Thursday, July 20, 2017

"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."

"Time's Relentless Passage..."

"Speaking about time's relentless passage, Powell's narrator compares certain stages of experience to the game of Russian Billiards as once he used to play it with a long vanished girlfriend. A game in which, he says, " the termination of a given passage of time...the hidden gate goes down...and all scoring is doubled." This is perhaps an image of how we live. For reasons not always at the time explicable, there are specific occasions when events begin suddenly to take on a significance previously unsuspected; so that before we really know where we are, life seems to have begun in earnest at last, and we ourselves, scarcely aware that any change has taken place, are careering uncontrollably down the slippery avenues of eternity."
- Anthony Powell

"Time goes, you say? Ah, no! Alas, time stays, we go." 
- Henry Austin Dobson

"The Pig Farmer"

"The Pig Farmer"
by John Robbins

"One day in Iowa I met a particular gentleman - and I use that term, gentleman, frankly, only because I am trying to be polite, for that is certainly not how I saw him at the time. He owned and ran what he called a “pork production facility.” I, on the other hand, would have called it a pig Auschwitz. The conditions were brutal. The pigs were confined in cages that were barely larger than their own bodies, with the cages stacked on top of each other in tiers, three high. The sides and the bottoms of the cages were steel slats, so that excrement from the animals in the upper and middle tiers dropped through the slats on to the animals below.

The aforementioned owner of this nightmare weighed, I am sure, at least 240 pounds, but what was even more impressive about his appearance was that he seemed to be made out of concrete. His movements had all the fluidity and grace of a brick wall. What made him even less appealing was that his language seemed to consist mainly of grunts, many of which sounded alike to me, and none of which were particularly pleasant to hear. Seeing how rigid he was and sensing the overall quality of his presence, I - rather brilliantly, I thought - concluded that his difficulties had not arisen merely because he hadn’t had time, that particular morning, to finish his entire daily yoga routine.

But I wasn’t about to divulge my opinions of him or his operation, for I was undercover, visiting slaughterhouses and feedlots to learn what I could about modern meat production. There were no bumper stickers on my car, and my clothes and hairstyle were carefully chosen to give no indication that I might have philosophical leanings other than those that were common in the area. I told the farmer matter of factly that I was a researcher writing about animal agriculture, and asked if he’d mind speaking with me for a few minutes so that I might have the benefit of his knowledge. In response, he grunted a few words that I could not decipher, but that I gathered meant I could ask him questions and he would show me around.

I was at this point not very happy about the situation, and this feeling did not improve when we entered one of the warehouses that housed his pigs. In fact, my distress increased, for I was immediately struck by what I can only call an overpowering olfactory experience. The place reeked like you would not believe of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other noxious gases that were the products of the animals’ wastes. These, unfortunately, seemed to have been piling up inside the building for far too long a time.

As nauseating as the stench was for me, I wondered what it must be like for the animals. The cells that detect scent are known as ethmoidal cells. Pigs, like dogs, have nearly 200 times the concentration of these cells in their noses as humans do. In a natural setting, they are able, while rooting around in the dirt, to detect the scent of an edible root through the earth itself. Given any kind of a chance, they will never soil their own nests, for they are actually quite clean animals, despite the reputation we have unfairly given them. But here they had no contact with the earth, and their noses were beset by the unceasing odor of their own urine and feces multiplied a thousand times by the accumulated wastes of the other pigs unfortunate enough to be caged in that warehouse. I was in the building only for a few minutes, and the longer I remained in there, the more desperately I wanted to leave. But the pigs were prisoners there, barely able to take a single step, forced to endure this stench, and almost completely immobile, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and with no time off, I can assure you, for holidays.

