A Financial Failure

Do you think we’ve seen some financial turmoil this year? Let me tell you what happened 13 years ago this week, when one of the most highly touted investment vehicles ever created failed.

On Sept. 22, 1998, Long-Term Capital Management shocked the financial markets when it revealed that it was at risk of imploding and destroying billions of investors’ dollars when it did.

LTCM was founded and backed by some really smart and really wealthy people. But in 1998, disaster struck. When a series of interest-rate bets went bad, the company lost $4.6 billion in a matter of months.

“At the beginning of 1998, LTCM had equity of $4.72 billion, with borrowed capital of more than $124.5 billion and assets of about $129 billion,” wrote Adnan Siddiqi and Peter Hrubi in Islamic Investments Funds Versus Hedge Funds. “From the beginning of 1998 until September 1998, LTCM’s equity fell from $4.72 billion to $600 million… Total losses were found to be $4.6 billion.”

Faced with a potential financial catastrophe, the Federal Reserve organized a bailout of $3.625 billion from 15 investment banks. “On September 29, 1998 the control of the LTCM was passed on to Oversight Partner 1 LLC,” wrote Siddiqi and Hrubi.

There was an extraordinary amount of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth over the LTCM bailout back in 1998. It seems hard to believe all the fuss was over a “mere” $3.6 billion, doesn’t it? Especially since Uncle Sucker … I mean Uncle Sam … has spent more than $1 trillion since then, in a futile effort to revive our flagging economy.

The more it changes, the more it all stays the same — except the price tag keeps getting higher.

–Chip Wood







Give Obama Four Pinocchios

Liberals are doing such a good job of bashing Barack Obama, we conservatives can just stand aside and watch. And isn’t it fun?

The most dramatic rejection of Obama’s policies occurred in New York’s 9th congressional district last week. Republican businessman Bob Turner defeated his Democratic opponent, State Assemblyman David Weprin, by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. This was a special election to fill the seat vacated by Anthony Weiner, who resigned in disgrace over a sexting scandal.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz tried to put an optimistic spin on the outcome by saying, “It’s a very difficult district for Democrats.” Come on, Debbie, try another one. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district by a margin of 3 to 1. The seat had been in Democratic hands since 1923.

Turner very wisely made the election a mandate on Obama’s failed policies. When he did, a majority of voters gave the President a decisive thumbs-down. One of Turner’s most prominent supporters was former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who urged “the voters of this district, the largest Jewish district in the country, to register a protest against the positions of President Obama and the Republican leadership on a number of key issues,” including “President Obama’s open hostility to the State of Israel.”

Democratic pollster and Fox News commentator Doug Schoen said the Republican win in such an overwhelmingly Democratic district is a “stunning rebuke” for the President and his policies. Longtime Democratic campaign strategist James Carville was even more blunt, saying it is time for the President to “panic.” An unnamed Democratic strategist told The Hill: “I’m warning my clients — ‘Don’t run in 2012.’ I don’t want to see good candidates lose by 12 to 15 points because of the president.”

Meanwhile, Republicans also won a second special election for Congress in Nevada, where former State Senator Mark Amodei crushed Kate Marshall, who was in her second term as Nevada’s State Treasurer. Despite the unions pouring in tons of money and “volunteers” to help Marshall, Amodei won by a margin of 58 percent to 36 percent. In other words, it wasn’t even close.

But it isn’t just voters who are becoming vocal in their opposition to Barack Obama’s policies and promises. So are many of Obama’s former comrades on the left. I have a folder full of articles and quotes I could share with you from politicians, social activists, liberal lobbyists and a bunch of others. Even some community organizers are mad at him! A bunch of his former supporters are treating the guy like a piñata these days, banging on him as hard as they can.

It’s fun to see such dissension in the ranks. But none gave me as much pleasure as one from The Washington Post. It seems Washington’s most powerful newspaper has assigned a columnist the job of confirming the veracity, or lack thereof, of various political statements. After doing his research, Glenn Kessler then gives them the “Pinocchio” test.

One Pinocchio means there has been “some shading of the facts” and “selective telling of the truth.” There may be “some omissions and exaggerations, but not outright falsehoods.”

Two Pinocchios means Kessler found “significant omissions and/or exaggerations” or a deliberate effort to create “a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people.” (Bill Clinton was a master of this one.)

Three Pinocchios means Kessler found “significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.”

What garners Four Pinocchios? Kessler sums it up in one word: “whoppers.”

According to Kessler, in his Labor Day speech in Detroit, the President told a real whopper. The columnist began with this quote by Obama: “We said working folks deserved a break, so within one month of me taking office, we signed into law the biggest middle-class tax cut in history, putting more money into your pockets.”

Did he really? I guess it depends on what the word “biggest” means to you. (Sort of like Bill Clinton’s argument over what the meaning of the word “is” is.) For most of us, “biggest” in this context would mean “the most money,” wouldn’t you say? By that standard, the Obama tax cuts in his Making Work Pay package was nowhere near the biggest in history. Heck, the Bush tax cuts — the ones Obama has ranted about so often — were more than twice as large.

And we could argue all day over what comprises the middle-class in America. Whenever Barack Obama uses the phrase, he typically includes members of the working poor and excludes anyone earning $200,000 or more. As it was for the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, apparently words can mean whatever he wants them to mean.

When questioned, the White House explained that “biggest” to them referred to the number of people who received a tax cut. According to the spinmeisters there, every working family in America (except those making more than $190,000 a year) received something in the Obama tax cuts. That makes it “the biggest” of all time.

Kessler wrote: “Obama’s claim of having passed the ‘biggest middle-class tax cut in history’ is ridiculous.” He then added that the staff at The Post argued about whether it was a three- or four-Pinocchio violation. They finally concluded that Obama himself knew he was telling a whopper, so they made it a maximum nose-grower.

By the way, Kessler likes to point out exaggerations all across the political spectrum. In fact, folks on the right garner many more Pinocchios than those on the left. Check out his website to see how many Rick Perry, John Boehner, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin have received.

Of course, the fact that Barack Obama can stretch the truth beyond all recognition will come as no surprise to regular readers of this column.  We’ve come to expect nothing less from our Obfuscator in Chief.

But the distortions, exaggerations and outright falsehoods of the past three years are nothing compared to what we’re going to see between now and next November. I can confidently predict that there is almost no limit to the lies Obama will tell about us — or the amount of your tax dollars that he will promise to give others — if only they will grant him four more years in the White House.

