Many companies, especially those in the energy sectors, hired on management personnel with packages that include stock options. These companies know that they’re heading into dark times and so far, we’ve seen layoffs of hourly workers. It hasn’t seemed to affect our unemployment numbers because they’re quietly going about the business of cutting heads a few at a time and in some instances, hiding behind furloughs versus reporting them as layoffs. Now, though, the tough economic times are sticking around, especially with lower oil prices. These companies want to carefully time the layoffs in such a way that they can cut their costs further by ensuring the stocks are low enough to lay off those with stock plans without it affecting their profits. It’s all about the timing. For those who have stock options as part of their employment packages, get ready: let the stock prices guide you into when the next shoe falls.

No one – and I mean no one – is talking about why the Middle East is holding up so well with their determination of higher output of oil. We keep hearing, “It can’t go on much longer.” Here’s a clue: the United States is not the only country that’s fracking. Saudi has been fracking for quite some time. Let me say that again: The Saudis are fracking. There is no way in hell OPEC would put itself out there and call the bluff of the U.S. without knowing it could sustain its efforts long enough to serve its purposes. For those insisting that OPEC countries can’t hold out for much longer are either lying or have money at stake that they’re not ready to concede.

It’s now time to no longer allow ourselves to be hushed with patronizing answers to questions like, “Why are we sending money to nations to improve their economies while we’re worried about our own?” They can sugarcoat it, complicate it, present intricate economic formulas to justify their reasons – it does not change the fact that it is wrong. Haven’t we had enough? How long are we going to take the word of elected officials or financial pundits who have their pride at stake?

Look back over the past year alone:

In September, I wrote:

First, if the Fed finally makes a move and raises interest, it makes the exports moot. The U.S. will not be able to compete with the other countries because it will increase the value of the U.S. dollar. It will also send oil prices tanking yet again – which by now, the damage is so heavy, the exports aren’t going to do much to improve the situation anyway and will likely result in more job losses.

(Remember, the State Department announced two days ago we’re sending money to those Asian countries to help with their exports).

In September, I wrote:

Iran unveiled a new surface-to-surface missile that can hit its targets with “pin-point accuracy” within a range of 310 miles. Iranian President Rouhani had a message for the west, too, “We will buy, sell and develop any weapons we need and we will not ask for permission or abide by any resolution for that.” This comment was made during the unveiling ceremony on live TV. This weapon’s now in mass production.

(Remember, Obama invited Iran to sit in on the meeting last week regarding the crisis in Syria. Iran was gracious enough to lay aside its efforts of annihilating the U.S. long enough to attend the meeting).

In July, I wrote:

We know that Russia is looking for better solutions now that the U.S. has tried to sanction it off the map. You’d think Putin would be working magic to take advantage of the weakness Greece now is showing – and you’d be right.

(Those better solutions are now coming to light. Russia is buying Greece in a classic real estate buy frenzy. Why? It’s simple: Moscow has to maintain its strong relationship with Greece and boost their military power in the eastern Mediterranean to ensure a stable strategic balance. Read about it here.)

Until we’re presented with choices that include no loyalty to anyone but the voters, we’re going to continue to see these no-win situations play out at our expense. This is absolutely not what this nation is built on, yet, in a blink of an eye from a time perspective, our entire national dynamic has shifted and if change doesn’t come soon, we’re setting up a dark future for our children and our grandchildren.

Think the Fed Financial Crisis Doesn’t Affect You?

It’s easy to get lost in all of the rhetoric coming out of Congress and the White House these days. For years, we’ve Wrong Way Signseen nothing but a series of lies, mistruths, selfish mindsets and ulterior motives. All the while, we’ve been forced to sit back and watch it unfold. Amidst all of this, there are the debt ceiling crises that have taken over mainstream media from time to time, only to fade into the darkness when a new and better “breaking news” story hits. Now, as yet another deadline looms, which really is just proof that the elected folks have drastically failed yet again, the repercussions are many. Don’t allow yourself to become indifferent because it seems so familiar. There’s a lot at stake.

