Thursday, July 20, 2017

Greg Hunter, “Weekly News Wrap-Up 7/21/2717”

“Weekly News Wrap-Up 7/21/2717”
By Greg Hunter’s 

"Did President Donald Trump just signal an end to the Syrian civil war? President Trump just announced he was ending a covert CIA program to arm the so-called rebels. It was ISIS and al Qaeda we were supporting because the Free Syrian Army has long been dismantled. Is this the deal that Trump was cutting in his more than two hour meeting at the G-20? The Syrian war has taken the lives of nearly 500,000 people and displaced millions more.

Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is expanding his probe. Now, he’s going beyond the so-called Russian collusion story and probing Trump’s business transactions. Mueller and his staff of mostly Democrat lawyers (who are also donors to top Democrats) are going to be looking at transactions as old as 10 years. Trumps says this is unfair, and Mueller is crossing the line if he delves into the family business.

You can chalk up another fine for another big bank for market rigging. This time it’s BNP Bank, and it was fined $246 million after traders for the bank were caught in chat rooms rigging the currency markets. Nobody goes to jail for felony law breaking, and the best part for them is shareholders are the ones that actually pay the fines, not the criminal bankers."

"Join Greg Hunter as he talks about these stories and more in the Weekly News Wrap-Up."

Musical Interlude: Gandalf, “Once in a Star-Brightened Night”

Gandalf, “Once in a Star-Brightened Night” 

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Jets of streaming plasma expelled by the central black hole of a massive spiral galaxy light up this composite image of Centaurus A. The jets emanating from Cen A are over a million light years long. 
Click image for larger size.
Exactly how the central black hole expels infalling matter is still unknown. After clearing the galaxy, however, the jets inflate large radio bubbles that likely glow for millions of years. If excited by a passing front, radio bubbles can even light up again after a billion years. X-ray light is depicted in the above composite image in blue, while microwave light is false-colored orange. The inset image in radio light shows newly imaged, never seen-before details of the innermost light year of the central jet.”

The Universe

"You can "dance" with the illusions of time and space, choosing your "steps" based upon things and events as they now are, or you can dance with your dreams, choosing your steps based upon things and events as they will be.  And I bet you can guess which steps will perpetuate today's illusions, and which ones will change everything... Daily, in some small way, dance with your dreams."
"Shall we?" 
    The Universe

"Thoughts become things... choose the good ones!"

"One Summer Night..."

Click image for larger size.
"One summer night, out on a flat headland, all but surrounded by the waters of the bay, the horizons were remote and distant rims on the edge of space. Millions of stars blazed in darkness, and on the far shore a few lights burned in cottages. Otherwise there was no reminder of human life. My companion and I were alone with the stars: the misty river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the patterns of the constellations standing out bright and clear, a blazing planet low on the horizon. It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead; and because they could see it almost any night, perhaps they never will."
- Rachel Carson

"A Gathering of the Tribe"

"A Gathering of the Tribe"
by Charles Eisenstein

"Once upon a time a great tribe of people lived in a world far away from ours. Whether far away in space, or in time, or even outside of time, we do not know. They lived in a state of enchantment and joy that few of us today dare to believe could exist, except in those exceptional peak experiences when we glimpse the true potential of life and mind. One day the shaman of the tribe called a meeting. They gathered around him, and he spoke very solemnly. "My friends," he said, "there is a world that needs our help. It is called Earth, and its fate hangs in the balance. Its humans have reached a critical point in their collective birthing, and they will be stillborn without our help. Who would like to volunteer for a mission to this time and place, and render service to humanity?"

"Tell us more about his mission," they asked. "I am glad you asked, because it is no small thing. I will put you into a deep, deep trance, so complete that you will forget who you are. You will live a human life, and in the beginning you will completely forget your origins. You will forget even our language and your own true name. You will be separated from the wonder and beauty of our world, and from the love that bathes us all. You will miss it deeply, yet you will not know what it is you are missing. You will only remember the love and beauty that we know to be normal as a longing in your heart. Your memory will take the form of an intuitive knowledge, as you plunge into the painfully marred earth, that a more beautiful world is possible.

"As you grow up in that world, your knowledge will be under constant assault. You will be told in a million ways that a world of destruction, violence, drudgery, anxiety, and degradation is normal. You may go through a time when you are completely alone, with no allies to affirm your knowledge of a more beautiful world. You may plunge into a depth of despair that we, in our world of light, cannot imagine. But no matter what, a spark of knowledge will never leave you. A memory of your true origin will be encoded in your DNA. That spark will lie within you, inextinguishable, until one day it is awakened.

You see, even though you will feel, for a time, utterly alone, you will not be alone. I will send you assistance, help that you will experience as miraculous, experiences that you will describe as transcendent. For a few moments or hours or days, you will reawaken to the beauty and the joy that is meant to be. You will see it on earth, for even though the planet and its people are deeply wounded, there is beauty there still, projected from past and future onto the present as a promise of what is possible and a reminder of what is real.