So guard your wallets, folks. And get ready to see Barack Obama’s nose grow a lot longer.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

Invest In Guns

What people buy when they’re worried. Of course, worried people buy gold and silver, which goes a long way toward explaining why the two precious metals have outshined all other asset classes over the past 10 years. But an alert reader reminded me of something else people purchase when they’re nervous about the future: guns. Check out the growth in shares of gunmaker Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. (RGR). It looks like their business is doing even better than gold.

Now here’s a terrible return on investment. Since 1980, the U.S. Department of Education has plowed through more than $1 trillion in taxpayer funds. That’s right, more than a trillion bucks. And what have we gotten for our money? Last week, the College Board reported that SAT reading scores for graduating high school seniors reached the lowest point in nearly four decades. Please note that’s how graduating seniors did. Don’t even ask about the millions of teenagers who drop out of school before they get their diploma.

This is no way to increase jobs. Five days after Barack Obama asked Congress for $447 billion more money to promote job growth, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) released a report noting that the Federal bureaucrats had issued more than 600 new rules and regulations just in the month of August. The Senator says all the new paperwork will cost businesses (and, thus, consumers) more than $10 billion a year.

When the Chinese go to the movies. One thing they don’t do is watch such international blockbusters as the Harry Potter series. The new “Transformers” movie broke box-office records when it opened in the United States over the Fourth of July  weekend. It’s also smashing attendance records in many of the 110 other countries where it’s showing. But not in China, which has forbidden movie theaters to import such U.S. fare. Instead, they’ve been ordered to show such propaganda as “The Beginning of the Great Revival,” a glowing tribute to Chairman Mao and the birth of the Communist revolution in China. There’s no mention, of course, of the estimated 100 million victims of communism there.

–Chip Wood

The Bloodiest Battle In The US

It was 149 years ago this week that the bloodiest battle in American history took place. More than 23,000 men were killed, wounded or missing in action in one day, on Sept. 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland.

The battle was technically a draw. But the leader of the Confederacy’s troops, Robert E. Lee, ordered his forces to retreat from the area, giving President Abraham Lincoln an opportunity to proclaim victory and issue the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.

Many people today don’t realize that Lincoln’s Proclamation did not grant freedom to any slaves in the North. Instead, it was meant to encourage blacks in the South to rise up against their masters and create a “fifth column” in their regions. This did not happen, and the War Between the States lasted until Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. The aftereffects are still being felt to this day.

–Chip Wood


Rand Has No Confidence In Geithner

Let’s have a vote of “no confidence.” Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has called on the Senate to pass a vote of “no confidence” in Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. “I see no reason and no objective evidence that any of his policies are succeeding,” Rand said. It would be interesting to get every member of the Senate on record on this question: especially with one-third of them facing re-election next year.

What do you call a group of congressmen? The English language has some very interesting ways to describe multiples of things. A group of geese is a “gaggle.” A bunch of fish is a “school.” Several sheep are a “flock,” while many cows are a “herd.” There’s also a “parliament” of owls and an “dole” of doves. But do you know what you call a group of baboons? Believe it or not, the correct word to use is a “congress.” That can’t be a coincidence, can it?

Don’t believe everything a friend says. Especially if they say it on Facebook or Twitter. USA Today reported that “nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults say they are not honest on social networking sites.” Only 31 percent said they were “totally honest.” Twenty-six percent said they “fib a little.” Even scarier, more than one in five, or 21 percent, confessed to posting a “total fabrication.” And another 22 percent said they wrote a “flat-out lie.” Hey, USA Today, what’s the difference between a total fabrication and a flat-out lie?

The high cost of bread and circuses. In today’s Straight Talk, I mention how costly Obama’s “stimulus” program has been. Figures released by the White House Council of Economic Advisers reveal that every new job it allegedly created has cost taxpayers $277,500. It turns out the “circus” part of our bread and circuses is getting mighty expensive, too. Cable channel ESPN just signed a $15.2 billion contract to win the rights to carry Monday night NFL games for another eight years. At least our amusements are paid for by private enterprise, not public tax money.

–Chip Wood


Obama’s Dishonest Jobs Infomercial

Did you listen to Barack Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 8? Remember? It had to be squeezed in after the Republican debate but before the start of the professional football season.

What, you decided to skip it? You weren’t alone. While I haven’t seen any stats from the various survey companies, I suspect Obama’s speech was one of the least-viewed Presidential addresses. When it comes to Presidential promises to revive the economy, I suspect the public mood has gone from “let’s hear what he’ll do” to “I don’t believe a word of it.”

The very first sentence in the lead story in The Wall Street Journal the next day referred to Obama’s peroration as “what might be the White House’s last chance to change its political fortunes before the 2012 campaign kicks into high gear.”

What a bunch of hooey. The President’s speech didn’t presage a campaign stump speech; it was a campaign stump speech. In fact, it was little more than a 50-minute infomercial — except without the attractive models or clever graphics.

Obama’s oration was a classic example of the misleading rhetoric we’ve come to expect from him. The most glaring example is the number of times the president lectured his captive audience on the need to “pass it now.” I’m not sure how many times he used that phrase or something close to it; I lost count at a dozen.

But the point is, there was nothing for Congress to pass. In their haste to get the promiser-in-chief in front of the TV cameras, White House staff members forgot one little item: Nobody had written the doggone legislation he was going to demand Congress approve.

Oh, they came up with a name for it: the American Jobs Act. There were plenty of elements its booster-in-chief could brag about. But, as far as a proposed piece of legislation that Congress could analyze, debate, modify and then vote on, there was no such thing. That pretty much made a mockery of Barack Obama’s stern enjoinders to “pass it now.”

Something else missing from the President’s remarks were words like “stimulus” and phrases such as “tax increase.” The brainy boys and girls who are in charge of massaging their master’s message realize the vast majority of Americans don’t like these words or the people who use them. So the word has gone out: From now on, don’t say “stimulus.” Use words like “investments” instead. In place of tax increases, talk about “revenue enhancements.” Or better yet, promise that something will be paid for by future spending reductions.

This last one has been a favorite of politicians since Rome first became a republic. Our current President didn’t hesitate to pull that ancient rabbit out of the hat again on Sept. 8. Why, if you believe him, more than $1 trillion in spending has already been slashed from the Federal budget!

Of course, if you believe that, you’re an idiot. What he’s talking about — what politicians always prefer to talk about — are reductions in spending that will occur sometime in the foggy future. After all, with increases of nearly $1 trillion a year already built into the Federal budget, if you promise to reduce the increases by just 10 percent — voilà! — you can claim that you will reduce spending by $1 trillion over the next 10 years. That’s how the game is played, folks.

The High Cost Of Obama’s Jobs

But enough about what was missing from Obama’s speech. Were there any specific promises in the President’s address? Sure enough. Just as soon as Congress passes Obama’s jobs bill, the spending spigot will be turned on for another $447 billion.