Medicare and Social Security

This is a double whammy for seniors and the elderly. For around 70% of Medicare recipients, they’re protected from an increase in their Part B premiums. Part B is the portion of Medicare that oversees doctors and hospital payments. They’re protected because they are not receiving a cost of living adjustment – also known as COLA – from Social Security. Since there’s been no inflation, there are no increases for recipients. The law doesn’t allow Medicare premium increases if there are no COLA increases.

That still leaves 30% of Medicare beneficiaries who will shoulder 100% of the Part B premium increases. That equates to about 7 million seniors and elders. Now, we all know Congress can halt this, but we also know their track record. Couple this with everything else that’s going on: 2016 race to the White House, the absence of a speaker of the house and the general bickering they’re known for, and it becomes worrisome. Oh, and did I mention the deadline is November 2nd?

Remember: they could have prevented this – in fact, they PROMISED we’d not run up to another deadline the last time they run us up to a deadline. This could have been avoided. If you’re wondering what the Obama Administration is saying, you’ll appreciate this: “We share the goal of keeping Medicare’s premiums affordable, are exploring all options, and appreciate the interest and ideas of members of Congress,” said White House spokeswoman Katie Hill.

Shared goals and appreciated ideas. Great.

For those who are facing this 52% premium hike, it equates to around $60 each month. Currently the premiums are around $104.50. They will increase to 159.00 each month.

Who’s at risk?

  • New Medicare applicants in 2016
  • Medicare recipients with incomes over $85,000 or if they’re married, $170,000
  • Low-income income people whose Medicare premiums are paid by state Medicaid programs
  • Medicare recipients who don’t receive Social Security

Even if you’re still working – even if you’re in your 20s, these are the types of problems where Band Aids are applied and by the time you prepare for retirement, you’ll remember decades earlier when no one was willing to do the right thing. Odds are, all of us – no matter our age – have loved ones who will be affected today and tomorrow and next week. This matters to all of us.

Keep in mind a few more things that should provide a bit of perspective as well:

New numbers suggest a full 2/3 of Americans have absolutely no retirement savings. That’s huge…mostly because it’s a far bigger problem than anyone anticipated. Remember the MyRA retirement program Obama introduced last year? Not a single state has implemented it. Not one.

We’re working in the belief that employment is sound. The numbers have been so twisted for so long that it’s actually laughable. More companies are talking (and in fact are already in the process) of layoffs. These higher numbers aren’t all being reported as they should because they’re being referred to as furloughs and not layoffs, so the government isn’t taking them into consideration.

Our stock market is just as laughable. This has become nothing but a heavily modified “ideal” that has no degree of truth at all. Do you realize our financial sector is being determined by a Fed that can’t figure out how it backed itself into a corner, a global economy that’s worse than our own, but doesn’t realize it and backdoor deals and dynamics created to save taxes, keep more dividends and shift and change with very little regulation? Folks are getting rich. I’d say there are about 100 people benefitting from the shady practices built on non-existent foundations. When these strange business structures finally crash and burn – and they will, the taxpayer will be the one to cover those costs. And we will. But right now, we have a bigger crisis on our hands. Our senior citizens need to eat and have access to their medications.

The Oil Export Ban

capture-20150915-134910It’s always fascinating to see how things unfold in this country in terms of politics and money. For decades, there has been a ban on oil exports. When profits begin tanking, we start hearing the big dogs barking about how unfair it is. Not surprising, the barking resumed with the big oil players pushing Congress to ease the ban in recent months. On the surface, that’s reasonable. But going a bit deeper, it’s anything but.

What Got Us Here?

First, it’s important to know a few of the “minor” details (according to those supporting the lift) that got us here. Keep in mind, though, it’s the long term repercussions that are going to haunt us. This is increasingly clear with these latest moves:

Note: I realize a lot of this is not on the evening news. God love the mainstream media – it has its hands full letting us know how many times Donald Trump sneezes over the course of a day. Power on, MSM, power on! (Yes, it’s ridiculous.)

