Apr 15, 2017

When God is Dead - Holy Saturday

Abigail and Dolley readers I don't know if I've ever heard preaching on this subject and perhaps this is a word the Lord would have me give as it was birthed from the lowest point in my life.  The moment when God seems to be gone, Holy Saturday.  Launched that agonizing moment on the Cross when Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  Saturday, minus the physical horror of the cross is in some ways the darkest day of all.  This is the day that Jesus' body lay in the tomb.

To the followers of Christ, this must have been the worst day of their lives.  Think about it for a minute, forget your knowledge of the Resurrection, forget that you know the end of the story, simply go to the upper room with me and imagine.

Holy Saturday
The Apostles are hiding, certain they will be killed if found.  The fear of gruesome death and humiliation torments them.  They have lived with Roman oppression, they know what happened to Jesus.  He was the most powerful man on Earth and they killed him, how vulnerable they must have felt! Peter did not deny knowing Christ without a reason. How terrified would you be waiting for the knock at the door that signaled they had come for you?

Their friend Judas had betrayed the Lord and was gone.  He had fallen prey to the lies of the Devil himself.  With Jesus out of the way, the poor disciples who had cast out demons in Jesus name must surely know that the hoards of Hell were coming after them.  With Jesus dead, they would be fresh meat for the demons.  

Judas was the caretaker of the money for the group and it stands to reason he would have taken all of their funds with him when he left.  So they are broke, with a price on their heads, and they are trapped.  They have no way to pay off anyone to help them escape, how are they going to get food?  The followers of Jesus had scattered and the people of Jerusalem had called for the Lord's Crucifixion, without funds there is no one to help them.

Then there is the disillusionment.  These men had given up everything to follow Jesus - homes, families, business, position in the community.  I am sure there were those in their families that thought they were crazy, that condemned them for not doing the "responsible" thing and leading a normal life.  I am sure there were a few Mother-in-laws who had condemned them for leaving home and hearth to follow this rabbi.  As they sat in the upper room that day, they had to face the crushing possibility that they had been wrong and everyone else had been right.  Had they wasted the last three years?

Jesus had predicted his own death about a dozen times, but from all accounts, His words seem to have been hidden from the Apostles.  It was like Jesus had spoken in code and they had not heard or understood what He was saying.  There had been no Pentecost, there was no Holy Spirit speaking to them, they were totally in the dark.  This is demonstrated by their disbelief on Easter morning and Thomas' rejection of the testimony of the ten.  So I do not believe that they took comfort and hope that Jesus would rise again, this Saturday did not serve that purpose.

Curled Up in Grief
Holy Saturday was designed to buffet the Apostles.  It was designed for them to reflect.  It was designed to bring them to the lowest points in their lives and to prepare them for the work to come.  Holy Saturday is what Christianity would be without the Resurrection - dead.

I believe we all have Holy Saturdays in our lives.  Our dreams, hopes, aspirations and loved ones are taken away on Friday.  We curl up in hiding, mourning, and fear on Saturday.  Saturday is lonely and scary but take heart Sunday is on the way.  On Sunday there is victory, new life, and resurrection!  Praise God.  (Originally Published on 04/23/2011)

Mar 27, 2017

Dear iPhone Camera - An Open Letter

Dear Camera,

I'd like to say thank you for capturing those images of my loved ones that have gone on to be with the Lord.  Thank you for documenting the growing years of my son and the passage of time and fun memories our family has shared.  I'd like to say, though, that since you stopped being a real camera and became an iPhone, I don't like you as much.  Yes, you are convenient but I find you aren't quite the truth teller or the beauty recorder that you used to be.

At first, I thought it was just me.  My photogenic face was older and heavier and perhaps it was just the passage of time but then I began to see that almost everyone looked worse on that small screen.  Images were distorted, corrections that the eye easily makes are beyond your limited facsimile abilities.  

Your camera does not capture nuances, for example, the light and shade in hair.  When I was a young girl, my hair was indeed monochromatic, brown with a reddish cast, your grandmother, the 35mm captured it beautifully.  You are incapable of such subtlety and relegate the very interesting shades of dark brown, gold, umber, white, gray, and cinnamon to dull brown with gray at the temples.  Nor can you see the texture, curl, wave, and style - nope, just a brown football helmet.