What will we get for the money? You will not be surprised to learn that the lion’s share of it will go to three of the Democrats’ most popular and most powerful constituencies: teachers, labor unions and the unemployed. If you’re an unemployed teacher who belongs to a union, congratulations! You just hit the Federal trifecta.

The President wants to invest a few hundred billion dollars into repairing and building schools, bridges, highways, high-speed rail, solar power and a bunch of other things. Happily, there was no talk of “shovel-ready” projects, since we learned with the last stimulus package how misleading that description was.

Oh, and speaking of misleading, did you see the White House report on how effective the previous stimulus package was? I doubt it, since it was released by Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers on a Friday afternoon, right at the start of the Fourth of July weekend. That’s what you do when you want to make sure a story receives absolutely minimal coverage.

Hey, these folks are no dummies; they knew the numbers didn’t look good. The Administration says the $666 billion it spent to create jobs “added or saved” some 2.4 million jobs in America. Since there is no way to substantiate the numbers (how do you prove you “saved” a job?), we’ll never know the actual number.

But even using its own figures, that works out to $277,500 per job. Think of it this way: If the government had simply sent a check for $100,000 to those 2.4 million people, they would have had the best payday of their lives. And we taxpayers would have saved $426 billion.

But $277,500 per job is cheap compared to Uncle Sam’s solar efforts. Just before Obama’s great jobs oration came the news that the government’s favorite solar subsidy, a solar-panel maker named Solyndra, was closing its doors. More than 1,000 employees lost their jobs when the company filed for bankruptcy. Since Solyndra was the beneficiary of some $527 million in federal loan guarantees, that works out to over half-a-million dollars per job.

On that basis, Obama’s newest jobs program is a great deal. Its supporters say that the $447 billion they want to spend will create 2 million new jobs. If my calculator is correct, that works out to $223,500 per job. By Federal standards, this is a bargain, folks.

News flash: As I added the paragraph above to this column, the White House proudly announced that it had a bill ready to submit to Congress. No one on the Hill has had a chance to read it, of course. But neither had anyone read the monstrosity that created Obamacare before it was rushed through the House and Senate.

I can confidently predict that the American Jobs Act will be a hodgepodge of half measures, none of which will make much of a difference to the massive unemployment (and underemployment) in the United States.

I’ll have more to say about all of this, including the President’s laughable promise that his various make-work projects won’t add a penny to the deficit, in future columns.

In the meantime, you and I know the best way to create more jobs: It’s for government to get the heck out of the way. Reduce regulations, lower taxes and reward people for taking risks. Let people keep more of the fruits of their labors, and you can bet on a bigger harvest. It’s that simple.

By the way, not only does that produce more jobs, but it also produces more tax revenue. Does anyone want to bet whether this White House will give it a try?

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

Words Of Wisdom

Happy birthday to one of my favorite curmudgeons. H.L. Mencken, a journalist and essayist who was known as “the Sage of Baltimore,” was born in Baltimore on Sept. 12, 1880.

Mencken, who died on Jan. 29, 1956, is regarded as one of the most influential writers and critics of the past 100 years, although many of his pithiest warnings have been forgotten or ignored. Here are a few of my favorites:

Government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction in stolen goods.

A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.

The typical lawmaker of today is a man devoid of principle — a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology, or cannibalism.

Where’s a modern-day Mencken when we need him? P.J. O’Rourke may be the closest we’ve got, but frankly, I was disappointed in his latest book, Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards. I expected a lot more vituperation than he delivered.

–Chip Wood

Go Figure

How would your family fare? (Many thanks to the reader who sent me the following item.) Suppose your family’s income is $21,000 a year, you owe $142,500, and you add $36,200 of new debt every year. You don’t reduce any of the balances; instead, you borrow the money to make the interest payments. You hold a family council to discuss what you’re going to do about the situation. After a lot of wrangling and mutual accusations, you all agree to reduce your spending by $380 a year. Add nine zeroes to this account, and you’ve just described the situation with our national debt. Does this explain why Standard & Poor’s downgraded our debt?

Avoid this airport. Actually, if you want to avoid machines that can see through your unmentionables and security personnel who think 90-year-old grandmothers might be terrorists, you should probably avoid flying altogether. But if you must fly and want to avoid delays, skip Newark Liberty International Airport. A new study reports that 40 of the 100 most-delayed flights in the country come or go from that airport.

Are airline passengers getting more polite? Yes, according to a 2010 survey of 1,562 North American Travelocity newsletter readers: 93 percent said they help fellow passengers stow heavy bags, 81 percent said they turn off their cellphones when they are told to, and 60 percent said they always wipe the lavatory sink after using it. Still, most respondents ignored the pre-flight safety lectures. Only 28 percent reported giving them their full attention.

–Chip Wood

Boehner 2, Obama 0

Until recently, I have not been John Boehner’s biggest fan. For years, I thought the Congressman from my native state of Ohio was, at best, wishy-washy. His voting record until two years ago put him squarely in the moderate camp, and his leadership in the House didn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

But that was then and this is now. Since Boehner became Speaker of the House, his backbone has stiffened and his voting record has improved.

The toughest index I track is the Freedom Index of the John Birch Society. The index is published twice a year in the organization’s publication, The New American, as well as on its website. At the end of the 110th Congress, Boehner rated a barely passing 64; now, he has a robust 89. The American Conservative Union rates him even higher, with a 100 for 2010. The liberal Americans for Democratic Action rates him a zero. These ratings mean Boehner votes “right” almost all of the time. That’s hard to complain about.

Have you noticed the members of the media aren’t making jokes about “the sob sister” in the House anymore? When Boehner was first elected to the House leadership, there were a lot of sneering references to the fact that he often wore his emotions on his sleeve. Boehner was famous for tearing up in front of the cameras more than you or I (and much of his staff, I’ll bet) might have wished.

But, as I said, that was then; this is now. You have to admire how he stood his ground when President Obama’s staff members tried to bully their way past him for a speech before a joint session of Congress. Or maybe you don’t. A lot of commentators said the leader of the House should have acquiesced to whatever the President wanted.

I don’t agree. That’s not how Washington works, folks. You’re talking about a city where protocol rules everything, from public introductions to seating at dinners to all of the manifestations of power.

For the past two centuries, protocol has dictated that whenever the President wants to address Congress, he requests an invitation from the Speaker of the House. Washington historians have not been able to find a single exception to this rule. Not once in 200 years has a President’s staff simply announced when he wanted to address Congress with the expectation that the Speaker of the House (and everyone else on Capitol Hill) would meekly accept his dictate.