You will also receive help from each other. As you begin to awaken to your mission you will meet others of our tribe. You will recognize them by your common purpose, values, and intuitions, and by the similarity of the paths you have walked. As the condition of the planet earth reaches crisis proportions, your paths will cross more and more. The time of loneliness, the time of thinking you might be crazy, will be over.

You will find the people of your tribe all over the earth, and become aware of them through the long-distance communication technologies used on that planet. But the real shift, the real quickening, will happen in face-to-face gatherings in special places on earth. When many of you gather together you will launch a new stage on your journey, a journey which, I assure you, will end where it began. Then, the mission that lay unconscious within you will flower into consciousness. Your intuitive rebellion against the world presented you as normal will become an explicit quest to create a more beautiful one.

In the time of loneliness, you will always be seeking to reassure yourself that you are not crazy. You will do that by telling people all about what is wrong with the world, and you will feel a sense of betrayal when they don't listen to you. You will be hungry for stories of wrongness, atrocity, and ecological destruction, all of which confirm the validity of your intuition that a more beautiful world exists. But after you have fully received the help I will send you, and the quickening of your gatherings, you will no longer need to do that. Because, you will Know. Your energy will thereafter turn toward actively creating that more beautiful world."

A tribeswoman asked the shaman, "How do you know this will work? Are you sure your shamanic powers are great enough to send us on such a journey?" The shaman replied, "I know it will work because I have done it many times before. Many have already been sent to earth, to live human lives, and to lay the groundwork for the mission you will undertake now. I've been practicing! The only difference now is that many of you will venture there at once. What is new in the time you will live in, is that the Gatherings are beginning to happen."

A tribesman asked, "Is there a danger we will become lost in that world, and never wake up from the shamanic trance? Is there a danger that the despair, the cynicism, the pain of separation will be so great that it will extinguish the spark of hope, the spark of our true selves and origin, and that we will separated from our beloved ones forever?"

The shaman replied, "That is impossible. The more deeply you get lost, the more powerful the help I will send you. You might experience it at the time as a collapse of your personal world, the loss of everything important to you. Later you will recognize the gift within it. We will never abandon you." Another man asked, "Is it possible that our mission will fail, and that this planet, earth, will perish?"

The shaman replied, "I will answer your question with a paradox. It is impossible that your mission will fail. Yet, its success hangs on your own actions. The fate of the world is in your hands. The key to this paradox lies within you, in the feeling you carry that each of your actions, even your personal, secret struggles within, has cosmic significance. You will know then, as you do now, that everything you do matters. God sees everything."

There were no more questions. The volunteers gathered in a circle, and the shaman went to each one. The last thing each was aware of was the shaman blowing smoke in his face. They entered a deep trance and dreamed themselves into the world where we find ourselves today."
"Who are these missionaries from the more beautiful world? You and I are surely among them. Where else could this longing come from, for this magical place to be found nowhere on earth, this beautiful time outside of time? It comes from our intuitive knowledge of our origin and destination. The longing, indomitable, will never settle for a world that is less. Against all reason, we look upon the horrors of our age, mounting over the millennia, and we say NO, it does not have to be this way! We know it, because we have been there. We carry in our souls the knowledge that a more beautiful world is possible. Reason says it is impossible; reason says that even to slow - much less reverse - the degradation of the planet is an impossible task: politically unfeasible, opposed by the Money Power and its oligarchies. It is true that those powers will fight to uphold the world we have known. Their allies lurk within even ourselves: despair, cynicism, and resignation to carving out a life that is "good enough" for me and mine.

But we of the tribe know better. In the darkest despair a spark of hope lies inextinguishable within us, ready to be fanned into flames at the slightest turn of good news. However compelling the cynicism, a jejune idealism lives within us, always ready to believe, always ready to look upon new possibilities with fresh eyes, surviving despite infinite disappointments. And however resigned we may have felt, our aggrandizement of me and mine is half-hearted, for part of our energy is looking elsewhere, outward toward our true mission.

I would like to advise caution against dividing the world into two types of people, those who are of the tribe and those who are not. How often have you felt like an alien in a world of people who don't get it and don't care? The irony is that nearly everyone feels that way, deep down. When we are young the feeling of mission and the sense of magnificent origins and a magnificent destination is strong. Any career or way of life lived in betrayal of that knowing is painful, and can only be maintained through an inner struggle that shuts down a part of our being. For a time, we can keep ourselves functioning through various kinds of addictions or trivial pleasures to consume the life force and dull the pain. In earlier times, we might have kept the sense of mission and destiny buried for a lifetime, and called that condition maturity. Times are changing now though, as millions of people are awakening to their mission all at the same time. The condition of the planet is waking us up. Another way to put it, is that we are becoming young again.