The man who ran the place was - I’ll give him this - kind enough to answer my questions, which were mainly about the drugs he used to handle the problems that are fairly common in factory pigs today. But my sentiments about him and his farm were not becoming any warmer. It didn’t help when, in response to a particularly loud squealing from one of the pigs, he delivered a sudden and threatening kick to the bars of its cage, causing a loud “clang” to reverberate through the warehouse and leading to screaming from many of the pigs. Because it was becoming increasingly difficult to hide my distress, it crossed my mind that I should tell him what I thought of the conditions in which he kept his pigs, but then I thought better of it. This was a man, it was obvious, with whom there was no point in arguing.

After maybe 15 minutes, I’d had enough and was preparing to leave, and I felt sure he was glad to be about to be rid of me. But then something happened, something that changed my life, forever - and, as it turns out, his too. It began when his wife came out from the farmhouse and cordially invited me to stay for dinner. The pig farmer grimaced when his wife spoke, but he dutifully turned to me and announced, “The wife would like you to stay for dinner.” He always called her “the wife,” by the way, which led me to deduce that he was not, apparently, on the leading edge of feminist thought in the country today.

I don’t know whether you have ever done something without having a clue why, and to this day I couldn’t tell you what prompted me to do it, but I said Yes, I’d be delighted. And stay for dinner I did, though I didn’t eat the pork they served. The excuse I gave was that my doctor was worried about my cholesterol. I didn’t say that I was a vegetarian, nor that my cholesterol was 125.

I was trying to be a polite and appropriate dinner guest. I didn’t want to say anything that might lead to any kind of disagreement. The couple (and their two sons, who were also at the table) were, I could see, being nice to me, giving me dinner and all, and it was gradually becoming clear to me that, along with all the rest of it, they could be, in their way, somewhat decent people. I asked myself, if they were in my town, traveling, and I had chanced to meet them, would I have invited them to dinner? Not likely, I knew, not likely at all. Yet here they were, being as hospitable to me as they could. Yes, I had to admit it. Much as I detested how the pigs were treated, this pig farmer wasn’t actually the reincarnation of Adolph Hitler. At least not at the moment.

Of course, I still knew that if we were to scratch the surface we’d no doubt find ourselves in great conflict, and because that was not a direction in which I wanted to go, as the meal went along I sought to keep things on an even and constant keel. Perhaps they sensed it too, for among us, we managed to see that the conversation remained, consistently and resolutely, shallow. We talked about the weather, about the Little League games in which their two sons played, and then, of course, about how the weather might affect the Little League games. We were actually doing rather well at keeping the conversation superficial and far from any topic around which conflict might occur. Or so I thought. But then suddenly, out of nowhere, the man pointed at me forcefully with his finger, and snarled in a voice that I must say truly frightened me, “Sometimes I wish you animal rights people would just drop dead.”

How on Earth he knew I had any affinity to animal rights I will never know - I had painstakingly avoided any mention of any such thing - but I do know that my stomach tightened immediately into a knot. To make matters worse, at that moment his two sons leapt from the table, tore into the den, slammed the door behind them, and turned the TV on loud, presumably preparing to drown out what was to follow. At the same instant, his wife nervously picked up some dishes and scurried into the kitchen. As I watched the door close behind her and heard the water begin running, I had a sinking sensation. They had, there was no mistaking it, left me alone with him. I was, to put it bluntly, terrified. Under the circumstances, a wrong move now could be disastrous. Trying to center myself, I tried to find some semblance of inner calm by watching my breath, but this I could not do, and for a very simple reason. There wasn’t any to watch.

“What are they saying that’s so upsetting to you?” I said finally, pronouncing the words carefully and distinctly, trying not to show my terror. I was trying very hard at that moment to disassociate myself from the animal rights movement, a force in our society of which he, evidently, was not overly fond. “They accuse me of mistreating my stock,” he growled. “Why would they say a thing like that?” I answered, knowing full well, of course, why they would, but thinking mostly about my own survival. His reply, to my surprise, while angry, was actually quite articulate. He told me precisely what animal rights groups were saying about operations like his, and exactly why they were opposed to his way of doing things. Then, without pausing, he launched into a tirade about how he didn’t like being called cruel, and they didn’t know anything about the business he was in, and why couldn’t they mind their own business.