To the people who care about such things (and there are a ton of them in Washington), the Obama Administration’s high-handed, even dictatorial, approach was a startling demonstration of Presidential arrogance. Still, most observers expected John Boehner to hide his irritation and accept the Administration’s fait accompli.

To everyone’s amazement (including, I confess, my own), that isn’t how it played out. Speaker Boehner informed the White House that the “request” was inconvenient; would they mind very much picking another day? He even suggested the following night.

I can only imagine the furious outcries in the White House that followed his response. The air must have been filled with exclamations of “How dare he!” and “Who does he think he is?!?” before Obama’s boys realized they really didn’t have much choice in the matter. They may have wished they could just bully their way in, but that’s not how Washington works. Basically, without an invitation from the Speaker of the House, there would be no speech to a joint session of Congress.

So the speech was moved to Thursday night — with all sorts of promises that it would be over before the really important event would take place that night: the start of the professional football season. (No cracks from the peanut gallery about bread and circuses.)

What I Wish the President Said

Although this column will appear the day after the President’s speech, because of deadline requirements I need to finish it before he delivers it. At this point, I can only guess what he will say.

Whatever it is, I’m pretty confident he will not follow the recommendation of a good friend. Wayne Allyn Root says the President could electrify the country, and do more to turn the economy around than any amount of new legislation, with a simple two-word declaration.

What’s the magic phrase Wayne would like to hear the President utter? “I resign.”

It will never happen, of course. And the practical part of me has to ask: Would things really be any better if Joe Biden got to remove the word “Vice” from his title? I don’t think so.

I plan to comment on the President’s speech in depth next week. After all, the most important issue facing the country is the condition of the U.S. economy. Nothing will have a bigger impact in determining the outcome of next year’s elections.

There will be more skirmishes between Republicans and Democrats between now and then, but isn’t it wonderful to realize how the debate has changed?

Remember the despair so many Constitutionalists felt three years ago? Barack Obama had swept into the White House with promises of “hope” and “change.” The Democrats had solid majorities in both branches of Congress, led by two implacable liberals: Nancy Pelosi in the House and Harry Reid in the Senate.

It looked like the left could get anything it wanted.

How times have changed. While we didn’t win the recent battle over the debt ceiling, we did change the nature of the debate. No longer could the Democrats spend as much as they wanted on anything their redistributionist hearts desired.

The debate was no longer about how much more debt the U.S. would accrue. No, now the debate was about how spending could be brought under control. The President wanted a “clean” debt ceiling increase; that is, one that would allow him to borrow another couple of trillion dollars and “invest” it in public-works projects.

That’s what he wanted, but it’s not what he got.

We didn’t get what we wanted, either. A balanced budget is as far away today as it was at the beginning of the year. But at least we’re talking about getting there.

In conclusion, thanks to the National Tea Party in Washington, D.C. for the headline of this week’s column. I borrowed it from an email I received from it last Saturday.

And let me also thank it and its colleagues across the country for all they have done to bring new energy and millions of new troops to these battles. We’ve seen an amazing transformation in the past few years. While we haven’t won the war or even any major victories, I, for one, am more optimistic than I have been in years.  Aren’t you?

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

The Most Meaningless Holiday In America Is Now Over

Time was when Labor Day actually meant something — a day to celebrate "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor movement" in the United States. It started in the 1880s as a "day off" for the workingman. Congress voted to make it a national holiday in 1894. For most of the next century, it was a time for parades and picnics and even some pompous political speeches, all in honor of America’s workers. But that era has long since passed.

In the years I was growing up, Labor Day meant the traditional end of summer. For us kids, it was the last chance to frolic at the pool, head to the beach, or enjoy an outdoor barbecue before school began. But now, for many, school has been in session for two weeks or more by the time Labor Day rolls around.

Yes, technically, there are still 15 more days before summer is officially over. But for most of us, the reality is summer ends when school begins.

I’ll bet even the working men (and women) in America don’t think of Labor Day as a time when their countrymen honor them. Judging by what does get the most attention, Labor Day now means that the preseason football games are over and the first "real" games will soon be played.

But is that any reason to make it a national holiday?

–Chip Wood

Stop Butchering Our National Anthem!

I had a great experience in Chicago last week. In fact, I had several, including my first-ever visit to Wrigley Field.

Somehow, this avid baseball fan had never made it to the historic ballpark. When a very dear friend found out that seeing a game at Wrigley was one of the top goals on my bucket list, she got me tickets to two games between the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs as a birthday present.

What incredible seats they were! On Wednesday night, we were in the second row behind the Braves dugout; and for Thursday afternoon’s game, we were even closer. The game takes on a whole new dimension when you’re close enough to the players to see sweat pouring and hear banter as they take to the field.

The entire experience was absolutely delightful… except for one minor blemish. At the opening of Wednesday night’s game, the young lady who was chosen to sing our national anthem turned what should have been a joyful occasion into a travesty.

First, she got the words wrong. If you’re selected to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in front of several thousand people, shouldn’t you take a few minutes to make sure you know the lyrics? If you have even the slightest doubt that you can remember them all, print them out and take them with you! I, for one, would be impressed that you took the extra step to make sure you didn’t make a mistake.

My second complaint is that the same young lady decided to improve on the tune. Granted, the music isn’t the easiest to sing or the most beautiful melody I’ve ever heard. But is that any excuse for treating it the way so many drivers do speed limits, as if it’s a suggestion you’re free to ignore?

Frankly, I’m sick and tired of all the over-promoted pop stars who think singing our national anthem is more about them than the song or what it represents. We witnessed a classic example of this earlier this year, when Christina Aguilera botched the lyrics at the start of the Super Bowl.

That was bad, but not nearly as bad as Roseanne Barr’s legendary performance at a San Diego Padres baseball game several years ago. Time magazine dubbed that one “quite possibly the worst rendition of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ ever.” And to make sure you got the point, they repeated the word “ever” and put it in italics.

By the way, that article in Time was actually called the “Top 10 Worst National-Anthem Renditions.”

Barr occupied the top spot. Christina Aguilera was at No. 9. And to my surprise, Hillary Clinton was No. 10.

While Clinton was never invited to sing the anthem at a ballgame (or anywhere else, as far as I know), apparently our Secretary of State was caught on tape singing along during a presidential campaign stop. Time described her efforts as “earnest” and suggested, “Just mouth the words next time, Madame Secretary.”

Now, that’s just downright mean. The lady never volunteered to sing in public.  And at least she was honoring our national anthem, unlike many politicos (and ballplayers, for that matter) who continue yakking with their neighbors while some of us are trying to honor our country.

And isn’t that what “The Star-Spangled Banner” is all about? It’s not great poetry or even beautiful music. It’s important because it represents our country and our flag. It’s a musical tribute to the price so many Americans have paid to secure and defend our freedom.

