Friday, December 14, 2018

Musical Interlude: Chuck Wild, Liquid Mind: “VI Spirit - Through My Eyes (Nebulae)”

Chuck Wild, Liquid Mind: “VI Spirit - Through My Eyes (Nebulae)”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Beautiful emission nebula NGC 6164 was created by a rare, hot, luminous O-type star, some 40 times as massive as the Sun. Seen at the center of the cosmic cloud, the star is a mere 3 to 4 million years old. In another three to four million years the massive star will end its life in a supernova explosion. 
Click image for larger size.
Spanning around 4 light-years, the nebula itself has a bipolar symmetry. That makes it similar in appearance to more familiar planetary nebulae - the gaseous shrouds surrounding dying sun-like stars. Also like many planetary nebulae, NGC 6164 has been found to have an extensive, faint halo, revealed in this deep telescopic image of the region. Expanding into the surrounding interstellar medium, the material in the halo is likely from an earlier active phase of the O star. The gorgeous skyscape is a composite of narrow-band image data highlighting the glowing gas, and broad-band data of the surrounding starfield. NGC 6164 is 4,200 light-years away in the southern constellation of Norma.”

The Poet: David Wagoner, "Getting There"

 "Getting There"

"You take a final step and, look, suddenly
You're there. You've arrived
At the one place all your drudgery was aimed for:
This common ground
Where you stretch out, pressing your cheek to sandstone.

What did you want to be? 
You'll remember soon.
 You feel like tinder under a burning glass,
A luminous point of change.
 The sky is pulsing against the cracked horizon,
Holding it firm till the arrival of stars
In time with your heartbeats.
Like wind etching rock, you've made a lasting impression
On the self you were,
By having come all this way through all this welter
Under your own power,
Though your traces on a map would make an unpromising
Meandering lifeline.

What have you learned so far? You'll find out later,
Telling it haltingly like a dream,
 That lost traveler's dream under the last hill
Where through the night you'll take your time out of mind
To unburden yourself
Of elements along elementary paths
By the break of morning.

You've earned this worn-down, hard, incredible sight
Called Here and Now.
Now, what you make of it means everything,
Means starting over:
The life in your hands is neither here nor there
But getting there,
So you're standing again and breathing, beginning another
Journey without regret
Forever, being your own unpeaceable kingdom,
The end of endings."

~ David Wagoner

"And Why Are You Waiting?"

"If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make,
who would you call and what would you say?  And why are you waiting?"
~ Stephen Levine

"How the Country Goes Broke…"

"How the Country Goes Broke…"
By Bill Bonner

DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – "We’re down in Florida to meet a new grandchild. It’s a different world down here – different from Ireland, Maryland, France, Argentina… our usual haunts.

Florida is flat. And barely above sea level. If the North Pole keeps warming, much of South Florida will be underwater soon. The people here are different, too. They are either young, tanned, and taut… muscled and contoured. Or they are old, broken-down retirees. There don’t seem to be many in the middle… ordinary people, that is.

And they all seem to have a shorter outlook, as if they were aware that they will soon be swept away by the waves. People here are more eager to go out… to show off… and to spend money. Cars, for example, are newer and cleaner than those you see on the streets of Baltimore. And they are bigger and flashier than those you see on the country roads of Ireland. Houses, too, at least along the coast here, are bigger and fancier. 

There are also many more shops and restaurants here. Drive down almost any road and you’ll find strip malls, outlets, chain stores, and franchises everywhere… with dozens… hundreds… thousands of places to spend money. With so much retail capacity to support, it is amazing that people have any money left. And what will happen when the hurricane comes and the money disappears?

More Hair-Pulling: In the meantime, the taunting, tussling, and hair-pulling continues. Trump promised to punish General Motors (GM) for cutting losing operations. POTUS says he’ll even demand that old bailout money be repaid if GM goes through with its plan to cut 14,000 U.S. jobs. And he told the Chinese how to run their business, too – insisting that they cut their tariffs on foreign-made autos. Then, he claimed that “Mexico would pay for the wall,” just as he had promised during the election. Only, Mexico has no intention of paying for the wall. So he fudged, saying that it could be paid for from “savings” that come from something-or-other.