As he spoke it, the knot in my stomach was relaxing, because it was becoming clear, and I was glad of it, that he meant me no harm, but just needed to vent. Part of his frustration, it seemed, was that even though he didn’t like doing some of the things he did to the animals - cooping them up in such small cages, using so many drugs, taking the babies away from their mothers so quickly after their births - he didn’t see that he had any choice. He would be at a disadvantage and unable to compete economically if he didn’t do things that way. This is how it’s done today, he told me, and he had to do it too. He didn’t like it, but he liked even less being blamed for doing what he had to do in order to feed his family. As it happened, I had just the week before been at a much larger hog operation, where I learned that it was part of their business strategy to try to put people like him out of business by going full-tilt into the mass production of assembly-line pigs, so that small farmers wouldn’t be able to keep up. What I had heard corroborated everything he was saying.

Almost despite myself, I began to grasp the poignancy of this man’s human predicament. I was in his home because he and his wife had invited me to be there. And looking around, it was obvious that they were having a hard time making ends meet. Things were threadbare. This family was on the edge. Raising pigs, apparently, was the only way the farmer knew how to make a living, so he did it even though, as was becoming evident the more we talked, he didn’t like one bit the direction hog farming was going. At times, as he spoke about how much he hated the modern factory methods of pork production, he reminded me of the very animal rights people who a few minutes before he said he wished would drop dead.

As the conversation progressed, I actually began to develop some sense of respect for this man whom I had earlier judged so harshly. There was decency in him. There was something within him that meant well. But as I began to sense a spirit of goodness in him, I could only wonder all the more how he could treat his pigs the way he did. Little did I know that I was about to find out...

We are talking along, when suddenly he looks troubled. He slumps over, his head in his hands. He looks broken, and there is a sense of something awful having happened. Has he had a heart attack? A stroke? I’m finding it hard to breathe, and hard to think clearly. “What’s happening?” I ask. It takes him awhile to answer, but finally he does. I am relieved that he is able to speak, although what he says hardly brings any clarity to the situation. “It doesn’t matter,” he says, “and I don’t want to talk about it.” As he speaks, he makes a motion with his hand, as if he were pushing something away.

For the next several minutes we continue to converse, but I’m quite uneasy. Things seem incomplete and confusing. Something dark has entered the room, and I don’t know what it is or how to deal with it. Then, as we are speaking, it happens again. Once again a look of despondency comes over him. Sitting there, I know I’m in the presence of something bleak and oppressive. I try to be present with what’s happening, but it’s not easy. Again I’m finding it hard to breathe. Finally, he looks at me, and I notice his eyes are teary. “You’re right,” he says. I, of course, always like to be told that I am right, but in this instance I don’t have the slightest idea what he’s talking about. He continues. “No animal,” he says, “should be treated like that. Especially hogs. Do you know that they’re intelligent animals? They’re even friendly, if you treat ’em right. But I don’t.”

There are tears welling up in his eyes. And he tells me that he has just had a memory come back of something that happened in his childhood, something he hasn’t thought of for many years. It’s come back in stages, he says. He grew up, he tells me, on a small farm in rural Missouri, the old-fashioned kind where animals ran around, with barnyards and pastures, and where they all had names. I learn, too, that he was an only child, the son of a powerful father who ran things with an iron fist. With no brothers or sisters, he often felt lonely, but found companionship among the animals on the farm, particularly several dogs, who were as friends to him. And, he tells me, and this I am quite surprised to hear, he had a pet pig.

As he proceeds to tell me about this pig, it is as if he is becoming a different person. Before he had spoken primarily in a monotone; but now his voice grows lively. His body language, which until this point seemed to speak primarily of long suffering, now becomes animated. There is something fresh taking place. In the summer, he tells me, he would sleep in the barn. It was cooler there than in the house, and the pig would come over and sleep alongside him, asking fondly to have her belly rubbed, which he was glad to do.