The eyes... the eyes of the young girl held dreams and visions of the future, the eyes that look back at me from the mirror hold the fulfillment and the abandonment of those dreams and life well lived.  The eyes in the pictures you produce just look tired.  They don't capture the sparkle, nor the promise of fun things still to come.

That picture of us laughing, it does not capture the joy in our hearts or the love we feel for each other, it only shows an old filling and a double chin.  You can not hear the laughter nor the snort that followed the hilarity.  Your picture does not tell the truth.  

How many times will I let you change my memory of how I looked on a special occasion?  How many times will I believe the false message you record rather than the image in the mirror?  Worse yet, why would I trust you over the people that love me?  For, in the end, it is they who really matter.

You remember the Back to the Future movies with all the video phones?  The reason that no one uses is them is that we all look like crap on them, nobody likes you iPhone camera.  

All of Us

Mar 20, 2017

The Hard Truth - Obesity is a Chronic Disease

All my life, I have wanted to get the place and the weight where I could just be a normal weight and eat a normal diet.  I am not an overeater or a binger or a snacker - I eat moderate portions of healthy homemade food!   I knew if I could take off the extra pounds in a healthy, slow, deliberate way and exercise while doing it, once I reached my goal weight that I could continue my healthy lifestyle and keep the weight off.  It never worked.  Not once, not for a minute.  Apparently, I am not alone.

As the video describes, the moment I stopped losing, my body started gaining.  It took fewer and fewer and fewer calories to maintain the smaller size.  In 2009, I estimated it took 800 calories a day for me to retain my weight loss.  A slow half a pound at a time it started creeping back.  Resolve gives way, life interrupts, jobs change, people die, and the last thing you can do is get in the gym and eat another salad....

Several concentrated and serious efforts were made along the way to halt the progress but like a creeping flow of lava, the weight would not be staunched.

The depressing and hard fact of life is that once an individual is overweight, they will struggle for a lifetime.  Instead of viewing this journey as a destination, I have chosen to look at this as a concerted effort to get the symptoms of a chronic condition under control.

When I have lost the weight (again), I will look at it as if I were a malaria patient who was not exhibiting symptoms at the moment.  A chronic disease is one that reoccurs and has to be managed, usually under a doctor's care, and one for which there is no known cure.

It's indeed sobering; at first glance very discouraging - but upon deeper reflection, like any truth, once looked in the eye is liberating.  For the love of God, we should understand what we are up against!  Know the truth and the truth will set you free.

As such, I have placed myself under a physician's care.  I am taking appropriate medicine to help control my chronic disease.  There is no shame in seeking help, I have tried to do this on my own.  I have tried willpower, I have tried organic, I have tried homeopathic, I have hired personal trainers, I have read books, I have done every diet on the planet.  I have tried everything on my own to get this disease under control and I can not.   So Viva la Pharmaceuticals and a new way of looking at a lifelong struggle.

The one hope - the one glimmer, did you notice I put in the above sentence that there is no "known" cure?  That means that we do not give up hope, we keep pushing, we keep striving, we keep trying.

Mar 19, 2017

Being Emotionally Ready for a Weight Loss Journey

This series has been all over the place!  Getting real with the image in the mirror, coming to terms with the different sides of yourself, discussing rock bottom and the freedom that comes from that place, as well as what you need to do to get ready for a Weight Loss Journey.

Personally, it is the paradox of being the healthiest, happiest, and fattest of Your Life!

Life is good right now.  I have a great job, marriage, family, house and garden.  I've been under the loving care of a holistic doctor for three years and we've solved a myriad of imbalances and health issues.  I have learned how to cook, I mean really cook.  Not just make recipes but technique and skill and nuance and I love it.  I have friends, I like to host parties - life is good, except I am doing all of this wonderful stuff in stretchy pants with elastic waist bands and giant shirts that cover my butt.

In this frantic desire to take off the weight, I need to hang on to the things that I love about myself and my life.  I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to remember the negative.

You have to do the same.  Before you undertake any sort of journey - get right with yourself.  Take stock of where you are and where you want to be.  Get your head together.  Get your marriage together.  Are you sick?  If you are, don't attempt a weight loss program!

Is your world falling apart around you?  Go for a walk, eat good food, take care of yourself but don't try to lose weight.