Real Battle: Off the political stage, the real battle has begun – the one that will affect all our lives for many years to come. From Bloomberg: "The U.S. posted the widest November budget deficit on record as spending doubled revenue. Outlays jumped 18 percent to $411 billion last month, while receipts were little changed at $206 billion, the Treasury Department said in a monthly report on Thursday. That left a $205 billion shortfall, compared with a $139 billion gap a year earlier."

Dear readers will recall that deficits aren’t supposed to be increasing. The Christmas tax cut last year was advertised to stimulate growth; extra tax revenues would reduce deficits, we were told. So far, the debt has gone up… and will more than likely double by 2018. Here’s Bloomberg again: "The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that President Trump signed a year ago seems to have boosted economic growth in 2018. But there’s little evidence yet that it’s setting up the U.S. economy for faster growth over the longer term, which is what the White House and the legislation’s backers in Congress promised."

BOTTOM LINE – Trump and his backers in Congress promised tax cuts would boost the long-term growth potential of the U.S. economy. The data so far don’t support that claim.

Deficits Run Wild: U.S. debt is rising… about twice as fast as GDP. And it will get worse. With a Democrat majority in the House, there is no way a broad program of spending cuts or tax increases could be passed. That leaves entitlements and military spending both running wild.

The Committee for a Responsible Budget estimates that we will see $2 trillion deficits by 2027. But as we pointed out yesterday, this does not account for an economic recession. Come the next crisis… the problem will intensify. Tax revenues will plummet and calls to spend more money will grow louder. Deficits will grow to $2 trillion a year in 2019 or 2020.

What will happen then? Former Fed chief (the last honest one), Paul Volcker, 91, foretells the future: "Someday confidence is lost… Eventually, it breaks down… And then, the hurricane hits… and the country goes broke."

But at least the president isn’t worried about it. From The Fiscal Times: "As a candidate, Donald Trump said he could eliminate the national debt in eight years, largely by focusing on better trade deals. But in office, Trump has presided over a considerable increase in red ink, with annual deficits expected to surpass $1 trillion as soon as 2019. Overall debt is rising accordingly, with the national debt held by the public surpassing $16 trillion for the first time last week. Total debt outstanding is now approaching $22 trillion."

Trump isn’t too worried about it, though, The Daily Beast reports. One early 2017 presentation by senior officials about the projected explosion in the debt was reportedly met with a blunt response by Trump: “Yeah, but I won’t be here.” Maybe he won’t be here. And maybe we won’t either. Too bad for our new grandchild though."

Gregory Mannarino, “Post Market Wrap Up 12/14/18: Are You Ready For THE Second Great Depression?”

Gregory Mannarino, “Post Market Wrap Up 12/14/18: 
Are You Ready For THE Second Great Depression?” 
MarketWatch Market Summary
CNN Market Data:

CNN Fear And Greed Index:

"Who’s in Charge of Wall Street?"

"Who’s in Charge of Wall Street?"
by Brian Maher

"Anarchy is amok on Wall Street, a scene of riot. “Neither the bulls nor the bears are in charge,” cries Michael Kramer of Mott Capital Management. Thus we find bull and bear, bovine and ursine, pitted in savage brawling, each battling for control of the nation’s capital. One day the bulls wrest command and the Dow Jones leaps 500 points.  The next day bears pull off a countercoup… and retake the 500 points the bulls won the day before. 

The rascals may claim an additional hundred or two before the bulls come back at them the following day.
Investors are glued to the desperate back-and-forth, like breathless spectators at a tennis match with everything on the line. Which side wins ultimately — bull or bear? Today we assess opposing forces… and hazard an ultimate victor.  

The bears put the bulls to rout again today. The Dow Jones plunged 497 panic-stricken points. The S&P sank 51, while the Nasdaq lost another 160. MarketWatch reports on today’s combats: "U.S. stocks fell sharply... as investors focused on a batch of weaker-than-expected economic data out of China and Europe, sparking fresh worries about the state of the world’s second-biggest economy and prospects for global growth. Freshly released data out of China revealed that November industrial output and retail sales underperformed expectations.  “Indeed,” says Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at Oanda, “investors are right to be worried about global growth as China economy continues to sputter.” 