When you feel that sense of alienation, when you look upon that sea of faces mired so inextricably in the old world and fighting to maintain it, think back to a time when you too were, to all outside appearances, a full and willing participant in that world as well. The same spark of revolution you carried then, the same secret refusal, dwells in all people. How was it that you finally stopped fighting it? How was it that you came to realize that you were right all along, that the world offered to us is wrong, and that no life is worth living that does not in some way strive to create a better one? How was it that it became intolerable to devote your life energy toward the perpetuation of the old world? Most likely, it happened when the old world fell apart around your ears.

As the multiple crises of money, health, energy, ecology, and more converge upon us, the world is going to collapse for millions more. We must stand ready to welcome them into the tribe. We must stand ready to welcome them back home.

The time of loneliness, of walking the path alone, of thinking maybe the world is right and I am wrong for refusing to participate fully in it... that time is over. For years we walked around talking about how wrong everything is: the political system, the educational system, religious institutions, the military-industrial complex, the banking industry, the medical system - really, any system you study deeply enough. We needed to talk about it because we needed to assure ourselves that we were not, in fact, crazy. We needed as well to talk about alternatives, the way things should be. "We" should eliminate CFCs. "They" should stop cutting down the rain forests. "The government" should declare no fishing zones. This talk, too, was necessary, for it validated our vision of the world that could be: a peaceful and exuberant humanity living in co-creative partnership with a wild garden earth.

The time, though, for talking merely to assure ourselves that we are right is coming to an end. People everywhere are tired of it, tired of attending yet another lecture, organizing yet another discussion group online. We want more. A few weeks ago as I was preparing for a speaking trip to Oregon, the organizers told me, "These people don't need to be told what the problems are. They don't even need to be told what the solutions are. They already know that, and many of them are already in action. What they want is to take their activism to the next level."

To do that, to fully step into one's mission here on earth, one must experience an inner shift that cannot be merely willed upon oneself. It does not normally happen through the gathering or receiving of information, but through various kinds of experiences that reach deep into our unconscious minds. Whenever I am blessed with such an experience, I get the sense that some benevolent yet pitiless power - the shaman in the story - has reached across the void to quicken me, to reorganize my DNA, to rewire my nervous system. I come away changed.

One way it happens is through the "gathering of the tribe" I described in this story. I think many people who attended the recent Reality Sandwich retreat in Utah experienced something like this. Such gatherings are happening now all over the world. You go back, perhaps, to "real life" afterwards, but it no longer seems so real. Your perceptions and priorities change. New possibilities emerge. Instead of feeling stuck in your routines, life changes around you at a vertiginous pace. The unthinkable becomes commonsense and the impossible becomes easy. It may not happen right away, but once the internal shift has occurred, it is inevitable.

Here I am, a speaker and a writer, going on about how the time for mere talk has ended. Yet not all words are mere talk. A spirit can ride the vehicle of words, a spirit that is larger than, yet not separate from, their meaning. Sometimes I find that when I bow into service, that spirit inhabits the space in which I speak and affects all present. A sacredness infuses our conversations and the non-verbal experiences that are becoming part of my events. In the absence of that sacredness, I feel like a smart-ass, up there entertaining people and telling them information they could just as easily read online. Last Friday night I spoke on a panel in New York, one of three smart-asses, and I think many in the audience left disappointed (though maybe not as disappointed as I was in myself). We are looking for something more, and it is finding us.

The revolutionary spark of our true mission has been fanned into flames before, only to return again to an ember. You may remember an acid trip in 1975, a Grateful Dead concert in 1982, a kundalini awakening in 1999 - an event that, in the midst of it, you knew was real, a privileged glimpse into a future that can actually manifest. Then later, as its reality faded into memory and the inertial routines of life consumed you, you perhaps dismissed it and all such experiences as an excursion from life, a mere "trip." But something in you knows it was real, realer than the routines of normalcy. Today, such experiences are accelerating in frequency even as "normal" falls apart. We are at the beginning of a new phase. Our gatherings are not a substitute for action; they are an initiation into a state of being from which the necessary kinds of actions arise. Soon you will say, with wonder and serenity, "I know what to do, and I trust myself to do it."

The Poet: Robert Bly, "Things to Think"

"Things to Think"

"Think in ways you've never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.

When someone knocks on the door,
Think that he's about
To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time,
Or that it's been decided that if you lie down no one will die."

- Robert Bly, “Morning Poems”

"The Eternal Silence of Infinite Spaces..."