This endeavor is only for the times when everything else is in place.  When life can be put a little on the back burner so you can spend the extra time and energy to fully engage.  If you ARE taking this journey then rejoice that you are in the place where you are free to do so and love the ones around you who aren't quiet there yet.

Mar 18, 2017

The Genetics and the Psychology of The Skinny You vs. The Fat You

When I was in college I sought the help of a counselor to help me overcome some baggage I was carrying around.  One of the very first issues that came up was my weight - yes, sadly it has been a life-long struggle.  Through some probing, we discovered that I thought of myself as having two very distinctive personalities depending on my weight.  The counselor asked me to bring in pictures and the difference was very very clear.  There was a skinny Dolley and a fat Dolley - no two ways about it.

I'd like to tell you that those issues were worked out in the college campus counseling room but I don't think we even began to scratch the surface.  Prior to considering the epigenetics of weight loss, I thought the phenomenon was entirely psychological but perhaps it is more complex than that.  Perhaps it is the expression of genes that is different - not only physical genes but personality genes as well.  

Get out your pictures and look closely.  Do you have a thin you and a heavy you?

I'd like you to consider if this holds true for you.  What do you like about each of them?  How are they different?  How are they alike?  Do they like each other?  Do you look like one side of the family vs. the other side depending on your weight?  Is the Skinny side of you safe?  Who makes better choices?  Who is in charge?

Are the eyes different?  How about the carriage?  The clothing and the colors - do they look like the same person picked them out?  Are they both worthy of love?  Can they live together in a new Healthy You?

From my personal experience, there is a heavy biology on one side of my family.  When I am heavy and expressing the "fat gene", I look like that side of the family.  Strangely and rapidly, within a week of me beginning to loose weight, my face begins to change.  I start to look like the thin biology side of my family.  I used to think it was because I lost weight in my face first but I have begun to consider if it is more than a mere reduction of puffiness.

Fascinating to consider, isn't it?  Does this hold true for you, too?

This is a complex subject on many fronts

These are all things that each of us has to delve into - I promised at the beginning that this wasn't going to be a diary or a "look at me" sort of thing.  Simply a journey we could take together.  This just happened to be around the corner.

Mar 17, 2017

The Science of Epigenetics and The New Frontier of Weight Loss

Epigenetics is a new scientific field, only discovered in the last 10 years, and it is blowing the doors off everything we thought we knew about... well, almost everything.  For decades scientists believed that DNA was destiny, that we were hardwired for certain diseases or traits and there was very little to be done about it.  Then along comes the discovery of genetic influences and triggers that seem to act as light switches that turn on or off certain genes and all scientific hell breaks loose.

From disease, to obesity, to learning disabilities, to addiction - the ability to influence haywire genetic signals from our bodies is revolutionary.  To discover and treat genetic triggers that are not firing (methylating) properly through diet, exercise, therapy, drugs, electric shock, or whatever means necessary can change the way we approach cancer, for instance.  Instead of trying to kill the cancer cell, we try to turn on the tumor suppression gene that is not turned on properly.  An addict could potentially find true freedom from the addiction.  Obesity could be cured.

Even more compelling and interesting is that these specific triggers are passed down from generation to generation.  This was demonstrated in Dias and Ressler's study on mice subjected to an electric shock when exposed to a cherry blossom smell.  Their pups and their grand pups, reared completely independent of the initial subjects demonstrated the same fear of the smell as the original test group.

The Science of the genome is well above my expertise but I'll try to explain in common English what I've been able to glean.  Epigenetics actually means above genetics.  If our DNA is the hardware of a computer, then the epigenome is the software telling the hardware how to run.  It can also be explained as words in a paragraph punctuated differently to change the meaning.  The words are the same but the meaning is different.  (Let's eat Grandma.  Let's eat, Grandma.)

Scientists have discovered that the health and the well-being of the mother during pregnancy has a profound effect on the developing baby - not only at birth but throughout the life of the child.  It is staggering to consider that stressed mothers have children that carry the genetic markers of their mother's stress through their lives.

I have lamented throughout my life that sometimes my weight loss efforts work and sometimes they don't.  I've likened it to a perfect alignment of the stars, burying a toad by the October moon, and hopping on one leg 34 times while wearing a birthday hat.  It turns out, I wasn't too far off the map.  It turns out that there is indeed a switch, there is indeed an on/off switch, it's in my genetic material.  They have discovered it is either on or it is off.  There is no dimmer for overweight people, which would explain why we are either losing or gaining.