Meantime, data out this morning revealed that both German and French private sectors pulled back sharply in November. And so the “globally synchronized growth” the professionals crowed about last year is nearly turned upon its head. The United States economy is still growing… though trending in the incorrect direction. GDP growth crested in this year’s second quarter at 4.2%. Third-quarter growth slipped to 3.5%, while fourth-quarter estimates converge at roughly 2.4%.

Bloomberg tells us today that excluding autos, U.S. manufacturing has stagnated two of the past three months. Today brings further word that rating agencies have downgraded a thumping $176 billion of corporate debt this quarter — a possible portent of a credit crisis. And we have it on reliable authority — Jeffrey Snider, head of global investment research at Alhambra Partners — that the banking system has contracted for the second consecutive quarter.  “This,” says a gulping Snider, “hasn’t happened since 2009.”

Meantime, the marauding bears think they have victory within sight… The S&P peaked in late September. It presently trades more than 10% below that summit — meaning it is in official correction. Thus the index is halfway to full bear market territory, defined commonly as a 20% fall from its most recent heights. And as notes financial journalist Mark Hulbert: “The stock market’s late-September peak looks disturbingly like the beginning of a bear market.”

Here he stands behind data from the widely respected Ned Davis Research. They reveal the stock market’s third-quarter showing tracks closely with a pattern matching bull market tops for nearly 50 years.
Hulbert: "[Ned Davis] calculated the average return of the S&P 500’s 10 sectors over the last three months of each prior bull market top (back to the early 1970s). This enables them to periodically look at how that historical ranking compares with how the sectors are actually performing."

For example… Davis Research reveals the health care sector performed second best of the 10 S&P sectors (on average) the three months prior to previous bull market tops. “Ominously,” notes Hulbert, health care ranked first the three months prior to the Sep. 30 market top. Meantime, the utilities sector typically ranks last of the 10 sectors for the final three months of previous bull markets.  Its current ranking: eighth.

How do these sector rankings inform us of our place in the market cycle? Once again, Hulbert: "One reason is that the stock market may be anticipating an imminent economic slowdown, in the process favoring more defensive sectors such as health care. Another reason is that interest rates typically start rising in the latter stages of a bull market, and higher rates have a disproportionately negative impact on “financials” and “utilities.”

Interest rates may rise once again next week, when the “Open Market” Committee of the Federal Reserve huddles at Washington. Market odds of another rate hike presently stand at 76% — in favor. This, as the global liquidity stream is going dry. The Federal Reserve chiefly accounts for the drought… but the other central banks are falling in behind it.  And so the tide swings in favor of the bears after a nearly unbroken string of defeats stretching a decade. 

So today we wonder: How much fight do the bulls have left? Below Nomi Prins shows you why the Fed knows “it is currently in a Catch-22.” Does she believe Mr. Powell will carry through with another rate hike next week? Either way, will it matter? Read on."
"The Fed Is Panicking"
By Nomi Prins

"This week I’ve been in Washington, D.C. for high level meetings focused on the economy. While meeting with senior officials and members of the House and Senate, it became clear that a troubling phenomenon is building. In the wake of recent stock market volatility and uncertainty surrounding monetary policy, it seems that political figures are starting to grow concerned. There is growing consensus that the makings of a financial crisis of some sort is building — and could drop sooner rather than later. While there is speculation over whether it will be as big as the last one, and whether it will come in waves, the belief is that something is wrong.

With those fears, I turned to the Federal Reserve itself. While meeting at the Fed, I was given the impression that bank regulators have been routinely chastised by Wall Street bankers. What I learned is that some of the biggest playmakers in finance don’t want to disclose the true nature of their positions and money-making schemes. This confirmed my own experiences as an former investment banker.

In addition, it became clearer that Fed Chairman, Jay Powell, and Vice Chairman, Randal Quarles, will be closely studying real economic and bank data when rendering decisions about the path of interest rates. Many have speculated about such dealings, and whether they will be swayed by President Trump’s pressure.