There was a pond on their property, he goes on, and he liked to swim in it when the weather was hot, but one of the dogs would get excited when he did, and would ruin things. The dog would jump into the water and swim up on top of him, scratching him with her paws and making things miserable for him. He was about to give up on swimming, but then, as fate would have it, the pig, of all people, stepped in and saved the day. Evidently the pig could swim, for she would plop herself into the water, swim out where the dog was bothering the boy, and insert herself between them. She’d stay between the dog and the boy, and keep the dog at bay. She was, as best I could make out, functioning in the situation something like a lifeguard, or in this case, perhaps more of a life-pig.

I’m listening to this hog farmer tell me these stories about his pet pig, and I’m thoroughly enjoying both myself and him, and rather astounded at how things are transpiring, when once again, it happens. Once again a look of defeat sweeps across this man’s face, and once again I sense the presence of something very sad. Something in him, I know, is struggling to make its way toward life through anguish and pain, but I don’t know what it is or how, indeed, to help him.

“What happened to your pig?” I ask.
He sighs, and it’s as though the whole world’s pain is contained in that sigh. Then, slowly, he speaks. “My father made me butcher it.”
“Did you?” I ask.
“I ran away, but I couldn’t hide. They found me.”
“What happened?”
“My father gave me a choice.”
“What was that?”
“He told me, ‘You either slaughter that animal or you’re no longer my son.’”

Some choice, I think, feeling the weight of how fathers have so often trained their sons not to care, to be what they call brave and strong, but what so often turns out to be callous and closed-hearted. “So I did it,” he says, and now his tears begin to flow, making their way down his cheeks. I am touched and humbled. This man, whom I had judged to be without human feeling, is weeping in front of me, a stranger. This man, whom I had seen as callous and even heartless, is actually someone who cares, and deeply. How wrong, how profoundly and terribly wrong I had been.

In the minutes that follow, it becomes clear to me what has been happening. The pig farmer has remembered something that was so painful, that was such a profound trauma, that he had not been able to cope with it when it had happened. Something had shut down, then. It was just too much to bear. Somewhere in his young, formative psyche he made a resolution never to be that hurt again, never to be that vulnerable again. And he built a wall around the place where the pain had occurred, which was the place where his love and attachment to that pig was located, which was his heart. And now here he was, slaughtering pigs for a living - still, I imagined, seeking his father’s approval. God, what we men will do, I thought, to get our fathers’ acceptance.

I had thought he was a cold and closed human being, but now I saw the truth. His rigidity was not a result of a lack of feeling, as I had thought it was, but quite the opposite: it was a sign of how sensitive he was underneath. For if he had not been so sensitive, he would not have been that hurt, and he would not have needed to put up so massive a wall. The tension in his body that was so apparent to me upon first meeting him, the body armor that he carried, bespoke how hurt he had been, and how much capacity for feeling he carried still, beneath it all.

I had judged him, and done so, to be honest, mercilessly. But for the rest of the evening I sat with him, humbled, and grateful for whatever it was in him that had been strong enough to force this long-buried and deeply painful memory to the surface. And glad, too, that I had not stayed stuck in my judgments of him, for if I had, I would not have provided an environment in which his remembering could have occurred.

We talked that night, for hours, about many things. I was, after all that had happened, concerned for him. The gap between his feelings and his lifestyle seemed so tragically vast. What could he do? This was all he knew. He did not have a high school diploma. He was only partially literate. Who would hire him if he tried to do something else? Who would invest in him and train him, at his age? When finally, I left that evening, these questions were very much on my mind, and I had no answers to them. Somewhat flippantly, I tried to joke about it. “Maybe,” I said, “you’ll grow broccoli or something.” He stared at me, clearly not comprehending what I might be talking about. It occurred to me, briefly, that he might possibly not know what broccoli was.

We parted that night as friends, and though we rarely see each other now, we have remained friends as the years have passed. I carry him in my heart and think of him, in fact, as a hero. Because, as you will soon see, impressed as I was by the courage it had taken for him to allow such painful memories to come to the surface, I had not yet seen the extent of his bravery.