Part of our journey is going to be to discover what turns it on, how to keep it on, and what turns it off and how to recognize that.  We are on a Quest!

For more about the Science, check out this video and others:

Mar 16, 2017

Let's Get Real - We Don't Really Like Ourselves When We are Fat - No Matter What We Say

Yesterday, I wrote about one of the freeing aspects about abandoning dieting and the scale for three years, now I am going to write about the biggest negative.

I have never been comfortable with the school of thought that teaches us to love ourselves as we are, something inside me always rebelled at accepting myself when I was overweight.  It felt like I was giving up, which is why I resisted it for so long.  I knew it was not okay to accept and affirm a part of me that was disconnected and dysfunctional.

That is very counter-cultural in today's society but the truth is, we can do better and accepting ourselves as failures is just plain stupid.  I don't care how loud you shout it from the rooftops, the truth is we have to come to a true knowledge of ourselves and we should not settle for less than the best we can be when it is in our power to change it.

Just as it goes against the Holy Spirit inside of you to accept sin in your life or your body, no matter what the world tells you, our conscience will not let us glorify sin.  Let's use swearing as an example.  I have a terrible habit of swearing, I always have.   It is ridiculous sin in my life, it's been part of me forever.  I can accept that I have a tendency to do it but I should never love myself and praise myself for having a filthy mouth!  I should strive to change, I should do better.

By accepting something, or glorifying it, we give up changing it.  Even if we never lose another inch or another pound to give up abandons a lifestyle that is far healthier than one of fat acceptance.  Neither is really about appearance, fat love or fat hate, it's about choices and health and showing up in your own life and trying.  We hear a lot about self-love these days - I think it's okay not to love the things about yourself that aren't great.

Trust me, I've spent the last three years try to accept that I was just a short little middle age fat woman and that was all I was ever going to be.  It never worked.  I got good at living in denial.  I became profoundly disconnected with my body.  I really did not love the image in the mirror.  I think we do ourselves a disservice when we settle.

Mar 15, 2017

Freedom from Food Taboos - Weight Loss Journey Series

What did I learn in the three years I did not diet or weigh myself?  I stopped obsessing about food.  It was perhaps the best and most liberating thing I could have done for my long term health.  My first diet was at 8, so I figure that I'd been on a diet or watching my weight for the better part of 37 years.  I had all sorts of "red light foods", these were foods that I could not have in the house because I would eat them until they were gone - so I brought them in the house and ate them.  Don't get me wrong, I am not a binger and I am not an overeater but I let myself enjoy previously considered "taboo foods".

I ate whole avocados.  I bought dry roasted peanuts every time I went to the store.  I ate the skin off the chicken.  I ate the fat off the rib eye steak.  I ate pork rinds.  I ate homemade bread with salted butter.  I melted cheese and butter on broccoli.  I ate all the high-fat foods I loved and had denied myself my entire life - I ate as much of them as I wanted and you know what?  Now they are just food.  They are no longer the forbidden fruit and have lost their power over me.  I can take them or leave them.

As a matter of fact, the biggest "red light" food I had was dry roasted peanuts.  After three years of allowing myself to eat them, I don't even like them much anymore.  They make me feel weird, so I avoid them.

Going three years without diet or weighing myself erased any kind of food issues I was carrying around.  When an orange stops becoming punishment it becomes glorious.  When a roasted Brussels sprout is the best part of the meal and not part of a strict regime, it is savored and enjoyed for what it is.

So perhaps if you are following along on this journey, you should contemplate if there are specific foods you have "issues" with.  Do you have "taboo foods"?  Do you look on healthy foods with a healthy attitude or are they tainted with years of dieting?

By giving myself the freedom to stop punishing myself with endless deprivation and diets - I freed myself from lifelong bondage.  This adult journey I am undertaking is without the hang-ups and the baggage - I'm a grown ass woman and ain't nobody got time for that.  Perhaps you can do the same.

Mar 14, 2017

Stop Listening to the Experts - YOU are the Expert

Have you been reading the series waiting for me to get to "The Plan"?  You know, the magic silver bullet plan that is going to solve this obesity problem for me and for you - forever?  Hmm, just $39.95 for our series of videos and an additional $99.95 for a month's supply of Dolley's Miracle Fat Burner.... Nope.  Not going to happen.