The truth is that the leaders at the Fed have a firmer understanding of what’s really going on in the economy than they allude to publicly. Even though the Fed has been able to avoid another financial crisis the last decade, with quantitative easing (QE) policy — or what I call dark money — their “toolkit” might not render us “safe enough.” They need to grapple with this reality. You see, the Fed manufacturers dark money that the markets have come to rely on. Through quantitative easing (QE) the central bank has accumulated a balance sheet that hit a high of $4.5 trillion of assets last year. By having purchased these assets with electronically created money, the Fed was able to keep rates at the middle and longer end of the yield curve low, while they specifically set low rates for the short end of the yield curve, too.

Just to remind you, the yield curve is the difference between short- and long-term interest rates. Long-term rates are normally higher than short-term rates. When the two converge, it often means markets are anticipating low growth ahead. When the yield curve inverts, when long-term rates fall below short-term rates, it’s almost always a sign of looming recession, historically speaking.

Currently the Fed’s book of assets has been reduced by only a bit — to about $4.1 trillion — but it’s still historically large. If the Fed continues to sell those assets (which consist of treasury and mortgage bonds) there is a risk that their value will drop too much, too quickly. If bond values drop, then rates will rise in the middle and longer end of the yield curve. This would make it more expensive for most companies to repay, or extend, their corporate debts.

The Fed knows it is currently in a catch-22. That’s why over the last two weeks, it has barely sold any of its assets as volatility in the markets picked up. Here’s something else you might not know: Two weeks ago, it even quietly increased its book of assets. That’s the opposite of the policy of unwinding, or selling its assets through quantitative tightening (QT), which is what Chairman Powell promised he would be doing.

That’s another sign that the Fed is afraid of a possible new financial crisis. For more proof, consider that former Fed Chair, Janet Yellen, just did a 180 on her prior comments related to the possibility of another crisis. Last June, she said that she didn’t think there would be another financial crisis in her lifetime, attributing this to banking reforms made since the 2008 financial crisis.

Now, everything has changed. Earlier this week, she told the New York Times that, "Corporate indebtedness is now quite high and I think it's a danger that if there's something else that causes a downturn, that high levels of corporate leverage could prolong the downturn and lead to lots of bankruptcies in the non-financial corporate sector."

She noted that CLOs could be a real problem, as I’ve been warning for months. CLOs, or collateralized loan obligations, are a Wall Street product stuffed with corporate loans. If that sounds familiar to you, there’s a reason. Wall Street is doing exactly what they did with mortgage loans before the 2008 financial crisis, but with corporate ones. Her timing was not random. Just because she’s no longer running the Fed doesn’t mean she has no contact with its new leader, who was her number two. The people and connections within central banks and Wall Street are always in play.

The danger in her analysis is that she’s largely mistaken that “current holders of corporate debt do not appear to be levered to excess, mitigating risk of any credit ripple effects.” The data bears this out. Companies are holding $9.1 trillion of debt now in contrast to the $4.9 trillion in 2007 before the last financial crisis. The financial system, and those who take money from banks, are more highly levered than they were prior to the last financial crisis.

In its inaugural Financial Stability Report, the Fed stressed lurking dangers in corporate debt. Although the Fed also used the opportunity to pat itself on the back for how well capitalized banks were, just as Janet Yellen did, the trouble was still highlighted. The Fed noted that corporate debt relative to GDP is at record highs, and that credit standards have gotten worse again. The amount of junk bonds and leveraged loans or “risky debt” has risen by 5% in the third quarter of 2018 to over $2 trillion in size.

The central bank pointed to a number of other risks facing the markets. Those include the outcome of Brexit, Italy’s finances and a slowing European economy which could lead to more dollar appreciation. If the dollar were to continue to rise in value, it would make it harder for foreign companies that took out dollar-denominated debt to repay it. The Fed also used the report to warn that trade wars, geopolitical tensions and slowdowns in China and other emerging market economies could negatively impact the U.S. economy and markets. All of these factors could not only impact the markets, as we’ve seen over the past several weeks, but also begin to creep in on how companies are able to repay their debts.