As one commentator put it,

[“The Star-Spangled Banner”] is a song about the courage and devotion shown by a group of Americans who in the course of a raging British naval bombardment refused to let the Stars and Stripes fall, no matter the cost to life and limb. And it became a song about the kind of nation we have been and still are, through war and peace, boom and bust.

It is about the never-say-die, never-give-in, never yield attitude that has been the hallmark of our national character and our military’s steadfast defense of freedom from Valley Forge to Fort McHenry to St. Lo to Inchon to Baghdad and Kandahar.

It’s about firemen and policemen running into the World Trade Center on 9/11.  It’s about that flag flying proudly and defiantly over the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Yes, it’s all of that… and more. So I’m delighted to report that at the next day’s game, the handsome young man who was chosen to sign the national anthem did a wonderful job. No fancy flourishes, no singing around, above or under the melody. Just a straightforward rendition, hitting every note and singing every word. It was an example I wish more musical superstars would follow.

Before I sign off, let me say a few words about the games themselves. The Braves went down to defeat on Wednesday, even though Chipper Jones obliged my wife’s request to “hit a home run for Chip’s birthday.” (She swears he heard her.)

The next day, a rookie pitcher named Brandon Beachy was on the mound for the Braves. He was cheered on by 20 or so family members who had traveled from all across the country to the game. I know, because they had four seats directly behind me. And every couple of innings, they swapped seats with other family members who weren’t so fortunate.

My pleasure was enhanced by their joy, as their young relative did a stellar job and earned the victory. He was aided in large part by my grandson’s No. 1 hero on the team, Brian McCann, who hit two home runs.

This is how baseball is meant to be: in a beautiful ballpark on a sunny summer afternoon. It was such a beautiful day that even the Cubs fans didn’t seem to be upset about their loss.

So thank you, Janie, for a wonderful birthday present. By the way, did I ever mention that visiting the Taj Mahal is also on my bucket list?

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

Anger From The Left

Al Gore loses his cool. It seems all the loot the former Vice President is collecting (word is he’s close to becoming a billionaire, thanks to a bunch of insider deals) isn’t enough to bring him happiness. He went on “a profanity-laced tirade” at a conference last month, lashing out at all of us nincompoops who are skeptical about the validity of his alarms about man-made global warming. I’ve had plenty to say in the past about this extremely expensive hoax, but maybe I should revisit the subject again… if only to bug Big Al.

Michael Moore urges Obama to “show some guts.” Exactly what does the left wing propagandist want the President to do? Why, order the arrest of the CEO of Standard & Poor’s for having the unmitigated gall to downgrade the debt of the Federal government. “These criminals brought down the economy in 2008& (sic) now they will do it again,” Moore wrote on his Twitter feed. Moore applauded the police in Italy for conducting a raid of the S&P and Moody’s offices there. It’s no surprise that Moore approves of government by terror and intimidation; he’s a big fan of Fidel Castro and Huge Chavez, too.

A California congresswoman blows her top. Apparently, Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) isn’t buying into appeals to show more civility in our political discourse. Recently, she told a crowd of supporters: “As far as I’m concerned, the Tea Party can go straight to hell.” She also urged supporters to “unleash” her on the White House, so government will start doing more to fuel job creation.

Do rude people earn more? According to three college researchers, the answer, sadly, is “yes.” Beth Livingston, an assistant professor of human resource studies at Cornell University, was a co-author of the study, “Do Nice Guys – and Gals – Really Finish Last?” According to the study’s numbers, the less “agreeableness” you demonstrate at work, the more money you are likely to earn.  The differences can be dramatic, with less agreeable men earning 18 percent more than their more amenable cohorts. “Nice guys are getting the shaft,” is how Livingston put it.

–Chip Wood

‘A Crime Against Humanity’

On Sept. 1, 1983, we learned a Soviet Union fighter jet had fired on a civilian airplane off the coast of Siberia. The attack reportedly killed all 269 passengers and crew, including a good friend, U.S. Representative Larry McDonald of Georgia.

At the time, McDonald was known as one of the most active anti-Communists in Congress. He was chairman of the John Birch Society, and he served in many national and international organizations.

Four days after the attack on Korean Airlines Flight 007, President Ronald Reagan delivered a strongly worded speech on national television, calling the attack “a crime against humanity.” Reagan used the word “massacre” six times describing the assault and declared: “This was the Soviet Union against the world.”

Despite the President’s tough talk, the U.S. took no meaningful action against the Soviets — not even when Soviet ships and planes harassed Japanese and American search-and-rescue efforts in the Sea of Japan.

Twenty-eight years after the attack on KAL 007, mystery still surrounds the event and the fate of the passengers. If the plane, instead of plummeting into the sea, took 10 to 12 minutes to descend — did it land safely in Soviet territory? Were there any survivors? If so, what happened to them? Why did the plane stray off course in the first place? And why did the Soviets react so furiously, even murderously, to it? We still do not know the answers.

–Chip Wood


That Treasonous Federal Reserve

Thank you, Ron Paul, for giving me the best laugh I’ve had all week.

In case you missed it, the very libertarian Republican candidate for President expressed his appreciation to the newest candidate for our highest office, Texas Governor Rick Perry, for “[making] me look like a moderate.”

Representative Paul was referring to Perry’s remarks that if Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke increases the Nation’s money supply between now and next November’s elections, it would be “almost… treasonous.”

While I’m confident that many Straight Talk readers would like to see Bernanke run out of office — and there are probably more than a few readers who would recommend a more old-fashioned punishment, such as tar and feathers — I doubt if there are very many who think his actions meet the Constitutional definition of treason.

I can only imagine what the national media would have done if Michele Bachmann (or Ron Paul himself, for that matter) had made such an accusation. But the press is giving Perry a Mulligan on this one. The media have welcomed him to the campaign scene with an eagerness that sometimes seems like fawning. It’s enough to make me wonder about just how tough a conservative Perry really is.

I confess to not knowing as much as I should about the Texas Governor. He made some remarks raising the possibility that Texas could secede if the Federal government continues to exceed its authority. Someone needs to remind Perry that there’s a difference between blunt talk, which the public would find a wonderful relief, and sticking your foot in your mouth.

I know we have a ton of readers in Texas, many of whom know much more about Perry than I do. And I’m sure a number of them will take advantage of the comments section at the end of this column to help educate me and other readers about the latest entrant in the race for the White House.

Rick Perry is a former high-level Democrat. He was Al Gore’s campaign manager in Texas during the 1988 election. That little factoid is enough to give me pause. What about you?

