Home. Family.

 

Anyone who knows me understands our family is wide-open. As long as it’s not personal, better left alone, outsiders hurting our family members, etc., we’re a wide open group of strange and loyal and loving people. Catch me tripping over the air? Knock yourselves out –laugh it up – in my face, even. It comes natural and odds are, you’ve witnessed it firsthand dozens of times if you know me. My sister burns the corn dogs? Yep, I’m landing it on Facebook. Daddy makes a VERY loud joke in Wal Mart because he didn’t think Mom could hear him otherwise? If I get a phone call from Daddy, complete with snickerin’ and “Lemme tell you what I did to your Momma” comments, it’s going to be tweeted or, God love him, if he sends me a picture of my mother’s horrified look after the joke only he and I find humor in, look for it on Instagram.

And then there are things that we don’t do or talk about or reveal. Sometimes ever. Other times, only when one of us is ready. This was a “never will this be told” story. Honestly, I don’t want to. I may not, but I’m a writer so it’s silly to think I’ve not written and rewritten this a dozen times (thank you, Dragon). It’s the publishing part of it I struggle with. I reckon we’ll all find out together.

A lot of readers and all my friends know that I’ve been chomping at the bit with the fast-approaching arrival of a grandson. Y’all, this little fella is due at the end of February and my baby and his wife are getting ready for huge changes along with John Thomas’ arrival. I was very tunnel visioned the last half of 2015.

Like every year, I was getting into the holidays…albeit much slower and with what felt like an absence of energy. I published no digital magazine of the house décor, I didn’t even publish a photo blog. My tree went up early, as always, but I never could get it fully decorated somehow. Something was just missing.

I figured at first I had bronchitis. Then I figured I had pneumonia. Either way, me being who I am, I was not worried about it anymore than it being a pain in the ass at a bad time. People healed from pneumonia on their own all the time – myself included – and for hundreds of years before.

Things got really bad around Christmas Eve. In all honesty, I remember very, very little. We had very loved family friends coming to Mom’s and the rest of our small but deeply connected family had decided the date and time that worked and didn’t interfere with extended family plans. The only thing I remember is making the philly cheese steak dip for my Jacob. I remember tasting it that afternoon to be sure it was up to par. I truly believe that’s all I ate, though. I don’t remember if Mom made chili or shrimp gumbo. I hate that because I was looking forward to it.

I remember my Mom and Dad coming to my house in the days after Christmas. They’d long decided something other than bronchitis or pneumonia was wrong because I hadn’t fed the dogs from the night before and I hadn’t fed myself. Mom came in with food, which I wasn’t eating. I honestly don’t think I’d eaten for days before Christmas Eve, with the exception of tasting that dip for Jake. I noticed she brought two big chocolate doughnuts in and I thought to myself, “That is going to be so amazing after I get a nap and a cup of coffee later.”

At any rate, I’d called my Mom to my bedroom and I remember sitting on the edge of my bed and feeling so exhausted. I said, “Mom, look at this burn on my leg. Can you believe how klutzy that was?” She didn’t seem too concerned about what I knew was a bad burn. Then again, I am klutzy. I think the disconnect was where the maternal “Oh, Momma sees and I’ll bandage it” was lacking. Neither one of us knew the depth of that burn. It’s significant later, though.

I was sitting on the edge of the bed that last day, sometime after Christmas and before New Year’s. I wasn’t listening to a word Mom was saying. The room was filled with women who’d been aggravating the hell out of me. I remember thinking I needed my mother to leave. And this is where the story gets really difficult to tell and that will most likely, for the vast part, never be told in its entirety. But I remembered asking these women to get my mom out of there. It was late into the evening and I just needed to be alone so I could do what I figured I needed to do. Not sure how it all played out and yes, I’m quite sure I was delusional by then. But these ladies in white who I knew but couldn’t identify did what they needed to do.

Around 3 a.m., after talking non-stop again and refusing to allow me to sleep, the ladies helped me make it – somehow – to the emergency room. I’d stayed on the side of my bed that entire night, unable to sleep because of the conversations going on. I realize how crazy that sounds in the context of this story. I was also convinced it was pneumonia again, so there was no hurry. Middle of the night ER trip made total sense to me. Finally, I wasn’t scared. I did not want Mom and Dad out in the weather, but that was for a practical reason. I could get into the ER, get the chest x-ray, the diagnosis, the steroids shot, the antibiotic, cough syrup and be back at home, in bed and recouping before Mom ever even called me the next morning. AND after Jake and Holly had already begun their trek to Houston. Didn’t want them worrying either. Problem solved.