Next week is the big Fed meeting. I don’t believe the Fed will raise rates this time, which would give markets a boost heading into the new year. If they do, the announcement will be accompanied with much more dovish language and guidance for 2019. Regardless, the problems aren’t going away and neither is volatility."

The Daily "Near You?"

Ft. Worth, Texas, USA. Thanks for stopping by!

The Poet: Charles Bukowski, "Mind and Heart"

"Mind and Heart"

"Unaccountably we are alone,
forever alone,
and it was meant to be
that way,
it was never meant
to be any other way -
and when the death struggle begins
the last thing I wish to see is
a ring of human faces
hovering over me -
better just my old friends,
the walls of my self,
let only them be there.

I have been alone but seldom lonely.
I have satisfied my thirst
at the well of my self
and that wine was good,
the best I ever had,
and tonight, sitting,
staring into the dark
I now finally understand
the dark and the
light and everything
in between.

Peace of mind and heart arrives
when we accept what is:
having been born into this strange life
we must accept
the wasted gamble of our days,
and take some satisfaction in
the pleasure of leaving it all behind.

Cry not for me.
Grieve not for me.

Read
what I’ve written
then forget it all.

Drink from the well
of your self and begin again."

- Charles Bukowski

“So Many People Are Badly Traumatized by Life in America: It's Time We Admit It”

  “So Many People Are Badly Traumatized by Life in America:
 It's Time We Admit It”
By Lynn Stuart Parramore

“Recently Don Hazen, the executive editor of AlterNet, asked me to think about trauma in the context of America’s political system. As I sifted through my thoughts on this topic, I began to sense an enormous weight in my body and a paralysis in my brain. What could I say? What could I possibly offer to my fellow citizens? Or to myself? After 12 years writing about the financial crisis and its gruesome aftermath, I feel weariness and fear. When I close my eyes, I see a great ogre with gold coins spilling from his pockets and pollution spewing from his maw lurching toward me with increasing speed. I don’t know how to stop him.

Do you feel this way, too?

All along the watchtower, America’s alarms are sounding loudly. Voter turnout this last go-round was the worst in 72 years, as if we needed another sign that faith in democracy is waning. Is it really any wonder? When your choices range from the corrupt to the demented, how can you not feel that citizenship is a sham? Research by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page clearly shows that our lawmakers create policy based on the desires of monied elites while “mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Our voices are not heard. When our government does pay attention to us, the focus seems to be more on intimidation and control than addressing our needs. We are surveilled through our phones and laptops. As the New York Times has recently reported, a surge in undercover operations from a bewildering array of agencies has unleashed an army of unsupervised rogues poised to spy upon and victimize ordinary people rather than challenge the real predators who pillage at will. Aggressive and militarized police seem more likely to harm us than to protect us, even to mow us down if necessary. 

Our policies amplify the harm. The mentally ill are locked away in solitary confinement, and even left there to die. Pregnant women in need of medical treatment are arrested and criminalized. Young people simply trying to get an education are crippled with debt. The elderly are left to wander the country in RVs in search of temporary jobs. If you’ve seen yourself as part of the middle class, you may have noticed cries of agony ripping through your ranks in ways that once seemed to belong to worlds far away.

• I know that a serious illness could bankrupt me.
• I am afraid I will never be able to afford to have a child.
• My nightmare is to end up poor and abandoned in my golden years.
• If you have fewer resources, the terror is even more immediate, the trauma more searing.
• My father and brother are in prison.
• I am afraid of being shot as I walk down the street.
•I have never trusted any adult in my life.

A 2012 study of hospital patients in Atlanta’s inner-city communities showed that rates of post-traumatic stress are now on par with those of veterans returning from war zones. At least 1 out of 3 surveyed said they had experienced stress responses like flashbacks, persistent fear, a sense of alienation, and aggressive behavior. All across the country, in Detroit, New Orleans, and in what historian Louis Ferleger describes as economic “dead zones” - places where people have simply given up and sunk into “involuntary idleness” - the pain is written on slumped bodies and faces that have become masks of despair.