I learned something very valuable after my radical hysterectomy in 2013 - every human body is different.  There was absolutely no right answer to my question about hormones.  It was like trying to pin down the wind, ever blowing, ever changing, impossible to determine with any degree of certainty what was right dosage and combination.  I eventually had to stop trying to find the information from outside sources and listen to my own body.

I want you to consider the following very clinically, without the emotions and the pain.  Distance yourself and be an objective observer:

Think about your weight loss success stories?  What did you do?  How did you exercise?  Where did you work?  What music did you listen to?  Where did you live?  What medicine did you take?  Did you have a partner?  Did you track your food or did you have a list of things you ate?  Was the diet pre-planned for you or were you free to make choices?  What were the keys to your success?  What pivotal moments did you have along the journey that made you successful?

Now, consider your failures.  How were they different than the successful times?  Did some event happen that derailed your effort?  Was the diet designed according the latest fad?  Was the diet permissive or restrictive?  Why did you give up?  Were there things about the failed diet that you liked?  Can you incorporate them into a more successful lifestyle change moving forward?

For me personally, I was wildly successful on the Weight Watchers Program from the early 1990's based on food exchanges.  I have insulin resistance, so I have modified that plan to reduce the "carb" servings and I've increased the fat exchange by one.  This is just what works for me.  I have a friend who does great on low fat, another who does great on low carb, and another who cuts dairy and sugar.

God created each of us individually - you are the expert on you.

Nobody knows what you have gone through, nobody knows what you are capable of, and nobody knows what you really need to do.  Besides most of the people who write books, publish videos, and are in the fitness business do not have a clue about being fat.  These ecto/mesomorph's think they can apply what works for them to us endomorphs and when their stupid programs don't work, it's obviously the fault of the fat girl... because it works for them, you must not be trying hard enough.  So throw their Skinny Bitch book in the trash, think about your life, your body, and what YOUR plan needs to be.  Be the expert on YOU.

Mar 13, 2017

Do You Need to Take Down the Mirrors and Stop Being Vicious to Yourself?

Paradoxically, for the last two days, I've written about facing the truth about where I am weight wise.  We all know that this is a critical component in the starting phase.  This blog is not about being in denial, this is about self-care.  This journey is about understanding yourself.  What works for you might not be the same as what works for me.

What I do not need is to become derailed by the image in the mirror, especially in the gym mirror.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, will defeat a workout more than catching a glimpse of my gigantic sweaty body in the mirror.  Far from motivating, I become full of self-loathing, I critique every jiggle, I obsess on every bump, roll, and ripple - there is no more vicious person in the world than me to the reflection in the mirror.  I often say that I would not let any other person near me who says the things to me that I say to myself.  It is truly horrible.

I know this about myself, so you know what I've done this week?  I have avoided the mirrors.  Where possible, especially in the gym, I work out to my back to them.  I am doing what I need to do and not giving power to the demon voice inside me.  A good friend told me to turn the voice into a cartoon character's voice, it loses it's condemnation and power.  That works pretty well.

The old saying goes, if you can't say something nice then don't say anything.  Well, if you can't say something nice to yourself in the mirror, then stop looking,

You, on the other hand, might be completely motivated by watching yourself workout.  It might inspire you, it might cause you to push harder.  For others, this might now be an issue at all.  Perhaps men do not judge themselves as harshly as women?  Age, fitness level, background - are all going to play into this question.  So consider where YOU are in this discussion and then make those changes for yourself.  Peace.

Mar 12, 2017

Living Outside Your Body - Weight Loss Journey Series Part 2

Do you live outside of your body?  I know that is an unusual question but I would like to you consider if you have disconnected part of your brain from your body?

Is your body in pain?  Have you suffered an injury or an illness?  Do you have chronic fatigue?  Are you stiff, sore, or inflamed?

Do you connect with that or do you just set it aside - take a couple of ibuprofen and push through?  Are you full of such self-loathing that you can not even comprehend what has become of you?

In some ways, I think people with weight problems become very good at disconnecting their brains from their bodies.  It's uncomfortable to be fat, it's hard to move around, it makes your knees and your feet hurt - to get through life the mind most assuredly disconnects.

When we stop listening to our bodies and live a life disconnected from them, the ramifications are far-reaching. We live a half-life, a life of condemnation and denial of reality.