The doctor at George County moved fast, actually. She walked in and it was as though my sister stood before me. She smiled and very matter of factly said, “I’m going to go ahead and send you to Mobile, OK? I think we may have what you think we have but, yeah, we’re going to load you up for an ambulance ride. Can I we call someone for you?” I remember looking at this doctor and thinking, “Lady, you’re fixing to force me to make a call to my mother that is not going to be pleasant. She worries. She overanalyzes. She drives too fast when she’s scared and I’m going to have to explain to her why I’m at the ER overnight when I refused a few hours earlier to make a doctor’s appointment”. Of course, I’m just thinking this and not saying it (thank God). She knew exactly what to say to me and in the exact tone in which to say it.

My ladies in white were still talking non-stop. They were still there. I’m also thinking, “OK, ladies that’s enough. I’m ready for a nap.” They kept on chatting. I heard them, but I can’t repeat back a single word they said.

I called my mother.

I remembered the ambulance ride and nothing more.

I got to Mobile and was met by another doctor, who I’ve since learned is God’s perfect protector here on earth. He took the same attitude with me, “You know what, pretty sure this is what you think it is, but we’re going to do a quick catheter and (some other testing I can’t properly explain here). Won’t take us but a second.”

My ladies were chatting, but seems as though only I could hear them.

Writing’s on the wall, or at least, reality’s set in. This ain’t bronchitis. It ain’t pneumonia.

I think my family was told I was headed into a triple bypass surgery when they got to Mobile. It ended up being quadruple surgery with some other feature. They rebuilt me! Can you believe it? Me! Turns out my plans for my future were A-OK with these saints in scrubs.

The last doctor who said something matter of factly to me after the heart catheter announcement said, “Young lady, you’ve been walking around for days with a massive heart attack. But we’re going to do a quick fix for ya, and get you on your way. Take ya a quick nap and don’t you worry one little bit.” He too knew the tone to take. Maybe he saw how afraid I was.

My white ladies were chatting. At that point, Maw Maw Nellie – now in full focus – looked at me and said, “We’re not going to keep you awake, baby. I know you’re tired. Go ahead and get ya a nap and we’ll see you later. You have a busy day ahead of you!”

That was the last thing I remember after asking myself, “Are these ladies going to stick around to get me through the other side?”

Now  I know. They were there to prevent me from getting to the other side.

This is a very, very abbreviated version of everything I want to say to my clients, my readers and my friends who’ve bitten their tongue and refused to answer any questions about where I’ve been. Aside from my family, there are just one or two who know what’s been going down. The reality, though, is I was temporarily sidetracked. I’m again focused on staying healthy and right back glued to the end of February for John Thomas’ arrival…just as I’ve been for months.

My sweet daddy, showing me my old room was ready while I was still in the hospital.

My sweet daddy, showing me my old room was ready.

For those who’ve asked what I need, I simply say to you the same thing every other person of faith would say: your prayers are what I need. They are all that I need. I am at home for now. By “at home”, I mean my parents’ home. I’m being spoiled like I were an only child. Daddy and I are upping our prank factor on Mom, including trying to “convince” her to go for matching tattoos. We’re doing a lot of people watching and making their lives unrecognizable games (eh….it passes the time while Mom’s in the grocery store. It’s a win-win – no worries about Daddy’s loud joke telling that the whole store can hear and Dad and I get to think up new jokes that will inevitably be told around the supper table).

I’ve learned that the real problem in this world is that my sister is not ruling the hallways of NIH. My God, that woman is a brilliant nurse. I’ve always known she’s a beautiful soul, but I’ve got to be her “patient” this past week. I envy those who she calls “patients”.

I’ve learned that the ladies in white had a lot to say to me in these recent days. They’re still here. I recognize many more of them. I’m hearing what they’re saying. I’m listening to their messages – trust me! They’ll move forward with JanFloraltheir work, but I’m so happy every time I look up and see a white fabric or silk vaguely pass just out of my vision even though I know it’s possibly the last reminder that they were here in this way. I’ve learned that I’m growing more excited for this grandbaby with each passing day to the point that I’m beginning to feel like a kid with no patience!

I’m learning that I’d put way too much emphasis on “I don’t fit the ‘risk’”. There is no checklist that’s a sure thing. Up until I was being wheeled back at Providence, I was convinced still that this was nothing more than pneumonia and a group of doctors wanting to be cautious. Their caution was well placed from the first doctor, who, God love her, must have known exactly how to approach my stubborn mindset that morning in the George County ER.

I’m learning that there are people in my life who’ve been there all along. I’m learning there are people in my life I’d

There is an irony in "fall risk" and the fact that it's a band they dressed me with.

There is an irony in “fall risk” and the fact that it’s a band they dressed me with.

underestimated. I’m learning that this was not a curse. As Dr. Johnson told me, “You know, it could have happened in your 50s, 60s or 70s. But you’re healthy now to the point that we can fix this, bad as it is, and you can get right back to the business of living your life.”

I’m learning that I have a lot of work ahead of me, a surprising few number of prescriptions I have to take and that this region of the country needs to be known for its specialists. And my sister.