China’s Imports

China is one of the world’s biggest oil importers. Sixty percent of the oil it uses is imported from other countries. This is important because:

In October, China will launch its own oil benchmark using its own currency. China and Russia are both ditching the dollar. It will compete with London’s Brent and our West Texas Intermediate (WTI) benchmarks. It has its challenges, according to Reuters, “If China’s crude futures don’t immediately attract enough liquidity and markets are still as volatile as now, then traders could get really burned and would quickly stop trading Chinese crude futures.” If China was in as bad shape as everyone insists, why would it risk the new ploy? Just as the U.S. has manipulated our stock market for years, so has China manipulated its own. Things are never as they truly seem on some Dow ticker.

OPEC Scores

Last week, I wrote that there was no way OPEC was going to change its tactic on production because it had come too far to back out now (despite those insisting it had no choice but to ease its production). We learned that today not only has it NOT considered cutting production, but it’s getting ready to double down. In its monthly report, it said, “In North America, there are signs that U.S. production has started to respond to reduced investment and activity. Indeed, all eyes are on how quickly U.S. production falls.” Score one for OPEC. This move has annihilated what’s left of the still-expensive U.S. shale industry.

The Export Ban

Those are two very big reasons why many of the oil companies want the export ban lifted. But what happens if this goes through and the ban is lifted?

First, if the Fed finally makes a move and raises interest, it makes the exports moot. The U.S. will not be able to compete with the other countries because it will increase the value of the U.S. dollar. It will also send oil prices tanking yet again – which by now, the damage is so heavy, the exports aren’t going to do much to improve the situation anyway and will likely result in more job losses.

And by the way – how many countries, in this current environment, are going to turn to the U.S. anyway? The Obama presidency has pissed the world off over the past seven years. Iran has wasted no time buttering up other countries to buy its oil when the inevitable lifts of the sanctions occur. And as for us, we’ve spent the past few weeks sweet-talking Greece (yes, Greece) into not allowing Russia in its airspace to deliver equipment to Syria. It’s insane: Russia was Greece’s only “BFF” during the difficult months it faced earlier this year. Do you really think this tiny country is going to say, “Yeah, Obama. No problem” after the love affair it developed with Russia recently? No. The answer is no.

There’s one caveat: there exists a small possibility that even a small rate hike can result in global financial unrest, making oil the least of the world’s problems. The reality is no matter what the Fed does, there are going to be financial repercussions both here at home and around the world.

One recent study released in July by Consumers and Refiners United for Domestic Energy, or CRUDE, finds that the cure of the export is going to be worse than the disease: “Allowing the export of crude would cause domestic gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, and heating oil prices to increase, in addition to other negative impacts like increasing the United States’ trade imbalance.” It also reads, “American consumers and businesses will take a major hit if Congress lifts export restrictions.” You can read the entirety of the report here.

And yes, there are many who say this is simply not true. You may know them: BP, Chevron, Exxon, etc. They care little about what happens to the smaller oil companies, which are opposed to the end of the ban. These smaller American oil companies rely on this ban for their success. This would result in layoffs in an entirely new area of the energy sector that had been somewhat protected over the past year.

Finally, and this is important. We keep seeing the unemployment rate dropping, even though most of us are looking around and wondering who’s finagling the numbers? There’s no way the job market is improving and in fact, it’s deeply troubled, even if the government won’t admit it. Maybe there’s a reason why:

Instead of “laying off” employees, many companies and most certainly within the oil industry, are instead issuing “furloughs”. This results in the same thing as layoffs: it eases the payrolls of struggling companies without it affecting their employment numbers. In other words, they’ve found a way to lay off without cutting the number of employees, which makes Obama happy: he’s vehemently opposed to the entire oil industry anyway, but it’s a win-win for him: he gets to tout the lower unemployment numbers while also keeping up his not-so-secretive dislike of the oil industry. This is going to come back and bite some in the most uncomfortable way possible.

In the end, this export ban being lifted may result in absolutely nothing changing. You don’t make big changes like this in the middle of a crisis, just as you don’t make decisions based on fear. If gas prices indeed begin to climb because of this ban being lifted, you can be sure the consumer “unknown factor” will most certainly reveal itself at the polls next year.

It’s Time for Geopolitical Crises to Become U.S. Priority

Never before have there been so many simultaneous problems around the world that the U.S. is either indifferent or clueless that it’s even happening.