We are starting to break down.

When our alarm systems are set off too often, they start to malfunction, and we can end up in a state of hyper-vigilance, unable to properly assess the threats. It’s easy for the powerful to manipulate this tense condition and present an array of bogeymen to distract our attention, from immigrants to the unemployed, so that we focus our energy on the wrong enemy. Guns give a false sense of control, and hatred of those who do not look like us channels our impotent rage. Meanwhile, dietary supplements and prescription painkillers lure us into thinking that if we just find the right pill, we can shut off the sound of the sirens. Popular culture brings us movies with loud explosions that deafen us to what’s crashing all around us.

The 21st century, forged in the images of flames and bodies falling from the Twin Towers, has sputtered on with wars, financial ruin and crushing public policies that have left us ever more shaken, angry and afraid. At each crisis, people at the top have seized the opportunity to secure their positions and push the rest of us further down. They are not finished, not by a long shot.

Trauma is not just about experiencing wars and sexual violence, though there is plenty of that. Psychology researchers have discussed trauma as something intense that happens in your life that you can’t adequately respond to, and which causes you long-lasting negative effects. It’s something that leaves you fixated and stuck, acting out your unresolved feelings over and over.

Unfortunately, the cycle doesn’t end with you: trauma comes with a very high rate of interest. The children of traumatized people carry the legacy of pain forward in their brains and bodies, becoming more vulnerable to disease, mental breakdown, addiction, and violence. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on trauma, emphasizes that it’s not just personal. Trauma occupies a space much bigger than our individual neurons: it’s political. If your parents lost their jobs, their home or their sense of security in the wake of the financial crisis, you will carry those wounds with you, even if conditions improve. Budget cuts to education and the social safety net produce trauma. Falling income produces trauma. Job insecurity produces trauma. Consider the following:

• Over 2.7 million children in America have a parent in lock-up, a situation considered traumatic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are twice as likely to develop mental illness compared to the rest of the youth population, and more likely to experience a host of problems, including asthma, obesity, and academic issues.
• Unemployment is increasingly linked to suicide, the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Researchers find that losing a job is more likely to cause a person to take her own life today than in the past. Increased job insecurity and stagnant wages have heightened our sensitivity to economic distress over the last few decades.
• Up to 15 percent of adults in the U.S. over 60 exhibit PTSD symptoms. Homelessness among the elderly is increasing and is expected to leap 33 percent by 2020. Rates of economic hardship among elderly women, in particular, have leapt in recent years - up to 18 percent live in extreme poverty, and that number is expected to rise.

The effects of the misguided policies that contribute to these horrors ripple throughout our families, our communities, and ultimately, our entire society.

What then, are we supposed to do with our anguish? Part of our despair comes from participating in a system that is so damaging to so many, so brutal to our natures, both the physical environment and our internal selves. I eat a tomato knowing that the person who picked it may well have been an abused undocumented immigrant. I use products like Google knowing that my personal information is being used for purposes of profit and control. I vote for a candidate knowing that inaction and betrayal are the likely outcomes of putting this person in power. I can’t get away from it.

As I reflect on the scale of the trauma, I wonder if there is any point in writing about it at all. But isn’t part of our task as human beings to bear witness, to tell each other what we know? Talking about our feelings of guilt and helplessness reminds us of our connections to each other and our desire to confront injustices. It helps us to resist the temptation to withdraw into isolation and denial. Refusing to be silenced is one way to restore a sense of at least some vestige of agency.

I think we all have many selves, and I know that I have a self that is so angry and disgusted it simply wants to numb out, to immerse itself in the distractions of shallow consumer culture and look away from things it feels helpless to change.

But I have other selves, too. When I walk into Grand Central Terminal in New York City, with its soaring ceilings painted with the starry sky, I feel a sense of wonder at what Americans have achieved through common effort and recognition of our shared experience. I feel pangs, too, of the threats to those treasures, and the desire among many elites to privatize these public wonders and take away the hope that these spaces represent. But they remain, at least for now, as monuments of the possible. Their existence defies those who would subordinate and divide us.