When I wrote "Diet for a New America," I quoted him and summarized what he had told me, but I was quite brief and did not mention his name. I thought that, living as he did among other pig farmers in Iowa, it would not be to his benefit to be associated with me. When the book came out, I sent him a copy, saying I hoped he was comfortable with how I wrote of the evening we had shared, and directing him to the pages on which my discussion of our time together was to be found. Several weeks later, I received a letter from him. “Dear Mr. Robbins,” it began. “Thank you for the book. When I saw it, I got a migraine headache.”

Now as an author, you do want to have an impact on your readers. This, however, was not what I had had in mind. He went on, though, to explain that the headaches had gotten so bad that, as he put it, “the wife” had suggested to him he should perhaps read the book. She thought there might be some kind of connection between the headaches and the book. He told me that this hadn’t made much sense to him, but he had done it because “the wife” was often right about these things.

“You write good,” he told me, and I can tell you that his three words of his meant more to me than when the New York Times praised the book profusely. He then went on to say that reading the book was very hard for him, because the light it shone on what he was doing made it clear to him that it was wrong to continue. The headaches, meanwhile, had been getting worse, until, he told me, that very morning, when he had finished the book, having stayed up all night reading, he went into the bathroom, and looked into the mirror. “I decided, right then,” he said, “that I would sell my herd and get out of this business. I don’t know what I will do, though. Maybe I will, like you said, grow broccoli.”

As it happened, he did sell his operation in Iowa and move back to Missouri, where he bought a small farm. And there he is today, running something of a model farm. He grows vegetables organically - including, I am sure, broccoli - that he sells at a local farmer’s market. He’s got pigs, all right, but only about 10, and he doesn’t cage them, nor does he kill them. Instead, he’s got a contract with local schools; they bring kids out in buses on field trips to his farm, for his “Pet-a-pig” program. He shows them how intelligent pigs are and how friendly they can be if you treat them right, which he now does. He’s arranged it so the kids, each one of them, gets a chance to give a pig a belly rub. He’s become nearly a vegetarian himself, has lost most of his excess weight, and his health has improved substantially. And, thank goodness, he’s actually doing better financially than he was before.

Do you see why I carry this man with me in my heart? Do you see why he is such a hero to me? He dared to leap, to risk everything, to leave what was killing his spirit even though he didn’t know what was next. He left behind a way of life that he knew was wrong, and he found one that he knows is right.

When I look at many of the things happening in our world, I sometimes fear we won’t make it. But when I remember this man and the power of his spirit, and when I remember that there are many others whose hearts beat to the same quickening pulse, I think we will. I can get tricked into thinking there aren’t enough of us to turn the tide, but then I remember how wrong I was about the pig farmer when I first met him, and I realize that there are heroes afoot everywhere. Only I can’t recognize them because I think they are supposed to look or act a certain way. How blinded I can be by my own beliefs.

The man is one of my heroes because he reminds me that we can depart from the cages we build for ourselves and for each other, and become something much better. He is one of my heroes because he reminds me of what I hope someday to become. When I first met him, I would not have thought it possible that I would ever say the things I am saying here. But this only goes to show how amazing life can be, and how you never really know what to expect. The pig farmer has become, for me, a reminder never to underestimate the power of the human heart.

I consider myself privileged to have spent that day with him, and grateful that I was allowed to be a catalyst for the unfolding of his spirit. I know my presence served him in some way, but I also know, and know full well, that I received far more than I gave. To me, this is grace - to have the veils lifted from our eyes so that we can recognize and serve the goodness in each other. Others may wish for great riches or for ecstatic journeys to mystical planes, but to me, this is the magic of human life."

"First They Came..."