We see pictures of ourselves and do not recognize the person in the picture.  That can work both ways, when you are fat or when you are thin.  Overweight people tend to have an extremely distorted view of what they actually look like and I think that may be in part because of the tendency to live outside of their own bodies, to be disconnected in a very unhealthy way.

We have to face the hard facts and we have to begin living inside our own bodies.  Everybody is different and perhaps I am not on to a thing here but perhaps somebody other than me can recognize the need to get back in touch and reconnect mind and body as we proceed forward.

Mar 11, 2017

Hitting the Bottom and the Start of a Journey Back - Weight Loss Journey - Part 1

Abigail and Dolley readers as social creatures we tend to share our success and our triumphs and hide our failures in the closet.  I've written before about my struggle with my weight but always about the success stories, never about the failures, never about the frustration, and ultimately never about the misery of having a lifelong weight struggle.

As a writer and a thinker, it helps me to share.  So perhaps over the course of the next several months, we will share a journey, no doubt one we've undertaken thirty times but perhaps this time, with time, persistence, and a lifetime of experience under our belts it will be different.  I am not going to post workouts, I am not going to post pictures - this isn't about making a show of me.  This isn't about glorifying the AFTER, this is about the journey and the pain and the frustration of living with chronic weight problems.

There are a lot of things I want to write about in this series, subjects I have been researching and studying for months, like DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), Insulin Resistance, Epigenetic Triggers, and the Psychological differences between the fat and the skinny people living inside us.  I'd also like to write about the complexities of the human body and how each of us knows what works for us and what doesn't.  Those are just a few of the subjects swirling around my brain but today I need to tell you about hitting rock bottom.

Where I Fell From

After a lifetime of ups and downs, my most recent transformation came in 2008 when I lost 45 lbs.  I went from a size 14 to a size 4.  I kept it off through 2009 but it started creeping back and by the end of 2010, I'd regained about 15 lbs.  Inexplicably in 2011, no matter what I did (extreme diet, exercise running 4 miles a day x 5 days a week) I could not lose a pound.  I was gaining a 1/2 lb a month.  I am not an over eater, I don't binge.  I don't eat out.  I don't eat junk.  I eat whole, fresh, homemade food.  I don't drink soda or much alcohol.  

I hired a personal trainer in 2012, worked out 5 days a week, ate fish, salad, water for 30 days and did not lose a pound.  I lifted weights and worked out religiously for 9 months with not a single pound lost.  I was now 22 lbs over my initial weight loss.

In 2013, my health went off the rails and I ended up in the ER a couple times and had three surgeries in 8 weeks.  I was a wreck and regained all the weight, all 45 lbs.

By 2014, I had regained all of my 2008 weight loss plus 5 pounds.  I was desperate and went to a holistic doctor.  He put me on the hardest diet I'd ever been on, it was awful.  Full of rules and deprivation and no coffee.  I lost 4 lbs the first week, 1/2 lb the second week, zero lbs the third week, and the fourth week I regained the 4 lbs I'd lost the first week.  I quit.

I quit it all.  I was done.  The 2014 diet had proven in my mind that no matter what I did I could not lose weight.  Complications from my surgery immobilized my back, scar tissue developed all through my abdomen and I gave up.  I'd take a stroll here and there.  I work in the garden.  I'd watch what I ate but I would not diet and I would not weigh.  I got on the scale backward at the doctor's office and told them not to tell me.  I was finished with the whole damn thing.

My Journey to the Bottom

The sad part is that I continued to gain that pesky 1/2 lb per month.  It's not noticeable from month to month,  I started seeing signs though that this was getting out of control.  In April of last year, I bought a dress for a client visit.  I caught a glimpse of myself in the restaurant glass door - I had a fat girl's leg.  Instead of going on a diet, I stopped wearing dresses.

In October, my son snapped a picture of me at an unflattering angle, I was enormous.  Instead of going on a diet, I deleted the picture.  In November, I had to give my measurements for a bridesmaid's dress, I nearly fell over.  I started seriously considering a diet then.  In February, my wedding ring stopped fitting and I had to take it off after 26 years.  Last week, the bridesmaid's dress arrived and it is the hugest most hideous thing I will ever wear, yards and yards and yards of sleeveless rose gold sequins.  I look like a sparkly naked cow.  I was done.