Before Perry’s “treason” remark, I had planned to devote today’s column to the question of who the real extremists are out there. The target of my wrath wasn’t some crazed jihadist who thinks Muhammad will reward him with a 72 virgins if he straps enough explosives to his body.

No, I planned to talk about how quickly the national media will portray anyone on the right as some sort of despicable “right-wing extremist.” They love that label almost as much as sophomoric agitators like “fascist” and “Nazi.”

Meanwhile, I cannot recall any of the big national media — whether a magazine, newspaper or TV network — labeling anyone on the opposite side of the spectrum as a “left-wing extremist.” Can you?

I am going to claim some expertise on this subject, since I have been called an extremist for more than 50 years. My “sins” began back in the early 1960s, when I learned enough to believe that Senator Joe McCarthy was a great American … and Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn’t.

My active extremism began when I tried to expose the pro-communist propaganda of an organization that called itself the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. I saw firsthand how the communists and their sympathizers in this country love to use words and phrases that sound appealing. Who could be against “fair play,” for crying out loud? It’s like Barack Obama referring to his redistributionist schemes as “investments.”

Thanks to reading scores of books like Masters of Deceit by J. Edgar Hoover (the first — and still the best — director of the FBI), the name-calling on the left didn’t bother me much more than a mosquito bite. But that was definitely not true of many people and organizations that should have been my allies in the battle against growing government. A whole bunch of people were frightened to death of being tarred with the “extremist” brush. Many people still are.

Yes, smear campaigns can work. If they didn’t, the liberal elite (and the leftists in the background who pull their strings) wouldn’t launch so many of them.

I just got a vivid example of how effective such campaigns can be when a family member went absolutely ballistic upon learning that I had sent a few bucks to Michele Bachmann’s Presidential campaign. “How could you do that?” he roared. “She’s a raving lunatic!”

When I asked for some examples of her lunacy, he couldn’t come up with a single one. The best he could do was mutter something about “setting this country back 200 years.”

“You mean because she thinks we should obey the Constitution?” I asked mildly. I had a wonderful rant all ready to launch about the duplicitous politicians who take an oath to “preserve and protect” the Constitution, all the while knowing they don’t mean a word of it. And, yes, I probably would have mentioned Barack Obama by name. But I didn’t get a chance to say another word, since my young relative stormed off in disgust.

We hear a lot about how “uncivil” political discourse has become in this country. To be honest, I think there is some truth to the accusation. I, for one, am finding it harder and harder to be civil to people who are the sworn enemies of everything I hold dear — and who are all too willing to use any form of threats and calumny they can to get their way.

If those of us on the right are becoming a tad less civil than we used to be, maybe it’s because we’re sick of seeing the immoral, illegal, dishonest methods our opponents use without ever being called to account for it.

I still believe we can win this battle at the ballot box. As long as this is true, then our most important weapons are words, not fists. So let’s try to be civil, even to opponents who don’t deserve it.

We’re never going to outshout them. Instead, let’s circumvent them by taking our message directly to our friends, neighbors and other allies who still believe in liberty and personal responsibility.

I’m convinced there are many more of us than there are of them. They’ve beaten us in the past by being better organized and more determined; but we’re catching up. And, boy, are they frightened about that.

Remember, their desperation is a good sign that we’re doing something right. So let’s keep it up.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

Yet Another Obama Lie

Another Obama whopper. Did you hear this lulu from our President about all the “cuts” that will be made in the Federal budget? “The result would be the lowest level of annual domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was President,” our obfuscator in chief declared. Seems he left out the word “discretionary” from his boast. This makes a huge difference. According to the Congressional Budget Office, nondefense discretionary spending was only 19 percent of total Federal spending in 2010. Figures don’t lie, but … you know the rest.

Even Spider-Man is becoming politically correct. Guess what? The newest Spider-Man is a half-black, half-Hispanic teenager named Miles Morales. Oh, not on this planet, but in an alternate universe Marvel Comics has created. Don’t you wish they’d just leave our superheroes alone?

The king is dead… at least at Burger King. I confess I’m not going to miss the ridiculous mascot the hamburger chain has used for years. No, I’m not talking about Ronald McDonald; I kind of like that dufus. I’m referring to Burger King’s king. It seems the plastic figure didn’t resonate enough with customers, so he’s filmed his last commercial. Just as well; I never did like the dude.

Still want to copy Britain’s health care? For all those do-gooders who are thrilled that Obamacare is moving us closer to Britain’s medical care, here’s a shocker: 239 patients died of malnutrition in the country’s public hospitals in 2007. At any given time, more than 250,000 Brits have waited 18 weeks or longer for medical treatment. This follows a decade in which spending on the National Health Service doubled. And this is what the Democrats want to bring to this country?

–Chip Wood


A Bad Week For Metals

This week in history was a bad week for the private ownership of gold. On August 28, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an executive order prohibiting the “hoarding” of gold by Americans. Private citizens were required to surrender any “gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates” they owned. The order also placed limits on the export of precious metals.

More than a century earlier, on August 28, 1814, Philadelphia banks stopped all payment of specie (gold or silver). The young nation was in the midst of the War of 1812. The British had burned the White House four days earlier and seemed to be looting the country at will.

August 29, 1862, is the birthday of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to issue paper currency because genuine silver coins were disappearing from circulation. A flood of greenbacks soon followed.

The printing presses have never stopped since.

–Chip Wood



Downgrading Obama

Do you remember the mess our economy was in when Ronald Reagan took office 30 years ago?

Five years earlier, during the 1976 campaign, Jimmy Carter had hammered away at the so-called Misery Index, the combination of unemployment and the inflation rate. In the summer of 1976, it reached 13.57 percent; and worried voters handed the keys to the White House to the peanut farmer.

Unfortunately, Jimmy did nothing to make things better. By 1980, when he was running for re-election against Ronald Reagan, the Misery Index had climbed to an all-time high of 21.9 percent — more than 61 percent higher. Ouch! As a result, the voters booted him out and decided to give the former Governor of California a chance.

But all Reagan did for the next four years was blame Jimmy Carter for the mess he inherited, while things in the country got worse and worse.

Ha-ha, just making sure you’re paying attention. Of course, that last paragraph is a total fabrication. Rather than blame his predecessor for the conditions he inherited, Reagan and Paul Volcker slammed on the money-creation brakes, cutting inflation dramatically. Interest rates plummeted. Businesses could borrow again, with confidence that their investments would pay off.

A massive tax-reduction program encouraged individuals to start saving once again and companies to expand. Millions of new jobs were created, which meant millions of new taxpayers started sending a portion of their earnings to Washington. While lowering the tax rate, government revenues actually increased.