When I do something as simple as nurture a friend in need, or let myself be drawn in by an artistic creation, or meet the eyes of a stranger with kindness, or plant a living tree, I’m intervening in the trauma and rewriting its trajectory - perhaps only a paragraph, but many paragraphs can make a page, and many pages, a volume.

The etymology of the word “trauma” is associated with the Greek word “wound.” To be human is to be wounded, and the ability to cope with our wounds is the essence of life’s journey. Without wounds, we can’t know our own strength and competence, and we can’t develop empathy for our fellow creatures. Moving from the static place of trauma to something fluid and transformative is the key. The trauma doesn’t go away, but it's possible to bring it along in a way that helps us witness each other, hear each other, and help each other.

In his book on trauma, "The Body Keeps the Score", Bessel van der Kolk describes the concept that helped South Africans deal with the pain of their society as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in progress. “Ubuntu” means shared human experience, the idea that “my humanity is inextricably bound up with yours.”

In the act of writing to myself and to you, I am reminded that we are bound, and that even if a dark age is looming, we can still pass the light between us. I can't fool myself into thinking that the ogre is not coming - but walking to meet him together is much better than standing alone. Connectivity is the only intervention I know.”

"In the Inbox"

"In the Inbox"

From: Coordinator of Volunteer Services

"We have a young man, thirty-six, on hospice, who has a very young child. They want someone to help him do a life review and perhaps put some pictures together for he and his wife so the child will know him. Call me if you are willing to do this."

The next time, friend, your life seems too hard, check your Inbox.
- Jose Orez

"The Future..."

"We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours, and do not think of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we dream of those times which are no more, and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists. For the present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain it by the future, and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching. Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end. So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so."
- Blaise Pascal

"I Promise You This..."

"One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards."
- Edward Abbey

"Two-Thirds Of Americans Think That They Are Middle Class – But Millions Of Them Are Dead Wrong"

"Two-Thirds Of Americans Think That They Are Middle Class – 
But Millions Of Them Are Dead Wrong"
by Michael Snyder

"The middle class has been steadily shrinking, but most Americans still believe that they are a part of it. Perhaps this is due at least in part to the egalitarian values which have been pounded into our heads for most of our lives. Very few Americans would have the gall to define themselves as “upper class”, and I have never met anyone that would describe themselves as “lower class”. In place of “lower class”, many politicians now like to use the much more politically correct term “working class”, but a more apt description might be “the working poor”. Today, half of all American workers make less than $30,533 a year, and you certainly cannot support a middle class lifestyle for a family with children on that kind of income.

Our incomes have stagnated as the cost of living has soared, and the middle class has experienced steady erosion as a result. But despite all that, 68 percent of all Americans still consider themselves to be “middle class”: "That’s according to new data from Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning & Progress Study, which found that 68 percent of Americans consider themselves middle-class, down 2 percent from last year. However, because of the fuzziness of the definition, far more Americans consider themselves middle-class than technically qualify based on income."

In reality, the middle class now makes up just over 50 percent of the total U.S. population, according to a recent report from Pew Research Center, which used 2016 data. That’s compared to 61 percent in 1971. So according to that survey, somewhere around 18 percent of all Americans wrongly believe that they belong to the middle class. There are 325 million people living in the United States today, and so we are potentially talking about 58 million people that think that they are middle class but really aren’t.

Other surveys have come up with similar numbers. For example, one recent survey discovered that 22 percent of non-middle income Americans identified themselves as middle income: "Overall, 22 percent of the non-middle-income Americans surveyed incorrectly classified themselves as middle income. The majority of those people are actually lower-income, with approximately 19 percent of the low-income Americans surveyed defining themselves as middle income. Only approximately 2 percent of upper-income Americans mistakenly defined themselves as middle income."