I went and saw the doctor that had helped me take off the weight in 2007/2008.  I was ashamed when I rolled in there.  She was shocked.  Instead of making excuses and telling her my tale of woe, I told her my plan.  I've got the meds, I've got the plan, I've got the motivation, and now I am ready.

My Plea to You

There is beauty in rock bottom.  A cleansing and a self-examination that does not come when you are in denial.  Rock Bottom is a place to stop and a place to start again.  We all get there in our own time but I would encourage you if you are in an avoidance situation, face it sooner rather than later.

Jan 28, 2017

Trump's Trade Policy - Striking the Right Tenor

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 is widely regarded as the tipping point that sent the world into the Great Depression. Punitively high duty rates were applied to all import shipments into the USA. (If you are interested, the law was never repealed and the high duty rates remain in the US tariff book under Column 2, picture below). The world quickly retaliated and protectionists barriers caused markets to dry up, prices to skyrocket, and rewarded inefficient bloated domestic industries. The result was a worldwide economic disaster.

Snap Shot of the US Tariff and Duty Rates
The other end of the spectrum is a TPP style trade deal where national sovereignty, regulations, and duty collection are sacrificed on the altar of "free trade". Trump rightly called the Congress and the Obama administration on the carpet for this disastrously crafted agreement. (Note in the picture, Free Trade Agreements have duty rates listed under "Special" above).

With the election of DJT, the pendulum seems to be swinging back. The balance is usually somewhere in the middle. Decades of bad trade policy can not be undone quickly - to try and do so will be a disaster. Before we institute punitive tariffs, we have to rebuild our manufacturing base, we have to encourage companies to build factories in the US, and we need to make sure we have a workforce ready to take on the jobs.

It is interesting to note that modern factories are mobile, especially compared to the abandoned relics of the 20th century. Factories can be relocated in today's world. After the 9/11 attacks, I had a unique job of driving around NC/SC to visit and tour manufacturing facilities, Plant managers were so kind and took pride in escorting me through the premises to explain their processes.

What became very apparent to me was the modernity and leanness of the manufacturing process. Drive around industrial parks in this nation, you won't see belching smokestacks and railroad tracks behind hulking red brick manufacturing plants, you will see non-descript buildings, quietly producing all manner of products.

Modern Manufacturing Facility - Lincolnton NC
So consider, if you are an American company that has relocated light manufacturing in Mexico, it is not that difficult to move back to the US. An improved business environment, repatriation of money, and the threat of increased US Tariffs is EXACTLY the correct environment needed to swing that pendulum firmly in the middle, where it belongs.

Jan 27, 2017

The Reality of NAFTA - A Customs Broker's Perspective

Given the recent headlines on US and Mexico Trade Negotiations, a practical approach is needed to cut through the rhetoric.  Allow me to present a brief analysis of the issue from a day to day operations perspective.

I have a degree in Economics, have worked in Intl business for 27 years, and am a Licensed Customs Broker. I have been an advocate for free trade all my life.  Thus having established my bonafides, I will comment on the threat of increased import tariffs for Mexican products and hope to inject real world practical examples into economic and political theory.

In a vacuum, which all economic theory functions, increased US tariffs prop up inefficient and unprofitable US industries, and inflate prices for US consumers. When US exports are charged a high tariff, our US goods are more expensive and we sell fewer items. In this scenario, high tariffs hurt everyone.

This is the economic model in which ALL trade agreements start and why they have been so popular since the 1940's. It is in general why conservatives and moderates are "Free Traders". This was the thought behind the bi-partisan support of NAFTA.

Life Before NAFTA

What the general public does not know is that prior to NAFTA, the US had a free trade agreement with Mexico that went "One Way". Their goods came into the US largely duty-free. Our goods exporting to them had an average import tariff of 25%.

NAFTA was supposed to bring down Mexican tariffs and eliminate "pre-shipment inspections".  The US already had a zero tariff for their goods and no pre-shipment inspections were required.