I for one will not fall into silence, or be silenced, and I am not afraid...
I stand with Gaza.
- CP
"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever humans endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented. There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest it.- Elie Wiesel

"Global Silence On Gaza Must Be Broken"

"Global Silence On Gaza Must Be Broken"
by Ali Abunimah

"In recent weeks the situation has deteriorated even further, as Israel has sharply cut the electricity supply, bringing available energy in Gaza to the lowest level ever. Health, water and sewage treatment systems are breaking down, making life unbearable. “This is not a natural disaster. This is a policy choice by Israel to do this to 2 million people, and it’s a policy choice the so-called international community are supporting,” I told Aaron Maté of The Real News.

“At best the so-called international community scrambles to do an appeal to various donor governments to patch up, to do palliative care,” for people in Gaza, I told Maté. “What they don’t do is challenge Israel and hold it accountable.”

By refusing to provide people in Gaza with basic health and other services, Israel, as the occupying power, is committing war crimes, I argued. And it’s happening in silence – even Democracy Now, a flagship progressive outlet, has mentioned the situation only in brief and infrequent headlines.

The humanitarian catastrophe is also the result of collusion between Israel and the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Abbas wants to put political pressure on Hamas, which governs the interior of Gaza, by inflicting additional suffering on the 2 million Palestinians who live there. This pressure has included curtailing medicine supplies to Gaza and refusing medical referrals for hundreds of patients who need urgent treatment outside the territory, leading to more than a dozen deaths.

“It’s up to us to challenge the institutional complicity and silence,” I told Maté. If regime media don’t make noise about Gaza, “people should be demonstrating, holding protests at the UN and Israeli embassies, at Palestinian Authority embassies, because they’re all complicit in this siege.”

The Daily "Near You?"

Elizabethton, Tennessee, USA. Thanks for stopping by!

"The Only Cure..."

“We spend our whole lives worrying about the future, planning for the future, trying to predict the future. As if figuring it out will somehow cushion the blow. But the future is always changing. The future is the home of of our deepest fears, and our wildest hopes. But one thing is certain: when it finally reveals itself, the future is never the way we imagined it. We’re all susceptible to it. The dread and anxiety of not knowing what’s coming. It’s pointless in the end. Because all the worrying, and all the making of plans for things that could, or could not happen, it only makes things worse. So walk your dog. Or take a nap. Just, whatever you do, stop worrying. Because the only cure for paranoia, is to be… here… just as you are.”
- "Meredith", "Gray's Anatomy"

“No amount of guilt can change the past, 
and no amount of worrying can change the future.”
- Umar Ibn ak-Khattab

All we have is today, now, so for this day why not do this?

"The Evil Genius of Obamacare"

"The Evil Genius of Obamacare"
by Bill Bonner

"'GOP reeling after healthcare collapse,’ reads a headline on a political website. From The Hill: ‘Republicans offered competing ideas for what to do next on healthcare Monday night, now that the current ObamaCare replacement effort has fallen apart. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged late Monday that the chamber’s current approach would fail after two more senators announced opposition to the current healthcare draft.’

Sacred work: Yes, the Senate took up its sacred work this week: getting re-elected. In the camera or out of it, the pols face two great threats. On one side are the zombies, folks dependent on the feds who trade their votes for small handouts. Within the next 10 years, there will be more than 200 million of these people - if they ever rise up, there will be more than enough to unhorse every senator in Washington.

On the other side are the Deep State cronies. Fewer in number but vastly better supplied with cash and connections, cronies are dangerous. If they don’t get what they want, they could unleash their attack dogs and throw a little red meat (indiscretions…uncovered and traded for favors by America’s 17 different ‘security’ agencies) to the ravenous press. They could bankroll another candidate back home, or withdraw invitations to speak, lobby, and join cushy boards and think tanks.

Cronies and zombies have more or less the same objective: To keep the medical care bamboozle - which is programmed to double in size in the next 10 years - in business. Many senators rightly saw that the proposal to tinker with it wouldn’t have made much difference in the big scheme of things. It would only trim spending over the decade from $8.2 trillion to $7.7 trillion. The system will go broke even with the proposed changes. Better not to touch it at all, they reason, rather than risk the ire of voters or insiders.