Of course even if someone can be defined as “middle income” does not necessarily mean that things are going well. Today, most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck at least part of the time. Living on the edge financially can be a constant source of stress, and it can easily start taking over your entire life. To illustrate this point, I would like to share with you a short excerpt from a recent article by Lauren Wellbank: "Like so many Americans, we struggle to get by each and every month. The compounding interest we rack up by always being a breath away from being broke plays a large role in that. We pay interest on purchases that we can’t afford to pay out of pocket in the moment (like our electric bill when my pay was short last month), and then we pay late fees when we have to take advantage of that grace period. Our monthly payments never go down because we can’t get out in front of any of it.

All of this has a psychological and emotional impact. I’m constantly running our budget through my mind, trying to reassure myself that the numbers will work out this month. I’m never not thinking about money. I dread going to the store or having to buy gas because each purchase moves us closer back down to that zero balance. The anxiety over our finances never goes away."

Have you ever been there? Perhaps you are there right now. If so, you are definitely not alone. Most American families are deeply struggling, and it is getting worse with each passing year.

Meanwhile, the folks at the very top of the pyramid have been thriving. In fact, one study discovered that the gap between the wealthy and the poor in the United States is the largest that it has been since the 1920s. We truly are living in a “new Gilded Age”, and the biggest winners have been those in the “top 0.1 percent”. The following comes from Matthew Stewart: "It is in fact the top 0.1 percent who have been the big winners in the growing concentration of wealth over the past half century. According to the UC Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the 160,000 or so households in that group held 22 percent of America’s wealth in 2012, up from 10 percent in 1963. If you’re looking for the kind of money that can buy elections, you’ll find it inside the top 0.1 percent alone."

It has been said that money cannot buy happiness, and that is true. But without a doubt the numbers show that there are some tremendous disadvantages to being poor. Here is more from Stewart: "Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and liver disease are all two to three times more common in individuals who have a family income of less than $35,000 than in those who have a family income greater than $100,000. Among low-educated, middle-aged whites, the death rate in the United States - alone in the developed world - increased in the first decade and a half of the 21st century. Driving the trend is the rapid growth in what the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton call “deaths of despair” - suicides and alcohol- and drug-related deaths."

Unfortunately, economic conditions are deteriorating once again, and it is those at the bottom of the totem poll that are going to feel the pain first. The period of relative stability that we had been enjoying is rapidly ending, and just about everyone can see that hard times are ahead of us.

A new survey of corporate CFOs was just released that contains some eye-popping numbers. It turns out that 49 percent of them believe that a recession will start by the end of next year, and a whopping 82 percent of them believe that a recession will have started by the end of 2020: "Considering that major corporations have been busy shedding workers, it follows that corporate finance leaders see a U.S. recession ahead. Evidence of a slowing economy has been popping up, including recent large-scale cuts in head count by U.S. corporations such as General Motors and Verizon.

Eighty-two percent of chief financial officers polled believe a recession will have started by the end 2020, and nearly 49 percent think the downturn will arrive sometime next year, according to the Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook, released Wednesday."

This is yet another example of the major psychological shift that is taking place in our nation. The overwhelming consensus is that economic activity is going to slow down, and it won’t be people with millions of dollars in their bank accounts that will be suffering. No, once again it will mostly be people that are barely getting by that will be losing their jobs and their homes, and nobody is going to come riding to their rescue."

"Finding Our Way Back..."

“Biology says that we are who we are from birth. That our DNA is set in stone. Unchangeable. Our DNA doesn't account for all of us though, we're human. Life changes us. We develop new traits. Become less territorial. We start competing. We learn from our mistakes. We face our greatest fears. For better or worse, we find ways to become more than our biology. The risk of course is that we can change too much to the point where we don't recognize ourselves. Finding our way back can be difficult. There's no compass, no map. We just have to close our eyes, take a step, and hope to God we get there.”
- “Meredith”, “Grey’s Anatomy”

Musical Interlude: Gov't Mule, "Soulshine"

Gov't Mule, "Soulshine"

"This Is Your Life..."

“This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time.
Every breath is a choice. Every minute is a choice.
To be or not to be.
Every time you don't throw yourself down the stairs, that's a choice.
Every time you don't crash your car, you re-enlist."

"If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume
and come back as a new character... Would you slow down? Or speed up?"

- Chuck Palahniuk