"The eternal silence of infinite spaces frightens me. Why now rather than then? Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time have been ascribed to me? We travel in a vast sphere, always drifting in the uncertain, pulled from one side to another. Whenever we find a fixed point to attach and to fasten ourselves, it shifts and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition, most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desires to find solid ground and an ultimate and solid foundation for building a tower reaching to the Infinite. But always these bases crack, and the earth obstinately opens up into abysses. We are infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, since the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from us in an encapsulated secret; we are equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which we were made, and the Infinite in which we are swallowed up."
- Blaise Pascal

The Daily "Near You?"

Mesquite, Texas, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

X22 Report, “Has The Fed Used The Same Tactic To Fool The People Again?”

X22 Report, “Has The Fed Used The Same Tactic To Fool The People Again?”

"Margin Calls Explained"

Margin Calls Explained:
"Explains what happens when margin call event occurs, the effect on your margin loan, profit and loss. (Remember, the derivatives-interlocked global situation today is magnitudes greater than in 2008 due to the Federal Reserve pumping $23 trillion into the stock market/banks to keep stock prices going higher into fantasy land valuations. Once they stop, and they will, the corresponding consequences for the banks, student loans, subprime autos, and pension funds will be catastrophic on an unimaginable scale, total global systemic collapse, as we'll all see soon enough. This is also why it's utter insanity to raise interest rates are they've done, and want to do. - CP)
This clip from “Margin Call” (2011) - "Senior Partners Emergency Meeting"
is quite illustrative.

"What is Short Selling?"
"Financial Derivatives Explained"

Extremely relevant:
"Wrecking Ball: The Date Of The 'Finite-Time Singularity'”
by John P. Hussman, Ph.D.

"I’ve periodically framed market action from the perspective of Didier Sornette’s model of log-periodic power-law bubbles (see my recent comments in Fair Value and Bubbles: 2017 Edition). Our current best-fit to this structure is presented below. Based on recent market dynamics, I’ve refined the date of the “finite-time singularity” in this model. That “critical point” is not necessarily the date of a peak or the beginning of a crash, but what Sornette describes as “an inflection point from self-reinforcing speculation to fragile instability.” It’s also worth remembering that the “catalysts” associated with sharp market losses have often been fully recognized only after the fact, if at all. As Sornette observes, “The collapse is fundamentally due to the unstable position; the instantaneous cause of the crash is secondary.”

There’s a Wall Street aphorism that one can talk about time, and one can talk about price, but never about both. For that reason, feel free to take the following chart with a grain of salt. From our perspective, we would be inclined to take far more salt if our own measures of valuations, market internals, and overextended conditions were not so hostile as well. As conditions stand, the overall analysis contributes to our general view that the speculative pendulum is dangerously overextended.

In any event, the estimate that best fits recent market dynamics would place the critical point in the first week of August, within less than 2% of current levels. Indeed, the 30-day crash probability that we estimate from this particular model is rising vertically, and will continue to do so with every market advance from this point. In practice, based on a much broader set of historically reliable evidence, we already view the market as highly vulnerable to steep, abrupt losses.
Click image for larger size.
There will be no avoiding the completion of this market cycle for investors in aggregate. Every share of stock that is issued has to be held by someone, at every moment in time, until that share is retired. So it is useless to encourage investors to “get out” of stocks here. There is no such thing. The real question is who will hold the bag, so to speak - those would best be investors who are committed to a passive investment strategy, who understand the relationship between valuations and likely risk and return over the completion of the cycle and the long-term, perhaps those who are comfortable enough with their own evidence to dismiss ours, and in any event, those who could tolerate the outcomes that we anticipate without abandoning their discipline, in the event they actually unfold as they have in prior market cycles."
The full article can be found here:
As always, inform yourself and draw your own conclusions...

"There Is A Tide..."; "The Fierce Urgency Of Now..."

William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar”
Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

“We are faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’
 - Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We’re All in the Same Boat: Different Ways of Navigating”

“We’re All in the Same Boat: Different Ways of Navigating”
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM

“We are all on this earth together learning and teaching together in many different ways. We're all in the same boat. We just have different paddles, and perhaps we find ourselves on different rivers. We all live in human bodies. These are the vehicles in which we move through our world. We are all made of flesh, blood, and bone, with brains, hearts, and lungs to power us. Our paddles - the tools we use to move through the world - vary, as do the bodies of water - the environments - in which we find ourselves.

Some of us use our high IQs to get where we want to go. Some of use our smiles, others use kindness, a gift with language, or athletic ability. Some of these qualities we were born with and others are skills we have learned. Considering this metaphor in light of your own life can be very enlightening. What tools are you using to get from point A to point B in your life? Chances are, you and the people you know have used many different tools in various combinations throughout your lives to get where you needed to go. Just as with oars or paddles, a balanced approach is best. If you rely too much on one thing, like beauty, to open doors, you fail to be well-rounded and you may eventually lose your equilibrium. And if you lose that one quality, you have no paddle at all. This is inspiration to develop multiple tools to navigate your world.