Going back just three weeks, take a look at what’s been unfolding right under our noses.

August 23– Iran unveiled a new surface-to-surface missile that can hit its targets with “pin-point accuracy” within a range of 310 miles. Its name is Fateh 313. Iranian President Rouhani had a message for the west, too, “We will buy, sell and develop any weapons we need and we will not ask for permission or abide by any resolution for that.” This comment was made during the unveiling ceremony on live TV. Rouhani then said not only had the missile been successfully and extensively tested, but that it’s headed into mass production.

Remember, the nuclear deal hasn’t been finalized, which, to Iran, means it’s under no obligation until capture-20150906-170659everyone’s signed off on it (and maybe not even then). While the politicians continue with their ongoing temper tantrums, this is what Iran’s been up to.

The same day Iran made its announcement, China conducted its fourth, and possibly final test of what some say is the most dangerous nuclear weapon developed to date. The DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, can easily hit the U.S. China is secretive; so much so that a year ago, the U.S. believed this phase of the development was only in the planning stages.

Also in late August, Russia and China conducted many military drills in the Sea of Japan. While it doesn’t take much to figure out the common denominator between these two countries, this bilateral naval exercise had one purpose: to warn the U.S. This isn’t the first time the two countries have come together; in fact, they’ve been performing these military exercises for years. The difference this time is they’ve ramped it up significantly. Daniel Bushell, a journalist on one of the Russian ships said it was an “unprecedented show of military cooperation”.

Late last week, we learned the final signatures are in place for that massive $400 billion gas and oil deal between Russia and China.

We all know about the Russian bombers coming within 45 miles of the west coast on the 4th of July. But two days ago, one of Russia’s vessels was seen off the coast of Georgia, right where our nuclear submarines are stationed. While Russia’s trolling the east coast, China has at least 5 ships off the Alaskan coast. Think about that for a second. Both our east and west coasts are being compromised by Russian and Chinese military.

Late Friday, there was talk of possible U.S. sanctions for China as early as this month. It’s no secret that China and Russia have hackers who quickly obtained the kind of information that could be catastrophic to Americans. The Los Angeles Times says the two are “aggressively aggregating and cross-indexing hacked U.S. computer databases—including security clearance applications, airline records and medical insurance forms—to identify U.S. intelligence officers and agents.”

Let’s not forget Syria. From Natasha Bertrand:

While the US has been selling the Iran deal to Congress, Iranian military mastermind Qassem Suleimani violated a UN travel ban by visiting Moscow to speak with officials.

Russia appears to be taking advantage of the fact that, while US officials condemn Assad’s barrel bombs, chlorine bombs, and strategy of acting as an air force for the Islamic State, the Obama Administration does not seem to be concerning itself with the Syrian regime.

The reality is these countries have already compromised us as a nation. China’s manipulating its own currency to the point that it affects our markets. Autopilot with wild fluctuations is one way to describe it. OPEC has accomplished its objectives to a large degree, as evidenced by tanking prices in the energy sector and both Russia and China are so close to our shores that it’s scary. As far as OPEC pulling back, don’t count on it. There is no way the cartel would have set this up only to bail at this late stage and when the grand plan is beginning to pay off. Saudi has something the U.S. doesn’t: cash. It can hold out far longer than they’d have us believe.

Mary Astor – The Great Lie

capture-20150815-184410I’ve really been looking forward to this weekend’s anti-damsel blogathon. Work and life have a way of annihilating priorities, but this has already been a lot of fun and my goal is to show the magnificence of one of my favorite actresses, Mary Astor.

Many would argue she’s best known for The Maltese Falcon or maybe even the 1949 version of Little Women, and I agree, but don’t box her into one role; she deserves better and the many films she made, including silent films in the 1920s, make it clear she wasn’t only a pretty face; this lady mesmerizes on screen.