I wish I could tell you that President Reagan also abolished a ton of government agencies, as he promised during his campaign that he would. Unfortunately, once he took office, not a single major government department was abolished or even substantially reduced. By the time he left office eight years later, the total number of government employees and total government spending had grown dramatically.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that, like an old-time Biblical prophecy coming true, the wall came tumbling down. Communism collapsed in East Germany. Most of the former Soviet satellites tasted freedom for the first time since World War II. And the “evil empire” was no more.

Historians will argue for centuries whether the results were worth the price. But actually, none of that is my point today.

No, what I want to emphasize is the startling difference between how Ronald Reagan sounded, and what he and his Administration did, compared to the petulant whiner we have in the White House today.

I don’t know about you, but I have had it up to here with Barack Obama’s refusal to take responsibility for any of his failed (and unbelievably expensive) policies. All he and his coteries of apologists can do is blame his predecessor and argue for more government spending to make things better.

The latest example was the decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the credit worthiness of the United States from AAA to AA+. To you and me, this wouldn’t be a big deal — maybe like dropping a point or two on our credit score. Nobody expects our borrowing costs to soar and lenders to flee — at least not for a while.

No, the result of the downgrade was mostly psychological. And, boy, wasn’t that enough to prove there are a lot of loonies on Wall Street? In the five days that followed the Friday-night announcement, the Dow Jones industrial average, the mostly widely watched financial metric in the country, dropped 634.76 points. Then it soared 429.92 points. The next day it plummeted 519.83, then up 423.37, and finally up another 125.71. Man, if someone could turn that ride into a roller-coaster, he would make a fortune!

What does it all mean? Let me suggest at least two things:

  1. The people making millions of dollars a year investing other people’s money don’t know any more about what’s going to happen or what they should do about it than you or I.
  2. The whiners in the White House are a pathetic bunch of losers. Isn’t there anyone in authority who will man up to the facts? Clearly, that duplicitous huckster and one-time tax cheat Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner won’t. Not only did he flat-out guarantee that S&P would not downgrade our debt, he was foolish enough to do so in front of cameras. Now, his brazen baloney will live on the Internet forever. (Serves him right.)

John Mauldin, one of my favorite economic analysts, had this to say about the situation:

So if the Fed, which doesn’t issue credit and can print money, can be downgraded because it holds AA+ debt, then why and how in hell can the [European Central Bank], which holds hundreds of billions of euros of the junk debt of Greece and Ireland and insolvent banks not be downgraded on Monday? And the Bank of Japan. REALLY? What are these guys smoking?

Of course S&P didn’t downgrade the ECB on Monday. Instead, it gave Fannie and Freddie the whacking they have deserved for at least half-a-dozen years.

In today’s Chip Shots, I mention another event that is an incredible example of a world gone crazy. An official mouthpiece of communist China’s government urged the United States to implement policies that will “protect the interest of investors.”

Think about it: Descendents of the same gang of butchers that murdered more than 100 million of its own citizens are now lecturing this country on the need to protect investors. The inmates truly have taken over the asylum.

Just one more thing and then I’ll let you start sounding off to me and each other.

Don’t put much faith in that Joint Select Committee in Congress that is supposed to implement all those spending cuts that were promised at the end of the debt-ceiling debate. Pelosi and Reid stacked their side with six of the most loyal leftists in Congress. While McConnell and Boehner responded by appointing establishment types who have voted for years to expand the reach, power and cost of government.

Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory! If you’re counting on this group to hold down spending, I’m afraid you are going to be sorely disappointed.  Once again, it looks like the business-as-usual types on both sides of the aisles will get what they want.

Someone once said we get the government we deserve. I sure hope not.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

Words Of Wisdom From Billionaires

“Stop Coddling the Super-Rich” That was the headline on a New York Times op-ed piece this past Sunday by America’s favorite multi-billionaire, Warren Buffet. His piece starts, “OUR leaders have asked for ‘shared sacrifice.’ But when they did the asking, they spared me.” Warren wants the super-rich, himself included, to be taxed more. But taking 100 percent of the earnings of every billionaire in America would pay for only a fraction of Obama’s profligate spending. In the meantime, Warren, why don’t you voluntarily send the big spenders in Washington more of your money?

This billionaire has had enough. When asked why there was so little job creation in the country, Casino impresario Steve Wynn blamed President Barack Obama. “I am telling you that the business community in this country is frightened to death of the weird political philosophy of the president of the United States. Until he is gone, everybody is going to be sitting on their thumbs.”

A warning from Red China. In the midst of the financial mayhem of the past month, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange — an official mouthpiece for the Chinese government — issued this statement: “We hope the U.S. government will earnestly adopt responsible policies to strengthen international market confidence, and to respect and protect the interests of investors.” We’ve come to a sorry place when a communist government lectures this country on the need to “protect the interests of investors.”

Wisconsin voters reject union demands. Despite pouring in more than $30 million and who knows how many outside “volunteers,” labor unions failed to unseat four Republican State Senators in special recall elections last week. Across the State, “outside special interest groups” (read: unions) outspent the actual candidates by a ratio of 5-to-1. Even so the Republicans will hold onto a majority in the Senate, thus thwarting efforts to overturn legislation to limit the power of public workers’ unions.

–Chip Wood


Farewell To The King

Was it really more than three decades ago that we learned that the King was dead? Yes, it was on August 16, 1977 that Elvis Presley was rushed from Graceland to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis. Doctors were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead of a “cardiac arrhythmia” at the age of 42. Thousands of fans kept a vigil outside of Graceland for three days before his burial. Thousands more lined the streets of Memphis on the day of his funeral.

Elvis had 107 hits, including 28 gold records, 12 No. 1 songs and 38 top 10 hits. Yet the most amazing stat, at least to me, is that his estate earns more from royalties and licensing agreements today than he earned when he was alive. And Graceland remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.

So don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true.

–Chip Wood



Partying With The President

No “little people” at this party. Did you read about President Obama’s 50th birthday party? He went back to Chicago to celebrate, which was no surprise. But the price tag sure was. Admission was $30,000 per person. But for that, I’m told, you not only got a decent meal and piece of cake; you also got to hobnob with the President, some Hollywood headliners and music stars. No wonder some folks said, “Priceless!”

So he’d like to be a dictator? The National Journal reports that President Barack Obama got so frustrated about how much he had to compromise to get a deal on the debt ceiling that he was heard to say he’d like to “bypass Congress and change the laws on my own.” To make sure his audience got the point, he repeated, “Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting, I promise you.” Hey, is anyone surprised?

We know who the communists like. You will probably not be surprised to learn that the Communist Party USA has once again endorsed Barack Obama for President. In a recent article on People’s Weekly World, Sam Web, chairman of the Communist Party USA, encouraged communists to continue to support Democrats in accord with “our strategic policy of building maximum unity against right-wing extremism now and in next year’s elections.” To repeat a line from the last item: Is anyone surprised?