Some of us may be moving along paths that are like rushing rivers; others may be on a large, still lake. We have all felt, at one time or another, tossed about on a stormy ocean. Through all this, we are never really alone, even though it might seem that way. There is inspiration all around us in the form of other people making their way through the world, in the very same boat. Remember to look around you for role models, companionship, and encouragement.”

"The Truth Is..."

"The truth is we live in a world where we don’t listen to people anymore. So often we’re just waiting for the next opening to respond. What we need to realize is that sometimes people don’t need advice. Sometimes people just need to be heard. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give someone is just to keep our mouths shut and let them empty themselves into our hands. When they’re finished, we don’t need to do anything with what they’ve given us. We just need to show them that we’re holding it for them till they can catch their breath."
- David Joy

"How It Really Is"

"Being Poor Ain't Cheap"

"Being Poor Ain't Cheap"
by Joshua Wilkey

"Poor people are cash cows. It makes no sense, really. One would think that poor people, by virtue of being poor, would not be profitable customers. However, for many large corporations that target the poor and working poor, there's big money to be made on the backs of those who have no money. 

At Dollar General Store locations, customers can get cash back on their purchases. This is not novel. In fact, most all retailers these days offer this option. Soccer moms get cash back so they can have lunch money for their children. Restaurant patrons can get money back to leave a cash tip for their servers. I sometimes get cash back at the grocery store so I can buy Girl Scouts cookies on the way out. It's a simple process. Click "yes" when the little screen asks for cash back, tap the $20 icon, and the cashier hands you some bucks along with your receipt. We've all done it. For those who are poor and those of us who are not but who have limited retail options, however, there's often a sinister catch. 

I noticed this a few years ago, first at Dollar Tree, then at Dollar General. There's a little asterisk after the standard "would you like cash back?" prompt. The footnote indicates that "a transaction fee may apply." The transaction fee is usually $1 no matter the amount of cash back. If one opts to get $10 cash back, one is charged a dollar. That's a ten percent fee, for a service that costs the retailer nothing. It's just another way for retailers like Dollar General to make a profit off of their customers, many of whom are very often living below the poverty line. 

If an organic grocer or movie theater were charging a fee of this sort, I would likely be annoyed by it, but I wouldn't be so annoyed that I would write about it. However, the poorest members of our communities do not shop at Whole Foods, and they do not often get a chance to go see the latest blockbuster at the theater. They can afford neither. In fact, they likely do not have either organic grocers or first-run theaters in their neighborhoods. Instead, they have Dollar General. Dollar General's stores grow like kudzo in rural America. Even if there isn't a real grocery store in most tiny communities, there's probably a DG. 

These ridiculous transaction fees are but one example of how corporations make billions of dollars by taking advantage of socioeconomically disadvantaged customers with few options. There are many other examples, though, and politicians continue to allow it at the expense of their poorest and most marginalized constituents.
Payday lending is one of the most sinister ways that large corporations exploit poor people. For those who are not familiar, payday lending goes something like this: People who are running short on money but who have a verified record of regular income (whether it be Social Security, SSI, payroll, etc.) are able to go to payday lenders and receive a cash loan to be repaid on payday. Often, borrowers are unable to repay their full loan balances and simply “roll over” their loan until a future payday, accruing all sorts of fees and additional interest. The annualized interest rate on these loans is often in the triple digits. Yes, that’s right. Sometimes the annual interest rate is over one hundred percent.

In defense of this practice, many payday lenders and their high-dollar lobbyists argue that they are simply offering a service to poor borrowers that said borrowers cannot obtain anywhere else. This is partially true. The poorest members of society have no access to traditional forms of credit. Some even lack access to checking accounts because of low credit scores or a history of financial missteps.

I know some people who make occasional use of payday lending because they genuinely have emergencies arise that they could not address without a short-term infusion of cash. I also know people, including members of my own family, who have been riding the high-interest payday loan merry-go-round for years, and who have paid thousands more back than they have borrowed yet still owe more. In debating the role of payday lending in our communities, it is essential that we take a nuanced approach. Some form of short-term credit is necessary for those mired in poverty. However, it is flat-out immoral that we regulate payday lending so loosely in many places that people end up feeling crushed under the weight of small high-interest loans that they have no hope of ever repaying. Taking out a $1,000 payday loan should not mean a person becomes tied to tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
Another egregious example of corporations exploiting the poor is rent-to-own retailing. Companies like Aaron’s and Rent-a-Center purport to offer a valuable service for the poor. Because those at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum are seldom able to save for big-ticket items like appliances or furniture, these retailers offer a pay-by-the-month scheme that often requires no credit check and no money down. The result is that customers pay as much as three times the retail price of the item, assuming they are able to make payments until the item is paid for. When they are not able to maintain the payments, the retailers simply show up to repossess the items.

