I spent Saturday, September 10, at the Defenders Day ceremony at Fort McHenry.
This is an annual extravaganza to commemorate the non-loss of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. It features fireworks, the Navy band, and a reenactment with muskets and cannons.
Almost 200 years ago, the United States troops defending the Fort were able to withstand a bombardment from a line of British ships.
Francis Scott Key was on a British prison ship, saw the whole thing, and wrote a poem: “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This went on to become the national anthem… and was later butchered by Cyndi Lauper at the Ravens/Steelers game the day after the Defenders Day ceremony.
Thus the long and poignant tide of history keeps rolling.
It was during the third speech by a bureaucrat — or perhaps the forth one by a politician — that I realized I wasn’t seeing a historical reenactment with cannons and fireworks, but a reelection campaign for former Sen. Paul Sarbanes, the longest-serving senator in Maryland history and the guy wholly responsible for building the new Visitor Center.
(I grant you, it was an impressive center — the bathrooms were clean — and I’m sure worth every penny of pork that produced it.)
Our fair statesman is also known for the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the reason that all new international companies now list in London instead of New York. There is no mention of military service in Sarbanes’ biography, but there is a picture of him greeting the troops at the airport.
During the self-gratifying speeches, amidst special thanks to the VIP section that paid $1,000 to eat under a white Teflon tent, speakers would punctuate their talks by telling veterans and first responders to stand up and take applause.
Each time a speaker pointed out the “heroes,” my kids got excited and told me to stand. I did it because my offspring were there, but I shouldn’t have — both because I’m not in any way a hero and because it’s just this type of thinking that got us into the mess we are in.
Freedom Isn’t Free, Nor Is It Here
Last night I realized the government, using a sneak-and-peek warrant, can enter my house and search it without my consent or knowledge. If they find or plant drugs, they can take my house without trial or due process.
The TV show Frontline, in its program “Top Secret America,” told me there are more than one million spies in this country working for the federal government. To put this in perspective, there are 2.2 million people in the Chinese army.
The NSA can and do conduct warrantless wiretapping. This means they can and do snoop through your emails, texts, phone calls, and Internet activity…
And yet as private citizens, we don’t know exactly what they do, what their budget is, or who they are after.
This means that some bureaucrat could know on a whim where I ate dinner last night, how much I spent at the liquor store, where I stopped for gas.
There is an RFID chip in my passport in my wall safe, so they can track me whether I leave the country or not. Ironically, I don’t feel safer.
Did you know U.S. Customs and Border Protection can search, seize, and download any information on your computer or thumb drive simply because you cross the border?
We are the only country in the world whose citizens cannot bank in Switzerland…
The Department of Homeland Security now gives terrorism-fighting grants for local police departments across the country to purchase military equipment — such as armored personnel carriers — which is then used against U.S. citizens, mostly to serve drug warrants.
It’s Not Helping
Poverty has increased to the highest level in 52 years. Wages have declined to 1996 levels. More than 40 million Americans are on food stamps. Sixty-eight percent of homeowners in Phoenix are under water.
Signs on the interstate tell me to report on my fellow citizens.
We have some 790 military installations on foreign soil. We are 14 trillion dollars in debt and the interest payments grow on a daily basis.
Osama bin Laden spent half a million dollars to destroy the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon. According to the New York Times, we spent $3.3 trillion to fight unwinnable wars (you can’t win if there is no goal) with no end in sight.
The United States has suffered more than 6,000 deaths and 50,000 have been wounded. Iraqi and Afghan deaths are estimated to be over 100,000.
In the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Looming Tower, author Lawrence Wright tells us that Osama bin Laden’s goals were to draw the U.S. into a prolonged war in Afghanistan and a larger war with Islam with the goal of bankrupting the U.S.
According to Pew Research, U.S. favorability in the Islam world continues to decrease.
Despite the “Arab Spring,” things aren’t getting better. In fact they’re getting worse.
Egypt, for example, is still ruled by a military autocrat. Mobs burned the Israeli embassy, killing three people and raising the specter of another war. The country still can’t feed its population.
Furthermore, Egypt’s largest industry — tourism — has been shut down for the foreseeable future. Its stock market is down 36% for the year. GDP expanded 0.4% in the last quarter. Unemployment is rising, and a nasty election is on the horizon.
Europe is in dire straits. Here’s Greek one-year bond yields. They will default and send a banking contagion across Europe.
Are you a buyer?
So, ten years after 9/11, the West remains on the brink of a financial crisis, mired in debt, and in three shooting wars in Islamic countries.
We are less free, not more. And the broader Islamic world dislikes us more than it ever has.
Osama bin Laden may be dead… but he has achieved many of his goals.
It is a difficult task predicting the future. But I do know some low-risk ways to protect yourself.
One of the few companies that has gone up over the last few years has been gun manufacturer Sturm, Ruger & Company. Since Obama took office, gun sales have hit new records.
This year, FBI background checks are on track to eclipse 15 million for the first time.
Better Returns Than Gold
The leaders of this country are doing nothing to change any of this, and they haven’t for a very long time. Nor do I have faith that the next guy can overcome the established order in Washington or on Wall Street.
And because the risk of preparing is so much cheaper than the consequence of not doing anything, I suggest at the very least you buy nine days of MRE’s per person in your family. I have.
I am also putting my money in the least indebted and most secure places on earth: Mongolia, Peru, Argentina.
Have a good one,
Editor, Energy and Capital
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War Sebastian Junger
Emergency Neil Strauss
The 4-Hour Body Timothy Ferriss
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt Edmund Morris