It’s difficult to put into words the magic that we feel when we witness a talented actor pull from the core of his or her soul and bring to life a complex living and breathing character, full of love and hate and redemption and forgiveness. It always goes so much further than a simple, “best acting ever” declaration. It’s about the tension that’s built when you know it has very little to do with a director’s insistence on proper timing. It’s about the delivery and inflection in a voice that speaks with a powerful line and you know it has little to do with the writers. It’s about the confidence you feel in a character’s purpose and you know it has little to do with the ability of talented co-stars to play off of one another. Without that power of that one soul, the rest serves no purpose. The writing, directing and team collaboration; they’re crucial, of course, but useless if the parts that define it are weak. There’s a reason some talent lives forever while second-best is pushed to the wayside and while we remember favorite films and the way they made us feel, you can be sure that would not exist were it not for the committed talent willing to bleed, cry and demand perfection to make that film worthy of a place in history.

And that is exactly the way every Mary Astor film moves me. It’s also the very reason I’ve chosen The Great Lie for this blogathon.

I mentioned yesterday that it’s difficult, for me personally, to imagine Astor as anything but Edith Cortright in her role in Dodsworth. Her character was just so calming and it’s one of my favorite films, too. She stood by as the man she loved beat his head against the wall trying to make a marriage work that had long since been dead. And she was there to pick up the pieces when he’d finally figured it out. I bring that up because there’s an irony to that plotline in The Great Lie, which was released five short years later. Gone was the compassionate, loving and patient “other woman”, Edith. Now, fans were able to witness Sandra Kovak and her very different efforts of wooing the man she loved away from his wife. Distinctly different, despite the love triangle in both films, and flawlessly delivered.

A quick note about The Great Lie. It starred two powerhouses who had already made several films together, George Brent and Bette Davis. I can only imagine what likely went through anyone’s mind who had the opportunity to perform next to these two giants, yet Astor was a rockstar in her own right. In fact, it was Davis who decided what role Astor would play: the role of Maggie, who was a bit more down to earth, realistic and, for lack of a better word, “domesticated” or the role of Sandra, the globetrotting, elegant, sophisticated, independent and spoiled pianist. While many believed Davis would have chosen the more aggressive role while leaving a slightly passive role to Astor, she instead chose the more appealing Maggie. Maybe it was because of Brent, but I don’t suppose we’ll ever know for sure. Wondering how many films Brent and Davis shared? Try eleven in just ten years – with The Great Lie being the tenth film. These two spent more time with one another during that decade than they did anyone else.

Ah, but Astor scored an Oscar in that role.

One last disclosure: SPOILERS follow. But don’t get caught up in the ending; trust me, the magic is found in the story as a whole. Besides, it’s easy enough to figure out how the film ends. What I’m trying to show is the way the viewer gets there.

Our film opens with Pete (Brent) waking up to the reality that he’s just married the wrong woman. He immediately leaves his still-sleeping and hung over bride at home and flies to Maggie’s (Davis) home, who’s already been engaged to Pete at least twice. He finds a grieving Maggie being protected by a determined and loyal housekeeper, Violet (oh my God…two words: Hattie McDaniel. Brilliant in her role, as always) ready to hurt him for the pain he’s caused her Miss Maggie. As Pete flies back to his bride (he’s a pilot and prefers a quick plane trip over a car ride), he learns that Sandra (Astor) is still married to her first husband. She’d married Pete believing her divorce was final. This, of course, gives Pete his out – which he promptly takes.

Later, as Pete is sent to pilot an exercise overseas, Sandra discovers she’s pregnant and wastes no time in sharing her news with Maggie, who is now finally married to Pete. She made it clear that she would use the baby to lure Pete back into her arms.

Soon, word comes that Pete’s plane is nowhere to be found and he’s declared dead. Maggie, grieving terribly, contacts Sandra and offers to raise the baby since it no longer serves Sandra’s purposes. Since Sandra travels the world as a renowned pianist, she agrees to hand over the baby to Maggie, who will raise the baby as hers and Pete’s.

The two disappear to a cabin in the final months of Sandra’s pregnancy so to avoid the media. She gives Maggie hell, but finally, the baby is born and the two women part ways, each believing they will never again see one another. The baby, who Maggie calls Young Pete is around three months old when she gets a phone call that Pete was found alive and was on his way home.

This means, of course, that Sandra begins lurking around again, showing up unannounced at their home with the intention of telling Pete everything in an effort to break up his marriage. Maggie, always the sensible one, instead beats Sandra to the punch and tells Pete everything. She wanted it all out in the open and let the cards fall where they may. Pete didn’t react the way Sandra hoped and the final few lines of the film, spoken between Sandra, Maggie and with Pete standing there:

Sandra:  “Maggie, I won’t be staying for lunch.”

Maggie: “But what about Young Pete?”

Sandra: “I’m leaving it with his mother.”

There’s no “damsel in distress” in her game. Sandra makes no apologies for her decisions. She never intended to give up her career and she never promised Pete that she would. She didn’t apologize for not wanting the baby, and in fact, she made it clear that the baby was just means to an end. At one point, Maggie says to her, “You never called, you never wrote – you never even knew what I named him!” Sandra never blinks and in fact, dismisses it almost as though Maggie was rattling off the week’s high and low temperatures two miles south of Tibet.

When you think about it, how many women would actually walk up to an ex’s new wife, never skip a beat, and say, “You should know, I plan to take him back.” For that matter, how many wives would take that without a street brawl? Sandra never loses her cool. Even her temper tantrums at the cabin before having the baby were merely efforts of frustrating Maggie. Maggie wouldn’t allow her to have more than a few cigarettes, no steak and definitely no more than “one pickle and a thin slice of onion” for her sandwich during the pregnancy. Sandra resented that.

Here’s what it comes down to: a pregnant woman, who as it turns out, was never married to her ex, allows the new wife to take custody of her baby at birth, no questions asked, accepts a considerable amount of money that she does not need, and then goes on her next world tour. The baby would have served one purpose, and since everyone believed the baby’s father was dead, the little one meant nothing to her past that. Then, upon learning the father is still alive, she finds her way back to him, accepts the hospitality offered, and still makes it clear to the new wife that she doesn’t intend to live without the man they both love. When it’s clear she’s lost the battle, she simply closes the chapter with a simple, “I’m leaving the baby with its mother.”

How much more anti-damsel can you get? And in our Sandra’s case, how much more Oscar worthy can you get?

I searched high and low for a clip that included one of the scenes I outlined above, but the clips are getting harder to come by. Below is the trailer to the movie, but it’s heavy on Brent and Davis; still, a few of her best lines are delivered in the trailer, so invest two minutes and see for yourself and be sure to notice her refined voice – beautiful, I tell you! Right below that is TCM’s Robert Osborne’s introduction to the network’s monthly Star of the Month series. It too has a few soundbites and clips. It’s good for your soul!

Be sure to check out both blogathon hosts’ sites, too. Jo rocks it out on her The Last Drive In and I’m beginning to appreciate silent films, thanks to Fritzi over at Movies Silently.

Conglomerates, MLPs, Chevron – Reality Check

oildownRemember back in the 70s and early 80s, everything was all about the conglomerates? Companies gobbled up smaller companies, with everyone – except those in the larger companies who knew better – believing all was safe and good in Corporate America. Only problem was, the smaller companies were not only gobbled, but spit out, part by part until there was nothing left but a sad memory, a warm beer and some country music song to send it out. Eventually, this seemingly “strengthening” effort of the larger companies became their downfall. By picking and choosing through the process of piecing different parts, these conglomerates themselves became weakened and were quickly deemed relics of days gone by. This corporate strategy was all fine and good for a little while, but it simply wasn’t financially feasible. It was a failure, but it took more than a decade for it to come full circle. Sometimes, bigger is not better.

Now, though, we have the master limited partnerships. These trusts are designed with more than a few benefits in mind, most importantly, their tax advantages. Few things in the American economy are taxed just once. Take estate planning, for instance, people with considerable wealth set up trusts for their assets so that those who receive their inheritances don’t have to worry about estate taxes eating up what their loved ones worked their lives to provide. MLPs work in a similar way. They’re designed to bypass some of the taxes, at least temporarily. It gets complicated because of the absence of the familiar 1099s in lieu of the sometimes complicated S K-1 forms.

At any rate, MLPs are found in the energy sector – oil companies, upstream, midstream and downstream companies, etc. and are traded on the securities markets. They contain several different entities from seemingly unlikely acquisitions, such as retail stores. They’re supposed to be the cure-all, except oil and gas is struggling…as in struuuugggggling.