Like payday lenders, rent-to-own retailers argue that they provide a valuable service to poor consumers. However, many observers, myself included, conclude that some rent-to-own practices are ethically questionable and tend to target vulnerable consumers who need immediate access to essentials like appliances and bedding. In many states, companies are not required to disclose the final price of the items. Instead, they simply tell customers the amount of the monthly or weekly payments. Because companies call the arrangement "rent-to-own," in many places they are not required to disclose the amount of "interest" customers will pay because it technically isn't interest. When consumers can no longer afford the payments and have to return the item, they often get no credit for payments they have made even if they have paid substantially more than the item is worth. Many customers never realize that they are paying as much as three times the retail price for their items. Those who do realize it likely have no choice apart from going without a bed or refrigerator.

In some instances, state attorneys general have successfully sued major rent-to-own retailers for violating usury and consumer protection laws. However, because these retailers are covered generally by state laws rather than by federal laws, there exists a hit-and-miss patchwork of regulations. Some consumers enjoy greater protections than others. The only determining factor is their location. Those states with more corporation-friendly attorneys general are unlikely to see any activity that might force retailers to behave more ethically toward their customers, because such enforcements will result in a drop in profitability for the retailers. Many major corporations spend good money to be sure that politicians protect their interests rather than the interests of consumers. Rent-to-own retailers and payday lenders are no exception. The poor, of course, can’t afford lobbyists or political contributions.

There are some who will argue that the free market, not the federal government, is the best solution to corporations that exploit the poor. However, those at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum, especially the rural poor, do not live in anything resembling a free market. Also, it is important that we label the behavior of rent-to-own companies and payday lenders as what it is: exploitation. 

In the hills of Appalachia, poverty is often the rule rather than the exception. One of the most poverty-stricken ZIP codes in the United States is Manchester, Kentucky. Manchester is located in Clay County, which has a population of just over 20,000 people. According to the most recent US Census data available, the per-capita income average between 2011 and 2015 was just $13,802 (less than half the national average) and 46% of the population lives below the poverty line. In Manchester, Rent-a-Center is often the go-to option for poor people looking to buy appliances or furniture. The county has a Walmart, but the nearest discount appliance and furniture dealers are miles away, too far for many to drive. There are some locally-owned options, but few in Clay County are able to pay cash for major purchases given the high rate of poverty and the low rate of employment.

In addition to the rent-to-own retailers, Clay County also has no less than five payday lenders, but only two traditional banks. Conveniently, the primary shopping center in Manchester currently houses a Dollar General, a Rent-a-Center, and two payday lending branches, all within feet of one another. 

In places like Manchester, rent-to-own and payday lending outfits thrive. They do so often to the detriment of the poor folks who frequent their businesses. Those promoting the so-called free market approach might argue that customers are not forced to do business with these types of companies. However, given their dire financial circumstances and lack of available options, poor people in Manchester have little choice. They are excluded from participating in the wider world of commerce, often because of forces beyond their own control.

Manchester is not a rare exception. Particularly in central Appalachia, rent-to-own retailers are often the only option for poor people, and payday lenders outnumber banks by large measure. In addition to being food deserts, many poverty-stricken communities are retail deserts. In the most isolated rural areas in Appalachia, Dollar General is one of the only available retail options. Within ten miles of our house in rural Jackson County, NC, there are four Dollar General stores, and our community isn't even particularly isolated. Dollar General is the closest store to our home, and my wife and I tend to shop there by default because it is either that or a ten minute drive to the closest grocery store, or worse, a twenty minute drive into town. While we have the resources to go to town any time we want, many of our neighbors do not. The folks in the trailer park down the road often walk to Dollar General because they have few other options. This does not seem much like a free market driven by competition. Therefore, "free market" solutions simply do not work here. 

Dollar General is, I believe, fully aware of the demographics of their shoppers. They know that there are often few ATMs near their locations, and their customers often lack access to traditional banking anyway and end up paying fees of three or four dollars to access their money at ATMs. Especially for people who depend on Social Security or SSI for their income, access to money is an important issue. Dollar General and similar retailers, it seems, understand this. Their solution is not to offer a resource for their customers but to profit from their customers’ limited access to funds. It's cheaper than an ATM, but it's a fee more affluent shoppers never have to think about. While there is nothing illegal about this, it is certainly morally questionable.

That’s the thing about the so-called free market. It makes no accounting for moral right or wrong. That, free market proponents allege, is up to the consumers. Poor consumers, however, still need to eat. They still need ovens and beds. Consumer choice and self-advocacy is often, like so many forms of social or political action, a full-stomach endeavor. When one is hungry, one’s ability to be an activist is diminished. When poor people have no choice but to do business with the greedy companies who reap a hefty profit from their customers' lack of options, those drawing the short straw simply do what they must to survive. Surviving is what poor people do best, and it makes for a miserable life. I know, because I have been there. 