When NAFTA was signed, Mexico had a number of years to implement the reduction in US tariff rates. What the trade agreement did not address was Mexico's VAT tax on all imports

Nor did NAFTA address "Non-Tariff Barriers to Trade"

Non-Tariff Barriers are more incidious than tariffs, they are designed to frustrate, block, and hamper trade while escaping the attention of clueless trade negotiators.  Here are some examples:

Licenses:  The Mexican government requires that Mexican importers obtain import licenses for a vast number of products.  The license is an application to Economics Secretary and is generally valid for 9 months.  A permit has to be reapplied for repeatedly, it does not automatically renew, and requires a new full application and proof that the previous permit was used.  Each branch of the Mexican government can require their own departmental permit, for example, medicine has to have an import permit AND Health permit.

Permits:  Some products don't require a license but need a permit which is a governmental written approval process to import products.  This can be lengthy and arbitrary.  Mexico can effectively not take action on applications which the prohibits large classes of merchandise.

Restrictions on Ports of Entry:  Permits are also limited to specific ports of entry.  Thus, if an importer has an import permit in Mexico City, he effectively can't import through Laredo.  This means, for all practical reasons, the only way this client can import from the US is via Air Freight, which is much more expensive that truck freight.

Approved Importers:  There is a cartel type industry in Mexico where small importers and exporters can "use license and permits" of "approved importers".  So in our example above, the Mexican Importer with a permit in Mexico City can engage an "Approved Importer in Laredo" for a truck shipment.  The rates these outfits charge are so outrageous that most just give up and try to find other markets to sell their products.  They prey on the hapless exporter and importer who import a single AA battery without a permit, their $50,000 shipment is held up over a battery.  Thousands of dollars in storage, delays, and penalties ensue.  (I speak from experience...)

Prepayment of Duty and Taxes:  Mexico also requires that all duty and taxes be paid at the time of border crossing and clearance.  This slows down the process and can make for an arbitrary environment where corrupt officials decide the duty due.  If the parties do not agree on tariff number or valuation, the Mexican Customs official refuses the entry, the cargo is turned away to sit with storage.  The delay fees that often outweigh the payoff.

Mexican Customs Brokers can not be forwarders or trucking companies.  There are always two or more parties involved in the clearance into Mexico. This doubles the handling costs, causes inefficiencies, creates delays, and removes the streamline that complicated supply chains need to function.

What Mexico accomplished with "Non-Tariff Barriers" is they effectively made it impossible for the small and medium US exporter and the small and medium MX importer to do business together. The imports from Mexico flow in like a fire hose while exports into Mexico flow in through a stingy coffee stirrer with a hole in it.

Importing into Mexico is expensive, complicated, difficult, and utterly corrupt - by design. 

What's the real cost:  While Mexico reduced their tariff from 25%, they still subject US goods to about 10% duty + 16% VAT + Other fees and tax.  Mexico then levies an estimated 28% tax on US goods.  By contrast, the USA levies an average 1% duty plus a 0.365% processing fee.  Thus, a 20% tax on Mexican imports is still lower than the effective rate they charge us!

Contrast the USA:

The import environment of the USA is free from almost all of the restrictions I described above.  We have a beautiful free market.  Our companies and individuals are not required to obtain restrictive and costly import permits.  We are free to import just about any legal product into the US, in any port of entry that we chose. Of course, there are regulations and laws, but these are pretty simple and applied across the country by rule of law.  Importers have ten days to pay their duty and this is fixed by law so there is no specific agent making his share!

An importer in the US can expect to pay about $200 in fees and taxes on a small shipment from Mexico and have clearance and delivery within 48 hours.  The same transaction in Mexico cost $1500 and takes about a week, assuming all documents are in place.

Mexico has never lived up to the spirit of the North American FREE trade agreement

The weak, ineffective, globalist US Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama never uttered a word. All the while in the US, they raised minimum wage laws and put such a regulatory burden on manufacturers that producing in Mexico became very attractive. Consider the hostile business environment the USA has become: Unions, EPA, OSHA, Obamacare, high corporate taxes, high payroll taxes, and regulatory compliance that often requires a team of extremely high paid employees to manage, you have a perfect storm. The large multinationals have flourished - they benefited from cheap labor and lax regulations in Mexico while the famous Ross Perot "large sucking sound" was heard across the nation.

Pillowtex Worker Learns the Company is Closing
So, US workers HAVE lost jobs due to NAFTA, not because free trade is bad, but because NAFTA did not accomplish free trade between our nations. It was a parasitic deal that has been perpetuated on the US workers by passive US leadership, cunning Mexican politicians, and multinationals.