I’m not sure what else I’ll say about this. I’m home and I’m on my way. That’s such a blessing for me. Believe me. For now, I’m leaving it as it is, along with a few pics, especially of how life is right this minute for this very blessed and spoiled (thanks Mom and Dad) soul who’s finding my way back.

RIP, Gas and Oil Industry

It’s been a brutal year for the energy sector, specifically those who make their money in the gas and oil industries. With a couple of weeks left in this year, it could get much worse. In fact, it likely will.

The Paris Climate Agreement will no doubt be one of the most earth-shattering events, if not the most earth-shattering event, in our lifetime. No pun intended. It’s not for the reasons most think though. It’s about so much more than a hashtag and world governments tweeting how they’ve saved the earth. In fact, it has very little to do with those grand gestures, much as they are, but rather, it comes down to what’s going on already, the timing and the folks most affected by the agreement.  In fact, for most of us, it won’t mean much of a difference at all. Seriously, I can’t think of a single way that the climate (in the context it’s used today) affects everyday life. Besides, even if I could, there are many who’d argue my way of thinking was wrong. That’s what it is for most of us. Few even bother because everyone is just so sure of what they believe. You can’t change the mind of one who insists the earth is warming no more than you can change the mind of someone who thinks it’s ridiculous silliness. Count me among the latter.

But…ask someone whose bank account is affected. Now that’s an interesting debate!

Just to get an idea of what lies ahead, here are some of the quotes from the past hour or so since the agreement was announced:

Bill McKibben, Co-founder 350.org:

“Every government seems now to recognize that the fossil fuel era must end and soon…Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry.”

May Boeve, Executive Director 350.org:

“This marks the end of the era of fossil fuels. There is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground. The text should send a clear signal to fossil fuel investors: divest now.

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Believe me when I say it – there’s not a single oil executive who’s not ready to come unglued.

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I’ve said all year that the fourth quarter was going to be brutal. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that much. Even if the oil industry wasn’t limping along, there was one dynamic that many denied, but was as obvious as a pimple on a 16 year old homecoming queen’s nose: Obama was hellbent on ensuring climate change comes full circle while he’s still in office. And why not? He’s annihilated everything else he’s touched. It makes sense that he’d bet his Nobel Peace Prize on forcing climate change. He’s even taking complete credit for it:

Today, the American people can be proud — because this historic agreement is a tribute to American leadership.

You can read his statement in its entirety here.

So where does that leave gas and oil? Well, considering the losses in recent weeks, especially after the recent OPEC meeting, things are looking as dark as the oil out of the ground. But let’s start with the MLPs. Specifically, let’s start with the MLP that is no longer an MLP. Kinder Morgan was the master limited partnership darling. Up until hours before the giant announced it was cutting its dividends by a whopping 75%, there were folks still singing its praises, certain the moon would fall from the sky before the dividends would be cut. Y’all watch out for that falling moon.

It’s now obvious that the MLPs are indeed exposed to the same threats as any other company in the sector. The threats just appear differently. It’s because everything is so intertwined. But a -42% YTD? That’s worrisome.

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Then, we had the humongous and inexplicable 2 million units of Energy Transfer Equity, valued at more than $34 million, that was bought by the four head honchoes this week. The company’s CEO, Kelcy Warren, bought the vast majority – $32 million. It helped nothing. We’re talking double digit losses in a single day:

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This article from Brian over at Valuentum Securities hits on Friday. There are more than a few unhappy folks. Someone’s lying. If nothing else, download the 10Q and run your own math. If you have money in ETE, you have an obligation to know what’s going on with it.

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Also last week, we learned there’s a good chance (so we’ve been told) that despite what was said weeks ago – export bans were in place for the long haul – there’s now a possibility that those bans might be lifted. Wonderful news, right? Except for the fact that the Paris Climate Deal pretty much makes it moot.

Well, at least we still have big oil, right? Maybe not. They’re all cutting their 2016 budgets – layoffs and CAPEX. The cuts are big. Chevron especially is taking a hard hit.

Think shale’s the answer? Nah. Not even close. We’re not the only ones fracking. It’s still expensive, despite the advances and while all of this drilling’s been done, with plenty of oil waiting to be pulled from Mother Earth, the race is on to see what happens first: the companies go bankrupt (several have already filed) or the need for the oil materializes. We have a huge glut with barges filling up by the hour.

It’s doubtful the Saudis planned it this way, but the reality is if companies begin fracking again, and considering they’ve found faster ways of accomplishing it, it’s going to run the supply right back up, which starts the cycle again: too much supply, not enough demand.

And finally – let’s not forget the politics. Obama now has to return to the good ol’ United States of America and face the politicians who rely on the oil and gas industries to pad their pockets with dirty money.

Let’s be clear: it’s a slow dance and we are most certainly not leading it.

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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.