When poor people have little option but to do business with discount retailers who charge cash-back fees, rent-to-own retailers who charge inflated prices, and payday lenders who mire their customers neck-deep in impossible-to-pay-back high-interest loans, they are even less likely to ever escape poverty. The stark reality is that poor people often pay substantially more for essentials – bedding, appliances, housing – than would those of us with means. If my wife and I needed a new washer, we'd shop around for the best deal and go buy it. In fact, we might even buy it from Amazon Prime and get free two-day shipping. When my mother, who lived her entire life in poverty, needed a new washer, she was forced to buy one from a rent-to-own outfit that charged her an outrageous delivery fee and hassled her every time she was even a few hours late on a payment. She probably ended up paying $2,000 for a $450 washer. The poor do not have access to Amazon Prime like the rest of us because they can't afford a hundred bucks a year to subscribe. They do not get free delivery and obscenely low prices. They get fleeced.

The limited options available to those in poverty are rarely considered by the political ideologues who are so prone to victim-blaming. These retailers, who are all too often protected by state and federal lawmakers from both parties, package their predatory tactics as opportunities. What they are really selling are tickets on yet another segment of the poverty train. The politicians who protect them should be deprived of options and see just how much more expensive it is to survive. They should be ashamed for protecting those who profit from poverty, and those of us who know about it and have the resources to fight back should be ashamed for letting it happen to our neighbors.”

"Why Trump Won’t Stop the Debt Crisis"

"Why Trump Won’t Stop the Debt Crisis"
by Bill Bonner

"Sound the alarm. Take your money off the table. Pack your socks and passport. There’s going to be trouble. The Washington Post reports: ‘Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s treasury secretary, is hurtling toward his first fiasco.’ Republicans have majorities in both houses of Congress. Yet they cannot do the one thing they all agreed they should do, and promised they would do. And if they don’t do it, the country will go broke.

‘Crumbling health bill dents McConnell image as top tactician,’ says the Associated Press. ‘How Trump and Republicans failed on their health-care bill,’ explains The Washington Post. ‘Republicans’ health-care split goes all the way to the party’s soul,’ declares another Washington Post headline.

Rejoicing or whining, the media is all over the story. But the more important dots are buried deeper.

Guns and butter:  Democrats, from the time of FDR, wanted a welfare state. They got it. Cost? About $2.5 trillion per year. And since Reagan and the rise of the neo-cons, the Republicans wanted a warfare state. They got that, too. At a cost - all in - of nearly $1 trillion per year. Between the two, that’s nearly 90% of the entire federal budget…

The ‘guns versus butter’ debate goes way back. Lyndon Johnson was warned that the country could afford a war on poverty or a war in Vietnam, but not both at the same time. The big Texan paid no attention. Debts and dollars piled up - many of them in the Bank of France via its branch offices in Southeast Asia.

Jacques Rueff was former French President Charles de Gaulle’s finance chief back then. And Rueff was no fool. It was he who had put the French economy back on its feet after the Second World War. In the 1940s, France had been defeated, divided in two, and then run by military administrators. The Third Republic fell. Food was rationed. Other consumer goods - from nylon stockings to Renault cabriolets -disappeared.

Then important sectors of the economy - banking, insurance, airlines, autos, steel, cement - were nationalized under the heavy influence of socialists and communists in the après-guerre government. Inflation was out of control, as the French feds put in a welfare-state system under the guidance of economist Jean Monnet. Rueff sorted this out in two key moves. He devalued the franc, making it convertible to gold. And he balanced the government’s budget. Honest money and honest finances did the trick. The French economy boomed for the next 30 years.

Printing dollars: In the late 1960s, however, Rueff was confronted with a challenge - America’s ‘guns and butter’ fiscal program. The US was kiting its expenses by printing dollars, many of which were stacking up in the Bank of France. What to do? Rueff advised de Gaulle to take dollars forthwith to the US Treasury and exchange them for gold. He knew that even rich Americans couldn’t afford a warfare state and a welfare state at the same time. He was right.

Gold could be bought for $37 an ounce on the open market on the last day of 1970. A decade later, it was $589 an ounce. Today, it stands at $1,243. Had you done nothing other than put your money in gold when the US went off the gold standard, you would have multiplied your capital 33 times. By contrast, the Dow has gone up 26 times in the same period, not including dividends.

Broken promise: But, back in 1971, few people noticed the change in America’s money. It was then - under the administration of Richard Nixon and ill-advised by economist Milton Friedman - that the US ‘closed the gold window’ at the Treasury, reneging on the solemn promise to convert foreigners’ dollars to gold at a rate of $35 per ounce. Thereafter, the dollar could not be redeemed for gold at a fixed, statutory rate. And thereafter, there was no obvious limit to how much butter or how many guns the feds could afford.