The big players, of course – Chevron, Exxon and the like are holding on by a thread. The question is: why? These companies have been through it all. Nothing’s working. Their earnings – are they even still an option at this point? Cash flow? That’s a joke. And despite talk of the future, with big promises, it’s simply too far out. Not only that, but the money to secure this future is borrowed. Just like the conglomerates of yesteryear, these companies are just too bulky, are laying off left and right and frankly, are threatening the entire sector. The reality is this sector is fragile. There are too many things unfolding that ensure it doesn’t regain quickly and depending on the damage Obama can do in his final days in office, it could be permanent. The one thing anyone who relies on this industry wants to see is the big daddies sitting pretty. They’re not.

Without going too much into the outside factors, including Iran, Russia and China and other dynamics – most of which I’ve written about extensively in the past, it’s time to shoot the ailing dog. The days of $100 per barrel are gone. Even with a comeback, those who are underestimating Obama’s goals are fools. There’s a reason he’s been quiet the past few weeks and if you’re wondering what he’s been up to, look no further than here and here – you probably haven’t seen either of these stories in the 5 o’clock news, what with the Trump/Kelly war and of course, the U.S./Cuba new best friend status. Don’t underestimate him; the fact that the Iran sanctions are now moot is proof that he does hold power, God help us all. I’ve said for more than a year that shale’s too expensive and with the state of the entire sector, those who insist on pushing it might as well line their horizontal drills with their dollars.

While we’ve yet to see the “too big to fail” banks really pay their dues for the havoc they wreaked in 2008 and earlier, the energy sector, even with the protective mama bear MLPs, won’t enjoy the same fate, but will likely go down in a flaming ball of good intentions, just as the conglomerates did years ago. There is no Reagan or Bush White House. And, if you’re keeping up: Rick Perry, despite Kelcy Warren’s millions, is sinking fast.

The Great Lie

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any time, you know how much I love classic films. I love the women and men and their roles in the 30s and 40s, and into the 50s, too. Men were men and women were women…for better or worse. That’s not to say that human nature has changed that much; it was just…different.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who’d rather line up a few of those great films for the weekend instead of seeing the latest million dollar blockbuster. They’re overrated, bloated and really, how many times can you kill the same enemy, with the same tired lines and with the same “I-thought-the-woman-of-my-dreams-died-and-here-it-is-the-last-thirty-seconds-of-the-movie-and-I’ve-killed-the-enemy-and- woman-of-my-dreams-is-still-alive” plotline? Don’t the actors get tired of it? Eh, it is what it is, I reckon.

Enter the latest blogathon, hosted by The Last Drive In and Movies Silently. This time, we’re shooting for the anti-damsel. What is the anti-damsel? Well, I’ll leave it to the rockstar hosts to explain it:

“She’s been the central figure in danger, the iconic woman in peril … the one who is not in control, trapped by a the narrow gaze of objectification… instead of inherently capable of the same self sufficiency, violence, aggression, strength or self preservation as men….”

The first thing that comes to mind is any of the many Bette Davis roles, right? This time, I’m going to do it a little different. The film I’ve chosen indeed has Bette Davis, but she’s actually the “good girl”, or rather, the “better” girl. No, for this blogathon, I’m choosing a more unlikely choicemaryastor: Mary Astor in her Oscar winning role in 1941’s The Great Lie. She’s everything this challenge calls for, but you’ll have to check back this weekend to see how she fills that role.

I know, I know…any previous writing about Mary Astor, at least from me, has been mostly her role in Dodsworth, as the patient, sweet, loving and forgiving “other woman” in Walter Huston’s life. Don’t mistake the “other woman” role as something bad. Against Ruth Chatterly, Astor is nothing short of a saint and very much the one you hope “wins” Huston’s heart. It is poles apart from the role she plays in the love triangle in The Great Lie. And that’s saying something, considering Bette Davis is her competition!

Check back over the weekend as I explore Mary Astor’s “married but not married” Sandra Kovak, who, by the way actually plays – and flawlessly, I might add – Tchaikovsky’s Concerto 1.