Zero for six: As we get older, we become more sympathetic to the aches and pains of others. Neck bone to ankle bone, and everything in between, yearns for a solution for what ails it. Surely, spending 18% of GDP on medical care ought to yield some miracle salve.

But it doesn’t work that way. As we showed in our book "Hormegeddon," more is only better…to a point. Then the law of declining marginal utility comes into play. You eat your first cream puff dessert. It is delicious. So you have another. It is OK. By the time you are on your fifth, you are feeling a little sick.

Spending more on medical care doesn’t necessarily make people healthier. On the contrary, it may squander resources, leaving them poorer, and more vulnerable. Or you may be carried away by one of the estimated one million medical errors per year. That’s at least part of the reason why the US now spends more than any other nation on medical care but has the worst health statistics.

Donald J Trump won the White House, proposing six changes to the way the empire does business:

1. Stop America’s losing wars in the Middle East;
2. Cut back the bureaucracy;
3. Reduce taxes;
4. Repeal and replace Obamacare;
5. Build a wall to keep the Mexicans out; and
6. Negotiate ‘better’ trade deals.

So far, he is zero for six. But it is still early in his administration. We didn’t think he would do any of these things. His focus was too indistinct, vainglorious, and fleeting. And besides, the Deep State has too firm a grip on Washington. It probably has him by the cojones, too. Too bad. Because the foreign wars are an expensive disaster. It would have been a pleasure to see the looks on Raytheon lobbyists’ faces had ‘The Donald’ brought them to an end. Bringing the bureaucracy to heel was another worthy goal. A shame the president couldn’t follow through on it. And who wouldn’t like to see taxes reduced?

Quack cure: If we had our druthers, we’d repeal Obamacare, too. Tinkering is not enough. Because the real problem won’t be solved by turning a few screws and tightening a few bolts. Better to throw it on the scrap pile. The program is badly designed. It suffers from the same flaw as all the feds’ win-lose deals: The one who benefits (or thinks he does) is not the one who pays.

Naturally, the beneficiary wants as many miracle drugs and quack cures as the medical-pharmaceutical industry can invent. At someone else’s expense, of course. Costs rise. Administrators multiply. Consumers are insatiable. And cronies become richer and more powerful.

The evil genius of Obamacare was to move the bulk of the expense from individuals, businesses, and state governments, where they are subject to more restraint, to the feds. There, expenses are almost impossible to control because the feds can borrow (and print) all the money they need —-thanks to their fake-money system. As far as the zombies are concerned, the drugs and treatments are free. Expenses can rise almost indefinitely, until the whole system goes broke.

Win-win or lose: Which brings us to our simple remedy: Eliminate the win-lose deals. In medical care, that means abolishing Obamacare, with no replacement. Let people spend their own money. If they want, they can work out deals with insurance companies or with care providers on whatever terms they choose. No tax breaks. No restrictions. No mandates. No cronies. No zombies.

Liberate the insurance providers, the medical industry, and consumers, too. Abolish all federal agencies with ‘health’, ‘food’, or ‘drug’ in their names. The federal government has no more business meddling in the medical industry than it does meddling in Afghanistan.

Except for security (the only essential business of government is the protection of its citizens, along with their rights and their property), this approach would work for everything. Want better schools? Get the feds out of the classrooms. Want a better trade deal? Keep the feds away from the negotiating table. Want a better economy? Tell the feds and their central bankers to butt out. Without the feds to boss people around, consumers and producers would be on their own. They would have to work out their own deals on a win-win basis. No force or violence involved.

Win-win works because both sides must cooperate. The medical industry, for example, would provide the best service it could, hoping to score as much of the consumers’ money as possible. The householder, wracked by pain and worry, would surrender his money as he pleased in return for services rendered. Either side could walk away from the deal as it chooses. Neither may get exactly what it was hoping for. But at least it would get what it deserves."