This fake money is what has fuelled the growth of the two big projects of the Deep State: imperial wars overseas and runaway welfare expenses at home. But even fake money runs into limits. One of those is coming up fast. From the Washington Post: ‘Mnuchin is hurtling toward his first fiasco, unable to get Congress, let alone his colleagues in the Trump administration, on board with a strategy to raise the federal limit on governmental borrowing.

…Unlike other issues facing the Trump administration - such as passing a health-care bill and overhauling the tax code - raising the debt limit comes with a hard deadline of late September, according to Mnuchin. Failure to do so could lead the U.S. government to miss paying its obligations, causing what analysts would consider a historic, market-rattling default on U.S. government debt. “We’re going to get the debt ceiling right,” Mnuchin said in an interview Monday. “I don’t think there is any question that the debt ceiling will be raised. I don’t think there is anybody who intends to put the government’s ability to pay its bills at risk.”’

He’s right. Republicans and Democrats will come together to raise the debt ceiling. Both know they are beholden to the Deep State. And both know that the Deep State runs on fake money and debt. In the end, they will raise the debt ceiling. But there is many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip, as Shakespeare put it. The Senators who found it so hard to repeal Obamacare will find it even more disagreeable to raise the debt ceiling. They will want concessions.

Some will insist on protecting their Northern Virginia cronies’ warfare scam. Others will want to throw a bone to the zombies in the welfare state. It will be a spectacle worthy of WWE wraslin’. Posturing. Buffoonery. Threats. It’s coming in September, and we can’t wait to see it. And we offer a prediction: There will be a lot of ale spilled on the floor before the debt ceiling is raised. ‘Go long vol’ is our advice.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

X22 Report, “The True Economy Is Being Exposed & Soon Everyone Will Learn How Bad It Really Is”

X22 Report, “The True Economy Is Being Exposed & 

Musical Interlude: Kevin Kern, “Above The Clouds”

Kevin Kern, “Above The Clouds”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“What's happening to this spiral galaxy? Just a few hundred million years ago, NGC 2936, the upper of the two large galaxies shown, was likely a normal spiral galaxy -- spinning, creating stars -- and minding its own business. But then it got too close to the massive elliptical galaxy NGC 2937 below and took a dive. Dubbed the Porpoise Galaxy for its iconic shape, NGC 2936 is not only being deflected but also being distorted by the close gravitational interaction. 
Click image for larger size.
A burst of young blue stars forms the nose of the porpoise toward the right of the upper galaxy, while the center of the spiral appears as an eye. Alternatively, the galaxy pair, together known as Arp 142, look to some like a penguin protecting an egg. Either way, intricate dark dust lanes and bright blue star streams trail the troubled galaxy to the lower right. The featured re-processed image showing Arp 142 in unprecedented detail was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope last year. Arp 142 lies about 300 million light years away toward the constellation, coincidently, of the Water Snake (Hydra). In a billion years or so the two galaxies will likely merge into one larger galaxy.”

"Stone Soup: The Wisdom of Sharing"

"Stone Soup: The Wisdom of Sharing"
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM

"Imagine a world in which we all shared our gifts and bounty with each other rather than focusing on self preservation. There are many variations on the story of stone soup, but they all involve a traveler coming into a town beset by famine. The inhabitants try to discourage the traveler from staying, fearing he wants them to give him food. They tell him in no uncertain terms that there's no food anywhere to be found. The traveler explains that he doesn't need any food and that, in fact, he was planning to make a soup to share with all of them. The villagers watch suspiciously as he builds a fire and fills a cauldron with water. With great ceremony, he pulls a stone from a bag, dropping the stone into the pot of water. He sniffs the brew extravagantly and exclaims how delicious stone soup is. As the villagers begin to show interest, he mentions how good the soup would be with just a little cabbage in it. A villager brings out a cabbage to share. This episode repeats itself until the soup has cabbage, carrots, onions, and beets - indeed, a substantial soup that feeds everyone in the village.

This story addresses the human tendency to hoard in times of deprivation. When resources are scarce, we pull back and put all of our energy into self-preservation. We isolate ourselves and shut out others. As the story of stone soup reveals, in doing so, we often deprive ourselves and everyone else of a feast. This metaphor plays out beyond the realm of food. We hoard ideas, love, and energy, thinking we will be richer if we keep to them to ourselves, when in truth we make the world, and ourselves, poorer whenever we greedily stockpile our reserves. The traveler was able to see that the villagers were holding back, and he had the genius to draw them out and inspire them to give, thus creating a spread that none of them could have created alone.

Are you like one of the villagers, holding back? If you come forward and share your gifts, you will inspire others to do the same. The reward is a banquet that can nourish many."