Print your emails and save a tree. Thanks to tree farmer Chuck Leavell and forester Carlton Owen for a fascinating op-ed in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year. They pointed out that all those “Please don’t print this” messages at the bottom of emails are exactly wrong. It’s good to use paper. In fact, Chuck’s email tagline reads, in part: “It’s OK to print this email. Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees. Growing and harvesting trees provides jobs for millions of Americans.” So use more paper! And help keep our forests from being paved over for parking lots.

–Chip Wood

Fight Or Flight: Which Do You Choose?

Here’s a shocker: In “Action Comics #900,” Superman talked about giving up his U.S. citizenship!

No, he wasn’t protesting the incredible intrusions our Big Nanny government is making into all of our personal affairs. Superman doesn’t need to worry about being groped at an airport; he can fly anywhere he wants, unaided.

In case you haven’t followed the Man of Steel in recent years, Superman has become embarrassingly politically correct. The reason he was thinking of giving up his citizenship was because borders are obsolete these days. The Superman character said: “The world’s too small, too connected.”

At least so far, Superman hasn’t surrendered his U.S. passport. But for a bunch of people who gathered in Vancouver, Canada, two weeks ago to attend the 12th annual Agora Financial Investment Symposium, the question of how to preserve their liberty and savings was very much on their minds.

The theme of this year’s conference was Fight or Flight: Your Capital at Risk. Among the questions speakers addressed were:

  • How bad do you expect things to get? (Keep in mind this was before the market’s reaction to the Standard & Poor’s downgrade.)
  • What can we do to change things?
  • (Here was the killer) If you can’t stand what’s happening in the U.S. but don’t think it’s possible to make things better, is it time to consider moving your money — and maybe yourself – outside U.S. borders?

For a mostly Libertarian audience, it was interesting how many were more inclined to fight than flight. There was plenty of discussion about what tactics and strategies would be the most effective and which ones were likely a waste of time.

The mood of this group was captured perfectly by Byron King, author of the popular newsletter Outstanding Investments. When panelists at the Whiskey Bar (an extremely popular give-and-take closing session) were asked to name their favorite hero, philosopher and cocktail, Byron replied: “Patton, Patton and Molotov.” (I’ll give you a moment to enjoy the joke, which brought the house down.)

Doug Casey was at the opposite end of the fight-or-flight spectrum. He’s been an “international man” since he wrote a book of that title nearly 40 years ago. Today, he says he is, by choice, homeless — although he will admit to living on five continents and owning homes on most of them.

Agora founder Bill Bonner, who gave the closing address at the conference, said he did not agree with either point of view. Rather than fight or flight, he prefers to watch and chuckle. With his sardonic sense of humor, the Daily Reckoning columnist is an expert at poking fun at the posturing and platitudes of those who are sure they know what is best for us.

Speaking of politicians, no one at the conference had a more attentive audience than bestselling author John Mauldin when he described a private, invitation-only meeting he had with a roomful of Senators and their staffs in Washington a week earlier.

John is the author of an important new book, Endgame, which discusses various possible outcomes to the dilemmas our country faces. As you might imagine, many of them aren’t pretty. John describes himself as an optimist; by that, he means he thinks we will somehow muddle through.

Apparently, several members of “the world’s most exclusive club,” as the U.S. Senate is sometimes called, aren’t as optimistic. Here is how John described what happened:

It started when a friend gave Senator Dan Coats a copy of Endgame. He read it and underlined, highlighted and scored it. Then Senator Rob Portman took it off his hands and read it. They asked me to come to Washington to meet with a few of their colleagues. You don’t say no to such a request.

John met beforehand with several chiefs of staff who advised him not to use a PowerPoint or even a prepared presentation. Rather, they suggested, just talk with them about what you see happening.

Evidently, Coats and Portman had worked the room, because nine guys showed up more or less on time. Two Democrats, six Republicans, and an independent (Lieberman). Jon Kyl was there, as well as Gang of Six member Tom Coburn from Oklahoma. Also Corker, Lugar, Coats, Portman and Mike Lee, the Tea Party senator from Utah. Overall, I was very impressed with the level of knowledge in the room and the candor.

The thing that surprised and worried John — as it surprised and worried everyone who heard him in Vancouver — was that no one was very optimistic about a solution. None of the Senators or their staff he met with thought the present situation could be papered over with another round of quantitative easing, or even by a temporary increase in the debt ceiling. “I told them we could see a banking and credit crisis that was worse than the subprime crisis,” John reported. No one present disagreed with him.

When some of the most powerful people in Washington admit they don’t know what will happen next or even what to do about it, the situation is extremely serious, folks. Even Pollyanna is getting nervous.

But enough of the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Were there any positive suggestions for us? Of course. John Mauldin mentioned one of the most popular: Own gold. In fact, he says he spends some of every paycheck on the Midas metal (he’s partial to the gold American Eagle). And a lot of speakers agreed with him.

Egon von Greyerz got the crowd’s attention when he said, “There are only three kinds of money: Money which is already worthless, money that will become worthless (he put a picture of a $100 bill on the screen), and real money: gold.”

Egon also used one of the best analogies I’ve heard in a long time. It would take 100,000 workers, he said, making an average wage, more than 330 years to earn the same amount of dollars that Ben Bernanke has created in one year. Makes you appreciate just how big the tsunami of fiat currency really is, doesn’t it?

But not everyone recommended owning more gold. Gary Gibson, the editor of Whiskey and Gunpowder newsletter, had an interesting twist. Instead of buying gold coins, he said we should stock up on nickels. “Right now,” he said, “you can walk into your bank, give them a $100 bill, and receive $120 worth of nickels.” Yes, the metal content of that lowly coin is actually worth 20 percent more than its face value.

“And there’s another plus to owning nickels,” Gary told the crowd. “If you’ve got $10,000 worth stashed at home and a burglar breaks in, no way is he going to cart off more than $40 or $50 worth.”

There were many other dramatic promises and predictions at this year’s Agora symposium, including some truly eye-opening possibilities about the future of technology and biotech. But I’m running out of space to share them with you.

Instead, let me suggest that you get the CDs or MP3s of the conference and listen to the talks yourself. You can get every main session speech on a digital, downloadable MP3 file for only $99. Or if you prefer a boxed set of CDs, as I do, it costs only $149. Whichever you order, you will also receive a special report listing every investment recommendation in the afternoon breakout sessions.

To order, simply click here. And get ready to enjoy several hours of information on how to keep what’s yours — and make it grow.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood